Brandy and Mack put away the dishes after dinner. Dishes clink and water swishes, but it’s the silence that dominates the room. 
“You cooked,” Mack says, trying to break the tension. “Let me do all of these.”
“Do you want to go shopping with us tomorrow? Sam needs new clothes.” Brandy changes the subject, ignoring Mack’s offer.
Mack could not handle the slight, the deliberate disrespect. Mack has always had a problem controlling his temper. “No! Do it your damn self! Do everything yourself! Start with these fucking dishes! I’m no help, other than a fucking ATM I guess!” Mack unloads, throwing a dish into the sink and storming off to the next room. Brandy remains calm. She expected this reaction, an overreaction. This was common. Mack could go from zero to 100 in a matter of seconds. Brandy continued to wash the dishes as she stared out the kitchen window. The darkness made the perfect reflection and Brandy sees herself, tears beginning to build. 
This is the beginning of the end for this young couple. Six years of love, adventure, and adoration, and it’s all coming to a dark end. It’s not important to wonder what they did wrong, or how they could fix it. Yes, Brandy could open up and not take on every problem and make it her own. Yes, Mack could not bottle up his emotions to the point they explode all at once. They could allow themselves to communicate and work on trusting one another again. Unfortunately, this is irrelevant. This story is not about the young family. This story is about the man hiding inside the walls of their home.
This story is about the man who has left the walls of Brandy and Mack’s home. The man who is now standing behind Brandy, who is deep in thought about her troubled relationship and has no chance to react to the cold blade the stranger thrusts deep into her right temple. What would have been her final words became a dying gasp. She stares, lifeless eyes full of the tears from her last, hopeless thoughts. The man pulls his knife from her head and she drops to floor. Using the rag from the kitchen counter, Brandy’s killer cleans his knife and turns to the doorway in anticipation. He’s done this before. It does not always need to be the same, but the outcome must follow script; and as expected, Mack returns to the kitchen. 
“Brandy, I’m—” Mack freezes. 
Horror-struck, he cannot comprehend fast enough the gruesome scene. His wife is dead on the floor, puddle of blood at her head, at the feet of a man wearing the darkest of black from head to toe. Black shoes, black pants, black sweater, black gloves, and black ski mask. It may as well have been a living, breathing silhouette. The silver blade of the knife sticks out like a sore thumb from this walking shadow. Mack focuses on the knife for a quick second, still in shock. Both of them are motionless, and neither make a sound. Mack’s shock and fear quickly turn to rage and he rushes the murderous shadow. He strikes the intruder with a vicious series of blows to the head and body, but the noir trespasser does not fight back. Instead, he keeps his arms at his side, right hand still gripping his weapon, refusing to use it. Mack continues his assault, his every strike more powerful than the last, avenging his wife and defending his home. The intruder falls to his knees and, just as the justified husband goes for the knife, the house begins to shake. Mack does not react to the world vibrating or the sudden complete absence of sound, continuing to struggle for the weapon in his attacker’s deadly grip. The man from within these walls knows exactly what is occurring, life’s regular course is not taking place. The houses fury is a reminder to him of what needs to be done. The stranger no longer holds back, head-butting Mack in the nose. The blow renders the husband powerless, and he falls to the ground, dazed and exhausted. The attacker stands, firming his grip, and approaches the head of the household just as he rises, attempting one last stand. In one quick motion, the deadly shadow swings the knife, slitting Mack’s throat. The widower falls to his knees and grabs his neck, helpless to stop the blood. He looks at his wife, tears filling his eyes, and he reaches out for her one last time before their murderer places a hand on his head and ends his suffering with a final stab to the heart. As Mack’s lifeless body falls to the floor, beside his wife, the house stops shaking.
The intruder does not celebrate his victory. He exits the kitchen, feeling defeated. He stops in the hallway, the mid-point between the front door and the stairway leading up to the house’s two bedrooms. Across from him, he notices his reflection in the bathroom mirror. It taunts him. He enters the bathroom, challenging the reflection that looks back at him. He sets the knife on the sink and takes off his mask. He does not recognize himself. He is a young man, in his mid-twenties, a mess of dirty blonde curls on his head and scruff scribbled across his face. His eyes show little trace of white, infected instead with red from pain and despair. Dejected; tired of not only living with his guilt but truly living his guilt. With a blank face, he stares into his soulless eyes. 
“I am the monster.” He accuses himself. 
His voice is dry and raspy; it has been so long since he has spoken out loud. Continuing to stare at himself, tears begin to spill over the dark bags underneath his eyes. No longer the face of a cold-hearted killer, the formerly bold expression turns to that of a scared young man, one who is truly afraid of and disgusted with himself. 
“It can’t be worse!” He shouts, punching the mirror and destroying his reflection. 
He rushes out of the bathroom, racing toward the front door and, just as he grabs the knob, the house comes alive once more. He freezes where he stands, hand on the knob. What could await him outside, and could it possibly be worse than the horrors within? The house does not stop, becoming more enraged. The home eroding; more alive than ever but deadly quiet. He cannot leave. His shoulders slump, and his hand slips off the knob. But the house does not let up. Windows shatter, floorboards crack; the house is still violent, and the silence is still deafening. He rushes to the bathroom. Snatching up the knife, not breaking momentum, he charges up the stairs. 
Entering one of the bedrooms, the enraged predator slams the door behind him. On this door is a picture of a basketball, and bold blue letters read “SAM.” The house rests, and the screams of a child break the silence.
The man descends the stairs slowly. He’s drained, both physically and mentally. Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he looks toward the door. Now appearing in front of the exit is a small metal safe. Seeing it, the monster cries. Approaching the safe, he drops to his knees. He’s been here before; he’s done everything almost the same. The details are not always exact, but the outcome must always follow script. Wiping the tears from his face, composing himself, he opens the safe. It holds nothing. It is as expected, but every time is a harsh reminder of what he is; he is nothing, and his actions are pointless. At his final breaking point, again the man begins to sob, reduced to nothing more than a hysterical mess. The torturer, tortured. Alone in a never-ending nightmare. 
“I’m sorry!” he cries. 
“I don’t want to do this anymore!” he begs.
It is another desperate attempt for forgiveness. His cries and pleas are neither heard nor listened to. He knows this. This is not the first time he has begged and not the first time he has pleaded. He’s been here before. The man closes his eyes a final time, head sagging to his chest. 
His eyes open to darkness, back within the walls of Brandy and Mack’s home. Sitting between the walls, he waits. Once again, he is back to the beginning. It does not always need to be the same, but the outcome must follow script. Beyond the walls, Brandy and Mack are doing the dishes. 
He takes a breath, and says to himself, “It could be worse.”
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