Geraldine’s liver-spotted backhand slapped against Rock’s wiry cheek. The roughness of his face hurt her thin skin, but it wasn’t enough to deter her from cocking back and pelting him again.

“You fool! You worthless fucking excuse for a man! Now she won’t be able to watch!” Geraldine barked.

“But she was going to—”

Another smack stunted Rock’s statement.

Tom and Molly watched fearfully through their peripherals. Slouched against his wife’s corpse, Greg remained in a daze.

“Look at you!” Geraldine barked at Rock. “You’re a giant, you idiot! You could’ve easily corralled her! Christ almighty, must I think of everything for you?!”

The rage remained at a low rumble inside Rock but as he tried to swallow the lump in his throat, dread dominated him.

Geraldine kept him constantly shaken. Her toxic conduct was all he knew. Breaking ages of obedience was a difficult task. As much as Rock would’ve enjoyed giving Geraldine the same treatment as Caroline, there was a firm, submissive muscle memory in place. The conditioning that resulted from an endless cycle of abuse was a profound manipulator.

“I’m sorry,” Rock said.

“I’ve heard it all before. The biggest problem with your sorrys is they always come in bunches and at my expense. And they’re always at the most inopportune times. You’re well aware of how much planning has gone into this, how special and dear this day is to me. I know your tiny mind isn’t

even of a mediocre standard, but I know you can understand this much. You’ve come up short twice now. Don’t let there be a third time, or else…”

Rock nodded his head as the hot embarrassment and humiliation danced off his reddened face.

“Make sure nothing outside of our plans happens in here. Make sure they watch very closely, because you damn-well know I will,” she threatened.

Geraldine pointed her bony finger up to the cameras fixed to the front corners of the spy room.

“I will,” Rock replied.

Geraldine discreetly ground her dentures as she turned away from him and paused.

“I should be able to assume these basic things, but due to your recent performance, clearly my assumptions have been too generous. Have you disposed of the dogs already?”

“I disposed of the dead one and the other is back in the kennel.”

“Get rid of them both! Neither lived up to expectations. Despite your presence, we don’t shelter losers here. See to it this evening. Tell me you at least activated the electricity on the front gates?”

Rock nodded.

Geraldine exited the room, leaving Rock to wallow in his shame. He was suddenly alone with nothing but the quiet sobs of the restrained parents.

Tom and Molly were overrun with anxiety. They’d been forced to sit helplessly and witness their oldest child, Isaac, get mauled by a dog.

Pleading with Geraldine fell on deaf ears. She was wholly drawn to bloodshed. Tom and Molly had observed the wicked woman as she savored the video violence. She was a fattened parasite gorging on horror. Like a cigarette after sex, Geraldine had fallen in love. And now, that love was all she knew.

Tom understood he would have to be the one who pushed things along. Molly’s spirit was too broken to accept such a burden. While Tom was also affected by the savage visuals, he forced himself to live in his head. As he analyzed their situation for potential avenues of escape, one thing had become overly clear to him: the pickings were slim.

Escape wasn’t going to be possible outside of an act of God or mechanical malfunction. They were both essentially one and the same. The

metal clamp around each of their necks wasn’t going anywhere.

The only minuscule crack of hope that Tom believed could be a potentially viable option stood just a few yards away. The massive, chiseled specimen seemed different to him. Rock didn’t seem passionate about what he was doing. He didn’t seem filled with hate and bloodlust. He wasn’t like the old witch. Tom could only pray to find the means to reason with him.

He looked over to Molly and was confronted by her hysterical sobbing. His wife’s watery gaze begged for an answer. Tom didn’t know what to say, but had to say something.

“Sir… those dogs hurt my son. He needs to see a doctor. Please, just let us go and… and we won’t say anything. It’ll be like we were never here. We just want our family back in one piece. I’m begging you,” Tom pleaded.

Rock just stared at the gamut of TV screens.

“I don’t understand. Whatever we did, we’re sorry. Can’t you just forgive us?”

Tom studied Rock’s body language looking for any clues that might help. There were none. The uncomfortable silence soon became too much for Tom.

“What the fuck is even going on?!” Tom yelled.

Rock’s jaded eyes found the concerned parent. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

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