1st John -- complete story FREE
The first thing she saw was the pig. She heard the distant blaring of white noise. It rose and brought her back to a painful consciousness. Deep beneath its surface she made out faint sounds of a disembodied voice, but the static deafened. A faint click shut it off, followed by a ringing in the ears and the rapid ticking of what must be a timer.
Margaret Hollingsworth regained her senses after being abducted from the church parking lot. She was groggy, disoriented. She licked her lips. Something there tasted funny.
Previously in darkness, and for how long she had no idea, it lifted and she tried to focus. She sat at the center of a typical and spacious garage with a high ceiling. Scattered about were various power and hand tools, chains, and a ladder. Nearby was an old metal tub and a few metal folding chairs, all rusted. It was nothing out of the ordinary. Out of the ordinary were the walls, floor, and ceiling. The whole of her environment was covered with black plastic, a few rolls of which were lying unused. The only surface not covered by the plastic was the garage door itself. There were no windows. The only light came from the fluorescent lights above, flickering.
She shook her head. Where two cars would be parked were instead two wooden horses, some sheets of plywood and 2x4’s. Against all four corners there were mounted stadium speakers.
She shook her head again, unable to focus on the pig, suspended over the rusted tub. It was large. The confusion had not cleared.
She leaned forward and was jerked back. She knew then that she was chained to a workbench. Behind her, more tools and various mechanical implements, covered by that same black plastic. Her chains were locked together with small Master Locks, the type you’d use for a bike chain.
Margaret might have screamed then, but the drug, whatever it was, had not yet worn off. She blinked, her vision not yet adjusted. The pig was gutted and drained. It was hanging from a hook and chain attached to a crank that was suspended from the ceiling. Its hind legs were strapped with heavy bench weights, pulling it taught toward the floor. And suspended above the garage door was a large, heavy sledgehammer tethered to a steel cable. She followed the cable to see it was attached to what appeared to be a timer against the wall, the same that generated the ticking.
She struggled against the chains and the foggy haze of her memories. The drug wore off and panic, ever a sobering antidote, set in. She lifted her head to call out, but the timer beat her and SNAP!
The sledgehammer was released. The great force of the impact into the head of the dead pig caused a burst of brains and skull to spatter against Margaret and her surroundings.
The sledgehammer swung back and forth. Gore continued to spatter against the black plastic, thrown from the front of the garage to the back. It teased her with lethargy to come to a creaky end. Blood dripped to the plastic below.
If she had been in the same position as the pig Margaret would now be dead, a thought chiseled deep into her face, adding to her forty-three years. She needed to wipe but couldn’t reach up.
The only door, which must have led into the house, and also covered by black plastic, opened. Margaret’s face softened to read hope. Her eyes followed the figure of her abductor, which stepped out from behind the plastic. The sounds of his light foot-falls against the plastic seemed loud in the enclosed area. Her face turned dread.
The tall young man wore little more than a layer of thin black liquid latex. It covered his entire form. Only the head and face, unshaven with long hair, was uncovered by its dry sheen. In one hand he held a tablet, in the other a washcloth.
His movement was purposeful. He pulled one of the fold-up chairs to him and sat the tablet in a careful position within Margaret’s view. He stared at her with cold, self-righteous contempt.
Margaret watched him and bit down on her lip, unsure of what was to come. She waited for the strange fetishist to tell her all the ways he was going to rape her, but he remained silent and looked over the impacted dead pig. His hand ran along its lines. At the hind legs he jerked the straps, impressed that the bench-weights held the pig in place against the force.
The tall young man turned his back to Margaret, then back to her. He stared quietly, his face a frozen glare. The silence broke her. All she could do was stammer, until she blurted the only question relevant.
“Are you crazy?”
He looked up at the ceiling and considered the question. When his head came down he said, “I suppose that’s a fair question.” Then he walked over to the sledgehammer and pulled on the cable.
He told her, “Crazy people kill people, Sister Margaret.” He let her take in the way he addressed her, then added, “I’ve never killed anyone. How ‘bout you?”
Margaret watched him readjust the sledgehammer into its former position, struggling with its weight before locking it in place. When he turned back to her she asked, “How did I even get here?”
He shrugged and sighed, as if it was an unimportant question but one he needed to tolerate for the moment. He answered, honestly. “You’ve been kidnapped.”
Margaret heard his words, but her mind refused his answer. “What? That’s not right.”
“I imagine you had a long day,” he said. “First one in, last one out. That sort of thing.” He strode purposefully along the black plastic, enjoying the feel of it against his feet, and making sure Margaret was aware of his movements. “Administration for a small community church like The Wellsprings Christian Center is a thankless and exhausting job, but working for the Lord is its own reward. Right?”
He was talking about the evangelical church in J-Town on Taylorsville Rd., where she worked. Most days there were filled with odds and ends of cleaning duties and answering the phone. On Mondays she helped Pastor Rick with the food closet. They went to Kentucky Harvest, picked up that week’s contributions, and distributed baskets of food to wherever hungry people needed them around the city of Louisville; mostly meeting the needs of those in Jeffersontown. The busiest time of year for Margaret was summer, when, for two weeks out of the season, she was the primary caregiver and teacher during Vacation Bible School. Seemed like every parent in J-Town got religion for those two weeks and threw their kids at her like she was an unpaid babysitter. VBS was starting next week. It was really hot this summer. The kids needed cool drinks on hot days, and so much PB&J still to get. She had to get home and get ready; had to get back to Wellsprings and get the church ready for all those kids.
He examined her as he would a wounded animal, using the wash cloth to wipe the blood and gore from her face. He said, “Ya’ know, it’s reckless to leave your car unlocked, Sister Margaret.”
The way he called her by a name she was not known by today was a taunt. He must be confusing her with someone else. She breathed in and tried to ask, “Why are you calling me—”
His movements cut her off. He imitated a moment in the recent past in which he abducted her. “All I had to do was wait. A little chloroform and here we are. You over there, abductee. Me over here, abductor.”
“Please,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m here. I just want to go home. I have to get the church ready.”
Ignoring the plea he discarded the wash cloth. He withdrew and grabbed the old metal tub, which he pulled into position under the dead pig. It threatened to tear the black plastic but the material was thick. It stretched, but held.
“I haven’t done anything to be here,” she said. “I don’t even know you.”
“On the contrary, Sister Margaret.”
She thought any question asked would be countered by elusive language. If he had no answers for her the least he could do was stop calling her sister.
“Why are you calling me that?” she asked. “Do you know me?”
“Of course I know you,” he said, contradicting what she thought. “And you know me.”
His gaze waited on her. They say most victims are abused by people they know. His eyes were familiar. He mocked a gesture of curtsey to introduce himself. “Hard to recognize me in my current glory, I admit. And it’s been a long time since you’ve seen me, so I understand.”
He stopped short, as if wanting to delay the moment, and went back to work. He examined the weight of the dead pig on the hook and chain. “But we’re going to be spending a lot of time together this week. I’m sure it’ll all come back to you… And, yes. You did.”
A response to a question she had forgotten. “What? I did? I did what? What are you talking about?”
He lifted hard to see if he could manage to pull the dead animal up and off the hook. He grunted, “You said before you didn’t do anything to be here. Of all the assurances I can give you, that is the most sacred.”
She said, “You’re telling me I did something to you?”
“I’m telling you you’re here for one reason only.” He was unable to pull the dead pig up and off and stopped trying so hard. He took a deep breath, then he smiled blankly at Margaret. “You’re going to die, Sister Margaret.”
Margaret’s face turned white and her eyes welled up. She sobbed, shaking her head no, no, no. Her sobbing turned into weeping. Through those water-filled eyes she watched him go to the lever that operated the crank, and her weeping became cries for help.
“There it is,” he said, remarking on the expected.
Margaret fought against her bondage, crying, screaming.
The crank was released and the dead pig dropped into the old metal tub with a dull thud.
“No,” she said. “Please. Please don’t kill me.”
“And here’s the rest of it,” he said. “The begging. I guess later we’ll have to get to the bargaining.”
She needed to understand how a stranger could make the choice of murder for sport. “You can’t just kill me for no reason.”
He sat down next to Margaret and put his arm around her. “But there is a reason. There is absolutely one hundred percent a very good reason for all this terrible unpleasantness, Sister Margaret.”
“Why do you keep calling me that?” she said. “I’m just Margaret.”
He got back up to stand before her again. “But that wasn’t always true. Was it? Not at St. James Trinitarian.”
She fell quiet. He did know her.
“They may know you as just Margaret at Wellsprings,” he said. “But back at St. James they called you ‘Sister’. Didn’t they? Sister Margaret.”
He leaned down, his face level with hers. She did not respond. He knew the answer and again went back to the old metal tub with the dead pig in it. While he worked to move it out of the way Margaret seemingly calmed down and asked her own question. “Can you just tell me why I’m here?”
He said, “I’m going to answer all your questions, Sister. But I already answered that one.”
“Whoever you are, you can’t just kill me.”
He said, “You’ve already observed that I’m crazy. You have to assume that it’s true. In which case, you can’t talk your way out of this.”
She knew she had to lie. She said, “I have to live. For my family. I’m all they’ve got.”
He had been watching her for awhile. “We all have family, Sister Margaret. But not you. Unless you’re counting all those good people at Wellsprings you’ve conned for the past eight years.”
As he pulled the old metal tub with the dead pig in it along the floor the plastic tore. He took notice and decided to drop it where it was.“That’s really all the family you’ve got,” he said. “All day long you toil away in that tiny little office, in that tiny little church. Then at the end of the day, usually around ten or eleven at night, you close up and drive about twenty minutes back to Crescent Hill, where you live in a lonely little apartment.”
“You don’t know me. God has—”
The mention of God poked a nerve. With a red face he said, “Let’s not talk about God just yet. But I tell you what we can talk about...” He pulled up another fold-up chair in front of Margaret, spun it around and sat in it backwards, facing her. He folded his arms across the ridge of the arch and laid his chin there. “If you can tell me why you’re here… ya know? Confess to everything you know is true… there’ll be no reason to draw this out, and the whole thing can be over.”
She drew in a breath as hope. “I can go home?”
He shook his head. “No, Sister Margaret. There is no going home. There’s just you and me, and this garage.”
“But, you said—"
He stood up from the chair, flipped it shut and let it fall. “I said it would all be over. Meaning, there’d be no reason we’d have to prolong your suffering.”
Margaret sobbed again.
He let her go on and occupied himself by peeling some of the latex off his arm, observing the effect on his skin. But it was too much. “Sister Margaret. Sister, honey, listen. Listen.”
She refused him.
“Look at me, Sister. Look at me.” He raised her head. “We’re going to get through this together, Sister Margaret. I promise we are.”
She stared at him over his phrasing.
“I’ve got a lot to explain,” he said. “I had all this worked out, ya know? For one, just looking at me you probably thought I was into some pretty weird stuff. I mean, come on. Look at me here.” He twirled around in a rather proud display of his work. “Liquid latex. Fun stuff. Geeks use this all the time for cosplay. Me? I’m using it to protect my skin from blood spatter.”
He demonstrated how easily the latex peeled off. “Then when I’m done it peels right off the skin. Easy to dispose of. See?” He let the peelings fall to the floor onto the black plastic. “The instructions said to be sure to shave hair from all areas that would be affected, so when I’m ready for the finale I’ll have to shave my entire head. That’s gonna be a new look for me.”
Her voice was small. “You’re really going to kill me?”
“Stay with me, Sister. We already moved past that.”
He made to reply but she was frantic.
“Why are you going to kill me? I never did anything to you! You can’t kill me! You can’t kill me! Please don’t kill me. Please, you can’t kill me. Please.”
He turned away while she went on, her voice falling from shouts to whispers, and walked toward the garage door.
“Sister Margaret,” he said, “that was just moving. Endearing even. If you and I weren’t here I’d think you were the victim.” He knocked against the surface of the garage door. It rattled. “But we are here. And like I said before, you are going to die.”
“Allow me to summarize what’s going to happen, Sister. I don’t want to repeat myself, but I don’t mind.”
“One: no matter what you think, no matter what you say, no matter what you do, before the end of this week you are going to die.”
Margaret continued crying.
“Two: no matter how hard you try, because I know you will, believe it or not, there is no escape. Providence is not going to intervene. Your righteousness will not save you.” He walked back and forth to each corner of the garage to point out the stadium speakers. “Each time I leave this room these speakers will activate a loud white noise. You remember that noise as you were waking up? Loud, huh? Yeah. So, no matter how loud you scream, that white noise will suppress it. Sometimes it might be music. Depends on my mood. You can scream and scream. No one’s coming to help you.” He walked to stand beside the dead pig in the old metal tub. “This pig? The very first thing you saw? Yeah, this pig is you. This is your end, Sister Margaret.”
Margaret only cried and shook her head no.
“And finally?” He squatted down in front of Margaret’s face to press his own close to her’s. “Finally, Sister Margaret, you are going to confess exactly why you are here, and exactly why you are going to die.”
Margaret wept, her face red. When she could speak again, she said, “You haven’t even told me who you are.”
Anger took him again. He grabbed her by the back of the hair, and said, “This isn’t penitence, Sister.” He dropped her head. He stood upright, and said, “This is mercy.”
Margaret lost her breath from the desperation. She tried to control her sobbing.
“You’re a Christian,” he said. “Shouldn’t you be praying?”
Next to the chair with the tablet sitting on it, he leaned over and touched the screen to start a slideshow. “You and I are going to be catching up, Sister. Lots of catching up. I’ll be going for now. In the meantime, here’s a little something to help pass the time.”
She watched his black figure pull back the black plastic, open the door leading into the house, and walk out of the garage. The door closed behind him. She heard it lock. The lights above shut off, casting her into blackness, and white noise filled the garage. Margaret screamed as loud as she could manage, barely audible beneath the static. The only light came from the tablet in front of her. Through terrified tears she struggled; weeping, moaning, ranting.
The slideshow showed her various images of a brother and a sister: two-year-old brother held baby sister in his arms with a big smile; baby sister in her confirmation gown; brother and sister playing in the backyard; Halloween, in their costumes, followed by various still frames of the holidays and birthdays. It ended on the image of Russell’s first car. Sixteen-year-old Russell sat in the front seat with his arm around fourteen-year-old Jenny.
Margaret’s face turned to the ice of shock. The pain of recognition drove a dagger into her heart. She hung her head, then pulled up again, more grievous.
“Jenny… Jenny… Jenny…”
The light of the tablet pulsated on Margaret until the battery forced it to shut off. Over the course of several hours the white noise intensified to an ear-splitting level. Yet, for all the time spent obsessed on Jenny’s face, Margaret was not affected by the noise. Jenny was all.
The white noise shut off, followed by the lingering of that dull ringing in the ears. The fluorescent lights came on, flickering. She stirred awake, if she was ever asleep. The blood from the dead pig that spattered her was long-dried and cracked. She was sore from the position she had been bound in.
Behind the black plastic and the door that led into the house she heard the sounds of the locks and bolts turning. The door opened and Russell stepped out from behind the plastic into the garage. He carried a tray of food, on which was a sandwich, a pear, and a cup of water. He wore jeans and a t-shirt.
“Good morning, Sister Margaret. Breakfa—"
Through an already hoarse voice Margaret screamed. “Help! Help me, somebody! Help!”
He let her scream for help and turned with the tray in hand. He walked behind the plastic the way he came in. He was out of sight for no more than a few seconds, then returned empty-handed. He pulled up a chair and sat in front of Margaret while she squirmed in her bonds and screamed.
When she stopped screaming and took in deep breaths Russell eyed her. Margaret screamed again and he watched. She kept screaming, pleading for help from anyone who may hear her, until the screaming wore down to a whisper. The effort was there, the voice wasn’t. She hung her head, not giving up hope. She couldn’t do that. Just resting.
Russell said, “You shouldn’t do that to yourself, Sister. Bad on your throat, and I’m sure it’ll make breathing for you harder. Also, just because these speakers drown out the screaming when I’m not here doesn’t mean I’m an idiot. When you and I are here together there’s no one around for miles who could hear you. So save yourself the trouble.”
Margaret didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of letting him see her cry. She tried to hold it in.
He repositioned himself, and said, “I was hoping for a more positive start today. Breakfast wasn’t much, but it’s more than you’ll be getting now.”
He stood and walked over to the tablet. He picked it up and tapped on it. He turned it around for Margaret. Displayed on it was a picture of his sister Jenny at age fourteen. He told her, “Look up here, Sister. We’ve got things to talk about today.”
Margaret ignored him.
“Come on. There’s no need for any of your defiance today.”
She kept her head down.
“Look up.” Russell said, and waited. Margaret was unresponsive. “Alright.” He put the tablet down and walked out again. Margaret looked up, wondering. He came back carrying a leather body harness with a long steel cable attached to it. He dropped it in front of Margaret, and said, “This doesn’t have to be so hard, Sister Margaret. You just do what I say and I’ll make things easy on you.”
Margaret looked at him.
“Get it?” he asked. “You make it easy for me, I’ll make it easy for you. You want to do that?”
Margaret tried to speak. She could only nod yes.
“Good.” He picked up the body harness, and said, “I’m going to rig this harness to the ceiling and that’ll give you limited range to walk about the garage, even lay down if you want.”
Russell sat the harness down again and bent over to lift one end of the old metal tub with the dead pig in it. He had to use both hands. He talked while he pulled it off to the side, avoiding the two horse stands. “This thing is really starting to stink up the place. Not to worry. I’ve got something to take care of that.”
Satisfied with where the old metal tub and the dead pig were, he dropped it. He went over to one of the walls where shelves were covered in plastic. He exposed the shelves. Below were a few sacks of quicklime. He pulled one out and carried it over to the dead pig in the tub.
Margaret watched him, taking note of anything that could offer a way out later, but there didn’t seem to be anything of use.
Russell pat his back pockets. Something used to be there he forgot. He walked to the other side of the garage and lifted up the plastic. He rummaged there until he came away with a pair of work gloves and a box cutter.
Along the side of the wall that he had just exposed was a barroom mirror, stamped with the logo of the Bluegrass Brewing Company. Eyes were behind it.
Russell put the work gloves on then cut the bag of quicklime open and poured it out over the dead pig. Dust from the quicklime covered him and he frowned. He tossed the bag to one side, and said, “Well, can’t plan for everything.” He brushed himself off, threw off the work-gloves, and walked back to stand in front of Margaret. “That’ll take care of the smell. Now, where were we?”
Margaret nodded over to the tablet.
He picked up the tablet with Jenny’s picture again and showed it to Margaret. He said, “Tell me who this is.”
Margaret looked away from the picture.
“Now, Sister. You know this isn’t making things easy for me. You want the harness? You want to be able to walk? You want to be able to lie down?”
Margaret nodded yes.
“Tell me who this is,” he said, and held the tablet close to Margaret’s face. “Who is it, Sister?”
Margaret whispered, not quite audible.
“See, Sister Margaret? This is what I was talking about. You did all that screaming and you shot your voice out.”
Margaret tried to raise her voice. Russell leaned over to hear her better. She whispered, “Jenny… Jenny Sanders.”
Russell pulled away. He sat the tablet down. He asked her, “And who does that make me?”
Margaret looked up at Russell. She said, “Her brother.”
“You’re Russell. You’re Jenny’s brother Russell.”
He turned away from her, looked the garage over, fighting an urge. He chewed on his thoughts. He looked back at the tablet with Jenny’s face smiling at him. It blinked from lack of a charge and shut off, her face gone.
Russell went back to work. He unfolded the ladder and climbed it to feed the cable through a metal loop in the ceiling. He climbed down and pulled on the cable, making sure it was secure. He picked up the harness and stared at Margaret. He said, “A deal’s a deal.”
He sat the harness next to Margaret and worked on freeing her from the chains and the workbench. He was careful to collect all the small master locks, sitting them within reach. The chains fell and Margaret made a quick move to jump out of Russell’s reach. Too late! He already had a knife pressed against her throat. “You’re not thinking about making this hard on me again, are you, Sister?”
Margaret swallowed. She nodded no.
He said, “Your natural instinct is to fight. I understand. You’ve been constrained in a single position for about four hours now. Nothing too strenuous. But it has weakened you. You could try to run.”
Margaret closed her eyes. She said, “I wouldn’t get far.”
“Is that your plan?” she asked. “Make me run? Stab me in the back?”
“I’ve already told you the plan, Sister.” He pointed back to the sledgehammer, waiting in position. “That is as merciful as your end will be.”
Margaret threw up her hands in exacerbation. “Painless? You think a sledgehammer is going to be a painless death?”
Russell let Margaret go and she flinched. He walked past her, through the black plastic, to the door leading to the house. He pulled the plastic back to reveal the opened door. It was too dark to make out anything there, but he held it in position for her to get a good long look. He said, “That way? That way is worse.”
Margaret anticipated all the possibilities if she walked through that door.
Russell tossed the knife into the seat of the chair in front of Margaret. It landed there safely, clanging, and waited for her. He shrugged. “Go ahead.”
She was motionless. She looked at the door. She looked at the knife. If she walked through that door what was the worst that would happen? One foot moved slightly forward. She stopped. She looked down at her feet, and then back up at Russell.
Margaret picked up the harness. She asked, “Could you show me how to put this on?”
Russell let the plastic fall and went back to Margaret. He took the harness from her. He worked to fasten her tightly into it and locked the straps in place with the small master locks used previously on the chains. He said, “There is no shame in accepting your fate. None at all. What you and I have to do now is work on getting you ready.”
“I’m never going to be ready to die,” she said.
“Sister Margaret, this isn’t about getting you ready for death. No one’s ever ready to just die. No, this is all about getting you ready for the all-forgiving cleansing power of the blood of Christ. Forgiveness, and all that Kingdom of God stuff you’re so proud to be teaching at vacation bible school.”
She had forgotten about the kids. How could she? She was letting them down, letting the church down. They have to have somewhere to go this summer. I have to be there.
He examined Margaret in the harness, and continued. “But first, in order to win that great big afterlife lottery and enter into His Glory, what’s the first thing, the very first thing you have to do?”
Margaret knew what he wanted to hear, but she couldn’t move her lips to speak it.
“Come on, Sister,” he said, prodding her. “Let’s not play the silent game now. We’re almost there.”
She forced the words out. “You want my confession.”
“Right. You’ll confess, Christ will cleanse you, thereby absolving you of your unrighteousness—and that…” He was losing his restraint. He moved away from her, forcing himself not to strangle the life out of her. “…that is where Jenny gets the short end of the stick. That is where she loses and you win, Sister Margaret.”
Margaret was shaking. Russell closed the distance.
“So God will take you into His Kingdom to share all eternity with, and you will simply get away with your sin. Yes, God will forgive you and wash it all away… But I won’t.”
Margaret tried to speak. Russell walked off. He picked up the tablet on his way out. At the door leading into the house he turned back to her. He said, “Get some rest, Sister. We’ve got a lot of work to do.” He slammed the door behind him. Margaret was left standing alone, her eyes fixed on the knife he left behind.
The lights shut off and the white noise returned.
Time was out of step and Margaret was blanketed in a cycle of darkness. She inhaled and waited for her eyes to adjust. There was no source of light and nothing to adjust to.
The knife Russell left behind was just in front of her. She couldn’t see but stepped toward the chair with the knife in it and stopped short. Her mobility in the harness was limited. She tried stretching forward to reach it. She felt around for the chair. No good. She remembered the belt around her waist. The harness was secured around her. It was tight but she was able to work around it and get the belt off.
She squatted to the floor on all fours and crawled in the direction of the knife, as far as the harness would allow. She whipped the belt outward as a feeler. It clanged against the chair and fell to the floor. There wasn’t much of a sound under the white noise but it was enough to let Margaret know she was on the right track. She pulled the belt back and whipped it outward in front of her again. Again, the same effect.
When the belt landed it smacked the knife toward the edge of the seat, which Margaret could not see.
This time she did not feel the belt fall to the floor. She pulled back and sensed the belt caught between the folds of the chair. Margaret rose to her knees and pulled the chair to her. It did not slide easily against the hard concrete floor. Instead it took a bit of effort, making certain the legs did not catch on the plastic and fall over. While the legs were pulled along the plastic the seat vibrated and the knife fell out of the chair. Margaret thought she heard it fall but continued pulling.
When the chair was in front of her she felt around for the knife. She did not panic. She reached forward along the floor, sweeping with her hands. Margaret found the knife and gripped it firm. She pulled herself up off the floor and considered how to use her new found tool. Uncertain of where to cut she turned round and round, trying to feel for the best place to start. In doing so she saw a small blinking red light. It was obstructed by a shape she could not make out.
She knew that with her limited range she would never be able to reach it, whatever it was, even with the belt. For the moment she focused on getting free.
The cable attached to the harness was a steel metal cord. No use trying to cut it loose, though she tried and gave up. The straps of the harness were thick leather and held firmly in place by the small master locks. She got to work on one of them along her side, connecting the front to the back. The knife was sharp, but she was cutting from a difficult angle.
The strap fell free and Margaret wrestled the harness. It was not enough to pull the thing off, so she went to work on the other side. When that strap was cut loose she found she had just enough slack to wiggle her way out of the top portion of the harness. But her legs were strapped in tight.
Fighting in the harness Margaret fell over. She was not hurt, just frustrated. She kicked her legs with violence and pulled away from it. The straps held onto her legs like the claws of a monster, refusing to let her go.
Forcing herself to calm down Margaret used the knife against the remaining straps and the monster’s hands set her loose. Margaret sighed, relieved. She turned her head. The small blinking red light stared at her.
Knife in hand, Margaret got up and walked over to it with some caution and excitement. She felt around. The black plastic was covering it. She pulled it off and the red light illuminated the garage with a dim sporadic glow.
She held up an electrical drill. The blinking red light was an indicator of low battery. She squeezed the trigger. Not enough juice to get it going, but the light it offered was useful.
Margaret held the drill in front of her, using that small red light like a flashlight. There were numerous tools lying about; boards, etc. Anything could be used as an implement against her captor.
She rotated a hundred and eighty degrees. A single eye of the dead pig glimmered in the red light. She grimaced and kept turning. The workbench caught her attention. She stopped.
Margaret went to the workbench. The chains that held her locked in one position for four hours were piled in a loose heap to one side. She tucked the knife into her back pocket and sat the drill down. She picked up a chain and considered how she would use it to choke Russell. Knowing that she was not strong enough, Margaret dropped the chain and rested her head against the workbench. Her hand ran along a groove. She raised her head and examined the workbench. It was hollow.
She opened the workbench. Inside were a variety of tools, nails, nuts and bolts. And a crowbar. She took it out and looked back at the garage door, and ran to it.
There was very little red light but Margaret could see well enough to avoid the cable connecting the sledgehammer and the timer on the wall. She made sure she wasn’t in the path of the sledgehammer were it to come down.
Margaret thrust the crowbar between the floor and the garage door. It slipped under with ease. She did not have to work long before she realized it was not locked. She pulled the garage door open. It rattled and she stood back, dropping the crowbar.
There was no opening to the outside world. Margaret stared at a concrete wall.
The white noise shut off and the lights flickered on. Margaret watched with fear and anger. Russell walked in, a knowing look on his face that this was anticipated. He informed her, “The garage used to flood in the spring.” He shrugged. “The Ohio rises.” He meant the river his house sat perpendicular to. “Previous owners had it walled up and sealed.”
Margaret pulled the knife out of her back pocket.
Russell looked down at the harness and kicked it. He paid her a compliment, and retracted. “You got out of that quicker than I thought. But let’s be honest. I made it pretty easy for you.”
The tension in Margaret’s fist turned her knuckles white. She clinched the knife tighter.
He said, “I did tell you there was no escape.”
The emotion was overwhelming. Margaret screamed and ran at him, thrusting the knife down to plunge into his chest. Russell did not flinch. He stepped to the side and punched Margaret in the face. The knife flew elsewhere. Margaret fell to the floor, almost unconscious, her face bloodied. She whimpered.
“I don’t want to sound like a sexist, Sister Margaret, but that was just pitiful. You’re a woman. I’m a man.” He picked up the knife and walked it back over to Margaret. He bent down to hover over her and sat the knife within a hand’s reach. He said, “Unless you were trained to handle physical combat—or an athlete—there’s no way you can overcome me. I’m sorry. That’s just the truth.” He stepped back, and asked, “Want to try again? I don’t mind.”
Margaret reached for the knife. She pulled herself up to her knees, took the knife, and held it to her own throat. She said, “Let me go.”
He found the threat intriguing. He said, “Now that’s interesting, Sister.” He closed the lid to the workbench and sat on top. “Let’s see what happens.”
“Let me go!”
“But what about eternity?”
Margaret looked away, holding the knife in place.
“Hmm? You take your own life, you rob me of my intentions. That’s true enough. But you also condemn your soul for all eternity.”
She dropped the knife and fell over. He picked it up and tucked it into his belt. He helped Margaret up from the floor. “Alright, let’s get you up.”
She jerked. “Leave me alone.”
“Don’t touch me.”
Russell forced her up and into a chair. “Gotta ask you something, Sister. A little under an hour ago you had the chance to walk out the door. Why didn’t you? Granted, you have no idea what’s on the other side. But you could’ve tried.”
Margaret shook her head, unable to understand her own actions, let alone his question.
“Let me offer you an explanation,” he said, and took a seat atop the workbench again. “In preparation for our big day I’ve done a whole lot of googling. And there’s this big head doctor who did some work for the CIA on the side and under the table. Well, he came up with something called ‘learned helplessness’ and they were excited to use the technique when they questioned persons of interests suspected of terrorism.”
Margaret squirmed. She would have given real money if he’d shut up. “I’m getting real tired of hearing your voice.”
He insisted. “Stay with me, Sister. This is interesting stuff. Because I had no idea you would take to it so quickly. See, all I had to do was convince you that what waited for you on the other side of the door was much worse than staying put. I didn’t have to do much. I just suggested it was worse, and because you don’t know one way or the other, you chose the path clear to you.”
His condescending voice dug under her skin. She told him to shut up but he went on. “Hear me out. You are so afraid of the unknown that, for you, the only thing you could do was choose the lesser of two evils. And that’s just human nature. No matter how desperate you are, you still cling to a little hope that either God will save you, or you can somehow make an escape. That’s just remarkable.”
Margaret tried to get up from the chair but Russell pushed her back into it. She said, “You’re just full of insight, aren’t you?”
He countered. “There’s an alternative, you know? A different reason you chose to stay here.”
“And what’s that?”
“You’re looking forward to the end.”
Margaret jumped up and struggled with Russell. As angry as she was she was not strong enough to fight and overcome him. He slapped her and she fell back into the chair.
“Stop wasting time and energy,” he said. “There’s nothing here going to help you get out. And I’ll prove it to you.”
Margaret’s lip was cracked from where he struck her, and her face swelling.
Russell stood up from the workbench and walked away from her, toward the exit. He said, “I’m giving you an hour with the lights on. You’ll be able to rummage through everything, then you’ll see for yourself.”
“Why would you do that?”
He opened the door, saying, “I told you, Sister Margaret. There’s only one way out.”
The door closed behind him. It did not lock.
Margaret wept, maybe from exhaustion. When she recovered she went to work in a hurry all about the garage. There was not much space, but there was a lot to uncover. She pulled up the black plastic from the floor and let it scatter.
The sight of that dead pig disgusted Margaret. She decided to pile up the discarded plastic on top of its corpse in the tub. It was not out of mind but it was out of sight.
There was nothing she had uncovered to be excited about. There were numerous hand tools, a shovel she could use to knock him over the head with. A few of the power tools were operated by battery, others by electricity.
Margaret held up the rotary saw. She looked in the direction of the door, then sat it down and worked on pulling the plastic from off the walls. Shelves were revealed, and the door.
She looked above her. The plastic up there was going to have to come down. She climbed the ladder and yanked it down. With it pulled away from the floor, the walls, the ceiling, Margaret let the noise settle around. Her eyes focused on that door. She looked long and hard at it. With every breath her thoughts weighed heavy on her face.
She picked up the rotary saw in one hand and wrapped a portion of the extension cord around the other hand. She walked with it to the door.
Too short. It would not reach.
Frustrated, she threw the saw against a wall. It crashed there and fell to the floor. Margaret slumped to the floor herself, like the saw. She looked down at nothing, then back up. Her eyes widened. Leaning in a corner was a rifle.
Margaret got up and went to the rifle. She picked it up and looked it over. She had never been a gun person, though it was not hard to figure out. She pointed it at the door, looked down the barrel, and squeezed the trigger. She was not surprised that nothing happened. She opened the chamber to find it empty. Again, no surprise.
Margaret pulled the rifle in close to hold it like a precious child. She hunted through the garage in search of ammo. None to be found.
She was in darkness and static again.
Margaret collapsed under the weight of her situation. She let the rifle drop next to her, within reach. She lay on the floor in the fetal position, one hand clasped around the barrel. In the darkness the white noise was anything she imagined. Now it was the ocean, rising and fading. It faded further and further away.
The lights flickered on. Margaret stirred on the floor. She opened her eyes, realized Russell was coming back, jerked up and pointed the rifle at the door. Russell was already there, looking at her, holding a tray of food and a bottle of water. Margaret blinked, trying to focus.
Russell disregarded the threat. He said, “You really slept.”
Margaret steadied the rifle and Russell approached her.
“But so did I. A good night’s sleep helps put everything into perspective.”
Margaret ordered him with a new-found authority. “Don’t come any closer.”
Russell stopped. “Or?”
He gave in. “Alright.”
Russell took the tray and sat with it in his lap in one of the chairs. Margaret got off the floor but kept the rifle frozen on him.
He said,“Sister Margaret, you’ve been asleep for about nine hours. You’re probably a little confused.”
Margaret did not believe she had slept for nine hours. She disregarded the statement. “I’m not going to let you kill me.”
“The gun is not loaded, Sister. And just at a glance, I can see you tore this place up looking for ammo.”
She thrust the rifle forward at him, careful to keep a safe distance. She asked, “And did I find any?”
He stood and sat the tray down in the chair. Margaret backed away, rifle still trained on him. He said, “I need to be honest with you. This place? The garage, the harness, the setting, everything in it—the whole shebang—is a ruse. Even that rifle. First I torment you with a little hopelessness, then I leave you hopeful. Up and down, back and forth. You don’t know if you can trust anything I’ve told you. But that’s all part of your conditioning.”
She refused his explanation. “I’m getting out of here!” Determined to make that proclamation a fact, Margaret squeezed the trigger. Nothing! She screamed at Russell and swung the rifle at him like a war-club. He avoided it and knocked it out of her hands. The rifle slid away along the concrete floor. He forced her back down into the chair, then picked up the tray of food and tried to hand it to her. Margaret knocked it away. “Why bother?!”
Russell walked over and picked up the bottle of water. He said, “I’m not cruel. Your throat must be killing you by now. At least drink the water.”
Out of need alone Margaret opened the bottle and drank. She wiped her mouth, and said, “Let me get this straight… You’re taunting me with hope?”
Russell sat again in the same chair. Margaret watched him settle, then threw the bottle at him and made a break for the door. Russell remained where he was. The door was locked. She screamed and pounded her fists against it, over and over.
When she was done she looked back at Russell. He was holding up a set of keys. She looked back and forth at the shovel and the rifle. Either could be used to bash his skull in.
Russell saw where her eyes were darting. He waited, made a nod with his head, as if to say go ahead.
“Let me out, or I swear I’ll do it.”
“If you’re going to surprise someone, Sister Margaret, you shouldn’t announce it.”
“Maybe I want you to see it coming.” Her threats were empty.
He asked her, “You know the story of Pandora’s Box?”
She didn’t care. “Let me out!”
“Come on over and have a seat, Sister. You know you’re not getting out.”
Margaret knew it was true. She walked over and reluctantly took a seat.
Russell went on. “Zeus took all the evils of the world and he put them in Pandora’s Box. Now, most folks think that by shoving Hope deep down in that same box with all that evil, Zeus must have had a special love for mortals.”
Margaret was not looking at him.
“It’s rude not to pay attention, Sister.”
She looked back at him. The agitation burned in her eyes. She said, “What do you want from me?”
“Zeus had no love for mortals. You read the legends and you see how little love Zeus had.”
“Make a point.”
Russell leaned in and pushed his index finger against Margaret’s forehead. She recoiled. “Think about it,” he said. “Hope was trapped with all the evils of the world. Wouldn’t it stand to reason that hope itself is evil, if not the most evil of all evils?”
“That’s a brilliant revelation, Russell. Why don’t you share more of your wisdom?”
Russell sat up straight in the chair. He was motionless, staring at her. The frustration was getting the better of her. He said, “I’m glad you’re more talkative.”
“I’m getting sick of your bullshit.”
“Now you’re coming around. Let’s pull the real you out.”
Margaret spat at him. Ineffective. He had been expecting much more, but it was all she could do. “What do you want from me, goddammit?! You want me to confess? Confess to what? Confess to something I did to you? I never did anything to you. Confess to a sin in your perverted little imagination?”
Russell stood. Margaret noticed that something she said finally affected him. He was visibly unhinged by her allegation. He said, “I’m not the pervert, Sister.”
“And you’re not sane.”
Russell paced. The façade of control he had been holding was cracking.
“Perversion is what you did to Jenny.”
“Jesus!” she cried. “You want to know what I did to your sister? You want to hear it? You want to hear my confession? Because I’m ready to give it.”
“At last.” Russell sat. He attempted to gain control of his emotions.
“She came to me,” Margaret said. “She was always coming to me, telling me how attracted she was to women and how she could never tell anyone in her family, because everyone would hate her for being a lesbian. No one would understand, not even her brother.”
Russell wanted to interrupt, but he censored himself and listened to what he had been waiting to hear.
“Then she kept coming to me, Russell. Almost every day. At first it was at the office. Then she was at my home.”
He stopped her. “What was?”
He clarified. “What was at the office? What did you take her to your home to do?”
Margaret thought the insinuation was clear. “I told you. She came to me.”
Russell jumped up, flipping the chair behind him. “You haven’t told me anything, Sister Margaret. What did you do to Jenny?”
“I—she wanted to know what it was like.”
Russell paced back and forth again. “What what was like?”
Margaret dropped all sense of resistance. She wanted to hurt him, wanted to draw it out. She said, “Kissing! She wanted to know what kissing was like.”
“Kissing? It’s not so odd that a fourteen year old girl wanted to know what kissing was like. You’re telling me Jenny just wanted to kiss you?”
“And touching! She was—there was touching.”
Russell balled up a fist. “Oh, touching. Now we’re kissing and touching. Seems innocent.” He pulled in close to her, restraining himself. He said, “I get the feeling you’re leaving out a few details, Sister.”
Margaret fired back. “Fine! You want the details, you sick fuck?”
Russell lost any composure. He shouted in Margaret’s face. “I want you to tell me what you did to my sister!”
Margaret was equally explosive. She knew that she had him in a vulnerable position and wanted to exploit that. “I fucked your sister! I fucked her like only a woman can fuck. With my tongue.”
Jenny’s brother fell silent.
Margaret used these sexual details as a weapon against him, driving them into his spirit to kill him. “I explored every curve of her naked body with my tongue. Her milky white thighs invited me. She ached for the pleasure.”
Margaret was staring with insolence into Russell’s face. She enjoyed the pain she was causing him. He fell to his knees, choking on her hatred. She fed it to him. “Her cunt… her sweet, delicious cunt, quivered in my mouth each and every time I made her cum.”
He bent over in tears, weeping. Margaret fed him more. “When it was over I told her to go home and never come back. But she always came back, Russell. The girl was in love. She always came back.”
Margaret watched him cry. She loved it.
Any charade he was playing was over. He said, “You took advantage of a child. She was fourteen. She was just a child.”
Margaret saw here a chance to escape. She rose to her feet while Russell was bowed before her. She said, “Jenny was old enough to know what she wanted!”
Margaret kicked Russell as hard as she could, first in the abdomen and then in the head. He fell back to the floor, gasping. She leapt on him and fought to grab his keys. She continued kicking at him until she pulled the keys away and made a run for the door. Russell grabbed her by the feet. She fell to the floor and Russell overpowered her.
The keys went scattering away, across the floor. They came to rest under the workbench.
Russell reached into his back pocket and pulled out a few plastic zip ties. Breathing hard, he said, “That was pretty good, Sister Margaret. I would’ve done the same thing.”
Again they struggled. She fought beneath him, resisting the restraints. He used his knees to pin her arms to the floor.
“Get the fuck off me!”
“No, you’re not getting away.”
He used two plastic zip-ties to shackle her wrists together. Margaret used her legs to try and kick her way free from him.
“I know we’ve got some trust issues...” he said, turning to grab both her legs. She was stronger there and he was forced to hurt her to bind her by the ankles.
She yelled at him. “Goddamn you!”
“...but if there’s one thing you can believe, it’s the fact you are not getting away.”
She continued to scream.
He bore down on her, face to face, and said, “Especially not now.”
Russell picked himself up from off the floor. He pulled Margaret up into a chair. She jerked around in the chair, hands bound in front of her, feet close together. She screamed at Russell, spat at him, and he watched.
Her tantrum went on.
When she tired herself out, he said, “I’m going to let you catch your breath.”
He turned for the door.
Margaret shouted, “No!”
Russell reached down for his keys. Not there. He scanned the floor but did not see them. He looked back at Margaret. He knew she did not have them, and she was in no condition to walk out. He tried the door. It locked behind him. It did not open. He said, “Keep your shirt on. I’m not going anywhere yet.”
Margaret taunted him. “Lock yourself in?”
Russell searched for the keys on the floor. When he could not find them he picked up the crowbar and took it to the door, where he used it to pry the door open.
The door opened and Margaret could see into a utility room lit by daylight. Inside was a washer and dryer. Russell walked through the entry. He turned back. “Don’t go anywhere.”
“Get back here, you fuckin’ pussy!”
Margaret screamed after Russell, her anger hot, and the sound of white noise drowned her out. The disembodied voices she heard before returned. Some were accusatory and aggressive. She fought them. They should not be inside her. They faded, as did the white noise. All was replaced with loud ringing.
The ringing faded out. In the blackness all that could be heard was Margaret’s breathing. She was sleeping. Unknown time had passed, but the sound of Russell pulling the damaged door open and walking into the garage stirred her awake. He held a bottle of water in one hand, a book in the other, and took a seat in front of her. She focused and blinked. She made out that he had a bible in his lap and was now dressed in priest’s garb.
He said, “I’m surprised you didn’t try to hop out of here.”
“But,” he went on, “not knowing what’s out there must’ve been enough to keep you in here.”
She whispered for the bottle. “Please, water.”
“All that screaming takes a toll.” Russell granted her request. He sat the bible down and took her the bottle of water. He opened it and pressed it to her lips. Margaret tried to gulp it down. “Here ya go. Easy, easy. Too much at one time will make you sick.”
He pulled the bottle away and went back to the chair, picked up the bible and opened it, flipping through the pages. “We’re almost finished here,” he said.
“Finished with what?”
Russell landed on the book of First John and left it open there.
“Didn’t we do that already?” she asked. “All those sorted details?”
Russell kept his head down, his fingers perusing the verses. He said, “That wasn’t your confession, Sister Margaret. That was confirmation.”
He looked up from the bible, and said, “Of a crime. Statutory rape, to be specific. Something you thoroughly enjoyed, apparently.”
“No, no,” he said. “It’s fine, really. I admit that hearing it was unsettling. I’ve been imagining what it would be like to hear it for more than ten years. I thought I was ready. But, no. Hearing it from you was… well, it broke me.”
Russell searched Margaret’s face for some sign of regret, something apologetic. Nothing was there.
“What’s with the bible?”
“A Sunday school lesson,” he said. “All about confession.”
“There’s nothing more to confess.”
Disregarding her denial, Russell stood with the bible in hand, like a priest, and started. “First John, chapter one, verses eight, nine and ten.”
“Oh, come on. You’re giving me a sermon?”
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.”
“That’s very moving,” she said. “What? Are we supposed to have a religious debate now?”
Russell laid the bible on Margaret’s lap, opened face up. He said, “I’m not the religious one, Sister Margaret. Oh, I believe in something. I’m just not vain enough to put a title on it. You, on the other hand? I’d say First John matters very much to someone like you.”
“I already gave you my confession. And, yes. I was wrong. It was a sin to do what I did with your sister. Can’t you see that?”
Russell bent down in front of Margaret. He leaned in, always searching her face, and asked, “See what?”
“How sorry I am,” she said. “I’ve been living with it for a long time, Russell. She was such a sweet girl. I never should’ve let what happened happen. It was wrong and I’m sorry.”
Russell did not see an apology or a sense of urgency, or a notion of truth in Margaret. He got back up. He said, “I think it’s a shame that you either can’t see your sin or don’t want to own it.”
“The rape?” he demanded. “No, the rape was only part of it, Sister. Your sin goes well beyond the rape of a child.”
Margaret hung her head. This was the part she never wanted to hear again; the part she never wanted to relive. The words dropped from her lips. “I didn’t kill Jenny.”
Russell stopped where he was. There may have been some sincerity in her, but he was sick of her denial. He leaned down into her face again. He said, “But you are responsible.”
“It’s not my fault.”
Russell twitched away from Margaret. Her words repelled him. “No? Am I wrong? Have I been wrong all this time? Are you not the same woman who raped my sister?”
“But I didn’t kill her.”
He was angry, but he was not going to let her get to him like she did previously. He said, “It wasn’t just Jenny you killed, Sister.”
The accusation was not possible. “What? Who else?”
He held up two fingers. He said, “I count two you are responsible for.”
Russell could not look at Margaret. He held his head up, looking at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and looked back down. He put his hand over his mouth. Saying anything about that terrible day was not permissible.
Margaret watched him. He backed himself against a wall and slid all the way down to the floor. He sighed, and let it out. “Jenny’s best friend Teresa wanted to go to the cops. You know girls. They share everything about everything. Teresa and Jenny fought about it all the way to the pedestrian bridge over the expressway. That’s where they tumbled over, and fell to their deaths.”
Margaret doubted. She waited for more. There was no more to tell. She told him what he wanted to hear. “I’m sorry. That was tragic. But I had nothing to do with it.”
Russell’s eyes locked onto her. He crawled toward her. He said, “You had everything to do with it. If you hadn’t raped my sister, she never would’ve felt the need to confide in her best friend. If you hadn’t raped my sister, she never would’ve been fighting with Teresa about going to the police. If you hadn’t raped my sister, we wouldn’t be here.”
Margaret argued. “I may be guilty of being with your sister in an inappropriate way, but I am not guilty of murder.”
Russell jumped up from the floor and smacked the bible off of her lap. It furled away. “You are guilty of two counts of murder.” He pulled Margaret out of the chair and threw her to the floor. “And you are going to confess.” He hurried out of the garage. The door remained open part of the way.
Margaret looked at the door and tried to get back on her feet. She only got to her knees before Russell returned with the door left open behind him. He carried a knife in one hand and a large bucket of blood in the other.
“I had hoped I wouldn’t have to use this,” he said, “but you’ve given me little choice.”
He pulled Margaret up and held her arms above her head. He used the knife to cut her clothes open and strip her bare. Margaret screamed her resistance. At her ankles he cut the plastic zip-ties. He had to fight with her to cut her pants off.
Russell stepped back and tossed Margaret’s clothes away. She was bound only by her wrists now. He looked at her. She was naked and horror-stricken.
“This another one of your sick games?”
Russell picked up the bucket of blood.
“You going to paint yourself in latex and fuck me in a pool of blood?”
He said, “Funny how only one of us has a sick imagination, Sister Margaret.”
Russell threw the bucket of blood at Margaret. Its contents splashed against her naked flesh and spattered. Margaret cried. Russell sat the bucket down and watched her. The blood was cold and putrid. She tried to wipe it away from her face. Some of it was deep in her nostrils and had gone down her throat. She bent over and heaved, vomiting onto the floor.
She fell over, still heaving, choking on vomit. Russell picked her up by the back of the hair. He told her to, “Say it.” Margaret refused. Russell brought a knee up into the small of her back and forced her down, prone to the floor. He insisted she, “Say it!”
He pulled Margaret up by the hair. She screamed with pain, and he pitched her over his shoulder. He said, “Seems like you’ve got a little more thinking to do, Sister.” Russell carried Margaret to the hook and chain that the dead pig was still hanging from. “But don’t worry,” he said, and forced her onto the hook, hanging her by zip-ties. When he let her go she fell to her knees, arms above her head on the hook. He went to the crank and operated the lever. The chain ascended, pulling Margaret upward. She cried out again, the agony settling into her wrists, arms, shoulders and back. He positioned her to a few inches above the floor. Her feet dangled, blood dripping. He said, “With the climate control in this garage you’ll air out pretty quick.”
“Please,” she whimpered, “let me down. It hurts.”
“It hurts? I’m sure it does. I can’t guarantee how long those ties will hold, but the good thing is your circulation will be cut off pretty soon.” Russell walked over to the timer. The sledgehammer was secured in place. He said, “Shouldn’t be long before you’re feeling no pain at all. Just a dull, gentle numbness.”
Margaret jerked about on the hook. “Please,” she said. “I’ll tell you whatever you want.”
“Yeah, we’ll let you think about it for awhile.”
He turned the dial on the timer. It ticked. “Let’s see if you can guess how long you’ve got.” He walked back to the door.
“No,” Margaret said, “you can’t do this.”
The door closed only halfway behind Russell.
Margaret moaned. She wept. Over the hook her wrists were white, straining against plastic and metal. Breathing was difficult, enduring the pain, jerking about on the hook. Her thoughts were only of the torment, until a cacophony of death metal blared through the speakers. Her screams were muted, drowned out. From lack of oxygen, or lack of sanity, she hallucinated: She saw her own form morph into a hideous malformed pig, jerking and twitching on that hook. She fought for her life in that nightmarish vision. Each twitch was an attempt to lift herself from off that hook, and every attempt crashed.
Margaret counted the drops of blood and sweat falling to her feet. It was slow. The blood she was covered in was congealing. On her face her eyes were blank and distant. She could do nothing but listen to the ticking of the timer.
Russell entered, carrying his tablet. He walked up to the timer in full view of Margaret. He said, “I want you to know I understand you.”
Margaret sighed to show him some sign of life still there.
“I can’t forgive you,” he went on. “That’s a given. But I do understand.” He walked about Margaret in a circle. “You can’t help what you are. You can’t change. It’s just your nature. Fact of the matter is…” Russell stopped directly in front of Margaret. He stooped down to her face. There was no animosity in his gaze. “…you’re just as much a victim as the girls you’ve raped.”
Margaret gave him no indication she was guilty of this new accusation.
Russell circled her again. “A victim of nature is compelled. She does what she has to in order to feed her compulsion. That’s why she has to be removed from society.” He tapped the tablet. An image of a thirteen-year-old girl appeared. He held it up to show Margaret, and said, “Tell me about Sofia.”
She lied. “Who’s that?”
“Sofia Mendez.” He scrolled through numerous pictures of Sofia on the tablet. “You’ve seen her at Wellsprings,” he said. “Pretty girl.” He held the tablet up again. “These all came from your phone. She remind you of anyone?” Again, he circled. The ticking continued, a constant grind. He said, “You know, I can’t be certain, but I’m betting you have a long history of this.”
“A long history of what?”
“What are you, almost fifty now? I’d say that you’ve been doing this since your...what, early twenties, maybe? That’s a few decades worth of little girls.” Russell stopped in front of her again. He held up the tablet with Sofia’s image. He said, “Tell me about Sofia. She the next?”
Margaret’s breath was staggered. She forced the words out. “Maybe I’m not the sick one, Russell. Maybe it’s you. You think about that? What’s so wrong inside you that you need to hear all the details? I think you’re the victim of your own sexual fantasies.”
He knew she was digging at him again. He took it.
She said, “At least I gave those girls a sense of worth.”
“A sense of worth?”
“When those girls left me they knew they were wanted. They knew they were loved. And, yeah. Even Jenny.” She tried to pull herself up. “Jenny knew she was loved, Russell. Because I loved her. I never would’ve hurt her. I loved her. I was crushed when she died. And if you can’t see that you can go to hell!”
She spat in Russell’s face. He wiped it away, and said, “What I see, Sister Margaret, is that you are now trying to condition me.”
He walked away and leaned against the concrete wall, where the garage door used to be. The ticking continued, a looming threat. He said, “An hour ago you told me how sorry you were about what you did to Jenny. And now, not only do you defend it, but you call it love. Rape is an act of violence, not love.”
“Stop saying that!”
“I never raped Jenny. I never raped anyone. And I am not responsible for her death.”
Russell needed something to do with his hands so he would not use them to strangle Margaret. He folded his arms across his chest, and said, “It’s that denial that keeps you hanging there, Sister Margaret. Who are you lying to?”
“Love is what life is all about,” she said. “All I ever wanted was to love your sister.”
He was willing to indulge her. “Alright, let’s say I believe you. That is, I believe you believe you actually loved these girls, however many there were. My sister included.”
Margaret found it more difficult to breathe, much less speak, but managed. “That’s right.”
“Something magical must’ve happened in your own developmental years, oh, around the ages of thirteen and fourteen, which left you with a feeling of fulfillment and joy. A kind of ecstasy that can only be expressed as love.”
On Margaret’s face Russell could see the memory of a long lost love. She almost panted with desire. The girl’s name burned on her lips. “Shelly Petersen.”
Russell rolled his eyes. He paced back and forth, and said, “This love you had with Shelly was so powerful, so perfect, all you’ve ever wanted was to find that same magic all over again. Your first love.”
The ticking of the timer was lost in their conversation.
Margaret had to struggle to readjust her position to be able to speak without laboring. She was too tired to fight for her life and fight to make Russell believe her. She looked into his face and decided she no longer cared what he believed. She said, “I know you’re mocking me. You don’t get it.”
“No, I get it, Sister. As the rest of your body grew up your heart stayed behind, longing for that love that never comes around again.”
From the pain of labored breathing Margaret’s voice was falling, her breathing heavy. She spoke and Russell got closer, each word bringing him in. “You don’t understand. It does come around again. It’s always a first love.”
Russell stood where he was, about two feet from her. He said, “And you don’t see how that’s wrong?”
The ticking was constant, leaden and distant.
Margaret’s eyelids were so heavy. She said, “Love is never wrong.”
Russell shook his head from what he was hearing. Maybe there was another end he had hoped for. As it was, he said, “You’re an animal. My only choice is to put you down.”
“I have to tell you one last thing.”
He leaned in closer and Margaret’s lips moved to speak. She was whispering too soft to be heard. He moved in yet closer, until his ear was on Margaret’s mouth. She said, “If I’m going to die, I’m taking you with me.”
Margaret bit down hard to clamp her teeth like a vice onto Russell’s ear. Russell screamed. Margaret leapt up and wrapped her legs as tight as possible around his waist. He struggled with her, even as her teeth drew blood. He tried to pull away, he tried to force Margaret off him. Every maneuver made the pain worse. He punched into Margaret’s ribs. She cried out but kept her hold. He punched again and Margaret’s head pulled back, her teeth pulling his ear away.
Russell twisted her and lifted up in an attempt to push her off. It was no good, but it did give Margaret enough slack to pull herself off the hook. Free from it, Margaret brought her arms down around Russell’s neck. With the plastic zip-ties around her wrists he was unable to break her hold. She choked him, his face turned red. And now she ripped the ear completely away from his head.
Russell screamed and jerked away. With one hand up to where his ear used to be he used the other hand like a wedge, bringing it under Margaret’s closed arms to get some relief from her death-grip.
Margaret spit the ear out onto the floor.
Russell spun with Margaret and used his weight to drive her forward. They stumbled against the workbench, kicking it out of their path, revealing the keys that were under it.
They crashed into the back wall, knocking over shelves and various items, but she hung on tight. And watching them both was the Bluegrass Brewing Company’s bar room mirror, its audience yet unseen.
Russell spun again and used the force generated to slam Margaret into the wall. The back of her head knocked hard against it and she slumped loose, almost unconscious. With her body still attached to him, Russell backed away from the wall and fell forward with her to the floor. Being pounded against the floor kicked the wind out of Margaret. She was out.
Russell was winded, breathing hard, and wounded. Margaret’s arms, though loose, were still around his neck. He took a moment to catch his breath and feel for his ear, now gone. He cursed and removed Margaret’s arms from around his neck. They fell away from him. It was enough to rouse her.
Russell stood up and a new fire of spirit was set in Margaret. She attacked from the floor, using both her legs to kick up and into his gut. Russell stumbled back, away from Margaret.
The timer on the wall went off.
The sledgehammer was set free.
The sledgehammer slammed into the back of Russell’s head. Blood spattered and it continued on its course. His body fell limp onto Margaret. Its weight knocked the breath out of her again. She closed her eyes but did not fall unconscious. The sledgehammer swung back and forth. It came to a gradual stop, blood dripping to the floor at the center of the garage.
Margaret opened her eyes and looked up at Russell’s mutilated head. After all the trauma she was calm, even relieved. Her wrists were still bound. It was hard work to wiggle out from under his corpse. When she did she found his knife tucked into his belt. She sat up on her knees. She took the knife and held it in place between her thighs, facing up. Then she brought in her wrists and moved them up and down against the blade in a sawing fashion. It was not perfect. The knife was hard to hold in position. After a few tries the plastic zip-ties were cut. Margaret scowled from the pain, sensation returning to her wrists and hands. She staggered to bring herself up from the floor, steadying herself before she could walk.
Margaret looked down at the body of Russell. She would never have to listen to his badgering again. She let out a tortured cry of victory, directed at his corpse. “Fuck you!”
She slowly approached the door, her steps heavy and purposeful. She stopped and waited, remembering Russell’s threat that what waited on the other side was worse. After taking in a deep breath she moved forward again and her foot gently kicked the missing keys across the floor. Margaret looked down and saw the keys. Her body shook, as if she may vomit again. But what came out started with a chuckle. She threw her head back. What should have been extraordinary weeping was instead repressed laughter, boiling up from a dark pit of madness. Margaret laughed uncontrollably. Somewhere in the garage that old bar mirror stared, watching Margaret laugh.
When she stopped Margaret kicked the keys out of her way and continued to the door. She pushed it open with ease and peered into the utility room with the washer and dryer. She walked in, careful of any traps that may be lying in wait. She stopped at the threshold of the kitchen. There, sitting in the middle of the floor, she saw a coffin made of plywood. She could only imagine what Russell intended it for. Pushed out of the way was the kitchen table, upon which were cans of liquid latex, a paintbrush, a gasmask, and a torture kit Russell never used. Margaret also saw her phone and purse. She picked both up, opened the purse and dropped the phone in. Inside she found her keys.
Walking on she passed through a hallway and into the living room, where family photos with Russell and Jenny were scattered. Margaret saw the front door. Next to it was a chair that a long coat had been loosely cast onto. She sat her purse down and put the coat on, then she closed her eyes and opened the front door. A large shaft of sunlight beamed into the house with Margaret’s form silhouetted against it. She stood there with her eyes closed and took in the fresh air. When she opened her eyes, squinting at first to adjust, she was surprised to see her own car sitting in the driveway.
Margaret noticed that Russell’s house was rural, far away from neighbors, probably located far outside the city. If not for the given situation it was otherwise lovely. She calmly walked to her car and opened the door, got in, turned the engine over, pulled out of the driveway, and drove down a lonely road.
Back at Russell’s house, down the hallway, into the bedroom, were a series of monitors, one of which had been watching Margaret in the garage since her arrival. At the bottom of the screen read the words: LIVE STREAMING.
At her own apartment Margaret dropped her purse, threw off the coat, and climbed into the shower. She washed hard, scrubbing the blood and gore from off her body. She watched the trauma of her captivity swirl down the drain. She smiled.
Margaret’s bedroom was not that of a grown woman. It was decorated like that of a fourteen-year-old girl’s. Happy it was now all behind her, Margaret put new sheets on the bed, crawled in with her favorite teddy-bear, and closed her eyes. On the nightstand next to the bed sat the Holy Bible.
It was a bright Sunday morning when Margaret’s car pulled into the parking lot of Wellsprings Christian Center. It was a small building that at one time was an old farm-house. The parking lot itself was nothing more than dirt and gravel. Several cars were already parked, others were looking for a parking spot or pulling in.
Inside her car Margaret, dressed in her Sunday best, smiled and waved at church members. Some did not bother looking at her. Those who did gave her a look of disgust, shame and disappointment. Margaret either did not notice or did not care that a police vehicle was parked near the front entrance. She parked her car somewhere in the middle and stepped out. She brushed any dust or lint from off her dress and walked toward the building, anticipating the service. A number of church members she walked by had their cells and other devices out, staring down at them. A few were gathered in groups, whispering and looking at her.
Margaret saw Sofia Mendez with her family. She smiled and waved at her, but the girl’s mother pulled her close and her father insinuated himself between his daughter and Margaret.
She walked into church and was met by Pastor Rick, who put an arm around her and pulled her into his office. Inside two police officers asked her to sit down. She complied and the officers began questioning her. One officer held up a tablet and showed her a video. Margaret did not recognize the tortured woman in the video.
At the front entrance of the small community church a crowd gathered, some just now looking down at their cell phones and devices. Outside in the parking lot the crowd was swelling, being joined by numerous media vans from local news stations. Sofia Mendez sat in her parent’s car, crying. And for the first time in a long time, praying.