“I didn’t mean what I said before.We’ve just got to get her outta there, is all,” Kyle’s voice insisted near Drew’s ear. They stood in the dark under the trees behind the home of Dr. Marshal Stevenson, his wife Delores, and their much abused daughter, Mary Beth. There wasn’t much time before dawn and the deep night had turned cold when the winds came after the long rain. The journey to Mary Beth’s home in the Highlands had taken an hour or more of running and walking. Though Drew had been there before, with Kyle, in his car, he’d never had to get himself there on his own. Kyle’s abilities to navigate consisted only in finding Drew and being with him. Now, Drew’s cold feet ached in his wet sneakers, but the shaking of his limbs did not come from the cold.
Kyle, after trying to talk to his parents, took Drew’s advice and looked in on MaryBeth, which had been too much, even for a boy separated from his own body. Some truths hurt even angelic spirits. Just wanting to see her, Kyle saw too much and learned for the first time why she feared her parents so much. He had also heard a confession, couched in terms of accusations, which her father had poured like venom into his daughter’s ear. And Kyle went without thinking to the only earthly comfort he had.
Through angry tears, Kyle explained that the Stevenson pair had contrived to poison him and bring about his slow, inevitable death, which would be blamed on Creutzfeld-Jakob Syndrome. Listening to what Kyle had heard made Drew shake with fear under the lonely Durrett Lane overpass. The pain of it struck Drew’s body, for in the torrent of Kyle’s words, Drew lost much of the distinction between himself and Kyle, and the horror of the description told Drew that Mary Beth’s father was the embodiment of evil on earth.
“I found her in her father’s study,” Kyle had yelled, “stripped down to her underwear, shivering and crying as her father called her a stupid little bitch he’d never understand, told her that she was always a source of pain and disappointment to him and her mother, fat, slow, and ugly.”
Drew had heard his own father berate him in similar terms, but he recognized the ugliness of his own person. He could see that he was ugly, though his Dad’s anger confused him as much as it made him anxious, no matter how much his mother’s hands had tried to soothe him. He understood that he should keep out of the way, keep silent, for his world only made sense that way, and his father would leave him alone. But to think that someone could say such things to a wonderful, smart, beautiful person like MaryBeth was like arguing that up was down, good was bad, light was heavy. It made no sense, and it scared Drew more than anything he’d ever heard or seen. It argued that the world was distorted beyond measure, for it was the full force of father authority, the force that Drew had finally rejected in realizing that the was not bound by the accident of his parentage. He had seen how fathers acted, how they treated and cared for their children, and by his own actions, Gerald Skolnick had shown that he was Drew’s father in name only. But that heavy, grinding machinery behind the father force, the law, the ability to say for a child what was right, what wrong, caused that fear to come back over Drew, and he stood in terror of it. No matter how strong he was, he was weak compared to something that could crush him.
What Kyle had told him was true, even as horrible as it was to consider. Drew knew from the sound of Kyle’s voice that he had not wanted it all to be true. All the abuse, the dictatorial control, the meanness of what he saw was so foreign to Kyle that he could not have made it up. Drew considered that asserting that very idea was the definition of crazy. It alone could get him locked up, taken away. ‘You cannot hear people who aren’t there,’ a part of him repeated. It was the part of him that understood that what his own father had told him over the years was true, that he was worthless, ugly, crazy. In that moment, one of the things that his father had called him, a ‘godforsaken bastard,’ took on such weight and force that it made his shivering start so that he thought he’d never stop. His own mother’s hands had told him that God loved him, yet the world he had been forced to inhabit seemed like one forsaken by God, if God was just and good.
Then, with tears and sobs ravaging his ghostly voice, Kyle had gone on saying, “That was when he asked her, ‘Do you think I wanted to make that boy sick? Of course not. But he is not good enough for you. He’ll never amount to anything. We had to make it so that you would not try to stay with him. It’s like every punishment you’ve ever undergone in your ungrateful, miserable life. You’ve brought it upon yourself. It’s only for your good that we are removing him from your life. Can’t you understand?’
“She…she only cried harder… and fell to her knees, saying that she loved me and only wanted to go away and marry me. And she begged him to help me.Then, he hauled her to her feet, ripped away her underpants, took off his belt and hit her across the back, across her butt, and legs. I…I wanted to… kill him, Drew, but I could do nothing. I knew you could do it, and part of me wants you to break in there and kill both her parents. They killed me because I love her, and she loves me!”
Now, standing silent, hulking, amidst the dripping trees, Drew looked down at his wet, cold hands, and he knew they were strong enough to kill. The long run to the Stevenson home had not diminished Drew’s desire to exact revenge on MaryBeth’s mother and father. They were monsters. On the football field, he’d understood something of what his strength could do, and it was okay to show all of them how strong he could be. People cheered him for it. He might not be the strongest person ever, but he was stronger than that doctor and his wife. He could break open a door. He’d done it before, and an angel had put it right. For what other reason had he grown so strong? He had known that feeling when the tough guy’s knife had ended up in his hands, but he had fought it down. Now, he did not.
Drew asked aloud, “How do you kill someone with your hands? Do I hit them really hard, over and over? Do I squeeze the life out of them, choke them, break their necks?”
“What? Drew, no. You can’t. I know I said I wanted you to, but don’t. I changed my mind.”
“I haven’t,” Drew whispered, taking a step forward, out of the deep shadows of the trees. He peered at the house through the low, wet branches.
“No, Drew,” Kyle said. “That’s not you.”
“Why not? Who says it isn’t me? Who can stop me?”
“ I don’t know. Somebody. The cops, maybe. Me. Mary Beth, even.”
“Won’t she want them dead?”
“No…” Kyle replied, “ because…it’s the same as with your Dad. Hurting him wouldn’t make him a better father, would it?”
“No, but he isn’t a monster, but maybe I am. Maybe he was right that I’m different, that I’ve become as strong as I am to do things like this that others can’t. He’s scared of me. They will be, too.”
“Drew. You are not. I was wrong to say that about wanting to kill them. It won’t help me, and it won’t help MaryBeth, and it won’t help you.”
“Maybe not. But, it would be justice,” Drew muttered, “for you and for her.”
“But it would not make things right. It wouldn’t change the fact that what they do to MaryBeth is wrong. It won’t keep them from doing whatever they did to kill me. You know that that’s already happened.”
“Yes, you will die, soon, and I’ll have no one, and they will still have her to hurt. That is godforsaken. Maybe that is who I am, the godforsaken bastard, like my Dad said, made to do something like this. But without them, she will be free.”
“No. No, Drew. You were right that she has to do something on her own first. I know that you said that before out of fear and, and hurt, but you were right. You cannot make that decision for her. She has to choose. And if you kill them, you take away her choice, and then, when the cops find you and throw you in jail, she will not have you when I am gone. She will be alone, but what she needs is you, the way you see things differently. Just get her out of there, and we’ll figure something out,” Kyle’s voice pleaded.
Drew stood still, shivering, and he thought ‘I’ll do it.’ As his clever mind gave him images of how to kill with ease. ‘Twisting a neck hard is the easiest. I’ll go do it. And then, they’ll be dead. She will be free. And they will be dead.’
But all grew silent around him, and a leaf, soon to fall, brushed his cheek, like his mother’s speaking hand, telling him that he was loved without words, like the silent safety of a winter’s day, alone in his garage, with just his books and his weights. Drew closed his eyes against the horror of the dark house before him. The last time he’d broken down a door, an angel had put it back. Would the angel come and put back all he could destroy in Dr. Stevenson’s house? He didn’t think so. That wasn’t how things worked.
In the silence, in the safety, he had started all of it so slowly, lifting just what he could, over and over, until he could do more, day after slow, calm day. He had started with easy books, like the Hardy Boys, and worked through to great classics, like Hugo’s “Hunchback.” He had seen what good characters did to try and resist evil in their lives. He’d been thrilled to read of their noble efforts, even in losing causes. Drew took steps back into the shadow of the tree, recalling how he had stumbled upon Tolkien’s works. The efforts of his favorite characters in the face of the darkest evil imaginable, one that could corrupt the very ground, the very air, had stirred his heart, and in that instant, standing on the verge of becoming that evil, he stepped back. He remembered reading those books, rereading them, and in that moment, he realized their true theme: hope and sacrifice. And it forced him down to his knees.
“Drew? Are you okay? Talk to me,” Kyle said.
“I know, now, why Frodo Baggins had to fail, when he decided to keep the ring for himself.”
“What? Frodo? What are you thinking, Drew? What’s come over you all of a sudden?”
“The truth,” Drew said. “I realize now why I had to go and get my Tolkien books. They are with me now, in the pack on my back, and they contain the truth.”
“Tell me,” Kyle’s voice whispered.
“That on our own, we can never beat evil, no matter how it looks. All we can ever do is hope in something that we believe in and sacrifice to give it a chance to be, just do the best we can to stand up to it, even if it grinds us down into nothing. It’s our choices that make this world not Godforsaken. That’s what the angel meant when he said that I had to prepare. My Mom always said that God is good and just, that God loves me. She also told me that God loves my father, and that means that God loves that horrible father and mother in there. I might have to sacrifice everything, my freedom, my sense that I’m not crazy, even my Tolkien books, and stand up to the power of evil and fail, if need be. There is no sense of safety in that. I cannot have the world as I need it to be, but I can choose to stand up to the machine of authority. It has nothing to do with fathers, nothing to do with killing enemies, but it has everything to do with fighting evil as I see it.”
“I’m going to go to the Cracks of Doom and get MaryBeth, even though I think that she might not come with me. I’ll need your help. You know her. You’ll know what I can say to her to reach her where she is.”
“Uh, right. Okay. And you are not going to hurt anyone, right?”
“Absolutely right,” Drew said and left the shadows of the trees. “I will not hurt anyone ever again, but I am not going to stand by and see MaryBeth hurt or let them get away with killing you. C’mon.” Drew made his way across the manicured rear lawn, over the small creek that ran over well-placed rocks to trickle through the quiet garden. Drew thought it was a beautiful place, the perfect spot to read in the shade of the huge trees that overshadowed the house. He saw, though, in the strange half-light of dawn’s approach that it was a sterile place, just for decoration. Even the expensive lawn furniture that stood upon the flagstone patio that ran the length of the house wasn’t used. No one took their ease there, and he saw the sorrow in that, behind the need to maintain its sterile protection. In a way, it was like having a beautiful, intelligent daughter and treating her like a project that proved how successful and powerful the people were who thought they owned her.
“Where is MaryBeth’s room,Kyle? Front or back?”
“That one, up there, at the top. Why?”
In place of an answer, Drew mounted the streps to the patio, like a hero facing a dragon guarded castle. He stood up straight, and called out, “MaryBeth come out!” at the top of his lungs. He repeated it three times before the lights came on, and he saw her silhouette in the high window.
“Come down, MaryBeth, and I will take you somewhere safe! You do not have to live in fear of them. Come down now. Do not listen to the things they have said to you. You know that I will not lie to you. Come down, and I will get you away.”
Lights flooded the spacious patio, and Drew held his hand in front of his eyes to protect them from the harsh light. “You can see it’s me, Drew Skolnick. I don’t want anything from you. After I get you to safety, you need never see me again. Just come on and let me help you.”
Lights within the house came on behind the patio doors, and they opened to reveal Dr. Stevenson with a pistol in his hand, his wife behind him, hair disheveled. She had her hand over her mouth and a terrified look on her face.
“Mary Beth! Come down!” Drew shouted again. By this time, lights were coming on in neighboring houses, and people were shouting far away, but Drew did not care. The patio doors flew open and Dr. Marshall Stevenson came out with the pistol leveled at Drew’s chest.
“Son, you have to the count of three to get off my patio or I’ll call the police. They’re looking for you, you know,” he growled.
“And if they come quick, they will find me here, but not for long. And if they come, I will tell them that you POISONED my best friend to keep him away from your daughter.”
Delores Stevenson, standing at the door, screamed, and her husband marched up to Drew. Through teeth clenched with rage, he said,
“One more word out of you, and I will shoot you where you stand. Hear me boy?”
“Yes, I hear you, monster,” Drew shouted for the world to hear. “I know what you do to your daughter in the privacy of your study. The marks on her body will stand in evidence, and then they’ll find out how you gave Kyle that disease and then the wheels of the machine will turn on you. I’m not leaving without MaryBeth.”
“She’s not for the likes of you,” Delores screeched.
“Nor is she yours to smack when you like, to beat, and abuse with cruel words. She can be free from the horror of this house. I can take her places where she’ll be safe.”
“Lies!” Marshall Stevenson said, the pistol shaking in his hands.
“Truths, as clear as the day that rises!” Drew shouted back. “Mary Beth, come down!”
“Tell her that you know that she loved me because for once she felt safe in my arms!” Kyle’s voice rang out at his side.
“You loved Kyle because you felt safe in his arms. And you were, but he needs me to offer you my arms now, because his have been taken from him. I have become the strength he needed to make you safe. You don’t have to stay here with the people who killed him!” Drew yelled, and Delores screeched again and fell to the floor.
“Shut your mouth!” Marshall screamed, and Drew saw the cloud rise around that man, a cloud of rage and evil that swirled and ebbed, gray and black, tinged with blood red. And Drerw saw through even the cloud of murderous intent of the man before him. He saw only the fear and the desire to hurt in his eyes. And Drew moved closer to him. He could see the pain within the rage and knew that Stevenson’s evils did not start with him. They were old, older than his well-heeled family and based on fear and shame.
“Doctor, you will need to answer for what you have done, but you, too, can be free of it. In time, maybe you can learn who your daughter is, who Kyle was, and how they loved each other. She doesn’t love or want me, see. But she does need to get away so that she can learn who she truly is.
“Mary Beth co—“
Voices cried out all around him. Drew clutched his side where he was sure that a fiery hammer wielded by a giant hand had struck him. Another hit his shoulder, as he moved back onto the steps, staggering under his own weight, and a third made him deaf when it hit his left ear, plowing out through his hair. The pistol shots were so loud in that quiet space that they sounded like thunder and echoed off the high walls of nearby houses.
Drew’s feet faltered under him, and a pair of slender hands caught him and guided his steps away into the dark. They were strong hands, but light, and Drew wondered whose they were as he stumbled along in dark. A car door opened, and he fell inside the old Falcon that still held MaryBeth’s scent. When she got on on the other side, he saw MaryBeth’s face, her eyes steady as she got behind the wheel. She still wore a thin nightgown, but she had sneakers on her feet. ‘She came out the front door,’Drew said to himself and smiled.
“Drew!” she yelled. “Stay awake! Tell me where to go!”
He muttered a street number on Cooper Chapel Road, and when she nodded, she drove away fast, and Drew thought how funny the mixture of lights looked as they went by houses where people were just coming out, demanding to know what was going on. He managed to say, “I’m glad you heard me,” before all the lights blurred together, just before the darkness took him.
Stay tuned for the final installment, part 10.