"Kneel." I hardly recognize the barrenness of my own voice, but in the dreams he is always kneeling. A haze of mosquitoes and blurred emotions hums around my face as he drops before me. His hands are tied, making him as helpless as he always made me. I black in and out between the person I was and the person he made me, the one capable of orchestrating this plan. I have no memory of how we got to this place, how I battled him into these restraints or guided him to the copse of trees behind my house, only that it involved the hunting knife shivering in my right hand.
"You don't have to do this," he says. I said the same words once. I made the same plea. Part of me shudders in revulsion. Another part laughs. "Please, just let me go."
"You took everything from me!" The words shred through the stillness, fragile and sharp as a shard of glass. I look at his rib cage, barrel-thick and heaving. In the dream I do it barehanded; I rip into his chest with the strength of a supernatural demon and tear his heart out in my gory fingernails. In my dream I smile as the blood is regurgitated from his lips, as his eyes roll back in some melancholy remembrance of the future he might have had. But this is real
this isn't real
this is real, and my anger alone won't do it. The knife catches the glint of the dying sun mottled through the green leaves. The river gurgles nearby, enough to drown his pleading last words--if he had any.
In the dream he was always begging for his life. Now, faced with me, he knows he has no chance. He never succumbed to my pleas, why should I succumb to his? My hand tightens on the rubber grip. I internalized everything he ever did to me for so long until it stabbed me from within. Now I must transfer the pain from without.
The scream is like a rabbit's, so fraught with pain it sounds larger than it should. The metallic tang of blood darkens my senses
this is real
this isn't real
this is real
as his mouth drips and his head drops like I severed his neck rather than his stomach. It isn't enough that he dies. I've done this a million times, and it doesn't stop here. Once he's slit open I search his chest cavity. Like a lab dissection, the real thing never looks like the illustrations in the book, all bright and blood red with clear differentiation where one thing ends and another begins. There's a lot of gray and flesh pink, all sloppy and slick with blood--but when I find what I seek I recognize it.
My knife goes to work, cutting through veins and sinew beneath a snapped rib. I imagine this is what hunters do with deer
this isn't real
except neither the old nor the new me could do this to an animal. No animal deserves what it gets. This, however, is strengthening me with every cut. This is justice, as I carve it out, wrap it in brown paper, and hide it away in the cooler bottom. In the dream, I waste no time. I grip it in one hand, pulpy and sliding, and bite into it raw like an apple. But there's no way I could muscle through such an unsanitary task. I'll have to freeze it and boil it, but then, I'll truly have devoured my demons. I'll truly have lived my dreams.
I wake up in my bed, a gasp of air shuddering into me the way it has every time I revisited the dark place his cruelty sent me. I'd warned myself against it so many times. It did no good to dwell there. But in the end, thank God, it had only been a thought. Just a dark, subconscious delusion, one I nursed like a child sucking on a scraped knuckle. This was a dream like it had been every other night--except--
A rim of something dark on my cuticle betrays me. I sit up in bed--scrubbed clean but still in my faded blue jeans. On my shirt I smell the rich earth of the woods, all decaying leaves and overflowing streams.
I walk downstairs to the freezer, a bright white chest tucked behind the kitchen in a room that smells like detergent. I open it and see something wrapped in brown paper.
Part of me combusts.
The rest of me smiles.
I lift it out and carry it to the kitchen. Next I take a steel pot of salted water, position it on the front burner of the old gas stove, and pull up a stool to watch it simmer to a rolling, bubbling surface.
I don't want to boil over before his icy heart has time to thaw. Not again.