This story is by Kasey Anderson and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
On the anniversary of your murder, my heart shreds.
I see two images every time I close my eyes. The first—you, dancing in a light green chiffon dress, a braided metal crown of flowers entangled in your long, pulled back, light brown hair. The second—your corpse. She dressed you up like a mannequin, taking the goth clothes and makeup she’d meticulously stolen from your bedside table. She put them on you the way she had seen you put them on yourself so many times before, right before she slit your throat.
Your hand still lightly wrapped around the rose I’d gotten you for your sweet sixteen. The blood ran down your arm, coating it and the flower a scarlet red.
I curl up in the snow by your grave, a fetus, screaming silent tears. I don’t notice the needle until it’s in my throat.
I wake up in the same room we were in when you died. There’s the same stench of mold, the whirr of industrial machines, the concrete chair on concrete floor. My hands grate against the same expertly-tied rope, my legs ache under iron chains, my eyes stare into darkness underneath several layers of duct tape.
And I know I have no chance. You never did.
Michelle killed you without mercy, without any sense of honor or fairness. She raped you, only you.
I don’t know why I survived. Maybe someone had to tell Michelle’s story. And now that I’ve served that purpose, she’s back to kill me. Like I said, I have no chance. No chance in hell.
“Hello, Tom.” Her voice speaks to me seductively.
“Michelle,” I say.
“I never gave you my name,” she says. “What inspired this one?”
“Rhymes with hell,” I said.
“You always did deal with pain using sarcasm.”
She’s right. She must have watched me for a while. The thought makes my skin rise with gooseflesh.
“Ana says hello,” she says.
The words suspend mid-air. Ana. I haven’t said your name in a year, haven’t even heard it said in almost as long. I cut ties with everyone who knew you, which was everyone. I never wanted to hear your name again, especially not from Michelle.
“Well, tell Ana I say hello back.” The sarcasm comes automatically from me.
Michelle laughs. “Tell her yourself.”
A few seconds later, I hear Ana’s voice crackling like an old radio.
“Good to see you, Tom. It’s about damn time.”
I sit there like a mute, stunned.
“Ana?” My voice barely escapes my throat.
This is a trick. It has to be.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Ana says. “This is a trick. It has to be.”
“How—” I muster.
“Be a dear, Michelle, and take the tape off of his eyes.”
Michelle cuts the tape from the back of my head, ripping it off mercilessly, taking a chunk of eyebrow with it. On the table in front of me lies a computer showing a staticky image of Ana.
“Sorry the image quality isn’t better,” Ana says. “Turns out the Wi-Fi is shit in hell.”
“That’s what you’re worried about?” I ask her. The image quality? I’ve been in a living hell for the last year, and all she can think about is—
“You have no idea what hell is actually like, Tom.”
“Wait, you’re actually in hell?” I stammer. “What are you doing—”
“No time. I’m only back to tell you I made a deal with the devil. You and Michelle must fight to the death. You win, I stay in hell, but I get to do the torturing instead. She wins, she still goes to hell, but she gets to torture me.”
“That deal’s not going to work for me.”
“The deal works for me,” Michelle says. “A world where I get to torture Ana for eternity sounds fun. The only problem with murdering people is that the torture doesn’t last nearly long enough.”
“I want a better deal.” I say.
“I’m intrigued.” A blond-faced youth wearing only boxers and carrying a dirty martini wanders into frame. “Just what did you have in mind?”
“I’m sorry. Who’s this?”
The man dances provocatively at me. “Why, I’m the devil, sweetheart.”
“This… this frat boy is the devil?”
A girl bound in ropes and wearing nothing but underwear serenades into view.
“Not now,” the devil says, pushing her aside. “Daddy’s got business to attend to.” He stares at me. “I can see you have doubts.” He wiggles his three-fourths naked body.
This is the guy deciding our fates?
He ignores the look I give him.
“So, what did you have in mind? Daddy doesn’t have all day.”
“If Ana’s in hell, that’s where I want to be.”
“You do realize this isn’t a vacation home, right?” Back to the frat boy shimmy. “But, if that’s what you pathetic lovers want, who am I to stop you? I always have room for one—or two—more.”
“If I win, I want a heart attack, so I can be with Ana immediately.”
“No,” Ana says. I look at her closely for the first time since all of this started. What can I say? The devil’s distracting. She has tears in her eyes.
Shock fills my psyche as I force myself to look at her newly distorted face. At the white makeup she was wearing the night she died. At the now cavernous hole where her eye used to be. At the gush of blood streaming down her throat. At the chunks of flesh that have been ripped out of her breasts.
Cold rage bleeds down my back. Michelle has to die.
“You’ve done nothing wrong,” Ana says.
I ignore her words. “You don’t know how much I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve been there with you every step of the way.”
“Then you know that hell is asking me to live without you.”
“I told you, you don’t know what hell is. I’m not taking this deal.”
“Sorry, dearie,” the devil tuts. “But here in the underworld, consent is everything.”
“She doesn’t get to control what I do. I’m going to hell whether I get to stand by her side or not.”
“Why are you doing this?” Ana says, sobbing. “Isn’t it enough, what she did to me?”
The tears come to my eyes uninvited now. Humiliating, but I don’t care. “I can’t close my eyes without seeing you.” I do so, and the memories come unbidden. That night, for the first time in forever, you weren’t bent over a toilet, throwing up pain, despair, and hate. You actually looked happy. You were happy. And she took that away from you.
“We need to be clear on the deal,” the devil says. “You can only choose one of them.”
I look at Ana. Her eyes have changed. She’s on my side now. “If that’s what he wants, then who am I to stop him?”
“Deal,” the devil says. He winks at me, and I hear the subtle clink of a chain coming undone as he makes the ropes fall away. A knife illuminates in my vision, glowing white on the table. Michelle’s eyes widen. She didn’t expect the devil to take my side. I dash for it and shove it in Michelle’s throat. She gurgles in frightened protest. Good. I stab her over and over again. I go to mutilate her, the way she did Ana—
“Stop,” Ana says. She can’t conceal the horror in her voice. “Tom, it’s enough.”
I watch Michelle convulse on the floor, bleeding out. She doesn’t have enough energy left to scream.
Then it’s my turn. I clutch my chest as my heart bursts inside me. Apparently, I had enough of a heart left for it. Funny, I think, as my thoughts drift away.
We both wake up in our own separate hells. I don’t recognize the little girl at first, but I’d know those eyes anywhere. Michelle. I struggle against chains, intending to kill her all over again, but stop when I see the chunks of flesh taken out of the seven-year-old girl being raped by a female relative with her same eyes.
I look away, filled with hate, bile—and worst of all—remorse. She never had a chance.
Then I turn to Ana. She’s blessedly free from everything that pained her in life, but one look from the devil tells me it’s only temporary.
“One kiss,” he says.
But first, I have to know. “Why is she in hell?”
“Your fault, I’m afraid. Premarital sex.”
She’s in hell for the crime of loving me.
“Worth it,” Ana says. “Would smash again.”
The devil laughs. “My girl,” he says affectionately.
“No,” I say. “My girl. I think I’ve earned it.”
I kiss Ana one last time. There’s no lust in it, only love. The devil sets off literal fireworks in the background. Cheeky bastard.
Then it’s back to the chains, back to having duct tape over my eyes, back to hearing Ana scream. But now, when I reach for her, her hand holds mine.