Chapter 14: The End
It was dusk, and the sun was beginning to set in south east Kansas. With twilight fast approaching, the light of the hour did not leave anything — petal, leaf, or branch — untouched. Nature was ripe with the lateness of summer and every element was playing its part in true, feminine, midwestern fashion.
Fields of gold as far as the eye could see. Thick green vines exploding with wildflowers. Fruit trees gushing chickasaw plums, sweet cherries, peaches, and juneberries. Butterflies, bumblebees, and hummingbirds swarming. Patches of bluebells, hydrangeas, violets, and pink irises sprouting from the ground in sprawling, succulent bouquets. And all of it completely drenched with pink light, from the sun’s set.
Everything was so, objectively, heartbreakingly beautiful, and yet I could not see any of it that way as I made the long, remote, lonely trek home through the tall grass prairies that night.
I was heartbroken, having just been discarded by the man who took my virginity just three months earlier.
I replayed his words in my head over and over again.
“Fiona, you dumb bitch, how many different ways can I fucking say it? I don’t love you. I never did. I may have said it in the heat of the moment but it’s over and done, I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s time for me to move on. What we had was fun. I wanted to have sex with you and you wanted to have sex with me and we did that like a thousand times and got it out of our system and now it’s just too much and I don’t want a fucking relationship. Do you get it now? Do you need me to explain it again?
You really thought I was going to marry you? You’re so stupid, Fiona. You’re nineteen and I’m twenty seven. Don’t get me wrong, you’re hot, head to toe, gorgeous, and I’ll probably hit you up in a few weeks, but until then I don’t want to have to deal with your shit. I have a girl coming over soon and you can’t be here when she shows up. Get out.”
The words were poison in my brain. They burned with every letter, every syllable, and after so many replays became emblazoned into my memory with the sear of blacksmith’s fire.
The look on his face was arrogant, sadistic, triumphant. It was the expression an angel of destruction might wear as it watched the world burn.
So I couldn’t see the vivid flower patches or the delicate hanging succulents or the wide open spaces. I couldn’t see the famous, golden plains of wheat, barley and rye.
All I could see was the way the vines suffocated each other with the force of a thousand nautical knots, or how the weeds strangled the pathway beneath my feet, or the way the old oak trees had been split in half by the strikes of erstwhile lightning storms.
Maybe, in a few years, or decades, when I was older, and my shadow had grown longer, I could look back at the time we spent together and remember it as the happiest of my life. Maybe I’d even smile. That’s how I should feel. Grateful that it even happened. Not sad that it was over.
So I dragged my feet, stumbling and tripping every so often through the tall grasses, which were much taller than me. This was a very remote part of the backlands I was wading through. I had elected to go this way, instead of the much shorter, safer way through town because I wanted to cry in peace without being queried by any friendly or not so friendly faces. In a town this small, running into anyone no matter where you went, no matter what time of night, was literally impossible.
So I shuffled on, as dusk set and the light fell darker and darker.
I sighed, wiping the sweat off the back of my neck.
Two miles down.
Three more to go.
I wasn’t even half way there, and couldn’t make out the outlines of the farms from my current position. It would be a long trek.
The heat was brutal, and I hadn’t had food or drink in at least five hours. My throat was so dry it felt like I couldn’t even swallow my saliva anymore. I was so hungry my stomach was burning. And a throbbing headache was pulsing in my left temple.
I decided I might need to take a break at some point. If I didn’t I might pass out. Fleetingly, I looked over my shoulder and contemplating turning back. But it was too late. I was already too deep into the path I’d chosen and reversing course would now mean trekking the same distance or longer to get home.
So I sighed, slogging on.
As I walked, I reached back and uncoiled my perfectly woven, French pigtail braids, starting from the crown. They were extremely tight against my skull — they had to be to look right — and now the oil from my scalp was making them itch.
I wasn’t really a fan of styling my hair like this; it took me at least four times — bent over backwards in front of the mirror — to get it right, with every plait twined absolutely flawless, on the days I chose to do it, but this had been one of Tom’s favorite looks on me.
However, given the recent course of events where he was concerned, I saw no use for it anymore. I yanked hard at the plaits until they all came undone, transforming a pristinely braided, double waterfall cascade into a wild, untamed, greasy mess. I leaned forward and shook it out in front of me like a lion’s mane.
A long, cold shower couldn’t come fast enough. I ran my hands through my oily hair as I walked.
Then my heart froze as something caught my ear.
In the far distance, approaching.
That was odd, I thought.
There was no reason for anyone to be driving through here at this time of night. . .
But the sound was unmistakeable.
The growl of a diesel engine grew louder and louder, filling the loneliness of the space with its signature blood-curdling noise and vanquishing the ghostly silence of the prairies.
Soon, I could recognize an eerie triplet of male laughs.
But something was off.
These men were laughing loud. Too loud.
I closed my eyes and exhaled. “Fuck.”
Johnny, Grant, and Luke.
I hissed under my breath.
Three of the most offensive, obnoxious, abusive douschebags you could find — even if you looked hard. And yet, everyone in this stupid town thought they were the greatest things since sliced bread — so much as mention their names and all any of the moms could do was sing their praises for hours in flawless Southern twang. Every time one of them returned from deployment the town council through a goddamn parade. Having each enlisted in the military at eighteen and fought several tours in theatre rather than resort to the typical career path of tweaking, drug dealing, and petty crime that ensnared most in this area, they were considered the collective pride of south east Kansas, the wonder boys who could literally do no wrong as far as anyone — who mattered — in this town was concerned.
As far as I was concerned, they were the most vile, perverted, arrogant, sex-obsessed bro cult this side of the Mississippi river.
Of course, nobody cared what I thought.
When they came home from base they usually spent most of their time drinking more alcohol than they could possibly consume, destroying property, being loud, cheating on their girlfriends, discussing pornography in public, driving drunk, off roading, and, of course, harassing the local girls that caught their eye — or eyes I should say.
I didn’t have a car out here so I had to walk everywhere to get places, making me easy to spot. It sucked. No matter where I went I always ran into them, or them into me.
Thankfully, base was far enough away that I didn’t have to deal with their bullshit all the time, just one or two weekends a month — but when they were home on leave, we were all fucked. They came back with nothing to do which meant most of us became ensnared in their web at some point. You literally could not go anywhere without running into them.
Not in a town this small.
It didn’t even make sense. Each of them had smoking hot steady girlfriends.
He had Colleen. Exquisite Colleen.
Tall, willowy, brunette, beautiful.
A former beauty queen and yet there was nothing former about her. Late twenties and in full bloom. The green on the vine.
It was part of the reason I never took any of their advances seriously. Why should I? It didn’t make sense to be scared when each man had his own personal earthbound goddess as a sex partner.
I could not compete with those girls.
I could not compete with a beauty queen.
And yet, it didn’t matter. They still wouldn’t leave me alone.
Once, when I was waiting tables at a local diner they frequented, Johnny had exclaimed— well within earshot — “I wonder what Fiona would look like with my d*ck halfway down her throat.”
But of course it was always, ‘yes ma’am’, ‘no, ma’am,’ ‘it’s no trouble ma’am’, and ‘yes sir,’ ‘of course sir’, ‘my pleasure, sir’, ‘let me get the door for y’all’, and ‘ladies first,’ all the time whenever anyone — that mattered — was watching, so their images of perfectly respectable Southern gentlemen and white knights remained flawlessly intact.
I weighed my options.
There was no point in speeding up or turning back. I could not outrun a motor vehicle. I supposed I could head East through the tall grass where they wouldn’t be able to drive the truck through. . . just until they would leave. . .but I was too tired to deviate course and moreover didn’t want to give them any reason to deboard the vehicle.
So I continued shuffling onward, my tongue burning with thirst, sweat clinging to the back of my neck. I let the curtain of my greasy hair shade my profile from view, hoping they would eventually become bored and set their sights elsewhere.
As they approached, the exhaustion was reaching an apex. My balance was the first to go. I began stumbling and having to steady myself every few steps as I walked. My vision was next. Splotches of ink began to bloom across my line of sight and soon I was seeing double.
The truck slowed to a crawl beside me. By the sound of the slurred words and raised voices coming from inside, they all were completely wasted.
“Fiona, what the fuck are you doing out here in the middle of nowhere?” One of them — Luke I think, by the sound of it? — asked from the driver’s seat, laughing uncontrollably, like seeing me in this context was the most hilarious visual he had ever witnessed.
Reflexively, without thinking, I turned my head to where the sound of the voice was coming from, exposing my tear stricken face.
They all laughed.
“Aw, look she’s all heartbroken ‘cuz he just ended it.” Grant chuckled.
Word had traveled fast. It had been less than an hour since the break up and they already knew about it. I wasn’t surprised.
Not in a town this small.
“Not now guys,” I sighed lifelessly.
Then an eerily familiar sarcastic, nasally voice sounded.
“Is she seriously crying?” Johnny asked incredulously.
I just kept looking forward, trying not to take the bait.
Then he heaved a sigh, rolled his eyes, and took another swig of alcohol. “Fiona Callahan, always the fucking drama queen.”
I didn’t flinch like I usually did when he got all mean like that. I was used to it by now.
I glanced at the others.
True to form, Luke was in the driver’s seat with the steering wheel in one hand and a bottle of alcohol in the other.
As wholesome as ever.
“You know, if you want — ”
I started tuning them out. The comments were descending into their usual obscenity and I had no interest in bearing witness. Normally, these remarks really bothered me, and they still did, but now, after the breakup that I perceived to be the largest cataclysm of my life, they were easier to ignore than I would have ever imagined.
So I just continued to drag my feet through the long walk home as they crawled alongside in the car, laughing and drinking.
A half hour passed, maybe more, maybe less, I didn’t know, like this. My pace was pathetic considering my tiredness and home still felt acres away.
Here and there I would catch fragments of speech, if a particularly coherent sentence or statement was ever established. In this moment it was sex related, so I shuddered and returned to my innermost thoughts again, shutting them out.
It was getting really hot, so I wiped the sweat from my forehead, neck, and armpits with my tee shirt. I couldn’t care less about how gross or unfeminine that might appear, especially to them.
Kansas summers were hellish and this night was no exception.
The heat and the fatigue were really starting to get to me. My lips were cracking from the lack of moisture, my stomach ached with hunger, and the muscles in my legs were weak from overuse and undernourishment.
But the thirst. The thirst was unbearable.
I needed water.
Not in twenty minutes.
Not in five minutes.
My throat was on fire.
I needed water now but water was three miles away — three miles away.
My mind could not reconcile these two competing realities.
At this point, their voices started to fully register again, if only in pieces. I didn’t know why. Perhaps I was so exhausted I no longer possessed the effort or strength to keep tuning them out. Perhaps I heard my name invoked indirectly, through my pronouns, instead of directly. Or perhaps it was because I noticed their volume and tenor changed, from a loud speaking capacity to a much softer whisper.
I didn’t know.
But in the span of seconds everything went from rowdy and loud to quiet and clandestine in a very noticeable way that even I could pick up in my distressed, semi-conscious state.
“. . .it’s not dark enough yet, just wait.”
“no, it doesn’t matter, no one’s going to see anything right here but the farms are coming up in a . . .”
“. . .look at her, she’s dog tired and about to pass out, now is. . .”
“. . .it’s just easier in the car. . .”
What? What are they talking about?
They couldn’t possibly be talking about. . . me. . .right?
My stomach turned.
Of course not, I reassured myself. Don’t be silly.
They aren’t talking about you.
They are probably talking about something else.
Stop being so paranoid.
The words I heard meant something, something bad, I knew, in the recesses of my mind, but I was too exhausted, too leveled physically and emotionally to deal with their meanings, to fully comprehend their tacit implications.
So I kept telling myself to relax and stop getting worked up.
Not everything’s about you, I repeated.
Maybe they misspoke. Maybe I didn’t hear them right. Maybe I wasn’t thinking clearly.
They don’t want you, they have beautiful girlfriends, it wouldn’t make any sense.
I’m too young, I’m too awkward, I’m too nervous and shy, guys don’t see me like that.
They’re just being dicks like they always are, they aren’t actually going to do anything.
The excuses went on and on.
But even as I assuaged myself over and over again, a thousand different times in a thousand different ways, the instincts buried deep in my subconscious could not be ignored.
I knew something was very wrong with this scene, knew it and knew it deep, knew it from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, something was very wrong with this scene and I was not safe and I was scared but I did not listen.
Instead, I kept listening to the voice in my head that was telling me I was going to be fine and that I was being paranoid and that I should relax.
As I dredged on, the light fell from the sky second by second, until it was almost pitch black. The headlights of the car were the only thing that lit the path forward.
One of them spoke up, so I could fully hear.
“Hey, Fiona, get in, have a drink it will make you feel better and we’ll give you a ride home.”
What? A drink? With them in their car?
No, no, no, I did not want that.
Out of curiosity, I turned to see look at the bottle of liquor in Grant’s hand to see what kind of poison they were drinking and hoping I would drink.
Bacardi 151. 75% alcohol.
Two shots would probably kill me.
I didn’t say anything. I just turned my head forward again and kept walking, panting and wheezing like a dog. All I wanted to do was collapse. To stop and relax. To catch my breath. But I kept going because I knew I needed water more than anything else, more than rest or sleep or oxygen, so against all the pain and exhaustion, my most primal human instinct pulled me forward.
“She’s out of it. . .”
That sounded like Luke.
Then I felt a particularly piercing set of eyes on me. “Nah, she’s just pretending she can’t hear us; I can tell by her reactions.”
But this time it wasn’t the tone of voice that made me recognize its owner but rather the shrewdness of the words spoken. Johnny had always been the most perceptive of the three, the smartest.
There was more chatter amongst them but I wasn’t paying attention.
Then Johnny spoke up. “Fiona, stop being such a little bitch about it and get in the fucking car.”
That stopped me in my tracks.
Misogynist piece of shit.
I craned my neck to glare.
And then, all the anger from a summer of dealing with these assholes reared inside me and detonated like a black grenade.
And then the words came out before I could stop them.
“Fuck you, Johnny! Go to hell!” I hissed.
Everything fell silent.
A breath escaped his lips with a whooshing sound.
His eyes became slits and his nostrils flared.
And then I knew I had made a mistake.
Words can’t describe how terrifying he looked in that moment. I had always wondered what it would be like to look into the eyes of a psychopath, but now, after having surely done so, I wished I could erase the visual from my mind.
He looked. . .feline.
And yet, I was too disoriented and approaching unconsciousness to appreciate the danger of the creature in front of me.
So I held my ground and continued to glare.
He raised his eyebrows in disbelief, like he didn’t believe his ears.
“What the fuck did you just say to me, little girl?”
Every fiber in my being was screaming at me to cease and desist, to fall back, but the way he called me “little girl” made me ramp back up.
Little girl. He just called me little girl. Fuck him. Fuck him.
Misogynist. Piece. Of shit.
I let the venom flow.
“Well, you were sitting— ” I panted, “ — about six feet away from me, I think you heard me.”
He bit his lip hard.
There was a long pause as we continued glowering, both with hate in our eyes for the other.
Then out of nowhere.
“Fuck it, let’s do it right here,” he announced suddenly, capping his bottle of liquor.
My whole world lurched, tilting the wrong way on its axis.
Do what?! Fuck, do what?!
Please no, no, no.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, please don’t do this, I’m so so sorry, I’m sorry, I was wrong I’m backing down I’m sorry I didn’t mean it I’m sorry forgive me let me go don’t do this to me I’m sorry I’m so so sorry I get it I learned my lesson please let me go I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m so so sorry —
The apologies streamed through my head a thousand different times in a thousand different permutations. But they never left my lips. And yet I knew it wouldn’t have made a difference if they did.
I didn’t know what I was sure I was begging for in that moment, but I did know, all at the same time, because it didn’t seem real what I was certain was about to happen to me, what my body knew before my mind did, what forced my heart to race faster than it ever had in my life, what thrust my lungs to heave up and down like I was running at full sprint.
No, no, no. They couldn’t do this to me. This couldn’t be happening. Stuff like this happens to other people.
It’s not going to happen to me.
The engine stopped and the headlights turned off. Everything went black.
My heart dropped like a stone into the pit of my chest.
I searched back and forth through the darkness but my sight was the weakest of my senses.
So I just tried to listen, hear.
Fiona you need to run, now, I thought.
Why aren’t you running?!
But I couldn’t. I was frozen in place. My limbs were like lead and I couldn’t get them to move.
Johnny got out of the car and slammed the door behind him.
No, no, no.
They can’t be serious about doing this right? They must be just trying to scare me or freak me out they are not actually going to go through with it right?
The other two got out, and I heard their doors slam one after the next.
Foliage rustled under their feet as they all converged on my position.
They moved slowly, leisurely, in no rush.
The pace of the invincible.
My head started spinning as the reality of what was about to happen reared up and confronted me.
No, no, no.
A few cell phones lit up in front of me, irradiating my position in the darkness like a spotlight.
I shielded my eyes with my hands, and panicked.
This was it. My only chance. I had to run. This is what we talked about in school, right? Health class, ninth grade? Fight or flight?
Those were my choices?!
Run. You have to run.
But it wasn’t fair. I was exhausted, dehydrated, famished, and out of breath.
It wasn’t fair. There were too many of them and only one of me.
It wasn’t fair. I was slow; they were tall, athletic, and surely faster than me.
My paralysis ended at the last possible moment before convergence but it was too late.
I picked up my feet and propelled myself forward but couldn’t muster more than a slow jog. They all laughed at me, and Johnny grabbed my arm, lifted me into the air as if I weighed nothing and flung me backward as hard as he could.
I squealed as my arm dislocated and began to cry.
They encircled me, laughing from the drunkenness, and began pushing me back and forth between them.
This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening.
“Ain’t so proud now, are you bitch?” Johnny hissed as the tears began to cloud my vision, as they pushed me back and forth.
No, no, no. This was not happening. But it was. It was happening. It was not a dream. It was not a nightmare. It was real.
Someone is going to save me, I thought. I was sure of it. Someone is going to drive by and see this and stop this. Tom is going to come looking for me, he’s going to feel bad about calling me names, he’s going to feel guilty about all those things he said, he’s going to check in and make sure I got home safe, he is going to rescue me.
A little longer.
Don’t lose faith.
Someone will come.
And then their hands were everywhere.
The tears welled up and spilled over.
“C-cut it out, guys,” I stammered, trying to sound assertive, but my voice was so weak I could barely make out a whisper.
Someone will come.
Just hold on a little while longer.
Someone is coming for you.
You’re going to be fine.
Just try to stall a little more.
Stuff like this happens to other people. It’s not going to happen to you.
I tried to slap their hands away. But it did no good. They stifled my defenses with ease. They kept saying mean things but my mind couldn’t process them, the words undulating through the space but not fully resonating.
I started to cry harder now.
It’s not too late.
There’s still time.
You’re going to be fine.
Someone will come.
Someone is going to come and break this up and you’re going to go home and fall asleep and forget all about this.
Someone is going to come and you’re never going to walk home alone ever again.
Someone is going to come and you’re going to drink that big glass of water and take that long cold shower you’ve been craving for the last three miles and crawl into bed like this never happened.
Someone is going to come.
They shuffled my clothes up, down, and around, then pushed me down to the ground.
I gasped as my knees broke the brunt of my fall. They would definitely be purple by morning.
Someone pushed me a second time onto my stomach.
The fear in my bones reached a zenith.
I started hyperventilating and choking air.
No, no, no.
This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening.
But for my own sake I tried to not assume the worst. I swallowed my dry tears and kept hoping for a way out of this.
It’s not too late.
They’re a little behind but they’re coming.
Just keep an eye out on the prairies.
You’re going to be just fine.
Someone will come.
Somehow, someway someone is going to —
And then it was too late.
Before I knew it, it was already happening.
It was already happening.
The thing I had feared but never been able to allow myself to accept as something that could happen was happening.
Someone was inside me.
I inhaled dirt, then choked it back out, then gasped it back in, over and over again in a repetitive cycle.
I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t breathe.
My heart accelerated so fast it felt like one continuous beat. The adrenaline and cortisol surging through my veins burned so strongly it felt like my chest was literally on fire.
I tried to lift my head to see who was inside me but when I did whoever was grabbed a fistful of my hair and shoved me back into the dirt.
“Scream and we’ll fucking kill you,” he hissed into my ear.
I didn’t make any attempts to move again.
So I held my head in my hands over my ears, interlacing my fingers, and waited for it to stop.
I searched, tried to remember anything in my life that was comparable to this, grasping for something that would help me make sense of it, but nothing even came close.
Getting beat up by a group of girls in high school, after one of them had found out her boyfriend had walked me home from school.
I had always thought that was the worst thing that ever happened to me.
But that was nothing now.
That was a soft place to rest on a down bed.
I would relive that day a hundred times if it meant escaping this fate, relive it ten thousand times.
Relive it and be grateful.
Falling off the top of the cheer pyramid and shattering my rib cage in seven places, that torturous half hour writhing in agony waiting for the fentanyl. I had always thought that was the most painful.
That was nothing. That was a cool sip of lemonade on a balmy summer day.
I would break all those bones again. Break every bone again. Break them and regrow them them a hundred times over with no fentanyl.
Break them and be grateful.
Because this was the worst. Nothing else that I had experienced or witnessed even came close.
On top of it, the thirst, fatigue, tiredness and everything I felt before was still there. They didn’t go away. On the contrary, they were all becoming more acute with each passing second.
I screamed internally as the need for water reached an apex.
WATER, I NEED WATER, I CAN’T WAIT ANYMORE I NEED IT NOW!
But water was nowhere to be found. The only thing in my mouth was dirt.
Dirt from being shoved into the ground face first. Dirt from gasping, choking, and gagging as I was being railroaded and as they railroaded me, over and over again, hard and fast, like a piece of machinery on full toil.
My heart was beating too fast.
Way too fast.
It was making me sick because my body couldn’t keep up with it.
There was no way my heart would be able to handle this, or keep up for very long, I thought.
But they didn’t stop. They all took their turns while I slowly died inside.
I wanted the earth to swallow me whole. I wanted to disappear. Anything that would get me out of this place and them out of me.
But I couldn’t escape. So I waited, and waited, and waited.
Time passed like this, glacially, slowly, so much so that I wondered if it ever passed at all.
Time passed and passed so achingly that I thought dawn would surely break before it was over.
Was that it then?
Had the clock of time stood still? Had the second hand ceased to tick? At the worst possible moment?
That’s what it felt like.
My lips were so dry they felt like they were going to crack and fall off. My throat was on fire.
Fuck, I would even drink the alcohol they offered me at this point for the water content, that disgusting poison that tastes like cough syrup and gasoline, I would take it!
Where was it?
Give it to me!
Fuck why didn’t I take it when they offered?!
I spat the dirt out of my throat but when I inhaled it all flew back in, past my tonsils, through my windpipe, and into my lungs.
Now I was choking on it.
As time passed, a pool of drool began to puddle around my mouth, muddying the soil around me as I lay face down in the dirt.
It was here that I realized, as I was being railed for the second time, about to be railed for a third, gagging on a pond of my own saliva, that I did not want to survive this.
That the whole of my existence did not outweigh this pain. All I wanted was to die. To have never been born. To wipe my existence from the ledger.
Let me die, let me die, let me die.
So this was it.
The massive ocean of pain I had been anticipating.
I let myself drown without a fight.
The waves of pain reared high over my head and crashed, pulling me under.
I did not resurface.