THE HEAVEN OF CANNIBALS
The giant cockroach on top of the transit van rocked back and forth with each bump in the road.
Charlie murmured something under his breath. It wasn’t a pleasant murmur. It was a sweltering hot day in July, and the AC in the van hadn’t been working for the last couple of weeks. The office had hadn’t done a damn thing about it. He chided himself for trusting other people. For putting his faith in his employers. He exhaled languorously, straining to keep his blood from boiling. The sun was already working unwaveringly at that. He hit a pothole in the road and winced at the metallic screech of the spring slinky attached to the van roof. That fucking cockroach.
His walkie crackled to life. He slammed his large palm down onto the passenger seat, where it sat harmlessly, the inanimate object ignorant of the slap it had just received.
“Whaddya want, Steve?” he barked.
“Got another job for you,” the voice on the other end said, impassively. Charlie’s grip on the steering wheel tightened.
“The office said this was the last round.”
There was a faint chuckle from Steve. “Sorry, hombre. Got a rat infestation report. Sweet old lady. Said she’d pay extra if we could see her before the close of play today.”
Now it was Charlie’s turn to chuckle. But there was no mirth to it. “Lemme guess, I’m the nearest in the area.”
“And Bingo was his name-oh.”
“Gimme the fucking address.” He said, dashing the radio back onto the passenger seat. He was half-listening to Steve’s chatter as he drove along the long road.
He slammed the door of the van shut. He shook his head as the bold words ‘BUG-B-GONE’ formulated together as the doors sealed shut. As he approached the rear of the van he stuck his middle finger up at the polystyrene cockroach attached to the top. He retrieved some traps, a few smoke canisters and some plastic containers.
The house was off the beaten track. As Charlie made his way to the front door he realised that he hadn’t passed another house down this trail for the last mile or so. He approached the house and knocked on the door several times. Waiting for the client, he took the moment to take in the surroundings. He wondered if Lilly would ever want to live in the sticks…probably not; she was a city girl at heart and loved her nights out with the girls.
He corrected himself. She loved going out fucking other men.
“Are you here about my rat problem, young man?”
Charlie hadn’t even heard the door open. He turned and faced the woman at the door. She must have been about seventy; for some bizarre reason the only thought that came to his mind at that moment was of a leprechaun in a saggy sweatshirt. She looked gaunt, as if she hadn’t eaten in days. Her face was powered with too much milky white make up. Whatever happened to baby Jane? He shook the thought from his head.
“Yeah, sure,” Charlie said, stepping through the door. The old broad slowly lurched down the corridor and pointed to a room with a crooked finger.
“I’ll get you some tea. Please make yourself at home.”
Charlie went into the dimly lit living room and put his bag containing all kinds of chemicals and pesticides on the carpeted floor. It would be a quick job, he thought. Lay a couple of traps and he’d be home in the next hour. There were several bookcases full of dusty covered magazines; papers and leather bound nondescript books. Several couches and a coffee table. There didn’t appear to be too much ventilation in the house. Charlie wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Waffles?” a voice whispered behind him.
Charlie spun round to see a small child standing in the doorway. He must have been about six or seven. His face was caked in dirt, the clothes he wore were raggedy and his hair unkempt. He was looking at Charlie with a curious registration.
“Uh…hey, kid.” Charlie muttered.
“Waffles?” the child repeated, with a touch of excitement.
Charlie shook his head. “Sorry…no waffles here champ.”
The child seemed to absorb this information with resigned sadness. Without warning, he sprinted towards Charlie with a feral grace and crashed into his leg. Quickly wrapping his arms around his leg, he tilted his head and sunk his teeth into his kneecap. Charlie uttered a small bark of surprise and pushed the child off.
In the commotion, Charlie hadn’t noticed the old lady enter the room. With a deftness that belied her age, a simple step forward and pirouette resulted in her resting the cup of tea on the coffee table and simultaneously putting herself between Charlie and the Waffle kid. Her hand shot out like a piston and cracked the boy hard across the cheek. Like a wounded animal, the boy started whimpering and bolted for the door.
“No waffles today, Warren!” she exclaimed, hobbling back to where she had placed the teacup. Charlie was a little bemused by the whole situation, and was starting to wish he had turned the goddamned roach mobile back home when Steve had called in the first instance.
She handed him the cup. “Hasn’t been himself since his folks passed on,” she said, as a way of apology. “I’ve tried to do right by him, but I think the cheese has slipped off his cracker.” She let out a heavy sigh. Charlie sipped the tea. It was scolding hot.
“About the rats,” Charlie began, changing the subject, “do you have a cellar to this place, or do you think they’re coming from outside?”
The woman looked perplexed for a moment, and then nodded. “We have a cellar. Fred mostly works there.”
Charlie took another sip of the tea. He wasn’t in the mood to enquire who Fred was, or what his work consisted of. He just wanted to set up a few traps and go home. Probably to another argument with Lilly.
“Right then,” he said, lowering the cup, “I think I should get started there.”
The woman waved her arms at him in a dismissive manner. “Drink your tea first. The fucking rats can wait.” She sat herself down. A small plume of dust motes escaped from the couch. Charlie suddenly began to feel itchy. He’d seen some pretty horrific houses in his time – mostly from elderly clients that had no family and couldn’t properly look after themselves. He’d been doing this far too many years for sympathy to start kicking in now, but all the same he did feel half a second of pity for the poor woman sitting in front of him. He imagined the Waffle kid rolling around in his own faeces, giggling like a lunatic as he squelched his turds between his fingers.
He took another sip of the tea and sat down himself. An awkward few moments passed in silence. Without wanting to waste any more time, Charlie gulped the rest of the tea down and rested the cup on the coffee table. He slapped his knees in a ‘right, work to be done,’ kind of way and stood up.
The room started to spin. Rush of blood to the head, he thought. A black line streaked across his vision like a lightning bolt. Dark dots appeared in front of him and he knew he was about to pass out. The goddamned heat. The fucking broken AC. He managed to mumble something about a cockroach before his bulky frame collapsed. The elderly woman sitting opposite watched the dust motes escape from the floor where his body smacked hard against it.
Charlie opened his eyes. For a confused moment he thought he was blind, but then after a few moments his eyes adjusted to the darkness.
The child was looming above him. He realised he was lying on the floor, and attempted to sit up. The walls were panelled, with a roaring fireplace at one end. There was an immense pole placed horizontally across the fireplace.
He was strapped down. From the distinct rustling sound, he knew he was lying on tarpaulin.
“Waffles!” the child screamed. Charlie was aware of a dull throbbing pain in his legs. Although strapped down, he managed to raise his head to look at the source of the problem. He realised that he no longer had any ankles.
“Where are my feet?” He whispered.
Another form in the darkness became apparent. An elderly man dressed in white peered at him from behind a surgical mask.
“Ah! You’re awake.” He said jovially. “Warren has been waiting for so long! He really does like to watch when I cut the meat.”
Charlie felt a shiver run through his whole body.
“Where are my feet?” He asked again, this time his voice shaking with shock.
The man in the surgical mask lifted a cutting tool in front for Charlie to see. “We start with the feet. Warren likes the toes for some inexplicable reason. We’re trying to teach him to savour the best parts, like the brain and heart. But I feel as his surrogate parents we’re failing him.” He moved out of his peripheral vision. Charlie heard a button click in the darkness. To his side, he noticed the large pole above the fireplace start to move. He then realised it wasn’t a pole at all. The motorised spit suspended above the fireplace whirred into life. It screeched as it began to turn, and for the last moments of his life the only thing that Charlie could think about was the same noise the giant metallic slinky made as his van went over potholes.