Jarred leans against the brick wall behind the convenience store and spits out a mild amount of stomach acid mixed with bile. His hand was beginning to burn with searing jabs making its way up to his wrist, it was starting to pull him back to the reality of how serious this was getting. The flesh among the top of his pinky was divided in half, almost to the milk-white bone. Getting the sharpest knife he could find in his kitchen was the idea to pass the next challenge, one swing was all that he could muster before wandering off for help. It was as if his mind entered auto-pilot and he mindlessly made it to the store where he only knew the clerk by her first name, which he couldn’t even pronounce, due to the lack of friends or reliable family.
The clerk stands there in the hot June sun, trying to make sense of what was going on or what to do.
“Hey, man, do you want me to call an ambulance?” she manages to merge jumbled words into a sentence at last, but the look of shock on his face makes her uneasy.
“No, I-I don’t even know why I came here.” Jarred lets go of his hand and fumbles for his phone, with shock still trying to settle in, he had enough light conscience to know what would happen if anyone got involved. Asking for help was a mistake his mind managed to slip past his premeditated words, but he could lie and say he needed something else such as rubbing alcohol or gauze. Still, he was to wonder why he would be drawn to the store he only visits for his annual dirty secret, cigarettes and maybe an occasional coffee to go with it. A clerk he didn’t know or ever make small talk with, a rundown convenience store with an oil streaked parking lot and grease splatter behind next to an oil drum well past its use. “I was just wondering if you had any rubbing alcohol inside?” Turning his fingers around to create half a fist, he covers his injured finger while pulling his phone out. His reflection among the blank screen shows wear past his age, grooves among his cheeks and beneath his eyes told a tell of misery.
“Rubbing alcohol? Yeah I think we have some, but maybe I should go see if we got a first aid kit. You got some blood leaking from your hand, man. Are you sure you don’t want me to call anyone?”
Five minutes remained in the hour, where did time go? He had to make a decision and do it quick. “On second thought yeah I’ll take the kit, kid.” She nods her head and turns to run inside. Jarred crouches down looking for anything he could use, kicking a black trash bag its belongings spill out one loose end. Candy wrappers, empty chemical containers, a half eaten sandwich. He digs through becoming frustrated and desperate, until a rusted can catches his eye. The jagged lid lay open and bent on one side, the center of it crushed from a step. Three minutes left. Jarred picks the can up and examines the jagged ends circulating into a semi-circle. Beads of sweat form at the temple of his head while waves of nausea begin to sway in his belly. He places his hand atop the grease barrel and spreads his fingers apart, blood seeps around his pinky and ring finger colliding against cooled layers of oil. Jarred takes a deep breath and pushes the lid at an angle into his open wound.
Ceilidh rummages through various boxes and filing cabinets in the ‘Employees Only’ backroom. Her boss was a clutter bug and was hardly organized, the med kit was there but not exactly sure where.
Jarred’s mouth hangs open, flashes of pain pulsated with every motion. Pointed tips scrape away layers of cartilage between the nudges of bone, what took seconds felt like hours. Tears jerk over his cheeks, it was almost done when the lid gets stuck. Wedged between the thin line of meat, it seemed he was going to have to act quick to finish.
The teenager with punk colored hair and pale skin to compliment her black clothes under her bright green work vest steps back out, “Hey my hoarder boss has so much clutter I couldn’t find the kit. All I can offer is a pad I found in the ladies restroom– the f**k!”
Jarred tightens his grip on his dangling finger between his teeth and rears back with a jerked force, the pinky comes off with a jet of red syringing minuscule splashes among his beard. Ceilidh drops everything in her hands, which was a generic hygiene pad and a half empty bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and turns away wrapping one hand across her stomach as it heaves inwards.
Jarred lets the appendage hit the ground and runs away in heavy strides, legs feeling like anchored slabs. He pulls the phone out to see the digital time to transition.
Sighing with relief, he takes a break and awaits the next message. Almost on cue his phone dings with his next task. It read: You made a friend? The game just got more interesting. A man with an appetite awaits for you behind the alley of Chelsea’s Bar, bring him fresh meat from the cemetery. One hour.
“Fresh meat from…you can’t be serious. How the f**k am I supposed to do this?” He drops his phone and stands up pressing his hands into his head, everything was beginning to overwhelm him. He rips his hands away and suddenly thinks of a line that stood out: You made a friend? How did they know where he was, were their cameras, someone following him?
“Hey, are you on drugs?”
He turns to see the clerk a good distance behind, the store still in view, she followed a bit to check on his safety. “I can call an ambulance for you?”
Jarred takes a step towards her and clamps his hand over his wound, “I’m sorry, I can’t explain right now, but I’m not on drugs. I didn’t mean to scare you earlier.”
“You didn’t,” she says with half a smile. Working on the bad side of town I’ve witnessed a lot of things people have done while on drugs, Jesus I had to give mouth to mouth resuscitation on a junkie in the alley my first month here. I’m not judging, just want to call for help if you need it is all. If not I’m heading home.”
“Wait,” he extends his red-painted palm towards her. No cops, the rules said nothing of help from strangers. What if she could help him save his family? “I do need your help, I don’t know how to make you believe me, what I’m about to say.”
Ceilidh’s smile droops from one corner and becomes more of a stern expression. “What’s going on, man?”
Jarred begins to explain in detail, from the night he witness a suicide to where he ended up today. She sat on an upside down milk crate while smoking a cigarette, taking in everything he said. After hearing him out she takes a deep breath and exhales grey wisps around their faces. “I wanna believe it, it would make sense with some of the events that have happened here. Guelph used to be a safe place to live at, s**t nothing ever happened here in Canada. Slowly things have gotten worse, but like not just with drugs but suicides, that girl jumping on the creek wasn’t the only unusual one. I heard a man was found inside a crack house one time, one hand and foot were nailed to the floor boards by a nail gun, the final one in his head. Like a modern-day crucifixion, man. Who offs themselves like that?”
“No one with a will to choose their own dark path out, that’s who. I don’t know how to win, or how this ends. All I know is my family is in trouble.”
“And I guess I’m part of it now? So much for being a good Samaritan, what happens if I refuse to help? Or if I call the cops?”
“I don’t know,” Jarred stares down at his cheaply bandaged finger. Blood had soaked through the pad and down to the taped edges around the base of his pinky, but it finally seemed to slow down. “I know I don’t know you, but I’m begging you, please, help me.”
She takes one last drag and drops the b**t, steps on it then stands up sliding her vest off to reveal a Rancid shirt. “What do we have to do?”
Jarred sighs, “I need to stop at a cemetery.”