He approaches the girl in his tight, leather pants, black curls tousled on his head. His eyes are as hard as obsidian stone. She is observing a young, teen god. And he is sexy. Christ, he’s so sexy.
Gwendolyn, today’s victim, is chained to the stone wall. She is beautiful in her blue-eyed blondness and in her helplessness. Her chin rises in defiance.
Aridam, who also goes by the name, The Butcher, dramatically rips his shirt off his chest, revealing clean, white skin shimmering with sweat. His eyes never leave Gwendolyn’s even as his grin grows into something dark and sinister.
He removes the knife from his belt, licks it in a sensual manner leaving a trail of his own blood on the blade. Then The Butcher says his signature line. The line that if you heard it, meant the past good or bad was behind you, and this ‘now’ was all you had left to cling to.
“Let’s get down to business.”
He takes the knife and slices the girl’s dress open. She isn’t bleeding. Not yet, but there are tears in Gwendolyn’s eyes, her bravado, all gone. Trembling, she waits for the knife’s plunge. Would it enter her heart or her belly? Would she live long enough to see her insides cascade to the floor? His laughter, high-pitched and squeaky, like a rodent’s shriek, fills the cave. And then … and then …
And the TikTok clip was over.
Sixteen year old Emily Landry groaned with frustration. Once again she was back in reality, brown hands wrapped around her tablet and sitting on the bottom bunk of her and her sister’s shared bedroom. Everywhere the eye could see was the nauseating theme of pink flowers. There were pink flowers on the bed spread, on the curtains, even the rug was decorated with one enormous pink rose. Her surroundings were far too pink and frilly for Emily’s taste. Emily preferred the darkness, black roses and unhappily ever afters. There was an honesty in darkness that didn’t exist in the light. And she loved, loved The Butcher from Hulu’s hit TV show, Dragon’s Fire.
What would it be like to make love to such a creature? She imagined the Butcher gripping her tightly by the hair, (even though her afro was not the long, flowing manes that most of his victims had, but twisted into one inch braids that dotted the top of her head) and then forcing her lips down the length of his flat stomach, tasting his salty skin as she was dragged towards the apex between his legs. “I am your master,” he would repeat again and again. And under those seductive circumstances, wouldn’t it be a privilege to comply?
“Emy?” Her sister’s voice pierced her thoughts from the open doorway. “Come on, we’re going to be late clubbing.”
Clubbing. It reminded Emily of prehistoric times, when women would hit their men over the head with a stick and then drag them back to their cave to do all sorts of naughty things to them.
With a sigh, Emily carefully folded her latest sexual fantasy into a deep, secret drawer inside herself, then ran out to meet Sandra in the hallway, leaving a trail of perfume behind her.
The civil ceremony took place in a small, cramped room, as business-like as you pleased with several randomly placed desks and chairs. Emily’s mother was there as well as her sister. None of the groom’s family made an appearance, but Derrick had warned her to expect that. At least Emily wasn’t required to wear a traditional wedding gown. Her dress was short and a deep gaudy red, perfectly appropriate for a nineteen year old.
Other than being white, Derrick Murphy was nothing like her imagined lover, though she did like the way his bearded cheeks and chin hinted at something sinister. An old timey villain who would tie the heroine to the train tracks. The truth was that with Derrick’s soft, cow sized eyes, his blonde hair and his pudgy body (almost as thick as her own six month pregnant belly), he was as distant from her image of The Butcher that you could get. Perhaps, it was just as well. Psychopaths might be fun to bed, but one did not ‘hook-up’ with Butchers in real life.
Sandra gave her a quick peck on the cheek then returned to her corner, oddly silent. Maybe she was jealous that despite Emily’s expanding belly, Emily would be continuing with school; Sandra had dropped out of high school when she became pregnant with her first child. Or maybe she didn’t like the idea of Emily giving birth to a light-skinned and therefore beautiful baby. Light skin meant instant beauty to Emily. The Butcher, for example, only tortured pale skinned subjects.
Her mother stepped forward. Her face was a searchlight alternating between beaming pride, and a knowing sadness, that Emily couldn’t quite comprehend.
“Well, you’ve done it. You’re married and you’re getting your education. That’s far more than I’ve ever done in my life.”
“It will all work out, Mom.” Emily spoke quickly. She sensed the shakiness beneath her mother’s facade. But it would work out. Central Florida University had an on-campus childcare program. They would watch the baby, until she graduated with a major in Childhood Education. She wanted all of her future children to be properly knowledgeable. Derick would be graduating next year with a B.A. in Economics. He would get a job as an investment banker and afterwards … Afterwards, who knew? Life was an adventure after all. Unlike her siblings she felt no ambition in life other than to be a good wife and mother. The latter was a certainty. Emily stroked her curving belly.
Their first home was not a dorm room, but an actual house, run down and beaten as if its former occupants had run gleefully ragged through its interior, kicking at the walls and furniture. But Emily didn’t mind. It would only be temporary.
While her belly stretched along in her pregnancy, and Emily did her best to continue studying topics like Play Based Learning and Observational Facts on Childhood Behavior, she began to notice little things about her husband. Stupid things really, like how he never flushed the toilet, let alone wash his hands after going, and would get quite irate if she made “ …a big friggin’ deal about it.” He farted loudly, and often, and always laughed like a hyena whenever he did. Every weekend he would invite some of his buddies over to play video games or perhaps watch a football game. Then there would be piss on the toilet lid and the bathroom floor to be cleaned up. Sometimes she even washed away vomit, tinged with the high octane stench of alcohol.
Perhaps he noticed things about her too. Almost magically, his list of complaints appeared, starting with how she left money in her jeans pockets on laundry day. Did she think money grew on trees? He would ask this despite the fact that neither herself or Derrick worked, and Derrick’s parents would send him money on a regular basis. If he was in a good mood he would share some of this money with her. And why did she stack jar food in the refrigerator on the first shelf? The first shelf was for dairy items only. Organization Emy, and he would tap the top of her head a little too hard with his forefinger.
Sometimes when they argued, he called her names, like black bitch and even the ‘N’ word, the most demeaning and oddly intimate insult of her culture. When she complained, (and she was always careful to do so when he was in a calmer mood) he explained that the use of the ‘N’ word was a privilege that came with their marriage. Obviously, he wasn’t racist. He wouldn’t have married her black ass if he were.
But it was the ‘smack’ that finally cemented the nature of their relationship.
They were eating at home with a McDonald’s take-out bag between them. She sat on the middle seat of the sofa and Derick was on the end piece. The television blared between them. He asked Emily why she had stared so hard at the black male cashier’s hands while at the restaurant. Emily replied that it was to make sure she received the correct change.
With that, Derick’s own hand shot out lightning fast and struck her in the face.
Emily stood up, but couldn’t force her body to do anything else. Her left cheek throbbed with pain. Before this incident, she had assumed that she would strike back at anyone who dared to hit her, consequences be damned. That was how you retained your sense of self and self-worth if someone attacked you. Hell, even the Butcher’s victims would strike at him. It usually ended badly for them of course, but at least they attempted to stand up for themselves.
Instead, her face burned with shame, while a broken phrase circled around and around in her head in its inability to be completed.
I should … I should… I should …
But he was already rising towards her, tears running down his cheeks. He cradled her head next to his naked chest, as he begged for forgiveness. You mustn’t do things to make me jealous. Don’t you understand how much I love you?
Yes, she did. And she loved him as well. It was Derrick who rescued her from her stagnant life of watching her sister grow up, seemingly without her. Therefore the proper response was to forgive him. At least he recognized that his actions were wrong. The Butcher for example, the Butcher never felt sorry for anything he did.
Emily touched her wet cheek which was stained with his tears and did nothing.
Little Derrick Jr. was born later that June. A fat baby, with a fat penis just like his father. No one consulted her about what to name their child. But since he was a boy, Emily was secretly hoping for a girl that would grow up to have the same gorgeous, long locks she saw on TV – she supposed it didn’t matter what his name was. Besides, now Emily did have the long, flowing hair. It came in the form of two-feet long, braided extensions.
The arrival of their child sped things up for Derrick. Changed him further. Instead of the occasional smack, they came at regular intervals, about once a week, though the reason for them could never be anticipated. What was acceptable one day might not be the next. Did she accidentally spill coffee on the table? Smack, out came his hand. Did she arrive home from her classes a half an hour late? Smack. Were there tiny bumps of diaper rash peppering Derrick Junior’s private’s? Out came the smack again.
He would then pick up their one year old child (the days when Derrick would cry over his attacks had long passed) and toss him in the air to make him smile before covering him with kisses. As if little Derry too was a witness to her humiliation. Her son was on his team, which was a ridiculous thought. There were no teams. No them vs. you. Even if Derrick Jr. had his father’s deceptive, cow eyes and the thick, black curls of The Butcher.
They would be moving to Texas, Derrick announced that morning. He was sitting at their table with a plate of link sausages in front of him and a Red Bull. Emily sat directly across from him with a cup of coffee. Junior was strapped in his high chair. Perpetual noise from PJ Masks cartoon played in the background.
“But, I haven’t graduated from college yet,” she told him. “That was the deal, remember? You get a job as an investment banker and I continue with my education.”
“I know. But you can zoom your classes from Houston. My mom is sick and it’s important that she has my emotional support now.”
Or maybe you just want to follow one of your little girlfriends to Houston. She had long suspected he was having an affair. There were occasional, cryptic texts from a blocked number, Ur hubby is so cuuute. Another time while she struggled to buckle a screaming Junior into his stroller, a pretty short-haired girl had walked by the daycare and laughed at her for no visible reason. Emily was surprised over how little she cared at that point.
“No,” she replied.
“Excuse me?” The air thickened as if something alive and dangerous had entered the room.
“No, I’m not going to do it, Derrick. If you want to visit your sick mother, go right ahead. My life is here.”
Derrick wiped his mouth with his napkin, leaned across the table and casually slapped the left side of her face. She fell back against the chair.
“What did you say to me?”
“I said no. I’m not going.”
He stood up, went around to her side and gave her a genuine punch. She felt her lips smash against her teeth. The sour taste of blood flooded her mouth.
“Stop it! Stop it! Derry’s watching.”
He was indeed observing them and crying as he always did, whenever Daddy was “discussin’” as Senior called it, with his mother.
Derrick yanked her by her long braids and threw her down onto the linoleum floor. A few of her extensions remained in his fist. But that hardly mattered. Emily’s off button, the one that could be depended on to end all arguments with “ …yes, you’re right, Jesus. Just please stop punching me,” was broken. And by God he was going to fix it.
As she fell, the knife tumbled out of her pants pocket and clattered on the ground.
It was an ordinary steak knife. Nothing as impressive as the weaponry in The Butcher’s arsenal. But Emily liked having the knife. It helped her feel safe. Sometimes she would imagine taking that knife and plunging it into one of Derrick’s eye sockets during their “discussins’”. Not that she would ever do this in reality of course. Even then, she recognized that she lacked the nerve. But it was good to have the blade available anyway. It felt good to dream.
Except now the knife had escaped when it wasn’t supposed to, and Derrick’s face turned almost comical in its expression of treachery and disbelief.
“What’s that huh? Whatchadoin with that?”
She shot out her right hand to grab it, but managed to grasp the wrong end. The blade sliced into her fingers.
Then Derrick’s shoe was on top of her hand grinding her fingers into the business end of the knife.
Sheer agony. The pain was the world. She screamed along with Derrick Junior’s terrified cries. Together they sang an aria of anguish.
After eons passed, Derrick lifted a portion of his foot, just enough so that she could yank her hand away. Emily scrambled backwards from him, sat up against the kitchen wall and examined her bleeding fingers.
What she saw was an obscene, bloody mess. Nothing like the PG rated gashes on television. The flesh looked like ploughed dirt, skin bunched in unlovely clumps on all sides of her wounds. And underneath the churned meat that was once her fore and middle fingers, was a flash of white.
My God, is that bone? Jesus! Jesus!
Mumbling sounds from Derrick. Perhaps an apology. Perhaps an explanation about how this damage was all her fault. Unimportant at the moment. Their son’s cries were reduced to hiccups.
Emily stood wobbling to her feet. “I need to go to …hospital now.”
“Yes, Baby Doll, right away.”
He bundled the three of them into his Buick.
He stayed with her long enough to make sure she got the story right. I cut myself while slicing tomatoes for taco night.
What did you cut the tomatoes with, the RN replied. A chain saw? But there were no more questions after that. No further exploration into her domestic situation.
Her two fingers were salvageable, the doctor assured her and would be sutured on the operating table. But they would also be permanently dead, without motion or feeling. Emily wondered if that deadness could travel to her whole mind. Her state of being.
Three days later, Emily Uber-ed herself home from the hospital. She arrived to find her husband and their child napping on the couch together. Both were bare chested. Derry rose and fell on each intake of his father’s slobbering snore.
Two suitcases stood at the foot of the couch, one a large, proud hand luggage, the other a solid black suitcase with an out of place pink rose sticker on the corner. Emily had put the sticker there. She couldn’t remember why or when.
She slid her undamaged hand into Derrick’s pocket. There was the musical sound of jangling car keys and loose change, but neither of them woke. She put the keys into her own pocket.
Next she picked up Derry.
Don’t cry little man.
Gratefully, he didn’t though his mouth worked more aggressively around his pacifier. She took Derrick Jr and her luggage to the Buick. Then she sat behind the wheel.
Do you have any clothes for him, diapers?
A problem for later. Right now they needed to escape to her mother’s house while hubby was still sleeping. If he wakes up …
Derrick will hunt you down.
Yes. Even The Butcher on TV would start wars over his escaped victims. Funny, how once she found that behavior romantic.
Not knowing what the future would bring, only that this was the start of something new, Emily whispered to herself. “Let’s get down to business.”
She pulled the car out of the driveway.