“What. The hell,” said a low male voice. The same voice repeated the words over again with different emphasis and intonation this time, “What the hell?!”
A whimper, soft and pained, issued from the corner of the bedroom where Enoch Blackburn paced between threshold and hallway. His eyes followed the sound and he crossed the creaking planks of the floor to the bloodstained mattress. He peered over the side of Marielle’s tortured form: her hands pulling at her sweater in her sleep, her damp brown hair, her plain white cotton panties and the strips of cloth he’d torn her skirt into to bandage her leg. A few large splinters of wet red wood sat on the otherwise bare nightstand beside her.
“This is ridiculous,” he muttered, then wiped his hand on his gray t-shirt a few times before gently lifting her eyelid by the lashes, peering beneath it.
“Stupid son of a... gun. You’ve been spot on right up ‘til now…”
Enoch made a low sort of growling noise and spat at the floor. Marielle’s eyes blinked open and closed several times, taking in the bleak yellow wall before turning onto her back and sucking in a breath. Tears welled up in her eyes as she clutched at her leg. She tried to sit up to see the wound, but it hurt too badly. Her fingers, careful and slow like an old woman’s fingers, traced the fringes of the makeshift dressings as far down as she could reach and then back up, surprised to find the bare crest of her hipbone and very little fabric clinging just below it. Fresh tears ran down her face when she looked at Enoch, who was looking at her, and she seemed to hurt more for her lost modesty than the great gash in her thigh.
A bubble of mucus in her left nostril popped and began a trail along the edge of her lip.
“Look,” Enoch said, and she could discern a slight lilt to his voice, “It could be much, much worse. You lost a bit o’ blood back there but… it could have been much worse.”
He chuckled. A little shudder crept down Marielle’s spine.
“Aren’t you hot in that sweater?” he asked.
It hadn’t occurred to Marielle to feel anything other than pain, but she realized, yes, there was a sticky layer of perspiration coating her underarms, the back of her neck, and her forehead. She began to struggle out of her sweater.
Enoch just shook his head and walked over to her, undoing the buttons and placing a hand on her stomach which alarmed her enough to stop her feeble thrashing. Her stillness allowed him to pull the sweater off her shoulders and beneath her back, then down her arms. He wiped her nose with the sleeve.
Marielle nodded, the bright blue discs of her eyes not leaving Enoch’s face. He returned her gaze with a doubtful, wondering expression until it made him uncomfortable, then turned around to address her in a steely tone once more.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“What’s wrong?” she said inquired softly, casually, like she was asking if he had a dog. Her eyes remained wide and unblinking. The whites of Enoch’s eyes, meanwhile, had gone black again like the first time they met. He replied over his shoulder very simply, “I don’t know.”
For a long time after this he stared out the window nearest the bed. He seemed to be gazing beyond anything the landscape could provide for this view. His eyes followed a train of thought instead of something solid.
Marielle had no recollection of following Enoch out of the Mr. Lorie’s antique shop, but she had, he told her, as naturally as a salmon swimming upstream.
And after that Enoch had taken her to the old lake bed where he usually made “transactions.” They’d driven all the way there in Enoch’s enormous Cadillac Eldorado. It was a convertible, but with the roof on, it reminded Marielle of a hearse. Enoch said she had insisted he put the roof down. There was no radio so she just hummed a song with her hand out the window and the breeze pulling at her hair. This release was very strange for someone in the kind of trance Enoch always put his victims into, but he drove her to the lake house anyway.
The summer heat had made her skin dewy, and he had asked if she felt okay. Marielle answered that she felt wonderful, but couldn’t they please go for another ride? For the first time since he had met her, or rather, observed her from her kitchen window, Enoch wondered if perhaps he had chosen the wrong person. Maybe there was something he didn’t know. But regardless, he got out of the car and opened the passenger side door. She took his arm. He flinched a little in surprise, but shut the door and led her around the back. Nothing fazed her in the few hours they spent together then, nothing he said to her, nothing he did.
“I wasn’t scared?” Marielle asked, staring at the ceiling, her fingernails digging into a handful of her shirt.
“Are you scared now?” Enoch fired back flatly.
Her mind wandered, “…no,” she said finally.
“And you weren’t scared then.”
He continued to tell her what had happened. They’d sat on the porch steps and listened to the night sounds. The crickets chirped. Moist air encircled them, coaxing the words out of their mouths without the apprehension of strangers that made them spoil and drop off in the daylight. Enoch hadn’t carried on a conversation like the one he had with Marielle that Friday in years.