I am on the B Train, reading the stark, black typeface of today’s headline: Religious Murders Escalate. The picture of the most recent victim stares up at me. A man this time, probably late thirties. Pale face, blank eyes.
I drop the paper to my lap. I loosen my tie and let my head fall back against the torn blue cushion. I close my eyes.
There is a smell about me, and a certain close humidity. It is always too warm in the car. And yet I feel something like relief. I will be at the apartment soon, and that comforts me, although I’ve only just moved in.
Soon enough, despite the drone of the track below and the quiet discomfort, I fall asleep. The recurring dream scribbles behind my closed lids.
I am a passenger on a bullet train. While the bleak scenery races past, the compartment is quiet and still. I move my gaze away from the window, where images flit by incomprehensibly. My glance falls on a mother and child. They sit directly across from me.
The child’s hair is greasy, unwashed, and she looks at me with a terrible, pitiful stare. Her face is covered with dirt. I can see faint streaks, the paths of recent tears. The sound of her moans is muffled by a thick, black gag. Her hands and feet are manacled, secured by chains to the gray floor. She tries feebly to cover herself; she is unclothed, pale.
The mother is a bovine creature wrapped in a black robe. The cloth is soaked with her sweat. Her eyes are disturbing voids. She is an albino. Her chalky lips open wide around a silent bray of words. I can see her tonsils as she frantically yells her voiceless prophesies. Her Bible trembles above her, arms swaying white flab, hairless.
My heart beats faster.
Surrounding me, beneath the dingy glow of a single yellow bulb, are more children. They do not squirm. They look exactly alike. All of them are staring at me.
The hatred comes bubbling up, biliously, from deep inside me.
I turn to glare at the woman, ready to scream my own words over hers, but she has closed her mouth into a rictus grin. Her rotted teeth seem to jut forward in the center of her white face. Her head, sprouting random wisps of silver hair, tilts to one side as if about to snap off its neck.
She moves fast. I have no time to react. Now my mouth is an impotent tool, gagged tightly. She sits back beside the poor girl, and her laugh reeks of death.
She opens the big, glossy Bible and begins to read. As before, her words make no sound. Her cancerous breath wafts into my face.
I attempt to bolt from my seat, but find I am strapped down. I struggle against the bindings.
She looks at me dully.
I stare back, hatred in my eyes, heat at the back of my throat, muscles tight and sore. My tongue has swollen; I can hardly breathe.
She reaches over with the hand not clutching the Bible, which seems somehow to be growing, and pinches my nose closed. I buck in my seat, having little effect. The tiny corrupt flow of air into my lungs is not enough. As I look into her colorless eyes, a scream fills my head and a great stifling pressure builds behind my eyes and nose.
As my lungs implode, I wake.
I take in giant gulps of air.
The few people around me turn and stare. I blink, and look out the window. I feel my heart beating against my collar.
I get off at the Third Street station. I begin the mile-and-a-half trudge to the apartment, through the dark streets, over neglected litter. A sound comes from behind me, just once, and I turn around, but no one is there. All around me, broken black walls reflect my footfalls. Quiet darkness suggests many eyes.
I imagine behind every window a young child is bound and gagged, watching helplessly as I pass. I imagine every doorway an open mouth, yelling white noise. I shake my head to clear it, but the images cling.
I close the door of the apartment with a measure of relief and secure three locks.
A pamphlet has been slipped beneath the door. I bend to pick it up. It is pink, folded three times, the name Susan scrawled across its backside. I open it.
It reads, Bible Study Group, meeting Tuesday evening, 7PM, at St. Andrew’s. Please plan to attend, as recent media hype surrounding murders to be discussed. The graphic behind the block letters is of a poorly drawn crucifix.
I crumple the paper into a tight ball and toss it across the kitchen. It makes a small sound in the wastebasket.
I glance at the chairs surrounding the kitchen table. I think of the young girl in my dream. I imagine her tied up in the chair, naked and helpless and squirming. The image blurs my vision. Her terrified stare pierces through me.
As in the dream, the hatred wells up within me.
After carefully pulling gloves over my hands, I walk into the dark bedroom and find Susan tied up in the corner, asleep. Her Bible is open in her ample lap.
I watch her for long moments, and even though her mouth is bound tightly I can imagine it open and yelling. I can see her empty eyes open and endless, terrible and vast. I can see her huge white arm, waving her book in the air. I hold back the cry building in my throat, telling myself, I still can breathe, I still can breathe.
I kneel to watch the even breaths hissing out of her nose.
Very soon, Susan is wide awake.