Michael whimpered in the dark, his shifting voice sputtered half-cries as he tried to man up. That was something his father had always told him. Man up now, or you never will, the voice echoed in his head. Touching his cheek, he could feel it had already begun to swell—the heat under the skin simmered like the hatred in his heart. He caught himself breathing much too heavily, because he was getting lightheaded much too quickly.
What have I done so wrong—
On the other side of the door, another dish shatters into pieces—followed by another terrifying scream. His mother sounded as though she were being beaten within an inch of her life. Because she likely was.
A warm trickle with the taste of copper crept into his mouth. He wiped his nose with the sleeve of his shirt and instinctively looked down, expecting to see bright red. But that was impossible because there were no lights in the tiny space. Nothing but woolen coats that smelled of tobacco and moth balls, boots soaked with the fragrance of earth, spent rags with the smell of grease, and slickers that stuck to his back because of rising heat in the confined space.
Mom? Did he knock you down?
His heart began to race, and with the worse he could imagine, he began to panic. Instantly, that panic bubbled into rage, and without a care of what happened next, his fury exploded into a scream. It was a blood-curdling scream that rose from the bottom of who he was—as if suppressed for years. Because it had been. And he was tired of it. His eyes were squeezed shut so tightly, he imagined seeing light behind his lids, as he continued screaming.
“Shut the hell up in there, or I’ll give you something to yell about!”
But Michael didn’t stop screaming.
Instead, he ignored the pulsating pain in his ribcage, sucked in the biggest breath possible, and released a scream so horrifying he frightened himself. His head shook, his shoulders tightened, and the back of his throat felt like it was being scraped by a knife.
Suddenly, the door whipped open. The motion was so swift and powerful the clothes hanging above his head flew in the direction of the escaping door. Wire hangers spun on the wooden bar above his head, before crashing to the floor. The light temporarily blinded him, as he imagined an incoming fury that would certainly put a stop to his screaming.
But it didn’t. And he wouldn’t.
In fact, his screaming continued as though it were the last noise he would make—a noise the neighbors would never forget. Aware of more punishment to come, he instinctively raised his left arm to guard his face a split second before a crashing blow connected with his arm.
SNAP, like a dead tree limb.
The pain was unimaginable. Even with eyes wide open, he couldn’t see a thing. The crushing force told his body to shut down, kicking into protection mode. A breathy gasp filled the air for a fraction of a second, followed by a strange silence. Then he fell backwards—his head hitting the back wall, before he crumbled onto the floor and into a sobbing heap.
“Now, maybe you’ll shut the hell up!”
When the door slammed shut, it took several seconds before Michael sensed his throbbing arm. Catching his breath, he couldn’t feel it. Reaching for it with his other hand, his fingers and palm felt lifeless. Sliding his hand down the arm toward his hand, a finger caught on something sharp and wet, and protruding from the skin. He felt his last meal bubble in his throat. Slumping forward, he desperately wanted to man up.
But he couldn’t. And he didn’t.
Instead, tears began to drip into his lap, just as the front door swung open, slamming the wall behind it and bringing a mirror crashing to the floor.
Next came his mother’s screaming voice, “You hateful bastard!”
That was followed by a gunshot, BANG!
A scuffle, a scream, and another gunshot, BANG!
Suddenly, someone fell to the floor and slammed against the door he faced, as a thin scream pierced the momentary silence.
With no more strength, Michael gently laid his face against the cool wooden floor. In the gap at the bottom of the door, a pool of blood began to ooze toward his peeking eye.
He didn’t know who was shot, who did the shooting, or who was dead—as his vision faded to black.