Raven Redwing stood under the pulsating streams of deliciously hot water coming from the new shower head she bought the day before, uttering a long groan of pure bliss as it massaged her aching muscles. Everyone needed a new shower head like this one, she thought, as it magically eased the stress from her body. Between her job, her best friend Tia trying to hook her up with dates and those same dates calling her constantly, Raven was stressed to the max. She stayed in until the water turned lukewarm, cursing the size of the water tank in her building. Squeezing excess water from her long, inky-black hair, she grabbed a towel, deftly winding it around her head in a turbine. Drying off with another towel, she threw on a pair of comfy pajamas, her fluffy bear slippers and headed out into the kitchen to make some herbal tea. It was going to be such a good night. Raven smiled at the clickety-click of her Pomeranian’s nails on the floor as he followed her from room to room as if she was going to disappear. Toby was an old boy, turning thirteen this year, but you’d never know it by the way he acted. Just as spry and excitable as when he was two, the dog was her constant, loving shadow.
“Hey, you little munchkin!” she crooned, stooping to take his fur face in her hands and kiss his button nose. “You ready to chill with mommy?”
Three sharp barks were her answer as he danced around her feet, following her into the living room. Raven’s apartment, on the third floor of an old Brownstone, was her pride and joy. She lucked out getting this apartment because only her place and one other in the eight-unit building had a working fireplace. The neighborhood wasn’t so hot, but the apartment layout, the fireplace and view of the city lights from a large, picture window made up for its location. She only paid $1200 a month, a steal compared to the other dumps she looked at for the same price.
Sitting in her recliner, Toby on her lap and a warm cup of tea on the end table, she switched on the television for the news. A knock on her door startled her just as she was getting ready to sip her tea, making her spill some on her pajamas.
“Dammit!” she exclaimed angrily, “now who the hell is that knocking this late?”
Tia always called before she came over, so it couldn’t be her. Standing up, Toby moaning at having his comfort zone interrupted, she went to the door and peeked out of the peephole. Seeing a man in a work uniform, she was puzzled. This late at night?
“Who is it?” she yelled, not wanting to open the door.
“Maintenance, ma’am,” a deep voice answered, “There’s been a gas leak in the building and the boss wanted me to check everyone’s apartment for the source, sorry for the inconvenience.”
“This late at night?” Raven implored, not feeling good about it, “Do you have any credentials? Some identification?”
“Yes, ma’am, right here,” he confirmed, holding up his badge that hung around his neck to the peephole.
She briefly surveyed the badge, noticing he wore black gloves. A red flag cautioned her not to open the door just yet. Putting the chain lock on, she opened it just a crack.
“Did you say a gas leak?” she asked, wanting to get a full view of him.
He looked back over his shoulder, checking for any nosy neighbors, catching Raven by surprise as he used his shoulder to force his way in, kicking the door shut behind him. Raven gave out a short, shrill scream and ran, Toby following close behind, barking hysterically at the intruder. Just before she made it to her bedroom, she felt the towel ripped violently off her head, her long, black hair spilling out. The man grabbed a handful, yanking her head back and throwing her to the floor. Toby turned into a snarling demon, sinking his sharp little teeth into the man’s ankle. Bringing his foot back, he kicked the little dog across the room, where he lay still.
“NO! Oh, God, not my Toby!” Raven screamed in horror, “Please, oh, please let me go!”
Her attacker viciously punched her full in the face, rocking her head to the side with the force of it, blood spraying the egg-shell white walls. Her heart almost stopped when he revealed the blade, its gleaming metal reflecting the overhead light. Placing the tip just under her chin, he used his other hand to tear off her pajama bottoms, his eyes locking with hers. Grinning evilly, Raven saw he had a gold grill on his teeth, making him seem demonic. With the knife, he carved into the tender skin around her breasts, eliciting a screech of pain, then moved the knife up to cut her from the corner of her eye to her chin. Blood poured into the cream colored carpet.
Kicking and screaming, she fought like a wildcat as he punched and slapped her, tearing her top away as he drooled and grunted like an animal. Unbuckling his pants with one hand, he tore away her black, lacy underwear, spreading her legs with his knee. Holding her hands above her head, he dipped his face down to her heaving breasts, biting her and tearing her nipple. She screamed in agony. Placing his hand over her mouth, he penetrated her with such force, the tender tissue inside of her tore violently. A virgin, her first time was excruciating and terrifying. As he raped her, she fell strangely silent and submissive, her blackened, swollen eyes glazed and far away. The last thing she remembered was him standing up covered in her blood, pulling up his pants and delivering a savage kick to her face.
Raven groggily pulled herself from the depths, entering into a world of pain. Unable to open her swollen black eyes, she gingerly touched the bandages around her face and head.
“Easy now, I’ll get the doctor, honey,” a woman’s voice said softly, “you’re safe now.”
As the memory of the past events filled her with despair, she struggled to sit up, crying out in pain. She knew that she’d never feel safe again. With anguish, she thought of Toby as salty tears ran down her cheeks, soaking her bandages. That animal killed her best friend. A keening wail came from deep inside, filling the small room with her pain. Just as the doctor came into the room, Raven sank back into blessed darkness.
“Well, young lady, those bandages are about to come off today, you excited?” Dr. Briar asked, “It’s been exactly a month, you ready?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be, Doc,” Raven said, unsmiling and taking the small mirror he handed her. “I’m not sure I’m ready to look.”
“We’ll see, I think you might be pleasantly surprised,” Dr. Briar told her, “Dr. Walsh, the attending plastic surgeon did a wonderful job. Okay, you ready?”
“I suppose,” she said, “I guess it’s now or never.”
Dr. Briar cut the gauze gently, her nimble fingers unwinding the outer bandages painstakingly slow until she reached the last layer.
“Okay, my dear, moment of truth,” she told the trembling woman on the exam table. “It’s going to look a little puffy and bruised, but that’s normal. You’re still in the healing stage. Here we go.”
She took the last of the gauze off, revealing Raven’s battered face underneath and smiled. Her face looked better than even she could have imagined. Dr. Walsh was a miracle worker. Dr. Briar remembered how Raven arrived at the emergency room, unconscious and bleeding profusely from facial knife wounds so deep; everyone thought she’d die from blood loss. It was a miracle the poor girl was alive today.
“Okay, honey, you ready to take a look?”
Raven nodded, holding up the mirror slowly, her eyes closed in preparation. Mentally counting to ten, she opened her eyes, gasping in shock at the extensive bruising and swelling. Even though Dr. Briar warned her, the sight was overwhelming. She looked like a monster. With shaking fingertips, she traced the thin, jagged scar that started at her eye and ended at her jawline. Her left cheekbone, shattered by the powerful blows of her attacker and was put back together again by an orthopedic surgeon, caused the most swelling. Both eyes, purple and yellow with bruising, were also swollen and tender. The bruising extended down to her chest, and she remembered how he bit her like an animal. She violently threw the mirror across the room, shattering it, crying out with anger and frustration.
“I’m a monster!” she cried, “Oh, my God, oh, Dr. Briar.”
Alison Briar felt her heart tug at the plight of the young woman. She didn’t deserve what happened to her; no one deserved such treatment. Putting her arm around Raven, she assured her the bruising and swelling were only temporary.
“Are you okay to travel, Raven?” Alison asked, “Your friend, Tia is here, out in the waiting room. “
“Tia’s here?” Raven perked up a little, “Thank God, I just wasn’t sure I could face going back by myself.”
“No, she’s been here since you were brought in, hon,” Alison told her, “you’re very lucky to have a friend as dedicated as Tia.”
After signing all the necessary paperwork, Raven and Tia left the hospital, arm in arm. Still stiff and sore, Raven was grateful for her friend’s help. As they walked up the three flights of stairs, Raven felt herself start to tremble.
“Easy, girlfriend,” Tia soothed, “I’m here. We’re going to do this together. Your landlord installed a double deadbolt for you and I got you an alarm system. Ain’t no one getting in here unless you want them to, got it?”
Unlocking her door, Raven froze, unable to walk through. “Can you check first, Ti?” she asked, “Just to make sure.”
Kissing her forehead, Tia went in, doing a walk-through and coming back to reassure Raven that all was well. “All clear, hon, let’s get you inside so we can sit you down.”
Raven’s swollen eyes brimmed with tears when she noticed that all of Toby’s belongings were gone, except for his collar which hung next to the fireplace mantle. A picture of him was underneath it and next to that, a burning candle. A sweet remembrance of a sweet little dog. She hugged Tia tightly. Her friend was amazing.
“Hey, how about a little wine to celebrate your coming home, Rae-Rae?” Tia asked, “I bought your favorite!”
Raven smiled, feeling the pain deep in the muscles of her damaged face. It reminded her of the old saying, ‘It only hurts when I laugh’. Leave it up to Tia to remember the tiniest details. Ever since she tasted a glass of Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, she was instantly in love, vowing never to buy another brand ever again. She loved its sweet caramel-vanilla flavor, without the tang of a fruitier wine. But now that she was home, remarkably, all she wanted was to be left alone so she could think, mourn her dog and sleep in her own comfortable bed. Yawning, feigning exhaustion, Raven swayed on her feet hoping Tia got the hint, which she did. Feeling a little guilty for wanting her best friend in the world to leave, she gave Tia a bear hug, thanking her for being there. She was honestly all that Raven had in the whole world. Both parents deceased in a car accident three years ago; she was an only child. Amazingly, so were both of her parents. She had no uncles, no aunts, and no siblings.
“Aw, honey, you’re exhausted,” Tia crooned, “let’s get you to bed and I’ll sleep on the couch tonight, so you’re not alone.”
“Oh, no, Tia,” Raven protested vehemently, “To be honest, all I want is some alone time. A hot bath, a glass of my fabulous wine and blessed silence. The hospital is definitely not a place to get to rest with nurses and doctors constantly coming in to get blood, check monitors and talk and laugh at the front desk all night long.”
“I understand, baby, trust me,” Tia told her, giving her another gentle hug. “I’ll leave, but you have to promise me you’ll call if it all gets too overwhelming for you, okay?”
“Promise, Chica, thank you for everything,” Raven said, “I don’t know what I’d do without you. Honestly.”
Finally alone in her apartment, Raven took a deep breath. The first thing she noticed was how empty it seemed without her little Toby. Tears filled her eyes as she remembered the clickety-click of his little nails on the hardwood floors as he followed her from room to room. Her attacker took her little love from her. The police showed her a myriad of photos, but she couldn’t identify him. The bite marks alone on her body could have sent him to prison. She felt an atypical feeling of rage building up like an inactive volcano come to life. It felt like hot lava needing to burst forth and cause destruction. How dare that son of a bitch break in her home, destroy her life and get away with it! Seething with hatred, she thought of her little Toby, who never hurt a fly. A sweet, loving, little ball of fluff who lived, for one thing, Raven’s attention. Into the bathroom, she once again looked at the bruised, cut and beaten stranger in the mirror. He did this. He scarred her for life inside and out. He took from her what she was saving for her future husband. Screaming in rage, she put her fist through the mirror, shattering it and slicing her hand. Collapsing on the bathroom floor, she sat in the pieces of broken glass and blood, wailing her pain and anger.
Raven felt a little better, but she needed to care for the open wound in her hand. Remembering she had butterfly sutures, she quickly staunched the flow of blood with pressure, applying the sutures carefully. It was deep, but she refused to go back to the hospital for fear of being locked up in Mental Health for evaluation. She wasn’t crazy; she was livid with anger and resentment. That night, as she lay in bed, she knew what she had to do.
Raven stood with her Mixed Martial Arts class at the end of the graduating ceremony. It was her second year practicing and with Tia watching like a proud mother, she stepped up to her coach and was handed a black belt. Bowing, she took the belt and held it over her head for Tia to see. The past two years were grueling. The first year she spent healing and learning the fine arts of Mixed Martial Arts, honing skills to not only protect herself but also learning self-control. She amazed her coach with her diligence and willingness to push herself to the limit. Excelling at knife throwing, hand to hand combat and mastering the target practice at a shooting range, she also got her pistol permit. Buying a Smith and Wesson 9mm and a nice holster for easy access, Raven felt safe and secure when out on the streets. No one was ever going to hurt her again.
Looking at her watch, Raven knew she had to hurry if she was going to catch the sixth season of the Walking Dead. Putting the last of her groceries in the cart, she looked up the soda isle of the Mini Mart and there he was. Paling, she abandoned her cart and hid behind an end cap of Dr. Pepper bottles. Breathing heavily, heart palpitating like crazy, she peeked around and confirmed that the man she’d just seen was her attacker. She put the hood of her jacket up, boldly walking by him out the door to her car. The groceries could wait.
Raven watched as he paid for a blunt wrap and a forty-ounce bottle of beer. Her hands, white-knuckled as she gripped the steering wheel, shook with anticipation. When he came out, she started the car, waiting until he was a safe distance away before following him. Funny, she thought, he didn’t seem as tall as she thought he was. The punk walked in the direction of East and Patton Street, over by the projects. Stopping to unscrew the top of his beer in the brown bag, she watched as he took a long swig, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. It was now or never. Parking the car, she got out and followed him on foot. At one point, he stopped as if he knew she was there and turned around quickly. But she anticipated it and had already ducked into the nearest doorway. Funny how calm and collected she felt, touching her sidearm for comfort. Peeking around the doorway, she saw him just as he turned the corner and ran to catch up. Turning into an alley, Raven felt a moment's hesitation when she saw how dark and desolate it was. She knew she was taking a big risk, but couldn’t stop herself. Heart pounding, she started walking between the old brick buildings. She could hear the sound of people going about their daily lives; yelling, arguing, dogs barking, babies crying and she almost jumped out of her skin when a garbage can tipped over revealing a feral cat running for cover. Her attention disrupted by the cat; she didn’t see him until it was too late.
“Well, what have got here?” he growled, his lips curled into an ugly sneer, “You’ve been following me. Why?”
Trembling, Raven wanted to kick herself for her stupidity.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” she argued, “I always come down this way! It’s not my fault you just happened to be ahead of me.”
“Oh, really?” he drawled, “Where’s your car, bitch? I saw you get into that nice little Nissan back at the Mini Mart. Why’d you park it?”
Taking another long swig from his beer, he set it down on the pavement and lunged at her, slamming her back against the brick building.
“I know who you are, lady,” he growled, “I should’ve killed you that night! What are looking for? Some more of what I got?”
Pressing his face against hers, she could smell his fetid breath and gagged. Raven brought her knee up, slamming it into his groin. Moaning in excruciating pain, he doubled over, and she brought her knee up again to smash into his face, breaking his nose. As he fell to his knees, blood spurting from between his fingers, she got behind him, pressing her knife hard against his throat.
“Don’t fucking move,” she whispered, “You move, my hand just might slip.” For emphasis, she pressed harder, drawing blood.
“No, I’m good, lady, I ain’t moving,” he said calmly, holding out his hands, “Hey, it’s all good, right? No need to get all bent just because some dude took your virginity. I bet deep down inside you enjoyed it, right?”
She planned on scaring the shit out of him, but what he said put her right over the edge. In one swift motion, she slit his throat from ear to ear. Getting close to his ear as he lay dying in a pool of bright red arterial blood, she whispered, “No, I didn’t enjoy it, asshole. But I sure enjoyed this.”
Laying him down, she kissed his forehead. “Thanks for the good time, bitch,” Raven said, kicking him viciously in the ribs. Surveying the alley, seeing the coast was clear, she jogged back to her car sitting inside of its comfortable interior. She wasn’t sure how she felt, or if what she felt was normal. It sure as hell wasn’t remorse! To be honest, she felt elated, powerful. More in control of her life than she ever felt before. Driving home, she made a decision. First thing, she was going to the Humane Society and getting herself another dog. A Pit Bull or a Rottweiler. Smiling, she knew she was going to be alright. Life was all good.
“In the local news tonight, authorities are investigating a rash of murders throughout the city. What makes them all extraordinary, Chief of Police Brian Adams told our reporters, is that each of the victims are reported to have rape charges that were at some point dropped for lack of evidence. Chief Adams stated that in all his twenty years on the force, this has been the first time vigilante activity has been reported. Now, on to the weather….”