The Trade of Punishment

”Why is this such a big deal?” Billy’s arms crossed over his green rain jacket and the material screeched with every movement. “It was a game and he wanted to play.”
The woman across the table had her hair in a high knot and there were glasses on her pointy nose. With her lips pursed she looked like she’d release a tongue, snatch him like a fly and eat him.
“Are you sure Geoffry wanted to play a game like that?”
Billy wiped his nose with a hand and dried it in his rain jacket. Screech. “He always wants to play with us. That’s all he ever says. ‘Can I play with you, can I play with you, I’m a really good pirate’. But you can’t be a pirate if you’re in a wheelchair!”
Again, the pursed lips.
Billy’s hands banged against the table. “He wanted to play! We gave him what he wanted – how would we know he’d fall through? It didn’t before.”
The woman’s brow raised like a red flag. Unreadable thoughts crossed her face before a smile settled on her lips and warmed the eyes. “What didn’t fall through? You lost me there, Billy.”
The boy bit his upper lip and slid back into his chair, removing his hands from the table and crossing his arms once more.
The woman cleared her throat and pressed a hand to her neck. Her back was entirely straight and Billy suspected she tried to look taller.
“We’re only trying to help you,” she said, “but you have to talk to us. Tell us what happened.”
She was lying.
He glared at her.
“If you don’t talk to me,” the woman said gently, “I can’t let you out. Ever.”
He laughed, his grin a crack of triumph across his frozen face. “As if my parents would let such an ugly person keep me.”
She smiled again, wider. “Why do you assume your parents know you’re here?” She paused for a breath. “Tell me about the thing that didn’t go through.”
Billy’s hands were wet. He brushed them off on the screeching rain jacket. The whole room reeked with his perspiration.
“Billy,” the woman said, ever so slowly. “How did you find the chalk?”
Billy swallowed hard. “It was on the road.”
“And you started drawing with it?”
He snorted. “Drawing’s for girls.”
She waited. The silence dragged on, like the thread on a needle that has been put through a seam, only the seam was his brain and it pulled, pulled till the answers followed it out.
“Jennifer, a girl who lives next to me, she found it and drew a hopscotch with it. Then she played on it, and every time she stepped on one of the marks, they lit up. She did it again, and we … we …” He swallowed. “A snake crawled out of the final one. She screamed and ran away. Jack likes snakes, so we went over to look at it, but he didn’t know which sort it was.” Billy shrugged and dug his hands into his pockets. “We tried the jumps, and this time it was more like a little komodovaran that came out – but it had three tails!”
The woman’s brows had creased in concentration.
Billy leaned towards her. “It’s true!”
“I believe you,” she breathed.
He hadn’t expected that. He popped back against the chair and looked at her anew. Who was she?
Billy sniffed. More snot dribbled out of his nose, bright streaks on dark skin, and he removed it in the same manner as before, adding another patch to the rain jacket. “Geoffrey came by, wanted to play. Stupid dick.” He glanced at her to see if she minded the language. There was only that eager smile plastered on her face. “I mean, seriously. It was hopscotch! Kind of impossible to do without legs.”
“How did he do it, then?”
Billy rolled his eyes. “We told him to wheel across. Nothing happened, so we helped him get his foot on the last tile. He slipped out from our hands and we were like ‘shit, he’s gonna break something’, but he fell through the tile and, seriously, his hair was the last thing I saw and then there was just the asphalt.” Billy grabbed the armrests on his chair and halfway stood. “I’m serious, I don’t know where he is, it’s the truth!”
The woman folded her hands on the table and nodded. “I believe you.”
He frowned. Bumped into the seat so his spine complained of the impact. “Okay …”
“Where is the chalk now? Did Jennifer take it?”
Billy shrugged. “Dunno. Don’t care. Crazy thing. What, some mad scientist dropped it or something?” He pressed a chuckle out between pinched lips.
The woman’s eyes were green. Grass green. They bore into him, slimy, green acid penetrating his shields. “You’re sure Jennifer didn’t drop the chalk on the road?”
“Uh. Sure.”
“As in you’re sure, or you’re agreeing for my leisure? Let me assure you, cooperation is in your best interest. We want nothing but the truth.”
Billy swallowed. “She didn’t drop it.”
Green eyes, green spears into his mind.
He closed his eyes. “She didn’t drop it because I took it from her.”
“When did you do that?”
“After the snake appeared. She ran towards her house and I cut her off. Told her to give me the chalk.”
“Where is the chalk now?”
He bit his lip.
“Do you have it?”
“I didn’t mean to use it or anything … It’s a cool thing, though. Brings stuff alive. Can make …” His words turned to a whisper. “Can make people disappear.”
“Do you want people to disappear?”
He hesitated. “No?”
The woman nodded once. “Good.” She opened her hand. That palm was white as snow. Didn’t she go out? Was she so weird because of vitamin D deficiency? Billy’s father had mentioned something ‘bout that.
Her fingers wiggled. “Hand me the chalk?”
Billy’s hand obeyed. It crawled back into his pocket like a spider and found the tool. The edges crumbled against his fingers when he put it in her hand.
Her hand closed and snatched the chalk away. She sat back and waved it at him. “This isn’t a toy.”
“I know. I understand that.”
She inspected the chalk. She rose and went to the door, placed the chalk on the wall next to it and walked around the room. The chalk left a line all the way along with her. It ended on the opposite side of the door. She grabbed the handle and raised a brow at him. “Do you want to know why Geoffrey went in?”
He nodded. His head hurt from frowning so hard. The line between his eyes must be developing into a hole in his forehead, a hole into all his questions.
“Geoffrey went to hell.” She drew a line of chalk across the door from where it ended on the wall and left a small open space. She opened the door and stepped halfway out. “Hell is the place you go to be purged. You know of hell, Billy?”
He snorted and rolled his eyes, tried to appear casual, but his spine was full of needle goosebumps.
“You need help from hell.” She smiled and stepped all the way through the door. “Hell is our room service for you. Thanks for the … cooperation.”
She finished the chalk line and closed the door.
Billy jumped up and ran over to it. He banged his fists on the door. “Hey! You said you’d let me out if I coope –“
“They’re going to let you out,” a voice said behind him, “but not yet.”
Billy turned, slowly, so slowly, because he knew that voice.
Geoffrey stood where Billy had sat. Stood. His twisted, useless legs were gone and there were new legs. But they weren’t legs, not real, human legs. His feet were wrong, crooked and hooved.
Billy pressed up against the door. “I’m sorry,” he gasped.
Geoffrey nodded. “When I’m done, you’ll be forgiven.” He closed the gap between them.

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