“For they sow wind, and shall reap the whirlwind. It hath no stalk and should it sprout, strangers would devour it. Hosea 8:7.”
Owen held back a sneer. Any sign of emotion would only encourage the bastard. He didn’t know much about Skullet, but figured those who spewed random Biblical quotes were hardly the joking types. Not that he wanted his kidnapper to have a keen sense of humor, since this might humanize the sick savage. When the time came, Owen couldn’t risk having any second thoughts, especially if his escape depended on killing the guy.
This was also the reason why Owen hadn’t asked the kidnapper for his name. Instead, he’d nicknamed him Skullet. The man’s gaunt, angular face barely hid the boney skull underneath, and the mullet-like patch on the rear of his otherwise balding head was clearly his final struggle against inevitable hair loss. Some guys just had trouble letting go. And if Skullet had any distinctive trait, it was this. Indeed, his obsessive notions were the reason Owen was trapped here.
“You’re going to know exactly how she felt, you monster.”
The monster part was a nice touch. Still, Owen didn’t see any point in replying. From Skullet’s furrowed brow and clipped lips, it was obvious he’d already made up his mind. Owen had stared down that look before. Seen it in his mother’s eyes the day she told him she wanted to die. Nope, arguing with that look of determination would only rile him up. Though, all things considered, ending it quick might not be a bad alternative.
“Do you hear me, Owen Vogel?” Skullet stretched out the syllables in his name, sing-songing them with his raspy voice. “Owen Vogel,” he repeated. “Even your name sounds twisted.”
Again, Owen held his tongue. For someone enacting revenge for his mother, he sure was critical of her choice in baby names. Not that the insult jarred him. He’d endured far worse slanders since his mother’s death, and somehow moral judgments from a man who’d kidnapped him at gunpoint and taped him to an office chair in this murky dungeon failed to resonate.
Not that Skullet’s insults were different from any of the others. All of them had watched the same distortion on the local news, and instantly dished out their judgment. Outrage was easy as long as their butts were plastered on far-off couches and justice consisted of a click of the remote control. But Owen had been there. He’d heard his mother’s whimpering cries, seen her writhing in pain, witnessed her every agonizing breath. Those laying judgment could change the channels whenever they pleased. Owen hadn’t been afforded that luxury.
The threatening phone calls had begun even before the news piece aired. Owen wondered how so many people had discovered his unlisted cell phone number, but recalled how Detective Galanis, the lead in his case, had “accidentally” spilled soda all over him in the interrogation room, and figured him for the source of the leak. Like everyone else, Galanis had it in for him since day one.
What a day that had been. It’d taken less than four hours for his voicemail to reach its limit. No matter how fast he’d deleted these angry messages, more just kept rolling in. He couldn’t imagine so many people caring about what he considered his pathetic life. He guessed they had called to teach him a lesson, but the only real thing he’d learned was that there were two basic types of callers—the shriekers and the huffers.
Most women and about half of the men were shriekers. Usually, they didn’t start screaming right off the bat. Instead, they began with a heated barrage of questions, like asking how Owen could’ve done that to his own mother. Of course, they weren’t seeking answers, and the conversations soon degenerated into taunting and yelling. The mouth on some of those women. Owen wouldn’t have imagined possible if he hadn’t heard it with his own ears.
The others were huffers. Always calm, they spat their threats in low growling voices as though reading off a grocery list. There was no yelling or emotions, just succinct and violent words. Some remained silent; their deep breaths were the only indication someone was on the other end of the line. If they did speak, it tended to be wild, such as explaining in great detail how they were going to disembowel him with a plastic spoon or scrub his eyes with a toothbrush. Creative types, these ones.
“You Godless cretin, don’t you have anything to say for yourself?” Skullet asked, barely raising his voice.
He stepped behind the chair, disappearing from sight, though Owen could still hear his panting breaths. Unlike Skullet’s calm words, his quick, gasping inhales betrayed his excitement. He was getting his rocks off on this, Owen realized. He cringed as Skullet leaned closed, slapping a series of exhales against his bare neck while whispering into his ear.
“You will talk. You will renounce your sins.”
He was most definitely a huffer, though Owen didn’t recognize his voice from any of the calls. His dispassionate tone was the same one as he had used during the kidnapping. Somehow, being held at gunpoint by a calm, seemingly composed man had made the ordeal seem less threatening, less real. Perhaps that’s why Owen hadn’t put up much of a struggle. He’d even chuckled when Skullet first arrived, believing he was too tempered to be serious. A choice he regretted, now trapped in this blasted chair.
Skullet walked over to the far corner and grabbed a folding chair resting against the brick wall. He dragged it across the hardwood floor with a tinny rasp, grinding to a halt just in front of Owen. The chair wobbled as he plunked down.
“For you sow wind, and shall reap the whirlwind,” he yelled, raising his voice for the first time. Even so, it was controlled, as if chastising a child. Owen only blinked.
“Still, you remain silent. That’s because God’s words mean nothing to someone possessed by Satan. But not me. I hear the truth. That burden is my cross to bear. It weighs my soul, dripping it like a candle, yet I refuse to release the flame. For my entire life, I’ve heard the demons cry, showering tears of razors and parasites. If only I could ignore their pleas.”
“Yeah, if only,” Owen replied. If he had to endure much more of this lunatic’s rambling, he might off himself before Skullet got the chance.
“Don’t you dare mock God.”
“No worries, I was mocking you.”
Skullet leaped from his seat and raised his arm to strike. Owen attempted to flinch, but long strands of duct tape cemented him in place. Both his chest and arms were fixed to the chair, while a single piece bound his ankles together. The chair was elevated, so his feet dangled just above the floor. Outside of kicking, the only movement he could muster was to crane his neck a little bit from side to side. It wasn’t enough to dodge, but Skullet’s blow never arrived.
“You’re lucky I’m a man of faith. Your blustery words cannot harm me and only work to sow the whirlwind of your destruction. It has been commanded that her imprisonment will be your own. Her pain will slither through your icy veins. And her death will mirror yours. Joined for all eternity, mother and son.”
“Who’s in charge of this? Galanis?”
“It’s God, you fool. There is but one commander and it is Him.”
“Do you really think God would command you to do this? Come on, you’ve made your point. You need to release me before the police arrive and you really get into trouble.”
“I said there is but one commander and it is Him. No police shall interfere with His judgment. None. And I will be His vessel for truth and justice, no matter the cost.”
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
“So did your mother. You think about that as you soil yourself. As you itch all over, but are unable to scratch. You think of her as your every muscle aches, twitching to burst free. You remember the horrified face of your mother.”
Owen didn’t need to remember. That image never left. He knew how she’d looked in those final days—her wilting pale skin, her taut cheeks that barely obscured the bones underneath, and those black eyes so sunken they appeared to collapse right into her skull. He remembered every damn second of it. How the chemo had zapped all but a few straggly strands of her once vibrant hair. The way a thin trail of blood dribbled down her bony chin every time he fed her. How those gaunt hands resting on the recliner came to resemble claws rather than anything human. If he could only be so lucky to forget.
“It’s-it’s,” Owen stammered. “It’s what she wanted.”
“I want a Ferrari, but do you see me breaking His commandments for one? And how could she even know what she wanted in that state? When you have a friend in a hole, do you drop them a shovel and tell them to dig until they hit water so they can drown themselves? Do you?”
“It was her choice.”
“No, it was yours. And you chose to end up here the day you allowed her to die. For you sow wind, and shall reap the whirlwind.”
For a second, Owen considered asking him to recite another passage, preferably one about forgiveness from the New Testament. Not that it would do any good. Skullet had made up his mind the moment that first piece of duct tape tore from the roll.
“Don’t do this. There are other ways,” he said, remaining intentionally vague.
“There is nothing but His path. I knew this when the courts failed to deliver His justice. Not that I expected anything else in this deluded land of sin.”
Of course, he had to bring up the courts. Unlike this creep, those twelve jurors heard every grisly detail and still found Owen innocent. Some in the media blamed the jurors for their ignorance, which was ironic considering these newscasters were the ones leaving out key details and manipulating the story for their own political purpose. Hate always sold more commercial time than understanding.
“I only wanted to make her comfortable. She was in so much pain. Her one desire was to be in a better place. You have to understand that.”
“I understand that all sin is comfortable. It is nothing other than a shortcut to relieve the pain of life. But do not worry. His retribution lacks any of sin’s soothing qualities.”
Skullet placed his hands on Owen’s shoulders and began to knead the muscles. Owen shook, but his bindings didn’t allow for any give. Skullet pressed harder, shooting a sharp pain down Owen’s spine.
“I didn’t tape her down, you bastard. She chose to stay in that recliner. It was her favorite place, resting underneath a blanket.”
“A touching story, but you forgot to mention the part where her skin fused to the chair. Sure sounds comfortable, doesn’t it?”
Skullet stopped his needling massage and shoved Owen deep into the chair. The dull ache in Owen’s back exploded into a fiery slash as his tailbone dug deeper into the rigid seat. He caught a yell in his throat, swallowing it back into the pit of his stomach. He refused to scream for this brute. He wouldn’t give him that pleasure.
As the sharp ache faded into dull throb, he attempted to shift in the chair, but his bindings offered little wiggle room. The cramping continued, but the true pain came from Skullet’s mentioning his mother’s skin being fused to the chair. Once the media discovered that hideous detail, they couldn’t help repeating it ad nauseam. Even Owen had been shocked to hear it.
It was the ghastly result of his mother’s refusal to move for those five horrific days. In the pit of his heart, Owen had known she needed to be adjusted, but just couldn’t bring himself to do it. Not after the way she’d shrieked with every glancing touch. He told himself she needed a blanket to stay warm, so he’d covered her with that plaid one she enjoyed. She’d seemed so peaceful relaxing underneath. Finally at rest after all the agony, so he’d pretended everything was fine. The truth was he’d been too much of a coward to peek underneath.
“Don’t worry,” Skullet continued. “You’ll be able to tell me exactly how comfortable she was in the upcoming days. I’m sure it’ll be a pleasant delay before your upcoming trip to hell.”
“You don’t get to decide that, you—”
Before Owen could finish the sentence, Skullet smacked a piece of duct tape over his mouth. Owen ran his tongue across the gooey surface, immediately regretting this choice as a bitter, chemical taste sloshed in his mouth. Skullet dropped onto his knees, folded his hands together, and stared toward an exposed beam running across the ceiling as he mumbled a prayer. Owen closed his eyes and thought one of his own. By the time he looked again, Skullet was gone. An instant later, the light snapped off.