She did not know what possessed her to act so recklessly. What was said, she meant. That was not at issue in her mind. Why she put her life, or what was left of it, on the slab like she did befuddled her greatly. Not only had Collins never acted so brazenly before now, she chose her first public protest at a moment in time when she might actually be killed as a result of her speaking. Collins knew, since the state and many of its scared civilians believed her to be less than human, one cannot label what would happen to Collins as murder.
Collins believed her flight from the others back at City Hall was successful. So much so that she slowed down to catch the breath they believed she did not deserve to indulge. As usual, it is when one feels safest or lets down one’s guard that opportunity takes its chance.
Collins’ airway was constricted, something strong covered her mouth, and pulled her back. Her feet left the ground. It all happened so quietly. Collins could not scream, not even a muffled gurgle rose from behind whatever covered her face. Her vocal chords betrayed her. The culprit carrying her backward and off the street also did not speak. Not even their shoes, assuming they wore shoes, made noise on the concrete.
The sun turned the surroundings a bright orange-yellow hue. Collins’ apartment complex not a hundred feet away drifted back out of view behind a wall unknown to her. Trying to kick, her muscles were too atrophied and starved for proper oxygen levels to produce anything but pathetic wagging. Sunset colors disappeared between the two buildings where she now found herself.
The first sounds Collins heard was of a struggle not her own. As scuffles entered her ears, she felt her body thrust away from the ribs pushed into her back and the covering over her mouth. She fell onto hard concrete, scraping holes into her gloves exposing her palms.
Before she could turn to see her assailant or make out her surroundings, something flung her around. She was now sitting on the concrete. Two young men she saw before at more than one mobbing of infected passersby on campus leaned over her.
One was the bearded leader. The other appeared younger but equally physically capable of harming any average sized person. They did nothing to hide their identity. Anonymity is as pointless when aggressing against a non-person as it is eating sunflower seeds in a public park.
“Dumb bitch,” barked the bearded man looking away from Collins to examine his leather gloved hand covered in skin-toned concealer. There was no longer any way she could hide. She knew her cheeks, lips, and chin were exposed for what they were: pale, starving for oxygen, and blue spider-veined.
“Truth comes out, doesn’t it,” the bearded assailant spat.
Hearing scuffling again, Collins turned left. Several large bodies exposed from the waist down took turns violating a powdery female Collins judged no older than high school age. She too did not scream for help. Her speech reneged its promise of usefulness for the same reasons Collins did not call out. Yet, a sound did emanate from the woman as she was volleyed from erection to erection. A sound falling somewhere between a dying man’s last breath and escaping air from a balloon echoed through Collins head. A familiar sound. A familial sound.
Collins eyes widened, not when the two men standing over her unbuttoned their pants nor when they tore at her clothes. Instead, they widened when she realized where she knew that whispering hiss of the dead. It was the sound her mother made on most nights leading up to her leaving her father’s house.
The home of a deaf family is, ironically, loud and boisterous. Music with strong drum beats are common. Noises from every which way crash constantly. When you do not hear the sound or never knew the life of a hearing person, you do not consider remaining quiet trudging up stairs, cleaning the bathroom, vacuuming at midnight, or hammering nails at all hours. It is not lack of courtesy. Similarly, the hearing rarely think twice about letting their eyes wander when speaking with someone. Young Collins learned quickly to ignore the sound out of sheer survival being the only hearing person in a house of deaf parents and younger brother.
When Collins’ father drank, though, the house sounded different. Music stopped playing. A new noise filled its walls like a wailing infant on an otherwise silent plane. Glass on glass explosions followed quickly by fresh bottle caps clinking on kitchen linoleum existed at lower decibel levels than music during the day. However, each time it happened Collins ears perked, pulling her thoughts away from whatever book she hid behind.
Those sounds followed screeching kitchen tables and chairs as her father pushed things out of his way. It was not until the slap of flesh on flesh and dull thuds that Collins would shut her eyes, wish it to all go away.
At least an hour of glass bottles breaking, slaps and thuds, chairs dragged across linoleum ensued before relative silence finally befell the household. No more breaking or thrown objects. No music or bodies trampling up and down stairs or slamming things. It was then young Collins would try to force herself to fall asleep. As anyone who’s attempted to force sleep on their own person knows, the more effort exerted, the further one is pulled away from the slumber they work toward. Young Collins was no different in this regard. The tighter she closed her eyes thinking about whatever magical world her imagination produced, the further away from that land of enchantment she found herself.
Then the silence of the night and post-drunken stupor became deafening like ringing in the ear of a concert goer on their quiet ride home. Young Collins’ ears searched the night for any sound to catch in its grasp. Perhaps that is why she remembered the next string of sounds. Sounds of the flesh not attributed to the already disturbing sexcapades she heard her parents indulge in when they got along but something similar. Somehow it sounded more serious, less primal. Perhaps more primal. Coupled with this fleshy sound came a dull hissing akin to a dead man taking his last breath over and over. Young Collins never attached an idea to this bizarre group of hushed sounds. She assumed they were of her mother nursing her passed out husband two rooms down the hall.
Collins stared at the pale girl not ten feet away slowly flail her head side to side as the half naked bodies around her took their turns. She now knew what that hushed sound was from those many nights. What she hoped was an ever-forgiving wife petting a passed out or otherwise a husband writhing from his drunken tirade turned out to be countless nights of a passive woman falling victim again to a raging alcoholic abuser.
For a moment she wished she did not have this epiphany, then she wished she had not left her mother and baby brother alone. Then her attention was torn away from the young girl to face forward by the same leathery hand that dragged her here.
Staring at the bearded man’s face not more than an inch in front of hers, she tried to spit at him. With tempered muscle movements the hoped for projectile simply drooled down her now exposed chin. Collins wept uncontrollably. More than the torn genitals, more than the fear of what was happening and likely to happen in her near future, she wept over her rebelling body. Egregious as the act thrust upon her was, it somehow could not stand up to her inability to respond to her attacker in kind.
“Oh, poor thing’s got a little drool,” mocked the bearded face as he squeezed her chin harder, making sure his victim knew where control lay.
“God, you things really are barbaric creatures. Can’t even stand a good dicking without drooling all over yourselves.”
The young man standing behind the bearded face laughed, “What’s wrong? Scared? Now you know how we normal people feel having you stinking Wretches running amok in our neighborhoods. But that’s okay. We’ll let you go, you stupid bitch. We just want you to remember what you are.”
What happened next Collins could not have expected.
A glistening silver object came into view at eye level. Then a piercing sensation slid across her forehead. This continued for some time in different directions. No sound came from her except a dull hissing last breath of the dying. Arms and legs pinned, unable to scream, Collins was helpless, like living a nightmare, waking during surgery, unable to move or alert the surgeon but fully aware and watching the scalpel as it makes its incision. The pain was on scale with nothing else she previously experienced.
Stories tell of “it happening so fast” or “time standing still” while life flashed before a victim’s eyes. None of this was true for Collins. Hours seemed to pass while Collins kept her eyes closed. For what reason, nobody knows. Why does one close their eyes when they know a bomb will go off and kill them? Closed eyelids do little for the impending death that awaits. If, by lucky, or unlucky, happenstance one does not die in the blast, one’s eyelids do nothing to save the iris from any large shrapnel.
When several cuts slid across her forehead at varying angles, she opened her eyes. She was still trying to scream with the same hissing result. The bearded man’s gaze seemed to concentrate on his cutting like a child does a Jack-O-Lantern. Each cut still burned with intensity she was unfamiliar with until this moment but having no means to alleviate her pain, her body seemed to give up trying to ignore what was happening. Collins heard the blade on her forehead cutting through her cold flesh being dragged across her skull. The bearded man’s breath warmed her nose. It smelled of day old morning breath and something spicy. She felt nauseous but her body refused to let her vomit.
As quickly as it all began, the bearded man and his cohorts backed away. Gazelles in the sunset, they dashed back into the street disappearing to the left and right. Peering down at her remains, Collins found her pants around one ankle caught by a stubborn shoe that would not budge. Her crotch and thighs were on fire as if afflicted with rug burns that marched their way up inside her. There was no blood. Confused, Collins pulled off her gloves and felt between her legs. Whatever mess the bearded man left behind was not what she knew as her genitals. Unable to see directly, partially out of fear, partially out of soreness in her back from the fall, it felt like cold flaps of steak almost completely detached from her pelvis. She knew it was part of her because her very tender touch shot bursts of pain to the back of her navel. And she had a splitting headache. Then stirring came from beside her.
The girl, she remembered as she crawled over to her fellow victim.
The young girl was convulsing, gasping for air. She hissed from her mouth but also from the gash in her neck. Collins went to put her hand over the wound instinctively to stop the bleeding. However, hardly any blood emerged. The smallest trickle of blood formed over what Collins assumed was a major artery. The young girl continued gulping for air like a fish out of water staring off to some far away place.
Collins replayed the assault in her mind which turned her attention to the young girl’s lower half to replace her pants or skirt to save her the dignity when medics arrived. Her eyes followed entrails to the young girl’s pants nearly a body’s length away, still fitting shapely around her hips and slender legs. Whatever the bearded man did to her, none of it compared to the position in which the rest of the assailants left the young girl. Collins watched the young girl take a few more breaths, then stop mid inhale.