Click here to read last week’s chapter.
Click here for a recap of last week’s chapter.
Deborah failed miserably at sleeping; the insidious crawling and gnawing in her belly echoed by a nagging voice in her head that told her to eat, to gorge, to give her broken body the calories it craved.
Three hours later, her resistance was finally worn down enough for her to pick up the piece of her flesh.
She paced herself, not wanting to vomit and waste the precious food.
It was undoubtedly the finest meal she’d had in her life.
The days continued like this; the groundhog day routine of the twice-daily hosedowns, the nightly taking of the pound of flesh and, now, the Reverend’s kind gesture of allowing Deborah to eat it, offering her the blood-soaked napkin containing the flesh carved from her own body.
‘It’s just like communion,’ he said breathlessly, the look of a doting parent once more on his face. ‘He gave his body and blood for us. You are taking your own flesh and blood in a gesture to Him of how you have changed your life around.’
She had learned to tune him out now, just continued to eat.
Blood was smeared all across her mouth and nose.
She licked it off hungrily, ensuring none went to waste.
She felt her strength returning, a little.
It was hardly feasting, but some calories were better than none.
All the time she was plotting how she could get out of here.
How she could make him pay for his part in all of this, for what he had done to Lee and her friends, but more for what he had reduced her to.
It was day thirty-three by her calculations, judging by the wounds in various states of repair on her ravaged limbs.
She was still consuming the pound of flesh that he had carved from her each day, greedily chowing down on it like a babe at its mother’s tit.
She was still utterly grateful for him allowing her to do so too.
This no longer seemed strange.
It was life now, for better or for worse.
She had come to recognise this hell as normal.
And, to her surprise, she was starting to see things the way he had suggested she would.
Instead of hating him, she found she was thankful.
Nothing would ever be the same, but he had cared for her, shown her the kindnesses he could.
He had shown her the way.
He had led her to God’s doorstep and done everything but knock on her behalf.
She was certain that she felt what he felt.
A certain warmth flooded her these days, no matter what hell she was enduring – the daily shitting and pissing into a bucket with not even so much luxury as a toilet roll, the near-starvation for a month plus now, the abhorrence of eating her own flesh and drinking her own piss just to keep herself alive – she felt above it, almost like it was happening to someone else.
She felt sure that this was God flooding into her soul, just as the Reverend had said He would.
The next time the hose blurted into life, showering her from head to toe in freezing water, she sat bolt upright, again feeling a warmth inside her that drove the cold away.
When Cross came closer to the cage, approaching from the right hand corner, like he sometimes did, she noted, she muttered, ‘I feel Him.’
Those three words were enough to stun him into silence.
He dropped to his knees with a total absence of theatricality, a grin threatening to crack his face clean in two.
‘Oh thank you, Glorious Father above. Please give Deborah the strength to endure the rest of her trial.’
She smiled at him, feeling nothing but gratitude for what he had done.
Are you fucking crazy? He killed your unborn child, a voice in her head said.
She shut it out.
He butchered your Lee, your best friends.
This man put you in a cage for a month, starved you and made you eat your own flesh to stay alive.
He did it all for my own good.
He did it cos he’s a fucking psycho.
He loves me and wants to show me the path to God’s door.
The voice in her head gave up at this point, seeing there was nothing much to reason with.
Smiling, she held her arm out, a willing sycophant now.
A moan of pleasure as the needle penetrated her skin.
This was their sacrament, their prayer, their shared time that brought each of them closer to God; him as the loving father, her as the lost sheep to be guided back to the fold.
She went willingly, savouring the pain.
As he had promised, the pain had cleansed her.
She welcomed him tearing another filthy piece of her soul away and replacing it with His glory.
‘Not long now, my child,’ he smiled, rubbing her sweating brow down with all the care and affection of a father stroking the head of a slumbering baby.
He gently kissed the centre of her forehead, muttered a few words of prayer.
She uttered them too, looking deep into his eyes, feeling nothing but love for him.
Upon the fortieth day, he came in, naked but for his blood-soaked dog collar.
He hosed her down and took the pound of flesh in the usual manner.
When she hungrily went to eat it, he slapped it out of her trembling hands.
‘I will not have you degraded in such a way,’ he said.
She looked at him, fresh blood smeared across her lips like she’d gone berserk with lipstick.
There was a look of longing in her eyes, for the meal that had been taken from her, but she also looked upon him with awe.
‘Tonight, you will have something proper to eat. Wait there,’ he said.
She noticed that he still locked the cage door, as though he didn’t trust her, even though at this point she had no idea what escape meant.
She wouldn’t have escaped even if she could.
When he came back, her jaw dropped in amazement.
The dim light in the basement room was torn by the candles and sparklers atop a cake that he held in his shaking hands.
He wore his proud father expression, the grin lit by the tiny flames making him look ever so slightly demonic.
‘I baked this especially for you,’ he said, almost breathless in his awe. ‘The first one who ever made it.’
She almost asked him what he meant, but it didn’t matter.
She and he had connected.
She and God had connected, in spite of her initial misgivings.
Her life had done a total one-eighty.
She was his now, body and soul.
‘I can’t thank you enough,’ she said, her voice cracking through emotion and dehydration and near-starvation.
‘It’s just out of a packet,’ he said, seeming embarrassed by his offering.
‘Not for the cake, for everything. You were right. You led me to God, exactly like you said you would. He spoke to me in here, told me to keep going. He guided me and He healed my soul. And I can’t thank you enough for this.’
He bowed his head and she could see the tears that streamed from his eyes.
This was clearly a big deal for him.
She found she felt the same way, and also began sobbing tears of the most abject joy.
She had been lost, now she was found.
Now she belonged.
And she had him to thank for it all.
When she’d greedily shoved a handful of cake into her mouth – he would allow her no more for now as he said she’d make herself sick – he hosed her down again and drew close to the walls of the cage.
He reeked of altar wine and stale sweat.
She threw herself to her knees – not even noticing when shards of concrete sunk into her legs – and did her best to kiss his feet through the bars.
He did nothing to discourage her from this course of action, let it play out, but when she’d finished, he took her gently by the hand and looked her straight in the eye.
‘Is this a trick?’ he asked.
‘No.’ A vehement shake of the head.
‘Because others have tried to fake it. And found out the hard way that it is not the way to go.’
‘I swear on my soul.’
‘Ok, then. A little test of faith.’
‘I’ll do whatever you want me to.’
‘To truly prove your faith, you are going to spend another forty days and nights in here.’
The words should have inspired sheer dread in her, but she knew she would do a hundred days in here without complaint. ‘I’d do it in a heartbeat,’ she said, locking him with a steely stare.
‘Ok, then,’ he said, staring at her for a moment longer before getting up and leaving her in darkness.
The next morning, he came in for the hosedown, and moved in again.
This time she smelt different scents on him; incense and percolated coffee.
‘Are you really willing to go through all of this again?’ he said, his gaze fixed on hers.
She said nothing, just smiled and nodded. ‘I’d do anything for Him. And for you.’
His face once more took on the proud father look, then he cupped her cheek in his hand.
It was strangely warm and, in spite of the atrocities he had inflicted upon her, she felt safe.
He closed his eyes, muttered words that she took to be a prayer, then kissed her clammy forehead.
He rose to his feet without another word, leaving her again.
She was dozing when he came back in.
To her utter amazement, he had unlocked the door to the cell.
‘I thought I was spending another forty days in here?’ she said, dumbfounded.
He shook his head. ‘The fact that you were willing to do it tells me everything I need to know.’
She threw her arms around him, kissed him behind the ear. ‘I can’t thank you enough,’ she said.
‘Come, I will show you to your bed. What would you like for your first meal as a child of God?’
‘I don’t know… I kind of thought I was going to be stuck in there for another month.’
He led her up the stairs into the house proper, and not a single thought of attacking him or trying to escape popped into her head.
He was her whole world now.
The house was decked out with minimalistic but smart decorations.
It was the type of house she could see herself living in.
‘What do you think?’ he asked.
She didn’t need to speak; he knew how she felt.
‘Your bed is here,’ he said, pointing to a perfectly made double bed complete with dust ruffles and twin pillows.
‘This is mine?’ she said, unable to believe such grandeur could be meant for her after the conditions she’d called home for the past month plus change.
He nodded. ‘Enjoy. Rest up. I’ll have the chef prepare a meal for when you wake.’
‘Thanks again,’ she said, tears of gratitude running down her cheeks and plopping onto the plush carpet that was a world away from the sodden concrete floor on which she’d slept the last forty nights.
‘You deserve it,’ he said, cupping her cheek, that look of pride lighting up his face again. ‘I’m so proud of you.’
‘It’s all thanks to you.’
‘I knew you would do it.’
They hugged tight, both sobbing tears of joy.
When he’d gone, she laid down on the bed.
It was so comfortable it was uncomfortable to her.
She’d grown used to the squalor of the basement; she felt like she was going to suffocate in this newfound luxury.
Still, she fell asleep within minutes of her head hitting the pillow.
She awoke to delicious smells wafting up the stairs to her.
Cross came in, clutching a tray laden with all of her favourite foods.
She couldn’t remember telling him about them, so was a little taken aback.
Still she tucked in.
‘Take it easy,’ he said, his concerned mask once more applied. ‘Too much food might make you sick.’
She nodded, slowed up a little.
Tasting proper food again was a little overwhelming.
She found herself getting emotional, tears welling up in her eyes over something so everyday as bacon and eggs with a singed pancake on the side.
‘How is it?’ he asked, seemingly fighting off tears himself.
‘It’s the second best thing I ever ate. The best being the first lump of flesh you gave to me.’
He grinned. ‘I always knew you could do it. Right from the start.’
He patted her on the shoulder then left her to it.
She ate all of the meal, though her stomach lurched a little at the unexpected weight of food inside it.
She didn’t know whether this was all going to be taken away from her like a rug being whipped out from under her feet.
Cross was unpredictable, as she had already seen.
When she was full, she lay back against the bed, feeling uncomfortable, but it was a nice feeling, much better than the blazing of hunger in her belly – the desperation to eat anything, even her own flesh – had been.
Before she knew it, she had fallen asleep again.
The next few days carried on like this.
And she came to know this as normality.
It made everything that had happened in the cage grow slowly further away.
One day he came in and surprised her while she was in the middle of another breakfast in bed.
He smacked the tray from her hands, sending coffee and orange juice and eggs and bacon Catherine-wheeling through the air as she cowered like a kicked dog.
‘Time to get back in the cage,’ he said, his tone murderous.
She looked him right in the eye, put the tray down and said, ‘Let’s do it.’
When he saw the determined look in her eye, he bowed his head, made the sign of the cross in the air between them, then nodded his head hard.
‘My work is done here,’ he said. ‘This was just a test of your faith.’
She smiled at him. ‘I would welcome the chance to test my newfound faith.’
‘I would not wish to put you through that again. You have learnt all you need to learn.’
‘There is so much more you could teach me.’
He saw the look in her eyes, nodded.
Her hand unconsciously rubbed the thick ridge of scars on her right leg.
‘Maybe you could teach me how to help others find their faith like you have helped me.’
His face once again took on that proud look and he nodded. ‘What an excellent idea, my child.’
Next chapter is here