The man screamed because it was his job to scream. Gertrude, of course, had her own duties. But since he screamed so quickly these days, mostly she just listened and smiled. Her mistake wouldn't come until later.
"Why don't you just kill me, bitch!?" the man shouted. Gertrude didn't say anything while he bled and cried and waited. In her mind, she was counting the days he'd been on Monroe's Island. Eight full years times three hundred and sixty-five… she mused.
"Just kill me!" he screamed into the silence. "Just get it over with! Please!"
"No." It was a statement devoid of emotion. A simple fact declared for his ears to hear and his brain to process. Nothing more.
Minutes went by. She reached toward the chef's knife sticking out of his right knee, grasped its handle, and twisted it just a few degrees. He screamed again, but she ignored him, still trying to do the math in her head.
Later, he tried a different tactic. "You're useless without your chains and your weapons, you know." At this Gertrude turned on him.
"And what did Tricia Ciccone think about your basement full of toys?" she asked. "Today is July 20th. Did you know that, pig? According to Tricia's testimony, on this day you forced her to give you oral sex until she passed out from asphyxiation. She knew the date only because she could hear the happy squeals of delight coming from an outdoor birthday party at your neighbor's house. But nobody could hear her suffering in your basement. They had fireworks, and just as they reached their climax, so did you. You ejaculated onto her face. Do remember that day? Do you remember how disgusting you have been?"
The man didn't look away. Instead his eyes narrowed and filled with venom, and Gertrude frowned. All this time, she thought, and he still hasn't learned enough basic decency. Not even enough to fake it. I should kill him. He is unteachable, a true waste among those already valueless. And still…
She trailed off, thinking only of the beauty of his screaming voice. How it seemed to echo even in this small, gray room. How it brought a lightness to her heart. How it remained one of the few vices to satiate that constant need, that constant Call.
He spit on her. It was a weak attempt consisting of nothing but clear spittle, yet the hatred was still there in his eyes. The same way it had been the hundreds of times he'd done it before, or the thousands of times he'd wished to.
As always, the action brought an immediate and prescribed punishment. Gertrude reached between his chained legs, grabbed his pair of musky testicles, and squeezed with enough force to nearly crush them. But she was an expert in pressure and limits, of course, and he remained intact.
Rhonda's makeshift surgery removed those dual vestiges of manhood from the regular men, those that The Cause deemed teachable. But those men always cried and screamed in fear as she relieved them of their greatest distraction. Gertrude mused that they didn't realize how lucky they truly were. This useless scrum she held onto now could have told them what true pain was.
Not that he'll ever get the chance, she thought.
Yet even as she released her grip and watched him hover on the edge of, then fall into, unconsciousness, drooling from the side of his slack mouth, she secretly respected his courage. He had known, of course, what would happen when he spit on her. And still he did it on occasion, bearing his punishment despite the small comfort it gave in return. She wished more of her girls had that kind of mettle. If there was even one among them, maybe her difficulty in arranging the replacement of her second-in-command wouldn't be taking up so much of her time.
When the man woke, Gertrude continued the prescribed punishment: punches to his face with her strong, granite-like hands. He took them all, never pulling away, but he didn't spit on her again either, not even when his mouth began to fill with blood.
Her mistake came during this monotony of routine. She simply forgot about the butcher's knife. It was true she'd been distracted by her other dilemma, but this didn't excuse her absentmindedness, and she later chided herself for the mistake. As she continued beating him, he fell unconscious twice more before she remembered the knife. She looked and saw that at some point it had been rammed against the heavy oak table to which he was chained and had opened a huge gash in his upper calf. Blood was pouring out of the wound, and instantly Gertrude knew the folly of her ways.
She employed her limited medical knowledge by holding a towel– the one she usually reserved to mop her own sweat or gag the scum-pig halfway to suffocation– against the wound.
When the towel blossomed like a rose she knew the man would die. And what was she to do? Apply a tourniquet? Call Monica for her useless assistance? To what end?
Maybe eight years is enough, she considered. There are others who need the treatment. Any one of them can satisfy my needs.
Instead, Gertrude allowed his blood to flow, glad at least that in his unconscious state he wasn't aware of his small victory over her. Nevertheless, she swore once in a soft, almost gentle voice as the pool of blood spread and slowly thickened.
The interruption had prevented her from finding her needed solution, and this was all turning into a highly frustrating day. Instead of solving one problem, she'd created another. And what was worse, the man-pig's final moments on Earth hadn't even been an appreciative session. Her sole motivation for coming down to the square, gray room in the first place had been to clean the cobwebs in her mind. And now it was over. He was dead, and she had missed it. His soul, if such a thing existed, was already on its way to Hell. He was either gone from existence or infinitely distanced from the angelic mists of Heaven he had once assured her he would one day go.
And even as she watched his blood slow and darken, she heard that Call begin its faint demand once again. It hadn't been quelled for even an hour. The incessant cries for blood continued.
Just above the hilt of the knife, in the two inches of blade that weren't quite embedded into the dead man's knee, Gertrude caught the reflection of bright red in the room's lone light bulb. Despite the vibrant shade and wet shine of the fluid so recently purged from the living body, it was a low, soft glow.
It was rare for Gertrude to bring a weapon to the basement. Rhonda, of course, almost always brought a device or two. Most were designed to be inserted into the body cavity, which was wonderfully effective, however Gertrude preferred her bare hands. She'd brought the butcher's knife only so she could let it do most of the work while she worked out the finer details of her plan. And now it had become the scum's salvation.
If there is a Hell, he probably managed at least one laugh at me before beginning his eternity of pain. Only there he won't die. Won't ever pass out. Oh, what I wouldn't give to be freed of limitations like that. Rhonda would love it too. She'd likely write another book, this one on torture techniques for the afterlife.
As this thought and its comforting images faded from her mind, Gertrude remembered her newest dilemma. A body left unattended would rot, and rotting flesh attracted flies and island rats and, inevitably, curious minds. The incinerator would have to be fixed, as soon as possible. In the meantime, she needed to stuff the body deep behind the others in the cooler before her girls came back from their day's work.
Without so much as a single grunt of effort, Gertrude bent and lifted the man's dead weight onto her powerful right shoulder. His arms and head lolled awkwardly behind her like a child's abused rag doll. His legs dangled stiffly in front of her. She saw but didn't remove the knife.
As she carried him up the stairs for the first time in over eight years, his legs jounced in front of her eyes with each of her own steps like a mockery of motion. The knife seemed to taunt her, to Call her.
Take me, Little Gertie, it said, and Gertrude's steps slowed, hindered by the familiar and comfortable sound. You can use me, Gertie. I won't bite you. I promise. Wouldn't it be nice to stab and stab and stab? To listen to the screams of a man's pain? His screams of fear? His screams of knowledge when he feels your strength, your power, your CONTROL over him? I can be your instrument, Gertie. I can be–
She was reaching for the key to the padlock on the door when the half-inch of blade not quite hidden by blood and meat caught the dull glint of light once again.
She didn't think, she only acted. It was The Call, and it could not be ignored any longer. Gertrude took the handle of the knife and pushed, digging it all the way to the hilt and deep into the dead man's dead joint of bone and ligaments and flesh. Then she twisted it a full hundred and eighty degrees and sighed with pleasure as she felt the tendons strain and snap, heard the bones bend and crack, and smelled the blood as its fragrant bouquet drifted into her nostrils and filled her soul.
IN THIS SECOND INSTALLMENT of the "Man Hunt" trilogy, we see the organization behind Monroe's Island and watch Josie come to terms with and confront her former boyfriend and rapist, Charles. Obe, meanwhile, is thrust deeper into the prison-like atmosphere of The Family of Blue, and learns there is a whole other faction of men who are less numerous but even more dangerous. New characters Elton and Heather each have their own challenges to face and find their own paths to the island.
K. Edwin Fritz
Author of Horror, Thrillers, Dark Fantasy, Science-Fiction, & Young Adult