Chapter no 29 – LICKING THE WOUNDS


“We’ve gotta talk to them at some point,” Molly whispered.

Her fingers softly traced over the white button attached to the side of her steel collar.

“Not yet,” Tom whispered back.

Tom kept a close eye on Rock. He needed to ensure they didn’t attract his attention. From his vantage point, the big man seemed to be living in his own head anyhow. The fresh blood still trickling down his cheek, and the flare of madness that wavered in his eyes told him that much.

Tom used his shaking hand to pull his wife’s fingers away from the button and squeeze it tight.

“We’ve got two chances to talk. We can’t use one just for the sake of talking to them. It’s too important—”

“I can’t watch my babies die again,” Molly cried.

Her entire face still leaked; the drool, tears, and snot splurged in a trifecta of visible torment.

“Shh,” Tom begged.

He was doing his best to keep Molly quiet while juggling the task of keeping his own emotions in check.

“I know you don’t, honey, but there’s nothing we can tell them that’s gonna change how they approach this. Just like with—”

This time Tom had to cut himself off. His emotions clogged his ability to articulate the makeshift plan.

“Just like with Sam,” he finally managed.

A quiver ripped through Tom’s body as he attempted to regain his composure. He was trying to think as strategically as possible for his


Tom’s eyes bounced back from the screen containing the cluster of children. They landed on the fiendish hopscotch path, then back onto his unraveling wife. His nerves were through the roof. Any second, another child might have their final moment pass on the screen. The thought felt selfish, but he couldn’t be overly concerned about anything. He needed to solidify a means to end the madness they’d been ensnared in and whisk those who remained to safety.

Tom zeroed in and turned off as much of the distracting sadness inside as possible.

“If we’re gonna help them, we need to be able to offer them something besides comfort. We don’t know how any of that shit works,” he explained, pointing toward the meat grinders on the tube. “We need information that’s

—that’s useful.”

“It’d be so much easier if you’d just accept it,” Greg interjected. A harsh cackle escaped Greg’s lips.

“Forget about him,” Tom whispered.

“Forget about the Matthews? Highly unlikely. We leave our mark. Me, baby doll, and all my young ones’ll be standing at the top of the mountain when it’s all said and done. You watch. Just you watch,” Greg promised.

Greg gritted his teeth and squished his grip even tighter on his dead wife’s hand.

“Sir,” Tom said.

Rock stared ahead at the screen mindlessly. Tom’s words had yet to find him.

“Why are you doing this? Why do all of our children have to die?” he asked.

Rock tilted his head slightly toward Tom and Molly.

“They’re just kids. Their lives haven’t even begun yet. It doesn’t seem fair to have them play a game that they don’t even know how to.”

“Playground rules are listed on the signs,” Rock said.

He pointed to the screen at Tanya. She appeared to be reading some of the lettering to the rest of the group.

Tom thought about his daughter Sam getting crushed by the ceiling just a short time prior.

Her cranium exploding.

Her arm separating from her body.

Her corpse being juiced like a blood orange.

The painful image of Sadie clinging to the dead extremity caused him to cringe.

It took everything for Tom to keep his composure, but, in his fiery state, he couldn’t help but let an f-bomb slip.

“Then why didn’t my daughter know she’d be crushed by a fucking ceiling.”

Rock pondered the question a moment. He looked at the young boy on the screen. As Donnie’s flatline features clung to his expression without fail, Rock clenched the bloody leash in his pocket again.

“Not everything’s on the signs.”

“Do you think that’s fair? Or, do you think these kids should all have a fair shake at making it through the playground?”

Rock remained mum, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the logical notion that Tom laid out.

“Please, if there’s anything that you could tell us that might help, even if it’s something small—”

“Oh, woe is me. I raised a bunch of pussies so I need an advantage. Is that what I’m hearing?” Greg asked.

Tom looked back to Molly.

“Just don’t listen to him,” he whispered.

“Well, guess what? The Matthews don’t! My boys—hell, even Tanya can take care of things on her own! Advantage or not, you ain’t got a prayer in the world,” Greg continued.

“Shut up, you sick son-of-a-bitch!” Molly screamed.

“It’s okay, I’d be upset too if that little dandelion faggot was my last hope.”

Greg grinned again; he enjoyed reminding them of the nickname he’d branded Isaac with.

Venom and disgust saturated Molly.

She’d found a way to grit her teeth with Tom. They were actually making progress. The wheels were turning with Rock, but Greg was dead set on throwing a monkey wrench into things.

“Don’t play into it,” Tom said.

Tom applied his own advice and returned to his conversation with Rock. “Why are you bleeding?” Tom asked.

It was clear as day; the still-fresh dribble of crimson slid lethargically down Rock’s cheek.

Rock didn’t respond audibly, but Tom could tell the nuances within his body language had registered the query. He watched the gruff man thoroughly while he tightened his jaw and extended his hand upward. There was a symbolism to behold; the question had triggered Rock to wipe the blood away.

“You don’t deserve to be treated like that. No one does. Not you, not us, not our children…not even Greg,” Tom explained.

The latter part of his statement caused him to wince, but Tom still meant every word.

“I don’t need a whiny cunt like you telling me what I need. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m trying to watch the show,” Greg replied.

The smile he brandished while watching his son CJ step up toward the hopscotch squares was nothing short of sociopathic.

“That a boy, that a boy,” Greg whispered to himself.

Tom ignored Greg, continuing his attempt to break through to Rock.

“You don’t have to keep taking her abuse and licking your wounds in the shadows. Following her lead is a choice. You don’t have to be like her.”

When the last words hit Rock, they lit a fire inside him. The hand in his jacket that still clenched the bloody leash suddenly flew from his pocket. His mammoth fist blasted through the drywall, leaving a sizable hole. The comparison enraged him.

“Shut your goddamn mouth! I’m not like her! You hear me?!” Rock screamed.

Tom’s eyes studied the ruby-soaked leash hanging from Rock’s grasp. Fear flooded into his chest and confusion clouded his mind. His vision toggled from the big man in his unhinged state, over to the screen with his children who stood close to the edge of the platform.

The tension had reached a new high.

Tom nodded submissively while Molly remained mum. Even Greg seemed to pipe down accordingly.

“I’m not like her…” Rock whispered to himself.

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