Latest Flash

Scream

It's hard to move forward when you are tied to the past.

In the Gutter, brother, they slip that noose just for fun, and pull you back twice as fast....

Scream by George Beck




“Have you ever seen a cat swing from an overpass into oncoming traffic?”

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Charlie said.
 
“A cat,” Arthur replied. “It screams, but when it hits the windshield its scream is snuffed out with the crash.”

“You mean it instantly stops screaming?”

“If you died, wouldn’t you?”

“Why would you do that? Pass me a beer and shut the fuck up.”

Arthur gave Charlie a cold Yuengling. Arthur’s apartment was the size of a mock studio at Ikea. 750-square feet of crammed boxes and junk he had collected over the years. Arthur had a habit of buying late-night infomercials products. He had it all: EZ Moves Furniture Sliders, Hercules Hooks, Instabulbs, Pocket Chairs, and Sham-Wow Towels, all of which he opened and never used. Behind the entryway, a large pile of laundry prevented the door from opening fully. Gray shag carpet around the coffee table was worn down to the plywood and two rectangular boxes contained a sizeable collection of comic books. Dirty dishes in the kitchen sink were piled higher than the faucet.

“It’s not that hard to do,” Arthur said. “All you do is tie a rope to the bridge and the other end around the cat’s neck and swing it down at a passing truck. After the truck hits, it swings back and forth like a pendulum.”

“Why are you telling me this? Does it make you feel like somebody important?”

“No.”

“Then why, man?” Charlie said. “Why tell me?”

“I wanna know if you got the balls to do something like that.”

“I don’t want to do something like that.”

“If you tried it once, you’d do it again,” Arthur said.

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“How do you know? You never tried it.”

“I don’t know why I still hang out with you,” Charlie said. “You’ll never change.”

Arthur raised an eyebrow. “Me?” He snarled. “You got to let her go.”

“Let who go?’

“You know.”

Charlie shook his head. He pinched a Marlboro between his lips and struck a match. He took a long drag and exhaled, filling the space with smoke. Like Charlie’s teeth, the lamp, phone, shades, and television screen in Arthur’s apartment had yellowed a deep shade of mustard from years of nicotine. Both Arthur and Charlie smoked over a pack a day since eleventh grade, been friends since kindergarten. Charlie sat his beer on the coffee table and then readjusted himself on the couch.

“It’s ruining your life,” Arthur said. “You’re so damn depressed.”

“If you weren’t always acting like an asshole, maybe she’d’ve stuck around a little longer.”

“You blame me for everything.”

“You should’ve never hooked up with her after we broke up.”

“I already told you,” Arthur said.  “She asked me out and you said it was okay.”

“I still don’t believe she asked you.

“Whatever, man,” Arthur waived a dismissive hand. “You need to move on. Forget that bitch.”

“How about the time you got me arrested?” Charlie asked.

“I already apologized for that.”

“You almost landed me in prison.”

“Prison’s not what you think, Charlie.” Arthur glanced at the black star tattooed on the webbing of his left hand and the words HATE tattooed across his right knuckles. “After a few days you get into a routine.”

“That easy, huh? I bet there are a lot of innocent men in jail enjoying the routine.”

Arthur fell silent.

“You’re selfish,” Charlie quipped.

After a dozen beers at the apartment, Arthur talked Charlie into picking up another dozen at Kelly’s Pub. To get there, they had to use the bridge that crosses over the state highway. 

The night was calm, tranquil. Patches of ice slicked the sidewalk, leftover from melting snow piles. The bar had closed a half hour ago.

“At least we’ve got a place to buy beer this time of night,” Charlie said as they walked in the blistering December cold. “Marty’s either wiping down the bar or tying the garbage bags now. He’ll open for us.”      
     
One block before the bridge, Charlie was hunched over and holding himself up by gripping a No Parking street sign, dry heaving.   

Arthur slipped into Ms. Clemmons’ backyard and plucked one of the many strays she fed daily, and stuffed it into his jacket. The town was asleep; save for a bread truck that lumbered down Broad Avenue, dropping boxes of bread at the restaurants, nothing moved. It was three hours before a pinkish glow would warm in the east and the large oaks trees that skirted the highway would welcome the morning sun. When Arthur came back, Charlie had vomited on the sidewalk.

“I haven’t thrown up like that since high school,” Charlie said.

“You still wanna go to the pub?”

“Sure.”

“Good. ’Cause, I got something I want to show you.”

Arthur raced ahead and pulled the rope from his jacket and tied it to the bridge.

Approaching, Charlie saw him holding the cat. “You were fucking serious?”

“It’ll only take a second and we’ll keep walking.”

“Let that cat go.”

“But we’re already here.” Arthur clamped a tight grip on the cat’s scruff. It meowed and then began licking at its whiskers. It was a young brown-and-orange cat, maybe a year old. “You gotta hear this thing scream.”

Charlie shook his head. “It ain’t worth it, man.”

Both men stood on the bridge against the thick concrete railing, close to a cornerstone that read “1929.” They could feel vibrations through their boots from the late-night truckers hustling below, the big rigs exhausting fumes, heavy in the air. 

Arthur quickly tied the hangman’s noose tight enough so the cat wouldn’t slip out, its blood pumping and the tiny veins on his neck bulging from the pressure.

A cool breeze blew in from the east. 

“Let that damn cat go!”

A tractor-trailer came into view. “On the count of three.” Arthur grinned.

Charlie pushed Arthur into the highway. He tumbled in the air, screaming loudly before he hit the pavement and the tractor-trailer thundered over him. His body rolled violently into the shoulder and then went slack, like a fishing line when a fish escapes the hook.

“You’re right,” Charlie said to no one. “It’s time to move on.”

He untied the cat and watched it scamper off into the darkness.


George Beck writes in the New Jersey shadows of the Manhattan metropolis. His last novel, Trounce, was featured in the Bostonia, which claimed that Trounce “aspires to the stark violence of Cormac McCarthy’s work and the noir-styling’s of Raymond Chandler.” He’s a PhD student, adjunct professor, and police detective. He can be contacted at Georgembeck@aol.com