“He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” —Friedrich Nietzsche
“My little prince,” mama murmured, stroking my hair in a steady, lulling motion. Her hair cascaded and smelled of raspberries.
“But I don’t want to be a prince, mama. I want to be a superhero.”
“But you’re my prince,” she reasoned and chuckled. “You’re the prince your daddy gave me.”
“Why is that?”
“You already know why.” She smiled. “You’ve heard that story so many times already.”
“Tell me again.”
“Again?” She teased.
She sank lower into the bed, murmuring, “Your daddy thought I was little mermaid when our friends went out for the beach. I was alone in the waters and the sun started to set. So when your daddy came, he saw me in the water and thought I was a mermaid.”
“Then he called you, right?”
“Yes, he told me not to run away.”
“And you thought he was creepy cause you didn’t know him.”
“Yes, he was.” She laughed and started tickling me. “Are you going to let me finish or not?”
I nodded, breathless.
“Where was I?”
“Daddy called you!”
“So he called out, ‘Don’t go, Ariel!’ And I was so shocked he knew my name. Then our friends came and saw us together, they thought we knew each other. I thought we knew each other too, but I wouldn’t forget him if I did. Your daddy was handsome and had this charisma that made people gather around him. Mama was surprised he even knew me but he didn’t. I was so embarrassed, I thought I could slip away, but your daddy realized that and jumped into the water!”
Mama eyes twinkled and continued. “He didn’t know how to swim! His friends had to fish him out. We found out that the reason he jumped in was because he thought I would swim back to the ocean. He thought I was a mermaid, and all of us started laughing while his face—”
“Was as red as your hair!”
“He was so embarrassed, he wouldn’t leave their penthouse until it was time to leave. So your daddy always called me ‘little mermaid’, and since you’re daddy and mama’s baby, you’re our little prince, Eric.”
These were the only times daddy felt close so I didn’t want to fall asleep yet. “How’d daddy find you, mama?”
“It wasn’t until years have passed and your daddy became a working adult. He managed his family’s hospital and found me again. I was a starting nurse and he was a director, taking his rounds since he was a doctor. Your daddy was a brilliant man and healed many people. He was greater than any superhero.”
She beamed with pride and love. Her eyes traced back to our family photo where I was just a baby. My blue blanket had been still too large for me back then but mama held it open enough to see me, while daddy covered both of us with his larger form. He must’ve been laughing when the photo was taken. His mouth opened wide and made the photo seem like it could let out a laugh.
“But he wasn’t invincible because when he found me again, he fell in love with me. One day, you’ll fall in love like daddy and mama, and when you do, you’ll feel weak to this person. You’ll get scared, you’ll want to—”
“Run away,” I added. “Like what mama did.”
“Yes, like what mama did, but it can also empower you. Still, you need to understand that it will also be your weakness in order for it to be a strength. For loving is also surrendering. ”
Mama’s phone rang, interrupting her. She leaned down and kissed the top of my head, whispering, “Go to sleep. I’ll be down for a moment.”
Mama left the bed, unplugging her phone from its charger. She stood by my door. “Good night, my little prince. Sweet dreams.”
Night took me as soon as my eyes closed. I dreamed of daddy’s infectious laughter and smiles, twirling mama around as I clung on his broad shoulders. Suddenly, I lost my grip and fell from daddy’s hold. No sound left my lips and I fell into a dark hole and collapsed in bed. I gasped aloud and looked around wildly. My throat parched for water. I got off my bed and found the lights downstairs still on.
Was mama still awake?
“Mama, are you there?”
The sound sent chills down my spine. What was that? I was stunned for a few seconds and followed the odd noises, reaching our kitchen. The door loomed and strangely, scared me.
Men laughed at her helpless cries, mingled with horrendous sounds of squelching.
What was happening?
Who were these men?
The suffocating air smelled strange. Words I couldn’t understand formed “bitch” and “fuck”. A loud cry quickly followed as I recognized whose it belonged to.
Two men thrice my size crowded mama, her clothes ripped. They had her pinned down. Their eyes looked glassy and movements unstable as they moved mama in odd motions with their hips. Their figures going at it like I wasn’t there. My mother’s pleas grew desperate while she struggled against them.
They fumbled for their clothes, smearing something white on mama’s quivering body.
They laughed and spat on her.
The sight broke me, charging towards the man who spat at her and hit him. Fury and fear fueled me to pound him with all the force I could land
A blow hit me across my stomach.
The the pain stunned me, overwhelming. They cursed as their breaths stank with liquor and then another hit struck me in the face. My sight blurred, slamming to the cold floor as agony wracked my whole body. Blood became a permanent taste in my mouth. I struggled against their hold and hit them, bit them, anything, as my body throbbed in torment.
Everything swirled and blackened, turning blurry.
The blows stopped and I was hurled back, barely seeing mama’s back. She guarded against the two men and held a knife. I heard her yells, her voice turning angrier and threatening. Images started to steady as the room stopped swirling, but the moment it did, I hurled to the floor. My stomach contracted as my head throbbed like it kept smashing to the ground.
When I stopped, mama was no longer by my side.
Where was she?
Blood dripped from the blade and the hand holding it shook, their wide eyes stared at mama. My blood chilled as hers gushed out. Tears fell from her glassy eyes and she wheezed her last breaths in humiliation, and finally in death.
Terrifying heat shot through me, clawing at my sides, and left me gasping and struggling to breathe. The knife clattered to the floor like a clap of thunder in the deathly silent room.
I wasn’t sure what took over me or how I was able to do it. When my mind blanked, my vision darkened. Nothing stopped me.
That was my turning point — the night I killed.
My hands shook, stained with their warm, sticky blood. The thrill from seeing their broken forms at my feet sent an indescribable satisfaction to me. I killed two men… I waited for the shock to take me, but a voice in my head hissed their poison.
They killed mama first.
And then, me.