I yelped, snatched my arm away from him instinctively. The knife blade drove into the floorboards beside me and my captor burst into crazed laughter.
“You do know how they mutilated my sweet Agate,” he said, and a shudder of sadness trembled through him. “Of course you do. God, I can’t stand to think of these things. I don’t want to remember.”
He glared at me with fiery eyes.
“But for you I will make that sacrifice. For you I will remember. Just so you can pay.”
He passed the flat part of his blade along the wound in my arm, flipping it first on one side, then the other, almost as if he were cleaning it out on my grimy sleeve.
“I always wondered why you chose to cut her arm.” He raised his gaze and stared deep into mine. “And why mutilate her?” He took a deep breath. “If you wanted her dead, why didn’t you just kill her? Deal that final blow in one merciful instant. Why did you torture her? Are you a sadist? Do you get off inflicting pain on babies, for shit’s sake?”
I blinked. I had no idea how to answer him. Deep inside I was longing to defend myself, but horror made me mute.
“I-I didn’t do it,” I whispered in as loud a voice as I could. My throat felt closed off and dry, and it was all I could do to force out even the slightest sound. Tears welled from my eyes, poured out onto my cheeks. “I didn’t do it,” I whispered again. “You’re making a mistake…”
Mr. Walsh froze, his calm gaze resting on me almost as if he were a friend. He glanced down, at the knife in his hand, at my slender wrist pulsating with terror and dread at every heartbeat. Tears streamed freely down my face now. He reached out a finger and caught a tear on the tip of his finger. Studied the droplet as if suddenly filled with compassion.
“Are these… tears of… remorse, because you’re sorry for what you did, Carola?” he hissed. “Or… are you crying because… you’re scared of what I’m going to do to you?” His face twisted up. “Do you think Agatha was scared of you, when you did those… horrors… to her? Do you think she cried, and screamed in vain for someone to come and save her? Do you think she died filled with agony, believing at the very last moment of her life that no one cared about her or loved her enough to come to her rescue?”
He drew the blade against my wound, pressing harder this time. A thin spot of blood welled up, blended with the filth on my sleeve.
“Yes. You couldn’t cut through the bone, because that blunt kitchen knife simply wasn’t up to the task. But you did cut her flesh all the way down to the bone. You tortured her.”
He posed the sharp edge of his knife over the wound in my arm, studied the angle the way a butcher studies his prime cuts.
“And that’s exactly what I’m going to do to you…”
I prowled amongst the unused lots, avoiding the deep holes conscientiously. Crouched low on the ground, every nerve strung taut as a bow. I wished I had eyes all around my head, tried to compensate for this deficiency by casting about myself even harder than ever.
In spite of all my care, the shovel, when it careened towards me, still caught me by surprise. I barely had time to raise my arms automatically. Then it bashed into my head with irresistible force, smashed me down into one of the open plots with violence. I sprawled in the dirt, too stunned to react for a minute.
As I turned about in the hole in exasperating slow motion, feeling blood oozing down from the side of my cheek and filling my eyes, I caught a glimpse of the edge of his shovel as he started tossing fistfuls of dirt over me. Coming to, I began grabbling at the dirt walls with my broken nails, scrabbling desperately. Clawing upwards to try and get free.
Howard began shovelling frenetically. I thought to squeeze myself to one side, try to use the dirt he was pushing into the hole to climb up. But he was too fast for that. Dirt rained down on me from all directions, pinning me to the ground. I tried to wedge my foot out as the heavy soil pinned my other leg down. I floundered in the growing morass, buried almost up to my waist already.
I tried to move my legs, still made every attempt to grapple myself out, battling frantically with my fists. Howard dumped dirt on me at lightning speed. Soon I was up to my chest, then to my shoulders, my arms pinned down helplessly. I stared pleadingly upwards at Howard.
The last vestige of light snuffed out, like a candle in a storm, and I was standing alone in the dark, surrounded by dirt and mud. Panic surged through me and I battled with all my might.
Gasping like a fish on land, I made one last attempt to holler. The oppressive dirt suffocated my cries.
Exhausted, defeated, I subsided into silence. Hot tears squeezed out onto my cheeks. I tried to scratch away with my fingers, noted the precious air in the space around me starting to fail.
I gasped some more. Numbness began to spread through me, like a virulent disease. Waves of blackness, like asphyxiating ink, began to obliterate my thoughts, pressing me inexorably down into unconsciousness.
Deep within me I still seethed with life. With the enormous, irrepressible yearning to live and to stay alive and to just be in the world. But helpless, overwhelmed, I began to give way to the inevitable.
My eyelids closed. My lungs laboured away, grasping for that final droplet of treasured life.
And then I let go and surrendered to darkness.
I could never write about a happy, conventional couple living in a happy, conventional, suburban neighborhood with two cars and one and a half children, a dog and a pet bird, working at happy, conventional, uneventful jobs.
My heroes and heroines have to walk through fire (or rather, crawl through fire), get strangled, beaten, shot at, drowned, poisoned, get caught in tornados or earthquakes or get attacked by mutant gnats. Or, they have to strangle, beat, shoot, drown and poison other people.
A story with anything less than these dramatic, hair-raising elements was always too boring for me to even consider telling.
I believe in magic. I believe that the world is full of mystery, and that there are more things in heaven and earth than could ever be dreamt of in our conventional, logic-based philosophies.
Outside of that, as a dry, mundane list of facts about me, I’m a single parent from a village near Montreal, Canada, who now enjoys the freaking great good fortune to live happily with my two sons on the almost-tropical south coast of Spain, basking in summer eight months of the year. Typical activities include running a marathon with the kids to school every morning and cooking frequently for an Always Hungry teenaged son with four stomachs.