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Bareknuckles Pulp No. 18: Amputee

Thirty bucks and a pair of shoes. We'll say no more.

Amputee by Pete Risley

Looked like Wayne had it made for once. That evening he’d found the Boy hanging at the library downtown, keeping it warm. First he was in the men’s room dawdling at the sink, and turned a big Pepsodent smile on Wayne. Boy was just this side of too good: clean, white, young like high school, pretty-faced like a girl with long blonde hair under the hat-flaps and handsome grey wolf-eyes. Best of all, he had that cute little girl-ass in tight battered jeans, leaning halfway over the sink. Wayne grinned and gave him a long appraising up-and-down look, but figured Boy must be hoin,’ and he didn’t have no money just then he felt like spending, so he left it there. Even so, come closing time at nine, he was intrigued to see Boy standing all alone and forlorn outside. It was pitch-dark but for scattered streetlights, and old man winter was blowing hard; angry frigid wind, streets choked with ice and snow. Boy stepped up and said: “Excuse me, sir, do you know if there’s a homeless shelter around here?”

“Naw, man,” said Wayne, playing it smooth, “got a better place for ya – my pad. It’s real close, nice warm stove, little wine stashed away.” Boy eagerly agreed, to Wayne’s delight. Anything for a fellow bibliophile, he thought, smirking to himself.

Wayne had already copped some juice, might have stank on his breath. Impaired his judgment, even. But, naw, it was alright. As they huffed along, so deep-freeze cold the snow squeaked where they stepped, Boy kept his head turned at Wayne, doing eye contact and smiling like the Mona Lisa. Sure, Wayne was a little worried; Boy might be putting it on, be with the law, might have some buddies waiting around the corner for whatever chump he'd let pick him up. But Wayne trusted his instincts. He was still moving it after all these years on the street. You be too careful, life passes you by.

Boy did seem to balk some, once they’d struggled through a hole in the rusted and broken chain-link fence to the shattered old warehouse building, with concrete debris scattered on the narrow stairwell steps going down; and even more so as they got to the basement, where on one side the floor dipped, was flooded and now gone solid ice. But he really went pop-eyed when he saw old Feet. Wayne had forgotten about Feet, got so used to him being there.

Wayne tried to point out the good features to Boy, who by then was shaking with cold: the weird old pot-bellied stove, as he quickly doused the wood inside with lighter fluid and lit it up with his Bic, and the nice double-tube florescent light overhead that lit the place up starkly bright with a pull of the string. Electricity, even; all the modern conveniences. Little spooky with the downcast shadows, but you could see good. And check it out, the mostly-dry mattress and blankets on the floor beside the stove. But Boy didn't look too impressed thus far.

“Let’s get into some of that good juice I was tellin’ you about,” said Wayne. He hurriedly went for his stash. The dark purple wine that he’d found in a trash bin on a previous blessed day, in old bottles, some bare and some with badly faded labels, had turned out to be pretty decent. It didn’t make him sick at all, or at least, not any more than wine usually did in recent times. He kept most of them hidden in a hole by the floor in one wall, a cement block and random junk scattered in front of it to keep it hid. Now he carried several over wrapped in his arms, grinning at solemn-faced Boy, still standing, looking uncertain. Wayne sat down on the mattress and set the bottles down on the floor, twisted one open, took him a good swig, and another swig. Boy shrugged, finally sat his sweet little ass down on the mattress next to the stove, cooking now, and rubbed his frozen limbs. Heart going hard, Wayne sat down gingerly by his catch.

Boy was still looking at Feet, however, through the wide entrance of the room with the stove. There wasn’t any door and there he was in plain view, a pair of feet and shins sticking almost straight up in the air, old frayed jeans and big tan hiking shoes, the rest of him submerged in an ice pool in the floor of an old-time elevator shaft, all flooded and frozen. No doors for the elevator either, the doorway like a frame for the display. Solid bursting ice overflowing the shaft's pit, trash stuck in it too -- chunks of a torn-up armchair, the top of a crushed file cabinet, frozen bug-eaten papers spilled out of it, other shit, couldn't tell what it was, with the upright shins and feet in the very center of all.

"Did you know that guy?” Boy asked.

“Yeah, sure, his name’s Feet. Ha ha, naw, I’m kidding. I call him Feet. He's my buddy. I’ve only been here like three weeks, since the weather hit. He was here when I found this spot."

"Why did he die like that?"

"Oh, I don’t know that he’s dead. I think he might be a dummy, I mean like a store dummy.” Wayne fretted that he didn’t sound very nonchalant in saying that, like he really believed it. Well, it could be true, and he’d just as soon think it was.

“I don't think so,” said Boy. “Those look like old jeans. Shoes look pretty new. Good heavy winter shoes.”

“Yeah. I wouldn’t fuck with old Feet’s shoes, though.” Boy’s shoes, he saw, were shitty thin loafers, not much soles on them. His own were ancient super-chucks, worn and discolored, but they were still good enough. Didn't have no others, anyway.

“Why not?” Boy was looking a bit wary despite his smile. “If he’s a dummy.”

“Might be a dummy, might be a man. Hey, I’m here for the stove, you know? Nice and warm, huh?” The stove was a big old pot-belly, dulled red paint flaking off, real old, ancient; no fuel but it had a pipe vented somewhere through the wall so the room didn’t fill with smoke. To burn, he broke up old desks and chairs, pulled down wall paneling, anything close to wood that he’d find.

Wayne scooched closer. “Let's just chill. I mean, get warm. You know? Have some good juice.”

He was reeling a bit himself, maybe more fucked-up when he went out than he'd thought, and then the freeze got to him too. Emptied one bottle already, and Boy hadn't had a taste. He grabbed up another, twisted off the cap and handed it to Boy, said, "Make yourself at home. Always a pleasure to have friends over."

Don’t get too confident, Wayne, he advised himself, keep an eye open. It ain't cozy yet. Boy looking the bottle over doubtfully, while Wayne popped another open for himself.

Wayne wasn't no faggot, but he'd rather pump a good punk than pull it alone, or try to get hard on some old fat-ass homely skank. Last one was male too. How long ago? Dark-skinned black boy, who wanted money. Didn’t go well. He put it from his mind. This boy here was the shit.

“Is this building condemned?”

“I don’t know,” said Wayne. “Electric still works.”

“How long’s it’s been in this shape? It’s really falling apart.”

“I don’t know the history, but they may be able to tell you at the library, next time you there. Ask at the reference desk.”

“I just wondered. How do you think he got upside down like that?”

“Talkin’ ‘bout Feet?”

“Yeah. It’s so freaky. It looks as though he’s diving into the water, only the water’s solid ice. Like it’s, you know, a frozen moment.”

Hmmm. “Yes,” said Wayne, “I guess that’s what it is, a frozen moment. Probably was lying there and floated with his feet up while the water froze up.”

“Do you think he drowned?”

“Well, I still think he’s a dummy, but if Feet was a live man, I do suspect he drowned. ‘Less something else got him first.”

“I guess it’s a stupid question. It just looks so – so lurid.”

Lurid. Wayne studied his pretty guest, as the guest went on studying Feet. Still hadn't tried the juice. “So, you got a name?” asked Wayne.

“Call me Tee Jay.”

“All right, Tee Jay, and since you inquired, my name is Wayne.”

“Thanks for having me,” said Tee Jay. More eye contact, that little closed-lip knowing smile. A come-on. Tee Jay, shit. Me Tarzan, you Boy.

“I’m just too happy to have you, Tee Jay. Anything for a –“ Wayne slipped his arm around Boy’s shoulders, ran his hand down his back to his ass, outside his pants, see if he dug that. Boy wiggled a little, alright. “Anything for a fellow survivor of these cruel streets and the winter woes.” He raised his hand from Boy’s fine behind and rubbed his back. “Got to keep warm, don’t we? Nice warm blankets on the bed.”

“Are you black?” Boy shifted further away again, but still smiling.

Wayne laughed. “Why, you particular?”

“You just look like you could be either.”

“Yeah. Don’t really know. Mama was white, don’t know about Papa. In school, I be black.” He swigged long, Wondering why he told Boy that much.

“Did you go to school around here?”

“Naw.” Wayne wondered how old Boy thought he was, but wasn’t going to ask, or tell.

Finally, Boy took a hit off his bottle, but choked and made a face like an unhappy baby. “What kind of wine is this? Tastes kind of like old cough syrup.”

“I confess I did not read the label.” He held up the current bottle. “Looks like there’s not one. Looks like it might be Mad Dog, or something close.”

“Tastes really musty.” He took a longer taste, scowled but didn't choke again.

“Wine improves with age,” said Wayne.

“I don’t usually drink alcohol. I like to get real, real high.”

“So what’s your preference? Rock?” Boy didn’t look like no rockhead, might just be starting out.

“I haven’t tried it yet. Do you have some here?”

“Naw.” Fuck that shit, thought Wayne.

“I like crank best of all the stuff I’ve done. I do about anything. I like to get just totally zonked and party.” He seemed proud to say so.

“Like you some crank, huh?” Didn’t look into that much either. Nice white teeth, no glazed eyes. New blood. Doing crank for real, he’ll be a mess real soon. Well, fuck that, he ain’t that way yet.

He took another swig. Get happy, Wayne, he told himself. The night is young, and that little wiggly white ass be calling you. Wayne, Wayne, come tap me! He laughed aloud, and snuggled closer. More daring now, he put his hand down the back of Boy’s pants, but Boy quickly grabbed Wayne’s wrist and urged the hand out before he got a finger anywhere.

“Do you happen to have any money?” Boy asked.

He snorted a laugh. “Uh, no, but I got me this stove. Lot better in here than outside.” But Boy, he saw, was staring at Feet again, beyond the door.

“Mr. Tee Jay, ol’ Feet ain't goin' nowhere, I guarantee you. He’s not going to bother you. He ain’t bothered me once since I been here.”

“Do you think he stayed in this room before, and used this stove?”

“I wouldn’t know.” Wayne didn’t like the idea, which hadn’t occurred to him.

“I wonder if he was white or black.”

Wayne was getting annoyed, didn’t like to be mocked. “I don’t know that he was nothin’. Now, Tee Jay, do we have an understanding here, or not? You’re confusing me some.”

“No, it’s cool. I’m totally hip.” Well, that sounded like the damn po-lice, thought Wayne. He was wary, but really whipped up, especially after that feel. Naw, vice squad wouldn’t bother with no vagrant like him, he reasoned. Boy’s just fresh, from the land of sloping green lawns and fresh-built shopping malls, where uniformed guards would ask Wayne for ID he didn't have. Boy’s parents would be having conniptions if they could see him now. He’s probably given them plenty already.

Boy had pulled something from his pocket. Condom? Naw, way too big. He snapped it over his hand.

“What you got there, a – a Playtex glove?”

“It’s just a rubber glove.”

“What you planning on doing with that?”

“Just lie back and I’ll show you.” Boy’s voice had gotten higher, flirtatious.

Wayne's voice got soft. "Why'on't we both stretch out under the blankets?"

"Do this first," said Boy, cooing, all feminine now.

He didn’t like this development much, but with a sigh, slipped backward, clonking his head on the wall behind him. “Ow, damn!” Too much juice. Irritated, he kept a skeptical eye on Boy, who went to work on the front of Wayne’s pants, and spat into his gloved palm.

Oooooooo, yes, Boy had a nice touch. Wayne wanted more and better than this, but he closed his eyes with pleasure, and as the moment hit his tiredness swamped him and he was out.

* * *

Wayne woke in darkness, but sensed it was morning. Who turned out the overhead light? Boy? Hello?

He was alone, and as he rose, found he was hungover bad, about to puke. He retched, but nothing came up. Pants open and falling down, freezing. Not much left in the stove, no embers showing through the grill. Where was boy?

Boy was gone. Wayne leapt up, pulled the string on the light. Empty. Looking across at the elevator's doorway, Wayne saw that something was different. Feet’s feet. The feet were black, looked bizarre, scary, bigger than before.

Wayne stepped forward, stumbled pulling his pants up, got closer, right up to the doorway. The feet were black, swollen to bursting. The shoes, it was the shoes; they were gone. Boy went and took the damn shoes off Feet’s feet. That little punk-ass bitch!

There were some smudged remnants of socks on the feet, nearly rotted away. No smell, but he wasn't going to get up close and sniff. Why’d the feet look so much bigger? Shoes must have kept them small, now they’re swole up.

Wayne looked around him. Yes, tossed across the room, some distance from Feet, were Boy’s discarded loafers.

Wayne staggered back into the room with the stove, retched again. A little sour liquid came up, that’s all. It occurred to him that his leg felt different, and he thought with alarm about the money he’d had stuck in his pocket.

He slapped his pocket and found it flat. With a frantic hand he dug in: empty! Pulled it straight out: nothing. Did the same with the other: nothing. Christ shit! Gone! Bitch took his money too! Didn’t leave him a fucking dime.

He sobbed, retched, fell to his hands and knees, finally puked up a gut-load. A hot purplish-grey puddle, it stank, even in the freeze.

Wayne, he thought, you stupid-ass drunk, you went and let that white boy faggot bitch get all your motherfuckin' money! How much was it? He tried to remember. As much as thirteen – no, there was a five and a ten and some ones – eighteen, nineteen dollars. Twenty fucking dollars, at least. Plus change. He shook his head, whimpering and trembling with sickness and dismay.

A handjob for twenty-five, thirty dollars. With Playtex gloves. Boy needs Playtex gloves to touch what I got, but walks away in Feet’s shoes, when they been on them black-rotten feet. Steppin’ out on the town in them fine hiking shoes. Shit! Hope they rot his feet too.

May it be so, Lord, he fumed, crawling onto the mattress and throwing the blankets over himself, shutting his weary eyes. Yes, may they rot Boy’s feet too, 'til he have to get his damn legs amputated. Like to get him here then. An amputee, the perfect companion. Couldn’t up and leave, could he? No, no, man, thinking crazy shit now. Alone, too much alone.

He poked his head out from the blankets, looked again in awe and dread at the black, misshapen feet. Jesus Lord, they still swellin’? Maybe they gonna pop. Look like demon’s claws or some shit. Dead and in Hell. Can’t stay here now, not with those motherfucking death claws, look like you’d get some disease just being around them, no shit.

The thought of searching for yet another hole to hide in made him shrivel. He sat up and threw off the blankets despite the cold, put his head to his knees. Fucking Feet, who’d he been?

Pete Risley lives in Columbus, Ohio. His novel Rabid Child was published in 2010 by New Pulp Press, and his short stories have been published in Plots with Guns, Pulp Metal, All Due Respect and other venues. He’s currently struggling with two in-progress novels.