Vye looked at me from across my study. Her arms were crossed. “I don’t care.”
“But all the others have been based on prompts,” I tried to explain.
“I don’t care.”
“But what about the continuity of the series?”
“I don’t care.”
“What about consistency?”
“I don’t care.”
“What about my word? I said all the stories in this series would be based on prompts!”
She narrowed her eyes. “I. Don’t. Care.”
“Fine,” I said in frustration. “What do you care about?!”
She never faltered. Never dropped eye-contact. Never hesitated. “The story,” she said. “I care about the story.”
Vye and I don’t have it out often, but when we do one of two things happens. Either she wins and the story plays out the way it was meant to, or I win and the story suffers for it. I’ve learned the hard way, it’s best to do what your muse demands.
That said, this week’s story, the final piece of the Kinter house series, is not based on a prompt. I knew how the story needed to end, how it wanted to end, and the prompts this week simply didn’t work. They were way too specific or just too out of place in the insanity that is the Kinter basement. So I didn’t use one. I just wrote.
If you’ve been keeping up with the series all along, I hope this is an ending you can, ahem, live with. Please let me know what you think of it in the comments. If you haven’t read the rest of these stories, please click here, and be sure to start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.
into the blinding light
Kinter responded to Carrie’s growl with a grunt of his own. His eyes were all whites and pupils. Blood cascaded down his leg. The torch had burn him badly but failed to cauterize the wound. It was a wonder he was able to stand at all.
Carrie charged forward, her knife hand leading. Kinter opened his arms in a come-to-papa gesture. He smiled at her in a way that was obscene. She let out another war cry just as she was about to collide with him, and then threw her weight to the left, toward the stairs. Kinter didn’t see the change-up coming. He’d been prepared with a counter-lunge and was already in mid-swing when Carrie disappeared on him. He stumbled forward, unable to recover his balance.
He was headed right for Mr. Baker.
Carrie looked down at the knife. It looked unlike any knife she’d held before. It looked like something from a movie about Navy Seals and Delta Force guys, not something you’d expect to see in an old man’s basement. It was heavy, though, and it felt good in her hand. And, of course, it was all she had.
She had never thrown a knife before, so she knew nothing about technique. Still, Kinter’s burnt leg was toward her and he made for a decent-sized target. If she could make contact with the raw, ruined flesh of his leg, even with the dull end, Kinter would forget all about Mr. Baker and chase after her, like a mad hound chasing a rabbit.
Yeah, she thought. Chase me, you fucking bastard.
She gripped the knife by the blade–that’s how they do it in movies–and chucked it at Kinter. It flung end over end toward the charred flesh that used to be his leg and, unbelievably, made contact. More than that. The blade caught on his muscle and easily slid in. Carrie heard it hit the bone. She ran forward and wrapped her fingers around the handle while Kinter thrashed, obscenities flowing from his lips like he was speaking a language made only of curse words.
She had to pull hard.
When the knife popped free, blood spewed from the wound with more force and in greater volume than Carrie would have thought possible. He was an O+ piñata.
Clutching his leg, Kinter dropped the knife he’d been holding and crumpled to the ground. He was mewing now, incoherent sobs that reminded Carrie of Kevin. She kicked Kinter’s fallen knife away from his body and took Mr. Baker’s hand.
“Come on. We need to get outta here! Now!”
When she turned back to the stairs, there was Jessica.
“The sister. Fuck my life.”
“What?” Mr. Baker asked.
“The fucking sister. She’s between us and the stairs now.”
Jessica had ribbons of blood across her scarred face. The bright scarlet shining in the dim light was the only attractive thing about her. She looked to Carrie and said, “Don’t you want to be pretty?” She posed the question with mild indignation, the same way Carrie’s 3 year-old sister might ask, “Don’t you want to play with my dollie?”
“No thanks, crazy,” Carrie said. “I’m just fine the way I am.”
Jessica clearly didn’t understand. “You don’t want to be pretty? I thought everyone wanted to be pretty. Like me…” She stared into the middle distance trying to wrap her mind around Carrie’s preference for plain looks. “I’ve never made anyone pretty,” Jessica muttered. “I’ve just watched all these years…”
That’s when Carrie saw Jessica’s hands. In one hand, she held a pair of yard sheers. In the other, something wet and red and small. Carrie could not help but stare at it, horrified. She had to know what it was, but she was afraid to look at Max. She had intentionally avoided even a glance in that direction. Pragmatically, she reasoned that Max was likely as good as dead. He’d lost a lot of blood–so much she could smell it–and even if he lived, he’d never be the same. Her friend was already gone.
In spite of herself, she looked at Max now. His body was ragged, sagging in the chair they’d tied him to. The stump where his right hand should have been was black and, God help her, gooey. But it was his face that made her gag. His cheeks had been sliced open at the corners of his mouth. His lower jaw hung open, unnaturally wide, allowing for a too-full view of the interior of his mouth.
Jessica had been playing. She held Max’s tongue in her hand, her fingers rubbing it like it was a good luck charm.
Mercifully, Max was passed out from shock or already dead. At least, that’s what Carrie told herself.
Carrie looked back to Jessica. There was a twinkle in her demented eyes. Come and let me make you pretty, it said. Carrie had never been one for make-overs. She hated slumber parties because someone was always making her try different kinds of make-up, just for fun. Maybe one day she’d grow into it. Maybe when her breasts came in and her hips acquired curves. Maybe then she’d paint her face and select her clothes strategically. Maybe then she’d want with all her heart to be pretty, but not today.
Today, she didn’t give a flying fuck about being pretty.
Unlike her brother, Jessica wasn’t sporting a severe burn down the length of one whole leg. And Carrie doubted she could taunt her into a charge. She’d be harder to get past.
Mr. Baker squeezed Carrie’s hand. “What’s going on?”
“Mexican stand-off,” Carrie said.
“Yeah. She’s in our way. How are your legs?”
Mr. Baker’s face twisted in confusion. “Fine, I think.”
“I mean, you aren’t hurt, right? You could run or kick, couldn’t you?”
“I guess so.”
Carrie turned back to Jessica who stood swaying in a breeze only she felt. She seemed entirely unconcerned about the two human beings intent on leaving the basement, even if they had to kill her to get out. Carrie did a quick visual search for Kevin. He was behind her, still sobbing silently, sucking his thumb.
“You wanna make me pretty?” Carrie asked.
Jessica smiled. “Yes.”
“Like…my friend?” Carrie gestured toward Max.
“Oh, no,” Jessica said. “Much prettier.”
“Come and get me, then.”
Jessica chuckled. “Child. You have a knife. I’m not as foolish as you think I am.”
“Fine.” Carrie tossed the knife toward Max. It slid to a stop at his feet in a puddle of crimson. “Now I don’t have a knife.”
Jessica nodded. “And I will make you pretty.”
She began to walk forward. When she was about 3 feet away, Carrie slipped her hand from Mr. Baker’s and dove at Jessica’s legs. She was fast, too fast for Jessica to see it coming. Jessica dropped her sheers and the tongue. Carrie hit her at the ankles, wrapping her arms around Jessica’s legs and throwing all her weight into the lowest possible point. Jessica had been walking quickly, eager to begin the make-over, and the momentum of her body carried her forward still.
She was falling–over Carrie, toward Mr. Baker.
“Mr. Baker!” Carrie shouted. “Kick now! Hard!”
Mr. Baker didn’t hesitate. His right leg swung forward with as much force as he could muster, his foot making contact with Jessica’s chin. Even with sight, he could not have hoped for a better hit. Jessica’s head snapped back and her body flung over Carrie, landing in a heap where she’d been standing only seconds before. Blood flowed freely from her mouth. She’d bitten her own tongue off and it lay on the floor next to Max’s, tips touching like some kind of sick, sadistic kiss.
“Let’s go!” Carrie declared.
Mr. Baker held a hand out and Carrie took it. She pulled him around Jessica and toward the stairs. “Kevin! Move it!”
Behind her, she could hear Kevin trudging forward.
When she reached the stairs, she said, “Steps.” Mr. Baker nodded and they started up.
They burst through the door at the top of the stairs into the kitchen. The sunlight was blinding, even late in the day. Had it been that dark down there? She navigated Mr. Baker toward the front door. Once in the yard, they would be more or less safe.
When she opened the door, a warm breeze greeted her. It seemed to caress her face, bringing with it the smells of newly mowed grass and hot dogs on a grill and hints of late blooming flowers. It was the sweetest thing she’d ever smelled.
Mr. Baker felt the sunlight, too, and exhaled. Had he been holding his breath? “Is the boy with us?” he asked.
Kevin. Damn it, where is he?
“He’s slow,” she said. “I’ll make sure he made it out.”
She trotted back into the house cautiously, expecting to see Kevin headed toward the front door. But no one was there. She crossed the living room. No one in the kitchen. She looked to the door leading down to the basement.
No, she thought.
Kinter appeared at the top of the stairs. His arm twitched and he was still bleeding, but he wore a smile nonetheless. Carrie searched the kitchen counters for a knife or something, anything, to use as a weapon.
“Go, girl,” he said. “We’ll not make you pretty. You’ve beaten us, an old man and his sister. Go. Tell the authorities and bring an end to the beauty of the pain.”
Carrie eyed him with suspicion. Was it a trap?
“But go knowing this: we have one offering yet to make.”
Carrie heard Kevin then, crying from somewhere down in the dark. There was another noise, too. A gargled sound, like someone laughing and choking at the same time.
“Oh yes,” he said, his eyes alight. “We will make him pretty.”
And then he closed the basement door. When Carrie heard the lock engage, she ran. When she heard the first scream, before she’d even made it to the yard, a tear traced her face.
Out into the blinding sun she ran, looking for help, but the only help Max and Kevin were to receive would come on the other side of the pain.