A lonely, frustrated writer has a terrifying brush with popularity after he falls victim to a mysterious influencer with 2.2 million followers.
ESTIMATED READ TIME: 60 minutes
Click here to read on Wattpad.
**Make no mistake, the following is a mature horror story and contains graphic scenes of self-mutilation.**
PART I - The Loneliest Number
Jerry took a long drag on the cigarette, letting his mind wander in search of random, creative connections.
White wisps leaked from the corner of his lips as he held the inhalation in his mouth.
He tapped a finger thoughtfully on his writing desk--an antique hunk of solid wood that weighed just shy of a metric ton and featured a roll-up cover. Jerry had rescued the desk from the community dumpster a day before it would have been carted off to a landfill. Now, it sat as the sole piece of furniture (barring the chair he was sitting on, of course) in the second room of his small apartment.
The antique desk with the roll-up cover was the perfect complement to the massive typewriter sitting front and center.
This was Jerry's writing room. Minimal, distraction-free, the perfect aesthetic to cultivate the most creative of writing.
The massive typewriter had more in common with the cigarette pinched between Jerry's fingers than it did the antique desk. Upon closer examination, the typewriter was a modern-day gadget--sleek plastic, rounded keycaps, re-appropriated carriage returns, retro detailing arranged as a shrine to an uninspired, flat e-ink display.
As for the cigarette, it was electronic. The smoke was vapor and the flavor was Pineapple Twist, hold the nicotine.
Jerry released the cloud of vapor from his mouth. He had tried once to inhale properly, but didn't see the point--the e-cig helped him think and it paired nicely with the tumbler of straight rum (albeit coconut-flavored) that sat next to the e-ink typewriter.
He hunched forward to re-read the last line of text he had written but was immediately distracted by the ping of a notification on his phone. His eyes darted to the final ironic contradiction in his distraction-free writing room.
Dopamine flooded Jerry's brain.
Twitter was lighting up.
E-cig dangling between his lips, Jerry scooped up his phone and leaned back in the chair, diving into his Twitter notifications.
The dopamine high evaporated as quickly as it had arrived.
He had shared his latest short story almost an hour ago. It was a pandemic-inspired, ten-thousand-word tome about zombies at Disney World (it's a small world, after all, when the Pirates of the Caribbean try to eat you and you're sniping at the undead from the top of Cinderella Castle, splattering brains and gore into a not-so-hidden Mickey for the least-magical Disney selfie in the history of ever) and Jerry had every expectation that it would set the internet on fire.
At very least, he mused, he'd piss off the #distwitter Disney freaks. Drama, in lieu of accolades, would have been just as satisfying.
Instead, the notifications were from a #writingcommunity follow-train someone had tagged him in. He scrolled the notifications, hoping that there was something--anything!--about his story, but new notifications kept popping up as people continued liking, retweeting, and tagging more people in the follow-train.
Jerry cursed and stabbed at his phone until the offending tweet was muted. He tossed the device back on the desk where it clattered loudly and he fumed, teeth grinding. To say he was quick to anger would have been an understatement--a simmering rage was one of the single through-lines in Jerry's life. It kept him from maintaining a relationship with his parents (never mind their unreasonable demand for rent, they couldn't even be bothered to read Jerry's fiction); it cut his higher education short (why sit in an infuriating class about statistics when he could spend that same time writing?); it nearly got him fired from his last job as an assistant manager at a self-storage facility ("Look, the economy isn't great, so let's just call it a layoff."); and not so long ago, when he was particularly enraged with how the entire world seemed to be stacked against him, it almost cost him his life.
It was either not enough pills or too much alcohol--at some point in the night, he woke up, vomited, and then passed back out.
Jerry had tried to kill himself in the solitude of his two-bedroom apartment where no one could interrupt his suicide attempt or even notice he was missing, and he still failed. Which just made him more angry.
Jerry took a swig from the tumbler, wincing unnecessarily from the smooth coconut rum and then dragging on the Pineapple Twist e-cig.
The only real respite Jerry ever got from this back-breaking rage was when he was writing. Which was ironic, because as soon as he finished writing and shared a story on Twitter, he quickly found something new to be angry about.
Discovering the writing community had been a peculiar, double-edged sword. It had immediately sliced away at the oppressive loneliness that permeated Jerry's life--most people don't like being around someone who's angry all the time, although Jerry had different theories about why people seemed to avoid him in real life. On Twitter, however, the writing community bolstered Jerry's profile and he suddenly felt like he had real people to talk to on the internet.
Real people that Jerry could share his one passion with.
Jerry was no longer writing for himself.
Jerry had an audience.
Look out, world.
The problem was that while he was busy focusing on the razor sharp edges of this metaphorical sword, the blood groove--a trench in the sword that ran the length of the blade--was ironically draining all of his creative energy, leaving nothing but a rage-filled husk.
The Disney-zombie story was ten thousand words. The story before that had been a solid eight thousand words. In the last two months, Jerry had hammered out almost three novels worth of short stories.
He had a machine-like discipline when it came to churning out words.
He had ideas and creative inspiration for days.
Most inexplicably--and even if it was a little sloppy or rough around the edges--his writing had a heart and warmth that was plainly absent from the rest of his life. When Jerry sat in front of a keyboard, it was if he was able to transcend the anger that had cocooned his day-to-day existence.
The one thing he didn't have was an audience. Whether it was his own family or--after fully embracing the writing community on Twitter--strangers on the internet, Jerry couldn't get anyone to read his stories.
It was an infuriating detail that could, on occasion, be completely overlooked under a deluge of follow-train notifications.
So many rage triggers, so little time.
The blood groove of the double-edged Twitter sword was a linguistic contradiction in and of itself, Jerry learned while researching a detail for a scene involving a (fictional) merry-go-round murder, ideally having the victim's blood drain down the groove and splatter a crimson-and-gore circle of death around the ride.
The problem was that the blood groove--a blacksmithing nickname--had nothing to do with bloodletting. Its functional purpose was to make the blade lighter.
Much the same way, Jerry had come to slowly realize, the Twitter writing community had nothing to do with reading and often times seemed to have a loose relationship with writing, itself. The promise of the community--that audience, that friendship, that other--drained away while Jerry was too busy muting follow trains, dropping links on every #writerslift he could find, and retweeting the shit out of every post shared by the the #writingcommunity.
Now, sitting in his empty writing room, angrily puffing a Pineapple Twist e-cig, nursing the coconut-flavored rum that wasn't even bringing a buzz, Jerry was left staring at his over-priced retro e-ink typewriter feeling more frustrated, more angry, more alone than ever.
Eyes watered and Jerry gritted his teeth.
Loneliness can be debilitating for some.
For others, it can be flat out traumatic.
Jerry sucked hard on the e-cig and the vapor went straight to his lungs, burning from the overheated coils. Tears welled and he sputtered, coughed, and then threw the spent e-cig at the bare wall in frustration.
Jerry was so lonely it actually hurt. It was a pit of heavy, sour blackness that sat in his stomach, punching angrily at his insides and clawing at his heart with icy fingers.
He wrote to alleviate the pressure. But with every character and every story and every fictional connection, it only threw a sharper contrast on Jerry's own loneliness.
The very thing he loved with fervent passion--writing and process of crafting story--was a constant reminder of his most profound pain.
Of course, Jerry wanted a girlfriend. It was almost a disservice to describe his desire for companionship in such simplistic terms. If it weren't for the writing, this desire would be all-consuming.
Worse still, these idealized romantic fantasies--some of which fueled the writing, to be sure--borderlined hopeless, and Jerry knew it. Even before the pandemic had ruined casual social interactions, Jerry had a painfully difficult time finding so much as a tenuous footing in the world of Tinder, texting, and one-night-fuck-it-and-forget-its.
Women weren't interested in Jerry.
Or maybe they weren't interested in his ever-present anger.
Either way, the end result was the same: crushing loneliness.
Still ... there was writing.
And then there was Twitter and all the hope that the #writingcommunity inspired, even if only theoretical.
And then, just as quickly, Jerry realized it was all a massive pile of meaningless bullshit.
Jerry was alone.
He always would be.
Jerry's phone screen flashed and a notification buzzed. He blinked, forcing his eyes to focus, and wiped the wet from his cheeks as he reached for the phone.
It was a single Twitter notification--a direct message, thankfully, not another unforgiving tagged tweetstorm of torment--and Jerry tapped to read it.
He sniffled and swallowed hard, sitting up straight as he read the message. His brow furrowed.
>>Hey kiddo! I just finished reading your Disney story and it was really fucking great!!! You should have WAY more followers ? maybe I can help with that! #TextMe?
A second message contained a phone number.
Curiosity gripped Jerry--he had never received a message like this before--and he tapped through to the sender's Twitter profile.
Her name was BelleSong12. Her profile pic winked at him, a heart-shaped face, half-bit lip, long hair a bold shade of purple. Skin pale and flawless. Her open eye was big, blue, and piercing.
Jerry felt a stirring in both his chest and his pants.
His eyes darted from the profile pic to her vital stats. She had two-point-two million followers.
She followed thirty-six accounts.
A notification pinged and Jerry's phone vibrated in his hands.
BelleSong12 had followed Jerry.
He tapped back to the message.
Jerry felt his heart stop.
PART II - The Balls Are In His Court
The bag of ice between his legs had started to leak, dripping water onto the layers of bath towels Jerry was sitting on.
Spikes of frigid pain shot out from his groin, where the bag of ice was nestled.
Jerry gritted his teeth as the wave of numbing tendrils snaked through his lower half.
A slow, wheezy exhale was immediately punctuated by chattering teeth. Jerry rocked his head back and forth as he swapped hands that pressed the bag of ice into his crotch.
The pain faded, leaving only numb cold.
Very. Fucking. Cold.
Jerry's head kept rocking, teeth chattering, breath slowly returning to normal.
This would work, he was sure of it. It had to work.
In three weeks, the mysterious influencer BelleSong12 had given him so much. An explosion of followers was just the beginning--a floodgate prompted by the most innocuous tweet Belle posted late on a Friday. Daily readers came next and then--if ever there was a holy grail--Jerry even saw a healthy dose of sales for his first collection of short stories published on Amazon.
In the span of three weeks, Jerry had gone from a lonely and frustrated nobody, pitching his most creative efforts into a silent void to an independently-published author with a burgeoning online popularity that translated into actual sales.
How could he possibly be lonely when his follower count was in the tens of thousands, and growing?
Jerry owed BelleSong12 everything.
And it wasn't just the Twitter clout or even (finally) an actual endgame to his writing, realized with those monetary sales on Amazon--Jerry's mysterious benefactor had filled that yawning, empty abyss lurking inside his heart with purpose.
It was a gift that couldn't be quantified on any measurable scale.
Even better, it wasn't some bullshit scam or random fluke.
Belle had told Jerry to text her personal cell, and he did. What immediately transpired was the most meaningful relationship Jerry had ever experienced in his life. Which, to be fair, wasn't saying a whole lot--Jerry's last girlfriend had been just out of college, almost eight years prior. They had sex once, fucking for nearly twenty minutes, and Jerry was never able to finish. Eventually, she was just raw--physically, emotionally--and they broke up shortly after.
If Jerry had the opportunity to defend his inability to ejaculate, he would have attributed it to their lack of complex communication. He never truly felt connected to her which, he felt, inhibited his orgasm.
With BelleSong12, those inhibitions never existed.
Maybe it was because she was somewhere on the other side of the country (she was reluctant to reveal her address to Jerry, despite their growing connection, because there were a lot of 'weirdos' out there, and phones get hacked all the time). Jerry's relationship with Belle was based on the text thread--all communication, all the time.
It was perfect.
Sure, there was the nsfw stuff, too--an escalating volley of sexting that eventually prompted Jerry to record an explicit video at Belle's behest. It was meant to be a tribute to Belle's increasingly erotic snaps, a thank you, and an unspoken commitment Jerry offered to this long-distance relationship. He laid himself bare, ejaculating to Belle's teasing photos, and quietly overcame his orgasmic failure from years prior.
He just needed the right girl, that was all.
Despite Jerry's overtly orgasmic overshare, Belle somehow managed to never once share anything explicit or sexually incriminating. She was a master of the tease, revealing a hint of a pale breast, always biting her lip, wide eyes imploring Jerry to text back.
Of course he would.
Jerry would do anything for her.
He had begun a workout regimen almost immediately--push-ups, sit-ups, squats, multiple sets twice a day, sometimes thrice. He wanted to impress Belle, even if she said she was already impressed by his creative intellect. Which she was--Belle was the one who encouraged Jerry to gather a handful of his short stories into a collection and publish it to Amazon. She prompted her followers for book cover ideas and Jerry was flooded with fully-rendered artwork to choose from.
Most of it was gorgeous. All of it was good.
Less than a week later, the collection was online and the sales had begun trickling in.
All thanks to BelleSong12.
Jerry knew he loved her. What he didn't know was that love could twist his insides up so painfully. The longing he felt for this slight-framed, purple-haired pixie he knew only by way of pixels on his phone kept him awake at night and, being the writer that he was, he translated that aching pull into messages.
Sitting on the towels in the middle of his kitchen, shoulder leaning on the over door, bag of ice pressed between his legs, Jerry picked up his phone and opened his texts. He scrolled back through a seemingly-endless three-week thread. There was a recent selfie from Belle that had her making a heart symbol with her hands while kneeling on her bed, wearing nothing but panties. Long locks of purple covered what Jerry imagined to be small, perky, pink nipples. Jerry bit his own lip, unconsciously mimicking Belle's now-trademark bite.
A quick scroll back was another snap, taken from a weird angle as Belle lay on her bed while holding her phone out beyond her head. The shot was an angled look down on her naked body, hair conveniently obscuring nipples but leaving plenty of curves for Jerry to drink in. Her knee was lifted and tilted in and--instead of panties--her other hand was buried between her legs, protecting her modesty and maybe plunging into something else.
The image pushed him over the edge just as quickly as the first time he saw it. As titillating as those hidden fingers were, the part he truly loved--worshipped, Jerry thought, holding his phone close--were the gentle curves of her hips sliding into the slender slopes of her navel.
Jerry could lose himself in those curves--wanted to lose himself--for the rest of his life.
Jerry could feel his chest tighten and he had to physically check his groin. The ice had numbed him thoroughly and he wouldn't have known if he was aroused even if it was biologically possible under the current conditions.
More scrolling back.
Just past his ejaculating tribute clip--Jerry laid bare in the most intimate of ways--he found the lengthy message that laid Jerry bare in all the other ways.
>>I have to get this off my chest.
>>I thought I knew what I wanted in life. I thought that if I could just write and maybe find a little bit of success at it, that's all that would ever matter. I thought that if I prioritized my writing and pursued it relentlessly, eventually, the loneliness would just, you know, fade away.
>>I couldn't have been more wrong. Worse, I would have never known how wrong I was if you never entered my life.
>>You've given me so much. Your support and encouragement has fed my soul in ways I didn't even know I needed. You inspire me and fuel a strain of creative in my soul that I didn't even know existed.
>>Belle, I don't know how else to say this other than coming right out with it. I love everything about you. You're beautiful in every way: body (OMG), mind (?), heart & soul.
Jerry's phone pinged and the text thread whisked to the bottom, showing a new message from BelleSong12.
>>How's it going, kiddo ?
Jerry thumbed a reply as he pressed the ice into his numb crotch.
Her response came back almost instantly.
>>Keep me posted ? Ur a rockstar! Here's a little extra motivation ...... maybe you'll get a less blurry shot after ????
The next message was a photo of Jerry's purple-haired girlfriend. She was upside down in the photo, laying flat on her back and looking up at the camera lens. The portrait-mode effect blurred out everything happening beyond her face--a clearly naked body with a hand gripping a pole-shaped object between her legs.
>>I'm thinking of you ?
Jerry thumbed a series of emojis in reply and then flipped over to the camera app. He propped his phone on a stand and positioned it so it was aiming between he legs.
Jerry's heart raced as he carefully reached over his head to the stovetop where three kitchen knives were sitting on active, red burners. One was for cutting, another for cauterizing, and the third was if the second knife didn't do the trick.
Worst case scenario, he could call for an ambulance, but the thought of having to explain what he was about to do made Jerry want to vomit.
This was between him and Belle.
This was for Belle.
With the first knife in hand, Jerry tapped the record button on the phone. He hissed in a quick breath--once started, he had to barrel forward, no hesitation--and lifted the bag of ice aside.
Iced genitals were exposed to the recording camera. His penis was shriveled and insignificant from the cold. His scrotum wrinkled and pulled close to his pelvis.
Jerry's heart thumped in his chest and he could hear the blood rushing in his ears.
He was doing this.
Jerry placed the tip of the blade against his inner thigh, centimeters from his genitals. He pressed the tip into the sensitive flesh. The skin bent inward, but didn't yet give way to the knife blade.
He could feel a very faint, almost distant pressure. His brain saw the danger and tried to warn of pain, but Jerry forced himself to acknowledge that he couldn't feel the sharpness of blade.
The ice trick was working.
Jerry blinked in surprise as blood began oozing from the tip of the knife.
He hadn't even felt it go in.
He pulled the blade back, almost in shock, and watched as more blood trickled from the small wound.
Teeth chattered, partly from the cold and partly from the adrenaline.
>>What would you do to be with me?? ????
Jerry didn't hesitate with his response.
>>Anything. At all. You're my everything.
Her reply--her demand?--would have been preposterous if it had been anyone else other than Jerry on the receiving end of the message.
But it wasn't someone else.
And in the span of three weeks, BelleSong12 had given Jerry everything he never knew he needed.
Jerry didn't just love her.
His need for her vibrated in his cells.
What would Jerry be willing do for her? After everything Belle had already done for him?
Jerry gritted his chattering teeth and glanced at the recording phone. No time to waste. This was it.
With his free hand, Jerry grabbed the bottom skin of his ice-numbed scrotum and pulled it tight.
The blade sliced entirely too smoothly. It shouldn't have been that easy. Those things shouldn't be so fragile.
Blood seemed to hesitate before blooming into the towels Jerry perched on--why did I have to use the white towels??
A distant tug of pain pulled at his testicles.
Something snagged and a nerve sent a blast of electricity spiking through his body, an express lane of fiery pain from his testicle to his left eyeball.
He had heated the blade, thinking it would start cauterizing the incisions immediately.
He forgot that the heat would also melt away the numb of the ice.
The electric pain radiated from his crotch as he let go of the mostly-severed scrotum and reached for the next knife, blade heated on the stovetop. He took the knife handle and placed it between his teeth, biting down.
One more slice. Maybe two.
Jerry panted, summoning the courage to proceed and then forced himself to stop thinking.
Just do it.
He screamed through the knife handle as he hacked through the spermatic cord connecting the final testicle to his body.
Blackness swam around the edges of his vision.
Jerry hurled the bloodied knife across the kitchen where it clattered to the floor. His torso twisted in agony and Jerry rammed his fist into the cabinet door next to his head.
He repeated the process until wood splintered and blood dripped from his knuckles.
The blackness receded.
Almost there. The hard part was done. Theoretically.
Knife handle still clenched between his teeth, Jerry grabbed the third knife from the stovetop--good fucking plan, Jerry!.
No hesitation. Jerry pressed the flat side of the heated blade into his mutilated scrotum.
The stench of acrid, burning skin tickled his nose.
The blackness came back, this time nearly blotting out his sight.
Jerry took the knife handle out of his mouth and threw it across it across the kitchen where it clattered next to the first blade. He heard a piercing yelp and then a strangled, animal-like growl--the fog descending around him kept him from realizing that he was the one making the sounds.
The third blade tumbled and Jerry gathered up an extra towel, balled it, and shoved it into his groin, squeezing his legs shut.
Tears streamed down his face, but he didn't care--it was all for Belle, and he would do anything for her.
He would lay himself bare, in every conceivable way.
Blackness continued to envelop him.
His hand trembled as he reached forward, grabbing his phone and tapping the button to stop the video recording.
The blackness was like looking down a long tunnel. He tried to switch apps but the phone fumbled to his lap, miles away.
He reached around for it, knocking the phone to blood-soaked towel.
Jerry reached, hesitated, then felt his fingers wrap around his phone from somewhere in the distance. Drawing upon a level of strength one exerts when trying to lift a car, Jerry hauled the phone up to his face.
Blackness crept and time slowed.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Consciousness abandoned Jerry and he collapsed, sprawled onto the floor. The towel stayed nestled in his groin, clenched between his thighs. A pair of severed testicles and loose scrotum flesh rested atop the blood-soaked towel under Jerry's lower half.
His arm was splayed out across the tile. The phone lay in his hand. The progress bar for the sending video reached its end and the phone blooped.
The buzzing of his phone brought Jerry back to life.
He had no idea how long he had been out, but a series of rushing thoughts--I love her more than anything; of course I'd do anything for her; why was that so easy; Belle is my life and she says I don't need them; it's not like I was using them before Belle; no going back now--quickly gave way to the most important realization.
He woke up. Which meant he wasn't dead.
The surgery (broadly speaking) was a success.
The phone buzzed again and Jerry reached for it, forcing his groggy, blurry eyes to focus. There was a deluge of texts from Belle, but the last one was the most curious.
Jerry blinked, confused. He had lost blood, but it hadn't been that much. The wound was cauterized. Yes, technically, it was a serious trauma, but he didn't think his brain would be misinterpreting signals from his eyes.
He blinked rapidly, trying to reset his vision.
What the fuck did that mean?
A moment later, Jerry wondered if maybe he hadn't survived his self-castration.
From the front door of his apartment, someone knocked.
PART III - The Girl Next Door
Despite the lengths gone to cauterize the wound, Jerry was seriously wondering if his perhaps-ill-advised self-castration had resulted in him bleeding out and dying.
Death--and him awakening to some kind of afterlife--somehow made more sense than reality.
How else could you explain the arrival of BelleSong12--Jerry's benefactor, the subject of his infatuation, his obsession, his digital girlfriend--now gracing the meek, humble doorstep of his apartment?
It was impossible. She was supposed to be somewhere on the other side of the country.
BelleSong12. Twitter influencer with something north of two million. Jerry's definition of a vision of beauty wore tight jeans and a baggy, grey hoodie that did little to detract from her small, slight frame. Jerry's eyes roved over details he had long idolized: alabaster skin (somehow not as flawless in real life? Maybe this wasn't death after all?), trademark purple locks seemingly just this side of lifeless (how was that possible?), a pixie-face with those crystal blue eyes (wait, almost grey, and definitely a little smaller than he had seen in photos), and those orgasm-inspiring lips.
"Hey, kiddo," Belle said.
Jerry stood at the open door of his apartment wearing a white tank top and hastily (gently) pulled-on jeans, unzipped and unbuttoned, held in place with a hand to allow for maximum breathing room. He blinked at BelleSong12, confusion grabbing hands with castration-induced trauma and spinning in dramatic circles in Jerry's head, dancing an energetic tango that promptly stamped down any logical thought.
"You gonna invite a girl in or were you interested in fucking outside for the whole world to see?"
"Uh--" Jerry's throat was dry and his voice cracked. Not that it mattered, he couldn't find any words.
Jerry--prolific writer, lover of words, and passionate obsessor of written communication--didn't know what to say.
Another impossibility added to the bill.
Jerry found himself stepping aside without actually thinking about it. Belle entered the apartment and Jerry closed the door behind her. He followed her out of the foyer and into the small dining room that opened into a living room. Jerry's apartment was furnished cheaply, a sofa from Goodwill, a dining set rescued from the trash (not unlike his writing desk, but without the weighty charm of the latter's construction), a small television purchased off craigslist.
"Have a seat, Jerry," Belle said, more of a statement than a suggestion. She gestured at the dining table while glancing around the apartment. "You look like you need to take a load off."
Jerry shambled painfully and lowered himself into the chair. Belle glanced back at him, a mischievous look twinkling in her eyes.
"Another load, that is," she said with a quirked brow.
Powerful emotions were still dancing a brutal tango in Jerry's head and he couldn't understand what she was talking about until he followed her gaze past him and into the kitchen.
His phone was still lying on the floor.
Knives scattered against the wall.
The red, clumpy detritus that was his severed testicles and scrotal flesh looked like a small animal had made an unceremonious mess on his kitchen floor.
Belle crossed his path as she went to the kitchen, pausing to whisper in his ear.
"You should really clean up after yourself," Belle breathed, lips grazing Jerry's ear. "You wouldn't want ants, would you?"
The way she spoke--the way she referred to his manhood as something that needed to be cleaned up lest it draw scavenging insects--sent an electric tingle to the tip of his penis.
It didn't make any sense, but somehow this was real. Jerry was alive and BelleSong12 was in his apartment.
Belle stepped into the kitchen and grabbed a dirty coffee mug and spoon from the sink. She squatted over Jerry's emancipated testicles--positioning herself so he had a clear view of her actions--and used the spoon to push the surgical refuse into the mug. She stood and without giving the contents of the mug a second glance, emptied it into the sink.
Sexual fog do-si-doed with the tangoing duo of trauma and confusion and Jerry failed to process what Belle was doing until she flipped the switch next the sink.
The garbage disposal began to grind.
A dull phantom ache blossomed into a fiery rage between Jerry's legs and his eyes went wide as he realized what was happening.
The chugging disposal eviscerated organic matter.
A wet schuck-schuck-schucking ground Jerry's manhood into nothing.
The phantom pain in Jerry's crotch raged into a real pain as an inexplicable erection pulled at his cauterized wound.
Belle killed the garbage disposal and offered Jerry a sassy shrug. "It's not like you were gonna put them back, right?"
Jerry swallowed hard, his throat painfully dry now.
She reached into the front pocket of her hoodie and withdrew a small handgun, placing it on the table between them as she sat down next to Jerry. His gaze was pulled to the firearm that she had so casually produced but his brain wasn't comprehending the implication.
"You know," Belle said casually, by way of explanation, "I was told that if I had done my job right, up to this point, I wouldn't need this."
Belle traced the lines of the compact automatic with a slender finger. Jerry licked his lips, realized Belle saw the reaction, and glanced away.
"Jerry," Belle said, awarding him with a warm smile.
Jerry found himself smiling in return, mirroring her expression. Something tickled the back of his foggy brain, though, something about how if he looked at her smile for too long, it wouldn't be warm at all.
Belle folded her hands in her lap, leaving the firearm conspicuously between the two of them, well within either's grasp. "What we have here," she said, "if you'll forgive the cliché, is your typical good news, bad news situation."
BelleSong12 leaned forward and tapped Jerry playfully on the tip of his nose. "First of all, you should be proud of yourself, Jerry," she said, "because you were exceptional. Really. I mean, your writing, that creative--"
Belle leaned back in her chair and lifted her hands, demonstrating how impressed she was. "--wow. You had all the right stuff. That hunger for fame. That want. Better still, that compliance."
A grin split Belle's face and despite all the hours spent learning her every line and feature, Jerry saw an expression he had never seen before.
It was manic.
"I mean, look at you!" Belle exclaimed. "I told you sit and--bam!--you haven't moved a muscle. Never mind the whole castration thing, but you did say you'd do anything for me. And the point is, you did it, dude."
Belle got on her feet so she could stand over Jerry. "I'm so proud of you," she said, leaning down and kissing him on the top of his head.
It was too much to process, so Jerry didn't. BelleSong12 was in his apartment and she said she was proud of him. What more did he have to think about?
Belle squatted in front of him, hands resting high on his thighs--so close to his erection--and looked up into his eyes. "But I said there was bad news, too. And I'm sorry, Jerry, I really am, because as necessary as it might have been, it was still a lie. Not all of it, mind you, but a good chunk of it. Certainly the parts that ..." Belle rolled her head back and forth, purple locks swaying, as she searched for words. "... coerced you."
The satisfaction that came from Belle being proud of him was getting hard to focus on. Jerry blinked at her, shaking his head and trying to clear the fog.
"What--how do you--?" he croaked.
Belle stood back up, her hand casually brushing against Jerry's erection--but it was an accident, right? BelleSong12 didn't intentionally touch him, did she?
"Don't worry," she said, an overt attempt to reassure him, "there's no need for anymore lies or deceit. Yes," she said with a conceding nod, "all the followers are fake. The Amazon book sales? Manufactured. Bots and fake accounts up the goddamn cock-and-bull wazoo, Jerry. A ruse pulled off by a group of hackers that call themselves the Dark Wolves."
Belle sat back down and shrugged. "They're no Anonymous, but they still get the job done. Terrible at names, but in the grand scheme of things ..."
For the first time, the fog began to lift. The twenty-some-thousand followers Jerry had gained on Twitter in the last three weeks ... were fake? His book sales weren't real? How could that even be possible? And how the hell was BelleSong12 even in his apartment when she was supposed to live on the other side of the country?
Jerry was yanked out of his confusion when Belle leaned forward and placed a hand on his knee again.
"Don't worry," she said, emoting an otherwise genuine expression of concern and sympathy. "I'm almost at three million followers myself and most of those are real accounts--really real--so I still have a pretty fucking massive platform I can share with you."
Belle's other hand joined the first on his knees and she leaned in closer. "I just needed to know that I could trust you, Jerry, that's all. You understand, right?"
Jerry tried to process this information. It made sense, he guessed. Of course. Almost three million followers? That's real power, especially when wielded by someone as beautiful and striking at BelleSong12. If Jerry worshiped her, then clearly others did, too--and as soon as that thought crossed his mind, a pang of jealousy gripped him.
How dare someone else worship BelleSong12.
She was Jerry's.
Belle sighed and leaned back, her fingers returning to the firearm, tracing sensual lines against the steel.
"Of course you understand, Jerry," she said, lifting a shoulder in disbelief. "We wouldn't be here if you didn't." A flash of that disarming smile--tinged manic-- "You always understood. You got me. Always did. But the thing is ..."
Belle's gaze fell first to the gun and then sideways to the floor. She demurred.
It was Jerry's turn to lean forward, the friction on his groin only heightening the magnetic pull he felt towards this woman. Without realizing it, his hand mirrored Belle's own actions and came to rest on her knee--I'm touching her!
"Wh-what?" Jerry asked, voice cracking. "What is it?"
Belle looked up and met Jerry's searching gaze. She hesitated before she spoke. "... I need to be sure, Jerry."
Jerry blinked. "... sure of what?"
"Sure, Jerry," Belle said slowly, softly, "that you're the one. The right one."
Jerry's voice hitched again. "Of course. Of course I am--" How could she even ask? He had cut off his testicles for her.
Belle placed her own hand on Jerry's. The skin-to-skin contact made something leak from the tip of Jerry's erection. "I just need one more commitment, Jerry. One more display of loyalty."
"I need to know that you're completely mine, Jerry," Belle said. "And then, after that, it can all be yours. The followers, the fame, the book sales. Jerry ..."
He didn't know what to say. Jerry lifted his shoulders helplessly. "... what can I do?"
"Commitment is love, Jerry," Belle said with a smile, putting a hand on his cheek. "Do you love me, Jerry?"
"With every cell in my body," Jerry replied without hesitation. "From here to the end of the universe."
Belle took his hands in hers and studied. "I can't ask you--"
"Anything, Belle," he interrupted.
She shook her head. "No. No, Jerry, I can't," she said. "I can't ask you to do something to these hands--these fingers--the source of all your creativity and beauty."
Belle looked Jerry in his eyes. "We can't lose that. We need your writing."
Jerry couldn't begin to follow what she was saying, but if Belle needed something--
A light went off and Belle perked up. "Jerry, I know. Take the gun."
He looked at the small firearm sitting on the table. "What--?"
"If you're committed to me--if you love me, Jerry, take the gun," Belle instructed.
Jerry looked down and realized the gun was already in his hands. It was heavier than he thought it would be. Why had he picked it up?
"Put it against your knee," Belle said. "Your left knee."
Jerry complied, thumb hooked against the trigger, not even the slightest thought to the contrary.
Belle gave him a long, pleading look. "... do you love me, Jerry?"
Jerry was lost in those grey-blue eyes.
A distant POP! and the fog settled back over Jerry's brain. Smoke tickled his nose and Jerry felt a faint sense of pressure on his leg.
If there had been a clock nearby, surely it would have stopped. Jerry's gaze slowly drifted down, down past BelleSong12's out-of-character hoodie, past their two hands still-clasped together--he could die right now if he could hold her perfect hand for the rest of his life--and down to his left knee where his other hand held the firearm.
The gun smoked.
His kneecap, shattered.
Chunks of bone and blood sprayed across the tile below.
Blackness pricked at the edges of Jerry's vision.
A hand touched his face.
"--proud of you," Belle said from miles away. "Almost there."
Jerry felt himself rising to his feet. An explosion of pain from his knee threatened to completely disperse the fog, but Belle was under his left arm, holding him up and taking the weight off the injury. She guided him to the kitchen, haltingly stepping over the bloody bath towels, leaving a trail of fresh blood in their wake.
Something clinked to the tile below and Jerry had a distant realization that a chunk of kneecap had fallen.
"--can't make you do this last part, Jerry," Belle was saying. "It has to be you. You have to decide to leave the old Jerry behind. It's the only way we can truly be together. Will you do this for me, Jerry? Will you lay your head down for me, Jerry?"
He had come this far. He had castrated himself and--apparently--more than willingly blasted his own kneecap. Now she wanted him to lay down his head? Jerry didn't know why that was important, but since it would be the easiest thing he'd do in the last few hours, why the hell not? After all, for BelleSong12, Jerry would do anything.
Jerry's good knee bent and Belle helped him lower himself. He turn his head to face her. Grey-blue eyes glistened back at him.
"That's it, Jerry," she said gently. "All the way down."
Heat radiated up against the right side of Jerry's face, but he hardly felt it. Belle offered an encouraging smile.
Once more, Jerry found himself mirroring her expression as the side of his face came to rest on the coils of the stove burner, still active and glowing red from his knife cauterization hack.
In an instant, flesh began to sizzle.
White-hot pain shredded across Jerry's face and the vision in his right eye exploded in fireworks. Hair burned and he could hear something popping.
But he didn't lift his head.
Jerry's gaze stayed transfixed on BelleSong12, her warm--manic--smile, encouraging nod. He could just barely make out her words before passing out.
"--so proud of you--"
Skin felt like it was melting and Jerry's body had gone into shock. As blackness descended, something that lurked in the back of his mind glinted against the growing numb.
It was something Belle had said.
Something that, if heard by someone with a clear head, would have--should have--changed everything.
Jerry passed out.
PART IV - The New Jerry
Feet pound against a metallic surface. Each step results in a sharp, clanging report that makes his ears ring.
Jerry gasps for air, aching muscles straining as he pushes forward, fueled by a long-simmering anger that has finally boiled over. It spills an inky blackness in every direction Jerry looks, an all-encompassing demonic shadow blotting out reason, logic, light.
Jerry tries to suck in another breath, but there's no oxygen to feed his tired lungs.
Jerry's rage is beset with a desperate panic which only inspires more anger.
It's a vicious, all-consuming circle.
And still he runs.
He has to; he has no other choice.
He can't stop. He can't breathe. He can't see through the inky blackness of his rage.
The echoing footfalls are piercing, each hit ripping through his eardrum and stabbing his brain like an ice pick alternating which ear to attack.
The cacophony of clangs escalates until it is a roaring white noise like a deluge in a storm, clanging feet a muted underscore.
Jerry hazards a glance behind and he sees the source of the roar--an angry river of crimson swept down a deep, rounded channel in the metallic surface Jerry was running across. The dark, thick liquid exploded along the edges of the channel, sending plumes into the air.
With a thunderous roar, the rushing river of red coursed past Jerry, a spray of crimson droplets splattering across his face.
His fingers touch the wetness on his cheek and he sees it for what it is.
Jerry races alongside the channel of gushing blood and only notices the ground shifting below his aching feet when it's too late to react.
The world tilts around Jerry and he tumbles into the flowing channel of blood.
The roar is deafening.
He surfaces and gasps, but there's still no air to breathe.
Jerry reaches for the edge of the channel, but there's nothing to grab, no purchase to find on the smooth metallic walls.
He glances backward: a black abyss.
He looks forward: a black abyss.
"You gotta be fucking kidding me."
"--no, I've looked everywhere. He has some fucking emo-shit typewriter gadget and his phone, but no computer ... no, we're gonna have to set him up with something."
Consciousness bubbled up as if Jerry was a can of soda and someone had just popped the top. He pried his eyes open and tried to focus his vision. The left eye came in clear but the right one remained cloudy. He blinked, trying to disperse the fog, rubbing his eye.
Something was off.
He was sitting on the floor, back against the wall in his writing room. The antique writing desk with the 'emo-shit typewriter' was to his left, under the window with blackout curtains drawn. In front of him, to the right, was the doorway leading to the apartment hallway.
The fog wasn't clearing from his right eye and something else--something he couldn't quite put his finger on--was nagging at him from what felt like a mile away.
Jerry looked down at his left leg. It was laid out straight, the knee of his jeans had been shredded into giant hole. His knee itself was heavily--almost comically--bandaged and braced with two rulers on either side, tied securely with strips of scavenged fabric.
A gunshot went off his Jerry's head and the memories flooded back.
He recalled each trauma as though they had befallen a third party, watching as someone else lowered their head to an active stove burner and melted the side of their face.
Jerry's fingers lightly touched the raw, ragged remains of flesh. Blisters had formed, exploded, and charred over. The right side of Jerry's face was a foreign topography that he was grateful he couldn't see.
Grateful. That meant something, Jerry realized. It was a feeling, not unlike that thing that was nagging him.
The memories continued and a different person--the other Jerry--placed a gun to his kneecap and fired, exploding bone and gore.
It was this other Jerry that had somehow concluded castrating himself for BelleSong12 was a logical progression in their long-distance, text-based relationship. A commitment to a new life--a new way of life--and a mutilation in tribute to the only person that made any sense to the other Jerry.
Instinctively, Jerry's hand went to his crotch, fingers seeking out the absent bulge of his testicles. There was tenderness and Jerry wondered if, along with the work done on his knee, his attendee had done anything to this wound as well.
Jerry heard more muted conversation from outside the room and he recognized the voice as BelleSong12. This revelation pricked at the unknown thing that was haunting Jerry--or maybe it was the absence of something? Had the other Jerry taken something from him?
What was missing?
Jerry braced his palms against the floor and tried to scoot his good leg under himself to stand, but the movement turned his vision wavy and his head started to swim. His hand slid out and hit a wooden serving tray beside him, knocking over a glass bottle of liquid medicine and sending a hypodermic needle and bandages scattering.
Deep breath, slow exhale.
When the world stopped spinning, Jerry grabbed the glass bottle and held it up. His cloudy vision obscured the label and he moved the bottle so he could see it clearly with his left eye.
That explained the relative lack of pain.
"--shit, I gotta go. I think he's awake. I'll call you later and let you know how it goes."
Some primordial instinct sent Jerry's brain racing and almost as quickly as the panic started, it immediately evaporated. In addition to his testicles, Jerry finally realized what else was missing.
Despite everything the other Jerry had done--what BelleSong12 had encouraged him to do--the trauma, the permanent scarring, the life-altering trajectory thrust upon him ... Jerry wasn't angry.
There was no frustration. No rage.
There was regret and disappointment, but it was distant and accompanied by a sense of inevitability--what had happened, happened and there was no way to undo the events inspired by BelleSong12.
Jerry--the other Jerry--had been angry for so long that now, in the absence of the emotion, this new Jerry wasn't sure what he felt.
"Welcome to the world, Jerry," Belle said from the doorway.
The pert mouth that had inspired so much loyalty in Jerry was quirked in a half smile and while he recognized the sexual appeal of this mouth he had once found so tantalizing, there was no physical attraction. No desire blossomed, no craven need inspired.
Belle casually stepped into the room and crouched next to him. "Or maybe, welcome back to the world, hotshot," she said, playfully tapping the tip of Jerry's nose.
The void that Jerry's anger had left was slowly filling with clarity and he was starting to remember something he knew was important--something that occurred to him right before passing out at the stove. Jerry worked his jaw, trying to find words and coax his voice out of a dry throat. Belle's hand dropped to his shoulder, no doubt feigning comfort.
"Sorry, dude," she said, "but the instructions weren't clear. I either gave you way too much or way too little morphine. I guess if you're super happy, then it was too much." Belle grimaced a bit too theatrically. "And you'd have to tell me, because I can't read shit off that fucked up face of yours."
Belle blinked at him, confused. "What?"
Jerry's jaw kept working. "... who?" he said more forcefully.
"Who what? The fuck is that supposed to mean?"
Jerry's newfound clarity allowed him to make a series of quick calculations. He had no idea how much longer it would take for the effects of the morphine wear off, thereby allowing him to stand up. And even if he did manage to get to his feet, he had no idea how mobile he would be with his busted knee.
What Jerry did know was that he needed answers.
Belle was squatted on her haunches in front of Jerry, still wearing those tight jeans and the unflattering grey hoodie--she didn't need to be flattering any more!--heart-shaped head canted in an overt display of 'seriously, what the fuck'. Jerry's eyes dropped from Belle's grating expression to the long, slender neck that the other Jerry had spent hours masturbating to.
With a swiftness that surprised Belle as much as it surprised Jerry, his arm snatched out and grabbed her by the throat, fingers digging into pale skin the other Jerry had idolized.
"Jerry--!" Belle choked, slapping at his arm.
He silently thanked the other Jerry--the obsessive pushups he had done in the past three weeks in order to make himself desirable and worthy of BelleSong12 had resulted in a level of upper body strength Jerry had never experienced in his lifetime. A series of veins bulged in his forearm as his grip tightened around Belle's throat.
She kept swiping at him, but the hits were feeble. The sleeves of her hoodie slid back and for the first time Jerry noticed another detail that had been conveniently photoshopped out of BelleSong12's internet profile.
Thin white scars criss-crossed the underside of her arms.
Jaw clenched. "... who?" Jerry repeated.
Belle's eyes were bulging and she gurgled. Jerry relaxed his grip only a little.
"--I don't know what--!"
Jerry spoke softly, his voice still raw. He lifted his other hand to point at her. "You said--"
"You said that you were told--" Jerry sucked in a breath and could see panic in Belle's eyes, "--that if you did your job right, you wouldn't need the gun."
Jerry could see Belle doing her own calculation. "Jerry," she wheezed, "I thought you loved me--"
"You said that we need your writing," Jerry said, his voice a low growl. "You needed my writing. You and someone else."
Belle blinked, barely remembering the careless words thrown around before she encouraged him to blast apart his kneecap. She tried to shake her head.
"Jerry, I don't know what--"
"Who," he repeated, "were you talking to on the phone?"
Something flashed in Belle's eyes--anger, hatred, mania--that made Jerry tighten his grip on her throat.
These words she managed to get out just fine. "Fuck you, Jerry."
He was focused on Belle and--partially due to the clouded vision in his right eye--missed when she grabbed the wooden serving tray in their struggle. Now, she whipped it up and with both hands smashed it on Jerry's head. The tray splintered and his grip released.
Belle tumbled backwards, cursing, stumbling to her feet. Jerry blinked away stars and pushed off the wall as Belle aimed for the door.
Jerry swung his good leg out, catching his foot against Belle's ankle. She tripped and her momentum sent her crashing forward into the opposite wall, her head smashing into the drywall and leaving a hole. Jerry got his leg under him and pushed up, trying not to put weight on his bad knee but still only feeling distant pain--the whack on the head had helped clear the fog of the morphine. He hobbled to the door and closed it, bracing his back against it and slid down to the floor, exhaling a deep breath as he went.
Belle moaned from beside him and he turned to look at her. Her head had bounced from the busted drywall and she lay facedown on the carpet, arms and legs splayed.
Another moan. "You know ..." she muttered. "... I'm starting to not like this new Jerry."
PART V - Peter and the Dark Wolves
"You don't want to do this, Jerry," Belle said, an obvious strain in her voice as she wrestled to reclaim the control she once had over Jerry--the other Jerry.
This Jerry no longer felt the molecular pull that BelleSong12 seemed to exert.
He tore the duct tape and finished binding Belle's ankle to the leg of the chair. He had pulled the chair closer to the middle of the writing room, successfully securing her hands and a leg before Belle came to her senses and realized what was happening.
With her free foot, she had landed a blow to Jerry's injured knee. He had tumbled sideways into the wall before instinctively pushing off and smashing BelleSong12's face with a brutal right hook.
A tooth had bounced off the opposite wall.
Fresh blood soaked through the layers of bandages wrapping Jerry's knee.
Pain needled up his thigh, touched his cauterized groin, and sent a rush of energy spidering up his spine. While Belle was still hazy from the blow, he dropped to the ground and secured her last foot.
"Jerry--!" Belle implored.
Not eager to face the pain involved with climbing back to his feet, Jerry scooted across the carpet, resting his back against the side wall. To his left was the Belle-shaped hole in the drywall. To his right, the girl herself, duct taped to a plain wooden chair.
"... I thought you loved me, Jerry," Belle said, the tip of her tongue probing the hole her tooth left behind. "Look at everything you did for me--why would you betray me like this--?"
"You can quit with the psycho-manipulative bullshit, Belle," Jerry interrupted. "Belle. Goddammit. That's not even your real name, is it?" he asked with a chuckle.
"Does it matter? Three million followers, Jerry. An actual audience. Real book sales," Belle said, listing off digital clout as if it mattered anymore. "Whatever this is--whatever you're trying to do here--our deal isn't off the table."
Because of his foggy right eye, Jerry rolled his head all the way over so he could see her clearly with his left eye. He offered her nothing but a blank stare.
"You dropped my testicles into the garbage disposal."
Belle's shoulder lifted in indifference. "You're the one who cut them off in the first place."
"It takes one to know one," she clapped back, not missing a beat. Lip bite. Wink.
Jerry looked away and shook his head. If he was going to get anywhere with Belle--if he was going to figure out what would happen next--he needed her to stop trying to manipulate him.
"Jerry, I wasn't lying--"
"Which time? About being on the other side of the country when you were really on the other side of the building?"
"About you being good," Belle said. "Your writing. It deserves to be seen. You deserve an audience. I can give you that if we work together."
As he searched the empty writing room for some guidance on what to do next, Jerry's eyes fell on the bottle of liquid morphine. A hypodermic needle was caught up in a tangle of gauze and bandages. An idea surfaced in Jerry's brain. He leaned forward and stretched out across the floor and grabbed the items.
"You said we."
"Yes, if we work together--"
"Before I blew apart my knee," Jerry said, cutting her off. He sat back against the wall, unwrapping the needle from loose gauze. "You said we need your writing."
"You and someone else, Belle," Jerry said. He held up the bottle of morphine and pressed the needle through the top. "Who?"
Belle did a fairly good job keeping her face neutral, but when he glanced up, he saw a flash of panic in her eyes. "You know," she said, trying to cover, "you're a real work--"
"Who is we, Belle?"
Belle's face went dark. "... Jerry, you are about to go down a path from which there is no return."
He would've laughed if he still had two functioning kneecaps. Or testicles. Or if half his face hadn't been burned off.
With more effort than he had to give, Jerry pushed himself to his feet, favoring the bad knee.
"I think we both know that ship has already sunk," Jerry said as he moved in front of Belle. He held the hypodermic needle up, bracing himself with a hand on Belle's shoulder. "Now ... the instructions weren't very clear. Not sure if it's too much or too little. Plus, there's that added danger of injecting an air bubble, right?"
Jerry leaned close to his tormentor. Again, he found himself silently marveling at this plain, uninspired human sitting in front of him. She knew how to photoshop the perfect tease, but now--now there was nothing sexual about the flesh and bone sitting before him. Eyes were sunken and flushed with anger. Pale skin was gaunt and tired. Trademark purple hair was garish and stringy.
She was some kind of master manipulator and if nothing else, Jerry needed to know why she had come after him.
"Who is we?"
Jerry jammed the needle into Belle's neck. She yelped in surprise and twisted sharply--a hand snapped up and grabbed the hypodermic still stuck in her neck--
--when did she free her hand?--
--yanked the needle out, and screamed bloody murder.
It all happened so fast, Jerry didn't have a chance to even process the attack.
Wielding the hypodermic in her fist, Belle stabbed the needle at the nearest, vulnerable object.
The needle plunged into Jerry's bad eye and a scream caught in his throat as he started to stumble backwards. Belle twisted her fist as he pulled away, causing the needle to carve and shred the ocular tissue.
Fireworks exploded in Jerry's head and a rabid wolverine was released, razor claws tearing at the inside of his skull.
He collapsed backwards, sprawled on the ground, pawing at his face, a low, inhuman moan escaping his lips. When the darkness came, Jerry did nothing to fight it, embracing the silent escape.
Belle's fist fell to the side of the chair and relaxed. The hypodermic needle dropped to the carpet. A manic smile faded from her lips before her head lolled forward, the morphine finally hitting.
Jerry's writing room fell silent.
"--ey! You fucking cocksucker! Jerry, Jerry, most contrary, wake the fuck up!"
"Jerry. Jerry! Je-e-e-e-e-erry!"
He made a fist and punched the carpet. A rage of impossible pain existed under a thin layer of numb and Jerry worried that any major movement would quickly push the numb away.
Laughter. "You're literally a ball-less wonder!"
Belle was loopy from the morphine. Which meant the haphazard dosage hadn't killed her. Jerry cursed this misfortune silently. Then he remembered that she had managed to get one of her hands free.
Clenched jaw. "... fuck ..." he cursed, this time aloud.
Jerry pried his good eye open and saw a delirious BelleSong12 pawing uselessly at her duct tape bindings. She saw him move and squealed.
"Fuck," he repeated quietly.
"Ple-e-e-e-e-ease help me!" she whined, feigning a decent damsel in distress.
She might have been in distress, but she was definitely no damsel.
Jerry twisted, pulling his body across the floor towards Belle. "You," he grunted, "are a horrible--" Jerry grimaced as his broken knee dragged across carpet, "--horrible fucking person."
Belle pouted. "And you're a horrible dizzy-pull," she slurred.
Disciple, Jerry translated after a moment's thought.
She continued, tripping over words: "I did them--followed all the steps. I made you. Remade. Perfectionally. And you know what happened that you did then? You then went and did--turned into ... that." Belle gestured drunkenly at Jerry as he pulled himself up to her. "You're no oh-bah-dent dizzy-pull. And you know how--what I did to the last boy who then--did not--behave?"
Jerry grabbed her knees and pulled himself up. Belle placed her hand on his charred face and smiled maniacally at him, eyes wide and crazy.
"I cut him up. Right fast, snip-snip-snip. In to itsy bitsy, teensy-weensy pieces. And then Peter fed him to the wolves. They ate real good that day!"
The two just stared at each other for a moment before Belle began laughing hysterically. Her head flopped back as she cackled, trying to say something about a garbage disposal between her manic fits.
Jerry's hands shifted on Belle's thighs as he braced himself to stand--and then he felt something in her pocket.
He would have slapped himself in the head if hadn't already endured so much trauma.
Jerry dug into her pocket for her phone.
"Hey, no touching!" Belle protested before giggling as Jerry's fingers wormed their way into her tight pants. "Jerry!" she gasped.
He grabbed the phone and pulled it out. He pressed the home button but it rejected his finger print.
"That's mine!" Belle squealed. "Gimme my phone!"
She grabbed at the phone with her free hand and Jerry snatched it, grabbed the thumb and twisted. She screamed in his ear as he pressed her digit to the home button.
The phone unlocked.
Quickly, he released her hand and pushed himself away from Belle, plopping hard on the ground. Jerry held the unlocked phone up, waving the screen at Belle. "You speak so highly of him. How about we find out who this Peter is?"
Belle glared at him. "... don't you dare ..."
Jerry opened the phone app and tapped over to contacts. She only had two in the phone: his own contact with a photo from his Twitter profile and the contact for a faceless Peter.
Jerry glanced up. "You have quite the robust social circle."
Belle fumed. "Jerry ..."
He could see adrenaline and anger was sharpening Belle's focus. Jerry tapped urgently at her phone, quickly flipping between apps and searching for any clues about the person who sent Belle to recruit Jerry as some kind of twisted disciple.
But there was almost nothing on the phone. Two contacts, a single text message thread with Jerry. Twitter.
He tapped the Photos app and scrolled through an endless stream of selfies and lewds, all enhanced to exacting BelleSong12 perfection.
Across the room, duct tape tore.
Jerry used his good leg to scoot across the floor, away from Belle, as he kept scrolling the album, looking for something, anything to explain who Peter was and what he wanted.
Jerry's breath caught when came across a series of photos from just over a month ago.
The first photo he saw was the last in the series. Belle was taking a selfie, winking, mouth half-open and tongue out, flashing a peace sign. Behind her and framed at the perfect angle, a kitchen table was covered in blood and piled with dismembered body parts. A severed head rested on the top, eyes gouged and face lacerated. A tongue hung out, which had been split multiple times.
Jerry didn't have to imagine what the person had looked like before Belle had cut him into itsy bitsy, teensy-weensy pieces.
He had been just another Jerry.
Just another angry, lonely shut-in.
Just another person desperate to be seen.
Just another person who--apparently--didn't fully comply with BelleSong12's reprogramming.
Jerry's eyes were drawn to the corner of the photo where the tips of a pair of black boots could be seen. Further up the photo, just barely in the frame, were fingertips.
Further up still, half-obscured by a lens-flare from a nearby lamp, was a sliver of head and single green eye, focused intently at the camera.
Staring right at Jerry.
Was this Peter?
Was this BelleSong12's puppet master?
Another tear of the duct tape and Jerry looked up in time to see Belle swinging the typewriter--that heavy, retro, e-ink typewriter that cost Jerry a small fortune--hurling through the air, directly at Jerry's head.
His only reaction was to raise his hands.
The typewriter came in at an angle. His hands slowed the trajectory, but the whole mess still smacked into his head, laying him out flat.
The phone took the brunt. It went flying, screen smashed by the heavy corner of the typewriter. The phone and whatever secrets were hidden in its photos banged into the wall and clattered to the ground.
The smashed screen glitched once before winking out.
Jerry groaned and tried to get an arm underneath himself when Belle crashed onto him, knocking the air out of his lungs. She screamed murder as she hammered balled-up fists into Jerry's already-black-and-bruised-and-burnt face. He tried to grab at her arms, but her blows--fast, furious, like tiny missiles--knocked the sense out of him.
Blood splattered across Belle's face. Finally, she stopped to survey the pulpy mess of her work. Her chest heaved as she tried to catch her breath. Her knuckles were raw.
Jerry's mouth worked, but the only thing that came out were bloody bubbles.
Belle leaned forward, patting his chest. "Don't even bother to try, kiddo," she said, fully sharpened by the adrenaline-fueled rage. "It's a waste of breath. Just like you."
Jerry's mouth kept moving.
Belle rolled her eyes. "Jesus Christ."
Belle made an exaggerated show of leaning in close to hear him. Jerry rolled his head so he could see her with his good eye. It was wide open and alert.
Jerry's hand grasped plastic and he twisted, swinging his arm sharply to smash the e-ink typewriter into BelleSong12's skull. She tumbled and Jerry scrambled to get on top of her, hoisting the typewriter over his head with both hands, ready to deliver the final blow.
Spreading blood soaked the carpet underneath Belle's head.
Typewriter held in the air over his head, Jerry gasped for breath.
She wasn't moving.
After what felt like forever, he let the typewriter fall to the ground and he leaned over Belle's face.
Her eyes were still open, frozen in surprise. It was as if she couldn't believe the audacity of her story ending this way.
For a moment, Jerry could almost see her the way he used to. He could admit that there was a beauty to her--beneath the manipulation, mania, and murder--there was something lonely and vulnerable that just wanted to be seen.
That manipulation, though.
Jerry understood now that he had been targeted from the beginning. A desperate, lonely person seeking--hunting--another desperate, lonely person.
It was some kind of sadistic multi-level marketing scam.
As insane as BelleSong12 had been, someone else had fundamentally pointed her in Jerry's direction. Someone who recognized the desperation, loneliness--the anger--and had figured out how to manipulate it. Someone who trained Belle and turned her into a disciple, then taught her how to do the same to others.
The green eye.
Jerry climbed to his feet and stumbled out of the writing room, grabbing the walls to keep himself upright as his apartment started dancing around him. He tripped down the step into the living room and crashed into the arm of the sofa.
On the edge of the coffee table was Jerry's phone. He grabbed it and unlocked the screen.
A single notification was waiting for him.
He tapped a series of buttons and loaded the contact he had managed to send before Belle had smashed her phone. He brought up a blank text message and entered Peter's phone number.
Fingers poised over the keyboard and Jerry thought about what to say to the monster behind the monster.
Finally, Jerry smiled. He typed the note quickly and hit send.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.