It has taken me a year to write this. Mentally and physically. The pain of those months reverberates through time and space. At night, when Barb helps me lay down and tucks me in, when all of the lights go off and the respirators make their cough and hiss, I can still hear the dripping.
I remember when the first of us went missing; everyone thought it was just a troubled teen runaway. An isolated incident. A non-affluent family in a little town, the boy was somewhat a loner. He was made fun of and, I admit, I took part. I had known him since third grade. We were part of the same Sunday school group. Adam, Carol, Jaylin, and Chris. We were in the green room together in the church basement.
I loved going down there. It was an unremarkable room. Green and white tile floors and blue walls painted with clouds over rolling green hills. My favorite part, just beyond the green area rug, was the piano. The modest, light brown piano with writing on the wall above it that read, “He must increase, but I must decrease.-John 3:30.”
The five of us would sit on the carpet and sing along with Mr. Wain, our Sunday school teacher and the church’s organist, to hymns. I was very much into the church back then, as was my family. Still, Sunday school was the best. Mr. Wain, the lanky, funny-looking man with a mustache who always wore a green bowtie, would ask each of us to sing songs with him. We would get to pick our favorite and I had my own picked out each time.
“Benjamin Thompson, you’re up next, friend! What are we singing today?” he would ask. He grinned a toothy smile, as he already knew the answer.
“Come Hither Ye Children,” I would request and then belt out the lyrics as if my life depended on it. It was always that song. That damned song.
I remember he would always tell us before we left, “Okay my children, be godly. He watches!”
I got older. The five of us did. We went our separate ways. I stopped going to Sunday school but I still attended church. There but not there. I usually texted during service, as did my mother and father. Mr. Wain was always there playing his organ. The music I delighted in as a child became background to girls and angst. He would wave to me every service as I left and I used to wave, then I downgraded to a smile, which turned into a nod of recognition, and then I avoided him altogether. I wasn’t a kid anymore and that was a different time.
We all grow up. I grew out of church. I only returned to attend the vigil for Carol; the second one of us to disappear. I went with my parents and stood along with the rest of the congregation as they gathered in the parking lot. The Church of Christ is Ashland’s oldest church. There were a ton of us who spilled into the streets.
I saw her parents visibly saddened and embracing each other amongst the warm glow of candles surrounding them. We sang hymns most of the night but what stood out most was Mr. Wain. He wailed and cried. He was inconsolable. I remember him muttering, “My children. What is happening to my children?”
Our monthly potlucks took a different tone as we discussed search parties and where the kids had gone or who took them.
It was just a few months later when Chris went missing. I hadn’t talked to him in years. They held assemblies where police came to speak about any knowledge of the three missing kids. It was strange. The faces of everyone at school, even my parents, they all had the same fearful look on their faces. Kids at school, you could almost hear them wondering if they were next. My parents looked at me and wondered the same.
Jaylin didn’t make it home after school. It was two years to the day of Adam’s disappearance. The entire town knew one fact: they hadn’t run away. It was a dark cloud over the small town and I must admit, I went closer to where I needed to be. I started going back to church. My mom said attendance was higher than it had been in years. We all prayed for the safe return of the ‘Ashland Four’ as the Ashland Sentinel called them. Everyone knew that they didn’t just disappear. About three years ago, we found out we were right.
Mrs. Hager’s german shepherd, Sam, tends to roam around our small town. Everybody greets him with a scratch on the head or a ‘Hey, Sam!’ He always returned home at the end of the day. Sometimes, he would even bring home a prize. A dead bird, a newspaper, a used condom, or what-have-you. This time, he brought home something a bit smaller than a newspaper. A bit harder. A bit more macabre. A jawbone.
Months went by and the teeth inset in the jaw were identified as Carol’s. They had a small wake for her. A burial for a piece of someone you used to know is not exactly the best funeral to attend. People mourned for her and the others. They never found where the jaw had come from, which meant they didn’t know where to look. They searched but never found anything.
It was after the funeral when Pastor Oarland asked me to help carry down the flower sets. It was late and cold as fall began to set in. The basement was drafty and I still remember that smell. The smell of alcohol that pierced the darkened storage room. It grew stronger as I stepped into the darkened room. I reached for the light when a cloth wrapped firm around my nose and mouth followed by another arm around my waist that lifted me up into a bear hug. I gasped for air through the cloth that smelled sickeningly sweet. I battled against my assailant but it was futile. My hearing went first, then my sight. I was gone.
I heard a loud clank that woke me. My sight was blurred but then came into focus. I was in a basement. An unfurnished basement. I felt the wide straps against my bare wrists, ankles, and mid-section. I was nude. I was on my back on a hardwood table. I found out later it was more like a slab of varnished wood. There were only three other things in the room. An old, dented metal table was about fifty feet away from me, just enough to be on the outskirts of the dim light overhead; a hotplate; and a large pot for boiling. The edges and sides of the pot were dingy and looked caked in some dark substance. Behind it all, a folding chair pointed right at me. The basement smelled like bleach; nauseatingly clean.
“Help me,” I said, beginning lightly as I made it crescendo to screams.
I don’t remember how long it was. Maybe an hour. However long, it was just enough for my voice to go. I cried for a long time. I wondered what my mom and dad would be thinking. How long had I been here? Minutes? Hours? Days?
It was then I heard a tiny laugh. A giggle but from deep in someone’s chest.
“Don’t worry, Benjamin, everything will be fine,” the familiar voice said from a darkened corner beyond the table and chair.
“Hello?” I said as I squinted harder into the darkness.
Footsteps. I saw the figure. He stood tall with a receding hairline, glasses and a green bowtie. A smile crossed Mr. Wain’s face as he eyed me. He slowly moved towards me.
“My last little one. My favorite. Did you know that, Benjamin? Did you know you were my favorite?” he asked as he stopped at the end of the table near my feet.
“What are you doing? What is going on?” I asked, my voice shaky.
He smiled and ran his fingers up my leg as he bent down towards my ear.
“If you do what I say, I will make this painless. If you don’t be a good boy, I make this painful. You choose your pain: full or less,” he whispered.
I began shaking uncontrollably.
“What do you want me to do?” I asked.
“I want you to close your eyes. If you open them, I will cut them out. I want you to sing our favorite song. If you stop, I will cut your tongue out. Easy, yes?” he said.
I did as he said. He wouldn’t hurt me. He…He’s Mr. Wain.
I knew what song he meant. I began singing, “Come hither, ye children, O come one and all, To Bethlehem haste, to the manger so small.”
I could feel one poke into my left arm. He began to hum along with me as I sang. I felt a final poke in my left kneecap, which made me wince and stop singing.
“Continue,” he said in a low growl. This was not the man I knew.
I finished singing and he told me to repeat it. I kept singing. I felt my left leg being rhythmically tugged at in a slow motion. Pressure built around my thigh as I swayed harder and harder. Finally, the sound pierced my ears. It sounded like a saw going through wood. I began to feel warm liquid trickling behind my back. I felt a heavy thud that matched the sound of a crunch. The swaying began again along with a new, grotesque sloshing sound. The pressure was alleviated as the swaying stopped. I heard another thud then tugging on my knee. I sang the song 19 times.
“This isn’t real,” I thought. “This can’t be happening.”
He told me to open my eyes and I complied. He was at the table across from me. He turned on the hot plate and placed the frying pan on top. In front of him was a large mound of something bloody. Something long. Something white. He began cutting the white flesh, slowly turning the meat. That is when I noticed the long, white fleshy mound had a bend towards the bottom. At the bottom, I saw a foot. A human foot. My foot.
I screamed in anguish as I looked down to see my thigh, hastily sewed up at the knee. I looked above me to see a bag of something with a long tube going into my arm. I screamed even louder.
“Please God, help me! Help me!” I screamed.
Mr. Wain sliced off a piece of the meat and threw it into the frying pan. He looked under the table as the meat sizzled louder and louder. He stood up, puzzled. He looked in the pot and then at me with a disappointed gaze.
“What the hell are you doing?” I screamed.
“Looking for God. He wasn’t in either of those places. Do you know why?” he asked and walked up next to me. I shook my head “no”.
“Because God doesn’t come down here; just ask your four friends,” he said with a sneer and a smirk. He walked back over to the make-shift kitchen and flipped the piece of meat.
He began cutting up the rest of my lower leg. I gagged and cried, which only pleased him more. Finally, the meat was done.
He sat down with a fork and knife. The meat rested, steaming on a plate in front of him. I couldn’t make a sound. I was exhausted and in awe. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. He did.
He took a massive bite of the meat and chewed with his mouth open. I gagged more than once.
I looked away and he screamed at me, “You will watch me while I eat or I will cut off your eyelids! Do you understand me?”
I opened my eyes and watched as he ate my leg. He made me watch as he fried another piece and ate it. He made me watch everything.
He left, taking what was left of my leg with him, and I didn’t see him for a long time. In there, I couldn’t tell time. I started counting it by sleep cycles. He returned two sleep cycles later and replaced the emptying IV bags. He then left.
Two sleep cycles later, he came back for my right leg. I sang once again, “Come hither, ye children, O come one and all; To Bethlehem haste, to the manger so small.”
I watched as he devoured more of me.
He changed my IV bags over the next 16 sleep cycles. All that time alone. My legs still felt whole. My phantom limbs kicked with fervor. My mind began to grow fuzzy. I began laughing for no reason and then crying. I did it over and over: crying and laughing, laughing and crying.
Mr. Wain came through the large, metal door. This time, my right arm went numb at the elbow. I cried as I felt the familiar tug.
I watched as he picked off the flesh from my boiled right hand that had been seasoned with rosemary and garlic.
“What do you want from me?” I asked.
“I am absolutely positive that is obvious,” he said.
“Why us? Let me go, please. My mother and father must be-“ I said as he interrupted.
“Yes, they are looking for you. They always look for all of you. You are mine. You belong to me. All my children do,” Mr. Wain said as he broke the joint around my thumb with a crack and sucked the meat off.
Sleep cycles came and went. He was gone longer this time. I can’t explain the feeling except for this one word: worried.
Seven sleep cycles went by and he finally returned. He reminded me that it was spring break and he went to the Ozarks with a few friends. Spring break; I have been down here longer than I thought. Months. My God.
My anger raged as he told me to sing while he cut the rest of my right arm off. I kept my eyes closed and clenched my jaw. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.
“You will sing, Benjamin. You will sing or you will scream,” he said in a calm, calculating voice.
I closed my eyes tight and my jaw tighter. I felt him try to pry my mouth open. He stopped. A few hard hits on my arm at the shoulder and it was gone. I heard him move my arm further down the block I was laying on.
“Fine,” he said. “Looks like you and Carol will have something in common.”
He straddled me and I clenched tighter. He pulled down hard but I resisted. We battled back and forth for what seemed like ages until my jaw opened with a crunch. For the first time, I felt pain. I screamed in anguish, which gave him time to take my tongue between his thumb and index finger with his left hand, shove the knife towards the back of my throat with his right and, in one smooth motion, take my tongue. Blood pooled in the chasm that was my mouth and I began to choke. He rolled me onto my side and I gargled the blood out. I felt myself drift away.
A loud sizzle and I was awake.
I was on my side and watching him cook my tongue in the frying pan. I cried and what sounded like a wail came from my throat hole, now exposed.
The pain was gone but the memory remained.
“I gave you a sedative. Terrible business. I told you, Benji. I told you. I have to admit, though, the tongue is the tastiest part. Carol had a tongue ring, did you know that? How did you all drift away from me so readily? I loved you like my own children.
“Did you know in some cultures the consumption of flesh is more than just food. It’s spiritual. By consuming the flesh, they hope to gain part of the person they are eating. In essence, they hope to become one with the person.
“This is how we can all be together again. This is how we become one. Become one in me ,” he said and then took a piece of French bread, slathered it with what looked like mayonnaise, placed pieces of my tongue on it, and took a bite. His face revealed complete ecstasy. In the pot, boiling, was my arm and, I assumed, my jaw.
He left, taking the pot with him. He told me he would be back in a few days for sweetbreads. I tried to scream but it only came out as a squeak and a moan. I heard the blood still dripping to the floor. Drip. Drip. Drip.
I slept. Pain woke me up only to have me pass out again. I noticed my IV bag had been drained and I wondered how long I had been out. How long I had been like that. I felt the pain all over. It was nearly unbearable. I started to laugh again as I thought about the horror about to unfold. I had no idea what sweetbreads were but I knew I was down all but one of my extremities. Shallow, I know, but I really hoped it wasn’t anything to do with my genitals.
I felt hungry for the first time but became nauseated as I remembered the smell of my own cooking flesh. Something much like delicious barbecue. I gagged and moaned. I rocked back and forth, sleep cycle after sleep cycle. I had been abandoned.
Until, I heard voices. One, two, three. At least three! Oh God, he brought friends to finish me off. I was going to be eaten alive by those monsters. “God Please!” I screamed in my head.
Just then, the door opened and men with guns rushed in. Their bright lights made me wince and rock away, groaning. Then I realized, police, they were the police! I squirmed with joy and moaned as they got closer. One of the men shined his flashlight at me and immediately vomited.
The yelling of the men quieted as they saw me, which made them stop a few feet away. They looked at me in awe and I squirmed with joy. I was saved. I had been heard!
I was in the hospital for months. I gained some of my weight back and found out that, according to the doctors, Mr. Wain had kept me in the basement of his grandfather’s farmhouse he inherited just outside Panther Creek State Park. The others had been buried not too far away. They found out after Mr. Wain had crashed on his way to a potluck the church was having. The one we have once a month. They found the stew, which had spilled all over the front seat, had something in it. A tooth. My tooth. They questioned him and he gave up.
Now, I call Walker Nursing Home my home. My parents came by a few times but they could never look at me, just around me. I understand. I caught myself in the mirror once and wailed for hours. That scarred hole where my mouth was giving me a permanent scream. Since then, they took all the mirrors down in my room and I wear a balaclava when I am around people.
Barb, the RN, wheels me to the large window where I sit all day. Propped up in my chair with pillows, I watch the seasons pass, letting out a squeak of joy as I see birds or kids playing. I have my bad days but the medication they give me takes care of that. People sometimes stare or cringe at the sight of me but I don’t mind. I laugh as hard as I can, coughing when too much air goes down my windpipe. I hear my laugh as it goes uncontrollable, maniacal even. They have learned not to stare at the leftover meat. That’s all I was to that man. That’s all I am.
I use the one arm I have left to write this. A year later and only a few words left.
I refuse to use prosthetics. Meat doesn’t get prosthetics. Meat just stays where it is supposed to, waiting to be eaten.
Meat left to rot.