The switchblade trimmed my bearded left cheek then continued slowly on, past the skin, flesh and muscle. When it hit the gum I flicked my screaming tongue to taste the blood but danced over the steel edge instead. His eyes burned as the tip caught on my lower pallet, and then continued on through to the right side and beyond.
I stifled a terrific call in favour of a demented, firm grin. There was surely more to come. I passed out.
He left me and that dilapidated factory to the complementary sounds of whimpering and rusting scaffolds. My jaw held fast without need of encouragement as my eyes shot a frenzied, desperate stare. The aged plastic chair creaked under the rigour of my weight and as the sun began to set past the brick-broken panes, my hope sank too.
I’d been there since the night before and while my sleep had been tortured through concern; my morning had found other agonies. The rats had begun on my feet and would surely move more northward. I’d managed to tuck “myself” under and sat awkwardly, but was now or never.
Endless scraping had seen the bonds fray underneath and with a waned tug, my right arm flew free.
I steadied myself for the extraction, worse than the dentist, far worse.
I thought of my family. I thought of their eyes. I firmed my face and slowly pulled. The dip of the tip onto my amalgam filled tooth released an involuntary reflex and short of tremendous will I would have swallowed. My eyes bled clear and then red. The final move freed my mouth and drew my right hand to the gaping holes with tentative dread.
The knife loosed the ropes at my feet and with a cautious, silent step I staggered to the door. Beyond laid the dwindling sun and a silhouetted factory-scape.
The ride in had sounded hollow from the boot of the car and the gravelled tracks shivered under the tyres. There’d been two men in my car – I had heard their chatter and one in the follow. I remembered a lead pipe earlier in the morning and reached for the rear of my head. The throbbing had been replaced by the searing in my cheeks and while I stood by the door I saw the offending implement.
Pipe in one hand, handle in the other, I steadied myself and gulped, trying not to spit the iron liquid from my mouth and thus alerting any awaiting malcontents on the other side.
I took a deep, considered breath through my nose and then one more. With a tug the double-door slid along its rouged rungs and off the end, falling to the floor and pummelling the dated dust.
Two men turned from a portable black and white and stared. Their pause was enough. My facial injuries did little to slow my feet and I was on them in a split. The iron makes a cringing; wet sound when you’re on the receiving end but when you’re wielding it it’s a whole different feeling. The impact rings in your hand and bounces free from the target, as if ready for another. I gave it one more.
The men lay crumpled and sad.
There was one more.
I was surprised with the noise he hadn’t joined the fight. He had to be far away. I dropped the pipe on the concrete and flicked a glance at the TV. I love Lucy; don’t we all.
Opening a smaller wooden door I peered out. The wind was blowing and a car sat idling in the car park, facing away from the building. The driver had a phone to his left ear and a finger in the other. I strode purposefully forward. Pausing at the door I waited a moment for the man to notice and turn. The wind shot through my face and made a tune not dis-similar to a woodwind instrument. I’d never been musical before. My boot shattered the fractionally open window and with a thrust my newly acquired knife perforated his smoke-sullied cheeks.
I held it there and waited for him to hold fast. His eyes struggled to turn, but turn they did. I think it was my calm that scared him more than anything.
I tilted my head and found what I was looking for.
“Pick it up.”
His brow dripped with perspiration and his stained left hand blindly scoured the driver’s floor for the mobile phone. It was still connected.
He made to hand it to me, but I shook my head and spat on the gravel.
“Tell him, I’m coming.”
The eyes pled.
Then the lips moved.
Then the cheeks tore.