Jenny swallows a calloused lump in her throat, the stranger disappears into the dark. At this point the words he spoke soak in as she turns to run, she doesn’t look back.
She makes it to her apartment building, a run down slum that should be condemned. A junkie clothed in rags lays out by the front over-dosing on a trash filled sidewalk, foam gathers at the corners of his mouth. Jenny steps over him and walks into the front doors with cracked glass without a second glance. Graffiti and homeless people litter the stairwell and front area, the walls have holes exposing the studs from excessive fights, stairs leading up often have used condoms and used syringes resting on random steps.
The air is sometimes difficult to inhale, with the combination of all the mixed drugs and sexual fluids being passed, the smog outside is almost cleaner. Jenny makes her way up to the second floor, she unlocks her door as a homeless man shuffles by her on a limp foot, he looks back her way with a grizzled expression before walking ahead. She double bolts the door behind her and turns to be greeted by her little sister.
“Jenny, where have you been?”. Her sister pushes her words with a strained voice. Her beautiful emerald eyes hidden in dark circles, her lips chapped and split open in parts, sickness has ran its way through her body destroying everything but her hope. Jenny walks through the almost barren living room to the hospital bed in the corner. Her short legs walk past a retro multi colored couch against a wall, fabric tears and loose threads sprung upwards. The carpet floor was hardened with cigarette burns and stains. The walls were a discolored white, nicotine stains painted the small apartment a different shade.
The kitchen merged into the living room, housing a refrigerator that barely got colder than room temperature, two chairs in which one was held together with wire and duct tape, and some paper plates placed in cabinets with missing doors. The tile floor was outdated and ripped apart with disappearing diamond designs that once held color. The hallway led to a cramped bathroom, it was cleaner than most in the building but needed work. A empty laundry soap bucket rested near the toilet, it needed to be filled to flush the toilet. The hot water didn’t work in the shower and the tub held permanent dirt rings of previous filth and tenants.
The one bedroom in the apartment was nothing more than a mattress on the floor next to a lamp with no shade. Sleeping on the bed would almost require a chiropractor upon waking up. This home was more of a private hell occupying two girls more than anything else. Jenny’s sister, Shawna, laid on an old hospital bed, her body was frail and tender. Cancer had gotten the best of her and violated anything that was left. Despite facing death breathing on the back of her neck she always forced a smile for Jenny.
Crouching down near Shawna, Jenny places her hand on her sister’s withered fingers and cautiously grips them.
“Hey beautiful, how you feeling?”
Chuckling Shawna responds, “I wish I felt as good as your compliment. I’m good sister, I’m alive and breathing. How was work? What happened to your shirt? It’s torn?”
Flashes of the stranger bathing in blood from a fist punch through a man’s chest haunt her visions. She couldn’t tell her sister, or anyone for that matter. What would they think?
“It was good actually. Think Mr.Brenson is gonna give me a raise soon. Well I hope, I mean s**t what does he think I do all day. And it’s nothing just got snagged on a piece of lumber.”
“You know I hate when you curse, it isn’t lady like sister, and you’re a lady.”
Jenny puts her head down for a moment reflecting on her instinct to use vulgar language. “Sorry love, I been working on that. How was your day?”
Shawna looks towards the window as the moon beams its basking light across her tiny body. “It’s been good, I saw some doves today actually.”
“It was nice. It’s simple things like that, just little reminders of what life is about. They have no cares or debts, no burdens or bills, just free.” Looking over towards Jenny she smiles, “Just be free. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
Jenny forces a smile looking at what was once a vibrant healthy girl turned into a corpse controlling a figure made of bone and flesh, “It would be baby, it sure would. Hey you hungry? I can go get some grub from Harry’s Burger Shack?”
Leaning forward Shawna begins to cough as Jenny puts her arm behind her lifting her forward. Shawna’s lungs fill with hot coals spewing short breaths of sputtering air.
“Hey, breathe baby.”
Shawna lifts her hand to signal she’s okay. “Sorry about that.”
“No no don’t apologize, you good?”
Shawna lays back down and nods her head, “I’m okay. And no I’m not really hungry, you should eat though. Last time you went too long and passed out, you remember that nasty black eye you got hitting that pole? We can’t have that happening again.”
Jenny rubs her right away and remembers the pain of Rico’s fist slamming into it. She was short on cash and he wasn’t thrilled. What pride resided in her body that night was taken. She snaps out of her daydream and offers to go get food of another sort.
“No really I’m fine, any food we can get a hold of you should eat. It won’t do me any good at this point.”
“Don’t say that! Why do you talk like that Shawna?”
“Sis calm down. Death comes for everyone, I was scared at first I really was, but, I got into the Bible and come to find Jesus. I’m okay sister, we can’t afford the surgery so I just pray. If it comes, then God wanted me to come home.”
Tears roll down Jenny’s cheeks as she puts her head down. “Why do you talk like that! I’m gonna get the money, I swear it! We just need a little more time. I’m-I’m working overtime and saving up. We’re gonna beat this, it’s just you and me babe, I got you.”
“I love you, but God has a plan for all of us. Some of us are just meant to go home a little early, and that’s okay. I don’t mean to make you sad sis, but the expenses are just too much. I know you’re trying, you know mom would be proud of you.”
“F**k mom! Why would she come into play? I’m taking care of you! I’m gonna raise the money Shawna, I will.”
“Jenny language plea-”
“F**k that! You look to that book like it has answers! Unless there’s a cure or money in it what good is it gonna do us!” Jenny stands up backing away, “I’m trying to save you! And you look for answers in that? I can’t lose you Shawna!”
Jenny turns away crying falling backwards on the couch. Shawna looks over and whispers, “I’m not praying for death, just preparing for if it. Not saying I want it to, but you remember what Dr.Denor said. At this point I can only hope for a miracle.”
Jenny stands up before hearing a loud bang, she halts the conversation aiming her attention towards the door. Peering through the peephole she sees a swollen man standing back looking around.
“Jenny open this f*****g door! You didn’t pay up, you’re testing me b***h.”
She turns away sliding down the door, trembling in fear she stares at her nine year old sister. Why was this happening? How could things get any worse? The door begins to rattle as the man kicks it from the other side. Shawna begins to cry, “Jenny what’s going on? I’m scared!”
She presses her back against the door, placing her foot against the couch for stability.
“I am too sis, I am too.”
Jenny holds back while vibrations rattle down her spine, the door was poorly put together and wouldn’t hold much longer. Maybe just one or two more kicks, if even that. Shawna tries to climb out of her sunken bed, for what God only knows. She could barely move, much less do anything to help.
As Shawna hits the floor, the door rams into Jenny’s back knocking her forward into the couch. She picks her head up with her mouth open expelling a silent scream, her back throbbing sending shock signals to her brain. Jenny looks over to see Shawna on the ground attempting to crawl towards Jenny.
“Leave my sister alone!”
The man walks in, he’s heavy set with a receding hair line and a thick beard. “You think this is funny? Rico ain’t happy Jen, not happy at all. Where’s the money? You didn’t show up to pay, where the hell is it?”. He bends down digging into her pockets rolling her over to to search them all.
“Get away from her!” Shawna tries to yell but her words barely reach his ears. Looking over he screams, “You mind your business little girl or you’ll be working with your sister! I’m sure I got customers into that kind of s**t. Actually, you’d fit in just fine, small and apparently immobile.. Yeah I know some guys, I think I’ll take her as payment instead.”
Jenny throws her right elbow into the mans kneecap forcing him to fall backwards. “Don’t you talk to her like that a*****e!”
The man cries out holding his knee before sitting up and kicking Jenny in her face, his heavy boot feels like a trampling from a horse. A crack is heard somewhere on her face, her head is flung back onto the wall behind her. Her nose throbs under intense pressure with heat expanding between the pain, her lips become wet with running blood.
The man rises to his feet holding his knee, “What’s wrong Jenny? Not trying to make it a family business? She could make more than you baby.”
“F**k you Cole! You ain’t s**t but an errand boy! Leave her alone you pervert, she’s just a kid! She doesn’t have anything to do with this, I’ll go!”. Her angry words spit out with speckles of blood accompanied with them.
“What’s he talking about sister? Please leave us alone! Don’t go with him Jen, what are you doing?” Shawna replies while on the ground struggling to raise her body. Fighting the pain from the fall, she is more worried about Jenny than herself.
“Oh this is getting better, she doesn’t know does she? Ah Jenny what are you doing? Tell you what, I’m going to take her and we’ll call your slate cleared eh?” Cole lugs his heavy body over towards Shawna.
Shawna looks up at him and loses her memory for a moment, for a second she sees her dad walking towards her smiling. His slick grin as he unbuckles his belt before sliding it out tightening it around his knuckles. It was all too real, she closes her eyes and snaps back to reality seeing a stranger walk towards her. Perverse intentions in his mind, he was a man of something only evil could create.
Jenny tries to crawl forward still dazed with pain and a splitting ache in her head. Her emotions an o**y of pain, heartache and resent, she looks helpless as her sister’s frail body is picked up by the man. Shawna cries out only to cough on her attempts of help, Cole smiles and turns towards Jenny, “This will do.”
He spoke of Shawna as if she was an actual form of payment, these men didn’t see women, but more as pieces of flesh made to make money. The younger and smaller made more than the others, simply for the fact that the real monsters aren’t on movies or television but people you associate with. People you work with, go to church with, are related to, it doesn’t stop their sexual cravings. Young flesh is young flesh.
“No! Please I’ll go, I’ll go talk to Rico!” Jenny’s expression becomes a mess of blood and tears on her bruised face.
Cole looks down with a stern look. “Once I set a man on fire and forced his pregnant wife to watch before burying her alive, for a debt of $1200. You owe Rico $4800. Do you expect sympathy from me? You avoided us for long enough, he expects payment. It’s business love, don’t take it personal.”
“I’d call it personal.”
Jenny and Cole look up to see the mysterious hero from earlier walk in the open door, his fist balled so tight his veins stuck out like plastic tubing under flesh. She got a better look at him this time, a heavy shadow of stubble wrapped his cheeks and throat. One eye was a whirlpool of different colors merging into a solid where his pupil resided. His other eye was as it should be, aside from the over abundance of capillaries turning the milky surface into a red forest.
The anger in him almost emanated like a soft heat upon making himself present. The stranger swings his fist shattering teeth out of Cole’s mouth. He drops Shawna out of his extended palms. She slips down into the stranger’s hands, he looks down at her with a gentle smile. Cole falls backwards onto the bed hitting the edge into his back, he slides down choking out blood in spurts of threats. “Who the f**k are you! Do you know who you just f****d with!”
The stranger calmly asks, “Baby can you do me a favor? Please cover your ears and close your eyes? Can you do that?”
Shawna looks up with a smile as if greeting an old friend and nods her head before cupping her fragile hands over her ears. She squeezes her eyes tight while the stranger gently places her on the floor next to Jenny. He looks up and whispers, “You too kid.”
Cole begins to stand up as the stranger kicks him in the chest, Cole loses his balance and topples into a window breaking it with his chubby face. His chest burns as the jagged glass breaks his skin slowly sliding into him under his weight. The stranger grabs loose strands of hair and shoves him down deeper before rearing him back throwing him onto the floor.
“Who do you work for? Why do you want these girls? I’m gonna ask you nicely, once.” The stranger stands over Cole with his fist balled, his knuckles crack waiting for an answer.
Cole drools out blood and looks up with his broken smile and starts to chuckle. “I don’t know who you are, but you are a dead man my friend. You are so f*****g dead you don’t even know it! These girls ain’t s**t to nobody! Just throw away pieces of a*s, I’m trying to help them is all. Who cares about some gutter sluts?”
The stranger drops him before stomping on Cole’s stomach with his left boot. “You shouldn’t speak of ladies in such a manner. You got a boss, a leader or something? Cause I have a message for him.”
Jenny speaks up in the midst of the conversation, “His name is Rico. What are you gonna do?”
“Shut up b***h!” Cole shouts between heaves of pain.
The stranger applies force with his foot before releasing it and crouching down. “Seems you have a thing for these girls? Anyone else know how sick you are?”
The stranger heads over towards the broken window and snaps a piece of glass off, he looks to Jenny, “Appreciate the help but eyes and ears closed kid please, trust me.”
He dives onto Cole as Jenny covers her ears tightly, the stranger places his knees over Cole’s arms and grips his thick fingers around his throat. His free hand he elegantly glides the sharp edge across his neck carving letters. Cole strains with his hands twitching, blood seeps into his shirt as he screams out for mercy. The stranger stands back as the word VILE bleeds out of Cole’s throat in a lacerated language.
The stranger grabs Cole by his leather jacket dragging him out of the apartment into the deserted hallway. He makes it to the stairwell and slings Cole up with both hands meeting face to face over the edge. “Look at my face, look me in the eye, burn my image in your memory. I could kill you at this moment, but I won’t. Instead I want you to send your boss a message. Come near them again, I’m begging you do it, next time I won’t hold back. Tell ‘Rico’ this was from me personally.”
“Who-who are you?” Cole manages to sputter.
“Someone you don’t want to f**k with.” The stranger drops Cole to the floor below. He slams onto the ground crying out holding his right arm. It took the impact and in turn cracked for payment. The stranger walks back into the apartment and crouches down near the girls. “Are you kids okay?”
Jenny looks up opening her eyes and shudders, “Who the hell are you?”