He was seated in the recliner that almost fit into his living room. Almost, but not quite. He didn't make a lot of money. So, he could barely afford the modest three bedroom double wide that housed him, his wife, their two year old son, and his ailing mother. To the outside world, he looked like every other blue collar American that had fallen on hard times. He worked hard for little money. Not enough money, if you really wanted to discuss it. Diapers were expensive and so was healthcare. Inside those walls made of cheap particle board, housed a man that held a horrible secret. A secret that he'd reluctantly shared with his wife many years ago and his frail mother had known about since its inception. A secret that held them all together within a prison of pain and whispers. Of looks and unanswered questions. Of fear. A prison that caused the two women of his life to resent him with almost the same velocity of hatred that she held for him.
She didn't drive to his house. Driving would've brought her to her destination too soon. She was in no hurry to achieve her goal. So, instead, she walked the quarter of a mile to his home. She knew the route well. After all, they both lived in the same neighborhood lined with older modeled double wides. The neighborhood had been erected as an alternative to the pricier stick built homes. Now, some twenty years later, it was a playground for migrant workers and single income families such as her own. As she walked down the street, looking at each double wide as she passed, the only noise that kept her company was the occasional bark of a wayward dog. It seemed to her that the night creatures were in touch with her rage. They seemed to keep silent out of respect for the fury that swelled within her. She pictured them frozen in silence, perched on the limbs of the various trees that lined her neighborhood, watching her in anticipation of her next move. Her brown hair, long and untamed, laid limp around her shoulders. Perspiration dripped down her forehead, stinging her eyes. It was cold outside. Her breath created mist in the night air. Her rage kept her warm.
His house was quiet. Everyone had succumbed to the sweet seduction of Mr. Sandman's charms but him. He rested in his recliner listening to the weatherman tell him stuff he already knew. That it had been cold today. And that it would be cold tomorrow. He scratched his barely-there belly and stretched. He loved his recliner. It was his most favorite place in the world. The place where all his cares and nasty little secrets melted away into the fabric and cushion. He closed his eyes, and for a brief moment in his troubled forty-two years on earth, he thought life might just turn out ok.
Killing a human being is never easy. Television makes it look like all it takes is a flick of a blade across the throat and it's goodbye forever. But, it's rarely that easy. She stood over his wife as she lay sleeping. He was none the wiser to her presence as he sat in the living room. Across the hall from where his wife rested lay his mother. Her death had been a silent one. She'd covered the old woman's face with a pillow and then pressed down with all her weight until the woman had stopped struggling. And even now, as she watched the mother of his child nestle deeper into the soft pillow, dreaming happy dreams, she wasn't entirely sure that the old woman was dead. She made a mental note to double check her status after she put the wife out of her misery.
He heard a thump coming from his bedroom. His wife was such a restless sleeper. The thought that it could be anything other than her tossing and turning never crossed his mind. And when he saw the woman out of the corner of his eye, standing there covered in blood, it took him a moment to register what was what. His brain had trouble adding two and two together. He had a hard time connecting the thump he'd heard just seconds before to the woman standing in his living room. He was speechless.
But, she wasn't.
"I'm scared of the dark," she said quietly. "I'm a grown woman scared of the dark. What do you have to say about that?"
"Nothing," he whispered. "Is my wife dead?"
"Yes," she replied. "And so is your mother."
"My boy?" He swallowed hard against the thick lump that formed in his throat. Tears swelled in his eyes. He didn't even try to hold back as he began to sob.
He recognized this woman. This girl. Her hair was long as it had been that night....
twenty-some years earlier. She was a few pounds heavier. A few inches taller maybe. But, it was her. The only real difference between her now and her then was the look on her face. Decades ago she wore the look of fear. Of defeat. Now, rage masked her features. It dotted her cheeks with a crimson red.
She wore the look well.
"He's alive." She informed him. "I didn't go in his room."
"How did you get into my house?" He asked already knowing. His wife was heavy set. Prone to heat flashes. A window was always left ajar in their room. No matter the temperature outside.
She didn't answer. She calmly walked towards him. He saw that she held no weapon. A black duffel bag sat on the floor where she'd been standing. If he didn't know any better, he'd swear she looked innocent. She looked almost harmless, except for the blood that colored the yellow night gown she wore.
"Why did you kill them?"
"Because they lived with you knowing what you are. They don't deserve to breathe the same air I breathe. To have the same joy I can have. To laugh. To see the sun. None of you do."
He could see the emotion swelling in her eyes. Her chest rose and fell with each breath she took. She was visibly shaking. She was fighting on the inside, he could tell. Fighting to keep her rage under control.
"What's your plan?" He wiped away his tears. He figured he'd grieve over the loss of his wife and mother later. He'd get passed it. Accept it as karma finally getting her sweet revenge with him. As long as his son was fine, he'd live with whatever punishment this crazy monster deemed he deserved.
"My only plan is to watch you die," she informed him. Her voice was monotone. Flat.
He looked upon her with pity. Pity and guilt. There was no fear. His heart beat didn't quicken with a sudden rush of adrenaline. Pity caused him to look at her intently. Guilt held him firmly in place. She was a creature unlike any he'd ever seen. Madness colored her eyes.
And he was the cause of it all.
"I'm sorry," he told her. "You have every right to hate me for what I did to you. Every right. But, you didn't have to kill my family. This is just between you and me."
"No. No it's not," She shook her head in frustration. "This is between you, me, and everyone I come in contact with. Anyone that I try to connect with. Form bonds with. It's there. What you did to me. Every person I meet sees the scars that you left behind. The ones that don't really exist. They all see. They see that there's something not quite right about me. They sense how dark I am. They stay away because they don't want to be drug into the darkness with me.
She stood in front of him. If anyone were to walk in on the moment, they would surmise she was discussing a grocery shopping list. Her voice was just that flat. Of the two, he was the only one showing any emotion. She had stopped shaking. Her hands no longer trembled. She had regained control.
"How do you plan on killing me?"
"I'm not going to kill you. You're going to kill yourself."
He didn't hear her just right. He couldn't have. Kill himself? If she had gotten to him three years ago, or any time prior to the birth of his son, he would've happily done it. He couldn't count the times over the past twenty-some-odd years where he'd come so close to pulling the trigger. Or cutting his wrists. Doing himself in any number of ways. He couldn't say what always held him at bay. Some unseen force would sweep in at the last minute, last second, and hold his hand away from his wrist. Took his finger off the trigger. Something would whisper in his ear that today was not the day to die. So, he'd continued on. Moving from one place to another. Moving as far away from her and the horrific bond that tied them together.
"I'm not going to do that." His voice was forceful, yet soft. He wanted to show her that he had no intention of dying that night. And surely not by his own hand.
"Yes, you are. You are going to die. You deserve to die. And after you die, after you've inhaled your last breath, you will go to hell."
"What about you?" He asked her. "Don't you think you're going to hell for the murders of those two in there? Two people that have never done any harm to anyone?"
"Oh, I know I'm going to hell," she informed him. "It'll be a welcomed change to what you put me through."
She stood there, glaring into his eyes. He felt the burn of her hatred on his face. He could not look away. He would not dare look away. He wished with everything he had to take that moment back. Those moments from all those years ago. He couldn't change what he'd done no more than she could change what she'd become. So, there they were, frozen in a virtual stand off. Each unrelenting in their quest to see the other relent to their own will.
"You ever been awaken in the middle of the night and torn from your own bed?" She asked fully knowing the answer.
"You ever been drug down a road kicking and screaming?"
"Do you know what it's like to have the bottoms of your feet rubbed raw from being drug down asphalt?"
"Do you know what it's like to be beaten and beaten until you lose all memory?"
"Do you know what it's like to be raped? Repeatedly?"
"No," he whispered. The tears fell silently. Hot against his cheeks. He lowered his head and wished to the God that never heard his prayers that He would take back the past. Take back the night she was referring to. But, that would never happen. No more than God was going to stop the moment that was happening now.
"I also know what what it's like to have a baby punched out of your belly. Out of my belly. A baby I wasn't even sure I wanted. I know what it's like to have a gun pointed at my head. I know how the steel feels against the back of the skull. Do you?" She said all this quietly. But, it was apparent that the dam that held all her rage and hatred was about to break. Her voice trembled with each word. Tears began to form in the corner of her eyes. Her hands, kept at her side, were forming fists unknown to her.
"I also know what it's like to almost die. To want to die. To be so fucking mad that you didn't die. Do you?" She yelled this last question. Spit it at him with such venom that he could feel the poison leak into his skin.
"Yes." He said. She almost didn't hear him. Almost. She didn't say anything. Stared at him with the same hatred that had lived within her for all those years.
"Tell me," she said. "What's it like being you? It's one thing to be the victim. To have been weak and vulnerable. To have all sense of power stripped of you. It's a horrible thing to know that you are never truly safe. To come to the realization that even in the confines of your own bedroom, you really aren't safe. But, that's something you can't help. I will never be able to say that what you did to me was my fault. I will always be the victim. No matter how frustrating that is, whoever I tell my story to, they will see me as a victim. But, you? You're the monster. You did this. You are living proof that monsters exist. That they are alive and well. The worst thing about a monster like you, well, you look like everyone else. You blend in. No one knows how evil you are until you thrust your evil on them. And then it's too late. So, tell me, what's that like?"
He had no answer for her. These were questions that he'd asked himself over and over again. He'd laid awake at night, even now, wondering how he became what he was. He kept to himself. Never wanting to get too close to anyone, least he turn into that thing he once was.
"Have you ever hurt your wife," she asked.
He looked at her in surprise. "No," he denied. "Never."
"How do you know you never will? Hmmm? How do you know that one day, during an innocent argument, you won't turn on her? Beat her?"
He didn't know how to answer that. He had gone for years without a girlfriend once he ran out of town. Once he left her behind in the wake of what he'd done to her, he'd fled as far as his wallet would allow him to. When he felt he'd gotten too comfortable in one town or another, he'd pack up and leave again. It wasn't until he was across the country, far enough away from her and the memories of that awful time, that he'd taken the chance of smiling at a pretty girl.
Then fate had brought him back here. How he hated fate.
"I don't know. I just know."
He didn't, though, not really. It was a fear he lived with. Every day. He would look at the woman that gave him his sweet boy and wonder if that was the day the monster that lived within him would emerge. And try to kill her.
"I don't have to worry about that now," he told her. "Do I?"
"No," she said. "Now you just have to worry about your son. How do you think he would feel if he knew you were a monster?"
"Stop it." For the first time that night, anger flickered across his face.
"When I'm jail, years from now, when he's learned how his sweet mommy and grandma died, he will ask why. Why did a lady from down the street sneak into your house and murder them? What will be your reason?"
He shook his head. He didn't know. He could never let his son know what he had done. Never let his son know the type of man he really was. Least his son repeat his sins.
"You know he'll want to know. Everyone will want to know why I picked this house. Why I chose your family. Don't you think everyone will find out? You've ran long enough. It's time you faced up to what you did."
"You're crazy," he told her.
"Yes I am. Thanks for that."
Thoughts churned inside his mind. Visions of years gone by. He tried to picture his sweet little boy asleep in the next room. But, he couldn't seem to get a lock on that visual. All he saw in his mind's eye was her. Her, a young girl, crying and screaming for help. All he could think of was the brutal way he'd done her. And how he knew, deep down where people stored their most dangerous secrets, he was gonna have to pay one day.
They seemed to both come to a silent agreement. Their minds were in-tuned with one another. She walked silently back to the duffel bag and unzipped it.
"I want you to shoot yourself in the face," she informed him. "I think it would be much easier for your boy to know his dad killed himself than to know he actually beat and raped a young girl. And almost killed her. Don't you think?"
"No," he said. "I don't. Either way the truth is going to come out. Your logic has more holes in it than you realize."
She knew he was right. Knew it and hated him for it. There was no way she was going to get him to do what she wanted him to do. Her plan, although not really that well thought out, began to unravel right in front of her. And just like that, the dam that held her all together broke.
She looked at him, sobbing and hiccuping like a kid that had lost their favorite toy. In her left hand she held a gun. Small. Loaded. She walked to the small child's bedroom and before he even had a chance to jump out of his seat in protest, a shot rang out. His knees weakened and gravity took over as he hit the floor.
"Oh, god," he gasped. "Oh, my god, no. No. No."
"Now," she choked as she tossed the gun on the floor in front of him, "shoot yourself in the face."
"Why?" He pleaded with her. "Why don't you kill me yourself?" His heart was breaking. He was sure that he could have a heart attack at any moment.
"Oh, well, that's an easy answer," she said as her tears began to dry. She calmed herself and looked him dead in the eye. "You didn't have the decency to kill me."
The newspapers ran the story for a solid month. The suicide of a man and apparent murder-suicide of three women made all the headlines. Newscasters brought in detectives, head shrinks, and any other specialist they could find to try and guess the motive behind the killings. All anyone could really agree on, was that the little two year old boy was beautiful.
And there wouldn't be any problem finding someone to adopt him.