"I'll explain everything later."

"Explain. Everything. Later."

A Rude Awakening

I'll never forget those words. God knows they're completely stamped on my thoughts with an ink so permanent it hurts. Hurts badly. *Clears throat.* Even today they still echo in my mind like a scream in an empty warehouse. It frightens me, and constantly begs me to get prescription meds from the drugstore every once in a while. I lost my wife that day. Mercifully, we didn't have any kids, so it was less of a problem. But hell, ain't this a bitch?

I'm glad you're reading this. Please, sit down, if you haven't already. Hear me out, ok? Save them questions for later. Thanks for coming, I really appreciate it.

This story begins on a particularly stormy Thursday. I was sitting in my living room, writing my autobiography. I had just gotten home from my most recent deployment in the Middle East, and was eager to share time with my family, my nieces and nephews, and more importantly, my wife, Lian. We met after she graduated from college, back when I had just finished Ranger training.

Details aside, she was my first (and only) girlfriend. We fought a lot of times, sometimes so severe that our relationship was on the verge of breaking. Exploding, if I may. We gave each other quite some time and space, and eventually, she gave in, and I gave in. I proposed to her on a date, and our journey kind of snowballed from there. *Chuckles.* I never knew it would end up like this. At all.

I was beginning to run out of words in the second chapter of my book, so I decided to take a break, get a coffee while my wife was sleeping upstairs. She'd often nag about me spending more time with a book than with her, so as a loophole I'd surprise her with a date or a gift most of the time. It may sound ridiculous, but ever since I was a kid, I had been enamored with the idea of writing stories that made people curious, or happy, or interested. I learned a lot from reading encyclopedias and the bible when I was in kindergarten, so you could just imagine the dismay of my mother when I told her I was going to enlist. Let me tell you, a kiss and a promise can go a long way when dealing with your mother.

Anyway, I go into the kitchen, and microwave a mug of water. I decided to check up on Lian for a bit. I tiptoed into the hallway, and quietly opened the door to see her. Even though her hair was in a tussle, and she looked really tired, she was still beautiful, the kind I liked. I made a proud little smirk and closed the door gently. I went down the stairs just as a "Ding!" echoed in the kitchen. I pulled the mug out of the microwave and got to making my joe, which I didn't like too strong, but I figured I needed the "Oomph!" in my brain, so I added a little bit more, just this time.

A loud thunderclap made everything stop for a second; I had a short flashback of firing an MG. It was the most intense firefight I'd ever been in. I got two guys killed by a single RPG. *Shakes head.*

So there I was, sitting on the couch, brainstorming about what I could write in that book. It constantly stressed me out that I wasn't able to come up with words and sentences that would help. I thought of complex, smart-sounding prissy words I wanted to use since I didn't want to look like an amateur writer, although I was. They just didn't come into my mind.

As did the sound of breaking glass.

I put my mug on the table, all senses alarmed and alert. My heart raced and veins popped. The sound came from the back door. Oh shit. Someone was actually trying to break into my house. I pulled out my caliber .45 and proceeded to the kitchen quietly, and with caution. Suddenly the cold, rainy air turned humid, stuffy, and pressurized. I could hear shards of glass breaking against the tiled floor, and the hard pelts of rain that were coming through the back. I whispered a swear and hid behind a utensil cabinet, just big enough to cover my entire body, standing up. I breathed slowly to control my erratic heart rate, and heard every beat of it through my ears. The gun was live, and I was pumped.

This fucker had better prepare.

I heard a little more of those breaking shards before I heard a doorknob click. Then the door creaked slowly. I held my breath and prepared to come out. On the count of three, I thought. One, two, three. I popped out of cover, catching the bastard off-guard. His head jumped at me, a look of surprise flashing across his face as his right hand dug into his pocket, pulling out something black, something solid. I didn't have time to determine whether it was a gun, or a knife. I made the call. A loud boom echoed throughout the kitchen. The guy's body twists to his left, his shoulder snapping backwards in a spray of red. He yelled before hitting the floor with a thud, his weapon clattering against the floor. I hurried to him, kicking away what I determined was a suppressed pistol. The fucking guy was a pro. You almost never see stuff like that. He had a vest on, tac pants, boots, and a ski mask. Crazy, right? *Coughs.*

I warned him to stay on the floor while his blood pooled in the tile gaps, slight splatters on the countertop. I was about to call the police when I forgot about my phone. I placed it on my book. Dumb shit mistake. I shrugged it off, and pulled the burglar by his collar into the living room. I had to keep an eye on him, after frisking him for secondary weapons. I wrapped a thick cable tie around his wrists and ankles, dialed 911, and waited for someone to pick up the phone. And you know? This bastard in the ski mask starts swearing at me, spat on the floor and laughed a few times in a desperate attempt to psyche me out. Who the hell did this guy think he was? I kicked him in the face and pulled off his mask, revealing a guy with long hair, a thin beard and a tattooed neck. Looked like your usual, drug-pushing street punk. He looked to be in his late twenties or so. An operator answered the phone as I described all the details of the break-in as specifically as I could. They told me a cruiser was coming to my house, so I just needed to wait and watch this guy.

Then I saw the radio too late. That fucking radio. The guy I'd tied up had an earpiece and was mumbling through it the entire time. I kicked him in the stomach and grabbed my pistol again. The adrenaline came back even stronger this time. He laughed and told me I was screwed, so he got another one to the face. I watched the backdoor and realized they weren't gonna try to infiltrate through there, so I ran upstairs as fast as I could and woke my wife up. She did so with a jolt, and I told her about the break-in. I asked her to lock the windows and the bedroom door, and hide in the closet with the gun I bought for her. She shut the door closed behind me as I got downstairs, gun ready in my hands. The burglar was still there, tied up, albeit losing consciousness. I thought, where the hell were the police? Should've been here by now. Suddenly I heard gunshots, and saw a bullet tracer fly through our front window. I ran for cover just as I heard another shot, and felt a prick sting my right shoulder. The wound itched for a second, but I didn't mind. The front door collapsed with a thud, the metal hinges clattering into pieces. I heard another loud boom, the wood shelf behind me bursting into a thousand splinters. I threw a magazine outside of my cover and popped out, hopefully to throw off the assailant. I pulled the trigger and let the gun rock my hand. Everything was moving so fast. The gunman was holding a shotgun and sported the same getup as before. His head snapped back as his body rag-dolled onto the carpeted floor. Goddamn.

I was breathing heavily as my vision started to narrow, and my hearing became more of an incessant ringing, things that usually happened when I heard gunshots out on the field. I walked over to the dead body, kicking aside the shotgun under the couch. I pulled off the ski mask that had blood on it, which revealed an older guy, probably late thirties, with a goatee and a bald head. Who were these fuckers? And where the hell was the police?

I stood watch over the two gunmen for a few seconds, not knowing what to do. The rain outside had stopped, only the continuous dripping from the roof remained. The cold air wafted through the busted front door, giving me quite the chill. I walked over to the other culprit still alive, and asked him what they planned to do. Why the get-up? The weapons? Were there more of them? I was hoping he'd tell me he had broken into the wrong house, but then he kept quiet, and smirked. Worse, he laughed. Immediately I heard yet another explosion. I collapsed to the ground, face-down. Everything went black.

*Stares at the floor, pauses.*

*Sniff.* 'Scuse me for a second, man.

*Wipes tears.*

Huh. I... I don't I can do this. It's- *Sniff.*

Ehem. *Sniff.*

Ahh, shit. I might as well tell you anyway. No one sympathizes that great nowadays. *Wipes tears.* Hopefully you will.

You see, right after I blacked out, I woke up in what looked like our basement. There was a sharp, choking pain in my back that erupted every time I inhaled. The pain was fucking horrible. It felt like being stuck purposely between a wall and three-inch nail embedding into your back every time you breathed in. Only about ten times worse. I couldn't move my hands and feet, which I suspected were bound, and exceptionally tight, if I may. My hands went cold from the veins being choked out. My mouth was bound with duct tape that limited my respiration to my nose, which made me panic for a bit as the air wasn't enough to cope with an increasing heart rate. I switched my head from side to side, although I only saw the cold, gray floor and the walls to either side of me. I was lying on my stomach and was badly injured, so I kept thinking about the cops who never came to my aid.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed my left bicep and flipped me onto my back. The pain got worse, but I could only yell a muffled cry with my taped mouth. Tears ran down into my ears. The blinding light of a white bulb made me squint my eyes for a few seconds before someone's silhouette blocked out the light.

"Hey, he's awake. You. Turn on the camera," a deep, scratchy voice said.

Someone grabbed me by the armpits and pulled me up into a sitting position, propping me up against a wall. Once that was done, I saw three guys wearing the same suits as earlier. A sharp pain stabbed the middle part of my spine, making me groan. Jesus, did it hurt. I saw the digicam on a tripod, and knew something screwed up was going to happen. The lens was pointed at an old, steel bed they had apparently set up, with a clear linen bed sheet. Another figure came into view, climbing down the basement stairs.

"Ok, so are we ready?" a woman said.

My heart sank, and my entire body fell limp.

"Yeah, he's up. Camera's set up," another guy responded. The figure came into view, wearing a shirt, beige pants and sneakers. Crouching in front of me, Lian squeezed my cheeks, and told me to sit back and relax. She patted me on the head and told me that the show was ready.

"I'll explain everything later." She smiled, and turned to face the gunmen. A little inaudible chat, and she sat down on the bed. A third gunman took off his mask, vest, shirt, everything. Someone pressed a button on the camera, while another one locked his arms around my head from behind.

Oh God. *Sobs.*

"Here's to your marriage, lover boy," a thin voice said behind me, laughing menacingly.

I was absolutely helpless as Lian started to undress. By the time she was fully vulnerable, the guy walked into the camera's view, and I was forced to watch it all at gunpoint. All of it. God... all of it...

*Cries, wipes tears.*


In the Months That Followed

You see, later that night, police arrived with two armored vans and a SWAT unit. Apparently, I'd read in the report later on that the dispatched cruisers had been shot up by gunmen, leading to two officers dead and two others fatally wounded. It happened exactly at 8:43 PM at my house. The phone lines had been cut, blood was found in the kitchen, basement and living room, along with a few spent shells. In an interview with the police while I was in the hospital, I told them I didn't get a description of any of the guys except for the ones I'd killed. The other three, along with her, had made a run for it, taking the camera and all respective evidence with them. Crime scene detectives never picked up any forensic evidence on the fugitives, and the basement, with the exception of my bloodstains, never had any leads to offer.

I was discharged from the medical center with a weird feeling in my back, some ten stitches from a knife wound that caused it, but most especially a wounded faith in humanity. *Sighs.* I was really down in the dirt, not knowing where to go. I was hurt, confused, angry, and lost. In a matter of months following the incident, I reveled in drinking. I never wanted to trust anyone except myself. The prospect of a girlfriend, another wife, would only serve as a painful reminder for me never to venture into that road. It was a bitter, bloody pill of a lesson. It left me defenseless. I had something to lose.

I retreated to a quaint neighborhood in Franklin, Massachusetts. I guess it might be weird, living with my mom, but of course, I had my reasons. I guess I had years of catching up to do before she succumbed to cancer. I had one last visit to make before I completely settled in, with an old friend.

It was 3:21 PM. The ceiling fan was on, and the afternoon sun shone dimly through the curtain flaps. I had just finished up some shots of liquor. My mind was pumped, and this fucker had better prepare. I breathed furiously, feeling my adrenaline flowing through me. I raised the gun, feeling its cold, metal grip against my palm. I pointed it to my head, and someone started crying. Started pleading me to stop. To drop the gun.

Suddenly I heard everything. Cars honking outside. Footsteps on the sidewalk. Random, inaudible chatter. Sobbing. Crying. Pleading. Everything was so pristine, like a handicap from birth had been removed. Everything... was in slow motion for a moment.

That was it. I crossed a third name off the checklist. I didn't think it would be this easy. I mean, getting rid of the bodies was sweaty work, but, who cares?! As long as I get to this point. It was all worth it.

I pointed the gun away from my head. I aimed it at Lian's.

"I'll explain everything later," I said.