I’ll be honest, I’m not much of a family man. My career kept me away from my family for most of my daughters childhood, and once my wife died-absentee would be a generous description of me. Emotionally that is. It had been so sudden, and the love of my life, Erica, was taken far too soon while I was away. These last three years have been rough. I’m used to suffering, loss, and grief. This one hit different. There’s an emptiness inside me I can’t fully describe that I don’t think will ever really go away.
Because of this it wasn’t surprising when Aria had told me she was going to study abroad for the upcoming semester. She had been at a local college the last two years. I think she’d had enough of our awkward Tuesday night dinners and needed a break. One can only handle so many hours in painfully awkward silence I suppose.
For that reason, I couldn’t blame her for leaving. She had said that’s not what it was but I knew. The opportunities for growth, connections, and exploring the outside world were all lies to avoid saying she needed some time apart from me. She didn’t really need to ‘find herself’, she needed to ‘find herself further away from me’. It stung yet I understood.
Like I said, I’m not much of a family man. I had taught her some things as a kid to protect herself but outside of that we didn’t have much of a relationship. I’m not proud typing these things out. I’d love to be closer with my little Aria. I love her with all my heart. I’m simply a realist.
So to say I was thrilled when I received that FaceTime call was an understatement. Contact had been at a minimum since she’d left and I hadn’t seen her actual face in months. There’d be a few texts here and there, and a couple of questions about how I used to do things.
Seeing her call though-I couldn’t hit that green button quick enough. As her dark brown eyes and bright smile appeared on my screen I almost had to fight back tears.
“Hey baby girl. How are you? You look so happy! And you died your hair! A blonde now! Who knew?”
“Thanks dad! I fit in better here as a blonde but things are great! Europe is soooo pretty. And I’ve learned so much about myself! I truly couldn’t be happier,” she said while walking down a lit up street.
I could see she was telling the truth. It’d been ages since I’d seen her smile like that. What do they say nowadays? It hit me right in the feels. “I’m so happy to hear that Aria. What have you been up to? Tell me everything. It’s been a little while since we talked, and this old man has all day.”
“Well there was one thing I had a question about. You’re the expert in this area so I wanted some advice,” she said as the demeanor on her face became a little more serious.
“Okay, ask away,” I replied.
“There have been some disappearances around here lately…” but I cut her off.
“Now I’m a little worried. You’re walking alone and it has to be pretty late over there,” I said half-jokingly.
“Oh dad, you don’t have to worry about me. There is just one little problem. There are a lot. Like dozens,” she said while rounding a corner into an alley.
Before she could say another word the frame abruptly shifted unnaturally to show her surroundings. I heard some rustling, and some mumbling.
The mumbling intensified a bit. It seemed cheerful. What was going on?
The frame re-centered.
“Oops, sorry dad. I bumped into someone as I was turning the corner. I was just apologizing to them.”
I let out the breath I didn’t know I had been holding.
“You sure know how to worry your old man…wait a second.”
“Why, what’s up?” she asked.
I noticed someone behind my daughter now. His silhouette was approaching quickly. As he grew closer I could start to make out his features. Long wavy dark hair. Clean shaven. Looked local. Early 30’s.
And something flashed near his midsection. Was that a…?
“VERTIGO!” I yelled. Instinctively she swung around just as he reached her. There was a struggle and the phone fell.
“I finally caught you you little bitch!” I heard the man yell. The phone had landed in a way that I could see everything. Panicked, I started to yell out at the man.
Take your hands off my daughter!
Leave her alone!
They continued to struggle back and forth. Gradually my daughter started to get forced back to a wall. He cursed her vehemently.
Please! Stop this!
Aria lost her footing, and the man raised his knife. He swung down hard. It pierced my daughters arm and I heard her howl in pain.
Tears started streaming down my face. Not again. Why was I always helpless to protect my family?
I continued to plead, to beg this man to stop but he either didn’t hear me or didn’t care. He slashed Aria again and again. He screamed at her. Her protective stance had limited the blows to her arms but these were deep lacerations. She wouldn’t last long like this. Blood was everywhere. This maniac wasn’t going to stop.
I couldn’t help but think what a cruel world this is. I cursed any and every god there was. How could they let this happen? Maybe I deserved it. But my daughter? Her hands weren’t stained with blood like mine. This only started to turn my fear and sorrow into rage.
LET HER GO YOU BASTARD!
I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU! YOU HEAR ME?
I’VE SEEN YOUR FACE!
I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU!
I’VE DONE IT BEFORE AND I’LL DO IT AGAIN!
Something I said must’ve caught his attention because for one split second he hesitated. That created an opening, and thank god my little girl took it. With all her might she kicked into the front of his knee.
I don’t know which was louder his scream or the cracking of bones. His body staggered back and he howled in agony.
I watched his gaze slowly meet his leg, now bent entirely in the wrong direction, and panic flood his face. He stumbled forward. His head raised to look up at my daughter only she wasn’t there.
His eyes followed the trail of blood beside him. Before he could finish, Aria’s right arm had wrapped around his neck and tightened. His body squirmed. Even in the limited light I could see his face changing color.
Aria grunted as her assailant struggled to escape her grasp. I cannot imagine the pain she must have been in to choke a man out with such deep lacerations on her arms. But that inner toughness she must have gotten from her mother held firm. He continued to fight though, and in his flailing he was able to strike her.
She let out a small yelp yet held firm. She leaned back and the grip tightened. The man’s movements slowed, and I could tell he was going out. Moments later he was finally was.
I felt a sense of relief wash over me. My daughter was safe. She set the man down and crawled over the phone.
“Aria! Thank god you’re okay!” This was not the time to hold back my joy. God, gods, whoever, we’re on good terms again. My bad.
“I’m fine dad. Don’t worry,” she replied. She took a few deep inhales to compose herself. Her outfit was completely soaked. Whatever color it had been before was long gone. Now it was a deep crimson. “Thank god for your training though!”
“I can’t believe you remembered the codeword. I’m just so thankful you’re alright baby,” I said, wiping tears my from face. “Who was he? Has he attacked you before?”
She had a puzzled reaction on her face, and walked back over to the man. She pushed his body up against the wall of the alley so he was sitting up and stared intently at his face. There were a few seconds of silence.
“Oh! I think I do know him,” she said. The big smile she’d worn earlier had returned. Except seeing her covered in blood made it seem less wholesome this time. Now it was actually kind of creepy.
“I’m pretty sure his girlfriend is the one I killed last Thursday.”
Credit: Sam Gallenberger
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