Three Breaths – Belle Brooks

The downlight above Maloney’s head creates the illusion of a halo as he stares at the television. He seems relaxed with his arms outstretched on top of the lounge, and his knees spread wide apart from each other. His sneakers start where his blue jeans cut off, and they appear almost brand new when I come to focus on them in the light—stark white, no scuff marks, no tattered laces. I don’t know why this seems off-putting to me, but it does. It’s a gentle clearing of his throat that causes me to shoot my eyes upwards. Maloney rotates his head in my direction, from that of the television, and subtly nods before he again turns away. I can’t help wondering how Maloney managed to get the job of being my babysitter because that’s how this situation seems—like I’m a toddler under constant supervision. All day, and so far, all night, someone’s watched my every move. I didn’t abduct my wife, and I’ve never wished harm upon her, not even in my angriest moments. I want Morgan to come home more than anybody. I also want to know where my money is, and why this is happening to our family, and to my wife. Maloney hasn’t said much over the last couple of hours. In fact, he’s the quietest he’s been since he walked into my home and took up temporary residence here. Is fatigue getting the better of him as it is me? My eyes burn, and the headache beating across my eyebrows makes me squeeze my eyes tight together every few minutes to reduce the strain. I should sleep, but I’m too scared, because what if the phone rings and I don’t wake to answer it? Will this game-playing son-of-a-bitch kill Morgan like he promised he would if I’m not at his beck and call? “Reid, are you okay?” Maloney says softly.

“Huh?” I need to get out of my head and away from my thoughts. “Are you okay?” he says, this time slow and drawn out. “No,” I sigh. “Where’s Morgan? Is there any new information? “We don’t know anything yet.” He tips his head to the side. “We’re doing everything we can.” Maloney’s go-to phrase. I’m sure I’ve heard him speak these same words numerous times today. “It’s been over twenty-four hours. I’m worried as fuck, and tired as shit.

I bet Morgan is …” I don’t finish speaking because my thoughts flash between differing scenarios. Morgan’s skirt is hiked above her hips. Her knees spread wide. Her knickers rest by her ankles. There’s blood streaks down her inner thighs, and when I see the deep purple hand print bruised into her skin I leap to the dirty mattress littering the concrete flooring and use my body as a blanket to cover her exposure. “No, no, no,” I hiss. There’s a miniature train circling a track beside the Ferris wheel. Its horn blows each time it rolls by a fat plastic controller standing at its side. The amusement park is absent of children’s laughter, flickering lights and show tunes, until the Ferris Wheel begins to rotate unexpectedly. I tip my chin upwards in search of the children who are now screaming.

I smother my mouth with my palms when Morgan’s body comes into view. She’s tied to the metal structure by her wrists. Dangling so high above the ground. “Morgan.” I blink excessively, trying to halt these visions. I don’t want to see Morgan that way. I curl my head into my forearms, muttering, “Leave her alone.” I envision a lake. It’s big, with dirty brown water and tree branches hanging over its banks, and there’s Morgan, face down, floating in the lake, all the life she had perished. “Help.

” It’s a weak deliverance of the word from my lips. A room, no grander than the area I’m sitting in, is dark. There’s a spotlight focused onto a fourposter bed, and as I search for my wife, it’s as if the air in my lungs leaves as hers did. She’s posed, naked, with her throat slit from ear to ear, and there’s so much blood splattered high up the walls that the urge to vomit overcomes me. Morgan’s blue in colouration, and cold when I come to brush her cheek with the backs of my fingers. “Reid.” My name sounds as if it’s being spoken from a distance. I don’t answer. A dirt road stretches for miles and I’m frantic as I rush down it. I stop when I see a beaten body laid out in the centre.

I gasp. The black skirt and heels Morgan last walked out of the house in … It’s her. It’s Morgan. I dry-heave at the sight of her trodden body and the view of her skull caved inwards. Red, so much red, creates patterns through the dirt surrounding Morgan, and I jump back in horror when it reaches the tip of my shoe. “Fuck,” I growl. “What’s happening, Reid? Reid, can you hear me?” I want to vomit. I’m shaking. I can’t breathe. “Make it stop.

” I bolt upright to my feet with my eyes wide and my breath jagged. “Look at me.” His hands grip tightly around my biceps. “I think you’re having a panic attack. Just look into my eyes.” I can’t because all I see is Morgan. Dead. Her head is hanging limply between her legs one moment, and then she’s running through uncontrollable flames the next. A flash of her hanging from a noose slung high from a tree, so high I’d never reach her to remove it, takes over, and I can’t seem to make these flickers of film my mind is creating stop. “Come on, mate.

Stay with me.” Maloney pauses. “Lynette,” he yells. “Morgan,” I cry out, as I brace my body by crossing my arms over my chest. Fog is filling an alleyway. I’m hesitant, but the need to enter is overpowering. The alleyway suddenly becomes clear, as if someone parts the thick, smoky veil, and there, discarded amongst bags of trash, is my wife’s lifeless body. I cover my mouth. “Fuck.” I drool, wiping at my lips.

I hold my breath and then let out a gutwrenching groan. “Breathe, Reid. Come on now, just breathe.” It’s Maloney; I can see his caring eyes searching mine. “He’s hurting her. He’s torturing her, raping her.” I pant and then moan out my agony as I fold at my mid-section. “You don’t know that. You don’t know these things have happened to Morgan or that they will. Come on.

” Maloney’s hand presses against my shoulder as I struggle to draw air into my lungs. “In through your nose, out through your mouth,” he instructs calmly. I do. Three drawn breaths lessens some of the panic that’s hit me like a bus collecting an unobservant pedestrian. “I’ve got you,” he says. He grips my hands and then tugs me by my arms until my feet drag along the ground. He’s moving me. “Sit, Reid,” Maloney says. “Okay.” It’s a barely audible response.

Maloney is crouched in front of me when I come to eye him. His chin is tilted back slightly and his mouth partly open. “You can’t go to those types of places inside your head. Trust me, if you do, there’s no coming back from them. Every scenario you play out will consume you, and then you’ll be useless to us. You need to stop this so you can be strong for your wife. Falling apart like you’re doing will do diddly squat.” There’s a long pause. “You’re stronger than this.” I nod.

“Lynette, can you get him some water please?” Lynette? Where did she come from? Where is she? I try to locate her, but Maloney obstructs my view. “Of course, Max.” She’s courteous. “Reid, you and I are going outside, aren’t we?” Max’s tone is laced with concern. I don’t respond. “We’re going to get some fresh air, the two of us. We’ll be outside, Detective.” I growl through my teeth as I curl my fists into tight balls and beat them into my thighs. “Morgan,” I groan, suppressing the urge to release any further anguish. The air is still.

There’s no breeze, not even a hint of one to come. It’s muggy and dry, but even so, I don’t want to leave this space. At least I can breathe out here. Maloney offers a half-hearted wave to Senior Constable Prospect, the lanky redhead who has barely said a single word to me yet. I’m not sure what it is about Prospect, but he seems strange in so many ways. Maybe it’s because he doesn’t say much, or maybe it’s because when I do catch him moving about, he always seems to be scanning his surroundings, like one would when snooping. Prospect stands a fair distance away from Maloney and myself, out on the lawn, not far from the tyre swing hanging limply from the tree I tied it to not long after Brax was born. I watch as he points with one finger to his ear, and that’s when I realise he’s taking a call, or maybe he’s listening to a message. His lips don’t appear to be moving, and I can’t hear him speak. “Hey, don’t beat yourself up over losing it in there,” Maloney says quietly, his finger outstretched towards the open front door.

“It happens to the best of us.” “Yeah,” I say, defeated. Maloney slips his hand into the pocket of his jeans, swiftly removing a pack of cigarettes, and as he does I contemplate what it would be like to put every one of those cancer sticks in my mouth and light them all at once. I know Cruise used to say he smoked because it lessened his stress levels. I wonder if that works for panic, too. “Would you like one?” The packet is held outwards not far from my hand. “I think I’ll pass. Those cigarettes taste like shit.” “They do.” The corners of his lips rise as he slides the pack right back where he retrieved it from.

“Don’t let me stop you from having one though.” “I don’t smoke.” Maloney’s direct in the way he declares this as if it’s common knowledge to the world. I cock my eyebrows. “So why do you have them?” “We all carry a packet. It’s something we learn in the police academy. I guess I smoke, but only when and if I need to. You’d be amazed at how a simple cigarette can get a perp to open up and talk, or a frazzled civilian—” “Some water.” I turn. Lynette.

Her face mute of emotion. Lynette has such serious features, which become more noticeable as she stands under the patio’s light. I’m not sure if it’s because of her crowdark eyes, or if it’s because I haven’t determined if we’re friends or foes at this point, but the unease that comes with being in her company sends shivers like spikes to my spine. “Thanks.” I accept the glass from her and scull the liquid in only a few gulps. “Would you like more?” I’m surprised to find her waiting with an outstretched hand; surprised because I’ve not found her to be patient or caring in the brief encounters we’ve had. I shake my head, handing her the glass. “Okay,” she says deadpan. I don’t have a chance to reply with anything further because with a blink of my eyes, Detective Dyson is gone. Prospect ambles up the front stairs and lingers beside Maloney.

I stare him down as he leans into Maloney’s side and whispers something, sporting an enigmatic smile. Prospect irks me. What’s with this need to whisper? Maloney inclines his head gravely in response. “I’m going inside.” Prospect eyes me. There’s a coldness to the glare he delivers. “Yep,” Maloney mumbles. “Any news?” I blurt, the moment Prospect disappears. “No, not yet.” Maloney seems distracted in answering, as if he’s thinking about something in-depth.

Does he have new information he’s not willing to share? Is it bad? “Are you sure? You haven’t heard anything from Detective West?” “No news.” He’s blunt, and I know he’s lying. The panic that consumed me not so long ago rebuilds. My hands tremble, and I bear down on my teeth as if by doing so I can clamp any remaining hope I have in my heart between them. “We’ll find her.” Maloney’s soft-spoken. “You know … Have you …” I can’t find the words. “Ask me anything. I’ll answer. No BS.

I promise.” “Do you have any children?” He nods promptly. “Married?” He nods again. “You know when you’re in a shopping complex, and you turn your head for only just a moment, and after you do your kid just up and disappears on you?” He nods once more. “The feeling of raw panic you experience instantly has your mind conjuring up all the terrible situations that could take place if you don’t find your kid immediately. You start yelling their name, and you run, you run flat-strap like it’s instinct to do so.” “Yeah. I do.” “You’re searching, but every second ticking by is a second you can’t change if trouble has found them.” I pause, thinking about the times Brax and Aleeha have done this to me in the past.

“Then you see a blur of their clothing, or you hear their tiny voice in your haste, and the panic surging your adrenaline leaves you as quickly as it set in. The sirens of danger stop ringing vociferously in your head, and you realise they were safe the entire time. It was a silly toy or bright object which called them away from your side in the first place.” “Mila, my daughter—she’s done this to me.” Maloney gifts an understanding smile. “It’s the worst feeling.” “It is the worst.” “You walk over to your little brat, and every part of you wants to shake the living shit out of them as you bark how scared you were straight into their innocent face. You need your child to comprehend how dangerous it was that they left your side, but even though this is what you want to do, you don’t.” I raise my arms linking my fingers behind my head.

“Instead, you wrap your arms around their guiltless body and hold them as tightly as you can, thinking, Thank God you’re safe.” Maloney’s nodding. “That’s generally how the aftermath plays out.” “That’s what I’m waiting for, Max. I’m waiting for the relief to come so it can drown out the panic swirling inside me. I need these sirens blasting in my head to stop sounding. Right now, I want to run —scream Morgan’s name. Let the world flash me by as I search for her.” “I get it. I do.

” “If this was your wife?” “I’d be shit scared. There’s no doubt in my mind.” “How old’s your daughter?” I’m curious, but also trying to gain a level of friendship with Maloney that might see him open up and give me some information to set my uncertainties at ease. “She’s three.” “I remember my Aleeha being small like that.” “Mila’s a good kid.” The corner of his lips tug upward until he’s contently smiling. “But she’s a sassy firecracker like her mamma is.” “Kids are hard work, right?” “That they are. Thank God I get to leave for work and take a break from kid-wrangling.

I’m not sure how my wife does it all day and night.” “Morgan’s an amazing mother.” “So is my Sophia.” There’s silence. “I’ll take that smoke now.” I sigh. “I need something, anything to try and keep me calm.” Maloney reaches into his pocket, removing the packet for the second time. “After this, Reid, you need to try and get some sleep. Even if it’s only twenty minutes, it will help.

” I shake my head. “I can’t sleep. I don’t think I can until I have my wife home safe.” “You can’t stay awake forever; your body will eventually shit itself … Trust me.” “I’ll sleep when my wife is home. That’s when I’ll sleep. Not before.” White water lilies bob up and down in a small pond in front of us. Morgan pauses briefly before taking the microphone to her mouth. “Reid, today you’re mine forever, and this makes me the happiest girl to walk the earth.

They say when you find the real thing you know, and you don’t hesitate to hold it tight in your possession. I knew from the day on those university grounds when I said, ‘Hi, I’m Morgan,’ that I’d marry you. I truly did.” She smiles broadly. “I will love you for all the days of my life. I will hold you in your darkest hours. Honour you in all you accomplish, and laugh with you through every great milestone. Nothing will ever be too much for us to handle, for we will always have each other and will find strength when rough times seek us out.” Tears well in her eyes. “Your lips are my home, your hands are my comfort, and your heart guides my future.

I’m honoured and privileged today to be your wife. Keep me safe, keep me warm and loved, Reid—that’s all I’ll ever ask of you, and in return, I’ll be by your side no matter what. You’re my everything. My Friend. My lover. My now husband. My Reid.” Her hands tremble as she grasps the thick gold wedding band between her fingertips. “I, Morgan Amelia Cuttings, take you, Reid Elis Banks, to be …” The sound of a door closing causes me to jump. Where am I? Why are doors slamming? “Reid.

” It’s an unfamiliar voice, and for a moment I’m confused until I find myself standing in a room that brings me the sensation of peace. I’m looking down on a wooden floor. I’m calm. I know I’m alone, yet waiting for someone. “Are you ready, baby?” Her hands brush my waistband. I smile in response. “You are edible in that suit, Mr Banks.” I turn swiftly and breathe in her vanilla perfume. Morgan’s my life. It’s all I can think when my eyes meet hers.

“I’m ready to sweep you of your feet and show these clowns how it is we dance, baby.” Morgan smiles as her big brown eyes fill with mischievous intent. I can read her like a book. I’ve never felt so close to another person in my life. “You’re my Aphrodite, Morgan. Beauty, pleasure, and procreation draped in a white wedding dress; I’m so glad you said yes.” A sweet giggle slips from her mouth as my arms desperately fold her in, pressing her body taut to mine. “I love you, Morgan,” I whisper against her cheek. “Reid finally succumbed to sleep. Just leave him there.

There’s no point waking him.” That unfamiliar voice returns, and as I search for the man who has ownership of it, I feel Morgan slipping out of my arms. What’s happening? The room we had our first dance in grows dark and as it does my stomach rolls with worry and the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention. “Come away with me,” Morgan whispers, and I’m drawn to follow her bright silhouette invading the darkness. I smell the ocean salt before I see crystal blue water. There’s a light breeze rushing over my body as a white curtain sways impeding the ocean view. “I love it here in Barbados, Reid, and I never want to go home. Can we stay forever?” Morgan lays peacefully in my arms. “I love the sound of ocean waves crashing on the shore. How will I ever sleep when we return home without this sound?” God, she’s beautiful.

I don’t want to leave her. I don’t want to go home. “Hmmm,” I moan. “We should stay here forever.” I nip gently against her neck. “I love you, Morgan.” “I love you too.” She rolls until she’s perched up on her elbows. Her adoring gaze tells me of her love. “I love you so much.

” I can’t help but pull Morgan down on top of me and hold back the hair falling over her face by cupping my hands to her cheeks. “The honeymoon might be almost over, Morgan, but I can’t wait to start my life with you. I promise every day will be just like this.” Her smile is a gift from God. Oh, that smile of hers is a mix of pleasure, peace and heaven. Ring, ring. It’s a faint sound. Ring, ring. It grows louder. Ring, ring.

“What the fuck is happening?” I rub my eyes, trying to figure out why I hear ringing in our hotel room since we specifically asked for no electronics to be included. “Here, take it.” It’s a woman voice. It’s not Morgan’s. “What?” I’m half asleep. Lost. “Take it. Wait for my signal.” A phone is held an inch from my nose. “Reid, get ready to answer the phone.

It’ll be him.” “Who?” “Reid. You were asleep. Now you’re awake. Your wife is missing. The guy who has her is calling. You need to fucking switch on.” Maloney holds my chin in a pistol grip while glaring into my eyes. “Reid, you need to take this call. Morgan’s missing.

Wake up.” I fell asleep. I was only dreaming. I’m not surrounded by love and happiness. I’m living a fucking nightmare. Morgan I’m weightless, and I know I’m being carried because I can feel his chest expanding and then deflating against my cheek. I can also smell the aroma of sweat mixed with something that reminds me of my grandfather’s shoe polish. His fingertips are digging into my ribcage and at my thigh, and I desperately want to pry his hands from my skin, but I can’t move my arms or open my eyes. He whistles. It’s the same eerie tune I’ve heard many times now.

Where is he taking me? “Oh Red, Red, Red, you’ve had a rough day out there today, haven’t you?” He sports a strong British accent. I want to scream, who are you? But my tongue, like the rest of me, seems paralysed. “It will all be over soon.” He speaks so calmly, and the pressure below my ribcage and digging in at my sides vanish. My body lowers. At first, I can’t place the cold sensation travelling up my legs, over my stomach, then on to my breasts. All I know is I’m suddenly freezing. Inconsistent splashes follow. Water. I’m wet.

“Just a few more smudges to wipe away,” he says, as my lips begin to sting. “They’re busted up pretty bad.” His words are laced with contentment. “I know you can hear me now, Red.” My head jerks back, and I hear the thud before the dull ache travels across my skull. I want to scream out, but I’m unable to open my mouth. “This next bit I will leave up to fate. You will save yourself or you won’t. Your life is resting upon your desire to live. You can move, Red; you just have to want it bad enough.

” My only response is my heart, pumping hard and fast in my chest. There’s a soft creak followed by the shifting of a latch, and then the sense of someone being close to me is lost. Am I alone? Every breath I take is quick and harsh. Move, Morgan; you need to move. But I can’t. Impending danger awaits me. The threat of death lingers in the air. A neck-prickling fear creeps along my skin. Water trickles down my cheeks, and without warning I flinch. I moved.

I can move. The taste of salt seeping in between my lips alerts me to my flowing tears. I’m crying. My lips twitch as tears continue to race over them, and by the time I take three long breaths to bring myself calm, I have managed to wiggle my fingers. Move, Morgan! I scream in my mind as I continue battling my conscious state and my limbs, which feel as heavy as stone. Left. Right. Left. Right. It’s only minimal movement, but I rock my head.

Urgent warnings sound off in my brain, telling me to stop because I can’t see what it is I’m facing. Why can’t I open my eyes? I slide. I’m slipping. I try to press my hands down to stop myself, but I can’t. Help me! I’m halted abruptly. Don’t breathe, don’t breathe, don’t breathe . I hear this chant as I struggle against my muscles, which ache intensely. My face becomes as cold and wet as the rest of my body. My head is underwater. I flick my eyes wide with ease as if I’ve been able to do so the entire time.

What is happening to me? Dirty brown fills my vision and in this brown colouration drifts small clear bubbles, bubbles that resemble those created from expelling air, the air I acknowledge is escaping through my now pressed lips. I’m fucking drowning. MOVE! In my mind, I’m thrashing my limbs, but in reality I’m barely moving at all. I’m running out of oxygen. I know this because my desperation to claim any is frantic. “Baby girl, Daddy’s here. I’m here. You’re strong. You can do this, Morgan. Show me.

Find the surface.” I hear my father’s voice as if his lips press against my ear. “Take my hand.” I’m reaching, and searching for his grip. “My hand’s higher, Morgan; you need to stretch higher.” I manage to. Curling my fingers, I clutch onto something hard, and with one loud scream bursting through my gaping mouth, I yank myself upwards until I’m left, hung limp, over the side of a stable structure. It’s a gaggled gasp that has me coughing, and then my torso jerks as water exits in a vomit from my mouth. Every breath I take burns as I moan, “Holy fuck.” I pant when I spot the concrete floor below, and the need to lift myself out of this water becomes strong … but I’m weak to the point where lifting my limbs seems impossible. Just keep reaching, I tell myself, as I extend my arms and grunt my sheer desperation, walking my fingers along the flooring below. You can do this, Morgan . Pressing my palms downwards brings with it the suspicion I’m being tipped over, and without a second to contemplate what’s happening, my body smacks hard into the ground. “Fuck,” I wail, coiling myself into a tight ball. Protection. I shiver. I’m naked. It’s cold. Soft whimpering grows loud and more forced until my nose becomes blocked and I’m alerted to the fact that I’m the one howling. My wet hair wraps across my face, and in between the gaps it’s creating, and through the tears pooled in my eyes, I’m able to locate a wall the colour of silver. The room. The wolf has brought me back to his prison. I shuffle on my arse until my spine presses against the wall, and I shift my knees to my chest. I rest my chin on my knees and wrap my arms around my shins. What the …? I brush my fingers across thick threading, threading positioned where my once open gashes were on my shins. Sliding my feet across the concrete has my legs extended, and I gasp when I see the stitches now closing my previous injury. The wolf stitched me. Why? Isn’t revenge the point of his game and to cause pain and death? It’s then I remember him placing me in the water and washing my lips. I’m urgent in inspecting every inch of my body. I’m terrified when I see the deep purple bruising, cuts, grazes, and rashes covering me. The five words, one through to five, that are tattooed on my inner arm remain, only now there’s a strike through ‘one’ in black. Slowly, I bring my knees back to meet my chest and wrap my hands around each ankle. I whip my head left then right, searching, wondering if the wolf is somewhere in here, hiding, waiting to attack. I stop in a stare when I locate a clawfoot tub, one that not long ago almost claimed my life. Why? Why would he patch me up, clean me? Why did he offer care? It takes some time to focus on the rest of my surroundings. There’s no longer a stretcher, or a table littered with blank papers. The rusty tap that dripped is also gone, as is the drum which had the backpack on its top. The only thing in the room is the tub and a tied garbage bag sitting on the floor right near where the blank projection screen hangs on the far wall. “Where are you? Go on, show yourself. I know you can see me.” I try to yell the words, but they’re shaken and hoarse. Will he appear on the projection screen, armed with vulgar taunts and vacant cold eyes? To my surprise, he doesn’t, yet I don’t shift my vision from the screen. Where is he? I know he’ll be watching my every move. I blink and then stare until my eyes burn, and I blink once more. I do this over and over. The screen remains blank. Where is the wolf? Is this my chance to find a way out? Is this my chance to escape? But how? There’s still no door. How can there be no door? How does he get me in and out of here?

.

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