SAFE WORD - MIKE MACLEAN
Originally published in Crimespree Magazine, March 2009
Back in high school, I would’ve called them freaks. Would’ve spat the word out like so much phlegm. Now, I’m the one drawing stares.
They pack the dance floor. Lots of black leather and white painted faces, doing that slow-motion slipstream. Somehow moving with the beat and against it at the same time. It’s a grace I don’t have words for.
I take a long pull from my beer and gaze into the crowd. Searching.
Occasionally, I lock eyes with one. The women among them hold my stare, grinning at me in cock-tease defiance. But the men—they take one glance and look quickly away. They know what I am.
I drain the rest of my beer and order another. This next one I’ll drink slow. When it’s gone, I’m gone.
And that’s when I see her. The one.
She’s at the other end of the bar. Little black dress. Milk white skin. Long, silky hair, the color of blood.
She sips wine and pulls a silver cigarette case from a clutch. Once, twice, three times, she fumbles with her lighter, but doesn’t get so much as a spark. Before one of the Goth boys gets to her, I’m across the bar, flashing my Zippo.
“Thanks,” she says.
I flip the Zippo shut. “It’s why I carry the thing.”
She gives me a little squint, looking me up and down, taking in my worn jeans and flannel shirt. “Are you lost or something?”
“I thought I was,” I say. “Until I saw you.”
She bites her lip and stares into my eyes. Her smile is like a slow moving shadow.
Her lips taste of rum and sweet clove cigarettes.
My hands tangle in her hair, yanking her head back so I can kiss her neck. I’m not so gentle about it, but she doesn’t seem to mind.
“You like it rough?” she asks.
I stop kissing. Shove her to the bed. Watch her tumble across the sheets. I climb on top and try to kiss her again. But she puts a finger to my lips, like she’s shushing a child.
“Wait,” she says. “Let’s do this right.”
Rolling off the bed, she does a slow runway-strut across her little studio apartment. The place is dark, clean, and sparse. A few pieces of furniture, and that’s it. No posters. No photographs. Just blank white walls.
She goes to the closet and returns with a riding crop, handcuffs, and a black mask. The mask is straight out of a nightmare—rough leather, iron spikes, zippers for the eyes and mouth.
“What’s the game?” I ask.
“Pain’s the game.” She lifts the crop and handcuffs like trophies. “Do you want to give it?” She offers the horrible mask. “Or take it?”
“Give it,” I say, hoping the words don’t sound too eager.
She smiles. Dons the mask. Tosses me the crop and handcuffs. “I was hoping you’d say that.”
I clamp one ring of the cuffs around the bedpost. The other is open and waiting for her wrist.
She slinks out of the little black dress and comes to me. Her pale, naked skin shimmers in the dark room. If it weren’t for that mask, she’d look like an angel.
Shucking off my flannel shirt, I take the riding crop from her. I slash the empty air then test the thing out on myself, whipping my bare chest.
“No,” she says. A red tongue slithers out of the zipper mouth. She licks the fresh welt rising on my skin. “Leave that for me.”
I watch her slip into the bed, her body full of lazy, cat grace. I take her wrist and start to close the handcuff around it.
“Wait,” she says. “We need a safe word. In case things get out of control. I say the word and you stop. No matter what.”
I nod, like I’m taking it all in. Like it’s all new to me. Then I give her the look. I’ve practiced it in the mirror a hundred times on a hundred sleepless nights.
“I’ve got a safe word for you,” I say, clamping the handcuff tight around her wrist. “How about Sammy?”
Ever-so-slightly, her eyes widen. “What did you say?”
“Oh, come on. You remember Sammy, don’t you? Skinny kid. Blonde. Followed you like a dog.”
She goes quiet. Her muscles tense.
“Took me a long time to find you,” I say. “Sammy left some clues, but it was months before I could connect the dots.”
I cut her off, my words turning to gravel. “Why’d you claw his face like that?”
The mask doesn’t answer, so I slap her. The flesh of my palm smacks wetly against the rough leather.
“Why?” I shout.
Her zipper eyes glare up at me coldly. “He didn’t play the game right,” she says. “He cried for his mother. But never used the safe word.”
“Maybe you just didn’t hear it.”
I think about Sammy’s funeral, his closed casket on a grassy hill. Mom caressed its lid, moaning, “Sammy...Sammy.” It was months ago, but still fresh.
I drop the riding crop and stand tall. One after the other, I crack my knuckles. The “pops” they make are loud in the quiet, little apartment.
“So now it’s your turn,” I say. “Are you ready for the pain?”
Her eyes are vacant. Then she flashes that shadow of a smile again.
“I’ve been waiting for it all my life,” she says.
BIO: Mike MacLean’s fiction has bloodied the pages of The Best American Mystery Stories, Thuglit: Hardcore Hardboiled, The Deadly Bride, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Recently, Mike was discovered by independent film legend Roger Corman. He now writes screenplays for Corman’s New Horizons Pictures. Visit Mike at Mike MacLean.net and check out his story “Little Gun,” over at Thuglit.