You know They are coming for you, right?
Bloodboarding by Benjamin Sobieck
They come for me in the night. Put a black, cloth bag over my head. Cinch it tight.
Dark. So dark. The cloth soaks up my breath. Holds it there. Blows it back in my face each time I exhale. Like it's mocking me. Hot. Insulting.
Hands cover my body. I feel Their fingers quiver with restrained rage. Like firecrackers ready to make holes in me. They itch to scoop the flesh from my bones. But They won't do it here. Not in my house. They'll wait for wherever They're taking me.
I don't resist. No point in that. It's just me and this empty house. The person I married left long ago. Took the kids. The dogs, too.
"You're crazy," my ex had said. "You're making people uncomfortable. What will people say?"
Crazy is what I know They'll do to me. Uncomfortable is this bag over my head. As for what people will say?
"You've been warned," one of Them says and gives me a shove.
We head down the stairs. The same ones I used to haul my kids up. Read them a story. Kiss them goodnight.
"It's all for them," I would tell myself before heading to the sidewalk by the hardware store. I'd tell the people walking by what they needed to know. The truth. About Them.
A few people thought I was panhandling. Threw coins at my feet. But no one wanted to know about Them. I'd "bahhhhh" as they passed me. Maybe that's a language they'd understand. Because they're nothing but sheep. All controlled by Them.
No one paid much attention. Except for one. Strange old man. He had some words for me.
"Get a job, freak," he'd said.
"Help me paint the world a better color," I'd said. "Learn the truth about Them."
"You better knock it off," the old man had said. "Never know what could happen to a person like you."
Oh, I knew what could happen to a person like me. There were a few, like me, who had come forward with the truth. Told the masses all about Them. Then they disappeared. Just like I'm about to with this bag over my head.
It's a gradual thing, though. I learned that. They don't just come for you at once. They give you plenty of room to solidify your reputation as a crazy. Wear you down. Separate you from the rest of the flock. Then They finish you off.
A few weeks back, I bought a bottle of booze one night on the way back to my house. Stuffed it in my coat pocket before going to sleep. The bottle was gone the next morning. I told people about it being stolen. That They did it.
"You probably never bought the booze in the first place. It's all in your head," people said.
I'd show them the receipt. Still no one believed me.
"Oh, I bet you'll start seeing black helicopters next," came the reply. And shrugs. Lots of shrugs.
And laughter. And jokes. And teasing.
But I saw something in the sky not long after the bottle disappeared. A drone airplane. Looked like some over sized hobby project in the clouds. They don't use black helicopters anymore.
I told my friends about it. The response wasn't warm.
"Even if there was a drone, how do you know it was watching you? What makes you so important?" my friends said. "What's next? Alien bases on the moon?"
I didn't bother to tell them about the Moon People. About how they're the opposite of Them. Moon People are good, They are bad. I have my theories.
Then They found me at work, at the thrift store. The one that's supposed to be about charity and goodwill. My new boss was one of Them. I tried to warn other people. Got some more of that "you're making people uncomfortable" BS. The new boss turned out to be my last one, too. I was asked to leave the building and never come back.
Then came the bogus accusations. Claiming harassment at the thrift store. Sure, I'd let a few people have it. But they deserved it.
I wound up spending a month in jail. What was left of my money disappeared. Lots of people wondering when they could get paid. Mean people. Sent by Them.
That's when my family left.
They took the house after that. Something about a late mortgage payment. Turns out that old man worked for the bank. How convenient.
I've been squatting in the house ever since. It's empty anyway. Not even a chair to sit on. Not like anyone would notice. There are dozens on this block.
The TV news did, though. Someone tipped them off about me. A couple reporters shoveled a camera in my face. They were doing a story about squatters in foreclosed homes. Showed up with the sheriff in tow. Said if I didn't participate in the story, I'd go to jail.
The story aired. I used my camera time to get the word out about Them. Those parts were edited out. What was left of my credibility in this world went with them.
The last thing They took was my clothes. I'd hung them out to dry in the sun after washing them at a public restroom. They were gone before the first drop hit the ground. All I have now is what I have on.
So there's nothing left for Them to take but me. That's why I'm not resisting tonight. If not me, it'll be someone else. My family. My friends. My dogs. They'll never know the sacrifice I'm making with this bag over my head. Or how right I was all along.
After They march me outside, They load me into a vehicle. It's probably a van. Probably with tinted windows. Probably black. It's been parked across the street for days.
I'm only in it for less than a minute. They haul me into a building. I knew They were close. But not this close. We must be at my kids' school, just down the street. I recognize the sound of the door opening. Used to walk them there before they left.
They guide me down a flight of stairs. Then another. And another. Finally, They kick me across a room until I keel over onto a table.
The hands aren't as polite now. They hammer the bag a few times with their fists. Just for good measure.
Ropes tie me down at the waist and ankles. A firm grip unfolds my left arm. A belt secures it.
"You know who we are, right? You know why you're here?" a voice says.
I start to speak, but a hand slaps the bag.
"Answer the question," the voice says.
I try. Another slap cuts me off.
"Piece of shit," another voice says. I recognize it. It's the old man's.
I feel a prick in my left arm. Then the sound of something dripping. The drops hit hard at first, then softer. Like a plastic jug being filled.
I know what this is. Bloodboarding. I'd heard about it. Never believed it was true. It's like waterboarding, only more personal. It uses your own blood to suffocate you to death.
I feel the static pull of someone hovering over me. The bag feels damp against my face. Then it gets wet.
The bag sponges away my breath. I suck at the tight cloth, trying to find air. The salty taste of my own blood kisses the back of my throat. My mouth gnaws at the cloth, scavenging for a morsel of air.
No use. My hands shake against their restraints. A searing pain starts in my chest. It shoots out like a bullet across my body. My limbs thrash as if they've been shot.
That's when they tug the bag out of my throat and off my head.
"Surprised?" the old man says.
Only he's not the old man. He's me.
"You're me?" I say simultaneously with my doppelganger.
I remember something my ex used to say. "This is all in your head."
As soon as I think it, the face before me turns into the person I married.
"It's all in my head," I say.
The face doubles into two.
"That's right," my two kids say.
"That's right," I say back to then.
Something licks my hand. I look over. It's my dogs. They wag their tails.
"It's all in your head," one of the dogs says.
"It's all in my head," I say.
The bag is slipped back over my head. It smells different. Not like blood. Like chemicals. Is that paint?
Then They haul me up to the van. Drive me home. Dump me onto the living room floor.
I wait until they leave to pull the bag off my head. That's weird. It's made of paper, not cloth.
Not only that, but the inside is coated with gold paint. It's mixed in with…is that blood?
I touch my nose. It's bleeding. Bad. The insides feel raw.
I move to get up off the floor. My hand touches something sharp. It's glass from a broken picture frame. There's a man and a woman looking happy next to their two kids and dogs.
I remember it now. The picture was the only thing left in this house. The family left it when the bank foreclosed on them. I know this because I saw the listing of foreclosures in the newspaper. Went to the house and broke in.
As the fresh air sharpens my view, I notice something else. It's a red shard of glass from the frame. It's sticking out of the middle of my left arm. Blood pancakes my elbow. I'm alone. Did I put that there? Must have.
No time to worry about that. Because the other thing I spot is a can of gold spray paint. I catch my reflection in the picture frame. My face looks like first place at the Olympics.
Ah ha. Now I remember what I was doing.
I shake the can and hose the inside of the bag with paint. The scathing fumes could melt butter.
I slip the bag over my head and breathe deep. Just like I have every other day. The trick is to take in as much of the fumes you can without suffocating. Can be a nasty experience. Like waterboarding. Only more personal, because your nose bleeds down your throat. Bloodboarding.
Nice to have a little privacy, though. This empty house beats the hell out of the sidewalk by the hardware store.
It feels like my head floats off my shoulders. My meat balloon takes its sweet time riding solar waves up to the moon.
So lovely, the Moon People family who live there, and the colors they use to paint the world below them. Just me, the person I married, our two kids and our dogs. All together. All living on the moon. To have such a perfect family is the definition of winning. First place. Gold medal. Just like how the moon looks in the sky.
But the Moon People don't stay for long. They run away when They come back. They found us again. And this time, They aren't playing nice.
"You know you're a piece of shit, don't you?" They say. "Why don't you just fucking die?"
I feel something sharp slide up my wrist. It's not a clean cut. It's jagged and rough. Like a piece of broken glass.
I'm back in the room in the school. They're getting ready to bloodboard me again.
"It's all in your head," the old man says. He pours my blood over the bag on my head.
"It's all in my head," I say as the blood clots into wet cement down my throat.