Any two can leave the woods alive, but only after they murder the third...
Failed sitcom writer Matty Savage would do anything to get back together with his ex-wife. After all, marrying Kimberly Savage—the hottest vampire-slaying movie star of the 1990s—was the greatest achievement of his life. A life that took a nosedive after she divorced him thirteen years ago.
Their daughter, Rebecca, is a twenty-three-year-old personal trainer in financial trouble. A loan from her millionaire mother is all she needs to put her life on track, but the scar slashed across her face is an ever-present reminder of why she turned her back on her parents forever.
When an aging, sentimental Kimberly invites her estranged family for a getaway at her secret cabin in the mountains, Matty hopes their reunion will open her heart. Rebecca just hopes it'll open her checkbook.
The homecoming goes from awkward to deadly when the Savages are trapped by an ancient evil with an ultimatum: Any two of them can leave the woods alive, but only after they murder the third.
As the family confronts their demons—both figuratively and literally—old grudges are rekindled and dark secrets are revealed. Tense alliances form and shatter as each person decides who's to blame for the horrors of their past. And who deserves to die for them.
Fast-paced with a twist of dark humor, One Must Kill Another is a savage family reunion.
Amazon reviewers rave:
“It's funny as hell, and has teeth. A delightful little story.”
“The pacing is strong as the surprises come fast and furious.”
“Imagine Stephen King writing a '90s sitcom and you're almost there, but not quite: This book is far more complex.”
“A creepy-strange supernatural rabbit hole ... think Jumanji meets Stranger Things meets Hitchcock.”
“Fun, exciting, and often blurt-laugh funny.”
“A roller-coaster ride of humor and horror and heartbreak that is hard to compare to anything else.”
Who will survive the weekend? Buy your copy and find out today!
Release date: May 8, 2018
Print pages: 329
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One Must Kill Another
Marcus Alexander Hart
I’m going to kill him.
My husband is beside me, behind the wheel of our BMW Sport Wagon. He’s humming “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” He’s been doing it on and off for hours. Under his breath, right at the cusp of being audible. Just loud enough to be abrasive. Every time I’m about to ask him to stop, he stops. And a few minutes later, when my annoyance level has dropped, he starts again. It’s like Matty has an internal barometer tuned to my aggravation.
Thank God we’re almost there.
The suspension bobs as the car creeps back and forth up the earthen switchbacks of our private driveway. To even call it a driveway is generous. It’s just two narrow strips of packed dirt sneaking off an old service road into a labyrinth of ancient oak and pine trees. Impossible to find unless someone tells you where it is.
I’ve never told anyone but Matty. And this is a secret he’s actually managed to keep.
A goofy grin spreads over his face as he begins rhythmically rapping his fingers on the steering wheel. He glances over his shoulder at the backseat.
“Ooh, we’re getting close now. I think I hear the tribal war drums. Do you hear them, Bex?”
Our daughter notices him mugging and pulls a white earbud from her head, spilling a tinny warble of boy band into the air.
“Duhh, whut?” Matty says playfully. “Come on, kiddo. Get on the ball before we all end up scalped. We’ve entered the deadliest depths of the Forbidden Jungle!”
He leans forward, grunting over his gut, and plucks a piece of yellow construction paper from the door pocket. It’s mottled with grime, and strips of masking tape hold it together at its worn folds. Matty flicks it open to reveal a hand-drawn map filled with palm trees and tiki huts, with something like an Aztec pyramid in the center. Some of it is penciled in his own tight hand. The rest is crudely rendered in crayon.
Matty passes it to Bex in the back seat. “We’re heading into Sasquatch Country. You’re the expert here, so I’ll need your help navigating to the safety of Outpost 132.”
Bex studies their map for a long moment, silent and devoid of expression. Her round little face is flawless. And it’s less round every day. My little girl is growing into her good looks. She casts a glance at her father in the rearview mirror, then at me.
“Dad, I’m too old for these dumb games.”
“You’re ten. You’re not too old for anything.” Matty’s eyes stop smiling, even as his lips continue the lie. “And you can’t give up the expedition now. Last summer we were so close to finding the Lost Temple of Zamrycki. I know this year we’ll—”
The thought chokes in his lungs as a tire crashes through a deep divot in the earth, bouncing us brutally in our seats. A sharp kick of pain blasts up my spine, and my reflexes throw my arms and legs into a brace position.
“Whoa!” Matty laughs. “I think we hit a sasquatch footprint!”
I suck a hot breath as the surge of unnecessary adrenalin festers in my muscles.
“Damn it, Matty! Pay attention before you wreck the car!”
He just grins and pats the dashboard. “Relax, hon. A little pothole can’t hurt a 5 Series wagon. This sweet baby is top of the line.”
I know it is. I paid for it.
I rub my temples and murmur. “Please, just stop goofing around and watch the road. Okay?”
Matty frowns. “Jeez, what a party pooper. Right, Bex?” He looks in the rearview mirror. Bex doesn’t make eye contact. She just plugs her earbud back into her head and gazes out the window at the crush of trees.
Matty sighs. “Well, we’re almost there anyway.” He turns his attention to the last switchback. The steep one. A fifty-foot stretch with an incline like a playground slide. The engine roars and loose gravel pounds the wheel wells as the tires spin and grip against the mossy slope.
“Come on . . . Come on, you big bad Beemer.” Matty eases on and off the accelerator. “You’ve got this.”
The wagon fishtails side to side, then bites the earth and hurls itself over the top of the ridge into the small clearing in front of our summer cabin.
We call it a cabin. The realtor called it a “rustic manor.” A three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath monster of rough-hewn logs thrusting out of the earth to an exaggerated peaked roof. An oversized chimney of rounded cobblestones slumps against one side like the tower of a medieval fortress. The whole house is still hibernating from the winter, its windows shut tight behind steel storm shutters.
Matty quiets the engine and gives the cabin a long, slow appraisal. “No snow damage. Looks as good as it did that very first summer. Remember that, honey?” He smiles and puts his hand on top of mine, resting on my lap.
I don’t answer him. The question is the worst kind of rhetorical. Do I remember that summer? As if I would forget it. As if those happy memories aren’t the frayed stitches still holding us together. He turns back to Bex. “You see, your mom was so exhausted after she finished filming the first Blood Blitz that she needed someplace to escape for some—”
“She’s heard it,” I say. “We’ve all heard it. Let’s unload the car.”
I pull my hand from under Matty’s, exit the vehicle, and slam the door. Regret flares so instantly and deeply I feel dizzy. I should have let him tell the old story again, about when our love was in full bloom. Isn’t that why I came here? To remember? To feel that again? I’m trying my best to be open minded, but he’s so selfish. The sound of his voice puts me on edge. His touch revolts me.
But I still love him. Deep down I know I do. The emotion is small and it’s frail, but it’s still there, trying to find a light to guide it out of the darkness. If that light is anywhere, it’s here in these woods.
I stretch my arms and legs and back and take a deep, calming breath, filling my senses with the heady smell of the pines. Nothing interrupts the quiet but distant songbirds and the gentle swishing of wind through branches. The tranquility here is so complete it’s almost unnerving. This cabin is only eighty miles from Los Angeles, but it’s a million miles from the real world.
An earthen path leads up the hillside behind the house, through overgrown grass toward a large shed and the gazebo. The gazebo. Just the sight of it brings a rush of warmth to my heart, fueled by memories of lazy summer days spent with my husband on a little wooden bench swing built for two. The gazebo is a gift box filled with bright, shining moments to be recalled and savored.
The gazebo is my light in the woods.
I pop the station wagon’s hatch and grab a flashlight from our cache of supplies. Every summer we have to pack in everything we’ll need. The nearest store is forty-five minutes away in Lake Arrowhead. There’s no phone in the cabin, but thankfully the previous resident had the place wired for electricity and installed a pump down by the river with a cistern in the attic for running water. The whole system is a temperamental pain in the neck, but it works well enough for a few weeks of roughing it.
Matty plods up next to me, shoulders hunched in a hangdog expression that makes his bowling shirt hang over his round belly like a muumuu. I brush my hand over the ginger fuzz of his scalp and smile. “Hey, I’m sorry I snapped at you. It’s just . . . I’m still paying that car off. Take it easy, all right?”
At my touch he brightens with the energy of a puppy wagging its tail. “I’m sorry. My bad. I’ll be more careful. I promise.” I look for sincerity in his words, but there’s none there to find. He gestures at the flashlight in my hand. “You wanna go get the power turned on? Me and Bex will gather up the stuff and bring it in.”
“Yeah, okay. Thank you.”
I give him a little peck on his ever-expanding forehead and saunter off across the yard. My feet creak the boards of the short staircase leading to the front porch, and I slot my key into the first deadbolt. There are three of them on a reinforced door to keep any mountain psychopaths out during the off season. Although I doubt even a psychopath would want to be up here once the snow starts. I unlock the remaining bolts and push the door open, letting a beam of dusty sunlight spill across the living room.
This cabin doesn’t wear rustic as a veneer. The interior walls are all corpulent logs—the back sides of the same logs that make up the exterior. But on the inside they’ve been polished smooth and varnished to an elegant finish. All the furniture is stout knotty pine covered in hardy leather upholstery fastened with brass tacks in wobbly, hand-hammered rows. Opposite the door is a stone fireplace, still full of ashes from last summer.
The air is stale and heavy with silence. I click on the flashlight and cast it around the room. Inky shadows scurry from my light and slither behind the furniture. This place used to have its own energy. A sense of wellbeing that oozed from the walls like sap. Now it just feels empty and grim. I wonder if this is how the cabin felt to Dr. Cheung in her final days here.
My light glints on the typewriter on Matty’s desk in the corner. He used to use it to work on his screenplays the first few summers we came up here, mostly for the novelty value. He said using it made him feel like a “real genuine old-timey writer,” but he never seemed to write more than half a page before getting distracted with something else. Usually that something was me.
Usually I was distracting him on purpose.
Usually without pants.
Next to the typewriter is a framed photograph of the two of us. It’s at least a decade old, from back before Bex was born. I was so beautiful then. Supermodel tall. Neck like a swan, smile like a sunbeam, eyes as blue as springtime. My blonde mane is cut in a dreadful early-’90s style, all bangs and crimps. Matty is almost unrecognizable, with his Led Zeppelin T-shirt pulled tight over his muscled chest. Dense, rusty hair. Just the single chin.
Seeing him like this gives me a feeling of lovesick nostalgia, and I catch myself pining for my own husband. For the Matty that was. The one who didn’t take me for granted. The one I could love and trust unconditionally. I sigh and try to convince myself that man is still inside my Matty somewhere. Buried under a sea-lion-thick layer of insulating blubber.
In the corner next to the desk are a few low bookcases packed with toys. On the top shelf, a train of linked wooden letters spells REBECCA. An unloved gift from Matty’s mother, the only person in the world who calls our daughter by her full name. All the toys here are second-string losers Bex has cut from our house in Venice Beach. Most are things I gave her. Beautiful things. Pink and elegant and abandoned. A life-sized Barbie styling head smiles vacantly into the darkness, her mangled hair pulled tight into a single ponytail at the top of her scalp. Stitches of coarse twine sew her eyes and mouth shut. A chicken bone pierces her nose. She should have been Bex’s gateway into the world of personal cosmetology. Instead she ended up looking like a shaman’s shrunken head.
A book leans against Barbie’s ear. A slim, leather-bound volume. Another gift from me. I pick it up and run my fingers over the embossing of delicate Art-Nouveau swirls around the title. A Tündér Könyv.
I don’t know what it means. It’s Hungarian. I picked it up for Bex a few years ago when I was overseas filming Blood Blitz 4: Crypt of Anarchy. All the text inside is the same foreign nonsense, but I thought she’d like the pictures. What normal little girl wouldn’t?
I set down my flashlight and open the book, slowly turning its stiff, illustrated pages. Each one holds a hauntingly beautiful scene of nature populated with fairies. Perfectly proportioned miniature women with lovely faces and finely detailed wings and gowns. I’d hoped it would inspire her. I’d hoped she’d behold these gorgeous creatures and want to be more like them. More like me. But that summer the book was exiled to the cabin, never to return home.
I turn a page and it sticks to its neighbors in a clump. They’re bound at the top and bottom with two yellowed pieces of Scotch tape. Heat prickles up my neck. I buy her such nice things and she ruins them. Taking everything I do for granted, just like her father. Sometimes I don’t know why I bother.
My finger slides between the taped-together pages and breaks the strips with a pair of brittle snaps. I turn the page and catch a glimpse of black wings and sinister eyes, glowing orange like hot embers.
A hand snatches the book and I shriek and recoil. My heart is already exploding before the words make it from my ears to my brain. Mom. Bex has somehow snuck up beside me, stealthy as a shadow. I plant a palm on my chest and suck a breath. “My gosh, Bex! Are you trying to scare me to death?”
My daughter fidgets and holds the book to her pudgy belly, wrapping it tightly in both arms. “I’m sorry. It’s just . . . don’t open the taped pages, okay?”
“Why not? Why did you tape them together in the first place?”
On the other side of the room her father bangs through the door, loaded down with a cardboard box of supplies, six plastic grocery bags hanging from his forearms like saddlebags. Bex flinches and casts a subtle glance at him. “We taped . . . I taped it because . . . uh . . . Because those pages have the ugly fairies. You know, the ones for boys. I only want to look at the fairies for girls.”
Matty shifts the weight of the box on his gut and chuckles. “Gee, that’s not how I remember it. I seem to recall a certain little lady who was afraid—”
“Dad, stop! Nobody wants to hear your dumb stories!”
Bex’s harsh tone slaps the color from her father’s face.
“Wow, tough room,” he mutters.
I brush my fingers through the satin-smooth auburn wave of Bex’s hair. “Be nice, please. Ladies don’t shout.”
Her cheeks droop. “Sorry, Mom.”
She sets down the book with a twitchy apprehension. A second later she puts Barbie on top of it and takes a quick step back as if she’s afraid it’ll leap off the shelf and bite her. God only knows what’s going through her little head. She has her father’s deranged imagination.
I grab my flashlight and follow Matty into the kitchen. The rustic theme continues here, but with a more contemporary design. Cabinets with frosted glass doors framed in rough-hewn wood. Artisanal, mosaic tile countertops. Faux-antique appliances that marry classic style with modern performance. I open the electrical panel hidden in the cabinet by the door and flip the main breaker with a crisp snap. Lights crackle to life all around the shuttered house and I click off the flashlight and breathe a sigh of relief.
“Looks like we won’t have to break out the candelabras tonight.”
Matty lowers his voice and speaks in cartoon French. “Ah, but mon chéri, pairhaps we will use zee candles aftair zee wee one is asleep. In zee boudoir. For l’amour.”
He wags his eyebrows at me. I force a smile. “We’ll see.”
I avoid eye contact and pick up a grocery bag. It’s full of two kinds of Doritos and three kinds of Cap’n Crunch. I check the next. Hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and a six pack of beer. The garish colors peeping from every sack tell me it’s all the same over-processed imitation food garbage. Matty digs into the box and pulls out a fat plastic barrel.
“Hey Beeeeex,” he croons. “Look what the snack fairy brought for you.”
Bex bounces into the room and her eyes light up.
“Yeah! Cheese balls!”
Matty grins. “That’s right! Who loves ya, kiddo?”
He tosses her the barrel and she greedily rips open the lid. A fistful of puffed orange crap is halfway to her mouth before I can put a steadying hand on her arm. “Don’t eat that.”
“But Mom, they’re good.”
“They’re empty calories. They’re not good for you. Here, you can have some of my . . . ” I check another bag for something healthier but come up with nothing. “Matty, where are the rest of the groceries?”
“This is pretty much it, except for the drinks in the cooler. We got OJ, purple stuff, soda, Sunny-D . . . ”
“This is not it. This is all junk food.” I wave a sack of marshmallows at him. “Where’s the stuff I bought for my detox cleanse? The kale and jicama and everything?”
“Ugh. Barf me out. Right, Bex?” He sticks his finger down his throat and pretends to gag. Bex doesn’t respond. She just gazes wistfully at the cheese balls. “Come on, Kim. We’re on vacation! Forget that Hollywood diet voodoo and enjoy some actual human food with us.” He grabs a blue box of crackers and tears it open. “Check it out! I got Chicken in a Biskit! Just like the old days!”
I turn up my nose. “That is not food. That is greasy wheat flour soaked in MSG.”
“That’s what makes it so good! Remember when we first started dating?” He turns to Bex. “Back before you were born, your mom and I would stay up late talking and laughing and eating whole boxes of these things.” He grabs a handful of chicken-flavored crackers and stuffs them in his mouth. “Mmm. That’s the stuff. Come on, Kim. You know you want it. Here comes the airplane!”
He makes a zoooom noise and pilots a cracker toward my face. Heat rips through me and I slap it out of his fingers. “Stop it! God, you are so selfish.”
“Selfish?” he says, blowing crumbs from his lips. “What did I do?”
“What did you . . . ?” My jaw aches with the chore of holding back a scream. I can’t even look at him. “Bex, go outside and play.”
“Yes.” A few dirty outdoor toys fill a bin next to the back door. I grab the first thing off the stack and thrust it toward her. “Here, go play with this.”
“That’s Velcro catch. You need two people for—”
“I’ll be out in five minutes.”
She takes the toy and gives me an uncertain look. “You’re gonna play this with me?”
“But . . . this is a boy game.”
My throat tenses, but I keep my voice steady. “Bex, just go. Please. Your father and I need to have an adult talk.”
The severity of the situation registers on her little face. She glances at Matty, then back at me, then nods and goes out through the living room. I wait until I hear the front door close before I turn on him.
“Damn it, Matty! What were you thinking? You know I can’t eat this crap!”
He flinches, but grins. “Aww, I’ll bet you can if you really put your mind to it. Here, I’ll coach you.” He offers me a Twinkie and points to my mouth. “It goes in this end.”
Redness burns over my cheeks. “This isn’t funny.”
“Come on, it kinda is.” My glare wipes the mirth off his face. “Okay, it isn’t. I’m sorry. I’ll drive into town and pick up all of your health food stuff tomorrow.”
“You’ll go right now.”
He rolls his eyes. “Jeez, Kim. It’s just one night. We’re at the cabin. Nobody is looking. Why don’t you cut loose a little? Just let yourself go.”
“Let myself go? Oh, like you did?” My temperature spikes and I poke him in the gut, forcing him to take a defensive step backwards.
“Whoa, hey now. Low blow.”
I poke him again. “Do you think I don’t want to eat junk food? Do you think I choke down kelp and amaranth salads because I like them? I don’t, Matty! I’d love to sit around like you, eating this junk all day, but . . . I’m almost forty years old! My metabolism is ruined. Do you have any idea how hard I have to work to stay looking this good?”
“Is that what this is about? Oh, man.” He chuckles and wraps my long hands with his stubby fingers. “Kim, I don’t care what you look like. I love you for who you are on the inside.”
I yank my hands away and ball them into fists. “This isn’t about you! I start shooting Blood Blitz 6 in a month and my ass is already five pounds too fat to fit into my costume. And my ass needs to pay the bills because yours can’t.”
“What bills?” Matty whines. “We’ve got enough money to last until Bex is collecting social security. We’re loaded!”
I jab a finger in his face. “No. We are not loaded. I am loaded. I am loaded because I’ve been busting my butt for the past decade. I’ve been making sacrifices for this family while you’ve been loafing around the house gaining weight and losing hair.”
“Hey, come on,” Matty says, rubbing his receding hairline. “I’ve been working hard too. I’ve written four screenplays.”
“And how many of them have you gotten produced? How many of them have you even gotten optioned? Zero.”
“That’s not fair!” His eyebrows lower. “My scripts are hilarious. Any of them could have been greenlit in a second if I could get a big star attached. Someone like—gee, I don’t know—the one I’m married to.”
My breath is hot in my throat. “Oh, that is so you. Blaming me for your failure. Blaming anyone but yourself.” I shake my head. “I can’t just do this for you, Matty. I need you to stand on your own two feet. I need you to make an effort.”
Matty stares at me, simmering. “Fine. I’ll try harder. All I’m saying is, maybe you could throw me a bone here instead of just letting me flounder and struggle while you parade around in front of me with everything you’ve ever dreamed of.”
The heat of my anger runs ice cold. “Is that what you think? Honestly? That my dream was to make a fortune in glorified vampire porn? It isn’t. I don’t want to make their action movies. I don’t want to make your comedies. I want to be an actress. I want to make films that matter.” My vision goes moist and hazy. “All this time I thought you didn’t care what I want. But it’s worse than that, isn’t it? You don’t even know.”
“Hey, that’s not true. I know you’re unhappy. I know you want to do more artsy stuff. I know. I get it.” The tone of his voice subtly tips from defensive to offensive. “And I’m sorry I’ve been in a slump lately, but I’ve had other things taking up my time, okay? I mean, maybe I’d have more time to do pitch meetings if I wasn’t pretty much single-handedly raising our daughter.”
My voice goes cold. “Don’t. You. Dare.”
“Don’t I dare what?”
“Don’t you even try to act like taking care of Bex is some big burden on you! You’re lucky you get to see her at all after what you did to me!”
Matty looks away and puffs his cheeks, as if he can’t decide whether to yell or break down crying.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know how many times I can say I’m sorry!” It starts as a whisper and ends as a scream. “I’m sorry for what I did! I’m sorry I hurt you! I am! A thousand times over I am! But I have no regrets, because—”
“Oh! You have no regrets!” I shriek. “Well, that’s just great! You betrayed me, wrecked my body, and gave me a second mouth to feed, but I’m so glad you have no regrets!”
Matty’s shoulders slump and his gaze tips to the floor for a long time. When he finally looks up his eyes are wet and shimmering.
“I know you’ve been trying to turn her against me.”
Pressure builds in my chest. “Listen to yourself. Blaming someone else for your problems. Again. Like always.” My voice goes low and cold. “I didn’t turn Bex against you. You turned Bex against you. Do you think she’s proud of you? Do you think she brags to her little friends at school about her unemployed dad, loafing around the house pretending to be a writer? No, she’s proud of me. I’m the one bringing home the bacon. I’m the one with the legions of fans. I’m the one with the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I’m Kimberly fucking Savage!”
I’m so angry my vision goes fuzzy, darkening the shadows lurking in the corners. Matty wrings his hands. “And I’m nothing. I’m a big fat freeloading piece of shit. Is that what you want me to say? I’m trying, Kim. I swear to you, I’m trying to be a better father. A better husband. I’m trying to be a better man.” He gives a weak smile and reaches for me. “I know things have been difficult between us the past few years, but I’m really trying—”
Rage blazes through me and I pound my fists on his meaty chest. “Stop trying! You try all the time but you never actually do anything! Over and over again, you screw up, you promise to try harder, and you don’t change! I’m done with it. And I’m done with you.”
The words come out of my mouth before I can stop them. Everything goes quiet. Matty’s jaw hangs open, like he wants to promise to try harder but doesn’t dare. It’s out. I said it. I know I should take it back, but I can’t. Because it feels too right. I look him straight in the eyes and speak with a perfect sense of calm.
“Matty, I want a divorce.”
His eyebrows work up and down, as if his brain can’t process what it’s hearing. He just stands there for an awkward eternity. Eventually he shrugs and simply says, “No.”
I straighten up, towering over him. “You don’t get a say in this. I’ve made up my mind. Honestly, I think I made it up a long time ago.”
His mouth tries to speak, but nothing comes out. “A . . . a long time ago? But . . . what? No. Everything is okay. We’re at the cabin for the summer. As a family. Same as always.”
“I came here because I thought I could fix us. I thought if we came out to the cabin we would . . . ” Buried emotions kick a crack in my frustration, spilling a tear down my cheek. “We were so happy here once and I thought . . . I thought if we came back we could find it again. Like our happiness was a thing we forgot in the gazebo, and I could pick it up and dust it off and hold it and own it again, but . . . ” My lips tremble. “But it’s not here, Matty. It’s not anywhere. It’s just gone.”
Saying it out loud somehow makes it true. My whole body trembles as it acknowledges a love lost forever. Matty shakes his head. “It’s not gone. It’s still here.” He pats his chest. “And it’s right here.”
He reaches out and taps my sternum. It’s personal and intimate. A long time ago it would have felt romantic. But now his touch only makes me feel violated. I cross my arms against it. “Matty, please. I just want to go home.”
His petulance cuts through my sorrow. “This isn’t a discussion. We’re going back to LA.”
“No. We’re not.” Matty’s eyebrows lower as his voice hardens. “We’re going to stay here and fix this. Away from the city, away from the noise, away from all the Hollywood bullshit. Just us, alone in the peaceful woods. We can work through this. The two of us, and Bex too. Nobody is leaving until we’re all cool again.”
My breath quickens. “So, what? You think you can hold us hostage until we’re happy?”
“If that’s what it takes.” Passive aggression stains his voice. “You know I don’t have a job to rush back to. You’ve made that point very clear.”
There’s a sudden darkness in his face. I calmly extend my hand. “All right, that’s enough. Just give me the car keys.”
“No. I am not giving you the keys, and you are not leaving. You can’t leave.” He bristles, slipping into desperation. “You can’t leave this cabin, and you can’t leave me. You can’t. Please.”
My skin tingles. All light and heat seem to leech from the room. “Don’t make this harder than it already is.” I flex my fingers. “Give me the keys.”
“No! I can change. Let me prove it to you.” He shifts his weight on his feet, clenching his hands into fists and releasing them. “Please! I’m sorry. I can be the man you want me to be! I’ll do anything!”
His voice is shrill. His desperation frightens me. My heart jackhammers and I feel lightheaded. Shadows swim through my vision like eels, slithering over the walls. Around our bodies. Choking me. I have to go. I have to leave.
“God damn it, Matty! Give me the keys!” I lurch forward and shove him with both hands. He stumbles backwards and his skull hammers the log wall with an audible crack. Darkness grips Matty and a dazed fury burns his eyes. He lunges and shoves me back, driving his full weight into my chest. I smash into the tall glass door of the linen cupboard, shards of frosted glass biting me as I plunge through.
Shock and pain paralyze my mind. I’m on the floor now, my head and shoulders crammed inside the narrow cabinet. Broken shelves jab my back. Blood drips from my arms. I try to scream but can only groan.
Matty just stands there in the shadows, staring at me, flexing his fingers. His eyes are wide and vacant. A face flashes in my mind’s eye. A stranger I’ve only seen in photographs. Dr. Laurie Cheung, the family therapist.
I know, somewhere deep in my subconscious, that Matty is about to kill me.
“Get away from her!”
The voice is a screech. Bex is in the kitchen, pounding her tiny fists into her father. Matty raises his hands defensively and steps back. He shakes his head and blinks as his anger cools and his face loosens. “Stop. Bex, stop it!” He nudges her aside, locking his attention on me. “Kim, are you all right?”
“You hit her,” Bex wails. “You hit Mom!”
“Don’t lie! I was hiding in the other room! I saw you!”
She saved me. My baby hid and saved me. Adrenalin overpowers my pain and I wrestle myself out of the cabinet. Broken glass rains off my body and tinkles to the floor. The darkness has vanished from Matty’s face, leaving only contortions of guilt. “I didn’t mean to! Oh, God! I didn’t mean it! I’m sorry!”
I try to stand and Matty reaches to help me. Bex throws herself between us. “Don’t you touch her!”
Her fist smashes Matty’s nose. “Aagh! Damn it, Bex!” He stumbles as blood dribbles down his lip and onto his shirt. He doesn’t fight back. He just sobs and bellows pitiful apologies. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean it, Kim! You know I would never! I hit my head and freaked out. It was an accident! I swear it was an accident!”
Bex stares him down. “It’s always an accident with you! Just like all the times you hurt me!”
Matty’s expression shifts to pure mortification. “What? I never hurt you! Kim, I swear, I never hurt her!”
Bex’s chubby little body goes taut. “Don’t lie! Every time Mom went away you’d hurt me and say it was an accident! I ended up in the emergency room! You told me not to tell her!”
“They were accidents!” Matty’s voice chokes with panic. “Kim, you have to believe me! I never meant to hurt either of you! Please. Please say you believe me!”
I push myself to my feet. Bex remains between me and her father, ready to defend me. I put a hand on her shoulder and pull her close, extending the other, slick with my own blood. “Matthew, give me the car keys.”
Matty pulls the keys from his pocket and puts them in my palm. There’s no fight left in him.
“Please don’t go. Not like this. Please.” He looks at me and Bex with tortured eyes. “We can fix this. We have to. I can’t live without you. I need you. I need both of you.”
“I know you do,” I whisper. “But we don’t need you.”
I back Bex away from her father and toward the front door.
He doesn’t follow us.
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