Authors: D.J. Molles
D. J. Molles
Copyright © 2013 D.J. Molles
This is an original work of fiction by D.J. Molles, who holds the sole right to all characters and concepts herein.
The further I get into this story that I have enjoyed writing so much, the more I find myself indebted to others.
was a bit of a beast to edit, and I owe it to the following two gentlemen that it now sits in a reader’s hands:
Ed Herro, thanks for taking (I don’t even want to guess how many) hours out of your busy day to find all those pesky errors hiding inside my book, and doing it in record time. I promise that one day I will learn the proper use of a hyphen.
David Fugate, a great agent who has gone above and beyond to help me out, even when it wasn’t required. There are big things ahead, and I’m glad to have you in my corner.
For all the books read aloud
That were more than just words,
But entire worlds
And great stories.
CHAPTER 1: A CAPACITY FOR VIOLENCE
Angela closes the bedroom door. Her hands are shaking and the knob rattles noisily. She stands there in the hallway and stares at the door. The flimsy fiberboard construction of it. And she knows that it won’t do her any good. It won’t keep him inside if he gets loose.
It is just after eight at night and the hallway is dim. Just the barest hint of the setting sun, turning everything into blues and grays. The air is still hot and humid inside her house and it smells like sickness and the rank of her own sweat. The power has been out, and she has not showered in over a week.
From behind the closed bedroom door comes a mongrel sound. Like a dog fighting for a scrap of meat. She steps away from the door, one hand clutching her stomach, the other pulling her frazzled blonde hair out of her face. She wants to feel pity for him, but there is only dread as thick as clotted blood. She cannot stop shaking.
“Is Daddy okay?”
Angela turns. Finds Abby standing there, an image of herself thirty years ago. The girl is dressed in her jeans and sneakers, and a bright pink top, everything colorful and bejeweled with rhinestones. Twinkling in the darkness of the hall.
Angela tries to answer but chokes on her words. She rubs her sweat-slick forehead and swallows hard. “Daddy’s not feeling well right now.”
“But is he gonna be okay?”
“Is he sick like the other people?”
Inside the bedroom, he begins to thrash. The sound of the wooden bedframe rattling. He moans now, mournfully, painfully, but it soon fades to a sound of rage. A gnawing sound. Chewing. Trying to chew through the leather belts she’s used to strap him to the bed.
Angela turns away from the door and takes her daughter by the shoulders. “Come on, Honey. Stay with Mommy.”
She goes to the bathroom where the last of their water lingers at the bottom of a bathtub. There are a few empty jugs piled in the corner between the clogged toilet and the bathtub wall. The bathroom smells like a sewer—they’d stupidly used it for a day after the pipes stopped producing water. She’s concerned about the water being in the same room as all those germs, but what choice does she have? They have to go somewhere, and they need water to get there.
Wherever “there” might be.
Maybe a FEMA camp would still be open for them. Maybe some National Guard troops would come by soon and pick them up, take them to safety. Whatever might happen, they couldn’t stay here in this house. Not with Tom going crazy in the next room.
I could kill him.
And she had thought about it already. Thought about it for a long, long time. Sitting there next to his bed as he sweat profusely and muttered nonsense and soiled the sheets. She had thought about it as she held the printouts of his last email to Trisha, whoever the fuck
was, before he took the flight out to Cincinnati for a “business trip.” The papers had grown damp and limp in her hands, a confrontation that would never be made, and she just kept staring at this man that was a stranger to her in more ways than one.
Thinking about just doing it.
Getting it over with.
Before he tried to hurt her.
Before he tried to hurt Abby.
But she couldn’t go through with it. Or wouldn’t, though it amounted to the same thing. So she had tied him to the bed with leather belts from his closet. And she wasn’t going to untie him when they left. And that was as cruel as she was able to be. To leave him there to die, wallowing in his own filth.
She left the printouts on the nightstand, as though Tom might come to his senses one day and read them. Now, she doesn’t know what to feel, not towards Tom or the situation, or the whole goddamned world. All she knows is that she is Abby’s mother. And Abby is still alive. Abby still needs her.
Angela’s knees crack as she crouches down next to the tub. There are tears in her eyes now, though she is not sure when she started crying. She makes no effort to hide them from Abby, just grabs a jug, uncaps it, and dips it into the tub of water.
“Help Mommy fill a water jug,” she says quietly.
Abby’s blue eyes well up. “Why can’t I see Daddy?”
“Because Daddy is sick, and I don’t want you to catch it.”
“But you were in there and you didn’t get sick.”
Angela feels her stomach tighten like she might vomit. Between the smell of the bathroom and the emotional vertigo, she feels nauseous. “Mommy’s okay. I’m a big girl and I don’t get sick very easy.”
Please God, don’t let me get sick.
The slopping sound of water filling the jug. She pulls it up from the tub, dripping and cool. She twists the cap on and reaches for another water jug. But then stops.
The house is quiet. Tom isn’t growling or thrashing in the bed.
Angela stands, takes a firm hold of Abby’s arm, and moves towards the bathroom door. She leaves the other jug where it is. She steps out into the hallway, Abby’s arm in one hand, the filled jug of water in the other. The bedroom door is still closed. She turns her back to it but then realizes she has forgotten something.
Something she needs.
She turns back down the hallway and stands there. The thing that she needs is at the end of the hallway, leaning against the corner nearest to the bedroom door, seeming to mock her as she considers the distance between her and it as though it is a chasm. It is Tom’s softball bat. The only decent weapon in the house, and she’d been lugging it around with her everywhere she went. But in the tumult of distractions, she’d left it there.
She stands frozen in the hall, for a moment unwilling to go to the door.
But the door remains closed. Everything beyond it is quiet.
“Abby,” she says quietly. “Stay right here and don’t make any noise.”
Abby doesn’t respond. She just stands there staring at her feet with her lower lip stuck out, nostrils flaring rapidly.
Angela steps lightly to the end of the hallway and takes a hold of the slim, rubberized grip of the bat. It is an aluminum one, but still has some heft to it. From inside the bedroom there is nothing but silence. Not even the sound of his labored breathing. The center of her gut aches to look in at him, to see him, maybe even touch him one last time. And then as rapidly as the feeling appeared it is replaced with the cold, bitter truth.
He got himself sick on a trip to fuck some whore in Cincinnati.
Almost didn’t make it back before they cancelled all the flights.
Almost left his family to die…
Almost? He did. He’s leaving us right now, and it’s just me and Abby.
Just me and Abby.
She turns, takes a step.
A floorboard underneath the carpet creaks.
It is like she has stepped on a landmine. From behind the door comes the most wretched, horrifying sound she has ever heard. Some high pitched screech of rage and hunger, and the explosive cracking of heavy wooden boards as they give way. The rhythmic slamming of furniture being lifted completely off the ground and slamming back down on its feet. And she thinks that there is no way Tom can do these things because he just isn’t strong enough.
She flies down the hall, seeing nothing at all but Abby at the end with her blue eyes open so wide that they seem to encompass her entire face.
In the bedroom there is catastrophe. Glass breaking. Wood breaking. Walls breaking. Things are being thrown, shattering, cracking,
against whatever surface they collide with. And under it all is the sound of his screams coming through clenched teeth. The kind of scream that aches the belly and scrapes the throat raw. The kind of scream that only comes from a madman.
She seizes Abby by the arm, hauls her along with her. They move past the laundry room, past the basement stairwell, into the kitchen. Everything is dark in the waning daylight, dreamlike and smudged together. Black around the edges. Her heart beats itself to death against the cage of her ribs. From deeper in the house, the sound of the bedroom door opening and slamming against the opposite wall. Footsteps pounding down the hall.
She bolts around the kitchen counter, ripping open the back door and then flies out into the yard, into the overgrown grass. Outside is only slightly brighter than the darkness inside the house. The gray-green earth below, the pink-splashed sky above. She kept going straight ahead, legs pumping, dragging Abby along with her as they move through the knee-high grass.
Pale shapes in the edge of the gray woods.
She cannot go that way. She spins just in time to see Tom lurching out of the house, still in nothing but his soiled boxers. He stumbles into the yard, strings of drool hanging from his mouth, linking to glistening patches across his chest and down to chunks of vomit that still cling to his abdomen. His dark hair is pressed in random directions by sweat and heat. His eyes are unfocused, wild, and feverish. His right arm hangs awkwardly, the wrist crumpled into a claw and bleeding where the leather belt had bitten into his skin as he repeatedly yanked against it, eventually breaking his own bones to get free.
“You bitch!” he screams at her.
For a moment it freezes her. Is it him talking, or delirium? Is he angry with her for leaving him tied to the bed, or just gone insane?
“Tom,” Angela winds up the bat, ready to swing. “Go back to bed!”
“You bitch! You bitch! You bitch!”
Abby sobs hysterically.
Tom moves towards them. Towards Abby.
Angela steps into his path and swings the bat in a hard right arc. It cracks him across the temple and Angela is already moving again, this time back towards the house. Her mind is almost blank but for the imperative of flight and survival. There is no conscious thought. No decisions. Only escape.
She heads towards the big orange ladder, still leaning against the side of the house from Tom’s attempt at cleaning the gutters. She latches on to it and shoves Abby up, yelling at her to, “Go! Climb, Abby! Climb!”
The little girl’s panic causes her arms to be unwieldy and she fumbles up the ladder, losing her grip several times. Angela realizes she is still holding the water jug and the softball bat and for no other reason than the bat is in her strong hand and she needs it to support her child, she drops it and keeps the jug.
They hurtle over the top of the ladder and onto the roof. Angela spins, her jeans scraping on the rough grit of the shingles, and she kicks the ladder off. Below them, in the backyard, three of the shapes from the woods are still racing towards them—a man and two women. They dodge the falling ladder and crowd underneath the roof, jumping and screeching and clawing at the siding.
Angela stares down at them, holding her daughter to her chest while the little girl wails, soaking her mother’s shirt. Angela is wide-eyed and feels nothing but the hammering of her own heart and she wonders if she’ll ever be able to gather all the shattered pieces of herself back together.
It seems so out of control that if it weren’t for the girl in her arms she wouldn’t care at all. How can you care about something so completely incomprehensible? How can you make sense of it? How can you quantify it to a point where feeling one way or the other will do you any damn bit of good?
Below them, Tom begins to stir, hitches himself up.
The thing that was once Tom.
Was once her husband.
She scoots herself and Abby away from the ledge, up to the crown of the roof where they can’t see the backyard anymore. Where Abby can’t see her father go insane beneath them.
Abby cries, “What’s gonna happen to us?”
Angela’s voice is distant, emotionless, shell-shocked. “Somebody will come for us, Honey. Somebody
to come for us…”