Riptide, Part 6

(Missed the story so far? It starts here!)


Mother was back. She’d announced her presence with a midnight beating. She’d crept up the stairs while Rachel slept, having felt safe that Mother wouldn’t return until morning. Somehow her friend hadn’t been aware of Mother’s return, either; Bertie gave no warning or attempt to defend her when she was jerked awake by the crack of the birch rod against her thigh.

Rachel was too surprised to scream, being yanked from a pleasant dream of floating in an endless ocean, free from concepts like pain and paranoia. She’d been just… drifting. Safe among the jellyfish and waves that meant her no harm. Her brain interpreted the first flare of pain as one of those jellyfish reaching out and stinging her with one ropy tentacle. When she blinked, the moon-face of Mother was in front of her instead of the gelid sac of sea life gone awry.

“Thought I’d forgotten about you, didn’t you? Thought Mother had just wandered off, leaving you to be free to do as you will, didn’t you, little whorelet?”

Her voice was thick and slurred, coming out of only one side of her mouth. Rachel could see that the whole left side of Mother’s face was sagging down, turning it into equal parts tragedy and comedy mask, while her left eye rolled in the socket, seemingly fixed on nothing at all.

Mother brought the switch down again, sending ripples through Rachel’s left arm before leaving it numb. Rachel saw a splash of blood spring up and droplets seem to hover in the air for a moment before raining down on the burlap sheets in a quick drum riff.

“Found your books, I did,” Mother said. She punctuated this with another swing but missed. The head of the switch bounced off the bed and rebounded; Rachel found herself wishing it would fly back and hit Mother in the face. Somewhere inside of her, a voice awakened, laughing at first.

You could always do it for her, it said after a moment. Rachel liked the idea. She pushed with her feet, forcing herself into a sitting position and tensing the muscles in her right arm – the left was still numb, good for nothing but dripping blood all around her – as she slit her eyes. Watching the tip of the switch the way a snake charmer might watch the eyes of a particularly aggressive cobra, she waited for her chance.

“Nothing but bad. Since you were born, I knew it.”

She swung again; Rachel twitched to her right but kept her arm still. The birch rod cracked against the wall only inches from her head. She wanted to lunge for it, but that internal voice had told her it wasn’t quite ready yet. Steady, it told her.

Mother pointed the switch at Rachel, as though she was lining up a pocket shot on a cue-ball, her good eye running down the twisted rod to lock with Rachel’s gaze. Rachel wanted to squirm under that mad glare but kept herself still. The moment was coming, she knew it.

“I tried to beat it out of you. Tried to guide you to the Lord. But you wouldn’t listen.”

Her voice was rising in volume and dropping in octave, until it was a bass rumble that Rachel felt certain must have been rocking the flimsy walls of her attic prison.

“The devil in you answers to only one law. And the good Lord told me if thine child offends thee,”

She began to raise the switch above her head. Rachel saw it in slow motion, tracing the arc with a clinical precision that she wouldn’t have believed herself capable of.

“Then you must strike her down!”

Now! the internal voice shrieked as Mother brought the switch down. The whistling trajectory was aimed right at her head, and Rachel had no doubt that if it connected she’d be unconscious or worse.

But it didn’t. Her hand shot up, without conscious thought, and wrapped around the rod an instant before it hit her forehead. Ther was a meaty thud instead of the sharp crack she had been expecting. Her arm reverberated with the impact, and her hand became nothing but a leaden glove leaking blood between the fingers, but she had hold of the weapon.

Mother seemed too shocked to respond. Rachel knew what to do. She yanked, pulling it free from Mother’s weakened grasp. With a casual flip, she turned the business end around, raising it over her own head as she stood up.

Towering above Mother, feet planted squarely on the bed and thankful for once that it was nothing more than a wooden slab with a thin cushion of burlap thrown over it, Rachel’s teeth shone forth in a feral grin.

“How’s this for evil, Mother?”

She swung, aiming for that rolling eye and whatever diseased brain lay behind it.

KA Spiral no signature

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