Read the previous chapters here: 10.1 10.2 10.3
Read a recap of the previous chapters here: 10.1 10.2 10.3
Deborah’s last chapter was 9.9. Click here to read that chapter again
Click here for a recap of 9.9.
Deborah had been drowning in darkness for what felt like an eternity.
She took a strange comfort from it, as it reminded her of the time she’d spent in the cage – her Lent, as she called it.
Now that her hard-earned faith had all turned out to be bullshit, she at least found that in darkness, in her own company, there was no one else to hurt her.
That was as comforting a thought as she could come up with right now, but she took it.
Gotta take comfort where you can in this fucked up world, she thought with a grim smile.
She lost track of the time, slowly feeling herself detach from reality, safe, here in her cocoon of darkness.
It was kind of like being in the womb, she imagined, dark, lonely, with only a heartbeat to keep her company.
She sighed, savouring the solitude.
This was all wrenched out from under her like a tablecloth in the hands of a novice magician when the door was suddenly thrust open.
Harsh light flooded in, stabbing her retinas like red hot needles.
He was there, she could smell his stench. Altar wine and stale sweat.
She could hear his breathing.
The breathing she’d herself stopped.
She began to giggle at the memory of Wayne’s stunned face.
The worm had turned and it had slit his fucking throat.
She was jolted from her mirth by a hard pull of the rope that was fastened around her neck.
She gagged slightly, panic setting in for a few bleak seconds, then the pressure abated.
‘You little bitch. You little whore,’ he spat.
The reek of his stale body odour hit her nostrils like a bony fist.
She went to shove him away, but realised her hands were bound tight behind her back.
She’d been unaware of this till she’d decided to move.
Now she knew, her shoulders suddenly ached with the strain.
She went to kick him away but her ankles and knees were bound.
A slight wave of panic hit her at the sudden realisation that she couldn’t feel her feet or hands.
‘Fuck you, you skinny piece of shit,’ she screeched, the sound echoing harshly off the bare concrete walls.
She braced herself for the impact but it was still enough to knock her off her knees and make her regret her decision to mock him.
‘That all you got, you limp-dicked little faggot?’ she giggled, fully convinced that the final bizarre reveal of Simon’s existence had been enough to tip her, laughing and capering, into insanity’s abyss.
Another blow, harder this time, burst her nose across her face in a hot mess.
Blood ran down her top lip and, more nauseatingly, down the back of her throat.
It was viscous, vile.
She almost retched, almost relented.
Maybe he’ll go too far and kill me, she thought. Finally put me out of my goddamned misery.
‘Are you ready to apologise?’ he asked, his face cracking in a grin.
The dark, swollen orbs of his eyes pulled her in, making her want to be one with the blackness.
She craved the dark tranquillity of oblivion.
Death would surely be a blessing now.
She smiled back at him, echoing his sickening childish giggle.
A harsh yank of the rope turned her giggle into a horrid strangled cry.
‘That’s more like it,’ he beamed. ‘Subservience. Obedience. Respect.’
She wheezed a little as he released the grip.
‘Do we understand each other, Mrs Cross?’
She coughed hard.
Bowed her head, beckoned him in.
‘That’s more like it,’ he grinned. ‘My willing servant once more. What do you say to that?’
She whispered so low that he had to come in closer.
They were almost eye to eye.
‘I slit your brother’s lying throat,’ she hissed. ‘And I will slit yours too, you psychotic piece of shit. I’ll see you twitching like he was, hands clasped to his throat, trying to keep the blood in.’
A hard blow burst her lips against her teeth.
She tasted blood once more.
‘The panic in his eyes as he realised—’
He hit her again, hard enough to wrench her head round.
‘—he was dying. The blood spraying out of his chest—’
Cross was on her chest now, his weight making it hard to breathe.
‘—soaking into his shirt and—’
Another blow crunched something in her eye socket, making the world pulsate in time with her frantic heartbeat.
‘He screamed like a little bitch, you know,’ she laughed.
And she kept laughing, kept taunting.
Her cheek became a bone jigsaw never to be remade.
‘He bit off more than he could chew. And so have y—’
Her other eye flared with pain. Blood trickled down, stinging the swollen orb.
Another blow smashed right into her mouth, knocking one of her teeth loose.
It landed on the concrete floor with a little tinkling sound.
She saw the blood beneath her.
‘He died like a little bitch. And so will you.’
Punches rained down on her.
The last thing she remembered hearing was her own insane laugh as she spiralled into the merciful darkness.
She’d been blissfully asleep when the door had been wrenched open again.
The dim light again stung her eyes, through the sliver of vision she had.
It felt as though her head had been filled with burning cotton wool.
Her neck was as stiff as the morning after she’d spent a drunken night headbanging to Therapy? with Lee.
Her face felt tight, swollen skin split in a dozen different places.
Dried blood clung to it like week-old makeup.
She’d hoped he’d killed her and opening her eyes once more was a disappointment.
Although the pale, nightmarish thing she saw approaching her through the gloom made her think she was somewhere between the worlds.
It didn’t seem to have any skin that wasn’t scarred.
It had no eyelids. Its eyes were cataracted, the lips drawn back to expose the teeth in a hideous parody of a grin.
The ears were just raw nubs of flesh.
The hands were stalks of bloodied jelly barely concealing the bone.
It didn’t speak, didn’t seem capable.
It moved in a weird, shuffling way.
She realised why when she saw the bloody flaps of skin that the concrete floor was tearing from the creature’s feet.
Her skin crawled, but she didn’t seem able to move in response to it.
She just wanted to close her eyes and let the godforsaken creature take her away to whatever hell it had in mind for her, but she couldn’t even manage to close her eyes due to the hideous swelling around them.
The creature leant in close and she screamed when she saw it up close, her nostrils marinating in the smell of scorched flesh and the metallic tang of blood.
She vomited into her mouth.
Her heart felt like it was being crushed by an icy fist.
She felt certain it was Hell’s welcoming party, so vile was the creature’s sorrowful visage.
But there was kindness in its eyes.
Blood rushed into her hands as the disturbing figure ran a blade through the ropes on her wrists.
Her legs felt similar relief a few seconds later. She tied the strands of rope around her waist like a crude belt.
The feeling returned with a horrendous pain that made her wish the limbs had just been amputated.
The atrocity laid a hand under her armpit.
She winced as the bloody flesh left cold trails on her skin.
The figure helped her to her feet where she swayed like a drunkard at closing time.
The pain of the pins and needles finally wore off and she took her first fumbling steps towards the door.
‘I don’t know who you are, but thank you,’ she said to the figure, not sure if they were a hallucination or a nightmare made flesh.
The figure said something that Deborah couldn’t make out, but it sounded like she said, ‘Hell.’
Once out of Serenity’s church, Deborah lurched into the cold night air.
She saw flames off in the distance, coming from the direction of the Freelands.
She would have liked to have warned King Solomon about the incoming threat, but there seemed no point now.
Besides, she wanted to get as far away from all of this as possible.
The flames cast the horrific figure who’d rescued her in a hellish glow, further convincing her that this was one of Hell’s emissaries welcoming her in.
When she looked back the figure had vanished, seeming to confirm her suspicions.
Sighing, she took a moment to decide where she was going, then set off.
Deborah soon began to regret her decision when she saw the path that she had chosen.
It was leading her in the opposite direction to the flames and explosions and gunshots and screams coming from the Freelands.
And that had to be a good thing; it sounded like absolute carnage over there.
She’d miss the friends she’d made over there, especially Davey and King Solomon.
But it was not worth the risk of bumping into Simon again.
He’d almost beaten her to death this time.
True, she’d wound him up to that point, but he was more than capable of killing her.
She knew it was only a matter of time.
And she feared him more than she’d feared Wayne. He was even more unhinged than his dear departed brother had been.
She saw hell in his eyes.
In his smile.
As much as she wanted to send him down to hell to sit by his brother’s side, her gut told her that he would be much more prepared for her attack than Wayne had been.
She knew the best option was flight, even if it meant starting again somewhere new.
Her thoughts seemed to be muffled, her head still pounding from the beating she’d taken.
Her eyes were sticky and itchy and swollen. She found it hard to see, even without the smoke that billowed across from the Freelands.
She could still taste blood thick in the back of her throat. The taste kept tipping her towards vomiting, but she managed to hold it in.
Her legs and arms ached from the beating she’d taken, but she forced herself grimly on.
She had a knife on her but no gun.
She hadn’t thought to pick up her gun before she fled. Besides, fat lot of good it had done her on the two times she’d most needed it.
She climbed over the ten-foot concrete-encased earthen wall at the back of Serenity’s allotments – this was almost enough to finish her limbs off for good – and dropped to the floor on the other side.
For better or worse, she was out of Serenity now.
She could see guards up on the towers, not as many as usual, a skeleton crew since most of the village’s inhabitants were out waging war on the Freelands.
The guard was looking right at where she would be headed, so she waited.
There were trees a few hundred yards away, but there was no cover between her and them.
She’d be gunned down long before she’d get there.
She watched as best she could through slitted eyes.
The guard turned and began looking over the other side of the wall.
She took her chance.
Muscles blazing, she ran for the trees.
She wished for all she was worth that her body wasn’t in such a battered state, as every metre travelled brought fresh misery and agony.
A quick glance over her shoulder revealed that the guard was turning now.
She could see that he was raising his rifle.
And she was still out in the open, a good hundred yards from the cover of the trees.
With a groan, she realised she wasn’t going to make it.
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