The Gray Man By Whitney Call Rob woke up with a dull ache in his head and the taste

of metal in his mouth. His eyes couldn’t see through the green dark in front of him. He bent his arms and felt a sharp sting near his right shoulder. He winced and sucked in a gasp of breath. “That’s the anesthesia.” Rob’s muscles tightened. He squinted in the direction of the voice. He noticed a dark figure huddled near the wall. The figure sucked on his teeth. “It’s a big pain, but you wouldn’t have come if you were awake.” Rob’s hands were bound behind him with a thick plastic cord. He pulled hard at the cord, but it cut into his wrists and he finally relaxed. As his eyes adjusted, Rob could just make out pieces of the man’s face in the dim light of the EXIT sign above their heads. “I’ve tried that,” the man said, chuckling. Rob stared hard at the figure. The man’s eyes were darkened and even in the haze of green, his skin didn’t look the right color. “Don’t worry.” The man rose on his knees, Rob tensed. “I’m tied up too. But I’m working on it.” The man’s shirt was stained like a bib around his collar. Rob swallowed. “How long have you been working on it?” Rob whispered. “A while.” “Have you made any progress?” “Some, yes.”

Rob reached into his back pockets. He felt his keys brush at his finger tips and he reached farther to grab them. The pain in his shoulder burned even more, tearing into his muscles and nerves. “Ah!” Rob gasped. He let his arms relax. The man watched Rob. “I’ve got a knife.” Rob nodded. “I figured you would.” “It’s dull, but it works.” Rob watched the man for a moment. He sucked at his teeth again. Rob took a deep breath and grabbed again at the keys in his pocket, feeling his muscles tear and burn. He held onto them this time, pulled the keys out of his pocket, and took another breath. The man cocked his head to one side. “What’s your name?” Rob didn’t answer. “Mine’s Dean. At least that’s what I want you to call me. Dean.” The man, Dean, shook his shoulders up and down, breathing hard and sucking on his teeth. Rob could make out Dean’s face a little better. His teeth were gray and rotting, and Rob noticed pieces of something hanging from his mouth. Pieces of flesh. Rob flipped open the dull pocketknife on his keychain and slashed at the cord, with hard and violent strokes. He raked the blade across the ribbed plastic. Again and again. “Don’t worry.” Dean’s left arm came out in front of him like a magic trick. He wiggled his fingers. “I’m almost done.” Rob clenched his teeth, rubbing hard at the cord with his blade. His forehead grew cold with sweat. He held his breath and looked up at Dean. “Where are you gonna start?” Dean smiled. “The forearm.”

“Really?” “It’s the best part. Soft.” Rob brushed his fingers along his arm. He felt the muscles and veins on the underside and poked at the spongey skin on top. “Probably wouldn’t taste very good. I haven’t showered.” Dean straightened his back and raised up on his knees, making Rob suck in air from alarm. “A little seasoning,” he said. His shoulders shook up and down again. His breath streamed out of his nose with a continual groan that sounded more animal than human. Rob rubbed back and forth with his knife. Back and forth. He felt the plastic. Barely a dent in the ridges. He kept sawing. He tried to think of how he got here, but all he remembered was going to work and kissing Celia goodbye. When was that? What was she wearing? Dean stopped cutting for a moment and coughed into the light above him. Rob saw strings of spit fly from his lips in front of the lighting. Dean hawked something substantial into his mouth and spit it on the floor and Rob felt vomit tinge the back of his own throat. “I never know what to do with the hair. There’s so much of it.” Dean laughed as if he’d told a casual party joke which made Rob forget to breathe for a moment. The pain in Rob’s shoulder tore harder into his nerves. He clenched his teeth and twisted the plastic binds around themselves. He tried to look behind him, but his neck felt tight and he let go, staring straight ahead at Dean’s soaked shirt and rotting teeth. Dean sucked his teeth again and grunted. “I used to find bird nests and split open the eggs.” “That’s sick.”

Dean laughed. “69% of birds’ eggs never make it to hatching anyway.” “Is that true?” “I bet it is. I was doing them a favor and making good use of the resources.” Rob thought of speckled eggs breaking. Little bones that felt as thin as eggshells crackling between his fingers. It made him start to shake. “Don’t like that?” Rob kept grinding at the plastic. He thought he could feel a tear running through the edge. He tried to keep his breath under control and kept tearing. “Doesn’t matter,” Dean said, “I’m closer to breaking out than you are.” Rob’s forehead ached with cold wet drops spread across his skin. Dean shook his shoulders and coughed a thick cough. One that didn’t release any air out of his mouth. “Women’s hair is the worst. I can never get around it.” Rob stopped sawing. “What?” Dean rammed his fingers far into his mouth, reaching for something. He pulled out his hand and looked at it in the light. “It gets everywhere. These long brown hairs keep tickling my throat. Rob swallowed back bile. He opened his mouth to breathe the wet heavy air but it didn’t keep him from coughing. “Who was she?” Rob asked. Dean looked up at Rob so that his eyes were hidden by the folds of his gray forehead. “They put her right next to us. She was out cold. I doubt she felt anything.”

Rob scoured the floor with his eyes, biting his tongue until he tasted blood. He spotted a sandal near the door. The light made the shoe look the color of mustard, but Rob knew it was a turquoise ballet flat. The rest of Celia’s clothes were nowhere to be found. The plastic around Rob’s left wrist broke. He almost didn’t notice. His eyes filled with tears and sweat. “I doubt she felt anything.” Rob moved his wrist in front of him, bending his fingers and catching his breath while swallowing the blood from his bitten tongue. “Hey, you’re almost caught up to me.” Dean gave a thumbs up with his left hand. So did Rob. He wanted to tear it off. He wanted to break away from the wall and tear every finger off his hand. Rob tugged harder with his free hand at the plastic behind him. He coughed blood into his nose. He grunted and pulled at the plastic, feeling his heart jab at his sternum like teeth. Dean laughed without changing the tone in his voice. Like chalk breaking over and over again. “I’m going to kill you,” Rob said. He felt warmth on his arm and turned through the searing pain in his shoulder to see dark blood running down his wrist. The plastic frayed open and the corner ripped into him with every jerk of his pocketknife. Dean sucked at his teeth again and smiled. “Not if I’m faster than you.” “That’s impossible.” Dean raised his other arm from behind him, grunting as he moved. Blood ran down his elbow and he licked it off slowly, staring at Rob all the way up his arm. He stood and stretched

both his arms, wincing as he moved. Rob noticed a gash in Dean’s shoulder for the first time. On his right side. Rob jumped up from the wall. His arm free and bleeding. His shirt stuck to his chest and the metallic smell made him dizzy. Dean stayed where he was, smiling. Rob smiled too. He tensed his legs ready to rip the smile off of Dean’s face with his bloody fingers. He sprang when the room filled with white light. Two men hold Rob against the wall. His shoulder burns so hot he vomits into his bloody shirt. He looks past the men’s shoulders. He looks for Dean, but Dean is gone. “Where’s Dean?” Rob feels dizzy. One man flicks a syringe with his fingers. “Where’s Dean?” “Easy, Dean.” The needle splits into Rob’s shoulder, filling his chest and neck and face with burning and ice. Rob lets out a groan more animal than human. His rotting teeth clench together. He tries to keep his eyes open. Tries to stay awake in case the gray man comes back.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful