Blue and red entered through the white curtains in the dim living room. Enthralled with the ominous choreography against a pale back wall, Rowan thought they looked like fairies.
“Come with me.” A gentle but firm grasp secured her upper arm.
She shuffled alongside as if he were a puppet master controlling her movements. If zombies existed, was this what they would experience? Infection killing the mind as they disintegrated, rendering them incapable of tears or words of mourning for all they lost when the sickness took hold? Their souls too destroyed to register how or why their husks continued to stumble onward?
Of course, their moans would be incoherent. No rational human could translate such pain.
The last twenty years of her life had been a horror show, with Rowan starring as patient zero. Onset of the disease occurred when her stay-at-home mother was killed in a hit-and-run right before her eyes. The trauma and tragedy thrust the tender-aged Rowan into an environment unfit for a child.
A family of patriarchal extremists employed her father on their personal staff. Reclusive and shrewd, the only thing more abundant than the Manning's wealth was their cruelty. When her nanny was sick or on leave, Rowan would end up inside their estate. Trying to keep her hidden from sight, her father forbade going outside or upstairs.
“Watch your head,” the man advised with a soft voice, helping her into his car. This felt like a backward version of a traumatizing scene from that gaudy mansion.
Nine-years-old and bored, Rowan had stealthed out front to play in the garden. She hid behind a shrub when her father drove the limo back into the cul-de-sac. The eldest son of the family had pounced from the back in a fit of rage, yanking his young wife from the vehicle and shoving her forward. Devastating blows rained against the woman’s head and back as she fled toward the prison of their mansion.
That was not the first act of domestic violence she’d witnessed from the men in that family in the two years since her mother had died. It would not be the last, either, though she never saw that heir’s wife again. She died a year and a half later, within minutes of birthing a dark-haired boy Rowan barely saw.
Memories of how much her father loved and respected her mother dissolved as the years passed. Ungodly work hours made him an absentee parent and prevented dating or remarrying. The lack of a proper role model chewed holes in Rowan’s sanity, as infrequent exposure to that family’s behaviors filled the voids with toxic psychosis.
Zander. The name drifted from the thickening haze of her brain. A fluttering of her stomach indicated shock might be wearing off.
Two years her senior, they met during her freshman year of high school. They had only been dating a few months when Rowan allowed him to take her virginity. Ever the cliché, it happened in the back of a borrowed Chevy in the wake of a school dance. The intention was to break up with him afterwards, but he treated her well enough that she kept putting it off.
The morning of her sixteenth birthday, her father gifted her with an ultimatum. A quiet ceremony at the courthouse, or he would send her away. The six-month growth in Rowan’s belly denied her a choice. Zander didn’t seem to mind the idea. He even got down on a knee to give her a ring.
Still burdening her left hand, it clashed with the bracelets from her new companion.
On October third, a beautiful girl screamed her way into this world. While Zander showed only elation, Rowan felt trapped and afraid. Worse, she felt neglected and jealous at how much he adored that child. Rowan’s meltdowns escalated with each milestone in their daughter’s early development. By the time the little girl turned three, concerned neighbors were reporting their house every couple months. Visits from the cops resulted in arrests more often than not.
Early February of the toddler’s fourth year, all hell broke loose. The fight’s cause long-since forgotten, the outcome still rotted at the center of Rowan’s heart. With both parents jailed yet again for domestic abuse, Child Protective Services swooped in. The last they would see of their child was during that arrest.
Whether her husband left her that night remained subjective. Sure, he came home from work every day and slept in the same bed each night. A self-fulfilling prophecy came to fruition as the love she never trusted as real became gangrenous and putrid. Eyes that used to regard her with warmth and affection held only hatred and blame. Deserved, she knew. Their daughter was gone because of her.
To this day, she had no idea why he stayed. Or why she stayed, for that matter. Maybe it was the hope their child would someday be returned.
Rowan looked up as the car came to a halt. Glowing pixies spun in a frenzy, creating lines of electric blood and bruises across mortar and clay. Enchanted by the sight, she realized the gravity of her situation. Free from a marriage bloated with infection, she now faced a cage of a different nature.
She jumped as a warm hand contacted her bicep, urging her from the seat. For the first time since they knocked on her door, she realized he was a cop. The nametag on his shirt read Dietrich. It all flooded in on her with an abruptness that almost sent her into a meltdown.
“We found your husband,” Officer Dietrich had announced not even an hour prior, the backup unit behind him standing at attention.
“I don’t remember anything,” Rowan whispered, her first words since they revealed her prints were found on the gun buried next to Zander at the back of their property.
A sad grimace was the officer’s only response as he led her into the building for processing.