Vicious, page 1
Dedicated to my mother, Donna, my husband, Brian, and my son, Aiden.
“But our love was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we
Of many far wiser than we
And neither the angels in heaven above,
Nor the demons down under the sea,
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee.
For the moon never beams without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
In the sepulcher there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.”
Edgar Allen Poe
I awoke in pain. No, this was worse than pain. This was pure agony. My nostrils flared with the acrid stench in the room. It smelled cold and rusty, like metal or blood. Suddenly, I knew the right word. It was vague and fuzzy and just at the edge of my teeth. I could see it, the word for this moment. Torture, this was pure torture.
The feeling was unfathomable. My insides burned and froze at the same time with an unusual duality that made me wake with a sudden fright and turn my head to vomit. My eyes opened wide with fear and agony as I wretched and writhed in place. The unyielding form under my body felt like wood, but when I tried to move around, it didn’t creak at all. I couldn’t sit up, nor could I lift my arms and legs. Whatever was holding me down was cold and unrelenting. It felt like metal.
I moved my head back and forth, straining in the blackness to see where I was. The room was so dark I could barely see beyond my own body. Just above a cut in my shirt, there was a tube connected to a port in my chest. I nearly vomited again over the intrusiveness of it all. There was an IV rack right next to me that was pumping red liquid directly into me. It was like pure fire. The burning singed and seared everything inside of me. The confusion of it all forced tears down my face.
I felt tired and weak, like a fever might overtake me at any moment. Was I dying? Was this what dying was like? Where was I? Who was I? Why was I here?
The pain increased with a sharp jab and my body convulsed in reaction. I tried to scream but only whispers escaped my dry throat. This must be what dying felt like. I was dying, and I couldn’t even scream for help.
I was bracing myself when I heard the screams. They were not ten feet away from me. Someone else was in the room with me. Before the scream, I hadn’t noticed anything but the pain. The thought I might not be alone had never occurred to me. My eyes were adjusting to the darkness, and when I turned my head to my left, I saw another girl strapped to the same type of table. In the dim light, I could tell that her skin was dark and she had long, tightly braided hair. It sprayed out around her face like ropes. She wore an orange jumpsuit and her warm chocolate eyes were looking frantically into mine. Her body convulsed the way mine did, and she glistened with sweat. I wondered if that was what I looked like.
“Who are you?” She shrieked at me through her own pain. It seemed less of a question and more of a demand. Like a trapped animal snapping at an intruder.
“I don’t know,” I said through grinding teeth.
The pain was increasing as the fire shot through all of my extremities, making them shake uncontrollably. I turned my head to the side and vomited again. My body was getting sore from throwing itself against metal straps. The shivering wouldn’t stop.
“Where are we? What’s happening to us?”
She barely managed to talk. Apparently, her pain was getting worse too. Spittle flew from her mouth as she sputtered.
We both looked around the room and saw no one else. The room seemed only big enough to comfortably fit the two tables and some racks packed with medical supplies. The walls were dirty and probably white once. The oddest thing about them was that they looked to be built with solid stone. No wood or bricks. There were no windows either, and neither of us could find a door. I saw what appeared to be a camera in the top of one of the corners. The little red light on the side of the camera blinked with a sickening rhythm. Someone had done this deliberately and was watching their handiwork. I thought about being ill again.
“Look,” I rasped, trying to tense myself against the convulsions. “There’s a camera there. Someone’s watching this.”
The girl looked toward the camera and began spewing expletives until her breath ran out. Nothing in the room changed and the pain increased again. It was unbearable. I should be dead already. My body felt devoid of fluids, and extreme exhaustion overtook my brain. My tongue stuck to my teeth and my lips cracked and bled. The pain kept me animated. The pain kept me alive. If this was living, then I wanted to die.
“Do you know who you are?” I breathed.
She replied by just shaking her head with her eyes shut tight and her lips pressed hard together. Her body shook relentlessly.
I thought for a moment. It was hard to think with all of the pain. All I wanted to do was think of the pain and how to make it stop. I tried and got nothing. Then I saw something faint. Something that I remembered beyond the pain that I couldn’t quite place. Something familiar and pleasant. It was hiding from me on the back of my eyelids. Why couldn’t I remember?
I shook my head back and forth, and we lay there in silence for a while in our own separate torments. I tried to focus on that glimmer of a memory that seemed so far away, hoping my body would just die. I tried throwing myself upward against my restraints. I even attempted to knock over the IV rack by twisting around, but nothing would budge and nothing could stop the pain. Even my organs felt like they were quivering, trying to reject whatever was being pumped into me.
“Do you remember your name?”
The question was weak and sad. I thought again, sure that it would be another mental dead end. I focused on the fuzzy memory and concentrated. My name. What was my name? And then it hit me almost as hard as the pain first had. Not just a clear picture of the memory, but my name as well.
“Anna! My name is Anna!” I shouted it, scaring myself and the girl next to me, but I wanted to be scaring whoever was watching us. I knew my name. They hadn’t taken it away from me. I shouted it again like it was an attack. I shouted it like it was my only weapon.
“Lea,” she whispered next to me. I looked over at her, shocked. She shook and spit, but she said it again.
“My name is Lea! You hear me, you bastards! Lea!”
We continued to scream through the pain. We screamed our names. We screamed that we knew who we were, even though we really didn’t. We just screamed. Our one weapon was a small release from our ignorance, so we used it and yelled our names until our voices were hoarse and our throats bled. It seemed to get their attention.
There was a beep, and then some automated control on the IV rack began pumping the remainder of the red liquid directly into our ports at twice the rate that it had been before.
We stopped saying our names. There was nothing but the pain and the shrieking now. Our screams were animalistic. My heart throbbed and beat at a pace that must have only been normal for a hummingbird. We threw ourselves against our restraints with a fervor that did not seem possible, but they did not give. I screamed in a voice that didn’t sound like my own while hot tears streamed down my face and were soaked up in my hair. I would have done anything to make this stop.
Suddenly, it began to ease. I watched the last bit of red flow into my port from the IV tube and felt the pain begin to subside from my fingers and toes. The agony changed from a stabbing fire to
I soon realized that the club was hitting me to the beat of my own heart. The feeling was slowly receding from my fingers and toes, leaving them feeling dead and lifeless. The fast pace of my heart was slowing too, and the more my heart rate slowed, the more the pain retracted from my limbs.
This must be what death felt like. I had to be dying. The pain had receded to my knees and elbows, and I strained to feel some sensation in my feet or hands. In my mind, I was balling my fists and flexing my toes. In reality, no matter how hard I tried, I could feel nothing. They were just lying there paralyzed and dead.
I felt neither warm nor cold anymore. My breathing reached a hyperventilating level as I panicked. It didn’t stop my heart’s steady process of slowing down, like an old clock with a worn battery. I was dying. I just had to be. I was falling into…death.
My body was no longer convulsing. The pounding had receded into my torso now, and my pulse was where a normal person’s should be. Still, it continued to slow. I shut my eyes and lay still as it retreated further out of my head and stomach and concentrated itself solely in my chest. My lungs heaved as the life abandoned them and gripped my ever-slowing heart. The pounding centered there, still shutting down my pulse. It was like someone was shocking my heart over and over, forcing it to slow down and die. Paralysis consumed me. Only my heart continued.
Suddenly, when my heart had slowed to a tragically indifferent beat, a burst of ice spread from my chest and through my entire body like a rush of freezing water. I gasped at the sensation of all of my limbs coming back to life. As the cooling sensation made its return trip back to my heart, the pain ended. My pulse returned to an unusually slow but steady beat.
The coolness also washed over my throat, leaving a parched desert in its wake. My stomach growled and demanded sustenance immediately, and I instantly became thirsty and hungry at the same time. The soreness in my throat was unbearable, and when I remembered the red liquid that had flowed so readily into my port, a need took over me like nothing I had ever felt before. My teeth ached, and I heard a savage growl escape from my own throat.
Rage and thirst overtook me, and I again threw myself against my restraints. This time, it was me beating against the metal straps instead of it being involuntary. I was fighting against them so I could be free to hunt and to feed. I needed to feed. I needed to quench the desert in my throat. My body felt stronger than before, but the metal restraints did not budge. My skin suddenly began to burn and sizzle wherever the metal was touching me. That didn’t stop me. I was ravenous. I snapped and snarled into the air as I pushed against the metal straps, watching the small lines of smoke rise into the air around them.
I heard a similar noise next to me and turned to look at the other girl. Her chest was heaving with rage as she too pushed against her restraints. Her face looked directly into mine, but it seemed like she was seeing through me. She snarled and growled as smoke lines floated up from where she was pressing her neck against the metal strap that was holding her down. Lea was bearing her teeth, and her two canines were now elongated and sharp, like a wolf’s. She growled and snapped angrily.
However, the most gruesome part of the scene was her eyes. Her once warm chocolate eyes were now pitch-black and frightening. They darted around the room like a trapped animal’s might. They looked soulless and vacant with only pure need shining through them.
I knew that I must look the same way.
I had not seen my wife for three long days. Well, perhaps I was exaggerating. I had seen her, but barely. And besides, it wasn’t really her anymore. She looked like more of an empty shell or a corpse shuffling around the house with a blank stare that seemed to gaze through me and anyone else who dared to engage her line of sight. I used the word sight loosely as well, because I don’t think she actually saw anyone anymore.
The sound of clinking ice bumping up against the high-ball glass was the first thing I heard as she moved down the stairs. I knew her destination was the bottle of scotch on the wet bar, but I rejected the urge to offer to refill her glass for her. She wouldn’t have heard me. I could bark like a dog and throw my shit into the air, and I doubted she would have given me a second glance.
Of course, that would mean I would have to time my performance for one of the short moments when she wasn’t locked away in her room. Technically, it was our room, but she had recently made it hers and hers alone, so I was left with a stiff back on our secondhand guest bed. It was an ancient thing passed down from some grandparent to some uncle and then to us where it now wreaked havoc on my spinal column.
I did not mind too much. After all, these were tragic times, and I knew very few people who wouldn’t fall apart in this manner. She always said that I was the strong one, always so dependable.
“The world could collapse around us,” she used to say when she used to speak, “and I wouldn’t be worried because you would be there to hold us all together on whatever rock was left.”
Well, a fine job I was doing now. I could do nothing but watch my wife turn into the walking dead and hear her sob uncontrollably every night. I was helpless but to let her. I had tried to stay close and hold her through the night, but that had only resulted in more crying and wailing incoherent things about this all being my fault. Like I could have done anything to foresee this. Didn’t she think that if I’d seen this coming, I would have ever let our girl out of this house?
So I gave her the space that she required, and I stayed close by in case she might need something other than booze. So far, it had been nothing but the same old crying and vacant stares. I felt like the shadow of a zombie just following blindly behind her, awaiting some kind of recognition.
The clinking got louder as she neared the wet bar that was positioned only a short distance away from the sofa that I was sitting on. The room was uncomfortably quiet except for the sound of her grabbing the glass bottle and unscrewing the topper. I heard the liquid slosh and spill over the ice in an attempt to muffle the clinking that would only resume when the glass was empty again. She threw back the contents that she had just poured and repeated the procedure two more times. I pretended not to notice.
“Did you hang the new posters today?”
This was the first full sentence that she had uttered to me in days, so I turned around to meet her gaze. Sadly, I found that she was staring at the floor a few feet in front of her and not at me. I was a little relieved that she didn’t see the dumbstruck look I knew I had to be wearing. She was wearing some dingy gray drawstring pants and that old blue T-shirt she loved because the cotton was so worn and soft after all the years of wearing and washing. Even though it was August in Texas, she also had her cream-colored long-sleeved robe draped untied and loose over her skeletal body. Her auburn hair was matted around her face, which retained none of its original color, making her look exceptionally frail and thin.
“Not yet. I was going to do that after breakfast. Would you like some breakfast, Beth? I could make pancakes or maybe migas? I have the stuff for migas.”
I looked for some sign of acknowledgment from her face, but her expression didn’t move or change in the least. She had eaten so little in the past few days. I kept putting plates with sandwiches or soft tacos or whatever I thought she might eat by the bedroom door, hoping to find the plate later empty. However, the best results I could attain were a few bites taken here or there and the rest left to the ants. But now she was up and walking around, and I knew how she loved my migas. Tragedy or no tragedy, she had to eat something.
“I’m not hungry, Howard.”
Disappointment filled me, but I tried not to show it. Obviously, she was only up and about because of the scotch run. She sipped at the liquid she had just poured without downing it this time and looked pensively at the floor just in front of me.
“You were supposed to han
“Beth, I promise that I will. I just was waiting to see if you wanted anything to eat before I went. Are you sure I can’t make you something?”
Suddenly, her eyes shot directly at mine. It startled me a little since eye contact was such a deviation from the normal zombie-like behavior I was beginning to become accustomed to with her. Those normally vibrant-blue eyes I adored were gray, and the white parts were dull and rimmed with red. Her eyes were deeply set, and I could see the dark circles trace their way underneath them. The look she gave me was full of scorn.
“Food is not important. Those posters are important, Howard. You promised you would hang them today. How can I eat when they are still just sitting there on the kitchen table?”
“I’m sorry, Beth. I just wanted to see you and make sure you didn’t need anything before I went. I’m here to take care of you, honey.”
I thought maybe the sentiment might soften this sudden onslaught of anger towards me that I’m pretty sure I didn’t earn. Patience is a virtue.
“I don’t need you to take care of me. Please just do one thing right in your life, and go hang up those damn posters. If I have to walk by and see them untouched one more time…”
She was so cold while she trailed off. I had never heard her be so cold to me.
“Beth, we just picked these up from the printer last night. They haven’t been waiting here long.”
She immediately looked away from me and slammed back the rest of the contents in her glass with a dramatic flare fit for a movie scene. I saw the wind up, and I ducked before I could see the glass and the ice sail across our living room. I heard the inevitable shattering sound as it smashed against the wall and fell to the wood floor in a million pieces. I suddenly realized I had been bracing myself. I relaxed and looked back to Beth who was panting, her shoulders moving up and down with the burst of exertion. She met my gaze angrily.
“Just do it!” She stormed off back to her room and slammed the door before I could say a word. It was probably best that I didn’t. I was livid at this point. Why were writers always so overly dramatic?