By David L. Rosenthal
Stan couldn’t stand not having someone to torture, taunt or incite. So he got up and irritably began to plan a night of diversion. He did not bother to shave, change his underwear, or brush his teeth, as this night he was in a mood to blow dirty breath from an unkempt face at whoever he might meet and make uncomfortable. He did not have far to go.
Stan Deman was certainly not your typical piece of work, a very sly, witty, and deeply intelligent bugger from a perfectly stable background, having come from the best of families, with a loving, attentive father who displayed all the finest qualities, and brothers who naturally adopted them. But not Stan. Stan was…special.
The seedy, squalid hotel room in a Downtown brick low-rise in desperate need of pointing, lacking none of the trappings of filth and poverty that only the privileged enjoy, was not home, but merely his base of operations for these recreational outings that gave his existence meaning. He pulled the tattered, nicotine-impregnated drapes wide to gaze down from the third storey window, almost immediately finding what must become his first victim of the night. And his mood improved at once.
From his smiling lips emerged a cheery “Do a little dance, make a little love, get down tonight!” And away he went, not bothering to close the door behind him, almost skipping down the stinking hallway with its drab threadbare carpet and its walls decorated with suggestive limericks hastily scrawled by some modern urban, Shakespearean tweeker. So joyful had he become that he carefully stomped forcefully on each step as he descended the noisy stairway, waking other residents who had become accustomed to this nightly signal that sadism once again had taken flight.
The stale, fetid air of the inner city was customarily suffocatingly hot and dank, just as Stan preferred it for his favorite avocational outings, as it set the proper tone, assisting to predispose potential victims to misery even before he could target them. And since the place appeared a bit too orderly for his taste, Stan overturned a few public waste receptacles, strewing the contents hither and thither, giving a final artistic touch to the setting. The night seemed just about perfect and he was just getting warmed up.
From the window of his sordid headquarters, Stan had seen his unsuspecting victim shuffle into the neighborhood greasy spoon, and knew that he’d delay there for at least long enough to swallow some of its finest bitter brew, complete with grinds, and who knew what else, let to spill carelessly into the grimy, chipped cup. (The nocturnal rats that prowled there, foraging for whatever remained of the day’s droppings, never failed to avoid whatever puddles of coffee remained unswabbed, recalling the ill effects it had previously visited on them.)
Shuffling toward that illustrious establishment in his best imitation of the feckless wretch on whom he had focused his merciless whim, Stan murmured softly to himself, “This one is truly lost in Yonkers.” And he glanced upward with a feigned look of winsomeness, lips slightly pursed, brows half frowned, and mock worry in his eyes, gently shaking his head. Then he sighed with exaggerated exhalation and strode energetically through the decrepit front door of what perhaps a century earlier might have been a decent family eatery.
The old fellow sat hunched over a bowl of what the menu classified as pottage, which appeared to contain more beans than anything else, a stale hunk of Italian loaf in one hand and a spoon precariously balanced in the other hand that shook noticeably as he brought it toward his puffy lips, as the ceiling fan caused the few wisps of longish, thin, gray hair to dance to and fro across his otherwise bald, freckled pate. Stan stood contemplating his prey with pleasure, repeating the same counterfeit gesture he had just made before entering the dive, though his inner self was licking its lips in anticipation of the gruesome chase about to ensue.
Then placing his bestial hand on the old man’s shoulder, Stan exclaimed in mock concern, “Morris?! Is that you? You look in terrible shape, my friend!”
The spoon fell from his hand into the bowl of bean soup, creating a splash that sent a spray of broth across Morris’ old blue blazer, that had been new when Chuck Berry began his career, and a tie that in no sense resembled anything but a rag. Morris stared in something approaching enervated consternation at the unknown intruder, who had interrupted his main meal of the day and soiled his best suit of clothes to boot.
“Do I know you?”, asked the aged fellow, now attempting somewhat futilely to soak up the spatter from his jacket and tie with a ragged cloth napkin of dubious color.
Stan did not at once reply, but stood shaking his head as though he had just witnessed a tragic event or heard that a friend had died. Then he slowly drawled, “Oh, Morris…I am so sad to see you in this condition,” and almost broke down in tears, lower lip trembling slightly, sniffling audibly, and then grasping the old man by the ears as he crushed him in a tight embrace that left Morris gasping for breath.
“Please let go of me! I don’t know you! Who are you?! Please go away!” stammered the frightened man, pushing back from Stan’s grasping hands, almost falling off the wobbly counter stool. Stan, hardly able to keep from exploding into guffaws, had to force his mouth into a downward frown that must have resembled a clown’s face.
“I’m so sorry, I’m so, so sorry, Morris,” he said, gesticulating in apparent dismay, placing one open palm against his cheek. “It has been a long time, my friend…but I never expected to see you so close to death!” Morris’ mouth dropped fully open and his features twisted into an expression of undefined mangled emotion, so that Stan had now to drop his face almost parallel to the floor to hide his glee.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” mumbled Morris almost to himself. Abandoning his half finished supper, he placed a few crinkled dollar bills onto the counter and swiftly shuffled toward the door, with Stan in hot pursuit, almost floating over the old man like a harpie over a deathbed.
“Please, Morris, don’t run off like this! I only want to help you! I have been looking for you for weeks!” Stan followed Morris down the cracked, gray slate pavement, cajoling him to halt his retreat.
Morris’ curiosity got the better of him and so he stopped, against his better judgment, and turning to face Stan, already almost exhausted from the encounter and his attempt to escape it, asked, “Why have you been looking for me for weeks? I do not even know you! You must be insane!”
“Morris! Morris! Please!”, gasped Stan in the most forceful manner he could project. “Don’t tell me that you do not know your own grandchild!” Here Stan displayed perhaps the most artful semblance of horror that any student of Shakespeare ever has. Then supplicating he added, “Morris, please…don’t run off. I can see you are not yourself. Come up to my hotel room, and I will order some supper and explain everything.”
“You are not my grandson. I do not know you,” replied Morris in stiffly defiant undertones, eyes squinting as he stared directly into Stan’s, who hid his own intense delight behind a façade of concern. But once the words were spoken, Morris’ resolve faded with the last vestige of the energy he had summoned to face the madman. He now simply stood there, wondering how to get away, or what to do next. And Stan just savored the moment for a while, seeing victory approaching in the foreground. Life was good, indeed.
“Just come upstairs with me, Grampa,” Stan whispered tenderly. “You can eat and relax. You can have anything you want. It’s OK. I am here now.” Stan finally had to throw himself onto Morris’ shoulder and feign a forceful whimper to hide the outburst of laughter that he could no longer contain. Morris, staring wide-eyed at this bizarre stranger who clung to him with heaving movements of weeping (that unbeknownst to him was hidden laughter), gave up the struggle, telling himself that perhaps a free good meal, and maybe a bath, were worth tolerating this demented man who, after all, did not seem to present any danger. And maybe he could even convince him to send out his clothes to be cleaned. In any case, it did not appear that he had much choice in the matter. So up to the room they went.
As they climbed the dimly lit stairway together, and walked down the depressingly dingy hallway, Morris felt no specific concern, as a good deal of the time he had nowhere to stay, and other times he spent the night in places not as welcoming as this ramshackle hotel. In any case, his flight mechanism had already shut down from fatigue. His tired mind now focused on the promise of good food, good rest, and clean clothes. Maybe this chance encounter had turned out to be nothing less than an impoverished man’s windfall. He almost began to feel at ease.
No sooner did he shut the door to the disheveled habitation than Stan, as though he had read Morris’ mind, said, “Now Morris, get out of those dirty clothes so I can send them out to be cleaned,” which impressed Morris as a fortuitous turn of events and a harbinger of good things to come. “And tell me what you want to eat. I think we can do better than a bowl of…what was that anyway? You don’t eat that all the time, do you?”
The pottage of questionable origin was not Morris’ favorite dish, but due to economic considerations, it certainly was a regular part of his diet. “No, not at all. I was just in the mood for something light. But I am hungry now. I could eat a horse, I think. Do you think they have shrimp salad on rye with a salad on the side? With Thousand Island Dressing. And a couple of beers?”
A minute later he was handing over his outerwear, which Stan unceremoniously bagged as though disposing of a musty clump of dead chrysanthemums, handing it over to a young woman who came to collect it. “And please hurry with the order,” he said to her, winking conspiratorially as he closed the door. The young woman disappeared around the corner, and Morris’ clothes disappeared into the garbage can.
Now, as Morris sat back on the overstuffed couch, in discolored tank top and boxer shorts, wondering whether to bathe before or after the meal, and feeling as carefree as he had in years, Stan stood over him and, looking down into his eyes, said in a rasping voice that could have been a low hiss, “You know, old fool…I am not your grandson.” And then he smiled with obvious menace. Morris’ lightness dissipated instantly, as he found himself nearly naked and penniless in the hotel room of a hostile predator, who before his eyes had transformed from a benevolent, if eccentric stranger into what he now apprehended as an eager sadist. Reality had begun to set in.
Morris moved as though to stand and Stan swiftly slapped him with more than enough force to knock him back onto the couch, where he sat inert in wide-eyed horror, while over him Stan almost growled.
“Not so fast, my friend,” Stan sneered with mock amity. “We have only just begun. Just an hour ago we met, but you have yet to get to know me the way I wish to have you know me. Don’t be in such a hurry. We have all night.”
With that Stan grabbed Morris by the neck, lifted him easily up and spun him around like a broom and, dropping him face-down on the bed, bound his arms behind him with the top sheet. Then he flipped him over, lifted his ankles to the top of the headboard and, with another sheet, bound them to it, so that Morris lay uncomfortably face up, his arms tied under him, behind his back, as blood rushed to his head.. Stan then began to giggle as he yanked at the wisps that hung from Morris’ bare skull, but his reverie was interrupted by a knock at the door. Pulling Morris’ thick cotton socks from his feet, he balled them up and shoved them into Morris’s mouth, patted him on the head, and turned to answer the knock at the door.
Taking the tray, Stan slammed the door with enthusiastic anticipation, and balancing it on one hand, as though he were an attentive waiter, strutted with feigned elegance to where his supine customer awaited. Morris trembled noticeably, watching Stan’s every move with trepidation. Sweat ran from every part of him. The taste of dirty socks nauseated him, as well.
“We are going to have a lot of fun, tonight, Grampa,” Stan sweetly sang, laying the tray down on Morris’ belly. “I have a long list of games to play and parts to pull.” Now he pulled Morris’ left ear till he squealed through the socks. “But first you should have a bite.” Now he bit Morris’ right ear, drawing blood and a long, pathetic, muffled wail. “I meant a bite to eat. How silly of me.” Morris began to cry quietly as he gently shuddered.
As Stan stood watching Morris weep and quake, he suddenly felt bored, and decided to search for a more challenging victim. Dropping his façade of humanity, Stan transformed into Satan, and becoming quietly somber, bent over far enough to whisper into Morris’ bloody ear in his normally grave, raspy voice.
“My friend,” he said, “You really bore me to tears, so I will put you out of your misery and find someone who’ll at least pretend to be a man, the torturing of whom perhaps might provide some pleasure. Flaying a wreck of a man is no challenge at all. The night is still young enough and shows much promise.” And with that he flipped open a rusty, old straight razor that often served as his tool of choice in finalizing executions.
“But at least we can make your departure a memorable one,” he quipped and, first pulling the dirty socks from Morris’ mouth, then grabbing Morris’ left ear, he lopped it off, with cold, conscienceless grace, leaving the pitiable old derelict screaming in pain and fright. In quick order the right ear joined the left on the blood-stained carpet. Then the nose. “Beg me to kill you whenever you’ve had enough.” Satan crooned in an acrid falsetto, lopping of Morris’ thumbs in quick succession.
“Pleeeeeeeeease,” Morris screamed, ‘Please end this!!” Satan smiled.
“Alright, dear man, alright.” And he drew the blade slowly toward the jugular that seemed almost to be trying to burst from Morris’ neck.
The end was imminent, but just as Satan was about to finish him, Morris began to laugh, a quiet, peaceful kind of chuckle really, as a wide, bright smile lit up his face like a streetlamp, as his countenance began to transform from that of a dried up old wretch into a virile young man in the prime of life. Satan was taken aback, and fell silent as his eyes bugged open in bitter astonishment.
The bonds fell from Morris’ limbs and he sat up in bed, pulled Satan’s face close to his own, and kissed him on both cheeks. Satan then began to weep and almost whimpered, “It is not fair. You have done it again.”
The person on the bed, now fully revealed as Jesus Christ, patted Satan gently on the cheek.
“I apologize, brother,” he said, almost in earnest, “but I cannot simply let you roam freely to abuse my sheep.”