The man monitored the woman’s breathing, making sure she was asleep, then he signaled for his colleagues to follow him.
The trio slipped silently up the stairs, toward the sound of running water. The leader halted his comrades short of the bedroom door. They were his backup, their task would be to remain hidden and maintain watch until their assistance became necessary.
Alone, he slipped into position.
She was a thing of unusual beauty and he lingered a moment, taking in the streams and rivulets cascading and meandering over her flesh, baptizing her in clouds of steam.
He quickly cased the room, considering all obstacles.
The shower enclosure was the focus of the bathroom, standing as it did away from any wall, right in the middle of the room, a most unusual design. Like a nautilus shell, a single transparent sheet of glass wrapped concentrically into an ever-increasing coil, making redundant the need for a door.
As she lathered soap into the nooks of her body, the man calculated the distance he’d have to cross, satisfying himself that when his moment came he would have plenty of time to make the move.
There would be no need to rush the attack so he relaxed, enjoying the private show. Inevitably the shampoo trickled down the woman’s forehead and over her tightly sealed eyes; this was his moment and he ambled out across the short divide, his two assistants taking the liberty of position themselves for the show.
He’d thought the attack carefully through and decided that she would receive the most dramatic shock if he were standing right before her as she washed the soap from her eyes.
His timing was perfect.
The rush of the water had covered any sound of his approach, but Catherine had sensed Ken’s presence an instant before he reached her.
As her bellow of terror began, the sound was pinched off. His hand shot out and gripped her windpipe, his thumb crushing her already bruised esophagus, making starbursts of light explode behind Catherine’s lids.
The strength of his hand was freakish as it guided her out of the snail design, backward across the bedroom and toward the bed. Catherine was on the very tips of her toes, trying to steal a tiny suck of breath over the hand’s upward lift. Her eyes burned with the residue of soap, but through it she saw other figures moving through the room.
“Finally my sweet Catherine, I’m going to teach you to stop fucking with me. Now you’re going to fuck me,” Ken’s voice was calm and sadistic.
Catherine was groping to feel for his fingernail, her hands conducting the investigation all of their own accord. Securing that clue was an obsession that her body seemed to remember independently of her mind, and as she fumbled, she prayed that it might again trigger the bolt of super-human strength as it had done in the previous attack.
She was wet, soapy and wriggling like a slippery eel. Her struggles for life were so violent that even this phantom from another realm battled to hold her down onto the bed and spread her legs sufficiently.
“Give me a hand, Boys,” Ken called cheerfully over his shoulder to his henchmen. “Let’s all have a little fun!” Then he turned and spoke to Catherine in the sweetest tones.
“I’ve brought someone who has a crush on you. Remember Craig, Cath.”
Catherine looked directly into the face of the long dead man, recognizing his features but not his eyes. The eyes that she starred into were not human at all, their pupils a bar of heartless black.
The strength from deep in her soul blasted through her like an express train. She bucked, rolled and kicked in one movement.
Breaking their grasp, she bolted for the door, the stairs and Nancy.
Her terror loaned her feet wings.
Ken gave a halfhearted chase to the top of the stair flight where her soapy feet lost traction as they hit the marble. Over and over her body cartwheeled, her skull ringing against the stone before a final limp somersault onto the marble ground floor below. There she lay unmoving, a lifeless carcass.
For the first time Ken saw the identity of the startled sleeper on the couch opposite.
Nancy was looking directly into his eyes, he backed away into the shadows.
The unexpected image of seeing Nancy, jolted him and with a shudder he gasped awake from the reality of the nightmare.
As if he’d actually fought the struggles of the illusion, he was breathless, his body saturated with sweat.
“These godforsaken fucking nightmares. I’m sick and tired of it…!” Today I will erase that recording, he promised himself.
Erasing them was the only option he felt he had left; as long as the recording was be available to watch, he knew that he would not be able to resist.
“The flesh is weak,” he remarked to himself, “...especially my flesh!” He thought it a rather charming aspect of his character.
Within ten minutes of the desperate call going out, the paramedics came howling down the driveway with the wailing police in hot pursuit.
Catherine still lay exactly where she had come to rest, she was breathing, barely breathing.
With a supreme effort of will to overcome her terror, Nancy had leapt into action, her mind racing to prioritize the tasks that might clutch together the last evaporating whispers of Catherine’s life.
Everything had bottlenecked into a delirious flurry of elastic time—her every action had been deadly urgent.
Grabbing the portable phone she’d seen in the lobby, she had called the emergency operator who had assured her that the call was being relayed onward to the paramedics and the police.
The connection had been uncharacteristically poor with deafening static and scales of tones running and oscillating through every pitch.
Not satisfied to rely on emergency services, she’d called both police and paramedics directly to verify that they were inbound. She’d run into the nearest bedroom and snatched the bedcover off to cover Catherine’s nakedness.
She’d then crouched over Catherine, too terrified to cry; the deep sobs of fear and terror quaked to her skeleton. She’d seen the fucker and she cowered hard against the wall, her eyes an ever sweeping beacon, scanning the stairway above and the surrounding room with its dancing blue light from the television licking demon shadows into every corner.
Upstairs lay blankets and probably a first-aid kit of questionable usefulness under the circumstances, but any thought of venturing to retrieve them had been dashed away with the specter of Ken she’d seen lurking in the shadows as Catherine had made her last tumble down to the bottom step. Their eye’s had locked for a fleeting moment before he’d fled back into the shadow’s with Nancy firing three furious rounds from the revolver in the direction of his retreat.
With only two live rounds out of the five left in the chamber, she’d reined her trigger finger in, knowing they were too precious to waste with a madman loose somewhere above.
The deathly hush from above and a maniacal cackling from a television advertisement had been the only distractions away from Catherine’s shallow clutches at breath.
It was then that the vicious doubts had begun to creep stealthily into Nancy’s mind;
Would the weapon be effective if she needed it? Would it jam? Could she control the dance of her shuddering hand?
But effective or not, competent or not, in those endless minutes of her most severe test, she had become keenly aware that those two rounds were the only things she could hang her hopes on.
Nancy had also been forced to make other dreadful decisions. She’d realized that Catherine might have sustained neck or skull injuries, and had judged her own actions within the situation by the insight she’d gained from watching television dramas;
Should she move Catherine or leave her? Cover her or not? Try to resuscitate? Move to a safer place...? But what of spinal injuries?
“Please... Oh God please...” She’d begged, aloud, “Please let those producers have done their homework. Please sweet Jesus, let what they’ve shown to us be right and proper procedure...”
Her mind had been crammed solid with thoughts, but, somehow, the most mundane had been the most vivid as she’d wondered whether those Directors of actors realized what a burden of responsibility the product of their labors carried at a time of crisis.
She’d repeatedly checked Catherine’s pulse at several locations, just like in the movies, mentally running through her scant knowledge of CPR in case the need arose; the entire time thanking fate that the under-floor heating was activated.
Her ten-minute guard duty over Catherine’s unmoving body had been a proverbial eternity. Every moment had inched by, an excruciating cacophony of time and terror.
Nancy hadn’t prayed for years, but in those long moments she’d continued to pray like nobody had ever prayed before;
She’d prayed for Catherine’s survival, and she’d prayed for her recovery. She’d prayed that Ken wouldn’t attack again, and then she’d prayed that the police would arrive to apprehend him if he did. She’d prayed that the paramedics would arrive soon, and then she prayed the prayer that she’d almost forgotten. Through her trembling lips came the words, “Our Father, who art in Heaven...”
“Were my directions to Catherine’s house correct?”
The new thought galvanized her mind, severing the prayer as it began to leave her mouth. Nancy knew perfectly well how to navigate to and from the property, but she had no clue what the actual street address was.
Then, like an answer from on-high, had come the beautiful tune through the haunting dark woods that surrounded the estate; Angels of mercy swooping down on her and Catherine at breakneck speeds.
At those first strains of the sirens Nancy had backed to the door with the gun covering her retreat. She’d used the wide treading stance featured heavily in every cop film ever made, guessing that there must be some merit in that method. After unlatching the door and kicking it open, she’d run back to Catherine.
During the brief moments of Nancy’s absence away from Catherine, the body had become a corpse. With no audience to beg its encore, Catherine’s life-song had drifted out of its shell and slipped away into the ether.
Nancy had heard that positive encouragement in such dire moments was invaluable for keeping the victim’s body and soul together, so she had actively included Catherine into her every prayer, a vigil of interaction that had kept Catherine rallying during the wait.
Now, Catherine’s death while Nancy had tended the door appeared to have proven the theory dreadfully true.
“IN HERE!” Nancy yelled, frantically groping for Catherine’s pulse, “IN HERE AND HURRY.... PLEASE PLEASE HURRY!”
Uniformed personnel came swarming through the door, lugging the tools of their respective trades—police with their instruments of death drawn, paramedics ready to repair tattered life.
Nancy pulled herself together long enough to explain what had occurred.
To the paramedics she included a brief history of Catherine’s recent concussion, then, turning to the police, she briefed them of Ken’s presence and escape into the dark reaches.
Each group fell upon their tasks, the medics a frantic bustle of activity, as the police fanned out to trap their assailant in a pincer of training.
With strangers to share the burden, the stresses came crashing like a wave over Nancy, and her voice trailed off into pathetic heaving sobs of despair as she buckled under their weight.
With her face streaked by tears and her knuckles gnawed to broken skin, she steeled herself to watch the paramedics as they descended frantically on the corpse of her naked friend, laid out on its marble slab.
Already there was a spider’s web of tubes rigged to an array of drips, and the sound of the heart monitor was a solid lament that pervaded every corner of her being.
On the screen were a series of thin blue lines that remained as doggedly flat as the horizon of a savanna. The sick poetry of the image did not escape Nancy—in her mind there was no doubting that the electronic sound and graph’s hopeless flatness were a couple made for one another, the one singing the other’s oblivion.
“Oh God, please help her. Please help, God, please Jesus, please,” Nancy was whimpering in a never ceasing dirge.
Then, over the monitor’s squeal, came a higher shrill that rose rapidly in intensity until it’s pitch was a sickening prelude to what Nancy knew would be coming next.
“Ready to defib. Clear?” The medic’s voice was ragged.
“Clear!” Came the confirmation.
The sound was a solid body blow that seemed to slap the floor, and Catherine’s body convulsed to the shock, dancing a sick little momentary jig… pretending for a moment to be life, it fell limply back, dead onto the floor.
The monitor issued one lazy blip, and its graphic display allowed one single hill to amble across its length until it fell into nothingness off the edge of the screen.
“Another unit adrenaline,” the team leader called.
A syringe was dispensed into the pipe that pierced the femur artery of Catherine’s exposed crotch.
“Defib again. Clear?”
The pads socked the lifeless body with another heartless blow, and another lonely hill meandered across and off of the screen.
“We’re loosing her…! Notch the current…”
The defibrillation pad’s dial was clicked up another setting.
THUD! Went the corpse.
Blip went the machine.
“Another notch. Defibing. Clear?”
Nancy couldn’t watch the barbaric spectacle another second. She retreated to the sofa where happy music was still pumping out the hits to nobody in particular.
Until that moment she’d been oblivious to the television. “Like a bat out of hell...” the podgy singer screamed his lyrics at her before she punched his image into darkness with the remote control’s off button.
As she crouched on the sofa, several more heavy thuds came bounding up under her heels. A policeman cautiously approached to inform her that they’d found nothing, but would continue their search. At that point Nancy didn’t care about anything except Catherine’s revival, and she waved him away with what small gratitude she could muster.
Try as she might, her attention could not be torn away from the knot of people and equipment at the foot of the stairs. A strange sensation began to grip her as the macabre sensations of hope and dread danced with the activity of dry science.
As she looked on, her own spirit seemed to become external to her body as it searched, beseeching Catherine to return... or at least respond.
Catherine’s body bucked with a tease of life, one single staccato pose in the strobe lighted frame of a grotesque dance. But it was hopeless and all over, the reality of a fair fight lost, a bitter pill swallowed after so much effort. It was in the medic team’s body language, the hope gone out of their voices.
The realization was beginning to sink in, and the currents of despair that followed tugged and dragged Nancy deep into a pit of dull surrealism.
“Got her!” It had a triumphant ring to it.
The voice appeared distant, unreal, a wafer of sound in the commotion. For an endless second it seemed to hang, more like a fancy of Nancy’s memory, and then came the sharp yank back into reality and perspective of keen adrenaline washed senses.
“I’ve got fibulation, she needs oxygen! Challenge 250ml I.V. push, NOW!”
“Blip. Blip. Blip. Blip...”
Through the air the electronic flutter came stuttering to life.
Nancy had risen to her feet and tottered zombie-like toward the elated pack before full cognizance came rushing into her mind.
“Sh… she’s alive?” She begged of them, still in disbelief.
“Only just Ma’am.”
The medic was ashen and looked shaken, “we were very lucky... two or three more attempts and we’d have quit.”
“She’s going to be all right ?” Nancy was consumed by the delirium of joy and tears.
“We’ll have to stabilize her to confirm status. But, yes. We have her... the worst should be over. Is she your sister?”
“It’s the strong likeness, I’m sorry. You say that she had a previous concussion?”
“Last week, Friday night, her doctor said that it was very serious.”
“Then we had an angel with us, she must have the heart of a lion... and a blessing from God!”
“Good,” Nancy corrected him on reflex.
“Thank you, Ma’am. Thank you very much.”
The medic gladly and rightly took the praise for having achieved the impossible.