I crept downstairs to the basement; my heart pounded a staccato beat so loudly I feared it would wake the neighbors. The light was on and it filled me with dread. I never left the light on. Grandma had ingrained that into my head as boy. I could almost hear her telling me, “Turn off the lights when you leave a room. I don’t have stock in the electric company”. The door to the root cellar was wide open. I wanted to run and hide. I knew she’d discovered my dirty secret.
“Sherry? Is that you?”
I didn’t hear a reply, at least not right away. The answer that followed was a blood-curdling scream of agony.
I ran into the root cellar and there she was. Sherry was chained to the walls and Mandy was torturing her. He had shattered her shapely legs with a sledgehammer and ripped off her fingernails until all that remained was bloody stumps. Mandy turned to face me, a bloody knife clenched in his hand, and he laughed.
“She’s so serious, isn’t she? Let’s see if I can make her smile.”
His blade ripped through the side of her mouth and I screamed.
Drenched in sweat, Sherry was shaking me awake. I was in my bedroom with her and she was safe. Panting, I pulled her close and held her.
“Shh, it’s okay. It was just a dream. You’re with me and we’re safe.”
I silently repeated her words over and over. It was just a dream and we are safe. I didn’t feel safe. As long as Mandy was alive there was no guarantee that either of us would ever be safe. Yet, the soft tone of her voice and the gentle caress of Sherry’s hands soothed my jagged nerves.
“Do you want to talk about it? Sometimes it helps to diffuse the fear if you can tell someone what it was that scared you.”
“I don’t really remember.”
I lied and even though I figured she could tell; she didn’t push me. Instead, she curled up next to me and rested her head on my chest. She hummed softly as her fingertips lightly traced the curve of my cheek and brushed my hair back from my face.
When I next opened my eyes, sunlight was streaming through the blinds and casting a halo effect around my sleeping angel. I slipped quietly down to the kitchen, hoping not to wake her. At some point in the middle of the night, Ruby had hopped up onto the bed and she was purring like crazy, all snuggled up next to Sherry. The coffee was still percolating in Grandma’s ancient glass stovetop coffee pot. The thing took an eternity to brew but the coffee is outstanding so I kept it. I was just toasting some pop-tarts and frozen waffles when Sherry padded across the floor and wrapped her arms around me.
“I was trying to make you breakfast in bed.”
Without saying a word, she turned and ran from the kitchen. I could hear her racing up the stairs and I laughed so hard I nearly spilled the coffee. I loaded everything onto a tray and carried it upstairs. She was nestled under the covers, pretending to be asleep, complete with fake snoring.
It hardly seemed possible that I could be this happy yet a part of me yearned to go back to the basement. I’d developed a taste for my work and I wanted to complete my masterpiece. I resisted the urge to squeal for joy when Sherry said she needed to go back home. She expressed her dread for going back to work on Monday and I had to play along. It was so hard to withhold my secret and it filled me with anger that needed to be vented on the vile piece of dung in my root cellar.
Once I kissed Sherry goodbye, I locked the door and raced to the basement. I tugged the duct tape off, making sure to tug at his torn mouth. Mandy looked at me but appeared too weak to manage a snide remark.
“Are you pretending to be asleep? Do you think I care if I’ve interrupted your beauty sleep?”
Mandy’s words were weak and lacked conviction. I decided that meant he needed more incentive.
**Be sure to return Monday, June 23rd for the next installment of Mandy**