“Torture Game” – Fiction by Ryan Bradford

Clouds on Screen at a Drive-In Movie – Diane Arbus, 1960


Now that y’all been warned, we present “Torture Game,” Ryan Bradford‘s fiendish fiction about a dark date-night at the drive-in.

(If you like what you read, you can pre-order a digital (PDF) copy of FLAPPERHOUSE #13 for $3US via PayPal and see it fly into your emailbox by the Vernal Equinox. Print copies will be available on Amazon & CreateSpace real soon…)

{ X }

THEY WERE IN EACH OTHER’S PANTS WHEN THE FIRST TWIST OCCURRED: the man wasn’t a protagonist. He was in cahoots with the killer. He, himself, was a killer. Perhaps worse than a killer, because he used likeability and charm to earn trust.

“Oh shit,” Lou said. “Oh shit oh shit.” He shivered as Nancy finished him. His fingers, crushed numb by her waistband, had stopped working. They breathed hard in the stale cab, listening to the film’s muted sound through Lou’s shitty speakers. Their arms crisscrossed into each other’s undone clothing.

Lou rested his head against the seat and let the blood return to his extremities. “Damn, girl,” he said. He hooked his finger, still inside her pants, and Nancy jumped. “Want me to finish you?”

“Nah,” she said.

They pulled away from each other. Nancy rolled down the window, put her arm out, and flicked his mess off her fingers. Pacific wind filled the car. The air felt electrified somehow—simultaneously comforting and buzzing.

Lou sniffed his fingers, still wet with Nancy. She laughed and slapped his hand away from his nostrils.

“Don’t be gross,” she said.

He wiped his hand across his jeans and then reached for the back of her head. They kissed again—sweetly, this time. The passion had run its course. He watched the movie out of the corner of his eye. On the screen, the killer slit a woman’s neck and she screamed, watery.

Nancy moved away from Lou’s lips and rested her chin on his shoulder. She had never liked horror movies, so she stared out the back window.

“You notice that car before?”

Lou turned and looked. The drive-in on the weeknights was their thing because it was usually dead. They could drink, smoke, fool around in the backseat, and not worry about the kids that usually dominated the lot on the weekends. Nothing killed a good buzz like the screams of wild children running between the cars. Tonight had been less populated than usual. The news had predicted rain. There were three other cars in the lot when they arrived. This old, brown Cadillac parked behind their car had not been one of them.

“No,” Lou said.

“I don’t like it.”

“How come?”

“I don’t know.” She paused. “It looks like it’s pretending to sleep.”

Lou laughed. He zipped his pants, reached down and pulled a beer out of the collapsible cooler at their feet. “You’re weird.”

“You know what I mean.” Nancy managed to pull her bra out from under her shirt, unclasped but never fully removed. She leaned forward and grabbed the small, glass pipe resting on the console between the two front seats. There was still weed in the bowl, surrounded by ash. She put the pipe to her mouth and lit up. The car filled with thick, sour smoke.

“That’s some sticky icky,” Lou said, arranging his fingers into a makeshift gang sign. “No sticks, no stems.”

Nancy coughed out her laughter. “God, you’re so …” she trailed off. She put the pipe back on the console.

Onscreen, blood sprayed from a perforated torso.

“Oof,” Nancy said, a cross between a word and a gut reaction. She shielded her eyes against the movie.

“We could play Torture Game,” Lou said.  He turned sideways on the seat and put his hand on her knee. “This movie’s not very good anyway.”

“Yeah, okay,” Nancy said. Lou leaned forward and turned his speakers down so the movie was just a high-pitched whisper. They faced each other, cross-legged on the backseat. Nancy’s smoke hung in the air between them—a screen that smeared their faces into soft focus. Lou’s eyes felt swollen, like they were just on the verge of being too snug for his sockets. “I’ll start,” said Nancy. “You’re tied up. You’ve been listening to Creed for 24 hours.”

Lou belched. “Oh Jesus. Kill me already.”

“Shut up. I take the saw and cut off your hands. That’s all I do for now. I go around the next day with my hands shoved up inside long sleeves, and your hands sticking out. I meet with high-powered businessmen—your associates—and seal all these extravagant deals by using your hands to shake theirs. And then I come back and bend your fingers into a peace sign, and use them to poke your eyes out, going, ‘why are you blinding yourself? Why are you blinding yourself?’ And then—” Nancy trailed off. She looked past Lou. Again, at the old, brown Caddy. “I think I know what’s wrong,” she said.

Lou turned again to look at the old car.

The Caddy had moved. Maybe. Before, it had blocked their view of the restrooms, and now he could see them—housed in the same structure as the concessions—illuminated in the harsh, flickering tungsten lights. But had the car really moved just one spot over? A single, lateral movement? Lou shivered at the thought of the car sidestepping, extending its axles like an old cartoon and dragging the rest of its body over when they weren’t watching. He shook his head, trying to rid himself of the thought. His brain felt buoyed in liquid. Pickled.

Nancy’s smoke still hung in the air.

No, the car hadn’t moved. Or, even if it had while they were playing Torture Game, it was not a big deal. No big deal, he thought. NBD. Nancy touched his hand. “What?” he said.

“Why would he park so far away from the screen?” She motioned to the lot. “Almost every spot is open.”

“Maybe some Mexican drug dealer hiding out? El coche de narcos, mang.”

“Ugh, stop. I hate it when you do that voice,” she said.

“It’s probably just a couple of pervs wanting some privacy while they jerk each other off.”

Nancy softened. “You think I should go over there and show them how it’s done?”

Lou tilted his beer until it was vertical and crushed the can into a bowtie shape, and belched again.

“Okay, my turn,” he said. “We’re over there.” Lou pointed past the screens toward the international border. “We’re in a dark room. You’re tied up in some abandoned lot. I pull up in my—” Lou looked over his shoulder. “—brown Caddy. I’m the cartel boss, and you’ve betrayed me. I cut into your neck, cuz that’s how we do it in Me-hico, senorita. We remove your cabeza and send it to your familia, comprende? Nothing fancy, just a serrated kitchen knife. I cut. Corta corta corta. Once I hit your spine, it’s muy difficult-o to get any leverage to cut through. You’re still alive and you’re screaming but somehow the metal scraping against bone is louder—”



“You’re creeping me out. It’s supposed to be funny. You’re just—I don’t know…” She paused. “You’re just being racist and gross.”

“Oh God.”

“I’m serious!” Nancy pushed her foot across the seat and dug her toes into his leg. Her eyes darted past Lou briefly. To the Caddy, he suspected.

“I’m sorry,” Lou said. He climbed across the seat and lowered himself on her. She embraced him with her arms and legs. Truthfully, he didn’t know where the scenario had come from. It wasn’t a rule that Torture Game had to be funny, but he had never been so unapologetically violent in the game. “Lo siento, mamacita,” he whispered. She flinched at his breath against her ear. “Yo quiero Taco Bell.”

“You fucker!” she said, pushing him off. “You’re the worst.”

“You’re laughing though.”

The film ended with a sudden appearance of the killer in the mirror before cutting to black. Credits rolled up the screen.

“We should stay for the second movie,” Nancy said. “Next one’s supposed to be funny, and you owe me.”

Lou sighed. He was looking forward to getting home, curling up in bed, sleeping off his buzz. But Nancy was right—he did owe her for making her sit through the horror flick. “Fine,” Lou said. “But I gotta piss.”

“Aw, lil’ Lou’s bladder,” Nancy said, in baby voice. She put her hand to her mouth to stifle laughter, but none came. A confused look passed over her, like she had simply forgotten how to laugh. Her eyes drifted, and she stared over Lou’s shoulder. The Caddy.

Lou had no comeback. In fact, he hadn’t fully been aware of the severity of his urge to urinate until that second. He pulled the door handle and stumbled out into the parking lot.

“Don’t wet your pants,” Nancy said, distantly.

“Stay in the car,” Lou said, and this time Nancy did laugh.

“What if I did go over to the Caddy?” she said, between gasps. She laughed like a person hyperventilating. Quick gasps. Almost choking. “What if I really did go?”

“The fuck you on, girl?” Lou asked. He meant it to sound playful, like he was in on the act, but his voice shook. Nancy’s eyes appeared frosted-over under the car’s dome light. Dead. Another shiver passed through him. He couldn’t take her laughter anymore. “Just stay here,” he said.

He slammed the door closed. It was a little disorienting, moving from the car into the real world: inside the car, his desires incubated. Thrived. Outside of the car, they felt exposed and tenuous. Moving from the world of the car to the real, he felt slipshod, partially put-together.

He ran across the rows of parking spaces, angled up and down like asphalt molars. The wind pulled tears from his eyes. Silent lightning broke the sky to the west. If the rain got bad, he’d call it and they’d head home.

He kept running. The parking lot seemed vast. He slowed at the edge of the concession stand’s lights and looked back. Lou took in the grandeur of the dilapidated lot, the expanse that it offered, and noted how spooky it was when there were so few people. His car—a little Toyota Corolla—looked so alone in the empty lot. So isolated. He thought of what Nancy said about cars having human qualities: the Cadillac, how it pretended to sleep.

Honestly, his Corolla looked scared.

He turned to continue toward the restroom, and stopped. A small amount of piss warmed his crotch.

The Cadillac had moved again.

It was back in its original position, blocking the entrance to the restroom.

The Caddy tricked me, he thought. It lured me out. This way, Lou! Your poor, lil’ bladder.

Up until now he had kept his cool, but the world outside his own car had become rapidly more frightening with each step. He looked down at his feet and breathed deeply to fend off the panic building in his chest. He would walk right past the Caddy, but he would not look at it. All he had to do was keep his eyes down.

Still, as he passed by, Lou could make out the shape of the old car in his periphery—fleeting and dark, worse than just looking right at it. Also in that dark recess, he sensed movement behind the car’s windows. Something ephemeral and bleached. A smiling face blurred against the darkness. Lou ran the last few steps to the restroom.

He caught his breath beneath the buzzing, fluorescent lights. The men’s room was scratched and scarred with graffiti but clean, for which Lou was infinitely thankful. He passed the giant industrial urinal trough and shut himself in a stall. He unzipped and unleashed a stream of piss so forceful that the rim of the toilet became speckled with sticky yellow.

He was still dribbling out when he heard a quiet sob. He bent low and saw two pairs of shoes in the adjacent stall. One of the pairs—a hulking set of Oxfords—belonged to an adult man who, Lou surmised, was sitting on the toilet, but with his pants pulled up. The other pair of shoes belonged to a child. SpongeBob, emblazoned on the tiny Velcro sneakers, stared at Lou from the other side of the stall partition. The kid’s feet pointed toward the toilet, wedged in between the larger shoes.

The child was crying.

Daddy. Daddy. Daddy.

“Um. Are you okay?” Lou asked.

The crying ceased immediately, as if the kid had sucked in his breath and was holding it.

“Is your dad okay?”

Lou waited.

“Yeah,” the kid said. Again, the vacuumed silence. There was no movement from either pair of shoes.

A residual drop fell from Lou into the toilet. He quickly put himself away and kicked the handle to the toilet. The roar of the flush drowned out his footsteps. He passed the sinks without washing his hands and sprinted out the door.

Rain fell in sheets, drenching Lou as he ran across the parking lot. Lou slammed into his car, palms first. The windshield wipers were sweeping frantically.

They needed to leave. They needed to get the hell out of this drive-in.

He wrenched the door open. The car was empty. Nancy was gone.


He dropped into the front seat and shut the door. Inside the car, the rain was overbearingly loud. He looked again at the backseat, as if Nancy might have been somehow hiding back there, waiting to scare him. Nothing but beer cans on the floor. She’s just in the restroom, he thought. “Now who has the lil’ bladder,” he said to himself. He rested his forehead against the steering wheel and watched the movie through it. On the screen, frat boys did keg stands, the image smearing with each pass of the wipers. He lowered his eyes and watched the digital clock.

Five minutes passed.

“Jesus Christ, Nancy,” he said. He started the engine. He would drive to the restrooms and wait for her there. That way, she could just hop in: a quick getaway.

He put his car in reverse and looked in the rearview mirror. He choked off a scream before it could escape.

Nancy stood behind his car, illuminated in the taillights.

He opened his door and leaned out. “Get in!” His voice sounded weak in the storm. Nancy didn’t move. The rain had rendered her hair into a blond curtain, hiding her face. She seemed to be staring at the screen, still watching the movie. He got out of the car and ran to her. He grabbed her shoulder. Nancy turned her head toward him slowly. He realized his fingernails were digging into her skin. He removed his hand and fixated on the small, red crescents it left behind. The rain soaked them both. Nancy’s shirt, nearly see-through, clung to her skin. Nothing erotic about it, only cadaverous.

“I have something to show you,” she said.

Lou grabbed Nancy by the arms and steered her toward the passenger side. He opened the door and Nancy lowered herself into the seat, slow and obedient. Lou flung the door closed the moment her feet were inside. He crossed in front of the headlights and paused for a second. For some reason, he looked back toward the concession stand. Lightning broke the sky. The old Cadillac was closer. It was now halfway between him and the restrooms.

Thunder covered Lou’s scream.

He jumped in the driver’s seat and slammed the door.

“Where were you?” he asked. She didn’t answer, still facing the screen. In the movie, a guy fell off a building. “Hey!” Lou shouted. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, Lou. I was just visiting the man in the Cadillac.”

“The… Caddy?”

“He’s not at all like you thought he’d be.” Her voice was flat, detached. “Not some Mexican gangster. Oh, Lou. You’re so bad for thinking that. He called himself Mr. Movie Magic. A patron of the cinema. Not a Mexican gangster at all. Stop being so racist all the time.”

Lou turned and looked out the rear window. The Cadillac’s headlights were on now.

“He showed me how to take my head off, Lou. Wanna see?”

“He what—?”

Nancy pressed her hands against her temples, and began lifting, gritting her teeth and grunting from the effort.

“Not funny,” Lou said.

Her fingers clawed at the mess of hair, wrists shaking.

“Nancy. Stop.” Lou reached out to touch her, brushing her hair aside and, for the first time since her return, saw her face.

Jesus Christ, your eyes,” he said. “What’d he do to your eyes?”

Lou pulled the door handle and fell onto the asphalt, scuttling backwards on his hands. He made it about fifty feet when he heard the passenger door open. He could not see that side of the car, but heard two separate, meaty slaps against the wet pavement. One big, one small.

Lou heard a scream. This time, it wasn’t his. He turned to the movie screen. The film showed a man cutting into another man with a very big knife. They were both smiling and screaming. The scene kept looping, and the scream repeated out from his car’s speakers. Kernels of gasping laughter erupted from the surrounding cars, audible over the pummeling storm.

Is this supposed to be funny?

On the screen: Blood. Screams. Smiles.

Near the concession stand, back in its original spot, the Cadillac’s engine revved.

{ X }

RYAN BRADFORD‘s fiction has appeared in [PANK], Lockjaw, Hobart, New Dead Families and Vice. He was also the winner of Paper Darts’ 2015 Short Fiction Contest. He is the founder and editor of Black Candies, a journal of literary darkness, and his novel Horror Business was published in 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s