by Gregory Owen

THERE ARE SOME things that never leave your memory—things that seize every sense and set ablaze every nerve like napalm in a rainforest, etching and ingraining themselves permanently, unable to go away no matter how much you want them to. Even if you want to forget, you can’t, and if you call yourself a man, you won’t let yourself, anyway. They become scars, and scars never go away completely… even the mental ones.

Especially the mental ones.

‘Huh? Wha-... what’s going on?’

I’ll never forget her screams. Every other sound at that time, including those of the other voices around her, melded into a dull, muffled echo that bounced continuously around my skull as the warmth rushed down my chest and arm. I even recall the pain, fiery and razor sharp in its pounding, throbbing through my veins, my adrenaline lending to a certain numbness. I couldn’t move and could barely see, though what I could make out was fuzzy, like a camera out of focus.

Now, with the painkillers in my system at present, everything that was broken now bound and wrapped, there’s no physical discomfort. But the screams... they still remain, seeping into everything like a black, intrusive mould, already soaked through, leaving scars. They weren’t going anywhere. Ghosts lingering in decrepit hallways.

‘H-help! Help meeee!’

Having time to recollect despite the echoing cries, I can’t help but replay over and over how this came to pass, everything that led to me sitting here now. It was so stupid of me, so misguided, so destructive... but simple in how it began, really.

Her name is Taryn... she’s my girlfriend of about four years, and the best thing to ever come about in my simple, meaningless little life. Funny, compassionate, gentle, all of that. Just beautiful—if you knew her, you’d understand completely. While she is the unwilling source of the most horrible of memories, she is directly responsible for the happiest—too many to count, in fact. Maybe when this is over, I can relive them again.

Taryn and I were on our way home from a late showing of the newest, shittiest romantic comedy; it had some big name actress she liked and some attractive male lead with diamond-cut abs and dimples that could hide buildings, but each had the acting chops of a lifeless maple tree. Can’t remember their names now for anything, like it matters. She liked that sort of thing, though... thank God she would watch movies I liked, too. She believed in equality, so I wanted to throw her a bone and show that I would do things she liked. If she could put up with me and all, I could put up with an hour and a half of mindless, cliche-addled drivel.
It’s only fair.

We were driving home in my customized 1971 Plymouth GTX, jet black, gleaming cobalt in the moonlight just like my dad’s before he had to sell it when I was thirteen. Found this one as a junker, rebuilt it—only finished it a couple of years ago, with Taryn’s help, at the garage where I worked part time under Frank Lyle (hell of a supervisor and a mechanic)… she knew a bit, but she could take directions, which made her a perfect assistant. As with what had become a trend since finishing the car, we were taking the long way home, feeling the night breeze envelop us, the gentle hum of the motor barely audible over the classic rock on the radio. She was whispering in my ear, telling me she wanted me. She thanked me for taking her out, promising good rewards for me once we were back home, back in the safety of the bedroom.

‘I love you,’ she said.

‘Me too,’ I answered. I knew she didn’t like that I didn’t say it back... I’ve just never been one to vocalize my feelings, positive or not—something else I adopted from the old man—but she knew I did. She had to. She sealed the deal with a kiss on my cheek and my face flushed red… red like the brake lights of the car I saw on the side of the road.

Through instinct, I slowed down, but Taryn was immediately uneasy.

‘No, baby, don’t stop. Just drive,’ she said nervously. ‘Let’s get home.’

‘In a minute,’ I replied. I thought maybe she was just excited to get home. I was, too, of course—that was something I couldn’t conceal, but still, I slowed the car. ‘Let’s see if they need any help.’ I always had to be helpful, you know. Apathy be damned.

It was how we met, after all... Taryn and I. Her car had broken down on the side of the road when I was on the way home from work, and she was a bit apprehensive at first, too. A distrust of strangers. Turned out her battery had died and she needed a jumpstart, and I offered to accompany her to the garage where I’d been restoring the GTX... the rest was history.

‘They could be killers or something, you know. Like those crime docs... this is where the screen goes black and white and they show our pictures as the next victims.’ She was definitely on edge, but I thought it was unfounded.

Reassurance was key. ‘C’mon, Taryn... not everyone on the planet is out to get you. Don’t be paranoid. It’ll be okay.’

‘I’m just being cautious. I’m not paranoid. There’s a difference.’ She didn’t like my attempt, and though I didn’t ask, I figured that maybe it was enough to take her plans for when we got home off of the table.

I tried a different tactic. ‘I’d want someone to stop and help me.’ I wasn’t certain of that statement, even as I said it, but I continued. ‘What if I hadn’t stopped to help you?’

She called me on it. ‘No, you wouldn’t. You know enough about cars to never need any help... and that... that was different. Just... just drive,’ she stated. She sensed what type of situation was ahead, apparently. She knew better than me—what they refer to as female intuition. It’s not something to be ignored. I used to tell her she was just a cynic and needed to be more trusting, and was tempted to say the same again. I was a fucking idiot, though. ‘Don’t stop... keep going... just drive.’

‘But Taryn, they look like they need some help.’ I turned the wheel stubbornly... not sure why now. Maybe to prove a point on top of gullibility. ‘I’m stopping.’

And I did.

It was an older car, nestled neatly between the road and the overgrown ditch. A Chevy, dark blue and rusty brown underneath the chipped paint, kept alive through years of replacing old parts with used ones. The hood was open and I could see the shadow of a man moving around, looking for the issue, grunting in frustration. There was another man in the driver’s seat—large, bloated. His wide hand was drumming on the door. Guessed he was impatient, but at the time, I figured I knew why. I was wrong.

‘Don’t get out,’ Taryn pleaded one last time, her wiry hand clutching my wrist.

I couldn’t understand why she was so upset, and restrained any exasperation I would typically vent. How could she be that distrusting? ‘Just hang on... I’ll see what’s going on... if I can help, I will, and if not, we’ll go home, okay?’

She didn’t answer.

‘Okay? It’ll only be a minute.’

She finally relented and nodded, but didn’t believe me in the least. I thought at the time that this was all directed at me, but I know now she didn’t trust them, that she could feel all the bad coming. She was always the smart one.

I turned off the engine and stepped out, looking at Taryn with a smile. She tried to return it the best that she could, her eyes never leaving me, and I started toward the men. ‘Need some help?’

The one under the hood looked out at me. He did all the talking, the large driver keeping quiet, staring at me. ‘Uh, yeah... yeah, sure.’ The driver had his fill of watching me and looked toward Taryn, but I didn’t notice then.

‘So, what’s wrong?’

‘Uh... well... don’t know exactly. Might be the radiator... or the motor, maybe. Hell, I ain’t sure…’ This guy didn’t know much about cars since he couldn’t figure out the problem, but it was okay in my book. No big deal... I was there to help.

‘Want me to take a look? I know a bit about cars.’ Wasn’t bragging. ‘I customized my own car... that one... I think I can help with yours. I got some tools if we need them.’

The one looking under the hood stepped away from the car and coughed. ‘... Sure,’ he said. The moonlight revealed him more clearly—he was slender and bald, and hadn’t shaved in a few days, wearing a dirty t-shirt and jeans. His friend, the driver, opened the door and climbed out as I approached. He was shorter and portly... no, just fat. Had to be pushing the three-hundred-and-fifty-pound range with a gut that bulged over his belt. I was surprised he fit behind the wheel. Both of them had weird smiles... I didn’t know what that was all about.

Not until it was too late.

I came close and heard a blast... sounded like a cannon. It roared through the nearby trees and I felt something hot and sharp push into my shoulder and force its way out. I couldn’t even speak before they were on me. The bald one and the fat one both started hitting me hard in the face, stomach, chest... everywhere. They took my mind off of my shoulder. I almost thanked them.

Fuck, someone shot me, I realized, and I heard Taryn scream my name.

‘Hold ’im!’ Another voice... someone else, other than the two. ‘Get out of the car, bitch! Slowly!’ It was a goddamn ambush... Taryn was right to be uneasy. The two kept hitting me, and I dropped to my knees. Fist to the cheek, foot to the stomach... one of them was wearing steel-toed boots, and I tasted metal in my mouth. Blood. More kicks to the face, and I went down.

‘OH MY GOD, NO! NO!’ I knew the voice—they had Taryn... she saw me. ‘NO, STOP HURTING HIM! LET ME GOOOO!’

I blinked, red filling my vision like a bizarre filter. There was someone new with the others... a taller man holding her... the source of the unknown voice. I could tell that he was wearing something over his face, covering everything but his eyes and mouth (the other two were covering theirs now, as well), but he had Taryn by the throat, and a gun to her temple. It was polished, twinkling with the reflected light from above.
‘Oooh, this your boyfriend? He don’t look like he can handle you…’ His free hand brushed her chest and moved down her stomach. She was crying. ‘... But I think I can…’

The other two started chuckling.

‘This is gonna be fun,’ the fat one said.

In moments, everything went black... not sure for how long, and not sure why—I imagined it was the loss of blood. I kept hearing Taryn’s voice.

Just drive, she kept saying.

When I woke up, my skull felt two sizes too small for my brain, my eyes were permanently squinted, and I could barely move. Every time I tried, it only brought pain. That shot... the tall one with the gun.

Footsteps came toward me. ‘He’s come to,’ a voice said—sounded like the bald one.

‘... Good... he made it... for the home stretch,’ the tall one’s voice hissed between grunts. ‘I want him to watch…’

Despite what was likely at least a mild brain injury, the inner workings of my consciousness pieced obvious evidence together: the blue Chevy wasn’t broken down after all—imagine that. I realized that the ground below me was soft and silky, not the asphalt of the road. Even the surrounding trees that I could barely make out were unfamiliar. They must have loaded Taryn and I into the car and drove us to the field. At least, from what I could tell, it looked like a field... no one was around. Better to get off the road away from potential witnesses, I figured. This was planned.

I shuffled on the ground until I could see a familiar face and winced. It looked like Taryn was bent over the front of the rusty Chevy. Her jeans and panties were around her ankles, and one of them was behind her... the tall one. Thrusting... like a dog. Animalistic sounds. I knew what they were doing... more obvious evidence. Taryn whimpered with each motion, tears streaming from her anguished, empty eyes. He shuddered and growled with release.

A rush of nausea filled my stomach, bile in my throat.

The tall one breathed through his teeth, slamming Taryn onto the trunk lid as the bald one came over and restrained her. ‘Ya see that? Fucked her good, didn’t I?’ He walked over toward me, zipping up his pants, tossing something aside that I couldn’t make out—it landed with a moist plop in the grass. I couldn’t see his face through the balaclava he wore—just his black eyes and pearly teeth. ‘Bet you never made her come like that…’

I could only groan in response.

An excited cry came from the fat one. ‘My turn! My tuuuuurrrn!’ he squealed.

‘Naw, asshole... my turn!’ The bald one was already trying to position Taryn, who struggled vehemently.

‘Whichever one of ya goes, put on a fuckin’ rubber. No tellin’ what this bitch has,’ the tall one said.

‘N-no! Pleeease! P-pleease-’

‘Oooh, she’s beggin’ for it now!’ The tall one cackled at his own comment and brought his boot smashing into my face. He moved around me and then, a stomp to my knee... I heard a crunchy pop, and I nearly puked.

I blacked out again... couldn’t have been for longer than a minute, I guess. Her screams brought me back, but my vision was still too blurred and I was still unable to move. Everything was agonizing. Why didn’t I listen to her? I’m sorry, Taryn, I mused... and still muse. I wanted to stop it, but I couldn’t. If only I had listened…

Just drive.

The other voices grew louder again. I heard a sadistic glee in their words, and under their voices were her cries and a rhythmic moaning. The three men: the fat one, the bald one, and the tall one. I had been able to differentiate voices despite being unable to do much else. They wouldn’t leave my memory, either.

‘Man, she’s soooo tiiiiight!’ The short, fat one.

‘This cunt’s gotta sweet little mouth... nice and wet. Wanna taste me, darlin’?’ The dirty, bald one.

‘Hurry it up!’ The tall one... the one with the gun. Guess he was in charge.

‘Ungh... Man, soooo wet!’ the fat one chortled.

‘I want a turn! I’m ready to go!’ the bald one complained.

‘H-help me! Pleeeease! H-h-help... p... please…’ Taryn shrieked, her voice growing weaker and weaker. I wasn’t sure if she was screaming for me or anyone who might be nearby... I couldn’t do anything then. God help me, I couldn’t.

‘Shut the fuck up, whore! Keep screamin’ and I’ll hafta cut ya!’ The volume of his words lowered as he leaned close, all while his obese cohort continued his deed. ‘Don’t wanna get cut, do ya? I will if you fuck with me…’

She spat in his face and lurched upward, nearly knocking the fat one over. ‘Fuck you, asshole! Let me go!’
That’s my girl... fight back. I managed a weak grin until I saw that they had turned her over onto her back. I could hear a loud slap and crunch of bone—her jaw breaking. One of them hit her too hard. My bet was on the tall one.

‘Shit! The fuck did I say, you little whore?’ A click of metal and a small glint of light that I could make out in the dark. I knew what it was—a switchblade. ‘Said I’d cut ya, didn’t I? And one thing I ain’t is a fucking liar!’

A gun and a switchblade. He definitely came prepared.

He slashed her and she yelped weakly. I didn’t blame her. ‘Stop! Please... stop!’

The fat one had resumed his actions, rocking her back with his immense weight, burying his slimy mouth into her neck. ‘She tastes... sooooo sweeeet... tastes like... ungh... cherries!’ Bleeding cuts and a broken jaw didn’t seem to bother the porker bastard too much—he’d take a woman no matter what condition she was in. He’d put his mouth anywhere.

‘Yeah, she did,’ the tall one confirmed with a smirk. ‘Teach ya to fuck with me, whore... you can make this easier by keepin’ your fuckin’ mouth closed.’

Taryn had gone quiet, complying whether she meant to or not. I had, too, overwhelmed by the pain coursing all throughout my being... but my brain was roaring. I finally threw up... held it back as long as I could. I barely felt the warm stream of vomit coating my mouth and hands.

‘Okay, I’m ready for her,’ the bald one griped. ‘Hurry the fuck up, Hoor-ace!’ He pronounced the name like ‘Whore-Ass’ and quickly unzipped.

‘Fuck you, Randy... it’s Horace, you prick... ungh... and I ain’t done!’ Figures a fat redneck would be named Horace. And Randy’s the bald one. I wouldn’t forget those facts.

‘Yeah, you are, Hoor-ace-’

‘I had to wait... for seconds, man... lemme finish! I’m... about... done... ungh!...’

The tall one went first... yeah, I remembered.

‘I’m almost hard again, listenin’ to you two bitch... like an old married couple,’ the tall one said, laughing. ‘Hurry the fuck up, Hoor-ace.’

‘Man, fuck... ungh... fuck the both of you…’ One last groan, and Horace took a step back, jingling his belt buckle as he removed the remnants and pulled up his pants. He was finished and Taryn laid on the trunk limply, not moving. She was still alive, though, but I had to turn away—I couldn’t take watching anymore, my eyes boiling as the salty tears mixed with the blood.

‘Finally, my turn,’ Randy said.

His words were enough—I had to try to distract them. She had suffered far too much. I gasped, trying to make a noise, but only managing something like a whisper. Shouting wasn’t on the cards, so I had to try moving. It took effort, more than I thought I was capable of... I was able to push myself up from the ground part of the way, but only to my torso... still not to my feet. My knee was fucked.

Taryn, on the other hand, had full use of her legs, and it seemed that maybe her perceived defeat was simply her biding her time. Once he was close, she turned and kicked Randy in the groin... I could tell by his heaving when he dropped to the ground. Then she kicked the tall one as he charged at her, but she aimed high, hitting him in the stomach. It didn’t faze him, though.

‘I’ll split you in two, cunt!’

She slipped out of the remains of her jeans and slapped Horace across the face when he reached for her... she tried to run, but the tall one grabbed her before she took more than five steps. I saw a blurry stabbing motion... oh God, he was stabbing her.



A few more and he threw her to the ground on her back, raised his heavy boot, and stomped her chest. She never stopped crying, though she wasn’t as loud once he slammed his boot on her. It became a wheeze, similar to how I felt I sounded. Against the scorching of my bones and muscles, I started dragging myself across the ground... slowly. All I could do.

‘You stupid fucking bitch!’ The tall one stood over her crumpled body. ‘We were almost done, but no, you had to fuck it up!’

‘Ugh... I’m gonna... uh, kill that fuckin’ skank…’ Randy staggered, trying to walk as he pulled up his pants. I hoped she smashed both of his balls into powder. ‘Y-you’re dead, you goddamn twat!’

The tall one grabbed Randy and shoved him back. ‘No, asshole... she’s had enough.’

Oh, he knows restraint now? That mother-fucker... he got what he wanted, so that’s all that mattered. These two asshats were just the bait... able to get the scraps…

Randy wasn’t to be swayed by the threat. ‘Goddamnit, lemme do her... you both got to! It ain’t fuckin’ fair!’

‘Nah... we’ve taken long enough,’ he argued, looking at his wristwatch. ‘I need to get ready for work... you can call up a workin’ girl... I know a couple, if you want. Or use your hand, you know.’ The tall one jerked his hand in a masturbatory gesture, chuckling.

Horace, who’d been focused on Taryn, seemed nervous. Getting off didn’t calm his nerves. ‘Man, what if she talks, Travis?’

Travis. The tall one’s name was Travis. I was still moving closer.

‘Don’t say my name, cocksucker!’ He slapped Horace, knocking the balaclava on his round head askew. ‘And what’s she gonna say?’ He shrugged, tapping Taryn’s form with his foot. Christ, she wasn’t moving. ‘She hasn’t seen our faces!’

‘Her boyfriend mighta seen ours,’ Randy added. He was right, but I couldn’t remember much aside from basic features. They’d likely be safe in a line-up.

‘Fuck that... all they have is our names, which is enough, you dumbasses... still, that cunt ain’t talkin’, anyway…’ They should have killed us both then and there. But no, rape is a much more enjoyable hobby. Beating people near death is fine. Murder is a bit too far, too hard. ‘Hell, look at her... she ain’t gonna make it long, anyway... fucked her up pretty good. She’ll be dead soon enough.’

Taryn gasped pathetically, curling feebly into a foetal position.

‘You ain’t gonna talk, are ya?’ the tall one mocked.

No response aside from a light moan.

I had been steadily manoeuvring toward the men during their summit meeting, and my hand landed on a loose, broken branch, snapping under my weight. All three looked toward me. ‘What about her little boyfriend?’ Randy posed. I stopped trying to claw my way toward them. I wouldn’t beg... not for me.

Travis smiled arrogantly. ‘He ain’t gonna make it, either... but if he does... let him talk.’ He sneered and put his foot back on Taryn’s chest, as though marking his newfound territory. ‘Honestly, let both of ’em. You know who I am... anything happens, I’ll handle it. I can handle anything. They ain’t the first... won’t be the last. Unless you two don’t wanna have any more fun…’

So... Travis was important... self-important, at least.

‘... N-No man, we’re cool,’ Randy said, holding up his hands.

‘Yeah,’ Horace confirmed quietly.

‘Then shut your fuckin’ mouths and let’s get outta here. Let’s go... now.’

And just like that... that was all. Travis and the others got into the Chevy and drove off. As the sound of the vehicle’s motor faded into the distance, the songs of the crickets and frogs around us rose—life goes on. I was so sure we would die quickly in this situation, but, as Travis said, they were sure we’d die. Big mistake... but we didn’t have long, I believed. Right now, certain that our attackers were long gone, I was worried about her and nothing else. Her screams had long since ended, but I could still hear them.

I tried to take a breath, swallowing hard, and forced a sound from my throat. ‘Taryn... Taryn!’ My voice was nothing more than an audible whisper at best. ‘Are... are you okay?’

Please God, let her be okay. Let me die, but let her be okay... please.

Using what little remained of my strength, I pushed up from the grass and turned my attention toward where Travis had thrown Taryn. Thankfully, after a moment, I saw her stir. Pitifully, Taryn fought to get up, holding herself with shaky arms. She didn’t speak, looking over at me, her face covered by the dark.

‘Taryn... I-I…’

She began shuffling toward me like a corpse on strings, barely able to lean over to help me up. My leg had gone totally numb, as had my shoulder... if they hadn’t, well, I probably would’ve passed out again from the agony. I had no choice but to use her as a support to stand.

I tried to see Taryn through my nearly closed eyes, and the glimmering moonlight showed her blackened, misshapen face. Her eyeshadow smudged and runny, and what wasn’t eyeshadow was bruised... her eyes were swollen shut and her cheek was bloated—the fractured jaw. Blood was matted in her hair. There was even more dried around her lips. She clutched her midsection, holding her shirt closed... I knew she’d been stabbed and beaten. More blood. Taryn’s breathing was raspy... Christ, could be broken ribs... maybe a collapsed lung.

‘My God... Taryn... I…’

She didn’t say a word, but her grip was strong, like it had been when I left the car in what had felt like years ago.

Travis and his friends hadn’t taken us far for their entertainment, we learned... maybe half a mile away from the road. Taryn and I found my car without much searching. My pain returned as we climbed down into and up out of the ditch, and it was a struggle for the both of us. Taryn helped me to the driver’s side and we both got in.

After lifting my broken leg into the floorboard, I didn’t know what to say at first. I wanted to apologize, but I knew nothing I could say would change anything. I wanted to tell her I loved her... I did, but, even then, I couldn’t bring myself to say a word. I wanted to shout and cry, I wanted to peel out at one-hundred miles per hour, I wanted to burn the entire world... but I couldn’t. I just cranked the car. I sat there for a second, and I started to say something... anything. But Taryn spoke for me.

‘...Just drive,’ she whispered as best as she could, her speech slurred from her jaw wound. ‘...Please. Take me home.’

That provided me with a good enough starting point.

‘No,’ I managed. ‘We can’t go home... I... I have to get you to a hospital. I need to get to one…’ The still-bleeding bullet wound was starting to throb as the pain was returning, and I clutched my shoulder. My knee hurt beyond words.

‘No... please!’ She clutched her face in her hands. ‘Please take me home!’

She sounded hysterical... perhaps a rush of all of the terror she had contained during the attack was blasting outward. I was adamant, though—I couldn’t risk losing her. ‘I’m taking you to the hospital... we’re gonna get looked at. And then I’m talking to the cops.’ Taryn had begun crying. What she had been through... her screams... her broken body... all of it was overwhelming, sending a seething fury through my being. I started the car and began driving, trying to recall where we were. ‘...And... and I’ll fucking kill those motherfuckers,’ I finished.

‘No... please,’ she pleaded, reaching out for my hand. ‘...Just let it go.’

‘You want me to let it go, after what they did? Really?’ I couldn’t even begin to comprehend her feelings, and wouldn’t have been able to at my healthiest. ‘How can you forgive them?’

‘Let it go... Forgive them,’ she said sternly. ‘We’re alive... that’s all that matters... revenge is... wrong…’

I reached a red light. ‘Revenge? Baby... it’d be justice! They... hurt... you, nearly killed you, and they nearly killed me... and you expect me to forgive them?’

‘You stopped to help them, not knowing them... I... tried to warn you... and now you want to kill them?’ She stopped without going further, though she was right, I suppose. I hated her for a second for that. It passed. Even if we were blameless in this, I would take it... I’d take it all.

‘I’m so sorry…’

‘I am, too... and I forgive you. I forgive them…’

I don’t deserve your forgiveness, I thought. And neither do they... I’ll try, for your sake, but I don’t think I can.

Taryn leaned back in the seat, clutching herself tightly. I didn’t care about her smearing blood on the upholstery—the only damage that mattered was what had happened to her. ‘Please... take me back home. Just drive…’

Like before, I didn’t listen to her—I took her to the hospital instead. As I was pulling into emergency parking, she passed out... she was unresponsive. I was able to make it inside with effort and get some pale-faced nurses to bring out wheelchairs for both of us, quickly determining that we both needed emergency surgery. Unsure of what they said about Taryn, but for me, multiple fractures in my skull, haemorrhaging... not to mention the gunshot wound and the like.

Still, I didn’t experience what she did. Didn’t suffer like her. God knows they’d never fix what happened... not fully. I wished I could’ve told her I loved her before they wheeled her away... I should have before. Funny, sometimes, that it takes something terrible to convince you of the importance of little things. She wouldn’t have heard me anyway. I never should’ve stopped—I should’ve listened to her. I didn’t deserve her forgiveness.

I don’t remember much afterward—I was in and out for some time, but I’m unsure of the exact amount... morphine helps with pain, but it definitely screws with your perception of time... and everything else. Too bad it doesn’t wipe away memory. While I drifted in and out of consciousness at random intervals, I was sometimes aware of others being in the room with me.

Most of the time, the people were dressed in white, and I figured them to be doctors or nurses, but eventually, one figure in particular stood out, catching my attention: a man in black. It wasn’t Death or some apparition... nothing that dramatic, as I realized. I kept my eyes squinted, trying to appear asleep as I observed. My hearing was spotty—unsure if it was the morphine—and the voices echoing as though we were in a long tunnel deep underground, not unlike the ones I kept hearing in my memory, but the conversation between the man in black and a figure in white came pretty clearly.

‘Is he awake yet?’

‘He’s not comatose, if that’s what you mean, Officer Long, but the morphine drip is keeping him groggy. He’s mending, at least... despite his injuries…’

So the man in black was a cop. ‘Has he talked at all to you or any of the staff?’ he asked.

‘No, no, I don’t believe so…’

‘Did the girl ever talk?’ Taryn... God, I wished I could see her.

‘I told the other officer... no. She never did say anything…’

‘Shit... uh, sorry. Okay. Well, when he wakes up, I need to ask him some questions about what happened... the car they came in is still in the parking lot…’

‘Yes, sir... none of the staff are to mess with it, in case you all decide to impound it…’

So, my car was still there... damn, you’d think that the police would’ve already taken it, looked it over... wouldn’t matter, though. The crime didn’t occur there. However, it’d work in my favour.

I found myself drifting again, feeling the cooling ease of the morphine flowing inside, hitting my system, so I wasn’t fully registering the rest of their conversation, but suddenly, I heard a popping sound... one like electrical static. Everything was swimmy, but I determined it was a radio making the noise, and then a voice.

‘Dispatch, come in…’

A feminine voice replied. ‘Go ahead.’

‘Uh... yeah, this is Norton. Got a possible two-eleven... four suspects involved. Requesting back-up, over.’

I tried not to open my eyes in shocked horror. I knew that voice. I’d never forget that voice. I clenched my knuckles into fists, relenting when I remembered that I didn’t want the doctor or the officer to know I was aware.

Said I’d cut ya, didn’t I?

It was the tall one... Travis. Norton... Travis fucking Norton. A fucking cop. He’s a fucking cop. That’s why he said he’d handle whatever happened, if it did. He could. He had the resources.

Bet you never made her come like that…

He made her scream. They all did... but he enjoyed it the most. He tortured and maimed her... nearly killed her. I still hear the screams, even now.

Help me! Lemme gooo!

Everything left me then. I wanted to kill them, those mother-fuckers. I wanted to watch the life leave their eyes... leave them bloodied, maimed, and crippled, and then I’d only end them when they couldn’t stand the pain anymore. I wanted them to experience the equivalent of what they did to Taryn... to me. The agony. The hopelessness. It made me nauseous beyond measure, but I wanted to do it. I would. It would go against her wishes, but she’d understand... she had to.

I drifted off again, sometime before Officer Long left the room. When I awoke again, it was dark in the room, dark outside, but I could see a figure sitting at the end of my bed. I blinked repeatedly, trying to shake off the morphine effects and make certain I wasn’t seeing things. It wasn’t a nurse or any other worker... it was a small form, just sitting... watching. Familiar, but I couldn’t discern the identity until the figure spoke.

‘...Are you awake?’

I knew that voice, too, but instead of horror or disgust, I felt elation—unbridled happiness. Taryn!... She... she was alive... she was okay! ‘...Taryn…’ I managed, still peeling myself out of my haze.

‘Yeah, it’s me... baby, I missed you…’

‘Taryn? I missed you, too... are you... okay? How long have we-?’

‘Shh... A while.’

‘...Are you supposed to be moving around? Why are you out of your room? How?’

She didn’t respond, only holding her index finger up to her lips to quiet me. I missed them, and I wanted to reach out and kiss her desperately, to hold her forever and never let go. I managed to sit up and started to move forward, feeling a pulling at my arm. I reached over for the IV. ‘It’s okay... I’m okay... I’m all fixed up…’ Her hand drifted to her chest, marking where Travis had stabbed her. ‘It was serious... but I’m okay…’

It was then I recalled what I had learned and felt a deep compulsion to tell her. I knew neither of us had fully healed, and that she especially had a long road ahead in regards to any form of recovery after what had happened, but I couldn’t stop myself. ‘...Look… their leader... the one who stabbed you?... he’s a cop, Taryn.’

She nodded, as if she already knew. Maybe it was female intuition again.

‘An officer was in here earlier... said you hadn’t talked to them and they wanted to talk to me... said my car was still outside…’

‘I woke up an hour ago... I guess I was like you... drifting…’ she explained.

‘I heard his voice on the radio. I know who he is... I…’

She reached out, her hand touching mine. It was cool, clammy—the room itself was chilly as it was, and the iciness had bled into me, too. ‘I want to get out of here... at least for a while. Go for a ride. Take me home.’

My mind was still cloudy, but I had enough rationality to comment on her request. ‘...Are you sure? We should probably stay... We can’t... leave…’

‘I’m sure, baby... let’s go. Come on, we’ll be fine.’

She was probably right, I figured. Fuck rationality. A drive wouldn’t hurt... I owed it to her after everything. All I could think of was what to do to Travis, Randy, and Horace. They wouldn’t leave me... like Taryn, like her horrific screams from that night, they would never leave me, either. Sitting here now, they’re still with me, like parasites embedded deep in the skin. It’s been a few hours since we left the hospital... I was able to snag a bottle of painkillers on my way out, and they’ve kept everything at bay... I’m still lucid, I feel.

‘Just drive,’ she keeps saying.

Taryn had asked me to forgive them all and go, but as I pulled out of the hospital parking lot, the desire grew. Again, fuck rationality. I’d take her home, like she wanted, even though I still thought we weren’t in any shape to leave... and still, we did. I’d take her home... but I had a few detours to take first, I decided. I also decided that maybe I’d try forgiveness in my own way... it was very different from Taryn’s view... they didn’t deserve hers. And neither do I.

‘Take me home... just drive, okay?’ she says again as I reminisce.

Not yet.

‘Let me gooo!’

Not yet.

Another scream now joins hers, but hers are only in my imagination... she’s much calmer now.

‘Jesus Christ, let me go! Pleeeeeeease!’

The words and voice are familiar, but they’re not Taryn’s... oh, no, these screams don’t belong to her. But I know them. I’ll never forget that voice. One of the three... the last one left.

Travis Norton.

‘Just let me go!’

‘Just drive,’ Taryn pleads, never raising her voice.

‘In a minute,’ I answer.

This little detour began as fantasy, sure—many of these things often do. But the more I thought about it... the better it sounded. I wanted them to suffer... oh God, did I want that. As I drove, Taryn beside me, silent, I thought and planned. Things rarely work the way you think, though. You probably thought I was thinking all of this through and hadn’t acted yet. You’d be wrong.

I found Horace and Randy hours ago. They weren’t hard to find... it was luck, honestly. I had seen them, but remembered very little... I didn’t need to know what they looked like. See, I was tempted to try and go to the police for information, even after the revelation of Norton’s profession... but I knew they wouldn’t help. But this is a small town, so I just drove in the general area. I knew I’d end up finding them eventually, when things died down a bit.

‘Just drive.’

One thing I’ve learned in life is that when people develop a routine, they stick to it. These guys liked to attack and fuck unwilling girls, and a hard-on is the leading cause of routine behaviour among adult males—don’t need a medical book to know that little pearl of wisdom. They were on a different street this time, maybe a couple of miles away from where they were when Taryn and I stopped, but they pulled the same thing. The old ‘broken-down car’ story. There wouldn’t be any nice little couple stopping to help... no, that’d been done already. I knew Travis could be there... and if not, well, we’d go see him. After.

I passed the same blue Chevy and spotted Randy’s bald head... he was leaning down under the hood, putting on his act. Didn’t see Horace, but didn’t care. I turned around, pulled over and stopped about twenty feet away. No one saw me, from what I could tell. I climbed out quietly and went to the trunk, popped it, and reached into the toolbox I kept for emergencies to grab something metal. Tyre iron. Figured that’d be just fine. I was just winging it, and I felt a sudden flair for the dramatic... just like the movies.

Taryn only watched, not attempting to stop me. I closed the trunk and started walking... well, limping, but I was moving a lot better than before. I felt as though I were the hero marching toward an epic fight. Still couldn’t see Horace. Maybe he was taking a piss nearby. I’d deal with him afterward.

‘Need some help?’ For some reason, I wanted to announce myself.

Randy kept up the act, apparently not registering my identity. ‘Uhh... yeah, sure. Hold on…’

‘What is it? Radiator? Motor?’

‘Ahhh... somethin’ like that, yeah.’

Should’ve worked on your act, asshole, I mused. Randy stepped away from his car and started toward me. He didn’t know me... not yet.

‘Got something to help ya, fella,’ I said with a smile, brandishing the tyre iron.

Only when I got close enough to Randy did he realize who I was, so I whipped the tyre iron across his face before he could speak. It was quick. Surprisingly, he fell quietly beside the vehicle, out of view, and didn’t make much noise, so I swung again into his bald, bloodied head. And again. It wasn’t what I originally planned, but I went with it—all in. His skull and brains crunched and spewed with each slam, and I’m sure some splattered on my face. He didn’t get to take part in what happened to Taryn to the extent of the others, but he stood and watched. Randy enjoyed it... fucker deserved no less.

I kept hitting until I started smashing into the asphalt. When I stopped, I was exhausted... I had no idea how many times I bashed him with the tyre iron—only that it was bent and soaked with bloody bits, and I was sweating. Randy’s face was gone... so was most of his head, for that matter. He wouldn’t need a balaclava ever again.

It felt good. One down.

‘...Forgive him,’ she said behind me, cool and collected.

I do. ‘I forgive you,’ I whispered. It’s easy to forgive the dead, no matter what anyone says, and forgiveness can take many forms.

I looked around for Travis to show up, waiting for a shot or something... but I didn’t see anyone, and nothing ever came. Good, because I wasn’t prepared for that, I realized. Sloppy. Where was that bastard? I backed closer to my car slowly, patting the sticky tyre iron in my palm, when I heard a rustling in the grass near Randy’s car. Horace... here we go.

He slowed, noticing his friend’s feet, looking around nervously. ‘What the fuck? You?’ Horace saw me then. How did he not hear me before? How could he not hear that whole ordeal? It felt like it went on for minutes, but maybe it was just seconds. Time slows down when adrenaline is high, and with your mind addled... guess that’s why what they did to Taryn seemed to go on for hours.

‘Randy... Randy? Shit!’

Horace saw my handiwork in all of its glory.

He reached into his pockets and then glanced at the steering wheel of their car. It registered with him and he looked at me with terror. No keys... Randy had the keys, I guessed. Good thing his act wasn’t practiced enough to leave the keys in the ignition... at least give the impression that he was really trying to fix it. I was sure Horace had no idea how to hotwire a car... certainly not in the course of a few seconds.

‘You... you’re dead... you’re dead, motherfucker! Y-you’re fuckin’ dead!’

Strange how people make threats before fleeing.

‘You’re deeeeeeaaaad!’

Really now? I dropped the tyre iron with a clang and hustled as fast as I could to the Plymouth. No, asshole... you are.

Just drive,’ Taryn said.

The engine roared to life and I pursued him.

Horace moved pretty fast for a goddamn porker, that’s for sure. He ran a good half a mile without stopping and made it to a nearby empty parking lot. Near a recently closed glass factory, so it was a big, open space. Perfect. Not what I planned, but it worked.

I could’ve easily taken him down on the road, but part of me wanted to just give chase... be like a lion stalking prey. I don’t know... I just drove leisurely. I picked up speed when I saw him pause in the parking lot, doubled over to try and catch his breath. I turned off my headlights... to surprise him... and slammed on the gas.

Horace saw me a couple of seconds before I was on him. He bolted as fast as his wobbly legs would take him, looking behind at me as I accelerated and he squealed apologies over his shoulder.

‘I-I’m soooorrrrryyyyyy!’

He actually begged for forgiveness. He begged while he ran through shallow breaths, finally stopping when I guessed his heart nearly gave out from the strain. He kept begging as he rolled over the top of my car and was still begging when he collapsed to the ground behind me. I spun the car around and the tyres screeched. God, the Plymouth handled like a dream. Horace was down, and it looked like his leg was broken. I could see white, shiny bone sticking out through his reddened calf. He started to drag himself when he saw that walking was impossible.

Just drive,’ she says again.

I wasn’t listening, but I did as I was asked. ‘FEELS SO GOOOOOD, DOESN’T IT HOOOO-RACE?’ I pronounced it like ‘Whore-Ass,’ just like Randy did when he had a face. I must say, in retrospect, it was fun taunting the bastard. Taste of his own medicine.

‘Fuh-fuck,’ he spewed with a torrent of blood and broken teeth. ‘... Oh, God... n-nooo... p-please... I’ll... I’ll tell you where T-Travis lives... just... just let…’

He was bargaining. ‘Let you go?’ This would help me, so I indulged... and Horace quickly spilled that desired nugget of information. It was appreciated, but it didn’t change my mind. I revved the engine.

‘B-but... but you... n-no…’ He looked up with anger. ‘Fuck you, cocksucker! FUCK YOU!’

Defiant fucker—he became somewhat friendly before when he was begging me to stop... came full circle from asshole to nice and right back to asshole... amazing to me. People get ballsy when bargaining doesn’t get them what they want. Taryn begged, too, and he didn’t listen, nor did he care. I didn’t, either.

‘Forgive him.’

I forgave Horace, though. Over and over again, I forgave the son of a bitch. I forgave him for cracking my windshield with his bloated body, for spitting some of his teeth on the glass as he tumbled, and for denting my polished hood. I decided to forgive him with all my power, though... it was the only way I knew how. I drove over him, hearing a yelp and feeling the car bounce nearly a foot over him. Christ, he was a fat sack of shit. I circled around again, seeing that he was still moving... just barely... and drove over him again in a doughnut-shaped motion. And again.


And over.

And over.

Until he was flattened, pulpy hamburger meat and tattered shreds, at best, streaked across the asphalt like a bloody birthmark. And that was maybe... two hours ago now, I think. Horace made a mess in the parking lot and on my Plymouth, and I forgave him. Randy left a pretty nasty little stain and twisted my good tyre iron, and I forgave him.

Just like I’m about to forgive this one. He hurt Taryn the most—pretended to be a good guy in town, walking around in a nice uniform with a shiny badge. Who knows how many people he’s hurt? How many women he’s... He’s a hero around town, you know, this Travis Norton.

‘I’m a cop, man! People know me!’

See what I mean?

‘I’ll fuckin’ end you, cocksucker!’

Full circle.

Right. Found his house easily... Horace didn’t disappoint. It turned out Lieutenant Norton was on duty tonight... some kind of charity event he was required to attend. Missed out on the fun, he thought. No innocent, crying, begging, screaming girl for him. No... different kind of fun for him tonight.

He got home kind of late... imagine all that champagne and catered food tired him out. Guess he wanted to take off his rented tuxedo and go to sleep. When he drunkenly unlocked his front door, he stepped in and met the end of a monkey wrench from my trusty toolbox... you always have a tool for whatever job presents itself. I’d been there for a little over an hour. Breaking in was easy, and the waiting was even easier. I figured the police already found what was left of the guys formerly known as Randy and Horace... or they would, soon.

Travis went down like a sack of bricks. I dragged him out to my car and forced him into the trunk, and I drove. Travis was going to have a good time... I’d make sure of it. This would not actually involve any improvisation on my part. All planned.

So when I arrived at the garage where I worked and saw that huge tow truck outside... well, it was exactly what I wanted, so I backed up in front of it and opened the trunk. Sorry, Frank... you’re not going to like what I’m about to do with the truck. Hope you can forgive me. The good cop was still unconscious, the alcohol helping, I’m sure. Taryn waited in the car while I dragged him out and dropped him to the ground between my car and the truck. Now all I needed were the chains.

And here I’ve sat for the last thirty minutes or so. It’s quiet... no traffic, nothing, but Norton woke up and started yelling a while ago... I figure he’s scared. I would be, too. Only someone stupid wouldn’t be scared. There was something he said, though, that didn’t sit right.

‘The fuck’s goin’ on? Lemme go!’

That’s not it.

Just drive,’ Taryn says.

While I think, I guess I need to make sure I took care of everything. Travis’s chained tight, that’s for sure—made sure to use sturdy ones... not those cheap bike chains. Steel. Frank keeps some of the best stuff here. His arms are secured to the frame of my car and his legs are tied to the front bumper of the tow truck. He’s not going anywhere... not all of him, anyway.

‘Help me!’ Travis screams, thinking someone will rush to his aid. ‘Please, help me!’

That’s not what I’m trying to think of, either... He made Taryn scream those words, too. They call that irony, I think. I can hear him, but I’m not listening. It may not be your definition of forgiveness, because you have to understand that they would’ve only done this to other people... I can’t live with that. This... it’s all for you, Taryn.

‘Just drive.’

Taryn... that’s right. It was something to do with her.

‘She’s dead, you crazy fuck! Dead! Who the hell are you talkin’ to, huh? She died—she’s dead and buried—you’ve been out of it for a fucking week!’

That’s it—Taryn’s dead.

According to Travis, she’s not here... not physically. She was buried two days ago. You see, she died about four hours after we arrived at the hospital... brain trauma, fractured skull, broken jaw, internal bleeding, four broken ribs, multiple stabs, cuts... the works. Rape gone too far. That isn’t the medical explanation, of course... mine. But it was more like... well, like she gave up. Too ashamed to live. I understand the feeling personally. God, I miss her…

When I left the hospital earlier tonight, I left alone. I survived with some cuts and bruises, a dislocated knee, and a bullet wound to the shoulder. A few inches to the right, and I’d be with her, too, and I still regret that... but that’s not the way the world works sometimes. And, in a way, I’m glad for that. I wish I could have saved her, but while the next best thing would be to join her in death, there’s something else I’m able to do—I can honour her the best way I know how. Only one form of absolution here.

I still see her in the passenger seat. I don’t care if she’s not really there—if she’s a figment of guilt, an angel of mercy, or a fucking demon craving blood... it doesn’t matter—she’s real enough to me. It’s time to go. She’s with me. We’re heading home.

Time to go. I turn the key and the engine hums. I put my foot on the gas and push hard... my foot is like cement. It doesn’t take much, and I don’t feel like drawing it out—unlike Travis and his buddies, I don’t get off on the slow burn. No, I make it quick, quicker than he probably deserves, but I know the pain will be terrible.

‘What’re you doin’? No! NO!’

The Plymouth roars and there is a slight pull and clink of the chains, making Travis briefly taller, but it gives way almost as quickly as his wailing stops with a wet, ripping crack and a plop. I’m moving forward now, and I hear a light thumping and the jingling chains on the road behind me as I make my way home. The noise gets quieter and quieter as what’s left of old Travis becomes less and less.

‘He said he’d split you in two,’ I mutter, uncertain if I’ll get an answer. Funny, there it is again: Irony.

I know I’ve left a trail behind me... not just with Lieutenant Travis Norton’s entrails, but with everything I’ve done tonight. I didn’t try to hide, and I’m sure they’re looking for me now. But I don’t care... it’s done. I did what I needed to do, and that’s it. The monsters are gone.

Guess I’m headed home... home with my baby. Nothing else matters now.

I forgive them now. All is forgiven... all with everything but me... but it’s okay. The screams, the pleas, they’re still with me... but they’re quieter now.

‘I love you,’ she says. The speedometer climbs to triple digits.

‘...I love you, too,’ I was finally able to say. ‘Taryn... I’m so sorry…’

Just drive.’

The tyres swerve. ‘You got it, honey. We’ll take the long way.


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