Chang was dead. I couldn’t see her but heard her last breath as she struggled to free herself. Her small frame was no match for Arthur, the escaped convict. Virginia and Jean squeezed their eyes shut to fight back tears. Who would be next?
Arthur was an odd man. Long, skinny legs and a short torso. Talked too much to be intelligent and had what seemed, an insatiable need for sex. Incarceration can do that to some, I guess.
His footfalls echoed against the walls of the one room hunter’s shanty. He stopped where he had us bound and gagged with duct tape covering our mouths in long strips placed well into our hair. It was going to hurt if our time came and he pulled it off like he did Chang’s. He refastened his belt and adjusted his pants.
“Now let that be a lesson to all of you. Don’t fight me. I hate it when women fight back. It always ends up bad when you fight back.”
I was the oldest. I watched as Arthur scanned the sparsely furnished shack until his eyes lasered on me. I guess he expected me to have all the answers.
“You ladies bring food with you? Nobody would come this far out and not bring supplies.”
I nodded my head yes.
He smiled with a mouthful of bad teeth and walked over and snatched the tape from my mouth. “Where’s the food?”
“Most of it is in the refrigerator. The drinks and a few other items are in the cooler on the front porch of the cabin,” I said, feeling the sting of the ripping tape Arthur threw to the floor. I could see long strands of my dark hair attached to the glue. The gray in it stood out like bright moonlight in a dark sky.
“In a cooler? There’s dang snow on the ground, and you idiots pack a cooler? Women are so needy. You have to have everything packaged for you, all neat and tidy. You probably all have some wimpy man around the house to do everything for you.” He held a knife he had picked up in the kitchen and pushed back his skull cap. “You better know now, I’m not your man.”
Arthur reached down and cut the tape on my hands. “I’m hungry. What’s your name?”
I rubbed my numbed wrists. “Vivian. My name is Vivian.”
“Well, Vivian, I’m starving. How about you rustle me up something to eat? I guess none of you thought to bring steak. I hope you’re all not those vegans or vegetarians. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of man. All this plant crap just drives me crazy.” Arthur stabbed the rustic coffee table made from rough timber and used pallets with the knife and pulled it out quickly.
“We have some beef stew in the crock pot. It’s not ribeye, but it does have sirloin tips in it. There are potatoes, too,” I said, meekly. “Would you like me to get some for you, Arthur?”
“Well, heck yeah.” Arthur backed slowly to the table with the knife in his hand. His other hand felt for the crude kitchen table. He slid into a chair and sat with his back against the wall, allowing him to see the entire room.
“Did you kill Chang?” I said.
Arthur held out the knife with the sharp tip pointed at me. “She made me kill her. If she had just done what I said, she could still be alive.”
I took in a deep breath and clenched my fists tightly at my side. It was a signal for the other women to stay strong. We were survivors.
“I would like to bring her body in and perhaps put it in the bathtub,” I said. “There are bears on this mountain.”
“Bears have to eat, too,” Arthur said, then slurped down the stew I placed in front of him. “You ladies have a gun?”
“No, we’re pacifists. We’re against violence,” I said.
“You don’t have to explain what it means.” He leaned back in his chair. “I guess that could be a good thing for me. I won’t have to worry about you women trying to hurt me or get vengeful about your friend I killed. Scoop me out some more of that stew, Vivian. And don’t get crafty and put something in it like hot peppers or enough black pepper to choke a mule.”
Condensation rolled from the glass lid of the crock pot and disappeared down the sink’s drain. The stew poured from the ladle with a splatter into Arthur’s large bowl.
“I need to ask you something, Arthur.”
“Oh, God, what is it? You have to pee, don’t you? Why do women always have to pee? They never ask to take a crap; they just have always to take a piss. Well, since I can see the toilet from here, go ahead. Just you make sure to leave the door open. I don’t think your fat ass will fit through the tiny window in there, but women are clever creatures.”
“I don’t have to pee, Arthur.”
“Then what the heck do you want?”
“I need to feed Virginia,” I said.
“Which one is Virginia?”
“She’s the brunette on the far end of the couch.”
Arthur looked Virginia up and down. “She’s a pretty young thing, but what’s so special about her? Why’re you asking for her to get food?”
“Because you have her mouth gagged, Arthur.”
Arthur slammed his fist to the table. “That’s not what I meant. Don’t be a smart-ass, Vivian. Women have the smartest mouths. Makes me so mad. Why wouldn’t you ask for some food for yourself is what I meant.”
“Virginia is a diabetic. I need to check her blood sugar and get her something to eat.”
“Ah, dang.” Arthur slapped the table again. “I hate a special needs woman. You can be riding with one and their sugar goes low and BAM, you have to hold up a store to get them a dang candy bar or soda.”
“You couldn’t just buy a candy bar, Arthur?”
“Heck no. I ain’t wasting my money on some dang broad’s issues. And they always need feminine products, too. Can’t forget the maxi-pads or the tampons or the aspirins because they got the cramps.”
“A woman wouldn’t ask for aspirin during her period, Arthur. Aspirin is a wonderful analgesic, but it would make the blood flow heavier. Aspirin thins the blood you know. Can I feed Virginia now, Arthur?”
“I don’t give a good darn, but I’ll pull the tape from her mouth. Don’t give her too much of the stew. I might get hungry later.”
“Of course, Arthur. I just need her medical bag to get her meter.”
“Where is it?” Arthur said.
“She always keeps it nearby. Virginia is very adamant about keeping things in order. Here it is,” I said after I calmly walked to the sofa and felt beside the cushion.
“Hey,” Arthur said suspiciously, “let me see that before you open it. You can’t trust women. You might have a weapon in there. Hand it over.”
“Yes, of course, Arthur.” I handed him the bag holding the meter, the glucose strips, alcohol swabs, and the lancing device used to insert the needle into the skin to retrieve a drop of blood.
Arthur scouted through the bag, decided it was safe, and handed it back to me.
“I need to remove the tape from her hands, Arthur. Her hands have been bound for several hours. She will need good circulation for me to get a drop of blood from her finger.”
“Ah, no. She stays tied up. Get the blood from her toe. Just slip off her shoe,” Arthur directed me as he sliced the air with his knife.
“Arthur,” I said, “you should never puncture a diabetic’s foot.”
“What are you a doctor or something?” Arthur said.
“I’m a nurse, Arthur.”
“Is that right? I ain’t ever made it with a nurse before. Should of known you weren’t a doctor. Women are too stupid to be doctors.”
“Can we cut the tape from her wrists now, Arthur?”
“I guess, but I’ll do the cutting.”
“If you think that’s best.” I stepped aside.
“Bend forward, Virginia,” Arthur commanded.
I touched Virginia’s shoulder and turned to the tall escapee. “She’s deaf, Arthur. She can’t hear. She trusts me. Why don’t you let me do this?” I said.
“She’s deaf, too? Dang, she’s just all messed up, ain’t she?”
I pulled Virginia forward to allow Arthur to cut her taped hands free. I noticed her instant relief. She smiled at me and gave me a wink. I knew she understood. I rubbed her hands to work the numbness from them. I did a finger stick, inserted a strip into the meter and applied the drop of blood. “Three hundred, sixty-seven.”
“She’s running too high. She’s going to need an injection of insulin,” I said and looked at Arthur.
“Well, don’t look at me. I don’t have insulin,” Arthur said.
“Virginia has insulin. She has another medical bag in the refrigerator. I guess you want to get that, too?”
“Heck, no, and you stop telling me what I think, Vivian. Women always think they can tell you want to do. Nag, nag, nag. Get a job, Arthur. Take out the trash, Arthur. Fix the car, Arthur. Women are useless, did you know that, Vivian?”
I listened to him rant about women. “Were you married, Arthur?”
“Huh, three times and that was three times too many,” he said and tugged at his pants that were two sizes too big.
“Did you kill your wife, Arthur?”
He put the knife in his waistband and stuck his thumbs in the tops of his pockets. “All three of them, and they’ve never been able to prove it,” he said with a smile.
He followed me to the refrigerator. Virginia’s bag with her medication sat in the front. I leaned in to get it. He stood behind me. I felt his finger begin at the top of my thoracic vertebrae and slide down to the bottom. I jerked and stood as straight as a board.
“You liked that didn’t you, Vivian?” Arthur asked. “Did you get chills from the touch of a man’s hand on your body? I bet you did. And I bet you ain’t felt a man’s body on yours in a really long time, have you?”
I turned around. Arthur and I were toe to toe. “I think you got more from that than I did, Arthur. Before Chang, how long was it since you had been with a woman? I mean, a real woman?” I asked, my voice fell to a whisper.
I watched him take in a deep breath and let it out slowly. His body shook. I thought he was getting turned on by the memory. “Seven years,” he finally said.
“I’m sorry, Arthur,” I said, retraining my mind to get back to Virginia. “Now, let me get this injection together. May I sit at the table?”
“I don’t give a crap where you sit as long as I can see every move you make.”
“Of course, Arthur. Perhaps you could sit beside me, no?”
We took chairs at the dining table. I set out the syringe and vials I would need for the injection.
“You just don’t forget I’m watching you, and why do you have so many drugs?”
“They’re what Virginia needs to stabilize her blood sugar,” I said.
“She has to take three different kinds?” he said. “What are they?”
I picked up the first bottle. “This one is Ultralente, a long-acting insulin. Picking up the second one, I said, “This one is Humalog. It’s a very powerful, quick acting insulin.”
“Can you hurt anyone with those?” he said.
“Virginia takes these every day. No, they won’t hurt her.”
What is in that third bottle? The small one?”
“Oh, that’s Versed, Arthur. It’s a little something to make you relax.”
Arthur was concentrating on the syringe and the vials of medicine. He never heard Naomi sneak in the back door to the cabin. She wrapped her muscular arms around him.
“Naomi, it’s about time you got back. I was beginning to worry,” I said.
Arthur was squirming, trying to flee Naomi’s grip.
“Would you just give him the shot, Viv?” Naomi yelled.
Arthur squealed when the needle jabbed his arm. “Pacifists, my ass! Y’all are just sorry, no good she-devils.”
“How much did you give him” He’s already getting sluggish.”
“Three milligrams,” I said. “Where did you park the Jeep? I didn’t hear it.”
“Down the road a piece. I drove by, and something didn’t feel right, so I walked up,” Naomi explained.
“Let’s get these two untied. He killed Chang,” I said.
“Yeah, stinking bastard. I saw her in the back. We have to get him secured. They’ll be around here looking for us. It’s already on the radio about five women breaking out of the Appalachian Mental Institute.”
“Yeah, and they put people like Arthur in prison. He’s crazier than all of us,” I said.
Jean and Virginia, now free, walked over to Arthur and spat in his face. Jean pulled back her leg, getting ready to give him a good kick.
“No, Jean, no need to do that. He’s already out cold. Help me lift him to the center support joist and tie him up,” Naomi said.
“I’m going to need my insulin, Viv,” Virginia said. “My sugar is way up.”
“Nah, it was 119 when I checked it. You have a couple of hours before you need another shot.”
“Hey, Viv, why did you tell Arthur I was deaf?” Virginia said.
“So he would leave you alone. You heard how he hated special needs women. If he started in with Jean, I would have made up something for her. You couldn’t exactly talk for yourselves.”
“Good going,” Virginia patted my back. “What’s our plan now?”
“I think we should get on the road,” Naomi said.
“Yeah,” I said. Everybody pack light. Virginia, don’t forget your meds. There're a few extra bottles of insulin in the fridge. We can pack all the food in the cooler on the front porch.”
“”Uh, no, I think we should leave the cooler here. It’s full,” Naomi scratched her head. “You remember when I told all of you if we broke out, things might get a little messy? Well, the head administrator didn’t want to give up his keys. I had to kill him.”
Virginia frowned.“Mr. Owens? Oh, and he was such a nice man. But, you did what you had to do. When we get settled, we’ll send his wife a potted plant or maybe some nice chocolates.”
Jean nodded in agreement. “She’ll like that.”
“Naomi, what does that have to do with the cooler?” I asked.
“I had enough trash bags for everything except his head, and I couldn’t exactly leave it in the can uncovered, could I?”
“No, that would have appeared rude.” I said.
“Now, what about Arthur?” Jean asked.
“Naomi rubbed her chin. “I have an idea, but you girls might not like it.”
“What do you have in mind?” Virginia said.
“Well,” Naomi said, “I think we should just rip off his clothes, pour some sugar over him, and leave the back door open. Bears are probably going to get him.”
Virginia, Jean, and I looked at one another. We pulled our coats from their hooks behind the door. We glanced at Naomi and said in unison, “Bears have to eat, too.”