THE CALL by Richard Logsdon




"...and at last all the celestial, great, and stable treasures to which I was born, [were] as wholly forgotten as if they had never been." (from "Centuries of Meditations" by Thomas Traherne, 1637-1674)


I.

I am a child again, trapped in my parents' house. All the doors are locked. There are no windows. Standing in my basement bedroom, I know that my pursuer is in the room right over mine. When I move he moves. If I run up the stairs to escape, he will be there to meet me, so I decide to hide behind the clothes in the large closet in my brother's room.

As I stand in the darkness, hiding behind old clothes, my adversary creeps down the stairs. A thing of darkness, he is going to kill me. Terrified, I can't speak, can't even yell for help. Oh Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, I moan inwardly.

His red rat eyes glowing fiercely, he has just entered my brother's room and is slowly approaching the closet door--I can neither see him nor hear him but I know he is there--when suddenly I awake.

* * * *

I am glad to be alive. It is the dead of night. Trembling, nauseous, I sit up in bed, noticing that I have once again drenched the sheets. Soaked with sweat, I get out of bed and pull back the sheets to make sure that I have not shit or pissed in my sleep.

The huge blinking red neon sign just outside my hotel window casts a hellish blaze into my room. It shines on my body. In the mirror next to the television it looks like I am covered with blood. My heart is still racing.

In my dreams, every night, I am hounded by an unknown pursuer. The setting is never the same. Sometimes it's a city where I find myself running down an endless labyrinth of alleys, never reaching a main street, never getting beyond the city. At other times, it's a forest so clustered with juniper pines, so criss-crossed with paths and so dark that I can't see where to run. Once it was in a hotel. I kept running up flight after flight of stairs, never reaching the roof. I am never caught by my pursuer. Tonight, of course, it was my parents' house. When I am caught, I think I'll die.

I lie back in my bed. I forget the dream, thankful for Las Vegas and neon. I put one pillow behind the other in order to prop myself up and reach for the enormous can of warm Australian Lager I keep next to my lamp. I gulp and gulp and gulp, like a man dying of thirst, feel the warm liquid running into me and breathe deeply. Past experience has taught me that enough Australian lager will eventually calm my nerves, right my thinking, soothe my intestines, and enable me to go back to sleep. I try to turn my mind to the real reason I am in this room, in this city. I am here to kill someone.

II.

I'm not a killer at heart. I'm a clown, and pretty good at it. During an average week, I do seven birthday parties, watching children laugh when I blow up a red or blue balloon, shape it into a hat, and place it on the head of the birthday child. When I make money disappear or do my donkey routine, the kids giggle and I am at the center of the universe. I wish everyone were like these kids. But they're not. When they grow us, they lose something precious. Adults become darkened, impersonal, unfeeling, manipulative things. I rejoice that I have been called to eliminate some of these dark things.

I received my call right after attending The Blood of the Lamb Pentecostal church rally several years back just outside Dallas. It was past midnight, and I was sitting in my car with a girl named Charley overlooking Dallas. She had left husband and kids back in Cleveland, headed to the Southwest, and just wandered into the revival, where she met me. As she talked in the car and put her hand on my leg, I knew what she wanted from me. And as she talked, I also heard the voice of God for the first time in my life. It was unmistakably God's voice, and he told me what he wanted me to do.

With some bailing wire I kept in the back seat of my car, I strangled the life out of Charley, cut her up, and stuffed her in a dumpster. I kept her heart, of course. Stories hit the front page of the Dallas-Ft. Worth newspapers for two months afterward, but I was long gone. I spent the next three months in New England, attending church rallies, and waiting for the call. It came, of course, and I responded. You must always obey the Lord or suffer the consequences. This time, it was a sixteen year old wanna-be prostitute just outside Boston. Just like Abraham, I went through with the sacrifice, stories hit the front page, but by then I was in Jamaica. Obedient to the call,I kept the girl's heart.

I have been responding to the call since. When I fulfill the call, the nightmares stop for exactly seven days.

III.

So here I am in Las Vegas. The Sodom of America. A man staying in the hotel across the street is my next victim. His name is Bruce; he's my sister's husband. He's never met me, and I've never met him. In fact, I haven't seen my sister Anna, my twin, for a long time. For six years, I lived with her in Pocatello, Idaho, after we graduated from high school there. However, we separated when she found herself pregnant. One day, I drove home from work to find all my belongings scattered over the front yard: clothes, stereo, tapes, books, Bibles, posters, everything. When I asked for an explanation, she demanded that I leave the house, and so I did, heart-broken, moving to Flagstaff where I got jobs as a Sav-on checker and, eventually, a clown.

Since then, quite naturally, I have tried to stay in touch with her.But she never returns my calls, never even answers the phone, completely disregards my letters. Sometimes I think she is very rude. I have even gone to the point of returning to Pocatello numerous times, calling from a motel and following her around in my car just so she'll talk to me and let me see the kids. The last time, about six months ago, she called three goons on me, and I got out of town in a hurry. I can't take three at once.

I was surprised, therefore, when she called me about a month ago, in tears. Sweet as honey, she apologized for throwing me out, for calling the police, said the kids loved me, and added that she still loved me. Everything was in the past, and I accepted her forgiveness with tears. I wept and prayed God's blessings upon her.

Then our conversation got dark, like a black cloud had just entered the room, and I intuitively recognized demonic presences. She told me about Bruce. She had married Bruce three years ago, and since then had come to despise him. He's never beaten her, never laid a hand on her, never criticized her. The problem is that he never talks to her. In the morning, Anna was telling me, she and Bruce get up together and he prepares and eats his breakfast in total silence. She claims she has tried feverishly to engage him in conversation, reading the newspaper to him, asking him about work, complimenting him on his tie. He doesn't say shit. Apparently, he comes home to their little suburban house, eats something like a TV burrito and drinks a Pepsi, plops himself on the sofa, and watches television until midnight. Then, he goes upstairs, undresses, climbs in bed with her, rides her for five or ten minutes, and goes to sleep. No good night kiss. Nothing. Just the old bone in the hole and that's it.

The story gets worse. When my sister married Bruce, he wrote her a letter from his office insisting that Anna send her kids to her sister, who lives across town; after all, kids aren't his. He made it clear that, given the children's true parentage, he wanted nothing to do with the kids. Hoping to get to know their new daddy, the kids were heartbroken. Of course, these are my kids.

When I heard all this, I knew something had to be done. I'll take care of Bruce, I said. Just tell me what to do, Anna; it'll be like shootin' fish in a rain barrel. That's when she told me that Bruce would be coming to Las Vegas on a business trip within the next month.

IV.

I still can't get back to sleep, so I finish my Lager, pick up the remote next to my bed, flick on the set, and lie back, bathed in a red neon glow.

An old Bugs Bunny cartoon is playing. Watching the angry Elmer Fudd pursue the dratted rabbit, who soon has a shotgun pointed at Fudd's face, I think about Bruce. For the past week, I've been following him, learning that he spends most of the day wandering in and out of casino after casino, playing a nickel here, a quarter there. Several times, I took the slot machine right next to his and, for every nickel or quarter or half dollar he slipped in, I'd put one in. We'd stand side by side, maybe for an hour, never looking at each other. When he went into a restaurant, I'd follow and try to make a point of sitting at the next table and of ordering, in a voice loud enough so he could hear me, exactly the same thing. If he ordered ham on rye, I would order ham on rye. If he ordered a Philly cheese, that's what I would eat. I even tried to eat at his pace. When he brought a bit of food to his mouth, I would try to bring the identical bit of food to my mouth.

Tomorrow I know that I'll find Bruce seated at a table in Mad Dog's, a sleazy nude bar just down the street, eating a hamburger and drinking beer for lunch, watching the girls gyrate to the hypnotic beat of death rock. At that time, I plan to invite myself to his table, stare him in the face, and make my first serious move in a game in which it is certain that someone will die.

The word at Mad Dog's is that he pays a girl named Zane huge sums to spend nights with him in the hotel room. She shits in his bed, and they subsequently fuck each other to sleep. Of course, that sort of activity is part of the routine in this kind of hotel. Three times this week, I have gone to the same bar, where I met Electra, a stripper. I bring her back to the room and pay her $250 for a hand job. Electra is very good at what she does.

Thinking about what Bruce has done to Anna, I decide to play a game and phone him. From the window of my room, I see an orange light in his hotel room come on. I wait until he finishes smacking his lips and answers with a sleepy, drugged "Huuu...huuuu....huuuu....Huuuuulloooo", wait for about thirty seconds, whisper, "Hello, fuck face," and then hang up. I do that six times within the next two hours.

On the seventh time, at around 3:20 in the morning, in a low guttural growl, I begin reciting the Lord's Prayer: "Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name...." Dead silence follows. Finally, "Whuuu the fuuuck? Whoooozis???" he slurs. My words must have made his skin crawl.

"Last rites, fuck face," I respond; I figure this guy's gotta be ready to piss and shit in his pants.

A quart of warm Lager and the excitement over meeting my adversary tomorrow at Mad Dog's has soothed my nerves. As I leaf through the Gideon's Bible I found in the night stand, I feel myself drifting off to sleep, and I don't fight it. One or two sleepless nights will make me act unusually violent the next day and cause me to see things that aren't there. Sure, the nightmare will soon begin, and I may find myself running down some endless freeway--but that ends when I fulfill my call.

V.

It is noon, and I walk down to Mad Dog's to have lunch. On my way, whistling the old gospel tune "Bringing in the Sheaves," I figure that the perfect way to do the job is to throw a little party. I can afford it. Anna forked over something like $20,000 to get me to come to Vegas to eliminate Bruce.

I enter the bar and spot him immediately, sitting at the table right in the middle of the room, under the biggest of five stages. With him is his shit-rolling slut. She's talking a mile a minute, obviously high on something, flashing her tits, watching him eat his hamburger.

Suddenly, I feel a hand on my crotch and hear a sweet voice say, "Well, hi, baby." When I turn around in the softly-lit darkness, I see Electra, a small but shapely brunette who she doesn't look over sixteen. She grabs me around the neck, pulls herself up to my level, and kisses me on the cheek.

"Whatchoo doin'?" she says, her eyes big with mock wonder, her mouth slightly open. She stands close to me, her crotch against my crotch, and I can smell onions on her breath. "Havin' lunch, baby," I answer. " Right over there." I motion to the table right next to Bruce's, and Electra and I walk over and sit down.

Electra makes small talk, asking as always about what kind of work I do, informing me that she is seriously considering a boob job. She and her boyfriend fell asleep last night while watching "Fright Night." I don't tell her about my night.

Suddenly, I ask Electra for the time, having left my watch at the hotel. Since she never wears a watch, she looks over at the next table and asks the other dancer, Zane. Since Zane is not wearing a watch, she asks Bruce, who looks at her, then at me. "It's time for you to leave, fuck face, that's what time it is," he says to me, a smile plastered to his face. He winks at me.

I know he's joking, showing off for his slut, his choice of label purely coincidental, so I wink back, even blow him a kiss. He laughs. Soon, all four of us are talking and laughing and that gives me a chance to look Bruce over. Bruce is downright ugly. He reminds me of a well-dressed large rat wearing glasses, for his face is long and rodent-like, his teeth yellow. It's easy to imagine him eating nothing but cheese. Today, he has on the red tie that Anna says he wears every day and a dark suit. He's about my height but is about twenty pounds heavier, and I am a big man at 6'2" and two hundred and forty pounds. He tells me that he loves coming here to eat. When I suggest that the four of us meet for dinner, he and the girls agree. I know the girls have just started their shifts and will likely work until six, so I suggest that we start here at 6:30, have drinks, eat dinner at a nice restaurant, and then return to my place.

VI.

Dinner is over and we're back in my room, watching Pulp Fiction on the movie channel and drinking beer. The red neon bathes the room in a bloody glow. Outside, the desert wind is blowing about fifty miles per hour, pounding mercilessly on the side of the building. If I were alone, I'd be going crazy with fear because of the wind. This wind is from the Pit of Hell.

Sprawled on my bed, stripped to their panties, Electra and Zane are smoking cigarettes, the flashing red neon reflecting like fire off their bodies. I notice that Zane, a blonde, has huge tits with pierced nipples. Electra has smaller tits, olive brown skin, and a pierced belly-button. Both girls look good enough to eat.

In underpants and a Mega-death T-shirt, Bruce is sitting in a chair between the bed and the window, and I am standing in the raw on the other side of the room. I decide it's now or never and excuse myself to go to the bathroom. I figure this is going to be easy.

I close the door to the bathroom and put down the toilet seat, loud enough so they can hear. Then, I crouch in front of the sink, open two cabinet doors beneath, and feel around inside for the beach towel holding my gun. I feel the wooden floor, left to right. I feel the walls, up and down. I feel behind the pipes, feel a dark cloud enter the room, and begin to panic.

Fighting darkness, I distinctly remember wrapping my pistol--an old .357 Magnum--in a bright red beach towel this afternoon just after I returned from Mad Dog's. The gun was loaded.

I wonder what I could have done with it, imagine I may have left the towel containing the gun in the next room, and realize that that is impossible. I remember going pee and washing my hands this afternoon just after I hid the gun. And then I see the truth: about an hour ago, when Bruce and Electra were really getting it on, Zane and I left the room for five minutes to get some ice. The conclusion is obvious.

My head is spinning; I feel light and dizzy and have trouble pulling myself up. Why would God want me to die after calling me to eliminate someone as evil as Bruce? When I stand, I stumble over the trash basket located right next to the door.

" You all right?" I think it's Zane who's asking and I respond, "Fine, I'm just fine. I'll be a minute."

As I wait, I turn off the bathroom fan and listen for sounds from the next room. I can't hear a thing. I wonder if I'll be shot as soon as I step into the next room. The bathroom window is too small to crawl through. Besides, I'm eleven floors up.

I can't stay in the bathroom forever. Anyway, I reason to myself, you can't be sure that someone out in the front room has the weapon. Knowing that another, far more obscure explanation is possible, even likely, I flush the toilet, wash my hands, approach and open the door.

The air in my room is smoky, the air dark blue and stale. Still sprawled on my bed, the girls have been smoking like fiends. In his chair, Bruce is smiling hugely, looking contemplative, smoking a huge pipe that belches forth foul black smoke. Now fully dressed, they all glare at me, wolves in a pack, their eyes knives slicing my heart.

"Come on in, Harry the clown," Bruce says to me, motioning me to the chair on my side of the room. He and the girls continue to glare, and I swear I can see red in their eyes. Tense, alert, ready to spring, I sit in the chair nearest the door. I want to hide from their dark wilting stares and consider bolting out the door.

But I never get the chance. When I look at Bruce again, he is pointing my .357 at me. "Looking for these, your fucking moron?" Bruce asks, holding up the red towel in one hand and the gun in the other. "Looks like you lost something."

"That's my gun."

"No shit." Bruce laughs.

"I want it back."

"No shit." Bruce laughs again, looks at the girls, who are smiling hugely, knowingly from the bed.

"It's mine. Give it to me."

"No way," comes the sudden defiant response. There's anger in his rat voice. He hates me, that much is clear. The room darkens, which means Satan is near, and I am on the verge of panic.

Praying silently, I rise from my chair and stand erect. Bruce does the same. I laugh and threw out my arms in a gesture of defeat and humiliation, and say something like, "Hey, you're joking, right?" and Bruce follows suit. I glance over at the girls, look at the TV and ask how they are enjoying the movies; Bruce does exactly the same thing, copying my every move. I sigh; he sighs.

Then Bruce does something that makes my skin crawl. He begins, solemnly, gun still leveled at me, "Our father who art in heaven...." He goes through the entire Lord's prayer and ends with, "Last rites, fuck face." I know now that Bruce is possessed.

Then it's Electra's turn. "Well, Bruce, whattya gonna do with this clown?" It's obvious from the tone of her voice that she despises me. Both Electra and Zane laugh out loud.

"Let's chop his little pecker off and feed it to my cat," Zane laughs.
"Let's slice his eyeballs out," returns Electra.
"Let's make him drink lye," giggles Zane.
"Let's beat him to death with a crowbar," giggles Electra.
"Let's hang him by his nuts out the window." Giggle.
"Let's sic a pack of pit bulls on him." Giggle.
"Let's tie him up and piss all over him." Giggle.
"He might like that. Let's tie him up and cut an ear off." Giggle. Giggle. Giggle.

"Would you two shut the fuck up!!!" Bruce bellows from the chair. He puffs furiously on his pipe, spewing black smoke into the air. "Just shut the fuck up for two, two fucking seconds. Jesus H. Christ."

I hate blasphemy but say nothing. Bruce gets up, his red rat eyes glowing fiercely, slowly walks over to me, puts the gun to the middle of my forehead, pauses, and pulls the trigger. Click. Click. Oh Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, I moan. Sweat is running down my face. Terrified, I can't speak. He pulls the trigger again. Click. Click. And again and again and again. Click. Click. Click.

I feel like retching, begin sobbing, piss uncontrollably. Where's God when you need him, I wonder. A thing of darkness, Bruce is going to kill me and, terrified, I can't speak, can't even yell for help. He laughs, spits in my face, and looks at the girls on the bed. Electra and Zane are amused by my humiliation. Suddenly, I know how Jesus must have felt on the cross.

"Let's go, girls," he chimes, blowing smoke in my face. "I can't kill this worthless fuck. It's like shootin' fish in a rain barrel. Fun's over." Two mad-dog bitches responding to their master's call, the girls jump off the bed and follow Bruce toward the door. I remain standing. "And hey, fuck face," I hear Bruce say from behind me, "stay away from Anna and the kids. Next time you come up, I promise, I'm gonna cut your dick off with some garden sheers and make you eat it. Got that, fuck face?" With that, I feel a sudden blinding pain in the back of my skull, like I have been clobbered with a pipe, and fall forward into a dark abyss.

VII.

In my dream, I'm locked in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The rabbit keeps clubbing me from behind; I am helpless and can not turn around.

I awaken with a jolt, and I see I am lying on my bed, on my stomach, completely nude. My hands and feet are bound, my mouth gagged. It feels like someone has driven a spike into the back of my brain. Though in excruciating pain, I can't even scream for help. I manage to roll over on my side so I can see myself in the mirror across the room and make sure this is me. The red neon light shines on my body, and in the mirror it looks like I am covered with blood. I wonder for an instant if this is some kind of sign. I notice shit on my sheets.

Since my brains are still scrambled from the blow, I grow dizzy and nearly pass out. Then, after about fifteen minutes, summoning what strength I have, I struggle for an instant with the ropes and find my hands free. Whoever tied the rope didn't know how to tie knots. I remove the gag from my mouth and untie the rope from my feet.

I try to relax for a moment, feeling with my hand a lump the size of a baseball swelling from the back of my head. It's very painful to the touch, and when I sit up I am seized with vertigo and vomiting.

I have to wait for this to pass. This gives me time to think about my next move. Feeling like someone is pounding a spike into my brain, I turn my thoughts to Anna and wonder if I have just been set up. Could my own sister hate me? What does Bruce have against me? Given the chance, I'd drive a spike into Bruce's fucking brain.

It is the dead of night. I don't need to ask God for direction. I know my next call. When my head stops hurting, when I get dressed, I'll check out of my hotel, get in my car, and drive straight to Pocatello.

When I find them, Bruce and Anna will have hell to pay.


Richard Logsdon is a professor of English at the Community College of Southern Nevada, where he is also currently editor-in-cheif of a new literary journal entitled "Red Rock Review." While the "Review" is being sold around the country, its audience consists of an elitist establishment that would consider institutionalizing him for writing "The Call" and like pieces.

He has taught in S. Nevada for over twenty years and has come to like Las Vegas. He likes to write and has been published on and off the net. He has written three text books and a number of critical articles. Only recently did he discover that he had a knack for writing dark fiction. Writing dark fiction is about as easy for him as throwing a baseball or kicking a soccer ball, which brings us to the final point: in his spare time, he coaches an open-league men's soccer team in Las Vegas.