“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, jerked her awake 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 wedged between the wall and the floor. Her eyes fluttered open but she couldn’t see anything wedged between the wall and floor, just a slight shine and fresh blood on her hand.
“Oh there’ll be a lot more where that came from.”
Karen, whose eyes had closed again, felt his hand wipe the blood off the hand of hers that she’d jerked away from the wall. Then she heard a slurping sound, a swallow, and 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 and gathered her strength. 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 come from? No longer was she taking in every detail of her storage unit, but she was taking in every detail of what must have been the riggings above an ancient stage. Where she’d just cut her hand on something apparently sizable but transparent, that had wedged a fist-sized gap between her storage unit’s floor and wall, she was instead seeing some kind of heavy lever hooked onto something else that must have controlled either a curtain or backdrop.
“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.
It took everything she had; she thought it would kill her outright, but Karen 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 glass as high as he could over her, touching the ceiling.
Karen 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, taunting her by jerking the jagged glass he held over her this way and that such that she kept wiggling about in different directions to avoid the attack he delayed, apparently savoring the suspense.
Karen heard Frank’s unremitting scream. Even Irwin seemed to jump at it. But Karen 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 hallucinated 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 broken 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 there. She willed her soul, soon to be released from her body she was sure, to escape there and asked her imaginary playmate, the once-grand old building, if it would remember her.
Its answer seemed to be another vision of the riggings above an 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 hallucinating things when she saw that he’d only temporarily swatted the green hurricane aside which now returned with a vengeance.
Her hand flopped away from the wooden carving and she found her fingers closing around something heavy.
No, Karen thought. Just that one word.
A third slap.
Karen’s eyes opened wide as she yanked her arm out of the gap, pulling what she now saw was some kind of heavy lever with her. 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.