Short Story: Blind and Bound

She stood in her shower, half-cradling a breast. One arm draped upward and around her, finger resting at her lips. The other worked to soap herself. Her eyes, stared: quite literally, dead-ahead. Their milky blindness told most of the story, but even her own circumstantial birth could not account for all of their current damage.

Something had happened. It was obvious and she knew it. What, she wasn’t sure– No, she was… but it seemed a dream. Someone else’s. It couldn’t have been hers. She’d been dreaming. A nightmare. Taken advantage of, but not. Caught off-guard, really.

She’d been blind since birth, born with a defect that kept the optic nerves from forming properly. Cataracts came later. She couldn’t help either, but as she’d known nothing else, she coped, adapted: to both life and circumstance, it was never a question of bothering her.

Until today.

Her senses were acute enough she’d never needed her cane outside the most populated areas; shopping malls, boardwalks, city-centers and the like– places where Humans couldn’t fathom that the rats and roaches scurrying about were actually people. People like them. Each with their own lives, memories, minutes and moments lived until and beyond their passing in the amalgamated haze of life.

For a five-five blind woman with less muscle mass than a proper steak, it meant nobody paid any attention to where you were or going. Short of having an attendant, she’d never have been able to walk city-streets without the cane.

She’d resented it her whole life. Not for any, one, irrational or emotional reason, but because she knew it made her appear outwardly vulnerable.

Her only feelings on the matter were that no-one knowing made it easier. Confidence alone held the facade of equal power in the streets. It allowed her to be one of the other cockroaches when needed. Otherwise, gave her strength to carry on day-to-day, despite her slightly more-unique set of challenges.

But if the equal-power perception were upset things change.

In other words, she remained a roach with her cane, but now one hanging from a candy cane on a dead Christmas tree. The conflict was obvious. She needed to be a chameleon using its color-changing to hide itself in plain-sight. Not a fucking clown.

At least, that’s how she’d always thought of it. Now, it seemed that wasn’t true. She’d been attacked without it, just another unlucky woman in the hands of some sick pseudo-human creature.

She’d screamed as soon as she’d felt his hands.

The smell! Something like motor oil and gasoline mixed with brill-cream. The smell of Human gone bad. Or old fruit too long rotting in sunlight. No good for liquor or anything more than decomposition.

She’d smelled it almost as soon as it hit her peripheral. As a deaf-dog smelled its owner in a garage from a second floor bedroom. She knew someone was near. An off-rotted someone. Were circumstances different, she’d have thought it a dead body.

The sudden rush of steps gave her pause, but the kind that didn’t hesitate in her step. Then, from nowhere, she was on the ground. Something struck her head, dazing her. Making her unable to scream. The world was spinning. Its motions unnatural, sickening. Dread burst into her limbs, doing its best to compel them onward.

It was too late. She felt cold air. Body heat. Stinking, Human-badness. Something pathetic and erect seeking violent, grotesque bounty. Before she could scream, he was inside. Then, she was screaming… but her mind was floating, drifting as if a sail-barge set adrift mid-storm and now consigned to float forever, alone.

Then, she was alone. Her limbs flailing, her tears ran.

It had only been moments. The little-pricked psycho couldn’t even last more than a few seconds, proving it was only the rush he got off on. She’d never gotten to touch his face. If she had, she’d have a good description, but her body’d been too heavily restrained.

Cooling water centered her on reality, pulling her back from a brink. Enough to warm the water, anyway.

Heavy. He was heavy. Not muscular, not obese. Heavy. Like the darkness of his soul was a lead-weight that kept her still. Part of it was herself: still too shocked to know how to think or act outside flailing. Utterly understandable, no-one would deny that. She’d managed a couple good scratches and a hit before her forehead hit concrete and she was dazed again, too.

So, he was heavy. And smelled. He’d have some scratches, and probably a bruise.

It wasn’t enough. She needed more, could only get it by revisiting that horrible memory. Over and over again. The way he slid inside with a kind of practiced-precision: he’d done it more than once. Nobody got that lucky on the first try of anything, especially not this.

Serial rapist. Heavy, but not fat. Smelling of badness and poorly endowed.

Still not enough. Better, but not enough.

He’d come at her from the side, along Fifth. Out of an alley. He’d have struck in the area again. Serial-anythings were predictable once identified. He’d hit her with something blunt, but not metal. She knew it from a thunk on the ground beside them. Wood on asphalt. The sounds replayed in crystal clarity. Clearer even than when they happened– for now, she had some grasp on their order of action.

Something wood and round. It had begun to roll, stopped and scraped when lifted. As if broken at its end. It was light, but precise. He hit her again.

Wood. Dense. Rounded but too small for a full-size bat. Not strong or heavy enough to break bone or skin. She was guessing it had been a scale-model one; the type kids picked up as souvenirs at their first attendance of a real game.

She had an idea of the weapon, but what more could that help? How many of the things were there in the world? Let alone in a city with a Major League team? She couldn’t know, but it was another detail.

She’d begun to move again. The last of the creature’s vile poison leaked off her into the pooling warmth, suckled away into nothingness down the drain. Her body gave an involuntary quake, but her arms worked to clean herself. Her feet warm, soothed.

He’d been wearing sneakers. He’d gotten the drop on her only because he was lost in his spring. The steps had been heavy, confusing at first. Incapable of immediately registering themselves as boot or shoe. But now, they were sneakers at full-tilt. He’d have worked out a method, a serial case: probably repeat offender.

No belt either. He wouldn’t have worn one. It wasn’t his first time, after all. That was obvious still. She’d heard no zipper but had felt the press of thin material on her legs as his knees pinned the backs of hers.

Pants. No zipper. Synthetic Fibers. Athletic-wear.

It was the only conclusion. With his weight, he was probably in disguise– that is to say, his dress wasn’t usual. He’d have abandoned the dress of a so-called day-to-day job, its presence evidenced in the brill-cream scent between the gasoline and motor-oil. He wouldn’t have left work just to do this. He’d prepared to do it.

Meaning the car-scents were hobbiest scents. Probably, the brill-cream an identifying trait. People that knew him would know it. That too, would connect him with his likely hobby of auto-repair– or if not hobby, necessity. Which meant he either had enough money to work cars for fun, or none at all and against odds, did it for pay.

Compulsive gambler was also a possibility. Such was the case in cracked eggs.

She didn’t know any mechanics though. While a few gear-heads in the ‘burbs knew her, none would remember her. Certainly, none with that scent of badness.

She twisted the shower off and stepped out. Groping for the towel and careful of her steps on the slick tub. It needed to be cleaned. Like she’d been…

No! She wasn’t unclean. It was him! He needed to be cleaned: Scrubbed from society while facing his crimes head-on.

She’d already taken a sample from the homemade rape-kit she’d fashioned from cotton-swabs and airtight tupperware. It wasn’t perfect, but she wasn’t about to walk into a police station without having some idea of what to say. She wanted him caught, not to have herself coddled. The last thing she wanted was to be coddled.

No, what she needed was information. As much as possible before going to the police. If she could figure out who it was, she could act.

Statistics said a victim was more likely to know their attacker. It wasn’t much to go on, but it could temporarily narrow the field. All she needed was to connect the right dots so she could turn the guy over, let detectives handle it from there.

It was as decent a place as any to start. She made the call.

A half-hour later she was meeting in her living room with a cop. She didn’t particularly like the idea, given the reputation they’d gained, but it wasn’t that difficult to choose between the Detective’s presence and letting the tiny-pricked bastard do it again. She gave what information she could muster:

Heavy, taller than her. Sneakers. Sweats. Wooden mini-bat. God-awful smell. Probably a serial. Scratched and bruised.

The detective hadn’t bothered to question her. She could hear the disbelief in his breath. Not the kind that would write her off. Rather, the kind that said he was ashamed how he’d squandered his senses. She gave him the homemade kit, which he handled as if a fearful student given a task by a mentor, to be taken with all precautions and properly handled.

He asked if she wanted a ride to the hospital, offered it. She accepted, though mostly for efficiency’s sake.

Two hours later, her he calling: he’d found someone she should, “Erm, take a look at…” She chuckled in earnest. His relief told her he was equally in earnest.

She was guided into a room. “The DNA will confirm,” the detective said. “But he fits the profile. Make the ID, we’ll hold him for interrogation.”

She stepped in, immediately overwhelmed by the scent of badness. She didn’t need confirmation, her gut affirmed her feelings. Her senses screamed. Terror rippled chains over her body, threatening to rip her back to that horrible series of moments. She shattered them with a breath.

Stepping over, mind focused, she connected a few, choice aspects of the attack she’d missed before. He had a strong right hand, dominant, but a stronger than usual left arm. Probably, from driving. Racing, she guessed. It fit with the stench of motor-oil and fuel.

And, he’d had a certain way of breathing. A huff-puff beneath a wheeze. He smoked. Excessively. He smelled of it even now. Smoke and sweat. It poured from him. Not fear sweat, no. Junkie sweat. The kind that came from craving fixes. He didn’t believe she could ID him; she was blind, after all. So, he wanted her again. He thought he could get away with it. Again.

That cinched it.

She stepped before him, senses screaming and gut knotted. The smell of badness floored her. She took off her sunglasses to stare him in the eyes with her milky-blind blues.

“You didn’t think I’d catch you.”

His breath stuttered. Imperceptible to anyone but her. He remained silent, but he was caught.

“The DNA will get you, but I want you personally to know, you won’t be seeing daylight for a long time. If you do, and you’re not changed, I will know. I will always be watching.”

The detective needed no further confirmation. He one, then the other, from the room: the former to sit and file paperwork, the latter to holding. Even as she boringly recited information for a proctor to fill out, she knew she’d never again fear walking the street– cane or not.

Short Story: The Proverbial Hand-Grenade

Private First Class, Benjamin Harrison; named for America’s 23rd president that Ben’s father found an inexplicably queer fascination with. Why, no-one by the elder Harrison was sure. Even then, it was doubtful a sufficient explanation could be gleaned from the man’s meticulous, daily research and record-keeping of the long forgotten president. What is a matter of public-record however, is the intense sense of duty and honor in the young Private.

All through his life he was teased; from his rigid-postured, vegetable-eating youth, to his JROTC, fatigue-clad teenage years. Life wasn’t a living hell for Ben, at least not between the off-school hours. Otherwise, for his first decade of schooling he suffered the curious ire of his classmates that somehow formed insults from the half-historically honored words of “President-boy,” “Chief Harry-son,” and even “Army-man.”

Such is the crude humor and reckless abandon of youth that these insults, formed of prestigious titles, turned to weapons of psychological warfare. In their way, they were harmless to all, but Ben wasn’t everyone. He was a person; living, feeling, and with a sense of duty and honor that only made him feel worse when he’d decided to devote his life to protecting and serving his country. Unfortunately, grade-school and junior-high were made all the more intolerable by the occasional history course or class that focused on US presidents.

Each year, Ben’s father would dutifully speak to classes about former-president Harrison. As part of a locally-famed historic society, and due to his knowledge of the aforementioned, he was called in without fail to give small lectures each year. Generally occurring just after the winter break, it made Ben loathe the month of January even more than the normal boys whom were simply peeved at the return of scheduled classes.

Thankfully, most of that subsided in high-school. Joining JROTC gave Ben a sounding board of peers with whom he could sympathize. Having been groomed to follow in his father’s boots and join the service, finding others with a similar goal made life all the more bearable. But again the fickle nature of humans eroded much of his enthusiasm. Contrary to intuition, a boy clad in camouflage fatigues was easier to see in the halls of an American High-School than a sore thumb.

Ben and his JROTC-mates were often the targets of the vile underbelly of the school. Being six-foot tall, crew-cut, and peach-fuzzed didn’t help. He was already gangly, lean, and looked weak; perfect prey for the undesirables that even the ‘heads and jocks disliked. Fortunately for Ben, most of the bullying was done on a psychological level– that curious battle-field seemingly isolated to schools, distant war-zones, and clearance shoe-sales.

The only, minor incident that turned physical could not have come at a better time for Ben, nor ended more favorably. The bully, clearly insecure about his vertically-challenged stature, taunted and tormented for a week before he got physical. He’d cornered Ben and a pair of JROTC girls against a locker. The girls were the usual JROTC types; slightly more butch than the others, average-looking, and one more pudgy than the off-brand, preppy-girls that roamed the halls like packs of parental-wallet succubi. As a result, their confidence was less than stellar, their protests shot down with quick, monosyllabic insults masked as swears.

The aggression was met with a firm tongue, and more rigid posture than Ben had ever manifested. He made himself a target, threw himself on the proverbial hand-grenade to shield his friends from the explosion about to be unleashed.

Indeed, Ben’s quick quip back drew the bully’s attention. He spat a swear with a shove at Ben’s chest. Ben was more limber than he appeared, like a cobra raised up and ready to lunge. The second shove only connected to give Ben his opening. In a flurry of arms and the thrust of a fist, the boy flipped through the air. He landed on the ground, hands clutched at his throat, to gasp for air. Ben’s first girlfriend was the pudgier girl present that day. They lasted all through high-school, her hero and his love.

That proverbial self-sacrifice was repeated years later in a middle-eastern desert. On sweep-and-clear orders, PFC Ben Harrison and his unit came under heavy fire. Cornered inside a bombed-out brick building, laid out like a series of low-hurtles and half-walls around them, they exchanged fire with native insurgents. That day was hardly Ben’s first taste of war, but unfortunately, it would be his last in-country.

They spent over a thousand rounds, pinned down by surplus-Soviet AK fire. The irony that these bullets had been stockpiled to kill Americans during the Cold War was not lost on Ben so long as he thought about it. That day, he did. In fact, he thought about a lot of things; home, his first love, sex with her, beers, smokes…. Everything good and bad seemed to trickle on a steady IV drip through his body while Russian weapons sang songs of middle-eastern pride.

Even so, nothing could have prepared him for what came next. Biggs, the guy with the 249-SAW, was encamped just below a rise of destroyed brick and mortar. He had just enough room to roll to his right, sit upright, and slap the SAW around to reload its box-mag. By the time it finished screaming “Die Motherfucker Die!” Biggs was already sitting up to reload.

That’s when it happened. Even then Ben saw it in a play-by-play. He was holed up a few paces down from Biggs, in a piece of wall still tall enough to stand behind. He peered out, saw one of those assholes across the way had detached to rush along side a fuel truck in front of them. It was a stupid place to take cover in a fire-fight, even Ben knew that. One stray round, a spark; that was all it would take to ignite the fucker, blow it and everything in a few hundred feet sky-high– assholes included.

But this particular “insurgent” wasn’t thinking about that. Instead, he lobbed an old-war pineapple grenade through the air. Ben was already in motion when it landed beside his left foot. He dove through a hail of gun-fire, tackled Biggs further sideways. It wasn’t enough for the would-be savior.

To say he walked away from the war would be a misnomer. In truth, he was wheeled away. While the majority of his unit had survived largely unscathed– Biggs the victim of minor shrapnel and facial burns– Ben lost his legs. Both of them. His lower limbs had been torn, shredded to bloody-wet, fleshy nibs by the pineapple. Then, whatever was left had been char-broiled by the heat, the left-over bones pulverized by the shock-wave.

He left for war over six-foot tall, returned two shins and feet shorter. There was a purple heart that came by mail, a lot of doctor’s visits and surgeries, and eventually, some nimble prosthetics that– with therapy– allowed Ben to walk again. There was no welcome home ceremony, no parade, no politicians commending him for his service or sacrifice. Just his parents and extended family; the only ones to notice he’d left, returned, or the pain he’d endured.

One night, he walked into a gas station to buy a pack of cigarettes. He waited patiently in line, posture rigid as ever, behind a man that fidgeted and scratched like a meth-head. In his little town, this particular disease was becoming rampant. There were too many two-bit meth-makers living in trailers on rural land, brewing up cat-piss and chemicals. It had been hard enough to return home half a man, but returning home to this was worse.

It was no secret to any casual observer that this particular man was ready to crack. He needed a fix, would get it however he could. So, of course, he decided to hold up the gas station. And being the man he was, of course Ben dutifully kept his cool, waited for the man to turn away with an arm full of money. Ben stuck out a single arm that clothes-lined the man as he made to sprint. Then, he was on the ground from a hit to the throat, unable to breathe, money fluttering to the ground all around him.

Ben retrieved the gun and held it on him while the clerk called the police. His metal leg pinned the man to the ground as their eyes met.

“Ben?” The junkie asked through his balsam wood teeth, and pale, scabbed skin.

Ben stared at the man for a long moment. It took time, and a firm, prosthetic foot to stir the images in Ben’s mind. Before long he realized this wasn’t the first time he’d bested the man before him. Ricky was the same punk-kid he’d laid out all those years ago.

“You’re going to Jail, Ricky,” Ben finally said.

Clearly Ricky wasn’t right in his mind, too focused on the prosthetic that held him in place, “What happened to ‘yer legs, man?”

“War happened, Ricky,” Ben replied.

Ricky descended into a mental fit that concluded the conversation with incessant rambles, a mental state akin to psychosis. The police finally arrived to thank Ben for his quick thinking and service. A moment later, Ricky was escorted out to a cruiser as he wailed back at Ben.

“I’m sorry, Ben. Sorry for everything. Shouldn’t’ve…. shouldn’t’ve picked on you.” His head was shoved down, his body forced into the cruiser, “You’re the better man, Ben.” The door shut and he screamed through it, “You’re the better man!”

Ben watched the car roll away, Ricky still screaming that tell-all phrase. Ben had heard it all his life, been told it by everyone he knew; be the better man. When faced with bullies; be the better man. When angry or fuming; be the better man. When called to war; be the better man. When life shits on you; be. The. Better. man.

All his life he’d been the better man, lost friendships, love, even his legs ’cause of it. But something about watching his old bully, now turned to a fiend and junkie, being hauled away gave him perspective. If that mentally disturbed man could, in a moment of clarity, find peace in Ben’s betterness, the man himself had no excuse.

In a decisive moment, Ben turned away from the gas station to climb into his car. He didn’t care about smoking, killing himself slowly by the hit. Instead, he was ready to be finished proving himself– both to himself and the world– and start living. He’d thrown himself on the proverbial hand-grenade for the better of others, but was not ready to do it for himself. That needed to change.

He put his car in gear, and drove for home, chasing a setting sun and a better life.