“Do you want to live?” The barrel of the gun pressed into my temple, still warm from the bullets that were shot into my stepmother, who now lies in a lifeless heap in the corner. “This moment will determine whether or not I pull the trigger.”
The stranger’s breath smells of warm tobacco and liquor.
Thick red blood pools at my boots and my eyes follow the scarlet trail across the wooden planks to the wounded man, crawling on his elbows toward the door.
I just sliced through the back of his knees with a blade, like a robot at the gunman’s command. Sixteen years of being a relatively normal kid ripped out of my hands, as I watch my first victim, about to make myself a murderer.
My lips are dry. So is my throat, fuzzy and scratchy like cotton. Fear will do that, but so can excitement.
Staring down at my hands, coated in his blood, I suddenly long to wash him off of me, to keep him from infecting me, but I can’t yet. I have to finish him. That’s what the stranger with the gun has asked me to do.
Kill my father.
With slow, stalking steps, I follow behind, until he turns over onto his back, and the gore of the last hour bleeds out of more wounds than I can count.
“Tell me, boy.” His voice is raspy, gravelly, and carries a slight gurgle from whatever is backing up in his throat. In spite of the panting rise and fall of his chest, he lets out a hearty laugh and slaps a hand to his heart with a hacking cough that sprouts a glob of blood onto his lip. “What’s yours … feel like?” Blood coats his teeth and choppy words confess he’s losing to death. “Tell you what … mine felt like. Your momma … she was … a beautiful kill. Fucking … begged me not to hurt you. Told me … I could do whatever … I wanted to her. So long as I left … you alone.” Another laugh and he twists to the side, vomiting blood onto the floor beside him. After a pause, he wipes his face across his sleeve and continues, “So I did … everything … to that whoring cunt.”
I tighten my fingers around the blade’s hilt, and despite the rage that snakes through my veins, I don’t yet finish him. I’ve waited too long for this. Night after night, I fantasized of these very seconds and the final words I’d say to him.
With the gun pointed at my back, I find the courage to kill or be killed. “Every … stab. Like butter. And when I slit her throat …” A sickly cough ends on a choking fit and the wet clap in his chest tells me I punctured his lung earlier. “Last thing she mouthed … was your name.”
I kneel down beside him and reach out a hand that he bats away. I’m stronger than what little resistance is left in him, and I grip his skull, staring into his dark, soulless eyes. Both of mine are a different color—one blue, like my mother’s, and one hazel. One offers the ability to see a man’s true colors, the other allows me to watch him die without remorse. “You want to know how it feels to hurt you?” The detachment in my voice is foreign to me. Calm.
His lips stretch into a bloodstained smile. “Yes. Tell me. Tell me … how it feels.”
I stab the knife into his throat and give a brutal turn of the blade, watching his eyes widen in horror as his hand flies to the hilt. Gripping his hair tight, I tip his head back and guide his eyes to mine. “I feel nothing.”
His brows dip with a frown and focus on mine for a moment as he gasps for the air that’ll never save him now.
I push off of him, surprised at the apathy washing over me while he grasps at the gaping wound in his windpipe. Surely a son should feel something for his father. And yet, I don’t. He’d beaten the love out of me a long time ago, leaving nothing but a hollow that has since filled with hate.
From behind, a firm grip of my shoulder has me looking down to the gold lion ring on the hand curled there, and back to the man wearing a black shirt and slacks, who stands behind me.
“Well done, Ripley.” He puffs his cigar and gives a squeeze of my shoulder. “Well done, my boy.”
The man who freed me from my cage disappears into the dark room behind me, and when I turn my attention back on the one I’ve just killed, a terrifying reality settles over me. I’ve traded one cage for another.