One Bloody Heart
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By Richard Dani
(I'd rate this Pg-13 for violence and gore.)
Tom opens his front door and a crisp fall breeze tickles his cheeks. He immediately notices the mid-day sky that is an oppressive gray blanket and for a brief moment, he is thankful for the smattering of tall maples and oaks whose orange, red and yellow leaves add much needed color to the otherwise dreary skyline.
With a quick right and left glance, he takes in his deserted street and assumes that the person who had knocked must have grown impatient and departed.
“Couldn’t have been that important,” he thinks and for the first time, he notices the package nestled on the green plastic welcome mat. The thin, one-foot squared package is covered in brown paper that is criss-crossed with twine. His name and address are emblazoned in neat red marker, but the return address in the top left corner is smeared beyond readability and quick wave of apprehension washes through him.
“Odd,” he thinks as he checks the postmark. The round black stamp indicates that the package was mailed from Kansas, which is where he spent the better part of his youth, and his fears are quickly abated. A wisp of a smile decorates his thin lips as he tries to guess who from his past is checking in. A small parade of ex-girlfriends and high school chums march through his memory as he closes the door and walks to his kitchen.
One by one old acquaintances are eliminated from his mental list as he searches a utility drawer for a pair of scissors. Tom recalls that Carol, the first girl he had kissed, died in a car accident and Joey, who was one of his best friends, had passed in a house fire.
With shaky fingers, Tom cuts through the twine and pulls back the brown wrapper to reveal two cardboard flaps sealed beneath layers of clear tape. A fear of damaging his package prevents him from using the scissors and he begins picking at each sticky band. Working through the barrier in this manner is somewhat tedious but he is also enjoying the anticipation, which he figures is more than half the fun of a surprise.
In his mind Tom returns to high school and his smile grows significantly for this time frame was easily his golden period. He had enjoyed the level of popularity that one achieves as a fairly successful athlete. While his accomplishments on the wrestling mat and basketball court were hardly legendary, they had been enough to garner him a few headlines in the local newspaper and once his picture had taken up the top right corner of the sports page. Tom fondly remembers the late night calls from girls he had never met and the boys who followed him down his school’s crowded hallways.
“Yeah,” he thinks, “for two short years I was king.”
Post-high school life had been a different story. In college he had been just one of the crowd partly because he hadn’t been good enough to make any of the sports teams and partly because dormitory food and alcohol added unnecessary padding to his once muscular frame. As if that wasn’t enough, most of his hair had fallen out by the end of his senior year leaving him with only a few stragglers poking out around his ears.
Having graduated somewhere in the middle of his class, Tom was unable to garner a top flight job. Instead, he became a manager of a small gift store in the mall. The pay was competitive for a starting position but raises were few and far between. No muscle, no hair, and an awful job all added up to a mediocre adulthood, which Tom is more than grateful to escape even if the means are from a mysterious package.
With a mountain of clear plastic tape at his right, he hesitantly peels off the last strand. Nervous anticipation pulses through his veins as he pulls the flaps open. What lies beneath is shaped like a valentine’s heart. However, everything else about the object is concealed by tissue paper. Still, the heart shaped object buoys Tom’s spirits as the chances its sender was an ex-lover are greatly increased.
As he lifts the layers of tissue paper, Tom recalls the last mysterious gift he had received. During his senior year in high school a girl, he thinks her name was Theresa, had given him a white envelope with specific instructions not to open it until after school. Since it was near the end of the day and he was already late for class, he had obeyed her wishes. Sitting in his red Mustang in the school’s parking lot, Tom had opened the envelope and pulled out what had been a collection of Polaroid’s. The first displayed Theresa, who wasn’t a bad looking girl in spite of her overly large forehead and gapped toothed grin, wearing a pink button down sweater and blue jeans. Each successive picture depicted her wearing less and less until she was down to only a small pair of panties. This picture was accompanied by a note that suggested if he wanted to see more he only had to give her a call. While the pictures and her body were certainly inviting, Tom never rang her up mainly because they were from completely different social classes.
“Oh how the mighty have fallen,” Tom thinks and hopes that the package is from her.
But, as the last piece of tissue is removed, Tom’s excited mood immediately turns darker. As he glances down at the “gift” his brain seems to ripple within its skull, and his own heart seems locked in an icy grip. His breath comes in short hurried gasps and for a moment he feels as if he will pass out. He stares gape mouthed down at the heart and tries to come to grips with the impossible.
The heart, while embroidered with fancy ribbons, is nothing less than shocking. He tells himself that what he is looking at is not real. That it is just a fabrication or a sick twisted gag, but the more he glances at the collage of macabre pictures the more authentic they become. In the top left corner Carol, the girl he thought had died in a car wreck, has her face entombed in plastic wrap. Her eyes seem to be bulging straight from her head as her mouth fights feverishly for breath. The realization that the car accident was a cover up slaps top in the face.
Next to her is a guy, Harry, who Tom believes had dated Carol. He is naked and whole but his body is disfigured by dips and valleys where it should be firm. It’s as if someone beat his chest and with a sledge hammer. Below Harry is a cheerleader named Lisa. She’s lying face down on the floor but enough of her profile is visible to allow for identification. Her back is bare, but it is scarred with deep gashes that expose the white of her ribcage as well as the knobby joints of her spine. Next to her is the guy she dated, George. His throat is cut so severely that his head is attached to his body by only a few strands of tendon and a strip or two of flesh. Beside him is a girl whose face looks to have been chewed down to the bone. It is the hairy brown birthmark on her right arm that allows Tom to recognize her as Tasia. Her high school sweetheart, Max, is positioned beside her. His head has been cleaved or sawed nearly in half. A large “V” shaped wound separates the left side of his face from his right.
One by one Tom takes them in and questions the plausibility of it all. How could all of these people from the same town be murdered? It doesn’t seem possible, but then Tom realizes that while they had grown up together, in adulthood they had all been scattered. Each and every one of his high school pals had upped and left Kansas just as he had. Now, instead of one community being rocked by a chain of killings, several different cities dealt with their own macabre case and none of the links had ever been connected by the different law enforcement agencies.
A chill races up Tom’s spine causing the short hairs on the back of his neck to stand up as he scans his memory bank looking for a time when all these people had been together. Then, it hits him. Shortly after graduation this exact group had gathered for one last celebration. Tom’s pretty sure it was at Carol’s. They were drinking and dancing and howling at the moon. That was when Theresa had entered. She had approached Tom wearing a long leather jacket trying her best to play the role of seductress. There in front of everyone she had ripped open her jacket to reveal the black nightie underneath.
“What did she think would happen,” Tom wonders. “Did she expect me to go running to her…to grab her in my arms or something?”
Tom shook his head feeling a little pity for her, which is an emotion he hadn’t showed her then. Instead, he broke out laughing as did everyone else who witnessed it. People started calling her a skank, a whore and a thousand other things. And while the insults were flying freely, it was the laughing that rode over it all. He remembers Theresa’s face glowing an unnatural color of red as she turned and raced from the party. No one sought to console her. No one went to her aid. Like Tom, they had all been too busy laughing.
That moment like so many, was quickly forgotten by Tom and his friends, but one person still remembers. One person still hurts. She, with her gapped toothed grin and oversized forehead, is standing a few feet behind Tom. In her right hand is a pair of steely scissors and in her right is a camera. She has one last picture to take. One last void to fill as she attempts to mend her own broken heart.
If you have no questions or fears about your abilities, then you will learn nothing from your mistakes and know nothing about your limitations.