“When I got there I saw the sign taped to the door and deep down I thought That’s it, it’s room 11031, though I had no reason to think so. Just an instinct.
“I opened the door with the taped sign and shivered as I crossed the threshold, even though it was warmer inside than out. Something was wrong here. Something pulled me along the hallways as if saying Yes, you’re in the right place. But it was all awfully, terribly wrong. The walls were swimming in a sickening cream color, like the color of a dead person’s skin. Hookers walked past me with that same color on their flesh and for a moment I was horrified because I thought they really were dead and still walking around, their flesh all curdled milk and eyes vacant and staring. They didn’t even look at me as they passed and I huddled against the wall to get away from them, so they couldn’t touch me with their dead skin. Maybe it was all my imagination, because girls laughed behind closed doors and music thumped from somewhere. But that sick corpse-glow wouldn’t disperse.
“I found 11031 at the end of the hall. I stood at the door frightened out of my mind because I had no idea what I would find on the other side of it. The was no sound of laughter coming from it, no music. Just silence, the silence of a grave. I probably never would have knocked or opened it, probably would have stood for another age and then walked away, except that it opened for me.
“The woman on the other side was very nearly naked. Her eyes were cloudy, her face blank and unreadable.
“’Come in,’ she said in a voice that was likewise blank and unreadable.
“I again considered running away, but then a fresh stab of pain lanced through me. Not a new wound, but still a fresh one. And I knew that if I didn’t face whatever was behind that door I would certainly die at the end of all these cuts and burns.
“I walked in and…he was there. His back was to me, and he was shrugging on a suit jacket, adjusting the collar and cuffs. He turned to me.
“’Ah, I thought it might be you.’ His voice was silky and rich. His eyes seemed to look right into me, his gaze tunneling under my bandages and burrowing into my skin. He sat on the couch and the woman slinked over and curled up beside him, placing her head on his shoulder.
“If I had any backbone I would have shouted at him, demanded to know what was going on, tell him to cease his tortures. But I didn’t have any courage to start with, not with everything that had happened, and especially not with me standing there under his gaze. I stood there, eyes to the floor, as if I had been caught shoplifting.
“He drew a finger over his lips, as if thinking. But he already knew why I was there, what my bandages signified. With a horrid start I realized he probably knew my name, though I couldn’t say why this thought horrified me so much.
“’Do you want revenge, then?’ he asked. The lighting was dim, so dim that his already dark skin made a shadow of him with only the bright shining points of his eyes piercing the darkness.
“I couldn’t speak. My mouth was too dry. I could only shake my head.
“’Why is that?’ he said. ‘He hurt you. Don’t you want to hurt him back?’
“I shook my head again.
“’Then why are you here?’ Immediately impatient, all the smoothness had left his voice and it was now sharp as a razor. ‘Are you going to beg for mercy? Offer some recompense? I assure you, you have nothing I want.’ He stood, roughly pushing aside the woman on his shoulder, and walked to me. He circled me like a vulture waiting to peck out my insides. ‘Even your body is a mess. Scarred, eye scraped out, missing half a tit. What would I want from you?’
“I was shaking. His circling was like the curling of a snake around me, slowly tightening to suffocate me.
“He stopped behind me and put his hands on my shoulders. The touch of them was paradoxically tender and warm. He put his lips to my ear and said ‘Hurt him back. Like he hurt you. Any way you like.’ His voice was calm again, almost reassuring, like everything would be okay.
“The woman suddenly had a knife in her hand. I don’t know where it came from. But she held it out to me hilt first. I took it robotically, thinking This might be the only way.
“’Most like to start out this way,’ he said. ‘Simple. Traditional. Versatile. Easy to use. Then we go from there, to guns, fire, freezing or scalding water, hammers.’
“I finally found my voice. Taking the knife had somehow steadied me. ‘How does it work?’
“He waved a hand in the air, coming around to the front of me. ‘Magic, of course. You cut me and, though I am not harmed, the wound is transferred to a lover, the lover foremost in your mind or emotions. Which he certainly is.’ He stepped close to me again and I stepped away from him until my back hit the wall. I could smell his aftershave, and it smelled like my father’s, and the thought disgusted me and turned my stomach. He reached a hand up and tugged the collar of his shirt down.
“’This is where he started. I think it would be proper.’
“I was holding the knife tightly in both hands before me, as if warding him off. I could stab him in the heart if I wanted, and he wouldn’t be hurt at all. But Milo would be. I wouldn’t have to see it happen, and I would be free, safe, alive. But I would have killed a man. But if I only cut him, let him know I could hurt him too. But what would he do then? My thoughts were a mess, my hands shaking.
“I couldn’t hurt him. He’d know I was here. And I couldn’t kill him I couldn’t I couldn’t.
“His face had turned sour, seeing in my own face that I couldn’t do it. I let go of the knife and it thumped on the rug. I fell after it, collapsing to the floor and sobbing into my hands.
“’Get her out of here,’ he snarled.
“I screamed for him to spare me, to reject Milo, as his girls pulled me down the hall and stairs and into the snow. He never answered me.”