Before She Kills
Beyond the Golden Door
“Don’t make me shoot you...”
The woman whispered the threat to the much larger man ahead of her as they both ascended a narrow, darkened stairway, their feet creaking up aged wooden steps.
The man wore black leather gloves, combat boots, a bulky black sweater, and khaki “contractor” pants with multiple pockets. The holster strapped to his right thigh was conspicuously empty.
His captor gripped a hard, weighty handgun in a right fist sheathed within the pocket of her heavy leather aviator jacket. The jacket, way too big for her, was lined with fluffy wool partially exposed by the stylishly open collar. Big holes in the knees of her faded jeans weren’t fashionable, but rather the result of age and wear. Flat cloth sneakers shod her feet, and she was crowned with a pink beanie snuggled down to her ears.
“...so don’t try anything funny,” the woman continued.
“Can I try a dead baby joke?” the man replied, “I’ve been told they aren’t funny.”
His captor gasped in horror and wished to lecture her captive for such gross insensitivity, but he yanked open the door at the top of the stairs, and other priorities prevailed; namely, the guns in her face.
Two young teenagers, a boy and a girl, stood with a wooden door directly behind them. The boy carried a classic 12-gauge 5-round pump shotgun, the girl a .22 caliber squirrel rifle.
The teens were wide-eyed and trembling. Both wore maroon windbreakers advertising in white the name and mascot of some middle school marching band. Like the captor, they had large holes in the knees of their faded blue jeans, except their holes had been patched. Whoever sewn those patches hadn’t cared about style, as the color and pattern of the patch material was wildly out of sync with the jeans.
The pair looked so similar, the woman judged them brother and sister, maybe even twins. Both had serious acne. The only visual difference was much longer hair – in pigtails – on the girl, plus her teeth sported old school silvery metal braces.
“Get those guns out of my face!” the man demanded, and the guards pointed the muzzles of their weapons to the floor.
“Uncle Edgar!” the boy cried. “That’s the Stranger who whacked Chief! You know you’re not authorized to move that prisoner!”
“Chief’s dead, son” Edgar retorted, “Now I’m authorized to do whatever I want. Clyde, Bonnie; this is Mandy; Mrs. Waterson to you.”
“Hi Mrs. Waterson,” the siblings muttered.
Mandy glanced down the long hallway stretching to her left, its windows open to gray, snowy winter on the left and a parade of wooden doors in a log cabin wall to the right. Switching her gaze back to the front, she noticed a familiar white metal cylinder peeking out from under the girl’s windbreaker.
“That’s bear spray, isn’t it... Bonnie?” Mandy probed.
“Yes ma’am.” the girl replied, “It is.”
“There are bears around here?”
“Used to be. Till Uncle Edgar and his buddies killed them all.”
Mandy took note of Bonnie’s sudden tone.
“I take it you don’t approve?”
“Bonnie can disapprove all she likes,” snapped Clyde. “That didn’t stop her from chowing down on bear sausage just like the rest of us!”
“Word,” quipped Edgar, and he and his nephew shared a quick fist bump.
“If there’s no more bears, then why the spray?”
“Some of the dudes around here need to learn manners,” Bonnie pouted.
“Seems rather harsh to use freaking bear spray on a human being, don’t you think?”
“Rape is harsher, I assure you.”
“Oh my God!” Mandy gasped, aghast. “Were you... Oh! I am so sorry...”
“Relax!” Edgar assured, “The guy who did her? He’s super dead.”
“I never asked you to kill him,” mewled the girl. “I would have been fine with giving him three days in the Freezer; a week even!”
“Bonnie, if I jam my knife into some dude’s brain stem for stealing a can of peas, how can I do less to some loser I catch forcing himself on a 13-year-old?”
“You didn’t have to kill him!” Bonnie sniffed, tears flowing down her cheeks.
“Yes, I did. Come on Mandy. The Prophetess awaits.”
With that, Edgar stepped and opened the door behind the teens. It revealed a short corridor to a door slathered with gold paint. A large Peace symbol composed of many different pieces of brightly colored glass seemed glued to the door. As Mandy stepped around the young guards to join her captive, she found it all painfully gaudy.
“You two stay here till properly relieved,” the man ordered.
“Yes, Uncle Edgar,” from both guards.
Mandy found herself in the short hall, lit by gray winter sun shining in from windows to her right. Turning to such a window, she found they were on the upper floor of the two-story ski lodge. She also saw a wide field of tree stumps peeking out of the snow, stretching to the gray-green forest in the distance.
Already, Edgar was opening the “golden” door to the tinkling of a little bell. The intense aroma of burning incense wafted out.
Mandy followed into a windowless room. It was illuminated in the licking flames of a 3-candle lantern, itself hanging by its handle from a hook screwed into the ceiling. There was a gold-painted wooden counter in front of them sporting another Peace symbol of colored glass pieces. On the counter was a computer monitor. The room also contained two battered recliners and a couch. There stood a door in the opposite wall to right of the “golden” counter. Everything screamed in bright, clashing colors.
“So...” Mandy began, “If I take this gun and like... get your Prophetess to lead me out of the lodge, no one will hassle me?”
“What a nice way to say, ‘I’ll kidnap an old woman at gunpoint’.”
“Hey Candy!” Edgar blurted. “I’m not some loser out here complaining about the rations. It’s your Head of Security!”
“You guys really have a working computer?” Mandy wondered, and she stepped to the counter to look down behind it. Along with a wheeled office chair, she spied a keyboard on a desktop, next to a gleaming, golden... trophy?
“Hey!” she cried, standing to show Edgar the statue. “Is this some kind of mascot?”
“That is the Cow.”
“This is no cow,” Mandy noted, surveying the prize in her left hand. “This is a full-grown very endowed raging bull!”
She noted how the artist had captured the animal in an instant of fluid action, full of speed and power. “Is this really gold?”
“Yeah, we found one of those prepper types hoarding a stash of gold coins, as if soft yellow metal is useful in an actual apocalypse. I wanted to leave the guy the hell alone, but once again, ‘prophetic visions.’ Candance had some artsy college kid use some of the coins to make that... thing.”
“Is it solid gold?”
“Of course not, or you couldn’t hold it with one hand like that. It’s a hollow shell. Like the Prophetess.”
“Cool,” Mandy cooed, “What’s it doing here?”
“Now that is an excellent question. It’s supposed to be downstairs just inside the main entrance. When people leave the ski lodge, they kiss its head for good luck. Guys rub its privates to be more virile or some crap.”
“I take it you don’t approve?”
“Of course, I don’t approve!” Edgar roared, fulminating with a rage his captor could feel like heat from a 50-gallon barrel-stove. “It’s a literal Golden Calf, Mandy. It’s an abomination!”
“Hmm. Weird how people’s religions can change so quickly.”
“Eh, most people can believe in a good luck charm without violating their personal faith. Plus, when you depend on your neighbors to live, doing what everyone else is doing is a valid survival strategy.”
With that, Edgar suddenly strode to the door next to the counter.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m done waiting!”
Mandy set the golden bull on the counter. When Edgar opened the door, a rank wave of odor hit them both in the face.
“Gross!” Mandy cried, left hand to her nose as she entered a dark, warm, and utterly trashed bedroom. Garbage, soiled clothes, dirty dishes, and spoiled food were everywhere. “It smells like a brewery in here! You guys have alcohol?”
“Clive says making alcohol is a waste of food.”
“Your husband is right.”
A mound of covers in the stinking bed stirred.
“Jolene?” moaned the mound with a feminine voice.
“Give me the gun,” Edgar demanded.
“What?” Mandy yelped, tightening her grip on the weapon in her jacket pocket. “No way!”
“Yes way. Save yourself a lot of pain and hand it over.”
At this, Mandy jerked the handgun out and aimed it at Edgar.
“Keep your hands to yourself!” she demanded, “Or I swear, I’ll...”
“You’ll what? Shoot me? You’re a strong-willed woman, Mrs. Waterson. Rather than force you here at gunpoint, I chose to let you think you were in charge, and so we arrived without any shenanigans. Now give me the gun!”
Mandy found she could not pull the trigger with the gun aimed at Edgar’s chest. So, she aimed at his leg... still no. Hoping a warning shot might scare the man, she aimed at the floor by his left boot and squeezed the trigger.
Like a striking snake, Edgar snapped his body sideways out of the point of aim while lashing out, plucking his handgun from Mandy’s grip.
Then, looking down at her with a crooked smile, he calmly pulled a pistol magazine out of one of his many pants pockets.
“It works better with live bullets, not dummy rounds,” he explained as he dropped the former magazine from the weapon and – click! -- replaced it.
“Jolene!” the covers groaned, and the snowy-haired head of a disheveled, miserable old woman emerged.
The scene played out in slow motion. Edgar coolly, calmly racked his handgun, picked up a pillow from the bed with his left hand, put the pillow over the old woman’s face, stuck the barrel of the gun in the center of the pillow...
“No...!” Mandy howled, reaching out...
A puff of feathers. The acrid pong of gun-smoke. A metal taste in her mouth. The covers spasmed briefly, then... still.
“What was that?!” Clyde shouted, “You guys okay in there?!”
Soul afire, Mandy sprinted from the bedroom, through the foyer, out into the little hall.
“He killed her!” she screeched. “Your Uncle he... he shot that woman your... He shot your Prophetess. He killed her!”
“Nonsense!” crowed Edgar from behind. “That’s some fine acting Stranger, but everyone knows you are the cold-blooded assassin who took down Chief.”
“It’s a lie!” Mandy pleaded, pointing at Edgar. “I didn’t kill your Chief; he did!”
“Uncle Edgar wasn’t even near Chief when you killed him!” Clyde protested. “Liz, Melody and Matt saw you do it with their own eyes!”
“So, I went to the Freezer to interrogate the prisoner,” Edgar continued. “And well, what can I say? She got my gun.”
“Well, of course she did!” spat Bonnie. “Uncle Edgar, you’re married to the prettiest girl in the Family and you’re still a dog. I bet she took it while you were fumbling with your zipper!”
“Hey! That’s enough disrespect from you, missy! Anyway, this professional assassin used me to get to the Prophetess and executed her, just like she whacked Chief. Thankfully, I got the gun away from her before...”
“That was a gunshot?” Bonnie quizzed. “It didn’t sound like a gunshot. Plus, there’s no blood on either of you.”
“That’s because she used a feather pillow to block the blood splash and muffle the sound. The gun is on the floor in the room back there. If you take it to the lab, you’ll see her fingerprints are all over it.”
“I’ve heard enough!” proclaimed Clyde, and he set his shotgun butt down on the floor, propping it against the wall. Then he approached Mandy while pulling a plastic zip tie from his pocket. “Mrs. Waterson, you’re under arrest for...”
Clyde wheezed as Mandy’s brutal kick caught him right between his legs. The boy grabbed himself with both hands and collapsed. As he fell, Mandy charged his sister, who brought her rifle up...
There was a flash from the rifle’s muzzle and something ripped the air by Mandy’s ear; Bonnie had missed at point-blank range. The woman grabbed the barrel of the rifle and tore it from the girl’s grasp. With both hands on the barrel, she pivoted toward Edgar, swinging the rifle like a club...
But somehow, he was already behind her, his arm around her neck. The rifle clattered to the floor...
“I believe you’re familiar with my Rear Naked Choke,” Edgar preened, squeezing unmercifully as he began to sing, “Rock-A-Bye Baby, in the treetop...”
Mandy caught the ghostly reflection of her struggle with Edgar in the window glass. She also saw Bonnie coming, raising a white cylinder...
Mandy held her breath and squeezed her eyes shut. There was a short hiss. Edgar gagged, and the awful pressure was gone from her neck. She took a few steps away from the violently coughing, choking man, opened her jacket to rub her face with the inner liner. Only then did she dare open her eyes or gasp a breath. Turning back, she saw Bonnie looking down at her uncle squirming helplessly on the floor.
“You killed Daddy!” the girl wailed. “You didn’t have kill him!”
“Traitor!” her brother panted, still on the floor holding himself. “Dad used me like a punching bag, and you like a whore ever since Mom left. And this is how you thank the man who saved us?”
Bonnie looked up to Mandy saying, “We should probably go.”
“Yeah,” Mandy agreed. “Thanks.”
About the author
Timothy was raised on a farm in rural Mississippi. His experiences have since taken him all around the world. He now teaches at local university, where he urges his Students to Run the Race, Keep the faith, and Endure to the End