Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Nice Thing About Being Needed by Jay Butkowski

The Nice Thing About Being Needed

Jake woke up in pitch darkness, the smell of chlorine and shit assaulting his nose. He tried to flex his fingers, and immediately regretted the decision as the soft skin around the joints cracked, exposing rawness underneath to the sting of chlorinated water.
How long had he been unconscious?  No way to tell, but the state of his hands seemed to suggest he’d been marinating in the water awhile.
Had he shat himself?  Or was he floating in someone else’s shit?  Or both?
And who the fuck blasts a dude in a hot tub with an industrial-strength cattle prod?
…A Walmart rent-a-cop who suspects that his out-of-his-league wife is cheating on him, that’s who, Jake asked and answered.
And the rent-a-cop probably wasn’t just being paranoid.
Jake tried to push through the charley horse in his leg to stand up out of the water, and came nose to vinyl underbelly with the cover for Amber’s Coleman inflatable hot tub.  Dickie had sealed him in.
Dickie Gray was 6 feet, 5 inches of shithead on a 5 foot, 6 inch frame.  Mean sonofabitch with a textbook Napoleon complex and a chip on his shoulder the size of a Volkswagen minibus.  Since elementary school, Dickie had been pulling all kinds of shit to make Jake’s life more miserable.  But this might have been his magnum opus in mean shithead-edness.
Don’t panic, he thought.  The buckles on these things are easy… even from the inside.  All I have to do is slide my hand…
His bloated, blistered, electric-burned hand…
Mother Fuck.
“Little help!  Anyone out there?” he called, expecting no answer.  People living in the trailer park kingdoms of Arkansas kept mostly to themselves, especially for the big stuff.  Need to borrow a stick of butter to make your Grandma’s famous black walnut pound cake, and your neighbors were clutch.  Need help burying a body, and that same sense of community evaporated.
And Jake was definitely going to need help burying a body when he got out of this fucking hot tub…
He curled his fingers as best he could, and sparks of pain shot from his fingertips into his brain, giving him a jolt of clarity and dread.
Amber.  If Dickie knew about me and her, then… Oh fuck.
Jake snaked his curled, swollen hand through the minimal space he could make between the cover and the hot tub wall.  The vinyl rubbing against his charred hand was excruciating.  The cracked, irritated skin sloughed off at the knuckles as he made his way past the seam, to the buckle, his hand sticky with his own blood.  He grunted.  He screamed.  He tried to squeeze the two little pins together to get the buckle to release, but his water-logged hand just wouldn’t cooperate.  It felt like he was wearing oven mitts filled with wet sand…
Finally, the snap let loose, and Jake pushed back the corner of the cover to suck in fresh air.  The cold air hit the back of his throat and triggered a spastic coughing fit, but at least the air was fresh, and smelled slightly less like warm, stewed shit.
Jake unclipped a few more buckles – enough to allow him to escape – and stood up for the first time in a long time, steam rising off his bare ass in the late Arkansas autumn morning.  He was shivering, his hands felt like water balloons ready to burst, and his mouth was parched from dehydration, but he was alive at least, and with no sign of round 2 with Dickie just yet.
He tripped and stumbled nakedly out of the hot tub and scrambled for the bed of his F-250 Super Duty pickup.  He wasn’t much for weapons – never did develop that taste for hunting that his Old Man tried to instill in him – but he had to have something he could use to defend himself or Amber if Dickie was still inside the double-wide trailer that the two called home.  He settled on a rusted-up coping saw.  If worse came to worst, he could always fall back on his middle school shop teacher skills and make Dickie a duck-shaped recipe holder…
Jake gripped the handle of the coping saw as best he could with his left hand – the less damaged of the two – and cautiously approached the battered storm door to Amber and Dickie’s trailer.
The thing between Amber and Jake was never supposed to be anything.  Dickie, Jake and Amber had grown up together, and Jake had a crush on Amber way back in high school, but never acted on it.  Jake hadn’t even known the two were living in town.  It was a total fluke.  But a failed marriage for him, a shithead husband for her, and a chance encounter at the Piggly Wiggly, and here we were.
Jake wasn’t sure if he loved Amber.  He adored her, but that’s not always the same thing as love.  She wasn’t anything like his ex-wife, Cathy, who was all sharp edges and fierce independence to the point of not really needing Jake to be around.  Amber was soft, sensitive.  She needed Jake, and Jake liked the thought of being needed by someone for a change.
If anything had happened to her, Jake wasn’t sure how he was going to live with himself…
He flung the cheap storm door open, images of what Dickie could have done to Amber while he was soaking in the hot tub making him feel sick inside.
As soon as Jake crossed the threshold into the dark trailer, he tripped over something big and fell forward in a heap, the coping saw clattering to the linoleum tile floor.  His head snapped back up to peer through the darkness, to identify what he had tripped over.  Near the doorway was a blocky shape that appeared to be about 5 feet, 6 inches long…
Jake called out Amber’s name, but he already knew he wouldn’t get an answer.  She wasn’t there, and apparently didn’t need Jake as much as she let on.
The inside of the trailer lit up with flashes of blue and red.  One of the neighbors must have called it in when they saw him enter the trailer, saw in hand.  Jake guessed it was probably the one three trailers down.  She had moved here from Florida, so didn’t have the natural Arkansian proclivity to not get involved in other people’s business.
In the flashing lights, Dickie’s cold dead eyes met his, a jagged red line painted across his neck.  As the police stormed the trailer, Jake’s thoughts turned to just one thing.
I should have stayed in that fucking hot tub.

Bio Jay Butkowski is a writer of crime fiction and an eater of tacos who lives in New Jersey.  His work has appeared in Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter Online, and his own pulp-serial imprint, Episodes from the Zero Hour!.  You can find his work online at, on Facebook at, or on Twitter at


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