She didn’t like to talk about it. She made it clear I understood that before she started her story. “I feel like I owe you, though, so I’ll tell you.” Lo looked down at her feet. “Donny, if you can’t keep this to yourself either, I’ll leave you.”
“I swear on my life I won’t tell a soul,” I said, and I meant it. I felt bad for what happened. It was just weird. I had never been with a girl who would take off her pants and not her shirt. I just vented with John about it, because that’s what roommates do. I tried to swallow and felt my throat muscles pull and contract, but I had to try three times to actually get the saliva to go down. If I had eaten, I might have been sick.
She pulled her Vans shirt up and over her head, turning it inside out before dropping it to the floor. I could see the light pink of her nipples through her white, satin bra. A rush of blood swelled below my belt line, and I felt myself stiffen. I remembered the first night we spent together, on a bench next to the science building. We had been walking through campus together and decided to sit and talk before we split to head to our rooms. We made out there for a while, and when I finally made it back to my dorm, I put a pack of frozen peas on my nuts to calm down. I wished I had a sack of peas with me right then.
Lo warped her long arms around her body to undo her bra and turned her back to me. I immediately lost sight of the battle between her fingers and the bra clasps and fixated on the line tracing her spine from the base of her neck to the top of her hips. It was a deep scar that looked more like a seam. There was a much shorter scar on her left side too, over her ribs, but it was small in comparison to the other.
“I know Donny.” She gathered her hair over her right shoulder and looked at me over her left.
“Baby what ha…”
“Before you ask any questions, just let me talk, okay?”
“Okay. No questions,” I said, and pulled my imaginary mouth zipper shut. I folded my hands across my knee, then thought better of appearing so relaxed, because I wasn’t, and crossed my arms across my chest.
“It was my uncle,” she almost whispered. “I was twelve.”
“Oh Lo,” I thought. The wrinkle on my forehead deepened. I had assumed she needed a couple of surgeries when she was younger, and maybe she was going to tell me she was still sick. I didn’t expect this was from something abnormal.
“I went to visit my cousin, Marley, the summer after 6th grade. My parents were traveling for most of July, and I wanted to stay home with my friends. We compromised on my aunt and uncle’s lake house.” She folded her right arm across her breasts and bent to pick up her bra. I thought about that soft pink flesh pressing against my chest, then about my frozen peas again. She kept talking while she dressed.
“Anyway, so my uncle apparently had a well hidden drug problem. Crack or meth or something. A couple of weeks into my visit, Marley and I went out for a morning swim. When we came back in, my uncle was pacing the floor in the living room. He told us he had been up all night watching the doors and windows to keep us safe and to keep the bugs out.
“We were weirded out at first, thought he was making a bad joke, you know?” She pulled her shirt down over her head and sat next to me on the bed. Her knees were together and leaned over, touching mine. I looked at the folds in her knuckles and watched the way she laced her fingers together before resting her hands in her lap. I knew I loved her then. I hadn’t realized how delicate she was until that moment.
“Once we realized something was actually wrong with him, well it was too late. He came after us and we took off to my aunt’s room, but we didn’t even make it half way down the hall before he grabbed us. My aunt was asleep on a couple different sleeping pills with earplugs in. She never heard a thing. She wrote that, over and over, in the suicide note she left, said it was all her fault. My aunt tied her ankles to a boat anchor and drowned herself before my parents even got back to the states.
“My uncle, he locked each of us under an arm and pulled us back down the hall, across the living room, and into the garage. He screamed at us over our cries, saying we let them in by getting in the water, and he had to get them out.”
My hands flew up to cover my mouth as if I had just seen a gruesome murder in a movie. I was horrified, and had a pretty good idea on what might have been coming.
“Marley was dead by the time we got to the garage. I noticed she had gone quiet, and when he threw us to the floor she wasn’t moving, her eyes or anything else. He reached down and put his hand in front of her mouth and nose to feel for airflow. When he realized he had snapped her neck, he turned his face into a frown and simply said, ‘Hmph. Didn’t see that coming.’
“I was only a couple feet from the car and made a dash for the door. I managed to grab and yank the handle; I even got my butt in the seat before he grabbed a handful of hair and pulled me back out.”
I had been holding my breath and my eyes were wet with tears. I didn’t blink for fear of squeezing them out, and then I noticed streaks running down her cheeks. The sun coming in my open window glittered off the salty trail on her face, and I wiped them both with my thumbs. I folded my hands into hers and she kept talking.
“He managed to get me stripped naked and tied face down to his work bench with a dirty red rag stuffed in my mouth. Each of my limbs was tied to a leg of the table. I really didn’t know what was coming, but I half expected to be raped considering my position. I heard him shuffling through his toolbox, and I craned my neck to see what he was doing. I screamed through the rag again when I heard the blowtorch come on.
“The propane hissed from the spout so loud. He walked over to me, so that I could see him. He had gloves on his hands and was heating a length of rebar in the tip of the blue flame. It was glowing red before he pulled it out and started talking again. He grinned and told me he needed to seal me up so no more could get in. Boy did I squirm. I screamed and yanked on all the ties, trying to get anything free. I stopped squirming when the bar brushed the inside of my thigh, and I realized where he was going with the bar.”
I didn’t know how to react to her. Shit like this was common in scary movies, so common that a strung out relative seeing bugs and crawling walls was cliché and boring, but it wasn’t supposed to happen to someone you knew. My stomach churned at me trying to imagine what a hot poker entering your belly from below might feel like.
“He slid the poker inside of me. I could smell my flesh cooking and an indescribable pain between my legs. You’ve been burned my a cigarette before, right?”
“Well it was like that but times a thousand. He wasn’t fast about it either, said he had to seal it up completely. The doctor’s said it went nine inches deep. I guess I blacked out after that, because I don’t remember much between the burn and the cut. I woke up hearing him shuffle through his tools again, then the clicks of his box cutter locking out. He said the bugs hide in your spine, and he was going to get them out for me, smoke them out once my skin was open.
“The blade pushed into my skin at the base of my neck. I struggled and he pulled the blade up, told me not to move so I didn’t paralyze myself, then slid it into the wound again. He moved it down my back in one slow stroke. I had always been afraid of having surgery when I was younger, seeing documentaries about people who wake during a procedure to find themselves fully conscious but still paralyzed. He made that nightmare a reality for me.
“The pain pushed deep into my back. It was sharp and hot all in one sensation. I could feel my skin separate and warm blood coat my skin. It flowed across my shoulder blades first, cascading down around my face and neck, then down my ribs and arms and abdomen as he cut further and further. I knew then that I was going to die. Marley already had, and no one was coming to save me.
“He pulled his blade from my back and I started to cry. He told me it was almost over and he would sew me back up once he got them out. He knew how to clean and cauterize a wound, and said I was not to worry. He pushed the blade into my skin again, this time on my side and said he needed a vent for the smoke. He promised it was the last cut. I blacked out again with that one.”
I squeezed her hands. I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to pull her into me and hold her, but I knew it wasn’t time for that . She wanted to finish her story, and I could tell it was hard. The tears finally broke and rolled down my cheeks. I let them, but I don’t think she noticed.
“The next thing I remember was the garage door we came in squeaking open. I was scared for who was probably my aunt walking in to this. I looked around and squinted to see instead Mr. Mansfield, the neighbor, with one hand up over his mouth and another on a revolver pointed at my uncle.
“Mr. Mansfield, he swore up and down to police that my uncle lunged at him then with his box cutter in an attempt to kill him too, and that he shot him in defense. He didn’t, though I never told the cops any different. When Mr. Mansfield came in, he saw first my uncle standing over me covered in blood. Then he met eyes with mine, then traced down to Marley curled up in front of his feet. Her eyes were wide and blank, pointed up at the ceiling, and her neck was crooked sideways. He looked back at my uncle, brought his left hand to brace his revolver, and unloaded the chamber at my uncle’s head.”
She stopped then. She didn’t move her gaze or her hands. I wasn’t sure if she was finished or if I was allowed to speak yet. I parted my lips to say simply her name. Lo. Even to say a vague apology would have been better than the dead air between us. Before I could speak, she pulled in a breath with an obvious intent to keep talking.
“You know what though?” She looked up at me with her question. She didn’t look sad anymore, but almost malevolent. I assumed she was asking a rhetorical question, which she was, and she kept talking for me. “He was right. He should have gotten them out or killed me. Now it’s too late, and I have to do something about it.” The frown on my face wiped off and my eyes widened into circles. My hands were still clasped into hers. I started to pull them both back and stand, but she grabbed onto my left wrist and reached behind her with her free hand. It came back around with a scalpel gripped in it.
She swiped the blade across my left cheek and down the length of my arm in almost one movement. My cheek burned and I could feel the fan blowing cool air into the freshly exposed flesh. I looked down to see blood dripping from my face and pooling under my arm. I could see the meaty muscles in my forearm.
Finally, I reacted and pushed my right palm into her chest as hard as I could and felt her sternum pop and crack under my hand before she flew off the bed. I had a moment to think and wondered if she was crazy or high on drugs herself, but I didn’t care to stick around and find out. I ran for the door. She hopped back to her feet almost as soon as her back hit the ground, and I could see the scalpel was still in her hand.
She ran at me with her arm straight in front of her, the blade aiming for my torso. I reached and pushed her arm to the side of her body, scraping the blade across my shirt and grazing my chest with it. I came back in with my right fist and hooked her pretty hard. Even considering the situation, I felt bad for that one. She didn’t get up though.
Again, I made my way for the door. I got hold of the handle, turned the knob, and pulled the door open. Before I could lift my heel to step into the hallway, the cold steel connected for the last time, cutting through my left calf, and I started to collapse. I braced on the doorframe with what grip I had, dug into the carpet with my right heel, and sprung into the hallway, landing shoulder first into Bryce’s door across the hall.
I waited for her, watched my door intently. Any moment I expected her to run out, scalpel first, aiming for my throat this time. Before I heard any movement in my room, Bryce’s door opened, and he looked down at me. He turned pale when he saw my blood soaking the carpet, and he called back to his roommate to call an ambulance, that I was bleeding to death.
“Holy fuck, dude, what the fuck,” he asked.
“It’s Lo. She’s crazy. She tried to kill me.”
He looked up to my door, still cracked open, and walked towards it.
“Bryce don’t, you don’t understand, just close it and call the cops.”
He looked over his shoulder at me, then put his palm on the door and pushed it open. I watched him for a reaction, waited for him to dodge an attack. He looked the room over a couple of times then looked back to me and said, “She’s not here.”
“That’s impossible,” I said, and pulled myself to my feet. He jogged over and pulled my good arm around his shoulder and helped me limp to my room. I propped myself on the doorframe again and let go of him, looking around my room. My blood was the only evidence of a struggle; her and her scalpel were gone.
“You’re sure she was here?”
I looked down at my wounds and said, “Do I look like I’m sure? Maybe she jumped.” I nodded over to the open window and the sheer drapes moving with the small wind.
Bryce walked across the room and reached with his left hand, parting the drapes. He moved slow, and I believed intended to look out and over the edge to see if she was flattened on the concrete below. We were on the tenth floor. If she jumped, she would definitely be flat. Before either of us saw her, he was too close.
“Bryce, get back,” I yelled, which only distracted him, and he turned to look behind him. I had seen her chipped purple nail polish gripping the ledge of the window seal from the outside when he pulled the curtains open. “Son of a bitch, she’s hanging there.” I pointed back at the window and he turned to look for himself as she was pulling up to her elbows.
She wrapped one arm around his neck and slid the blade across his throat with her other hand and said, “You’ll do I guess.” They both looked over to me; his eyes frozen open and she had a gleam in hers. She dug her heels into the bricks of the outer wall and pulled him out the window with her.
Later, after the cops cleared her room and found her diary, they told me she had been seeing the school psychologist lately. She had been feeling her skin crawl at night, and said a couple of months ago she actually saw a cockroach moving under her skin. She was convinced that her uncle had actually sealed the bugs entrance and exit, and that the only way to get rid of them now was by finding a new host.
“I’ll find someone to take my place, and they’ll leave me. All I have to do is cut open what my uncle sealed so they can get out. The good thing is, now, I know just the bastard to give them to.”
Copyright WB Welch – All Rights Reserved
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
To see the photo that originally inspired this story, please click below.