Years ago, when I first ventured into self-publishing, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the nicest, most talented indie authors out there. We had a group, a kind of online author hangout, called Bestsellerbound. Over our few years together, we published four volumes of short stories, all of them free. Life and commitments and the broadening indie community caused our group to disperse, and some of us have since lost touch. But the anthologies are still out there, floating around, free, waiting to be read. Here is the first:
A collection of stories by a variety of authors.
Wish Upon A Star by Lainey Bancroft
Tears For Hesh by J. Michael Radcliffe
You Can Call Me Ari by Darcia Helle
Flames by Maria Savva
Minor Details by Jaleta Clegg
Ice Cream Man by Neil Schiller
No Eyes But Mine Shall See by Sharon E. Cathcart
The First Texas Twister by Magnolia Belle
Shadow Lantern by Gareth Lewis
Stained by Amy Saunders
Thought I’d share my short story today. The inspiration for this is comical, to me, though not so much to the person involved. I’d been seeing a chiropractor. One day, I was in the midst of a session, and I had this flash of an… unpleasant scene. By the time I got home, that flash had broadened into the niggling of a story that wouldn’t leave me alone. That afternoon, I wrote this story. A few days later, I returned to my chiropractor and told him that he – or his treatment – had inspired me to write this. He was not amused. The guy took himself far too seriously.
I hope you enjoy the story.
You Can Call Me Ari
Lorraine stepped into the waiting room. Surprisingly, she found herself alone. That was certainly a first. Every doctor’s office she’d ever been in had an overflow of patients, sitting in uncomfortable chairs with long outdated magazines and irritating music for company. Maybe chiropractors were different and didn’t load their patients in like herds of cattle.
She walked over to the reception desk but found it, too, was empty. Had she gotten her appointment wrong? Lorraine checked her watch. Nearly two o’clock. Odd that the place would be deserted in the middle of the afternoon.
She’d never been to a chiropractor before. The idea of having her bones cracked and moved around didn’t sound the least bit appealing. But it had been six weeks since the car accident and the pain in her neck and back still kept her up nights. Betty, her best friend, had convinced her to give Dr. Grant a chance. Now, here she was, standing alone in an office that appeared abandoned. This could be a sign for her to turn around and go right back home.
For a moment, Lorraine considered listening to that little voice telling her to flee the scene. Then she turned and a horrible twinge raced up her spine. She let out an involuntary gasp. Damn that hurt! With a resigned sigh, she moved gingerly toward one of the chairs.
Just as she was about to lower herself onto a seat, the door leading to the exam rooms popped open. A man, presumably Dr. Grant, smiled at her. He stood about 5’10”, had dark hair and wide-set, dark eyes. He wore tan chinos and a bold-striped, short-sleeved dress shirt. No white lab coat proclaimed him to be doctor or mad scientist.
“Lorraine?” the man asked.
“I’m Dr. Grant. You can come on back.”
Nervous butterflies fluttered in Lorraine’s stomach. As she followed the doctor into the hall, she said, “It’s very quiet in here.”
“Yes,” Dr. Grant replied. “That awful flu going around seems to have struck many of my patients. Even James, my office manager, is out sick today.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. I’ve been lucky to avoid it so far.”
Dr. Grant stepped aside and motioned Lorraine into a room. “Right in here,” he said.
Lorraine’s eyes were immediately drawn to the contraption in the center of the room. Logic told her it was the exam and treatment table, though her overly active imagination saw it as a torture table. She’d been reading far too many thrillers since her retirement.
“You’re having neck and back pain?” Dr. Grant asked.
“Yes, since I was rear-ended in an accident six weeks ago,” Lorraine said. “We weren’t going fast but the jolt must have been harder than I first thought. The pain keeps me up nights and I’m having trouble getting around during the day.”
Dr. Grant smiled and nodded. He had an eager smile, almost like a child on Christmas morning. Lorraine looked away, unsettled by the enthusiasm.
“Go ahead and lie face down on the table,” Dr. Grant said, “and we’ll get started.”
Lorraine hesitated. She’d expected to sit in one of the nice leather chairs first. She hadn’t given this doctor any of her history. Didn’t he need to know the details of her accident and where her pain was? She stood in the awkward silence, with Dr. Grant’s happy brown eyes fixed on her, and suddenly felt silly. She couldn’t compare this visit to a typical doctor visit. He was the chiropractor. Of course he knew what he was doing.
The table had three sections. The top was narrow with a slit between the padding. Lorraine assumed that was for her nose, so she’d be able to breathe. She climbed on, grimacing at the pain as she maneuvered her body into the correct spots.
“Comfy?” Dr. Grant asked.
“I suppose,” Lorraine said. The words came out slightly garbled, as she did her best to speak with her face crushed into the leather padding.
A motor whirred beneath her as the table lifted. Dr. Grant ran his hand over her spine, pressing firmly in various spots. Lorraine flinched when he came to the worst. “Ahh,” said Dr. Grant. “I see we’ve found a sensitive area.”
Lorraine opened her mouth to respond but the words were sucked from her as Dr. Grant did something with the center piece of the table and the heel of his palm. The table jerked up and into her belly, while he forced her down and held her there. She gasped, then moaned. “Oh, stop!” she cried. “That’s hurts!”
“Does it now?” he said.
A moment passed, then the table jerked back to its normal position and his hand left her spine. Lorraine bit her lip to keep from crying. This had been the worst idea ever. Why had she listened to Betty? As soon as the pain eased, she was going to leave this office and never come back. She might even sue the man for torturing her this way!
She was about to lift her head, to tell Dr. Grant to lower the table so she could get off without hurting herself even further, when she felt something clamp against the back of her neck. Before her mind could grasp what was happening, the clamp continued around the front of her neck and snapped in place. He had pinned her neck to the table!
“What are you doing?” she shouted into the padding. “Take this off of me. I don’t want any further treatments.”
Dr. Grant chuckled. The sound sent a chill down Lorraine’s aching spine. “Relax,” he said. “Anxiety will only intensify the pain.”
“I said I want you to stop!”
“I heard you. And I politely decline.”
Something slipped around her right wrist and soon her arm was tightly strapped to the armrest beneath the table. She lifted her left arm, flailing it uselessly in the air. Dr. Grant’s firm grasp easily caught hold and secured that wrist to the opposite armrest.
Tears burned Lorraine’s eyes. This couldn’t be happening. What kind of doctor strapped his patients unwillingly to a table?
His hands moved almost lovingly over her spine. “Has the pain subsided?” he asked.
“I want to get up now.” Her words were a plea, rather than a command. She cleared her throat, tried again. “You need to let me off this table now.”
That chuckle again, as his hands traveled up to the back of her neck. “I might have stretched the truth earlier,” he said. “Perhaps even told an outright lie.”
Lorraine sucked on her lip in an attempt to staunch the tears. Her nose ran onto the white paper that lined the padded table. She didn’t want to hear him say what he’d lied about. By now, she’d figured it out. Hearing the words would make it too real.
The pressure on her neck increased. He kneaded a spot as he spoke. “My name is not Dr. Grant.” He chuckled and pressed harder. “In fact, I am not a doctor at all. Shame on me, I know. Sometimes I simply can’t help myself.”
His hand left her. She gasped, sucking in air that refused to fill her lungs. A moment later, she felt something hard against her spine. “My name,” the man said, “is Arian Hatch. You can call me Ari.”
The object at her back came to life, slamming her against the table with a series of intense jolts. The sound was like a jackhammer. Or one of those rapid fire guns in the old war movies. The padded leather muffled her screams. A spasm rippled through her body, setting fire to her nerves.
The sound finally stopped and whatever tool he’d been using pulled away. Again, his fingers glided over her spine in much the way a man would touch his lover. “I’m sorry to tell you,” Ari said, “that Dr. Grant is dead. I killed him earlier this morning. He deserved it, you see. He’d been giving me adjustments to ease my headaches. I get these blinding migraines from time to time. Horrible. Truly. He’d sworn he could help me. Sadly, the man’s career was built on lies and broken promises. I gained no relief. When I confronted him with this, he attempted to excuse his incompetence by claiming that he’d never promised relief. Some patients, he told me, cannot be helped with his methods. He tried and, so he said, was sorry that I’d experienced no benefits.”
Ari walked around to the other side of the table. His hand smoothed her hair down and he sighed. “Dr. Grant’s blatant attempt to deflect his inadequacies by placing the blame on my own inability to heal could not go unpunished. I easily restrained and held him right here, on his own table, for a little taste of his own snake-oil medicine. Initially, I had not intended to kill him. You see, I’m normally much more discriminative in these situations. I don’t kill randomly.”
That creepy chuckle filled the room. Ari’s hand moved down Lorraine’s spine as he continued speaking. “I must admit that I lost control. That seldom happens, mind you. But, goodness, talk about a chamber of horrors! This is an ideal setup. I kept him here for three amazing hours. By that time, the final snap of his neck became a mercy killing. Sadly anticlimactic.”
Lorraine sucked in as much air as her lungs could handle, then let out the longest wail she could manage. Much of the sound got trapped by the thick padded leather. She sobbed and rattled her arms against the restraints.
Ari bent forward. His breath became a soft breeze in her hair. “No one will hear you,” he murmured. “Trust me on that. Now, I hate to be rude but please excuse me a moment.”
Lorraine felt, more than heard, him leave the room. She couldn’t move her head at all, could see nothing. Her back ached so badly that even lifting her leg an inch off the table sent her nerves into a spasm. The insanity of the situation left her mind spinning. She was trapped by a madman, all because the doctor she’d sought help from hadn’t been able to cure migraines.
Someone would come and save her. This was, after all, a doctor’s office. Other patients had appointments. Regular patients. They would know that this man, Arian Hatch, was not Dr. Grant. Someone would alert the authorities. Lorraine clung to that belief as the pain in her spine radiated into her legs.
Minutes passed. Lorraine thought she heard voices coming from the waiting room. A surge of hope gave her a brief burst of energy. She kicked against the table and screamed into the padding. Someone would hear her. Someone would save her from this lunatic.
A moment later, Ari chuckled from the doorway. “You’re feistier than I expected,” he said. “No one is coming to save you, Lorraine. I’ve placed a sign on the door and locked it tight. You’d be wise to stop struggling. For your own good, mind you. The struggle only intensifies the pain.”
He touched her spine and his next words were a mere whisper. “And it excites me.”
In the next instant, the table jerked up and into her ribs and he slammed a hard object against the middle of her spine. He forced an enormous amount of pressure, twisted her back, not easing up until something snapped. White hot pain stole her breath, the intensity worse than anything she could have imagined. She couldn’t move, couldn’t even scream. Tears streamed from her eyes, caught in the white paper and leather padding. Her nose ran. She tasted tears and snot as she fought to pull air in through her mouth.
Lorraine had no idea how much time passed. She gasped and cried until nothing was left inside her. Ari hadn’t touched her, hadn’t spoken, for what felt like hours. She prayed that he was gone, had gotten his perverse pleasure and had no intention of killing her.
But he’d told her his name.
She bit her trembling lip, sucked in another ragged breath. Then she waited, listening. She heard nothing at all. Just as she grasped that sliver of hope that he’d really gone and would not return, a rustling from the corner of the room told her otherwise. He’d been there all along. Listening. Watching.
“I killed James,” Ari said. “The office manager. I don’t suppose you knew him, since you are a new patient. I took no pleasure in that killing. You see, James was what one might call collateral damage. He brought me into this room and he would soon bring other patients to the other rooms. I couldn’t allow that. I wanted Dr. Grant to myself and needed our time to be free of interruptions. So, yes, James had to be disposed of. Once I had Dr. Grant properly secured, I took care of James. A quick snap of the neck. Disappointing, really. I then locked the front door, ensuring the privacy I required.”
Ari stepped close again, his hand traveling like a feather over Lorraine’s spine. “My intention, dear Lorraine, was to leave once I’d finished with Dr. Grant. I’d exceeded my own expectations of the day already. Oh, but killing Dr. Grant had left me both ecstatic and deflated. Ending playtime is always somewhat of a disappointment, no matter how much fun one has during the activities. As I was preparing to leave, I glanced at Dr. Grant’s appointments for the day. He died at 1:38, in the midst of his scheduled lunch break. You were his first appointment of the afternoon. A new patient, for which he’d marked off an entire thirty minutes. Given that you were new, I took a chance in assuming that you would not know what Dr. Grant looked like. I do hope that you’ll forgive my little deception.”
Lorraine gagged as acidic vomit rose into her throat. “Please,” she said. “I’ve done nothing to you. Please. Let me go.”
Ari found that funny, chuckling heartily. “Ah, but Lorraine, don’t you see? Dr. Grant was my main course. You are my dessert.”
Lorraine felt herself deflate. That last shred of hope she’d been clinging to slipped away. His hands touched her spine. Time stopped. The things he did to her brought her close to insanity. She prayed for death, begged for it when able. At one point, she lost consciousness. She could have been out for a minute or a day. She had no way of judging and no longer cared. When awareness trickled its way back to her, she only felt sadness in finding herself alive.
Her legs were numb, as if they didn’t exist. The pain in her back was white hot, searing. She suddenly realized that she could not feel the paper and padding against her face. She opened her eyes and the ceiling swam into focus. Bright lights. Someone singing. Was that an angel? Was she dead?
Then Ari’s face swam into her vision. He grinned at her. “Welcome back,” he said. “I was beginning to wonder if you’d vacated permanently.”
Lorraine pushed her eyes closed, refusing to look at the devil who wanted to steal her soul. She wouldn’t let him have it. That was all she had left and she intended to keep it with her until the end.
“I must go now,” Ari said. “It’s getting late and I’m expected elsewhere.” His hands caressed her throat. “But I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. That would be rude, don’t you think?”
A feathery touch floated over her cheek. “You’ve been a wonderful playmate, Lorraine,” Ari said. “Don’t you want to say goodbye?”
Lorraine kept her eyes tightly shut. She didn’t attempt to speak, wasn’t even sure she was able. Regardless, she wouldn’t give this madman the satisfaction. She hung on to her soul, keeping it close, not allowing him so much as a glimpse inside.
Ari waited. She knew what he wanted. Her soul. He wanted to own her, every piece of her.
“Lorraine,” Ari whispered. “Sweet Lorraine. Do you not wish to look at me?”
She didn’t answer, didn’t open her eyes.
His breath was against her ear. “Remember I told you that I don’t kill randomly? I meant that, my dear. I will not kill you today, though you might wish that I had. I want you to remember me always. My name is Arian Hatch. But you can call me Ari.”
Don’t forget that you can grab this one, along with the other three, free! Links are above.
Thanks for reading.