Chapter 1: Take Down
Updated: May 3
This is the first chapter of Kay Freeman’s forthcoming novel, Truth Moon. If you’d like to read all of Chapters One, Two, and Three, you can get a free copy of those chapters here:
“The chains that break you are the chains that make you” ~Anthony Lichen
Rory clutched her throat, chanting silently, please, please, not again. Shell-shocked from years of conflict with another male, she waited for Lloyd to make his next move. I should throw it back at the perv.
“Work somewhere else if you can’t give me what I want,” Lloyd said, swooping in, waving hands in Rory’s face, spit-shooting words. He picked up the gift and flailed like a tube man you saw at car washes, scattering yoga paraphernalia around the studio, screaming obscenities before stalking away. As he slammed the door, the Feng Sui bells hanging on the frame railed and crashed, jingling until finally fading away, leaving a quiet uneasiness behind.
Sarah, her friend, and colleague opened the studio door connected to hers and mouthed, “Are you, okay?”
“He’s totally cray,” Rory said, “He threw a jewelry box and threatened me.” I built one new life. I can do it again.
“He’s a hit em’ and quit em’ kind of guy. I did him once,” Sarah said, “I thought of it as a kind of initiation.”
“For real? I’d have to be dead first.”
“Such a funster. Soul is a great studio, and over-all he treats us well. He pays more than any other school, lets us control the schedule and design special classes.”
“You mean we get to do our jobs. We’re not Lloyd’s harem,” Rory said, re-stacking the foam blocks.
“Everything isn’t always black and white, but no matter what, I’ll always have your back.”
“It’s right or wrong. What Lloyd’s doing is wrong. It’s called sexual harassment. You need to be woke,” organizing the paperwork on the counter.
“I have a number you can call to report him, but realize, it’s going to cause a shit storm. Let me try talking to him. If he doesn’t back off, then call the number,” searching Rory’s eyes for agreement.
“I could call the Police instead.” An idle threat. Rory couldn’t go to the police or anywhere else. It might lead to questions.
“Do what you have to, but make sure you have a list of your students, in case the school closes, or he fires you. But I’ll talk to him first,” patting Rory’s shoulder reassuringly and hurrying to the room next door to teach.
Rory’s phone beeped. She looked down, a text from the devil incarnate himself.
You need to come to my house tonight
Assist with the spring schedule
If you don’t, no classes for u next quarter
What a thirsty tool. Rory needed those classes to keep her apartment. Finding a new job in this town where yoga instructors are on every street corner, demonstrating their Asanas, or assess off, difficult. Good one, Rory. She’ll join them and hold a sign, WILL DO YOGA POSES FOR FOOD. Laughing to herself, she stuffed the phone in her bag, hurrying out the door. Rory didn’t have time for Lloyd’s nonsense. Always getting salty whenever he didn’t get his way. I didn’t work this hard to have another asshole take it away.
The sun burned hot and high as she headed to the satellite location to teach another class. Still like a magician performing a magic trick, it disappeared behind a cloak of clouds. The house of cards she’d built, on the verge of collapse if she didn’t do something, but what? Her hands itched, bile pushed from her stomach up into her throat, and like a lush, she heaved liquid onto the pavement. People gawked. Not a single person inquired whether they could help or call someone. Maybe they didn’t want to hear another tragic story about losing it all in some casino. It was Las Vegas, after all. Pathetic. I didn’t have to take a single step into a casino to lose it all.
As Rory reached the front of the VFW Hall, her phone announced an incoming call. She looked at the number. Speaking of the asshole, Lloyd again. She remembered the only advise her mother offered:
“Worry about the shit you don’t see coming girl, that’s the stuff that will bite you in the ass, every time.”
She entered the double doors and followed the red arrow on the cardboard sign, Yoga for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), with more red arrows taped on the floor. Soothing music played in the low-lit wood-paneled room lined with rows of mats. One of the students stopped Rory and asked a question. Rory detected its foul bouquet immediately, lemons, nutmeg, and musk. It was the only scent he ever wore. Heart pounding, her breath shortening, drumming in her ears, tingling in her fingers, then the intense stomach pain started. Her hands shaking, she dropped the notebook, stumbling out of the room, racing down the corridor, the walls breathing in and out, then closing in, the floor spinning—her safe place transformed into a horror funhouse.
“He isn’t here,” she repeated over and over. She clutched the wall, sliding and crashing down. Yellow and brown linoleum squares twirled. Mouthing her mantra, lips dry, “I’m safe. I’m safe.” A smell, a sound, or memory could set her off. Today—aftershave. Humiliating, the class didn’t even start yet. The hideous yellow illumination from the fluorescent lights blinded her. Inhaling and exhaling, one, inhaling and exhaling, two, continuing with her breathing and counting until she calmed herself, and the beating of her heart slowed. She rose and filled the paper cup. The water spilled as she brought it to her lips. She hid behind her hair and squeezed the paper cup so hard, almost collapsing it. She removed the coins from her pocket, clang, clang, clang, clang, hitting the bottom of the change pan, the sound magnifying, sounding like a bomb going off. Rory freed the package from the vending machine, then almost dropping it. Gagging on the cashews, a problem swallowing too. Her hands, weak, damp with sweat, small bumps forming. Hives again? Why can’t I control this? I’m a fraud teaching this class.
She checked her Fitbit, running out of time. She darted into the bathroom, splashed water on her face, pulled her hair in a ponytail, returned to her students, apologized to the man she’d bolted from, and picked up the notebook.
Her eyes connected and crashed with the Vets throughout the class, making her blush and her stomach twist and turn. I’m a weirdo. Other women aren’t like me.
At the end of class Chaka Khan poured from her cell. Sarah’s image popped up. Thank God it wasn’t Lloyd.
“How did it go?” Sarah asked.
“Only one tonight and I got through it, but more texts and messages from Lloyd. He threatened me. Said he’d make me pay.”
“It’s all talk. Don’t trip. He won’t do anything. At least I don’t think he will,” she stammered. “Like we discussed, I’ll talk to him.”
“He’s pushing me into a corner.” Rory didn’t want to argue. “I’ve got to bounce. I have to keep my wits about me walking home.”
“I wish you’d take a taxi,” Sarah pleaded. “A mile at night, plus now it’s raining. The bus is an option.”
“I can’t afford a taxi. Lloyd shorted my last three pay checks and I don’t know about waiting for a bus … I’d rather be a moving target. Anyway, the rain’s slowed.”
“I’ll pay for an Uber. I’ll call for you,” Sarah said.
“I appreciate the offer. You’re a loyal friend, but I can’t. No worries. I’ll be fine.”
“Text me when you get home,” Sarah said. “If you have Mace, take it out and your apartment key too. Spray your attacker, dropkick them in the balls, and lastly take your keys and gouge their eyeballs out.”
“And you call yourself a yoga instructor, bye Mom,” laughing, ending the call. She’d never had a friend like Sarah. She didn’t have to go through anything alone. Unfortunately, there are some secrets I can’t share.
As she stood on the steps of the VFW and looked across the street, Rory observed a little girl with her Mother. “The name Rory means Red King, imagine my disappointment in not having one,” her Mother said. When she reached the end of the block, a shadow of an elephant materialized on the side of the brick building. The elephant in the room problem from her past? It had nothing to do with her name or not being a boy. Rory ran as fast as she could, not turning back to see what created the shadow. I didn’t look back when the fire turned my old life into ashes either.
I can feel someone watching.
Idling at the curb a beat-up white van, mud-stained, dented on the passenger side, rusted roof. Its rubber blades squeaked and screeched, dragging across the windshield until the driver slapped them off. A bumper sticker read, Defend the Blue Support Your Local Police. They followed her like a dog with a scent. The driver stomped the accelerator and sped ahead, hitting a puddle sending torrents of water spraying her. Rory screamed, twirled, shaking her hands in the air, and whipped her hair back and forth, shooting water in all directions, becoming a human water sprinkler. Their windows partially open, she could hear men’s laughter fade as the van sped down the block. Assholes.
Perhaps her clothes would dry by the time she reached home, sultry for May. All the stores on the street closed, leaving it dark and spooky. Stop being a baby. She wished she had a ride. Her Mother used to say, ‘If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.’ She never understood the saying. Did beggars wish for horses, or did other people wish the beggars to have them? All she knew, her Mother didn’t want to hear anything about wishes and told her to shut her mouth.
Under a streetlight located at the end of the block, she saw a man wearing camouflage. Seconds later, he disappeared. Creepy. She reached a coffee shop and a gallery window with paintings of women in languishing poses on display. The hair on her neck stood. Suddenly the man in camo lunged from the shadows of the gallery. She side-stepped out of reach, causing the man to stumble and lose his balance. The weapon dropped from his hand, a large butcher’s knife clattered onto the asphalt, silver metal gleaming in the streetlight. He clambered up, stripping off a black ski mask.
“Lloyd, why?” Rory cried.
Scowling, “You’re coming with me. We have things to discuss and if you don’t, I’m calling the police.”
“What? You attack me and you’re calling the po-po?”
“Call it a citizen’s arrest. You got the job under false pretenses. You can explain at my house.”
“Forget it. I don’t owe you anything,” Rory said, straightening her jacket. “I’m going home.” Suddenly, another more muscular man, with long blonde hair, came from the shadows of the coffee shop and grabbed her shoulders. A second man with glasses pushed Lloyd to the ground. Miraculously, she twisted free and ran.
“Catch her!” The blonde man yelled after her.
As fear surged, she ran down the block and cut down an alley she used as a shortcut sometimes, a large wire fence at the end. She’d scaled it once before. Rory loved to climb trees at home, and here at the gym, the climbing wall a favorite activity. When she got near the top, the blonde guy started up after her, latching onto her foot. Rory kicked back wildly, seeking to shake him loose, her bag jostling and spilling things below. Watching her cell phone go, she cried, “Noooo,” then her favorite book, not Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, she thought as it crashed down and banged Blondie on his head. Distracted by the wallop, Blondie looked away, and this time, her kick connected whack.
“Bitch, you’re dead,” he screamed, dropping to the ground, blood dripping from his nose. As more blood gushed, cuss words poured from his mouth. He paced back and forth, “You’ll pay for this, when I get my hands on you.”
“Someone might hear us,” the guy with glasses warned. Blondie continued his rant, watching Rory descend to the other side. As soon as she hit the ground, she shot them a nasty look, and they glowered back. Rory knew better than to get into a staring match and provoke them further. She jogged down the alley, debating what to do about them. She couldn’t go to the police—questions. Were the two men working for Lloyd? If only she had her phone, she could call Sarah, but now she’d have to wait. She meandered around in case anyone followed her. Rory saw no one and headed to the safety of her apartment.
The marble steps clean, but a few with broken edges. Rory swept them once a week, and her neighbors helped spray them off too. A three-story building, wood clapped with white chipped and rotting siding. She’d restored the front door herself and painted it cranberry red. Lit up by the streetlight, it radiated hope, but she didn’t feel hopeful about the future now. She placed the key in the lock and entered. Whoosh. Air skimmed her skin. She darted around two silhouettes like a star quarterback. A game she played. Keeping the lights off saved money. She knew the space in the dark better than them, sprinted to the bedroom, slammed the door, and engaged the lock, leaving the men still sliding, stumbling, and cussing on the other side. Fools.
Whack, thump, sounds vibrated across the door. “She wants us to dance for our supper,” it sounded like Blondie again. Bam, Bam. Wumphf. Only a matter of time before the door would give. Rory sprinted to her closet and opened it—Lloyd sprang at her, hypodermic in hand, snagging her yoga pants by stabbing her thigh, “I know all about it,” he said, jabbing the needle in her arm.
“Ouch,” she screamed, fighting him off. He got her again, “Aah.”
“You used a fake social security number to get the job, and your driver’s license is phony, too,” Lloyd said. “You’re going to tell me who you really are.” She grabbed the nearest thing on her nightstand, spraying him, and left him screaming, “My eyes, my eyes,” rubbing them, flopping back and forth on the bed, while she shut herself in the closet. Through slats, she watched the bedroom door splinter after each blow or kick, sometimes a little, other times a significant amount. The last impact caused the door to crash open, bouncing against the wall, creating a hole, dripping white plaster on the floor.
Blondie stomped in and attacked Lloyd, beating him again and again in the face, leaving him uncoscious and prone on the mattress. Blondie searched the room, looking under her bed and then out the window. Eventually, coming to the closet, throwing it open and kneeling over her, smiling. She shrank back as far as she could, wrapping her arms around herself, the can hidden under her armpit. Once she felt his breath on her cheek, she brought the hair spray out to fire.
“I don’t think so,” wrestling it out of her hand and throwing it towards the bed, his bleached hair dragging in her face. “I heard what the man had to say. Runnin’ from something, little girl?”
She bounced up and tried to maneuver around Blondie’s massive form, but he blocked the closet. She’d been the smallest and most disadvantaged kid in school, making her both a target and eventually a master of dirty fighting. Rory kicked him in the kneecap, leaving him hopping around the room, cussing in pain.
“Get out of my way,” she said, glaring at another man, the one with glasses blocking the doorway.
“Cool it, Ripley,” the man said, gripping her arm. It wasn’t the response she’d expected (but she did like the referent to the Alien chick).
“As soon as you aliens depart, I will,” biting down on his hand as hard as she could.
“Ouch, God Dam it,” squeezing her arm tighter still. Rory went to an old favorite, kicking the man in the groin. The man bent over in pain, emitting wheezing noises, the glasses sliding over his nose, before finally letting go.
Rory ran from the bedroom and down the hallway, passed the kitchen, reached the living room, and threw the door open. Only a few steps from freedom. With half of her body out, she tasted late spring night air, saw the streetlights shine on the wet, black road until a powerful force—boa constrictor-like—grabbed her stomach and pulled her back in. The door whipped around and closed, thump. She landed on top of someone, hitting firm brick belly, and wrestled to break free. Wriggling and writhing positions reversed, someone straddling her. The Blonde’s Cerulean blue eyes and a smirk peering down.
“I can’t even,” she huffed.
“You can’t even what? That little kick was nothin’, girlie. We can do this the hard way, or the easy way,” he said. “I don’t mind the hard way,” pressing his groin against her. “The hard way, I help your boss and call the cops, tell them I’m a witness to an assault. You drugged him, lied on a job app and you get locked up, or you do the smart thing and get the hell out of dodge, or should I say Vegas and come with me.”
She couldn’t think. The man with glasses appeared, mumbled to Blondie, “I took care of the guy, shot him up with H and put him in the closet.”
Rory’s throat closing, air disappearing. The man’s glasses distorting, pupils transforming into a body of a spider, the lashes into spider legs. She giggled and giggled some more. Rory couldn’t stop laughing. It wasn’t funny, but then it was. Funny, Honey, Bunny, Money. I’m repeating myself. I can’t think. I’m lost.
“What’s wrong with her?” The man with the glasses asked.
“There’s a needle on the floor in the bedroom, boss-man stuck her with somethin’,” Blondie said, looking down, grinning, “You gonna come with us sweetheart? You get room and board, profit sharing, all clothing provided, not many cause you won’t be wearing much. I need an answer… good girl. I’m gonna take that goofy expression and head nod as a yes. You saw her give consent, right Johnny? I can’t believe that other guy, tryin’ to beat us to the punch. The nerve of some people.”
The spider cloned itself, making a multitude of spiders. Rory struggled against the trotting, teeming terror. No longer funny, Hoards mounted and traveled her body, under her clothing and onto her face. It itched and tickled. Fangs, dragging and drooling, sitting on her eyelids, weighing them down. Taking her deeper into darkness. They fought their way into her mouth, choking her as they filled her throat, making it impossible to breathe. Her stomach became home to a never-ending army. Finally succumbing to their softness, pregnant with peace, she floated away on a cloud overwhelmed with legs and feelers blending into blackness.
“Fetch the van, bring it out front,” throwing Johnny the keys, “Monitor the girl’s condition. Nothin’ better happen, or you’ll pay. And keep your mouth shut, about all his. Tell nothin’ to nobody, got it? I’ve gotta send a text.”
Now leave my brother alone.