I'd rather stick needles in my eyes

          Howard already knew what Mr. Mason was going to ask. It was the look on his face.

          “We’ll need you stay late tonight, Howard,” said Mr. Mason.

          Howard almost said it before Mr. Mason was finished. I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.

          Mr. Mason was pure prick with short man’s complex. The type that spoke twice when he
asked you to do something. Each directive also meant: Or else it’s your job.

          Howard started to say, “I’d rather stick..” when Mr. Mason interrupted.

          “I know. You’d rather stick needles in your eyes.”

          He was looking at Howard, but not at him. More through him.

          This went on for twenty-three seconds. Silence and the look.

          “See you at nine,” said Mr. Mason, seeming to come back from somewhere.

          “Yes,” said Howard, then left.

          Tom McAfee walked into the break room while Howard grabbed the last two packets of
pseudoephedrine hydrochloride from the first aid box hung on the wall. Tom asked if Howard
had a cold. Howard coughed and said of course.

          “You coming in tonight?” said Howard.

          “Hell no,” said Tom. “It’s Friday.”

          “You’d rather stick needles in your eyes?”

          “I don’t know about that.”

          Howard chewed the pills and drank water. He posted a yellow sticky note on the first aid
box that said, “Refill on Help-Phed.”

          At home, he turned on the television. He ate two percoset and swallowed with cold beer.
He watched Jeopardy and got some of the answers right. When the game was over, he called
Jeremy and asked if he had any. Jeremy didn’t, and said Howard would have to wait until

          Howard said he’d rather stick needles in his eyes.

          By eight-thirty it was dark and an edited version of a bad Sandra Bullock movie was on.
Howard finished his third beer, stood from the couch and said, “Time to go to Haleson
Distribution, Inc. where I will pack boxes and drive a forklift in the dust because tomorrow is
end of quarter.”

          At the warehouse, the lights were on and only Mr. Mason was there. Mr. Mason told
Howard to pack the boxes, put them on the pallets, move the pallets to the dock.

          Mr. Mason went to his office and Howard started packing. The screech from the packing
tape spread across the metal storage racks, the concrete aisles and silver conveyors. Howard’s
tongue was thick. He was always thirsty. He took care in filling the boxes, stacking the pallet.
At one o’clock, he surveyed what he had made. Four shrink-wrapped pallets were lined
up at the dock. Ten empty pallets lay near the stacks of new, bundle-tied boxes.

          Howard went to Mr. Mason’s office. Mr. Mason was hunched over a picture of a horse
with an erection. He minimized the picture when he heard Howard’s cough.

          “All done?” said Mr. Mason.

          “Not halfway done,” said Howard. “Won’t finish before shift’s up.”

          “Then I guess this double will turn into a triple.”

          “That’s too long to work.”

          “What would you rather do?”

          “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.”

          “Say that again.”

          “I’d rather stick needles in my eyes.”

          “I was hoping you’d say that.”

          Mr. Mason opened a drawer and pulled out a crowbar. He turned and threw it at Howard.
While it was still in the air, about to hit Howard’s blocking arms, Mr. Mason was in the air,
heading to Howard.

          The crowbar fell to the floor. Howard was thinking how it should’ve hurt more when Mr.
Mason picked up the crowbar and hit him in the stomach.

          “I was hoping you’d say that,” said Mr. Mason, and hit Howard in the shin.

          Howard couldn’t yell or ask anything because of his stomach. Now Mr. Mason was
pulling him by the arm out to the warehouse, through the door, down the steps to the parking lot.
Mr. Mason yanked Howard’s arm and Howard fell down the steps.

          “I’ve been waiting for this you little fucking bastard,” said Mr. Mason.

          They came to Mr. Mason’s dirty white van, the seventies type with bubble windows. He
opened the back doors and told Howard to get in.

          Howard saw small, twinkling things hanging from the ceiling. Mr. Mason shoved him
inside and the lights went out when the doors closed.

          Howard touched the fire on his shin, the growing lump. Mr. Mason grunted, and brought
the crowbar down square on Howard’s chest.

          Howard struggled for breath. He worried his chest might collapse and kill him.

          Light flickered as Mr. Mason lit a candle with a match. He set the candle in the corner of
the van and the light clawed at the ceiling and walls.

          The shiny things were paperclips hung from hooks in the ceiling.

          “They were easier to find,” said Mr. Mason. “You can make them into needles.”

          He reached up and carefully removed a paperclip from its hook. The rest of them – dozens of them –
swayed from his movement.

          Howard sought the crowbar with his hand, the only thing that would move. There was
only blanket and ridged floor.

          Mr. Mason pulled the paperclip open and extended the long point out. He held the curled
part of the paperclip in his fingers and crawled over to Howard.

          The van rocked and the candle fell on its side, causing the light it cast to lower and ripple
along the van’s walls.

          Mr. Mason put both knees on Howard's arms and sat on his chest.

          To Howard, Mr. Mason was a black demon face hidden from the light.

          “Time for your druthers, you little son of a bitch,” said Mr. Mason.

          Howard couldn’t move under Mr. Mason’s weight.

          Mr. Mason bent over him, steadying Howard’s head with one hand, pushing the needle
closer with the other.

          Outside, the van rocked in the dark and light flickered in the bubbled windows.

          Inside, Howard’s blood slipped through Mr. Mason’s fingers and silver paperclips
reflected the candle light.

          When Howard stopped screaming, Mr. Mason emerged from the van and headed back to
the warehouse, giggling at Howard’s eyes in his hands and how they looked like bloody white
spiders with steel legs.

          Now they had needles in them.

Bryn Treacy wants to write full time. Tomorrow he'd like to throw an
autographed copy of his book onto his boss's desk, blow a kiss, and retire
to his writing room with the door locked, where wife and kids hit the door,
screaming, and he is in the dark, in his mind, unable to escape the power of
the hidden muse in the drywall, knowing that this is what is providing the
house, the food, the life of this ragged writing soul in the dark room. His
stories have been published in Anotherealm, The-Swamp, Circle Magazine, and
Surreal Magazine.

© 2005 Underground Voices