“HOLD HER DOWN!” the youngest man, the leader, bellowed. They pinned my legs beneath something heavy, but I couldn’t see because there were already three of them on top of me.
I had nothing else I could do. I screamed. His hand appeared and jabbed me in the throat violently, and my voice choked. Please, I begged silently. Please don’t; just don’t. Just let me go, I thought, but I couldn’t speak. My lungs were too compressed by his weight to even breathe, and my esophagus was bruised and swelling. They are going to kill me. This is how I am going to die.
Before I could black out, I felt the young man’s hands move again and firmly, carefully, restrain my head. My eyes were so clouded with tears I could hardly see, but now I was afraid of a fate worse than death. His fingertips, unnaturally cold, deliberately brushed the stitches beneath my eye.
I wanted to scream as loud as I could, then. More than ever before. I had heard about these sadists who hunted people for their stitches, and now — here they were, ambushing and subduing me. Ready to cut open my face and have their fun with my skull, while I was still alive and awake. I wished I could die. I wished I was already gone.
He yelled something again, this time at me: “Melissa, stop! Stop kicking!”
Melissa is not my name. I’m not who you think I am; I’m not who you want in your sick bloody fantasy, my mind screamed. I felt terror in my chest like I was seeing a hungry animal, staring at my helpless body and anticipating meat. His hands once again cradled and pressed my head into the ground as his followers started scurrying all around me, preparing something. I heard the scratching sound of medical scissors. Or something worse. I couldn’t see.
“Please, Melissa… Let’s just get this thing out of you. This isn’t you,” he crooned. Like he was getting some kind of sentimental pleasure out of this. Like the stitches on my cheek were a bad makeover, and he was about to fix my look. I whimpered because my throat hurt so much. I managed a hoarse “Don’t… touch… me.”
I felt them shove a gag in my mouth, instead.
“I’m sorry for what I’m about to do, Melissa — it’s going to hurt,” he added. I had never been so horrified in my life. This one, it seemed — this sadistic cannibal hunter — was into roleplaying. He wanted me to be his dying patient, so he could be the surgeon doctor who was going to save me.
I was not going to give him any kind of satisfaction.
As soon as he had the medical tool in his hand — looked like it was a scalpel — his other hand relaxed its grip on my forehead, so he could focus his muscles on a careful, clean incision. That was the only distraction I could count on, and now his eyes were directly over mine. I bucked my body as a counterweight and, in the same motion, slammed my head into his face.
Splashes of blood flowed immediately from his nose and lip, but with barely a grunt of pain, he was back on top of me and two more of his flunkies had my head down into the dirt even tighter. I felt a cold pulse of terror in my veins. I had barely slowed him down. I at least hoped he would scream.
No, I realized. I wanted to fight back and escape, not make him scream. But there were still five torturers on top of me, plus him, and I never had a chance. The blood from his face dripped and drooled freely off the tip of his nose, falling onto the dust beside me and then the cloth they had gagged me with. As if I hadn’t wanted to spit it out before, I wanted to spew it out now. Even if only as an insult, to him. I especially wanted him to die. I hoped he could see it in my eyes.
But, once again, his eyes weren’t looking at mine. They were gazing intently — hungrily — at the beautiful stitches on my left cheekbone.
These were my life. The sensory organ that made me… real. A real human, and not like them. They had never accepted stitches. My people had, and we were telepathic with each other because of it. Our bodies were healthier. We were vastly more intelligent. We had established world peace. We were happier; we were free from fear; we were free.
Unless the jealous and the fear-mongers, like the ones who held me now, found us. The only fears we had in this world were from the humans who viewed us as the gruesome ones, the mutants, just for our choice to insert our stitches. They were a religion now, a cult of blood and of secret murder. They hated freedom the way they hated us. We would leave them alone, and let them be free, but if only they would let us.
And they loved to cut out our stitches while we were still alive. That was what pushed them over the edge, in my mind. They never counted it a real victory unless they had taken one of us and tried to surgically remove the stitches from their face, and then brainwash the survivor to be one of their own. Most of the time, though, the… ‘procedure’ resulted in zapping the subject’s brain dead. The stitches were too close to us, neurologically, to be removed. It was like cutting out a lobe of the brain, but without sedation and without the patient’s permission. Without any need, for that matter. Only motivated by fear.
The young man, glancing at his comrades and nodding to make sure they had me fully restrained — and they did — leaned closer than before to see every last detail on my face. Ready to kill me. He was so close that I could see the intent within his eyes, and then…
I gasped, even with a thick gag in my mouth. He… underneath his left eye, he had a rough scar. It was a small patch, but just the right pattern to confirm exactly what I was afraid of.
This boy had been a survivor himself. He had stitches once, too. And they had taken them from him and fully turned him into a monster. My hopes were dashed, then. They might have a way of keeping me alive, too. I would see myself turn into one of their cult.
He made the first cut, and my breath caught in my chest. I began, again, to cry. This was the beginning of the end.
Wild gunshots broke the nightmare’s reverie over my body, and then chaos and blood erupted all over me.
The boy — the survivor — was the last to move, but he too moved once he looked up and saw the danger. Inside of half of a second, my limbs were free to move and the bodies above me were gone. Quick instinct saved me, as I reached up, threw the gag out, and tried to scramble to my feet. I stumbled, but my spine ordered me to crawl on my hands and knees until I had reached the cover of a metallic stack of crushed automobiles. I had been stupid to come here to a shady, abandoned junkyard — alone, especially. I had been trying to find a part for my motorcycle, and now I was trying to escape with only my life.
I couldn’t run any farther, though, and sat in the dirt with my back to the junked pile. I would catch my breath, and then I would move again. The gunshots, in the meantime, had not stopped. Whoever was shooting was keeping up the pressure, but I hadn’t seen them while crawling away. Surely it was only a handgun, I guessed — those high, staccato barks were too sporadic for an automatic rifle. The sound was very close by, too. Without warning, I heard the sadists start yelling to each other, and then a second later they began returning fire with guns of their own.
Someone had come to save me, but now we might both be killed.
In that moment, another ‘someone’ rushed around the corner faster than I could blink and headed straight for me. I was still on the ground, and tried to kick out with my legs, but failed. I only slumped down farther on the ground, but then in a split-second the stranger’s face was right in front of mine, and his hands were wiping away the blood on my stitches. Apart from that small, first cut they had made, I was still okay. He smiled, and then I recognized him.
“Taz!” I exhaled, not even embarrassed at my obvious relief. “It’s good to see you.”
“Likewise,” he replied as he quickly dabbed my stitches clean and applied a quick adhesive gauze. His voice told me he was trying to remain cold and ready to kill to protect us, but his eyes spoke the same relief that I was feeling. I loved him, in that moment. I didn’t even care that he was too old for me. I would have fallen for a fish, if one had saved my life like Taz just did. “Stay here, Chell. I promise I’ll keep you safe.”
“Don’t —” I started, but he was already on his feet again, with the handgun in front of him, and ducking around the various stacks of rusted machines that surrounded us. He was moving with supernaturally quick speed: a product of his stitches’ nerve amplification and personal fitness. He caught the thought, though, that I was trying to send. Telepathically, he responded. I won’t be unsafe. They are going to lose. I won’t die on you.
…Thank you, was all I could think to him in return.
I mentally stayed with him, since he kept the telepathy open between us. I could follow his movements and see the things he was seeing; I even felt him pull the trigger on the enemy and shoot down one more of their number. His mind was keeping track: there were six sadists in the beginning, and Taz had killed one and wounded another in his first volley of shots, right when he arrived. That meant two were dead, and since the one he had wounded was still alive, there were now three able-bodied targets and one surviving casualty.
He stooped beneath a broken refrigerator bridged over uneven piles of metal, and came out directly in front of one of the sadists. The man had a gun, but had been expecting Taz to approach him from the left. He had time to give Taz one last look of surprise before Taz shot him once in the sternum, then disappeared behind a wall of junk before the man’s body even hit the ground.
Taz had never done this before, but he was performing brilliantly.
Fifteen bullets when I started; eleven bullets expended, his mind reported to mine. That leaves four bullets for three more kills. I can pull that off.
Yes, Taz, I thought to him. That’ll be enough. Whatever it takes, please just hurry back. I don’t want to be alone.
Even as I thought it at him, I realized my limbs were trembling, and not because of cold. I couldn’t keep my arms still. Taz might want revenge on all of my captors, but I didn’t want to risk another moment out here.
He didn’t quite respond telepathically, but I felt his feelings vicariously as a grim acknowledgement. Until now, he hadn’t considered how much I would have been shaken by this. Now, reaching for and feeling my emotions through our stitches, he knew.
I cut the telepathy chain between us, so I could focus on calming my breath. Watching him kill brought a certain relief that I was in good hands, but overall it was not assuaging my elevated blood pressure or the terror I felt. I still could not steady my breathing. I decided to stare at my hands. Normally soft and agile for the piano, now they were shaking and coated in dirt and sweat, which I had shed in my panic. I had never felt so exposed, or so dirty. The thought surprised me, since I often loved to work in the garden, but I was itching to wash my hands now. I suddenly realized it wasn’t the patches of dust and grime adhered to my skin that made me want to be scrubbed clean, but the way I felt filthy after being touched — exposed, captured, abused, and nearly killed — by these monsters. Monsters with human faces and voices.
Suddenly I heard two more gunshots, close together, and I thought I heard the slump of a large body falling to the earth. My heart skipped a beat, and I strained my ears. A third gunshot, at close range to its target, rang out and almost made me scream.
It could have been Taz. One of them might have shot him twice, and then once again while he was down. I had to know — I was reaching out, searching for his mind somewhere out there with my stitches…
Chell, are you safe? came the voice I was dying for. I breathed two whole lungfuls of relief, and he felt it, too.
Are they… dead, Taz?
They’re all gone. The leader; I didn’t find him, but we should leave now. I think he ran.
Taz returned directly to where he had left me, and I was happy to have waited for him. He lifted me up with both arms and made sure I was ready to stand. I wished I could express my gratitude in the way that I felt it, but he could read my mind if he wanted. I’m sure he didn’t even need to do anything but look and see it in my face. He knew.
With only a few minor stumbles, he assisted me in walking back to the wide, dirt ‘road’ which cut through the piles of cars like a finger lazily traced through chalk. In order to listen for my captors better and not warn them that someone was coming, he had left his motorbike by the fence almost a kilometer away and simply ran as fast as he could, but stealthily, through the forest of scrap until he found me.
I was indebted to him for that foresight, amongst so much more. If they had heard his engine noise coming towards us, they would have gagged me then and hid us in the shadows. Night was coming on, after all.
It was going to be a long walk, but I could just make it. We started down the road.
“Melissa,” said a voice that I couldn’t see. That name that wasn’t mine.
Taz reacted faster than I even knew what to do — he spun around one-eighty, the gun drawn and his hands tight on the grip. His eyes sighted down the barrel and he moved the gun with his gaze, back and forth between the post-consumer rubble — any possible hiding place. I tried to follow where he was looking, but I could see no one either.
Deliberately, then, the young leader stepped out with his hands exposed and no weapon on his person. Wet blood still adorned his nose. Taz pulsed a thought at me, and I knew why: One solid round left. But he didn’t take the shot, because he wanted to know why the last one was trying to approach us. Trying to communicate.
“Melissa,” again, he started. I hid my body from him, taking shelter behind Taz’s tall frame. But I didn’t want to cower from him.
“My name is Chell, you lunatic.” My voice was brave for all that I had gone through, but I couldn’t feel the courage that I was speaking.
There was a short moment of quiet. “…No, it’s not. Your name really is Melissa. I want you to see,” the boy answered humbly. I stopped myself. He sounded humble, like a pathological manipulator wanted to sound.
Taz stepped in, then. He had the sense to never lower the gun from his target. “I think that’s really brave of you to say, like you care about the woman you planned to dissect.”
The sadist scowled at Taz then, as if he had just remembered that I was not alone with him. “Go to hell,” he murmured through clenched teeth.
Taz answered for us both. “Who’s going to hell? We want to live in peace and you kidnapped a young woman —”
“Stop it!! Neither of you are sane! It’s not like that!” he spat back.
I couldn’t stay silent any longer. “We’re not sane?? You horrible fiend; you only want me to die!!”
“I DIDN’T WANT YOU DEAD!” he answered hysterically. Unlike before, his voice cracked with emotion now. A mental, serial torturer with fanatic zeal.
Next to me, Taz’s anger boiled so fiercely that I could feel it immediately. “What, you wanted her alive so you could eat her that way??” he answered in disgust. “You’ve caused enough death.” Without pause, he sighted down the raised gun and shot him in the stomach.
The ringleader groaned in pain as he fell. “Melissa… It’s me — it’s Peter…” he gasped, as he raised a blood-smeared hand out from his gut. Reaching out for me again.
I shook my head violently, trying not to retch from panic and terror. Did he think we were acquainted? “That’s not my name!!” I finally squeaked out. “I don’t know who you are!!”
Taz forcibly turned my shoulders away from the gruesome creature that lay dying, and we ran together as far as we could go; as far as my legs could stand it.
(Happy Halloween. To be continued.)