Being tied to a tree for several hours when he was nine years old was something Mickey Macintosh was never able to completely shake. Sure, there were many other childhood atrocities committed against him that no doubt contributed to his madness (having his face shoved into dog shit immediately comes to mind) but none haunted him quite like this. He was never able to see a tree in the same way (which was really quite a shame, considering his unbridled love for nature).
Today, he was about to reveal just how much that singular event impacted him. For the past 15 years, he had been standing at the edge, carefully planning…plotting. The time had finally come to walk off it.
Shortly after midnight, on a crisp fall evening, Mickey approached the two-story colonial in the cookie-cutter subdivision of Pheasant Meadows. He parked in the driveway and headed up a long sidewalk littered with brittle, dead leaves. When he reached the door, he reached for the brass knocker and gave it three solid knocks that echoed in the chilly night.
Moments later, footsteps descended the stairs. The door opened, and there he was: Johnny Perkins: the person single-handedly responsible for everything – standing there in nothing but a pair of black boxers adorned with little red hearts.
Mickey had no trouble recognizing his prey. Johnny still had the same, slender, athletic build he had back in high school, where he was the star quarterback and point guard. And he was still just as devilishly handsome.
Mickey, meanwhile, hadn’t fared nearly as well over the years – mentally and physically. Mickey was always out of shape as a child to begin with – mentally and physically. It was all downhill from there. In fact, so much so, Johnny didn’t even seem to recognize his unexpected midnight visitor. He stood there with half-asleep three-quarter confusion, mixed with one-quarter dose of fear.
“Hello, Johnny…” Mickey said.
“May I help you?” Johnny asked, in a tone of annoyed confusion.
“I think so…” Mickey said cryptically.
Johnny’s expression matched his earlier, confused tone.
“Who are you?” Johnny asked.
“You know who I am,” Mickey said.
“Are you trying to sell me something?”
“Since when do salesmen come after midnight?” Mickey asked.
“Why are you here? On my porch? At this time of night?” Johnny demanded to know.
Mickey pulled a 9 mm. out of his pocket and aimed it at Johnny Perkins’s face. Johnny froze in terror.
“This is why.”
“Please…,” Johnny pleaded.
“I’m not going to kill you,” Mickey promised, still pointing the gun at Johnny’s face. “At least not here. Is there anybody else in your home?”
“No. Just me,” Johnny said.
From what Mickey had ascertained over the course of a couple of surveillance missions, he knew that Johnny lived alone, but was also prone to bringing home the occasional woman that he picked up at a bar. However, he rarely did so during the week. But Mickey had to be absolutely sure.
“If you’re here to rob me, take what you want,” Johnny offered. “I don’t want any trouble. Okay?”
“I don’t want to rob you,” Mickey assured him.
“Please. Just tell me what you want,” Johnny said, with tears brimming in his eyes.
“I want you to keep your fucking mouth shut,” Mickey demanded. “Now, see that car over there?”
Johnny nodded, looking toward the old, green clunker of a Buick parked in the driveway.
“Now what I want you to do is walk towards it with the world’s happiest smile on your face, keeping in mind that I’m right behind you. And I swear to God if you even begin to open your mouth, I will blow your head off before you can finish closing your lips. Have I made myself clear?”
Johnny nodded in stunned and frightened understanding.
“Can I put on some pants first?”
“No,” Mickey said, leaving Johnny no choice but to parade out in a pair of boxers with little red hearts on them.
“The passenger door is unlocked,” Mickey said. Johnny headed into the car, filled with discarded fast food wrappers, pop bottles, and various crumbs littering every square inch of floor space.
Johnny only had himself to blame. Furthermore, Mickey blamed all his failings on Johnny: his failure to finish college. His failure to keep a job. His social failures. Everything. And it all added up to this one, singular moment, retroactive to that fateful day when Johnny Perkins made the boneheaded decision to tie Mickey to a tree.
Mickey hopped into the driver’s seat, keeping the secure in his left hand. He was pleasantly surprised at a.) how well things were going b.) his lack of nervousness and c.) the adrenalin rush of absolute power he was feeling for the first time in his life. He could get used to this, which bode well for his laundry list of an agenda.
Not to say he didn’t envision this exact scenario. In fact, he had been envisioning it ever since he started sketching out his plan in his 7th grade English notebook. Over the years, his plan evolved. Revisions were made – additions, along with subtractions. When he ran out of space in his 7th grade notebook, he picked up where he left off in his 8th grade one. And so on and so on, through high school and beyond.
It would consume every ounce of his heart and soul with every passing breath, day, and year. And it all came down to this.
Despite the gruesome nature of his plan, he never once took pause to re-consider going through it. In fact, he became more emboldened and determined with each passing day, finding refuge from his constant misery in the hope that Johnny Perkins’s day of reckoning would someday come. As far as Mickey was concerned, it was never a matter of if. It was always a matter of when.
“Buckle up,” Mickey instructed his fear-stricken seating companion. Johnny complied, as Mickey pulled out of the driveway. The car stalled a couple of times before it drove off into the night.
Accompanying their journey was Mozart’s Requiem, which played on the CD player. Mickey turned it up and let the music permeate their soul and marinate their senses, before he finally addressed his prey.
“You know, it really pains me that you have no idea who I am – considering everything you’ve put me through.”
Johnny gave Mickey a long look, before recognition filled his face.
“Mickey? Mickey Macintosh?!”
“That’s me!” Mickey gleefully proclaimed.
“How’ve you been?” Johnny asked, as though he had forgotten the context of his current status.
“You tell me,” Mickey said, forcing Johnny into realizing the ignorance of his question.
“Where exactly are we going?” he finally asked.
Mickey lowered the music as he pulled into a city park, where he proceeded to drive into a secluded area at the park’s edge.
“Don’t move,” Mickey warned. He popped his trunk, then got out of his car, sticking his gun into his waistband. He then retrieved a box out of his trunk, which contained: metal wire, rope duct tape, a can of kerosene, and a box of long matches.
He closed the trunk and headed over to the passenger side, setting the box down and clumsily removing the gun out of his waistband. He then opened the door, steadily aiming the gun at Johnny.
“See that path heading into the woods?” Mickey asked.
“Yes, of course,” Johnny began. “We used to play here all the time when we were kids.”
“Well, now I want you to pretend it’s the fucking yellow brick road and follow it. I’ll be right behind you. And if you dare scream for help, I will kill you. Fair enough?”
“Now get going,” Mickey demanded, keeping his gun aimed at his prey. “Slowly. And don’t turn around.”
Johnny got out of the car and started walking, his nostrils filling with the pleasant smell of autumn.
Mickey picked up his box, carrying it in one hand; aiming his gun with the other toward Johnny’s back. He maintained a distance of about three feet or so until they arrived at a small clearing with a solitary, dead tree standing in the center.
Johnny stopped dead in his tracks, both shivering from the cold and trembling with fear.
“Now what?” he asked, his voice cracking.
Mickey dropped his box of supplies to the ground and shot Johnny squarely in the right foot.
He collapsed in agony.
Mickey grabbed the duct tape and quickly ran over to Johnny, who was writhing on the ground in his boxers and screaming in pain. The gunshots and the screaming were the two variables Mickey was most worried about. He knew all along that they were probably the most vulnerable part of his plan and no matter how many times he tried to envision an effective way to put the duct tape on his victim before he actually shot him, he couldn’t think of anything more effective than maiming him first.
Once he did so, he knew he would have to act quickly, which was precisely what he was doing now, as he tore off two pieces of duct tape. Meanwhile, Johnny continued to twist and moan in pain. As Mickey approached him with the duct tape, Johnny shook his head from side to side in protest, which didn’t exactly make things easy for Mickey. He finally grabbed Johnny by the neck with one hand, pinning him down. As Johnny gasped for air, he wiggled around even more, making it even more difficult for Mickey until Johnny finally submitted to him, allowing Mickey to slap the duct tape over Johnny’s mouth in an ‘X’ formation.
Mickey was impressed at how relatively cooperative Johnny was being.
Sticking to his script, Mickey grabbed the metal wire, crouched down next to Johnny, and proceeded to tie his hands behind his back. This time, Johnny didn’t even resist.
It’s amazing what the threat of death can do to motivate someone.
Mickey grabbed Johnny by the ankles and pulled him toward the tree until they were finally under it.
“Now, I am willing to negotiate with you if you are willing to cooperate,” Mickey began, looking Johnny square in the eye. “I would really like to have a civil conversation with you. And with duct tape on your mouth, that isn’t really possible, is it?”
Johnny shook his head.
“So, if you can promise not to scream, I will take the duct tape off your mouth. What do you think?”
Johnny nodded in compliance. Mickey proceeded to remove the tape off Johnny’s mouth. Johnny flinched in pain, but remained as mute as humanly possible.
“Now stand up and lean against this tree,” Mickey ordered.
“You shot my fucking foot!” Johnny reminded him. “How do you expect me to stand—”
“I will shoot your fucking nut sack if you keep bitching about it,” Mickey said, raising the gun to Johnny’s head for added emphasis. That seemed to do the trick, as Johnny stood up, clearly in immense pain. He hopped on his one good foot, keeping his wounded foot up in the air as he leaned against the tree, his white, bare flesh contrasting with the black night.
“Please, don’t do this to me,” Johnny pleaded.
“Relax,” Mickey impossibly demanded.
Mickey ignored his plea. Like a runaway train, some things can’t be stopped. Rationality had already left the station long before the train jumped the tracks. There was always only one foregone conclusion.
Staying on course, Mickey proceeded to tie the rope around Johnny and the tree, making sure it was good and tight, just as Johnny and his cronies did to him 15 years before. They were next on the list.
Mickey made sure to leave about three feet of slack on the rope, before grabbing the wire, which he proceeded to wrap even more tightly around Johnny. It cut deep into his bare flesh. Streams of blood ran down his torso like strawberry syrup, matching his boxer hearts.
“Please …,” Johnny continued pleading. “I’m begging you.”
“You didn’t exactly listen to me when I was begging you, did you?” Mickey asked.
“Begging me for what?” Johnny said with genuine confusion.
“You don’t remember?”
“What you did to me in fourth grade?”
“I was just a kid,” Johnny said, grasping for a good excuse.
“So, you do remember?” Mickey asked.
“Yes. And I’m sorry.”
“Do you really think that matters right now?” Mickey asked in reply. “And if you were truly sorry, why didn’t you ever apologize to me until now?”
“I didn’t realize how it affected you,” Johnny said. “Plus, it was never like this.”
“Do you think that makes a difference?” Mickey asked.
“This is a joke, isn’t?” Johnny asked. “You didn’t mean to shoot my fucking foot, right?”
Mickey then reached for his gun and shot Johnny’s other foot to prove he meant business.
“Nope, my bad,” Mickey said.
“There were others,” Johnny continued in his desperate attempt to save himself. “I mean, I wasn’t the only one there that day.”
“You were the ringleader,” Mickey said. “You were always the ringleader.”
“Please, I’m sorry! I was stupid. We were just kids. I was just trying to fit in.”
“Bullshit,” Mickey retorted.
“At the time, it’s how I felt,” Johnny tried to justify. “I could never do that type of thing now. I’m a good person. I’m a teacher. I volunteer at the animal shelter. I have two dogs and a cat. I go to church twice a month. What kind of person are you now?”
“I’m exactly what you made me,” Mickey said, raising a pointed gun at Johnny’s face.
“We can work this out,” Johnny continued to plead. “Let me buy you a drink and we’ll talk. I’m nothing like that now.”
The last thing Mickey was going to let Johnny Perkins do was persuade him to stop him from achieving what he had hoped and dreamed and fantasized about every day for over 15 years.
“Remember how you kept trying to light the rope on fire, but the rope wouldn’t light?”
“I did that?” Johnny asked.
“Yes. You did. And your friends even tried to get you to stop, but you pushed them down and threatened even them. Your own fucking friends!” Mickey said, through thick tears that he had been stockpiling since his childhood. He felt like a water heater about toe explode.
“I never would have hurt you,” Johnny said.
“What if the rope caught fire?” Mickey cried. “Would you have put it out?”
“I’m sure I never would have let it get that far.”
“You tried and you knew it!” Mickey screamed deep within a part of his soul he didn’t even know existed
“Please,” Johnny pleaded a strained, painful whisper.
“I was just a kid,” Johnny added.
“So was I,” Mickey replied, before grabbing the duct tape. Johnny resisted with all his might, but Mickey finally managed to place another ‘X’ formation over his mouth.
“Allow me to let you in on a little secret…,” Mickey continued, reaching for the can of kerosene.
Johnny looked at him with the fear of a trapped, wounded animal.
“This might have helped,” Mickey said, proceeding to douse not only the rope, but Johnny’s entire, scantily-cald body, including his bloody, mangled feet. Johnny’s muffled scream nearly blew the duct tape off his mouth. It puffed out in the middle of the ‘X’.
The precise moment Johnny had been waiting for – the moment he played on a continuous loop in both his conscious and subconscious mind for the past 15 years – had finally arrived as he grabbed the matches and lit the rope.
Mickey removed a match from the box and lit it, but a gust of wind immediately blew it out. He promptly reached for another one, cupped his hand around it, and successfully lit it.
Johnny attempted to extinguish it with his mangled stump of a foot, but it was too late. Within seconds, he was engulfed in flames. The duct tape melted off and Johnny was no longer a man, but a screaming, melting pillar of fire.
Mickey shot both of Johnny’s flaming kneecaps for good measure, then his shoulders, transforming Johnny’s screams into inhuman yelps.
When he couldn’t take the yelping anymore, he shot his victimizer in the head. Chunks of brain matter erupted above the flames.
A brain volcano.
He then gathered his supplies, threw them into the box, then walked back to his Buick. He threw the box into his trunk, before hopping into the driver’s seat. He removed a spiral, one-subject notebook from his glove compartment – his old 7th grade English notebook. He then thumbed through the pages, until he found a list of several names. He drew a line through Johnny Perkins, before he drove away with a smile of relief, as a plume of smoke rose out of the woods behind him. The scent of dead leaves was now mixed with the stench of burning flesh. He stalled a couple of times, but eventually found his way back home.
By the break of dawn, the surrounding forest was gone. But the clearing remained.