Shadow of perception

By: Kristine Mason


“LOOK AT ME, Daddy.”

Michael Morrison ignored the howling wind lashing against the metal building and concentrated on the old TV. A slow, bitter smile pulled at the corner of his mouth as his daughter moved across the screen. She’d just turned five and had looked so adorable and proud dancing and twirling for the camera in her lavender taffeta dress.

“Do you think I’ll win, Daddy?” she asked as she paused to admire herself in the mirror. “Mommy says I’m sure to be crowned Little Miss Hanover.” She frowned at her reflection and plucked at the puffy lace capping her slender shoulders. “But I saw the other girls during rehearsal and—”

“Don’t you worry about those other girls,” he reassured her as he’d held the camera steady. “And even if you don’t win, no matter what, I think you’re the most beautiful girl in the world.”

He still did.

His eyes misted, with grief, with regret, with overwhelming sadness.

Another strong gust swept against the building. Howling and protesting, the wind angrily pelted the metal walls. Almost as if nature, the universe, God, or whatever higher powers there may be, understood and shared his pain. Approved of what he was about to do.

He wiped a hand across his damp forehead, a huff escaping from between his dry lips. If anyone had heard his inner thoughts they’d think he was crazy. Hell, if anyone had a clue of what he’d planned they’d lock him in a padded cell until his body rotted to dust and his soul slid to the bowels of hell. But he wasn’t crazy. Angry, yes. Vindictive, you bet your ass.

Hardening his jaw, he returned his focus to the TV, where the DVD he’d created from old home movies segued to the next scene. The crowning of Little Miss Hanover. As her mother had predicted, Eliza had won. While the crowd had cheered and the judge placed a bejeweled crown on her head, Eliza had smiled for the camera, mouthing “I love you, Daddy” as she’d smoothed her tiny hands over the full skirt of that lavender dress.

Her proud, innocent smile faded from the screen as the film moved forward. Images of Eliza’s many other beauty pageants—that she’d ultimately won or placed—flew by almost as quickly as her short life.

The wind barraged the building again, the TV screen suddenly flipped, blurring the frames into a Technicolor nightmare. The old picture tube protesting its use, he supposed as he stood and gave the top of the box a slap. After a second, the screen burst to life again, but in slapping the TV, he must have accidently rattled the DVD player, too. The images jerked to a screeching halt before jumping ahead. Past Eliza’s cheerleading years, the night she’d been crowned homecoming queen, her first modeling shoot, and straight to the final scene.

He hit PAUSE and froze the image. No. Not a scene or a segment from the old home movie collection, but a still shot of his daughter lying on her bed.

Naked. Dead. Unrecognizable.

His throat thickened and his eyes filled with tears he couldn’t afford to shed at the moment. Holding his grief at bay, he focused on the anger. And as he leaned forward and traced his fingers along the TV screen, along the gaping slashes across her wrists to the blood pooling at her sides, he allowed that anger to take root. Let the hatred numb his heart and blacken the soul that would eventually belong to the devil. The devil could have him. He could give a shit if he burned in hell for an eternity so long as he took the men who had destroyed his daughter along for the ride.

He would have added her mother, the woman he’d once loved fiercely, to what he liked to refer to as his “death wish list.” But Sarah had scratched herself off his list before he’d written a single name by putting a bullet through her head at their daughter’s funeral. Not even in death could Sarah allow Eliza a moment to shine. No, the narcissistic bitch had to blow her brains all over the metal casket, making it about her. Always about her.

Now it was about Eliza. As it should have been from the beginning, as it would be now, and ever shall be, world without end. A-fucking-men.

The alarm on his watch beeped, reminding him what he’d already known. His patient would be waking soon, and by the low moan from the other room, Michael would have to act fast before the bastard regained full consciousness. Sure, he’d strapped the man down, but he didn’t want to miss the look on the shithead’s face when his eyes fluttered open, only to discover he’d just woken up in hell.

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