Updated: Oct 1, 2020
"I'm sorry, Mister, they know I'm tired."
Larry was exhausted, the sort of run-over-by-a-car exhausted one feels after a three day bender. His hands shook as he tried to lift the styrofoam cup to his lips, black spots starting to appear in the corners of his vision. One more day, he thought to himself. One more day and this whole mess would be over.
He wasn’t a terrible person. He was just a junkie, the worst kind who makes insane promises to whoever is proposing the stupid thing just so that he could get his next fix. He hadn’t even realized what he was agreeing to until he was in the van and the two men he was tasked to work with pulled the struggling lump of blankets out of his cozy mansion and into the trunk. The warm placidity of his last hit was still lingering in his veins, enough that it soothed over the sound of the child’s cries, but when they arrived at the old barn and it was his turn to watch over the kid was when the reality of Larry’s situation really hit him.
He’d tried to comfort the little boy, careful not to reveal too much of his face behind the ski mask, but it was of no avail. The kid was terrified, and rightly so, but Larry figured it could be much worse for him - he might be a hopeless drug addict, but he certainly wasn’t the type to harm kids.
The second day was harder. He only had a little bit left of his stash to keep him from getting sick, but it wasn’t enough to make him feel good. His mind was left free to roam, scolding him for getting involved in some kidnapping scheme, even if that meant a few extra bucks and a nice fat bag to go home with. He tried to focus on how nice it would be to pay the rent for his apartment, maybe even get the hot water turned back on, instead of the child who still managed to make whimpering sounds after two straight days.
He checked the flip phone the guys had provided him, but still nothing. They told him that tonight there would either be someone to relieve him of his shift or someone to get the child because the ransom went through. He stood to look out the broken, dusty window, lifted his mask down to peer out into the night. There was no one around for miles, just an endless dark corn field, the creaking of old wood as it fought the breeze, and the soft crying of a child. He sighed, putting on his mask back on and heading up into the loft, where the boy was stashed in the hay. “Hey, buddy, can you quit that crying already? You’ll go home soon. Just take a nap or whatever.”
The kid didn’t respond, burrowing into the blanket he’d brought from his bed, the snacks Larry had brought him left untouched around him.
“You might want to eat something,” he offered, motioning towards the unopened pack of crackers.
Larry sighed again, lumbering back down the ladder. They’d better come through soon, he thought.
He leaned up against the wall, wondering if he should try to get a few minutes of rest. The kid hadn’t moved a muscle since they brought him here, and if he did, the sound would surely wake him. He was a light sleeper by nature, with or without intoxicants. Sleep pulled at his eyelids, weighing him down with its promise. He took another sip of his cold, black coffee and looked back at his phone.
A sharp creak interrupted him.
He realized the kid had stopped crying, the only sound left the steady wind against the rickety barn. He heard it again, a high pitched but steady creak, the kind one can hear on a walk in the woods on a windy day. He fumbled for the pistol they’d given him, the feel of the cold metal in his palm waking him up. He started to check the perimeter, making sure no one had snuck in.
He swore he saw a man standing in the corner, but it wasn’t possible for a man to be that thin and that tall. It was a damn hallucination and he knew it, one that came from lack of sleep, even though the creak persisted beyond rationality. It had to be, he decided, but as much as he told himself that the impossibly slender, looming creature nearby was not real, he didn’t want to find out. Instead, he crept back up the ladder to the loft. “Kid,” he whispered. “Hey, kid, are you okay?”
The lump of blankets was still there, but the kid was not moving, nor was he responding. Maybe he’d finally fallen asleep.
Larry heard the creak again, but this time it sounded more like a groan. He looked back at the impossible thing, grateful to see it had disappeared. This was getting ridiculous, he thought miserably, he was sleep deprived and fiending. He was going to give it one more hour and he’d take the damn kid home himself. Shit, maybe his parents would give him a reward for doing the right thing.
He headed back down the ladder, deciding to ignore the groan. He watched a lump of impossibly big spiders make their way across the shadowy wall, too many spiders to count, knowing damn well that spiders did not travel together in such a solid mass. He was imagining spiders that acted like ants.
He shut his eyes against the nonsense, deciding that sleep would be the best course of action to take. Who knew when the next time would be when he could rest. He’d feel the vibration of the phone on his lap if they decided to come.
“Mister?” the kid’s tiny voice scared him half to death.
“Holy shit, kid,” he swore, glad to see that the spiders were gone as he hurried up the rungs. “What do you want?”
The boy was a mess, his cheeks streaked with tears, his eyes red, boogers in his nose. His pajamas were ripped and torn, which was a shame because they were the real nice, matching kind that Larry’s mother could never afford when he was a kid. “Mister, I’m really sorry, but they came to get me.”
Larry frowned, looking down and around the barn. He saw nothing, no headlights in the windows, no arriving people, not even the hallucinations. “Kid, I’m tired,” he sighed. “You need to get some sleep.”
“That’s the thing, I can’t sleep without them,” the boy told him. “You know how kids usually have bad nightmares? Well, I kinda like mine.”
Larry stared at him, wishing like hell he had more drugs.
“My dad was really mad about it at first. They know I need my rest.”
“Kid, go to sleep.” Larry was starting to get annoyed. He made his way down the ladder again, but this time, he couldn’t reach the ground. Dozens of limbless bodies now slithered on the floor of the barn, torsos with human faces holding rotten eyes and horrible mouths that snapped at his feet.
Larry screamed, scrambling back up to the loft as he pulled out his gun. He was shaking so bad, he dropped it, watching the human worms wiggle right over it, trying to jump and clasp their sharp teeth on whatever part of his flesh they could. “Kid - kid!” he screamed, unable to do much else as he backed into the poor child in his scrambling, pressing him against the wall.
“Oh, hiya, Mister,” said the lump his back was squishing.
Larry jumped to see he hadn't pushed a young kid, but a bulbous clown, its fat stomach bursting out of suspenders as red as its nose. The kid stood next to it, wearing a sad smile as he held the hand of the perversion of hilarity with hollow eyes and a jaw that came unhinged like a snake. “I’m sorry, Mister, they know I’m tired,” the boy said with a yawn.
Larry wasn’t sure when he’d wet himself, or when he lost control of his legs, but a part of him was glad the clown didn’t have a chance to lick him with its big purple tongue as he fell down to the writhing ground, his nose filling with the stench of rotting meat as the human worms began to feast.