This story is by Stephanie K. Kana and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Elimination By Liquidation
Too late I realized it: the joke was on me. I gazed down upon the instrument of my demise. It came to me that my gullibility did me in. A sinister play on words was to be my end.
Let me relate the entire story. My name was Allen, and my occupation was as an unoccupied videographer. I thought I did pretty well at it, but in the last few months the gigs had dried up completely.
I chanced upon the ad while surfing the job boards for hours, just as I did every single day. There it was, my too-good-to-be-true salvation. This should’ve been my first hint of trouble, but I was too elated to consider the subdued alarm bell.
I answered the damned ad because I had to. I needed the money, plain and simple. Everything was wrong, from being evicted from my apartment to losing my girlfriend to having my car repossessed. It all concerned money, specifically my total lack of it.
I therefore literally vaulted into the air when I read the ad: “Art connoisseur desires talented videographer to chronicle his extensive collection. Short-term employment with generous wage, accommodations, travel and transfers provided. Remote location. Urgent liquidation.”
I was from Bisbee, Arizona, and the gig was “north of Toronto,” to use the locals’ colloquialism. This meant it was way, way north somewhere in the godforsaken wilderness of Canada. “Remote location” was putting it very mildly, for upon arrival in Toronto I’d been placed on a float-plane to endure another, and much more turbulent, two hours.
When I queried, “Why a float-plane?” the pilot cheerfully informed me that this was the only transport capable of reaching Heavenward, the resort-residence of Mr. Cosmo Vicenti, world-renowned art collector.
I vaguely knew of Mr. Vicenti as a stately tall, gaunt-appearing figure rumored to be not merely eccentric but a downright weird character. Oh, well. People misjudge others all the time out of spite and jealousy.
Our landing and subsequent prolonged taxiing wasn’t on a runway but on a lake so huge I couldn’t discern its boundaries. Boy, this guy sure knows how to avoid the general public. Once there, the residence itself was more than a mansion and even more than a castle. It was an entire resort area all contained in one building!
This humongous architectural feat appeared well-kept, yet one thing creeped me out above all other forebodings: it was devoid of humans, animals and even plants—in other words, living beings—but for Vicenti himself.
When he answered the buzzer I found I wasn’t mistaken in my distanced evaluation of him. He was indeed quite height-advantaged compared with me, but what got to me was his ancient appearance, as if I stood facing Methuselah. It wasn’t possible, yet my initial impression was of someone hundreds of years old!
He stuck out a bony hand toward mine and smiled in a way that struck me as forced.
I nearly recoiled when I grasped the skeletal hand ice-cold to the touch. I tried to maintain my composure, however, reminding myself of my desperate need for this job. When Vicenti told me of the one-week’s wage I’d receive, I almost fainted; the amount represented more than I’d ever made in a year!
Not knowing exactly how to begin, I jumped right in.
“Please call me Cosmo, Allen.”
“Thank you…Cosmo. Am I to understand that you want a video record of all of your possessions?”
Mind you, the man’s possessions were astronomically numerous. If you can imagine Disneyland, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tower of London all under one roof you have an idea of the scope. His “house” comprised one gigantic playground featuring not simply artwork and priceless artifacts from ancient to medieval civilizations; it also contained an antique Ferris wheel, merry-go-round and all other accoutrements and games an amusement park would, plus a convincing artificial beach with rolling surf. There were so many other wonders that my mind was blown, and all of it sans any attendants or visitors.
“Yes,” he answered, bringing me back from my reverie. “Think you can accomplish it within a week?”
“Yes, sir—uh, Cosmo. It will be my pleasure.”
“During your off hours,” he said, “you may use any amusements available, only if you do so safely and respectfully. I want to keep you all in one piece for the liquidation.”
At this he chortled, and I tried to laugh also but found that its falsity caught in my throat.
It took the better part of the day for our tour of the premises, our last stop being the room—which was more like a football field-sized food court—displaying a dazzling array of foodstuffs. I was extremely hungry by now, salivating like a starved wolf at the aromas and sights of everything from the tenderest meat cuts to the most delectable desserts I could imagine. All, naturally, was self-serve, and Cosmo left me to gorge myself, but not without entreating me ominously, “Eat well, Allen. I would like you healthy for the remainder of your days.”
Only after I was overly sated did I remember yet another strange thing he’d said.
“Allen, I’ve generously given you free access to my home to complete your assignment. I only ask one favor of you: you must not, under any circumstances whatsoever, attempt to gain entry to that room.”
He waved with a flourish of his hand to indicate the room in question. Actually you couldn’t miss it, being that it was locked down, bolted and barricaded as if it held Fort Knox. Maybe it does. Wouldn’t surprise me. We quickly passed the room by as if he trusted I wouldn’t encroach.
As the days wound on, I quite naturally wondered about that room. The thoughts of breaking and entering, though, vanished swiftly when I reasoned that Cosmo had the place well secured. With his immense wealth, there was no doubt a hidden plethora of microphones, cameras and the latest security devices. I had confidence he was no slouch in protecting his treasures.
In any event, my mind was so overwhelmed with audiovisuals of art, artifacts, food, amusement park oddities and Cosmo’s unfathomable pronouncements it just couldn’t take any more. I soon forgot about the taboo room in my haste to plan and execute my work.
At last my final day of employment arrived. Though I was thoroughly spent from my exhaustive videography of Cosmo’s collections, I was excited I’d at last collect my pay. While working at his residence had been something of a dream, I knew none of the lovely things therein was ultimately mine. I’d be glad enough to grab my check and leave this oddball place, getting back to my old, familiar life.
Then Cosmo approached me from out of nowhere, giving me a slippery grin as he slapped me on the back.
“My dear young man! You’ve certainly done an exemplary job during your employment. Now your reward is near.”
“I gave it my best, Cosmo.”
“Don’t I know it!” he smiled again. “I’ve of course been watching you, and your behavior has been extraordinary. You kept hands off my artwork, cleaned up after your meals, made your bed each morning, and you even kept away from the room I asked you to. Outstanding! Come with me so I can show you something final before the liquidation.”
He unbolted all of the padlocks and assorted gizmos in record time and motioned me into the once-forbidden room. For some reason just the opening of that door struck fear into my heart. I felt uncontrolled palpitations as Cosmo led the way in.
I could barely breathe yet tried to pretend all was well as I took in the contents of the cramped room. All it held was an oversized stainless steel vat containing large rotors and a metal staircase leading up to it.
“Oh, you’re making wine!” I enthused, “No wonder you don’t want anyone in here. I’m somewhat of an aficionado myself, so you did well keeping me out.”
“No, not wine,” was all he replied for long moments, and I felt chilled to the bone. “Come, Allen, allow me to show you.”
He gestured for me to climb the stairs, with him close behind me. If not wine, I couldn’t think what else that monstrous vat contained. I reached the top stair and peered in, but I could only see a reddish liquid at the very bottom.
“What in heaven’s name is it?” I asked.
“Why, dear me, you haven’t figured it out?” he asked incredulously. “More’s the pity, since you’re a bright lad. It’s your liquidation, of course!”
The last thing I heard, besides my own screaming as the blades churned my feet to liquid, was Cosmo’s maniacal laughter. What sounds those were to take to the afterlife with me: hideous, horrific, fiendish!
Do you still believe that dead men tell no tales? You’re wrong. I just told you one.