Letters in the Attic

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Chapter 13: The Wrong Man

René: -April 1861-

“I hope you like fighting in wars, boy.”

René’s arm stung from the man’s tight grip and he struggled to keep his eyes open. His face throbbed as the gash across his mouth stretched and blood trickled down his cheeks and neck. René saw his wife, lying motionless on the cold cobblestone, her image disappearing as he lost the ability of cognitive thought. His stomach knotted and his body tensed at the sight of her fading from his view, as his mind fell in and out of consciousness. The men stuffed a handkerchief into his mouth and tied it around the back of his head, muffling any sounds he could muster. Once the gag was fit securely around his mouth, they tied another around his eyes, blocking his vision completely. The men bound his limbs together and violently threw him into the back of a carriage. He wondered why no one heard his pleas until he remembered that he’d been unable to make any. He’d been captured in broad daylight, and his wife was lying unconscious in an alley. How is this possible? He asked himself, almost hoping to receive an answer. He struggled to think clearly, and silently yearned for someone to find her, even if he was destined to perish. Anything but her death.

One of them in the front of the carriage let out sickening, manic laughter. It frightened him to the core of his very being.

“Charlie, you’re in the back,” one of them ordered. Charlie did as instructed, scoffing at the other men’s laughter. The vehicle moved, and René listened to the world around him, unable to see. He wanted to cry for help, to scream, but he could only produce muffled hums. The pain ached throughout his body and despite his attempts to escape, it was impossible to move. The men’s voices were diluted, and they rode in virtual silence for a long time until they’d distanced themselves from the city.

“Here,” he said, removing the handkerchief from René’s mouth. René wanted to scream but the sound would not leave him. Charlie held a wet rag over René’s face, squeezing the cloth and releasing droplets into his mouth. He drank as much of it as he could, surprised at his thirst. The driver yelled something to Charlie but it wasn’t clear and René panicked.

“I’m sorry, René. It’s time for you to go to sleep.”

René could not see Charlie’s face and didn’t know what his intentions were. Quickly, his head was forced down. Charlie then placed a dry rag to his mouth and though René tried to keep his breath in and somehow push Charlie away, he slowly inhaled chloroform and felt himself drift into final unconsciousness.

***


René awoke to the sound of dripping water. There were no voices and the three men that had taken him were nowhere to be seen. His face throbbed around the fresh gash as he looked around the dark, wet room. He was in a completely isolated jail cell. Tears fell down his face, burning the cut and moistening the dried blood across his lips. He maneuvered himself to the edge of the cell to the dripping water and allowed it to saturate his dry lips and mouth. How long had he been in there?

A man walked into the room as the thought crossed his mind.

“Well, René. You’ve finally joined us.”

René winced at the voice. Through the feeble amount of sunlight creeping into the cell, he noticed a distinctive tattoo on the man’s arm. It was the image of a woman.

He gathered the courage to look at the man’s face. “Who are you?”

The man smiled at the question and revealed large yellow teeth, decorated with silver. He walked to the cell and opened the door, swiftly closing it behind him. René struggled through the ropes binding his feet and hands.

“You’re not going anywhere, boy.”

He knelt beside René, pressing his thumb against the gash on his face. René wailed in pain but all the man did was chuckle. He pulled a cigar from his shirt pocket and followed with a match. “Your father’s done some wretched things, boy. Unfortunately for you, his blood is your blood,” he said, striking the match. He lit the tip of the cigar, and René watched as it glowed and illuminated the dark room around him. The man took a puff.

“And you’re no better than him,” he said, blowing the smoke into René’s face with each word. René inhaled the smoke and coughed uncontrollably. The man laughed again.

“You don’t need to know my name,” he claimed, replying to René’s original question. “The only thing you need to know is that your allegiance better change, boy. You’re not a Southerner anymore. And after what your father did, I hope your brethren beat the hell out of you until you forget who you are and where you came from. I will make sure that they cut you, and bleed you of the monstrosity that runs in your veins. When we are finished with you, the man you are now will weep for the man you will become,” he said, setting the cigar between his yellow, rotting teeth. René stared at him, his eyes as wide as he could muster.

“My father-”

“Your father is a crook!” the man screamed. “One who murders women and children for sport and you’re no better!” He spit on René’s face, and the saliva saturated his open wound.

“And what about my wife!?” René yelled, his confidence appearing. “You left her for dead in an alley! You are exactly the man in which you’re accusing!” In response, the man punched him hard. The new scab across his lips tore open and blood poured out of it, soaking his shirt once more. His bound hands lifted to his face to cover the wound and he felt the warm, thick blood saturate his hands.

“You’ll see just how wrong you are after you’ve taken a few bullets, René.”

“You have the wrong man! My father is a banker! Please!” René pleaded. Ignoring him, the man stood and walked from the cell, locking the door behind him. He took another puff of his cigar, and the smell filled the room as he extinguished the glowing tip. He threw the cigar at René, followed by the box of matches.

A loud laugh escaped him. “You’re going to need these.”

He walked out of the room, leaving René alone and bleeding. Tears streamed down his cheeks and burned his open wounds. I’m going to die soon. He told himself. As his thoughts grew darker, he thought, Elise will die too.

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