10:59 P.M. — A cliff’s edge, off-trail, deep in the Appalachian
“Say goodbye, Sarah,” Ethan said, as he leveled the gun at her head.
“Goodbye, Ethan,” she replied.
He pulled back the hammer of the pistol with a loud click that hung ominously in the quiet night. He leered at her with a satisfied smirk.
Sarah eyed the gun and took a step back, careful not to get too close to the edge. She could see the rocks far below in the pale light of the full moon. She had nowhere left to run. Still, she stood tall and looked him right in the eyes as his finger slowly pressed the trigger.
10:30 P.M. — A well-traveled trail deep in the Appalachian
Dusk had long since faded away and she was relying strictly on the moon to find her path, which wasn’t easy in the thick forest. She licked her dry lips. The cool night had dried the sweat on her face but she was still warm from her rapid pace. She couldn’t slow down or stop now. She knew Ethan was somewhere close behind her on the trail. Every now and then she caught a flicker of light through the trees. Maybe if she went off the trail into the woods, she could lose him.
7:30 P.M. — An overlook trailhead, Skyline Drive, Blue Ridge Mountains
The car sped into the overlook roundabout and swerved towards the stacked stone wall, stopping just short of hitting it. The sunset was beautiful, full of reds, oranges, and pinks as the lengthening shadows crept over the trees below, but Sarah hardly noticed it.
She instantly shut off the headlights and turned the car off, pocketing the keys. In the dark, she rummaged through the glove compartment but she didn’t find anything useful.
She glanced down the road. Not seeing any headlights, she pulled the lever to pop the trunk, hurried to the back of the car, and quickly searched it. There wasn’t much there either. The only useful thing she found was a crowbar.
Her head whipped around as she heard a car engine in the distance. It was coming fast. She slammed the trunk closed, clenched the crowbar tightly and looked for an escape. A brown sign indicated a hiking trail. She ran for it.
Just as she reached the trailhead a car barreled around a curve and made for the overlook. Sarah could see Ethan glaring at her behind the steering wheel.
She panicked and threw the crowbar at the car, where it bounced uselessly away to land on the pavement.
Turning, she sprinted down the trail, into the woods. She’d have to be as fast as possible. Ethan was an avid hiker and was used to being in the woods.
7:05 P.M. — Entrance to Skyline Drive
She’d never lose him on this highway. She spotted an entrance to Skyline Drive. If she could just get her car out of sight before he spotted her she’d be okay. She turned into the entrance. Were those headlights in the distance behind her? She wasn’t sure.
6:30 P.M. — Sarah and Ethan’s townhouse
In the four years they had been married, she had never seen him so angry. Ethan’s face purpled as he clenched his fists and screamed at her, “No! You’re not.” He was shaking with fury.
Sarah weighed her options. She could stay and argue with him or just leave. Either way it was going to be ugly. She gingerly fingered the mark on her cheek which was already beginning to swell.
Her voice quavered, “I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”
“We’re not done yet,” he growled, moving a step closer to her.
She backed up and fled to the bathroom. She slammed and locked the door behind her. The bathroom had always been her safe place. Many nights she had sat in the shower, the frosted glass door closed tightly in front of her, and cried quietly to herself. Tonight, though, it offered no solace.
Ethan pounded on the door. “Open the door now!”
Her eyes whizzed around the room and landed on the small window. “Just a minute!” she yelled, even as she moved to the window and started squeezing her body through it. “I’m going to the bathroom!”
The pounding came even more furiously against the door and then suddenly stopped.
Sarah fell out the window into a bush. She twisted to her feet and bolted for her car. She felt her pockets. No phone! She had her car keys though. She thanked God that she at least had those.
Just then a loud bang and the sound of splintering wood came from the window. Ethan’s face, twisted and dark with rage, appeared in the window. He cursed and disappeared from view.
Sarah fumbled with her car keys but finally got her car door unlocked. She started the car and sped off just as Ethan exploded through the front door.
6:29 P.M. — Sarah and Ethan’s townhouse
“Where’s dinner?” Ethan growled.
Sarah gulped, her heart thumping. “I… I just got back home from the store,” she lied.
Ethan’s hand smashed into her face. “I don’t want excuses. I expect dinner when I get home.”
She whimpered as her head rocked back. She took a deep breath, “I… I…”
“What?” he said. “Out with it, and then get to dinner.”
She steadied herself. “I… I’m leaving you,” she said quickly like a band aid being ripped off.
6:10 P.M. — Sarah and Ethan’s townhouse
Sarah sat on their only couch looking out the window at the row houses across the street. The couch was brown and worn down to threads in places. She spoke into her cell phone, “Mandy, I hear what you are saying but I just can’t.”
Mandy sighed. They’d been through this dozens of times. “Listen, Sarah. You can. You need to. He’s a bad man, and he is going to seriously hurt you one day.”
“He has a kind side. It’s only when I do something stupid that he gets upset.”
“Do you hear yourself? Since when is forgetting to put more toilet paper on the roll stupid, or deserve a black eye?”
“That was months ago.”
“Damn it, Sarah! That doesn’t matter! There are so many other things. Do I need to list them? Forgetting to iron his shirt, not having beer in the fridge, talking on the phone when he is home, asking him for money to pay the bills, or even to buy food, talking about church or politics, or, heaven forbid, speaking out of turn in public.”
Sarah could practically imagine Amanda ticking them off on her fingers as she spoke, and she flinched slightly as she remembered each one. “I know. I know. But he can be so kind and loving too.”
“And when was the last time he was kind or loving towards you?” Mandy countered.
Sarah was silent for a long time.
“Sarah, you know I love you. You know that. I just want you to be safe. You need to get out of there. Please come stay with me and leave that house.”
“But Omaha is so far away.”
“Exactly. He’d never find you here.”
Amanda cut her off, “No ‘buts!’ What about the gun? I’m more worried now than ever.”
“I told you. I took care of that.”
“You think you took care of it, but are you sure?”
“Well, not a hundred percent…”
“Then, please, if not for yourself, then do it for me. Get out of there!”
Sarah thought for a long time.
Are you still there?” Amanda asked.
“Yes. Sorry. I was… just thinking,” she replied. “You could be right, but I’m scared. I’m scared to stay. I’m scared to leave. I’m scared to make a decision.” Sarah was surprised. Instead of feeling weak and ashamed for admitting it, she felt relieved and even a bit stronger.
“All the more reason. You never used to be scared to make decisions. You had dreams, and I remember you trying to follow them. You used to want to be a veterinarian.”
Sarah was crying softly. She sniffed, “I know.”
“Where do you work now?”
“You know I don’t. Ethan doesn’t want me to work.”
“What pets do you have?
“Ethan doesn’t like pets.”
“When was the last time you went to the zoo? You used to love the spider monkeys. You’d watch them for hours.”
“Over five years ago,” she said quietly,”before we were married. Ethan doesn’t like zoos either.”
“‘Ethan doesn’t.’ ‘Ethan doesn’t.’ Where is Sarah in this relationship?”
Sarah sobbed, “I don’t know.”
Amanda let her cry for a moment or two before asking again, “Please, will you come?”
A car pulled into the driveway. Sarah could see it through the window.
“He’s home!” she said, panicked. “I’ve got to go!”
“Wait!” Amanda cried. “Will you come?”
Sarah paused for the briefest moment and said, in little more than a whisper, “Okay. I’ll see you soon,” and hung up. She hurried to the kitchen sink and washed the tears from her face, hoping that it wasn’t too obvious that she’d been crying. As the front door opened she slid her phone into the silverware drawer so Ethan wouldn’t see it.
4:50 P.M. — Sarah and Ethan’s townhouse
Sarah carefully placed the gun in the shoebox and put it high up on the shelf in the closet. She detested touching the thing and hated that it was even in their house, but if she actually got rid of it Ethan would notice right away and be furious.
11:30 A.M. — Sarah and Ethan’s townhouse
She stared intently at the computer screen as she read down the webpage. When she was done, she closed the page, cleared the internet history, closed the browser, and then closed the laptop. She didn’t want to take any chances. She knew what to do and how to do it. It shouldn’t take too long. She looked at her watch. She had enough time.
9:00 A.M. — Sarah and Ethan’s townhouse
She had Ethan’s lunch and morning coffee ready for him when he came into the kitchen. He was clean shaven and he looked nice in his work clothes. Sarah, on the other hand, had woken up a few minutes late and had rushed downstairs to make his lunch, was disheveled, and still in her bathrobe. Ethan frowned at her but didn’t say anything.
He grabbed his lunch and coffee off the counter. He waited while she walked around the counter. “Bye,” he said. Then he gave her a quick peck on the cheek and left for work.
Sarah poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down heavily at the kitchen table. She enjoyed her coffee while she planned her day. She had to clean the house, go grocery shopping, and take a shower. She sighed dreamily at the thought of a long, hot shower.
She decided to postpone the shower until after the cleaning was done. She spent several hours cleaning the house and doing laundry. Ethan liked a tidy home. She was hanging clean clothes in their closet when she noticed a new shoebox on the high shelf above the clothes.
She reached up to take it down and nearly dropped it. It was heavier than she’d expected. She took the lid off and gasped. She almost threw the box away reflexively. It was a gun. Her heart pounded as her mind froze with fear.
She carefully set the box on the floor of the closet and then she dropped to the floor in front of it. She sat, staring at it blankly as her mind raced around in circles. A gun! Why did Ethan have a gun? What should she do?
10:59 P.M. — A cliff’s edge, off-trail, deep in the Appalachian
She stood tall and looked him right in the eyes as his finger slowly pressed the trigger.
11:00 P.M. — A cliff’s edge, off-trail, deep in the Appalachian
In that briefest of moments, between the tightening of his finger and the click of the trigger, Sarah thought back on her life — all the good times she’d had growing up, all the friends she’d made, cuddling newborn kittens, getting wet, slobbery doggy-kisses, boyfriends she’d had, game nights with her parents, Christmas carols, and bad karaoke with Mandy. Thinking of Mandy made her thoughts go darker — meeting Ethan, Mandy trying to talk her out of marrying him, arguments with Mandy, fights with Ethan, pain and bruises, and fear. The memory of years of fear, loneliness, and pain were almost more than she could bear.
If not for the love of Mandy, her best friend, who had always been there for her, she might have succumbed. She might have begged Ethan not to kill her. She might have promised to go back to him and never leave again. She might have. But she didn’t. Instead, she thought of Omaha and its kind promise of freedom and happiness. She thought of love, and of the future.
She thought of soldering guns and lumps of iron.
Ethan’s finger completed its journey. The trigger clicked and then the gun barrel exploded. Hot gas spewed back into Ethan’s face as shards of metal flew in every direction from the remaining stump of the gun. It was basically just a handle now. Miraculously, nothing hit Sarah, but a piece of flying metal grazed Ethan just above his left eyebrow.
Blood flowed from the cut over his eye and down his face. He didn’t even seem to notice it. He screamed in rage. It wasn’t even words. He was like some carnal beast trapped in the lust of a feeding frenzy. He threw the ruined gun aside and charged at her, his fingers outstretched in a choke hold.
She knew what to do without thinking. Her body took over and she merely stepped to one side just before he reached her.
He flew off the cliff edge and plummeted out of sight. It wasn’t like in the movies. He didn’t scream endlessly all the way down. Instead, he cursed in one short burst and fell silently for a few seconds, until there was a loud, wet thunk, and then several more crashes as his body bounced further down the slope.
She let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and her shoulders sagged. She dropped to her hands and knees and peered over the edge. She couldn’t see his body, but she was okay with that. She knew he wouldn’t be coming back. She sat back and hugged her knees. The night had suddenly got noticeably colder.
She sat that way for a long time, until the crickets were again chirping and the night animals began stirring around her. An owl hooted in the distance. She stood up, fingered the car keys in her pocket, and started walking again.
This story was written by Edward Gold. Edward is a writer of science fiction and fantasy and children’s books. He has won contests for his short stories and has published several poems. He is the Organizer of a local writer’s group with around 2,000 members. He has also produced, designed, and edited newsletters for several agencies and literary magazines. Read more about him — and check out his published works here!
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