Hush little baby, don't you cry. You know your daddy's bound to die.
Sweat dripped down the back of his neck, followed the length of his spine and pooled in the fibres of his matted shirt. He could barely breathe. The rope was wrapped around him tightly. Coiled up, it hurt just to expand his chest. His legs were bound and his hands too. He rocked in the chair, trying to keel himself over, but it was no use, straining in place. The chair was heavier than he was and he didn't have any strength left. His feet were bare, icy air traveling up his limbs, up his torso, freezing his extremities. He groaned and he felt the reverberation at his temple. His head was bleeding and his jaw ached. He cried out, but the basement was empty. He was alone.
He could not remember the last time he ate. But there was no hunger. Least, not for food. His lips had begun to peel and it was the thirst that he felt now, right down to his aching bones. His throat was dry and his eyes stung and he could barely see in the dark. But he continued to strain, pushing against his restraints, wincing as the wounds at his wrists and ankles tore anew and he felt the blood dripping down his foot. He screamed again, tried to kick his feet against the floor but could not reach and he sobbed, at last. "Please," he begged, head lolling forward, shoulders hunched as he began to cry. His mouth was aflame, a blue-black bruise spreading from his cheek to his temple and when he moved his tongue it glossed over a newly opened socket where a molar should have rested. He dribbled, the scent of blood and spit and sweat rife, body wracked with the force of his anguish. "Please," he garbled to no one.
Time slowed. He fell in and out of consciousness. Hours later, he jolted awake. He heard the slam of a door upstairs and jerked upright, overwhelmed by a feeling of dread. He heard heavy footsteps, the scraping of metal against metal and then the mechanical screech of a door bolted from the outside. "Victor!" came a voice that he knew well. "Don't be scared, Victor," He shut his eyes tight. "It's only the tooth fairy," And with a whimper, Victor realized he had wet himself.
He feels the hand collide with his face. Feels the fire spread through his jaw. Titus does not close his eyes in time. He sees it before he hears the crack of his nose as it breaks. At the impact, his eyes fill up with tears, an instinct that is not his. It is a survival mechanism of time immemorial. He cowers, trying to shield himself, to hold his bloodied nose. He doesn't have the time. He hears the words that will hurt far more than the pain of a blow. Words that will hurt for years after. Words that will haunt him.
"You do this to yourself! If you only listened to me, Titus! If you respected me! I wouldn't have to do this. You're going to apologize to me,"
"No!" he tries to pull away, but the grip on his shirt collar is too strong. "Leave me alone!" He kicks at the air but the man is out of reach.
"Say it, Titus! Say it!" The man wants answers that Titus will not give.
"I didn't do anything!" Titus is resolute. He will keep his pride. He will keep whatever dignity is left to him.
"You're lying!" The man is incredulous and Titus shivers from head to toe.
"I'm not lying!" He plucks up his courage, balling his hands into fists.
"Don't you fucking lie to me! You ungrateful shit!" A hand moves, undoes the belt buckle and begins to slide the leather strap out.
"Please, don't!" Titus cries as the belt is coiled up like a snake curling in on itself. He sees the strong forearm flexing as the belt comes down. It cracks mid-air and the sound stops his heart. Titus runs. He's not fast enough. He can't see ahead of his bloody nose. He trips.
"Come back here! Right now," A crack of the belt and Titus feels it collide with the back of his leg. He falls to the floor, crawling away, scrambling to get to his feet. He isn't quick enough. He is never quick enough.
"Don't! Please!" He begs, his face is streaked with tears.
"What have I told you about crying, Titus!" Another crack of the belt, this time on the thigh and Titus collapses in a heap. He surrenders his nose. He surrenders completely.
"Dad, please! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
Alex groans and rolls over.
He wakes to a pounding head and an unrelenting need to piss.
He tries to go back to sleep but his bladder wins out.
He pushes back the sheets and moves to his feet slowly.
He tries not to wake the woman sleeping next to him.
He steps carefully, making a wide berth from the edge of the bed where he often stubs his toes.
He pads slowly to the bathroom and switches on the light.
It is blinding and he frowns, clamping his eyes together.
He stays like that a moment before he adjusts, feeling for the basin, turning on the hot water when his hand reaches the faucet.
He splashes his face. Then he moves to relieve himself.
He returns to the basin to wash his hands. Eventually he looks up.
He looks in the mirror and frowns again. His reflection frowns back.
Alex slides a finger into the side of his mouth, hooking it against the cheek and pulling it backward to reveal his teeth.
His eyes grow wide. He is missing a molar.
Alex stumbles backward, grabs for the towel railing and rips it clean off the wall.
Four tiles fly off with it and he yells loudly as he falls into a flustered, naked heap on the floor.
It wakes his bedfellow.
But she isn't herself either.