Andy opened his eyes, but wherever he was, it was too dark to see. He shivered, feeling the cold concrete beneath him. His stomach rumbled, then gurgled. A mouthful of vomit climbed his throat and he coughed, clearing the liquid away. It tasted like bile and it burned.
He struggled up, afraid of the spreading pool. The dark room was disorienting. Andy’s legs shook under him, his teeth chattered, and he had to throw up again.
“Stripper.” Andy spat, trying to get the sick taste out of his mouth.
He pulled out his phone, the lit screen temporarily blinded him. His eyes adjusted and he noticed there were three texts waiting to be checked. The first two were from his work and Jeremy consecutively. The third was from a private caller – marked urgent. Andy knew what to expect from his job and friend, frantic inquiries about his disappearance. It was the other text that caught his attention enough to get him to open it in the dark, unknown place.
Andy closed his eyes and let the screen go dim. Pain and another sick, emptiness overtook him.
“What the fuck.” He bent over, fighting the feeling, refusing to let the putrid taste fill his mouth again.
Fifteen minutes of searching revealed the way out of what he discovered was an abandoned warehouse. Andy had to shoulder the stiff door open, stopping between attempts to battle the nausea. The door eventually gave, crashing hard against the outside wall. Light streamed into the opening.
The hot summer sun hit Andy like a fist in the face. Heat waves shone above the baking street. People wearing tank tops and shorts traipsed down the sidewalk. Andy shivered, holding his arms close around himself. He squinted against the sun and stumbled down the small step out of the warehouse. A couple holding hands yelped and withdrew. They gave him a look of indigent caution and kept walking, completely oblivious to the loose skinned, wicked fanged, thing, growing out of one of their heads and into the other. It stretched and compressed as they moved.
Andy blinked, rubbed his eyes, and slowly shook his head. It felt stuffed, like wire coat hangers poking out of a garbage bag.
“Are you OK?” The voice seemed garbled and distant, but Andy was thankful for the concern. He opened his eyes to see a monstrous, tall, black skeletal creature bending down to his level. Andy clamped his hand over a scream and felt the bile rise. He saw tiny creatures railing against the beast’s prison-bar eyes. A small, razor-backed worm poked out of its nose and hissed.
“Lost your soul huh?” The creature’s horrific face sunk. “Wish I could help. Better get it back fast or you’ll get worse.”
Andy nodded. The monster’s huge face was inches away from his, but he didn’t flinch.
“Good luck.” It turned and lumbered away, stepping over people and cars.
Andy shut his eyes tightly and opened them again, several times. Everywhere he looked, scary, disgusting, impossible creatures were going about their business. Some were interacting with clueless people, others didn’t seem to acknowledge them.
Violent shivering broke Andy out of his daze. He tried to walk nonchalantly down the sidewalk, but he looked like he was carrying a running jackhammer. He was drawing more attention than he wanted and ducked into a thrift store. It was the kind of place that his mother would have crossed the street to avoid. Andy tried to not touch any of the merchandise.
He scanned the racks and found a parka that smelled of old dogs, mothballs, and stale soup, but it looked warm. After a few minutes of gingerly picking up the worn item, the cold drove Andy to try it on. Within seconds of putting on the smelly coat, Andy’s shivering calmed down. He even started to feel his arms. He looked for a hat and gloves, but the winter section was small in the heat plagued summer.
The man at the counter looked to Andy like he only wore clothes he pilfered from the small store. He had a mustard stain on his baggy t-shirt next to a small hole with wisps of chest hair peeking out. A scowl on his face showed under an unshaven, unwashed face.
“Little warm for that.” He nodded at Andy in the huge puffy coat.
“Low blood pressure.” Andy handed the man a credit card and checked the multiple pockets in his new parka. There was an old lint infested pack of gum, a used tissue, and in an inside, zipped pocket, a claim ticket. Andy studied it. It looked familiar.
The man’s bark jolted Andy into the moment. “What?”
The man leaned in, one eye wide, the other, which looked infected, squinted. “Your card – was declined.”
Andy blinked and scrunched his lips, not just at the smell coming from the man’s gaping mouth. He scratched his head and pulled out his other card. “That’s weird. I always keep them paid off.” He suspected Jeremy was playing another joke, but he was probably too busy with the wedding.
The man took the card, but failed to hand back the first one. He swiped the new offering, shaking his head even before there was a response. Andy’s teeth chattered, the machine beeped, and the good eye found him again.
“Declined. What kind of a game are you playing?” The man reached under his counter and Andy ran. Images of shotguns and rusty machetes urged his stiff legs to move. He needed the coat and told himself he would come back to pay for it when he got his soul back.
The pain, cold, and nausea disappeared as he crashed through the front door, blowing it off its hinges. The shopkeeper had hopped the counter with a dented baseball bat to give chase, but Andy was gone before the man’s slippered feet hit the floor.
Andy stopped at an intersection. His momentum carried him several feet off the curb.
“Get back here!” The man was on the sidewalk waving his bat, heaving.
Andy looked back and didn’t notice the car speeding at him. The impact hurtled him, rolling and skidding, down the street. He ended up in a heap, vomited, and screamed in pain from the convulsion. There were several scrapes and bruises, but his chest demanded the most attention. He unzipped his new coat and saw the white rib poking out.
The visual confirmation that he was hurt was more shocking that the initial pain was and Andy screamed again. Even with the new ailment, he was able to get to his feet. He noticed the crowd gathering and prepared to run. Before he made his escape he noticed Cerise behind the wheel of the car that struck him.