I lie on the ground in a broken heap.
I see stars. They’ve never felt so close. Or so shiny, for that matter.
Thoughts echo around the chambers of my brain: I can’t get up. I’ll never get up. I won’t ever be able to stand up again.
“Come on, stand up,” the shadow taunts, “What’s that? You can’t? Well, of course, you ought to have given up trying a long time ago. But of course, your lovely, brave father had to make things a bit difficult. They all say handsome men make for such rotten husbands. I suppose it’s true, but he doesn’t look so handsome at the moment, though, now that he’s dead. Would you like to see him? Hmm? Your lovely, brave father? Of course, you would.”
It lets out a mad cackle of laughter. I watch numbly as it saunters toward the other side of the room and disappears from sight. Father. Dead. These two words, even in my half-conscious daze, don’t sound good together. It’s like ketchup on mushrooms. The former is appealing on fries but on nothing else. The latter tastes terrible no matter what. Put the two together—complete disaster.
What the heck am I thinking? I shake my head. Pain explodes through my temples and threatens to overcome me. It feels exactly like a herd of elephants stampeding over my head.
For one lucid moment when the pain mercifully ebbs, however, I realize what has just happened:
Mother killed Dad.
Odds are she used her favorite kitchen knife. The one she reserved for special occasions and kept nice and polished. The one she nearly sliced me open with.
Maybe she’s going to kill me too, I think. Maybe that’s why she left the room—to get her knife. Should I be scared? I don’t feel scared. Just numb. Like a block of ice left in a deep, dark, dungeon …
The door opens a crack. A chink of watery light filters through. I brace myself for the icy, leering glint of metal. It doesn’t come.
Instead, the shadow quietly tiptoes into the room, dragging what seems to be a large life-size doll behind it. Or is it a sack to put my corpse in once I’m dead? No, it’s a doll. I can hear the shadow’s heavy, labored breathing as it finally reaches where I lie on the ground and gently lays the doll down by my side.
Now she’s going to kill me. I’m sure of it.
I squeeze my eyes shut. A newly healed slice across my forehead bursts open—I can feel droplets of blood, warm and strangely soothing, rolling down into my hairline. I hold my bruised arms as close to my body as possible, so they won’t be stepped on.
“Nighty-night, darling,” the shadow whispers, going so far as to brush its lips against my forehead. The gesture is feather-light, but still I wince in pain before remembering that Mother hates weakness even more than she despises my father.
Any moment now…
The shadow curses underneath its breath, “Crap! I’ve had enough of blood already!” It picks up a piece of something and rubs it against its mouth. I envision chapped lips, blood oozing from a deep cut, before remembering that that was what happened to me, not her.
Now I’m definitely in for it …
A sigh. The soft sound of a piece of fabric landing lightly on something. The shadow turns away and backs from the room, all the while murmuring, “Sweet dreams … sleep tight … don’t let the bed bugs bite.” I remain detached, devoid of emotion. She’s acting. She’s playing a part. I know it’s not genuine. She’s trying to toy with your emotions.
The door clicks shut. I can still see a small sliver of light struggling to reach me from the other side. My numbness gradually fades away.
She’ll come for you in the morning, when you’re least expecting it.
I stretch out my arms gingerly. Inch by inch, I explore the frozen floor with my fingertips until I touch the doll—and recoil in disgust. It feels lukewarm. The skin feels strangely rubbery and humanlike. Could it be …?
My neck touches something cold and solid. I shudder reflexively, then pick it up and hold it before my eyes to examine it in the near-darkness of the basement. It’s cylindrical, made of metal. A flashlight. What’s a flashlight doing here, in the Dungeon? Surely Mother prefers me suffering in darkness. Darkness = an absence of hope. Very allegorical, according to her demented, schizophrenic logic.
I turn the flashlight on. Cold light washes over the ceiling. I find myself admiring the light, for some reason. You don’t usually have time to appreciate beauty when you’re being thrown around every waking minute.
I cast the light around the room, mesmerized by the beam. It’s childish, I know. I forget about my would-be murderer lounging on the couch in the living room overhead, in all likeliness watching television. I forget about the lifelike doll—until the beam of light illuminates it in my peripheral vision, a crooked figure on the ground.
A morbid fascination overtakes me. Without considering the consequences, I roll over onto my side. Pain lances through my head and shudders through my ribs, which I hadn’t realize were fractured until now. I bite down on the collar of my shirt to suppress a scream, both from pain and fright.
Sprawled out spread-eagle on the floor next to me is a body. A man’s body. A man’s dead body. I can still see the stain, the same color as rust, at the front of his snowy white shirt. Small trickles of blood leak steadily from the freshly congealed wound underneath but are quickly absorbed by the cotton of his clothing. His face, though, is concealed beneath a bloodied handkerchief.
I close my eyes and count to ten inside my head, a technique taught to me by a kindergarten teacher who was more interested in my bruises than me. When the ten seconds are over, I draw in a deep and painful breath. I reach out a hand to whip off the handkerchief, lightning-quick, and force myself to look into the lifeless eyes of the ugly, cowardly father who left me to the clutches of a schizophrenic monster.