Broken, Part III

The woman was stirring, moaning. She looked up at me, and then at Vincent. She maybe looked at the knife, too, because something spooked her. She back up against the wall, and curled into a ball.

Slowly moving across the room, I set the knife on Vincent’s belly because there was no reason to approach her with a weapon in my hand. She was scared. No, terrified. Petrified that I would kill or hurt her more than what she had already endured. Truthfully, she was already hardened by what he had done to her. I could see it in her eyes. She wasn’t all there anymore, but still a part of her feared something. Maybe she feared living on just to suffer more pain at the hands of a madman.

When I reached her, I stopped. She turned her face away from me, cowering form my presence. To lessen my effect on her, I kneeled to show that I wasn’t a threat. It didn’t work. I thought maybe a touch might prove that I had no ill will toward her, but as soon as my fingers barely grazed the fine hairs of her skin, she flinched. Therefore, I decided to try a different approach, one that I was certain would work.

I stood and said, “Nothing I say will make you trust me, but if you give me just a—” Immediately, Vincent interrupted me by planting the knife deep in my shoulder. He and I both fell forward, landing on the ground next to the woman. She scurried back as far as the chain tether would allow her, and she balled up even more.

The pain seared, and I couldn’t feel my fingertips. My arm was going cold, numb. He had done considerable damage. He pulled the knife free, and I rolled over, determined to make sure he didn’t get another chance at me.

He screamed, “You!”

I kicked out for his shin, hoping to snap one of them. It didn’t work, but it did stagger him enough to make him fall backward. Apparently, he was still a little drunk from the fall earlier.

I scrambled up, favoring my arm. When I was over him, he tried swiping at me with the knife, but I wasn’t scared of it. If he was trying to stab me, perhaps that would be one thing, but a bit of sliced skin was hardly a concern for me. Luckily, he only managed one good swipe before I kicked him in the groin. He coughed, loosened his grip on the knife, and then I kicked it from his hand. He winced as the knife clanged against the wall.

It’s funny how things in life are always a sort of mild grey rather than black and white. For instance, I had originally been very disgusted by his weight and health. Now, as he struggled to keep his breath, I was happy and thankful. He wasn’t healthy enough to fight back without a weapon. To be fair, he did have powerful legs, but as soon as I straddled him, he wasn’t strong enough to get me off. After hitting him in the face, he was out cold again.

Looking at the table to see what had gone wrong, it appeared he’d cut through some of the straps. My desire to show compassion to that girl had caused me to make a huge mistake. I left the weapon with him, and for that I paid dearly.

There was no way they would hold him again, but at that point, it no longer mattered. With my arm completely useless, I knew it was impossible for me to get him back up there.

After walking over to the knife and picking it up, I said, “You don’t have to trust me, woman. I’ve done some pretty nasty things. You don’t have to fear me, either.”

I barely recognized my own voice. So strange was the man inside me that I wasn’t certain I could trust my own words.

She didn’t flinch when I neared her again. It was as though she knew, despite her self-preservation, I wasn’t going to harm her. I felt like she still didn’t trust me, and she had a right not to, but at least we were making progress. I offered up a bit more reassurance when I reached up and removed the inch-thick cotter pin holding the chain to the ceiling.

“There,” I said, and stepped back. “You’re free.”

She looked up at me, more timid than ever I’d seen of someone. She was as a child might be when confronted by a stranger. I don’t know how long she’d been down here, but her soul and will had been broken, reducing her to distrust all, no matter if it was God himself standing before her.

I returned to Vincent and knelt down. He was still sleeping, but I knew I had to get to work soon because he’d wake up and put up another fight, which was something I really wasn’t in the mood for.

As I retrieved the knife from my belt, the woman stood. The skin around the wrist where her hand had been removed was crudely sewn shut. It was red, and looked sore. She winced, but didn’t reach for the stump. No, she reached for her crotch, and judging by the way she held her knees together as she walked, taking her hand wasn’t the only fucked up thing her did to her.

The woman walked as far as she needed, and then dropped to her knees. She started to cry, deep heaves as she probably recalled all the disturbing things he did to her. As I sat there, I felt for her, which was something I didn’t think would ever happen. However, I couldn’t help thinking about how my wife and daughter felt at the hands of these maniacs. How scared and broken they were before these fuckers killed them.

She raised her hand, and pounded her fist into Vincent. She hit him repeatedly until she no longer had the energy. Surely, it did no damage because her body was broken, probably more broken than my emotions. She probably just didn’t have the strength to make him hurt. At least that’s what I thought, anyway.

“I’m Oliver,” I told her, and tried to give her a smile. I couldn’t. “I know… I know what you went through, even though I can never know how you feel. He… he took my wife. Not him directly, but he let them have her. Let them have their way with her. Then they killed her, but they made her suffer first. Tortured her. Broke her.”

I felt the heat burn my face as hot tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t meet her eyes, but I knew she was watching me.

I continued, “He was the one…” I had to pause, because this was the worst part. It was all bad, but this made me who I am today. “He hurt my baby. My little girl. Wrapped his giant hands around her frail little neck, and he…”

It was there I cried. I hadn’t talked to anyone about what happened because I didn’t think anyone could possibly understand, but this woman knew. She had been in their place, and no doubt, had I not shown up this night, maybe she’d have ended up with rings around her neck as well—if not a bullet through the skull.

She reached out with her hand, her fingers shaking with either fear or malnutrition—or both. I looked at her for a moment, and didn’t need to ask what she wanted. I handed her the knife. She looked at the blade, and then at Vincent. The contempt twisted her face, turning her from a broken albeit beautiful woman into a monster. I knew what she wanted to do, so I laid next to Vincent, wrapped my good arm around his neck to hold him still, and nodded to her.

She didn’t hesitate to get to work stabbing him. He woke up on the first one that entered his leg, and he screamed. No doubt the guards would come running if he kept it up, so I placed my numb hand in his mouth. I wondered briefly if he could remember the taste because as he bit down during his muffled call for help, all those memories of what he did to me came rushing back.

She stabbed and stabbed, and he called out in pain. Most of her attack centered on his penis and hands, and I don’t blame her. Those were a source of pain for her. They were the things that destroyed her.

Soon, he wasn’t screaming any more. Vincent had gone limp, but she continued to stab him. She let out a whimper of anger each time she stuck that blade into his body.

After pulling my hand free from his mouth, I inspected the teeth marks he’d left. I was bleeding, but not bad. It probably would have been painful if I could feel it. Thankfully, I couldn’t.

The girl finally stopped stabbing him, leaving the blade buried deep into his crotch. I looked at her, and she looked at me. Her face was striped with strands of his blood, which also spackled her chest and arms. He was as good as dead, and even though she clenched her teeth in anger, I still detected a small amount of satisfaction written on her face.

“I’ll help you get out of here,” I told her, but she nodded to refuse. I said, “What?”

She nodded again, and pulled the knife from its fleshy sheath. I thought perhaps she meant to kill me, but she instead brought the blade to the left side of her neck and cut through her own carotid. The blood squirted a couple times, and as her body weakened, she dropped the knife. She laid down gently onto the sealed concrete, and bled out until she passed away.

I watched her for a long while, and I longed for the kind of peace. The sounds of silence after death. All of life’s problems for her were gone, now. Perhaps I didn’t condone suicide, but the way this girl looked now, was beyond perfect. She had endured so much, and now that she had confronted and killed the man that hurt her, she finally stepped out of this horrible world to find peace in whatever laid beyond.

As I stood and headed for the exit, I knew that one day it would be my turn to enjoy that eternal sleep, that moment of peace. For now, though, I had one more stop to make. I had to go see the man that started all this pain and anguish. The man responsible for so many lives lost, including my beautiful girls. It was time to see my father.

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My Perfect Valentine

“It’s not me. It’s you,” I said, and watched the afternoon sun glistened in her glossy eyes. “I could say that it’s my fault that my feelings aren’t there anymore because I’ve lost interest, but that’s not the case at all. I still adore you, but I’ve lost that connection because you haven’t been able to give me that thing I need to keep this relationship alive. We had it once, but now it’s gone, and I’m afraid we won’t ever be able to get that back. Sorry, babe.”

Monika sniffled, ran the back of her hand under her pink nose, and shifted her weight to her other foot. After folding her thin arms over her ample chest, she said, “Why would you do this on Valentine’s Day?”

“I, uh…”

Sh*t. I had no idea it was Valentine’s Day. I totally forgot. I spent so long in my own turmoil that I had even called out of a work a couple of days because I couldn’t focus.

I dug my hands into my pockets and pawed at the floor with my foot. I couldn’t look her in the eyes any longer. I was sure she didn’t want to look at me, either, so it worked out for both of us.

“Sorry,” was all I could say, and I turned to head back to my car.

“Wait,” she said.

I paused, considering the ramifications of turning back around. If I returned to her, then I might be offering her a glimmer of hope that this could still work, but I believed there was nothing she could do that could make this better. However, was it my place to take that away from her? I didn’t want to deny her the opportunity to say what she probably needed to say. After all, I wasn’t a monster.

A cold gust caused me to shiver as I returned to her door. Her gaze seemed as icy as the wind, if not more frigid. I thought that perhaps she might lunge at me just then, slash my throat, and leave me for dead. Knowing her, it wasn’t exactly an irrational thought, but unlikely at best.

“What’s up?” I said, hoping to break the tension. It didn’t work.

“Don’t you at least want to see the Valentine’s gift I got you?”

Red alert. Stop. Turn and run. For the love of God, just get the heck out of here, I thought, but then said, “Sure.”

Okay, so maybe I was a man, and maybe I didn’t always think too clearly. Standing there on her porch with the sun warming my back and the wind nipping at my nose, I figured she wanted to show me only one thing: s*xy lingerie followed by an hour of hard, rough pillow tossing. Just the way she liked it. Just the way I liked it. What kind of man would I be if I turned down some sheet time? Obviously, I couldn’t know for sure she wanted to sweat a little, but I knew I’d regret it if I missed the opportunity to have her one last time.

I stepped beyond her into that old familiar foyer. As she closed the door, I breathed deep the apple and cinnamon scented oils she warmed over a nearby candle. Her blue canary twittered a subtle song from the niche near the kitchen, and I so wanted to say hello to him as I always did, but I didn’t feel welcome in that house anymore. I felt like a stranger in a home that I had only just visited for the first time.

“Come,” she said, and walked toward the living room. I followed her a few steps, stopping briefly to admire some of the paintings on the walls. I knew I’d never see them again, and wanted to see if I could pull anything else from them before I left. Unfortunately, I learned nothing new. Probably I would have if I had more time to gaze at them, to study the things she had painted on that taut skin. I didn’t, though, and so I continued after her unsatisfied.

Monika stopped at the basement door, put her hand on the silver handle, and smiled. When she opened the door and turned to lead the way, I wasn’t the least bit curious what she had to show me. Actually, I was entirely preoccupied watching her walk in those tight yoga pants. She may not have been able to offer that special something that I needed, but she sure as heck could turn me on like nothing else.

I never liked going down these old wooden stairs. They would bend when you stepped on them, and often they’d let out this moan with a few unnerving hard snaps. I always expected one of them to give out and I’d fall through the floor. The idea of falling didn’t bother me, though. I just didn’t want to become a pincushion for tetanus shots. Boy, did I hate needles, and that was almost enough to get me to turn back and go home. Almost.

At the bottom, she switched on the light and revealed to me a giant box covered by a red, satin sheet. Little aluminum hearts dangled from thin string above it, and there was a little folded sign that read: FOR MY LOVE, HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!

Double sh*t. I had no idea she had bought me something so big, and here I was, giftless and guilty. If she had wanted me to feel that way, she succeeded. I only hoped she could return it and be able to get her money back.

I said, “Sorry, babe. I can’t accept that.”

“Sure you can.”

“I don’t have anything for you.”

“It’s for us.”

“Us?”

She smiled that smile that had won me the night I met her. I wouldn’t say it was love at first sight, because there’s no such thing. It was, however, lust at first sight, that carnal need to be with someone that gets your blood pumping and your heart pounding. Right then, I felt the cool room get seriously hot, and I heard my heart thumping in my ears.

She yanked the black tie from her wrist and pulled her golden hair into a bun. She watched me for a moment with those emerald, tear drop eyes, and smiled. She ran her hands up her thighs, snagged the edge of her shirt, and pulled her top off. She hadn’t been wearing a bra, so she stood there bare-chested. Despite how warm I felt, it was obviously cold in here. Either that or she was as heated as I was. Or both.

She said, “Join me?”

I knew it was a bad idea. It always is. I mean, men can sometimes seduce women, but women can seduce men so much easier, and so you can’t often trust them. Your best bet is to say no and walk away.

I don’t really know why men get stupid when women come at them like this, but it’s always been the case. I guess maybe it exists to balance the s*xes out because I have never met a woman who didn’t use her s*xuality to gain some advantage in life, feminism be darned.

Pulling off my jacket, I finally felt how cool it was, and although I was shivering, it wasn’t because of the temperature. I was tremendously turn on, but also there was also a measure of excitement I hadn’t felt in a long time. I kicked my boots off and my shirt quickly followed.

She came to me, pressed her chest into me, and barely touched her lips to mine. I felt her tongue dancing in her mouth as she spoke to me, “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I said, and ran my nails over the soft skin of her perfectly arched back.

Monika grabbed my belt buckle, and pulled me to the box. As we stood there, my pants throbbed as I waited impatiently for her to open the zipper. She kissed my neck, moved down to my chest, and trailed even further until she kissed my pelvis. I looked down, and watched her gently grasp the edge of the satin sheet with her fingers. She playfully bit my crotch through my jeans as she tore the sheet away, and I stared down with unequivocal love for our gift.

I said, “You didn’t.”

“I did.”

“But how?”

“It took months of planning. I wanted today to be perfect.”

“Oh, baby,” I said, my fire had reignited for her. I wasn’t sure how long that fire would last, but I knew this was what we needed to rekindle our dying relationship, a jumpstart for a new beginning. “Can I?”

“Of course.”

I kneeled next to her, and gave her a quick playful nibble on her neck. She moaned and giggled the way I always liked. She handed me a rolled up, black cloth, and the metal contents within it clinked together. She smiled, and without even looking, I knew she had found us the perfect set with which we could work.

I looked at the gagged and frightened woman in the cage next to us, smiled, and I told the woman, “Thank you.”

An Unexpected Christmas

The fire crackles and the light pulses in the dimly lit room. The dancing flames refract through a glass on the table, warped by the wine sitting still within it. I wait comfortably on my couch expecting at any moment for one of my family members to knock on my door.

For a good long while, there’s silence. I don’t know why because I sent out the invitations more than three weeks ago. Even though no one replied, I figure at least one person would show up anyway. What had I done? At the very least, I want to know why my parents ignored their only son.

I stand, run my hands through my soft, short hair, and then pace the room. I try to think of all the things I had done the last three weeks—beyond even—but I can’t think of anything that might alienate everyone from me. Had they always not liked me? Had they only tolerated my existence in their lives until they’d finally had enough?

Nonsense. That can’t be true. I get along well enough with my older sister Viera, and my little brother Gabe—not so little now as he approaches thirty—always comes to me for advice. My dad, though our relationship has always been silently turbulent for some reason, had at least tried to get along with me by talking cars or sports. My mother, bless her good heart, loves everyone, even her enemies. It just doesn’t seem like my family at all to ignore me, especially on Christmas day.

I find myself standing in front of the phone. I reach out for it to give them a ring to find out what the deal is, but then I retract my hand. If they were truly ignoring me, then they would certainly ignore my call. After all, I’ve done it before, isn’t that what caller ID was for? To dodge unwanted calls from wives, sisters, brothers, errant lovers, and—more importantly—evil telemarketers?

I decide instead to visit my parent’s house because I suspect if I surprise them, then an answer—perhaps one of guilt—will shadow all their faces with the truth.

I walk to the closet near the front door to withdraw my coat, but I look down and I’m already wearing it. It’s amazing the things you forget when those closest to you are driving you mad.

The evening is crisp. Sometime during the day, a light snow coated the small neighborhood. The street lamps glisten off the fresh ice, and the moon glows high and bright in the sky. I don’t live far from my mother and father, and because I find it’s far too beautiful of a night to waste with a drive I decide to walk.

As I pass through the neighborhood, I feel the warmth from the Christmas lights and the families enjoying their time together through the big picture windows of the homes. Some are eating grand meals, some are watching movies, and some are exchanging gifts. A lot of them are wearing ugly sweaters that either grandma or grandpa thought too cute to pass up, but they all had smiles on their faces. A true reminder of how joyous people are to have the chance to spend a moment of their time with their loved ones, something I wish I could enjoy this night.

When I reach my family’s house, the lights my father put up are pulsing and reflecting against the white wonderland. A wooden Rudolph stands alert in the front yard while a mechanical Santa waves to passing cars. On the other side of the lawn is a small nativity scene that has “Baby Jeeves” written across the top of the manger thanks to my dad’s humor.

These are some of my favorite things, I think and then begin humming Andy Williams’ version of the same name.

I approach the front door, and I immediately hear a lot of talking just above a soft chorus of Christmas music. I recognize all of the voices: Viera, Gabe, momma, pappa, and Uncle Pete. I feel the crushing weight of depression burn in my chest as I realize they’re all together without me. I blink hard to push away the tears and before I know it, I’m standing in the foyer.

The sweet aroma of my mother’s fruitcake—that nobody likes but everyone eats with a smile—and a hint of pine from the nearby Christmas tree sends a nostalgic chill down my back and raises my skin with goose bumps. I rub my arms as I exit the foyer into the main room where I find my family sitting near the fireplace.

No one seems to notice me, which is painful but not unreasonable if I had done something to offend them in some way. I take my coat off hoping to feel the warmth of the fireplace, but I’m much too far from it I think because I still feel a bit frigid.

“Hey everyone.” I say, though my voice is weak and timid. Normally I’m strong and loud, but their denial of my invitation has humbled me.

Viera and Gabe sit next to each other on a maroon couch talking to my mother who has a glass of whiskey in her hand. She hadn’t taken a drink in years, but I decide it was Christmas after all and there’s no need to bring it up right then. Uncle Pete and my father, who looks a tad pale, sit away from the others. Pete’s hand is holding my father’s and they’re talking about something, but they’d gone too low to hear.

“Guys can I just say something here? I don’t know what I did, but please just—” I start to say, but my sister interrupts me with, “Jesus it’s cold.”

“Honey, watch your mouth,” my mother reprimands, though she did so with a weak voice of her own.

Viera stands and walks past me, not even bothering to give me a look in the eyes. So typical of my passive sister. She disappears for a moment and returns rubbing the arms of her cream turtleneck sweater.

“Someone left the door open,” she says at the doorway, and this time she looks me right in the eyes as if to accuse me—she’s right. I look back at my brother who gives me the same look. The sister-brother tag team, but I suppose I deserve it for some reason. Then, she walks right through me, and sits back down on the couch.

For a moment, I’m lost. Thoughts seem to fog in my mind as I try to grip what just happened. I look at my brother who gets up and sits next to my mother. He wraps his arm around her and pulls the glass from her hand. She buries her face into his shoulder and weeps. My sister dabs her eyes with a tissue she plucked from a box on the coffee table. I look up at my father, and he has his face buried in his hands. Uncle Pete has both his hands on his brother’s shoulders with a grim though empathetic face.

I try to speak, but nothing comes out. I take a step into the room, and a glimmer of light above the fireplace catches my eye. I look up. Nestled between two photographs of me—one young and one taken just last year—is a brushed metal urn.

“No.” I’m finally able to say as the shock relents, and I suddenly realize why my invitations went unanswered.

The Journey Never Ends

The ending isn't a beginning, but a continuation...
The ending isn’t a beginning, but a continuation…

Today, I see bovines on bicycles in the street. Some of them are on unicycles and others aren’t on any type of cycle at all. Instead, they’re dancing near a band called Bull Dogs playing rock music. None of them sees me, though. I’m as invisible to them as they are to the rest of the world.

That’s just how my life is, now. Yesterday, there were literally bullets with butterfly wings floating outside my window. I’ve always loved that song by Smashing Pumpkins, so there were no doubt those little creatures would show up eventually. I wish I could’ve opened the window and let them in to play, but it’s sealed.

It’s always something different. At least that much I can be certain about. Like one day, I had Popples visit me. Another day, the world outside became icy slopes of Neapolitan ice cream. I watched children gorge while parents, in a moment of weakness to whimsy, slid down those slopes in trashcan tops, laughing along with their friends. Two weeks ago, I met SpongeBob and friends. It was amazing.

Sometimes, it’s not so amazing, though. Sometimes I can’t eat my food because it’s rotten with maggots crawling over the meal. Another time, the city was destroyed and nothing but monsters roamed the fiery streets.

None of those things compared to the man I met three days ago. He was a dark figure standing in my room. He had broad shoulders, and wore a long black trench coat. There was a hat atop his head, and the shadow cast from it blackened his face so that I couldn’t see him. However, I could see his smile, and I most definitely heard his frighteningly gloomy voice.

He said, “Hello, Sarah.”

My parents always taught me not to be rude, even to strangers. However, they also taught me to be wary and careful. “Hi.”

“So, what are you seeing today?”

“How did you know?”

“I know everything.”

“If you know everything, then you should know what I see.”

He laughed. It was a scary cold laugh. “Clever girl.”

I said, “What do you want?”

“Nothing. Just waiting.”

“For what?”

“Oh, this and that,” he said, and moved into the sunlight. His face was still so black I couldn’t see any features. “Please, tell me. What do you see?”

“Kittens.”

“Kittens? As in baby cats?”

I nodded.

“Are they cute?”

“The fluffiest kind. They all have tiny little meows, and they’re doing kitten things.” I said, and looked out the window. “Some of them are biting ears, while other are pouncing their brother or sister. They all have huge eyes, but I really like their cute little meows. It’s the best.”

When I looked back, he was gone. So were the kittens. I haven’t seen the kittens since, but that’s okay. The bovines I see today make me smile, and perhaps feel a little warm inside.

As I listen to the Bull Dogs play my dad’s favorite album, Never Mind the Bollocks, which they pronounce Bullocks, I look over to see my mom, dad, and little brother visit me. They’re not alone, though. That big scary man is back.

“Why did you bring him here?” I ask, but they ignore me. They don’t always, but sometimes. Instead, I ask him directly, “Don’t you have some other kid to scare? I’m not afraid of ghosts.”

“Who said I was a ghost?”

“I dunno. I guess ’cause you look like one.”

“I can’t argue with that,” he says. “What do you see today?”

“Why do you care?” I ask, but immediately regret it. My dad’s voice rings in my ears telling me to respect everyone. “I’m sorry. I don’t see anything anymore. Just you and my family.”

Suddenly, I feel my dad’s hand on mine. He’s warm. Really warm. My mom kisses my forehead, and I watch them sit next to the bed. My little brother plays with his toy truck, unaware that everyone is sad.

I look at myself laying on that bed. It had been a long time since I saw myself, and I don’t like what I see right now. I have pasty skin, blue lips, and matted sweaty hair sticking to my face. I wish I could look better for my family, but there’s nothing I can do.

The dark man tells me, “I believe I’m done waiting.”

I look up at him, and back at my family as they continue to grieve. I want to say goodbye, but I can’t. I know they won’t hear me. It’s okay, though, because I left each of them a letter to read when I finally left them. In them, I tell them about all the wonderful things I saw while in the hospital, leaving out all the scary things. I tell them how much I love them, and that they’ll be okay. I tell them goodbye, and that we’ll meet again someday.

“Love you guys,” I tell them before starting my new journey.