Climax, Part I
“Heather, I can’t. I have work in a few hours. Call the police or something.”
Heather stared mutely at the far-wall; the calendar; the violated pillow; the palpable disturbance to the bedsheets; the decapitated toilet.
And a sound lifted from her lips, it spoke ghostly into the mouthpiece. It was, she realized, her voice, and she was speaking. “…sure. okay.”
(faintly) – “I can come over later, though, ok? After work. Promise.”
But his response fell on deaf ears. His disembodied voice receded from the foreground as she slipped the phone into her pocket.
Alone. Heather turned in a tight, worrisome circle. It felt like her center had fallen out.
And as though conspiring with her thoughts, in that maddeningly knowing way of his, a text came through with a palpable vibration.
She looked at the text.
Unknown: Come get.
Peevishly, she shoved the phone back down into her pocket –
but not before it went off again.
He had sent a follow-on text.
Curious, she looked down at the image on her screen. At first she could not understand what she was seeing. The photograph seemed to be –
It had the contours, the lines, the slow, indulgent emergence of shapes that were hauntingly familiar to her, and in a moment of dissonance, the memory of the endoscopy video in its fantastic stasis bled through, seemingly overlapping with –
Oh my God.
A cold, hot-headed feeling swam up her neck. She threw up.
For the message that had so-teasingly followed on the heels of the first could have been a sophomoric prank or a religious perversity. It was a tight, close shot of the purple pill lying on the bed of his tongue, framed by the curl of his lips; the smooth muscle was extended, vibrant against the backdrop of neutral colors, the tip curled ever-so slightly in a come-hither flick.
Panic: panic such that she never felt before entered her system, and it was a fear so mounting she could not feel it.
And simply for the reason that he had her precious pills, she felt bereft.
Mine she mewled softly.
She stared at the photo. Her pupils widened, taking in the image; it branded itself against her skin, her eyes. It was wholly him; his mouth. For if there was one gripping, intimate piece of knowledge she retained from watching the endless visual cacophony of endoscopy videos, was that no two mouths were alike. They were all uniquely different, and differently unique. And it was idiosyncratic, but, Heather had also realized – over time – that the mouths between the sexes were also different.
The men: more angular and cavernous; commanding.
The women: more soft, and wilting; dainty.
And some - both male and female - were inherently attractive.
And this mouth – this one, because it was an extension of him, she need not see the whole of him to sense, to know, to understand its personality. It was simultaneously a liaison that did the bidding of his body, but also an alien part that seemed to wield its own sentience.
His tongue: privately commanding her, seeking to milk more of her ruination with so simple a flick.
His lips: seeking to suckle on her fear by conspiring with his red throat.
And, like a petal – or a lovely lady engloved in purple – the pill sat in repose on his red tongue; glistening ever-so faintly from a vaporous sheen.
No; none of those mouths, those oral cavities had looked like this one. This one was imbued with so much character, so much personality that it held about it an intangible quality: a darkly-seductive menace.
It was not lost on her that – despite its intangible menace – even his mouth was inherently aesthetic, sexual. But in the lines of his jaw she could see the lust of the rapist.
I have to leave. I have to get out of here. It’s a death trap in here
I have to survive
And she did not know how not to. So, on she went in her own procession of stilted movements; moving slowly, moving carefully as though any abrupt movements would shatter her.
Slowly, she extracted the army knife from the back of her sock drawer. Slowly, she slipped the phone back into her pants. And slowly she placed the knife in her front pocket.
I’ll take you down with me.
“I’ll cut you open.” She whispered, voice wavering. “I’ll kill you before you kill me.”
And like a small, petrified woodland animal she slowly shambled forward, out the door, beginning her walk to work for three rather justified reasons.
One: her backseat would be the ideal place for someone to hide.
Two: she wouldn’t be alone outside. There was no way he would just take her in plain sight. (Right?)
And three: with the way she was trembling – violently at that – she was in no position to drive.
Heather kept moving, looking over her shoulder. Again and again. Jumping at every passerby – man, woman or child.
But time had passed in a sonorous drone, and her phone remained silent. Between her apartment and work there had been nothing but the mundane whoosh of cars and the soothing chatter of the neighbors to accompany her.
Simple sounds. Simple people.
You shouldn’t be here. He was out of place. This was her place, her safe zone. The kindly waving folks and the innocent children playing in vaporous clouds of chalk, all of this – this was her world. Not his.
You don’t belong here you son of a bitch.
Once, Heather had loved his “big talk.” She had been a girl on the cusp of womanhood when she met him. Hailing from college with spotless grades, clean slates and sharp thoughts. In her former life she could party and partake of the social customs – it was an art – but she had come to quickly realize that the cultural rituals of young adults was beneath her. They had become trite and boring. And from within the rabble of bad boys with the leather jackets and dyed Mohawks – coming at her in a Technicolor-sea of disappointing machismo — what emerged was the vivid realization that what she had been craving for, searching for, was a man.
And – he had been that man.
Fuck had he ever. He had his little girl wrapped around his finger in a cleavage-bearing tube top dying for his attention.
Maybe that’s why I hate him.
Not because he had tried to eat her. But because she had loved every fucking second of being his pretty little doll up until the precise moment he had made her into one.
Dream-like, Heather dropped her head into her hands. Enough time had lapsed since the morning that she was left feeling displaced and despondent. (And she stole furtive glances at the photo of his mouth).
It’s him. It’s really him. He… th-that was his mouth. That was his. Everything I remembered, everything I remembered about it was real. He knew her so well, so perfectly well that he knew enough to know that a simple candid photo of his mouth cradling her pill would break her world.
It was, she thought with a chill, befitting of any predator: that he know his prey better than they know themselves. Prey, her mind echoed back hollowly. Is that what I am? Again, she looked at the photo. It was him. So him. So him. That mouth, the one that haunted her dreams, she knew it with a feverish obsessive intimacy.
It was a feverish, obsessive intimacy - that she knew - was not entirely her own.
And that scared her more than anything. This was not the coalescent, faithful need of a lover. This was the ugly, guttural need of a mad dog that had clamped its jaws down over something tender.
I have to keep moving. That’s all. Just… keep moving. One little falter and he’d see it. He would see her weakening and –
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Tammy snapped.
Heather jumped up, startled.
The other woman was looking down at her, her soft brown skin radiating in the lurid glow of the fluorescent lights. She was pretty with her smooth even features and requisite diva mole, but her personality was loathsome.
Somehow, the hours had waxed and waned in the quaint little flower shop, and with the depleting day Heather’s anxieties had receded into a tingle of white-noise. But, now, the day was coming to a close, which meant she would have to help with closing.
“Nothing Tammy. What do you want?” Heather looked at her challengingly, which was no small feat, sitting upon a dilapidated, dusty box.
She popped a little green bubble in her mouth, smacking the gum carelessly. “That time-a night, Heatha. You do da stockin’ and I’ll count ta cash regista.”
Sure, Heather thought silently, so you can slip a few twenties into your pocket and walk out sight unseen.
But Heather made no protest: the mindless task of lifting boxes and storing them in the back had given her a simple, meditative quiet and she relished it. In the solitude of her labor she had begun mentally analyzing what her next move would be. Maybe she would call Joseph and have him drive by her house? Hold him to the promise he made? Have him call her with regularity to make sure she was still of this earth?
Preoccupied by her thoughts, and the soul-deep good feeling of working her hands and her legs, she looked down in silent appreciation at them. Track, she remembered hearing herself say, as his lips had wandered down to her breast bone. Bet I could outrun you. It was the only reason she had survived that night. The moment her body had returned to normal she had torn off, running and yowling like a mauled cat.
I had waltzed into the wolf’s den and that’s no place for your average pussy cat.
Even now Heather could remember her bare feet beating against the pavement: she had been nude, and she had collided with her parked car; wrung the door open, flung herself inside, and peeled off the property, the wheels spinning three hundred and sixty three days ago.
Tammy was looking at her pointedly. Her respite would be short-lived; work would not offer her the sanctuary she had been hoping for. She wouldn’t be able to stay the night, either.
“Fine, I’ll go,” Heather made a resigned sound and reluctantly got to her feet.
She left the flower shop, and entered the arms of dusk.
She returned to her apartment. Her arm wilted down by her side. Out of habit she had reached into her secret stash. But, there was no use plunging her hand into the flush mechanics to fish out the ziploc bags, because her pills were no longer there.
Feeling bereft, she crumpled down onto her bed. She retrieved her phone; opened the messages, and feeling the same irresistible impulse, braved the inevitability of the panic, and once again, looked at the photo.
She felt a terrible sadness, a loneliness enter her. She hugged herself. Her skin began to prickle.
And there was a knock at her door.
And there was a sound emanating from it, from the other side that was sealed away, tucked from her reality, and the sound was stretching across the length of room, seeking her out, and it was – she realized – a voice: it was speaking.
"Oh, Joey,” she whispered, trembling in the after-shock of startlement: “I forgot about you.”
She began tearing apart her make-shift barricade. Desks, end-cabinets, chairs, they were all removed with a startling efficiency. Joey, hold up, I’m coming
And a sudden madness seized her. She didn’t want to be alone. Not now. Not ever. To be alone meant she would be an easy target. Easy prey. Faster she went, harder, until at last she upended the final obstruction with a most-satisfying thunk.
But Joey must have been wresting the door knob with his hands, a hair-trigger second away from bursting through it in his own desperation, because she had scarcely relieved the final weight from it, when it burst open –
– and the bright crinkle of the door chime sounded pleasantly. He stepped quietly into the flower shop.
Looking up, he became immediately aware of two things.
One: that he was not alone, and two: a most delectable woman-shaped specimen was peering at him, her hand sliding surreptitiously through the cash register draw.
Cocking his head to the side he gave her a forward once-over. “Uh-oh. Hand in the cookie jar?” Then he gave her a sympathetic look. "Don’t worry, I won’t tell if you don’t.”
Tammy looked up in mortification.
But without missing a beat, he continued airily: “Heather’s not here, huh?" He set his hip in a casual lean up against the counter. See? I’m harmless. "She go home?”
Funny, cuz I was just there. Man, Heather, we dance around one another don’t we?
Tammy snapped back from the register. The cash scattered in a brilliant green explosion. Without thinking, she set down on her hands and knees, scrambling to collect it like a cat trying to gather a cloud of feathers.
“I don’t know what yeh talkin’ 'bout.” She snapped. And not even bothering to look up, she continued snatching the money from off the dusty floor planks. “Who-a yuh anyways?”
The stranger relaxed into his role. He allowed the common tongue to slip through. It was verbal camouflage; mimicry. See? I’m one of you.
“Oh, justa… friend,” he answered demurely, sliding around the counter slowly. “Well, no; actually thas not true. We were togetha’ for a while, me and Heatha’. We had a falling out.” He shrugged. "But we’re still friends. I wanted ta check up on her. Make sure she’s okay.” Sudden inspiration struck him: “She’s not wit that Joseph guy, is she? I don’t trust that type. Specially since he’s dealin’ in pills an’ all’a that shit.”
He moved closer; but slowly, gradually. If she looked up and attempted to recall how close he had been to the door, she wouldn’t have been able to tell with any honesty if he had moved further into the shop.
Tammy looked up.
The stranger had moved abreast of her, shifting forward silently And, blessedly distracted by the money, he had slid one shoe forward to settle it down on Tammy’s fingers.
Tammy’s shoulders rolled in whiplash. But before she could open her mouth to protest, he caressed the top of her hand with the instep. “Nuh-uh. That’s not yours.”
“Get off my fucking hand!”
“Nope. But, you can do me a favor. Call Heather. I need you to find out if our little girl has got company.”
The phone rang.
Heather jumped. Joseph started.
"Who is it?” he asked, visibly flustered.
"Tammy. Why is Tammy calling me? Tammy never calls me.” Dread began to race up and down Heather’s arms, grating palpably against her withdrawal tremors. Breathlessly, she held the phone to her ear and connected the call.
Heather shot Joey a warning look. Be quiet, her eyes said.
Then, returning to the phone: “Tammy… is…” Heather took a deep, calming breath, and continued. “Is there a man there?"
Tammy had said quietly. Heather’s heart dropped; it began beating hollowly in the pit of her stomach.
“You need to… you need…give him the phone, Tammy. I’ll talk to him.”
The sound of a scuffle.
He wrenched the phone free.
And he was suddenly, vividly alive; back bowed, hairs on end. Would Heather speak? Would she speak to him? The thought of hearing it cupped inside his ear sent a sudden, anticipatory shudder through him. He listened intently.
But there was nothing.
The silence stretched on as something he would call expressive.
And, it dragged on resiliently.
He could feel the intensity of her rebellion.
He couldn’t resist the vicious smile. Defiant to the end. That was his Kitten.
And, unable to contain himself a moment longer, he uttered a cajoling: “Well?”
Heather’s teeth came together in a spasm.
To hear it again, to hear it speaking to her, she felt dizzy, faint. It was a sickly relief to know that it was no longer a ghostly memory, nor the shadow sliding through her nightmares – it was, instead, a true, vocal sound. An utterance made by a man. By a living person.
He was uncaged from her nightmares.
“You,” she whispered.
She refused to say his name; to think it; to indulge it.
A peculiar mania went through her. She almost laughed.
She had tried to unknown him, hadn’t she? She had tried to render him nameless, faceless. To excise his identity. But in her attempt to unknown him, she had ascended him, exalted him; and he had re-surged as a surreptitious entity that needn’t a name to stir her to fear.
Because there was nothing more horrifying than a name. And nothing more intimate than the utterance of a name. Because a name was the connective tissue to her surreal reality. A reality in which he had tried to ingest her.
“It’s been a while.” She had to dig her nails into her palm to keep focused. “Back off Tammy. She’s not who you’re here for.” That unfortunate person is me.
Heather walked to the living room window and peered out into the setting sun, the town open to her vision was basked in a warm orange glow. It’d be dark soon. Wolves hunted in the night. “Wh-what do you want?”
He looked down at the phone. She was speaking. Speaking to him. And it was not the approximation of what he heard in his day-dreams. It was her. It was his Heather.
Her voice: the sweet soprano with its lush, throaty cadence… Oh God. How he missed that. He simply, plainly missed her.
But, his throat tightened. He had missed out on the opportunity to have her, too. Didn’t’ he?
And after what felt like a biblical lifetime – he finally spoke.
"That’s a loaded question, Kitten. But, for starters: you. " And after a clever moment: “Alone.”
(from the earpiece) “But, I am alone…”
“Are you?” He lowered the cell phone so that it could project the sound, and jammed his shoe down on Tammy’s fingers.
There was a vivid, hollow crack.
Heather torqued her body away from Joseph. She squeezed her eyes against the wet, unctuous sound of ligament tearing, bone breaking, the shrill shuddery sound of Tammy screaming.
“STOP.” Stop it her brain commanded. “Just stop. I - fine. OK… I’ll do it. I’ll tell him to go home.”
Then, she spoke in Joey’s general direction, her voice both carrying its command to her awkward companion whilst also wafting over the mouthpiece: “Go home… Joey. Just go. I… I don’t think it’s a good idea if you stay. Don’t do anything stupid like call the cops, and don’t try to come back. Just go.”
But Heather flicked her chin toward the closet.
Bless him. Joesph played along, moving the furniture from the front door before opening it and shutting it for dramatic effect.
With practiced finality: “He’s gone,” Heather pronounced. “Now leave Tammy alone.”
Heather ended the call. She turned to Joseph. "If I need you I’ll call. But don’t come out a second before that. Got it?”
Like an obedient puppy, Joey nodded his head. And without further instruction he slid into the closet, closing it tight behind him.
Heather moved over to the bed. She killed the lights.
She picked up Joseph’s pistol.
Tammy was a female apostrophe: curled on the floor in silent punctuation. She had involuntarily shriveled into the fetal position.
In a boneless spasm she clutched her broken hand. Her head lolled back to look up at her aggressor.
He retracted his foot.
And without a parting glance he strode from the flower shop.
He made his away across town; there was no spring to his step, no merriment to his stride. Only the steep, purposeful strides of a hunter compelled.
The lines of the apartment complex etched into view. The windows on the facade were dark and un-shuttered like lidless eyes.
And mantled by the dark, he entered the lobby. He retraced his steps. He knew them by heart.
To: the foyer.
Up: the stairs.
Down: the hall.
His pace quickened.
He broke into a full run.
He charged down the hallway.
Delicately, he sniffed the air. Heather.
Scenting, tasting, he turned, hunting like a blind snake.
In two, quick purposeful strides he moved to the door.
He leaned in closer, intent. Every nerve alive. Every tendon flexed. Every breath calculated, controlled. He stood, hovering; scenting.
He was vigilant, alert; every nerve and sense on end. What booby traps you got laid out for me? His ears pricked forward. Where was she? A primal excitement curdled in his stomach.
After a long moment, he placed his hand on the door – as though with that gesture alone he could feel her, sense her – and pushed.
The door creaked open. It was the emittance of a single cry –
– that bugled from Joseph’s throat as he charged into the living room.
Heather shrieked at the eruption.
Joseph lofted the knife high into the air, and swung.
Heather sprang from her cover and ran.
She bolted out the door; but not before first sensing, feeling, absorbing an undulation of movement.
There was a single yelp; the punctuation of a shoe scrape, and an athletic shunt of weight.
Don’t look back. Just run. You stop, you die
“Track!” She shouted. “Remember?!”
Her heart was pulsing. Her feet were pounding.
It was an explosion of sounds, of colors. The world whipped through her in a diorama of lines and circles.
Shapes ushered into her vision; sounds cut through her ears.
And she pushed herself.
Her breath burned in her throat. But on she ran.
Each heel strike was loud, discordant; it was a slamming, a banging in her ears that echoed inside her head. It was deafening, especially in counter-point to the procession of swift, fleet sounds that were suddenly, terrifyingly coming from behind.
He’s chasing me.
Like a wolf-dog in hot pursuit, the chase had his blood up. It was driving him onward, forward. And she could feel it from him, swelling larger like a balloon: excitement.
Let out of his cage, he was running her down.
The fear drove her forward.
The trees flew past. The cars. The bejeweled string of ocean glimmering under the dusky sun.
The ground swayed.
He’s too fast. Even with her head-start, he had covered the distance with a startling dexterity.
But Heather continued. She kept going. She did not know how not to.
The fixed, central point of the horizon danced before her as she destined to run toward it, desperate to jump into it – when her world swayed, and the limitless image of the sunset rotated – as she realized slowly, realized belatedly that it was her body falling, her body crashing through the warehouse entrance, with only the sound of the security panels groaning and the security panels slamming into the concrete behind her after the very moment she had dove under them, clearing them, with only an optimist’s inch to spare.
Heather rolled onto her back, laughing. A peculiar mania gripped her then. She had done it. She did it. She had nearly been guillotined by the security gate, but she didn’t care. She had outran the devil himself.
Her head lolled up.
And the room was as she remembered it: work bench, single overhead light, coffee cup, discarded clothes, and all of their requisite shadows. Except, she realized, mentally counting, there was one too many.
Heather’s head swiveled.
He was standing in front of the double doors, the iron security panels absorbing all sound; all life. He looked like a stolid tyrant standing giant before an iron balustrade. It was just the two of them, entombed.
Heather flung herself backward. She crashed into the far wall. Disoriented, terrified, she landed ugly on the floor
“Track,” he parroted back. “You forget, I’m a fast motherfucker, too.”
End Part I