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THE TORTURED SMILE
By JEFFREY C. ARMSTRONG
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Jeffrey C. Armstrong
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE BLACK ROSE
It is quiet. He likes it this way. There's a chill in the air. A light breeze blows from the west, rustling the dry leaves in the night air. The chilly autumn air makes him want to bundle under a warm blanket and fall into a deep sleep. But tonight, he cannot sleep. He is succumbed with too many urges, too many thoughts racing through his mind. And the chilly autumn night doesn't make it any easier for him to rest.
He looks upward to the sky and chuckles, "A full moon, how ironic."
Tonight's moon is surrounded by hundreds of stars and there isn't a cloud in the sky. His face glows in the moonlight as a light breeze blows past him. He folds his arms and shivers softly as he stands in the doorway. There is something about the moon that makes him feel uncomfortable. Slowly, he looks away from the dark sky and stares at the scenery of her small front yard that is before him. It is obvious that she takes pride in her yard. There are a few colorful leaves on the grass, the first noticeable signs that winter is on its way. His eyes focus on the metal chain linked fence that surrounds the yard and he notices that there is no divider gate to separate the front of the yard from the back. This may seem minor to some, but to him, this is absurd. There is just a single fence that surrounds the entire house, just one fence!
"How stupid," he snorts.
He turns around as his gaze follows the fence to the rear of the house and, nodding his head he says, "With all of this land, why doesn't she have a gate to separate the two yards? She has nothing, no added fences, no bushes or trees. She doesn't even have a dog. Why? Why doesn't she have a dog?" He grimaces with this thought and continues, "If this house were mine, I'd at least have a damned dog!"
He doesn't particularly care for dogs but if he could afford one then he'd certainly have one, if only to flaunt it. But she can afford a dog and she doesn't have one. He snorts again with disgust.
He begins to imagine his family living here. His mother would have taken better care of this house. Things would be much better than this if his family were only so lucky. His eyes dance in the moonlight as he thinks of how they would have had a chain-linked fence to divide the front yard from the back. They would have a dog, or maybe even two. He thinks of how he would plant trees and flowers throughout the yard and how there would be bushes surrounding the entire fence. He would spend his money to beautify this house if his family lived here. His house would be the envy of the neighborhood. His uppity neighbors would come in from their worthless jobs and say, 'Wow, their house looks great.' Or maybe they'd use big words like, 'fantastic.' He's heard people use words like that before.
"Yeah, that's what they'd say, 'fantastic'." he smiles.
Their home would look 'fantastic' because he would put all of his money into its beautification. If not all, then he would definitely spend more money than she had spent to make their house look worthy of compliments. With the money that she makes, hell, she should have money pouring into this home. She has a fancy car and she dresses like one of those people in the fashion magazines. He knows that she is not rich but she can afford to splurge a little more. For God's sake, this is her home! She's not struggling and she knows that she could surely get a lot of cash from that deadbeat husband of hers if he had an unfortunate accident.
"Clarence, that son of a bitch." he growls.
Surly she would receive a substantial amount of money from his demise and he could make that happen if she'd only ask. He had thought about just how he could make something like that happen for quite some time now. He would disable the brakes of his car and place his drunken body in the passenger seat. He would drive to the top of Heathcliff Hill, secure him in the driver's seat, put the car in neutral and let it roll. He would watch as the car slammed into the guard rail and over the embankment and presto: more money.
But she would never ask for him to do such a thing and he doesn't understand why. She is so afraid of him. She seems to be scared to even breathe around him. Apparently, she does not need any extra money and why? ... Because she isn't struggling. He looks around the yard again. She isn't struggling at all. She is not impoverished as his family was, so she does not understand what it is like to be desperate.
She never went to bed hungry. She always had warm clothes and shoes for her children. She always made sure that her house had heat and hot water. She made certain that her family always had the luxury of having the lights on as well. And because he knows this, he is absolutely sure that she can certainly afford to build a fucking fence to separate the front yard from the back! And she certainly can afford a damned dog! Hell, she can afford almost anything that she wants.
If she can afford a car and clothing, if she can afford to keep the heat on and food on the table, then surely she can afford these simple amenities. She doesn't worry about how her children will eat tomorrow as his mother had. She never suggests' that her family sleep with their coats on because there is no money to pay the heating bill as his mother did. And her son did not have to watch his father share his bedroom with his sister just to keep warm at night, as he did.
He begins to anger and he feels his blood boil. He tells himself that he must think of the brighter side of this picture before he snaps. He admits that she did sympathize with his situation. But he also acknowledges that she could never understand it. How could she? She owns her own car; his family had to catch the bus. Her family has a different meal almost every night whereas his family feasted on hotdogs and pork and beans constantly. She can pity his situation but she can never understand it.
"Some people are so damned lucky." he exclaims quietly as he steps backward and takes in the scenery before him again. "Just look at this. Look at how they are able to live and look at me. Just look at where I come from."
He looks around at her precious lawn with his arms folded tightly across his chest and sighs solemnly. He turns slightly and glances at the single bush to his left with the wood chips beneath it in disarray. "Why do I care?" he asks himself. "Why do I even care? Why did I fight for her? Why did I save her ass?" Nodding his head, he looks downward, sorrowfully. "Nobody cares about me."
He thinks of his life, his awful life. He thinks of his home and his sister. He wonders what she is doing at this moment. He wonders how her life is going. It has been ten months since he'd last seen her. He hasn't spoken to her since ... that night. He sighs deeply and closes his eyes, pushing a tear down his cheek.
"I did it for you, Lisa," he nods woefully. "Don't you understand? I did it for you. I just wanted for you to love me just as you loved him. He didn't deserve your love. I did."
He thinks of the pain that he has dealt with his entire life. Then his thoughts settle on the memory of his mother and the pain he's dealing with now. The tears are now streaming down his face and his throat tightens. It is getting harder for him to swallow. He chokes on his tears as his pain and sorrow resurfaces. He squeezes his eyes tightly and tries to shut out his life. He wipes the tears from his face and slowly takes in the scenery of the small yard again.
"This is bullshit. Bullshit! Nobody cares," he whispers, "nobody."
But he knows that somebody cares. He knows that she cares. She is the only person that does care. She was there for him when nobody else was. Yes, he knew that she cared for if she had not, he wouldn't even be here now, standing on her front porch and staring at her yard. She dealt with the backlash of her Clarence's wrath just so he could be here now. He knows that it is just easier for him to be angry. It always has been. It has always been easier for him to say, 'fuck the world.' It's easier for him to deal with his pain ... and his lost this way. So he continues to tell himself that nobody cares if only to make it through another night. He replays what his life was like just a few months ago when all was normal. The thought of his mother and her words chimes in his head like a bell.
'Son, it takes a boy to hate the world, but a man to except it as is.'
He closes his eyes as the memory of his mother flood his mind. He remembers her jovial face, her laughter and her wisdom. He hears her soothing voice whispering his name in the breeze of the October night. The leaves ruffle in the lawn as his mother's soothing call turns to a desperate gasp.
She gasps for another breath, and another. Her gasps become panicked as she struggles for air. She struggles for the breath that she is prevented from having because of him. He then hears her coughing and gurgling. He sees her clutching her throat desperately as she struggles for air. He hears her repeated attempts to call his name through her gasps. She continues to struggle as the air is prohibited from entering her lungs. She struggles to speak but even sound is prevented from escaping her mouth. He hears her struggling begin to subside and her gasps lessen. As the sound of her last gasp echoes in his mind, his eyes snap open. His tears have disappeared and he stares at the visions in his mind. The disarray of the wonderful Christmas dinner is now scattered on the floor amidst the broken dishes. The food that he prepared for the holiday is still lodged in the back of her throat, robbing her of her last and desperate breath.
He looks at his hands and notices that he has been twirling his pocketknife between his fingers. He stares at the knife momentarily and then glances at the full moon in the sky. The moonlight continues to make him feel uncomfortable and he shivers again. He thinks of his sister and his longing for her love before he slowly turns and disappears into the house, quietly shutting the door behind him.
* * *
It is quiet. She likes it this way. The bright moonlight peeks through the branches of the tree and there is an eerie reflection of it on the bedroom wall. The thin ruffled curtain sway gently in the darkness and the reflected shadows on the wall sway with the curtains. From the light of the moon, her teddy bears and dolls glow eerily. Her games and trinkets atop her desktop patiently await her attention. The clothing that she wore the day before, that never made it to the cloths hamper, lies crumpled on the floor next to her bed. And in her bed, there, she sleeps.
The blanket covering her torso rises and falls with her rhythmic breathing. The dim light glows upon her peaceful face as she scratches her head and inhales slowly. A light smile grows upon her lips as she rests. Her eyelids move rapidly and the glow of the moonlight makes her appearance seem almost angelic. She looks so innocent, so beautiful and so tranquil. As she rests, as she dreams, as she sleeps, she does not notice the darkness. She does not notice her dolls and teddy bears on guard duty. She does not notice her swaying curtains and the glistening of her toys. And she does not notice her doorknob ... turning ever so slowly.
Her blanket continues its rhythmic rise and fall as her doorknob continues its motion. She inhales deeply and turns onto her side with her back facing the door. Suddenly, the turning of the knob stops. There is an unusual calmness in the room. She continues to rests, undisturbed and unaware. She is unaware of the moon in the sky that is creating the shadows on her wall. She is unaware of the breeze seeping through the window, causing her curtains to sway gently. She is unaware of her and dolls smiling and watching her in the darkness creating the eerie silhouette of shadows. She is unaware of the slight creaking sound that is being made in the silence; the creaking of her door opening ever so slowly. Darkness is all that can be seen from behind her bedroom door as it continues to open. Slowly, silently, the door widens.
The door opens entirely and his silhouette can be seen in her doorway. His large frame hovers and overshadows the tranquility of her bedroom. He stands motionless in the darkness. He clenches his fists slightly in sync with his breathing. His breathing is even, hungry, yet calm. He glares at her angrily. He stares at her with fierce intensity, ogling her while she sleeps. She remains undisturbed and unaware of the monster standing before her.
Slowly, he steps toward her. He turns his head slightly to assure himself that he is alone ... alone with her. He steps toward her bed as his coarse bare feet glide over the hardwood floor. He stares at her lustfully in his approach. His eye's squint and he admires her. He is absorbed, entranced by her beauty and tranquility. He is entranced by her innocence. He bites his bottom lip and nods slowly as he listens to her quietly inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. He clenches his fists again and takes a deep breath attempting to match his breathing with hers. He exhales slowly. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. He smiles and takes pleasure of accomplishing his task of matching her breathing. Now they both inhale and exhale perfectly in sync. He is fascinated by this simple task and his chest expands as he takes in the air.
He tilts his head backward, closes his eyes and silently, methodically releases his clenched fists. The air can be heard exiting his nostrils in the darkness. He feels as if he is being lifted into the air, afloat in the calm autumn air. Slowly he levels his head and opens his eyes. His dilated pupils reflect sheer darkness. Then, without further hesitation, he pounces.
* * *
The flowers in the field are as colorful as they could ever be. There are so many beautiful colors of red, blue, purple and green. There are some colors that she has never seen. There are colors that she could have never imagined or ever describe. They are absolutely beautiful. It is an ocean of beautifully colored flowers and she wants to touch each and every one. As she admires her surroundings, a huge smile creases her face and she begins to trot through the field. Her silk white gown flows in the wind as she reaches out gently and touches the colorful pedals during her race. She laughs and sings as she skips through the beautiful scenery. The flowers emit a wonderful aroma into the air. She takes a deep breath and can smell the scent of every flower. She inhales. Exhales ... Inhales ... Exhales. The aroma generates calmness within her mind and she looks into the beautiful blue sky above and continues her journey.
The shining sun enhances the pollen floating in the air as she passes and touches each flower. The field is a fiesta of beauty and she admires the peace and tranquil atmosphere and wishes she could be one of the beautiful buds in the field. She continues to skip through the remarkable ocean, spinning and laughing, skipping and singing. She continues on her colorful journey feeling gay and free, with a smile so broad across her face, that her eyes can hardly be seen.
In the distance, she notices an unusual flower that seems to stand out from all the rest. Her curiosity guides her toward this strange flower in the field. As she makes her way toward the flower, she slows her trot through the field and her smile slowly diminishes. She comes to a complete stop as she visually absorbs the strange flower. She cautiously takes another step and approaches flower again. Suddenly, she stops once more. Still at a distance from the unusual plant, she tilts her head slightly to the left and a look of confusion engulfs her face. She gradually takes another step and approaches the plant again until she finds herself standing before it.
Excerpted from THE TORTURED SMILE by JEFFREY C. ARMSTRONG Copyright © 2011 by Jeffrey C. Armstrong. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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