Thoughts on “The Dead Zone” – *Minor Spoilers*

I finished reading Stephen King’s “The Dead Zone” today, and holy cow, I really enjoyed it. Reading it reminded me how much I enjoy King’s writing style and really reignited a fire in me to read more of his works. While he is primarily known for his horror stories (many people forget he wrote “Shawshank Redemption”, arguably one of the best films ever made), he has a wide variety of genres that he taps into. King is not a horror writer, he is a character writer. He is skeptical of plots and instead he puts characters into a universe and just lets things play out.

This method feels more real to me, and in a sense more “true”. But, of course, that means that the good guys and bad guys are not always easy to identify and the endings are not always happy or satisfying. King was once asked how he felt about the ending to The Dark Tower series and I think his response sums up most of his work, “it ended the way it should end.” There are sometimes loose ends, sometimes the bad guys win, but that is how life is. Writing like that is what separates entertainment from art. Art is concerned with being true and entertainment is concerned with pleasing an audience.

Anyway, onto “The Dead Zone”. The basic premise of the book is the protagonist gains the ability to see things about the future and the past when he touches someone or certain objects. During one experience he realizes that a rising politician was going to become President someday and would start a nuclear war, killing millions. It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story.

It is basically a “would you go back in time and kill Hitler” story. I am sure we have all thought about this and many people say yes, they would. But I wonder how people would really act. For one, ending a human life is not easy. It is unlikely that a time traveler would be looking down the scope of a gun and see Hitler in the act of hurting someone… acting in self-defense is relatively easy compared to shooting someone while they are playing with their puppy or taking a nap or eating dinner.

Second, most people want to believe they are noble and will sacrifice their own life and safety for “the greater good”, but rarely do people really go through with something to any real degree. How often have we all heard that either Obama or Trump is “Hitler” or a fascist or going to destroy America? If people truly believed that then there would be assassination attempts all the time, but it doesn’t happen because people either don’t believe it or they are not willing to risk their own safety for the greater good. I actually think it is mostly the former… I think people like to bitch and moan on the internet but don’t actually believe what they are saying, or maybe most people are cowards.

Regardless, I enjoyed the book. It is a true work of art that makes you wonder what you would do in a fictional situation and how you will live your life in the real world with the knowledge we have. Is there a point where any of us would risk our safety to stop someone from doing harm? Would we stand by and watch an assault? A rape? A murder? Do we cut back on unnecessary purchases to donate money to refugees? Blood to the Red Cross? Hours to a homeless shelter? What is our comfort, our time, or life worth, when others reap the benefits? How comfortable should we be with the way we live our lives (and in some ways waste our lives) when others are living in discomfort? Art raises questions, art makes us uncomfortable, art puts a mirror in front of us, art uses a story to show us truth, art inspires us to play in that universe and write our own truth, and King is a damn good artist.

Richard and Lucy (Rewrite)

Alright, as part of my concerted effort to improve my writing and make this into a career of sorts I rewrote the writing prompt from “On Writing” that I talked about in the previous post. I think this is much better, it feels truer. I am also going to submit it to Stephen King as he requests (Edit: Stephen King no longer accepts submissions… womp womp). I’m not sure if I’m going to significantly revisit this writing prompt again anytime soon but I do need to come up with more things to write about for my 1,000 words a day habit. Tomorrow, I plan on addressing some questions sent to me via SurveyMonkey (so get them in soon and I’ll probably respond tomorrow).

Content Warning: Violence, mental health issues, psychological thriller/horror style writing


Richard and Lucy

Richard felt relief as he opened the door to his newly sold house. Today would be the last day that he we would cross the threshold into this house that used to be a home. Instead of furniture and pictures and toys littering the rooms there was nothing but brown boxes stacked with simple labels written on them to make organizing the new home easier. Each word representing a room and a dream. Silverware and plates in a box marked “Kitchen” where Thanksgiving dinner would be made. Towels in a box marked “Bathroom” where he and his wife would bathe their newborn child. Picture frames and mementos in a box marked “Living Room” where they would curl up and watch tv, surrounded by testaments to their joyous life of adventures. Bedsheets in a box marked “Master Bedroom” where he and his wife would eventually, after much practice, give their daughter a new sibling. But those dreams were shattered and Richard knew that he had to finish packing up reality and get on the road.

His new life in a new, safe town was hundreds of miles away and there was a lot of packing to be done. His closest friends offered to help him with the final day of the move, but he decided to do it alone. Their optimistic visions of music, pizza, and beer as a final farewell felt too fake to him. This wasn’t a joyous occasion and it wasn’t a communal one. No, he knew he needed to do this alone. Even his daughter, the only person he knew loved him, was absent. At six years old, she was too young to really help and he didn’t want her to see him cry over these boxes of broken dreams. She needed to know that he could protect her, that he was strong, that things would be okay. Besides, he knew she would have more fun at her grandparents’ house and they wanted to spend just one more day with their granddaughter before Richard and her drove off into the sunset.

Without conscious thought, Richard aimed his phone at the wireless speakers that sat on shelves throughout the house and pressed play. The house erupted.

*symbols and drums*

*guitar screech*

Jealous cowards try to control
Rise above! We’re gonna rise above!

The living room, dining room, and kitchen went smoothly as his body got into a routine. Lift box. Move box to the truck. Put the box in the truck. Repeat. Each brown square sitting on top of each other, a simple game of Tetris with the same shape in varying sizes. His mind was completely turned off, lost in the task of moving and the angry voices that echoed throughout the house. The hours passed quickly.

Then, he entered the bedroom and his mind came to life. This room, a place where he and his wife cuddled, made love, stayed in bed all day, fought about finances, and acted silly was where their love began and, eventually, died. His eyes glazed over and he felt an impending panic attack. Usually these attacks were triggered by sites that reminded him of his time in the military, but there was no such trigger around. This room was a trigger. Suddenly, smells flooded back to him. Her favorite perfume, her hair, her scent. He sat down, put his head between his hands and tried to focus on the music, but the music suddenly stopped and the speakers beeped.

**Incoming call from… Mom**

A flash of light.

Darkness.

The world started to come into focus and all Richard could think of was rabbits. Rabbits running in circles. No, they weren’t rabbits he realized. It was a merry-go-round, the one near the beach. His daughter was on one of the rabbits and waving. He was happy.

Then, the rabbits started to disappear as reality returned. He tried to beg them to return but all that came out of his mouth was a groan and spit and blood. He blinked his eyes and tried to focus on something, anything, but it seemed too difficult. Movement appeared to his right. A being in white. An angel, she was humming. He was in heaven. He smiled and relaxed

Darkness.

Richard awoke again and this time things came into focus more quickly. The rust started to come off his soldier’s mind and he consciously realized for the first time that he was in danger. This wasn’t a panic attack and he wasn’t in heaven. There were no rabbits.

He began to scan his body from top to bottom.

Head: hurting from the rear, warm liquid flowing down his neck, he was conscious so no major blood loss, possible concussion.

Senses: No impairment.

Torso: Sitting position on floor facing corner, left side sore with possibly bruised ribs, arms secured behind back, felt like rope, no apparent injuries

Legs: Untied, no apparent injuries. Phone still in his pant pocket.

Conclusion: Culprit is either very sloppy or wants to talk and doesn’t fear him running

Options: Scream for help – unlikely to work due to the distance to nearest neighbor and daytime traffic. Try and move – possible but with unknown assailant(s) and their position, better to preserve energy. Wait and observe – best option, feign weakness.

Richard groaned and coughed slowly, pretending to just wake up.

“Well, well sugarplum! I’m glad to see you awake. I’ve missed you!”

Footsteps approached from his right and out of the corner of his eye he saw a flowing white wedding dress. His ex-wife, Lucy, beaming as brightly as she did on their wedding day. His first fleeting thought was how beautiful and sexy she still looked, fitting into the tight dress seven years after she first wore it. Even the veil brought about a sense of secrecy that he found erotic. His second thought was how strangely appropriate it was that instead of a bouquet of white flowers she gently held the small handgun that he had bought her and taught her how to use. The macabre image was highlighted by her perfect white dress sullied with blood splatters.

“Aren’t you excited for our second wedding?” she asked. “This time our bond really will be for eternity. But first, you need to get dressed!” Her body vibrated with excitement, her face almost childlike as it beamed joy.

He turned to see her and noticed that his tuxedo was draped across one of the boxes. This was a bad situation, but Richard started to become confident. He was larger than her, well-trained, and if he had his arms free he knew he could overpower her when given the right opportunity. She was armed, but that didn’t concern him too much. The handgun was a small caliber and one gunshot from that weapon wouldn’t be fatal unless it was in the head, an unlikely situation if he acted wisely. He knew that one-shot kills and hitting targets while tangled in a fight can make for good cinema but reality was messier and more confusing.

She began to untie him while slowly humming “Here Comes the Bride”. He knew that this could be his best chance to overpower her. If he could stand quickly while she was off balance he could grab the gun, overpower her, and get control of the situation. He started his internal countdown, his senses heightened.

*Five*

“Now, I hope you don’t get cold feet,” she said.

*Four*

“I would hate for something bad to happen…”

*Three*

“…to that bitch that you love more than me.”

*Two*

“If you try anything you may find her corpse…”

*One*
“Wait. Are you going robot on me again?!? You emotionless drone!”

*Pause*

“You always do this! You can’t love meeee anymore can you?! Only that stupid bitch!”

*Abort*

With those words, all thought of escape or fighting stopped. He had to know what she meant before trying anything. If Lucy had put their daughter in danger he knew he had to get information out of her first. He walked over to the tuxedo and slowly, nervously put it on. He had stripped in front of this women many times in his life, but this felt different. He was stripping in front of an enemy, and that vulnerability was difficult to overcome. Senses his reluctance she smiled and said, “Aww, do you want that to be a surprise for our consummation? That’s so adorable!” and she turned around. He dressed quickly, sliding his phone into his tuxedo pocket.

“Okay, I’m ready,” he said after getting dressed.

“EEEEE, you look so handsome!” she said as she walked over. She adjusted his tie a bit and then smiled. “Perfect. Time to get married again!” she said, pointing the gun at him, her face suddenly serious, “go into the study.”

He was painfully aware of how tight this hallway was as they moved to the study. It was barely big enough for two people to pass each other if they turned sideways, and even then, bodies inevitably rubbed together (a happy quirk of the house that has lead to a spontaneous quickie between two lovers on more than one occasion).

At the end of the hallway he slowly opened the door. The light flooding in the windows prevented his eyes from adjusting for a moment, but when they did he witnessed a scene of horror. At the center of the room was a makeshift altar built out of boxes and decorated with flowers and weeds from the garden. Toilet paper was hung from the ceiling and walls, the white broken up by splatters and streaks of red blood. Behind the alter was a dead postal worker in uniform, a clear gunshot wound through his left eye. His right eye was open, staring blankly at the floor and his swollen tongue pressed out between his lips. Blood snaked across the floor, filling in the imperfections of the hardwood floor. The smell of death and shit and piss filled the room.

Richard instinctively recoiled back into the gun that was pressed into the back of his neck. “Don’t worry, my love. I know he isn’t a priest, but as a government employee I am sure he can marry us.” He could hear her smiling through the words. There was true joy in her voice, once again she was that young woman excited for her wedding day. She sounded happy and healthy and joyous about the future, a future that none of them could predict.

His mind continued to race through every possible scenario. Did she really have their daughter somewhere? Or was that a lie? How did she get her? Where could she be keeping her? He wanted to fight back but couldn’t take the risk, he had to play along until he knew the truth.

“Lucy, darling, don’t you think we should have a flower girl for this special occasion?” he said.

“That would be wonderful! But unfortunately, we don’t have time. The ceremony is starting. I love you so much, Richard!”

Lucy walked over to a laptop that was sitting on a box in the corner and pressed a button. The familiar “duh duh da duh” of “Here Comes the Bride” pounded out of the small speakers. Something felt off about the recording to Richard, the music seemed muted and imperfect. It wasn’t until Richard heard a man say, “Dearly beloved…” that he realized that this wasn’t a song, this was a live recording of their actual wedding from years ago.

Lucy took Richard’s hand and looked up at him. “Soon this will be over and we will be able to consummate, don’t tell my parents but I’m looking forward to that as much as this ceremony,” she said. “And then one quick errand and then we are on to our honeymoon! Just the two of us!”

Their short ceremony went by in a blur as Richard’s mind raced trying to find a solution. He pretended to recite his vows as the recording played and Lucy pressed closer to him humming and swaying. Once recording announced that they were married and she let out a cheer, put the gun down, grabbed his face, and kissed him deeply. She quickly headed for the door, dragging Richard into the mostly empty bedroom.

“Hmm, well this isn’t very romantic. We can’t make love on the floor, that isn’t going to work.” She looked around and seemed lost in thought. “I know! We won’t make love, we will fuck instead. We can definitely fuck on top of boxes.”

She stripped quickly out of her dress and stared at Richard. “Take off your clothes my love, we can’t fuck if you aren’t naked.”

He slowly complied.

She looked down at his naked body and scoffed. “What’s wrong? Can’t get it up for me anymore? Or were you always faking? I knew you military boys were just closeted gays. All that time bunked up together fried your brain. Oh well, close your eyes and use your imagination if you have to. Because if you don’t fuck me then that bitch of yours is going to spend the last hours of her short life gasping for air and wondering why her daddy didn’t save her.”

She moved closer to him and started grinding against him, his body responding at as always had to her. Soon his body was ready and she smiled. He felt such shame in the pleasure, his mind was fractured between what he knew he should do and what his body wanted to do. It didn’t take much effort to reconcile the two. If he needed to have sex with her to keep his daughter alive he would.

So, he bent her over the boxes and fucked her.

Their bodies found the well-developed routine and rhythm that comes from a decade of practice and soon they both lay panting on the ground with their clothing as a makeshift blanket. For a moment, Richard forgot his daughter and what brought about this whole situation. For a moment, as he looked into Lucy’s eyes, he remembered falling in love with her in the first place.

“I’ll be back in a second and then we can head to Mexico for our honeymoon,” she said as she stood up and walked towards the guest bathroom. Over the next few minutes heard the toilet flush, the sink run, and the sound of Lucy rummaging through boxes. He knew time was running out. They would never make it to Mexico. Lucy was acting too neurotic to get on a plane and driving for three days was impossible. Besides, there was likely a warrant out for Lucy’s arrest. He didn’t know how she got out of the facility but it was likely violent and people would be looking for her. He had to overpower her now and force her to tell her where their daughter was. If that didn’t work all he could do was hope the police would be able to help.

When she returned she was fully dressed and holding the gun in her hand again. “Time to go! Put your clothes on, we have a long trip ahead of us.”

He got dressed and, as they started walking down the hallway. He knew that exiting the hall into the front room would be his best chance. The room opened in a way that would allow him to quickly move to the side of the entryway and get control. He began to steady his breathing and get his mind back into “robot mode”. He became a machine, violence was his job, his training took over and he pushed his humanity deep into his subconscious. She wasn’t his ex-wife or lover, she was the enemy. She was going to kill his daughter. This was self-defense. He wasn’t doing anything wrong.

As he walked ahead of her he could feel the gun pressed into the lower right part of the back. Good. Even if she got a shot off he knew it wouldn’t be immediately fatal and if he spun to the left the gun would shift right away from his body. He had walked this hallway thousands of times and knew how many steps it was to the end. He put his hand into his pocket and felt his phone.

He began counting down steps.

*Five*

Visualize the attack

*Four*

Be ready to improvise

*Three*

Overpower

*Two*

Don’t kill

*One*

Get the weapon

*Now*

Richard pressed the play button on his phone and the house speakers erupted.

The position being taken

She froze in surprise at the music.

is not to be mistaken

Richard spun to the left and raised his left arm. The momentum of his body drove his elbow into her face, making an audible crunch. She had been looking slightly left and took the force of his blow straight on the nose. Blood exploded onto the walls and her vision went blurry. The gun fell to the ground as she instinctually reached up to her face, but her arms never got to her wound. Richard was too quick. He restrained her arms and pushed her to the ground. He straddled her body, pinning her arms against her torso.

As calmly as he could muster he asked, “Where is my daughter?”

“YOU FUCKER! I’M GOING TO CALL THE COPS! YOU BEAT ME JUST LIKE MY DAD BEAT MOM! YOU ASSHOLE!”

“Where is my daughter?”

She started giggling. “You mean ‘our daughter’?” The laughing grew stronger. “She’s fine. She’s in the back seat of the car waiting for us to drop her off at grandmas before our honeymoon.” Her body started to convulse in laughter and she doubled over as Richard jumped off her and sprinted towards the front door. In the back of his mind, he knew that what she said didn’t make sense, but his body was in control.

He lunged out the front door and saw Lucy’s car in the driveway. Inside a familiar strawberry-blonde ponytail pressed into the backseat window. He ran, joy flooding his mind at the sight of his daughter. He tugged on the back door. It was locked. He started banging on the window. “Honey! Honey! Open the door for me, sweetie. Please, Molly! Open the door!”

His daughter didn’t respond.

Then, slowly, his screaming mind overpowered his instincts and he fully realized that something was wrong. His daughter wasn’t moving. Her head was limp against the door. Her pajamas were stained red.

He heard laughter behind him.

He turned to see Lucy, gun in hand.

“You thought I’d let you leave me for that bitch!?”

She raised the gun and took a perfect stance. He could see her eye lined up with the front sight post, exactly as he taught her.

“She always was a good student,” he thought.

A flash of light.

Darkness.

Richard and Lucy

Hey, everyone, I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged over the last few days. There are two reasons for this.

First, I took this last weekend off of basically everything. On Thursday I felt myself hitting a mental breaking point and realized I had been pushing myself a bit too much. A close friend of mine recommended that I schedule a break from exercise, healthy eating, writing, etc. and just spend two days doing whatever the hell I wanted. So, I did that. I ate pizza, rolled, drank beer, took naps, watched terrible TV, etc for two days and it worked like a charm. I am not more motivated than ever to write and work and be healthy. I may start scheduling in break weekends every 3-4 weeks.

Second, I’ve been trying to spend more time on my fiction writing. I have found that blogging can sometimes (though not always) actually hinder my writing. It makes me feel like I accomplished something while I procrastinate doing the work I actually need to do. It is like when I spend an hour researching and planning a workout routine to start tomorrow when it would have been better to just spend that time exercising (even if the exercising wasn’t perfectly efficient). So, my blogging may be a bit sporadic for a while as I force myself to write fiction first and only blog when there is a specific idea I’m passionate about or if I get a question. That being said, II have a couple of posts (including an “Ask Me Anything Question”) that I need to get to and hopefully, will later this week.

So, with all that in mind, this post is a rough draft of a writing exercise from Stephen King’s “On Writing” (my favorite author and a fantastic book overall for artists). The basic premise of the exercise is that King gives a prompt and then the author’s job is to excavate the story, much like an archaeologist excavates a historic site. Authors do not “create” as much as they “unearth”. This is my short story based on King’s prompt. I have not proofread or edited this at all, this is just a stream-of-consciousness style story that is in desperate need of editing (particularly the beginning… I don’t feel like I hit my stride until the second half), but I wanted to share it with you anyway.


“Richard and Lucy”

Despite the boxes stacked throughout the house, the building felt empty to Richard. Nothing had gone according to plan. His life was supposed to be complete by now… a beautiful wife, a perfect child, a stable and lucrative career. But, except for the perfect child, none of that came to be. The boxes in the empty house were proof. He couldn’t figure out exactly where things went wrong but somewhere they did, and now he stood alone in the doorway to his recently sold house and mentally prepared himself for the exhausting task of the boxes into the truck.

His friends asked him if he wanted help. They had all been so supportive, even when he didn’t want the support. Maybe it was his foolish masculine pride, or maybe it was years of military service that hardened his heart, but whatever the reason he wanted to empty the house alone. Even his daughter was absent, but that was for the best. She would have more fun at her grandparent’s house than watching her old man haul boxes as blood, sweat, and tears dripped onto the floor of this home of shattered dreams.

After a long look around the entryway, Richard took his phone out to pick some music. Nothing modern fit his mood. No, for this moment he returned to his youth, his punk days of dyed hair and hatred of authority. Drugs, sex, rock and roll, that’s what he needed. Music that matched his mood, a mood that matched his mind, a mind that knew everything was just fucked up. With music blasting through his headphones he began to move boxes, his body working harder than it had in years.

The living room and dining room went smoothly as his body got into a routine. Lift box. Move box to the truck. Put the box in the truck. Repeat. Each brown square sitting on top of each other, a simple game of Tetris with the same shape in varying sizes. Richard’s mind was completely turned off, lost in the task of moving and the angry voice of Henry Rollins damaged his eardrums. He was so lost in the moment that he didn’t notice anything strange about the breeze coming from the back of the house, the slightly opened box in the kitchen, the smell of perfume that wafted through the air, the tickle in the back of his mind that his military buddies fondly called “Spidey sense”. Any sense that something was wrong was pushed down into the deep caverns of his mind where he stored trauma, despair, and visions of his war crimes that he wouldn’t even tell his therapist.

His mind didn’t escape the music until it was rudely interrupted by a text message. The screeching guitar of “Padded Cell” in his headphones interrupted by a harmonic beeping. He set down the box and pulled the phone out of his pocket. The screen flashed, New Message: Mom – “Call me ASAP 911!!!”

A light flashed in Richard’s head and then he was falling, the taste of liquid metal filled his mouth. Everything went black.

The world started to come into focus and all Richard could think of was rabbits. Rabbits running in circles. The rabbits started to disappear as reality returned. He blinked his eyes and tried to focus on something, anything, but it seemed too difficult. A sweet smell filled his nostrils, an impossible smell, one that reminded him of hate and love. He couldn’t quite place it. The world went dark again.

Richard awoke again, this time things came into focus more quickly and the habits of his prior career started to kick into gear. The rust started to come off the mind of a soldier and he realized for the first time that he was in danger. He started a conscious scan of his body. His head hurt, possibly struck in the back of the head. He was alive so no major blood loss, though his mouth or nose was bleeding. Shoulders and arms felt fine, but he was in a sitting position and restrained. It hurt to breathe and he felt pain on his left side, probably a bruised rib. His legs felt fine but they have spread apart and restrained. He wasn’t blindfolded but he was sitting facing a corner of his house and had limited visibility.

He thought about his options.

Scream for help? He wasn’t gagged but there was no way a neighbor would hear him scream for help, and whoever did this clearly wanted to talk.

Try and move? He could probably shift his body around but he would risk tipping over and further injuring himself. No, he needed to preserve energy.

He knew he needed information and needed to catch his enemy by surprise. He subtly coughed, hoping to appear weak but get the attention of whoever attacked him.

It worked. After the second cough, a familiar voice came from behind him.

“Well, well sugarplum! I’m glad to see you awake.”

Footsteps approached from his right and out of the corner of his eye he saw a flowing white wedding dress. His ex-wife, Lucy, beaming as brightly as she did on their wedding day. His first thought was how beautiful and sexy she still looked, fitting into the tight dress six years after she first wore it. His second thought was how appropriate it was that in place of a bouquet she gently held the small handgun that he had bought her and taught her how to use.

“Aren’t you excited for our second wedding?” she asked. “This time our bond really will be for eternity, but you need to get dressed first.”

She spun the chair around and he saw his tuxedo draped across a stack of boxes. She began to untie him while slowly humming “Here Comes the Bride”. He began to run through scenarios for escape. He was bigger, stronger, and faster, but she was armed. But, one gunshot from a weapon that size was unlikely to be fatal, particularly if he were to grab her quickly. One-shot kills and hitting moving targets makes for good cinema but reality is messier and more confusing. If he could stand slowly and then spin quickly and grab her he could easily overpower her and get control of the situation.

“Now, I hope you don’t get cold feet. I would hate for something bad to happen to that bitch that you love more than me. If you try anything you may find her corpse some day but you’ll never see her alive”

With those words, all thought of escape or fighting stopped. He had to know what she meant before trying anything. If Lucy had put their daughter in danger he had to get information out of her first. He slowly walked over to the tuxedo and slowly, nervously put it on. He was surprised to feel a bit embarrassed as he stripped out of his clothing and put on the formal wear in front of Lucy. She had seen him naked thousands of times, but she had never seen him vulnerable like this.

“Time to get married again!” she said, pointing the gun at him, “go into the study.”

He moved slowly down the hallway into his study and upon opening the door found a makeshift altar built out of boxes and decorated with flowers and weeds from the garden. At the center of the room, the fresh body of a postal worker slumped in a chair, blood from a gunshot wound pooling on the floor. As he recoiled from the room he felt the gun pressed against his head.

“Don’t worry, my love. I know he isn’t a priest, but as a government employee I am sure he can marry us.” She said with a smile on her face. For the first time, Richard got a good look at Lucy and could her blond hair and wedding dress be dotted with blood. His mind raced with every possible scenario. Did she really have their daughter somewhere? Or was that a lie? He couldn’t take the risk, he had to play along until he knew the truth.

Lucy pressed a button on the laptop in the office and the familiar “duh duh da duh” of “Here Comes the Bride” pounded out of the small speakers. Something felt off about the recording, the music seemed muted and imperfect. It wasn’t until Richard heard a man say, “Dearly beloved…” that he realized that this wasn’t a song, this was a recording of their actual wedding from many years ago.

“Soon this will be over and we will be able to consummate, and then on to our honeymoon! Just the two of us!”

The short ceremony went by in a blur. Richard’s mind raced trying to find a solution while Lucy recited vows and joyously hummed next to him, except for the pistol in his ribs he almost thought she didn’t even know he was there.

The recording announced that they were married and she let out a cheer, dropped the gun, and drug him out of the office to the bedroom. She opened the door to find a nearly empty room filled mostly with boxes, the bed packed up the day before into the back of the moving truck.

“Hmm, well this isn’t very romantic. We can’t make love on the floor, that isn’t romantic. I guess we will need to just fuck instead,” Lucy said. She started to strip out of her dress and, upon seeing Richard standing still started screaming, “TAKE OFF YOUR SUIT! WE CAN’T FUCK CLOTHED!”

He slowly complied.

She looked down at his naked body and scoffed. “What’s wrong? Can’t get it up for me anymore? Or were you always faking? I knew you military boys were just closeted gays. All that time bunked up together fried your brain. Oh well, close your eyes and imagine if you have to because if you don’t fuck me then that bitch of yours is going to spend the last hours of her short life gasping for air and wondering why her daddy didn’t save her.”

She moved closer to him and started grinding against him, her hand stroking him until he was ready. He felt such shame because it felt so good, his mind was fractured between what he knew he should do and what his body wanted to do. It didn’t take much effort to reconcile the two. If he needed to have sex with her to keep his daughter alive he would. So, he bent her over the boxes and fucked her.

Their bodies found their well-developed routine and rhythm that comes from a decade of monogamy and soon they both lay panting on the ground where they used their clothing as a makeshift blanket. For a moment, Richard forgot his daughter and what brought about this whole situation. For a moment, as he considered Lucy’s eyes, he remembered falling in love with her in the first place.

“I’ll be back in a second and then we can head to Mexico for our honeymoon,” she said as she stood up and walked towards the guest bathroom. Over the next few minutes heard the toilet flush, the sink run, and the sound of Lucy rummaging through boxes. When she returned she was fully dressed and holding the gun in her hand again. “Time to go! Put your clothes on, we have a long drive ahead of us.”

Richard knew that they would never make it across the Mexican border. Lucy was acting too neurotic and there was likely a warrant out for her arrest right now. He knew he had to stop this right now. If he could overpower her maybe he could convince her to tell him where their daughter was.

He got dressed and decided to make his move when they left the hallway into the front room. The room opened in a way that would allow him to quickly move to the side of the door and get control. He began to steady his breathing and get his mind back into “soldier mode”. He became a machine, violence was his job, his training took over and he pushed his humanity deep into his subconscious. She wasn’t his ex-wife or lover, she was the enemy. She was going to kill his daughter. This was self-defense. He wasn’t doing anything wrong.

As he walked ahead of her he could feel the gun pressed into the lower right part of the back. Good. Even if she got a shot off he knew it wouldn’t be immediately fatal and if he spun to the left the gun would shift right away from his body. He had walked this hallway thousands of times and knew how many steps it was to the end. He began counting down.

*5 more steps*

Each step took less than a second but it felt like an hour.

*4 more steps*

Visualize the attack but don’t get hung up on the details.

*3 more steps*

Be ready to improvise, run through scenarios.

*2 more steps*

Overpower her, don’t kill her

*1 more step*

Don’t forget about the gun.

*Now*

Richard spun to the left and raised his left arm. The momentum of his body drove his elbow into her face, making an audible crunch. She had been looking slightly left and took the force of his blow straight on the nose. Blood exploded onto the walls and her vision went blurry. The gun fell to the ground as she instinctually reached up to her face, but her arms never got to her wound. Richard was too quick and restrained her arms. He pushed her to the ground and straddled her body, pinning her arms against her torso.

As calmly as he could muster he asked, “Where is my daughter?”

“YOU FUCKER! I’M GOING TO CALL THE COPS! YOU BEAT ME JUST LIKE MY DAD BEAT MOM! YOU ASSHOLE!”

“Where is my daughter?”

She started giggling. “You mean ‘our daughter’?” The laughing grew stronger. “She’s fine. She’s in the back seat of the car waiting for our honeymoon.” Her body started to convulse in laughter and she doubled over as Richard jumped off her and sprinted towards the front door.

As he left the house he saw Lucy’s car in the driveway and a familiar blonde ponytail in the backseat. He ran, joy flooding his mind at the sight of his daughter. He tugged on the back door to find it locked and he started banging on the window. “Honey! Honey! Open the door for me, sweetie”.

His daughter didn’t respond.

Then, slowly, he started to realize that something wasn’t right. His daughter wasn’t moving. Her head was limp against her chest. Blood flowed down her neck onto her dress.

He heard a cackling behind him.

He turned to see Lucy, gun in hand, laughing.

“You thought I’d let you leave me for that bitch!?”

She raised the gun and took a perfect stance. He could see her eye lined up with the front sight post, exactly as he taught her. “She always was a good student,” he thought.

A flash of light.

Darkness.

 


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