Tuesday, June 30, 2015

She'ol



            I couldn't take it anymore. The screaming, the fighting, it was more than I could handle. I left the same way that I always fought back. I was loud, I was furious and so was the message that I did not fail to convey. I was so angry I wanted to hit someone, to hurt someone, it wouldn't matter who it was and whether they deserved it or not. I brutally slammed the front door shut behind me, ran down the front steps and I didn't even turn around, not once. I considered not going, but the rage within me had to be withdrawn. I needed to be withdrawn. The only way to effectively do so was to remove myself from the situation and flee the scene. I left our row house in the dust and sprinted towards the subway station on the next corner. I could take it all day if need be. I could have space and time alone. Hate seethed within me as I quickened my pace towards freedom. Instant gratification would not be quick enough. I cursed under my breath. I knew it was time that I went for a ride as far away as I could possibly get. I knew there was no other way to escape what I was feeling.
            One city block stood in the way of my emancipation. I covered the distance in leaps and bounds. I thundered down the entranceway, through the turnstile and onto the platform meant for waiting. I remained agitated, panicky and quite bemused. This was not the first time we had come to blows. This was not the first time I walked out, ran out any exit seeking relief. I swore I would not return. This was not the first time I had made myself such a promise. This was not the only time I said it was so. I lingered, pacing, praying that the train would soon arrive. As I pondered my fate, as I recognized my disposition, I even considered tossing myself on the tracks below. I questioned if the silence would ever be worth the cost. Would the gain be worth the loss? I was breathless and a moment seemed to take forever. I leaned over the track course and peered down the tunnel, spying for a single bright light that would carry me away from it all. I tried as I may to hold to some hope in my departure but it was impossible for me to find peace when my mind was at war. I couldn't think straight, I could barely form a rational thought. I heard it coming from around the bend.
            The platform was almost empty when I arrived. Only a handful of people came forward at the sound of the beast. I looked down, glaring at the subway tracks. I meant to jump. Suddenly, like a red and steel rocket, the train pulled into the station, came to its stop and rested. I had chickened out once again. The doors opened with their normal noise but with little commotion. This time was apparently the best time to take a ride alone. A few rushed commuters came and went, a few remained seated, and I shuffled aboard. The door call sounded, the doors shut and I grabbed a support rail as the metal mole moved deep into the next tunnel. The car was almost empty. Two Asian girls sat up near the door to the next cab, both were lost to their smartphones, oblivious to the world around them. An elderly African American gentleman sat almost dead middle. He glanced at me when I started to move to the back of the car. I took my place in private, huddled against a window in the very last seat to be found. I would have crawled under it if not for the space and the fear of being tossed off the metro. The next stop bid farewell to the old man, and two stops more rid me of those silly girls. I found myself alone, staring at the walls of the tunnel system as they passed at twenty miles per hour. One stop after another and the space remained vacuous. Even my rage dissolved and found its way off of the craft. My pulse stopped racing and my breathing improved. The throbbing headache I had carried ceased existence and I found myself comfortable. This process  had always worked in the past. I looked out into the darkness and then closed my eyes to rest. I didn't need to dream.

            I woke up choking. My face, my eyelids, my mouth were covered in some dry form of silt. I leaned forward and shook my head like a dog would after a bath. I opened my eyes slowly, in case something dared to remain in its place. The world had become dust, dust and grey and frozen. I was sitting on the same train, in the same spot, but the entire subway car was covered in filth. I could not believe my stinging eyes. From front to back, from side to side, the cab was captured by inches of  detritus, layer upon layer of soot. It appeared to be very fine ash. The car was not moving. Apart from the obvious, something was definitely wrong with the scene. The doors near the head of the train sat wide open but those quite near to me had been closed up tight. When I stood, it felt like rain was falling from my fingertips. A cloud of the same rubble floated off my body. I wagged the dog one more time. I shook in tremors, from head to toe and then back again. The debris left me and lingered like a fog of something foreign, a haze I could not identify. A mist had fallen and rested all over the world.
            I tried to wipe it all off as best as I could. I used the tails of my shirt to clean off my features and clear off my skin. Any remnants would have to do. It looked like I had been tumbled in a vacuum cleaner. I walked slowly past each seat and headed towards the open doors. Everything was covered in a fine but dense layer of sandy gloom. The floor was buried, the walls had been painted with touches of chalk. Each vacant seat was a testament, each stratum of the strange deposit a message that something had happened to life as I slept. At first, the windows seemed smoky. A quick investigation revealed they were also bathed in this residue. For a moment, I thought I was in a science fiction movie and, like Charlton Heston, had discovered New York City somewhere Beneath the Planet of the Apes. I moved with caution towards the exit. I peered outside, hoping someone would greet me and explain the reason for all this mess. I heard no one. I saw no one. I was clearly alone with no idea what had happened. As I stepped out onto the platform, the glassy lint below forced me down rather quickly. I landed hard on a bed of concrete and dust. I just sat there, trying to fan away particles of something intent on invading my orifices. I covered my nose and mouth and rose to the occasion. I was stunned. It was like existence had ended in a cloud of smoke and ash. 
            The subway station was dark and empty but for the distant glow of nearby entrances and exits. Everything appeared to be covered in the very same icing of doom. I was more than a little frightened. I was also very hesitant to leave the artificial safety of rapid transit. I was almost crippled by the fear. I was careful not to take a deep breath and I walked out into the shadows. One foot in front of the other led me into the unknown.  I had no idea who or what was out in the muck but I was drawn to the light as it crawled inside from a better place. This world was silent. There were no sounds from travelling trains, no shuffle or bustle of people coming to and fro. The air was still and very stale. Breathing seemed more like drinking soup, a quagmire made up from one billion tiny pieces of somber. I edged forward, scanning from side to side. I reached the outer wall and began to skulk along it, as quiet as a mouse. When I reached the vestibule on the platform, I literally slid over the turnstile and lowered each leg down to the ground. I played dead but just for a moment. There was nothing to startle me or cause me to react. There was nothing at all. There was nothing about. There was only more desert, more dirt and more confusion on my part. I kept to the wall and rounded the way to the light. The tunnel was clear of man or beast, or so it seemed to be. Only dust led the way, dust that had clearly not been disturbed for some time. It was a glaze, unbroken by footprints or tracks of any kind. I ran up the steep and jumped into the bright.

            I must be dreaming. This could not be real. From the tallest tower to the lowest street grate, everything had been covered in a blanket of grey snow. Every car had been embraced. Every tree had been smothered. There was no sight and no scene that had not met this dingy fate. The silence was mortifying. This must be the End. I scanned the sea of dull for any hue or color, any sign of man. It was the strangest thing that I noticed. Each building was intact. Each relic undisturbed. The world outside was frozen in the spot that I had left it, but it was put to sleep, put to bed with some form of fallout. I called out for any survivor. The landscape of dust was so dense that it failed to even echo a return. The sky was dark. I could not find the sun. A cloud of nuclear winter filled the air but from the condition of the things on earth, I knew no bomb had met my city, no war had found this land. It was just covered, an endless wasteland shrouded as if by sprinkles of almost night. I was paralyzed by this new reality. I could not believe my eyes. I stood there, whimpering, staring at the ground, then the street and then the sky. Everything was exactly the same but it had been painted over with great stokes of hopelessness. It was then that I recognized a street sign, then another, each was dusted, painted over with the same rain of junk. I ran over to each and shovelled away the dirt with a hand. I spun in panic, rushing over to the subway stop indicator. I closed my eyes and cleared the remnants of whatever storm had come this way. I peeked through my lids, both wanting but not wanting to know. I had to look for some answers. There it was. It was my stop, the place I had come from. This was my home, my neighbourhood, my world.
            I flashed down the block and up the soot-layered stairs of my once beautiful home. Somehow, I just knew that the door would not be locked. I checked it regardless, hoping someone had sealed themselves inside. The foyer was as empty as the street. The same dust storm had entered here too, coating my life inside with the same damn rubble that had met me outside. Nothing had gone untouched by the swarm. I ran out back calling hello. I ran upstairs begging if anyone was there. There was more silence and stirred dust settling and an eerie hollowness from all things lost to me. In the main hallway, I stopped to clean off a picture. It made me smile a little, in spite of myself. I was so broken, so defeated. I didn't know how to feel or what to think. I just stood there in my dirty clothes, in my dirty house, in my dirty life. What had happened to the world? Why was I the only one left to deal with all the caked-on mud that had swallowed my existence? How did this happen? Was this really the End?
            I took that sweet picture frame with me as I walked out the front door and back into the murky light. The sky kept churning above me and the dust kept stirring as I walked along the street. I started to feel quite cheated by it all. I didn't understand why I had been left as a witness to this calamity. It did not seem fair that I should be the only one. I wondered if I was being punished or if I had been spared. Regardless, I screamed out for someone to hear me. Over and over I called for release. It was the weight of my tears that buckled me onto myself. My legs let go and I fell to my knees in the soot. In the center of the road I gave in. In that moment, in that heartbeat, I think I started to pray. I wasn't sure what I was praying to. I barely understood what I was praying for.  I kicked my feet from under me and flopped down on my butt. I started rocking. I started weeping. My tears mixed with my dusty face and tiny puddles of goo melted onto each cheek. I collapsed onto the pavement and laid there waiting to die.
            I have no idea how much time passed before I finally got up and collected myself. One would imagine that for all the times I had considered tossing myself, it would be easy to abandon it all. The truth is, I could not. I could not give in to the desolation around me. I could not just finish myself in despair. I rose as I found the strength in me. I dusted myself off, looked all around and I started walking. Surely someone else had been left behind. Out in the world there could be many searching, just the same. The further I travelled, the more confident I became. If I kept going, I would discover hope somewhere along the way. I wandered through neighbourhoods, past landmarks and over bridges great and small. All I knew to do was just keep walking. I had to just keep going. There would be no other choice. All my notions got left in a cloud of dust.             

            "Do you really think he did it?" she whispered to her friend.
            "They say he fell," the friend replied.
            "I can't believe she cremated him,"  the first woman added.
            "Where is she going to have him buried?" the second woman questioned.
            "Not in the Jewish cemetery, that's for sure," she concluded.

            The room quieted as the Rabbi took his place at the podium. The quaint space was filled with weeping ladies and scornful men. As the teacher spoke about the randomness of life, the mourners tossed and turned in their places. All the while, he sat hidden in an urn of bronze, placed for all to see with prominence. It was a tribute to the life he had once lived. It was beautiful in a simple way. Any prohibitions found in the Halachah were irrelevant anyway. There wasn't much left of him to bury. When all the words had been said, when all the goodbyes were done, the Rabbi handed her the container and  hugged her softly. She found her way home like most grievers do. She took off her shoes, laid her purse on the chair and she walked softly into the main hallway. Next to a picture of the two of them together, she placed what once was next to what used to be and she started to cry again. She tried to imagine him with her. She wanted to see his face, to feel his touch one more time. All she could think of were the words she left behind her, of "Ashes to ashes and dust to dust."

 
 

 

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Food of the Dogs

 
 


            Richard Robertson had previously killed six other women when he joined Jessica Smith as she walked home on a late June evening. Having left the bar just around the corner, she was a little drunk and oblivious to the world around her. He stepped out of his grey Honda Civic and slowly followed behind. He kept back so as not to alarm her. She casually roamed, unaware of the predator skulking in the shadows. She crossed over Richmond  Street, against the light, and made her way into Victoria Park. For 1:48 AM, on an early Tuesday morning, the park seemed dense with people. She laughed when she spotted a couple copulating on one of the benches. She avoided the group of young men congregating against the War Memorial in the centre of the park. An elderly couple smiled at her as she breezed past them on the well-lit path. There was enough commotion that she did not notice the figure all dressed in black, lurking just out of her reach. When she stopped to light a cigarette, he leaned against a tree in the dark. She proceeded on her way, having chucked the pack and lighter back into her purse, unaware that the danger from behind her had disappeared into nothingness. She crossed the park, flicked her smoke onto the street ahead and once again she cut across the light.
            It had been twenty-two months since the first girl had been reported missing. Jessica would be the seventh victim. Each had simply disappeared while walking home in the wee hours of the morning. They vanished without a trace, as if they were plucked up into heaven during some rapture. Not even a hint of them could be found. There were significant commonalities between each young woman. They all worked in a bar and they were heading home after a long shift at work. Each travelled by foot, not car, bus or taxi. Some were drunk, like Jessica. All were more shapely girls, "meaty" if you want to put it that way. They were short and therefore visibly overweight. There is no correlation between the establishments. Each girl was taken from a different community. Robertson randomly picked a place far away from the rest and then once inside, he picked the girl. If no one met his requirements, he would then abandon his intentions for another evening with the hope he would fare better. Often it took weeks, even months, before he discovered someone suitable. If he did find a dupe, he would spend the night at the end of that bar pretending to drink scotch and water. Beneath the bar he would soak up the mix with napkins he had brought with him, hiding the wet mess in the pocket of his dark jacket. He would cleverly discard them on his trips to the bathroom. For the evening, he was a silent but familiar face at the end of the counter. Richard listened carefully to every word his prey would utter. At last call, he would artificially stumble out the door like a drunken fool. This part of the chase was the most fun for him.
            Running ahead only helped to locate the perfect spot for him to take her. In her inebraited state, she had led his way. Tonight two buildings would shield him. The three foot crawlspace between them held no special light. He could hide right in front of her face. He was a master of illusion, deflecting his presence. As Jessica approached his web, a red rubber ball bounced from out of nowhere and rolled across the road. It was pure instinct that shifted her attention to the dog toy as it passed. The slight noise and action drew her around to study the event. She stopped and took a look. The sack flew over her head and he pulled her quickly into the darkness. There was enough chloroform laced in the lining to knock her out in less than fifteen seconds. It didn't matter if it killed her. The hood he had sown together from cubicle insulation fabric effectively soundproofed any vocal reaction until the drug kicked in. Making sure she was out cold, and that the coast was clear, he grabbed the rubber toy and headed back towards his automobile. Just like every other girl, he simply pulled up beside her hidden place, struggled getting her upright and then laid her in the back seat. Although it had never happened, he was well prepared for the illusion of propping up his very drunk girlfriend in an attempt to get her home. He had never been caught in the act. With the ball in one pocket, and the hood still wrapped around her head, he took the most direct route outside of the city. He didn't give anyone a reason to notice him. He didn't speed. He obeyed every law. By the time he reached his home, as with each encounter, he had disappeared into obscurity. 
            The old farm reeked of decline. Its distance from civilization and any urban sprawl made it the perfect accessory to his crimes. The lot laid in ill-repair, quite visibly abandoned to nature. He pulled onto the beaten path that ran from the road into a dense but small forest of heavy and ancient trees. In the daylight, it was almost picturesque. A quaint country lane, passing through the wooded spot, was overrun with vegetation. Any field had lost its purpose to long grasses and weeds and unending fallow. After the camouflage, the strip of dirt diverged. Malingering in silence, off to his right, well beyond the house, was the barn. It had collapsed upon itself years before, the victim of a wild windstorm and a disregarded structure. He pulled left, crept up to in front of a rather ugly carport and stopped. Several very old oak trees littered the yard. Abandoned farm equipment sat rusting out in the back acre. The house was nothing to speak of. It too had been left to the whims of a natural world and a disinterested caretaker. Richard's parents had lived here and they both died here. One could assume that the property and edifices met the same fate. After the storm which destroyed the barn, there was little interest on Richard's part to maintain anything other than what laid inside. The garage fared better than the building it sat beside. Richard got out of his car, walked over and unlocked it. The door raised open and revealed a great empty space. Having returned to the car, he peeked at his captive, still out cold on the back seat, and pulled inside. He quickly disengaged, left her in trust, and closed it up behind him.
            The dogs had started barking the second he pulled past the trees. Each bark was muffled, sent from a distance, hidden somewhere secret and inside. The large enclosed port was a relic from a different time. It had once housed horses and wagons, Early in the 20th century, a large Amish family had lived on the property. Remnants of their  lifestyle lingered, some had been well maintained while others fell into poor condition. The garage doors and walls had been added by Richard's father in the 1970s, to shield any automobile from the heavy snowstorms that come with Canadian living. The house and port were joined by a makeshift alley, tin pieces sewn together to block the view. He crossed the channel, unbolted the way, and silently slipped into his sanctuary. The barking increased. Inside the place was eerie, like some abandoned nightmare of clutter and ambivalence. The last time it had been sorted or cared for, his mother had done the deed. She died in bed on the second floor, just feet from where his father had passed. With both his limitations deceased, he was free to pursue his inclinations. On weekdays, he journeyed to and from the butcher shop his folks had left him, serving the public with a smile. He was a good employer, a friendly chap, a careful facade to hide his ways. Each weekend, he left business behind him and hunted for the perfect prey. It was a long process, an exact method, and he took his time to ensure completion. Once he was back on his property, he felt safe. He slipped through the dark kitchen, stopped just beneath the stairs and unlocked the basement door, freeing his only friends.  
            The three Dobermans ran past him, eager to release. He followed behind them, eventually opening a back door which led to an enclosed yard. The fence was an unnecessary barrier, all the dogs were well trained. It acted more as insurance rather than prevention. Each dog was faithful to a fault. Caesar, the oldest, never strayed. Nero, the bravest, followed Caesar's lead. Caligula, the youngest, was just glad to get outside. Richard pulled the door closed, leaving his army to run in the dark. Their reward always kept them in line. Their want was a deterrent to bad behaviour or the need to flee. Each knew what was to come. Every time he found them was mere foreplay, a dance just before a feeding. They were safe at play while he worked his ways. Richard headed back towards his victim. Once in the carport, he opened the driver's side rear door and reached in for Jessica. He pulled her out using her armpits, her feet slapping on the dirt floor upon exit. He dragged her through the side door, past the tin wall and into his den. It was one motion for him by this time. Six others had revealed his errors. He was precise, succinct and ready for any incident that might interfere with his duty. At the top of the basement, he let go of one of her arms for but a moment, then switched on the light. The space was close and dank and full of shadow. The light from the room below did little to change the descent. Down thirteen stairs he dragged her. Like a burlap bag of potatoes, her ankles met each step.  Small pieces fell from the limestone walls, each bump, each bang, producing a fair amount of dust and crumble. She was still out cold and she didn't bother to protest this trip. Her dead weight had already been determined. There was no struggle left in her. Richard could not have cared less.
            The large room was sparse. The walls were limestone just like in the stairwell. The place was clean and in order. In the far right corner, the furnace and water tank sat on a concrete square. The floor was hard dirt otherwise. In the opposing corner, a stack of boxes and crates had been placed with care and in specific position. Along one wall was a feeding station. Three bowls for water met three even larger, each empty from the dog's time alone. Across a great space, a fair sized iron and chain link kennel ran ten feet along the length of the room. There are no windows to be found. There were no remnants from three dogs and a day inside. He dragged the damsel across the dirt floor and laid her down just to the side of the kennel door. He clipped it open with a hook, reached back for the girl and forced her into it. At its end, he placed her on the wooden planks and reached up in secret. He pushed against the wall, returned to the girl and like the predator he is, he carted her body into his limestone shop of horror. The light was not engaged. He simply turned and left Jessica on the floor of his dungeon.  He pulled the door closed by a ridge in the wall and he sauntered slowly out of his hole. The best part was yet to come so he headed outside to bring in the dogs.
            When the lights were on, you could tell his abattoir was pristine. A long slab of surgical steel divided it in two. Against the hundred year old outer wall, a large freezer and shelves laced with equipment, gloves and cleaning supplies almost overflowed in their organized state. An old outdoor water pump and catch basin had been joined together for his convenience and sat there in the corner. On the inner side of the flat top rested another large table to the right. It was covered with the tools of the trade.  An open box of latex gloves, some aprons and a minimal amount of sterile gauze could be accessed with only a reach. Numerous knifes, pliers and steel mallets sat waiting. Rib spreaders and a bone saw almost finished the plate. A fairly new meat trimmer sat at the end, plugged into the cord coming out from the wall. To his left, an oversized meat grinder fit snug into the niche while three well-used meat hooks rested downward, hanging there like doom. Oddly enough, a child's small Mr. Turtle swimming pool rested beneath them. This private slaughterhouse was no processing plant. It looked more like any butcher shop would. An enormous roll of plastic wrap hid under the second table. The room sparkled in a polish. Other than the dangling fasteners and fragile walls, it looked like it had never been used. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even as a child, Richard Robertson had brought animals into this death trap. He not only experimented on them, he cut them into pieces, analyzing each organ and body part. His father had discovered the ancient cold cellar back when the additions to the garage were made. Over time, the current state of the room was established as a training centre for our villain to practice his trade. It became his easel and each act his art form, in the most lasting sense of the word. When the basement door opened, the dogs pummelled down the stairs causing a miniature earthquake. Each leap and bound produced a cloud of limestone and the occasional chunk of the stone for good measure. Richard waved it off, then he set each dog in their rightful place and proceeded into the meatworks.
            It was like he dressed for the occasion. He carefully draped an apron around his neck, over his black short sleeve shirt, then tied it with little to no trouble. He had done this all before. He slid on the latex gloves with precision. The rubber smacked back when he checked it was snug.  The process was methodical in his mind. He ran through his checklist, pointing to this and that as he went along. When he was ready, he stepped over Jessica and reached down to lift her. The hardest part was getting each girl up onto a hook. Number two and three woke up during the process so from then on he made sure to leave on the hood and used the hook to sever the spine. He took his time then rested once each had found a place. Removing the mask, he then slit the throat from side to side, cut both ankles open wide, and then he let them empty into the kiddie pool below. Nothing went to waste. With a few snips here and a few snips there, a very dead Jessica Smith was left naked and hanging like some stuck pig would be. He shined up his equipment and waited for her to drain. She left the world that night quite vacuous and chopped into twenty-four pieces.

            The food from one body lasted around four to six weeks; It could be stretched to two months if the need be. The dogs would eat nothing else. Richard dissected the girl into pieces, in order for a cleaner grind. He would trim off each piece of flesh like he was filleting a young calf or large salmon. He studied every chunk. In the grinder, her humanity was crushed and turned into a chunky texture and the bloodied mess began to take form. When all the meat had been ground, he clipped on the bone shredding attachment. Larger pieces, like the halves of the emptied skull, had to be broken down during this process. Every bone went into the mix. The entire skeleton was almost dust by the time he had finished. He detached the large stainless steel bowl from its hinge, rolled it out and away from the equipment, and with great effort lifted it up onto one end of the silver slab. He submerged both hands into what was left of the girl. He learned quickly to always wear only a short sleeve shirt with his apron, sinking both arms deep past the elbow for a better blend. He had considered using chicken eggs to help bind the marrow with the flesh but he discovered that a fair amount of blood would do the same thing. To this end, the yield looked more like regular hamburger than minced me.
            The sink was old and small but efficient. He washed each arm meticulously, removing each glove as if it was a shrine to his measures. From beneath the second slab he pulled out the finishing touches. Behind the extremely large roll of cellophane, which he thudded down onto the main table, he also retrieved a butcher's scale and a box of Styrofoam plates.  He switched his tools from above with the tools down below and placed each piece on top creating an assembly line of sorts. In one pound portions, the meat went on the scale to which the meat went on a plate. Each plate was set behind him on the centre table to be wrapped all at once. When each pack had found its space in the cold unit, the room was polished once again. The pool was wiped out. He took three individual portions that he had left unwrapped, and he closed up his shop for the night. Before Jessica, the freezer had been empty. A dry spell while searching out perfection. With the box now full, he concentrated on his three companions in the outer room. Tonight the beasts would dine on fresh not frozen.  
            Each of the largest bowls was filled as the dogs sat waiting. He filled the water bowls next. They salivated in puddles on the hard damp floor. He had discovered their joy with the first victim. When a piece fell onto the slaughterhouse floor, the dogs fought over the scrap. It was easier to dispose of the meat this way. The ultimate act of turning everything into shit. He gave up the idea of sprinkling the mix out in the fields for the wildlife to consume. This way kept it controlled, and cleaner. The dogs seemed easier to maintain with such a promise of reward. He thought he was clever. Hiding the remains in the remains was not only a stroke of genius but gave him ample time to study the pieces before grinding. He could take his time, well knowing the proof was easily disposed of. Turning each girl into chow mix was a pursuit much like the chase. It had to be done.
            He was careful, studious and precise. Even the police had difficulty determining anything beyond the obvious. Warning the public, after victim number two, seemed to only inspire the culprit more. Richard knew to be fully aware. He parked away from each bar. He learned names and personal information throughout the night as he hunted. He was always surprised at just how much information a person will give out in the presence of strangers. If he stayed long enough, and pretended to be drunk enough, he was bound to discover the path they took home. Sometimes even an address might be revealed. The girls who fit all the criteria, and who led him with direction, were the chosen few. At last call, he would leave and scout out her way home. He would carefully park his car and wait for the staff to leave. Everything had to be perfect. Everything must be just right. He would call the whole thing off otherwise. Without knowing it, Jessica Smith had given him everything he wanted. She gave him her name and address, a way to catch her, and her body weight in pounds of flesh.

            He abandoned his quest when the storm set in. He needed a girl but he didn't trust that the weather would find him safely home. The last thing he wanted was to be stranded with a captive on the back seat. He left this city and headed out on the long drive that eventually returned him to the farm. The wind and the rain were so vicious that he wished he had chosen to stay in rather than deal with this gale. When the tornado warning came over the radio, he drove much faster than he usually would. When he finally arrived, the storm had grown with intensity. He parked and sheltered his Civic and went immediately into the house.  The rain fell so heavy that the length of the tin wall allowed enough time to soak him from head to toe. He locked the door behind him and went upstairs to change. Caesar, Nero and Caligula all whined from their prison.
            He had gone down into the basement to feed them when the twister hit. Richard was passing out potions of Jessica Smith when the stairwell started to crumble. Like the barn before it, the house caved in on itself. The strong winds had blown over a very large but almost dead oak tree that sat twenty feet from the kitchen. It landed squarely on the rear end of the building, the top of the tree crushed through the roof and landed on the basement staircase. A large thud vibrated the room. It was like dominoes after that. The stairwell gave in, then the ceiling started to collapse, and eventually the entire back area, including the kennel, broke apart and tumbled. Richard pulled the dogs into the far corner and rested against the crates and boxes. A consuming cloud of dust filled the space. It was almost an hour before it settled.  Richard rubbed his eyes and peered through the settling detritus. The door to the slaughterhouse was blocked by enormous blocks of limestone. The kennel was matchsticks. The exit up and out was lost to the storm. Richard sat trapped, sealed in his own little shop of horrors. It did not take him long to realize the predicament before him.
            He gathered all the water that the dogs had yet to consume and pooled it in one of the now empty food bowls. The dogs had just been fed so he had some time to figure out his escape. With no windows, no exit and nothing but the useless contents of the room, he could only hope that someone came looking for him. He knew instantly that he was damned if they did and damned if they didn't. The evidence was frozen in the freezer. The way out was buried with him. At first, he tried to move some of the wreckage that was once the stairs. If he moved something, it might clear a crawlspace. He struggled as the hours went by, trying to excavate a path to outside or even into the slaughterhouse. The dogs grew aggravated and anxious. Eventually, they all relieved themselves near the furnace.  Not half a day had passed and Richard gave up the fight. He pulled old blankets out from the crates and resolved himself to his fate. He did not fear. He was not filled with guilt or regret. He didn't panic. He had always known that eventually something had to give. He placed a comforter on the ground for each dog, then took a few for himself and sat against the wall near the boxes.

                On Monday, the legitimate abattoir opened up again for business. Three days later, five days after the tornado, the staff at the butcher shop called the police. It was out of character for Richard not to show up for work. He didn't answer his phone. When the police investigated their concerns, they found the entire back end of his house in collapse. Initially, the only sign of Richard Robertson they found was his grey Honda Civic in the car port, untouched by the tree which landed a mere six feet from it. There were no signs of life. When one of the police officers called out, a faint rumble rose from the demolished structure. You could almost hear dogs barking.
            The closer the removal got to the basement, the louder the beasts within called out. It was over a day before the heaviest slabs of limestone could be cleared away. When a way was finally accomplished, and the final barrier removed, three very feral monsters leapt out of their graves and attacked. The cops had heeded the savage barking and shot  each dead. Caesar, Nero and Caligula should not have departed any other way. With an investigation of the cellar, the truth came in bits and pieces. With scarce amounts of flesh to go by, one could assume it only took a few days for the animals to turn on the butcher. They didn't even wait until he fell asleep.
            They fed, ripping him from limb to limb. It took some time for him to bleed out and he suffered in the most ironic of ways. Little by little, forensics gathered him together. There really wasn't much left to speak of. His bones had been chewed clean, just like the dogs had been taught to do. Someone had been saving an ear which the team found hidden behind the water tank. The bones of his fingers and toes were visibly absent. Other than the broken skeleton, the only part of him that remained was a patchwork of his epidermis, a few chewed on pieces from his head and face. The dogs were working their way up when the first outside noises began. They tore through him, and fed for days. He was fresh meat.
            The secrets men bury will always bury them. Richard Robertson learned this lesson in scrapes and bites. The world was shocked when the truth was discovered. It was easy to determine the victim in the freezer. She was also hidden in the shit. There was no evidence that the six other girls had ever been there. A few weeks into the investigation and the Robertson farm was demolished due to safety concerns. When the rubble was removed, not a trace of the horror was left. The actual butcher shop eventually closed. No one has ever considered purchasing the land on which the Robertson farm once sat. There are tales of things which haunt you . Of howling beasts and grinding meat and three monsters that hunt in the night. They say he roams there too, looking for scraps of his littered flesh, flesh that long ago became food of the dogs.

 

 

 
Photos
 
http://artbygino.blogspot.ca/2012/10/butcher-shop-sign-for-new-tjs-by.html

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Little Extras


            I discovered that the shop had sat on the corner of Scott and King Streets for well over one hundred years. The panes of each simple window had been painted dark hunter green in at least half that amount. They now flaked with time and ill-repair. The canopy, I was sure, was once bright and friendly but now it revealed much fading and decay. Stitches made long ago had unwound allowing for small gaps of direct sunlight to pierce the inner sanctum. It leaked. Each window was tarnished from within. In places, the stain was so thick you could not see the display set up inside. The entrance, also caked with brittle disguise, met a cracked frame and compromised base set in the same colour scheme. The door was thick and heavy, bearing an old skeleton key lock and mail slot just beneath a sheet of bevelled glass. Tiny white lilies and roses and hummingbirds dance around the edges like a ghostly scene. Dead centre, resting on the glass, the 'Yes, We're Open' sign welcomes inquiring minds. The tiny man on the post a jovial fellow indeed. Its standard appeal hidden just behind more camouflage. From a distance the place still holds a quaint appeal, but on careful study you could not help but wonder if it had been abandoned long ago. Looks can be deceiving.  




            In stark contrast to the fading storefront, right above the canopy, the signage hangs new and refreshed. Like some throwback to Victorian marketing, it dangles, cleverly jutting out over the ripped and frail rain catcher below. No rust has invaded the cast iron hold. Both sides of the hard wooden mass sit identical in nature. Both quite pristine, as if purchased and drawn the day before. In bright copper red, against a trim of hunter green and a background of white, The Little Extras names the place. Running under the width of the logo, in a thin black mark, the words "More than Collectibles" sits like a beacon, much more than just to let you know. It is subtle but worthy of note. Do not be deceived. This is not some failing precursor to the Good Will. Inside is a different world. There is much to be seen just past the front door. This dying fashion still all the buzz. Customers from around the world came to purchase. The shop's commanding reputation would be quite pronounced throughout the world of Antiquing. What appears an ancient relic itself holds such grand and cherished things. Rumours abound of the wonders within its walls. Strangest thing about rumours. Rumours spread. The word gets out. Unfortunately, from what had been suggested, not every patron did. 
            Mr. Arthur Beasley lived above his shop just as his father's family did and his grandfather's family before that. The steep drop to the ground floor stood as a regular morning ritual for one very old man. Carefully, slowly, he would descend.  You could watch his feet approach through the smoked glass that made up the upper half of the ground floor barrier. He would rest when he sank to the plateau. Quickly adjacent to the shop entrance, Mr. Beasley locked it tight every departure and stepped next door. From his left hand pocket he would proceed by removing the large passingkey and placing it clumsily into the hole. With one small turn, only this stood between safety and invasion. He was a short man, not more than five foot five. His grey hair fluttered from under his flat cap, just like it did every morning. Every day he possessed a different colour but every day the exact same style. His matching suit fit him well, I suppose, and his shoes looked polished to a tee. On rainy days he was unaffected, despite the ruin of his overhang. On sunny days he was unaffected, despite the sun and the heat and the humidity. It was repetitive, this back and forth from door to door. From my distance, he seemed like an overgrown elf, fidgeting between each space. You could not help but notice him and the briefest journey from exit to entrance. He would open the door, the same as every day, take the briefest look behind him, then scamper into The Little Extras. He would flip the open sign then simply shut the door behind him and disappear into his ill-secured domain.  
            I had watched him going on half the month. The chore felt like a demotion. The stakeout seemed quite cockamamie when I stopped to think of it. To imagine this frail old man, over eighty his file revealed, could somehow be a criminal, was tough for me to swallow. I had been assigned this tasteless duty after his business card turned up at three missing person's residences. The plain logo accompanied by only his name and the address and telephone number of his store called nothing to motive or intent but nonetheless. My assignment was my assignment whether I liked it or not. I sensed I was misused, as if a Detective had nothing better to do with his time and energy, not that I had much to offer. It didn't matter how ill I felt, three lost souls and one little extra seemed common ground for misgivings and intrigue. Silly if you asked me. These two weeks found customer after customer unabated by whatever monster lurked within those walls. Face after face would enter, then after a reasonable amount of time they would come out with their treasure. Young women, handsome men and even families would face an unknown fear and enter in. There was nothing suspicious or questionable about this formula. With each purchase, or so I assumed, he would wave to them 'good day' from the creaking threshold and return to his duties, perhaps even mischief. Not a soul came screaming out with warning. Even the children who would enter smiled, as if charmed, then leave through way of the same door. I found nothing to give me pause.
            I called in my intent to enter and left my vehicle locked and secure. I placed my badge in my coat pocket and my firearm was hidden in the glove compartment. I was sure I would not need it. Jaywalking across Scott St. was the only crime I would ignore that day. I adjusted myself, eager to get inside, and I pushed at the wooden frame of the door. It did not open. I almost walked into the pretty glass and all those white dainty things around its border. The handle was tougher still, and it ached with sweet relief. I held it open and I stepped inside. I was shocked at what lies within. This was no mere pawnshop or thrift store. It looked and felt more like the finest museum would. Antiquity swallowed the room. Gold and silver and bronze glimmered in what was left of the outside light. Egyptian sarcophagus, Oriental swords and Tiffany lamps called out for attention. The shop was spotless. For all the artwork, all the furniture, I could not find one patch of dust to disturb. Old books lined the walls, propped up on French Provincial or Colonial shelves. Display cases filled with the most beautiful of jewels met mahogany pieces layered with nic nacs and precious things. To the left, nearer to the back, was the counter, a hard walnut ledge with an archaic, but quite lovely, cash register. It was heavily layered, or so it appeared, with copper and gold. The 'No Sale' tab had risen to this occasion. Arthur Beasley stood from behind with friendly greetings. Before I could say a word, he surprised me.

            "Detective Hardy, I presume," the old fellow said with no hesitation. "Finally," he continued, "after fourteen days you have finally favoured me with your presence."
            "Listen," I tried to deny. "I don't know who you think I am but ..."
            "You are," he inserted, "Detective James Hardy of the 41st precinct."
            "How did you ..." I stumbled.
            "You would be amazed at all the things I know," he patronized. "You, perhaps my soon to be friend, have come in search of three lost souls. Am I wrong?"
            I was flabbergasted.  I just stood there with nothing but an open mouth to guide me. He reached behind and grabbed a collection of keys so large it clunked instead of jingled.
            "Would you care for a tour?" he gestured.

            I did not know what to think let alone what to do. The old man's brazen approach took me back and then some. I watched as he rounded the counter and met me person to person. He shook my hand with a strong grip. He was smaller than I had originally presumed. His eyebrows were unkempt, with long threads of grey and dark, mixed to a point just above the far corners of his eyes. They seemed like tiny horns, fighting to stay in their place. His clean shaven face was friendly enough and the rest of him seemed pleasant, although one can never be quite sure. Despite his statement, I could not help but feel comfortable and at ease. Of course, he had seen me sitting in my car, day after day until this moment. A man of his wealth and reputation could easily uncover my identity. Perhaps he paid off a sergeant assigned to the front desk. Perhaps he knows the Chief of Police or some high ranking official on the police force. I concluded there was nothing devious within his knowledge.
            The grand front room of the shop was so well organized, it struck me more as a library of pleasures than a den of deceit. Completely ignoring his own claims, he walked to the far rear end of the oversized room and began to open two very well maintained and large antique doors. Nothing creaked, nothing clamoured as both slid, without incident, into their hiding place.  He reached just inside, past the empty space left by the doors and he flipped on a light by switch. The room was bright and well preserved. Hard wood accents ran along the wall tops and around the bottom into baseboards of the same dark stain. The walls were deep burgundy, painted not papered. I moved forward for a better look. Like puzzle pieces, each wall was coated with varying sizes of different framed pictures. These captured people I would not dare to recognize without closer, keener  examination. Those three walls each looked more like a photo album or yearbook page than a display on a wall. The floor was hardwood, polished and shined. I couldn't see even one scuff or print on it. The center of the room struck me as purposeful and spectacular.  An extra large Oriental rug ran by width and length to the outer middle, a testament to the size of the space. A ripple of copper red and hunter green dashed about a sea of burgundy and off-white. Each fringe seemed carefully laid, almost pulled in an appropriate direction. The ceiling was a simple white, with little decoration. A chandelier of reasonable size hung like ice after a warm day. A cascade of crystals flowed down at least three feet from the main stud. The height of the room was impressive. Resting firm beneath it was the most curious thing.
            It was not the cherry wood table that drew my attention. Sitting like a masterpiece would, resting on a small ebony easel, an empty frame loomed like the Mona Lisa. The holder was obviously gold and inlaid with ivory lilies, roses and hummingbirds. Each delicately grazed the black satin backing where no picture was. Arthur moved deeper into the room eventually reaching the far wall. I was so dumbfounded I just stood there, like the mummy box up in the front room. He carefully reached up, took down a simple wooden frame that was carved in a way I could not make out. There was no dust for him to brush off the photo, but he pulled out a handkerchief from an inner pocket and he polished the glass to and fro. I just watched him, trying to listen should he give himself away. Thus far, I had seen nothing to implicate the man. That was all about to change.

            "The Little Extras," he began, walking slowly along the outer wall. With each step he took, he touched the encased picture by the wooden frame. He seemed to tap on it as if following some distant drum that I could not hear. He continued, "offers itself as a humble shop filled with timeless treasures and things made of gold. We sell to anyone looking for the finer things in life."

            He stopped, then removed a second picture from the end of the opposing wall and placed it on the other. He resumed the tapping on metal instead of wood. This frame was ornate, solid silver from what I could make out. As he crossed the room to the third wall, he revealed, "We even dabble in the taboo."
            He stopped, placed a finger to his chin and seemed quite perplexed over something he did not voice. He grunted, moved forward a few feet, and removed another frame from its place on the wall. This frame seemed simpler but for the shine of polished gold. It was lesser in both weight and function. It wrapped around the photograph like a single bow of great value. He placed the third picture on top of the second and proceeded with his beat in the same manner.
            "This shop offers anything your heart desires, anything you can dream of. We have unique and the rarest of things. These little extras are not our bread and butter."
            He carefully walked to the middle of the room and placed all three frames down upon the deep stained round table, knocking three times on the surface.  

            He stood for a moment, finished the tapping, and began to speak once again. He seemed stern and oddly Shakespearian, as if Hamlet was about to place his soliloquy for an audience of one. "Some people come here looking for greater wealth. Some seek out an ancient totem in the hopes of better luck and a better life.  Many customers come for mere pleasure, to have and to hold. They are somehow more in their own small minds because of a possession. All are welcome but our customer base varies depending on the need. Some come to collect, others are called."
           
            "Called?" I inquired.
            "We offer," he carried on, ignoring my question, "special services unlike any other." I started to smell a rat. "Take you for example, Detective Hardy."
            "Me," I asked. "What do I have to do with any of this?"
            "Did you think it was mere coincidence that you were assigned this case? It was fate, not chance, that finds you here with me."
            "Look here, Mr. Beasley," I punctuated.
            "Please," he interrupted. "Call me Arthur."
            "Look here, Arthur," I reiterated. "You seem to know an awful lot about who I am. You also seem easily distracted from the real reason I am here today. Why don't you cut through all the crap and get to your point?"
            "I assure you of my intentions," he added. "Regardless, I will make my point heard." He turned back to the table, picked up the three frames and laid each of them out, one beside the other. He touched his finger to each as he said, "Linda Hedges, Richard Grant and Malcolm Stern. How is that for my point?"

            Adrenaline rushed from my toes to my nose and I practically ran over to the trio. I was astonished by his almost confession but much more by the three missing persons, each smiling grandly, captured in wood and silver and gold. I instantly thought about my gun that I had left in the car.        

            "There is no danger here," he claimed with his smile. "Occasionally, our patrons require something more than a mere ornament. Our specialized services are simply a way of helping people, like you, who readily need our help."
           "Helping me?" I inserted. " Listen here, you are treading a fine line ... Mr. Beasley."
            "No huff, no puff," he preached in a jovial manner, waving in dismissal from his midriff. 
            "Would you care to explain to me why you have photographs of three missing persons hanging on the wall of your place of business?"
            "I did business with them," he explained.
            "What kind of business?" I demanded.
            "I ended their time here," he revealed.
            "Are you telling me you murdered these three people?" I huffed.
            "Oh no," he assured me. "No one was killed or harmed in any manner."                
            "Then where are Linda Hedges, Richard Grant and Malcolm Stern?" I puffed.
            "In those picture frames," he said as a matter of fact.

            I have seen the odd and strange and many things during my tenure on the police force. The nut balls I have arrested over the years range from sad to severe. I had never encountered anyone or anything like Arthur Beasley and The Little Extras. As I stood listening, I grew tired and weary from the stress. The chemo takes a lot out of you, especially first thing in the morning. I was overwhelmed and just wanted to lay down on that beautiful rug and sleep forever. Waves of nausea washed over me and the headache returned.  I should have tried harder to mask my predicament. 

            "May I ask you a personal question, Detective?" he pondered.
            "Why stop now?" I whimpered.
            "Why are you still working when you have been given less than six months to live?"
            "Okay," I perked up angrily. "How the hell do you know that? Nobody knows that but me and my doctor. What in God's name is going on here?"

             The old man seemed startled, as if he believed bad decorum outranked murder and collusion. He begged for my consideration. If I just allowed him to explain, all would be well again. I was faint and excused myself to the water cooler in the front room. He followed like a puppy would. As I filled my second glass, he offered me a grand chair to rest in. I took to it before I ended up on the floor. It seemed to absorb me, a delicate mix of structure and comfort. I sank into it and suddenly I felt better. I somehow knew if I left  its safety, the ill would return once again. I planted myself and bid him to continue. 

             "Linda Hedges came to me with one month left to live. Her heart was so damaged, so compromised that it took her longer to get through the front door than it does for me to descend the stairs next door every morning. Richard Grant's lung cancer was so advanced he should have been hospitalized. When he first appeared at my door, he was barely alive to begin with. Malcolm Stern was exposed to radiation when overseas with his company. It was literally eating him from the inside out. He begged me for help," he paused. "So I gave it to him."
             "What do you mean by help?" I inquired.
             "Do you believe in other dimensions, Detective Hardy?"
             I replied as succinctly as I possibly could with a hard "No!!"
              "What if I told you that you could avoid dying altogether?" He waited for my response.
             "What makes you think I'm dying, Mr. Beasley?" I quipped.
             "End stage pancreatic cancer is a death sentence," he forced at me. "Here at The Little Extras we offer a life sentence." I glanced over at him as if he was queer. "I can arrange for you to leave this reality and be placed at a new beginning. No pain, no cancer, nothing but the new life that you choose to live,"
             "So you're telling me you sent these three," I scoffed, "these innocent people into some dimension where they could start a new life?" I searched for each portrait.
            "Yes," he pointed at the round table. "Each one of these has left this plane of existence and started a new one. A new life without the terrible circumstance that brought them to me. They traded one finite existence for a neverending one."
            "You'll have to forgive me," I projected. "Don't you think you sound more than a little wacky suggesting such a thing?"

            He gestured for me to follow him and I carefully made my way into the back room. Oddly enough, a new chair waited for me where one had not been before. It was identical to the one I had left, which I turned to spy in the same place it was before. I sat down just inside the doorway as he went from one random photo to another, addressing the name and reason for their 'departure.'  Face after face flashed at me, name after name met with each unique and special frame. He randomly jumped from one to the next, like from a phone book, picking and choosing each example in the most deliberate of ways. As my sickness left me once again, I wondered to myself just who this strange old man really was. How did he know all the information about me? What kind of wack job tried to cover up his crimes with the excuse of interdimensional travel and a magical escape from ill health? Each one, he pointed out, met their fate in the same unbelievable manner. Hundreds of people, he made perfectly clear, had come to him and his special brand of renewal. Hundreds of people, each one, now someplace else, trapped inside each frame. I stood, pushed back the armchair, and reached for my sidearm. A flood of misery washed over me. My stomach turned and my head began to swell. I remembered where my gun faithfully rested. My intent remained the same.

            "I need to get something from my car," I injected. "Arthur Beasley, I need to contact my station, so please remain where you are until I return."
            "As you wish," he seemed to placate. "Are you sure you do not wish to take another path?"

            I declined and turned back towards the front door. In spite of my condition, I walked as quickly as I could, leaving the shop and crossing towards my automobile. I reached inside and grabbed my firearm, still unsure whether I would need it. I called for backup and a cruiser to take Mr. Beasley in. I closed the door then rested upon it.
            It took over an hour for the Judge to issue a warrant. Eventually, I found myself sitting on the curb waiting. Waves of discomfort crashed throughout my body like tides on a shore. When Mr. Beasley's escort arrived, I tried to stand but had to cover my imbalance with a smile. I walked back to the front of The Little Extras and instructed the two Constables of my intentions. Just before we entered, I noticed something rather odd and out of place. The pristine signage that met me when I first arrived was missing. Even the cast iron holder had disappeared. I reached for the doorknob and it opened, swinging  all the way back with a heavy squeak. I could not believe my eyes. The room was empty and in poor condition. Cobwebs and dust trails littered the crevices of each wall and across the old faded counter near the back. Not one item, small or large, remained in its place. The golden cash register was gone. The display cases, the antique shelves, had all vanished while I was outside. I was noticeably stunned.

            "Is there a problem?" one of the officers asked.
            "Its gone," I urged. "It's all gone!"
            "What?" he inquired.
            "The shop, the collectibles, they aren't where they were but an hour ago," I cringed. "Where the hell are all the little extras?"
            "Warrant says this is an abandoned building," the Officer spoke.   

            I grabbed the warrant in disbelief. I could not comprehend how any of this was possible. I began to question my sanity. I turned over and over in my mind. I reached out for proof that I had not imagined it all. Had these two weeks been nothing but a dream? Was Arthur Beasley and his magical cure simply my imagination? The other Constable walked across the room towards the rear and stopped in front of the pair of large doors.

            "Maybe there is something back here," he noted.

            With a strong gesture, he pushed both doors open. One got stuck on a rail and he forced its completion. He fumbled  for the light. The picture room was barren but it was not empty. The walls were faded, lacking the brightness they had held before. There were no images captured in a frame, not one rested on the walls. They could not be seen or noticed or found. Every part of the room looked abandoned, rather unwanted and unrefined. In the center, sitting as it had before, the dark circular table rested. From top to bottom it was covered in heavy amounts of dust. You could tell from the condition of it that the golden frame with ivory accents had waited for me. It was not streaked with webbing or covered by time. It sat all alone, middle of the table, and looked very much out of place. I walked towards it gently so as not to reveal my weakness. His face was clear. Without any question, Arthur Beasley looked at me. 
            He met me with the most friendly of smiles. I barely had the chance to absorb the spectacle of the room. I stood in front of a large wooden counter near the rear of the shop. What appeared as a gold and copper cash register glimmered in the artificial light. He reached out to me, shaking my hand like a gentleman would.

            "Doctor Elizabeth Barrett, I presume," he professed in the most polite manner.
            "How did you know my name?" I questioned, rather dumbfounded.
            "You would be amazed at all the things I know," he grinned. "You, I would hazard to guess, have come in search of an ancient remedy."
            I just stood there with my mouth half open. He reached back and took a rather burdened keychain from the wall behind him, then gestured towards two oversized, but very shut, walnut doors. They were in immaculate condition.
            "Would you care for a tour?" he asked.

 

 

 
Photo




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Marmalade


            Alexander Stafford was a son of a bitch. He recklessly left the proof all over his wife's face. For eight years or so, she had been beaten. When they married, she had no idea she had signed up for this. It didn't matter whether he had been drinking, sleeping or taking a shit. The slightest disruption, sometimes even the smallest sound, would send him into a rage. It started almost immediately after the birth of their daughter. They married because of little Olivia. Apparently, while Karen Stafford found great hope in their newborn child, Alex found every reason for contempt and eventually abuse. He changed the day Olivia was brought home from the hospital. It must of flown over his head that all babies cry, and not always with a reason. When Karen pointed this out, he slapped her hard across the cheek. It left a mark. Slapping turned to punching, punching turned to kicking and they all met somewhere in the middle. He was at his worst when he had been drinking. No matter what happened, no matter how much pain he inflicted, protecting Olivia was Karen's primary concern. She considered herself a human shield, useful in distraction. By her eighth birthday, Olivia seemed relatively unscathed by it all. He had never laid a finger on her, Karen made damn sure of that.
            Life was like a prison, not most days, all days. Karen felt trapped, stuck in a cage from which she could not break free. She wasn't allowed to have friends. She wasn't allowed to go outside the house without his permission. She was to do her work, feed the brat and have dinner waiting for him when he got home. Most weekends she cleaned around him, passed out on the floor from the night before. She thanked God that her parents had previously passed on and could not see this. She had not seen her brother Kyle in over five years. She was isolated, brainwashed and brutalized. The time he spent at work was a godsend to her. Alex had insisted on home schooling for Olivia and Karen spent the time between her duties educating the girl. Every evening when he pulled into the driveway, Karen would rush Olivia up the stairs and have her lock her room from the inside. His unpredictability was a force unto itself. Her life had no balance, no stability. From each minute to the other, she never knew. Her daily being was getting from one morning when he left to another. She yearned for a better life, a better existence than all this terror and struggle and insecurity. Regardless, she never felt strong enough to free herself. She believed all the words and was terrified of the repercussions.
            She wanted to leave more than anything. His threats were her chains. He would see them both dead before he let them get away. No matter how much time passed, or where she went, he promised that he would find her. She was convinced he meant what he said. For Karen, his greatest threat was that he would take Olivia and disappear or even kill her. She would never hold her again. She would never brush her light blonde hair, not ever. The thought was almost more than she could bear. It crippled her and forced her to remain. There was nothing beyond his grasp. He even controlled all the money. The only time she escaped her prison was on Saturday morning when all three would get groceries at the market a few miles from their home. Every item, every purchase was scrutinized. Olivia walked beside her mother, holding her hand in silence. The heavy makeup Karen wore, and the scarf around her head, did little to disguise his temperament. She felt ashamed as she followed with her daughter, always at least two steps behind him. He was in control and Karen knew it. In secret, Olivia knew it too. The walls in their home could not protect her from the rampages of her very own monster. She heard every word. She listened at the door of her locked bedroom as he pummelled  her Mom over and over again. When he passed out, or headed to some bar to find further means for consumption, Karen would call out for her. With great trepidation, Olivia turned the latch and waited. The water running from the bathroom did not wash away her mother's shame. It did nothing to quell Olivia's growing hate and resentment.   
            When he wanted, he took her. She had no choice in the matter. He would force her down, anywhere that he cared to, and invade her even further. If she called out, or said no, the beating would turn from rape to a greater brutality. More often than not, she just stayed where she was and let him do his business. It never lasted very long anyway. After the deed, she made sure there would be no other child between the two of them. Ridding herself of any seed he had planted was simply a matter of the right household chemicals and a silent spray. After each cleansing, she would stand in front of the bathroom mirror, categorizing each new bruise, each new stain upon her dignity. Makeup never hid the truth from Olivia. The child knew fully well that her mother was trapped. Olivia knew that she was trapped as well. Every little tear, every silent sob, was simply a smaller part of a bigger nightmare. Day after day it would repeat. Year after year, the bars became stronger and any song that either one wanted to sing fell to silence.

Some birds are not meant to be caged.

            For eight years of age, Olivia was nobody's fool. Her father may have never touched her but her mother's abuse was also her abuse. Each violent scene chipped further away at her innocence. She grew up sitting on the floor of her room holding Marmalade, the only dolly she had ever been allowed to play with. With no friends, no schoolmates, Olivia's world revolved around her make believe confidant. Olivia had convinced herself that the porcelain antique understood and would never tell a soul. To the child, this explained the lonely frown painted on her pretty polished face. The doll had been part of Olivia's inheritance when Karen's mother passed away. The money she was left had been squandered long ago. With no pictures allowed in the home as a reminder, with no outside family to confide in, her mother and Marmalade became Olivia's entire existence. The doll's curly yellow hair and orange dress where the only real picture she had known of other people. The dainty shades of pumpkin silk and weave that made her hat and Marmalade's dark black shoes were the only contrast she knew in her life. Everything else always seemed blood red. For a hundred year old collectible, the replica's condition was near mint. Olivia treated the doll like her mother treated her. She washed it, combed its hair and read it to sleep every night. It was her best friend. It was her only friend, a fellow prisoner in a cage of fear.   
 
 
            When the beast would show his fangs, Olivia hid the toy under her pillow so she would not hear the commotion. When it was over, she pretended Marmalade would cry in her place, silently, causing no provocation. The only source of true delight Olivia knew was the silence. She had been conditioned to recognize no other way. There was no vacation each year. There was no Halloween or Christmas. Life was a constant rebound, then down into it all over again. There was no peace of mind to be found. Even when he left for the day, the chance of an early return would keep both victims off balance. It was during this time that Olivia and her mother found some sense of reprieve.
            Together they would study or bake, clean up and then chat like girlfriends do. The light-hearted banter regarding better days gone by always held great appeal for the sweet eight year old. When her mother was sharing, the child saw glimmers of something she herself had never known. Her mother would tell her every day that there was always hope. Someday, she would promise, they would escape from the dungeon and go stay with her Uncle Kyle in New York City. Someday, Grand Rapids, Michigan would be nothing but a bad dream, long gone.  Someday, everything would be okay.

"When is someday, Mommy?" the child would often ask. 

            It wasn't some unresolved childhood issue that drove Alexander. He hated his life but he liked his power. He figured that the stupid bitch got herself pregnant and trapped him, so he trapped her. In some sick and twisted justification, he gave her what he thought she had given him. His callous nature only added to the torment. He felt little, if anything at all. Some men are small men. He was not a big man by any means. His average stature and less than impressive physique may have been a reason for his over-compensation, but Alex wasn't the kind of guy who took the time to consider such things. He would tell himself that he never had it so good as the little bastard on the second floor. As far as he was concerned, they both got everything they deserved. They had it coming to them after destroying his future. His dead eyes revealed a dead heart and his conscious actions revealed the very monster Olivia feared the most. If men can be truly evil and if demons really exist, then Alexander Stafford was both and so much more. His broken and battered wife was a testament to that. 
            Once upon a time, she had loved him. She gave herself to him believing that he loved her too. It was clear that he was not capable of love. Despite adjusting to her circumstances, and learning to survive, Karen stored every word, every action, away in her mind like on a flash drive. She was haunted by her error. In the deepest recesses of her mind and spirit, she hated him more than anyone could hate anything. She would fantasize. One morning she would place poison in his coffee. At dinner, she would approach him from behind and smash his fucking head in with the cast iron skillet he had once used to break her arm. While he slept, she would cover him in gasoline and send him straight to hell with one strike of a match. She knew she could never find these realities. There was really no one to look after Olivia if she went to a different prison. Her brother seemed to not care about family and Alex's kin just encouraged his behaviour. There was no way she would ever let any of them near her daughter. No amount of suffering, no form of abuse, could make her sacrifice Olivia for her own freedom. She also was well aware that something had to give and soon. She already saw the way he looked at her baby. She knew all too well her daughter's fate if they failed to escape him. This conflict was like an endless echo, repeating the truth as if from a screaming Mimi.

Madness was served each night at seven on the dot.

            Olivia heard laughter just outside the bedroom window. She noticed it immediately as it was foreign to her ears. Carefully, she lifted the dark brown shade and peeked out into the neighbour's side yard. She had never done anything so disobedient before. It had been made clear to her, there would be no outside. There would be no going outside and there would be no looking outside. This prison was dark and dank with dim lighting. Sunshine filled the room and bounced off Marmalade's polished face. Olivia noticed that her dolly almost looked alive in the brightness. The toy sat in the center of the bed, propped up on the pillows where she always took her place. The almost empty room filtered dust and particles that seemed like dancing fairies to the little girl. For just one moment, Olivia experienced magic. She knew she wanted more. Looking back towards the source of her wonder, she spied a young boy, no older than her. He was playing with some animal, throwing a stick then waiting for its return. She was amazed. She had only ever seen a dog in books before. She wanted to see more. As her mother rested from last night's thrashing, Olivia tiptoed down thirty-five stairs as quiet as a mouse. She knew just where the extra set of keys were to let herself out. In the pantry, behind his stash of beer, liberty jingled as she pulled free the lot. Sneaking over to the kitchen door, she used the key labelled K and found liberation. She stopped. She had left Marmalade on her bed and wasn't sure if she should go outside without her. It only took one more bark for her to forget her faithful friend. Olivia rubbed her eyes and greeted the day. Her emancipation was unattended.
            Tyler Newman was a small child but he was a delight to behold. Rufus, his sidekick, was an English Cocker Spaniel. She had learned that from her studies. As she peered around the back corner of the house, the boy saw her and waved hello. Rufus ran over and tried to jump on her. She wrenched back quickly. Olivia didn't know what to make of him but she was thrilled with her adventure. She forgot all about the creature who soon would be home. The devil always shows when you least expect it. The standard blue 2012 Dodge Ram that Alexander drove was all thanks to providence and one very dead mother-in-law. The child didn't need all that money. He was early when he pulled into the driveway and saw Olivia outside her cage. He calmly parked the truck, got out of the vehicle and politely told her to come inside for supper. Olivia was now frozen from fear. Suddenly, Karen sprung open the kitchen door and beckoned the child to come in. Olivia moved like a spitfire just before the crash. The good mother then locked the door when they both got inside. They stood trembling, Olivia pressed against her Mommy's legs and Mommy pushed against the door. Through the kitchen, down the hall, the door opened with little fury. It was locked in the same quiet manner. He stood fuming. 

"Come here, you little shit," was all he had to say.

            Karen reacted as if she had planned her response a million times. In fact, it was closer to two million and then some. She whispered in Olivia's ear to make a dash for the stairs when the coast became clear. The child would be out of his range if she made it. She pushed Olivia behind her and reached out for the butcher's block on the counter beside the door. Without hesitation, she pulled the largest chef's knife from its place and pointed it in his direction. He rushed down the hallway, fists ready to confront her. Karen readied herself for the coming storm. When Olivia felt her mother tense up, she rushed from behind and yelled at her approaching father. He almost leapt to make contact with the frail and deserving insolent. The child fell hard against the back wall of the kitchen and curled up in a silent ball of shattered safety. Karen screamed and flew towards him in an ultimate act of defiance. She threw her arm in the air and plunged ten inches of stainless steel directly at his face. He grabbed her arm in mid-thrust and the knife fell to the linoleum floor. He kicked it far away from the both of them. Karen saw murder in his eyes. He grabbed her by the throat and started to pummel about her head and face. She dropped to the ground  and looked for Olivia.

"Run," she uttered.

            Olivia  watched as the only man she had ever known, literally punched the shit out of her mother. With every moment of the beating, she waited for the sign. When her mother fell and spoke to her through all that blood and pain, Olivia didn't hesitate for a second. Karen knew what she needed to do and grabbed hold of the monster's leg and bit clean through the skin below his Levis. What little soul he did have began to flow from the gushing wound. She spit him out but she underestimated his anger. With one forceful motion, he raised his fist and laid Karen straight across the temple. Her broken body knew silence on that red splattered floor. The distraction had been enough. Olivia scampered up the stairs and slammed her door shut tight. He had never been able to break through before. She grabbed Marmalade from her resting spot and shoved her under the pillows just like every other time the beast would roar. Alexander Stafford crossed the last line he had left to cross and headed for the staircase. At the bottom, he unzipped his fly with almost unimaginable intentions. He knew the time had come to quit playing games. It wasn't madness that propelled him up those first few steps. He knew very well what he was about to do. He held his injured leg with one hand and the banister with another and made his way towards the top.
            Three steps from the landing found his injured leg tripping. He didn't even notice the porcelain doll laid out across its width. The toy's head crunched and shattered under his weight. Then and there his weight shifted. He tried to grab a better hold on the arm rail but both feet flew out from under him. He tumbled down almost thirty-five stairs. When he finally landed face up at the bottom, you could hear a loud snap like a twig in the wind. Alexander may have never really ever used his head, but fate and a little girl's keepsake had. His neck broke in all the best places and his legs flipped over him, cementing themselves like some damaged contortionist. His feet rested ever so slightly at each side of his face. The old oak door creaked open, ever so carefully. Olivia peered into the hallway and wondered to herself if the silence was real. She ran back to the bed and got her dolly. With Marmalade in one hand and the doorknob in the other, she listened for any sound at all. Inch by inch, she made her way to the top of the stairs. There was no indication of anything that might tell the tale. There were no signs of struggle and nothing on the stairs. As she clutched to Marmalade, all that Olivia could see was the lifeless body of a monster, limp and quite lovely, laying in a pool of dead.

"Fucker!" was all she had to say.

            Olivia stood with her mother taking one last look at the prison. The 'sold' sash across the 'for sale' sign was freedom and cold hard cash. The monster's truck was sold the week before. At her feet rested Marmalade, prim and proper just the way she had always been. Olivia picked up her dolly, squeezed her tight and walked to the waiting car with her mother. Trevor and Rufus bid them both goodbye.  Karen's brother Kyle closed the door behind them. There was silence in the black Lexus until the engine turned over and all three drove away. No one turned around to watch as the horror faded. No one except Marmalade. The toy was held over Olivia's shoulder and seemed to peer out the rear window. A smile was now painted on her face. As the car rounded the bend at the end of the street, a small crack appeared in the doll's forehead.

 
 


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