Jim knows today’s date even though he hasn’t seen a calendar in years. Eight years at least. Fear resonates from the sinews and marrow of his bones. His heart palpitates hard, unrelenting. The panic attacks aren’t new. They are a nightly occurrence and sometimes they strike in the middle of the day. But those panics are often based on past torments, this panic is about the future. About today. Now.
The lights are on and his door is open. It’s time to get up. He doesn’t want to get up, but he must. Staying inside his room is a like a death sentence. Maybe he can get some place with some witnesses and a camera. Not that it would matter much.
Standing is difficult for Jim. His right big toe is gone and his left kneecap is busted to pieces. He looks around with his one good eye, the only one. The other is a hollowed hole. Nobody is in his room, yet. Good. Teetering, he stands up and shuffles with agonizing steps to the can. He grabs the waistband of his drawers with the remnants of his hands. His right is thumbless, the left is missing the index, middle and ring. This situation makes life much tougher. He drops his trousers over the stool and squats. He can’t stand like he used to since there is nothing there anymore. Just a mess of pubes over a scar with a hole.
Once he’s finished his piss, he walks out of his room and looks down the hallway. It’s quiet. Too quiet. The men he sees are in their rooms, watching him with cold, hard stares. Rivulets of sweat run down Jim’s face. Then he feels a heavy hand clamp down on his shoulder from behind. It’s happening. He would yell for help if he still had his tongue. Still he screams an incoherent babble as he is tossed back into his room. Three bulky men swollen with muscle and saturated with ink bound inside. One holds a Polaroid camera, another has a crudely made hacksaw. Jim shrieks in terror as the man with empty hands pulls him up off his feet and punches his good eye. Semi-conscious on the floor, he stares through his ballooning eyelid and sees the rusted blades coming towards his nose.
Jim thrashes his head from side to side screaming to his lungs’ capacity. Meaty hands grab his temples to keep him from moving his head.
“Happy anniversary,” one of the men says as the jagged blades start to tear into the cartilage before his eyes.
In that moment, even with the intense pain, all Jim can think about is his face. I used to have a beautiful face. A face that people trusted. These assholes are destroying it. Making me into a monster.
Brenner sits at the table waiting. He sees a huge man enter from the back of the room after a guard opens the door. The hulk sits across from him. Although thick Plexiglas separates them, Brenner believes the material would not be an adequate barrier if this man wanted to break through. Which is to say the man is perfect for his job. Brenner and the brute grab their respective phones simultaneously.
“It’s done,” the man with the handle Vicious says.
Brenner nods. “Evidence?”
Vicious looks both ways before pulling out a few Polaroid pictures from his shirt. This subterfuge shouldn’t matter, Brenner thinks, but you can’t take the paranoia out of the prisoner. When the pictures are smacked against the window, Brenner is revolted. He wants to turn away, but he doesn’t. Not this time. Not any time. He paid for this. And all of the others. Jim the pedophile, abductor, rapist, and murderer is paying as well. One day a year for the rest of his life, one piece at a time.
Brenner remembers that monster’s inhuman smirk throughout the trial. He remembers the horror of the other victims’ families when he testified, pleading with the jury to give the smug murderer a life sentence instead of the death penalty in spite of the heinous acts he had committed. That was one of the hardest things in the world to do: plead for the life of one who didn’t deserve it. But Brenner knew that justice would be slow and a lethal injection, regardless of what anti-death penalty advocates say, would be infinitely more painless than what he put his victims through. His beloved. His cherished. No more.
Brenner refocuses, looking at the photo of the bloody gaping hole in the monster’s face and even more importantly the terror displayed in his eyes. The satisfaction he derives is limited. It will not bring back his daughter. He knows that. But it’s something, balancing the scales, maybe overburdening it…
“Yo, man, you wanna see the nose?” Vicious asks, patting his waistband.
Brenner shakes his head, unable to speak.
“We doin’ this next year? There isn’t much more to take, if you get what I’m sayin’. I don’t mind doin’ it. My family thanks you for your, uh… generosity.”
And so do the guards’ families, Brenner thinks. His house is triple mortgaged and he’s cashed in all his investments. Retirement is something he’ll never see. No matter. Since his wife left, nothing matters except this once a year event, the date of the abduction when Brenner’s agony transfers for a day to that monster.
He studies the photo one more time. Is it enough? Pain and fear was captured on the monster’s face. Has justice finally been served?
He hears his daughter’s faraway laugh, remembers her goofy smile. His heart hammers a surge dark energy, rattling his body. No, it is never enough.
“Next year is on,” Brenner says with as much control as he can muster. “I’ll figure something else to take from him.”
He leaves the prison knowing he is less a man and more a monster. He can live with that.