Passing out is like blinking. You’re doing one thing; your eyes close. Then when you open them again less than a second later, everything’s different. It happened once when I was little. I fell from a tree. Landed right on my head. The last thing I remembered was sitting in the branch—but when I opened my eyes, people were looming over me. Mom was crying, and a man in a black uniform was telling me I’d fallen.
The same thing has happened again. I think. Maybe not the same thing, but a similar thing. All I can remember is being depressed, wanting to distract myself at the bar with drink and drugs, and I met them. Such a cool couple—he was good-looking and charming, she was pretty and sweet. And both of them were interested in me, and both of them invited me back to do some lines and stay the night. Of course I said yes.
The last thing I remember is getting into the back seat with her. Then came the blink. And now my hands and legs won’t move, and I don’t know where I am. All I know is that every few seconds, pain drums against the back of my head. It’s the thick kind, the kind that rattles my stomach, and it’s so bad that I can’t even look around for a few minutes.
But when I finally can, I wish I hadn’t.
There are two pieces of furniture—the chair I’m in, and the big clawfoot tub behind me. I can’t see into it, but the rust color staining the edge tells me I don’t want to. It’s what’s on the cabinets that starts my shaking, though. Pliers, hammers, drills, nails, needles, threads, ropes, wires, a tarp laid out beneath my seat, oh, God, what’s happening? And then the only door in the room explodes open and I buck in place because I can’t really jump, and I recognize the couple from before. Their names, what were their names? Susan and— Eric? Aaron?
He lopes into the room, eyes like ice landing right on me, and his lips peel back from teeth that seemed beautiful at the bar. “Oh good, kitten, look, it’s up. Good morning, sunshine.”
I can barely understand him over the sound of my heart.
My vision finally focuses enough that I can look down at my hands—my entire body freezes when I see the cord and duct tape, and things are starting to make sense. Aaron chuckles like he’s watching a funny movie, and his wife creeps from behind him to lean back against the counter. She won’t look at me. Not even when I think to ask, “What’s going on?” She just looks at him, and he grins.
“This is the start of your last…oh, five or so hours of life. It’s been awhile, so I’d like to make it last.” That awful grin gets wider, his eyebrows lift, and he turns toward the woman. He murmurs something and kisses her, and she smiles and stops curling her black waves around her fingers, and neither of them pay any attention to the echoing heartbeat or the whispered prayers or the sound of duct tape failing to give.
I once saw my dog kill a rabbit. She took the bunny in her jaws and snapped its neck, and the whole time the rabbit screamed and kicked and tried even though it surely knew it was a lost cause.
I can’t help but understand it, now.
“You’ve got to let me go, please, please you have to. You can’t ki-” But that’s all I can manage before I choke on the words and tears fill my eyes, and the man—he turns back to me and laughs.
“Oh, I’ve got to let you go? And I can’t kill you? Now who says I can’t?”
My brain must be rattling in my skull, the way I shake. “The law! God! Please, please, I’m a person just like you.” His smile shows me every tooth in his mouth and his eyes narrow with it so I look to the woman, who stares somewhere beyond me. “Please. My name is Nicole, I’m only twenty-six, I used to want to be an actress but now I just want to survive, please don’t kill me. It’s almost Christmas, please, please don’t kill me.”
The woman’s soft jaw clenches and she slides her hand up the man’s arm, leaning against him.
“I know it’s nearly Christmas.” Her voice is faint, quiet, but firm. “That’s why you’re here.”
Grinning all the wider, the man croons, “You spoil me,” and turns to kiss her eyebrow. Then her mouth curves up, pretty white teeth showing and eyes curling, and she hugs him.
“I love you, Richard.”
“We’re still going to have to figure out what to do with it when we’re done,” he says, almost to himself. “The ground’s bound to be hard.”
I watch and fit the name to him, memorizing, because then maybe if something happens—if I can get out of this—maybe I’ll remember. He kisses her head and steps back with a smile, glancing over to me while my heart pounds in my ears.
“My God, it’s been too long.” Richard sighs in an almost dreamy way, smirking when I give my wrists a few more jerks. Head clouded like I’m in a dream, I gasp, “Please,” again.
He snorts. “This is your own fault—going home with strangers who promise you drugs. I mean, really. You’re the single easiest mark I’ve had since I stopped going after whores. You’ve made your bed, now lie in it.”
My stomach churns and I very nearly vomit, but I overcome the urge because I get the feeling it’d make things worse for me. He’s done this before, oh my God, they’ve both done this before.“Why do you do this?”
“Art’s sake, mostly.” He doesn’t even look at me as he strolls to the counter. “But this part is quality time for Delilah and myself.” When he turns around, he’s got the pliers in his hand, and I don’t know what he wants to do with them until he takes a few long steps to my side and grabs my hair with his gloved hand. Shrieking, I duck my head and twist, and the man gives a mutter of amused irritation and smashes the back of my skull into the seat. All the pain comes rushing back but I keep fighting because I can barely feel it, because I don’t want those things anywhere near my face.
So I act on instinct.
“Kitten,” he sighs, “would you come here and hel- fuck me!”
My mouth is full of copper-tasting blood and his skin parts against my teeth until something slams once, then twice, into the back of my skull, and a hand comes and opens my jaw, and I have to let go. Richard or Aaron or whatever the fuck his name is, he moves away looking like he’s just stepped in dog shit.
“You little cunt.” He starts to make a move towards me, but then the woman is between us. And this meek, quiet, pretty lady, her black eyes are burning and her face is lined with a kind of anger I’ve never seen in a human being in my whole life, and she swings her right arm, and I don’t realize she’s holding a hammer until it smashes into my mouth and my world explodes.
“You bitch! You little bitch, don’t you dare touch him!”
One, two, three, four, times, and I can only cry out once or twice at the jarring sensation of my teeth snapping, splinters of them flying back into my throat. I choke and sputter and sob and my mouth falls open and hot blood pours out and I can feel my own teeth fall into my lap, and over the loud sound of what’s more noise than music, I can hear her sharp, angry breaths stop. Through my tears I can see he’s grabbed her and kissed her, this hard, passionate romance-movie kiss like what I used to dream about.
“That thing had better not have any diseases.” He turns to the sink. While water runs, I look at the woman—Delilah, he called her, Delilah, Delilah. “How can you let him do this?” The words don’t sound right because half my face is probably already swelling and what few teeth left are snapped in half.
But she understands just the same and shakes her head. “It’s his choice. You little— you bit him,” she says, looking paler than she already is. Her nostrils flare and she snaps up the abandoned pliers, coming at me—when I try to lean away, she grabs my jaw and squeezes it, and then the pliers clamp down over my septum.
I can’t even move before it snaps—it’s the loudest, ugliest sound I’ve ever heard, and the worst pain I’ve ever felt. It’s the kind that sweeps up to my head and then down to my stomach in a great white explosion that shakes my ears and I can feel blood pour down my face while I choke on sobs and the remnants of teeth.
“Oh pussycat.” Now he’s got a bandage on his arm. “I’d ought to let them hurt me more often. Look at you.”
He grins and leans down to kiss her throat, and she takes a little breath and trembles even after he turns to face me.
“You’ve got spunk. I appreciate that. But I don’t appreciate the fact that you drew blood—you’re not ill, are you?” He waves the bandaged arm in front of my face. I shake my head. “Good. I’ll warn you, though, if you’re lying, the truth will come out. And you’ll regret it.”
“They’ll throw you in jail,” I say, but I’m even less intelligible than before. “They’ll find you and kill you.”
He only laughs and lifts his eyebrows. “Oh? And who loves some crack-addled bitch enough to report her missing, go to the police? Really, who do you have? I know your type.” The man shakes his head and turns to pick up a drill, squeezing the button for a second before placing it down again and picking up a dremel, instead.
“You’ve got three, maybe four friends, all of them on the same drugs you are. Things like you disappear often enough and then resurface without a word, and they’ll be too fucked up to acknowledge that you’re gone, and won’t think anything of your disappearance until at least six months from now—if ever.” He smiles—bares his teeth—and switches the tool on, driving the bit into the side of my knee. I shriek and sob and gag, my leg twitching and the motions only making it worse.
Jesus, Jesus, please, oh, God, can’t someone help me? Why me? I don’t deserve this—I’m into shit that I shouldn’t be, but I’ve never hurt anybody! Jesus, God, it isn’t fair.
It’s when he breaks a finger that I finally can’t feel anything.
My ears fill with static. My name is Nicole Biddle, Nicole Biddle, Nicole Biddle, Nicole Biddle, Nicole Biddle, Nicole Biddle, Nicole Biddle, I don’t deserve this, my name is Nicole Biddle, I don’t deserve this, I’m only twenty-six, I’m only twenty-six and I wanted to be an actress, but the only roles I could get were roles in porn, and I did some movies and I’m not proud of it but I needed money, when I was ten my dog got hit by a car and I cried for hours and my father buried her and my mother held me, they always loved me, but then they heard about the movies and suddenly they didn’t anymore, and I don’t have anybody, but I have me, and my name is Nicole Biddle.
“God, kitten, look at that! You certainly are improving in your drawing.”
“It’s only because of you.”
“Nonsense. I wouldn’t be able to do anything if I didn’t have such talent to start with. Why don’t you take a break and take a few photos for me?”
Behind my lids there’s the white flash of a camera and then the man, the black-haired devil, he comes to me and takes my eyelids and my whole face is covered in blood, the same that pours out of the sides of my knees and from under my fingernails and what pools in my broken hands and ribs, and he grabs a broken bottle and I scream when he jams it into me because oh God it hurts, it’s the first pain I’ve felt since my finger—then he grins and grabs the girl and fucks her in front of me like I’m not even there, because I’m not, and I don’t want to see it and she’s embarrassed about it but it’s like he can’t help himself, and she doesn’t seem to mind it, really, just a quick thing against the counter and then he kisses her and tells her how much he loves her.
And what scares me is that it sounds like he more than means it.
Then blink, blink, blink, I keep passing out even though my eyelids are gone which is terrifying and each time I wake up there’s more wrong with me, deep cuts and parts of my skin and— and now I do vomit a little, and it’s mostly blood and teeth and stomach acid and the man laughs and works on what I think is a painting but I can’t really see things right anymore and my eyes sting and then finally, finally I hear him say to the woman, “Why don’t we finish up here, and you and I can move to a room a little more…appropriate for the mood, hm?”
I can’t hear her response, but she must agree, because he comes over to me and leans down, grinning, and places leather-gloved hands around my throat and tells me “Thanks, it was fun,” and presses down on my windpipe, and my name is Nicole Biddle. Biddle Biddle Biddle Biddle. Breathing was already hard and now it’s impossible, and my body goes warm and then cold and I can’t feel a thing, Nicole Nicole Nicole Nicole, and I’m