God, no. Please, no. Not that. Anything but that.
“Gustave?” I managed to sob out. I couldn’t handle even the thought.
“No, no, nothing so drastic. Your sons aren’t bothersome to you, at least not that I’ve noticed, though I was a bit perturbed that you never wanted to introduce me. That almost made me lose my temper, which would have caused you a little grief, but lucky for you, I am a man of restraint.”
Thank you, God, thank you, God, thank you, God, chanted in my head.
“Who then?” I finally asked.
“Lisa. She was an old colleague of mine, but I must say, I never had much use for her. Another empty vessel. Soulless to her core.”
“She was planning something. They’d taken her off her detail. She wasn’t supposed to be watching you anymore, but she was, and she was acting erratic, clearly upset. To be honest, I don’t know what she was going to do, but it seemed likely she might try to hurt you. So I took care of her. I killed her for you.”
It wasn’t lost on me, the horrible irony of this man who was going to hurt me, had done worse already by hurting my son, killing someone because they might harm me.
I didn’t have much time to wonder over it. I thought he was moving to gag me, but instead he covered my nose and mouth again with a cloth that reeked with that same acrid stench.
I lost consciousness.
I don’t know if he’d dosed me harder or what, but I must have been out a lot longer that time, because when I came to it was light out, and I was already ensconced in another house, in another room with Raf, who was conscious now, his eyes steady on me.
I took in every bruise and cut I could see, his blackened eyes, his split lip, feeling every bit of it.
I had no clue why, but Dr. Earl the psychopath had gone to the trouble to make us both comfortable, sitting us up, tied, but in recliners placed about six feet apart, facing each other.
And so began our strange captivity.
For the most part, it was tedious. A lot of awful waiting and anxious worrying.
Raf was bound up tight and treated like someone dangerous. The psycho even fed him by hand, not trusting him with so much as a fork and spoon.
He knew that Rafael was a testosterone fueled young man who was extremely overprotective of his mother, just waiting for a chance to break free.
Me, Earl treated drastically different, though it took me some time to catch it. He kept me tied, but he had no caution with me, no thought that I’d try to attack him. He treated me only as a risk for flight.
Because he’d been watching me, stalking me for God only knew how long, and he knew some things about me.
He knew I wasn’t violent.
He knew this from watching me and felt confident in his assessment.
He hadn’t done enough research.
He might have been a perfect killer, but in this instance, he was an utter fool.
Because I was not violent. In general, no, I did not have the urge to hurt inside of me. For the most part, I did have a pacifist’s soul.
To a point. We all have that breaking point. Everyone probably has a few of them, but hands down, my children were the quickest way to snap mine.
How dare this sicko drag Raf into this?
I’d kill him with my bare hands. I was just waiting for my chance.
Earl did keep his word about not hurting Raf anymore, as long as I cooperated, and I did, but the same could not be said for me.
It could have been worse. That was an absolute fact. There were a dozen things just off the top of my head that would have been less tolerable to me.
Still, there was some pain to be had. Some torment to be suffered.
Some burdens to be borne that could not be taken back.
I’d carry them forever.
It began, around noon on the first day in that second house and stuck to a rigid pattern.
He started by gagging Raf, then turned to me.
He untied me and took me, without a word, into another room.
I didn’t fight him. I knew that this was what he’d meant about me cooperating.
That didn’t make it easy.
Raf could be heard screaming helplessly into his gag from the second we left until he saw me again.
When I said that Earl hadn’t hurt my son again, I was only referring to physical pain.
The other room was a bedroom, and that first day was the worst with what I thought and feared he’d do when he sat me on that bed.
But he didn’t rape me. Thank God at least for that.
“I don’t have what you’d call ‘normal wiring,’” he explained to me at one point. “I don’t get off on sex.”
I didn’t ask. I sincerely did not want to know, but he seemed to feel, as he often did, that he owed me an explanation.
“I’d show you how I do, but I can’t, not while you’re pregnant. It’s not safe. I wouldn’t want you to lose the baby. After, though, we’ll have some fun, I promise.”
I didn’t ask him what he planned to do with the baby. I didn’t want to draw his attention to it. He was too strange when it came to my baby. Obsessed. Like it was his.
He stripped me, pushed me down, and tied my arms above my head.
I stayed meek as a lamb, knowing that any fight I put up on my part would cause some type of harm to Raf.
It was hard to stay quiet when he took out a blade. It was a small thing, but I didn’t let that fool me. Little knives could cut just as surely as big ones, if they were sharp enough. And this one was honed with precision.
I lay there, shaking, while I waited for him to start on me.
I had no notion what he planned, but I knew it wouldn’t be pleasant.
“I’d like you to gain some weight,” he told me, as he bent down to touch high up on my leg. “And lose some muscle tone. You’ll be more fun to play with when you aren’t so firm. I like soft flesh.”
I shut my eyes and shuddered.
He brushed his free hand over my inner thigh. “Your skin is like velvet, though. I do like that.”
And he started to cut, carving at my skin with determined skill.
The pain wasn’t unbearable. Pain wasn’t what made it so awful. It was the helplessness of it, and the look on his face while he had me at his mercy.
He was quick, though and didn’t cut even all that deep. I bled, but he was efficient, and he stopped the bleeding and cleaned the cut in short order.
When he was done, he took pictures. Lots of them.
After that, he untied me and told me to look.
I sat up and studied the spot he’d been working on.
High up on my inner thigh, carved into my flesh, it read: SOFT.
After that, he let me dress, tied me back to my chair, took out Raf’s gag, then left the house for a few hours.
This also was a part of the daily pattern.
As soon as Raf and I were alone, our matching eyes would meet, the same desperate, searching fear in each pair.
“You okay?” I mouthed at him.
My son nodded jerkily. “Did he hurt you?” he mouthed back.
I shook my head, the first of many lies I’d be telling him to shelter him from the pain of this.
“Did he—?” Raf couldn’t even finish the sentence.
I made solid eye contact and shook my head. “No. That’s not his thing.”
When Earl returned that first time, he was so full of restless energy that he couldn’t stop moving, twitching. He was hyper, excited about something.
“Would you like to take a walk, Lourdes?” he asked me, casually gagging Raf again.
He didn’t even look at my son as he did it. In fact, he rarely looked at him. That worried me—that he didn’t seem to notice him.
I knew it made him more expendable to the sicko.
Of course it wasn’t a real question. I didn’t have a choice here, but I had to answer, anyway. “Yes, Earl.”
“I changed my mind about you calling me Earl. I’d like for you to call me Doctor.”
“Yes, of course, Doctor.”
He smiled like he was pleased, then untied me, tugged me to my feet, and pulled me outside.
It was a bright sunny day out, not a cloud in the sky, but I barely noticed, instead intent on studying my surroundings.
A wave of despair washed over me at what I saw.
We were in the desert. In the middle of freaking nowhere. The small house he had us in had no neighbors to speak of. The only road was a small dirt one, a private road, and it trailed so far off in the distance that I couldn’t see where it ended, or where any other roads might intercept it.
We were stranded out here. Even if we managed to get free of our bonds, which was a stretch in itself, there was nowhere for us to go.
“There’s no escape here, Lourdes,” Earl said quietly, as though he’d read my thoughts and smiled his dead smile right into my soul.
I tried not to glare at him, but a hate the likes of which I’d never known was blossoming inside of me.
It was almost a comfort, how powerful that hate was.
Hatred can become sustenance. This one was growing so huge it felt like it was giving me energy, an energy I could live off, if need be.