The Inside-Out Woman: 24: Hell’s Gate

The Inside-Out Woman


Billy rushed north on Route 41, slashing a tunnel of light through the moist pitch night, until he crossed into Sullivan County and plunged in the throes of the storm that had left Knox without him.  As the road vanished into the steel deluge, as the rain balls exploded on the roof like miniature bombs, as the wind blew down a wall of resistance, as the road transformed into a sluice, he slowed, and slowed, and crept, and stopped. 

He slapped the steering wheel, always a surefire method of speeding up events, and flung in a few shit, shit, shits to supercharge the effect, and ceased when the frustrated efforts yielded nothing but aching palms. 

The car was sealed.  The weather couldn’t touch him.  Yet, he was wet.  Sweat drenched his shirt.  His crotch was distressingly soggy.  His face itched with tears.  He cried because he had to reach Iam and Dominic and Dominica, but the conspirator summoned all his inimical powers to impede him.  He descended into irrationality and screamed at Jim Smith Miller, this resurrected Pater, this self-deemed god, “Hurt them, hurt them, and I’ll kill you.”  He sucked a breath.  “Stay in Hell, where you belong, you bastard.”

He wept and pleaded with the genuine Lord for mercy, implored Him to end the storm so he could save his wife and his children.  They were in danger and he feared for them.  He saw the devil on the windshield, mocking him from the photo in the clipping.  MASS EXECUTION.  The Mass Executioner.  This demon threw up a mighty obstacle to prevent him from rescuing them.  “Lord, God in Heaven, help me.  I beg you.”

Suddenly, his distress over the furious storm and his hindered progress vanished from his mind, and with it his irrationality, his introspection, and his obsession with a phantom. 

“What’s wrong with me.  Why didn’t I do this earlier?” he said to the radio as he switched it on.  He reset the dial to the local Sullivan station.  Within a minute, he received the message, the clarion answer to his prayer in the voice of the local weatherman advising everyone within the vicinity of his broadcast of danger, to seek shelter immediately.  Tornados had touched down in several Sullivan County locations; damage had been wrought; injuries had occurred; possibly, though unconfirmed presently, lives had been lost. 

Lives.  Lives, like Iam’s, and Dominic’s, and Dominica’s.  Precious, loved lives sacrificed through happenstance; or sacrificed because he wasn’t there to save them.

“Thank you, Lord,” he cried.  “Thank you.  Now, please, guide me.  I pray you, guide me.”

The message could not have been clearer if the weatherman had burned it in lightning in the torrent.  Race to them.  Race to them and save them.

Heedless of the great storm barrier, Billy pushed down the gas pedal and accelerated and accelerated faster, and faster, and miraculously his headlights torched a bright parting of the water that brought him through Sullivan County, through the battened down town of Sullivan, across County Road 25, and into his driveway, next to Iam’s van.

Strangely, the world, such a void before, was brighter here, as if a great mass, a sort of earthbound black star, busily absorbed the darkness, replacing it with a lightness that resembled a wound, a painful bruise, yellowish green, surrounding a mass of all the world’s black concentrated in an obscene singularity bounding from the far reaches of the corn field to Billy’s house.  It descended from on high, a wide funnel mouth at the top to a slender tip at the bottom, like a big, fat, death-blackened finger.

For several seconds, Billy could not move.  Then he exploded and he could do nothing but move.  He tore at the door handle.  He sprung open the door.  The fiercely circulating wind thrust it back at him, jamming his fingers, caving them.  His left fore- and index fingers screamed in pain and he knew they were broken.  He pushed again.  The door came at him again and he met it with his shoulder, forcing it into the fury.  Before the wind could defeat him a second time, he rolled from the car, under the door, and along his gravel drive.  The gravel lacerated his face and his hands, but he felt nothing.  Even his protesting fingers quieted, for he gave none of these attention.  He rose to hunker.  He focused on a single objective:  get into the house; save them.

As if the wind reasoned and strongly objected to his intentions, it increased its velocity, preventing his standing, and when he tried, staggered him back against the car door.  He foiled the wind’s plan by falling to his knees.  He crawled across the driveway.  He ignored the gravel biting his knees.  He crawled across the lawn, oblivious to the water stinging his wounds.  He put the house between himself and the malicious wind.  He stood and charged.

He struggled with the porch door, as if the storm was behind it, fighting his efforts.  With urgent anger, he reared and lunged at it.  It tricked him.  It opened freely.  The force of his assault sprawled him on the floor.  He scrambled in a mess of torn boxes, what felt like sand, what smelled like wine.  Yellow littered the porch, as if Iam and the children had partied in it.  But, no, it couldn’t have been.  There was the wine.  Nothing was consumed.  Everything was smashed and mashed and shredded and shattered. 

He yelled for Iam, for Dominic, for Dominica, but his voice vanished into the howling wind surging through the door.  Around him, the house issued discordant objection to the wind tearing it asunder.  The wind pulled the house this way and the house turned that way; the wind yanked it outward and the house tugged inward, and reversed when the wind did to oppose it.

He stood and advanced.  He dropped and crawled through more debris, cellophane wrapped toothbrushes, binkies, lint remover, the contents of the half bath dumped onto the floor.  He entered the living room.  The wind gave up its pursuit.  The house’s groans and creaks multiplied as it stepped up the assault on its exterior. 

He steadied himself.  Images danced on the television screen.  “Cinderella,” he muttered, Dominica’s favorite.  Glasses and plates scattered on the floor.  Snacks for watching the movie.  He envisioned them on the sofa, huddled, munching, frowning and laughing with the unreeling, Dominica, though she’d seen the movie a half-dozen times, bursting with anxiety, Iam reassuring everything would be fine; after all, it was always fine, and this time it would be no different.  And Dominica studying her doubtfully as if maybe, just maybe, this was the time it would turn out bad, real, real bad.

Voices followed, pierced the commotion, shrieks, sharp, high yelps, as if terror reigned in the kitchen, as if someone or something was dying; worse, as if his wife and his children were being murdered.

He dashed to the doorway.  The house rocked.  He grabbed the jamb to steady himself.  He saw a woman framed in the slider.  He didn’t recognize her.  He recognized the dress, frilled with pink ribbons, and the askew veil.  Iam.  Iam the bride, a bizarre vision of torment streaked with blood, flashing a knife, dashing into the storm. 

“Iam,” he screamed.  “I’m—wait, wait.  What are you doing?”

He hurtled himself off the jamb into the kitchen.  The room ambushed him with a maelstrom of projectiles, each seemingly aimed at him by an invisible nemesis, the conspirator, a satanic controller. 

He struggled forward and saw the chairs spring up and thud down, up and down, then spin, then tumble, and spin like tops, until one launched at him.  He attempted dodging it.  He lost his balance on the undulating floor.  The chair struck his legs out from under him.  He went down howling, as if a willful attacker had whacked him with a baseball bat.  Through his shriek, a word came to him faintly.  “Willy,” she called.  She needed him.  She was desperate. 

He fought to rise.  His left leg collapsed under him.  The pain lit up his brain and nearly extinguished his consciousness. 

“Iam,” he cried.  “Iam, Willy’s here.  Dominic.  Dominica.  Please.  Wait.”

The kitchen blasted away at him.  Cups, dishes, glasses, pot and pans, its full complement of artillery swirled and streaked and struck with sharp reports against the walls, the ceiling, the floor, and him. 

He dragged himself to the juddering table.  He sheltered himself beneath it.  As if the controller anticipated his purpose, the table toppled.  The edge gorged his left ankle.  He cried out in anguish from the searing pain, and from despair over his sorry, aborted rescue of his family.

In the sink, the lunch dishes and glasses and lemonade pitcher rattled.  Then the house gave a mighty twist and the floor thrust up.  The plates and glasses in the sink contributed their shattering demise to the cacophony of the kitchen.  The pitcher leapt from the sink, minus its handle, which added its chime to the dissonant noise of the kitchen.  It arched into the room.  It flipped end over end. 

Billy, who had looked to his knee and his ankle, turned back to see the pink lemonade pitcher the second before it careened off his head.  He didn’t see or hear it shatter on the floor beside him.



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