12 Steps

An unedited, short horror story for Thanksgiving today. Happy eating, everyone.


12 Steps

The wave of blood rushed toward her feet. She stepped back as simply as if she were on some sandy beach, avoiding the incoming tide. She thought back to the last time she was on vacation – the warm sun on her skin, the way his hand felt in hers. No more vacations with him, not anymore.

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

She crossed to the other side of the room and opened the door. A small part of her wanted to continue what she had started. A bigger part of her knew she had to wait for the next step. She closed the door again.

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

She made herself a cup of tea. She made him a plain cheese sandwich and filled a glass with milk. She put his meal on the ground by his unconscious body. The blood reflected against the milk and made it seem pink. She wore her pink headband that day for work.

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

Everyone stole supplies from the hospital and everyone knew about it. She’d only taken a few small things up until now. No one was going to question why her backpack looked heavier than usual. They knew what she had been through. She hadn’t missed a day of work since all of this happened, she was brave, she was strong…

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

The cauterization had stopped the bleeding, even though he went into shock from it. She made sure his heart didn’t stop. She fed the needle into his arm expertly. He wouldn’t be dying for a very long time, not on her watch. She waited for him to wake up. She could be patient. She was used to it.

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

The doorbell rang and jarred her awake. He was awake too, looking at her with glistening eyes. She smiled, stroked his hair and calmly went upstairs. The woman at the door had flowers and asked her name. The woman served her divorce papers. She thanked her. The woman took the flowers with her.

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

Back downstairs, he looked hungry, but wouldn’t – or couldn’t – eat. She had planned for this step. She had never done a G-Tube outside of the hospital before. Laparoscopic surgery had become the norm, but there were no worries this time about keeping the incision small. It only took ten minutes before she could start feeding him through his stomach.

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

She signed the divorce papers and sent them to her lawyer. It didn’t really matter now. The faster the process, the better off she’d be. She didn’t want anyone else showing up at her door. Luckily, her husband had sent her already-signed-by-him papers. She bought herself flowers that day and a new pair of pliers.

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

It was easy enough to stop him from screaming without his gag in. The next step was to pull out all of his teeth. He wouldn’t be needing them, now that he didn’t eat. She saved them in a small tin and kept them in her pocket. At work, she’d occasionally jingle the teeth in their tin to keep her spirits up. No one asked what the sound was.

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

Every day, she took a few supplies from the hospital home. Some of them were easier than others. Once, a resident caught her struggling to get a piece of machinery into her car. He quietly helped her and promised not to tell. Everyone knew what she was going through. Everyone knew she was the best doctor in the hospital. This was just a step in her grieving process…

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

She made small incisions along his back and rubbed them with salt and cayenne. It was oddly like the process for roasting a chicken, she thought, but with more squirming. She moved the same process to his genitals after a few more days. When he passed out, she would monitor his vitals carefully. She didn’t want his heart giving out on her.

“But you have to understand, this is not your fault…”

After a year, it got easier. She had all of the equipment set up in no time. The police came by once to ask her questions. She smiled sadly at them and managed to squeeze out a few tears. They believed her and went away. She saw her therapist less often – he said she was improving. He said what he always said:

“But you have to understand, Laura, this is not your fault…”

She nodded. She knew it wasn’t her fault now. It wasn’t her fault that her husband divorced her. It wasn’t her fault that her son, Samuel, was playing on the sidewalk that day. It wasn’t her fault that a drunk driver had jumped the curb and dragged Samuel’s body half a mile down the road. It wasn’t her fault that the police had never caught the driver.

“Laura? It’s not your fault.”

It was HIS fault. The man who had shown up at her door over a year ago. The man who told her, in so many words, that he had hit her son with his brand new car. The man who promised he’d turn himself in to the police. The man who said he had a problem, an addiction to alcohol, that he was going through the 12 Steps. The man who swore up and down that he was sorry. No, it wasn’t her fault.

It WAS his fault.

She had invited him in. Her hands had trembled as she made him tea. She’d crushed up the sleeping tablets fine enough that he wouldn’t notice. He didn’t, he was too upset. She had wondered back then if he thought she was going to forgive him… And then he had said it:

“But you have to understand, this is not MY fault… I was an addict. I was powerless to my addiction. But I’m on the 12-Step program now and I’m trying to make amends, and–…”

She didn’t hear anything after that. She just nodded as the tears rolled down her face. He thought it wasn’t his fault. He thought it wasn’t his fault. She’d show him that it WAS… She show him every day… Every. Single. Day.

“Laura?” Her therapist reached out and touched her arm. “Laura, do you think it’s time to take Samuel off of life support now?”

She smiled and shook her head.

“I can’t. Not yet. I still have some things to work through…”

Her therapist seemed disappointed but told her she was improving. It was a process, he said. She agreed. It WAS a process.

Back down in the basement, she stroked the man’s face gently, motherly, the way she stroked her own son’s face in the hospital. She leaned in and whispered in his ear. The same teasing rhyme she whispered to him every single day.

“Samuel is still alive today. So are you. As soon as he dies, I’ll let you die, too.”

She understood so perfectly now. It was not her fault.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.