Thursday, 23 September 2021

F Fic, Non-fic

Run No More


by Jonathan Garner

Always check who's at the door before opening it. Vanessa Morrow had told herself that a million times. It was good advice for any single woman, and even better advice for a woman who was hunted by many dangerous men.

But she hadn't checked. Now she was face to face with the man from her past who was going to kill her.

He didn't look like a murderer. Aside from being tall, he was rather plain, with gentle brown eyes. His strong hands had caressed her many times and played delicate piano pieces for her. But she was certain he wanted to wrap his fingers around her throat and squeeze the life out of her.

"Hello, Vanessa," he said.

His voice was as devastatingly soft and warm as she remembered. He wasn't a bad man. Not really. Or at least he hadn't been before he met her.

She was the one who'd turned him into a monster. She had that effect upon men. She was a monster herself, and it was contagious.

"I'd say I'm sorry, Cliff," she replied, "except I'm not."

She slammed the door in his face and locked it. Reaching under her shirt, she drew her Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver. Cliff knew she couldn't call the police. If they got him, they would also get her.

Vanessa ran to the back door and opened it.

He was already there, waiting for her. She pointed the revolver at his chest.

"Get away from me," she said. "You know I'll kill you without a second thought."

"If you're such a heartless little murderer," he replied, "then why is your hand shaking?"

She gritted her teeth. "Fine. I don't want to kill you. But I will if I have to."

She lowered the gun. Something was up with him. Had he called the police on her? Was that why he hadn't attacked her yet, or drawn a gun of his own, because he was stalling?

Or perhaps he was toying with her before he struck.

"I don't believe you." He smiled, the same heartbreaking smile that had never stopped haunting her. "I think you still love me."

She raised an eyebrow. "I apparently have a strange way of showing it. I've never regretted emptying your bank account on our wedding night, the instant my name was on it."

"Just as you've done to many other men, as I've since discovered."


"You're quite the charmer."

She smiled seductively. "I know."

"But something went wrong this time, didn't it?"

"Yes. I didn't cover my tracks well enough. You found me, and no one else ever has. In a few moments, however, I'll be gone, and you'll never see me again. I'm going to enjoy spending the rest of your money. I've already spent a quarter of it, mostly on renting this glorious property near the beach."

"That's not what I meant."

When his hand shot out and grabbed the revolver, she didn't stop him from taking it from her.

"See?" he whispered. "I was right."

"I hate you," she said.

Vanessa started to rush past him, but his free hand grabbed her arm and held her against the wall of the house. Woods on either side of the property meant that no neighbors could see what was going on. That was okay. She would've rather died than have police discover who she was.

He looked into her eyes. "You hate me because you love me. And you never loved any of the others, did you?"

She laughed softly. "I'll say anything you want me to, now that you have the gun. I love you, Cliff. I'm sorry, Cliff. I should have never done it to you, Cliff. But don't you know? I don't have the ability to love people. Only money."

"If I believed that," he said, "I wouldn't be here now."

"You think you can make me love you? Go ahead and try."

"I think you already love me. And that's why you hate me."

She shrugged. "Makes sense. To a lunatic, perhaps."

"Do you think I'm a lunatic?"

"Why else would you be here? What I did to you would push anyone over the edge. Now you're here to kill me for taking your heart and using it ruthlessly, then casting it aside. It's not about the money. I get that. It's about destroying me as I destroyed you."

He glanced at the gun in his hand. "There's nothing I can do to you worse than what you're already doing to yourself."

"Then why are you here?"

"Because I had to know if the woman I saw deep down inside of you is still alive, or if you've killed her. And I can see that she's still alive."

Vanessa trembled. "If I still had the gun, I would send every bullet in it into you. I mean it."

"What are you running from?"

She turned away as her eyes burned, then blinked away the tears and faced him. "Everyone I've ever loved has betrayed me. Do you expect me to believe that you're different? You'll just betray me like all the others. My heart is dead. If you want to kill the rest of me, get it over with. Otherwise, I'm leaving."

Vanessa pushed past him. He tried to grab her, but she was moving too fast. She started running. She reached a small wooded area and raced down the trail that led to the beach. His footsteps pounded behind her. She burst out of the other side of the woods.

The dark, choppy waters of the Atlantic Ocean filled her view. She glanced from right to left, wondering which way she should flee along the rocky shoreline. She decided to make for the nearby lighthouse, which was next to a forest where she could lose Cliff.

She tried to run, but the rocks were slick, so she slowed to keep from falling. Cliff's footsteps came nearer. She glanced over her shoulder. He was less than a dozen feet behind her.

As she sped up, her foot slipped on a wet rock. She flinched and flung her falling body away from the jagged rocks, crashing onto the nearby sand and grass. Before she could get up, Cliff crouched by her and pinned her shoulders against the ground.

"I need to tell you one more thing," he said, breathing heavily after the run.

"Fine." She refused to meet his gaze, turning her head to watch giant waves splashing against the rocks near the lighthouse. Spray shot high into the air and almost landed on her and Cliff. "Get it over with already."

His breathing slowed, returning to normal before he spoke. "When I said until death do us part, I meant it."

She glanced at him. "So this is a murder suicide? You're going to kill us both?"

He kept talking as if he hadn't heard. "I could have let you go. The money will be replaced. But I had to find out if you truly didn't love me."

"Well, you found out. I don't love you. Goodbye."

"I found out, all right. I found out that you do love me."

"You're even sicker than me if you think that."

"It's time to stop running, Vanessa," he whispered. "I love you. I'll let you go if you want me to. But you don't truly want me to. You know that. You're just scared. And you have every right to be scared. When I was trying to find you, I learned all about you, including how your own father forced you into prostitution to pay for his drugs, until you ran away. But at some point you have to realize that the only way you'll truly be happy is by trusting someone again."

"Someone like you? The man I robbed? Why should I trust you?"

"Because I could've called the police, and I didn't. I could have shot you, but I didn't. I could tie you up and take you with me, but I won't. I'm offering my love, which is worth more money than you could steal in a thousand lifetimes. And you know it."

"If you love me," she said, "then let me go. Now."

His hands slipped off her shoulders as he stood up. "You know why no man you fleeced has caught you before now? Because they were driven by hate. But I wasn't. I was driven by love. And that made me more relentless than hate can ever be. I believe there's still hope for you. I know what I saw in you a few times, when you dropped your mask. I noticed the tear sliding down your cheek when we said our vows. Don't let go of our love. You can stop running now, Vanessa. I'm what you've been longing for all along."

She got to her feet and took the gun out of his hand. She pointed it at him. Then she placed the barrel against her forehead. "I won't be hurt again."

He walked toward her.

"Get away," she whispered.

He slipped his arms around her.

She closed her eyes and prepared to pull the trigger. "Let go, you idiot. You're going to get covered with blood."

He kissed her.

The shock of it made her freeze, and she didn't realize he was taking the revolver until it was already out of her hand. He threw it out into the sea, where it splashed into the water and vanished beneath the waves.

He stepped back from her. "Now go, if you must."

She turned away. She began walking.

Then she fell to her knees.

Sobs shook her. She couldn't leave. Even if Cliff was a lie, she couldn't leave. She truly did want to die if the world was without love. But maybe it wasn't. Maybe there were a few special people who had true hearts.

Maybe Cliff was one of them.

His arms slipped around her from behind. She stood up and turned around, timidly lifting her gaze to his. If love existed, it was in his eyes at that moment.

He stood motionless, watching her. So she kissed him, feeling a tremor move through his body. For the first time, she admitted to herself that she loved him.

She was still afraid, and she knew she could never deserve him. But as he pulled her tight against him and covered her face with kisses, she didn't care.

Clinging to him, she swore to herself that she would never leave him again, as long as he would have her. And if his lips that kept kissing her and his arms that kept holding her were any indication, he would have her forever.

Jonathan Garner is a columnist for TRC magazine. His writings have also appeared in Guide, Havok, Splickety, and many other publications. When not reading or writing, he enjoys listening to innovative music and exploring the wonders of nature.

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