Shadows and Regrets
My name is Charles Benington. I am a 40 year old male with three lovely daughters and two respectable sons. One such daughter enjoys asking how her mother, Ruth, and I had met. It is a story unfit for telling, especially to a twelve year old.
I can not bring myself to fully regret the manner in which I met Ruth, for it brought me the life I have today. However it does not bring thoughts of happiness and love to mind. Instead I find myself thinking that emotions such as fear and despair would be a more fitting description.
My eldest son, Michael, now 19, had somehow convinced me that he was old enough to hear the regrets of my past. Michael is very mature and emotionally, as well as physically strong. He reminds me much of myself. His mother had always been proud of this. I, however, cannot bring myself to agree.
Tomorrow I will tell Michael what he has been anxious to hear, but the thought if it brings immediate reluctance. Now I lie here in the dark knowing that my son will never look at me in the same way. I will never look at myself in the same way, because of memories better left undisturbed…
It was the year 1809 when it all started. I was a mere 15 years old, my sister, Lillian, a fragile nine. Our parents had died one night. I now know they were murdered, but for reasons still unknown. I found them lying on the bed, both blood streaked bodies pale against the crimson. Neighbours came and took us away for the night. At our morning return, they were gone and we were alone.
Our needs were simple; therefore I took it upon myself to care for Lillian. We got on for a while, but all too soon our simple way of life was interrupted all too rudely.
A cruel man had shown up and shadowed the perfectly peaceful morning with the darkness that defined the man’s very being. With few words and little reason he disturbed our lives. It was no surprise that the name Kell Wilson could send a shiver down any spine.
He took us to what he referred to as ‘the business’. People would come and go as they pleased .They would disappear into the rooms where we were never allowed, except when they needed cleaning. That, along with other chores, became our reality.
Wilson had a particular way of looking at Lillian. A way I didn’t like. He used to always say that she was a promising investment and that I was the downside to the deal. I was good for nothing, but hard labour and Wilson made sure he made good use of me. While my sister spent her hours grooming herself in her room, I was forced to beg and steal from the richer members of society.
After three years I was strong and had mastered the skill of deceit and deception. I had become shamefully comfortable in my assigned routine. As Lillian grew older she became undeniably beautiful. None of the other girls could compare to her and by then many girls lived in the forbidden rooms. She too would spend every day in the same manner, but Wilson no longer tried to hide his eagerness when he looked at his most prized possession.
Wilson had a daughter of his own. My Ruth. He never quite treated her better than he did me. She was nothing to him but an unwanted burden, but to me, she was beautiful. She had a fiery soul and a strong, fighting spirit. Of course, she could also be stubborn as hell. She often insisted on helping me with the things Wilson had me do.
On one such day Wilson caught her and for months after I would still feel the specter of fear his immediate anger had brought me. Ruth was locked away for weeks and when I saw her again her body was covered in bruises. I wanted nothing more than to rip Wilson’s throat out and, had I thought it would help, I would have. However, I knew a failed attempt would make Ruth pay the price. A risk I was not prepared to take.
Ruth and I had always shared views on her father. Lillian would argue with us for not seeing him as a selfless man who saved us from a life of poverty and despair. Little did she know that her judgemental ignorance made it easy for Wilson to manipulate her. Ruth and I had long since figured out that once Lillian was of age, she would be used for prostitution. Wilson often denied this, and Lillian blinded herself to the inevitable.
The brothel, we so casually referred to as our home, was quite popular amongst the townsmen. No doubt once my sister was available even that would be an understatement and word of her spread quickly. One day an old artist came and begged Wilson for an opportunity to paint a portrait of Lillian. He openly claimed that she would be his magnum opus. Lillian found this flattering, I found it disturbing.
It dawned upon me on that day that the moment of Lillian’s loss of innocence was rapidly approaching. I noticed how Wilson acted around her. His words were too kind, his eyes too greedy and his smile too convincing. Something had to be done, not only for her, but for Ruth as well.
I contemplated ways to escape, knowing that Lillian would protest to the thought of leaving. Ruth, however, agreed immediately and so majority ruled. I felt bad about threatening Lillian with leaving her behind, if she did not cooperate. I knew in my heart I could never forsake my baby sister, but the fear of losing me convinced her to come along.
It was a clear night when we decided we could wait no longer. At first it seemed that all would go as planned. It was simple: get Lillian, get out. Of course nothing is ever that easy and this was no exception...
I sit up in my darkened room, taking deep breaths to calm myself as I remember the anxiety I had felt that night. I recall the horrors that awaited us that night, but it is a part my secret I refuse to let Michael in on. I will tell him we had gotten away safely with no harm done. That is all he needs to know.
In truth, things went horribly wrong and it was too late to stop the memories as they came rushing back…
Once we had Lillian, it was time to leave, but right outside her door, Wilson stood waiting for us. The dimly lit corridor frighteningly enhanced the anger that distorted his face. The instinct to run took over and I was quick to act. It did not matter how Wilson knew of our plan, just that he did.
We were well ahead of him when we reached the front door. I did not pause, knowing that Wilson had no doubt locked it. I merely kept going, heading for the kitchen. Lillian and Ruth followed my example and when we reached the back door I was determined to make sure they got out first.
When they did I closed and locked the door behind them, aware that this would have to end in a fight. It was more stupidity than bravery on my part and Ruth soon started banging on the door. By then she had figured out what I was doing and wanted to stop me, but I wasn’t going to allow it.
Wilson appeared a moment later. It was too late for me to get away again and he pinned me down, fingers closing around my neck. It was clear his trained hands had done this before. Many times before.
Somehow he decided that he had another fate in store for me. As I looked up at him, I could see a glint of doubt enter his otherwise cold, cruel eyes. A sneer spread across his wrinkled face, baring his yellow teeth, making him look like a monstrous apparition.
He roughly pulled me up and led the way to a room I’d never seen before. It reeked with the stench of death. Wilson left the room, laughing loudly after wordless insults and a thorough beating, but it didn’t matter. A strange peace washed over me as I realized I was now alone in this. I was the only one who would have to pay. I cared little about my own fate, but my indifference was short lived.
Ruth was too much in love and Lillian too stubborn to leave me behind. Shortly after Wilson’s victorious departure, they came back for me. My disapproval and anger was meant to be made known, but it never got that far.
Once in the room, Ruth kissed me, silencing me. If not for Lillian’s warning, I would never have heard the footsteps. I looked at Ruth watching her smile shyly. I returned a more confident smile, shaking my head at her and we shared a moment of uncertain joy. I took Ruth’s hand and led them from the room.
Escape seemed once again possible, but we only made it to the stairway. There we were met by an army of Wilson’s men. They were all strong and they all wore expressionless masks. They grabbed Lillian first, then Ruth. Both put up quite a fight, but in the end they hardly stood a chance.
Wilson grabbed my arm and once again started laughing. I tried to pull free, but he punched me in the stomach, making me double over, gasping for breath. I heard Lillian whimper at the impact.
Wilson dragged us outside where he promised we would die. He dismissed his men, all but one. I watch the man closely as he walked past me. He gave me a look of sympathy and I knew he wished he could prevent what was coming.
The three of us stood together, waiting for Wilson to decide who would die first. Lillian, who could have made him rich, Ruth his worthless daughter or me, the cause of it all. I was sure I would be first to go, but he took Ruth instead.
It was early morning when Kell Wilson died.
Wilson was momentarily distracted. Not by me or Lillian, not by unwanted company, not even by hesitation because he was about to kill his own daughter, but by the weather. Wilson took time to proclaim his irritation with the cold.
I made good use of this. His back turned to me; I picked up a rock the size of my fist and went for the kill. As I hit Wilson over the head with all the force I could muster, I thought of every bruise on Ruth’s body when she disobeyed him. I thought of every penny he thought he would get from Lillian. I thought of every baby he killed when one of the girls from the forbidden rooms weren’t careful and every time he made me clean up the mess.
I hit Wilson long after he had stopped struggling, long after the last bit of sinned life left his body. In the end it was Ruth who took the weapon from me and led me from his body. She did not say a word or show signs of fear, anger or resentment. We were all relieved he was dead.
As we passed the nameless guard, he took my bloody hand, held it tightly as his eyes thanked me.
The thoughts of my deed still haunt me today, but the outcome of that night was inevitable. Lillian never blamed me, Ruth never even looked at me differently, I was the only one who didn’t know what to think. Murderer or saviour? I suppose both would abide.
With no other relatives, Ruth had inherited all of the money Wilson had so undeservingly earned. We hardly wanted it then, and now hardly need it. Therefore we try giving back to community, following the path of good Wilson could never understand or achieve.
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