Swap Deal

By OD RICHARD | Published: March 14, 2010

1.

'I'd give my right arm to go!' he said, and so they took it. They called on our house with a chainsaw and some paper roll, the harsh, early morning cold rendered ineffective by their thick overcoats and the singular, fiery hunger that resided impatiently in their hearts and minds. These men, these merchants of pain, came like birds of prey; they chose their targets carefully, homed in on them with a perfect and practiced precision, before sweeping down upon them in a black rush of fear and tailor-made suits.

From my room, and beneath the bedspread I had pulled numbly over myself in an attempt to counter the cold, I heard the maid greet them and invite them in. She spoke in an high-pitched foreign accent, which faltered and stalled as she tried to assert herself. Across the hall, I heard the door to his room creaking open slowly, around which I imagined his head poking in order to catch a fleeting glimpse of the new arrivals.

A click of the fingers was all it took. One click, and the maid had disappeared. She returned moments later, two mugs of coffee shaking in her hands, the smoke streaming furiously upwards as it tried to make its escape. The swirling black liquid was appropriate to the dark and unforgiving mood, and the two men drank it wholeheartedly, as if aware and quite content with the fact.

I was sitting up, my face very much dishevelled but nonetheless completely alert, when I heard his screams, his pleas for them to stop over the uncompromising roar of their machine. It was all in vain, for these dealers of darkness had come here especially for him. They were not leaving, not until they were finished.

Finally, when the chainsaw had been switched off, and the whole house was overcome by an eerie silence, I emerged tentatively from my room, barely in time to see them dragging him unconscious out of his. Down the stairs; out the door. Before they left, they asked, in a manner of utmost politeness (it must be conceded) for a bag in which to carry his wrapped up arm. The maid gave it to them, giggling uncontrollably all the while, her face a mortified expression of hysteria. They left, and we never saw him again.

2.

'I'd give my left leg to go!' she said, so they took it. Afternoon brought with it a fresh hope of better weather, a subsequent harsh reminder of the unsavoury temperature and an unmarked black van by which they were travelling. Curious neighbours became dumbfounded statues as it shot forward through our fence. At exactly the same time, the doors to the van were thrown open and they leapt out, their long coats billowing behind them like waves of terror and destruction.

From our window, we could see that a crowd had gathered, and the two men turned to face it, flashing identical and equally sinister smiles. In a collective frenzy of frantic fear, the crowd scattered. Feet hitherto super glued to the ground became futuristic rocket-powered boots, as people retreated back to their homes or someone else's. By the time we had opened the door, the crowd had disappeared completely.

It was just as they entered the house, that somebody- who it was exactly escapes my memory- but somebody noticed a large and unmistakable dent on one side of the van. Upon our enquiry as to how it happened, they exchanged knowing glances and laughed heartily- that same sinister grin featuring once again. They pointed to her with long and foreboding fingers. We didn't understand, nor did she. They laughed some more, this time pointing to her and beckoning her over. She complied, she had no other choice.

Upon seeing that we were still confused, one of them pointed to her again and whispered to us, 'It's how we break their legs.' That was enough. We knew why there was a dent now.

The engine; the screams; the flat, conclusive thud. She went with them, and she didn't come back.

3.

'I'd give my eyes to go!' he said, so they took them. On the day he was due to leave, we made sure he was completely ready. But he had been preparing himself for this moment all his life, and he had packed a long time ago. But we gave him a container with a sandwich and a drink inside, and a photograph of us all, which he was to carry with him at all times whilst he was away.

Pride filled our modest home, seeping through the cracks in our old floorboards and revitalising our rotting foundations. Never before had one of our own come so far. He was ready, and we were waiting.

We were sat together in the living room, chatting and joking away as if it were a normal evening, when they called- said they were in a hurry and wanted to be back before their programme started. They were businesslike, crisp, and yet oddly immature, like a child waiting for a new toy. The conversation lasted seconds, though its effect was immediately palpable. Dry eyes became moist; tears, embraces and kisses were the constitution of his final few minutes with us, although he himself would not cry, and detached himself from our arms swiftly in order to check that all his belongings were in place.

And so it was, with an apple thrown in at the last minute for good measure, we helped him carry his things outside. He was alone by the time they came though, for those had been the instructions. We heard his clear, but audibly nervous voice breaking the silence that had engulfed the interior of our home. The two men stood with him on the grass outside, making small talk, getting the pleasantries out the way.

Then, as if in a trance, they stopped speaking, turned their backs on us and hid him from view. We didn't even see it happen. Moments later we heard him, again breaking the silence, although this time with noises like those of a dying animal. He climbed into the car with them, and they drove into a mockingly beautiful sunset. He would never see us again, even if he wanted to.

* * *

They circle him threateningly like vultures; eye him with an animal hunger. One is blind, though he walks with a purpose unmatched by most; another- a girl- is missing a leg, and limps with her eyes ablaze and unaffected by her disability; and the second boy has lost an arm, though he knows exactly where to find a replacement.

'Please!' the man on the ground cries pitifully. 'Please leave!'

The blind one begins to laugh harshly. The others follow suit, like a nightmarish choir awaiting indefinitely instructions from their conductor.

'We like it here,' the conductor spits down at the kneeling figure before him. 'We're staying.' He turns away, they follow. The man lets out a wail that causes the ground to tremble. Above, the trees rustle and their branches shake, as the birds shoot out of the leaves in surprise. There is nobody here to hear.

'No!' he sobs. 'P-Please!' He can no longer speak properly. He is now spluttering and stammering a mesmerising string of nonsensical whining noises and the beginnings of words. Trauma and fear have crippled him entirely. The conductor turns to the other two and they nod, without saying a word, as if he can see them. And, in a sudden sense of blissful, momentary clarity, he can. He sees everything. He stoops down to meet the eyes of the broken man, his face a blazing inferno of retribution.

'You really want us to leave?' he asks, softy. And, with tears in his eyes, the man looks up.

'I'd give anything!' he whimpers pathetically.

And so they take it all back.



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