“Ready for my anything?”
Karen struggled to regain consciousness, only vaguely remembering that she’d passed out while Irwin, who’d just spoken, finished cleaning up her cubicle. But where was she now? And what did he mean by his “anything”? She felt she should know but didn’t remember, then felt herself drifting again…something about a summer’s day.
Irwin’s voice, followed by his laughter, woke her up again. Startled, her hands jerked about, trying to get her bearings. A scent wafted up whenever she hit the floor: disinfectant. Her hand hit the wall, then something sharp that had wedged a fist-sized hole between the wall and floor. Her eyes fluttered open, but she couldn’t see anything, just a shine and fresh blood on her hand. Must have been glass…
“Oh there’ll be a lot more blood.”
Karen, whose eyes had closed again, felt him lick the fresh blood off her hand. Then she heard a long, satisfied sigh. But she didn’t care. Oddly, she was sure it was Frank, not Irwin, that was now on top of her. And Frank’s whisper in her ear: “Tell him to wait. Tell him you have a surprise for him that’ll make it even better. In one of your boxes.”
“What’d you say, bitch? A surprise?”
She must have said something aloud. Her boxes, what was in her boxes? She felt some weight shift off her.
“Sexy lingerie for me to tear off? Go ahead. Get it.”
Shoved, her head hit something hard, but not as hard as the wall. A box. She opened her eyes. Her hands fluttered over the box, trying to open it. Frank whispered, “Not this box. Friends Forever. Box underneath. This box doesn’t have anything.”
Suddenly Karen was fully conscious, remembering what Irwin had done to her before. Wide open, her eyes took in every detail of her storage unit.
If only a building…
Where did that thought come from? No longer was she seeing her storage unit. Instead, she was seeing what must have been the left-over riggings for an ancient stage below it. A heavy lever was only visible because she wasn’t seeing where she’d just cut her hand on the glass that had wedged a gap between her storage unit’s wall and floor.
“Your best friend Marie, my…biggest mistake,” Frank whispered urgently. “The box underneath!”
Karen’s storage unit reappeared. She felt herself shoved from behind.
“Hurry up!” Irwin snapped.
She thought it would kill her outright, but she pushed the top box aside with a great sweep of her arm. It clattered on the metal floor, spilling its contents: The small metal horse on wheels with almost all its paint chipped off that had been her grandfather’s. Her parents’ high-school yearbook that Karen had dog-eared since her parents’ fatal car accident on the way to their high school reunion.
“Box underneath?” Irwin snarled. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”
Her grandfather. Her parents. Would they be there, waiting for her, wherever there was?
“No!” Frank seemed to yell in her ear.
“Where’s the fucking sexy lingerie?” Irwin asked, rifling through the box underneath. “Fuck!” He snatched a hand out, bleeding like Karen’s had been. Then he pulled out a huge piece of the broken “friends forever” plaque with which she had hoped to preserve the memory of what had been the greatest friendship of her life, with Marie. It was now a most efficient weapon, smooth on one side so he could hold it easily and wickedly jagged on the other.
Karen, seated in the cramped space, whimpered and scrambled backwards till she cut her hand again on the glass that had gotten wedged between the floor and the wall.
Irwin, on hands and knees, seemed to slither over the tiny space separating them, like a rat closing on its prey. Beady eyes glittering in the gloom, he oozed over her grandfather’s metal horse, over her parents’ yearbook. Then he reared back and smiled down at her. “You didn’t play your cards quite right.” He raised the broken plague as high as he could over her, touching the ceiling.
She squirmed, banging her back against the wall, cutting her hand yet again on the glass wedged there till her whole arm slid through the fist-sized gap it had made and she howled in pain.
Irwin laughed, jerking the jagged plague he held over her this way and that such that she kept wiggling about in different directions.
Karen imagined she heard Frank’s unremitting scream. Even Irwin seemed to jump at it. But she was starting to pass out again, no matter how hard she fought it. Grandpa, she called silently. Daddy. Mommy.
She knew she was losing consciousness and, with it, the last chance to save her life, when she imagined she saw a green hurricane swirling around Irwin’s head, seeming to obscure his vision as he tried to bat it away. Her hand that had slipped between the wall and the floor flopped about a bit, like a dying fish, and came to rest on a fragment of what her caressing fingers could tell was a once-grand wooden carving, loose in the ancient abandoned spaces between the current floors. If only she could escape to that space too. She willed her soul, soon to be released from her body she was sure, to escape there, amidst the gracious elegance of a time long since gone. Finally, she asked her imaginary playmate, the once-grand old building, if it would remember her.
Its answer seemed to be another vision of the left-over riggings for its ancient stage.
“Wake up, bitch!”
Irwin’s voice seemed so far away now, but she felt the slap. Her eyes fluttered open, but she knew she was still imagining things when she still saw the green hurricane. Irwin swatted it away from his eyes, but it returned with a vengeance.
Her hand flopped away from the wooden carving and she found her fingers closing around something heavy.
No. It was a simple word, just one, that bubbled up from somewhere deep inside Karen.
A third slap.
Her eyes opened wide as she yanked her arm out of the gap, her hand gripping a heavy lever. She heard a horrible concussion. Then she felt her own head slip back against the wall, and there was blackness. She saw and heard no more.