The tick of the trigger mimicked the tick of a clock.
For a moment, I was frozen in place; transfixed, mortified, perplexed. I couldn’t hear anything expect for the redundant echo of the click of the trigger, as cacophonous as it would’ve been had the gun actually went off. I felt my livelihood secrete from my body all at once, gathering in a nonexistent puddle around my feet.
My head swam, my mindfulness drained and complete numbness replacing it just as fast. There was a brief stillness, everything seeming to slow to a complete stop. My eye still remained pressed against the scope, my finger resting on the trigger. There was no smoke from the barrel. Was the gun jammed?
As though I was taking my sweet time reloading like this was nothing but a class of shooting practice, I slowly lowered the gun and held it at abdomen level. As I went to check the chamber, I felt the colour drain from my face as I realized there was no chamber to inspect. The gun had no chamber.
It wasn’t a real gun.
I must’ve screamed something out loud, but I couldn’t tell if it was to myself or Zacharias or the gun or the whole world. Every force possible, every speck of luck, every opportunity I at one point thought I had was completely crushed; stomped on until I couldn’t ignore the fact that nature, religion, and even the law couldn’t help me.
But I froze. My mind was so muddled and I was so shambolic. I felt like I was nothing but a mere apparition in a body of icy water. Helpless, cold, numb, sluggish, thrashed around by a tide of solitude. This gun...this stupid fucking children’s toy of a gun, had been my last hope. The only potential thing that could’ve gotten me out of here. All I had needed was one bullet.
One fucking bullet. And I didn’t get it. And it drove me over the edge. I had been priding myself on at least being able to keep a handle on my levelheadedness—and as much as I struggled, I managed to at least keep myself cognizant of my surroundings. I, at one point, had been able to keep my head above water.
But then I sank to a new low, completely drowning in my own misery. It was such an out of body experience—more so than when Zacharias had attacked me in the bathroom after washing him didn’t go as according to plan. I was nothing but a spectator who wanted to help myself, to wipe that wretched, harrowing, crestfallen look off of my face.
Then I completely fucking lost it.
With complete insanity and regret, my movements were languid, my vision powdery as I charged forward, lips pulling back as I let out a war cry. I bared my teeth like a wild animal, rearing the blunt end of the gun back like a baseball bat; heaving it over my shoulder.
With all of my strength, I swung and could already feel the exertion in my shoulders and shoulder blades. I couldn’t make out the sound of the false gun connecting with the wolves hip, but I could sure as hell feel the solid impact. The impact seemed to go right through him and though me, and it rattled me to my core so fiercely I thought I would shatter like glass.
The wolf, feeding on its prey, didn’t acknowledge me, nor did it acknowledge its attacked hip. I felt like I had morphed from my chrysalis of desperation and bloomed into a complete psychopath. I had never craved Zacharias’ attention before, but I wanted it now. I wanted him to look at me.
I couldn’t figure out why, but I needed his attention. As I reared the gun back again, I might’ve screamed “fucking look at me!“, but I couldn’t verify. Either way, I was making strenuous efforts to get its attention.
And I swung, connected, and repeated maybe twice more until the wolf was irritated instead of pained. Progressively, with blurred eyes of emerald fire, it turned around to greet me; the hostility of a vengeful creature who decided I was his next victim. There was such a hatred in them. It was something I knew I wouldn’t forget.
I couldn’t make out blood stains due to its raven coat, but I could make out the blood crusted on its paws, head, snout, chest. And once it flashed me its canines, I gave witness to the crimson that coated the ivory. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was flashing me its teeth because it was warning me to stay out of its mutilation of another human like me, or because it was hinting at me that I would soon face the same fate.
Sweat beaded on my forehead and streamed down my face, stinging my eyes as I tried, and failed, to blink the droplets away. My knees felt weak, my body hyperthermic, my vision blurred—not because of the sweat. I was teetering dangerously between consciousness and becoming a prostrate figure on the ground. But I resisted, or at least tried to hold off, for only a little while longer.
I lifted the gun back up, shaking it in the air like a maraca as I egged the wolf to come forward. I wasn’t foolish enough to make a run for it, because I already knew how that story would end. This...this was pure madness. Unsolicited but fully embraceable as the wolf turned around to follow through on my unspoken demands.
I began to take slow steps back, and the wolf accosted me, fur sticking up on end like needles and thorns. My vision, again, was veiled by the distortion of a desert mirage. I blinked a few more times, but my vision didn’t clear up any. My senses had yet to return. I was malfunctioning; completely cracking.
But I was also so angry that I let it play with the buttons of my mind, allowing my fury to control me and what I did. I released another cry, and if I could’ve heard it I might not have recognized it as my own. And when I swung, I swung with everything I had in me, hitting the wolf across the jaw.
Its head, satisfyingly enough, snapped to the side from the force. Resilient as ever, though, it quickly whipped to face me head on again. Instead of growing more murderous and malign, however, it seemed to become almost...humbled. It didn’t earn any leniency or sympathy or remorse from me.
Heaving the gun back, I swung again. The wolf, perhaps cautious or understanding of my anger, didn’t let out a peep; no low growl, no whine, no howl. Its body language spoke volumes, however. Ears flattened, mouth closed, head dropped, it appeared as kicked down as I felt. But I wouldn’t show it any mercy.
Because it was Zacharias, and Zacharias had never once showed me mercy. If I was to be stuck here forever, I needed to at least get retribution for myself once. I thought I deserved it, even if I contributed to making my life harder. Even if I had done this to myself...
Face distorted into a horror-movie-worthy scream, I lifted the gun back over my shoulder, and gave the wolf an award-winning uppercut as I swung the gun like a golf club, taking a new approach. The wolf, although not completely smashed by my endeavours to inflict injury, jolted and bent with every blow. It was fulfilling, but not fulfilling enough.
And I swung again, blow following blow, time after time, until I figured the wolfs skull should’ve been mush. My blows were far from light, my arm far from weak when encouraged by blind anger, but the wolf was fine if not empathetic. Its display of contrition did nothing if not make me further infuriated.
I beat it until the gun split into two, and by the time it was broken I was still too aware to try and stab it with the jagged end of the piece I held. I knew the wolf had warranted my repeated hitting, but I didn’t think it would be so dutifully receiving of being stabbed. But to show it that if the gun was still in one piece I would’ve continued to hit it, I whipped my half at it, hitting it square between the eyes.
Shaking, breathing heavy, my body hot and aching, I folded over as I fisted my hair, feeling tears gather in my eyes—or perhaps it was just sweat. I couldn’t tell anymore. I could hardly tell left from right, up from down. My perception was commingled, evading me at the most crucial time when I perhaps needed it the most.
Trying to feign complete control over myself and my functions, I struggled to stand up straight, my spine feeling rubbery in protest. Through hooded eyes and deteriorating vision, I watched with pixelated clarity as wolf morphed back into man. Knowing that my actions couldn’t be met without consequence, I tried to prepare myself; but failed.
So, instead, I laughed. Humour couldn’t be pulled from this situation, no matter how deep I dug or how far I climbed. But I was in such a deep pit of despair that I couldn’t bring myself to want to climb out from it. Instead I let it consume me, encase me, until all I could do was release maniacal laughs; so shattered beyond repair that not even a laugh could glue me back together.
Zacharias might’ve said my name, but I couldn’t tell. He was like a phantom as he approached me—one solid billowing figure, fluid and quiet with his movements. And I couldn’t stop laughing. I laughed and laughed and laughed even after he rested his hands on my cheeks, perhaps to snap me out of it; to calm me down.
But I was inconsolable. Pulled taut by my fragility, I gently peeled his hands off of my cheeks. Concerned, maybe even scared of my state, he allowed me to; but he didn’t move away from me. When I made the motion to move, he let me. I didn’t get very far, however.
Because I collapsed, veering forward. If it weren’t for Zacharias wrapping his arms around my waist, I would’ve been a prostrate figure on the ground.
My ears rung like a channel out of service when I woke up. It was nearly deafening, and I wished I could pass out again just so the sound could be muted.
I coughed and wiped at my face, the warm sweat dampening my palm when I pulled my hand away. I felt so drugged and ill, completely fatigued. I ached all over, specifically around my shoulders and within my skull. Oh how I ached, becoming increasingly aware to just how much when I went to move, and my body protested against me.
A small tug on my hair alerted me that, in my efforts to fully wake, I wasn’t alone. I cracked my eyes open slightly, which was enough to send agonizing heartbeats from my eyes into my head. I groaned, toes curling as I tried my best to not cry out. I couldn’t configure why I felt more sore now than I had when I was driven off of the road.
Denim jeans brushed the cartilage of my ear and I freaked out again, albeit more reticently than I had earlier. My eyes, all at once, jostled themselves fully open as I realized why I could feel jeans against the cartilage of my ear instead of the silk bedding. Zacharias’ legs were beneath me, and my head laid rested on his lap. He was fully dressed.
“No,” I croaked weakly, trying to push off of him with whatever remnants of strength I had left. Leadened, however, perhaps by the hazardous crash of my motivation, or because I was exhausted from everything, I didn’t get too far. “No.” I breathed out.
“I’m sorry, Edie.” He said, lifting his hand to stroke my hair. I laid stretched out on my side, my ringlets splayed all over his lap. The window was in my direct line of vision, and I watched with steady, freshly coated abhorrence for Zacharias, for myself, and for the world. Like an angsty teen, I wanted to relive my rebellious phases over and over again just so I had an excuse to lash out at society, and the products of society.
“Sorry,” I laughed; a contemptuous laugh. “Yeah. You know what? Me too.”
He was confused. “What are you sorry for?”
I tittered. I didn’t exactly know what I was sorry for. I had said it to be mocking, to be an asshole, to say it just for the hell of it. I didn’t think Zacharias would question me on it, and when he did I was surprised. I was hoping he’d have the decency to let this be an inside joke to keep to myself.
But I lied, in the mood to hurt him more than anything else. “I’m sorry I can’t kill you.”
I inhaled, gathering the pungent smell of fermenting blood in my nostrils, followed by the smell of feces. I coughed once more, and gagged right after. After a body dies, the bowels release themselves because the body can no longer hold its excrements in. There was a cadaver in the room. He hadn’t yet removed it. I couldn’t have been out for too long—or maybe I was out for long enough the smell of the body could continue to fester.
“I want to sit up, Zacharias,” I told him, perhaps the most genuinely polite I had ever been since being there. “I don’t want to lay down. I want to sit up. I want to stand.”
“Then do it, Edie.” He said.
Taking it as a challenge rather than an encouragement, I put my palms onto the bed, feeling my elbows shake dangerously as I tried to push myself up to stand. I hated feeling so feckless, so immobile, so useless. I wished I was strong and burly, so strong that not even someone breaking a plastic toy over my head could lessen my vigour in the least.
I was at the end of my rope, I knew I was. I was at such a point where I started talking myself out of moving and querying myself as to if keeping my head on Zacharias’ lap was so bad. I was so depleted of energy that even breathing took a tole on me. I was worried my elbows would give out on me the same way my mind was.
But I managed to push myself into a sitting position, taking a deep breath as I slowly swivelled my legs over the bed, lowering myself until my feet touched the floor. I felt like I had climbed a mountain. I ached all over, and it was no less pulsating even after I was on my feet, staring down at the cadaver.
I had never before saw a dead body, not in real life at least. In movies, of course, there was always a dead body placed or used as a prop somewhere. But it was such an altering experience when saw in the flesh; the pail, bruised, bloody flesh. There was something somber about it, completely melancholy. I couldn’t even bring myself to be disturbed. I had been exposed to too much more before this.
The neck was almost completely detached from the body, the jaws of the wolf had chewed right through the flesh, the bone. The neck, however, was the only part touched. The rest of the officers body was spared. Blood had spurted everywhere due to the arteries that Zacharias had torn through, but the officer was still whole enough to be identified.
Feeling suddenly shy, strange, and overwhelmed by emotions I couldn’t put my finger on, I approached the officer, uncaring to the pool of blood that surrounded him. He was just as human as I was, and he had once breathed the same air I breathed, he had once humoured his hobbies, attended the police academy. He was so young, with so much potential. He didn’t gross me out. Not as much as the shifter that had killed him did.
His blood was both caked and slippery on the floor, but I disregarded it as I stepped through it just to get to him, ignoring its lingering warmth as it wedged in between my toes. I looked down at him, feeling remorse that I had ever called out to him. I felt foolish for ever thinking he could help me. If it weren’t for me, he could’ve been alive, fighting for greater things.
The blood had clotted at his throat, the clots so dark they looked black in the bleak room. I gulped as I stood beside his head, pallid eyes staring at the ceiling; unblinking, dead, glazed over. Despite the fact that a soul no longer inhabited the body, when I looked into those eyes, I felt as if they could read into my soul. His body was dead, but the image of him would forever live on through me.
I crouched down to my knees, the hot tears that had gathered in my ducts finally falling free, without the judging eyes of Zacharias zeroing in on them. Two tears—and only two tears—dropped onto the officers blood crusted cheek like rain, absorbing the blood and turning a pale pink as they dripped onto the floor, only another two drops in the sea of red that surrounded him.
Reaching out with a shaky hand, I held it out, all my fingers stuck together as I brushed them over his eyes, closing them as if to solidify the fact he was dead. I never expected that my tears could bring him back to life like a fantasy movie. Unfortunately, I was no beautiful maiden and the beast-protagonist hadn’t been the one near death. The roles were mixed up; backwards.
The moment I rose and stood up again, I could fear the sultry heat radiating off of Zacharias; unannounced and so sudden that as I whipped and turned back around, I nearly stumbled backwards and tripped over the cadaver. He grabbed my biceps, though, and looked down at me; uncharacteristic remorse swelling in his eyes.
“Forgive me.” He said as he grabbed my wrist and cuffed it, leaving the other cuff open.
“What—” I asked, shocked. Using the cuff absent of my wrist, he pulled me away from the dead body. I let out a cry, the metal tugging and digging into my skin far more painful than any grip of his cruel fingers. It didn’t help that the ropes from earlier had already given me dry, flaky, red skin. The handcuffs brought life to the pain, however, feeling like hot acid.
He dragged me over to the other side of the bed facing the window. He kept me at the corner of the foot of the bed, trying to force me to sit on the ground. Adrenaline kicking in, maybe to give me a tease of what it should be like, aided me in fighting against him; but by very little. Using the toe of his shoe, he sent a rough tap to the back of my kneecap that sent me falling to the floor.
“You piece of shit!” I cried at him as he kneeled in front of me. He pressed himself against me, making sure I couldn’t recover as he grabbed my two wrists, and forced them behind my back, and behind the leg of the bed. I clenched my hands into knuckles as if it would thicken my wrists to the point he wouldn’t be able to cuff me. But I was not as brilliant as he was.
Because he cuffed my other wrist, and didn’t have the boldness to look down at me as he walked away from me. I cried and kicked and screamed, and in vain tried to see if I could move and pull the bed with me. I tried to kick at things possibly within reach, but this plan had been completely foolproof. I tried to slip my hands free from the cuffs, but my hands, although small, were too big to squeeze through.
“I hate you! You are so heartless and dirty! You are revolting! You are the scum of the earth! You don’t fucking treat someone like this! You don’t humiliate someone like this!” I screamed, wanting to throw every insult at him that I could, despite how meaningless they were. “You’ve fucked with me enough, don’t you think? You’re a sick, sick person. I wish it was you who was dead. I wish I had never met you. I wish you would just leave me here to rot and never come back. I wish I was dead...”
He had already left the room, and I was grateful because I was sobbing profusely, without relent and with very little barricades and strain. I brought my knees to my chest, able to hear the thump thump thump of a body being dragged down the stairs with no consideration.
I wondered if it could get any lower than this. I was fettered to a bed by my wrists, in a room that smelt of blood and feces, crying and trembling on the floor like I shouldn’t have expected this. I didn’t think I could beat the living shit out of Zacharias and do so with impunity, but I didn’t think I deserved this. It was such cruel and unusual punishment.
What does an animal that’s not supposed to be caged do? It fights. It wants freedom, it needs freedom, and freedom needs it just as much. The rain that hailed the window called out to me. I wanted to run to it...run into it. I yearned to be freed from my cage.
I was losing my resolve.
A hand gently stroked my cheek as a pair of lips kissed me awake.
Suddenly as alive as ever, I jolted myself awake and kicked against the source of affection, just missing Zacharias’ groin as he grabbed my ankle and stopped its attack. I looked him up and down quickly. He was still fully clad, without a speck of blood to disrupt the constant shade his articles of clothing religiously sported. God forbid he was touched by colour.
The room smelt vaguely of lavender and pine-sol. There were no traces of blood or feces. I had sobbed myself to sleep. He had cleaned in that time frame. I wondered what else he had done in that time frame.
As if reading my mind, he filled me in. “No one will ever find him, Edie, and no one will ever trace him back to here. No one will ever trace you back to here. He’s been disposed of.”
I gritted my teeth, cringed, swallowed my pride. “Oh, goody.” I sneered sarcastically.
He chuckled briefly, standing up and walking over to the head of the bed before returning back quickly, a glass of water in his hand. He kneeled down in front of me, showing me the glass as if it was a peace offering. I recoiled in disgust, as if he held a glass of fish guts.
“Your lips are dry, Edie. I can tell you need water.”
My shoulders shook as I threatened to burst out into tears again, unable to detect why. “Yes, maybe I do. But not by your hands. Only by my own.”
“Un-cuff me!” I yelled at him. “After all the shit I’ve been through the least you could do is un-cuff me!”
But he wasn’t having it. He never did—seldom did. He grabbed my jaw and tilted my head back, forcing my lips open enough to wedge the rim of the glass into my mouth, pouring the water into it. He poured in only a little; just enough to coat my tongue and allow me to feel how cool the water was. It was lovely water—as satisfying as hard liquor was to an alcoholic.
But I was as defiant as I was suicidal, and I spit the water right back into his face. It felt good to do it, just because it let him know how much he repulsed me—well, at least, it scratched the surface of how much he repulsed me. I couldn’t come up with enough insults to begin to describe how much he repulsed me.
But, following the satisfaction came the unavoidable knowledge of the severity of what I had just done. As the water, thickened and bubbled by my saliva, washed his face, I knew I had fucked up. When he looked at me with a neutral expression but livid eyes, I knew he wasn’t going to kill me—no, he had something far worse in store for me.
My eyes were wide as he gave me the smallest of smiles before he stood up, the glass of water in his hand. I waited for him to pour it on me, then smash the glass over my head, then slit my throat with one of the shards, but it never happened. Instead, he placed it back onto the side table, walked back over to me and kneeled down in front of me, and fisted my hair, bearing my neck to him. I couldn’t even fight back.
Nor did I have the time to scream as he sunk his teeth into the part of my neck he had favoured for reasons now exposed.
Because I now carried the mark of the beast.