“How long you been waitin’?” the tall boy asked the smaller one ahead of him.
“About two hours. You?”
“About the same.”
The two boys glanced down the line ahead of them. Fifty or more people snaked out of the doorway of The Roulette. They didn’t mind. They were in no hurry.
“What’s your name?” the taller boy asked.
“Terry. Nice to meet you.” They shook hands.
“Yea,” Jason agreed.
“Know anyone been through and made it? Cigarette?” The small boy pulled a crumpled, nearly empty pack of Smokes from his jacket pocket.
“Nah,” Terry said, taking a cigarette. “Thanks. You?”
“Yea. Had a friend, knew this kid once, his brother.” He lit their cigarettes. He took a long drag, and then said, “About ten years back when they first opened The Roulette here. `S been about half a dozen or so around, but this was the first one here. This kid’s brother was part of the first bunch of kids to be selected after they stopped takin’ adults and started using kids. He was about, oh, I don’t know, think he was about the twentieth person in line. He was behind this red-haired kid. But uh, they got to talkin’. You know, small talk. Don’t really mean nothin’. Just talkin’ so’s not to have to think about what you’re in line for, right? They get to be about fourth or fifth in line, and this red-haired kid starts freakin’, right? This kid’s brother’s like trying to keep him movin’, right, hollerin’ and cryin’, prayin’ and all that, man. This kid’s brother starts getting’ nervous, you know? Starts thinkin’ that if they think he’s with ‘im, and just take `em both now, you know? They can do that” The small boy paused to take a hit off his cigarette.
“Go on, man. What happened?” the taller boy urged, glancing down the line. The building loomed closer, the line shorter.
“They let the kid sniffle and scream `til they’re right at the door, man. Next, right. These huge guards snatch him outta line and take him through this other door. This kid was kickin’ and screamin’ the whole way, man. Bawlin’, right?”
“Yea, right? The brother watches them all the way, man. Just starin’. Just before they drag the kid through the door and into whatever hell beyond, the kid stops cryin’ and looks at this brother, man. Right in the eyes, man, and just stares. His eyes are blank, like nothin’ behind `em. He says somethin’ to him. He says: ‘I saved you.’ Freaked this guy out, man. Then they pull `im through and there’s nothin’. Just silence.”
“This kid’s brother’s next now, right. And he goes in and comes out the other side, man. But the kid behind him: No.”
The line moved up. The two boys could see those ahead of them entering the dark mouth of The Roulette. They heard nervous almost insane laughter, and some tears ahead. They were the only ones talking. It was against the rules to converse with the person in front or in back of you, but no guard had been by to warn them to shut up.
“What’re you saying, man?” the taller boy questioned, his voice shaking only a little. But he wasn’t nervous, just a little cold. That’s all.
The smaller boy rolled his eyes. “I’m sayin’, if they hadn’t dragged that kid outta line, he’d’ve been the guy on the other side and this kid’s brother . . .”
“Shit, man. Shit. That’s a helluva story, man.”
to be continued. . .
Part Two here and Part Three here.
More short short stories here.
*Image credit: “Buckner Building” from Granny Moo Stock.
- The Other Side: Part One (nikotheorb.wordpress.com)