A CHRISTMAS SLAying, Part 1,
Sheila woke, stiff and sore. Her mouth was dry and her throat ached, pain burning as she tried to swallow. She listened, straining in the dark, trying to decide if it was safe to move. She heard the pipe dripping, drops of water pinging against the floor. On the freeway that ran past the house she heard cars passing by, the blare of a truck horn and somewhere far off, strains of music as Christmas Carolers’ sang, probably from Saint Mark’s church down the road. She didn’t hear him though, moving around upstairs or down here, watching her as she struggled to sit up.
Slipping off her makeshift bed, Sheila crawled towards the leak, pain shooting through her ankle as she did so. The chain that confined her to the basement rubbed against the deep abrasions that had been engraved into her skin from her unyielding shackles. She winced, biting her tongue to keep from crying out. She didn’t want to risk his wrath, if he were home and heard her. The cuts were becoming infected and she feared it wouldn’t be long before her ankle turned black from disease. If it did, he would certainly cut it off, as he had her finger.
Reaching the pipe, she put her lips directly against the leak, sealing her mouth so that the water would trickle into her mouth and down her throat, but the drip was slow and unsatisfying. Frustrated, she gave in to the shame, praying he wasn’t watching her as he had the other night and bent like a dog, lapping the water from the floor. She didn’t hear any telltale snicker, giving away his presence. Wiping her mouth, she finished, her throat still screaming at her for relief. She crawled back to the mattress, covering her bare body with the dirty blankets, trying to stay warm.
Outside it was snowing. Drifts of white blanketed the bottom of the window that had on previous nights allowed her to view the outside world. It didn’t matter, no one drove this far off the road to look inside and see her. For a while she lay there crying. She knew she would die there, probably soon, once the infection from her ankle and the various lesions that covered her body.
Then she heard her husband’s voice, angry and insistent. “SHEILA, GET UP!”
Sheila tried to ignore the voice; it wasn’t real. Her husband had died two years ago and was buried in the cemetery behind Saint Marks.
“SHEILA, YOU CAN’T GIVE UP! NOW MOVE!”
“I can’t,” she sobbed, “It hurts too much.”
Hank persisted, “It’s going to hurt a hell of a lot more if he kills you! He’s not going to wait much longer! You have to fight to live!”
“Hank, I want to join you.” Sheila whimpered. “I don’t want to live anymore.”
“That’s a defeatist attitude,” Hank yelled at her, unrelenting, his voice drilling into her mind like a drill sergeant. “I know you can do it! Like yesterday, only this time, you’re going to win!”
Sighing, knowing that even in death, her husband would continue berating her until she gave into his demands. Gathering the chain, she held onto it as she braced her feet against the wall. This was how she’d gotten the abrasions around her ankle in the first place. She wrapped her hand around the chain, the pain in her right hand almost too much to bear. He had cut her index finger off on that hand and she found it difficult to grip the chain.
“COME ON SHEILA, PULL!”
The other end of the chain was attached to the pipe that ran along the wall. Pushing her feet as hard as she could against the wall and pulling against the chain, she tried to break the chain. Her hands slipped and she fell back, the stench from the blankets assaulting her nose.
“I can’t do it Hank!”
This time she didn’t hear his voice. She could imagine her husband looking at her, his disappointment evident in his face. Then, she felt his arms, strong and familiar, even after all these years, around her waist. Even as a ghost, he felt good.
“I’ll help you,” he said, whispering in her ear. “We’ll pull together.”
Sheila braced herself again, pain coursing through her body.
“Ignore it.” Hank said. “Now pull!”
Sheila pulled, biting her tongue again to keep from screaming. She knew it was no use; Hank had built this house himself. He’d installed the pipe that they were trying to break. He never did anything half cocked, the pipe was solid. Sheila gasped as she felt the pipe bend, bowing under the pressure of their assault.
“AGAIN!” Hank bellowed.
Sheila pulled, straining against the pipe, hope renewed within her heart. The pipe broke, the chain slipping off the busted end and clattering on the floor.
Sheila fell backwards onto the mattress, sobbing in relief. “Don’t give up now!” Hank ordered. “Get up! GET UP!”
Sheila tried to stand, but she couldn’t. She fell to the floor, cracking her knees sharply on the floor, her hands stopping her from shattering her nose against the concrete.
Following her husband’s orders, Sheila crawled across the flooring, her memory leading her in the direction of the stairs. With the window covered by show, there wasn’t any moonlight to show her the way, but she sensed she was getting close. Reaching in front of her she felt around and touched the bottom step. She was almost free!
She pulled herself up, taking each step; careful to make sure she was secure before moving on to the next one. The last thing she needed, after going through all this, was to fall through and land on the floor. Finally, she made it to the top. She reached up, feeling for the knob, hoping he hadn’t locked the door. It turned and she pushed the door in, revealing the kitchen. The phone would be around the corner and she could call for help.
Crawling into the room she turned the corner, reaching in the dark for the phone. She touched something solid. Was it the table? It felt like fabric. Looking up she screamed, realizing it was him. In his hand was a hammer and he held it raised above her head.
“Going somewhere mother?” Then her son swung the hammer down, the forked end of it landing between her eyes.