I screamed from the pain, but she simply said that my agony was merely my sins escaping my body. She told me that this was God’s will that I was deserving of his wrath as she applied the glowing poker against my chest once more. Again my body was flooded with such terrible pain, and as the smell of burning flesh comingled with it I threw up what little food I had inside of me. She praised God at this and telling this was my punishment for turning away from my righteous path. I was an affront to Him, an abomination and if only I were to repent and accept Jesus Christ as my lord and savior, my pain would cease.
Eventually I passed out from my pain and when I woke I found myself still in that room, my body wracked with pain. I could still smell the lingering scent of burning flesh, my flesh, and started to weep. I cried for myself, for my family, for my life. All I wanted was to go home and be with those who I knew were waiting for me. That was not my first “session” and I knew it wouldn’t be my last. It was merely one of many incidents that marred my skin and left lasting scars, both physically and mentally. Never did I want to die more in my life than after those incidents. Every night I thought long and hard about ending my misery. I plotted and planned but what stayed my hand was the reminder that my life wasn’t the only one I was living for. There was another and soon, a third would be a part of it as well. I had to keep living, to keep fighting. I had to see him one more time.
The woman, Mary was not physically imposing. If on equal footing, I could have taken her easily. However what she had done to me, ensured it would not be a fair fight and she was not alone. She had an accomplice, a very large and strong one. He was the muscle, she was the brain and together they worked to purge me of my sins until either I repented or died. And I truly believed it was the latter.
All of this started when my truck broke down on highway 70 in the middle of nowhere at midnight. I was about fifty miles from a city in either direction. To make matters worse, my cell was dead; a battle I've been enduring for months. The battery was defective and only held a charge up to about 35% where after that it was only a guessing game for how long it would actually last. I thought it would last at least two more hours with limited use. I was wrong. It had been dead for almost twenty minutes before my truck’s radiator hose gave out and left me stranded in the middle of nowhere.
After I realized that phone was dead, I sat in the cab for almost forty minutes waiting for someone to come by but didn't see a single car that entire time. The smart play would have just been to wait in the cab until morning and then try to flag down a passing car. However I was very eager to get home. You see, my boyfriend and I were expecting a child very soon. The obvious question you may have is how? Well we had a mutual friend who was great enough to act as a surrogate and she was well over ten months pregnant and due at any second. I should have been there with them, but my work had other plans. My boss decided to send me across the state to pick up some cargo before I clocked out that day. It was a simply pick up that should have only taken a couple of hours and I, of course, said yes because I needed the overtime. What I failed to realize was that the truck was a piece of garbage. I made it halfway to my destination before the truck died and I was left stranded in the middle of nowhere.
So, knowing what was waiting for me back home, I decided to try my luck and walk to the nearest gas station which was over twenty miles away where I hoped to find either people or a near extinct device known as a payphone. The night was cold, the temperature dropping almost fifteen degrees once the sun dipped below the horizon. My first mistake was taking the job, my second was not bringing my charger, and my third was not bringing a coat. So in lieu of one I had a thin, terrible smelling blanket from the cab. I could only imagine what this blanket was used for knowing my coworkers as I did. Even so I wrapped it around me, trying not to think about it and focusing on the fact that I would be a father very soon.
I had walked almost two hours knowing that I still had at least two more ahead of me, when I finally saw headlights coming from behind. In that moment I dropped the blanket and started dancing around; jumping and screaming for help. I wanted to make sure they could see me. Me feet ached, my legs were sore and I just wanted rest. My dance for joy must have caught the driver's attention because as the car approached, it slowed to a stop. Snatching up the blanket, I wrapped it around me once more as I approached the car. As I did so, I heard the door open and a small voice call out.
"You alright?" It asked the petite, red headed woman wearing a thick, green wool sweater.
"Yeah, but my truck broke down some miles back." I told her, "I'm on my way to the nearest rest stop to find a phone." The woman's expression soured at this.
"Oh, I'm afraid that rest stop is no good." She said and my heart sank as I realized that if the rest stop was out of order, I would have to go all the way to Columbia on foot. Then, as if the weather sensed my predicament and decided that I didn’t have enough to worry about, it started to rain.
"Oh come on!" I screamed as I stared up at the sky. As I looked back down I noticed the woman approach me with a small umbrella.
"God will provide." She said as she held it up, trying to protect us both from the rain. I offered my best grin but it was more pained than pleasant.
"Well he hasn't so far." I said. The woman’s smile soured slightly, but I quickly add, "But this is a good start." That widened her smile.
We hurried into the car, a four door station wagon that smelled like cats and not in a good way. The woman hopped in the driver's seat, tossing the umbrella into the back. Ignoring the smell as best I could, I tossed my soaked blanket into the backseat as well, thanking her for the ride. The heat was blasting and I was thankful for that. With the drop in temperature and sudden downpour, I had gone from cold to freezing.
"Where are you headed?" The woman asked.
"As far as you can take me." I replied, not wanting to take advantage of her hospitality. "I'm headed to Columbia personally, but if you can get me as close as you can that would be awesome." The woman nodded.
"Alright, well let's see how far God will let us go." She said. I thought the statement was slightly odd but didn't think anything of it. After all, she had a crucifix hanging from her rearview mirror and a bust of the Virgin Mary on her dashboard.
"I'm Shawn." I said.
"Mary." She said with a gleeful smile, "Just like the Virgin Mary, mother of our savior." I forced a smile but I was starting to feel a little uncomfortable. It wasn't that I was against religion, I just didn't always agree with some of its practices. After all I was a gay man who was having a child with his boyfriend through in vitro fertilization with a surrogate, most hardcore Christian’s would have frowned upon certain decisions I have made in my life. "So what's in Columbia that has you walking all the way there?"
"Work and… and my… girlfriend." I said with a labored pause. I wasn’t ashamed of my sexuality, far from it, but having this conversation with strangers who wore their faith on their sleeves was often a recipe for disaster. From my experience its best if you avoid situations like this if possible. Mary simply nodded but I thought I noticed a slight shift in her posture as if she detected that something wasn’t right.
"She must be something special to have you walking all the way to her?" Mary said without any hesitation. It was true I would have walked a thousand miles for him.
Nodding I said, "Yeah h… she really is, and we’re also expecting a baby. Our friend who is carrying her to term is ready to burst so I really want to be there when my daughter's born." Again I was expecting some reaction but instead she just continued to drive without as much as a flinch.
"Children truly are gifts from God." She said with a warm smile. "So are you and your wife unable to conceive through God’s will?” The way she phrased the question made me pause but I knew I had to play along. We were making good time and I wanted to get home as soon as possible.
“Well… yeah my wife and I have been having some issues.” I said while silently thinking, ‘not having a uterus being one of them. “But not for lack of trying.” I added with a playful smile. Again Mary simply nodded and continued driving.
“Where are you planning on having the little one baptized?" She asked making the sign of the cross. I shied away from the answer slightly. You see I was Jewish, non-practicing. Carlos, my boyfriend, however was Christian so I just picked out some information I got from him.
"My parents' church. St. Bernadette's." I said. Growing up, Carlos did in fact go to a church called St. Bernadette's. The caveat was that it was when his grandparents were still alive and when he was still in the closet. Now that they have passed, church was the furthest thing from his mind.
"Oh that’s wonderful. What is your child's name?" Mary asked. My daughter was going to be named after Carlos’s grandmother Aurora. However since it wasn’t exactly the most Christian sounding name I decided to choose a different one.
"Um, Judith." I hoped that this would be the end of our conversation. Growing up, I anticipated numerous questions such as ‘why don’t you sound gay’ but not ‘when was the last time you went to church?’ The entire topic was more infuriating than it should have been so I often just avoided it when I could. I hoped that we would just sit in silence for the next twenty minutes or so until I arrived at the closest gas station and then I could thank Mary for her hospitality. We would go our separate ways and that would be the end of it. This didn't happen. My memory of what exactly occurred is still fuzzy but I can sort of piece it together. Whether Mary was not happy about what I had told her, that she could see through my lies or that she just didn't like my answers, I would never know. All I do know is that things devolved quickly.
"Excuse me, Shawn, but can you do me a favor and look in the glove box for a tissue? My nose is running like the dickens." She asked. I nodded, not thinking anything of the request. I pulled open the compartment and found the interior a mess. It was jammed full of religious brochures and pamphlets, several rosaries, a small bible and even a plastic crucifix. It was while I was searching for her tissues that I felt a sudden sting in my neck. It was like a bee or wasp sting. I remembered crying out in pain but the sensation subsided quickly and the last thing I remembered clearly was my head slamming against the dashboard and the world going black.
I woke up some time later, not sure of how long I had been out. My eyes were heavy and as I tried to rub them I realized my hands refused to move; at least refused to move far. Panic overtook me as I looked up to see that I was bound to the top of a metal bedframe. Frantically I tried to sit up but discovered the same was true with my feet. I was secured to a bed at both ends, my body lying on a lumpy, stained mattress.
Terrified, I kicked and pulled at my restraints but they refused to yield. Whoever tied them was an expert. The ropes were tight, but did not cut off circulation and held firm no matter how hard I tried. The bedframe was also solid, not even rocking or shifting as I struggled against it. I tried for several minutes to break free but I was no closer to escaping.
Lethargy came quickly as I had little energy to fight with. Not having eaten for what I could only assume was hours and without proper sleep I felt completely drained. Lying on the uncomfortable mattress, I came to the realization that I wasn't getting loose anytime soon. Whoever brought me here had no intention on me getting free on my own. Of course even though I was bound, I still tried to search for some means of escape.
I was in a small room. The air was chilly, a slight breeze drifting over me carrying with it a damp smell. The room was mostly dark but light coming from the base of a door opposite of me gave me enough to make see in shades of gray. I could hear nothing but my own labored breathing, my erratic heart beat and what I could only guess was someone singing along with music. The sound drifted from the door, creeping underneath the small crack.
The need to escape was overwhelming and before I could stop myself I screamed for help. I should have known that this was a terrible idea, but hearing someone nearby while I was tied up in some sort of dungeon stole any sense of reason from me. Instantly, the music stopped as did the vocal accompaniment. Whoever was singing, must have heard my pleas. There was a moment of silence and then I heard floorboards creak as someone walked overhead. So I was in a basement. As I lay in the dark, waiting for whoever was coming, I was reminded of my aunt who used to live in an old farm house that had a root cellar. I quickly realized was what I was in. However, given the damp air and breeze, this one had fallen into disrepair.
Tracing the footsteps I followed them from the floor above me, down a flight of steps, and right to the door of my prison. Within moments the door knob rattled and with it came a jingle of keys. Locked. Apparently, even if I had gotten free, I still had a locked door to get through. I heard a light click and the saw the door swing open, light temporarily blinding me. I grimaced but forced my eyes open so they could more quickly adjust. As the world came to focus, I saw that Mary was standing before me.
"Mary," I said almost crying, "Oh thank God." For the briefest of moments, I thought I was safe. Then I saw Mary make the sign of the cross upon my declaration.
"Yes, praise God! Praise Jesus!" She chanted. My heart sank as a grim realization struck me. Mary wasn't here to help me after all.
"Mary, please untie me. I need to get home." I begged. Tears escaped my eyes as terror overtook me. Mary cocked her head slightly at this. A crooked smile broke across her face, her eyes wide. I saw such excitement dancing within them that it didn't take long for me to realize that things were about to go from bad to worse.
“Yes, to go back home to your sins and that other abomination.” She said.
“What are you talking about?” I shouted, “Let me go!”
“I’m talking about this.” She said as she reached into her pocket and produced two photos. One was a sonogram from Aurora that I looked at every day, multiple times a day. The other was a small strip of a photos that I recognized as one I got from a wedding photo booth. I kept it in my wallet so that I could see Carlos whenever I wanted to. Three of the photos were innocuous, ones that could be simple, innocent fun. The most telling, however, was the final one where we kissed. It was not as friends but clearly as lovers, as two who cared truly and madly for each other. There was no convincing it wasn’t her it wasn’t as it seemed. She knew I had been lying about who I was.
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” She said as she produced a lighter from her pocket. I kicked and jerked, trying to break free once more but all I managed to do was pull a muscle in my shoulder. So I simply lay there in utter horror as she torched the photos I cherished. I felt tears escape my eyes as they photos quickly turned to ash and ember.
“You bitch.” I gasped. “You BITCH!” She grimaced but managed to keep her smile as wide as ever.
"Now, I will untie you," She said, but quickly added, "But only after you repent your evil ways and accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. After all Romans 1: 27 states that ‘and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.’ "
"You fucking bitch! Let me go!" I screamed, but Mary only stared at me with that same excitement.
"You must accept Jesus as your savior. If you turn from your path of vile sin, I will let you go and spread his word." Mary said. Wanting to be free from this entire nightmare, to be home with the man I loved and my daughter, I decided to lie and just go with whatever she said.
"Yes, fine, I accept Jesus. Okay?" I said; my intentions obvious. Mary only shook her head.
"I will know when you accept Jesus, because God will show me." She said. Before I could say anything else curse her with every conceivable swear I could think of, she turned and closed the door, locking it. I screamed after her and as she took several steps up the staircase I made my second mistake. The first was getting in the car with her. The second was what I said next.
"Let me go, God damn it!" I heard the staircase go silent for moment when suddenly there was a rush of movement and before I knew it the door was open and Mary was back, but her placid expression was gone; replaced by one of malicious intent.
"Thou shalt not use the Lord's name in vain, abomination" She cried out. In that light I saw absolute hatred. Reaching beyond the door frame she grabbed something and stepped into the room. I looked at her hand and saw that she clutched a short, thick leather whip.
Before I could say anything, Mary snapped her arm and leather strips struck my stomach. Even through my shirt I felt horrific pain. I screamed, but this did not stay her hand. Instead, she brought the whip down again, this time against my thigh. The tips of the leather hit my groin and I felt a uniquely terrible agony. Mary struck me five more times, seven altogether before finally stopping. She left me in that room, alone and afraid with only one thing left for me to do: I cried. I cried until I finally passed out.
I woke up some time later. Without any window or clock I had no idea how long I was out or even what time it was. My body was stiff and sore from disuse, but that was nothing compared to the pain that I felt from the whip. I heard the music again, a different tune this time. There was no female accompaniment but I wasn't sure if that was any better. Nausea struck me hard and fast as I realized that it must have close to an entire day since I last ate anything. With that sensation also came the need to use the bathroom. I tried to feel if I had wet myself as I slept by wiggling my body around, searching for any wet spots. Fortunately there were none that I could tell, but that may not last long if I didn’t get loose.
I sighed knowing what I had to do. You knew things were bad when you had to rely your captor for help. I took a deep breath, fighting through my mounting hatred for this woman. I knew that I had to escape but I needed to take things one step at a time. First step would be to get some food and relieve myself. The second would be to figure out where I was. From there I could formulate a plan.
"Hello? Mary?" I called. Never had a name sounded so disgusting before. I paused, waiting for some response. "Mary? Can you hear me?" There was the sudden footsteps but the sound was too loud and clustered to be made by a single person; multiple footsteps. There were more people in the house. One set was light, careful. Those no doubt belonged to Mary. The other set was heavy and loud. Was it a man’s? I traced the sound as they descend the stairs and then heard the rattle of keys in the door. Once again light poured into my room and through it I saw the silhouette of Mary. She stepped in and I saw that placid smile pasted on her face once more, no hint of anger in sight.
"Hello, Shawn. How are you feeling?" She asked pleasantly. I fought back my anger, finding myself too weak to really put up a fight.
"I'm fine." I said bitterly.
"And how may I help you?" She asked. I sighed, trying not to appear too eager.
"I was wondering if l could use the restroom and maybe have something to eat." I said. Mary cocked her head as if waiting for something. I quickly realized what she wanted and reluctantly followed with, "Please." With that Mary's face it up with pride. It was as if l learned some valuable lesson.
"Of course." She said delighted, "After all 'whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.'" I forced a smile trying not to appear too spiteful.
A brief image of a plan flashed through my mind as I decided that the moment she let me free I would bash her skull in with my bare fist. This notion was quickly shattered as I heard the other set of footsteps approaching from behind her. Appearing in the doorway was an enormous figure. Blotting out the light from the other room I saw it was indeed a man. Short, shaggy hair covered his lumpy, awkward head. He had a slight gut but appeared very solid. Mary looked back at him and pointed at my bindings. He nodded and squeezed into the room without as much as a word. With hands large enough to crush my head, the giant undid my bindings. I moaned in pure bliss as I worked out the stiffness in my shoulders and legs. It still hurt to move, the injured muscles reminding me that I was not 100%, but in that moment I didn't care. I was just happy to be free.
"Now, what do you say?" Mary asked.
"Thank you." I forced out. "Thank you." Instantly the smile returned as she motioned for me to follow. I did, albeit slowly. My legs were weak and I almost fell several times but the giant caught me by the back of my neck keeping me upright. It was appreciated but also painful. I managed to stagger up the steps onto the main floor of the house. Immediately I was surrounded by Christian icons. Crucifixes were mounted on walls and on shelves. Pictures of Jesus, Mary, Saints, and Angels were hung with care. Glancing into the living room I saw there was only a radio and record player where a TV would normally be found. My shoulders fell slack as I saw the curtains were drawn so that I couldn’t look out the windows to gain my bearings.
Mary led me to the kitchen where I found a small table with several chairs. The windows were not closed but covered with newspaper. I suspected that behind the curtains of the living room those windows received the same treatment. Whatever this place was, it was isolated. From what I could deduce on my own was that I was in a farm house well off the beaten path. How else could she hold someone hostage without raising suspicion? As we stepped into a small hallway, she led me to the bathroom and smiled.
"There you go." She said, "Please feel free to clean yourself up. After all, the bible say, 'And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, ‘go and wash in the Jordan seven times and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean."' I nodded with a curt smile but said nothing as I closed the door.
For my instinct was to lock it but quickly discovered that the lock was gone. The door didn't even latch shut. I swore quietly as I looked around the bathroom for anything that could help me. Unfortunately the bathroom had been stripped bare. There was nothing in the medicine cabinet, nor was there even a mirror. Even the top of the toilet tank was missing so it couldn't be used as a bludgeon. I looked at the shower and pulling he curtain I saw the window was completely bricked up. Black mold covered the ceiling and tile as there was no way for the moisture to escape. I suppose to them security trumped hygiene any day. I realized that there was no way of escaping, at least not in that room. With few options I used the restroom and washed my hands before returning to my captors.
I opened the door to see the giant standing before me. Now clearly illuminated by the bathroom light I could see that there were some obvious deformities. His eyes were uneven and brow downright Cro-Magnon. I suspected he had a myriad of birth defects, but that did not dissuade me of the belief that this man could crush my windpipe like a Dixie cup. Offering my guard a blank stare, he stepped aside to allow me into the kitchen where Mary was busy setting the table. Two of the place settings were ceramic plates that bore a hideous pattern as well as silverware and glasses. In addition to them were a third and fourth setting consisting of paper plates, plastic cutlery and red solo cups. I immediately assumed that one of them was mine.
"Please take a seat." Mary said, motioning towards the table. I forced a smile as I approached but only made it a few steps before the giant's massive hands wrapped around my arm and squeezed. I yelped as I was jerked to one of the disposable place settings. "Merle, be nice." Mary scolded as she stared at us. "I'm sure he knows which spot is his." The giant, Merle, looked at me with an almost vacant stare. I could see the gears turning within his vastly empty head and a moment later he released my arm where a bruise was already forming.
As I took my seat a sandwich was placed in front of me. To be honest it looked delicious. From what I could tell it was a homemade turkey breast sandwich with Swiss cheese, mayo, mustard, lettuce and tomatoes. Next to it was a helping of homemade potato chips, all to be washed away with a cup of lemonade. It was as she was placing the meal on the table that I realized she was placing food for a fourth person.
"Johnathan, dinner." Mary called. I heard a door open and close somewhere in the house and within moments I saw someone enter the kitchen. I was instantly taken aback by this young man’s features. He was thin, his clothes appearing two sizes too large and in spite of his long hair, there were patches missing from his scalp. From what I could tell, flesh appeared to be scarred. The boy turned to me revealing a ruined eye and missing ear. That was not the unsettling part however.
What truly terrified me was his expression of utter horror upon seeing me. Mary noticed this brief hesitation but appeared to think nothing of it. "Johnathan, please say hello to our guest." She said placing a sandwich on the plate. He flinched as she approached but quickly regained his composure.
"H-h-h-h-hello." He said quickly before sitting. I noticed that when he pulled out his seat, on his left hand there were only three fingers. Mary looked at me sharply, the smile fading as she waited for some unspoken rule to be abided.
Thinking quickly I said, "Hi." This brought the smile back.
Taking her seat at that head of the table, Mary folded her hands. "Before we eat, what must we remember?" She asked.
Without missing a beat, Johnathan said, "Grace!" He said with a bit more force than intended. "Grace." He repeated more quietly. Mary laughed politely at his eagerness, but I saw that a sense of pride washed over her.
"Shawn, would you like to say grace?" Mary asked. I froze, terrified of what would happen if I said no. I looked to Johnathan for some guidance but saw that same fear in his eyes. Even the ruined eye appeared to tremble.
"Sure," I said, suspecting that if I declined then something terrible would happen. "That would be fine. Great." We all folded our hands and bowed, though Johnathan and I did so in faux reverence. With a deep breath I tried to devise the best prayer I could think of that wouldn't result in the whip again. "Dear Jesus . . . and God . . . Thank you for this meal. . . that you have provided for us. Thank you for putting a roof over us and keeping us . . . safe. Thank you . . . Amen." There was a labored pause as Mary considered the prayer. Would it be worthy of her God or would this require correction? Fortunately, she smiled as she lowered her hands.
"That was a lovely prayer." Mary said. Merle clapped, his enormous hands moving with clumsy swings. I glanced over at Johnathan who appeared quite relieved. I guess I had passed the test. One of many no doubt. It was as I reached for my lemonade there was a sudden gasp from not one person but several. I froze mid movement and looked to Johnathan whose jaw had gone slack. I could not tell why, but his hands trembled. My gaze shifted from him to Mary who stared at me wide-eyed. "Are you . . . left handed?" She asked. I paused staring at my left hand as it floated above the table. For my entire life I struggled with being left handed in a right handed world.
"Um, yes?" I said more as a question than statement. Barely a second passed before I felt a sudden pain against the side of my face. Stars exploded in my left eye as I toppled to the floor. Before I could climb to my feet, I felt a sudden weight was on my chest. Merle was sitting atop me. With his massive hand, he grabbed my wrists, pinning me to the floor. He said nothing during all of this, just offered a crooked smile.
"Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, 'Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devils and his angels.’" I heard Mary say as she appeared next to Merle hold a pair of bone shears. "My poor Shawn, you mustn't use that foul hand. Only God will save the sheep on his right hand. I do this for your salvation."
I remember screaming before she even touched me, I'm not sure what I said but I know that it was vile and spiteful. I think I cursed her mother, her father, her dog, everyone. I think Johnathan was speaking on my behalf but she would not be stopped from her mission. I passed out shortly after but the only thing I can recall with any clarity was the pain as she took those bone shears and severed my left pinky.
I woke up in my room in the root cellar. I was wrapped in a thin blanket, shaking from the cold. The light breeze kissed my skin and I pulled myself into a tight ball to get warmer. As I did so I felt resistance in my left foot and realized that while my hands were free, my foot it was bound by a tether. I peered around the room and noticed that the bedframe was gone. All I had left was the lumpy mattress. As I became more aware of my surroundings I slowly brought my hand to my face. The crack from under the door provided enough ambient light that I could see my four remaining digits. Thick white gauze was wrapped around the space were my pinky once was.
I was awake for what I can only assume was several hours before I was greeted by Johnathan holding a tray. He approached me cautiously, I guess in case I chose to attack him. I didn’t. Instead I just lay on the mattress, terrified and hungry.
"Hello." Johnathan managed, "I have food for you. And some clean bandages."
"I'm not hungry." I said, but my growling stomach betrayed my bluff. Johnathan frowned.
"Please eat, you need your strength." He said. Without invitation he stepped into the room and balancing the tray with one hand, he used the other to flick on a switch. A pale bulb sprang to life, casting a cold light upon me. The room was in fact a root cellar that was converted to a living space. In addition to the bed, nearby was a bucket with a roll of toilet paper next to it as well as a spigot. To my right was the source of the breeze. Someone had installed a fireplace. No light shined through it which meant that the flue was closed, but not sealed, hence the breeze. It didn’t matter though. It was small, far too narrow for me to fit through. Moving my gaze from the fireplace I saw that the tether was anchored to the wall. It was then that I noticed my ankle was bandaged but unsure as to why.
He placed the tray on a table outside of the room and brought me a paper plate with a sandwich along with a solo cup full of water and a carrot sticks. Without a word he placed the food on the floor beside me. I looked down at it, my mouth involuntarily watering but I made no effort to eat. Swallowing back a mouthful of saliva I followed Johnathan with my eyes again as he stepped out of the room once more before returning with medical supplies. He stood for a moment working the cap of a white bottle. Kneeling, he placed four white pills on the plate next to my sandwich.
"Here this is for the pain." He said.
"What pain?" I asked. He grimaced.
"For… the pain." He replied. "It was only a local anesthetic. It will wear off soon and when it does . . . it'll hurt." My eyes fell to his hand where only three digits remained. He noticed my gaze and brought his own ruined appendage up. He flexed the three remaining fingers: thumb, fore, and middle. "She takes a finger every time you use your left hand as your main one. It took me two tries to remember. Hopefully you are a faster learner than me."
"Why so many pills?" I asked, staring at my hand. Johnathan cleared his throat nervously.
"One is for the pain. I am to bring you one every four hours." He said almost repeating a given order verbatim. Switching back to a more casual tone, he added, "The others . . . the others you should save."
"Why?" I asked.
"In case you can't take this place anymore." He said. Our eyes met and I understood. There was always an alternative to living. You just needed a way. He was giving it to me—one dose at a time.
"Won't she notice that the pills are missing?" I asked.
Shaking his head, Johnathan said, "She has a lot bottles of these. She's a nurse not far from here. She spends her mornings working there. That's how she was able to treat your injuries." I nodded but what he said made me pause. Something didn't quite connect. As far as I knew I had only one injury that needed treatment. The whipping hurt but didn’t require treatment.
"What do you mean injuries?" I asked. Johnathan shied away slightly, perhaps making more room between us in case I didn't like what he said. He pointed at my foot with his ruined hand and sighed.
"They were afraid you might try to escape while they were gone so they made sure you couldn't get far." He said. An icy fear stabbed in my heart as I stared at my foot. The foot was still intact, I could wiggle my toes but I couldn't move my heel. A terrible realization struck me as tears spilled from my eyes. Mary had severed my Achilles tendon.
I lay on the floor staring at the three remaining pills. I had eaten my food, my hunger getting the best of me, but mostly because I needed something in my stomach. I had to dull the creeping pain from my ankle and hand and it was best to take meds after eating. Johnathan stayed with me while I ate and helped to remind me to use my right hand. I took some effort, but I managed. He told me what he could about where we were but given his alabaster complexion, he had not seen the sun in a long time.
The first question I asked was why he was still even here. Clearly, he was able to move around the house so why stay? The answer was simple. He couldn't leave. It wasn't the he suffered from Stockholm syndrome or that he depended on them for one reason or another. No it was much simpler than that. He literally couldn't leave. The windows were not just covered with paper, they were bricked up. There was only one door and it was locked from the outside. Early on, he had tried breaking it down several times but it was just too solid. There was more than just a deadbolt. It was barricaded.
I asked about weapons or anything that wasn’t plastic. The answer again was simple. Anything that had a sharp point was locked away. The doors to the cabinets and closets were locked in some fashion, via pad lock or chain. Johnathan was slight, probably only weighing 100 pounds at most. He wouldn't have any strength to break the locks. I, on the other hand, weighed around 160 pounds. I wasn't a weight lifter but I was strong and could probably get through a lock if I tried hard enough. That was no doubt why they hobbled me. Johnathan could have let me out but I couldn't do much limping around on one foot.
The final question I asked was how long he had been here. His answer was probably the least comforting one yet. Johnathan, whose real name was actually Aaron, has been living in Mary's home for almost four years. In fact he turned sixteen just last week. He was taken after wandering running away from his parent’s farm after being beaten by his father for the millionth time. His punishment from Mary stemmed from, “Honor thy father and mother” and it went downhill from there.
After that bit of information, he took my plate and left me to my thoughts, locking the door behind me. It was no wonder why he was giving me the pills. It might be better to OD than live in constant fear and torment. I spent the rest of morning lying on the mattress contemplating my life and wondering if I could really end it.
Mary returned that evening with Merle in tow. They came in together, I suppose in case I tried something, but they kept close to the door. The rope allowed me to move around the room so I could use the bucket and wash myself but stopped almost six feet from the door. Mary was wearing a modest dress, her make up minimal. Merle's face and overalls were covered with dirt. Whatever he did outside of the home, was messy work. The pills that Johnathan gave me were hidden within a torn seam in the mattress. The last thing I wanted was them to find contraband and I certainly didn't want to know what they removed for that.
"Good evening, Shawn." Mary said sweetly. My anger flared but I refused to move and give her any satisfaction. "How was your day?" Again I said nothing and I stared at her. "Oh dear. I don't think God would appreciate such obstinacy.” She looked to Merle who offered her that same crooked smile. He stepped into the room and instantly I scrambled away toward the drafty fireplace.
Merle didn’t lash out at me though. Instead he stopped at the bed and reached down to grab the blanket. Without a word, he turned and skulked out of the room. I looked at Mary who was absolutely pleased with herself. "Do not be deceived. Bad company ruins good morals." She said. "You may have that back when you are a better behaved."
Mary smiled as she closed the door. Climbing back onto the mattress I tried to find solace in sleep but without even that small blanket I could not stave off the cold. I spent the next evening awake and miserable. I must have passed out off and on throughout the night but I found no rest. If I dreamt I couldn’t remember anything concrete. The only thing I think I may have dreamt was simply the notion of waiting; of biding my time.
For the next two days I lived like this. During the morning Johnathan came in like clockwork. Everyone four hours, he would bring me a cup of milk, a slice of bread, and more pills. The pill I took managed to reduce the pain but even with the medication it was starting to break through. I asked him about it and whether or not I should take more than one but he said no. The pills were strong and taking too many could lead to breathing problems and cardiac arrest. Besides I needed to keep my stash, just in case. Instead, he told me to just be patient and the pain would pass. It would only be a matter of time.
Time. The word tore at me as I thought about Carlos and my daughter. I wondered if she had already been born. Would they know I was gone and had not simply run away? Were the cops looking for me? Was anyone looking for me? I wept once more, the feeling of hopelessness sinking further into me as I slowly came to the conclusion that I would die in that room.
The following day I was brought up to the living room. According to the watch on Mary's wrist it was 5 A.M. Merle and Johnathan were kneeling in front of the fireplace, hands folded. Rosaries dangled from the laced fingers as they silently prayed. I wasn't sure if Merle even knew what he was saying or just pretended. Johnathan's lips moved as he spoke silent words. Mary looked down at me as I kneeled in front of her as she dangled the rosary I front of me, waiting for me to take it. I had the slightest urge to grab it and throw it into the fire, but Merle would have been on me in seconds. Reluctantly, I took it.
"Now, do you know the prayers for the rosary?" She asked. I considered lying but the whip she held in her other hand stayed my tongue.
"No." I said. She frowned, looking utterly disappointed.
"Oh that is such a shame." She said. "Well, I guess I will just have to educate you."
For the next ten minutes she explained the rosary and how to use it, what prayers to say at what time and how many times to say them. Mary was 'kind' enough to teach me the prayers but only once. She promised that as long as I prayed with total reverence, God would spare the whip. The problem however was that I couldn't remember everything she taught me since she said it only once and I had to pray aloud, so each time I made a mistake, I was whipped.
To say that I was brutalized would feel like an understatement. I barely made it through the first prayer when I was struck on the back and it simply went downhill from there. She made sure not to hit the same place twice in a row so that I never became numb to the pain. This was done with a practiced hand and my ‘lesson’ went on for over two hours. She wanted to ensure that I learned and remembered so that the next time God would not have to punish me. Perhaps the absolute worse part of that entire situation was that after each strike she made me thank God for his patience. If I didn't say it, she would strike me harder. If I still refused, Merle took the whip. Mary had a way of hitting me that caused pain but only formed welts. Merle actively ripped my skin. After we were done, Johnathan spent the morning tending to my injuries. I had to take to lying on my side or stomach while I was in my room.
The next four days were just a repeat of the days before. Johnathan would bring me my medication, one for me and three for my mattress, and then help me upstairs for prayer. I would pray, getting whipped for any mistakes, of which there were many, and then be taken back downstairs until Johnathan brought me my meal and another dose. Mary made it clear during one of her visits that I was confined to that room so that I could reflect on wicked ways. Once I realized that only through Christ I would see the light, then I would be set free. Until then I was a Godless abomination who she was trying to save.
Mary gave me enough food to stave my hunger but never more than that. I could drink water from the spigot but that was it. My bucket was emptied once a day by Merle who took little care at not spilling the contents. It didn’t take long for before my room smelled like stale piss and shit but I quickly accommodated to it. After all I spent over twenty hours a day in there.
I barely slept, finding only a couple of hours a day if I was lucky. I didn’t dream much and when I did I couldn’t remember anything. The only thing I could though was still that notion of waiting. I can’t explain how I knew this but I was certain my dreams involved waiting. And of course I did. I didn’t have much of a choice.
To stave off boredom I thought about TV shows I liked, movies, books, online videos, anything to stimulate my mind, but mostly I thought of Carlos and our daughter Aurora. I replayed old memories and constructed new ones even though I knew they weren’t real. Through most of the day I heard nothing, but after Mary and Merle got home, they turned on the radio and listened to some bible thumping evangelist or sang hymns and songs. I couldn't hear Merle but I knew he was up there swaying alongside her like a mute idiot. Johnathan's voice could be heard and I knew he was just doing what he had to in order to survive.
On the sixth day, Mary came down to check on me and asked me if I have accepted Jesus as my lord and savior. In one hand was the whip. In the other was a thick wool blanket. I was freezing, the temperature dropping lower with each night. I wanted to say yes, to say anything to ease the pain and regain my lost warmth but I didn't. I couldn't. I said nothing, turning away from her. This elicited several painful lashes and no meal that night which also meant no pain killers. It was the first night I felt true pain from my missing finger and severed tendon. Though I never really slept much that night was the first time I was awake until the time Johnathan collected me for daily prayer.
That session was perhaps the worst for me. Completely uncommunicative and willfully stubborn, I refused to participate. I was whipped by Mary and beaten by Merle. Foregoing any formalities of tools, he used his God given gift of strength and beat me with fist and foot. He stomped on my good hand as well as my bad one, striking anywhere he could. All the while Johnathan prayed his rosary to keep the attention off him. After that Merle had to carry me to my room and I was left there all day to consider my sins. Johnathan appeared several hours later to patch up my injuries but he brought no food or pain medication. Again I would have to endure the pain.
The next morning Johnathan brought me a sandwich. It was plain, just a single slice of thin turkey and that was it. When he arrived I noticed him wince when he moved. I asked him what happened and he simply said it was nothing before placing my food down in front of me. Normally, he would linger and talk but instead he simply turned and left me to my meal. That was when I noticed the strip of red staining the back of his shirt.
"John!" I called out. He paused but didn't turn.
"I asked them to give you more food." It was all he said before closing the door and locking it. That meal I ate slowly, deliberately. I wanted to savor it because I wanted Johnathan's pain to mean something.
Later that day Mary came to visit me holding a blanket and the whip. She asked me the same question about whether or not I accepted Jesus Christ as my lord and savior. I said no and was whipped seven more times. As she delivered my punishment she said that she did not enjoy causing me pain. This was merely God's test for her and punishment for me. Once again I was left without food that day.
One day I woke up with a sore throat and cough which was evidence that I was getting sick. It wasn't a surprise since I was barely sleeping, food was minimal and I had no blanket to keep warm. Johnathan confirmed my suspicions when he took my temperature the following day and it was almost 100 degrees. Later that evening when he brought me my sandwich the front of his shirt was strained red from a recent injury on his chest.
"I tried to bring you cold medicine." Johnathan said. "Mother Mary said that it was up to God to heal you."
God didn't heal me, rather the outside temperature rose dramatically and my recent recitations of the rosary went surprisingly well and so I was almost entire spared with the whip. I managed to get actual rest, no dreams though, and eventually my fever broke and all I was left with was a lingering cough. My blanket was returned to me the following day. Mary told me she saw my healing as a miracle and proof that I was accepting the love of God and Jesus. The blanket smelled like horse shit, but I didn't care. I had my blanket back so it was a mild victory for me.
The cycle replayed itself for almost a week after that. I woke up at dawn, prayed with moderate success, taken downstairs to be given my lunch and then dinner. Then repeat the cycle the following day. Johnathan would linger with me while I ate asking me what the current events were before I was taken. I told him as much as I could but quickly realized the longer I stayed there, the less relevant the information would be. I tried to learn more about him but he simply shrugged and said he couldn’t remember. This may be a lie but also it may not be. It was possible he had repressed the memories of his previous life since he thought it was unlikely he’d ever leave. Why dwell on something if you were never going to have it back?
Then one night I had a dream. It was the first dream I had since my captivity and after I awoke it not only lingered in my memory, but was filed away. I was at the dinner table with Mary, Merle, and Johnathan. We were eating dinner: chicken and mashed potatoes. We had finished praying and were about to eat when I reached out with my right hand and noticed a white powder all over it. I tried to brush it away but with each swipe, more and more came floating off. It wasn't dried skin or dust. Instead it was powdery. I looked up hoping to find answers from those around me and gasped when I saw that Merle and Mary were face down in their food. I looked to Johnathan who simply rose to his feet and walked over to the counter where he grabbed the butcher's knife that lay on the cutting board. I then watched as he proceeded to stab Mary and Merle over and over again. Blood sprayed all over him but he didn’t stop, wouldn’t stop, couldn’t. When I woke up from that dream, I felt relaxed for the first time since I was taken.
It was two days later when things took a sudden downward spiral. As Johnathan brought me my lunch, Mary came stomping down the stairs with Merle in tow. We were both taken by complete surprise since we didn't expect them for hours. The normal smile that Mary always bore during her visits was gone. She still wore her hospital scrubs and it occurred to me that this was the first time I had seen her in normal modern clothes. She always dressed like an Amish woman, never exposing unnecessary skin. In the doorway stared at us with such hatred and rage. Then raising her clutched hand I saw a bible, but it was mutilated as if some feral dog had gotten ahold of it.
"Do you see what this is?" She said evenly, before screaming, "Do you?!" We both jumped. The even tempered psychopath was showing her true colors now. I looked to Johnathan who was even paler than usual. Her attention was solely on him, knowing that he was the only one not under lock and key. "Merle found it this morning in the garbage. The garbage!" Johnathan jumped again, backing up against the wall. I managed to climb to my feet. I had gotten pretty good at standing on one foot and doing a walk/jump maneuver to get around. Merle stepped into the room, approaching with that same ghoulish grin he always wore when violence was imminent.
"I. . ." Johnathan stammered. Mary's face contorted into a twisted mask of hate, something that would have been suitable for Halloween.
"You will be punished!" She screamed, but before she could do anything I spoke up.
"It was me!" With that, the room fell dead silent. Mary slowly cocked her head at me. Her eyes were wide, the whites exposed. Spittle dribbled from her lips as the rage overwhelmed her.
"What?" She asked, voice low, but laced with malice. I swallowed hard knowing that I just put my head into the lion's mouth.
"It was me." I repeated. "I convinced John to let me wander around the house and that's when I saw the bible and I destroyed it. That's what happened." I spoke with even tones, but my fear was at all-time high. My punishment would be severe and the aftermath long and grueling. But I could not let Johnathan take the brunt of her rage. I was weak but I could endure it.
"By the will of God, you will be punished!"
And that was where this story started. The red hot pokers were applied to my skin over and over again. There was no rhyme or reason to it. I knew that Merle delighted in my pain. In fact I was certain that when he was done I saw a wet stain form on his own crotch. I truly believe that he tortured me to climax. Whether Mary thought she was doing God's work or not it didn’t matter. I was beaten, whipped, burnt and left to wallow in misery while the fire that was stoked for my punishment extinguished. I had burns on my legs, arms, chest and back. Even my genitals were not spared from the fire, the poker applied to the shaft and scrotum more than once.
The air was getting cold again, my blanket and clothes taken from me, leaving me with literally nothing. I lay naked on the mattress, unable to move, unable to find any comfort from the pain. I shivered and ached and for the first time I actually welcomed death. The thought of taking the dozens of pills that Johnathan had brought me flashed through my mind more than once. To finally be free from the pain and torment would have been a true relief, but as that thought came so did the one of Carlos and Aurora. I couldn't abandon them. I knew I had to keep fighting. I just didn't know how long I could last. I lay in a pained heap on the mattress and cried. Through bitter irony, I prayed that someone save me. For the first time in weeks, in spite of my forced prayers, I truly prayed with my heart and soul for salvation. Whether it was through divine intervention or plain exhaustion, I passed out, not waking until morning.
Before my visit by Mary to do our normal prayers, I had another dream. Like before this one was vivid and did not fade after I woke. In the dream it was just me and Johnathan. We were sitting at the kitchen table. I was naked, my body marred by scars and welts. Though I knew they should hurt, I felt nothing. On the table was the mound of pills that Johnathan had given to me whenever he could. He cocked his head curiously at me as I grabbed a handful of the pills. Cupping them in one hand, I covered it with my other one. A moment later, I removed my hand and the solid tablets were now a mass of white powder. And that was when Johnathan and I both smiled.
Mary came to get me for our prayers, Merle with her, staring down at me with utter delight. I carefully rolled over, every fiber in my body screaming in pain. In the light from the other room, I saw my body was a canvas of blue and purple, my burns bleeding and seeping with various fluids. I moved slowly, Mary surprisingly patient. That same placid smile was once more on her face as if she had completely forgotten about the events of the previous day. She was waited as I hissed and moaned, at times screaming, as I rose to my feet. I was cold, but she did not grant me my clothes. She simply motioned for me to lead the way. I limped along, using anything I could grab for support. Hopping on one foot, I made it up the stairs and into the living room where Johnathan was already busy at work praying.
I knelt down, breaking open several scabs and screaming in pain. Mary ignored my pleas and as I looked up at her, I saw her stare at me with whip in hand. Merle was eager for my session to start. I saw a massive bulge in his pants as excitement gripped him. Turning away, I closed my eyes and only focused on the prayers. Typically I would simply recite the prayers as best I could remember, taking any punishment for my missteps, but that time it was different. With each prayer, the words rolled off my tongue as if spoken by another. My lips recited one word while my heart and soul said another. I asked whatever god was looking down upon me, whether it was the One God or Shiva, Buddha, anyone that may be listening to help me. Johnathan and I were prisoners and we needed salvation. I prayed for relief, for freedom from the nightmare I was trapped in.
There was no salvation, but also no pain. Aside from the existing injuries, my recitation of the rosary was perfect. When I opened my eyes I looked to Mary who was absolutely beaming with pride. Merle's erection had gone limp, no doubt after realizing there would be no whipping that day. My eyes drifted from Merle and Mary to Johnathan who looked utterly relieved. I'm sure, like me, there was a knot of worry in the pit of his stomach. I suppose that the constant recitations had allowed me to memorize the words, though in truth I didn't quite remember saying them at all.
Shortly after Mary decided that evening, I would be allowed to sit at the table and we would have dinner as a family. Johnathan took me downstairs, while Merle and Mary readied for work. Some of my burns were bleeding and oozing green liquid that I later learned was seepage. He spent a great deal of time disinfecting my injuries, giving me much needed antibiotics but no pain killers. When I asked about them, he grimaced and said that Mary thought that the pain was necessary in my learning and disallowed further use. I sighed but knew that I could at least dig into my stash since I had some to spare and after I had some real food in my stomach I would be able to take some.
After treating the injuries to my back, I passed out from the sheer exhaustion. When I awoke several hours later I found my entire body patched up, every burn and laceration covered with bandage and gauze. I resembled a mummy; staggering limp et al. The pain from the burns continued to sting and as I moved my aching muscles flared to life. I carefully rolled over to the side of my mattress that had my stash of pills and reached inside to make sure they were still there. However as my fingers explored the opening, they touched nothing by metal and fabric. Realization came slowly, but with it came a feeling of panic and I began to search more frantically. Yet, after shoving my entire hand into the opening there was nothing to find. My pills were gone.
I sat at the kitchen table, wrapped in a blanket. I was yet to receive a new set of clothes but Mary didn't want me sitting at the table completely nude so she allowed me that. I suppose it was because she was so happy that I was finally accepting Jesus into my life. I didn't argue. I was bandaged and warm so I wanted to milk that for as long as I could.
Johnathan was allowed to assist in making dinner, since she was at work for much of the day. She wanted to make this a very special meal because of my steps toward total conversion so she tasked him with preparing the food while she and Merle worked. Chicken, mashed potatoes and lemonade.
Mary, Merle and I sat at the table while Johnathan served. Placing the plates before us, my stomach rumbled loud enough for everyone so hear. I didn't bother shying away from this. They knew I was starving so there was no reason to hide it. Placing the plate in front of me, Johnathan looked at me and for the briefest of moments he smiled. Now I had seen him smile before but it was either pained or forced but this one appeared so genuine that for an instant I thought I was dreaming.
Johnathan then started pouring the lemonade, placing glasses in front of Merle and Mary. However when he placed mine in front of me, his fingers slipped and the entire contents of my cup poured all over my plate ruining my meal. Johnathan stepped back immediately apologizing for his error. For a moment he froze, no doubt fearful of rebuke, but Mary simply looked disappointed.
"Oh dear, and I think that was the last of our meal." She said, looking back at the stove.
"Shawn I am so, so sorry." He said. I sighed, shaking my head.
"It's okay." I told him, though disappointed.
"Please take mine. I'll just make a sandwich. Okay?" Johnathan said. I nodded and thanked him. Grabbing the plate he lifted it but nervous hands caused it to tumble to the floor. "Oh dear Lord, I am so sorry." He shouted. He looked to Mary who almost appeared amused by the entire display. I assumed she was getting some sick satisfaction from this, since now she and her brother would be the only ones to relish this meal. Mary granted him permission to make us a fresh meal but first we had to pray. Sitting at his table, hands clasped, Mary started.
"Dear Lord, thank you for accepting us into your good graces. I thank you for all of your kindness and guidance. Thank you for bestowing your blessings onto our lost sheep who is finally finding his way to your light. I thank you and pray to you. Amen." With that, Merle and Mary started their meal. "So I was thinking that maybe we should start thinking of a new name for you Shawn." She said, taking a big bite of her mashed potatoes. Washing it down with the lemonade, she continued, "I mean after we baptize you, it would be fitting. Do you have any good names in mind?" She took another bite, this time of the chicken. Merle was shoveling his food by the forkful. I watched him and he looked at me, his eyes alight with joy.
"Not really." I said. Mary and Merle were halfway through their meals before Johnathan even finished preparing our sandwiches. I wouldn't have minded so much if I could have at least had some lemonade.
I looked down at my ruined plate. I pushed the plate away and I sighed knowing that my sandwich would be just that: a sandwich. I glanced down at my now empty space and noticed something strange. On my fingers I saw fine white powder where they touched the plate. I looked up at Mary and Merle paused. Mary's eyes were hanging low and her breathing appeared labored. Glancing over to Merle I saw his breathing appeared fine but his head kept bobbing up and down as he struggled to stay awake. My gaze drifted to Johnathan who no longer appeared to be preparing our meal; rather he was watching them.
"Oh dear," Mary said, "I guess I'm . . . I'm more . . . more tired . . . than . . . I… I..." She struggled to speak but with each word her speech grew more slurred. Chest heaving, I heard a distant wheeze in her breath as if someone were choking her. Though breathing hard little air seemed to enter her lungs.
On average it takes about thirty minutes for a caplet to breakdown in the stomach. However when a pill is crushed, it can be absorbed far more quickly into the bloodstream. Seeing the dust and the unusual behaviors from the three around me, I quickly realized what had happened and where my stash of pills went.
Mary struggled to her feet, but quickly lost her footing as she fell to the floor, clutching her chest. Merle passed out almost instantly, his face slamming into his almost empty plate. If not for the situation it would have been comical, but I knew there was no humor in what I witnessed. I looked up from my fallen captors to see Johnathan standing over Mary, his good eye locked on her. That single eye bore such hatred; a feeling that I understood so easily now.
"Jo. . . John . . . John . . ." Mary stammered, but the word was cut short but deep gasps for air. Johnathan pulled the knife from the counter, his fingers wrapped tightly around the handle.
"My name," Johnathan said; teeth bared in a vicious sneer, "is Aaron." And with that he brought down the knife. I heard Mary gasp but after that all I heard was the wet sound of a blade rending flesh. Johnathan, to now be referred to by Aaron, stabbed her over and over. Each time he pulled out the blade, blood was cast upward spattering against the walls, the floor, even the ceiling. His expression was a culmination of hatred, rage, joy, relief. Aaron had suffered under her tyranny for years, when I only endured weeks. He was blinded, mutilated, and tortured. I never bothered to ask what kept him going each day, because it wasn't any of my business. Perhaps it was just the hope that one day he could do what he did now: kill her. After all, vengeance was a powerful motivator.
Eventually Aaron stopped, his face, hands and clothes now a dark crimson, but his work wasn’t done. Taking only a moment to collect himself, he moved his attention to the slumbering giant. Aaron breathed deeply, clearly out of breath, but his hand steady. Merle was asleep, but still breathing. It seemed his medication was having a different effect. Perhaps because of his size the medication simply knocked him out. This did not deter Aaron however Merle would be punished but in a different way. Death would have been too kind, too fast for the monster. First slicing the tendon on his left foot, Aaron took the knife and gutted Merle. He cut shallowly so as not too simply to open the skin but instead allow gravity and biology to do their work when he tried to move. It wouldn’t take much for everything to come spilling out. Merle uttered a slight moan as the blade sliced the flesh but he didn't stir any further. With his work done, Aaron tossed the knife away and walked over to me. I wasn’t afraid or horrified. If anything, I was relieved.
Then as he looked at me, a smile broke across his blood splattered face, he asked. "You ready to get out of here?" I only smiled.
Supporting me, we walked to the living room where Aaron told me to wait as he went to retrieve the keys from Mary's room. Leaning against the wall I watched him disappear only to reappear moments later with a large key ring in hand. Neither of us certain which key was to the deadbolt, so Aaron went about the task of trying each key.
As he did so I could not help but let my mind wander and think about what occurred only moments before. I was stunned by the similarity of my dream versus what happened in the waking world. Though not exact, the similarities were staggering. Clutching my blanket, struggling to stay warm, I said, "Hey, J . . . I mean Aaron, how did you know I hid my pills in the mattress?" I asked. "There were a number of places I could have had them, if I even kept them at all." Aaron continued his task, paying the question little consideration.
"To be honest, I had a dream." He said. "I saw you put them in your mattress and then I had another one of you telling me to crush the pills into powder. After that I came up with the idea of putting it into the food when she said I could make dinner." I simply nodded as I let him focus on the lock.
Several minutes later, the door was open and we were granted our much anticipated freedom. It was cold, the sun having set long ago but the fresh air felt amazing in our lungs and the kiss of the north wind was incredible. Though I had nothing but a thin blanket, I didn't care. With so many different emotions flooding through me the cold was merely an idea that could be ignored.
Taking the station wagon, we spent the next several hours trying to get our bearings before finally finding a gas station just before dawn. From there we promptly called the police and an hour later, we were being interviewed by the local sheriff and treated by EMTs. An hour after that I was being wheeled into the hospital to be treated for a myriad of conditions. Aaron stayed by my side, answering questions where he could and stating what medication I had been given and how my injuries were treated. Eventually they took him to be examined since he was severely underweight and had two missing digits, a missing ear and a ruined eye. Fortunately they were able to honor our request to be roomed together while we were being treated. I don’t think Aaron would have done well on his own. I think he needed me and frankly I needed him.
Carlos showed up around nine that evening, the Sheriff finally reaching him. Never had I been so happy in my life. The moment he stepped in I knew everything would be okay. The love of my life looked absolutely beautiful despite the red, raw eyes and contorted weeping face. Carlos practically climbed into bed with me but was careful not to further injure me but I assured him that the medication the doctors were giving me were terrific. He laughed but once more broke down in relieved sobs.
I had been missing for almost two months. My work truck was found abandoned on the road as was my busted cell phone. From what Aaron told the police, Mary, whose real name was Abigail Martin, routinely kidnapped people and held them prisoner. Only Aaron was the only one to survive her vetting process. Those that didn’t were dropped off along the side of the road or buried in the backyard by Merle. From what Aaron had told them, there had been at least ten others that year before my arrival. None of them survived. When they asked how he managed to endure his imprisonment for so long, he simply said that he was told in a dream to wait and God would provide.
Since we couldn't remember the address of the farm house, the police managed to locate the house using the station wagon's registration. From what I was told there was a lot of blood in the house when they arrived. Mary was still in the kitchen, but Merle was gone. There was a great deal of his blood and it led out the front door but after that they lost track of him. He was just gone. Even though he was missing, I was certain that he didn’t get far and it was just a matter of time before finding his body.
It’s now been three months since my imprisonment. My body has healed mostly but I have over three dozen scars that I try to hide underneath long sleeves and pants. The injuries to my genitals were superficial so aside from scar tissue, there shouldn’t be any major damage. It appeared that Aaron did a good job at treating the injuries. The bruises have faded but I lost partial function to my right foot. I walk with a limp and I can’t run but I can at least stand without having too much trouble. It took some time learning how to use my left hand again without my pinky but it wasn't too bad. Typing is a bit more difficult but each day I am getting better. I had lost a surprising amount of weight and muscle but it's finally getting back up to what it was before. I lost my job because I couldn't work in the condition I was left in after my ordeal but I quickly found another one working as a counselor at a hospital. Apparently, Aaron and I had become fairly famous since the news story broke. They somehow heard I had lost my job and were very interested in hiring me. I guess they decided that I had some pretty good coping skills that I could share with those who endured other such tragedies.
Aaron works with me and is doing well. He tried tracking down his parents but learned that both were killed in a tornado several years back. With no other family, he was mandated a child of the state but given our history, they essentially allowed me and Carlos to be his foster parent. He wears an eyepatch most days and though still severely underweight he is getting better. He is becoming more open and outgoing, especially good at reaching out to those who are just as shy as was, specifically those terrified to speak for fear of retribution. When not at work, Aaron lives with Carlos, me and our baby. He's become more than just a friend but a member of our family. There is a bond between him and I that can never be broken. We would do anything to protect one another and try and help as many people as we could. And so I think that was why he told what he did.
You see it was a few days ago that I heard something interesting at work. Carlos had stopped by to have lunch with me and while were in the cafeteria Aaron came up to us with a newspaper in hand. He said nothing as he set it in front of me. I didn’t think anything of it since he was constantly reading, trying to get caught up with all of the things he missed out on during his captivity. It was as I was reading the front page that I noticed what he wanted me to see. Apparently, a body was found alongside highway 70. The fourth in the past two months. From what the reporter could learn the body showed extreme signs of dehydration, starvation and torture which consisted of lacerations, burns, broken bones and even sodomy. After I read the article, Aaron simply left me to my lunch, saying that we would talk later.
If just the article I would say it was a coincidence, but I know it isn’t. You see last night I had a dream. I dreamt that Merle was still alive and well with a large scar across his abdomen and a noticeable limp. In the dream he was brutally torturing a young woman. There was no pretense for it, no reason except that it was just for fun. I’ve said nothing to Carlos about any of this, at least for the time being. I need to be sure. Aaron is at the hospital right now and I won’t be able to talk to him face to face until later. Aurora was sick so I stayed home while Carlos went to work. Ever since I’ve been thinking about that dream and around noon I texted Aaron saying that I needed to talk to him. A minute later he returned with: You had a dream didn’t you?
I haven’t responded yet because I know what he is going to say and what he will want to do. And to be honest, I want to do it too. You see the dream wasn’t just about Merle and the girl. I was there too standing in the shadows of that room with Aaron. We were there armed with very sharp knives and wore very wide smiles.