Reader Discretion is advised. This is a serial killer story. You've been warned, and have a happy Valentine's Day.
EAT YOUR HEART OUT
by Cherie Reich
"We make a lovely couple, my dear Melissa." Jim Reynolds placed the framed wedding portrait upon the dining room table. Tracing the outlines of their faces, he ran his fingers along the frame. Husband and wife grinned at the camera, but many things had changed in the ten years since this picture was taken. His dirty blond hair had thinned and gray-speckled. Fine wrinkles etched his forehead and around his eyes. Jim wore wire-rimmed spectacles now.
The woman across from him matched the portrait almost like a mirror image. His wife had silky, dark brown, shoulder-length locks. She was lithe as a dancer and just as graceful. Her eyes sparkled and were a sky blue. The differences between the woman in the picture and the woman across from him were noticeable, though. The woman across from Jim wasn't his wife Melissa.
His eyes broke away from the portrait and landed upon his dinner guest. He smiled, showing small, white teeth. A chuckle bubbled from his thin lips when her muffled cries increased. "You haven't touched your salad. Are you saving room for dessert?"
The chair, which bound her, rocked back and forth, but it was too heavy to knock over. Silver tape, which was across her mouth and tied her arms and legs to the chair, gleamed in the soft candle light. Her eyes widened in perpetual fear.
Leaning across the table, he glanced around as if someone would overhear. "We could be a little naughty and have dessert now. Would you like that, dear?"
Pushing his chair away from the table, he stood and walked over to "Melissa." He touched her soft skin. "Our Valentine's Day dinner can't be complete without some chocolate covered strawberries. They were always your favorite." Prying a corner of the tape covering her mouth up, he asked, "Can you be good for me, love?"
Her nod was small, and a sparkle of hope flitted in her eyes.
"Good." The tape made a loud, ripping sound. "I hope that—"
"You fucking bastard, let me go!" The woman screamed at the top of her lungs.
The palm of his hand popped her right in the mouth. He felt the brush of her lips, spit, and the edges of her teeth when he smacked her. Her lip broke open, and blood beaded upon the spot while he slapped a new piece of tape over her mouth. "We don't yell in this house. And, don't use that potty talk here, or I'll wash your mouth out, Melissa."
Thump-thump. Jim heard the beating of his heart in his head. Thump-thump. Pressing his fingers against his temples, he rubbed them. The pounding faded. "Oh, I almost forgot. We need a picture." He reached over and grabbed a camera from the table.
"Smile, love." He placed his head beside of hers. There was a click, and the flash lit up the room. The camera ejected the sheet of Polaroid paper. "I can't stand those digital cameras. So what if you can see the picture? I want to hold it in my hand." Shaking the picture, he watched it develop. Then, he set it on the china cabinet.
"Beautiful," he said, admiring the picture.
"Stay here." Remembering the dessert, he left the room and went into the small, out-dated kitchen that included a refrigerator, gas stove, a sink, and minimum counter space.
After he took out the chocolate-covered strawberries, he went back into the dining room. Setting the plate on the table, he picked up a strawberry and took a bite of it. "Mm, these are delicious, Melissa." A bit of chocolate tainted his lips as strawberry juice ran down his chin. Using a cloth napkin, he wiped his mouth. "Would you like one, my dear?"
He picked up another strawberry and placed it under her nose. Her nose wrinkled and sniffed. Jim could tell that she was hungry. It had been over twelve hours since he had abducted her. "If you will behave and not scream or try to bite me, you can have this strawberry. Would you like it?"
Her head bobbed up and down, and he ripped the tape off her lips once again. This time, she didn't scream. Pressing the strawberry against her lips, she bit into it.
"I don't quite trust you, Melissa." He speared the rest of the strawberry with a fork and offered it to her. She took the rest of the piece and swallowed it.
"More, please." Her voice was harsh from lack of use and the previous screaming.
"Of course." He fed her three more pieces before he sat down in his seat. "See, we can be civil."
"My name is not Melissa." Her voice was clearer than when she first spoke. Her tongue darted out as she licked her lips, and her wrists arched against the tape. "Please, let me go. My name is Jennifer, Jennifer Sawyers. I'm a paralegal for Schmitt & Jones. I have a cat and a boyfriend waiting for me. Please, just let me go. I won't tell anyone."
Jim shook his head. "Melissa, Melissa, Melissa, don't play these silly games."
"It's not a game! My name is Jennifer. My friends call me Jenny or Jen."
Thump, thump. Jim heard the pounding rise again. He pressed his fingers to his temples and rubbed.
"Shut up! You are my wife, Melissa." His voice rose with each word until he yelled at her. Thump, thump. After a moment, the throbbing quieted.
"Melissa, love, don't ruin our day. It's Valentine's Day. Don't you see the lovely flowers I bought you? Didn't you like dinner?" His hand swept across the table, encompassing the flickering candles, the dozen red roses, the best china.
Her gaze withered. Diamond-like tears shone in her eyes. "Please."
"Would you like some more dinner? We haven't even had the main course yet." Jim smiled. "And, after dinner, we can celebrate our love. It's been a long time, dear."
Jennifer pulled at the tape, loosening it only slightly. "Dear," she said as if the word choked her, "we are having a nice dinner, but I need to use the little girl's room."
"Can't you wait, sweetheart? We're getting close to the final course." He heard the pounding again, but it was a background noise.
She shifted her weight. "I can't. It's been hours. Please, honey. Then, we can have our final course."
"Very well." He sighed like all his victims were on his shoulders. Standing up, he went around to her chair. His lips touched her earlobe as he whispered, "If you try anything, you will regret it." His voice was deeper than his normal tenor tones. He ripped the tape from her ankles and then from her hands. Her hand moved too quickly, and he grabbed her hair, pulling her whole head back in the process. "Let's go."
Jim nearly picked her up by her hair. Her legs were wobbly, but they held as he led her to the bathroom. He tossed her forward, and she stumbled. "Be quick."
"Aren't you going to give me some privacy?"
"No, it's not like I haven't seen everything, Melissa. We are married." His eyes raked over the slinky red dress she wore.
Jennifer stood there, dancing from foot to foot. "Can you at least avert your gaze?"
He huffed but did glance away. A few seconds later, he overheard the tinkling sound of urine hitting the toilet water, followed by a flush. He looked over at her as the dress covered her. "Come on."
"Wait a second, Jim. I need to wash my hands." Her hands trembled under the water. Her eyes darted around the bathroom, and it made Jim uneasy.
"I am." She took the towel off the rack and dried her hands.
"That's enough. Come on." He reached toward her when the towel flew in the air and covered his head. The towel blinded Jim, and he ripped it off. There was a sickening crash when Jennifer cracked the ceramic soap dispenser over his head, spraying the towel and floor with liquid soap.
"Melissa!" He struck out, hitting her as they both slipped.
She crawled toward the door, and he lunged for her. Her foot caught him in the face, breaking his glasses in two. Jim slipped backwards and cracked his head against the bathroom tiles. Stars exploded in his vision, and the throbbing in his head spiked.
"Come back here, you bitch!" Her footsteps retreated while he struggled to sit up. An angry red tinged his vision. Stumbling to his feet, he ran out of the bathroom, skidded around the corner, and entered the living room.
The door stood wide open, letting in a blast of cold February air. A light snow covered the ground around the cabin. When he looked outside, he spotted her footprints. They headed into the woods.
"You are only making this harder on yourself." His voice echoed in the silence. After pulling on his down-fleeced coat, he slammed the door behind him. Following the footprints in the snow, he entered the woods.
Less than five minutes in the forest, the footprints ceased completely. He froze and glanced around, trying to spot a flutter of movement, a glimpse of the red dress against the white snow. The staccato beat thudded in his ears like a drum given to a hyperactive child.
"Come out here, Melissa! Why do you have to ruin everything?" He squinted into the woods. Without his glasses, everything was a little blurry. He pressed the palms of his hands against his temples, trying to release the pressure building in his head.
A branch creaked above him, and he snapped his head upward as Jennifer jumped. She slammed into him, knocking him to the ground. His breath whooshed out, and she scurried away.
He grasped her ankle, and she screamed.
"Quiet!" Hand over hand, he yanked her toward him. He ignored how she slapped and clawed at him to release her. Her screeching didn't stop until his hands clasped around her throat. "Shut up, shut up, shut up!"
When her body went slack, he released his hold. Checking her pulse, he discovered she was still alive, and he breathed a sigh of relief. Despite his slight frame, he hoisted her body over his shoulder. Bent almost in two, he carried her back to his cabin.
The pulsating rhythm didn't cease while he bound her to the chair. He didn't bother with her mouth this time. Kicking the chair, he said, "Wakey, wakey."
She moaned and raised her head from her chest. His hand prints appeared around her neck like an exotic collar. Her eyes met his watery gray ones, and she violently shivered. "Let me go," she said in a hoarse tone.
"You ruined everything, Melissa. We had a nice dinner, a Valentine's Day dinner. The day of love, and you destroyed it. You lying, cheating whore!" He slapped her, leaving a crimson hand print upon her pale cheek. Tears clouded his already blurry vision. "We had everything, you know."
Crying, she sniffed. "I'm not Melissa. I'm Jennifer."
He looked at her. The artery in her neck pulsated rapidly. Thump-thump-thump-thump. It grew louder with each beat. He clasped his hands over his ears. "Shut up!"
The beating didn't stop. Her lips moved again. She was speaking, but he couldn't hear her over the pounding.
"It has to stop!" He bellowed over the sound that was going to swallow him whole.
"We used to be so happy together." Jim picked up the carving knife. "It's time for the final course."
He pressed the cold blade against the dress. The sharpened knife sliced cleanly through the clothing while beads of blood blossomed upon her chest like rose petals. "We could have been so happy."
He could only hear the quickening pulse of her heart in his head. As he sliced again, her shrieks filled the air and collided with the terrible thumps. Blood splattered on the table. He didn't stop until both ceased and silence descended.
The scent of cooked meat filled the air. He sat down at the table. The silence was divine. He breathed in, relishing it. Taking a steak knife, he sliced into the meat on his plate. He popped a piece of the muscle into his mouth and chewed. It was a bit undercooked, but he enjoyed the squirt of blood in his mouth. "Delicious."
Patting his lips, he looked over at his dining companion. Jennifer's body slumped in the seat. Her head tilted to the side, and her sightless eyes were wide open. Her flesh was pale and turning a sickly gray, since the blood had run out of her. Her chest was parted like a butchered autopsy, revealing bones and blood vessels. What was missing was a key organ: her heart.
Her murderer sliced into the heart once again and ate another piece. His own heart had slowed to a steady rhythm. Jim felt at peace. "I'm sorry, Melissa. I couldn't let you break my heart again, especially on Valentine's Day."
After finishing his meal, he left the body there at the dining table. He liked knowing she was there. He picked up the Polaroid picture of the two of them. "Beautiful Melissa," he said fondly. Before he left the room, he leaned over, planting a kiss on her slack lips.
Wandering through the cabin, he went into the small bedroom that held a bed and a four-drawer dresser. Kicking Jennifer's jogging clothes aside, he went to the dresser first and opened the top drawer. Seven other Polaroid photos, one every year on Valentine's Day, stared up at him. Each one contained him and a nearly identical female, although only one contained his true Melissa.
"My Melissas." He took the photos and lay down on the bed with them. The pounding had ceased, but Jim knew that it would come back. It always did the day Melissa broke his heart. He kissed each picture and closed his eyes. "You shouldn't have done it, Melissa," he whispered.