The story so far:
The scream made my teeth hurt. I had to make her stop. I took two, three quick steps in her direction. I glanced up and saw the old man beating a hasty retreat out the door.
Chickenshit! I thought. Any real man would have stood his ground if for no other reason than to protect Malena. I couldn’t worry about him, now. He was going for help, I was certain of that.
That god-awful screaming was driving me crazy. “Shut up!” I screamed back at her. I was right in her face. I grabbed her upper arms and shook her. “Shut up, Malena, just shut the **** up!”
Malena was beyond reach. Her entire body was shaking, tears were pouring down her cheeks. Her eyes, as wide and round as they could possibly be, were staring at the body of the girl and she wouldn’t stop screaming. I couldn’t think with all that damned screaming.
I cold-cocked her. A looping right swing to the point of her chin. Her teeth snapped together and her head shot backward. Her eyes, previously wide and staring, rolled back into her head and she fell like someone had jerked her legs out from under her. I grabbed her almost as soon as she hit the ground and threw her over my shoulder. Her hip next to my face, head hanging down behind me, bumping against my **** as I turned and ran deeper into the bunkhouse. There had to be another exit.
I took only a few steps before realizing that I’d forgotten the hat. I turned back, scooped it up and ran toward what looked to be a kitchen. I quickly spotted a screen door that led back outside and through the door I could see a stand of trees only twenty to thirty feet away. Apple trees with no forage between. There was nowhere to hide among those trees, really, but better than nothing. At least I didn’t see any people.
I slammed through the door, the back of Malena’s heels put small holes in the screening of the door. Fifteen seconds later I was deep among the apple trees. I turned to look back the way I’d come and couldn’t see or hear anyone. I still didn’t feel safe and Malena was out cold so I kept going, deeper and deeper into the trees.
Finally, I had to stop. Malena was wiggling around a little bit and I was exhausted. As gently as I could, I bent over and put Malena on the ground. Standing back up my legs felt like jelly. I was sweating like a pig. I stood there, looking like the monster I thought I was, I’m sure; with the preacher’s hat in one hand and the bloody knife in the other. Melena opened her eyes and opened her mouth. I thought she was going to scream again.
I knelt down as fast as I could and put a hand over her mouth. “Listen, Malena. Listen to me, please. I’m not going to hurt you. I didn’t hurt the girl, either. You’ve got to believe me,” I begged. I think my eyes were doing a better job of pleading, though, because I could see and feel Malena relax. Not much, but enough for me to believe she wouldn’t scream if I took my hand off of her mouth. “I’m going to move my hand, OK? Please, don’t scream, OK?”
Malena nodded her head and I moved my hand. She wiped her mouth with the back of her forearm and then rubbed her jaw where I’d hit her.
“I’m sorry, Malena, I had to hit you to stop you from screaming. I couldn’t think and…..”
“What did you do to Katy? What did you do, you son of a bitch!”
“Shh, shhh, please, Malena. I didn’t do anything to her, I swear. The preacher did that and then left me holding the knife just before you came in. I….swear….I.” I couldn’t continue. I slumped back on my butt and I couldn’t stop the tears. I crossed my arms over my knees, lay my forehead on them and simply sat there and cried. I couldn't stop myself and I didn't care anymore.
I wasn’t aware that Malena had moved until I felt her arms around my shoulders. “It’s OK. It’s okay, James. I believe you. OK? I believe you.” She patted my arms, pulled my face up and brushed the hair out of my eyes. She sat in front of me and held my cheeks in both hands. “Tell me, James, tell me what’s going on.”
It took awhile, but I finally got through the whole story from start to now. I didn’t leave anything out, even the part about the old man and the hitchhiker. I blamed that on the hat. On that **** hat that took control of me and allowed the preacher to play me like a puppet on a string.
“So, this hat,” she picked up the preacher’s hat. “This hat has some kind of power, huh?”
I stared at her numbly. I nodded my head. “It makes you…it makes you feel strong, unbeatable and…..and, nasty, Malena…it’s evil. It’s his hat and it’s evil,” I whispered.
“Well, maybe the preacher **** up, James. Maybe this hat is his Achilles heel. Hmmm?”
I looked up at her in shock as I realized what she was doing but, I was too late to stop her. Malena put the the preacher's hat on.