Of a Secret Kept

 

While staring out her window into darkness, Alice Wilkes, a lonely, young woman, pondered her dreary life.  What had she accomplished in all her thirty-two years?  What was she supposed to be doing with her life?  She thought for a few moments, though it seemed like hours, and realized that she had nothing at all to be proud of.  Her career, if you could call it that, only afforded her a studio apartment not much bigger than her old college dorm room.  On one wall were two large bay windows, and on the others, there was nothing but a bare coat of dirty white paint that was starting to peel off.

She hadn’t been in a relationship since she left Mark, and that was in her sophomore year at Cornell University.  Twelve years later, she was still in the same place, same life, same dream, and same rut.  Mark started calling again, and it meant that Alice had to get her number changed.  It must have been the fourth time that she had to change it.

After the memories left their mark, Alice meandered towards the kitchenette and opened up the cupboard.  She took out a small black box, and opened it with a key that had begun to rust.  When she finally opened the lock, something came over her; she shut the box up and put it back into the cupboard not peering into its contents.  She had already exhausted enough energy for the day and put herself back to bed.

The next morning, Alice got ready for work putting on her tights and over-sized college sweatshirt.  It smelled musty, but Alice didn’t mind.  It reminded her of her life.  Before walking out the door, she turned towards the cupboard that held her whole life in its grip, and wondered what could have been.

Around noon, she arrived at the dance studio somehow full of energy and zest.  Only when she danced had she any happiness — or had she seemed to be alive.  She danced and danced until she could not move a single muscle at the studio.  After instructing her three o’clock class, Alice picked up her bag and headed for the market to buy the usual items: bread, milk, and eggs, and paid her usual $10.95.  Arriving at home and curling up in her favorite recliner, gray like her eyes, Alice reached for the daily paper.  Every time she turned a page, she kept looking up at the kitchen cabinet as though she could see something moving behind the tightly fastened door.

Disturbed, she got up and started towards the door when the phone rang.  Thinking it was Mark, she let the machine pick it up, and walked out the door.  She listened through the crack to make sure the machine worked.  It did.  That was about the only thing in her life she could depend on.

Arriving in the diner about six brisk blocks away, Alice sat in a corner booth and watched out the window, particularly at the homeless man standing under the thruway pass wrapped in the New York Times.  She couldn’t really see his face, but she felt a twinge of sorrow for him.  Suddenly, a red-haired waitress named Dee tore Alice away from the homeless man.

“Nothing yet, Dee.  Come back in about five minutes.  Oh, Dee.  Does that man always stand there?  He looks… familiar,” Alice questioned.

“Who?  Steve?  Well, he’s been here for about a week.  He stopped in for coffee today.  You just missed him.”

Alice started thinking about her life compared to Steve’s life.  He was the lucky one.  Steve could live wherever he wanted to, see whomever he wanted to, and do anything he wanted to.  He didn’t have to report to work at a certain time.  He didn’t have to worry about making ends meet.  He may have been homeless, but he had to be happier than she was.  She was somehow trapped and bound to a life that did not suit her.

That night, Alice went to bed early and fell prey to her dreams.  It was happening all over again.  The bastard stood over her and pillaged her of her pride, love, and dignity.  In a matter of minutes, he had filched everything that meant something to her and more.  After the dream, Alice awoke with eyes full of happy tears and thoughts.  Those days were over and done with, though she was still frequently plagued by vicious memories.  These were the memories that had kept her a prisoner in her own life; no matter what she did, she could not escape them.

Alice was used to these nightmares by now.  She usually had them at least twice a month.  It had only been three days since her last one.  She thought that they were over, but they weren’t.  She could not take anymore.  If she wanted to take care of the problem with Mark calling again, she would have to find a way to do it herself as soon as he called back.  She had to remove the bastard from her life.

Last time, he found out where she lived.  “Will he be able to do it again?  Can I really get rid of him this time?” she thought to herself.  Alice was beginning to feel the dancer rise from within her.  Her strength was returning little by little.

Arriving back at the diner for an early breakfast, Alice’s eyes fixed themselves on Steve.  He was still near the thruway pass, a few hundred feet away, covered in his tarnished Times.  He somehow made Alice conjure up thoughts about her former life again.

The first thought dealt with Mark, her ex-husband whom part of her would still love and be with if she hadn’t found out how evil he truly was.  Last time he called, she took no action.  This time, she would remove the problem from her life permanently.

Alice remembered their wedding day.  The clouds had filled the sky, and rain poured out for twelve of the fifteen hours of daylight.  She and Mark ended up eloping that night since the ceremony was cancelled.  They couldn’t wait until the following week.  They were in love.  “My how times change,” Alice thought.

It was a horrible night.  She should have recognized three things that night.  First, when Aunt Margaret’s dog bit Mark on his left wrist, Alice should have known that the dog was only protecting her.  Then, when the rain ruined the ceremony, she definitely should have realized it was not meant to be.  Whoever said rain on your wedding day is good luck must have been crazy.  Most importantly, when Mark left her bruised and battered on their honeymoon, she should have considered herself warned.  But no, Mark loved her and said he was sorry.

All Alice could see now were the three fang marks her aunt’s dog left on Mark’s hand.  At least it left permanent scars – marks in the shape of a crescent moon.  Suddenly, her mind shifted to her bruised forearms on her wedding night, and finally to the night when she told Mark that she was pregnant.  The blood that night was so horrible that it just pushed her over the edge.  She had more flashbacks, evenly spaced, evenly terrorized, and evenly hideous.  His hands.  The needle.  The blood.  The pain.

Alice jerked forward in the middle of the diner, screaming for Mark to stop.  Customers turned to stare, the trains seemed to screech, the sun continued to rise and time had managed to stop.  She had tried to stop Mark when he was beating her that night, but she couldn’t.  He had been all over her.  Blood had spurted as she screamed in horrible pain at what he was doing to her on the couch.

Startled, Alice stood up in the middle of the diner, and screamed in horror while tears flooded her face.  Dee ran over and caught Alice just as she was about to hit the floor.  A few seconds later, Alice lunged, throwing her hands all about.  Dee fell backwards.  Alice shook and trembled.

Mark hated her so much that night that his face had grimaced and turned a ghastly shade of white.  It was as grotesque as the blood that had sputtered about.

While Alice ran out of the diner and towards the park, more memories flooded her mind.  She made it through the park, while through her mind ran the needle and the pain and the horrors that she had suffered.  She had a brief reprieve of memories as she concentrated on making it home.

Alice had felt as though she was being followed on her way back to her apartment, but then dismissed the feelings as though they were just her overactive imagination.  She had been reliving the most violent night of her life after all.

She tore the key from her pockets, and forced open the door just like Mark did that night ten years ago.  Straight to the cupboard she went, and forcefully as ever slammed its door with all her might.  The door popped off its hinges and made a loud clattering noise.  The racket drew more memories from within her mind, even more hurtful ones.  Grabbing the little black box, Alice unlocked it and viciously ripped off the lid to reveal an innocent wedding picture of her and Mark, a small key, a wedding ring, and tiny hand knitted bootie for a baby.  Alice’s vision was going out of focus, but she remained peering into the little black box.  This time, she could see it moving.

Finally, Alice hit bottom.  Buckets of tears poured from her swollen eyes as she remembered the final blow to her sanity.  It was a day just like today.  The air was thick.  The fog roamed all around the crisp night air.  Alice’s eyes were burning.  Her flesh was stinging.  Mark had promised to ease up, and Alice once again had believed him.  She felt comfortable around him, and decided to tell him about the baby she was expecting.  As soon as she told him, his face shrunk close together, and revealed another aspect of his psychotic personality.  First he beat her viciously, and then he ran out the door.  She had no clue where he went, but she was grateful that she had a few minutes to calm down.

Alice had cried for about an hour after he left that night.  She started pacing the floor, and fell deep into thought.  Caressing her belly, she instinctively spoke to the little infant growing inside.  “Will he be coming back?  What is he going to do to us?” Alice wondered.  While Alice was still touching her belly, there was a sound at the door.  She had turned around, saw the doorknob move, and heard someone fidgeting with it.  She hadn’t locked the door after he left the first time.  “He’s coming back to kill me,” Alice thought.

Mark came in again, but he wasn’t alone this time.  With him was an older man who carried a little black case.  Alice glanced keenly at the monogrammed bag with the initials P.S.T.  She would remember those initials forever.  Mark went over to her, forcefully pushed her on the couch, and began to smother her.  She had fought off his hands as much as a bruised and battered woman could.  The lights blinked, and at that moment, Alice had realized what was going on.  This man was here to steal her pride, her love, and her dignity.  The doctor drew out a needle filled with a fire-like, hot liquid that burned her to the core.  She screamed, but the only ones who heard her cries were Mark, the doctor and the devil.

A little while later, she woke up and realized that she had no longer had an infant growing inside of her.  The doctor had injected her with a poison to kill the baby.  The three devils themselves had robbed her of her sanity also.  Then it began again.  She heard the fidgeting lock and the door open.  It was Mark.  She saw the needle, the doctor, and the devil.  She felt the burning liquid.

“When will the memories end?” Alice screamed.  Suddenly, she was jolted out of her sick and twisted memory.  She felt warm and sticky from sweating so profusely.  After taking a few seconds to calm herself down after remembering the worst night of her life, Alice walked to the counter for a glass of water.  She felt a strange and eerie presence around her just like the one she had felt when she was running through the park a few moments before.  Alice turned around, wiping her eyes of tears and her mind of memories.  She looked straight ahead of her, and now knew that someone had followed her back to her apartment.  She hadn’t locked the door again.  And now someone had come in.

Alice saw a pair of shoes walk across the floor past the couch.  Slowly lifting her head up, seeing his dingy clothing, her eyes met the stranger’s eyes.  She stood no more than four feet away from him.  She had recognized this man.  It was the homeless man, Steve, who had followed her through the park.  But that wasn’t all.  She now knew why she had felt a familiar presence earlier that day when she saw him.

Steve walked over to Alice, and put his hands on her hands.  Feeling the shock and danger, Alice threw Steve’s hand away.  At that moment, she saw three scars in the shape of a crescent moon on his left hand.

The supposed stranger named Steve then took off his hat and wiped his face of the dust and dirt.  Little by little, crevice by crevice, pore by pore, cell by cell, Alice cringed at the new, yet old danger that had just arrived.  He had been hiding out for the past week.  He had been waiting for an opportune time to get her.  He had disguised himself.  She screamed in fear at who was in front of her.  Not only had he gotten her number this time, but her address, and soon her sanity once again.  This wasn’t a dream.  He was back inside her apartment.

She may have wanted to confront him, and fight back, but not like this.  She wanted to know when he was going to show up, and what he was going to do.  Now, he had arrived, scaring her beyond belief.  She wondered if she could really fight him off.

Mark reached to cover her mouth.  He grasped her tightly until she stopped screaming.  All the while he held her, Alice was recalling her fear from the years before.  This was the first time she had seen him after he had murdered their baby.

She ran from him that night when he had brought the doctor, and had been running ever since.  He found her four times, and left notes to let her know that he was watching her each and every time.  Now, he had shown up in her apartment.  He was standing before her.

“What is he going to do?” Alice wondered.  Amidst the fear, Alice tried to calm herself down by thinking of the one thing that she loved to do: to dance.  Then, she felt a little stronger.  She felt as though she could battle this fear and evil that had come after her.  She knew that if she didn’t take care of the problem now, it would be there forever, lingering and hovering about her all her life.

“I will fight back.  I am the only one who can rid myself if this man forever,” Alice repeated several times.  She looked at the shady figure that was tightening its grip around her.  He began dragging her to the couch.

“No.  No.  You are evil.  You don’t deserve to live,” Alice shouted.  With that, she lunged forward taking Mark with her.  He flew onto the floor.  Alice scrambled away and ran to the counter.  She was able to grab the little black box that was sitting there waiting and cracked Mark on his head with it.  She hit him not only once, but a second, and third, and a fourth time.  One for every time he had come in search of her.

It seemed as though the time that had been stopped for the last twelve years had begun to move forward.  Alice was freeing herself of the imprisonment.  Mark fell to the floor, moaning in pain.  On his left cheek, Alice could see drops of blood running down.  It was red, bright red, just like his eyes.  For a few minutes Alice stood there and watched the blood drip until it filled the whole area in front of the couch.  For such a cold man, he was full of so much hot blood.

Alice glanced across the room and felt strong enough to go on.  Her eyes noticed the answering machine.  She ran over and pressed a few buttons.  It began to speak.

Alice.  I’ve found you again, Alice.  I’m gonna get you again.  You always were weak.  This time is going to be your end.”  The machine stopped.

Alice looked at the machine, at Mark’s body lying on the floor, and then at the door.  Two policemen were coming in; one had a gun aimed at her, and the other was on a CB radio calling for an ambulance.  It was too late though.  Mark was dead.

A few months, Alice was pacing the floor of her new home.  She sat on the bed, stretching her weary dancer’s muscles.  And she looked through the bars that were locking her in the jail cell.

“I may be free of Mark.  But how do I free myself of this prison sentence?” Alice wondered while peeling the paint off of the dirty white walls that were enclosing her.

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