I looked around for the source of the voice. A fist came from my left and hit my jaw. Instead of leaning with the impact, my muscles held my head tight and my jaw felt like falling off my body.
I clicked my teeth and felt a few of them loosen. The copper taste of blood filled my mouth and I spit. Another fist came from the same direction as the first, this time across my temple. My vision blanked red and I almost passed out.
“Don’t spit in the house, boy,” a male voice said in my ear, “Now pick which of those girls you like best cause I’m tired of lookin at them.”
I concentrated on the words, using them to bring me back. I had to search for their meaning, reforming the images they invoked in my mind. I connected the words to Natalie and Cassidy hanging by their arms in front of me by chains and the world snapped into focus.
“Now, Babe, don’t hit’em so hard in the head,” a female voice said, “He can’t think straight if you keep smackin him around like that.”
I felt a cool, wet paper towel applied to my head by a compassionate hand. The sound of duct tape ripping came. While a hand held the compress to my head, another taped it to me. Water poured down my face from the fake cloth. I caught some of it in my mouth and drank to wash the taste of blood away. It did not work.
She stood in front of me, a shape in a dark room. I had to blink water free from my vision and my glasses sat at an odd angle on my face so I naturally tilted my head like a dog to correct the problem even though the action did nothing. I can only imagine what she thought because she moved, and I heard the sound of a paper towel ripping and my face was washed clean and my glasses straightened on my face. The surreal nature of the scene made me laugh.
Seeing her made me laugh harder. She stood in front of me again. A brown dress with blue flowers, drawn flowers like a child might make with big loops for petals and little green leaves, draped over her large frame. Her head reminded me of a hawk, pointed in front yet round and watching for prey. One hand rested on her hip and one hand stretched out, holding the paper towel soiled with my blood.
“Little tea pot,” I said, the giggling coming back and making me snort.
I heard the man laugh to my left and that set me off even more. Nothing else could be done. She stood there before me and smiled, her face splitting as her mouth spread outward and up. The thought of her eating me alive like a buzzard like I was roadkill entered my brain and I stopped laughing.
But I did not stop laughing soon enough. She came at me fast, covering space between us in a moment and shoved the paper towels drenched in my blood, sweat and water into my mouth until I could feel it touch my throat.
I bucked in the chair, but hands held me down. She came close to me, nose to nose and eyes to eyes and stared at me. The paper towel in my mouth triggered my gag reflex and my body shuddered again but the hands held me fast.
“You don’t know us,” she said, “my name’s Sheila. That’s John behind you but we call him Babe cause he’s a Junior, named after my late husband. You met Billy, too, but you put quite the beating on him, you and your little whore over there so we put a little beating on her. Now, I’m gonna take out this paper from your mouth and you are gonna pick out which of those girls to die. K?”
She pulled the rag from my mouth and pushed my head to the side while I vomited on the floor. She stood up and I heard more paper towels being ripped off the roll. The hands of Babe held me tight to the chair while she lay the paper on the mess I had made.
“There,” Sheila said, “now which one is it gonna be, Mr. Banned?”
“Why?” I asked, “Who are you?”
My voice sounded broken to me, a far away sound. I stared at the women, both of whom I cared for in some way. I stared at them as they hung helpless and broken before me and knew no answer would be satisfactory. I could not imagine what we could have done, what force in the universe had targeted us for such a punishment.
Sheila sighed, “You met two of my sons today, Mr. Banned. You met a third awhile back. Then you killed him. Last name was McCraw. Now I’m gonna kill you cause that’ll make it right. You took my boy and I’m gonna take something of yours.”
My heart began to sink.
“You killed my darling boy, Mr. Banned. You killed my Darling and for that you have to die inside.”