John Boden's 'The Going Rate' was the winning story in August 2014's Short Fiction Contest.
The Going Rate by John Boden
Cloth over mouth, her breathing slowed. She looked so much like her mother. If it weren’t for that bitch, he wouldn’t be doing this now. She left him with their daughter so she could “Find herself,” left him with a replica of herself, one that called him Daddy and a mountain of debt.
It was a tax month and Denny had to pay in. He rubbed his eyes and watched the clock. The Collector would be by soon. Looking at the bill and the amount owed, he picked up the shears.
He knelt beside the sofa and stared into his sleeping daughter’s face. He took her hand in his, folded the fingers, allowing only the pinky to remain extended. Holding it between his thumb and finger, he slid it between the blades. The bones snapped with a small crack. The girl winced but did not wake. He grabbed the ice pack beside him and held it against the spurting stump, then took the shoelace and tied off the base of the finger as tightly as he could.
He picked up the finger and wrapped it in the proper form, stuffed it into the red envelope and went to the porch. The porch lights winked on one at a time. There were three lights crying red.
He slid the clear pane from the light box and swapped it for a red panel of glass.
At the end of the street, a shadow broke free, a long shape that took on more detail as it stretched to the center of the street. Denny stepped back into the house ,closing the door. He peered through curtains as the Taxman approached.
Tall as time and as long as hours, it strode down main street, boots clicking on asphalt. Its fish-belly skin glistened like fungi. A black suit, stitched with black hole and strychnine. Taxman's arms ended in hands like squid. Impossible fingers, like lengths of living rope. He stopped at Ordini’s house, stepped on the porch, knelt and picked up the red envelope from the mat. The thing swiveled in the direction of Denny’s house. It smiled at him. The smile was stitches and railroad ties. The eyes that nested above it, were beetles in cataract flesh.
The Taxman tore open the parcel and extracted something red and dripping. He ate it, reached into the mailer and with a bloody finger, drew a large circle on the door. The light went out on the porch and the Taxman was back in the street.
Denny had watched it collect its wages. A tongue from the Melvoins; Old man Mellick must have owed more than anyone, for his envelope bulged ,a hand dangling from the unsealed end.
Denny sighed and sat on the floor, he could not bear to watch this thing eat his little girl’s finger, to see its face up close. His wife had always done the taxes, knew the ins and outs, not him. Had he still had a tongue, he'd have screamed.