The Last Time

Written by James McCann

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He was angry this time, very angry. He'd been riled before, but tonight Ellie Tozier might go as far as to say he was livid. Furious. There was a demented look in his eyes, the left kept twitching, a sure sign he was angry enough to finally do it this time, this would be the time he went too far and killed her. There was one time before, last Christmas it had been, when he whacked her in the face with the back of his hand. She'd fallen over and bounced her head off the kitchen table hard enough to knock her out, when she'd come-to she was lying in a hospital and had several stitches in her scalp.

But this time... this would be the time he killed her.

Why she stayed with Tom Reiner after the first time he hit her, nobody knew. Ellie herself was truly convinced that he didn't mean to hurt her, he just got so angry sometimes and he didn't know his own strength. That was all. And she knew that really he did love her, and it was because he loved her so much that form time-to-time he got angry when she didn't think or listen or when she forgot things. She forgot his rule about not smoking in his car one time, and he had smacked her around pretty good, finally putting out his own cigarette (Tom Reiner always smoked a cigarette after he beat the shit out of her) on the underside of her thin, pale wrist. That pain had been bad, but fleeting. After a day or two she'd completely forgotten about it, but not the lesson that had been taught. The small white blister by her hand reminded her of that for a while.

The small white scar it left would remind Ellie about that lesson forever.

But this time... this would be the time he killed her.

And she knew it.

Tom's pudgy physique was slicked with a greasy, oily sweat that made the once-white now badly yellowed t-shirt he slept in cling to his belly. The blue boxer shorts that were supposed to be baggy were filled by his corn-beef complexion fat thighs. And the look in his eyes, dear God, if only you could have seen the look in his eyes. The veins throbbed in his temples, his face was red and going to purple, she'd never seen him like this before, not this angry, and she hated the way the network of veins in the end of his nose (the battle-scars of the life-long heavy drinker) looked now.

'You know I don't like doing this,' he lied, taking one step closer to her. In the dim half-light of their bedroom, Tom looked like a bulbous monster in a cheap horror movie. 'But I have to, you see?' A small, reptilian tongue darted out of his mouth to lick at thin, greasy lips.

The fear grew in Ellie until it became sheer terror, the type that paralyses people and makes bowels loosen. A small voice deep inside was screaming at her to move, to pick up her feet and get moving. Get out out of the way before he, that monster, got any closer. To beat her feet, to start moving and keep moving, to make a break for it and get the hell out of here, God damn-it! Get out of the house, get out of Tom's life, get out of danger.

What exactly was she hanging around for anyhow?

But there was another voice in her head, this voice was calm, calculated, honest and defeated. It begged Ellie to remain where she was, and welcome the beating. To rejoice in the fact that, as angry as Tom looked now, this was going to be the end. The end of her life, because he clearly was going to go too far this time, he was going to beat her to the point that there would be no recovery. No, not this time. A peculiar thought floated aimlessly across the confused scrub-land of her psyche at that point; how funny it was that she was going to die in this stuffy bedroom that smelled of sweat and beer farts. She was going to die at the hands of that bloated, stinky, half-drunk half-mad monster in the ill-fitting clothes. No matter how good of a start you have in life, no matter how much money your well-to-do parents throw at the right schools and colleges, no matter how clean you keep your nose or how good your job is, you can still be killed in a darkened room by your lover.

Don't flinch

Where did that come from? Ellie had no idea, but it sounded like an angel whispering in her ear, only the voice came from within.

Don't flinch, don't go down, the voice instructed her in no uncertain terms. Make him work for it.

Ellie, from a place up until now unknown, stood where she was, no-longer cowering, no-longer trembling, well at least not that she noticed. She still had the look of a dog left out in a cold rain, that slight shiver still barely there, but her face was stoic and her eyes, although fear remained there was also something else; defiance. Whether it was brought on by the acceptance that death was close or because she had the sense that this time was going to be different she did not know. She did not care. A logical thought process was completely impossible at this juncture, she going purely on instinct and feel. It felt right to stand up. It felt right to not be totally consumed by fear right now.

He stepped closer now, his lips pulled back over jagged, tombstone teeth that poked out from pink gums.

In a shaky voice that sounded to Ellie as though it came from a billion universes away, she asked, 'What are you waiting for?'

Had she ever been so surprised in all her days as when she asked that? Tom stopped in mid-step, his chubby right foot hovering a few inches above the carpet of the bedroom. As shocked as Ellie had been at asking the question, it was nowhere near the sea of confusion that Tom currently found himself drowning in. There was no way that this could be Ellie, not his Ellie.

Sweet, dumb, knows-her-God-damn-place Ellie. The Ellie who often learned her lessons slowly and hard, but always did learn them in the end. No way could this be her standing across from him now. No way.

'What?' Tom asked, half not wanting an answer, half really needing an explanation. 'What was that?' A sly, disbelieving grin curved the left side of his face as he tilted his head to the side, all the better to hear Ellie's answer. After several slow, silent seconds had passed, Tom's grin grew into a smile. 'That's right.' The blood was flowing through his body now, sweat rolling freely down his forehead and temples, he knew what was coming and he knew that she knew what was coming. First the fighting then the fucking. He would be harsh and maybe brutal in order to teach the lesson, then he would show his loving side by having sex. In Tom's world it made perfect sense, it balanced things out. To Ellie, or a voice deep within her, it would be called rape. There had only been two times before when he'd felt the lesson had been particularly well-taught and rewarded himself by anally raping Ellie, the woman he'd swear he loved. The first time she'd bled for three, maybe four days after. The second time she'd kept her mouth shut, and the lack of appreciative noises meant Tom had to punch her hard in the kidneys to get a sound from her pretty mouth. Ellie had pissed crimson for two weeks following that.

Taking the back door was what Tom knew he'd be doing tonight. Oh yes, after all of this was over, Tom was going to bend the mouthy bitch over and-

'What... the fuck... are you waiting for?' Ellie asked again, slowly, deliberately. Steadily. She knew now that Tom would be angrier than he had ever been (and yes, he was) and that whatever may come now, it would be for the final time.

With alarming agility for such a big man, Tom lunged across the room, both arms stretched out in front of him, the hands large bent paws, the fingers claw-like, reaching for her throat, he was going to strangle her. No, that wasn't quite right, he was too mad for that. He instead would grab two handfuls of her hair and bash her head against the wall, he would keep bouncing her head over and over until the back of the skull was no-longer there, bone and brain and blood would be smeared and splattered against the wallpaper and on the carpet. What a mess she knew she'd make when her head exploded like a ripe pumpkin dropped from a great height.

He was almost on her when she moved. One of his finger nails grazed her cheek, drawing a thin white line across her flesh but not drawing any blood. She whirled away to her right, leaving Tom, and all his girth, to crash into the wall behind. She heard the muted thump as he connected, followed by an audible groan laced with expletives. When she turned to look she saw Tom stand up on very unstable legs, his right hand clamped to his forehead above the right eye.

From the shining slick of black that was seeping through his fingers like oil she gathered he'd busted his eyebrow open when he hit the wall.

'God-damn cunt bitch!' Tom yelled as he turned to face back into the room, leaning his back against the cool wall, his breathing now heavy and laborious. His chest was heaving, a disturbing wheeze escaped from his throat with each breath. 'I'm gonna get you good....so good...'

As he lurched and staggered towards her like a drunk, Ellie saw that Tom's mouth was ringed with spittle. He came for her again, his eyes wild and animalistic, the whites glowed in the dark like moons in a night sky.

Again she moved out of the way, ducking down low under his left arm (the smell of sweat washed over her, and for a brief moment she pictured a surfer being swept under by a wave) and avoiding any real damage, except the bottom of his triceps hit the top of her head and knocked her a little dizzy. She fell to a knee, but got back up on her two feet as quickly as she could. Now was not the time to sit and rest for a spell. Ellie made it clear across the room to the door, her hand clasped firmly on the knob, but something was stopping her from leaving. If she left now, Tom could recover. He would regroup. Then it would all start again, maybe not for a few days, but it would start up again. And if she did leave, where was she planning to go? It was two in the morning and she was wearing nothing but a white night gown.

There was no way she would have time to get dressed, put on shoes, grab her purse. So she stayed. And she turned back to face that sweating, bleeding, bellowing monster.

He was not charging at her as she thought he might.

Indeed not.

Rather, he was stood with his legs slightly more than shoulder-width apart and bent at the knee. His rotund torso was listing to the left. The left arm was straight and hanging across his large gut, the right hand clasping at the elbow. His face was a contorted mask of fear and dread and, yes, pain. His face was glowing bright red, even in the little light that there was, Ellie could see that Tom's face bore more than a passing resemblance to a tomato.

His eyes glazed over, became vacant, and then he slumped down to the floor, one last groan of unarticulated agony came faintly from his crooked O of a mouth, and then he fell silent. He was silent for quite some time, the minutes being passed-away punctuated solely by the beating of Ellie's heart. She could not just hear but feel the beats in her ears like an ominous grandfather clock tick-tocking away. After what felt like an age, Ellie summoned the courage, some might think foolishly, to check on Tom. She was just about to kneel down beside the motionless body when the idea struck her. She could clearly see Tom's dead, pudgy hand spring up like a fleshly Jack-in-the-box and clutch at her throat.

Ellie moved to the dresser and took a black circle of plastic from it. She flipped open the compact mirror and knelt, cautiously, by the side of Tom's head. She leant forward slowly, the scent of sweat and beer filling her nose, and held the mirror by Tom's face. She counted, evenly and slowly, to ten. No condensation, no breath. No life. Tom was dead. A shiver ran up her spine, her skin broke out in goosebumps, this was the first time she'd ever seen a dead body in person. The thought came to her that she'd been right after all, this had been the very last time. It hadn't gone the way she'd expected, but it had been the final time. Tom Riener would never beat Ellie Tozier ever again.