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Chapter 15: Ride Out the Storm

“Don’t think for a second that you know anything about me,” I say as I climb into the truck. The bastard’s in his seat, already shirtless and shaking his head at my rant. “Do you honestly believe that I don’t know what’s going on here? I’m not your goddamn pet.”

“I never thought you were,” he says, and he starts stripping off his pants. Why the hell is he getting undressed?

“Just leave your goddamn pants on tonight, okay?”

He cocks his head like it's such a bizarre request and snickers. “How are we supposed to fuck you with my pants still on?”

Goddamn it – I want to strangle him until his eyes pop out. “You don’t! And you can keep your hands to yourself. I’m not your toy.”

“No hands,” he agrees, and he mockingly flashes me his empty palms.

“And I don’t want your dick touching me either. I’m not waking up tomorrow covered in … you. Just no touching, got it?”

“My intentions will remain honorable,” he mumbles, and I swear to god he rolls his eyes.

If I thought I could throw a punch without injuring my chest, I would. I don’t know how much longer I can stand this prick’s constant antagonism.

He crawls over the console and into the bed, and after our long talk by the smoky fire, all I can focus on is how tight my throat is. It feels as sore and bruised as my aching chest. My body is falling apart as quickly as my mind.

Though rest at this point in my recovery is imperative, after three days of solid sleep, my mind is unwilling to squelch its brewing storm. I could go for a walk, but the sky is being lit up by its own summer tempest, and I refuse to be pelted with hail.

Hero’s in bed, turned towards the wall and lying on his belly, but he’s flopping like a fish out of water. It must be the impending storm because I feel at odds with the world too. There’s a buildup of static in the air, and it won’t let anyone rest.

Instead of rolling around in bed like an idiot, I dig through the box at my feet, which is still filled with bits of my old life, and find Sirens. I crack it open and just start reading to get my mind out of this murderous hell and firmly set in a much more peaceful environment like the war zone of Mars, or the barren, inescapable caverns of Mercury ...  

… The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death ...

Son of a bitch … pointless death? Let’s say, hypothetically, that the shadow was a meat man what if he also prayed on unthinking, drunk women? Maybe he was a bus driver who diddled kids – it’s possible. He could’ve been a meat man in the same vein as Hero’s Colorado guy. But I guess Colorado guy has no idea he’s processing long pig.

Intent is everything, after all … and black clothes and a shiny knife are both very intentional. No butcher takes his knives home. No brother scrambles across an empty lot and dives into the backseat of his sister’s darkened car. Intent – his intent was to kill her. What I did was right. I saved her life and I should be proud of myself.

I flip further into the book and clear my thoughts. Just read – just enjoy your book, and ignore the asshole obnoxiously clearing his throat behind you. 

… There is room enough for an awful lot of people to be right about things and still not agree …

Goddamn it ... Hero is not right. You can’t play God. You can’t choose who gets to live and die based on your own bizarre moral code; it’s not that easy. Society has rules as to who is good and who is bad, and we all know them. We all have a lifetime of opportunities – missed or taken – that lead us down paths of fairness or corruption.

But then who’s to say whose code is more ethical than others? Our childhood, circumstances, and personal ambitions all affect our sense of morality and justice.

That gray, amorphous blob of moral ambiguity is hanging over me again so I give it a one-finger salute. I’ve always hated that dubious color. It never commits – light black, dark white – it could be a shiny coin, a silver lining, dirty dishwater, or the color of a murderer’s hair ...

I can’t do this. I can barely focus on reading with the racket Hero’s making. He’s flipping around behind me again, stretching and rolling his shoulders. He has the whole bed to himself – what’s his goddamn deal?

“Turn off the damn light!” he barks.


He yanks the curtain closed in a huff, and I go back to my book.  

… There was nothing offensive in this love. That is to say, it wasn’t homosexual. It couldn’t be, since Salo had no sex. He was a machine.

That’s it – I slam the book closed and toss it in the box – enough of this shit. The walls of this little coffin are creeping in on me now that the curtain’s cordoning off the murderer from the only decent person in this dark triad. Garm’s still crashing through the lake, chasing snakes and snapping at the last embers to float over the dampening fire. Maybe I should join her and let the hero get his murder sleep. If he clears his throat one more fucking time, I swear to God ...

The gravity of the last, apparently, three days is becoming oppressive again, but I stifle it all as I focus on my hands in the dim light. One is clean and unmarred, still adorned with my dull, loveless ring. My other hand’s bound and claw-like, wrapped in dirty gauze. The last memory I recall, my hands were covered in the shadow’s blood. Hero cleaned me up; he washed my wounds and wiped the blood from my face and arms. I wonder if he did it out of necessity, or if it was just another part of his sick perversion; he probably loves galavanting in blood.

He missed some under my fingernails, though, and the dried blood now looks black. Shadows don’t bleed; I remember thinking that ... but that one did – a lot, in fact. He bled so much that the earth couldn’t drink it fast enough. That bastard had intent, no doubt about that. He was attempting to do far worse things to that woman, and I knew it – I could feel it. Even Garm could feel the destructive nature buried inside him. What I did was restore peace. I am a peace keeper. I fixed the shadow; I didn’t murder him. He can’t follow people now; he can’t hurt anybody. I have the power to stop malevolent shadows, and I do. I have the power to shine light in dark corners. I have the power to restore balance to this inequitable world.

I furiously grind my nails into my jeans until the last black specks disappear and my fingers are raw. I have the power to take control. My life is my life – not Hero’s, not my father’s, not my ex’s – mine.

If I want to use my life to restore balance, that’s exactly what I’m going to do. Who’s going to stop me? In fact, why would they? After the terrible shit I did to that family, I owe the world – I owe the universe – retributive justice. An eye for an eye. An innocent for a sinister. I took four innocents, and I will take four sinisters.

“Cowboy, turn off the fucking light!” he barks again.

Goddamn it!

I rip open the curtain. “What’s your fucking problem?!”

His smoldering eyes are glaring at me, and he’s leaning on his elbows. “I can’t sleep with the light on,” he calmly states.

“You’ll get used to it!” I yell, but his black eyes tell me he’s definitely unhappy with whatever's going on here. “I’m not going to sit here in the dark,” I snap.

“Then go to sleep.”

This demanding son of a bitch thinks he can order me around like a goddamn dog, and fuck me, it’s working. I want to go outside, but the storm’s rolling over us. I want to read, but I’m pissing off the murder-hero with my light. I want to lay down, but not with that massive jackass breathing all over my neck.

I grit my teeth, kick off my shoes, clamber over the console, and crawl into bed, sliding off the dome switch as I lie back. “Are you happy now?”

He ignores me and lies back down. Good, go to sleep. I think the venison and aspirin are finally kicking in, because I’m actually feeling a little more human despite the monstrosities I’ve committed. I can now fully appreciate the waves of anxiety washing over me, and it’s all simply not fair. I shouldn’t feel like this. I should’ve been the girl’s hero, not him. I needed to see the face of the person I saved, but all I saw was the mutilated head of the shadow whose face I stole.

And why did I have to strip off its face? That’s a person’s identity, and that shadow was a person. How could I be so vile – so ruthless – with another human being? I could’ve buried that knife in his heart and ended it quickly. I could’ve justified that – he’d already stabbed me in the damn chest – but I didn’t. I sat on his belly and let him suffer through a torturous rampage that could only be rivaled by the wrath of God. I listened to his agonizing cries – cries I’ve heard before, on a similar stretch of a road in the same bleakness of night when I’d been careless and cowardly in my youth.

The details of the shadows attack are few and far, just out of reach in my dimly lit mind – there were ears, then they were gone; there was a grin, and then it tore open; I looked into eyes, and then they both gushed to black.

I still regret not seeing the girl. The shadow’s death is meaningless without confirmation of life. But this isn’t a goddamn competition with Hero. This is a question of morality. A person is dead because of me, and I can’t forget that.

My thoughts are interrupted again when Hero rolls over, and I’m left with the hard wad growing inside his jeans embedded in my ass. I clearly remember saying, not ten minutes ago: no dicks.

“Is this just how it is now?” I say over my shoulder. “You rubbing yourself against me like I’m a bitch in heat?”

“It’s a small bed ... and speaking of bitches,” he says, “do you ever stop complaining?” I crack him in the ribs with my elbow, but he catches my arm and yanks it until I hiss at the burn igniting across my sternum. He whispers in my ear, “Let’s not start that,” but he does eventually release me. Now he’s gotten to do exactly what he loves most – he got to put me in my place like I'm just a naughty little boy.

“Are you done?” I snap.

“I haven’t even started,” he snickers, and I pull the blanket over my shoulder.

There is a long, uncomfortable pause and I can hear him thinking. It’s a faint clicking like an old watch you have to wind every day.

When the ticking stops he says, “There is no mercy in nature, Cowboy. There is only life and death. Don’t punish yourself for what you have no ability to control.”

“Mercy is necessary to function as a society,” I snap. “I had no right to do anything to him.”

“Mercy is a creation of man.”

“Cruelty is also a creation of man,” I say.

“A gift we gave ourselves. But death is not a gift; it is an inevitability, and death is of far greater value than mercy.”

“Death, yes. Murder, not in the least. Don't try to feed me that bull.”

“Murder is another construct of man. The falcon hunts the stork, it doesn’t murder it.”

“But morality is what separates us from animals.”

“So does art, and yet we find beauty in a spider’s web. It’s still a hunter’s trap used to kill. That doesn’t make it any less awe-inspiring.”

I’m not waxing philosophically with him again; I refuse. I know humans are essentially well-governed beasts, but that doesn’t give us an excuse to abandon ethics to lead hedonistic lives whenever we want.

Hero’s humming to himself, and that ticking echoes in my ear until he says, “What you did was righteous, Cowboy, and how you did it was beautiful.”

Only a monster would find what I did beautiful. “I don’t even know what that means,” I say.

He snickers and rubs his face against my neck. “It means I’m impressed.”

Knowing that Hero is impressed with me does, unfortunately, take the edge off. I’ve never been one to impress anyone, unless I’m impressive in how disappointing I am. But I don’t think I can see what Hero sees. I didn’t see beauty in the mess I made three days ago. I saw chaos. I saw pain. I felt pain. It wasn’t until Hero pulled me to his chest that I felt any sense of relief, and that was solely because it was over. I desperately wanted the shadow out of my world, but in the end, staring down at its corpse brought me no satisfaction – just guilt.

I sigh as I find myself once again adrift in a sea of moral ambiguity, and then Hero, probably sensing my rampant self-loathing, presses his chin against my neck and murmurs, “I want you in the worst possible way.”

My mind careens into another brick prison wall in my head, one that I didn't even know was there, and all rational thought grinds to a halt. What does that mean, he wants me ... ? No one wants me. My father doesn't even want me, and how could he, after what I've taken from him? People put up with me, but no one has ever wanted me, especially not enough to say that shit out loud. 

A sense of smug satisfaction unexpectedly begins to tingle across my skin. I think I could use Hero’s wants to my advantage.

And what does he mean the worst possible way? Isn't the worst possible way of wanting someone to want them dead?

“And what way’s that?” I breathe over my shoulder.

He trails his nose up the back of my neck and says, “I want to be your shadow.”

He wants to be my shadow … That could mean a thousand different things, but seeing as this guy’s nuts, and his hand just unsnapped my pants, I have a sneaking suspicion as to where this is going. Now, I said no sex, but no one has ever wanted me in the worst possible way before – so I may have to make an exception.

I’ve never ripped open my pants so fast after hearing such lurid nothings whispered in my ear. I don’t know why, but since that messed up day, all I’ve wanted was to get lost in this antagonistic bastard and feel human again, even if that human is merciless, or cruel, or just a product of a degenerating society.

The bloody gauze on my hand snags and tears away as I wrench off and kick my pants into the front seat. I turn over to find him lecherously prowling behind me, a Jabberwock waiting to confuse and attack me with his forked tongue. He hauls me to his chest and his mouth devours me as I slay him with my own.

I’ll never fully understand his desperation when we touch. He seems trapped in an unending abstinence of carnal pleasure, forced to find his only sexual gratification in the heat of a smoke brushing his lips, or a spoon lazily dragging over his tongue – that is until he finally has me at his whim.

When his frenzied hands wrench me over his body, I don’t object, though I probably should, considering the morbidity I currently associate with being on top of a violent, groaning beast.

My tongue is enjoying the bitterness of his neck, when he shoves me back from his body like he wants me to stop. As I sit up, confused and forcing my lungs to expand through the pain radiating from my bruised chest, I catch his hands trailing down the skin of my naked stomach. They rest on his jeans, unbuttoning and tugging them open while he stares at me.

I crawl down his legs, dragging his pants with me, and hiss as I further tear open my bleeding hand in the process. Why did I have to grab that knife when we fought? I can still feel the cold steel in my grip as it slides with a sharp gush across my palm. A grotesque shiver ripples down my spine, but I let that stinging pain fall from my mind like rain. I can move past the pain. I can move past it because I am beyond it now; it won’t hurt me anymore, and I won’t let it ruin what’s about to happen.

He beckons me back to him, so I rescale his sweating frame and straddle his lap, now cradling my dripping hand. It’s Boulder all over again, only this time it’s an indescribable power I feel welling up inside me as I stare down at his darkened form. He’s still calm and silent, his mouth parted and barely breathing, and I’m filled with a burning need to touch his wet lips. I need to taste his pale, salty flesh on my tongue. I need to feel his hot breath on my skin just to be sure this monster's still alive.

My fingers hover over his face, barely tracing the outlines of his jaw and nose, and I notice little black spots materializing across his skin. Tiny, black, perfectly circular drops form a crescent trail wrapped from his eye to the corner of his mouth. Where did they come from?

It isn’t until I drag a fingertip though one, smearing it down his face, that I realize blood is trickling down my wrist.

He clutches my hand and forces it against his stained cheek, like he wants to feel my heart beating through my palm. He rubs the scruff of his jaw into the wound like a wire brush, and when I withdraw it with a hiss, the side of his face is covered in blood that drips in long fingers down his neck.

I don’t breathe as I look at him; I can’t. Half of his face glows pale in the moonlight reflecting off the lake, and the other half is black, painted with inky blood from my own wound.

His breathing has slowed like mine, and he watches me study the unmistakable duality of his face. He is duplicitous, and it is more obvious than ever before. He is both cunningly frank and deceitful, and he wears this paradoxical mask with unparalleled skill.

His eyes don’t leave mine as I drag my hand down his other cheek until his face is as black as the shadow’s. My fingers slip across his forehead, painting down his nose until he has no face in the blackness, just two white eyes and a mouth filled with sharp teeth that smile up at me like the Cheshire Cat. His fingers are drawn to his lips as I gawk at this erotically perverse scene: a tongue bathing long, white fingers in the depths of our darkened coffin.

I’m overheating and dazed, and when his hand falls away, he guides my own blackened fingers into his mouth and sucks each one until my skin returns to chalky white. His tongue and teeth are now tinted with me, and he bites his bottom lip. My flesh and blood aren’t quite enough to satiate his voracious appetite.

Sweat beads and rolls down my back in the dense, muggy air of our suffocating tomb, and I’m suddenly exhausted, despite my days of sleep. As I lean forward to rest my head on his chest, his hand hooks my neck and draws me to his mouth to return those pretty pennies to my tongue. The copper and salt from my fingers flows between our mouths like a brackish, ebbing tide, and it tastes like the air of my childhood home.

He draws me from those debilitating memories when I feel the long wet fingers of this living shadow make their way down my spine and into my body like the tongue that’s invading my mouth.

His breath shudders over my lips at his deliberate violation of me, and that staggering sense of pride engulfs me again. I love making him falter and expose his wants, naked and defenseless; and now he’s trapped under my weight, biding his time until I let him do whatever else I’ll allow. He wants to feel inside me, taste my blood and spit, and be that shadow that haunts me, and I want to let him torment my body with his. It feels sick and sinful, but if life is nothing but a cruel joke, then let us find levity in our sadistic whims – let us illuminate and celebrate these murky corners of our collective minds.

A sickness growing in my belly pulls me from his wet probing fingers. I can’t see straight in the obscuring heat of the cab, and the world feels like it’s being yanked from under us. He’s shifting below me, touching himself, then me – more spit, more probing. Then his hands trail up my thighs, grounding me back to the bed and the heat of his body. He grips my waist, and those white eyes stare up at me, begging me to reassess my moral conviction, but this monster doesn’t know me at all.

I sit up and lean back, driving him inside me until he’s buried to the hilt. It hurts with the same erosive burn it always does, but I stifle that agony – I don’t make a noise. I will not obscure the low growls rising from his throat. I want to hear him grunt with each of my thrusts and hiss when I dig my fingernails into his shoulders.

Without warning, the world bursts alive, and his intoxicating moans are overwhelmed by the deafening metallic pings that ring above us. The storm is breaking and scattering the earth with a barrage of icy hail. I curse that bastard above for denying me his primal groans. It’s as though my body can be breached, abused, and defiled, but the wicked grunts of this devil are simply too blasphemous for my ears to entertain.

There is nothing but a black sky raining from above and a scorching fire lapping from below, and we are spread between these worlds like my malicious shadow, a bridge between life and death.

My attention falls to earth again, back to my masked and bedeviled shadow who I’m forcing deeper inside myself. His eyes are closed, his ashy hair pasted to his sweat- and blood-covered face, so I wipe it away, and he opens his eyes. Delirious, blood-red wells stare back at me, begging to fill me up.

I wonder to myself sometimes if God’s proud of me yet. Because Hero is, and he actually wants me in a way God never did. Hero wants me to live with the dignity God denied me. He wants to show me respect, and show me my potential – and who am I, or God, to stop him? God can’t stop anything; he won’t even save his loyal flock.

I instinctively grab my cock as Hero edges closer to coming, and though I’m relieved to touch myself, my weak hand does nothing but bloody my dick and shake when I try to make a fist. He bats away my useless hand, and when his jaw clenches and his eyes beg again, I absolve this shadow of his sins with a benevolent nod so he can release that ache that’s building inside him.

He drags me to his chest, and my cheek sticks and tugs on his bloody face as he clamps down on my neck with his teeth. I’m finally close enough to his lips to hear his whimpering moans rather than the clatter of the hail, and I’m overwrought by the sickening sounds of his hunger for me. When he clutches my hair, his hips stiffen and he comes in waves, still buried as agonizingly deep as the monster that’s growing inside me.

We both pause as the storm and the world stops for a second, and he catches his breath again. He’s quiet, though heaving, until he grabs my ass and tears his cock out of my body. He wrenches me up to my knees and slides further under my thighs.

I’m so goddamn tired; I could sit on his chest and fall asleep, but I’m too close to coming to stop now.

He shoves me into the wall over his head, and before I can clear my muddled brain, he takes all of my bloody cock in his mouth. He’s licking it clean like a wound, and as his neck cranes to meet my body, I grip a fistful of his hair with my split-open hand to keep from collapsing.

I’m dizzying in the heat as he tongues me, and his hands finally release my ass so I can violate his mouth at my own pace. I am plummeting into this blood- and lust-filled orgy, and there’s nothing left of my morality to grab ahold of. Hell, I’m not even searching anymore. All I want to do is destroy this monster – I want to fuck his mouth so hard that I split his skull with a wet crack when I come. I want to expose the bloody seeds lodged inside his murderous mind. I want to hear him eat his goddamn words and beg me to show him mercy. With every thrust into him, he tightens his mouth until I can’t take it, and I fill him with my cum and whatever’s left of my integrity.

I don’t know if I want to be this person. I don’t know if I want to live in this place of perdition between violent storms and devouring infernos. I don’t want to feed myself with slain men. I don’t want to make these decisions about life and death, and then reward myself with gluttonous debauchery. I don’t want to be lost down a rabbit hole with nothing but the sinewy flesh of my next victim to use as a lifeline to climb out. But I’ve already hit the bottom, so where do I go from here?

Hero licks and sucks, but eventually pulls his mouth from my cock and draws my kneeling body back down to sit me on his chest. He presses his face against my thigh, smearing my own blood against my leg as he kisses skin.

This all seems like it should be more terrifying than it is, but it feels less grisly and more soothing to be so open with him. I feel more than just naked – this is beyond being exposed; my body has been literally torn open. I feel defenseless, injured, and unguarded, yet still in control. He’s covered in my blood and I am filled with his cum, and that feels somehow balanced to me. It’s a reciprocity of life-forces, an exchange of bodily fluids and the essences of our fundamental beliefs. Hero wants to have his cake and eat it too, and I just don’t want to die of hunger and crippling isolation anymore.

He trails his hands down my emaciated ribs again, his eyes closed and his lips still pressed against my thigh. He’s smelling me, enjoying the pungent post-sex bouquet of two sweaty, blood-soaked men trapped in a metal box. The tips of the hair glued to his cheek are wicking my blood up his temple, so I swipe the hair over his ear.

My touch draws his attention back to my face, and he mutters, “Tell me how you feel now, Cowboy.”

I don’t know how I feel. I’m not going to justify who he is or what he does by telling him that everything is peachy keen. I’m not going to try to rationalize away the atrocities of this man; I can’t. But if all the world’s a stage, and all the men merely players, then maybe I should feel fine, because this is my act to shine. Maybe this is my time to enter the production and add a supporting role to Hero’s wicked little performance. I’m not going to change him – I know that – but maybe I can speak to him on a more carnal level, offer a fresh perspective to this corporeal perversion of his. His life – according to him – is nothing but ecstasy; mine, nothing but tragedy. Surely it has to even out after enough exchanging of bodily fluids.

It’s strange to be looking down at someone who’s waiting patiently for you to answer their question while your dick is flopped across their neck.

“I don’t know how I feel,” I sigh. I guess I feel full and satiated … I did just eat and get laid. I probably should’ve said that, but he nods at my initial response and kisses my thigh like this was probably the best answer I could’ve given him. “How, uh … how do you feel?” I wonder.

“Thirsty,” he says. That admission has me feeling oddly self-conscious, so I fall down next to him on the bed. It’s a disconcerting scene around us. Everything is smeared with something, but it’s all still dark, like we’re living in an underexposed photo – a deep and dull gray world. “What’s in your flask?” he asks. “I’ll finish it off, if you don’t mind.”

When the hell was he digging through my box? “Don’t go through my shit,” I say. “And it’s Jack, but it’s not mine so you can’t have it anyway.” He rolls to his side, and is now peering at me through squinted white slits since his face is still too ruddy to discern. “It’s my father’s,” I clarify.

“The whiskey is your father’s …? You said it’s been fifteen years since you saw him. More lies, Cowboy?”

“No. It has been fifteen years, Hero.”

“You’ve kept a flask of your father’s whiskey untouched for fifteen years?”

He makes it sound crazy. I’m not crazy. “Yes. Look, he left it in my hospital room after my car accident. I was going to take it back to him … I just never got around to going home.”

“Why bother to return it at all?” he mumbles, and his hot hand snake around my back.

“It’s the right thing to do.”

His eyes widen, and I know what he’s thinking … I know how insane that sounds considering the clusterfuck we’re in, but it’s one of those things that the traumatized mind obsesses over. It was a weird task my twenty-year-old, painkiller-addicted brain insisted on doing. It was the goal I clung to during the darkness of my recovery. I had to get better, and when that happened, I would return my father’s prized possession to him intact – not empty, not even missing a sip – intact. The flask sat on my dresser for awhile. Then it lived under my mattress. I stashed it with my gun after the wedding – a nice DIY murder/suicide kit.

I almost drank it once, right after the divorce, but my resolve strengthened when I pocketed it and drove to Ellicott City to buy my new truck. It was just one of a handful of tasks left to accomplish before my life could finally end in peace.

“Do you still plan to give it to him?” he asks.

“Yeah. One day.”

He yawns and gropes the bed until he finds the pillow and shoves it under his bloody face. “Tomorrow’s a day,” he sighs, and his white eyes disappear into the darkness.

Tomorrow is a day – a new page, a new chapter, a new act in this dramatic performance. The flask had taken such a back seat to all the madness that I hadn’t really thought about how close we were to Louisiana – how close I was to checking off one of my lifelong goals.

It’s been fifteen years since we last spoke, and I have a few things to get off my chest. My father’s not the sort of man who listens, but maybe if I just say my piece I can finally let it all go and start my life with Hero truly anew.

My bedfellow is already passed out, these frivolous decisions being nothing but irrelevant to him. I inch close enough to rest my face against his chest and let my eyes close, too, as I wonder if what they say is true: that you can never go home again.


This chapter was gifted to Vitas because I appreciate every comment and love giving readers what they want.

My chapter 15 notes.