She knew he was coming for her.
In that stark moment the blinds fell from her eyes, the universe shifted abruptly and she was back to reality. The outer accouterments of a life specially built up around her fell noisy and hollow to the ground, and she knew. She now knew that she had been living in a dream world. The happiness, the joy in small things; like feeling her feet against cool cotton sheets, the sun rising unhurriedly most days and the full relaxed breathing in of the air around her were just a deceptive pretence, all laughing wickedly now that they were never really hers to enjoy. They dropped around her feet in a noisy clatter, and she knew. This was her purpose in life – to be killed by Richard Marsot, her husband. Or rather, her ex.
Because he so desired it.
She had thought that life was fine these days, she reflected. The afternoon off due to the good graces of a kind employer, her daughter away visiting a friend. House sitting for her aunt who was away in New York on business. But always the thought – was this life real…what if? Remembering the marriage that had seemed like it would never end. First the charm, then the womanizing, later the rage and the beatings. She finally charged him, and divorced him while he was in prison. Then the newscast this afternoon. She just knew he was one of the escaped convicts though names were not given. And the cold shudder when she walked in this afternoon to the lonely house.
Was she imagining it?
No. She was not.
She knew he was there. Had she not felt it in the hallway as she walked in? Somehow she knew. Had it been the air? Had the molecules rearranged themselves to embrace his presence so that their message, their announcement of his presence was transmitted to her? She tried to deny reality, to go back to her rich three-dimensional world she had almost succeeded in claiming for herself. But it was no longer there for her to claim – it had been effectively flattened, made two-dimensional. She was living there now, as though she had never been elsewhere. She felt her lungs constrict – lungs cannot expand and take in air in a flat world. This was her destiny now; all had changed. As a story runs from the beginning of the first page to the end of the last one, it was now her only duty to follow the story through to the end and let it play out as she always knew it would. To the end. To her end. To her death at the hands of this violent man.
The loose board in the hallway creaked ever so softly. Was that him already? Was he already there to taunt her with his cold words of truth? His words always came true – he made sure of it. Or was it just the summer breeze blowing through the house, shifting things? A second creak brought her to attention.
“Richard, is that you?” she cried, knowing it was.
“So you came.” The self-assured voice appeared to come out of the darkness, relaxed, grinning with pleasure. “I knew you would snap to it when I called. You never could say no to me, Janey. Though heaven knows you tried often enough.”
She couldn’t see him. She whirled around, knocking her herbal tea in the favorite childhood mug with the kittens and balloons on it to the hardwood floor and it crashed into a million pieces.
“Tsk, tsk, always breaking things, aren’t we? You haven’t changed a bit, honey,” said the stranger’s voice from the hallway, though he was no stranger. She could still feel the touch of his hands on her lithe body, taste the taste of his lips in her mouth. They were one, he was her destiny, and now she would die, as he ordered.
“What do you want of me?” she cried. As she screamed, an orange ball exploded above her head and flashed past her. She lurched aside, then saw it was only Ginger, the orange tabby that belonged to the house and had taken umbrage at her scream. Satisfied there was no immediate danger, the cat now sat and licked its paw contentedly, seeming unaware of the murderer’s presence.
But where was he? Jane had just heard him speak in that low, confident drawl of his–was it just her imagination? Was she going mad? Was the predestined scene only playing out in her mind?
She could not see him. The cold experience of fear tightened its grip on her lungs as she attempted to breathe. Her eyes darted around the room. Nothing out of place. The lamp shade slightly tilted–it did that sometimes when Ginger brushed against it. The couch, comfortably plump. The fireplace swept clean except for a few fallen petals of her favourite wildflowers, happily gathered by her earlier this morning when she was still young and free and the meadow was fresh and sweet with the promise of a thousand lifetimes still waiting for her – but that was a lifetime ago – and then her eye caught on something sharply. Was that – it couldn’t be – but it was – the stalk of the dreaded weed clandestinely put in her flower arrangement. The bouquet holding all her favourite flowers that Abby her aunt had planted just for her, when she was a child. Her aunt had said meaningfully, “No-one will ever harm these flowers, my dear. And they will teach you, little one, that the bounty of the universe is open to you. All you need to do is ask!” They had planted only her express favourites in that plot of land. It had been a source of joy to her always, even when she had visited her aunt after her marriage, even when it was bad and she had resigned herself to her fate, and was no better than one of the walking dead. But it was in there now – funny she hadn’t noticed it before….
Yes, the vile plant she had told Richard about so many years ago, when he was still intermittently charming, confiding her fears to him. Telling him that it made her ill, and had the power to stop any happiness in her and turn her to fear. The Blood-Red. That’s what the locals called it. She had told him how as a little girl, happily playing in the old quarter, she had fallen into a mass of the stinking plant and gotten up screaming as the thick red liquid flowed on her arms, on her face, on her dress. “Like I was being killed, poked all over with an iron stake!! I thought I was dying….” she’d told him. And how her aunt had rushed to reassure her, but told her later that she understood her reaction, and none of the locals liked it. And none the less because of the scars it left at times. It seemed a tiny drop of poison in each deep red blossom was the plant’s natural enemy against predator bugs. In humans, if it was ingested, it could cause a person to lose their senses for hours, while scarring any delicate tissue it leaked onto. “I hate it!” she had told him as a young bride, confident in her protector. And then was hurt and surprised at his unfeeling reaction to her pain and his brushing off of its significance and importance, while it appeared he mentally catalogued it for future use. His ensuing joke had always been to put a stalk of it in a bouquet of fresh flowers he had bought for her after a particularly bad argument, so her delight would quickly turn to horror, and he would callously laugh at her. It was his responsibility to teach her, he would say, to teach her to grow up and face reality. It was a weed; no symbolism there, don’t pretend to be so deep and something you’re not. She would do well to listen to him.
And now he had been there and put not only one, but three tall strands of the stinking weed at the back of her arrangement. The breeze blew through the room again and as if to taunt her, a rush of the blood red petals fell to the whitewashed tile of the fireplace and leaked, and the blood ran off, staining the thick oriental carpet with its rich colour…
She knew what it meant. He was here. For her.
She knew she deserved it, to die at his hands. All the years of telling her she was no good came back to her. He was a prince to put up with her stupidity. She was a troublesome wife, a real problem, a wonder. It all came back to her in full force. The beatings when he threw her to the ground, yelled in her face with terrible eyes. Jumping on her and pushing her deep into the bed so her neck bent funny and she couldn’t breathe. Goading her with cruel words time and again till she finally snapped and hit him – and then he seemed to receive some sort of demented permission to hit back and really throw her about the room with all his might. The determined look never leaving his face before, during, or after…
No compassion shown even in the best of times. The odd times, a few kind words spoken, a cuddle, but directly after, the harsh criticisms of nothing substantial elevated to serious heights, and she had known it would never get any better. The malicious look in his eyes and the silence when she disobeyed his many rules, ever-changing.
She sensed he had hated her right from the honeymoon when she woke up in the night and he was gone. She knew soon that she was the chosen receptacle for his anger. It was for her to bear and take in all the hatred he denied he felt for himself but hurled onto her instead. He had often, after a cruel tirade, wanted her out of the picture on some level, dead, she knew. Much as when one beats a tiny animal to a pulp, then watches as its little head barely rises up as it’s dying, and its watery eyes and torn body still shrink from the tormentor, thus silently indicting him. He wanted her gone. And he felt it was her duty to appease him in this small husbandly favour, he the bloodthirsty pagan god that demands and requires his human sacrifice…
It all lead to this day. Somewhere, children would play, lovers would kiss – and she would die. It was the natural order of things. It was predestined. She was being cast off by a just universe that unfeelingly decided it was time for her to be worm food – she was no better than that, so she must take her natural place in the order of things with what she did best.
Where was he? She was exhausted now, yet needed to act. She walked up the long staircase, terrified. Where was he? Had he gone out, or was he even now following behind her, watching her every move, amused? She was now committed to the course of action and had to move, for it would drive her crazy to be still, she must move though her feet were of lead.
She came to the first bedroom on the right. The tall dark door stood in front of her defiantly. Did she dare? She reached for the door- knob, and found the door ajar. She gently pushed it open. Taking a step in, she looked around, and…gasped. There, in the middle of the room again, was a huge silver pail, filled to the overflowing with the hated stalks, already exuding their blood red liquid to the floor in crimson puddles….
All of a sudden she couldn’t bear to see what was in the other rooms. But if the overwhelming odour was any indication, he had done a lot of weed gathering that afternoon. All to show her he was boss, and what he wanted would take place. And what he wanted was to pay her back and finally claim her.
She flew down the staircase. She was in the yellowed kitchen now, wondering what to do. Trembling, she moved towards the back door that often as a child she had flung open to run into the wide-open arms of her aunt – but that was long ago. Where was he? Was he still in the house, should she run, or had he left it to come around the back? If so, should she lock it? If she pulled back the thinning cotton curtain, would his cold laughing face appear in the window? She tried to put her hand on the old ceramic doorknob – would the latch hold if he was outside, and would he enjoy toying with her knowing she would first have run around to lock all the doors and windows, frantically trying to get to them all in time, all the while wondering – was she locking her worst enemy in with her?
Or would he attack her from behind and put his rigid hand on the door, blocking escape forever, as he put his hands on her throat with that wild look in his eyes she had seen many times before, and would he suffocate her one inch at a time? A million possibilities raced through her head, as her trembling hand almost reached the doorknob. She stared at it, aware of all the empty space behind her – she heard a creak – and then almost imperceptibly the doorknob turned on its own ever so slightly – she screamed and turned to run and just at that moment the door flung open with a violent bang and caught her leg. A forceful hand grabbed her slight shoulder, preventing escape. Jane screamed with all her might! Two huge hands shook her, and all of a sudden a loud male voice broke through.
“Jane! Miss Jane! Are you alright?”
She turned, wrenching herself free, and found herself looking not into the depraved face of Richard, but the face of Constable Dave Burke.
“Jane! Jane! Are you okay?”
“Richard,” she sobbed. “He’s here…he’s going to kill me…he’s going to kill me….” And she collapsed, sobbing, into the strong arms of the Constable.
Constable David Burke let her cry, as he held her. He had always had a soft spot for this brave and soft creature. He had followed her story, knew the griefs, and had something he couldn’t believe he, who hated no man, was happy to tell her. He waited, in that yellowed kitchen, holding her, and as the sobs racked her body for a long time, he was patient. When the fear and grief subsided, he held her away from him.
He looked at her intently and spoke.
“Old Harry Cobber reported a patch of the Blood-Red missing – cut. He noticed it as he was walking Sandy and that fool dog took off over into the old quarter after a skunk. Well, no-one likes going in there anymore, it’s all that rocky and hilly and full of grown over holes, but he went in there, and saw a huge patch cut clear to the ground. What with that, and the prison break, he got to thinking about it, and called me. I knew it meant no good. I called to see if you were alright, but you’d already left for town, and I couldn’t track you down there neither. So I came out earlier to see what was up .” His eyes narrowed. “I have something to show you.”
As he led her out to the backyard, he kept talking.
“It’s a funny thing about these grounds,” David Burke said. “Everyone around here was supposed to have all the old well holes filled in for safety’s sake. It would take just one misstep and a body’d be breathin’ his last, more than likely. Bad enough to fall all that way, but if one was carrying a weapon in his hand, all the more dangerous when he went down. I never could get your aunt to fill in this last one everyone had forgotten about.” He gently led her to the side of the house, a few yards into the field. They stopped a few feet from a fresh hole in the ground, and he asked her point-blank, “Do you want to look?”
She looked deep into his eyes, and nodded. She took a step closer to the crumbling edge and saw what she would never forget and wished she’d never seen. With a shudder she shrank back, stumbled, and was caught by the waiting arms of Constable Burke.
“He obviously didn’t know about this,” she breathed. “I used to try to get him to take an interest in Abby’s place, but he never would, except for that damn blood-red to torment me…and teach me…”
He shook his head. “Falling all that way was bad enough. But landing on that iron stake…No-one could have planned it. He definitely was gunning for you. But maybe it was planned…maybe the universe was watching out for you…”
“When?” she asked suddenly, in a broken voice. It was all she managed to get out. The voice, her crazed mind, had it all been a parallel universe playing an alternate episode? “When?”
“We checked out some basics. About 11:30 this morning. Tissue samples we ran already show he died about 11:30 – that’s when the stake pierced his body…”
He put a protective arm around the girl, and they stood there, both lost in thought. As they stood there, an evening breeze made the meadows dance in huge, joyous, undulating waves. Birds called out to one another, and the field rang with their cries. They turned and slowly walked back to the house.
The next day the sun shone relaxedly, the oxygen expanded and entered her three dimensional lungs and nourished the girl, and somewhere, cool cotton sheets gently called out her name.
And a new hole, six feet in the ground, called out another’s name, and laughed to get such a worthy possession.
Thank you to Stephen King for the exceptional writing exercise found in his book, ‘On Writing’.