Julian finally returned to his room, falling wearily into bed. Throughout the evening, flashbacks of Melanie's relapse had plagued him. He should not have left her. There was nothing he could have done—nothing anyone could have done; the girl, in time, would come around—or so he hoped. Still, his mind kept repeating, he should not have left her.

Then there was the scream itself, and Melanie's effort to contain it. He had felt it overpower her, irrepressibly, beyond all control—like one of his seizures.

He felt it even now, as he laid his head against the pillow, hearing his own pulse, feeling it throb through his body as hers had throbbed when he held her in his arms, tightly, trying to help… he had tried to help… he honestly had…

The tape, goddamnit. Gimme some fuckin' tape!

Help!

Jesus fucking Christ, shut her up, will ya? How in hell am I supposed to drive?

Shit! She bit me.

Help!

Slug her.

Bitch!

You wormy little chicken-shit. Get off yer candyass an' help me hold 'er. Fuck! Goddamnit.

You'll kill her.

I will if she lifts that knee again. Hear that, cunt? Hear me?

Stan! Really, you're gonna kill her hittin' her so hard.

Not yet, I'm not. Eh, Elmo? Not yet? Fuck! Aren't you even man enough to pin two scrawny ankles down?

I've got 'em, I've got 'em! Stop hittin' her!

We're gonna do a lot worse, Pauly. Right, Elmo?

Yup.

Slap another strip of tape across 'er yap, Pauly, an' roll 'er over. Let's have a look.

She's passed out.

Has she? Good. Scissors.

What?

Scissors. Hand me the fuckin' scissors. Maybe if we cut a flap in the seat of 'er pants, Elmo will drive a little faster.

Fuck off.

We outta town yet, Elmo?

I'll tell you.

You do that, Elmo, you just do that. And I'll tell you what we got us here… Pink panties, Elmo. And whataya know? Pink backside, too... Say 'ah'... Oooooo, Elmo! Wait'll ya see this asshole—tight as a sailor's pocket. You'll need a fuckin' crowbar just to pick it. Get it, Pauly? Pick 'er pocket? Wanna see?

No. I don't feel so good.

You get sick and I'll pinch yer cocksuckin' head off.

Elmo, you better pull over.

Fuck off. Jesus fucking Christ. Here. Hurry up! Why do you keep draggin' along these amateurs, Stan? Watch the carpet!

Wanna throw him out with his puke?

We oughta. We really oughta. Is he through?

Sorry, you guys. Go ahead, Elmo. I'll be all right now.

Christ.

Hey, where the fuck are we?

Keep your shirt on.

Sure, Elmo. Mine stays, hers goes. A bra, Pauly. No bra. Shit, man, nice pair, eh? Tug those bluejeans off 'er.

I can't. The tape's in the way.

You taped her legs together? God, what an asshole. Hey, Elmo, this idiot taped the cunt's legs together. Why not tape yer pecker to yer balls? Or here, better yet, snip the mother off. Elmo, hand me my razor.

Get it yourself.

Prep 'er, Pauly. Get 'er pants pulled off an' spread 'er. Stan the Beaver-Barber's on his way. Pretty good, eh Elmo? Stan the…

I've heard it.

Stan! Stan!

What?

She's not breathin'!

Sure she is. Look at 'er tits. Pauly, if I'da known you was such a pansy, I'da never let ya come along. Now gimme back them scissors.

She's hurt bad. Look at her hand.

You did that, for Chrissake, yankin' 'er through the fuckin' door.

I didn't do anything!

No?… Well, suit yerself. Hey, Elmo, I guess you get her ass an' snatch. Pauly's pud's a pollywog… Man, look what you're gonna miss. Look at them firm little titties all round an' new. Don't they make ya wanna suck 'em? I'll bet she's got 'er cherry, too… Christ, she has! Lookee here; I can hardly get my pinky in. Elmo, she's a virgin!

Her bunghole's mine.

That's what I like about you, Elmo, ya know exactly what ya want in life. Wait'll ya see him do 'er, Pauly. He busts 'em like a fuckin' jackhammer. Hand me that pillowcase an' crawl back down to 'er feet. Maybe you can whack off between 'er toes. As for me, I got some scalpin' to do. God almighty, curls galore! Ain't it wonderful, the way she's cooperatin'?

She's bleedin'.

Where?

Under the tape. It'll choke her.

Hmm.

Maybe you should take it off.

And have the cunt screamin' bloody murder again?

She's out cold.

Not for long. Elmo never fucks 'em 'less they're wide awake. Ain't that right, Elmo?

What?

That you wan'em conscious when they get it?

Yup.

He says the more it hurts, the more their little assholes squeeze. You'll see.

She's really havin' trouble breathin'.

Almost through. Razor time! Never leave a solitary hair—except for eyebrows. You can come up here an' give 'er mouth-to-mouth when I do 'er snatch. We there yet, Elmo?

I'm lookin' for a place to pull over.

Here, Pauly, wanna do 'er pits? Run it up an' down 'er legs? No?… Switch places then. If she comes to while you're peelin' off that tape, tell 'er one peep an' we gut 'er.

Hang on back there.

What the fuck you doin', Elmo!

Found a dirt road.

Well, go easy, will ya? I'm collectin' fur—what little there is. That's the trouble with jailbait; their muffs'll hardly stuff a matchbox.

Her lip's split.

Teach 'er not to bite. She'll have to learn soon.

Are you really gonna make her blow you, Stan?

Make her? Pauly, by the time this cunt gets 'er gums on me, she'll be beggin' for it. You'll see… I do nice work, don't I? Any place I missed? And get yer fuckin' meathooks off 'er tits. You already forfeited yer share.

Since when?

Ha! I knew it! Hey, Elmo, nurse Pauly here's finally gotta hard-on. Was it feelin' up 'er titties, Pauly, or watchin' her twat get plucked? Should we give him sloppy seconds after all, Elmo?

We're here.

Hallelujah! Just a once-over on her arms an' shanks an', presto—clean as a fuckin' whistle. We're ready when you are, Elmo. Elmo gets first crack. Get it? First crack?

Wake her up.

What about Pauly, Elmo?

After. Maybe.

Hear that, Pauly?

She's still out.

Shake up a beer and give her a squirt.

Thar she blows!

Watch it, shithead, you're drippin' on the carpet.

Sorry, Elmo. Slap 'er, Pauly.

She's comin' around.

Bend her over.

Here we go. Will ya look at that pig-sticker! Lord have mercy; she'll be squealin' for dear life. You'll never get it in 'er, Elmo, not with all the goose-grease in the world.

Hold her. Tight.

We got 'er, Elmo, we got 'er.

Uhhhhh!

Shut yer face, bitch.

No. Let her holler.

Okay, Elmo… Jesus to God she took 'im! Go, Elmo, go!

Uhhhhh! Uh! Uh! Uh! Uhhhhh!

It's the heat rub, Pauly; sets their assholes on fire. Go, Elmo, ride 'er, bang 'er, hump, hump, hump 'er.

Uhhhhh!

Whew, that was fuckin' fantastic, Elmo. I'm surprised ya didn't bust clear through. That's one asshole that'll never be the same.

Keep that towel under her.

Where's he goin'?

For a walk. Elmo never watches once he's through. She's all ours! You first, Pauly.

No, you go ahead.

Shriveled up again, eh? Does yer mother know you're a fag?

I am not a fag.

You've got fresh pussy right under yer fuckin' nose an' ya can't even get it up? That's fag shit, man.

Butt-fuckin's what's queer.

Oh, oh, oh; you better hope to God Elmo never hears what you just said or you'll be gaggin' on yer own two balls. I'm not kiddin', believe me… So, you gonna bust 'er cherry, or do I have to show ya how?

She's passed out again.

Here.

No. I want her this way.

To each his own. Heave ho.

Do you have to watch?

Afraid ya don't measure up?… Okay, for Chrissake, I'll turn my head. Get on with it. Elmo ain't gonna wait around all night… What the fuck are you doin'?

You said you wouldn't watch.

Are you kissin' 'er? Is that what you're doin'? Jesus Christ, what a moron.

Shut up, Stan. Shut your goddamn mouth!

Okay, okay. I'm not lookin'. Go ahead, Lancelot. Get it? Lance a lot?

I guess ya got it. Go, man, go. You in? You in? Pump 'er, Pauly! Let 'er have it! Cream the fuckin' bitch! Wake up, you miserable cunt. Come on, open yer eyes. Show some appreciation for what you're gettin'.

Here, Pauly, wipe with this. You did 'er. Look. You did 'er real good.

Please.

Did she say somethin', Stan?

She said please. I told ya she'd be beggin' me for it. Come on, darlin', up on yer knees. Ya got one more hole needs pluggin'. Now say 'ah,' an' don't lemme once feel any of those teeth or I'll knock 'em down yer fuckin' throat... That's it... Tongue an' lips... Sucky, sucky... I little faster... Sucky, sucky. Oooooo, that's nice. Ya do that real… FUCK! GODDAMNIT! PAULY, HELP ME! PULL 'ER OFF! NO! MAKE 'ER LET GO! JESUS, GOD, HELP ME! BITCH! BITCH! BITCH!… Oh my God, oh my God, oh my fuckin' God!

Did her teeth go through?

Oh my fuckin' God. Bitch!

Stan. Stan, did her teeth go through?

I don't know. I'll kill 'er! I swear I'm gonna kill 'er!

Let me see.

Is it bad, is it bad? Pauly, tell me it isn't bad.

She bit it off, Stan.

WHAT! Don't tell me that, you motherfucker!

She did. The head. I'm sorry. It's bleedin' bad.

Oh my fuckin' God. Jesus Christ. Get Elmo. Elmo! You guys gotta get me to a hospital. ELMO! Pauly, where's the scissors? Where's the fuckin' scissors?

I don't know.

Tape 'er, Pauly. FUCK!

But Stan…

Do it, goddamn you!… Mouth, too… Now light me a cigarette.

You wanna smoke?

Don't argue with me!

Here. Here, Stan.

Now go get Elmo. And HURRY!

Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch.

 

 

Stan, what're you doin'!

I'm burnin' fuckin' holes in this cunt's corpse. Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch.

You killed her?

I will.

Dump her, Pauly.

Where, Elmo?

In the wash. Get movin'.

Hey! Hey! Where you goin' with that bitch? HEY!

Stan. Stan, let him go.

I'm not through with 'er.

Stan. Stan!

Pauly, where are you? Where the fuck are you, ya cocksucker? PAULY!

 

 

Stan.

Where is she?

Stan, she's dead.

What?

She's dead, Stan.

Pauly, you sure?

I checked, Elmo. I'm sure.

Then let's get the hell outta here!

No, I wanna smash 'er face.

Into the van, come on!

Smash 'er.

Pauly, ya got him in?

Yeah, yeah, GO!

Smash 'er… smash 'er fuckin' face… smash 'er.

 

 

 

 

The headlights ceased to cast their sallow beams across the cactus. The silhouettes of brutish men were gone. The desert night reclaimed itself, black, then midnight-blue, then gray, its tattered shadows faintly pooled beneath a waning moon. The landscape almost sighed as peace prevailed, a threatless calm… and yet the scene was somehow incomplete.

Her eyes adjusting, Melanie explored the dimly lit tableau.

The van?

No.

The men?

No.

Me?

Unfolding like the petals of a once-forbidden flower, Benjamin's gnarled fingers slowly opened. There, upon his fate-scored palm, a huddled figure lay. Bald and bloodied, battered and bound, its form, in miniature, was the embodiment of pain. Terror deformed its face. So much so, that Melanie at first refused to recognize it. But Benjamin was patient. His hand awaited, trembling with that pulse which seemed to animate his carvings, offering the truth. It was she, in every sad detail—her eyes and nose and cheeks and chin, her naked limbs, her frame. She lay pathetically contorted... but nonetheless alive.

May I hold her?

She cupped her hands. The miniature touched her palms. It was warm, yet made her shiver.

It really happened?

He nodded gravely.

Why?

His words would not allay her trickling tears; already she was weeping.

You wrote it in your essay. Chance. We all must learn that life is neither good nor bad, unjust nor fair; it is simply life.

She stroked the tiny replica. Its delicate proportions seemed to breathe.

And I'm still living?

Yes.

Through watery eyes she again surveyed the scene. In the wash she found the spot where she had lain. Tenderly she placed her double there, by a creosote bush, on drought-cracked earth, not far from a green-skinned tree.

And my name is Melanie?

Melanie Chamberlain, yes.

 

 

 

 

Unlike before, Julian strove to expel the horrors of his dream. But the imagery endured. He remembered everything, as if his mind, like film, had caught the action frame by frame, and then, upon his waking, played it back—repeatedly—until the gruesome details burned in his brain like firebrands.

 

 

 

 

From the window, bundled in her quilt, Melanie had watched the dawn—or appeared to have watched, for it was impossible to tell what her staring eyes perceived. Her lips had moved from time to time, mutely mouthing words, which the nun found pointless to decipher. So, while the girl sat motionless, Sister Dana had tended to the humble chores: drawn a bath, made the bed, taken clean clothes from the dresser and laid them out on a chair.

Suddenly, Melanie stirred. Her hand worked free from the quilt, her finger pointed at the frozen pane, touched it, and with slow, deliberate strokes began to letter out her name—first… and last.

The nun looked on as though she were witnessing a miracle, continued looking, as the letters bled then ran into squiggly streams.

"Melanie Chamberlain."

She read the name as if intoning Scripture. Was this the sign for which they all had prayed?

"Melanie?"

Eyes still devoid of outward focus, the girl withdrew her hand.

"No? Not yet, my sweet?"

The letters' ghosts re-fogged with steam. In spite of herself, the nun was glad. More time. More time together, sharing quietly the joys of loving care and need.

Sister Zoe would have to be informed, of course. But not until young Mr. Papp was safely on his way. If Melanie indeed showed progress, once she came around, it would not do for him to be anywhere in sight. This time Julian's interference was not to go unpunished. The chess player's speedy departure, in fact, looked assured.

She led the unresisting girl from the window.

"A nice warm bath is what you need, my darling."

They went into the bathroom.

"Stand still; I'll undress you. There, my precious. Careful now. How beautiful you are. Relax, lie back, and let me soothe your sorrows."

 

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