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Fiction: The Dork in the Floor

by janderson on April 9, 2012

Last month, eFiction Magazine published this short story I had sitting idly in the pile. I am really excited about the reaction it got and thought I’d share it here, since I now have the rights back. Let me know what you think.

“I put the dork in the floor.” He smiled slightly. Outside the abandoned house, the vacillating scree of cicadas flayed the air. Something creaked in the dark as the pale glow of the moon beamed through broken windows. The moon-pale, cast across the rickety wood, made the whole house ghostly and the circle of light from JD’s flashlight, which was pointed directly at the floor now, looked a pathetic, disingenuous spotlight on a nonexistent performance. It was a sad spot of artificial glow, where a miniature circus act should have been, but was cancelled, due to lack of interest.

JD looked at Bear in the lunar night blue and tried to read his face, attempted to understand the meaning of what he said, to absorb what it might mean for the dork to be “in” the floor. He playfully pitched the flashlight beam around the wood planks. “Where at, in the floor?”

Bear pointed through a doorway in front of them. “Over there, in the floor.”

“It’s just like you.” He laughed.

“What’s just like me?”

“Just to be like that.”

“Like what?”

“Like, ‘I put him in the floor.’ You know, whatever. So he’s gotta be scared as shit. Let’s go let him out.”

“He don’t care. He was pretty good about it. Go take a look.”

They creaked across the bowed floorboards through the doorway. The house had not been occupied in decades. Sometimes cows and pigs wandered through when the farmer that owned the land was grazing them outside. The smell of the animals passing through, their musk and their feces, the smell of rodents and plants feeding on the abandoned space ripened in their noses. In the dim, JD could make out countertops and cabinets in the old kitchen. Curled and dried formica tiles crunched beneath their feet.

The dork was likely shivering in the dark somewhere there. He was a cowardly runt. Bear had hated him for his weakness, for his overt frailty. His name was Kevin and when they were at school together, he cowered from Bear. He cowered from JD too, a ridiculous reaction, considering JD was no kind of tough like Bear. JD was Bear’s only friend because JD always felt in need of protection and Bear always felt in need of a friend he could lean hard on.

Beside the sink was a door that Bear opened, spilling moonlight on a wall of shelves that used to hold canned foods. A dusted jar of dark ooze caught the light, preserves or rotted jam. The pantry shelves contained other things, an oil can, other broken jars, the husks of dead roaches.

“Go in.” Bear pointed to JD. “On the floor there, look.”

There was a small latch and a padlock laying next to it. The trap door to the cellar was covered in the same, chipped formica as the kitchen. He lifted the metal tongue from the latch and pulled up. The door was heavier than he predicted. He looked back at Bear who was puffed up with pride, clearly excited. Only blackness pooled below him, a reservoir of tar, bereft of anything visible. He listened for the sound of breathing or struggling, scraping or whimpering. Silence presented its knowing self. JD’s flashlight dimly revealed five wooden steps leading to a dirt floor. Shallow and dank, stinking of dead bugs and rat dung, this crawlspace daunted him with the idea of having to bend down and crawl through whatever arthropod wonderland of webs and fangs, crust of exoskeleton that time had deposited here. He sensed the decades of invasion and piercing, squeezing of primitive organs, injection of stomach juices from one multi-legged thing to another. Bear’s face was expectant, urging. Disappointing him seemed worse than a sting or a slight prick of insect pincers.

Together they had planned the prank on the dork for some time. They watched him pedal his route home every day after school, after Bear had spent his time in school, following and taunting the dork, slapping the books from his hands, pinching him hard under the arm in the lunch line. The dork symbolized something to Bear that JD could never fathom. He watched him torment the spindly kid like he was chasing wolves from a flock of sheep, swinging his big stick to clear the danger away. Bear walked home most days, mumbling about the stupidity of the dork’s actions, mannerisms, the clumsy way he spoke and stood on the playground. JD believed that Bear dreamed about the dork, that those dreams were somehow scary. Many mornings, during the walk to school, Bear would scowl and berate the things he imagined seeing the dork doing when they arrived. As awkward and pitiful as he seemed to JD, the boy was just another weak body to push aside, another profound validation of strength of muscle and the power of toughness over feebleness. JD found Bear’s tormenting amusing, but itched a little at the need, the lust Bear found for more.

In the dark, slightly illuminated by the dimming flashlight, JD creaked down the stairs, bent over, like a hunchback, and peering to make out what eldritch shadows vacillated in front of him. At the bottom of the stairs, he folded to his knees on the dirt floor and looked back at Bear, who stood over him, grinning and urging him forward with his hands. Panning the light around, JD could make out a crawlspace that was as deep and wide as the footprint of the house, draped, in every nook, with silks from casual spiders that knew they were doing their work in seclusion. It was only on the second pass with the light that he caught sight of the heel of a high top tennis shoe, lying on its side. A chalky calf protruded from the shoe into the dark. The boy was tucked about twelve feet away. JD moved forward, trained on the skinny leg and waiting for it to kick in panic for the terror Bear had savaged upon it.

As he crawled nearer to the dork shoe and dork leg, he illuminated dork jean shorts and the back of a dork polo shirt, draping the ribby dork torso he’d seen and made fun of in gym class. He thought he heard a short huff, proof that the dork was lying in the dark terrified. Bear had probably tied him to one of the support posts that stood at engineered intervals amid the crawlspace. JD was sweating and inhaling dust as he finally reached the backside of his schoolmate. He sneezed a couple of times, stirring up more particulate into the dim beam. Above him, he heard a bemused Bear wishing him “Bless you.”
A chunk of wood, the handle of some old tool lay by the back of his head. JD put his hand on the dork’s shoulder and gave a rough shake. “Hey, Kevin. Get the fuck scared out of you, little punk?”

The boy’s whole body rocked, stiffly. The dark closed around JD. Knowing he must lean over, put the light on the boy’s face, confirm what he knew, made him sicken. He did it anyway. Roughly pulling the boy toward him, he angled the light onto a slack jaw and glass eyes. A brownish diamond stain adorned the center of his shirt. JD saw the pool in the dirt on the other side and let go of the body, panting and scooting away. His hands flapped out behind him as he crab walked backward. His fingers stung as one hand came down on something sharp.

“Johnny, what are you doing down there? Making out with him?”

JD whipped his head around, looking to see if Bear was in the hole with him. The voice had still come from above. Pain lingered in his fingers and he inspected his hand with the light. A hairline cut beaded blood across three of his fingers. He trained the light on the attacking creature. The wood handle he had seen lay peacefully in the dirt. This time he saw the carving blade, coated with brown shellac that matched the pool beside the dork. JD took the knife and looked toward the moonlit trapdoor, the shadow of his friend darkening the portal. That smile, the one that was never quite right, was up there waiting, looking for the reaction it had in mind. JD must guess that reaction and give the Bear what he wanted. Something shifted and JD humped backward again. In the dying flashlight beam, he saw the dork’s arm sliding across his shirt toward the dirt floor.

“John!” The jagged whisper came. “Get done gawking and get up here, dammit. We got things to work out.”

He called JD ‘John’ or ‘John David’ when he was trying to manipulate him. It was Bear’s version of sweet-talking him. It usually worked, primarily because JD was terrified of what Bear would do if it didn’t work, not because of any powers of charming he possessed.

The flashlight died out completely and JD let it fall in the dirt, hobbling toward the trap door on his knuckles, gripping the murder weapon in his uncut hand. He kept it close to his side as he crawled up the staircase and locked eyes with Bear, smiling the way he had imagined. Bear held his hands up and sighed, “Dork in the floor.”

“What happened?” He pursed his lips to keep them from quivering.

“He was gonna tell on us. He wouldn’t quit crying and he started screaming that he was gonna tell on us.” He leaned against the kitchen counter with his arms folded.

“I wasn’t there.”

“It was us that planned it, you just as much as me. So it was us he was gonna tell on, even if it was just me.”

“Last time you talked to me, we planned to tie him up in the dark for a while. I didn’t go along with anything else.” JD climbed out of the hole and sidestepped Bear, trying to work his way toward the door.

“Things got tough. You weren’t here. I was trying to scare him some more with the knife. I held it to his throat. He started thrashing around, rolled himself right onto it. Neither one of us planned for that to happen. It was real bad luck. I would have done something for him, if I could.”

“You don’t seem too worried about it.”

Bear slid along the counter toward the kitchen door that JD was trying to make his way toward. He kept his arms folded in front of him. They were soon face to face.

“I hated that creep. I’m supposed to act upset now. It was an accident. I won’t get in trouble for an accident, not much.”
“They won’t see it as an accident.”

“They will if you help. Put the knife on the counter, JD. You can go home after that, if you promise not to say anything to anybody.”

He gripped the handle tighter to his side. “It’s still down there.”

“No, you got it right there in your hand. I can tell by the way you’re holding your arm. Just drop it on the counter and go. I can trust you not to say anything, but I can’t let you leave here with that particular knife. It could get you in trouble along with me. I have to get rid of it right away.”

“What about the dork?”

“Nobody’s going to find him either. I’ll bury him right down there where he lays. You just have to promise you won’t say anything. If you keep shut up, it won’t ever be a problem. Put down the knife and give me your word.”

JD looked back at the closet, at the trap door, where Kevin bled out every bit of awkward blood. He began to cry. “I’m not going to tell anyone, Bear. I’m going to try and never think about it again. What you did, you did. That’s it.”

“What we did. The knife in your hand…I was wearing work gloves when I held it. You didn’t bring gloves, did you? You got a little cut there on your other hand.”

JD saw a single drip had run to the end of his finger.

“So your blood’s here in the house. I know you won’t say anything. Put it on the counter and you can go.”

Something almost rakish, a clowny humor shined in the Bear’s eyes. He was not smiling, but JD could sense giddiness in his movements, his jaunty stepping around the kitchen with those judgmental arms clamped across his chest. A call of subconscious sources came from the open trap door. An anxiety, a panic shot from it like a phantom’s hand and gripped the back of JD’s brain. He threw the knife at the hole and heard it thump in the dirt as he turned to run from the house. Before he could breach the kitchen doorframe, there was a rough hand on his shirt collar pulling him back, throwing him to the floor. He sat up and Bear was over him. His beefy arms opened and revealed a tarnished blade in one of his gloved hands.

“There’s a whole drawer full of old knives over there.” He cocked his head to the counter.

JD pushed his hands out toward Bear, wide open, fingers shaking. “Wait! I’m your friend. I’m with you.”

“Make me proud, then, JD. Don’t squeal, like the dork.” He began stabbing, over-handed, pushing the boy’s defending hands away with his free arm. JD panted and grunted, tried to plead, but he never squealed.

Bear emerged from the house panting and cackling, when he could huff enough air to cackle. He admired the moon and it admired him back, a symbiote love affair only they knew. There was a dog barking in the night somewhere. Down the road, just beyond the dip between cornfields, some quarter mile before the road turned west toward the dork’s house, the lights were on in a farmhouse a short distance away. Bear had seen the old man who lived there tending his chickens in the morning. The woman watered the flowerbeds around the porch when the sun was hot. They were nice people.

He thought of his father and almost got tears to come. He thought of his father drunk and felt his face redden. He punched himself in the cheek and thought harder. Soon he was crying. He began to run as fast as he could, striking out a blow to his own eye every few yards. He imagined coming up the farmhouse steps and begging for help. Bear cried out in the night and, the more he thought, the more genuine it became. He’d been through a horrible experience, nearly murdered. A kindly, old farm couple would be his saviors.

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