Chapter 37: The Battle of the Deserted Village
Copyright © 2014 by Brian Bixby
I had wondered if I could fight Susan Knowles on equal terms, but never had I imagined our first conflict would be over the mind of Jezebel Johnson. I could not let Susan turn Jezebel into a killer. And so I gathered my wits and tried to wrench Jezebel’s mind away from the fear of punishment and the blind obedience to Susan that came with it. I broadcast calmness, relaxation, and a horror of killing at Jezebel in an effort to stay her hand.
She walked toward Jim, who sat there absolutely confounded by the turn of events, his mouth open in surprise. And I could feel Susan also reaching out to Jezebel’s mind, intensifying her fear of punishment. Susan had an enormous advantage from her years of abusing Jezebel, but I counted on the more adult Jezebel that Alex had helped build. Jezebel stopped but two feet away from Jim, and I thought I had won. And then she raised the pistol and fired, and I sickened with the knowledge that I had fooled myself and lost. And lost Jezebel, too.
Jezebel was no expert marksman. She hadn’t accounted for the recoil, and the gun tilted up and back as she fired. It was not enough. Apparently she had been aiming for Jim’s chest. Instead, the bullet struck him in his forehead. It must have been instantly fatal.
Jezebel sighed in relief, hoping she’d done it right. Susan snickered. And then she said to Jezebel. “Very good. Now, Jezebel, come over here and kill Emily Fisher.”
Like a sleepwalker, Jezebel turned and started walking to me. There was no expression on her face. Fear and obedience had eradicated traces of any other emotions. She had brought the pistol back down again so it pointed forward and slightly down, directly at my chest. There was about fifteen feet between us. I figured I had thirteen feet left to live.
Jezebel was terrified and hardly aware of anything other than the need to obey Susan. Still, she had to have mind enough to listen to Susan, mind enough to see me. And she did see me, and all the sexual feelings I had unintentionally awoken in her began stirring again. I felt it, and I saw I still had a chance. I used my empathy to stir up that love, to intensify it, to make Jezebel want me and love me and desire me as she never desired anything else before.
If you had told me only hours before that I would ever do such a thing, I would have thought you crazy. I was doing the one thing I didn’t want to do to Jezebel, to encourage her false hope that I would love her passionately. But my life was at stake, and, I was morally certain, so was Jezebel’s.
Susan had thought she’d won, and had let her guard down. So she was surprised when Jezebel came to a halt five feet away from me, and lowered the gun. “Jezebel,” she commanded, “you will shoot and kill Emily. Or you will be punished.”
Jezebel was in agony, torn between the intense love I had aroused in her and a lifetime of fearing Susan. I had some idea of what that last was like from the time I’d relived some of Jezebel’s memories of being abused. And so it was not just love I raised in Jezebel. The memory of what Susan’s abuse had done to Jezebel fueled a hatred in me toward Susan, and that hatred communicated itself to Jezebel. Racked by powerful conflicting emotions, Jezebel became fully conscious of her situation. Her eyes pleaded with me for help as her hands, still holding the gun, shook with tension. I could feel her, not just what Susan was doing to her, not just what I was doing to her, but that she was fighting for control over herself, fighting to act according to her own desires.
She never got the chance. Susan recognized that this was becoming dangerous. She quickly strode over to stand beside Jezebel, raised her hand, and struck Jezebel a hard slap on the face. It was too much for Jezebel, reawakening all her old memories and fears, and she crumbled to the floor, crying uncontrollably.
The pistol had dropped as Jezebel fell. Susan picked it up, walked over to Ethan, and gave it to him. “You do it,” she told him.
Both Susan and I knew we’d be fighting again, and we immediately set to influencing Ethan’s mind. But Ethan was no Jezebel. Jezebel had had the chance to grow up out of her abuse at Susan’s hands to become a person. Ethan, on the other hand, had always remained at his sister’s beck and call. I would have thought that the years as Bonnie’s husband would have made Ethan his own man, but they had not. It sickened me to realize he’d romanced and won Bonnie only at Susan’s orders. There was so very little of Ethan, in truth. And that, it seemed, belonged entirely to Susan.
Still, I had to try. I looked for some emotion in Ethan’s character to tap, and could find none. I looked for Ethan’s self-interest, and found it. But it was such a little thing, and his devotion to his sister overwhelmed it easily. I might as well not have bothered, Ethan was so completely his sister’s creature. And Susan knew it. She hardly had to use her power as Ethan turned and advanced upon me, gun in hand.
And then a voice rang out, “No, Ethan, stop!”
There seemed to be an awful lot of people in what was supposed to be a deserted village, I thought, staring at the gun in Ethan’s hand. Maybe I was becoming hysterical from the strain. The headache I had didn’t help, either. I looked up and saw Hannah and Alex come into the room.
It was Hannah who had called out to Ethan, and with reckless abandon she dashed across the room to come between me and Ethan before Susan could stop her. She turned and faced Ethan. I could hear her plead with him. “You cannot do this Ethan. You cannot kill someone. I can’t let you. She is my sister. If you’re going to kill Emily, you’re going to have to kill me first.”
And, somehow, Hannah had touched something in Ethan’s soul. Ethan knew her, as he did not know me or anyone else but Susan; he knew Hannah as a person. He had gone to her of his initiative for spiritual counseling. And now she was telling him that he should not kill, and if he did, he would have to kill her. Hannah had found some small part of Ethan that was genuinely him, something that had its own moral values, and she forced him to confront those values. He was going to have to kill Hannah. He didn’t want to do that. He didn’t want to that that because it was Hannah. And he didn’t want to do that because Hannah told him it was wrong to kill.
I had a hope, and I seized upon it. I strengthened those feelings in Ethan, that happiness he had known talking to Hannah, the moral values she had reached in him, and tried to make them his ruling passions. I helped them grow in the desperate hope that they could counter his love for his sister.
Not that Susan was idle. After what had happened to Jezebel, she was taking no chances. Among other things, Alex, wary of being shot, was cautiously advancing upon Susan and Ethan, and it would only be a matter of seconds before he could physically interfere. So Susan used all her influence to make Ethan comply with her wishes. She moved up behind him and whispered in his ear, and his passion for his sister grew. We found ourselves locked in combat, the three of us, Susan demanding his love and obedience, Hannah appealing to his morality and his reliance on her judgment, and I was doing my best to support Hannah.
I don’t know for sure who would have won that conflict in the end. I’m sad to say I think it would have been Susan. Ethan had been hers for so long that there was so little of Ethan himself. But Susan overplayed her hand. She encouraged his passion for her, and it backfired on her. He became so aroused by the presence of his sister, the feel of her breath and her touch on his skin, that he turned away from Hannah and me to make love to his sister.
It was not what Susan wanted. Frustrated and fearful that she might lose all, she stopped trying to influence Ethan. Instead, she tried to take the gun away from him to use it herself. There was a brief struggle, and then a shot rang out.
I couldn’t see past Hannah, so at first I didn’t know what had happened. Then I saw Susan slump to the floor. As she died, her influence over Ethan ended.
That’s when I made my last mistake. I thought it was over. So I stopped worrying and relaxed and waited to be untied.
Nor was I the only one who thought it was over. Jezebel had screamed when the gun had gone off, so Hannah went to her side. Only Alex stood there with nothing else to do. I suspect he knew what was going to happen next, and did nothing about it.
Ethan looked down in horror at his sister, the gun still in his hand. And then he turned it on himself.
End of chapter thirty-seven