Sylvia Long heard Ned stomp down the hall and into the kitchen. Glancing away from the dirty dishes she stacked in the sink, she saw he carried two cases of beer. He opened the refrigerator and shoved them inside, before popping the top of one can and gulping the contents. He burped loud and long.
“You know you’re not supposed to drink,” Sylvie said, as she washed dishes.
The sound of an empty can hitting the cabinet by her head caused her to turn. Ned’s fists smashed into her. The one-two punches connected on her stomach, then her eye when she doubled over.
The force of the blows threw her against the counter, turning her slightly away from Ned. She hung her head, wheezing and fighting darkness.
“Stupid bitch,” Ned said. “What did you go and say that for?” Then he laughed as he popped the tab of another can.
How dare Ned blame her? Again. Her blood burned. Finally, she had endured enough. Sylvie grasped the heavy iron Dutch Oven on the counter. In one fluid motion, she turned and flung it at Ned.
“I hate you Ned!” Sylvie screamed. The solid thud the pot made before it clanged onto the linoleum surprised her as much as her own actions. Ned thumped to the floor.
The room wavered and she clutched at a chair back. For a moment she felt frozen in time as she stared at his sprawled form. It seemed totally unreal. He looked so...so...without life. Oh, God, had she killed him?
She raised her hands to her face, covering her rapidly drying mouth. Oh, God, if she had not killed him, then he would surely kill her for what she had dared to do.
If she had killed him, the police might not see her action as defense against his abusive ways. Life could be unfair, from her experience. She closed her eyes and wished the last few minutes away. When she opened her eyes, Ned still lay prone and unmoving.
“Oh, God help me, I am so screwed,” she whispered. She doubled over, arms tucked protectively against each other, and backed away down the hall, turning to dart through the door and outside.
Sylvie looked left and right. No friends or relatives lived nearby to watch her back. Ned had made sure she stayed isolated. Where do I go? she asked herself. She needed to put as much room as possible between her and the house. Her car squatted useless in the driveway awaiting repair.
Her stomach throbbed from Ned’s punch and her eye was swelling shut. She prayed, “Dear Lord, it would be so easy to just give up. Please help me.”
She had to rely on her own forward momentum. One foot after another, she rushed away from what she thought might become known as the scene of her crime.
Browned leaves scattered across the cracked sidewalk and wind pushed a hard hand against Sylvie’s back. She scurried forward, willing herself away from the house she shared with her ex-husband. Still she fought the urge to return to check on Ned. She should have stopped to see if he had a pulse. She should have...
Sylvie sniffed back tears and blinked to clear her vision. Why, oh, why had the economy gotten so bad she had to share the house with him? Life had become pure torture, with no help in sight. She no longer felt she could trust anyone, certainly not the legal system. What good had getting a divorce done her?
The wind propelled her into a graveled alley that led downhill to the next street. She understood how a rat felt in a maze. Wanting to run, she held her pace to a fast walk.
Oh, God help me, she prayed. Was she really a murderer? She had never wanted to be a murderer. The urge for tears made her chin tremble. Sylvie shook her head. No time to soften.
As she reached the alley’s end, the rev of Ned’s souped-up sports car rumbled from the direction of their house. The car’s drone indicated he survived. The slight relief that she had not murdered anyone, became buried beneath the rising fear of what Ned would do once he found her. She might end up being the corpse on the floor somewhere, herself.
Oh, God. Where could she hide?
Although she knew the road before her like the back of Ned’s hand, the shadowed entryway of a small store to the right surprised her. Had it always been there?
Ned’s car rumbled nearer.
Sylvie tucked her chin and huddled in a small ball as her heartbeat filled her ears. Would the deep shadows of a short rock wall which shielded the shop from the street protect her, too? She held her breath. The rumble passed by where she crouched.
“Thank you God,” she whispered, still afraid to make much of a sound, though she knew Ned could not hear her.
After the car’s roar faded and a few seconds elapsed, she noticed a neat hand-lettered sign taped to the shop’s door: “Enter—If You Dare.” She hesitated, hand on the knob.
The returning engine’s throb sent her inside—fast. She opened the door. She would rather dare the shop than dare Ned. Fear of the unknown held less sway over her than fear of the known. No bell tinkled announcing her entrance and no one offered help.
Once inside, she glanced around. Ah, a magic shop. Hats for rabbits, wands for spells, chains of silk handkerchiefs, and cards for card tricks waited on shelves, along with items she could not identify.
Spying a black-curtained doorway, she stepped forward. Escape might be that way through a back door.
A man in a tuxedo swept forth from behind the curtain as if arriving on stage.
Sylvie screamed, hand to her heart.
Holding a white-gloved finger in front of his lips, he made the universal sign for quiet, then smiled and nodded at her. “Welcome to ‘Truth or Dare’ Magic Shoppe. Which would you like?” he said.
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