Hell With the Lid Off
Kevin aroused from his long-awaited dreamless slumber and discovered Rashad’s house to be empty. An ever-budding smile grew on his visage.
About midway through the late night conversations, Kevin decided that he was to drive west until his body grew weary of the road, and then stop wherever he felt boasted the finest environmental pleasures. The Rocky Mountains came first to mind. Although he possessed more than enough money to survive without a job, Kevin figured it was best that he get one. A fresh start was absolutely necessary; the prospect of it alone filled Kevin with excitement. He happily anticipated being looked upon by new eyes. The idea of being viewed as a diligent worker instead of a gang-connected drug dealer was cherishing. The change of scenery would be most welcome, as would a change of attire. It was time to lose the inner-city persona and purchase clothing that actually fit. He chuckled enthusiastically at the visual.
In that moment, Kevin danced with hope. It was a feeling he once deemed lost forever. Beautiful as hope could be, it was also a mighty dangerous principle. So when Kevin stood to dress himself his mind drifted instinctively towards Grace. A wave of gloom swept over him. Kevin hated that he was to see her only once and then leave. But the blame for that could only be placed on his shoulders. A part of Kevin naturally desired for Grace to join him, as she—unlike he—was exceptionally road savvy. But Kevin knew that to invite Grace back on the run would be unfair. Her decision to return must have been very difficult to make, let alone proceed with. Kevin believed another reunion between them would transpire sooner than one would think. The inkling caused his smile to return.
The hour was high noon. Kevin decided that it was time to leave, and so he gathered his effects. He placed a written thank-you note to Rashad and a handful of cash on the table, and then shuffled his way towards the door. Kevin felt his phone vibrate when he grasped the nob. His face filled with excitement upon seeing the caller.
“Good afternoon!” he answered cheerfully, his phone hugging his ear.
But the voice that responded was not that of Grace. The device almost slipped from his fingers. The hope and joy were immediately pulled from the room, only to be replaced by their respective opposites.
“Well, well, well,” snarled Syd, unable to conceal his satisfaction. “Guess which little birdie decided to fly home.”
Kevin was at a total loss for words. His body instantly unsettled; for when he attempted to counter, he found himself hardly able to speak.
“Syd please, I’m begging you, let her go man,” he stuttered. “This is between you and me. Grace has nothing to do with this. I’ll give you all your dope back. I promise you man.”
But it was soon made apparent that Kevin was in for his longest day.
“Well, I’d say she’s plenty involved now, motherfucker,” Syd growled. “So I’mma put this in a way that’ll be easy for you to understand.”
He laughed in a foreboding manner.
“You see, it’s been a while now since any of us here seen little miss Grace, and I must say, she lookin mighty fine these days.”
Kevin flinched upon hearing this.
“So I’mma give you this one and only option,” Syd continued. “If you don’t bring me what’s mine, in two hours time, things are gonna get real ugly for little miss Grace. If a second past those two hours goes by and your ass ain’t here, well, me and the boys might have a little fun with your sister in a way you ain’t gonna like. You know, take a page outta your father’s book. If the rumors are true that is…”
Lying on Syd’s bed with her wrists bound by duct tape, Grace heard the words of the devil himself.
“No…” she uttered weakly.
The movement in her limbs restricted and her body began to tremble. In her mind grew the familiar sound of distant pounding.
“Please, you don’t have to do this,” stuttered Grace, her eyes swelling.
She desperately pleaded to Syd, who in turn paid her little mind. In one hand sat his phone and in the other laid his gun. Darius, who stood nearby, paid her little attention as well. Yet Derek, to his regret, had found his way into the room at the worst time. He was now forced to battle back tears. He stared upon Grace as if she were a ghost. The look upon her face was unlike anything he’d ever seen…
It was as if a bomb had detonated inside of Kevin’s head. Pure chaos had taken the reins. Order had just found oblivion.
It took a few moments before Syd’s ultimatum sank in. Everything changed when it did. It was a transformation to which Kevin had never known. His fear manifested as anger that was foreign even to him. It was an ire that could only be extinguished with blood.
“Now you listen here!” Kevin snarled to Syd, his voice shaking with rage.
“If you even lay a finger on Grace, the Reaper is coming for all you motherfuckers. I’ll bust your damn door in and start dropping life forms until everybody’s down. Fuck you, fuck Darius, and fuck Derek.”
He was now screaming, yet hardly finished.
“I’m talking mass shooting motherfucker. Your non-grieving mother will be seeing my face on the national news tonight. Then after your funeral, I’ll dump those bricks on top of your headstone and poison all the flowers you ain’t even gonna get. I’ll even kill Grace and myself if I need to. You hear me son, even God will turn from my face.”
And upon hearing this, even Syd found difficulty in responding.
“Yeah, whatever.” he eventually replied. “See you in two hours.”
Syd, however, was unable to hide the morsel of fear in his voice, and it was detail that did not go unnoticed…
Syd was visibly shaken by the conversation, as he let his mobile fall to the floor. He stood motionless from a combination of shock and pondering. Still, it wasn’t long before the usual scowl returned.
“He coming?” Darius asked intently.
“Oh yeah, he’s coming,” Syd replied.
He picked up his phone and slid it into his pocket.
“Get the boys ready. This may get a little rough.”
Then Syd turned to Derek, who was unable to remove his eyes from Grace.
“Derek!” he shouted. “Go downstairs and get ready. I need you to be on lookout for me.”
But either Derek didn’t hear Syd or he purposely chose to disregard him, for a response never came. Neither did movement. Grace took keen notice of his hesitation.
“Derek,” she whimpered. “Please help me. Please don’t let them.”
Although she knew there was little to which Derek could do, it didn’t stop her from trying. Her plead prompted Syd to walk towards the bed and strike her in the eye with the side of his hand.
“Shut the fuck up!” he said harshly, before turning back to Derek.
When Grace hit the mattress she began to tremble once again. The distant pounding in her head grew louder as the vision of her brother’s closet took hold. The fists on the wooden door echoed throughout the caverns of her cranium. The vision consumed her entirely…
“Derek!” Syd shouted again, now roaring at his brother. “Snap the fuck out of it and get downstairs!”
Derek’s immobility was finally broken. He slowly turned to face his elder. It appeared as if Derek had made a decision, a decision in which many would choose wrong—the choice between family and morality.
“No,” Derek replied firmly, speaking in a tone that suggested bravery. “I’m not leaving this room.”
And when Derek spoke his gaze met that of the Devil’s, yet his assurance grew with each word. However, it was clear that Syd’s patience with his brother had reached its end.
“You better get the hell out this room, son, otherwise this ain’t gonna end well for you.”
But Derek didn’t budge, and the tone of his response was surprisingly cold.
“If you touch her, Syd, I’ll fucking kill you.”
This prompted an exchange of stunned looks between Darius and Syd, as neither held further doubt regarding Derek’s resolve. Syd let out a laugh and lowered his head.
“You’re right, brother,” he said softly. “This is a little rough for someone like you. I apologize.”
Syd casually walked towards his brother with raised arms, causing Derek to lower his guard. Then, using this brief moment of vulnerability, he swung his right fist with lightning speed and connected it straight to Derek’s temple. Derek fell to the ground and Syd continued to strike him until it was clear he would move no more. When finished, Syd rose to his feet and wiped the blood from his hands. A homicidal look shone in his eyes. Now it was Darius’ turn to recoil.
“You’re playing a dangerous game here, fam,” he said uneasily. “Kidnapping a man’s sister and threatening her like that. Even by your standards this is fucked up. I think I’m gonna have to sit this one out.”
Syd looked at Darius long and hard. He then shook his head and grinned.
“You helped kidnap her, motherfucker. Now you backing out?”
A rough look formed on Darius’ face.
“It wasn’t my idea, son. Plus you never told me who this was neither. This is YOUR plan gone wrong. This house ain’t the place to be, ya feel me.”
Syd gritted his teeth for a full minute while considering his options.
“Fine,” he eventually replied. “But do me a favor and take Brittany with you. Only thing she wants to do is cut this bitch up.”
He pointed in Grace’s direction.
Darius stood up and nodded, and then swiftly sauntered his way towards the door, yet halted before leaving the room, glanced again at the shivering form of Grace, and then asked his companion a question.
“So tell me, what exactly are you gonna do with her?”
The two regarded each other intensely. Then Syd cast his terrible gaze to Kevin’s sister. The look upon his face was that of pure malice…
Not even a full second had passed after hanging up and Kevin’s phone was already in pieces. He had thrown it into the wall out of sheer anger. He then bellowed at the top of his lungs until his voice was no more and viciously punched a hole in Rashad’s unsuspecting wall.
His arrogant gambit couldn’t have backfired any worse. Kevin felt so careless for not emphasizing to Grace the severity of his situation. Seeing her in the flesh had caused his brain to melt, and certain measures that should have been taken were neglected. Alas, if Syd carried out with his terrible promise, Kevin was unsure if he could live with that reality.
The clock began to tick while Kevin furiously racked his brain for ideas. The bulb sprang up rather quickly: Kevin remembered a promise from an old friend. He was in his car less than a minute later, speeding well past the limit towards the point of origin…
Kevin was back at his apartment complex before he knew it, paying visit to the topmost floor of the topmost building. As a speechless, now furious Pavel attempted to grasp the situation, Kevin sat as numb as he’d ever been. He normally would have felt awful dragging Pavel into a fiasco such as this. But since Kevin no longer cared for his safety, he willingly took advantage of Pavel’s history with Grace.
Pavel, who had long shed his artistic side, had become a serious player in the neighborhood. His lifelong ties to the area’s Ukrainian and Russian communities allowed him to form a small posse of local tough guys. None of the Ukrainians had any love for Syd, and Syd possessed zero knowledge of Kevin’s connection to Pavel.
A harsh knock to the apartment door announced the onset of reinforcements. Three of Pavel’s henchmen—Rasim, Samuel, and Viktor—arrived in the kitchen a moment later. The trio of men nodded their respects to Pavel one by one, before turning to look at Kevin who remained fixated on the table.
As Kevin elaborated on his plan in great detail, he was shocked at how quickly he found allies. Pavel explained his reasons. Apparently, Syd had long been under Ukrainian watch. The news was unsurprising considering the two parties were forced to share the neighborhood. Many Ukrainians had grown weary of Syd’s emperor-like demeanor, a cause to which Pavel led the charge. So after arming themselves with their best bats, guns, and knives, the five determined men swiftly exited their keep.
About thirty minutes and one empty hole later, Kevin stood in the middle of a hidden street and observed the Devil’s house through binoculars. Pavel and his goons stood nearby, intentionally out of view. Using Pavel’s phone, Kevin anxiously dialed Syd’s number with shaking fingers. He braced his ears for the worst…
It took several hard shakes to the shoulder for the bedroom to reappear.
Grace regained her vision and the pounding in her head ceased. A blurry figure hovered above her with a gun in its hand. The figure then walked towards the window and motioned for Grace to join.
Syd watched as the woman with the now lifeless eyes lifted herself from the bed, and, despite her lack of vitality, trudged weakly across the room to meet him. Upon reaching the window, Grace was handed a phone and told to look. She squinted into the outside world and the light from the sun revived her distorted vision. What she saw brought life to her eyes and a glow to her face. Kevin was standing in the street roughly two blocks away. She put the phone to her ear and smiled, longing to hear her brother’s voice.
“Grace!” he replied, overwrought. “Are you ok? Did they hurt you? Did they touch you… did they…”
But Kevin was unable to finish. Grace could feel his dread, dread of hearing the news that would destroy him. Yet once again, the remedy for her brother’s hurt rested with her.
“No!” she smiled. “Just a black eye. But we’ve had worse.”
Grace could feel his sigh of relief from two blocks away, for which she felt liberated as well.
“Thank god,” Kevin exhaled from the other end. “I’m coming to get you now. Just hang tight.”
Syd yanked the phone from Grace’s hand before she could respond, and then gestured for her to go back towards the bed with his gun.
“See you soon, motherfucker,” Syd threatened into the receiver.
But Kevin had already vanished from the line…
Not a second had passed since ending the conversation and Kevin was already mobilizing. He had no intention of walking the dope unaccompanied through the front door. If he did then Syd would most certainly kill him once the door closed behind. In fact, he didn’t even intend to bring the dope inside. The bag was to be left with Rasim in the getaway car.
“If you don’t get a call within twenty minutes, take the drugs and speed off,” Kevin instructed to Rasim, who nodded his comprehension.
“You ready K?” asked an edgy Pavel, still hidden from view.
“Oh yeah,” Kevin replied, sliding Derek’s gun into his pocket. “Just keep their focus on the front of the house.”
Pavel nodded. He and his men donned their hoods and brandished their bats. Yet before Kevin gave the order, he walked determinedly to Pavel and extended him his arm.
‘Thank you,” he said graciously. “I owe you my life.”
Pavel flashed a grin, and took Kevin’s hand firmly in his own.
“We’ll worry about that later,” he replied. “Now lets do this.”
They began their march.
Intimidating as ever, Pavel and his compatriots trooped down the empty street towards the direction of Syd’s front door. With all eyes focused on the Ukrainians, Kevin succeeded in slipping down a nearby alleyway and out of sight. He reappeared a moment later on the street that lay parallel to Syd’s.
He was much relieved to see that Grace was being held on the second floor. It made his plans all the more convenient. If all went accordingly, Kevin would gain a small window of opportunity to remove Grace from the city. By the time Syd’s reinforcements caught on, it would be far too late.
Kevin sprinted down the sidewalk holding Derek’s gun, and then halted in front of the house standing directly behind Syd’s. He scurried around to the back of the property and jumped the fence, landing firmly in Syd’s backyard. As expected, the yard remained unwatched. The sounds of shouting and broken glass were echoing from around front. Moving unconsciously, Kevin quickly climbed a familiar tree and then jumped onto the roof that sat beyond Derek’s bedroom. He pressed against the ivy and slowly approached the window. The gun sat firmly in his hand, ready to fire upon anyone guarding the upstairs. Kevin tried the window after he confirmed Derek’s room to be empty. It was unlocked, and so he slipped quietly inside.
Kevin aimed the gun directly ahead as he worked his way from the bedroom to the hallway. The sounds of the chaos below went unnoticed, for his mind was fixed on Grace alone. Kevin slinked his way down the hallway as if under a trance. The open doorway ahead of him began to glow at its edges. He then pushed his way into the room of the Devil.
A frosty breeze was seeping from the window. Kevin’s eyes fell to Grace upon entry. She remained frozen on Syd’s bed as the source of the glow. Kevin saw his sister and was engulfed by happiness. But the sight of his sibling triggered a lapse in urgency. For as Kevin approached her, he saw Grace shake her head in terror as if motioning for him to stop. A moment later, he knew exactly her reason. Kevin felt the pressing of cold steel against his neck, which was then followed by the snarl of his nemesis.
“I had a feeling you was gonna try something clever,” growled an enraged Syd, his gun steady in his hand. “Drop the gat.”
Kevin was furious with himself. He contemplated his options while Syd stood uncomfortably beside him. After deeming a reaction too risky, Kevin flared his jowls and let the gun slide to the floor, just as he had done ten years previous. Yet the occasions were unalike. For when the gun hit the carpet, Kevin was no longer dominated by fear, but courage instead. As that boldness grew, Kevin leisurely spun and smiled in the face of the unholy.
“Where my bricks?” Syd shouted, his mannerisms containing none of their usual strut.
“Out of your fucking reach,” Kevin grinned. “Until Grace and I walk safely from this house.”
He began to saunter the room, with Syd’s gun following his every step.
“That wasn’t the fucking deal!” Syd sputtered, tremulously. “You and that bitch are dead, you hearing me. Fucking dead!”
But Kevin could feel the distress within his nemesis. Syd had realized the leverage he once possessed was now gone. Then Kevin ceased his movement, and entrenched himself directly between Grace and evil. He was her shield once again.
“You kill me, then you’re never seeing that dope again,” Kevin said calmly. “You kill Grace, then you’ll have to kill me. And you still ain’t seeing that H.”
A loud crash from below seemed to weigh on Syd’s decision. The din was followed by triumphant Ukrainian voices. It seemed that Pavel was near to victory, and so Kevin bared his teeth.
“Sounds like your time is almost up, Syd,” he laughed. “That’s The Painter and his crew I got downstairs. So I don’t have to tell you what’ll happen when they get you. And you already know that they will.”
Kevin watched as Syd’s face twisted with agony, stunned in disbelief as his walls crashed around him, while the master of walls in turn shed his own. He looked on with pleasure as the arm that held Syd’s gun began to retract. Then Kevin no longer found himself in Syd’s room, but in the room of Grace’s childhood. No longer did he stare upon Syd. The face that looked back at Kevin was that of his father, now cowering in the corner of the room. Kevin was overwhelmed by peace; his fear and anger had been extinguished.
Yet Kevin’s sudden calm seemed to affect Syd as well, as the gun in Syd’s hand ceased to quake and held steady. His sinister grin had returned. It appeared that Syd had come to terms with his imminent defeat. He began to laugh coldly, and two malignant words slipped wretchedly from his mouth.
Then after summoning every ounce of his hatred, Syd extended his gun towards Kevin and fired…
But Kevin was ready. He pounced the very moment Syd’s elbow first extended. He felt Syd’s only bullet whiz beyond his left ear before his shoulder collided with Syd’s torso, knocking them both to the ground. Pushing the loose gun aside, Kevin firmly placed his knee upon Syd’s chest and then beat him until his arm grew numb. With each blow to the head, Kevin envisioned Syd as the body of his own father. When finished, he gazed upon Syd’s lifeless form with a crazed look. Until that moment, Kevin had never known the feeling of being truly alive. Euphoria charged through his body like electricity. The gust from the window augmented its howl.
Kevin had done it. He’d won. And for the first time in his life he had found liberation; freed from fear, freed from guilt, and freed from burden.
That was until Kevin turned around, and what his eyes fell upon made his world collapse…