ATM (A Short Story from the Madhouse)

     It was a beautiful, crisp Sunday evening; going on Monday in about twenty minutes. I felt like the last man alive as I approached the ATM just outside of Hartman’s grocery store on the corner of Parker and Maple Avenue.
     I’ve always been appalled by my lack of self-control. A sudden, overpowering urge for ice cream can always get me half dressed and out the door searching for something open on a Sunday night.
Yeah right, ice cream, that’s what I was getting. Who was I kidding. Certainly not my wife. No one drives to the ATM at midnight to get cash for ice cream, especially on a Sunday. Who uses cash anymore, anyway? Unless, you’re looking to hide all debit card traces highlighting shady purchases from unsuspecting wives at home, of course. Besides, there was nothing open except a couple of  bars, a gas station with a mini-mart, and the adult movie store. Sounds almost respectable, doesn’t it? Adult movie store. I know, I’m pathetic, but the sex at home’s not what it used to be. Let’s move on, shall we.     
     The empty parking lot was an asphalt desert, dimly lit by three street lamps and low security lighting coming from Hartman’s store front windows. I walked over to the ATM, the light over the display flickering on and off and fighting to stay alive with a defiant buzzing sound. The cash machine was brighter than anything else around and left me feeling slightly ridiculous standing there in my boxers.
     I also felt very vulnerable and exposed, sensing something unfamiliar in the night. Strange thoughts run through the head when surrounded by silence and shadows.
     I put my card in the machine and began to type my numerical code on the panel as some strange hindsight was urging me to make my withdrawal quickly and hurry back to my car.
     Mind tricks, so I thought at first when I heard a strange sound coming from the opposite side of my vehicle. I already looked back once, feeling the fool for doing so and letting the silence get to me. There was no reason to feel afraid. This night was anything but threatening.  I’ve been to this ATM hundreds of times on many nights just like this one. (Now that admission was truly pathetic).
Of course, it’s thoughts like these that lead one to complacency and that’s how “it” happens.
     You can’t imagine what it feels like until you become the victim. When someone from behind catches you unaware and violates your life in a moment. I didn’t know which was more alarming: the feel of the gun barrel pressed into my lower back, or the low monotone voice that spoke too calmly in my right ear.
     “Give me the money,” the voice demanded, pressing the gun barrel further into my back. I could swear there was absolutely no emotion in that voice.
     I’ve heard amazing boasts from people claiming to have been mugged. They all make it sound somehow brave in how they handled the situation, regardless of losing their wallets. As if the exaggerations in the telling helped them save face. Others have claimed they turned the tables on their would-be assailants, and either scared them off or simply got away. I realize now that every one of them were full of shit. I was scared out of my mind. No bravado, no heroics. I froze.
     “Give me the money,” the cold voice repeated. Perhaps he was more familiar with the routine than I, and expected my sluggish response.  He was incredibly patient with me, the amateur victim.
     I then found my line, “I’ll give you anything you want, just don’t shoot me, ok?” I immediately expected to hear a gun shot, or perhaps the butt end of the gun striking the back of my head. I became aware of a sudden dampness in my boxers. That’s right, I pissed myself.  That’s what being a “victim” really means. No heroics here, unless needing a diaper was considered brave in another part of the universe. I felt faint with fear and then the voice brought me back.
     “Give me the money, now.”
     I found myself staring blankly at the ATM screen. I still hadn’t made my withdrawal selection. This mugger knew what he was doing. He couldn’t have timed this any better. All I needed to do was type in whatever amount he wanted. Dear God, how much did he want?
     “Anything you say, Buddy…just tell me how much?” I managed to get out. 
     Did I really just call him, Buddy?
     The pause in his response was worse than anything I have ever gone through my entire life. It seemed like an eternity before the mugger finally answered me, “Give me twenty-four dollars and ninety-five cents,” He answered, and said no more.
     “Say again?” I asked and almost made a foolish mistake right then, turning to look at the mugger, but caught myself in time. I’d seen enough movies to know that if I didn’t look and see his face, my chances of being released would improve. He would know I couldn’t identify him.  Good God, I couldn’t believe I was actually relying on fucking late night crime flicks to get me out of this situation.
     “Twenty-four dollars and ninety-five cents,” the mugger repeated with emphasis. For the first time I could hear slight agitation in his voice.
     I was puzzled by his peculiar request, but thankful that I wasn’t dead yet, so I overlooked it. “Sure thing, I’ll just pull out forty dollars and you can have it all, no problem…more if you want…whatever you want.” I was a blubbering idiot now. What next, tears?  
     “NO!” He barked.
     I nearly threw up right then.
     The mugger shoved the gun barrel into my back more sharply than before. I heard him making strange noises with his breathing. He sounded like a man on the verge of snapping. I then knew anything could go wrong.
     However, as fast as the mugger’s behavior shifted, he returned just as fast to that emotionless, cold voice and reclaimed himself.
     “Let me make this crystal clear,” the mugger began, “I did not tell you to give me forty dollars. If I wanted forty dollars I would have said, ‘forty dollars’. I told you what I want now give me what I asked for. Do you understand me yet?”
     For the first time, I didn’t think there would be a way out of this. This man was obviously fucking crazy.
     “Do you understand yet?” The mugger repeated, the agitation in his voice returning much quicker this time.
     “Yes, I understand…$24.95…anything you want.” I was frantic now. Before realizing what I was doing, I began typing in that exact amount on the number pad. A message soon appeared telling me that I could not withdrawal that amount. It had to be in multiples of twenty! What the fuck was I going to do now? He almost shot me at forty dollars, how was I going to get away with pulling out a twenty! 
     Your wallet! Check your wallet! The thought came and I prayed that there was still some bills left in there.
     I looked in my wallet and saw five one dollar bills. I might make it out of this one after all.
     I withdrew a twenty, combined it with the five singles I had and held it up in my trembling hands without looking back. “Here you go…take it…please, just take it and I’m sorry for the mix up.”
     I felt a gloved hand reach into mine and take the bills.
     Suddenly, I was on the ground, my face hitting the asphalt hard. The mugger had a hand around the back of my neck, and one knee inflicting pain in the small of my back. I could feel him shaking with anger as he spoke, “YOU FUCKING LIE! YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND!” He roared at me.
     I didn’t know what else to do, I closed my eyes and began to weep. That’s right, I cried.  But pathetic is still better than dead. Somehow I got out, “What did I do wrong? Is it not enough?  Do you want-”
     “WHAT DID I SAY?” He interrupted.
     I was bordering complete shutdown. I just didn’t understand his language and no one ever taught me how to speak ‘Crazy’.
     I felt the gun barrel at the back of my head as he demanded, “WHAT DID I TELL YOU TO GIVE ME? TELL ME RIGHT NOW! RIGHT NOW! NOW! NOW!”
     I waited for the sound that would end this nightmare and it just would not come. I blurted out, “$24.95! $24.95!”
    And just like that, the mugger eased up. He removed the gun from my head and I could feel him lifting the pressure off my neck and back. Again, with the calm voice of a true killer, he said, “Very good. Now one more time, will you give me what I want? Do you understand yet?”
     Somehow, I had a revelation come to me from the land of insanity. For whatever reason, this man wanted exactly $24.95. Not forty, not twenty-five. I could have given him a million dollars and he still would have shot me.
I whispered, “Yes, I understand now. $24.95.”
     “Good!” The mugger said and just like that I was back on my feet and standing once more before the ATM from hell. I could see my ghastly reflection in that little blue square and a masked individual looming behind me. I looked terrible and wished I could hide within that square until this psycho was long gone.
     I understood very clearly now that I only had one chance left; two strikes against me and there wouldn’t be a third. My remaining hope now rested on the small change compartment in my vehicle. If I was one penny shy of ninety-five fucking cents, I was a dead man.
     “Sir,” I said, “I’ll need to go to my vehicle to get the exact change you want. Is that alright?”
     There was a pause as the mugger considered my request. He then replied, “Yes, that’s acceptable.” Soon he had me walking back toward my car, the gun still pressed against my back.
     As we approached my little, tan Corolla, I watched it transform into something foreign in my mind. My car was now a coffin with wheels. I had to shake these grim thoughts and try to become a survivor. Somehow.
     Again, the mugger was no fool, he led me very deliberately to the passenger side of my car, not allowing me easy access to simply get in and drive away. Even if he didn’t, my hands were shaking too much to ever get the key in the ignition.
I opened the door and went to the center compartment between the seats and began to count the change…fifty-five cents…sixty…seventy…(now would be a horrible time to fail math)…eighty…ninety…ninety-five cents. 
     There was a God after all!
     Once again, without looking back, never looking back, I combined my new, crisp twenty dollar bill from the cash machine with the four from my wallet and added in the change as I  reached behind and submitted my offering to the mugger. “Here you go, twenty-four dollars and ninety-five cents, exactly what you wanted.”
     Again, a gloved hand reached for mine, the hand of death or the hand of chance, I did not know yet.
     I was still half in, half out of my Corolla when I heard that cold voice say, “Thank you.” Nothing more. I no longer felt the barrel of that gun at my back.
     Several minutes passed and the mugger said nothing. I was actually starting to believe that if I turned around, he would simply be gone.
     Was that it? Did I pass the fucking test?
     I achieved enough boldness to back out of the car and stand up.  My legs felt like Jell-O beneath me. 
     Do I dare look behind?
     Glancing across the top of my car and into the asphalt lot, a stray cat started in my direction. Something about that cat seemed to help my fear drift. Perhaps this small creature represented the return of something, anything, resembling my former normal life. As odd as this was, I took comfort in that cat as it came closer.
     When it stopped in the middle of the lot, the cat began cleaning itself, then stopped as it noticed me for the first time.
     “I’ll never do it again, I promise. No more porn, no more bad living, no more fucking ATM’s.” My confession to the cat continued, understanding that it wasn’t the cat I was speaking to at all.
     Several more minutes of silence followed and I took a deep breath. Watching that cat I asked it in a whisper as if it were a prophet from God, “Is it over then?”
     In response, Moses the cat looked beyond me and hissed.
     I felt something heavy strike the back of my head and my world went black.

~~~

     Several days later, the officer that discovered the abandoned tan Toyota Corolla in an unpopulated wooded area, would remember the blood in the trunk more than anything else. He would have nightmares about that trunk, wondering how so much blood could come from a single human body.
     There was no body found, of course. Just a bloody trunk with some odds and ends typical of what one may expect to find in a trunk, along with an odd receipt from Wal-Mart for a large shovel, a painter’s tarp, some rope and a gas can all purchased two days prior for twenty-four dollars and ninety-five cents.

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“ATM” Copyright © 2010 Scott Scherr.  All rights reserved. From the new book “Madhouse Theater” by Scott Scherr and John Ecko.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed this dark and twisted tale from Madhouse Theater. 

ecko.

 

From the collaborative madness of story teller and poet, Scott Scherr, and visual poet, John Ecko, comes this twisted collection of short stories, poetry, and visual nightmares from the darkest corners of their unbalanced minds. The stage is set, our props have been sharpened and our cast of characters are ready to perform their torture on you, fair reader. Within these pages wait a vast assortment of sickos, maniacs, boogeyman, monsters, myths, ghosts and much, much more. Please, take your seats and welcome to the theater. We hope you enjoy the show…although you’ve been here all along.
 
Madhouse Theater is now available for purchase.  Please go and check out my new blog to see an expanded preview of what’s inside the Madhouse.

www.madhousetheater.wordpress.com

You can also purchase directly at:

http://stores.lulu.com/store.php?fAcctID=2893692

 

 

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