Gay horror author Mark Allan Gunnells has quite a few titles under his belt, including Asylum, Sequel, and The Quarry. He is also a contributor to the movie guide Hidden Horror: A Celebration of 101 Underrated and Overlooked Fright Flicks.
Mark has a new collection out called Tales from the Midnight Shift and supplied me with one of the stories to post for your reading pleasure…or pain. “The Gift Certificate” is a dark tale of sex and violence that answers the question “What happens when a straight man redeems a gift certificate meant for someone else…?
Purchase Tales from the Midnight Shift in paperback or digital format on Amazon. And read “The Gift Certificate” below!
THE GIFT CERTIFICATE
by Mark Allan Gunnells
From Tales from the Midnight Shift
The envelope was addressed to Dexter Calhoune. I knew Mr. Calhoune had been the previous tenant of the apartment I now rented because I had received much junk mail in his name over the past two months. Mostly flyers, sales papers, sweepstakes offers, advertisements. I’d thrown them all in the trash with my own junk mail.
But this was something different. A piece of personal mail, seemingly a card of some type. At Christmastime, insurance companies and such often mailed out preprinted cards to their customers, but this was the middle of May and the return address was in Belgium. Curiosity sank its teeth into me and wouldn’t let go.
I know it’s wrong to open other people’s mail, but it wasn’t as if I were snatching old ladies’ Social Security checks out of their boxes or anything. This piece of mail had come to my apartment, and I didn’t have a forwarding address for Dexter Calhoune. If I didn’t open it, I’d just end up throwing it in the garbage, which was where I was sure it would end up anyway. What could be the harm in seeing what was inside?
Giving in to the very temptation that led to the cat’s untimely demise, I tore open the envelope and pulled out the card. The cover was embossed with a colorful picture of a cake with brightly burning candles. The words “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” were spread arched across the top like a rainbow. I opened the card; the right side had a corny preprinted message—“May the day of your birth be filled with great mirth”—while a handwritten note was scrawled on the left side.
“Dear Dex,” the note read. “Here’s hoping you’re having a great birthday! I know I’ve been out of touch for awhile, but I’ve been exploring our common interest all around the world. Oh, the sights I’ve seen! Anyway, I didn’t want you to think I’d forgotten my favorite nephew entirely. I’ve ordered you a gift, and it should be arriving shortly after this birthday greeting finds you. Take care. Love, Uncle Alex.”
My reaction to this message was twofold. On the one hand, how could an uncle—even one who was currently travelling the world—be so out of touch that he wouldn’t know that his “favorite nephew” had moved? He was family, for Christ’s sake. On the other hand, I was greatly intrigued about this gift that Uncle Alex had ordered and was having delivered. I wondered what it could be.
Not cash, that would have been included with the card. Maybe some exotic bauble from a foreign land. I suddenly felt as giddy as a kid on Christmas Eve, wondering what Santa was going to leave under the tree. I hoped it would arrive soon.
Of course, I realized the gift wasn’t meant for me, but it would have been stupid not to keep it. I had no way to get it to its intended recipient, and it would be awfully wasteful to trash it. And I am not a wasteful person.
* * *
I was expecting a package, something large and heavy if I was lucky, but instead the gift came in the form of a small cream-colored envelope two days later. It was hand-delivered and had to be signed for. They didn’t ask for ID so I simply scrawled the name “Dexter Calhoune” on the line and took the envelope. I didn’t feel great about it—I could have always told the deliveryman that Mr. Calhoune no longer lived at this address—but over the past two days, curiosity had morphed into an obsession. I had to know what the gift was.
As soon as I closed the door, I tore into the envelope. All I found inside was a folded sheet of pale pink paper. It was rectangular, and I felt disappointment rise when I realized it must be a check after all. I might be able to get away with signing Dexter Calhoune’s name on the delivery form, but no way could I convince anyone to cash a check without showing proper ID. I thought Uncle Alex had said he’d ordered a gift?
Unfolding the paper, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t a check. It was a voucher, a gift certificate to a place called “Asylum” with an address right downtown. The certificate read, “THIS GIFT CERTIFICATE IS PRESENTED TO DEXTER CALHOUNE WITH WARMEST REGARDS FROM ALEXANDER PRESLEY, REEDEMABLE FOR ONE FULL EVENING OF EROTIC SENSATION AND EXOTIC PLEASURE.”
Erotic sensation? Exotic pleasure? What was this, a gift certificate to a whorehouse? That was sure what it sounded like. Was this the “common interest” that Dexter and his uncle shared? Was Uncle Alex on an expedition touring whorehouses of the world? It was depraved and sick, and I had half a mind to rip the gift certificate into shreds.
But the other half of my mind had other ideas.
* * *
I chose to go on a Saturday night. I spent an inordinate amount of time getting ready—gelling my hair to perfection, finding just the right outfit, shaving and trimming my nose hairs. It was rather ridiculous when I stopped to think about what I was doing. It wasn’t as if I were going out to try to seduce some young lady in a bar; I was more than likely going to have sex with a prostitute. There was no reason to dress to impress, but still I changed my shirt three times before settling on one.
Now I’m not exactly an Adonis or anything, but I tend to do all right with the ladies. It wasn’t as if I needed a prostitute to get laid, but I was intrigued nonetheless. I’d never been with a professional, and I had an idea that they might do things the average girls I met in bars wouldn’t. I mean, the term “exotic pleasure” suggested to me that there would be some kink involved, and I could certainly be down with that.
I found the place at the end of a narrow alley in the rougher part of downtown. I rarely came to this area, and I didn’t feel safe. As I walked down the alley, I felt eyes on me, tracking my passage, lusting hungrily for what might be in my wallet. Of course, I told myself repeatedly that this was just paranoia, but I couldn’t quite shake it. I walked faster, squinting into the darkness for the entrance to Asylum.
I almost missed it. There was no sign announcing it, but I supposed there wouldn’t be. Whorehouses probably weren’t in the business of advertising. But they do have gift certificates? a voice spoke up in my head, but I silenced it rather abruptly. At the end of the alley was a set of steps that led down to a door below street level. I pulled the certificate back out of my pocket and checked the address against the numbers above the door. This was the place.
I made my way down the steps slowly, feeling an unpleasant rumbling in my stomach. I was nervous and a little afraid. I briefly considered turning tail and heading back home, just forgetting this whole thing, but the compass in my pants continued to lead me due south. To tell the truth, since I’d received the gift certificate in the mail, I had been able to think of little else. I wondered if the lady would take requests, because I had a whole lot of ideas I’d never had the opportunity to try. But I figured if I was footing the bill—or more exact, Uncle Alex was footing the bill—then she’d do pretty much whatever I asked.
I stood before the door and checked my breath in the palm of my hand. Just because a woman was bought and paid for didn’t mean she wanted to smell some guy’s stink-ass breath. I could appreciate that; I’m not an animal, after all. There was no buzzer and I wasn’t sure if I should just walk in, so I knocked on the door and waited, trying to quell the queasiness in my gut.
Two minutes passed with no response. I checked the address again, starting to wonder if perhaps this had been an elaborate joke Uncle Alex was playing on his nephew. I raised my hand to knock again when the door was pulled open. A woman stood in the doorway, leaning casually on the jamb, staring at me with cool dispassion.
My mouth dropped open but not to speak. I don’t think I was even capable of speech at the moment, so mesmerized was I by the vision before me. She was young, perhaps in her early twenties, with deep brown eyes, pouty lips that looked natural and not the result of collagen injections, and hair the color of midnight piled on top of her head, strands trailing down the sides of her face like wicked serpents. All of these things I noticed later, however, because upon first viewing I had eyes only for her body. It was voluptuous, curvy in all the right places, clad in a short black dress that appeared to be made of rubber. The neckline plunged, exposing cleavage so deep and ample that I wanted to crawl inside and set up house. Her legs were long and luscious, ending in a delicate pair of bare feet that were strangely erotic. A black collar with diamond studs encircled her neck. Though her lips did not smile, her eyes seemed to laugh at me.
“May I help you?” she said in a smoky, Kathleen Turner voice.
My mouth opened and closed several times like a dying fish before I finally managed to unlock my voice. “I’m looking for Asylum.”
A laugh escaped her mouth to join the one in her eyes. “Really? Are you some kind of refugee? Or a lunatic?”
“Uhm, neither,” I said dumbly, holding out the gift certificate.
The woman took it, glancing down and reading over what was written on the paper. I bit down on my bottom lip and felt sweat dampening my hair at the temples. I could only pray she wouldn’t ask me for ID. If she did, I’d just say I forgot my wallet at home. She would either accept that and let me in or send me packing, but now that I’d seen her, I most definitely didn’t want to be turned away. If she was an example of the erotic sensations Asylum had to offer, I definitely wanted in.
With a nod, she looked up at me and said, “Hello, Dexter. My name is Lilah.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” I said and actually bowed. Bowed, like the biggest jackass in the world.
Lilah smiled, but her eyes squinted and scrutinized me with shrewd calculation. “You haven’t been here before.”
“Uhm, no,” I stammered, wondering if Dexter Calhoune had been a regular. If so, then my cover was blown.
“Come,” Lilah said simply, turning and walking away from me.
I followed hastily, expecting to be led into some lavish parlor full of red velvet and white lace. Instead, I found myself in a dingy hall that seemed to run to infinity. The floor was covered by threadbare carpet of a dull gray hue, the color of depression. The wallpaper, some generic floral print, was peeling away, exposing the crumbling plaster underneath. The overhead lights buzzed and popped, several of them burned out, leaving the hallway in a perpetual twilight gloom. As Lilah led me deeper into the building, we passed several wooden doors, all of them closed. From behind some of them, I thought I heard voices, moans, cries of pain or pleasure, but there was no time to stop and listen. Lilah kept a fast pace, and I pumped my legs to keep up.
“Here we are,” Lilah said, opening a wooden door and allowing me to step in ahead of her.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this. A small, windowless room, a perfect square. Wooden floor and a bare bulb shedding frosty light from above. The room was empty except for what looked like a hospital bed with stirrups.
“What is this?” I asked, feeling suddenly uneasy.
“Remove your clothing, please,” was Lilah’s response as she came in behind me, closing the door.
“Hey, I didn’t come here for a proctology exam.”
“Remove your clothing,” Lilah repeated, coming around to stand in front of me. She reached out a hand and ran her fingers lightly down my chest and stomach, pausing briefly to gently caress the bulge in my pants.
All resistance melted instantly. I suddenly had an image in my head of Lilah dressed in a Naughty Nurse outfit. As much time as it had taken me to decide what to wear, I undressed in a matter of seconds, leaving my clothes in a sloppy pile by my feet. Lilah circled me, eyeing my naked body critically. I stood erect—in more ways than one—feeling her gaze stroke my skin. I had nothing to be ashamed of. I was just beginning to develop a bit of a paunch, but I was otherwise in decent shape. A light sprinkling of dark hairs covered my chest, and my cock was an acceptable seven inches.
After finishing her survey of my flesh, Lilah picked up my clothes, folding them neatly, and said, “On the bed, please.”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, reclining on the bed, eager for the moment when that rubber dress came off. “You like to give orders, don’t you?”
Lilah said nothing. She came to me and smiled down, tickling my scrotum before giving my balls a squeeze and a tug. I yelped in pain, but it wasn’t entirely unpleasurable. There were leather cuffs attached to the rails that ran down either side of the bed. Lilah took these and affixed them to my wrists. Bondage, so that was her game. That was okay with me, especially if it meant she’d have to get on top. I loved a woman on top.
“How long do I get?” I asked. “I mean, how much time does the gift certificate buy me?”
Lilah nodded and bent down, feeling underneath the bed. “Until dawn.”
When Lilah first brought the object up from under the bed, I didn’t realize what it was. A bright red ball with black straps attached to it. It looked oddly familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it.
“Open wide, please,” Lilah said, and that was when I realized what I was looking at. It was a rubber ball gag, like I’d seen used in that movie Pulp Fiction.
“Is that really necessary?” I asked, my voice quavering a little.
Lilah affected a pout and said, “Don’t you want to play?”
I nodded vigorously. God yes, I wanted to play! I silently spread my lips and allowed her to place the ball in my mouth, buckling the straps behind my head. The ball held my mouth open wide, making my jaw ache, and pressed my tongue against my bottom teeth. It blocked all sound as well as air; I had no choice but to breathe through my nose.
This was much freakier than I’d ever gotten in my life, and it was exciting as hell. My erection was almost painful, and I kept my eyes glued to Lilah, breathlessly anticipating the moment she peeled off that dress and mounted me.
Instead, Lilah took my left leg and started placing it in one of the stirrups. I tried to jerk my leg away, but she had already used a leather restraint to pin my leg in the air, bent at the knee. When she reached for my right leg, I kicked out at her. Having my legs spread and stuck in the stirrups, exposing my sphincter, was not something I wanted. I thought about my earlier joke about a proctology exam and wriggled my leg away from her hold when she tried to take it again.
Her face remaining neutral, Lilah reached up, grabbed a handful of my pubic hair, and yanked. The hairs pulled out at the roots, and I arched my back, screaming into the gag. I was momentarily incapacitated by the pain, and Lilah used the opportunity to seize my right leg and strap it to the other stirrup.
“Have fun,” she said, taking my clothes and turning toward the door.
I tried to call out to her, to find out where she was going, what was happening, but all that came out was a muffled mumbling. Lilah seemed to understand nonetheless. She turned to me with a small smile and said, “I’m not for you. Jody will be here in a minute or two, then the fun can begin.”
Without another word, Lilah left the room, leaving me alone, gagged and strapped to the bed, hot fire pulsing from the bald patch on my groin.
I struggled against my restraints, testing them for weaknesses, but they seemed solid. My range of movement was severely limited; I was stuck like a mosquito in amber. It had been stupid of me to come here in the first place, I realized, a place I knew nothing about, and allow a perfect stranger to strap me to a hospital bed. They were probably robbing me blind, taking the cash and credit cards from my wallet. Or maybe they were going to harvest my organs to sell on the black market. The idea was ridiculous, of course, but my mind was concocting all sorts of wild fantasies as I lay helpless and vulnerable.
There was still the chance that this was all just part of some sex game. After all, people did get off on this sort of thing, submission and pain. Maybe this was the kind of scene that really got Dexter and Uncle Alex turned on, but it wasn’t for me. My erection had long since wilted, and I wanted nothing more than to get my clothes and go home. But with the gag planted firmly between my teeth, I had no way of explaining, no way of talking my way out of this mess.
When I heard the door open again, I turned my head, expecting to see another rubber-dressed beauty like Lilah. What I saw instead was a shock to the system, like ice water thrown in my face. It was a large black man. He was at least 6’5”, had to be about three hundred pounds, all of it pure, rock-hard muscle. All hair had been shorn from his body: head, pits, chest, nuts. He was completely naked, his dark skin glistening with some kind of oil. Now I’m not queer, but my eyes were instantly drawn to his cock. It was massive, ten inches or more, as big around as a soda can. It thrust straight out like a large billy club of flesh, something used to bludgeon. In his right fist was coiled a thin leather belt, and in his left he held a shiny silver garden trowel.
I had no clue what was happening or what was about to happen, but this was most definitely not what I had signed up for. I started jerking and thrashing on the bed, as much as the restraints would let me; I’m sure I must have looked like I was suffering from convulsions. I screamed into the gag, the sounds unintelligible, trying to communicate with my eyes that this was a mistake, I did not belong here.
“I’m Jody,” the man said in a voice that rumbled like thunder. “I’ll be doling out your punishment this evening.”
With a practiced flick of his wrist, Jody sent the belt flying out; it snapped against the exposed skin of my chest, raising an angry red welt and detonating a charge of pain like nothing I’d ever known. I bit down into the ball gag hard enough that I was sure I left teeth marks, and the world seemed to go gray around the edges. Sweat coated my body, and I felt tears leaking from my eyes. I jerked my arms as hard as I could, hoping to loosen the cuffs, but I was pinned there.
“Oh, wait a second,” Jody said, coming up next to the bed. He was like a giant, and I a Lilliputian. His engorged cock bobbed above my face, a tiny drop like a pearl beading at the tip and dropping onto my chest. Jody idly rubbed the creamy substance into my flesh with a finger, raising the digit and placing it in his mouth, licking it clean. “Here, let’s get rid of this.”
To my surprise, he unstrapped the ball gag and removed it, tossing it into the far corner of the room.
“Oh, thank God,” I said, my voice coming out in a breathy rush. “There has been a horrible mistake. I’m not Dexter.”
“I don’t give a shit what your name is,” Jody said, running the claw of the trowel lightly down my inner thigh, not hard enough to break the skin but with enough pressure to make me feel it. “You’re my bitch until dawn.”
“I’m not queer, man.”
“Neither am I. Doesn’t matter; that’s not what this is about. Pain is the order of the day at Asylum.”
Jody took my left nipple between two of his fingers and pinched viciously; it felt as if he were trying to rip it off.
“God, stop!” I said through clenched teeth. “Stop, or I’ll scream.”
“I know,” Jody said with a smile. “Why do you think I removed your gag? I like to hear my bitches scream.”
Jody ran the trowel down my thigh again, but this time he did break the skin, drawing blood and a high-pitched scream that erupted from my throat with the force of a missile. I felt blood running down my leg, puddling on my groin. It wasn’t deep enough to do any permanent damage, but it hurt like hell and would leave a nasty scar I was sure.
“We’re gonna have fun,” Jody said with a throaty laugh. He stepped back from the bed and lashed out with the belt again. It snapped across my sack and I screamed so loud and long that my throat felt raw, like I had eaten glass. “Dawn’s a long time away, and I got some special surprises in store for you.”
I closed my eyes and prayed then, something I hadn’t done since I was a kid. Prayed for escape, for freedom. Or failing that, unconsciousness.
* * *
I limped home just after dawn.
After Jody had finished with me, Lilah reappeared. Though she spoke not a word, she tended to my wounds gently, almost motherly. She stopped the bleeding and bandaged me up then dressed me as if I were a child. Jody had been careful to avoid my face, and all the evidence of the night’s events—the bruises, the cuts, the claw marks—were covered by my clothes.
Lilah allowed me to lean on her as she led me down the hallway to the door. She helped me up the steps to street level then turned and returned to Asylum, leaving me leaning against a streetlamp. I heard the door close and a lock engage. My legs were weak and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to stand on my own, let alone walk.
The streets were mostly deserted at this hour. The shops not yet open, people not yet on their way to church. I wobbled unsteadily for the first block, but I managed to make it to my apartment without falling into the gutter.
Once home, I ran a hot bath and soaked in it. I was sore all over, a hundred aches and pains, so many marks covering my flesh like a map. My rectum hurt most of all, but I didn’t want to think about that. I considered calling the police but couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was humiliated, emasculated, and I didn’t want anyone to know. Shame ensured my silence.
Over the next few weeks, my wounds began to heal and I regained my strength. I still had the birthday card from Uncle Alex, and sometimes I would sit and stare at it, wondering what kind of men enjoyed that kind of abuse, took pleasure from being beaten and violated.
There must be many, I figured. There must be many men out there who sought that kind of experience, otherwise a place like Asylum wouldn’t exist. There had been many rooms, many closed doors behind which unspeakable violence was perpetrated in the name of sexual gratification.
It was depraved, a perversion that most people probably never dreamed existed right under their noses. I was sickened by the thought of what had happened to me, repulsed by Asylum and all it represented. Sometimes the revulsion I felt was overwhelming.
I don’t know why I keep going back.