Thank you for reading.
This was my contribution to the Fandom for No Kid Hungry compilation and a a look into Alice's experiences in the bayou.
Thanks to transitory07 for pre-reading. Thanks to Discordia81 for beta'ing and, as she often does, talking me out of deleting everything. :)
I do not own Twilight.
Note: This story contains sensitive and graphic material, including descriptions of violence.
Summary: Beni is my keeper and my caretaker, in his own stilted fashion. He says he loves me and desires me. He would be my lover, I think, were he not so strong and dangerous. If I still believed in a higher power, I would be thankful that my soft flesh is out of Beni's reach, and that he must take great care to keep me alive.
Thou art to me a delicious torment – Ralph Waldo Emerson
It is unusual for more than two weeks to pass without a visit from Beni. I can hear him now, pacing on the porch. I know that his steps are deliberate; his way of letting me know, he wants to talk.
He doesn't always make his presence known, instead coming and going without my ever seeing him. I hear soft footfalls in the long grass of the yard, or branches shifting subtly in the grove outside. Sometimes I catch the ghost of his scent in the room with me and I know he is close by, listening and observing.
It doesn't matter if he shows himself or not. Beni can always see me. This little house is wired with cameras that watch like tiny eyes from their places in the ceilings. Each step, each bite of food, each yawn and sigh and hour of sleep is seen - every moment is observed. The only place where I can hide is the hole dug under the house. I used to dread being shut up down there. Now I relish the escape.
Beni doesn't always speak to me when he is here. He stays by the door on those nights, content simply to continue watching. I feel his red eyes on me while I sketch or read, or even eat, each motion seeming impossibly loud in the heavy silence between us. Sometimes he watches me sleep.
Other times, he wants to talk and touch. He places a chair in the center of the room and takes the book or sketch I am holding from my hands. Leading me to the chair, he makes me sit, pushing me gently into place if I hesitate for even a moment too long. He asks me questions or tells me about the places he has seen. He brushes my hair, and bends to press his cheek against the dark strands. Longing fills his sighs when he tells me that he craves my scent and touch.
He loves the sensation of my warm skin under his fingers. My stomach and heart twist as stone hands caress the soft skin of my wrists or trail along the lines of my neck. His breaths caress my face, their spicy-sweet smell softening my bones until I sag and lean against him.
It has been five years since I have seen anyone besides Beni. He is my keeper and my caretaker, in his own stilted fashion. He says he loves me and desires me. He would be my lover, I think, were he not so strong and dangerous. If I still believed in a higher power, I would be thankful that my soft flesh is out of Beni's reach, and that he must take great care to keep me alive.
I am at his mercy. He is all I know and have. I wonder, sometimes, what would become of me if he disappeared one day. Could I get word to someone on the outside? Could I find a way out of this little house, past the shutters on the windows and the bolted door? Would I find a road or houses if I made my way around the lake?
Beni frightens me as much today as he ever has. Perhaps more so. There is something gradually coming unhinged in him, pulling him into a slow descent toward something darker and more dangerous. I can see it in the hard line of his jaw and in the dancing light behind his eyes. He tells me all the time that he is incapable of change, but something between us is shifting.
The silence of the woods and lake is something that I know well. I have grown used to my time alone, looking at the same four walls every day. A year or so ago, I found a small crack in one of the shutters that I look through from time to time. Seeing the trees overhead with their veils of moss makes my heart swell and ache with warmth. Sometimes, I catch a glimpse of sky.
My days are too often the same, filled only with silent solitude. I wake, I eat, and I find ways to spend the hours before I can sleep again. My hands perform the motions required of them, washing dishes or the clothes that never wear out, bathing my body and brushing my hair. There are a thousand ways I have found to kill the time. I only wish I could find a way to forget the girl I was before, when I had a real life.
Beni brings me food to eat and clothes to wear. There is always soap and shampoo, and toothpaste for the brush. There are books for reading, pens and papers for writing, and charcoal pencils for my sketches. There is electricity, heat, and running water. Everything I need to be warm and dry and comfortable. I am well tended, like a prized pet.
Once in a while, Beni takes me outside, always at night, and always after covering my head with a dark hood. The smells of water and earth are heady as they seep underneath the hood. I hear the leaves rustling in the trees all around us, and the lap of the water against the shore, little sounds that echo like quiet roars in my ears. I feel the ground give under my feet and my skin prickles with gooseflesh in the cool air. I love those nights, though they remind me of what I am missing with stunning force. My throat and chest ache with tears. They reassure me that my heart is still capable of feeling, even if only for an hour or two.
I'm docile, most of the time, and detached. It hurts less when I keep my emotions in check, burying them inside for long stretches of time. I still lose control from time to time, and my feelings come rushing out in a flood. I scream and cry until my voice grows hoarse. I destroy my sketches or books, and sometimes rip my clothes. The last time, I used the nail scissors to cut my hair, watching with wide eyes as the long waves fell into the sink. Beni locked me in the hole while he cleared the house of blades and sharp tools. It was a while before he let me out again. Since then, I have taken care to stay numb.
I want to hear another voice answer mine. I want to feel warm skin under my hands and the press of soft lips on my cheek. Conversation and contact are things I used to take for granted. Now I am starving for them.
I sleep too much. I lose long chunks of time to sleep, and still fall down like the dead each night. My dreams, always vivid, have become even more exaggerated since Beni brought me here. They are so real, pulsing and alive, as if I could touch them. I dream about Edward, and he is whole and alive. His beautiful face is resigned in my dreams, pale and still like stone, and his eyes burn with a strange yellow fire. Those eyes hold sadness and yearning that I don't understand. He is always moving in my dreams, slipping ahead of me just out of reach. When I reach out to him, he melts away, jolting me awake with tears.
I feel myself fading just a little every day. Losing color. Losing life. Becoming a ghost. Enduring, but not really living.
I try not to think of that night in Chicago, but the sensations and images are frozen in my heart and mind like photographs. The memories are as raw today as they were five years ago, and I hate the way they make me feel: small, helpless, and lost.
We never saw him coming. If he was at all visible during the time before he attacked us, Edward and I were too numb with grief to notice. When he showed himself at last, there was nothing we could do.
On that last day, Edward and I buried our parents. After the service, we spent the rest of the afternoon making sure the mourners had food and drink, and a safe place to share their grief. Many times that afternoon, I looked up to see my brother with his head bent toward my parents' friends, speaking or receiving soft words of comfort. He was so young; we both were. But the weight of responsibility had already settled around his shoulders.
It was not yet clear what we would do with our parents gone. We had put off questions like whether we would go back to school, or sell the family house, and how and when things should be paid. We told ourselves we had time to settle our own affairs, once our duties to our parents were fulfilled. We didn't know that someone else was planning too, and waiting for the right opportunity to set things in motion.
It was sunset when the last car pulled away. Edward sighed, pulling off his jacket and tie while I kicked off my shoes. Without a word, he led me by the hand through the house to the kitchen. He opened a bottle of wine and found some clean glasses while I dug out a tray of cheese and bread. We sat on the back sun porch with our snack as evening fell, talking about Mom and Dad, and smiling for the first time in days.
"Stop," Edward protested. His eyes crinkled and he shook with laughter at my imitation of our father's singing. "You sound like you swallowed an Elvis impersonator."
I huffed loudly in mock offense. "Oh, no. Don't belittle the King or me."
Darkness fell over us without warning, extinguishing the light. I heard the crunch of splintering wood and gasped as I felt Edward's body jerk abruptly away from my side. There was a strangled moan. Then nothing.
The sudden touch of hands on my neck made me stiffen in shock. A sweet smell washed over me, like cloves and fresh leaves, making my head spin. Cold fingers stole over my mouth, making me moan in fear. The body pressing against mine was hard and unyielding. I lurched hard to my right, desperate to get away, but it was like struggling against iron bonds.
A beautiful voice purred in my ear. "Not a sound, sweet child. Not if you want to keep this dear boy alive."
Pain exploded at the base of my neck, sending blossoms of red fire spreading behind my eyes before I sank into the black.
I don't know how he got us out of the house, or even where he took us. My ears were ringing when I opened my eyes, and I tasted blood at the back of my throat. I smelled water and mold, and the air was thick with a familiar spicy-sweet sweet. The floor underneath me was cold, making me tremble with the chill. It wasn't until I tried to move that I realized my wrists and ankles were tightly bound. Slowly, I pushed myself up to sit, blinking in the dim light until my vision began to focus. And I saw a figure lying nearby.
"Edward?" My voice was raspy with tears.
From the corner of my eye, I saw a subtle movement, and recoiled from the form that seemed to materialize at my side. He looked like a man, but there was something alarming in his stillness, something not quite right. I caught a glimpse of dark hair, and a pale face with aquiline features that stared down at Edward. Bright, inhumanly red eyes met mine when the man looked up and I gasped when they flashed with greed.
"What do you want from us?" I whispered roughly.
"I want you," he said, with a calm that shook my heart. "I want something pretty for myself."
I buried my face in my hands with a sob, the bonds on my wrists cutting into the flesh as I begged. "Please. Please, don't do this."
"I've been watching your brother for some time now, you know," the red-eyed man said. His voice was light, almost amused, and it made my skin crawl. "He is so lovely. One of the most beautiful boys I have ever seen. I thought he would be the one I took.
The man stepped closer, slowly wetting his lips with his tongue as he watched me cry. "But now that I've seen you… I'm not so sure."
"Y-you have to let us go." My voice broke as I pleaded with him.
My heart sank when he smiled. "You are quite lovely, too, my dear. You lack your brother's elegance, of course. But there is something about you that is even more appealing."
The man paused when we heard a groan in the darkness.
"Alice," Edward croaked out and swayed as he tried to right himself.
"Edward! Oh, thank God." I choked on a fresh wave of tears. "I thought you were dead. Oh, Edward."
"It's okay, Alice... I'm okay." He tried to soothe me, squinting into the gloom as he pushed himself off the floor. I pulled against my bonds when he pressed his hands to his head and gave a pained whimper.
Cold hands wrapped themselves around my throat again and an awful laugh curled softly through the air. The spicy-sweet smell was overwhelming, and my head spun when a cool breath washed over my face. The red-eyed man's voice echoed deeply in my ears. "Thank you for joining us, my dear boy. We can finally begin."
Edward's eyes widened when he saw me and the man at my side. I fought back a sob when he tried to stand, his face crumpling in anger and then pain. He faltered, falling to his knees, though his expression remained fierce.
"Get away from her," he said with a hiss, still fighting to steady himself. "Take your hands off her, you son of a bitch!"
In a blurred, impossible movement, the cold hands were gone from my neck and tossing Edward back against the floor. His pained cry mixed with mine, and they rose together against the red-eyed man's low laughter.
The man's voice was a strangely gentle croon when he spoke again. "You have no say in this, boy." His lips curled up in a smile as he prodded my brother with his foot, and he laughed again when Edward groaned.
I don't know how much time passed. Hours, perhaps. It seemed like forever. The red-eyed man spent those endless minutes tormenting us. He was deliberate and controlled as he beat Edward, giving him time to breathe in between blows. The man's fists and feet broke Edward but left him unbloodied, each stroke calculated to cause pain without breaking his skin. I heard my brother's bones crack over his strangled screams.
The red-eyed man took time to whisper in my ear as he deliberated which of us he would kill and which he would spare. I wept and screamed, begging him to stop as I bargained with everything I had. But my words did nothing to dissuade him and the long night spiraled out under cries and tears.
Edward was groggy and drifting in and out of consciousness when the red-eyed man bent over him.
"What would you do to save him?" he asked, pulling Edward's head back to expose his throat. "What can you give me, sweet Mary Alice, that would be the key to save your brother's life?"
"I've told you, I'll do anything," I raved, meaning every word. The sight of Edward's eyes rolling as he tried to focus on me made me sick with fear. "Please, he's all I have. Oh god, just stop hurting him. Please!"
Edward grunted as a kick landed on his ribs. And the night dragged on with slow, howling madness.
The red-eyed man seemed increasingly detached as Edward grew weaker and I became more frantic. At last, he paused and stood looking at Edward, who lay panting at his feet. My heart lurched when I saw the pallor under the sweat that soaked Edward's skin and hair, and I knew he was going into shock.
"That's enough, I think," the red-eyed man said, cocking his head as if solving a puzzle. He waited until Edward met his eyes before he smiled softly and drew back his foot.
Anticipating the kick, Edward curled in on himself, but could not completely avoid the boot that connected with his face. Compared to what he had already endured, the blow that caught him across the forehead was a glancing one. It was, however, the first to draw blood. A cut opened over his right eye, and the color that sprang forth was shockingly bright as it smeared against his skin.
The red-eyed man's façade shattered. A sharp hiss cracked across the room as his body grew rigid. He inhaled deeply; his eyes clenched shut as he caught the tip of his tongue between his teeth. And then he let loose a deafening roar that drove me to the floor in terror. When they opened, his eyes glittered like black glass, and seemed to absorb every bit of light in the room. His handsome face twisted, appearing almost pained, before he flung himself over Edward and buried his face against my brother's neck.
It took a moment for my brain to process what I was seeing. The mixture of terror and pleasure on Edward's face, his strangled moan, and the quiet, greedy sounds of sucking drove the knowledge home. The man was feeding. I screamed as if I would never stop.
For all the care he had taken while torturing Edward, the man feasted with abandon. He gathered Edward in his arms, effortlessly cradling my brother's long limbs and groaning with the passion of a lover. He rocked against Edward's body, and both men gasped. My brother's fingers twitched as his lids grew heavy, and a strange expression washed over his paling face, pain mixing with fear and relief.
When he had finished, the red-eyed man was surprisingly tender with Edward. He laid him gently on the floor and ran long white fingers ran through my brother's damp hair for a moment before he stood. His eyes lingered on my brother's face, watching his labored breaths.
"He's dying, you know," the man said softly. His eyes blazed with fire and blood when he turned them to meet mine.
I shook my head, unable to do anything but moan as my brain whirled in horror and grief. My breath caught in my chest and the edges of my vision grew hazy. I felt myself begin to fold inward when the spicy smell rolled over me. I fell down and down into the dark, away from the blood and pain.
My only connection to the world outside is the laptop Beni lets me use. I am not allowed online every day. Beni takes it, from time to time, to remind me of his control. When I am allowed online, I can't just be Alice. I have to hide myself, and cover my tracks as Beni demands. As long as I am careful not to reveal my real self or location, he lets me be. So I wear masks and use invented lives to cloak myself. I'm not really sure where I am anyway. I have never seen the outside of the house.
More and more, I immerse myself in the roles I have invented and the lies seem truer than my real life. Sometimes, I let small pieces of myself show through the masks, just tiny, truthful flashes. I use them as an anchor to remember who I am.
I have been telling those little truths to a girl who calls herself Bells. I don't know who she really is or what happened that led her to read my posts. I think, like me, she is keeping secrets. But there is something about her that makes me feel… just a little less lonely. I think, though we have never met, that she is a friend. And I want her to know me, the real me. To know Alice.
I am playing a dangerous game by telling Bells my little truths. Beni watches my mouse-clicks and keystrokes, and he knows every page I visit and file I download. He reads the messages I exchange, and the entries I post. He's on to me, and my trail of truths. But it's hard to care anymore. I just ignore the little green light in the laptop's system tray that tells me he is watching.
Of all the things I write, the stories I tell about my brother are the closest to the truth. Beni says those posts are his favorites. He came to me after the first time I wrote about Edward, and made me read it aloud to him, repeatedly, until my voice grew hoarse. His eyes were wide and ruby bright as he watched me.
"Do you miss him, Mary Alice?" he asked. "Do you miss your brother?"
Beni nodded, his eyes almost sad. "That's a pity. I wish he were here. I wish that Edward were here with me, instead of you."
He's like that sometimes. He tells me that Edward was the one he wanted, and that killing him was a mistake. Other times, the story changes and it was me that he coveted, while Edward was just in the way. I wonder if Beni understands the truth himself anymore. Or if it's all truth in his mind.
Part of me doesn't want to write about Edward anymore, because I know the words fuel Beni's madness. But I have nothing left of my family except my memories, and I'm afraid they will disappear. I write my memories down to keep them from being lost. I hope, too, that someone will recognize my words for what they are.
I'm finishing my bath when Beni finally decides it's time to talk. I hear the locks on the door moving and can't move fast enough, racing through the motions of toweling off and dressing with hands made clumsy with stress. My breaths come fast and my anger flares before I can control it, because I know that Beni has planned this out to throw me off balance. He likes to hear my heart race and smell the fear in my sweat.
When I leave the bathroom, he is waiting by the chair that he has placed in the middle of the room. My heart sinks when I meet his eyes and see that they are black and hungry. I push myself to move forward, taking the steps I know I must. Beni smiles and there is something about the way his teeth shine that steals my breath.
Fear makes my vision tunnel and sends my heartbeat thundering through my ears. I am numb when I reach the chair, hardly aware of my feet beneath me. I close my eyes when I sit, feeling the familiar rush of cool air against the side of my face as Beni leans close. His cloying scent chokes me as it fills my nose and throat. A cold finger trails along my cheek, slowly following the line of my jaw while I clench my teeth to stop their chattering. But my hands are twisted in my lap, and it occurs to me that I am panting through my nose in an effort to get more oxygen. Beni's low laugh tells me I'm not fooling him, and that he knows I'm slowly falling over the edge into panic.
"Sweet girl," he says in the quiet voice that I hate most. "Have you forgotten that I can see you no matter where I am? That I can trace your every step both inside and outside of this room?"
I have to swallow hard more than once before my lips will move. "Of course not. I… I would never forget that."
"I'm not so sure I believe you, Mary Alice," he says. His fingers press against my throat, traveling slowly down to whisper over my collarbone, drawing gooseflesh in their wake. "If you remembered, you would keep your secrets to yourself."
"I do keep them," I protest weakly, knowing that my words are pointless.
It doesn't matter how careful I have been or even what I say. Beni's sole intent is to remind me of my place, to make it clear that I am at his mercy and that nothing I do or say or eat or wear is mine. He wants to break me, to reduce my mind and soul to nothing. To wipe me clean like a slate. He has been working to erase me since the day he carried me out of my parents' house in Chicago. He has succeeded to an extent. And he is confident that there is very little of me left.
But Beni is wrong. My thoughts and dreams are still my own, even now. I have never told him that I am sure Edward is still alive somewhere. That I still love my brother. Or that I have hopes for the girl named Bells. And that I would rather die than continue living like this, hidden in plain sight and buried alive beneath my fear.
I know that Beni is never going to let me go, will never outgrow this fetishistic desire to keep me. He will hold me here for as long as my body can support it, tending me like a sickly orchid, while the world outside continues moving and changing. He will keep me, even when my mind is gone and he will never stop or want to stop.
There is only one route for me out of this room. It's up to me to force Beni to take that route.
This is it, I realize, staring into his glittering black eyes. He is thirsty and on edge, and it will take next to nothing to set him off. I watch his mouth moving as he lectures me, but his voice is just a low hum under the roar of blood in my ears. My heartbeat leaps as I make the decision, hammering so hard inside my chest I am sure it will explode. Beni's face draws down in a frown when he hears it, and he leaves off speaking to watch me curiously.
For a moment, I waver, knowing how deeply this decision would hurt Edward. He wouldn't want me to give up. If he's alive, he'll never know, I tell myself. And if he's dead… he'll understand.
"I'm sorry," I murmur. The apology is meant for Edward and my parents, in the hopes that they can hear me, wherever they are, and that their love for me will not dim. This doesn't feel like giving up; it feels like moving on. A long breath fills my lungs, and I close my eyes before biting down hard on my lower lip.
The tangy taste of salt and copper spills over my tongue. I hear Beni inhale sharply before he sweeps me against him, splintering the chair between us, and crushing me in his haste. Pieces of wood and bone stab me, inside and out, and I feel one of Beni's cold hands cupping my face for an instant. Then there is nothing but his mouth on my neck and an icy, searing bite.
The sounds he makes are obscene. I can hear him sucking, pulling my blood in greedy glups. His hands are moving, roaming where they have only rarely dared go before. Hard fingers are on my breasts, between my legs, as hungry as the mouth that is moving on my throat. The sounds I make are a perfect blend of agonized ecstasy as he pulls pleasure and pain from my cells. I am dying. I feel more alive than I have for five years.
The room grows darker and quieter as Beni's frenzy slows. I can hear him moaning loudly. He is rocking me in his arms, and his lips are softer, the motions of feeding becoming a slow, deadly kiss. My body grows cold, and I feel weighed down by a spreading numbness.
The sound of my heart is so terribly slow in my ears, and each breath is longer in coming. Beni's mouth is on mine now, kissing me in earnest, and the taste of my blood mixed with the sweetness of his mouth is unbearable. I feel tears leaking from my eyes, but I can't close them. Instead, I watch Beni's face, solemn when he pulls back at last, lifting me as he stands.
His eyes are bright, glowing with blood as he carries me through the house. He is gentle as he opens the door in the bathroom floor, cradling my body easily as we descend into the darkness of the hole. I feel the rough blanket of the cot beneath me when he lays me down, and his fingers no longer seem cold when he brushes the hair from my forehead.
"I was hoping you'd be the one that didn't grow tired of this game, Mary Alice," Beni murmurs quietly. "At least not so quickly."
His lips are cool and dry on my forehead, moving to kiss each cheek, and his voice seems sad when he speaks again. "As fond as I've grown of this little house, I don't think I want to keep another here. It will be yours always, now."
I don't have breath or strength to tell him no, to beg that he take me outside so that I can die beneath the stars. I want to hear the sound of the wind in the trees and the lake's waves, and to feel the earth beneath me. I want to see the sky.
And then he's gone, his measured steps growing softer as he moves away. I hear him climb the ladder and the sound of the door falling closed. His footfalls are quiet overhead before I hear the fainter sounds of the bolts in the door sliding home.
Then there is nothing. Just quiet, and stillness, and cold leaking into my bones. The slow thudding of my heart and my breaths dragging past my lips. I am heavy but floating. I should be afraid as I wait, but I'm not.
The warmth is small at first, so light and tingling on my throat and lips that I am sure it's in my imagination. It grows in heat and strength, rapidly thawing the chill that has been overtaking me. Before I can think to question what is happening, I'm on fire.
I feel fear at last as the blaze tears through me. Invisible flames lick my skin, inside my nose and eyes and skull, burning my mouth and throat. My heart, head, sight, taste, breath are incinerating. I taste and breathe ash. I burn.
In case you were wondering, this outtake didn't quite go the way I planned... but I've learned that it's best not to argue with the story. I'm just a typist, really ;)
Thank you for reading.