Those of you who've been stopping by for a while may recognize the name of the writer on this one - Harley Palmer. She's been an active poster and contributor on the blog and I was thrilled to see her enter our humble contest. Greg and I both know Harley from her writings over at writing.com, and Greg has had the pleasure of working with her to help improve his own work in her popular writing academy as well.
The story is about 3,000 words long and without further ado, I'll leave you to enjoy it...
By Harley Palmer
Time came crashing to a halt, and before I realized what was happening, my world went black.
When my eyes opened, I recognized the familiar sight. A dingy hotel room that smelled of stale cigarettes and booze. I focused on the only other person in the room – him.
I screamed and sat up. I wasn't in the hotel room. I was in my own bed, in my own apartment. It was a hellish nightmare I'd had every night for the past three years. I flopped back onto the pillows and took a few deep breaths.
The light colors helped me to relax a little from the nightmare. I carefully planned the setting when I got the place. My bedside lamp was always on to drive away the shadows. Happy colors, no darkness, and sparkling clean.
The shrill ringing of the phone made me jump.
"What?" I snapped into the phone.
"Is that the way to greet an old friend?"
I bolted up in the bed. It was him. The fear from my teenage years returned full force. I had thought that hell was over. I forced myself to suck in air, reminding myself to breathe.
"Sorry, David, I didn't know it was you. How are you doing?" I had to sound cheerful. I couldn’t let him know that I didn’t want to hear his voice, that he made my skin crawl. It would make everything worse if I did.
"I'm simply wonderful. How is my favorite girl?"
I rubbed my arm as I felt goose bumps rise on my skin "I'm wonderful too," I said. I stayed quiet after that for I didn't want to say anything to anger the man on the other end. That was the rule he'd made. Let him ask the questions and I'll give the answers.
"I need your special services this weekend."
I closed my eyes and hung my head. I should have known better than to get my hopes up. The nightmare had never ended like I hoped. It had only been on pause.
"You're not trying to back out on our little deal, are you? I don't think you really want that to happen, do you?"
I sighed. "No, David. Where do I need to be?"
"Good girl. Be at the Ritz hotel at eight p.m. on Friday. Be prepared to not return home until Sunday night."
"Okay. Will there be others there or just you this time?" I asked, hoping for an answer.
The only reply was a 'click' as David hung up the phone.
I threw the phone across the room as if it burned me. A whimper escaped my throat as I wiped my sweaty palms on the sheets. A tear tried to fall from my eye but I wouldn’t let it. Refusing to show any emotion, even alone, I nearly sprinted to the shower. I scrubbed as hard as I could to remove the sickening feeling that seemed to ooze from my pores. It only helped a little.
Twenty minutes later, I hopped into my car and headed for D's Place. As usual for this time of day, my best friend Lilly sat at "our table." She was talking to the waiter as the wind blew his apron about his legs.
"Hey, Lilly," I said sitting down across from her.
"Dude, what's wrong with you? You look terrible."
"Thanks," I said sarcastically.
The waiter took my order, and then disappeared back inside. I lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply, trying to calm my nerves. Lilly followed my actions and lit a cigarette after moving her thick black hair away from her face.
The small café was a popular spot with the teenagers. I wasn’t sure why I liked going there but I guess it was my attempt to live a normal life. Regular people socialized and left their houses. All I ever wanted to do was hide.
"He called again," I whispered as if someone nearby would know what I was talking about.
"Oh no! What are you going to do?"
"What he says. We made a deal.” I sighed.
"Look, you're my best friend. You can't keep doing this. You need to report him to the authorities," Lilly said with concern in her voice.
I sighed again and shook my head. My hair waved in front of my face and the feeling of having hair was something I still was getting used to. There was a time that I had no hair at all. It was not from cancer or some kind of illness – no. I was the girl who got kidnapped my sophomore year of high school – at least that's what the news reports had said.
I pinched the bridge of my nose to stop the memory from surfacing as the waiter sat my coffee in front of me. I mumbled a thanks and he moved on.
"How about if I call the cops and make an anonymous report?" Lilly suggested.
I smiled weakly but shook my head. "I appreciate the offer. But it won't do any good. He’s evaded the cops before."
Lilly chewed on her bottom lip, a sure sign she was deep in thought. It touched my heart that she cared so much about me. She had always been a good friend.
"Lilly, I don't want you do to anything. I'd never forgive myself if something happened to you." I said placing my hand over hers.
"You're the one I’m worried about," she said with a small smile. “You can’t get into the witness protection program?”
“No. I tried. They won’t even arrest him much less have a trial. Anything I say doesn’t matter, so it doesn’t warrant putting me into the program. There is no physical proof.”
We changed the subject and went shopping the rest of the afternoon. I knew she was trying to keep my mind off of my current hell. It worked, until I was back at home that evening – alone in my apartment.
I made myself a TV dinner and settled on the couch to watch the evening news. I woke up a few hours later with the half eaten dinner in my lap and a static filled TV screen. Sighing, I switched off the tube and crawled into bed – but sleep eluded me. I tossed and turned all night.
At four a.m. I gave up and sat in front of my computer. I logged online to sign into my regular chat room, hoping to see 'Archangel.' He was there and I sighed in relief.
Archangel: What you doing up so late, love? Couldn’t sleep?
Archangel: I tell you what, I'm tired. I've been awake since 5 am yesterday morning. I want to take a vacation and come spend some time with you.
BlackSoul: That's sweet…
Archangel: Anything interesting going on there?
I didn't type anything at first. I couldn't. Although I had told him before about my past, I couldn't bring myself to tell him now. Even the anonymity of the computer gave me no comfort that night.
BlackSoul: Nothing interesting really. I had lunch with L today…well yesterday.
Archangel: How is she doing?
BlackSoul: She's fine…..
Archangel: Is something bothering you babe?
BlackSoul: No why?
Archangel: We've been chatting for a few years now. I know when something is bothering you.
BlackSoul: Really, I'm fine. Just tired. I think I might try to go back to sleep.
Archangel: Okay, if you're sure you're all right. Want me to call you tomorrow?
BlackSoul: No. I'm fine really.
We wrapped up the conversation with cheesy online "kisses" and I switched off the computer. However, I didn't go back to bed. Instead I paced in my room before trying to find something on the television to occupy my mind.
By ten a.m. I showered and left the house. I had no destination in mind; I just couldn't stand to be in my apartment anymore. As I drove downtown memories of my childhood surfaced. It was a nice safe town to raise children – at least for the other children. Not for me. This town was hell.
My drive led me to the retirement home where my mother lived. Sitting in the car, I stared up at the large, four story building. I could see my Mother's window and a tear escaped my eyes.
She was the other part of the deal. She dated him for a short time but it had become obvious that he was a horrible person. The first time she came home with bruises on her face, she told us she had an accident at work.
Things got worse, as they often do. She began staying out all night and crying at random points of the day. We feared she was going to fall asleep and not wake up from the amount of pills she was taking.
David took me right out of my bed. Mom was in a drugged sleep and couldn’t hear me call to her. I was missing for three weeks. That’s when I made the deal. To save her.
I never told her that I knew about David nor did I tell her how she was able to get out of her dealings with him. I assumed she counted her blessings and was living the rest of her days in peace. At least, that's what I hoped.
I dried my eyes and made my way up to her small apartment on the third floor. She gave me a squeeze when she opened the door. She hugged me tightly and led me to the couch. I tried to convince her that I was doing okay, but she saw through the lie.
"You're not thinking about Stacy are you?" she whispered with tears in her eyes.
"I do sometimes," I admitted with a sigh.
Stacy was my older sister and the stronger one of us three girls. My Mother would tell people the car accident that killed her was a tragic accident but I knew better. I knew the truth of what happened because I was there. I watched, helpless, as David threw my drugged, unconscious sister into the car, put the car in drive, and let gravity pull the car to the bottom of a lake. He told me if I defied his commands again or went to the cops, the deal was off and he was coming after my Mother and my other sister, Renee.
So I did whatever David asked me to do to save my family. Our Dad had died when I was six and there was only Mom to protect us. Fate it seemed had its own plans, for I ended up being the protector.
"She's in a better place now," my mother said with a sad smile.
If she only knew how right she was. I changed the subject and spent the rest of the afternoon there. The distraction helped and with the lack of sleep the night before, I was able to fall asleep quickly that night.
I awoke at six a.m. on Friday morning – which is very, very early for me. I stared at the ceiling in my room, willing it to be any day but Friday. As the clock neared seven, I dragged myself out of bed.
Thirteen hours was all I had left.
I wanted to cry but couldn't find the tears. I had worked so hard to put all those painful memories behind me, to put my life together and move on. I had actually started to live a little. Now the ghosts of my past were coming back to return me to hell.
As I had made myself do for years, I got ready for the day as if nothing else was going on. I packed a very small bag with the things I needed for the nightmarish weekend. I tried to imagine I was packing for an actual vacation. It helped a little – at least I was able to pack the bag at all.
Then I had nothing to do, but wait. Lilly was at work and Renee was still out of town. I thought to pay a visit to my Mom again but decided against it. It would only serve to make me feel worse.
My tension and nervousness grew as the clock ticked on slowly. I scrubbed every surface in my apartment, vacuumed twice, and reorganized the dresser and both closets. When it was finally seven p.m., I bolted from the house with an urgency to get the weekend behind me.
I arrived at the Ritz hotel at seven-forty-five. I was very timid walking into the all too familiar lobby. David sat on a bench, waiting for me. From years of experience, I masked my fear and tension with a smile. I shut down and I became someone else. Someone David made with his cruelty. Now my name was "Jade."
"Hello David." Jade smiled sweetly.
David slowly looked me up and down. He quirked his eyebrow. Jade immediately took off the coat to reveal the cut-off shorts and the practically transparent tank top. I wanted to scream, to stop her from doing this to us, but Jade was David’s pet. I could only watch.
"Jade. How wonderful to see you. Have a seat," he said, patting the cushioned bench.
Jade sat down without hesitation. I would have hesitated and said no, but Jade was in control now. Jade did whatever David told her too without question – and always with a smile.
David slipped a room key-card into her hand. Jade kissed him on the cheek as she was supposed to do, and strolled over to the elevators.
Once in the elevators, I tried to push my way through Jade's unemotional exterior. I couldn’t let this happen. Not again. Jade won the fight by the time we reached the penthouse level.
The elevator doors slid open and another door was revealed behind it. She slid the key-card into the slot on the door, and stepped into the penthouse.
We were alone but could hear laughter coming from the bedroom. Jade knew what to do and waited for someone to come get her. She stood to the left of the door leaning against the wall with her bag still in her hands.
A big man came from the bedroom five minutes later and looked us over. Any other time I might have thought this man was attractive. He had thick brown hair held back in a tail at the base of his neck. He stood well over six feet. Wearing only sweat pants, I could see his rippled muscles in his arms and torso.
"My name is Jade," the other-me said as seductively as she could. She twirled her hair around her finger and batted her eyelashes at the man.
"Wait there. Don't move," he said gruffly. He pulled a cell phone from his pant’s pocket and punched in a number. He had a slight southern twang when he spoke. It sounded so familiar but I couldn't place why. Oddly, it gave me a bit of comfort.
He moved into the bedroom but we could hear him yelling. He came back and told me to sit down on the couch. Jade obeyed. He sat down on the other end.
"Jade, I was just talking to David. He'll be here in a few minutes," he said gently.
I was terrified. The fear that I had done something to displease the man consumed me. Jade’s face didn’t show any emotion. She looked down at her lap while I worried with what we had done wrong.
"Look at me," he said. Jade locked eyes with him and didn't look away. "Have you ever met me before?" he asked.
"No. But your voice does sound familiar to me," I said. "I just don't know why."
"I only know you as BlackSoul. And you only know me as Archangel," he whispered with a smile.
I leaned back so far I should've flipped over the arm of the couch. I couldn't believe it. Jade disappeared and I started to tremble. I felt so betrayed. Archangel, the only man I thought I could trust had paid money to "have" me for the weekend. I wanted to die.
"Listen, Jade. We don't have much time. I'm an undercover cop. When David comes up here, I'm going to arrest him," he said.
"Excuse me?" I squeaked.
He reached into his pocket and handed me his badge. "I'm here to help you," he said softly.
I wanted to cry and laugh. I had the urge to run from the room but was frozen on the spot. Where was Jade when I actually needed and wanted her strength?
"I don't understand," I finally said.
"Jade, when you told me about what David had done and why you made the deal with him – it angered me. As a cop, I'm supposed to help people. I devoted my career to tracking this guy down. He's going to go to jail for a very long time for what he did to you and your family."
I couldn't believe my ears. I had to be dreaming. This sounded too good to be true. I simply stared at him in awe.
"It'll be over soon, I promise," he said.
The elevator dinged and David walked into the room a few seconds later.
"What did she do?" he demanded, glaring at me.
"It's not what she did, it's what you did," he said. The whistle Archangel made hurt my ears.
What happened next was a blur. Uniformed cops came running from the bedroom – I counted at least three. They tackled David and put him into handcuffs. He was shouting something but I couldn't hear what. They pulled him into the elevator and just like that, it was over. I couldn’t believe it. I tried to grasp what had just happened but my brain wouldn’t wrap around the idea. David was gone. Arrested.
Archangel came over to me.
"Are you alright?" he asked.
I nodded slowly but really wasn’t sure how I felt. Any moment I was going to wake up and find this a dream. I knew it. But it wasn’t a dream. Archangel really was standing in front of me and David really had been arrested. I focused on Archangel, trying to cement myself into reality.
"My name is Michael," he said, holding out his hand.
"Just like the angel," was the only response I could think of as I timidly shook his hand. "My name is Victoria."
"Pleasure to finally, officially meet you." He smiled warmly.
Michael had saved me from the fires of Hell. As I breathed in the night air, I felt more alive in that moment than in any other moment of my life.
I smiled at him with the first, but not last, real smile of my adult life. My Angel continues to make me smile to this day.