Acid and Salt Short Story by: A.R. Davis
A scream of torture rents the serenity of the night. A flock of birds take flight in protest casting darker shadows across the moonlit meadow. Just under massive, ancient oaks with their moss flowing lazily like lost spirits, nestles an old long forgotten cabin.
Another scream echoes from beneath the cabin, followed by pitiful whimpers from the open windows. Lying on the filthy floor, I double over into a fetal position pulling at my thinning brown hair, covering my ears. My name is Walter and I am learning that there were things about me that I never knew, things you learn about yourself that you’d rather forget. A strangled plea seeps from the floor below me, I cringe and moan in agony.
“What have I done?” I whimper, my head wanting to explode. My nose is clogged with sweat and tears, I try to take a deep breath through my mouth. Dirt and dust fill my airway and I cough uncontrollably, making the pain in my head worse. The fine particles settle in muddy, grimy layers on my tongue and teeth.
This isn’t what I wanted, not this, this is twisted and dark. When I had said I wanted her to pay for what she had done, I hadn't pictured this. A metallic rattle and begging for the torture to stop makes my stomach lurch violently as remorse
shakes my body.
Chilling fear sets my heart racing as a familiar shadow crossed the floor, the cellar door creaks on its rusty hinges. I look up into black shining eyes staring patiently down at me.
“I…I d-didn’t…want this,” I mouth breathlessly. “P-please stop.”
“Yes, Walter, you did. This is necessary,” the shadow that calls himself Ether crouches down to my level. His eyes sympathetic, though his voice has an edge, chilling me to my bones.
“She is a bully, a narcissistic tyrant. She had made your life hell for ten years, nothing you did for her was good enough. When the time came to reward you for your dedication, what did she do?”
“Please, no…” I don’t want the reminder, I cover my ears, but Ether’s grave voice echoes through my head.
“She humiliated you. She shredded your reputation and tore you down in front of your co-workers, your wife, and your children. Her words were cruel, like drops of acid, salt in old wounds,” his voice fading to a whisper as I relive my shame…
“You are so pretty, momma,” our four year old daughter, Catherine lisped. I looked over at my wife, Charlotte, in her sparkling pink cocktail dress, tall and platinum blonde. Her blue eyes met mine; my heart jumped with joy as it always has since the day I first laid eyes on her. How did I get so lucky?
“Yea mom you look hot, now can we get this over with?” Our eldest, Natasha was a typical rebellious teen. She frowned down in disgust at the pale blue dress I was sure my wife made her wear. I smiled thinly at her as Charlotte tucked a brown wisp back into Natasha’s headband.
“Now, this is an important night for your father. Please behave.” Charlotte gave Natasha a warning glance which was answered with a silent sulk. I missed the innocent piggy tail days where she believed the sun rose and set within me.
We had just made it to the banquet hall as everyone was taking their seats, I was relieved we weren’t late. But according to the scathing glare Barbara Cook shot me across the room, I was late to her standards. That woman was the boss from hell. There were many descriptions that each employee had, some very colorful, behind her back of course, nobody dared to challenge her head on. I sighed as I ushered my family to our table. I fantasized about what I would do to that vile woman, tell her to shove this job up her ass. Then I looked at my wife
and daughters and swallowed my pride. This job kept us comfortable and this promotion would set us up financially. A decent retirement, pay off the mortgage, and send Natasha to that art college she has her heart set on.
I turned my attention to the introducing speaker, he seemed a little nervous tonight, as he spoke he sent nervous glances towards Barbara. I could feel the daggers she shot at my back; I knew as soon as the speaker finished, she would seize the opportunity to pounce. I glanced around and found the restrooms, they were just close enough for me to reach before Barbara could cut me off. My family didn’t have to know what I had to live through five to six days a week. The speaker concluded and the waiters set out to serve the dinner.
“I will be right back,” I nervously set across the room, hoping to get out of eyesight before Barbara caught up, but no luck. I just reached the server tables, if she raised her voice everyone in the south side of the hall would hear, including my table.
“Walter!” Barbara’s high pitched screech, grated down my spine.
“Ms. Cook, good evening. You look stunning,” I gave a big smile and pretended to scan her body with appreciation. Her shiny short ebony hair was slicked back, her thin brows furrowed over her cold green eyes outlined in black liner and lashes. Her nose flared and her blood red lips thinned as she walked gracefully towards me. She looked menacing in her red dress tailored to fit her thin form, my heart raced as the word witch kept ringing in my head. I kept my face pleasant and polite as I waited for her wrath.
“You’re late,” She stated and I breathed easy, she wasn’t shouting.
“I apologize, my wife got home late and we had to get the girls ready,” I tried to cover my nervousness.
“Yes, they are quite stunning. Who had thought a man of your caliber, could hold the attention of such a beautiful woman? And to produce nice looking offspring to boot. The only explanation I could come up with is she must get her pleasure elsewhere. I would get a paternity test,” Barbara laughed cruelly. I seethed in silence, I had learned a long time ago not to contradict her in any way, and it fed her insatiable thirst for blood. A sparkle lit her emerald eyes, I noticed my wife looking curiously at us, my stomach clenched. Barbara leaned close and
her breath brushed my ear as I tried to keep the revulsion from my face.
“You'd better be ready tonight, no more screw ups,” she suddenly smiled flashing her perfectly white teeth. “After all, you deserve it.”
Shakily I walked back to my table that we shared with Bob Mullins' family, the waitress bumped my arm and red wine splashed my white shirt. She apologized noisily and I frantically tried to wave her away before the witch spotted us. I glanced nervously at the high tables and her emerald eyes narrowed. Her hawk-like features sharpened and I couldn’t seem to swallow.
She was a perfectionist, even though the spill was an accident he would be blamed. Bob’s white face and nervous glances made me angry that I had brought myself so low and submissive to a woman such as Barbara.
“Walter, are you okay? It’s just a small stain, hardly noticeable. Have I told you that you look very dashing in this suit?” Charlotte, my sweet wife smiled and my anger melted. This was why I put up with Barbara and all the humiliations in the office, because without this job I couldn’t have provided for my beautiful girls, my queen and princesses, the way they deserved.
Conversations, flowed around the room. Some sounded merry, uplifting, some whispered, afraid of being overheard. Bob’s wife and Charlotte laughed and conversed with ease, mine and Bob’s were tense and short. We both knew the hate filled looks coming from the witch meant trouble.
Barbara stood and the room fell silent, I downed the rest of my wine. Something about Barbara tonight really had me on edge, she was up to something. She walked gracefully to the podium as the room applauded vigorously, she waved to silence after reveling in her power and glory.
“As you know, Scott had unfortunately retired last year and I have been running a campaign to replace him, to find a worthy Vise President of Sales. I started with three candidates, by the end of the year only one remained.”
My wife entwined her fingers in mine and squeezed, pride flashed in her soft blue eyes. Heads turned to my direction, few smiled, truly proud for me. Anyone who worked in that hell hole knew what it took to get here.
“I made an announcement last week that our new Vice President would be Walter Webb. He had been a loyal employee for ten years, certainly a feat, considering my temperament,” she paused for a few nervous laughs for dramatic effect.
“I have to say that I am disappointed in Walter, he isn’t ready to run the department. I find him sloppy and lacking. I am forced to appoint Justin Lacey as our new temporary Vice President, until I can find a worthy candidate,” Barbara was the only one clapping as Justin stood shakily. He was just fresh out of college and worshiped the ground Barbara walked on, some even believed the late nights she kept him behind was for more than errands.
Anger and humiliation colored my face, Charlotte’s face paled with small pink spots on her cheekbones. Rage ate at my guts when I realized I wasn’t the only one who had been humiliated. What would this do to her reputation at the country club?
“That’s bullshit,” Bob muttered and I cautioned him to stop with a restraining hand. Bob didn’t need to lose his job, too. Yes, after that night I doubted I could work for Barbara any longer, she had just basically fired me.
It was an awkward speech for Justin and only a small applause concluded the night and the banquet broke up. The buzzes started immediately all around as Barbara’s latest act of cruelty sunk in. Charlotte kept demanding what was going on, Bob’s wife too joined in causing a scene. I felt a pull on my tailcoat, and I looked down at little Catherine, it was then that I noticed my eyes were wet.
“Daddy, why didn’t you do your speech you work so hard on?”
“Daddy, was mistaken, dear child,” The witch came up behind me, I quickly wiped my eyes before facing her. I realized several people still hung back to watch what would be the next water cooler gossip. My back stiffened, I was infuriated that she chose tonight to berate me.
“Are you upset, Walter?” Barbara asked gleefully, clearly enjoying herself.
“Of course he’s upset! How dare you humiliate him like that, you will hear from our lawyer,” Charlotte jumped to my defense, her fist clenched. I had never seen her so angry.
Bob’s wife backed up Charlotte and Bob was frantically trying to pull her away, clearly fearful of his job.
“Good, I am pretty impressed with myself. Bring the lawyer on my dear, love them,” she pushed Charlotte to the side so she could fully face me.
“Just so you know, Walter. You fully disgust me, you can’t even sit in a nice banquet without getting food on you. How can I expect you to represent me with important clients? You are a slob, your work mediocre, and you will never amount to anything. If your wife had a brain, which I seriously doubt because she married you, she’d leave you. You will never find a job in this town unless it’s cleaning toilets. If you want to get a jump on your new career, you can clean mine Monday morning,” Barbara walked away, pleased with herself.
My wife gawked in horror and Natasha yelled “Bitch”, while little Catherine started to cry. I came out of my shock, shamed and embarrassed as several co-workers shook their heads in sympathy, while others refused to look at me…
I am Ether, Walter’s savior. I haven’t seen him for many years, I have missed him. We met in his car last Friday, as he broke down like a babe. We watched as the bitch that stripped him of his dignity walked coolly to her car, smiling smugly.
“She can’t treat people like this, she needs to learn what it’s like to be on the receiving end,” Walter gripped the steering wheel tightly. It would have been so simple to just let go of the brake and run that self-righteous bitch over. But, Walter wouldn’t, couldn’t do it. That is why I came here, to make things right, to give Walter his life back.
“I can help Walter, just tell me when, and I will take care of everything,” I whispered, feeling the excitement. I had it all planned out, the perfect revenge.
“Do it,” came the strangled cry. Elation soared through my body, my soul sang.
The timing had to be perfect. Walter’s wife and kids were leaving for her father’s house while he stayed behind to close up the house to be sold. I will take Walter with me then, he must see, he must be liberated…
Now, we are at the cabin, my genius. An old plantation, condemned, no one for miles. The only building left of the old southern estate is this old servant cabin nestled among ancient forgotten oaks. Poor Walter, he has no stomach for this, but he needs to see.
“Come Walter,” I demand. He must be reborn, get his dignity back. He needs to face the world that so cruelly treated him, from childhood. He locked away his pride, his power, years ago; now it is time he earns it back.
Walter cringes frighteningly, but stands on his trembling legs. His clothes are grimy, filthy, and blood stained from writhing on the floor. The screams had been intense and well worth my time. The old steps creak as a swirl of dust layers our shoes. I follow Walter, ready for him to take the lead, he has to do it, this is all for him.
A moan and frantic hyperventilation sounds echo through the cellar. The bitch’s thin form trembles and she cries in terror as Walter comes into view, she knows what happens next.
I want her humiliated, so I strip her down, laughing at her pathetic body. I lie her spread eagle strapped to the table, vulnerable and weakened. Then like every acidic word that spilled from her cruel lips, a drop of acid burns into her flesh, bubbling, blistering, and melting.
Drip, drip, drip and she screams until she is breathless. I watch Walter as he takes in her melting flesh, she’s not so perfect anymore. I don’t say a word, I hold my breath in anticipation.
I wait for it, his revelation… his rebirth. She is at Walter’s mercy now.