The Poison Tree
I sat in my car and stared at the house across the street with growing rage. He was in there, I knew he was, and being so close to him once again after so many years apart had my stomach hot and my heart beating like a drum in my chest. I only had to wait a little longer to exact my revenge, and it would be sweet.
Finally the light in the master bedroom winked off and the house lay in darkness. I still had to wait a while to make sure they were asleep. I rummaged in my purse until I found my iPhone then punched in my password. The main screen came up boasting all kinds of apps. I selected Zombie Smash, a particularly fun game, and proceeded to spend the next half hour throwing cartoon zombies away from my farmhouse. If only I could have thrown him away. I thought.
I put my phone back into my purse and climbed out of my car. The neighborhood seemed dead at this time of night. There were no children playing, no cars coming, no sounds or distractions. It was perfect. I went to the back of my car and unlocked the trunk. Inside was a black duffle bag that had been meticulously packed with everything I'd need. I hauled the bag onto my shoulder and walked to the front of the house.
Just for giggles I tried the door handle. It was locked of course. Look at daddy being cautious for his family. I mused. What he didn't know was that a locked door wouldn't be enough tonight. I opened a small flap on the front of the duffle bag and pulled out the little kit I'd purchased from one of those online spy shops. I removed the lock picks from their plastic sheath and stuck them into the lock on the door. I fiddled with them feeling each tumbler until I heard the lock release with a click. I put the lock picks back into their plastic and placed them into the bag. I'm coming for you, daddy.
The inside of the house was darker than the street had been. I stood there a moment allowing my eyes to adjust and taking in the layout of the house at the same time. I was in a small foyer. To my left was a family room, to my right the kitchen, and in front of me was a set of stairs. I went forward and began climbing the steps.
On the second floor there was a hallway with several doors. The first door I came to was the bathroom. Nothing of interest in there. The second door was a bedroom. I opened the door and peeked in at the small, sleeping body in the bed. This would be child number one. I went into the bedroom as silently as I could. The child, a girl around eight, was sleeping soundly. I slowly and quietly unzipped my duffle bag and pulled out a rag and a bottle of chloroform. I carefully poured some of the chloroform onto the rag and let it soak into the fibers. Then I replaced the bottle and turned to the child. As I placed the rag over the child's face she groaned softly but didn't wake. When I was sure she was unconscious I put the rag back in the bag and back out of the bedroom.
I executed the same procedure on the other child, a boy around twelve, and it went off without a hitch. Good, I thought, so good..
Once the children were out of the picture I turned my full attention to the master bedroom, where he slept. I opened the door cautiously and stepped inside. Two bodies were in this bed, both sound asleep. I tiptoed to the side of the bed and looked at the first body. Although the face was obscured by the blankets I could see long blonde hair streaming out from under the covers. Here's mommy. Mommy got the chloroform. I went to the other side of the bed. Instead of the chloroform and rag I removed a revolver from the bag. Wake up daddy, judgement has come.
I placed the muzzle of the revolver to his head and said, "Wake up sleepy head." At first he didn't respond. "Wake up sleepy head!" I said, louder this time. He stirred awake and, for a moment, stared blankly at me. Then his eyes widened and he started to yell. "What are you-" "Quiet," I said, "or I blow your brains out all over your bed." He closed him mouth and just stared at me. His eyes portrayed fear and anger all jumbled together. "That's better." I said. "Now get out of bed and follow me. If you make any sudden movements, BANG!" I shouted the last word and he jumped. I smiled. His fear made me gleeful.
He climbed slowly out of the bed, his eyes locked on mine. I backed away and kept the gun trained on his chest. "Now walk out of the room and down the stairs." I said coldly. "If you try to run or start screaming I'll kill you. Believe me, I'll kill you." His expression only showed a hint of anger. He'd be a nightmare to play poker with I thought.
I followed him as he walked out of the bedroom and down the stairs. "Go into the kitchen." I ordered. He didn't reply or turn around, he simply complied with my instructions. I made him sit down in one of the chairs around the kitchen table. Once he was seated I bent to the bag and produced a length of rope. I threw it to him and said, "Tie your feet to the chair and make it tight. I'll check it once your done." He sat still for a moment and said, "Who are you? Why are you doing this?" The question filled me with fresh rage. Who am I? Like you don't remember. "Shut up and tie your feet."
Once he finished I pulled a longer rope from the bag and went to the chair. With gun in hand I started wrapping the rope around him, securing him to the chair. My focus lapsed for only a moment, but it was enough. He threw his fists up in a wild attempt to land a blow and began struggling. "Help!" He yelled. "Somebody help me!" I brought the steel of the revolver down hard on the top of his head. His hands dropped and he instantly went limp. I was breathing heavy now. "That's a mistake you'll only make once."
He regained consciousness a few minutes later. By that time I had finished tying him up and say facing him in another chair. He groaned and his eyes fluttered once before he opened them fully to look at me. "Hello Gary." I said. He groaned again and looked at me with confusion. "Who are you and how do you know my name?" He asked weakly. I smiled at him. "I look different now, don't I? After all, twenty years can change a person." His eyes still held no recognition. "What have you done to the kids, my wife?" I gave him a caring look. "Don't worry daddy, mommy and kiddies are taking a little chloroform nap. They'll wake up soon so we need to hurry this along. I don't plan on hurting them, unless you don't cooperate." He looked sad. "Okay," he relented, "I'll do whatever you want, just don't hurt them."
I began tapping the revolver on the wooden back of the chair. "You really don't remember me?" I asked. He shook his head. "No, I'm sorry." "That's okay," I said, "I'll help you remember. We met once, twenty years ago." His face twisted into a frustrated frown. "You expect me to remember some woman I met twenty years ago?" That pushed my buttons. "I may be some woman to you but you ruined my life!" I said, my words oozing out like a poison.
I made a conscious effort to control my emotions. "Okay," I said, "Boston College, twenty years ago. You were a senior." He shook his head. "Still nothing? Okay, frat house, party, any of this ringing a bell?" He began mumbling to himself. "Frat house, party, what?" He thought for a moment and his eyes widened. "Anna Larson?" "Bingo! He's won first prize!" I said.
His eyes were still wide. "Anna, you're making a mistake! I tried to help you!" The anger came again. "Oh, don't give me that! You were there, you did it, and you never paid the price because the school didn't want to tarnish its image! Well guess what Gary, time to pay the piper!" Gary's face was desperate. "Please, let me explain myself!" He said. "Please!"
I reflected on his request and granted it. "Okay Gary, explain why you were innocent and why you don't deserve to die." He gulped and began, his voice shaky. "I was there, yes, but I didn't do it. I found you afterward and tried to help you." I laughed. "Go on." He looked fearful now. "I went upstairs to escape the noise for a while and when I found you you were facedown on the floor. It looked like, like…" His voice trailed off. "Like I'd been raped." I said, matter of factly. He nodded. "I went to you and felt for a pulse and I found one. I could smell the alcohol and figured you'd passed out drunk and some animal had abused you. I turned you over so you wouldn't choke on any puke and left."
He looked at me hopefully. I stifled a laugh. "You expect me to believe that?" I asked. His countenance fell. "It's true." He said. I confronted him. "Why didn't you report it then?" I said. His eyes misted. "I'm so sorry Anna. I was going to but I was afraid I'd be blamed. I, I just wanted to forget the whole thing and I figured someone would report it." I sneered at him. "Well even if that story is true, which it's not, you're still guilty."
Tears sprung from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks. "I know," he said, "I'm sorry. I was a kid, I was scared, have some mercy." "Mercy," I screamed, "did your frat brothers have mercy when they violated me? Did you have mercy when you found me drunk and abused? Did you have mercy when you raped me too?" His eyes widened in surprise. "I didn't," he said, "honestly, I swear to God, I didn't!"
I stood from the chair. "You did!" I accused. "I was drunk, yes, but I remember flashes of that night and I remember you. I remember this!" I reached out and pulled his pajama top down, revealing a birthmark on his right pectoral. "I remember this!" He looked down at his birthmark and back up at me. "I can explain." He said. I sighed with frustration. "Go ahead." "I was shirtless that night. I was a college kid, remember? I was at the party shirtless to impress girls. When I came upstairs and found you I helped, just like I said, and that's why you remember the birthmark."
I sat back down. "You have an explanation for everything, don't you?" "Why won't you believe me?" He yelled. I gave him a cold stare. "Because I know the truth." He groaned. "That is the truth!" He said. "Well even if you didn't assault me you're still guilty. You didn't do anything to help." He looked tormented. "I know." He said. Then he looked into my eyes. "Do you think it warrants death?" The first feelings of doubt began to creep into my mind. I shoved them away. "That doesn't matter anyway. You raped me, I know you did, and you deserve to die." He moaned in sorrow. Finally he said, "Kill me then. Nothing I say will change your mind."
Just then there was a soft voice from the kitchen door. "Daddy?" I was so startled I whirled around and fired the revolver before I knew what I was doing. The shot was deafening inside the kitchen and the muzzle flash temporarily blinded me. I scrambled from the chair and flicked the kitchen light on. The girl was on the floor. She was breathing but it sounded labored. A dark pool of Crimson was forming underneath her.
"Tabby," Gary screamed, "Tabitha!" I stood in shock, looking at the little girl I'd just shot. "Oh God, Tabby!" Gary was still screaming but I hardly heard him. Tabitha started to cough and blood spurted from her lips. "Tabby!" I watched as she struggled to breath for a little longer, coughed a few more times, and went limp.
A screaming sob erupted from behind me. I turned and faced Gary. He was in the chair, a broken and weeping man. Snot dripped from his nose as he cried. Guilt welled up inside me like a tsunami and tears sprang to my eyes as well. "She startled me." I said softly. Gary spat at me. "Look what you did!" He yelled between sobs.
I sat back down in the chair and faced Gary. "How can you keep on with this after you just killed my little girl?" He wailed. Tears spilled from my eyes as well has his, tears of anger, guilt, and frustration. "I didn't do it!" He cried. "I didn't rape you, I did what I could to help you!" He started coughing and the snot kept coming. The feelings of doubt were stronger now. After all, he'd just seen his daughter killed in front of him. Would he really keep pleading his innocence in light of what just happened?
My hands started shaking. "Oh God," I whispered, "I'm so sorry." Gary was furious. "Sorry didn't mean anything to you!" He screamed. "I didn't mean to do that, I didn't mean to." Gary was laughing now. "Who knew?" He said. "Who know one little mistake would lead to this? I leave one ravaged girl on the floor at a frat party twenty years ago and my daughter dies as punishment!" He threw back his head and laughed.
His laughter penetrated my soul and renewed the rage inside me. "Stop laughing." I said. He kept laughing. On and on he went, laughing until his face started turning red. "Stop laughing!" He kept on uproariously. I snarled with rage and pointed the gun at him. "Stop it!" He eyed me and his laughing subsided. He stared at me with a tortured, painful grin.
"Well you got what you wanted." He said. "An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth." I lowered the revolver. "Tell me the truth or I'll kill your wife and son. Did you rape me?" The grin stayed plastered on his face like a grotesque Halloween mask. "No." He said. "You killed my little girl when all I did was help you."
His words exploded in my head like a bomb. Did I really just kill the child of an innocent man? Well, not totally innocent, but what he did didn't warrant the slaying of a child! I began to cry again. "Oh God, oh sweet God." I said over and over. Gary just sat in the chair eyeing me. Over my blubbering I heard a new sound, the sound of sirens. One of the neighbors must have heard the gunshot and called the police. My first instinct was to run, to flee the scene and hope I got away, but I just sat there repeating "Oh God, oh God."
The sirens kept getting louder until they were right in front of the house. I heard a car engine shut off, I heard doors open, but I still didn't move. "Oh God, oh God, oh God." I heard the door kicked open, I heard voices, I heard the gasp as they discovered the child's lifeless body. "Oh God." Two policemen were in the kitchen. "Drop the gun!" I dropped the gun. One of them grabbed me and lifted me roughly from the chair. "You're under arrest." The whole thing took on a dreamlike quality. The child on the floor with an officer tending to her, my hands being cuffed behind my back, the policemen's radios chattering busily, and Gary laughing.
I was arrested and charged with a litany of crimes. Breaking and entering, assault, murder, and some others. I stood trial for my actions and plead guilty. Luckily, my court appointed attorney did his best and instead of getting life in prison I was given life in a federal mental institution. According to the judge my guilty plea, remorse, and the circumstances that lead to that evening (the fact I was raped), all pointed to a woman who was broken and driven crazy by unrealized justice. An investigation was launched into the incident at the frat house and some school officials who were at Boston College at the time admitted to covering up the incident. They couldn't be criminally charged, due to the statute of limitations, but their names were plastered on the news and they were crucified in the court of public opinion. A small victory, but a victory nonetheless. The men who actually committed the crime were never discovered.
All of that happened seven years ago. I spent the time in the institution undergoing psychological therapy and reflecting on everything that happened. It took a long time for my mind to recover from it all, and it's still recovering. I still see Tabitha in my nightmares. Six months ago I was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, a punishment for the wrongful killing of Tabby I suppose. The universe has a mechanism of payback. If only I'd known about that before I broke into Gary's house.
Now here I am in a hospital bed with tubes and hospital equipment everywhere. My doctor says my hour will come shortly. I have thought about this story every day for seven years and I've come to realize some important facts, which I want to share before I die. As the old saying goes, when planning revenge dig two graves. How true this is. Tabby's body had been buried for seven years and mine will be in the same condition shortly. Never be consumed by revenge. Like I mentioned earlier, the universe has some sort of mechanism for dealing with trespasses. Whether it's karma, fate, or divine justice, the universe always dishes judgment somehow. If I hadn't let myself be consumed with bitterness Tabby would still be alive instead of haunting my nightmares. I wouldn't have suffered the last years of my life locked away from society. Maybe I wouldn't be in this bed dying of cancer. In any case, revenge is never the right course. Bitterness, if left to fester, will grow roots in the heart and turn slowly into towering tree with branches that penetrate into the deepest parts of the soul. I have cancer of the pancreas now, but seven years ago I had cancer of the spirit. When someone hurts or violates in the worst way take the necessary legal actions of course, then let it go. Holding fast to something done to you by a sick individual gives them power over you for the rest of your life. Let it go and leave them powerless.
I have to go now, the battery in my sister's laptop is dying and the doctor just came back into my room. Please let my words mean something. Let me make a difference before I die. If I can prevent just one person from going on down the path of bitterness my experiences will matter. Take care good people. Love each other. Whatever you do, don't hold to bitterness. This may be my last chance to speak, so I hope my words are heard.
P.s. I never found out for sure if Gary raped me, although I'm pretty sure he didn't. Either way, it's all water under the bridge now.