by Graham B.
A man's deranged wife escapes from a mental institution, and comes home.
The scents of Autumn followed Rich as he limped through the door of his house. He closed it and paused to allow the potpourri of feelings to wash away as the scent dissipated. As always, that smell brought with it the memories of better times, of fraught times, and now it seemed to herald the chronic pain in his leg which throbbed with every step.
Rich doffed his jacket and hung it on the coat rack next to the door, and the spot on the wall where the bullet hole had been plastered over and painted. Even after four months, the paint still looked different, and it never failed annoy Rich. Another thing to remind him of that awful day, like the pain in his leg, a lasting souvenir left by the same bullet which had grazed his shin and torn through his calf on its way into the wall.
Trying to put the past in the past for the thousandth time, Rich went to the refrigerator, pulled out a Sam Adams, and plopped himself down on the couch.
There wasn't much to distinguish Rich from any other ordinary suburban husband in his thirties, except for the premature gray creeping into his black hair, and the stress lines which traced their way from his eyes to his unsmiling mouth. But it was the eyes that did it - the haunted look of a man who had seen horrors. Or the horror of betrayal.
Rich glanced at the clock.
Three hours until I pick up Nellie from Sally's birthday party, he thought. This is the normal life that Nellie deserves. Or, as normal as can be without a mother.
Satisfied that all was finally right in the world, Rich fired up the TV and paged through channels until he found the Saints game. Only the first quarter and still 0-0. He had plenty of time to take it in. He sipped his beer and watch the athletes earn their obscene salaries for a while. As he watched, he became aware of the photograph on the end table next to the love seat. It was the one taken years ago with Rich, Jane and Nellie - still a baby, at the beach. The sun was low on the horizon, casting their faces in sharp contrast. It was a photograph of a happier time.
I thought I put that photo away, he thought. Nellie shouldn't have to be reminded of what Jane did four months ago. I know I did.
He stood up as the game cut to commercial and walked to the photo. The three faces stared back at him from the beach in the past, the smiles too bright, too forced. Even then, the fault lines had started to appear in the family, and the epicenter, as always, was Jane. He placed it facedown and retook his seat, but could no longer pay attention to the TV. Something was wrong. How had the photo come to be on that table after he had packed it away in the basement?
I must have forgotten, he thought. Or maybe Nellie has been going through our things downstairs. I'll have to talk to her.
He shook his head and scoffed at his paranoia. Rich forced a smile similar to the one in the photo, and hoped he had convinced himself. But the ghost of Jane rose again from the photo and distracted him. He took a big swallow of Sam Adams and tried to force his attention back on the TV. That was when he noticed the scent, even over the smell of a freshly opened beer.
It was the scent of perfume.
Rich laughed nervously to himself.
Impossible, he thought. But he knew the smell as well as he knew his own name. The smell was in the air the day Jane had tried to kill him. The scent had invaded his head through his nostrils as Jane, her eyes wide and slightly unfocused, her hair like an untrimmed juniper tree, her lips curled back from her teeth in an almost feral snarl, had fired his gun into his leg. It was her favorite perfume from Olivier, called Autumn.
It's not possible, he thought again. She's locked away at the Annie Wilkes Institute for Mental Wellness. It must have been Nellie. She found a bottle somewhere.
A bottle like the one Rich had brought to Jane several days ago on his first and only visit. Jane had seemed almost normal, pleading with her eyes and her voice. He had slipped her several items under the table, items that normally would not be allowed by the hospital staff. But he had done it anyway. Despite her violent derangement, he felt the need to do something for her, something to feel normal again. One of those items had been a bottle of Autumn, her favorite. In better times, she had never gone anywhere without a dab on her wrists and neck.
Rich shook his head almost free of the ghosts and took another swig from his bottle, and the TV program changed. A news anchor with perfectly coiffed hair, wearing a gray suit and a deadly serious expression appeared and began speaking.
"We interrupt this program to bring our viewers a special report. We now go live to Clarissa Andrews. Clarissa?
The picture changed to a blond woman in a wool coat, wearing the same deadly serious expression on her face. Clarissa Andrews was standing on the sidewalk in front of a familiar gray-walled building. Red and blue lights of emergency vehicles flashed from somewhere off-camera. A ball of ice began to form in Rich's stomach, and his hand gripped the sweating bottle of beer. He leaned forward on the couch, his full attention on the screen.
"Thank you, Zach. I'm standing in front of the Annie Wilkes Mental institute where an escape has been reported. Earlier today, three patients escaped during the exercise period. One of them reportedly killed a security guard with what was described as a glass shard from a small bottle. Two patients have been recaptured, but one is still at large. There is currently a manhunt underway. The identities of the patients and victim have not yet been released..."
Rich didn't hear any more. The ice in his stomach had spread, and he was now breathing rapidly,
I'm having a panic attack, he thought. He set the beer down on the coffee table and leaned back into the couch, rubbing his knees. Take it easy. It's just a coincidence.
The ice in his stomach told him it was no coincidence. Sweat began to bead on Rich's brow, despite lingering cold in the house. The beer bottle became slippery, as the bottle's condensation mixed with the clammy sweat coming from his palms. The television switched back to the game, but Rich's mind was running at a million miles per second.
A small bottle, he thought.
The scent of Autumn drifted around his head, assailing his sanity. Then he heard the creak on the stairs. Rich stood up and spun around.
She wore a wool coat three sizes too large over her orange jumpsuit. The coat looked almost like the one Clarissa was wearing, and her hands almost disappeared to the elbows into the pockets. Jane's hair was matted and wet, as if she had walked through the rain. Her eyes were hollow pits, with dark rings around them, and her once-beautiful oval face was all sharp angles, pale and gaunt. The eyes seemed to be looking at a space about three feet behind Rich's head.
"I came back to you, honey," the pale face said. "Nothing can keep me from you and Nellie."
Rich tried to swallow, but his throat was as dry as talc. Jane stepped down from the stairs, and the coat fell open to reveal the upper half of her jumpsuit. There was something staining it, something dark which was difficult to make out from the jumpsuit's color.
"If you knew what I had to do to be with you today," said Jane.
The scent of Autumn became stronger. Rich finally found his voice.
"Wha-what are you doing here, Jane?"
"Oh, honey. I live here!"
The leprous lips erupted with spittle, and Jane grinned, a horrible exposure of her teeth which never reached her eyes.
"Where is Nellie?" asked Jane, looking like a parody of motherly concern. "She should be with her mommie!"
Jane began walking forward, her hands still in her pockets.
"She's not here!" said Rich, backing away. "She's at..."
Rich stopped, his heart still pounding.
No way I'm going to tell her. Even if I die, Jane won't be able to hurt her.
Jane stepped forward again, her hands still in her pockets.
"I need to see her! Please!"'
Rich back away and bumped the coffee table. The bottle of Sam Adams tipped over. Lager foamed from the neck and began dripping onto the carpet.
It's okay. There are no guns in the house for her to use, this time. I wonder if the Annie Wilkes staff carried guns?
"Oh, look what you did!" said Jane, staring at the spilled beer as if Rich had just set the carpet on fire. The pale face twisted, the thin brows furrowing in anger. Her hands came out of her pockets. In the right hand was Rich's eight-inch chef's knife. "You're making a mess! Why can't you be more careful?"
Rich's leg began to throb, and the scent of Autumn became overpowering.
"I-" he said, but Jane suddenly advanced on him.
"Don't you even care about our house? Don't you even care about what I do for you every day?"
Jane was jabbing the knife like a finger at him as she spoke. More spittle flew from her lips.
"I have given my life for this family! And you sent me away! Why?"
Jane lunged, knife flashing. Rich tripped over the coffee table, tumbled backward, and landed hard. He was suddenly aware of the knife inches above his face. He was holding Jane's wrist, trying to force it away. Despite Jane weighing one hundred and ten soaking wet, the knife inched closer, the tip glinting just moments from his eye.
Rich suddenly shoved Jane sideways, and the knife deflected, burrowing along his cheek. Pain exploded into Rich's left eye, and he felt wet warmth invade his ear. A low keening sound was filling the room, and distantly Rich realized that it was coming from his own mouth. He scrambled backwards, and watched as Jane got to her hands and knees. A hideous shriek tore from her mouth and she came at him again. Rich screamed as Jane buried the knife in his thigh, the same leg that she had shot before. Rich felt a thud which travelled through the blade and into his mutilated thigh as the tip hit bone. He almost felt the blade grind as Jane kept her grip on the handle. Scarlet blood erupted from the wound and he kicked Jane away, making her lose her grip. The keening from his own mouth continued, but a part of his brain acknowledged the color of the blood coming from his leg.
She hit an artery. I need to do something about it, or I'm dead.
Jane shrieked again and fairly flew at him, a banshee in a dark coat and ridiculous orange suit. Rich felt his hand touch something glassy hard. He grabbed it and swung with every last bit of strength. The beer bottle shattered against her matted hair, and the shrieking stopped. Jane's head fell into Rich's lap in a grotesque lewd parody, but she was silent, unmoving.
Slowly, Rich crawled from under his deranged wife and hauled himself to his feet. He gingerly touched the knife. Pain pulsed with every burst of blood which squirted from around the blade. He hopped over to the jacket on the hook and took the phone from the pocket.
A shriek, sounding more like an animal than human, erupted behind him and claw-like finger grabbed his face. One of his eyes erupted in pain as a filthy fingernail found its mark. He tried to spin around but Jane was on him, clawing, biting. Scratches appeared on his face and he stumbled about in the foyer, but the clawing went on.
Rich turned and leapt backward, slamming Jane into the door, making it thunder. The claws loosened just enough, and Rich managed to peel one arm back and shake himself loose. The hollow eyes were now just inches away from his own, and the shrieking mouth blew saliva into his own. He reached up with both hands to push the horror away.
The shrieking abruptly cut off, and Jane stumbled backwards.
Rich became aware of an odd whistling sound, like when he would blow into the neck of a bottle. He looked with astonishment as blood gushed from Jane's neck, around the broken-off beer bottle neck. Jane's eyes became pleading. Her mouth worked, trying to form words with would not come, stopped by a razor-sharp shard of glass. Instead, her breath shot out through the hole in her neck, whooshing through the broken beer bottle. Blood quickly stained the front of her coveralls, hiding the blood from her earlier victim. She fell to her side, and her face went slack.
A noise emanated from the bottle neck:
It sounded like a croak. Then the noises stopped.
Rich's vision was graying. He looked at the wound in his leg, and saw that the blood was not pulsing as hard. With hands that felt like spaghetti and getting softer, he removed his belt and tightened it around his leg with every bit of force he could muster.
Then, he lifted the phone and dialed.