Chapter 22- Explanation
“Jesus Christ,” I gasped. “What the hell did you just do to me?”
“I showed you your past,” replied the voice.
“Yeah,” I agreed, eyebrows raised in sarcasm, “but why?”
“To show you things.”
I stood quickly. Too quickly. I was clenching and unclenching my fists at my sides until the Great Room righted itself. “What the fuck does that mean?” I yelled.
The air around me grew tense. “There is absolutely no need for your anger, Wyatt. I did what I did because I know no other way.”
I had begun to shake, though it wasn’t cold. “You could have just told me what you wanted me to know,” I retorted through my teeth.
“I was testing you,” the voice said evasively, quickly adding, “to see if you had changed.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Changed from what?” I asked, still seething.
“Did you do something that was against the law?”
I smiled tightly, narrowing my eyes at the fireplace. “Oh, that,” I spat. “You mean before I hid in here?”
“Of course it was.”
“Was what?” the voice pried.
The voice sighed. “And? Why did you do it?”
“Because—” But I faltered. No one had ever asked me that before. Even when I’d only gotten less than half of the old lady’s cash because Jael was being greedy, or when I was chased into the sewer afterwards and had to smell like shit for a week; even when I almost got shot by the cops when I had to ditch the bank over the dumpsters in the back; or even when the old lady on the plane had a heart attack when security boarded the plane with guns drawn before takeoff to arrest the guy two rows ahead of me, and not me.
“Because the money was good,” I told him quietly. I was lying. To him and myself.
If he had a head, the voice would have shaken it with a disapproving expression. “That’s not why,” he said. “You had almost died this time.”
I glared. “I’d almost died before.” Why was I defending myself?
This time, the voice sighed long and hard, as if through a nose with its nostrils flared. “Wyatt,” his tone was harsh now, gritty and condemning, “you leave me no choice.”
“He’s not worth it,” I sighed, shaking my head sadly, realizing the truth at last. “I can’t keep living like this.”
The door opened. My head whipped around.
Jael stood in the doorway, his chest heaving, his black V-neck t-shirt ripped and soaked with sweat. He had an ugly bruise forming on the upper right corner of his forehead and a gash on his cheek that was dripping blood. His hair was disheveled.
“Looks like you got the shit beat out of you, Jael,” I told him.
He continued to glare daggers at me. I stared back.
“You should not have come here, Jael,” the voice boomed around us.
Jael’s glare—though normally tucked neatly underneath a suave smirk and arrogant tip of his head—turned fearful and deranged. “Get out of my head!” he screamed.
I took a step back and my eyes widened. “Jael?” I asked. His eyes zeroed in on my face, but it was like he wasn’t seeing me anymore. “Jael, it’s just a voice,” I said.
I knew it wasn’t just a voice anymore, though. This voice had done everything that had ever happened to me in this house. This voice had hid me and hurt me; it had talked to me and hurt Jael. It was this house. The voice that was making Jael crazy was the house.
Jael shook his head roughly. The misty glint in his eyes disappeared and he realized who he was staring at. “Shut up!” he yelled. “It tossed me around like a goddamn ragdoll! The darkness in that room nearly suffocated me! And then, to top it all off, that voice got inside my head and will not leave! DON’T tell me it’s just a voice!”
He charged without warning, tackling me with his shoulder and throwing me to the ground. He pinned me between his knees. He drew a knife from his belt and held the tip to my right eye, leaning over me with his hand next to my head on the floor. Bits of my hair were clenched between his fingers.
“I didn’t mean for anything to happen,” I told him softly. “I’m sorry.” I cringed when he grazed the tip of the knife against my eyebrow.
“You’re not sorry enough,” he hissed. “You’ll never be sorry enough.” He pulled his hand back.
He sliced into my ribs with the blade.
I just laid there, the blood pouring out of me onto the floor. There was nothing I could do. He had complete control over me. He was going to kill me. And I was going to let him.
There was a blankness to his eyes now. An emptiness. He withdrew the knife and slowly, deliberately, mercilessly dug the blade into my side, between my ribs, again. Then he straightened. He pocketed the knife, blood and all. He left me to die.
I felt my heart give out.
I gasped and felt my whole body stiffen. My heart was pounding, very much alive, and I was covered in a cold sweat. I was lying on the floor, and my eyes darted around the room. Jael wasn’t here. I was alone. I was alone and safe and not bleeding to death.
“What…was that?” I asked the house.
“That,” said the house, and I knew it was the house that had always been talking to me, “is what will happen here if you do not tell me the truth.”
I sat up. Looked at the ceiling. “What truth?”
The house rumbled.
I knew perfectly well what truth he meant.
“Do not test me, Wyatt. I will let Jael kill you. Tell me the truth.”
I rolled onto my side. I stared at the suit of armor next to me for a long time. I could see my reflection. My scared, worn-out, desperate reflection. I tried to frown, to make myself look like I had before, the way I had always looked, but the expression just felt wrong to me. I watched my face soften: the sharp v between my eyebrows smoothed; the tightness of my lips relaxed; the narrowness of my eyes opened. My face was suddenly unrecognizable.
My customarily crafted hair was disheveled. Tufts of brown were sticking up so that it seemed I had gelled them there. There was probably blood in it. I couldn’t feel any cuts, but I’d been bashed around a lot today.
In the past two days. Or had it been longer?
All I had wanted, especially when Jael had first come into my life, was a little action. He was like me—a power-hungry, greedy sociopath, basically. Maybe on the more socially aware side, but still like me. I had always been on edge, like nothing was ever going to go my way, ever. I had never needed anyone before. I never wanted anyone before. When he showed up, it was like I immediately needed everyone around me to feel my humiliation and rage. I needed people to hurt.
A light had gone off. Something in my brain told me that with him showing up, it was time for me to take my revenge. I didn’t need Jael. Not really. I just needed his drive for recognition.
I rolled over onto my back. “I don’t need that anymore,” I said to myself. “I haven’t needed that in a few days.”
“You were a different man then, Wyatt. You have learned from your past,” said the house. “You have come a long way from your old self.”
I turned my head to stare at my reflection again. “But if I leave,” I said, thinking hard, “how will I stay this way?”
“Don’t leave. It is a start,” he said gently.
“I don’t want to hurt anyone anymore. I just don’t know if I can control what I feel, these things that I need to do.”
“You didn’t want to hurt that aging woman when you robbed her house. That is why you convinced Jael to break in after she’d left for bingo that night. You didn’t want to hurt those people in the bank, and that is why you didn’t bring Jael’s gun with you. You—”
“Let me finish.”
I shut my mouth, a smile pulling up the corner of my mouth in spite of myself.
The house rumbled sympathetically. “Wyatt,” he began, “you were never the complete sociopath that you claim to be and to have been. You were just a young man with a thorn in his foot, if I am to use the symbolism correctly. You were lost. You’d had a childhood that no child should ever have. You had no family. No real family. You met Jael, and things just seemed to fall into place from there.
“But they were not what you really needed, Wyatt. You’d said that you never needed Jael. I think you did. I think that he was your friend, in a way. He was a person you could count on, even if that notion was slightly skewed and maybe, to him at least, false. Jael was your family.”
There was silence for a few moments. I stood. Walked over to the wall of broken windows. He knew about me. He knew all about me.
I realized I was okay with that.
“I’m sorry,” I murmured, staring at myself in the window.
“I did not believe you would hurt me, Wyatt,” replied the house knowingly. “There is nothing to apologize for.”
But should he apologize for reading my mind? I think the house would have smiled sheepishly if he’d had a mouth.
“Breaking and entering?” I suggested. I turned on my heel and leaned heavily against the rough stone of the fireplace.
“Enough.” The house’s voice was full of authority that my head shook with it.
Or maybe it was just the streaked glass.
“Wyatt,” he continued in a much softer, kinder, almost fatherly tone, “you didn’t want to traffic those drugs. You didn’t want to wake the old lady next to you. You had changed all by yourself. It wasn’t breaking and entering. You needed a place to hide, to escape, to free yourself, and I willingly let you inside. It was not an intentional reaction, I will admit, but I let you inside because you felt different to me.”
“You trust me,” I said. I waited for an answer. “Right? That’s why you let me in.”
I waited for a sign. Anything. Still, there was no answer.
“Is that a problem?” he asked gruffly after a few long seconds of silence.
I shook my head. “No,” I admitted, sighing in relief. I thought I’d offended him. “It’s just never happened to me before.”
“But Jael trusted you.”
“No, he didn’t,” I said, stepping away from the wall. “He just used me.”
“Correct,” replied the house. I smiled even though a streak of arrogance like that from anyone else would have made my blood boil.
I placed my hand on the broken window pane next to me, carefully stroking the jagged shard with the tip of my finger thoughtfully. “You know things about me I didn’t even know about myself,” I told him. “Can I ask you something?”
“I may not give you the answer you want.”
“Why not?” I looked around the room, searching for a face that I would never see.
I was prying and I knew it. But I needed to know what he was hiding. Because I really did feel like he was hiding something. If I was going to survive in this house, with this house, all cards had to be on the table. I stuffed my hands in my pockets like a little kid. I didn’t want to feel like I had to constantly be looking over my shoulder anymore.
“Wyatt,” said the house, and I was pulled from my thoughts, “you are right.”
Relief flooded through me, and so did guilt. I’d played it up too well. I hadn’t even asked him what I wanted to know yet. “I don’t want to hide anymore,” I mumbled.
“Nor do I,” he agreed. “But…”
It was the first time I could feel his hesitation. I almost said that it was okay if he didn’t tell me, but I stopped myself. I deserved to know. So I just waited.
“Things like this,” continued the house, “come with time.” He was choosing his words carefully. Still, I waited. “You do know many things about me, but the place where I have trapped Jael is something I cannot tell you about now.”
So that was what he was hiding. Jael was still here, somewhere in this house. Maybe that was the darkness he’d been talking about.
“I must struggle with this on my own,” the house continued. “When it is right, I will let you in on the secret.”
I smiled, exhaling slowly. “I can roll with that,” I said.
The house sighed in return. “Thank you,” he replied.
I pulled one hand from my pocket and, walking over to the door, wrapped my fingers around the handle. I looked through the small window that had appeared on the door, letting me see down the winding, yellow-walled stairs that were now dark. “Do you have a kitchen?” I asked abruptly. “I’m starving.”
Chuckling at my smirk, the door opened, and the light just inside the doorway turned on.