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Numbed by Grace

I. Look around you: damp gray walls, a cold concrete floor, a pallet to lie on and a hole to shit in, three squares a day. No way in hell to get out. I guess it’s all I ever really needed. So, doctor, make yourself comfortable behind that wall of unbreakable glass; pull up a chair and lend me that therapeutic ear that costs your customers, what, three hundred an hour?

Nice thing about this cell is I don’t even need to wear clothes—and so I don’t. On a good day, with a full tummy, I can move around like a spider, crawl up the walls, and occasionally hang from the ceiling. Not much else to do since, judged excessively violent, I can no longer have visitors.

My only escape is my dreams, doc, but the dreams scare the living shit out of me. Every night, seeking Grace, I travel blood-soaked dreams; people, buildings, and land bathed in crimson. Sometimes, I am a sidereal bat, sometimes a hawk, and sometimes the Dark Avenging Angel. Once, I was a cloud that rained blood. I always awake screaming.

By the way, you like looking at me, don’t you? I think you do, so let me crouch right before you so can get a full view. There. All women like big men. Grace certainly did.

II. Let me begin with Grace. Grace, you understand, was the love of my life, the shining center of my otherwise dark world. Grace and I grew up down the street from each other. In grade school and junior high, she was nice but didn’t have that extraordinarily bewitching flair. Always dressed in brown or gray, the freckled, brunette, pig- tailed Grace stayed indoors and played a lot of gin rummy and canasta with her alcoholic, cross-eyed mother. Occasionally, she invited me over to watch the screen run red with the blood from horror movies, and if her parents were gone or asleep we would take off our clothes in the front room and play with her dead aunt’s Ouija Board. The summoned spirits often demanded something risky, like setting a cat on fire. Once, to Grace’s laughter, I ran home screaming because a succubus summoned by Grace had entered me.

In high school, darling Grace became reclusive and took to wearing black-rimmed glasses and black clothes decorated with occult symbols. Classmates thought she was crazy and feared her, believing she cast spells causing blindness, impotence, or insanity. I tried to stay away from Grace at school but couldn’t do it. On my seventeenth birthday, in the hallway, she gave me a note announcing that she had made an enormous breakthrough and was now communing with the dead, who had convinced her to consider a career in adult entertainment. “I dream of becoming a cum-drenched slut,” she wrote in bold letters. (I remember reading the letter in my fifth period English class.) From then on, doc, I had to fight bone-hard craving for her. From that point on, whenever and wherever I even thought of her, felt the words “cum-drenched slut” slide into me, I got a woody, just like what you see now.

Late one cold March night during our senior year, she came to my house. Coyly, in a low sexy voice, she told me to take her to my third-floor room. My parents were away at a weekend church retreat, so I did as I was told. In my room, seated next to each other on my bed, we looked at each other, Grace smiling sweetly and exuding darkly glorious passion. I thought the magic words and grew hard as a rock.

“Let me see your dick,” she said. It was an unusual request; she’d seen it only once, about two years before this meeting. Outside, the wind howled.

I hesitated, so she slowly removed her glasses and her black sweater. Slender with full breasts and nice brown nipples, she had died her shoulder-length hair black and wore blood red lipstick. Nails were blood red.

“My God, Grace,” I gasped. She was stunningly beautiful.

When I unzipped and pulled myself out, Grace grabbed me, yanked, leaned forward, and gave me a warm, gentle kiss on the mouth.

“Take me to the prom,” she whispered.

“What?” I said. Grace wasn’t the prom sort.

“You heard me,” she cooed, caressing me. “Let’s do the prom.”

“I hate those things.” Last year, my date had left with three of my best friends.

“Please. We need to do this,” she implored, leaning down and kissing my cock. Letting go in a burst of ecstasy, I agreed to take Grace to the prom.

So, in mid-April, Grace and I went. Her raven hair cascading down her back, she wore a low-cut red dress that barely concealed her nipples and was slit on each side to reveal her legs and hip. She wanted everyone to see that she had worn nothing underneath. Stunning, shoulders back, she walked with a sensual confidence and ease through crowds of classmates, huddled together and nervously whispering.

Grace was dressed to kill, Doc.

I had half expected her to do something right out of Carrie. You know, set a few of her classmates on fire and then, with a wink or nod, torch the whole school. In retrospect, I think she just wanted to show off. Maybe she wanted to impress me.

After the dance, in my uncle’s pickup, I drove Grace to the south shore of the lake thirty miles out of town. There, under a full moon, she stood knee-deep in water, sang a witchy song about mating animals, and undressed; I watched from shore, admiring this perfectly shaped whore. Then, wading toward me, she asked me if I wanted to stick my tongue inside her. Remarking that I’d be glad to, I knelt in the water and, as she moaned, gave her pleasure. Then, I stood, dropped my pants, and helped by her gentle touch shoved myself inside her. That night, after we finished fucking, Grace and I made a pact, sealed it by drinking each other’s blood, and decided to get married right after graduation.

Of course, things rarely turn out like you want them. Isn’t that the truth, doc? A week later, Grace’s mother swallowed a bottle of pills and bought the farm. Funeral was one of those grim Catholic affairs. Weeks passed after that. Grace didn’t return my calls.

Then, in late August, she telephoned. “I need to see you, Frank,” she said. “And I want to see you,” I said right back. So we went out one hot Sunday night. At Denny’s, just off the Strip, she sat right next to me and bought me coffee, cherry pie and ice cream. Picking at her apple and apricot sundae, she was minus the glasses and wore a snug wrap-around top that pushed out breasts substantially larger than I remembered them. Her hair was still raven. She wore no lipstick, no fingernail polish.

“Sorry about your mom,” I said. I knew marriage was out, at least for the time being.

“I miss my mom, the crazy old bitch,” she sighed, not looking up. “Give anything to have her back.”

We sat in silence. I tried to think of something.

“Operation?” I suddenly asked, motioning with my fork toward her tits.

Grace looked up, stared, then smiled.

“Of course,” she said. “You like?”

I nodded my head. “A lot.”

Her eyes were deep blue pools, her lips set in a sexy California-girl pout. Riveting me in her sexy stare, she began talking about her desire to study Paranormal Psychology at the college in the fall so that, while fucking, we could learn to join our souls in the dark region just beyond consciousness. In fact for the next four years, we took at least one class together every semester.

When I entered graduate school in English, Grace began teaching art classes in a public high school. Also, her father died. Pursuing separate careers, we communicated less and less with each other even though we lived in the same apartment complex but on different floors.

Then two years after she had begun teaching, she was dismissed for “conduct unbecoming a state employee”—she had brought a pack of Tarot cards to class and had done fortunes—but quickly rebounded, taking a job as a nude dancer. Her talents were obvious, and soon she began accepting invitations from several wealthy CEOs, who paid her well to do kinky stuff, like shitting in their mouths or shoving a bottle inside her.

Finally, she broke into adult entertainment, specializing in films that combined sex and violence and often led to a frenzied ending in which Grace’s character died brutally. At Grace’s insistence, I did see one of the films but refused to sit through any others. They made me sick. I think she took that personally, doc, because she suddenly stopped calling or seeing me. Feelings were hurt, I guess.

Grace’s complete absence dug a hole in me. I craved the bitch: anguished, I began experiencing depression, a hereditary condition that, in my father’s case, had often resulted in “mysterious blackouts” and attempted suicides.

III. Two years, three years, four years passed.

With the help of medication and a reasonably competent therapist, I pushed forward with my dissertation, an application of deconstructionist criticism to early nineteenth century English Romantic literature. Between writing spurts, I spiraled in and out of savage darkness. I prayed to get Grace back.

Sometimes, Doc, the Good Lord answers prayers because right after I got my Ph.D., Grace began calling me twice a week. I’d be eating dinner, watching TV, the phone would ring, and it would be Grace. Or crawling into bed, heavy with fatigue, I’d hear the phone ring, pick it up, and there’d be Grace. Let me tell you, doc, I was damned glad to hear from her.

During one of those calls, she invited me to dinner right then, and when I bounded down to her place, I met some of her friends. Tall, thin men; Tim, Ed, and Mike worked at her club. Over the dinner table, they ate like animals and rarely talked. Other than that, they seemed nice.

After dinner, we all stood at the living room window, watching cars pull through the parking lot. I felt inspired to recite a piece by T. S. Eliot when Grace said, “I’ve got a surprise for you, Frank.” Taking me by the hand, she led me to one of the apartment’s two bedrooms; the three men followed.

In the center of the room stood a contraption whose use I figured out immediately. Standing back, I watched Grace allow the three men undress her and strap her facedown by her wrists and ankles. Bound to the contraption, she formed an X.

Then, Tim, Ed, and Mike undressed and took turns. With ease and joy, Grace took each of these men into her even though they were very rough with her. Finally, exhausted, glistening, Grace turned her head and glanced back at me. She was bleeding slightly from the mouth and nose but didn’t seem to mind.

Removing my clothes, I climbed the contraption and mounted her from behind. “Marry me, Frank,” is all she said as I entered her. “It’s a deal,” I said. Three weeks later, Grace and I were married in a ceremony held in one of Las Vegas’ wedding chapels.

As you can see, Doc, I get hard just thinking about it.

IV. For the most part, life with Grace was good. I taught at the local community college, and Grace danced and did adult movies in which she specialized in taking on three at once. Word got around, but no one in the academic community seemed to mind. We never talked with my colleagues anyway.

Her movies were tremendously arousing, and we often watched them together before bed. She said that my fucking her and watching herself in action was like having four guys inside her at once. I thought that was all right, but then, over breakfast one morning, she blurted out that she preferred three men to one.

“Does that mean you don’t enjoy me any more?” I asked, my foundation trembling.

“Honey,” she cooed, reaching across the table and stroking my hand, “I didn’t say that… Did I?”

“You did,” I answered, refusing to look her in the eye and feeling as if I were breaking into a million fragments. I needed to be the center of Grace’s world.

“Well,” she laughed in the way that always told me she was being less than candid, “I didn’t mean what you thought I said.” The words smashed into my brain like concrete.

After she won several awards for her film performance, the depressions returned with the fury of Macbeth’s witches. Black things, they generally hit when Grace was gone on one of her increasingly frequent trips. There I would be, sitting at home, preparing for class or reading a novel when the “spell” would descend like thick fog. The periods would last for a day or two, and at the end I often found that I had walked or driven to a place I didn’t recognize. Once, I came to in a grocery story in North Las Vegas. Another time, I broke out of the delirium at the L. A. Staples center, where in the company of two gorgeous women I was watching a hockey match. And once, I found myself in bed with an underage girl who had met me in a bar and, claiming me that she was of age, had convinced me to take me back to my house.

When Grace was home, things got better, at least I thought they did. Yet, even with her in bed next to me, I had nightmares of such terrifying intensity that, after I awoke, I could not sleep for the rest of the night, afraid that I would become the bloodied butcher who carried a huge kitchen knife through my dreams. But everyone has an occasional nightmare—right, doc?--so I managed to get on with Grace, striving for all-American normalcy.

Hell, when Grace was home, we became Mr. And Mrs. America. We dined out, partied with her friends, went boating at the lake, took in plays and concerts, and went to baseball games. I still fondly remember sitting with Grace behind home plate and, as the game progressed, watching the colors on the mountains change as the sun set. On such nights, we talked about her job, and I suggested she get out of the sex business so we could raise a family. Of course, Grace just shrugged her shoulders, kind of like this, commented “We’ll see,” and nothing more would be said.

But then the earth slipped slightly off its axis. As my dreams dripped blood, she started getting late night calls at night from men she claimed were celebrities that wanted to see her—and always she left my bed to be with them. This was bad, real bad. Anxiety and depression threatened to consume me completely.

V. And then—and then, late one night, I awoke in deadened, leaden darkness. It was like being in Hell; I’m sure you know the feeling, Doc.

Drenched in sweat, I figured I was trapped in a delirium. If so, the dreadful blackness would dissipate and I’d be all right.

But this wasn’t one of those moments. I wasn’t making this up. So I sat up in bed, listening to my heart thud in my brain, to the fan whirl overhead, to the sound of the ocean coming from the white-noise maker on the bureau across the room. As my head cleared, though I could see nothing, I noted that I was trembling uncontrollably, like a little mouse.

In my bed, next to Grace, I was alone and afraid. I sobbed. I wanted to wake her and ask her to hold me like my mother used to when I was little. But I didn’t wake her. I didn’t say anything. Instead, numbed and cold, I sniffed the air.

A sweet, sickly metallic smell filled me. I recognized it from my dreams. It was fucking unmistakable, doc.

Fighting to assure myself that there was no smell, I reached to my left, flicked on the light, and slowly turned to look around the room. It was then that my head seemed to freeze, my eyes locked in place, and my jaw dropped open. Through the semi-darkness, I could see blood smeared the ceiling and wall in grotesque patterns. I held my trembling, stained hands in front of my face. Willing my head to unfreeze, I turned to my right, scanning crimson-soaked sheets. My first thought was that Grace was having her period, though I knew this couldn’t be. Then I looked at Grace.

This is the hard part, Doc, so give me a minute…

* * * *

OK. Back to the story.

Doc, she lay on her stomach, her head barely on her pillow and tilted toward me. Her eyes and mouth were open, and at first I thought she was getting ready to speak. But then I noticed a large spot of blood soaking the sheet at her mouth. I quickly turned away, leaped off the bed, and looked back.

I crept around the room, studying Grace, examining the walls. There lay Grace. My Grace. No breath came from her. No movement. Blood streaked her long, black hair; her body and the backs of her legs were spotted with it. I stopped at her side of the bed, trembling so badly that I could barely stand, wondering if I should fall to my knees and beg God’s forgiveness. With effort I turned her over. In all this, her eyes and mouth remained open.

Beneath the blood thinly coating her body, she had a dozen our so puncture wounds on her chest and stomach. One of her breasts had been sliced open. Her wrists bore bloody holes. My eyes ran up and down her in a spidery frenzy, and I saw that she had bled profusely from between her legs. The cross, suspended from a beam, hung over the bed.

My head spun. This was the work of a fucking madman, doc, someone who had gone at my Grace in a howling frenzy. Pounding my head with my fists, like this, I told myself that I couldn’t have done such a horrible thing. I loved Grace.

Blood-scent thick as oil, I leaned over, my mouth inches from her ear. “Grace,” I whispered, surely out of my mind. “Grace.” I shook her.

Kneeling by the side of the bed, I put my head in my hands, closed my eyes, and began moaning like one of the damned from those old black and white horror movies. Images flickered like bats through my mind, first in tiny fragments, then in larger and larger pieces. It all came together, like a kaleidoscope of horror: Grace bound naked to a cross suspended over our bed; Grace screaming, sobbing, shaking her head as her assailant assured her that she would die slowly; Grace watching as the man sliced her left breast just below the nipple; Grace stabbed repeatedly by a man who, from the back, looked like me; thin geysers of blood, staining sheets, carpet, walls and ceiling; Grace hanging from the cross, blood dripping from the body that had become famous for taking on three hulking men at a time.

It was awful, doc, worse than you can imagine. God, I wish I had a cigarette. I can’t get the blood-drenched slut out of my mind. I loved her.

Anyway, jerking back from the images, I opened my eyes and looked up, insisting to myself that I did not own a knife. My God, I hate knives. I stood, wondering how my Grace could have been killed as I slept beside her; I forced myself to wonder why I had blood on my hands. I checked my T-shirt, underpants, and legs, which were sticky with it. Then, guided by the still, small voice that has haunted me since childhood, I slowly glanced around. And, sure enough, I found the knife; diamonds on the sheath glistening, the weapon had been placed on top of the tall dresser next to my nightstand. Blood on the handle, blood on the blade. This could not have been my knife. I swear I didn’t own a knife. All we had were kitchen knives.

So Grace lay there, eyes and mouth open, victim of an atrocious act. I stood, at the foot of the bed, watching and waiting all night and through the next day. Around eight in the evening, the doorbell rang. Who the hell can it be, I silently wondered. We had no friends in the neighborhood.

I took a shower. Then, after putting the knife back in the closet, I slipped on my bathrobe and walked downstairs. The doorbell was still ringing, and when I opened the door it was the police, a man and a woman in blue. They said that two nights before neighbors had heard terrible screaming coming from my place; no one had seen Grace or me since; looked suspicious, the fat lady across the street had said.

The cops were friendly enough to me when I asked them in. After they asked me several questions over tea and cookies, the lady cop asked if they could look upstairs.

That’s when I commented, “Yeah, I think there’s something you’d be interested in seeing.”

She smiled. “That’s why we’re here,” she said in that motherly voice that I’m sure she uses to tell her family that she’s got everything under control.

What could I do, doc: wait for the search warrant? Someone was eventually going to find Grace, anyway, so I took them upstairs and let them see. It’s all I could do. As we stood facing the grotesque spectacle, the male cop lost his cookies all over the carpet; probably never seen so much blood in one place in his life. The woman breathed deeply, gasped something like, “Oh, my sweet Jesus,” looked up at the cross, actually crossed herself, and closed her eyes; she was the strong one, a prayer warrior, not to be fucked with.

I never fuck with people who pray, Doc. It’s a one-way ticket to Hell.

When her partner cleaned himself up, I was handcuffed, told of my rights, and taken to the station.

VI. As you know, the trial followed, witnesses and so-called experts materialized out of nowhere, and I was condemned to die by lethal injection. If I did what they said I did, I guess I deserve to die. But, Jesus, no one wants to die, doc, not even a fucking psychopath. Besides, I don’t remember the cross. Why would I nail Grace to a cross? When would I have had time to build a cross?

Needless to say, I lost my teaching position. One cannot teach college classes locked in a cell surrounded by unbreakable glass. Besides, the trial somewhat ruined my credibility as a college English professor.

So, for the past three years, I’ve been in this gray cell and have seen no one. Day by day, food mysteriously appears on the floor in front of the glass. I spend my time reading and sleeping and climbing the walls like Jonathan Edwards’ spider hanging suspended over the burning pit of Hell. At least they keep the heat on in this place.

When I do sleep, as I told you, I move through dreams of blood. Sometimes, it’s like swimming. Always, chanting something profane as I travel through these crimson nightmares, I seek Grace, but Grace never answers, never comes, and until she does I shall remain on this side of the bleak, thick wall separating me from the eternal kingdom, where I am sure she happily dwells and dreams of her days with me.

Well, that’s the story, Doc, of Grace and the professor. Another case study for publication in one of those professional magazines that your peers will read and say, “Let’s make sure to invite Dr. So-and-so” to the conference in Montreal so she can read this.”

Story might make you famous. As for me? Hell, I’m just waiting for the needle, Doc; just waiting for the needle.

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