For weeks I sat vigil at her bedside, covered in welts, hoping and praying she’d pull through. I put on a good front, never let her see me cry. I even secured an ambulance to take her home for her birthday.
Nothing worked. No matter what I did I couldn’t erase the damage he’d done.
I stroked her hand, read to her.
She didn’t respond.
I kissed her cheek, brushed her hair.
Nothing. Not even a blink.
“Mom,” I cried out, “please don’t leave me.” Tears washed my face, my heart shattering like a bullet through stain glass. I turned my gaze to the Christmas lights around the window. If only I could wish her injuries away. Sadly, there was too much damage.
Why did I go out that night? I should’ve stayed home. Alone, she never stood a chance. The stranger snuck through the unlocked window, into her bedroom. Before she knew what hit her, he pounced, leveling a blade to her throat, stabbing in a rage-filled frenzy. When I arrived home the house was unusually quiet. I crept up the stairs, but something — a yearning, a pull, maybe intuition — told me to check on her.
If only I hadn't opened that door.
On the walls, the headboard, speckles on the ceiling. Her lifeblood, her very essence, bathed the room in a mural of lunacy. By some miracle she remained alive. Or was it? Maybe if she died instantly she wouldn’t have suffered so.
Like any good daughter I called nine-one-one, my hands trembling and bloody. A gurgling diverted my attention. “It’s me, Mom. Help is on the way. Stay with me.” I wailed, my words almost incoherent. “Please don’t leave me. I won’t make it without you.” I lowered my ear to her lips.
She whispered, “I love you” as if for the very last time.
The paramedics ordered me out of the room so they could work on her. I stood in horror. How did this happen? Why did this happen? Everyone loved Mom. She had no enemies. Never in her life did she harm a living soul. Hell, she never even uttered a cross word…except for the time she caught me smoking weed out the bedroom window. But even then, she seemed more disheartened than anything else, her judgmental glare shaming me from the inside out.
A week before Christmas she died. Every day after I received a present in the mail, with a note from the great beyond. “Be a good girl. All my love, Mom.” She’d preordered my gifts. But how did she know? Did she sense her time was coming to an end? Did she meet the stranger who’d followed her home?
I collected the gifts, never opened a one till Christmas Eve. That night I sat cross-legged on the floor at the foot of tiny white lights shimmering on the tree. All alone in the world. My father died years before. My brother took off to God knows where. And Mom, well, she wouldn’t be home for Christmas ever again. It’s only me…a tiny dot in an angry, hateful world of agony.
Yet one glimmer of hope taunted me on the horizon…just out of reach. One shred of mercy. One final pardon for my insignificance.
If I could hang on long enough, maybe I’d struggle through. But my body was weakening — so damn tired of fighting, of elbowing my way through the sludge.
I drew the blade up my last unscathed wrist, slashed open my veins. The water crimsoned, a film of old bubbles surfing blood-red ripples. I reclined my head against the tub, closed my eyes. The darkness brought peace, arms wide, welcoming me home. Nothing frightened me here. My soul floated on a bed of wisps, swaying gently, navigating my journey into the abyss. Away from the anger, from the sadness and pain. The haunting memories of yesterdays fading like taillights on an empty hearse, trailing into the blackness, destruction left in its wake.
When I drew my final breath, an image emerged, a devastating truth that consumed my every inch, my very being. The maw of nevermore opened in anticipation, flames fringing the mouth of madness, girded by screams of terror and anguish. The killer who destroyed my life wasn’t a stranger. The face that haunted my dreams, the evil doer who didn’t know hesitation, who didn’t know right from wrong, who didn’t know real life from imagined, the shadowy beast Mom feared…lived inside me.
Member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers, Sue Coletta is the author of Marred and Wings of Mayhem (next to release). She's published in Murder, USA, OOTG Flash Fiction Offensive, her forensics articles are published in InSinC Quarterly, and one of her short stories is slated for publication in the upcoming dark fiction anthology, RUN.