Salt – a short story

Peering through the bloody slits of his battered eyes, he could just make out the sun’s position through the cracks in the shed’s roof. It was early. His hands continued their restless fight with the ropes that bound them. They had made the mistake of tying his hands behind him where they couldn’t see the war he was winning aided by the blood running down his left arm. The slick blood was working in his favor as he twisted and jerked. Each movement sent splintering pain up his arms as his lacerated fingers scrabbled on the ropes, the nail beds raw where they had ripped his fingernails away. Across the room, she sat watching. The dark hair, matted with sweat and blood, fell across her bruised face. The eyes still sharp, watchful.

Be careful.

I’ve got a couple minutes. Once he checks on us we’ll have a few hours before the second shift.

The footsteps at the door froze him. He relaxed into a dejected, beaten huddle. The door slammed open as a man entered. Something was wrong. This wasn’t one of the regular guards. The cut of his uniform and the insignia on his collar gave away his status. This was a dangerous man.

Neither he nor the girl moved or acted as if they’d noticed the entrance. Still mutely huddled in their chairs.

In a raspy voice that seemed to ooze from between rat-like lips, he sneered at them. At last I find the woman who was supposed to have the answers. It seems you do not wish to divulge your knowledge. Apparently my men have been too…how do you say…genteel?

I don’t know what you’re talking about.

His vision was blurred but he could still see her face. The best he had ever seen. Graduating at the top of her class, breaking records at The Farm, becoming a NOC so quickly. They’d spent years together. Trusting each other with their lives more times than he could remember. The beatings had been terrible, but she’d never broken. He knew she wouldn’t.

I am inclined to agree with you. My best men have said you deny all knowledge even under the most, ah, persuasive questioning.

His eyes darkened as he took a small step toward her. Reaching up, his hand touched her hair. She spit in his face.

He regarded her coldly for a bleak moment. It would appear then, that you have no further use to me. Turning, he pulled the pistol from his belt and shot her.

The force of the round slammed her body backward over the chair as blood splattered the wall. With a strangled scream, he wrenched his bloody hand free from the rope and catapulted himself across the room. The surprised look in the man’s eyes registered only for a second before the first strike landed. A hammering fist to the solar plexus. A whooping blast of breath shot from his mouth as the air left his lungs.  His body jack-knifing. Grabbing his head with both hands he brought the man’s face down to the devastating impact of his knee. He felt nose and teeth splintering. The unconscious body was falling now and the path of the man’s head was on a collision course with his boot. He saw no reason why the two shouldn’t meet. He was mildly surprised when the head stayed on.

He gazed at the broken bloody mess on the floor for only a moment before striding quickly across to where the girl lay. The pool of blood under her body told him what he’d find. Without turning her, he could already imagine the fist-size hole punched out of her upper back. Yanking the ropes free, he cradled her broken body as he sank down to the cold floor. Her eyes were still clear, but he could see she knew she had only minutes.

Didn’t think it would end like this.

He didn’t answer. He couldn’t. He buried his face in her hair.

Don’t ever blame yourself. This is the life we chose. We both knew the dangers of falling for each other.

He placed bloody fingers over her lips. Stop. Stop. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

He could see the strength in her eyes beginning to fade. Desperately she pulled him close. You’ve got to find our boy. Promise me you’ll get him out. She grabbed his face in her hands.  Promise!

He kissed her. His kiss the only answer she needed. Her fingers meshed through his hair pulling him to her fiercely. He could taste the blood, taste her. Her blood mingled with his as he cradled her. Slowly, she pulled away to look at him one more time, her dark brown eyes finding his cold blue ones. I always knew you’d be there when the end came. I always knew….

Her voice was trailing off now. He swallowed the rising ache in his throat. Trying to pull her even closer. Her eyes barely open, a quiet whisper escaped her lips. Hold me.

Two bodies lying on the cold floor. Holding her like he’d never let go. Slipping in and out of consciousness. The salt taste of her blood still clinging to his lips mingling with his tears. Salt. The smell of her hair. In his mind he could smell the sand, the ocean, the windswept night – the first time. Her dark eyes looking up as he held her. Trusting him. The light in those eyes. The light that had died forever.

Gently, he closed her eyes. Caressing the battered face still beautiful under its mask of blood. I’ll find him. I’ll find him if it’s the last thing I do.

The groan from the opposite corner of the room roused him. He straightened stiffly and surveyed the bleeding mess. Pulling himself to his feet, he crossed the room picking up a pair of bolt cutters from the table.  With an animal violence, he kicked the man in the side of the knee. Wake up. A mangled cry gurgled from the bloody hole of a mouth. The pain had dragged the man back to consciousness. Grabbing a fistful of hair he pulled the body up until he was looking into his eyes.

I’m going to ask you a question. You’re going to tell me the answer. I’ll know if you’re lying. Don’t try to be brave. They always do. And they always end up talking in the end.

Slowly waving the bolt cutters in front of the man’s face, he continued. Just to show you I’m not kidding let’s start with your fingers. Your trigger finger seems to work well, let’s start there.

With a vicious jerk he bore down on the cutters. He felt the blades hesitate for a moment as they met bone and then snapped together with an audible click. The man writhed and screamed, blood spurting from the severed stump.

You’ve taken one thing I loved. One thing I’ll never get back. But you will tell me where the boy is won’t you. Look at me! Tell me now or we go on.

Hesitation was the wrong answer. He bore down again.

Fifteen minutes later he looked down at the sodden blood-stained heap now barely recognizable. Pulling the keys and pistol from the body, he turned to the girl. Bending to kiss her lips one last time, he whispered, Don’t worry, I’ll find him. Rest now. Goodbye my love. Fingertips gently traced the lines of her face.

Stepping from the shack, he squinted into the sun’s glare, turned, and made his way up the mountainside.

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