The last image seared into the back of Trent’s eyelids before he woke up this morning was his wife and kids, strung upside down by their feet, throats slit.
4-year-old Miriam’s lifeless eyes shattered every atom of his being. They stared at him pleading, swaying, sisal rope creaking in his empty, quiet house.
A message from his former employer.
In his nightmare, he would wail and howl and punch through the drywall into a stud, again and again, until his fists bled into the grain of the spruce wood.
“Owwwww, fuuuuck!!!” Jennifer screamed. “Ahhhh…”
Trent opened his eyes, sat up abruptly and saw Jennifer jackknifed, cringing like a hurt animal and holding the side of her head.
“Oh shit… shit… Fuck, Jenny, fuck. I’m so sorry. Fuck.” he babbled. “I did it again.”
Jennifer stopped gasping for breath. The sharp sting of Trent’s sleep-punch subsided, but she’d be sore for the rest of the morning. “It’s OK,” she said quietly.
“I’ll go get the icepack,” Trent said, getting out of bed.
“You had the dream again?”
“You saw me?”
“Yes,” he lied. Trent never told Jennifer about his first family. She knows nothing about Miriam.
Jennifer summoned all her strength to ignore the pain, briefly, so she could wrap her arms around Trent. “I’m sorry, baby. It’s just a dream. I’m here now. Alive.”
It was a kind gesture, but Trent got no comfort from it.
He placed his hand on Jennifer’s. “I’m sorry I hit you again,” he said, defeated.
Trent moved her embrace away, got up and trudged towards the kitchen.
On the rarest of occasions, when he wasn’t overwhelmed with guilt, Trent sometimes (just for the briefest of moments) wished he could stop these dreams. So that he could perhaps move on and be the man Jennifer deserved.
But this would send him into a deeper spiral of shame and depression. And he would feel the prison walls of his betrayal collapse on him, suffocating him, breaking him.
For days, sometimes weeks after his episodes, he would say the minimal of words to Jennifer, interacting with her only on the logistics of running a house, living their parallel lives.
We need more milk, she’d say. OK, he’d reply.
The hallway light bulb needs to be changed, she’d ask. OK, he’d reply.
I’m going to bed, she’d announce. He wouldn’t respond.
Trent was incapable of sharing the cancerous hurt in every cell of his body.
He would walk by the locked bathroom and overhear Jennifer’s muffled sobs. He would weakly raise his arm to knock, but give up at the last minute. He would retreat into meaningless television programs, not actually watching or paying attention.
Trent opened the freezer door and pulled out the ice pack. He knew Jennifer cared for him despite their strange situation. But she deserved better, goddammit.
She didn’t belong in this tiny one-bedroom bungalow in godforsaken who-the-fuck-knows-wheres-ville in the Midwestern state of “X”.
But she was stuck with him. Unless, perhaps, he died. Trent stared into the freezer light, entranced by this line of thought. It was something he pondered often, in fact.
What if he went away? What if he went to them? God knows, he knew where to find them if he really wanted to. He could come out of hiding and submit his life as atonement. But would that be enough? Would they care? Or would they still come after Jenny?
Would the FBI give her a new identity and protect her? Or would they stop caring once their real asset — him, Trent Fratianno — was no longer in the picture? Surely, they’d keep her in the program, right?
When he finally closed the door to his freezer, he already knew he wasn’t alone.
“Don’t turn around,” came a nasal male voice. “Put your hands up. Slowly.”
Trent lifted the icepack above his head. “How did you find me?”
“Shut up. Shut up. Shut up. You don’t talk, you hear me? You don’t say a fucking word.”
Trent stiffened. Where’s Jenny, he thought. Fuck, please be OK. Please be hiding.
“Jason Holt,” the voice said. “It’s got a nice ring to it. Very American. Are you an Americano now, Trent?”
“Shut up! I told you to stop talking.”
Trent’s mind raced. Was it Benny? No, they wouldn’t send him. Lupo? Maybe. Little Joey? No, his voice was too high. Fat Sally? Smokes? Tony? No. No. No. Fuck.
“Listen,” Trent began, as he started to turn, “I think…”
Click. Bang. Whoosh. Trent flinched. Stopped. He almost got shot, but it was enough to catch a glimpse of the invader’s reflection in the microwave door. It was Lupo.
“That was really stupid, Trent,” Lupo said. “What the fuck were you thinking?”
“Lupo,” Trent said evenly. “If you came here to kill me, you would’ve done it already. But instead, you’re standing there, waving your gun, like you got your limp-ass dick out. What the fuck do you want?”
Nobody sent Lupo. That much Trent knew. He was here because he was too smart for his own good. Smart enough to figure out where the program placed Trent and Jennifer, but too stupid to think through what he’d do once he got here.
“Is this because of Arriana?” Trent asked.
“Why’d you do it, you fuck. Why’d you do it???”
With his back still turned, Trent heard Lupo holding back tears. He’s so young. And dumb, Trent thought. Reminded him of his younger self. Back when he was a father and husband.
“You fucking asshole. You prick. I trusted you!” Lupo began sobbing.
Bam. Bam. Two shots. Trent crouched and covered his head. A second later, he realized he wasn’t dead and Lupo had stopped keening.
“Trent, baby?” Jennifer said.
Trent looked up. Jenny was still holding the Glock 9mm Trent got her for Christmas, trembling. She dropped the gun. Trent walked towards her and held her, holding her head in his right hand.
“It’s OK, baby,” Trent cooed. “It’s OK. You did good.”
“How did he find us?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do we do now?”
“We pack. And leave. We’re getting out of here. You and me.”
“Where are we going?”
“I don’t know. I don’t care. If this fucker can find us, the rest of them can. We’ll figure it out on our own. Together.”
“OK.” Jennifer reassured Trent. ☣
This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Nicholas Brack…
Hurt written by Trent Reznor, performed by Johnny Cash
These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Dogwood Daniels and Jinn Zhong) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Mondays via podcast. Listen to the episode here:
Listen to the podcast in the player above, or subscribe via iTunes, GooglePlay or Stitcher. What the heck is “Garage Fiction”? Since January 2015, a small group of storytellers committed to writing a piece of fiction every week… and then getting on a podcast to talk about it.