World Apart

By C.J. Connor All Rights Reserved ©

Scifi / Action

Chapter 2

To betray a love,

In pursuit of hate,

Is to blind thy eyes,

And to seal thy fate.

“Bring some chips in here, boy,” Deacon Trent hollered. He took a long swig of his beer, a blue stream escaping from his mouth and dribbling down his chin. Wiping it away, he belched in approval. “Every good football game needs chips.”

Aric Trent stopped pouring his juice and sprinted to the cupboard where the snacks were kept. “Spicy totweed or kickin’ kipshoot?”

Deacon huffed. “Bring ‘em both. Just get in here.”

“Okay,” Aric replied, scooping the bags into his arms and running to the couch where his dad could always be found with a beer in hand and his eyes glued to an Arthian Football League game. “Here you go, Dad.”

Deacon ripped the bags from his son’s hands and dumped a mound from each into his lap. He pincered a chip between his thumb and index finger and extended it, trembling, toward Aric’s mouth. “Here. Try one.”

“I’m good, Dad. Thanks,” Aric replied, dropping back to avoid a chip in the eye.

Deacon’s face twisted into an expression of utter resentment, as if his son had just delivered an insult of greatest offense. “You’re good, huh?” he muttered. His eyes sharpened and narrowed. “Boy, you ain’t shit. In my time, you took whatever food you were offered, and you did it with a smile. You eat this goddamn chip. No boy of mine is gonna talk down to me like that.”

“But Dad,” Aric began, “I wasn’t trying to—” His voice broke into a groan as a sudden fist caught him in the cheek and sent him stumbling backward. He stood motionless for a moment, holding his face and glaring as the tears materialized at the corners of his eyes.

Deacon leaned forward, his drunken eyes glazed and mean. “What? Are you gonna cry, boy? I barely hit you. You’re 18 now. You take it like a man. Come give me one back if you think you’re up to it.”

Aric escaped his father’s stare and shifted gaze downward, attempting to hide his growing anger, which loomed barely contained behind his clenching fists. He wanted so badly to retaliate but knew that if he did, he’d be waking up in a puddle of blood like the last time. He bit his tongue and turned away toward the kitchen.

“Aric, I’m sorry, okay? It was an accident. Get back here and watch the game with me.” Aric gave no answer as he disappeared into the kitchen and out through the swinging screen door. The creak and slam alerted Deacon that his son had left, so he refocused on the television and took another swig of his blubeer. A tear crept down his cheek, and he brushed it off quickly and downed the rest of his bottle. Cranking up the volume loud enough to drown out his own thoughts, he leaned back and surrendered to his drunken habit.

Aric broke through the night shadows and moved swiftly to mount his solarcycle. He wished to feel the wind in his hair. After checking to ensure that the battery had amply charged during the day, he took his seat and tore off down the street. As the air streamed over his body, he drifted away from reality, leaving behind his alcoholic father and the man’s careless rage. He closed his eyes and felt the street as it scrolled beneath him. The wheels resonated upon the pavement with a steady, soothing drone. He inhaled the cool, fresh air and exhaled his anger and pain.

A sudden buzzing manifested ahead, compelling him to open his eyes and tense instantly at the sight. Instinctively, he yanked his handlebars in a brisk arc and swerved back into his rightful lane before painting the hood of an oncoming car with his blood. He swiveled to watch the car’s taillights shrink into the distance, wondering why the bastard hadn’t even honked to warn him. It was late though; the driver was probably drunk.

Just as Aric’s nerves began to settle, the growl of an engine roared at his back. Startled, he spun around in his seat, shielding his eyes from blinding headlights to recognize the same car he’d just narrowly avoided. It was approaching rapidly, its constant acceleration revealing no intent to avoid him. A pistol dangled from the passenger side window, confirming the suspected identity of those within: Death Runners looking to get some Cutthroat meat while it was flying solo. Aric accelerated and took a turn.

How did they know I was a Cutthroat? he thought to himself. I’m not wearing colors.

The shriek of dragging rubber interrupted his thoughts as his pursuers drifted around the corner and barreled after him in pursuit. Aric ducked low as a shot tore at his eardrums, sending sparks off the pavement ahead. He turned to look back at his assailants and another bullet whizzed by with a screech that scared him so much he nearly jerked free from his bike. Before his ride capsized, he straightened the handlebars and hurled his body back the other way.

Presently, he was headed toward the side of the local pet store, so he turned sharply to run parallel along its front and then slowed abruptly to make a right angle turn down a narrow alley. The ping of another missed bullet relayed off the far building that lined the alley, sending shards of brick at the back of his neck. He slammed his brakes and dismounted in a single, fluid motion and proceeded to roll a nearby dumpster into the center of the passageway.

Aric was still pushing as the car screeched around the bend and a bullet ricocheted, at face level, off the metal bin. He rolled quickly around to the far side, using it for cover as he pushed the last couple feet and kicked down the wheel stoppers at the base before jumping back on his bike and blasting off down the alley. Car doors opened behind him, and he stopped to watch for a brief moment as the morons struggled to move the unwavering obstruction from their path. Though his life was in danger, the pitiful sight of his intellectually-challenged pursuers managed to educe a laugh from his fear.

But there was no time to waste. He squeezed the throttle and filled the alley with the roar of his bike’s engine. A right turn removed the immediacy of the threat, and a few more direction changes raised his confidence and calmed his worry. As his chasers would undoubtedly have no idea where he was, he slowed pace to avoid trouble with the traffic police and took the next left turn down his girlfriend’s street. Her house was a white rectangle nestled back far enough from the road to afford it a decent-sized front yard of dead grass and scattered weeds. He pulled his bike into her driveway and shut it down. As he stepped off, he glanced at the dash and noticed the blinking energy gage. His unexpected escapade had taken its toll; he’d have to swing by a solar station on his way home.

Ascending the four-stair flight to Whitney’s front door, Aric delivered a staccato rap and was promptly answered by her mother’s inquiry.

“Who is it?” she shouted. The fatigue in her voice told him that she was heated with another one of her exercise videos.

“It’s Aric.”

His words brought her tiny face through the curtains of the adjacent window and then she disappeared again. A deadbolt lock snapped out of place, and she swung the door open to greet him.

“Well hello there, Aric. Whitney never mentioned you were coming over.” She wore a bright green leotard with a less-than-matching, pink, striped sweatband that seemed to be struggling with its job. Sweat swathed her face, and a long oval of dampness extended down the center of her abdomen. She stood lopsided on one leg, her hands on her hips as she panted between words. “Come on in.”

“Hey, Deb. Yeah, it’s kind of a spontaneous visit. I just really wanted to see her.”

Deb reached out and gripped his chin gently with two fingers, manipulating his face so she could see the bruise that had begun to form along his jawline. “My gosh, Aric, what happened to you?”

Her concern made him feel loved, the way his mother used to.

“I slipped on some ice,” he responded, quickly realizing his mistake.

“It’s the middle of the summer. Where on Arth did you run into ice?”

“Umm, it was an ice cube,” he covered. “I was putting some into my water and one fell on the ground without me noticing. I slipped and spilled all over myself. I felt pretty stupid.”

“Oh okay. You gotta be more careful than that, you clumsy boy. Whitney’s gonna flip when she sees that shiner.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said, rubbing his cheek and grinning. “Do you know where she’s at?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve been busy with Tony Thomson and his Buns of Steel. Boy is he the right guy for the job. Mmm, mmm, mmm.”

Aric smiled at her provocative tone. He didn’t want to think about what she was imagining at that moment. “Well, I’ll go check her room, and you can get back to Tony Thomson’s buns. You might wanna wipe your chin off first, though. You’ve got a little drool dripping down there.”

“You little shit,” she laughed, nudging him in the back as he walked past.

He moved to the end of the hallway and skipped knocking as he entered Whitney’s room. A rush of Andromedan lilac overwhelmed his senses as a light breeze brushed through his hair and passed into the hallway. She was asleep on her bed, her stereo emitting the calming sounds of a classical string orchestra.

For a minute or two, he stood and admired her beauty: the way her flowing blonde hair draped along her curves, how her lustrous nightie clung so tightly to her skin, and her lips quivered ever so faintly with each passing breath. He moved to her side and sat on the edge of her bed, stroking his hand against the delicate surface of her belly. It was getting plumper.

The angel stirred, a rousing groan escaping as she stretched her arms and shifted in her spot. She opened her eyes slowly to see her lover and then squeezed them tightly shut again, a surprised smile curling at the corners of her mouth.

“Hmmm. What are you doing here, baby?”

Her eyes were warm as she sat up against the headrest of her tiny bed.

“I wanted to see you,” Aric replied. “I always wanna see you.”

He slipped on a boyish grin and reached to her, brushing the hair from her face with a gentle stroke. She grabbed his hand and held it tightly to her cheek, closing her eyes and nuzzling it like a child’s blanket.

“What happened to your face?” she suddenly inquired, yanking him closer by the arm. “Did your bastard father do it to you?”

“Yeah,” Aric said feebly, looking down to the bed so she couldn’t see the pain in his eyes. “He was drunk again.”

“Come here, babe,” she ordered, pulling him in for a hug. “He’s an asshole and everyone knows it. But you’re almost done with him. As soon as we graduate, we’ll move into an apartment together. You can find a job somewhere, and I’ll stay at home and take care of the little one.” She cupped her stomach with both hands and giggled. “I felt her kick, today. I swear I did. She’s alive in there.”

Aric’s face lit up. “No way. That’s great.” He leaned down and put an ear to Whitney’s belly. “I can hear her.” He paused for a few seconds and listened intently. “She says that she hates that music you’re always listening to and wishes you would play something more hardcore.”

“Shut up,” Whitney responded with a giggle and a smack to the arm.

“What?” he asked with a smirk.

“That music is supposed to be good for the baby. It’ll make her smart. I read it in a magazine.”

“Then by all means, keep it up Dr. Whitney. But knowing the sweet, beautiful, intelligent woman she’s coming from, I don’t think we have much to worry about in any department.”

Her eyes sparkled, and she leaned in to kiss him. He had a way with compliments. The cheesier the better.

A sudden stream of drums and curse words interrupted the romance, and Aric reached into his pocket to grab his ringing phone. “Hey, what’s up man?”

Whitney watched as he listened closely to the one on the other end. His face had assumed a hardened, thug-like form. Undoubtedly, it was one of his Cutthroat friends.

“Are you serious?” Aric asked. “Those guys tried gunning me down just a little bit ago, and now this?” He was shouting, a frightful ferocity lurking within his voice. “No problem, bro. I can be there in 10.” Aric flipped his phone shut and slipped it into his pocket before standing with clenched fists. There was sadness hidden within his sudden rage.

“What’s going on?” Whitney asked.

“I have to go. They killed Warren.”

“What? Who did?”

“The Death Runners. They shot him down while he was walking home from the store.”

“Oh my God,” Whitney gasped. “Well, where are you going? Please tell me you’re not planning on retaliating.”

“Retaliating? Shit, babe, they killed one of our main men—one of my best friends. We’re gonna destroy them.” He leaned down and gave her a peck on the forehead and then turned to walk before a tug at his hand stopped him.

“I can’t let you go. You could get hurt. You could die. I know it’s horrible what they did to Warren, but it’s done. You can’t change it. Let the others deal with it. You have a family that can’t afford to lose you.”

Whitney motioned to the baby inside herself: a plea she hoped would capture his logical mind. He was smart enough to see that what he was about to do was stupid. She just needed to remove the haze of his anger so he could do so.

It didn’t work.

Aric burned rubber down the street, the breeze in his hair this time unable to blow away his worries. He had already left reality behind. The love of his life, his future child, his safety. Now it was on to another realm. An alter ego. Growing up with a neglectful father and no mother, the Cutthroats had been his ticket to acceptance—his chance to have a family. And that’s what they had provided him. To his brothers there, he was known as “Ice Pick.” The nickname’s origin had a story of its own; it involved an ill-fated Death Runner, a rusty ice pick, and an eyeball. Induction into the gang wasn’t a pleasant auditorium ceremony with smiling parents and camcorders.

When Aric reached Drack Street, he saw his boys up ahead. There were four of them, all clad in black and leaned against two parked cars talking business as they passed around a pipe of androweed and took their turns puffing. They halted their conversation as Aric approached.

“Let’s do this,” he began. “What’s the plan?” He was ready for action, not small talk and getting high.

“Whoa, whoa big guy,” Matrick uttered, exhaling a cloud of red smoke and passing the pipe down the line. He was the tallest and most built and, not coincidently, the leader of the Cutthroats. His black shirt was tight against his biceps and shoulders but hung more loosely where it was tucked behind his belt. His dark jeans were tattered at the bottoms where his heels had worn them through, and a hole in the left leg was barely visible behind the metal chain that hung from his waistline.

He rose from his leaned position and spat a blob of arrogance at the dirty sidewalk, the clanging of his chain resounding as it always did upon his action. He squinted probingly, his stubble-coated jawline tightening as he grinded his teeth. “We still gotta make the plan, sport,” he hissed.

Aric broke Matrick’s gaze and looked to the others. The guy creeped him out. He was big, mean, and disturbingly aloof, as if constantly consumed by dark and violent thoughts. His eyes shifted eerily beneath greasy, dark hair that never moved, and an aura of sin seemed to surround him, stealing the heat from the air. Matrick was the leader, but Aric hesitated to fully trust him. He could be depended on to have your back in a fight, or kill someone you thought had wronged you, but his true intentions were purely that of a businessman.

Matrick wanted money and he wanted power, and if the path to such ends required that he kill a few nobodies to maintain the trust of his cronies, then there was no hesitation. Likewise, if it required that he off a fellow member, he was callous enough to follow through with it just as readily. Of course, the others couldn’t see through his charismatic façade. They couldn’t see into his heartless core where self-interest was second to none, and so he remained their leader, and they remained loyal without question.

Aric’s friend, Ricky, spoke to break the silence. “We know they’re at Pico’s place right now because we drove by and saw them in there. I’m thinking we should just grab our weapons and go surprise their asses with some bullets to the face. Maybe sneak in through the back and pop a couple rounds into the middle of their nasty Death Rider orgy.” He laughed, but the others remained staunch and straight-faced. “What do you think, Ice Pick?”

Aric licked his lips in contemplation, sensing Matrick’s cold stare. The man was dissecting him, inferring his thoughts, anticipating his typical disapproval. This time he’d be mistaken.

“I think someone needs to get me a fucking shotgun,” Aric said coolly.

He looked to Matrick, attempting to mimic the man’s coldness as if to say “See? I’m not as weak as you thought.” The other glared back, his expression unchanging but his mind obviously assessing the authenticity of Aric’s unspoken claim. He grinned and broke eye contact, moving around to the front of the car where he reached in and popped the trunk. He walked back around to the rear and flipped the lid up, reaching into the darkness and emerging with a rifle in hand.

“Here you go, Ice Pick,” he said casually, tossing the weapon into Aric’s arms. “Everyone else, come grab yours too. We’re heading out. We’ll take my car and park it one street over and two blocks down. We’ll walk to Pico’s, scope out the scene, and figure out what’s next from there.”

He slithered into the driver’s seat, and Aric climbed in the back as the others retrieved their weapons.

“Come sit up here, Ice Pick,” Matrick said, meeting eyes with Aric in the rearview mirror. It was a strange request because Ricky always took the front, but Aric didn’t protest. He slid up between the two seats and stepped over the center console, slipping an awkward smile to his leader who returned the gesture with an unfriendly glare.

This guy’s so weird, Aric thought to himself.

*****

“There they are,” Ricky whispered, his index finger extended toward the large window in the back of the dilapidated, one-story house. Its white paint was peeling in patches, revealing beneath it the rotting wood that composed the structure. A yellow bulb cast its dirty light on the small, fenced-in backyard. It was chilly out, and Aric’s breath rose as fog before his eyes. The five were quiet and invisible, their black attire removing their contours and concealing their presence to the prey. Aric broke the silence.

“I know what to do. It looks like there’s four of them in there. One of us can sneak along the base of the house and unscrew the light bulb. When they notice that the yard is dark, one of them will come out to fix it. Because he plans on a quick fix, he’ll leave the door open behind him, or at least unlocked. While he’s on his own, someone can slit his throat. This’ll keep him from yelling to the others. Once he’s out of the picture, the five of us can storm in the back door guns blazing and take their asses off guard.”

He paused to read the faces of his companions. They nodded in approval.

“Very nice, Ice Pick. I didn’t think you had it in you.” Matrick pierced him with the eyes of a wolf, sending a ghostly chill up his spine. “Get in there and get it done.” He reached into his jeans and pulled out a pocketknife that was as big as his hand. A quick flip and the blade was out, nearly five inches long and so sharp that Aric lost sight of it when it was tilted just right. “Here’s your throat slicer. Now go slice that throat.”

Matrick’s words were so unfeeling that Aric shuddered on the inside. He had never taken a man’s life before. The closest he had ever gotten was the incident from which he derived his nickname. Matrick’s indifference toward killing was frightening. How many had died by his hand?

Aric reached out and took the knife, realizing that refusal to do so would not only make him look like the weak person he was trying to prove he was not, but possibly stir Matrick in a way that would provoke an unpredictable, and possibly harmful, outcome. He’d rather risk a scuffle with a Death Rider than a confrontation with Matrick. This was for certain.

Aric said nothing before embarking toward the light. Keeping low, he maintained an eye on the window and the faces behind it. If he caught the attention of any of them, he needed to know before facing the consequences. His advance was slow, for he was overly-cautious and he knew it, but time was a small price to pay for his safety.

Finally, he was there, up against the flaking paint, the scent of decaying wood strong and musty. The angle was enough to ensure that those on the inside couldn’t see him, so he dropped his caution and worked quickly to unscrew the light. An air conditioning unit sat near the fixture, enabling him to step up and, with outstretched arms, reach the bulb. It took only a turn or two to disable the light, and then he jumped swiftly down and disappeared into the shadows to await his victim.

As he sat there, crouched within the darkness all alone, Aric began to fear himself. He wasn’t a killer, but he was about to become one. His thoughts were stirring, bringing forth a clash of Aric and Ice Pick. He weighed his options: answering to Matrick, answering to himself, answering to God. Could he truly take that blade—that sharp and dangerous blade—and run it along another man’s oblivious throat?

He drew the knife from his pocket and stared at it, sliding his finger along its length and wincing when it sliced effortlessly into his skin. It was so painful. He imagined the same on the skin of his throat, through his Adam’s apple, the solid tube of his trachea, the resulting influx of blood that would choke him and drown the pain of his parted skin. His head spun. He couldn’t do that to another.

The swinging door in front of him caught his attention. It produced a bulky man in a plaid jacket. Beneath it, he wore a white undershirt against which the dark grip of a pistol was clearly visible. This was now riskier than he had anticipated.

The man stepped away from the house and stared up at the light, clueless as to what was wrong and how to fix it. He stood there for a minute, apparently deep in thought over the complex puzzle before him. Aric would have laughed, but he was preoccupied with thought of Matrick’s glare and the unspoken threat that it conveyed.

He still had not finalized a decision as to what he was going to do, but it needed to be done quickly because the Death Rider had apparently figured out a plan of attack and was moving to mount the air conditioner. With knife in hand, Aric rose from the shadows and moved slowly toward the man, who was now trying to get his overweight legs up onto the appliance. Within arm’s reach, Aric halted, his armed hand shaking uncontrollably with apprehension as his heart tried to stop the impending action. The Death Rider fiddled with the light bulb, unaware that another was directly behind with a means of taking his life in a single stroke. Fortunately for him, Ice Pick, in the immediacy of the situation, succumbed to Aric and abandoned his plan.

Aric turned to escape back into hiding before the light came on but found himself pushed roughly to the ground. From below, he looked on as Matrick charged by and pulled the Death Rider from his podium. As the man fell backward, Matrick brought a knife across his tender throat and then laid the body down to drain. The man convulsed as he gurgled blood, periodic sprays from a severed carotid leaping into the air and back down across his chest. Fortunately, his struggle was short-lived as Ricky came from behind and sank a knife into his heart.

Matrick glowered in rage, upset that his sick spectacle had been cut short, and for the first time, Ricky caught an unbiased glimpse of the truly evil soul that lurked within. He backed away. Matrick wasted no time swinging his gun around from his back and rushing into the house before any of the others could enter. Five shots rang out from within, all of them belonging to Matrick.

Then there was silence.

“Everyone, get in here now!”

Aric had messed up enough already, so he decided to follow through with this simple command. He pulled himself from the dirt and shuffled in after the others. The five of them stood in a semicircle about the room, all but Matrick looking away from the massacre before their eyes.

“The cops are hot on my tail after killing that Death Rider last week,” Matrick began. “I haven’t yet told you guys. They used the bullets in his head to figure out the murder weapon, and they’ve traced sales of that specific weapon in the last year. I bought this rifle a month ago.” He held the gun up and walked behind the four men as he spoke. “Now, I think they’ll see that the same weapon has committed this murder. That’s a problem for me.”

Without warning, Aric felt the butt of Matrick’s rifle crushing into the back of his skull. Numbness bloomed throughout his body. He fell hard to the ground, barely conscious and unable to move but still absorbing the words of his attacker. Matrick rubbed his rifle thoroughly with his shirt and then placed it in Aric’s limp hands.

“But not anymore,” he finished, releasing an ominous cackle as he stared into the eyes of the others.

“What the hell,” Ricky screamed, backing away toward the door.

“You shut your mouth or I’ll put you in a coffin,” Matrick shot back.

Ricky grimaced in resentment and then fled through the door and into the night. Nor did the others stay to watch the conclusion, following suit and escaping the scene through the same exit.

Aric lay dazed and groggy, the hazy image of Matrick looming over him, wraith-like.

“Thanks for coming along, Ice Pick. You’ve been a great help.” Aric struggled to will his limbs to action, but they would not move. His breaths resounded loudly in his head, muffling the distant tone of Matrick’s voice. “And don’t worry about your girl. I’ll take care of her for you.” Matrick smiled and began to leave, but stopped as he noticed movement. His final words had incited a strength in Aric that urged him swiftly upward. But this was hopeless. As Aric began to rise, Matrick brought a hard boot to his face and blackened his world. “Goodbye, Aric,” he huffed, escaping quickly out the back door with the sound of sirens growing in the distance.

Aric lay motionless within the blood-splattered living room. Encircling him were the dead bodies of three rival gang members and, in his hands, the weapon that had killed them. The cops would be there in minutes to put the pieces together. Unfortunately for him, the pieces were easily assembled into a story that was false but seemed so true: a story that could end his life as he knew it. His last thought was of Whitney. Then everything went blank.

*****

Aric jolted awake beneath the cold linen sheets of his cot. His body was coated with a layer of sweat that brought him to a chill as the air currents surged across his naked skin. His heart raced and his rapid breaths began to lengthen as he realized where he was. It had been another nightmare—the same one as always. Five years. He couldn’t believe that Matrick’s eyes still haunted him after all that time. He relived that dreaded night so frequently and with such realism that he believed it was in his power to change his fate—to ignore that phone call and then wake up to a new reality that had nothing to do with prison and everything to do with the love of his life. But it was not so. Every time he woke, that dream was shattered, revealing that nothing was different—that he was still a prisoner with nothing to live for.

He remained on his back and tried to calm his nerves, peering around the cell to admire everything that never changed. A tiny, barred window hovered silently amidst the stone wall at his feet, pillars of neon blue beaming down across his body, illuminating dust particles like dancing fairies in the air. They drifted in and out of the light, finding transient life and then losing it just as quickly. There was so much dust. He wondered how he couldn’t taste it on his tongue when he breathed or smell it when he sniffed the air.

Then he thought deeper. Maybe he could taste it, and maybe he could smell it, but to him it was normal—because it was always there, he considered the taste and smell of dust to be the taste and smell of nothing. It was present, affecting his perceptions of the world while he remained clueless. Not until this moment had he realized the error of his thinking. He didn’t know what it was like to truly taste and smell nothing. He smiled at the revelation. The loneliness of his cell at night often allowed him to think in such ways. Some would probably say he was crazy, but he believed he was finding himself—becoming more aware, more conscious.

Across the cell, he noticed David fidgeting in his sleep, no doubt dreaming about one of the poor souls he had taken in his younger years. He always talked about his nightmares, about the tormented spirits of his past victims. He had killed three by the age of 15, the numbers reaching over 20 before he was finally caught as a college senior, three bound girls found naked and bleeding in the corner of his basement.

He always went for the beautiful ones—the girls with the high heels, and tan skin, and daddy’s credit card in their expensive purse—and he always tortured them before finishing the deed. Now he paid the price, not only with a death sentence that was still pending but also in his mind every time he closed his eyes.

“The screams,” he had said one night. “It’s the screams that get me. I see their faces, overwhelmed with horror and pain, and then I hear their blood-curdling screams. They pierce my heart just as I did theirs. There was a time when I enjoyed the sound, but not anymore. I wish I could take it all back.”

Aric couldn’t relate, but he could see the truth in David’s regret and sympathize. At least as much as someone can sympathize for a man that had raped and killed over 20 adolescent girls. David had changed, but it didn’t matter. He had to pay for the crimes of his past, and he knew it. In fact, he awaited the day that they would take him to that dark room and inject him with the poison that would end his relentless visions. He no longer wished to live. Sometimes, Aric felt the same way.

He looked above David to his other roommate’s shadow-plagued cot, its single white sheet forming a ball toward the base. He squinted to break through the sleeping darkness. Gregor was absent.

Where the hell—

The sharpened edge of a random metal shard slid onto Aric’s throat, lightly but enough to bring forth a drop of blood. He cringed and released a gasp of shock, remaining motionless to keep the blade from digging any deeper.

“I’m sorry, Ice Pick. They’re making me do this.”

Aric recognized Gregor’s raspy voice behind the razor. He took a shallow breath and exhaled. Prison is such a bitch.

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