The Holy Garrote

Bittenbender wanted more.

2 July, 2089. Hours after sunset.

She sped the car along the streets, some barren, some littered with abandoned vehicles.

The streetlights still glowed and their light flashed by in Bittenbender’s car. The photograph on her dashboard caught in the scattered, passing light. Her sister watching her, smiling out from an old spring day.

A rosary and rabbit foot dangled from the rear view mirror. Bittenbender tore the rosary away and threw it onto the backseat.

The car radio: ‘Anyone still remaining within the Northeast Quadrant is advised to evacuate the area immediately. Maine to New Jersey – all states in between – any remaining residents and visitors are strongly urged to evacuate as soon as possible. Asteroid impact is expected to occur on the third of July. To repeat: Asteroid impact is excepted to occur on July 3rd. Central Massachusetts expected to be ground zero impact zone. Again, anyone still remaining with the Northeast Quadrant is advised . . . ‘

Bittenbender turned down the volume until the radio was off.

She pulled onto Houston Street, creeping the car past a dimly lit bar – The Elm – and turned into the adjoining alleyway.

Bittenbender parked the car. She removed her shoes and placed them on the passenger seat. Lifting her right pant-leg, she unclipped the gun from its ankle holster, weighing the slick, oilyness of its metal in her hand.

Bittenbender sat in silence.

She returned the gun to its holster and reached into the darkness of the backseat, feeling around the seat cushioning. Her hand curled around the rosary.

She couldn’t recall the last time she had prayed three Hail Marys. She would need more than that. Bittenbender remained in silence, the prayers not coming.

With rosary in tight hand, Bittenbender exited the car, leaving her shoes behind. She didn’t close the door. She didn’t make a sound. Bittenbender kept the night around her still.

Malsano was in The Elm. Bittenbender could smell him.

She eased open the back door. The light from the kitchen poured into the alley.

A cat lunged out of a dumpster; Bittenbender jumped, but caught the door with her foot before it could slam closed. She glared at the cat, sauntering away into farther darkness. And from the dumpster three more mangy cats followed, one hissing at Bittenbender as it slinked off.

Her hand pulsated, her grip on the rosary tighter.

She slid into the vacant kitchen, glancing one way and the other, and approached the door to the barroom. Through the circle window, Bittenbender saw Malsano sitting at the counter, looking like a skinny teenage boy out past curfew despite being almost fifty. He swirled a glass of liquor.

Malsano was laughing and talking with the bartender who clearly hadn’t heeded the evacuation order either.

Bittenbender pocketed the rosary. She reached down, once again pulling up her pant-leg, and retrieved the gun from its holster.

Back in the alley, Bittenbender aimed the gun toward Houston Street and fired. She scurried behind the dumpster and waited, waited . . .

Neither Malsano nor the bartender came out to check the alleyway.

Bittenbender reentered the kitchen.

Looking through the circle window, she saw Malsano alone, standing at one of the stained glass bar windows, trying to see through the warped green and red glass. To his right, the front door opened and in peeked the bartender. He shrugged, said something to Malsano, and went back out.

Malsano gazed through the red and green window.

Bittenbender clenched the rosary.

She moved in silence. Her feet like feathers on sand. In seconds she was behind him. In a single second, the dropping of her guillotine. Bittenbender yanked the rosary around Malsano’s skinny neck, pulling, pulling, thrusting her knee into his lower spine.

She screamed from deep inside. Primal and ancestral. Pulling the rosary tighter around his neck. Pulling tighter. Pulling the rosary. Tighter. Her hands pulsated.

Malsano dropped to his knees, hands clawing at the rosary. He grasped her wrists.

Bittenbender threw her weight on him and he collapsed to the floor. She kneeled on Malsano, digging her knee into his back, pushing down while pulling the rosary.

She screamed again. And pulled again.

The rosary snapped. Beads flew, hitting the walls, skittering across the floor.

Malsano gasped and clutched his throat. He tried to turn over, but Bittenbender still had her knee planted on his spine. And her gun now against the back of his head.

Malsano opened his mouth to speak.

Bittenbender squeezed the trigger. Once. Twice. Three times. She lost count. She pulled the trigger until all she heard were empty clicks, her weapon devoid of its fire.

She dropped the gun.

Her palms were bloody. Bittenbender clenched her fists. It had ended too soon. She wanted more. She gazed down at the half of Malsano’s face that was showing. His tongue lay on the barroom floor, a shimmering, pink slug in a spreading puddle of blood. The back of his skull was carnage, shattered and blown open.

Bittenbender wanted more. To hear Malsano gasp for another breath, open his eyes, mutter something, beg for his life. Anything. She wanted a flicker.

A breeze blew through The Elm. Bittenbender glanced up. The bartender, standing in the open doorway, his face colorless.

She stared at him and unclenched her fists. Blood trickled down her fingers. Bittenbender stood and swept past the frozen bartender, back into the night, back to the alley.

She got into her car and slipped on her shoes. Bittenbender drove east until she reached the coast.

She parked the car, the only one parked at the beach.

Bittenbender sat on the beach wall, watching the cresting waves in the dark. She clutched her sister’s picture.

She checked her watch. 3 July, 2089. An hour after midnight.

Bittenbender sifted through the sand and settled down where the water reached.

It rose around her, the seawater covering her legs, but would never engulf her.

She let the photograph go. It was over.

Bittenbender wanted more and it didn’t matter.


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