It was a dark and stormy night. Sure, it’s cliché but thats how I remember how it all started. How I was forced in to making this decision. How I ended up alone.
I also remember that the handcuffs were too tight. In fact, when I first woke up, the pain was all I could think of for a time. I felt drugged, pliable and not in control. As I started to get my bearings, I looked around. I was seated in a vehicle. A van. It was moving. The driver didn’t speak or even look at me. He just delivered me to my destination in silence.
When the door opened, I got out (what else was I to do) and stretched as best I could with my hands bound in back. Two large guards with just as large side-arms guided me inside the nondescript building. It was one of those quick assemble warehouse buildings, like many in the industrial park. That oriented me a bit as to where I was. Good.
As soon as I crossed the entrance, I laid my eye on an attractive-looking woman in a lab coat. She smiled and said that the doctor was ready for me. Confused, I asked her what she was talking about. She just smiled and led me and my escort deeper in to the building and into a darkened room.
I was mostly blinded by the bright overhead lights. It created perfect pools of white against the dark. The floor was tiled. It smelled clean. Actually, it didn’t smell of anything. The sweat of the guards. The spicy scent of perfume. That’s it.
No one spoke. The only sound was my quickening breathing and my heart pounding in my head.
The guards picked me up and dropped me in to what looked like a leather dentist chair. It resembled a well-worn recliner that some cat had licked and chewed upon. It felt strangely comfortable. Except for the straps. They pinned my shoulders and legs as I tried to struggle and panic, but it was useless. The still smiling nurse fixed the straps to my legs, arms and across my thighs and chest.
The guards retreated to the dark. I could tell she was somewhere near as I could smell her mild scent, but she remained out of sight.
Well, this is it then, I thought.
As the doctor entered the light, he started singing to himself.
“Head and Shoulders, Knees and Toes! Eyes, Ears, Mouth and Nose!”
That’s not right.
It was “Eyes, Ears, Mouth or Nose”. That’s what he sang. Weird.
I never saw the doctor’s face. He wore a surgical mask and some weird set of goggles with a magnifying lens over one eye. He sported a sleeved apron over what looked like a three-piece suit.
“Eyes, Ears, Mouth or Nose?”
He was still singing but it was apparent he was asking me a question.
“One to enhance. One to diminish. Choose now. Choose wisely. I’d hate to have to terminate this experiment. Disposal is, well, complicated.”
I hadn’t had a drink in nearly 10 years and, sitting strapped to this chair, I certainly wished I was at a meeting instead. Hell, at the bottom of a bottle would be great. Not now though. No way. Stone sober.
The night didn’t start out that way of course. I was at my high school reunion, proud as can be that I could show off a better me: thin, clean and healthy. I didn’t even smoke anymore.
I was always the outcast and despite my designs for the evening, I remained on the outside. Few took notice of me. Those that did, forgot my name.
My mood quickly soured, but I was stubborn. I didn’t want to leave. I sulked instead. Typical me. The music was old and loud. I was getting a headache.
I knew better, but I was feeling sorry for myself and a little lonesome. I sought solace in the familiar – the professional ear for the down-trodden. I crossed the old worn gym floor to one of three makeshift bars and started chatting up the bar keep. The room was laid out strange and this one was not particularly busy.
It’s funny how I can be so forward with complete strangers in a sea of all people stat knew me at my worst (or at least if they remembered).
She was dressed in caterer’s garb, complete with bow tie and a ladies-cut shirt and vest. It was meant to be flattering and it indeed was doing its job on her already perfect curves. Her smile lit her face like sunshine.
Crazy. She seems so familiar to me now.
We chatted away about nothing at all and at first I didn’t drink. It was full party mode but we were trapped in an eddy. An hour passed and she must have been getting bored with the inactivity. She looked at me with a conspiratorial eye and suggested we toss back a couple.
Given my otherwise disappointment with the evening, I fell. I just couldn’t resist her – or that was the lie I told myself.
One shot quickly became six and, man-o-man, it was like riding a bike! We laughed as we drank. Something magical was happening. I let my guard down and laid my soul bare for her.
In the noise and distraction of it all we stole off and found the teachers’ lounge unlocked and unattended. Afterwards, she excused herself to the washroom and in the quiet dark I opened a window to clear my head.
The cool rainy night air struck my face and I felt lightheaded momentarily.
I felt something hot prick my neck. It stung and tingled. I reached back to feel the welt and was roughly lifted off my feet by two sets of meaty hands.
As I was being manhandled in to the waiting van, I tried to take stock. I was shamefully drunk. I was obviously drugged. I was definitely in trouble. I reached for my cell in my pocket to call for help and came up empty. I almost laughed aloud at the absurdity of my predicament. So I took to giggling instead. I couldn’t help it. I passed out thinking: if only I could remember where I left my pants.
“Eyes, ears, mouth or nose?”
I’m still half out of it. My neck hurts from the needle. My arms and legs hurt from the straps. My head pounds and my chest feels tight as my heart races, powered by the adrenaline and what ever they doped me with. Man, I’m completely freaked out.
I still don’t understand the question being asked by this freaky doctor. I look around – anywhere but at this guy – for some grounding point of reference.
I catch a flash of leg. The nurse! Why can’t I take my mind off her. My subconscious keeps seeking her out amid the madness of the situation.
The nurse. The hot barkeep from earlier. Did she tell me her name? Damn it! It’s still all so muddy. I keep mixing their faces together. My drug-addled brain wants them to be the same person. Maybe they are.
When I close my eyes to stop the world from spinning, it’s not their morphed face I see. It all blurs and blends them in to this torch singer’s face from many years ago – much younger, prettier.
The songbird of my memory was either drunk or high when I last saw her. I don’t normally go for love-lost blues music, but she was easy on the eyes with a mesmerizing deep sultry voice that captivated. The lounge where she regularly sang was my Thursday night haunt in my binge drinking days.
That last night she was off her game, and off-key, slurred her words and stumbled. It was painful to bear witness and she mercifully ended early.
When the techno beat started up to fill the void, I bailed and headed across the street to the sports bar and caught up with the crew from work watching the fights.
I ordered a pair of tequila shots and a beer to bring my buzz back. Hell, any excuse, right?
She was still pretty effed up when she came in but seemed a little more in control. With my belly hot with poison, I approached her and offered to buy her a drink if she wouldn’t sing like that again or that she should by the bar a round in compensation for a lousy performance. It was nonsensical and mean-spirited of course, but in those days I didn’t give a shit what people thought of me. I expected a retort or a slap. I was itching for an excuse to argue and fight. Whisky and tequila don’t improve my temperament much.
She laughed. Full and genuine, with neither spite nor sarcasm. I didn’t expect that. It set me off guard. I took a moment to look at her a little more closely. She was disheveled and had bruises on both arms. She was trembling. Her eyes were fiery and confident now but it was obvious that she had been crying not to long ago.
If I had to name her emotional state, I’d peg it for anger. No, fury.
She said she’d repay my night and then some if I would help her with a little problem.
I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me. That must have fit her needs just fine. I still don’t know why I agreed to what would push my drunken decent to utter madness.
I’d like to say that was when I gave up drinking. I’d like to –
The doctor interrupted my untimely wool-gathering and brought me sharply back to the present and my current peril.
“What is your choice? Which to enhance and which to diminish?”
I closed my eyes. It was all too much to take in. It hurt all over. I had to calm down. I had to think.
The songstress paid my tab and wrote an address I didn’t recognize on a rare dry napkin. Smirking, she told me to meet her the next morning and left without another word.
My head was pounding. I woke suddenly and sat up, head spinning. Weird night. I swung my legs to the side of the bed. Two Tylenol and a swig of the rye I took to bed had me as straight as I could be.
Yeah. I had a problem, all right.
I saw the address and remembered the bargain I made with miss-oh-so-sweet. It was pretty hazy, but I remembered the lurid promise of compensation. Cursing, I got dressed, called a cab. I was definitely not cool to drive – or walk.
The cabbie woke me from my doze when we got to the mysterious address: the ass-end of a church. Church!
She greeted me at the door with a welcome steaming cup of joe. I was used to having it spiked, but feeling generous on a sunny day, I held my peace.
The seedy torch singer by night was almost unrecognizable in daylight. Cleaned up without stage makeup and her hair pulled back, she was still a knockout – just a little more wholesome.
She introduced me to every old biddy in that teaming sea of blue-hair. It wasn’t long before I was sorting through donated crap and hanging used clothes. I was hoodwinked, but didn’t care.
At the time, I didn’t really know why but given recent events, it would appear that drinking is not my only vice. Even still, I got bored and impatient. When I looked to her she smiled and nodded. Fine.
I cracked open a locked suitcase brimming with ordinary things. It wasn’t packed for a long trip – three or four days, tops. It looked like fall or winter wear for a smallish woman. Teen sizes, but adult styles.
At the very bottom was an unfolded sheet of paper with a handwritten note. The penmanship was strong and purposeful, confident and without hesitation. Strange, because it was a suicide note dated six months prior. It was short, sweet and unoriginal. Something about it was hauntingly convicted.
I didn’t recognize the name so I showed it to my musical warden and she blanched.
“This is my daughter’s writing– and her clothes”, she said, trembling uncontrollably, holding the note in one hand and a yellow sweater in the other. “She’s home right now, sleeping. I didn’t know about this. She’s been sick for so long.”
She collapsed in my arms, sobbing. I held her (no choice really). As obviously upset as she was, I couldn’t help but notice our closeness. She smelled like cinnamon mixed with the pleasant feminine musk of a day’s work.
We broke the embrace. I looked at her. She asked me if I was okay to drive. She wanted to go home and check on her baby girl.
We departed into a five-year hell-ride of a journey of marriage, divorce, death and redemption.
But it started with that suitcase.
I opened my eyes and looked at the doctor. His freakish spectacles made his eyes look like dark glassy pools on an otherwise uninteresting face.
I had his answer and I gave it to him.
“Excellent choice, good sir!”, he gleefully pronounced. He then instructed the nurse to prepare his instruments.
How the hell did that get there?
There I was, strapped to a crazy dental chair being tilted back. The nurse covered up the splash of beautiful candy-apple red with a surgical mask. I could no longer see if she was smiling. I’m not sure she ever was. Why the hell did it matter?
She addressed me by name and I met her gaze. She told me to relax and that it’d be over soon.
Her soothing words had no effect. The world (this world anyway) had gone ultra-bright. The nurse’s white uniform glowed. The stainless steel tools glinted menacingly and the doctor’s eyes kept their dead black sheen.
Everything was stark visceral shades of blacks, whites and grays…
…And the bright vibrant green of new-growth grass.
Where did that come from?
“Over here”, said no one at all. My tormentors worked silently and with practiced efficiency. Nonetheless, I heard someone/something speak.
A fresh batch of chemical restraints were coursing though my veins. I could feel the fog flowing to my fingertips and sparking from digit-point to digit-point. Oh, how I just wanted to look at them!
I don’t know why these crazy bastards didn’t just knock me out. It’s like they wanted me to bear witness to my transformation.
“Over here, jackass”.
The flash of emerald crossed my view again. My addled yet hyper-aware mind sought the source. There was a mirror above me, displaying the whole sordid theatre in my own personal exposition of the pain I expected to come. I was the star of the show and the honored guest!
At the very corner of my field of view was a plain hospital cart. On it were my neatly-folded missing pants (one mystery solved), my phone, wallet, and a couple crumpled bills. Lying beside these was the sodden napkin with the name and number of my drunken angel from the party that sparked my current misadventure.
I wondered then what happened to her. I never thought to ask the right questions – of her or of them.
“Jack-ass. Jack-wagon. Jack-ur-gunna-b-dead-soon!”
On top of my phone, straining to catch my attention, was the absurd green army man I stuffed in my pocket. You know the kind: molded plastic on a flat plastic base, the two halves – front and back – frayed with a poor polishing job and the abuse of a child. The rifle muzzle was chewed a bit from the idiot family cat that dad had called Spot. He thought he was clever naming a stripped orange tabby so arbitrarily.
Why the hell did I put that in my pocket? I was in the attic going through the old boxes my folks had bequeathed me. I was looking for my old yearbook to prompt me for some names as I greeted the older faces of my grad class.
My hand touched the forgotten toy soldier and instantly remembered. I curled him in my fist like I was five again. I was feeling wound and anxious about the reunion and my plastic friend made me feel centered and whole. He had no name. He had no voice.
“Never mind traipsing to yester-frickin-year, ya whimpering’ brat! You’re in trouble here. Just like last time, I’m gonna save your miserable pansy-arse.”
I felt a mixture of shame, relief and fear as the restraints took hold.
I was out.
I was dreaming, dreaming in verse no less. I was dreaming of her, recalling a crucible of time in which I was truly lost.
She said to meet her at the corner pub.
A passable hole with okay grub.
I had to see her, hold her, caress and kiss.
Curves and color. Earth, silk and bliss.
Cold winter rain and a warming fire.
What’s your poison, your heart’s desire?
Chess and checkers, darts and pool.
Games of chance, lucky streaks run cool.
A pair of lovers sat cuddling near.
I smiled, nodded and nursed my beer.
Time marched on, I was left alone.
I checked my watch. I checked my phone.
A faceless crowd. A lonely deck-o-cards.
Majesty without purpose. Ace of Hearts.
Where has my Queen of Diamonds gone?
Perhaps she stole away with Warrior John.
Doubting fears cast shadows. Ace of Spades.
A runaway brain. A madman’s escapades.
She leaves me unbound… reckless… insane.
Chasing hope, running, a fool in the rain.
I just wanted my life to be whole again – the shattered pieces restored unmarred by the mistakes I made. I wanted this horror to be over.
I wanted to wake up.
Waking up wasn’t an option. I knew I was dreaming. I knew my mind was slipping gears.
The scene changed. The rejection of that night long was forgotten, replaced with the fleeting peace of a honeymoon in the Caribbean.
My new bride was trying to talk a handsome server in to taking some fruit up to her daughter. Things were getting bad. Time was short. I let them have their playful moments.
I put down The Big Book – a vintage copy – and got up from my cabana chair. I had been working on my one-year chip and took a weird interest in the seminal work.
It was still quite early. I had staked out our chairs while no one was around.
What roused me from my book was a glint on the shoreline of a small craft approaching shore. It was barely afloat and only had one passenger.
She was of a local hue but with a shock of unruly curled copper hair that framed a comely face on an athletic frame. Clad in brown leather boots, britches and a belted tunic over a laced bodice, she was fetching. I couldn’t help but smirk at the absurd anachronism of such a costume aboard such a diminutive (and rickety) conveyance.
I also couldn’t deny my guilty imaginings as to how she got those laces so perfectly snug.
She called to me in perfect, albeit locally accented, English She said she had a treasure map and needed my brawny assistance at a cove around the corner of the beach head.
I suspected my playful partner of finding me something to do while she sought some one-on-one girl-time, mother and daughter.
My fair pirate lady said it’d take no more than a half hour there, an hour to dig and load, and another forty-five minutes back. My reward? A booty of local gems for my princesses and the chance to spend the morning with a local beauty.
I was kinda feeling an itch and ponying up to the stools was not in the plan So, I put my book down on my chair with the pile of towels, counting on no one looking to borrow my tomb when the drinks were all-in.
I climbed in to her surprisingly sturdy little boat and it settled solidly in to the warm green sea. I grabbed the oars, happy for the exertion after a week of sloth. My svelte “la capitana” ruddered us out of sight of the resort.
On the way, she spun me the yarn of her father’s shipwreck discovery a few years ago. He was too timid to do anything about it, but this fiery crowned chiquita had ambitions of her own and inherited the quest once he’d passed.
The pirate garb was for the benefit of the themed resort adjacent. It was getting warm and she cast off the tunic. The bodice was indeed laced and well-fitted. I mused if my wife would have arranged such an adventure knowing the aesthetic caliber of my accompaniment.
We ventured to a small inlet and stone-anchored a few meters off shore. We waded in, a shovel in my hand and the neatly folded parchment in hers.
She directed my in to the cool shade of a vanilla grove’s canopy. It wasn’t long before we were out of site and alone. It felt intimate, but she remained professionally playful and determined to enjoy uncovering her inheritance.
I had my back to her when I started digging.
Given my experience, I knew the sound of a cocked handgun when I heard it. My first thought was one of embarrassment. I’d been caught with my guard down amid the distraction of a pretty face. Again and apparantly not for the last time.
Booze and women. Damn.
“La Bella Capitaina” had me turn around with my hands raised, the ruse of treasure hunting quickly dispensed.
I was led to a waiting speedboat where a couple of muscle-heads guided me to a seat.
She spoke to them in some slavik language I didn’t recognize without any sign of the Caribbean accent she lured me with.
I was bound and gagged as the craft sped off. A hood was then dropped over my head and I spent the next half-hour in transit, scared witless. Not for me, but for what might be happening back at the resort with my new bride and step-daughter.
We docked and I was led to some vehicle for a short ride somewhere. When we stopped. I could hear planes so it must have been near the airport.
No one spoke to me.
At last I was seated, hooded removed and unbound. I nearly vomited when the gag was yanked out.
I was in a room adjacent to another with a large glass pane between the two. My wife and girl were there, clearly frightened. They looked to we wide-eyed but didn’t speak or move. As with my room, a rather intimidating rifle was pointed in their direction.
The pirate princess returned, dressed in more modern fare. I glanced at my wife and saw recognition. My theory on how this was setup was pretty much confirmed. Strangely, it came to mind that my fidelity wouldn’t be questioned.
“Do you know why you’re here?”, she spoke with perfect English. What other languages had she mastered?
“No”, I quietly and cautiously returned. “I’m on vacation – our honeymoon”.
“I’ll be direct. You’re a security analyst with some very special clearance. You have a simple choice before you.”
A laptop with a satellite card was brought in before she continued.
“Log in and run this script without alerting anyone. Do this and you and your family go free. Refuse, and you all die today.”
I was held firmly in place by the shoulders as the brute squad did the same to the ladies next door.
“Hesitate for a minute and your lovely step-daughter loses a finger. We’ll keep cutting until we run out of digits.”
To reinforce the point, a cigar-cutter was shown to me at the window. Her small teenage fingers were splayed and the cutter fit over one like it was custom-made for such a purpose.
I thought quickly. It was snowing back home. We just made it out of town before the nor’easter hit. It was only Saturday. The office would be abandoned. No one would be alerted to what happened until it was too late.
Whatever these people wanted, it’d be bad. Real bad.
I had to do something.
That moment is forever shaded a deep crimson.
It was days later, in the dark of the new moon, that it hit me how instantly askew our already disrupted world became.
After they got what they needed from me, we were taken to a small island off the coast, marooned and left to fend for ourselves. The fate of nations unknown and no longer of import. A timely rescue was unlikely.
We were one big happy family. Broken but alive.
It’d only been a year since things started getting serious after we rescued each other. Her, from a deep and crazed depression and me, from the inevitable conclusion of a drunkard’s decent. Our courtship was passionate and swift. We weren’t kids. Maturity and experience brought a kind of certainty to our future together.
Now on the beach, the madness returned and she ensconced herself upon a rough rock for more than a week, rising only to tend nature’s call. She bordered on catatonic. I fed her what I clumsily fished and kept her hydrated.
She wouldn’t speak, but I felt her eyes track my movements with detached precision. There was something hidden in her stare that kept me rattled. I became fearful – for her and of her.
Her daughter always deeply resented me, how I took her mother away when she needed her most. The hatred was white hot as only a teenage girl can harbour. The hatred was palpable.
Spitefully, she helped make camp and surprised me with her resourcefulness. We spoke, but only in a utilitarian manner. She was already ghastly thin, only superficially healthy. The girl worked hard to help take care of her mother.
However, her burst of energy was short lived. She sported only three fingers on her fret hand. Through the crusted blood wept a pungent cloudy fluid. Being only a month off chemo, her fever set in and rose quickly.
She lingered and died painfully before the full moon rose. I remember the screaming.
I dug her grave with my bare hands. It took until daybreak. Pausing before moving her small frame into its resting place, I dozed off. The emotional toll was unbearable.
I awoke with a start, my muted songstress standing above me wielding jags of sharp shale in each hand. The wind had picked up, blowing some of the surf in to the air as a mist.
She flew at me, striking solidly into my forearm as I brought it forward. Her momentum set her off-balance and she stumbled past.
A wet red clouded my eyes. The cut was deep but clean. The bone felt bruised not broken. The pain brought me to my feet before she managed to regain her footing.
Before she could resume her assault, I leapt forward and embraced her. She struggled a while, then stopped. She fell apart then and I held fast. For her. For us.
After a while we laid her little girl to rest.
It’d been more than a year since her daughter died. She was slow at putting her life back together. The last few years, she had been immersed in the disease, her little girl’s care and declining health. The end was inevitable, but the horrific abruptness of last year shocked us both.
Phone calls for singing gigs went unanswered. She simply wouldn’t venture beyond the four walls of our home. It was her fortress. She was safe.
After the incident, I’d been politely asked to resign from the company. It was an easy decision to set up shop as a freelancer with the settlement. This kept me close to my broken bride.
We’d been living in my parents’ old home since we came back. Funny, they’ve been gone for twenty years, but I still think of my house as theirs.
Things had to change. I tried to talk with her about putting the house up, but she was non-committal and apathetic. Her response was a ringing endorsement. I called the realtor the next day.
The sign only stood on the lawn for an hour when our neighbor ventured across the street. A friend of my parents, I hadn’t seen much of her in recent years. I had forgotten how ancient she was! I invited her in for tea, and the three of us sat in the morning-lit kitchen.
The old maven and I chatted about my days as a yard-ape while my best-girl, clearly not at her best, stirred honey in to her cup and stared detachedly at the dust motes playing in the sunbeam.
She told stories of how she grew up in the neighborhood, and for a time, in this very house. Her husband was also raised on our street. I asked her how my parents, her close friends, came to own this place. On that topic she grew dark and silent.
It was at that point that she reached in to her pocket and drew out an old key with a shaky hand.
She placed it on the table with a click and held a single boney finger on the business end. She spoke to my wife for the first and only time. Their eyes met, steely gazed beaten down by the torment, one of time and one of tragedy.
“This is for you. Don’t let him sell this house before you solve its secrets. This will make you whole again.”
With that, the old girl downed her tea with a gulp and excused herself. She crossed my lawn and lifted the sign’s stake with more force than I thought in her. The plaque lay flat on the grass as she strode off.
Back in the kitchen, my wife stood up, cupping the key in her hands as if it were a fragile creature about to escape. She looked at me and smiled for the first time since, well, before. Her eyes danced and I thought I could hear her quietly humming.
“Jack be nimble, Jack be quick. Jack you’re gonna get your lazy ass kicked.”
The fog was lifting but the confusion remained. Apparently, the hallucinations persisted as well.
I was alone in the room, no longer strapped to a chair. The gurney was cold, hard and uncomfortable. I still couldn’t move. The lights were electric white, pulling any color forward in to brilliance.
I saw green and sensed motion, but it no longer mattered.
My songstress was silent. Her music was gone forever.
TO BE CONTINUED…?
Photo by different2une