Beneath the Neon Moon
Beneath the Neon Moon
Z ACH LOOKED INTO a dark corner, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the low light in the darker parts of the cellar. Cellar or unfinished basement, whichever-he never remembered if there was supposed to be a difference between the two, though cellars to him always brought a dim memory of his grandmother's place, the cellar dim and cool, shelves neatly stacked with rows of canned fruit and vegetables.
He and Mal sat on the ground close to the back wall, near the midpoint of the cellar. The floor was packed dirt, scooped low in the middle and rising up the sides before giving way to the smooth river rocks in the house's foundation. Overhead, copper pipes stitched the dim reaches together. An old coal stove squatted in a dark corner to the left, and discarded building materials crowded the corners of the room-paint cans, a table saw, two by fours, and a rolled carpet, its woven underside dry-rotted.
A set of wooden steps rose close to the wall on Zach and Mal's far right, old and gray, flanked by flimsy wooden railing. The window, the only source of light, faced them from high up in the wall, square and squat. Dirt pressed against the glass pane about halfway up on the outside and was barred and wired from the inside.
Bars on the inside. Not the outside. It made Zach's stomach hurt in a whole different way. "Dammit," he muttered.
"The bars." Zach pointed at the window.
Mal didn't even look. He lay on his back, legs tented, feet close to Zach's. "Yeah." His voice was flat.
Zach shifted, searching for a more comfortable position. The ground was too damned hard. "So how did you end up in here?"
"I got hurt last night. I was unconscious. I don't remember anything about being brought here." Mal tapped fingers restlessly against his chest. "I need to stretch out my legs, okay?"
Zach nodded, slowly stretched out his left leg. At the same time, Mal stretched out both of his.
"Smooth as synchronized swimmers," Mal said, grinning a little. He folded his good arm behind his head. "You know, it's weird. The details of what happened yesterday before waking up in this shithole are pretty foggy. Fading. Like a dream or something." He shook his head. "I'm taking hitting it off. He made some smart ass comment a few days ago, like he didn't think I was gonna pass yesterday's test. Pissed me off. So I put pedal to the metal and studied. I passed it. I aced it, I know it."
"You like flipping off your professors?"
The corner of Mal's mouth lifted. "Maybe, when they're assholes. So then I went with Kassy and Steve and some other friends to ..." Mal's forehead wrinkled, thinking. "We went to their place, celebrated a little. Celebrated a lot . Some smoke, some JD. I didn't feel like crashing at Kassy's afterward, just wanted to head home, so I walked. It wasn't that far.
"It was late, heading toward dawn. Really quiet. I didn't see anyone else out. I crossed a parking lot and was going down Tyler Street when something knocked me down from behind. I hit the sidewalk in front of a florist shop, rolled over and there was this big, light-colored dog standing right over me. I couldn't believe it."
"A dog on campus?"
"Yeah, I don't know. It bit me on the arm. I beat it on the head with my fist, I kicked it, but it hung on." Mal hesitated. "It got pretty surreal after that. There's this big neon rose in the window of the florist shop. It was blinking, and I'd hear this electrical sound, you know, like a bug zapper? It kept getting louder. I must have been more messed up than I thought because the dog looked crazy huge, too big to be real." Mal looked at Zach, gauging his reaction, then continued. "The thing was chewing on me like a piece of meat. I stared at its eyes and just ... st