"I gotta get back, babydoll, you know she's waiting. She's gonna be shitface pissed at me for missing dinner twice in one week." He straightened his hair in the mirror, looking beyond his reflection at her, the finest ass in town plumped up high on feather pillows, beckoning him. "Aw, baby, you know I can't go again," he drew in a sharp breath as her legs parted and she shifted back ever so slightly on her strong haunches. "You'll gimme some of that again tomorrow, lunchtime, here. I'll see about canceling my afternoon meeting." He smacked her perfect ass hard with his open hand; she bit into the pillow and screamed. He pulled her back against his hardness, rubbing her up and down. "Tomorrow, just you wait. Gotta go now." He grabbed his satchel and the crumpled shopping list, "Ah fuck, I have to stop at the goddamn store. See you tomorrow."

He took the flight of stairs down from her apartment two at a time and swung through the front door. A few strides down the tree-lined street and he saw the interior lights of his A5 beam on as he unlocked the car. This baby still purrs, he thought, I just love this little car, I don't care, I just love it. I love it so much, I might even fuck it one day. The car roared to life and he pulled out into the night, ignoring the blaring horn and the loud "fuck you, asshole" coming up behind him. A few turns and a quick on- and off-the-highway and he was in the Whole Foods parking lot at Lakeside, finding a spot far away in the corner so no asshole would ding him with their got-my-natural-foods-now-I-gotta-get-home shopping karma.

He made his way through the aisles, picking up the items on his wife's list: organic red grapes (fucking $7.99 a pound, dammit) squeezable yogurt for the kids, green tea, artisan swiss cheese and sourdough rye. Air-roasted organic espresso beans for him, and a six-pack of that amber beer he had tried at Mike's, from the brewery up in Syracuse. Ah, hell, she's not gonna speak to me... I'll drink and watch the game. He winked at the pretty blonde stocking a shelf with organic wine as he grabbed two six-packs. I'd like to tap that. He picked up a copy of Men's Health at the register and thumbed through it as he crossed the darkened parking lot. He mindlessly hit the button and the lights faded on again, nose in the magazine. What? Semen is good for a woman's complexion? Shit, man. He reached for the door handle.

FUCK! What the hell was that? He whirled around as a sharp pain pierced his midsection. "What the hell? Who the fuck are you?" he demanded of the sullen man standing inches behind him, so close he could smell his boozy breath. "Shut the fuck up. Get in the car. Don't make a fucking sound or I'll fucking kill you, motherfucker." Oh, fuck. He hesitated, suspended; the man's face was unreal, otherworldly, stretched thin yet sagging, his eyes vacant yet urgent. "I am so serious, asshole. Open the door and get in the fucking car." What the fuck is this? This guy looks like a zombie. A fucking zombie has a gun on me? Ah, fuck fuck. "All right, buddy, it's okay, I'm okay, I'm gonna help you here. What do you need, money? I got cash. I got some beer here, too. Whaddya need here?"

"Get in the fucking car or you are fucking dead, mister. Just do it." He hesitated for only a moment, then opened the driver's door and eased down into the sweet bucket seat. The zombie-with-a-gun opened the back door and got in. As he put the paper bag of groceries on the passenger seat, the door opened and another man jumped in. "Fuck, fucking move that shit, I'm trying to sit down, for fuck's sake." He yanked the groceries to the floor and stared openly as the new man hitched his jeans up over impossibly skinny and bruised hips; looking at him from under greasy hair down to his chin, shirtless, he instructed through a toothless, leering grin, "Drive, motherfucker. You will be driving us. Put it in reverse. Man, this is a sweet ride you got here."

He put it in reverse. He backed out of the parking space, scanning the parking lot for anyone to whom he might call for help, but no one was anywhere near this far corner. Of course he had planned it that way. Back-seat zombie pushed the gun into his ribs again and said, "I see you, man, I'm right here watching you with this here gun. Don't fucking try anything. Take us out onto 79 South and don't attract attention. We gots to be getting home." He eased the clutch and shifted into first, feeling his brain settle somewhere in his abdomen, fleeting images racing past as he crawled out onto the street. His son at baseball practice last Saturday. His daughter baking a cake with Julie, his wife. Julie, her back to him in the bathroom, squeezing by without touching him. All of them at the beach last summer.

The Audi purred along just as she always did, two of its three passengers enjoying the ride. "Shit man, this really is a nice ride, how much does this car cost, motherfucker?" He swallowed. "What's that?" He turned to look as the skinny man leered at him; his mouth looked like it had been hit with a hockey puck. Missing and broken teeth, bottom lip swollen and bleeding, open sores on his chin and left cheek. What the fuck happened to these guys, why do they look like fucking zombies? Fuck, I am in trouble now. "How MUCH did the damn car cost, motherfucker! Or are you too rich to even know how much you spent on your car? Damn." "Ah, it was about 40 grand," he said, surprised at the even tone of his own voice. "Where is it that I'm driving you guys?"

"You'll know when we get there, asshole. Just keep driving. Take exit eight. You got some music in here? You got any Ozzy, man?" He fumbled with the MP3 player and music blared through the speakers. "Ah, it's Nickelback. I don't think I have any Ozzy in here." "Yeah, yeah, that's good enough. Oh yeah, I like that song, don't we like it, Arnold?" He turned to the zombie in the back seat, who had not let go of his grip on the gun in his side. Arnold? Zombie number one's name is Arnold? "Yeh, yeh, good one," replied Arnold. Front-seat zombie started to sing along. "I like your pants around yer feet, I like the dirt that's on yer knees, I like the way you still say please while you're looking up at me... Yeah, I like that shit too, the fucking whore better do it right." These guys are too classy, what, are they tweakers? Is this what meth does to you?

What if I crash the car into one of those trees? Maybe I could crash and escape... how may airbags are in this car? Man, I don't even have my seatbelt on... He reached across for his seatbelt and felt a rapping on his head. "Don't do it, motherfucker," came the voice from the back seat. That's the gun on my head, fuck. "I see what yer doing there, don't even think about it. Now I have this gun up against your stupid rich head and if you make one wrong move, you're dead, man. If you try crashing this car, I'll blow your fucking brains out before you make it to the tree. I'm telling you, don't try it, motherfucker." He stared straight ahead and kept driving.

How the fuck am I gonna get myself out of this? "Man, exit 8, right here, man! Take a left onto 19." He turned onto a two-lane state highway, woods on either side. "Just drive here for a bit." They drove in silence, the zombie in the front seat occasionally spitting into a plastic soda bottle. Chew. God, what am I even gonna do here? His eyes searched but they were surrounded by trees, an occasional house with no lights, a corn field, more trees. "All right, turn here, here! Right turn." The A5 bumped onto a rough dirt road, the trees even closer now; he slammed on the brakes as a deer with small antlers leaped in front of the car, stopped for a long moment, frozen in the headlights, and then bounded off through the woods, white tail flashing. "Shit, Arnold, you shoulda shot him, we ain't got much to eat back at the house." Arnold tapped the gun against his skull. "Ah, we'll be fine, Dave, just shut up. Keep going, motherfucker, we are almost there." So front-seat zombie is Dave.

He followed directions and wound his way down two more dirt lanes until stopping the car at a dead end. The headlights beamed on a heap of garbage bags with their contents spilling out; several bales of straw were scattered around. An enormous pit bull raced from a barely discernible building about 50 yards beyond them, barking and jumping up against the car door, menacing and slobbering the drivers' side window. He cringed as he heard the dog's claws against the metal, and sunk as low as possible in the seat, ready to piss himself with fear. What the fuck now, oh what the fuck now? "Get out, motherfucker, just get out. He won't hurt ya, he's jest goddamn loud." He hesitated. "Get outta the fucking car, man." The gun buried in his side pushed him to the left and then out the door, hugging the side of the car, trying to avoid the dog. "King! Down, Kinger! Down! Here's a treat for ya, buddy."

He shuffled along with the gun in his side as King and Dave ran ahead. A light flooded the driveway as they approached a tiny cabin, beer bottles and plastic bags strewn around out front. An older woman glared through the front window as they made their way up the steps. Dave opened the broken screen door, holding it against its hinges as Arnold's gun nudged him forward into the cabin. "Well, hello there, prettyboy," said the woman, who looked to be their mother, perhaps, just as haggard and zombie-ish as her sons. Her hair fell in near-dreads, gathered by a faded blue bandanna that looked like she had used it for a handherchief for months, and deciding it was too dirty, used it to tame her even-greasier hair. "What did you bring for me? Did you get the cash?"

The woman directed her question to Dave but her gaze never left his face, so intense that his skin began to crawl. Ah I really am in trouble here. This woman has no soul, I can see that, no soul. Her hand, holding a ragged tea towel, twitched in the same rhythm that her eyes jerked in their sockets, but she never stopped staring at him. She tossed the dirty rag on the counter and walked closer, within his arms' length. I could reach out and choke her right now. His thoughts were interrupted by Dave's whining response to her question: "No, man, we forgot to stop. Oh, sorry, Julie." Julie? This zombie hag is no Julie, jesus christ, my wife is Julie. Aw, man, Julie. Oh, my Julie. Forgive me, Julie. Oh, forgive me.

She wheeled around to face them. "I cannot believe you fucking idiots forgot. What are we supposed to do now? The whole point of your little field trip was to get a guy to drive you and to get his cash from his ATM! Goddammit, the two of you are fucking idiots. You couldn't find your way out of a paper bag." She was spitting mad and he saw that she, too, had few teeth in her head. "Get his wallet, anyway. Do it." Arnold slouched forward and in a split second, he was down, seeing proverbial stars on the water-stained ceiling. "What the fuck did ya do that for? I told you already I have cash, I'll give it to you." His hand went to his head and back down: blood in his hair. Lots of it. "Shut the fuck up, motherfucker, and give me your fucking wallet," Arnold kicked him hard in his side to emphasize his desire for the wallet. He reached down in his pocket and handed it over.

"Now get him in the bathroom and tie him up. He's not gonna be any more help to us now," barked the woman so inappropriately named Julie. "He might not be any help to us at all. We're gonna have to get rid of him, and that fucking fancy car you boys decided you needed a ride in. You think nobody's gonna be out lookin' for that thing? Jesus, you are so fucking stupid." Dave crossed the room and together with Arnold hoisted him to his feet, half dragging him across the so-called kitchen, every surface strewn with cans and bottles of every size, water and other liquid spilled on every counter and trailing across the floor to the door. He noted that his jeans were wet from his fall to the floor, and a strong odor assaulted him as they dragged him through a narrow doorway to what appeared to be a bathroom.

"Man, I just wanna shake and bake already, fuck man, this guy is heavier than he looks," Dave almost whined as they pushed him face-first into a tiny soiled bathtub and he cracked his nose on the faucet. Wincing with pain, tasting the blood pouring from his nose, he wrestled around and they heavily pushed him onto his ass, his feet up in the air. Before he had time to move, the shower curtain was on top of him, reeking plastic pressing down on his face and neck as he felt his shoes being ripped off and a burn on his right ankle. They are binding me, fuck I cannot breathe he groaned and struggled as the weight against his neck lessened. His arms were roughly ripped upside his ears, burning on his wrists and hands. FUCK fuck fuck how can those guys be so fucking strong when they are so skinny? Jesus god please don't kill me oh please don't I'm a father and a husband and Wham! came a blow to his midsection and he bellowed. Stomping of feet out the door followed; he opened his eyes. The shower curtain had been pulled back and he blinked away blood to make out his surroundings.

They left him like that for hours. After losing consciousness for who knows how long, he came to as snippets of conversation wafted in from the next room. "We're gonna have to sell that motherfucking car, that's what. We don't have enough money for it now, for nothing." "How are we gonna sell that car?" The woman named Julie was the voice of reason. "It's so flashy and identifiable. You guys are just fucking stupid. Thanks to you, now we have a car and a body to deal with. We'll have to dump them both in the lake tomorrow." Dump the body in the lake? Dump the body in the lake? Put me in my car and dump me in the lake? They think I'm dead. They think they've already killed me.

He listened to them talking about disposing of him and his car like so much annoying garbage. His mind whirled; how could this be happening? How could they have such disregard for him, a normal person, another human being? As the night went on, their voices faded and all was still, the silent woods outside like a blanket pressing down on the tiny shack like it was his coffin. The visions were unrelenting: his son toddling across the floor, the dog jumping up at the back door to be let in, his wife giving birth. Sunshine across the sunny kitchen, glinting in the lock of Julie's hair that let loose from her ponytail as she kneaded bread. His daughter throwing her head back, laughing. His wife under a sheet in their master bed, pulling him closer, his hands covering her breasts, down her round belly, her breath quickening. What have I done? Oh Julie, my love, what have I done here? 
He was resolute in the pitch blackness, pulling and twisting, dragging and pulling. Against the pain he pulled until he felt the knot give, just a little, but it gave. That was enough. Ozzy rang through his brain: there are no unsaveable souls, I just want you. Twist, turn a fraction that way, looser and looser. He nearly shouted for joy when the rope gave way but oh man don't do that, keep it cool, man, Julie my love, I am coming for you, I just want you, keep it cool and easy here. Slowly he leaned forward as the blood ran back through his arms, his hands, to the ends of his fingers. Untying his feet was child's play, comparatively. As the feeling and the pain rushed to his feet, he considered the room; when it was lighter, earlier, he had seen a sinktop littered with bottles. Where was that lighter I saw? Easy, man. Easy. I am saving my soul here. He unfolded ever-slowly from the bathtub, feet ginger on the floor, patiently rising like a flag unfurling, two small steps forward and his knee gently grazed the sink cabinet. Tiny movements as his hands explored the edge of the basin, identifying each item by touch until he found it.

Gripping the lighter in his right hand, his left gently pushed the door forward, listening for any sound. They're asleep, do tweakers sleep soundly? Are they passed out? Ah, slowly. He made his way through the doorway and into the kitchen, aware of the bottles and junk strewn everywhere like land mines, waiting for him to make one mistake and wake up his zombie friends with their gun. I gotta get some light in here or I'm gonna fuck this up. Where could they be sleeping? He decided to risk it, and in a flash the room was bathed in weak orange firelight. Shadows bounced everywhere; the room was littered with every kind of mess but mostly bottles. Christ, this is like an obstacle course, if I can just get through it I'll be out and to my car, I'm coming home to you, Julie, I'll be there by daybreak, Julie, we'll start again, Julie. I just want you, Julie. I just want you.

After what felt like a lifetime, a long series of the smallest movements his body could bear, he reached the front door. There was the A5, glinting, practically winking at him, c'mon, come and get me, she called. He tugged softly on the doorknob, turned and tugged, but it didn't move. He pulled with a bit more force, but nothing. Motherfucker, I am so close. He applied even more pressure and the door popped open with a sucking, banging sound as the screen door half-off its hinges flew open and slammed hard against the door jamb.

"Mother--" he muttered as the dog yelped outside and he jumped at the sound piercing the silent woods; as if in slow motion, he watched his hand open, the lighter lighting on the air in an arc and landing in a puddle of what is that liquid? Oh jesus god no, no and WHOOSH the flames raced across the floor and to the front door, the flames raced up his pantleg and caught his shirt, the flames ripped through the rags covering the windows, the flames reached the ceiling and engulfed the room before he had time to right himself. The flames licked his legs, tickled at his chest just above his breaking heart, surrounded him with heat as he collapsed. Oh Julie, you and me, Julie, I just want you.
My Indie Ink writing challenge this week is from Kat, the Sassy Irish Lassie, who gave me this juicy prompt: "Try to use all of these words in a story: hockey puck, plastic bottle, crumpled note, unhinged door, dirty handkerchief."