Prologue | Hell To Pay
Funny how days ago my life was filled with light, laughter and joy after so many years of misfortune and torture. And now... now it was filled with nothing but misery once again.
All I could see was pitch black. Not even my shadow could be seen cast upon the floor. There was only one small line of light coming from under the only way out, the one door in the room directly in front of me. This place was surely hell. I was freezing. I was tired and I was starved. But mostly I was confused. I had no idea where I was and when I tried to bring my memories forth, all I was greeted with was hazy partial images of moments earlier in the day.
Goosebumps pricked my skin under my scrub, sending shivers through each extremity and up my back. My head throbbed with each pulse of my heart sending piercing needles through my eyes. But as I went to reach for my throbbing temple all I could hear was the rattle of chains resisting my strength keeping me immobile. My toes just barely touched the fridget concrete ground thanks to the metal holding my wrists above my head. My shoulders felt like they were being ripped from my core as the metal links began to slowly dislocate them.
My memory remained fuzzy but slowly flashbacks came into mind. Work, the hospital, trauma, the OR, blood, lots and lots of blood. And Him. Those eyes, those vibrantly emerald green eyes staring right back at me shattering every layer and every wall I had built up. The feelings he caused in the pit of my stomach seeing him lay unconscious under the pressure of my hands. My stomach continuously flipping with each electric shock of his touch. The feeling of my heart racing out of my chest the minute I looked at him. The whole night was a mix of fear, anxiety, strength, curiosity, and bravery.
Now all I found myself feeling was panic, panic at the unknown. Fear about what lurked in the dark. Fear for what this dark hell would bring. But the word fear was an understatement. And with that fear came a strong intuition that I wasn’t going to make it out of this place alive. Or at the least, not the same person as I am now.
i | Hell to Pay
“Fuckkk, what a slow night” a huff left my throat as I exhaled a bored breath. My elbow leaned against the desk of the nurse station, my fingers seemingly tapping against my cheek as I studied the board of admissions we had sitting in triage. “Who would have thought that a level one trauma hospital emergency room was going to be this fucking dead on a weekend.” I wasn’t prepared for the pain that stung my shoulder minutes after I made that remark as Sofia hit me with one of the trauma manuals from the counter
“Ow, Sofia what the hell was that for?”
“Oh shut the fuck up, you know what that was for dumbass. Don’t you dare utter those damn words again! You’ll end being the fucking death of us once we do get swarmed with traumas up to our eyeballs. I, for one, don’t mind this pace.”
“That’s because you like being bored and lazy Sofia...”
“Watch it Artell...”
I had been a trauma nurse for over a year now at Springhill General. I loved every minute of it. Even the slow boring nights like this. Especially when working with Sofia. Most people that know me by now know I was always meant to be a Trauma nurse. I don’t take shit from anyone, I always speak my mind, and I have a niche for fast pace and critical thinking.
Before this job I was far from the outspoken, badass trauma nurse. I was meek, small, quiet and follow the rules. This job forced me open up more than I would have ever imagined was possible. My brain quickly learned what it felt like to get an adrenaline rush and on nights like this one my adrenaline junky brain needed a fucking hit and the complaints just spilled out of my mouth before I could catch them.
“I know, I know. But, jesus, you know I hate being bored. All we’ve gotten all night was the typical ‘I have stomach pain and nausea’ group. Which the majority of the time I have to bite my damn tongue so I don’t tell them to just go home and fucking puke there. We work in an E.R for fuck sakes. Where the hell is the good stuff? Is it too much to ask for a single freakin’ patient? Just one good one, preferably covered in blood, is all I’m asking for.” Frustrated and jittery my legs began to walk out to the waiting room just for the pure change in scenery. Sofia was quick to follow behind.
Sofia had quickly become my closest friend since I started in the ER about six months ago. We trained in our trauma group together, which was miserable at best. Days filled with classes and online education. She was the hyper, spastic girl that never shut up. I however, was quiet and reserved, never outspoken. Life had never handed me a good hand until I moved here and took this job. I was in desperate need of a new start. I needed to find some place where I belonged; some place where I wasn’t scared all the time. I needed a place where I wasn’t afraid to walk down the street and see... him. I needed a new place where every corner I turned my past wasn’t right in front of my face taunting me. I needed a new life where I could help people, people that have gone through terrible things like I have.
Sofia, dear lord that girl. She made me open up. I am utterly convinced that she is the reason I am who I am now, riddled with attitude and strength to overcome just about anything. I still find myself getting uneasy in certain situations. But she knows what I’ve been through. She knows the road I’ve been on has been anything but easy. Sofia can see the fear drift into my eyes in those situations and she is the only one that has been able to snap me out of it time and time again.
Sofia and I have been covered head to toe in blood together. We have dealt with things no one else should ever have to experience at our jobs. It made us have an unbreakable bond. Sofia is more like a sister to me than a best friend.
On the hard nights after work Sofia would come back to my apartment with me just to eat, drink and binge Netflix. But on the hardest of nights we would just sit there and cry trying to comfort one another. And believe me there are more nights than I care to admit where we’ve come home covered in blood after dealing with mass casualties. People always think that what we deal with at work doesn’t bother us. But it does. I have come home crying too many times to count. I have lost kids in my arms while holding pressure on a gaping wound telling them to just hold on a little longer. I have seen wives collapse over their dead husbands bodies sobbing asking God to bring them back. I have had to tell parents that the staff did everything they could to save their child but failed. I have called time of death on too many people in one shift alone. My job has never been easy. And at times like tonight I feel bad for complaining that we have no exciting patients or that there have been no traumas for the night. I should be thanking God that no one was hurt bad enough to need to come to the hospital.
I shook my head brining myself out of my dazed, spaced out trance. Far too often to I find myself in my own thoughts while staring out the window of the waiting room. Everything around me dulls almost becoming hazy like my body can only focus on one sense. But still I can hear Sofia babbling away about lord only knows what. Its like she takes speed every damn night. When she talks she practically bounces off the wall. I’m almost certain that she has ADHD but I’m smart enough to know better than to bring something like that up to her. But damn it I don’t think I would want her any other way. She’s like my other half, my more hyper and slightly psychotic other half.
“Addi! Bitch, did you hear me?”
“Huh, what? Sorry I was spacing out. What did you say Sof?”
“I saaaiiid” she started with her normal boat load of attitude drawing out her words just to seem like the overdramatic prissy queen she was. “We should order food tonight. If it’s going to be this slow we might as well take the next 8 hours to shove our faces with deliciousness. Can’t complain as much when your mouth is full of pizzzaaa.” She gave me her typical girly giggle to end her rant. “I’ll go order.” She stated it so quickly, I was almost positive that I didn’t even have a choice in her decision. “Are you going to stay out here for a while gorgeous?”
“Mhmm” I said slowly drifting back into my own thoughts staring back out the window.
It was truly a peaceful night. Sometimes I do forget to be thankful for nights like these, especially after the many nights I’ve spent being terrified for my own life; sitting on an exam table, the blood trickling out of some gash. While other parts of me began bruising in vibrant colors of purple and green. And other parts of me so torn up that the blood wouldn’t stop pouring out with each cramp. After all the time I had spent in an emergency room as a patient would make any sane person question why I worked in one. Sometimes I questioned it myself.
The memories began cluttering my mind, unknowingly causing a small tear to escape from the corner of my left eye. I looked up towards the vaulted ceiling letting the lone tear slowly roll down my cheek and balancing on my chin. Before I could let the rest of the emotions cause a river to escape I quickly shook the memories from the forefront of my mind.
I leveled my head to continue looking outside through the window hoping it would help me clear my mind.
It was a little after midnight. The city was mostly quiet and most people were probably already tucked into their beds cozied up with their loved ones on a cold night like tonight. The hospital was right in the middle of town, full of bright lights, even in the dead of night. But on clear nights like this one, you could occasionally see some stars twinkling in the black of the sky. It was a rare sight but it was still beautiful opportunity all the same. I reminded myself again how thankful I should be with how far I’ve come in my life. How much I had already overcome. How much pain, how much torture I endured for so long. I reminded myself to be grateful that he hasn’t found me... at least not yet.
But there was always this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach. I knew it was inevitable. The peace, solitude, would all be ripped away from me the minute he finally tracked me down. I knew it was inevitable that I would be forced to leave my new home, my new life, my new career, my friend, my sister because of him. I knew the rest of my life was going to be spent running in fear and running for my life. Just like I knew that my life was only going to end in one of three ways, running constantly, captured and forced to live with his consequences or dead by his hands.
I never told a single soul about him. That is, no one besides Sofia. I planned to keep it that way. Actually I never even planned on telling her. But she’s always had a way a reading people. She didn’t even know me but she took one look into my eyes and knew I had seen the other side of hell. So she poked and she protted until I caved and coughed everything up without a second thought.
There’s this look. A look that everyone gives you when they find out about your past, and your trials. It’s a look of pity. It’s a look of sorrow and a slight bit of disgust. I’ve given the same look to my patients without thinking. This place, this city was supposed to be a new start for me and I wanted to avoid that look at all costs and every single person I had told up to this point offered that look when I told them. Every single soul, except her.
I had told other people before. But it was always the same look. And then the questions would always start. Why didn’t you just leave him? Why didn’t you go to the authorities? Did you tell him to stop? Did you try to work it out? Why did you stay so long? There was no easy way to explain to people what a relationship like that was like. There was no way to leave. You end up being secluded away from the world, lost without a job, without an education, without anyone else in the world to go to, to confide in. You have no dignity. You lose hope. You feel small and weak. And he, he made me feel so... so fucking worthless. There’s no way to explain all of that, all of those feelings, those thoughts to anyone who has never seen the other side of the abuse.
He made it impossible for me to leave. I was trapped. People don’t believe you when you try to tell them that. You get a simple eye roll and a ahuh sure. Or you get told you should have tried harder, fought harder. That I should have gone to the police. I did. I tried so hard to fight back, ripping and clawing at him; kicking and punching until I would leave even the smallest indent on his skin. Each time tried, each time I fought I did I ended up on a stretcher within seconds of losing my life. There were enough times that I thought that this breath was going to be my last. And at times I found peace in that, knowing my suffering would end.
And as far as going to the police? He knew too many people. He knew half the police force. I tried that too. But they always turned a blind eye, laughing at my face. They knew what he was doing to me. They could see the evidence right in front of them. Their eyes showed sympathy, but their outward expression proved otherwise. They were just as terrified of losing their own lives as I was with mine.
I did what I never thought was possible. I did what so many women in my position wished they could do but never had the nerve to do it for fear of the consequences. I left. With only the clothes of my back and a few hundred dollars that I had saved up over months without his knowledge. I left in the middle of the night. And I was damn proud of myself. I had made it this far on my own, even with him relentlessly searching for me. He would never stop. He was the lion and I was his prey. He would search for me until drew his last breath. But now I would fight back, or I would die trying.
A smallest of smiles and the tiniest of internalized laughs rose from my lips thinking about my newfound courage and strength. I would be damned if I let it happen to any other woman who walked into this emergency room. I made it my mission to aid every broken and battered woman that walked into one of these rooms. To let her know she isn’t alone. To let her know that there is hope. That there are people looking out for her. All she needs to do is ask. Ask for a place to stay, a place to hide. Money to start a new life. A better life. No woman in my presents will ever feel the strike of a man, the brute force of his fist, the sheer strength and overpowerment as he pins her down to take what he assumes belongs to him. No woman in my presents shall ever feel fear of losing her own life again.
But as quickly as my smile and thoughts of aiding those in need rose, they dropped away as something caught my eye. Under the dimly lit street lights a car, clearly speeding well over the speed limit toward straight for the hospital. I panicked. The only times we saw anything like this was emergency services. But this car... this car was not driving with stability. It was erratic, swerving back and forth on the deserted street. I did the only thing I could think of at the given moment. I screamed for help.
“SOF, SOFIAAA.... YOU NEED TO GET BACK HERE!” My screams left my throat at a volume I never deemed possible. They echoed off the triage rooms windows causing them to rattle.
The car was nearing rapidly and I was going to be left fending for myself in an unknown situation. I turned around, frantically searching for her only to scream her name once more.
We’ve been taught how to handle a handful of scenarios. A speeding black SUV was not one of them. What reside within its four doors was a mystery and one I didn’t want to explore alone.
Her ear was propped against the phone, pinning it between her shoulder. Her mouth was moving but quickly stopped when she heard my screeching voice. Her eyes perked, becoming cartoon wide as she glanced up through the window of the door seeing the panic in my eyes. Without hesitation she quickly hung up the phone, halting whatever conversation she was having. If shit was about to hit the fan, Sofia was the only one I trusted to help clean up whatever mess was about to rush through our doors.
I turned my head back towards the front windows. I was about to come face to face with whatever lingered seconds away in the vehicle. The blacked out Mercedes SUV barely screeched to a halt at the front door of the hospital as two men dressed in all black suits leaped out of the driver and passenger seat leaving the doors hang wide open. They flung the back passenger side back door forcing the condition of the vehicle to come into plain site against the soft overhead lights. Bullet holes, upon bullet holes littered the side of the SUV. At that very moment my stomach dropped.
I squinted my eyes to look closer at the two men who had exited the SUV. Their white button down shirts and black ties were painted with crimson blood, leaving little of the actual color of the shirts behind. Both men had frantic faces as they attempted to get a rather massive, broad man out from the back seat.
Seeing as Sofia didn’t take to my panicked scream the first time or the second time, I screamed again adding an even more frantic tone (if that was possible) as the scene was quickly emerging in front of my eyes.
“SOFIAAA I’M GOING TO NEED SOME HELP AND A STRETCHER NOW!”
The two men with blood stained shirts started towards the main door of the hospital. Except now they were accompanied with another man, unconscious. His head hung heavy below his shoulders. His arms were draped around the two upright men’s shoulders as his feet dragged against the pavement forcing his expensive, immaculately polished shoes to scuff.
The three men neared the entrance as the panic in my throat rose. I finally felt Sofia’s presents next to me. The heat of her small frame radiating off her body and bouncing towards me. Her breaths were rapid, the vein in the side of her neck bulging from sprinting in response to my pleads for help.
“I’m here-” she started half running up to me. “What the hell Addi... what is that?” Her first finger pointed towards the men, her jaw practically on the ground in shock. Her voice was now shaky as she realized what I was screaming to her about. I shot her a glare as if I was saying ‘really?’ to her. “FUCK, uhhh ya, right, GURNEY, stretcher...Jesus Fuck... YOU HAD TO GO AND FUCKING COMPLAIN AND JINX THE DAMN PERFECT FUCKING NIGHT.” Her voice trailed behind her as she sprinted towards the alcove.
“WELL IF YOU WOULD HAVE LISTENED TO ME THE FIRST TIME I SCREAMED FOR YOU...” My voice had begun to crack. I was unsure whether the breaks in my tone were from fear or from the overuse of my vocal cords tonight.
The adrenaline rush hit my brain like taking a shot of heroine. It was a feeling I had become familiar with but in the moment when it hit it was like a wave of a new drug coursing through each nerve ending. Except your body never creates a tolerance. Each trauma, each terrifying moment filled my body with sparks like lightening hit and was shaking my very existence on this earth.
To some people the feeling of an adrenaline cause people to panic. It’s called fight or flight. Most people when they feel the adrenaline kick in want to run, preferably away from the danger. Me? The feeling of your pulse quickening, your blood pressure elevating, you become hypersensitive, your breathing quickens, your senses become keener. My thought processes becomes clearer. I’m able to think quickly and effectively. My body knows what to do before my brain even registers what actions I already started moving towards. I loved the feeling of adrenaline and everything it brought with it. It’s like taking a hit off of the worlds strongest drug. And I ran towards that feeling every damn time, every chance I could.
I focused my attention back to the men rushing towards us.
“We...need... FUCK.... We need help damnit.” the men screamed between their rapid exhales from exerting themselves carrying the dead weight of the mystery man. They rushed through the first set of automatic, glass sliding doors. Their faces showed exhaustion, terror, worry. Their tanned and olive complexion had become flushed with a deep pink, causing the tips of their ears and the middle of their cheeks to deepen in color.
There was no surprise why the two men were flustered, weak and out of breath. The unconscious stranger slumped over their shoulders easily weighed at least 200 pounds, possibly closer to 250 pounds. By the looks of it, every ounce of his weight was pure muscle.
It was no easy feet to drag him from the vehicle, even for the two men who held just as much muscle as the benumbed man. Dragging him was like dragging 250 pound of dead weight, 250 pound dead sack of potatoes to say the least.
I ran up to the men as they began to pass through the second set of sliding glass doors. My mind immediately started blurting out questions without a second thought in an attempt to discern what had truly happened. It was like word vomit.
LIke a light switch, I flipped my emotions off almost becoming numb to anything happening around me or the sorrow I felt for the man that stood in front of me clearly in critical condition. It was an instinct to turn into nurse mode, multitasking between the desperate care this man needed while simultaneously bombarding the other men with every thought or question that crossed my mind. I received no answers.
My brain continued to spin, trying to fathom what could have possibly happened. I bent my knees to lean down as I tilted my face to see his. Without a second thought my two first fingers automatically went for his neck. Pulse, I need a pulse.
Whatever happened left this man unconscious, bloody, battered and in rough shape. My fingers never left his neck. It took a few seconds with the rush of adrenaline to feel a pulse other than my own as my heart hammered through my chest, beating into every extremity and appendage I had. His pulse was weak and thready, but it was there. Good. Great. That I could work with.
Sofia greeted us at the entrance of the last set of doors with the stretcher in hand. The men picked up the unconscious, blood soaked man. One grabbing under his arms, while the other lifted his legs. They had moved him in the blink of an eye. One man grabbing the bloodied stranger under his arms while the other man quickly lifted his legs. It was done effortlessly and with ease. They placed him onto the cot, standing above him taking one last glance at his mangled attire and unconscious face.
Once he was freed from the two men, it quickly became evident just how close to death this man really was. His extremities were flaccid, hanging off the side of the stretcher. His breathing was subtle, shallow, barely noticeable and slightly agonized exhaling with small grunts. His body barely withdrew to any new inflicted pain. Blood was caked onto every available surface of the man, seeping into every nook and cranny it could find. His shirt was drenched with the red liquid. So much so that I could ring it out. Three small tears were left in the fabric scattered over his torso. The tears left a subtle hint to the cause of the injury, exposing the damaged flesh.
“What the fuckhappened” Sofia mumbled under her breath staring down at the man that lay under us.
I didn’t take another second to let my brain continue to wonder. I acted, like I was taught. Reaching into my pocket my hands instantly found the handle of my trauma shears. My movements became rhythmic, and fluent. In one swift motion my shears sliced a jagged line into the shirt from his waist to his throat and then up through each sleeve. The precise cuts left the seemingly expensive, once white shirt in fragments.
The blood stained shirt lay in heeps under him; the sleeves hanging off the side of the cart. Tiny drops of blood fell to the floor creating a sound of a water faucet not completely turned off, as water dripped from the source plinking onto a hard surface. The rest of the fabric didn’t serve as a protective barrier to the blood. Blood was splattered across his chiseled abs, and it trickled down onto his pants. Red rivers flowed from three small points on his torso, trickling down each of his sides. Blood covered his hands up to his elbows. His left cheek was brightly colored with darkened dried blood, smeared in the form of a handprint. I could only assume it was from someone grabbing onto his face, shouting at him to just hold on a little longer before he let the blood loss take over his consciousness. At least that’s what I imagined.
Out of the blue a deep, husky voice rang through the air, temporarily drawing my out of my trauma persona. It was a solid voice, eerily calm. I looked up to see one of the men.
“Gun shot wounds, three. One shot to the abdomen, two shots to the chest,” His voice was daring. His eyes grew black. Outwardly he seemed unphased. But his eyes... his eyes drew my body into a convulsing shiver. He spoke volumes without actually speaking. In one instant I knew... that I needed to do whatever I could to save the man that lay half lifeless under my fingers or there was going to be consequences; consequences I didn’t want to face.
The trickling rivers of blood had begun to pool around him onto the gurney. Despite the gruesome scene unfolding under my very hands and the copious amount of blood I remained calm. I pressed my hands to one wound forcing my weight down onto his chest in an attempt to stop the bleeding. My eyes shifted to his face. He was handsome, to say the least. And at any other time in my life I would have died just to have my hands all over this man, just not like this, not trying to save his life.
His dark black hair held the appearance that it usually lay neatly combed the the side, splitting in a side part. It now laid in a disheveled mess, with a few strands brushing his forehead. His five o’clock shadow was long enough to make the girls swoon but was short enough that it didn’t make him look burly and lumberjack like. The stubble made him look slightly older than what he probably was. He seemed to have kept himself fit. His abs rippled under my touch. His pecks could cause any woman to unknowingly drool and begin to daydream about placing her hands on his flawless skin. I could only assume that arm day had always been his favorite work out day at the gym with the massive size of his biceps. Before his shirt lay in shambles next to him the sleeves on his shirt looked like there were going to rip at the seams.
I grabbed my penlight to look at his pupils. As I pulled back his eyelids all I could see was green, the most emerald green I had ever seen. His eyes looked soft as he lay unconscious but my intuition told me that although his eyes were soft now, they usually weren’t that way.
I quickly flashed the light over his eyes, flicking the bright light quickly over each pupil. His pupils were sluggish, but reactive and equal. Good Addi. That’s a good sign.
I shouted out my findings as the room around me changed to the hallway and then to the trauma bay as Sofia pushed the stretcher. I was hoping that someone else would hear all the pertinent information before I forgot everything in the mess of the scene. “I got a GCS of 6. Pupils equal and reactive but sluggish. Withdrawing from pain in all four extremities but flaccid otherwise. No posturing. Reflexes intact. Pulse is thready. Three GSWs to the chest. Active bleeding from all three. He’s going to need at least ten units of O neg stat. I need a current set of vitals. And I need someone to come hold pressure on these wounds.”
I looked down at the man once more. It was no secret the man was highly attractive but there was something off about him. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The bullet hole in his chest and eyes that looked like they could pierce right through your soul didn’t help the matter. No, there was something else about him. There was almost a dark aura casted around him, something I couldn’t explain.
I pressed my hand to his chest leaning my weight onto the wound underneath as two more staff members did the same to the other two bleeding wounds. What this man did to be riddled with bullet wounds was beyond me.
In my line of sight I could distinctly see one slightly under his ribs on his left side, hopefully missing his stomach and spleen. One bullet hole just right of his sternum hopefully hitting a rib. And the last one continued to spew blood from under the pressure of my hands. I knew it wasn’t good. It was right near his heart and no matter how much force was exerted downward by my hands, the blood continued to pour out.
I leaned my body weight down even harder than before, pressing my two hands together causing my fingers to lose circulation and sensation. The doctors began to swarm into the trauma room calling out orders after quickly assessing the scene and reiterating what I had already assessed
Sofia left the scene to escort the two gentlemen back to the waiting room. There was no need for them to be there, in the way. But I could hear their voices over the hustle and the ever growing noise of the bay. Their deep voices raised in volume, shouting at Sofia with the disapproval of being taken away from the situation. Their faces showed blatant hatred at her commands to stay in the waiting room.
The trauma bay was full of voices, commands, commotion, wrappers falling to the floor, sterilized metal equipment clanging against a metal tray, the sound of the intubation kit rattling around, shouting between staff positioned across the room from each other, critical vitals being thrown into the air for everyone to hear, drilling in our minds just how dire the situation actually was. It was like a bomb of noise erupted in the room.
Most people wouldn’t be able to think in situations like this. But we strived for it. We worked well as a team when thrown into a circumstance like this. We had one objective, save who we can, when we can. It wasn’t over until we tried everything and anything we could. We were nowhere close to giving up yet.
I turned my head from its downcasted positions on my hands to the door as Sofia marched in, huffing in frustration and pure annoyance at the two men giving her a hard time about our policy. If her eyes rolled anymore, they would be permanently be left in a spinning position. I let a small chuckle leave my mouth. Until I saw one of the men storm back into the room.
His face had become hardened and twisted. His nostrils flared with anger. The black bead of his eyes becoming covered from the squint of his eyelids. Every muscle in his body became stiff and rigid as he pointed one finger directly at me.
“You better fucking make sure he lives or there will be fucking hell to pay, bitch.”
I have felt plenty of fear in my life. But nothing like this. Never like this. I wasn’t even sure fear was the right word for the feeling crawling under my skin. It left me with only one option.