Anniversary

Sitting in my living room, as I do every night, I lean back in my chair and reach for the newspaper. I know that the news is old by now, and that I could get more recent and useful updates just by adjusting the station on the radio, but I find the act of flipping through the pages of the local news to be soothing.

After a long day of work, I really need soothing.

I flip through the pages, half-listening to the radio as it plays some older jazz that I enjoy. The sound of trumpets and warbling saxophones helps me unwind, as does the snifter of cheap whiskey I keep filled.

One of the nicer things about living alone is that I don’t have to worry about anyone complaining if I drink too much, or what kind of music I listen to. I used to be married, to the woman of my dreams, in fact.

Christine and I had met in High School, as so many lovers do. She’d been an angel, one that I’d fought hard to win the affections of.

And after we’d been wed, I’d done everything I could to keep her happy.

I didn’t drink; I didn’t listen to music, and I worked to pay for her favorite pastime: shopping.

We’d been happy.

But that was ages ago, almost a lifetime.

I’d caught her cheating. In our bed, no less. The guy had been a stranger, thank God, but it’d still been a shock and the resulting fallout of my marriage dissolving left me in a deep depression that took me years to dig my way out of. I’d stayed at my job, an industrial launderer that worked with linens from the various hotels around town. When I was with her, the job was exhausting and I loathed it… but after we split; I reveled in the sweltering heat of the work, taking double shifts at every chance I could get just so I wouldn’t have to think.

I missed that job… but after catching my darling wife, I’d had to leave for a new job.

I caught her some seven years ago next week, left her the same night. Now, as I look back, I lift my drink and give a silent salute to my dear Christine.

I’d been angry, at first. But after time had passed, and the wounds had healed… I’d seen that what she’d done had been for the best.

Now, I could drink freely and listen to my music as long and as loud as I wanted. Now, I could work whatever shift I wanted and relax afterwards without having to worry about catering to her.

Now, I could just enjoy my life.

“Here’s to you, honey,” I mumbled, lifting the snifter up. “Thanks for freeing me!”

I down the fiery drink and shiver at the lovely burn, squinting my eyes I fought past the delightful drink.

Staring back at me, Christine let out a gurgle, the clinking of chains echoing across the messy room.

“Ah,” I hiss, coughing to clear my throat, “not to worry, darling. Rotgut going down the wrong pipe, you know?”

Christine rolled her head to the side, her one eye blinking away crusted blood as she tried to focus on me. Her once beautiful blue eyes, so clear and bright, was now a lonely orb of dull mottled gray.

I put my paper aside, folding it up neat and clean, before standing from the old recliner. I’d had to dig it out of a garbage pile from a decent neighborhood a few months ago in the dead of night, as I was still a wanted man. Couldn’t just walk into a Sears and buy a new one, sadly…

I cross the dilapidated room, stepping over the broken floorboards that led to the abandoned room beneath this one. I’d almost fallen in a few times, but after a few years of living in this abandoned building, I’d finally memorized where the dangerous spots were. A chilled wind blew in, whistling past the broken glass of the window; starlight illuminated the room where the candlelight couldn’t reach, showing off the rotting walls covered in a mold, the peeling wallpaper, and my own haggard appearance.

My skin sagged now, covered in sores that wept yellow fluid whenever I moved, folds and wrinkles slick with pus from years of dirt and neglect. My clothes were dirty, stained brown and black from various fluids that I encountered while I worked. I like to think I was still as handsome as ever, but I haven’t seen my reflection in quite some time… I know my hair is long, and greasy though, something I know Christine would berate me for if given the chance.

I caress the jawbone that hangs around my neck from a length of twine, doing my best to remember what Christine’s last words sounded like.

I reach up and caress her scarred cheek, a wistful smile cracking across my face as she winces at the sudden contact. She used to crawl away, before I hung her by her wrists from the wall. That was back when I used the cage…

I’ve learned since then.

“Are you hungry?” I asked her, studying her for an answer.

She shivers, either in fear or despair, I don’t know which. I turn away and slump away to what was probably once a closet. I’ve nailed a tarp over the narrow entrance to keep who I keep in here a secret, as Christine always did like surprises.

I throw back the cover, eliciting several muted gasps. There are five kids, boys and girls, all below the age of twelve. They shade the blue eyes and blonde hair Christine once had, the same pale skin and high cheekbones…

I reach down and grab one boy by the bicep and haul him out. His hands are tied behind his back, both knees broken, mouth covered in duct tape. Snot and blood trail from his nose, his eyes are crusty.

“Let’s see… you’re Jacob, right?” I rasped, looking down at the boy. “I remember seeing you when you were just a baby… Christine!”

She flinches at my sudden cry, but I ignore it. I drag the boy up to where she can see him. “Look who came to visit you?” I grinned, savoring the look of terror in her lone eye. “Little Jacob, your nephew!”

She shakes her head slowly, gurgling out… something unintelligible.

“No matter,” I continued, dragging him towards a hook I’ve hung from a crossbeam. I loop the bindings on his hands over it and leave him dangling. “Now, it’s time for your dinner… so, grunt once for leg meat, twice for an arm.”

I can’t tell what her prolonged moan is, other than her usual pained cry.

As I reach down into my boot to unsheathe the dulled knife I favor, I give her a toothy smile. “Calm down dear, you know I love cooking for you…”

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