Le Lien - Le Lien

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Le Lien
Jim Carnicelli
4/19/2021   |   4/19/2021   |   7/12/2024   |   3,792

3,792 words
FNASR offered
Kira Carnicelli
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titank239gmail.com

Le Lien

by Kira Carnicelli

4/19/2021    4/19/21    3,792    16:51
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I can’t move. By all reason, I should be able to, but I can’t. All because he told me not to. When did it go this far – when he spoke a command and my willpower dissipated? 

Goosebumps broke out under my jeans and sweater. Evening was coming, but he wasn’t. Night would pass, and I would begin my second day in this cold, mildew scented room. Hunger pains pulsed through my middle, my lower half soaked from the inability to stand up and walk to the bathroom, and my mouth was parched from the lack of water and sweet aftertaste of ... how would I describe it? Ultra-ripe strawberries? Cherry Tang? Come to think, I had no idea what was in those red drops of ecstasy we shared each night.

That didn’t matter now. What mattered was that I could die here, if he let me, and that if I wanted to avoid it, I’d have to rely on myself to defy him.

Maybe the key was in the past.

From my fetal position on the ratty tan carpet, I looked over the last three years, searching for the answer, for that one moment Le Lien took effect. I traced each time he instructed me and I obeyed (which amounted to every single time), wondering when my compliance became involuntary. So far, nothing. That was his plan, no doubt: to be as subtle as possible and guide me down the path to my own destruction.

Of course, if you hadn’t tried to walk out ... I thought to myself.

But a full day trapped by this vulnerability? How much more can I take? How much longer will he force me to endure it?

Thus was my ongoing argument for the last twenty-four plus hours.

Oh Raz, I’m sorry. Even though you secluded me, shamed me, manipulated me ... I owe you my life. Technically, you’re not in the wrong.

God, what was I doing, talking to this man in my head as if he was omnipotent! I didn’t believe that, did I? Not that it was that ridiculous after what he told me. I still remembered as if it were yesterday instead of two years ago:

“Le Lien is said to form a link between the giver and recipient that goes beyond ordinary. In ancient times, those who used it, especially givers, were suspected of witchcraft. What history doesn’t teach us is that most witch burnings occurred because of Le Lien.”

“Why not?”

“Maybe the creators wanted to keep it secret,” Raz suggested, shrugging a broad shoulder. “Then again, maybe the authors of our textbooks found it unworthy. Who would care about a product that’s virtually nonexistent?”

“Everyone!” I blurted with a laugh. But Raz wasn’t finished. He glared at me, light brown eyes full of warning, until I retreated against the couch like a scorned puppy.

“A product,” he continued with exaggerated annoyance, “that may already be nonexistent, or made up in the first place. Reality intrigues people. If there is even the slightest chance something may be true, they eat it up. That’s the appeal of fiction: for a while we have been tricked into the reality of the impossible.”

When I was sure he’d finished, I asked, “Then what about Le Lien? It’s a real substance with an interesting legend. The world should be going nuts over it.”

“Its makers must want it secret. The demand is high enough as is. Imagine the whole world asking for it.”

“With the fortune they’d make –”

“But you know the hassles,” he snapped, leaning forward in his chair, “and the dangers of keeping something ... or someone ... hidden. Use your brain, Leila. Over the years, the popularity for this stuff has gone from positive to negative. Some want it for its magic, others for its destruction. Would you have the creators hand it over to anyone who asked?”

I lowered my eyes, all too aware of his threat. “No,” I whispered. It sounded like a plea. “But it is just a myth, isn’t it?”

Raz chuckled, irritation forgotten. “Yeah, that’s what they say.”

Why hadn’t I questioned him further? It’d crossed my mind, but I hadn’t dared. What if I’d offended him again? Angered him? Provoked him to throw me out, as threatened? But there was more to it than your average guilt. Le Lien. Of course. It worked its magic from the moment Raz found me. And what perfect timing, too: bruised, bloody, next to dead.

From my spot on the floor, I shuddered. At least I could do that much. I couldn’t get up to empty my bladder or prepare food, but I could blink, scratch my nose, and shudder. And why? Because they were minor movements; he would forgive me for them. Only a complete tyrant would forbid the most basic movements and leave me frozen as a statue, assuming that power was humanly possible. But it seemed Raz had found that power; and if he could use it, he would. And he had only just begun.

Begun what, exactly? I thought. Well, making me into his personal possession, for certain, a process that really did start that first night, three years ago ...

I’d laid in coursing agony against the cement with the dumpster stench wafting around me. The distant streetlights had done little for my vision, so I stared at the dark blend of ground and painted metal, waiting either for my strength to return or my stepbrothers to find me. The latter was most likely. They’d carried me to my bed with the promise to be ‘back soon,’ certain their last beating left me too weak to move. I hadn’t bothered to wait around, even though the worst was probably over. I’d staggered to my first story window, pried it open, and tumbled into the shrubs below.

In hindsight, choosing to take the back roads wasn’t the wisest idea, though it seemed private and safe at the time. I’d limped through the shadowy alleyways on legs they had stomped on too many times, holding in the ribs they may have fractured, praying to whatever was out there for just enough strength, just enough time to escape anyone who might find me, and contrarily, for just that right person – the one who stops for a girl in trouble and trusts her enough to get her to safety despite her ratty clothes, tangled hair, and discolored face. I pushed on until my legs gave out.

I don’t know how long I laid there, but I remember the fresh jolt of adrenaline at the thud of footsteps behind me. They started at an even pace, paused, then pattered over until I could feel them in my ear. Their owner knelt, placing a hand on my arm, and that was the moment I knew it wasn’t one of my stepbrothers. They would never use such a gentle touch.

“Help me,” I begged. The hand tightened on my arm and rolled me to my back. Despite the dark, I could just make out his features: strong, rough, contorted in concern.

“I’ve got to get you out of here,” he said softly. I tried to sit up and groaned at the strain in my bones. “I’m going to lift you, okay?” he said, already supporting my back. “It’s gonna be all right, honey.”

I cried out once as he lifted me. He whispered an apology and rushed out of the alleyway. Not once did he ask me to speak. Instead, he whispered assurances, occasionally touching his lips to my grimy hair, continuing in that brisk, steady pace to avoid jostling me. I found myself resting my head on his shoulder, nestling into him. He was solid, like my stepbrothers, but soft in a way they could never be.

The house he brought me to was an old structure with peeling grey paint and covered windows that most thought was abandoned. One look inside told me otherwise. Though not fancy, it had the necessities for comfortable living. He set me on a soft couch with green and brown pattern and covered me with a fleece blanket before hurrying out of sight. After a moment of running water and the opening and closing of – cabinet doors? – he returned with a wet washcloth and tiny cup of red liquid.

“Drink this baby Tylenol,” he instructed. “You’re so small, it will ease the pain.”

I obeyed, noting the abnormally sweet aftertaste before forgetting it completely. Drowsiness took over. The pain dulled, and reality narrowed to the man I did not yet know, who washed the blood off my face and sat with me all night, cradling me like a child, sometimes humming softly.

The next morning, he let me use his shower and listened to my story over a hot breakfast. Sympathy permeated his every feature, turning an otherwise scary face heartbreakingly sweet.

When I finished, he murmured, “I hate the thought of sending you out there.”

I glanced around the kitchen, simple yet so warm, and felt a tightening in my chest. “Me, too.”

“Then stay.”

I never left; never set foot out the door except for those rare occasions he snuck me out to get clean clothes or personal items. Even then, I stayed hidden under the dashboard of his deep blue Mustang until we reached the next town.

The memory faded, leaving a different sort of pain in my chest. I sighed at a scuttling ant. Until yesterday, I’d been his perfect little house pet. And even then, how much had I really deviated?

“I’m getting claustrophobic!” I’d shouted. “Every day is the same: I sit around waiting for you to come home, all day, doing nothing. I haven’t seen another person in months!”

“You’re just going through a restless phase, Leila. I’ve told you before why you can’t go out.”

“But it’s been three years. They’ve probably given up searching by now. Heck, they probably think I’m dead!”

“And do you want to expose the truth? Huh? You think they’ll cry and embrace you and hold a celebration like in The Prodigal Son? Or do you think they’ll start where they left off? They had no love for you, and now you’re a threat. If they find you’re alive, they’ll know you’ve told someone about the abuse. They’ll have to stop you before the police get to them, and that means killing you and anyone you’ve told. If you want to forfeit your life, fine. If you want to forfeit mine, even better. It’s the most fitting way to repay me, without any of that diplomacy bullshit. I just thought you appreciated what I’ve given you.”

He walked away, and I slunk to the corner of our bedroom, where I sat curled in on myself for hours. When I came out, Raz had settled on his green and brown couch, the fleece blanket still draped over the back. He turned at the sound of my footsteps, and for a moment we just looked at each other. I watched the remaining glints of resentment melt from his eyes; watched them merge through hurt, regret, compassion, and finally, love. I went to him. He wrapped his arms around me as he had that first night and after a moment, reached into his jeans pocket. He opened the little red bottle, removed the cap and beaker, and pressed one drop of liquid to his lower lip. Mine parted, allowing him to drop the same amount on my tongue.

Tangy sweetness filled my mouth. I swallowed, even though I knew the reflex was vain. The flavor exploded, sending a buzz down my throat and through my limbs. Raz licked the spot on his lips, and I thought he was beautiful. I leaned in ... and the next morning, awoke in our bed, still staring at his clear eyes and radiant – though faint – smile. What an incredible night! How amazing that we could experience the same magic night after night and never grow accustomed to it! But this morning was even more powerful, looking into his face and remembering his willingness to forgive and share his greatest treasure, with no expectation other than gratitude.

How could I have done it? I’d scorned the love and kindness I had prayed for, insulted my savior, and never attempted to atone. “I love you,” is not an apology, no matter how one says it; yet he bound us with Le Lien, let us share the ecstasy of a single drop, and sang as we drifted to sleep.

My sin was in the past. The shadow that overcame his face purely mirrored my own, and without a word, he stroked my hair and pulled me closer.

“I love you, Raz,” I repeated.

“I know. I love you too.”

A half hour later he was at work, and I was alone. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror. My brown hair brushed my collarbone – too long for Raz’s taste. Blonde roots started to show. It was greasy, too. Forgetting to shower was easy, as the high of Le Lien separated me from the grime (and aches) of my body so I always felt weightless and free. I turned on the water and undressed. Purple marks decorated my back, stomach, legs, and arms, though few caused actual pain.

Another wave of remorse shook me as I recalled the memory of each bruise. Some were for pushing the window drape back too far. Another was for running up his water bill by dropping a clean fork.

Looking at my naked body, the bones prodding out from discolored skin, I realized my life was no better than when I ran away. If anything, it was worse. At least at home, my stepbrothers had lives outside of torturing me. At least there, they had our parents to hide it from. And at least I could hate them.

I stepped under the hot water and leaned against the blue tiled wall as the spray pelted my flesh. Raz was no different from them, and I’d known. For a long time, I had known but ignored it.

Two years, three months in, I’d noticed the signs, starting with the insults and cutting remarks so similar to my stepbrothers’. Followed by that was his sudden compassion. Not remorse, but compassion, as though he released me of my crimes out of the goodness of his heart. And how horrible were these crimes? In retrospect ... though it pained my heart to even think it ... they weren’t crimes at all but minor mistakes that every human being is prone to – mistakes that make us what we are. Mistakes that Raz made, as well. How often had I seen him knock over a glass of water, break a plate, or play the television so loud I could hear it from the backyard? And how much remorse did he show for these ‘crimes?’ In a word, none.

Another sign was my lack of anger. Despite my gratitude (and fear), I was bound to lose patience sooner or later. Self-respect was so strong in my nature, even my stepbrothers couldn’t destroy it. But even in moments of frustration, I couldn’t be angry at Raz. At my worst, I approached him like a child venting to a parent and at my best, a disciple approaching Christ. Add to this my inability to oppose him – including the time he found the journal I’d begun keeping and burned it; all I could do was sulk the rest of the day until he snuck a drop of Le Lien into my drink – and my transformation was incredible. All he’d done to make me hate him, and I still looked on him with adoration.

He had developed this unearthly power over me, but I refused to live my life as someone’s pet! Any self-possession that remained, I would fight to keep.

***

Clean again, I went to the kitchen and sat without eating. I hadn’t been hungry in three years, and it showed in my appearance. I ate to stay alive, nothing more. I needed to get out, if only for a while. I needed to understand what was happening. I needed to know anything he hadn’t told me about Le Lien.

***

 “What is it?” I’d asked. One month into my stay, he revealed the red vial – what he called his greatest treasure, and the most potent potion on earth. “Looks like nail polish.”

With a grin, he’d twisted the cap, revealing the red-coated beaker underneath. He held the beaker under my nose. “What do you smell?”

I sniffed. “Nothing.”

He nodded. “But wait ’til you taste it. One drop will send you on the greatest high you’ll ever experience. It’s the world’s best drug, so strong it was thought to be the creation of an otherworldly being.”

I squinted at the black label with the fancy white scrawl, Le Lien. “What’s it mean?”

“Ne parlez-vous français?"

“No.”

Le Lien is French for the link. The name comes from the link that forms between those who share it. Ideally, one person administers a drop to themselves and their partner – their friend, significant other, whoever, really – and in doing so, strengthens the bond between the two. I don’t know what happens to those who take it alone or in a group, but the experience is supposed to be most rewarding with two people.” He capped the bottle and returned it to his pocket, giving me all his focus. “It’s been three months since I’ve had it. I haven’t slept as well since. Will you take it with me tonight? Don’t be afraid,” he said when I hesitated. “It’s harmless. All you have to do is trust me.”

This was all I’d learned about the strange drug ... or potion ... in three years. When would I learn the rest? Next year? The year after? When I no longer possessed a conscious mind?

No! That couldn’t happen.

The library was my only resource for now. I could get a card and maybe find a book before his lunch break. I arose from the table – but a weight settled on my shoulders. He didn’t want me out. I warred with the fear of being caught and the guilt of keeping a secret from someone so ... good. Why, why, when I wanted to recall his darker moments did I see his gentle eyes, feel his warm, enclosing arms, hear the love and vulnerability in his voice? I wanted to hit something but couldn’t convince myself the anger wasn’t directed at him.

You must go. It’s not a crime. Even gratitude has its limits.

I chanted these and many similar thoughts as I struggled to unclench my muscles. Taking deep breaths, I made my way, one step after another, to the door – a place I had never ventured without Raz. Hand on the knob, I inhaled once, trembling with the action. Raz was all around. My grip tightened, my wrist twisted cautiously, and pulled ... and in streamed sunlight.

I waited to be baked alive for my betrayal, all the while reciting empty assurances. An eternity later, the sun looked welcoming. The grass, swayed by a light breeze, appeared to wave. My brief smile turned to a grimace as tears came to my eyes. I closed the door. He tightened in on me, condemned me, sent me to the empty room next to ours.

The stagnant air and worn carpet were my only company as I wept in the windowless space. What would I tell him? How would I tell him?

At the sound of his entrance, I got to my feet and wiped my face, still uncertain. But before I could worry, he loomed in the doorway, wearing a fierce scowl. He gripped my arms, squeezed, and guided me to the corner, one slow step at a time.

“After all I’ve done for you,” he snarled. I had no idea what he saw in my eyes – terror, contrition – but all I saw was ruthless, cold fire. He released me, thrusting me against the wall. I slunk to my fetal position. He towered over me for a few heartbeats. His rage, though unspoken, was suffocating. “Don’t. Fucking. Move.”

He hadn’t come back. Not to sleep, eat, or change clothes. And I had not attempted to disobey him. Until recently, I had no desire; but as my body anticipated the high that never came, and craved the nourishment it so desperately needed, my surface inhibitions vanished.

All I had to do was unlock my stiff muscles. Raz was not here; he had simply spoken a few words. Nothing held me here but my own mind; and if I could not escape those self-inflicted chains, I would die.

But Le Lien –

No! I could argue with myself until the end of time, but the only thing that would help me now was action. Cut loose from Raz just long enough to escape the house – I’d done that before – and go to a shelter, the police, anywhere secure; then I could remorse all I wanted. What my stepbrothers had done was wrong. Therefore, what Raz did was wrong. He just had the means to blind me to it.

Before doubt could set in, I lurched to a stand. I felt a ripping in my heart, the kind I imagined feeling if I killed someone in self-defense. The exertion in my limbs hurt enough to tear a cry from me. Trembling, whimpering, I struggled to steady myself without success. Right as I prepared to take my first step, a ferocious voice rang throughout the room.

“SIT DOWN LEILA –”

I fell to my knees.

“ – AND DON’T MAKE A MOVE UNTIL I COME FOR YOU.”

The vibration may have been around me, in me, or both, or only in my mind; but when it faded, I was stone still against the wall, unable even to cry as tears overflowed. Everything became a blur. And stayed that way.

And stayed, and stayed.