What makes a man or the resemblance of a man become nothing more than the primal scream of all that is evil? What are the underpinnings of this evilness? There are thousands of psychological studies about psychopaths and their failed family relationships, their love for killing small animals, which graduates to the love of killing or torturing humans. Art “String Bean” Gaylord had fallen exactly into that comfortable label without the notice of anyone, no suspicion from family or neighbors. After all, it was just skinny Art, a strange but unforgiving child.
Art fell through the cracks of society and the astute observation of professionals. After all, he lived in a mining town where all that mattered was a strong back and a home-cooked meal. There were no professionals, only mom and dad, and seven kids. Art was just a good ol’ boy with all the trimmings given to him by his culture. He was a barroom hero, a drunken soldier marching to the tune of bigotry. There are thousands of Arts and a thousand excuses for their existence.
The lifelong discussion between social thinkers for the causes of Art’s behavior, is it Nature and Nurture turns to a mood argument because the result is always the same victimization. Young Annie had no time to think about paradigms and cause-and-affect, no time at all. Her only escape from the claws of insanity was no real escape at all. Thus begins the story of entrapment, entanglement, the sad commentary of man’s relentless need for power and control.
The simplicity of Art Gaylord’s conscience was a study in bleakness. His mind was filled with blackberry jam and no bright light created by any obvious enlightenment. Art found his enlightenment in the troubles of others. His epiphany was the Volunteer Fire-mans’ whistle. Someone’s house was burning down because he lit the fire. Following the fire trucks and watching from a distance was his pubescent version of an orgasm. Here lies a story of a fire he started, but lacked the conclusion he prayed for. Art could not put this fire out. And the story begins.
The cars traveled silently into the setting sun, a pilgrimage of mechanical ingenuity. The mountains watched without care, was nothing to them. They had been there for millenniums. She wasn’t listening to him. She hadn’t for the last fifty miles. He bored her. Their arranged marriage angered her. Of course in America arranged marriages were not practiced, except in the deep confines of the Appalachians, and they were heading out of the cocoon of Adamsville, a mining town with two bars, a gas station, one Holy Warriors of God Church, and a grocery store.
“You know, my daddy always said it aint fair to shoot a squirrel while he’s sleeping. Hell, I shot me plenty of them whilst they were in their tree homes.” Art was rambling, but he didn’t care. Annie hadn’t said anything for an hour and he was bored stiff. “Annie, what’s wrong with you? You aint said nothin’ for some time now.”
She didn’t want to say anything to the illiterate bastard. What could she say that would make sense to him? “Got nothing to say,” She muttered.
Art placed his hand on her bare knee and tried to slide it up a little more than proper. She slid his hand away brusquely. After she did it, a pain of guilt crossed her, but not for long. She knew what he was expecting on this their wedding night. Her stomach tossed with the idea, not that it was new or anything. She had done it with Frank Laughton in the football stadium underneath the bleachers while the game was starting to peak excitement from the fans. Frank peaked at about the same time as the fans leaving Annie with load of wet stuff she would have wash out when she got home that night.
“Hey, how about a little leg action? Damn, aren’t you a little excited?” Art was turned on. She could see his bulge increasing in dimension. Annie was about to gag with revulsion.
“Not till we get to the hotel.” She said. The very thought brought tears to her young yet strained eyes. Those eyes were like her mother’s, sky blue and nearly transparent. Annie looked ten years older than her actual age which was eighteen years and six days.
“That will be in about five minutes.” She could hear the agitation in his voice. She had known Art most of her life. She knew what kind of sick bastard he could be. Once when she was about twelve, she had seen him beat a dog until it was bloody and broken, just because the dog had urinated on one of his spinner hubcaps. The dog later died lucky dog she thought. She would not be that lucky. Soon, he would be groping her and hurting her. Annie quaked with fear. “There it is.” He pointed to the small neon light with two letters unlit. It blinked “ote” insanely in the pitched night. Art pulled the car up to the office. “I’ll check us in.”
Annie knew she had to move fast if she was going to escape. They were just outside of Pittsburgh and she was certain she could get lost in the city. Annie had six hundred dollars earned by cleaning houses and waiting tables at the local bar. She would need it. She would have to wait until Art fell asleep and she knew what that would mean, sex. He would have his grubby hands all over her, but he would fall asleep eventually. She would make him wear a condom. Annie didn’t need to be packing a child around with her in a strange city.
The room was small and cramped. The bathroom contained an old rusted toilet and a shower-tub that looked to be older than the room. Annie let the hot water run across her body. She was lucky Art had let her shower. He wanted to throw her on the bed and molest her the minute he unlocked the door. The showerhead was ancient and nearly clogged shut, just a smattering of water fell across her breasts. When she toweled off, a feeling of nausea rushed up her throat and she fell to her knees in front of the toilet. He was waiting. Oh God he was waiting. This is not how life was supposed to be. A man and woman were supposed to share common values and common interest. She and Art had no commonalities. His crooked yellowed teeth and unshaved face made her gag even more.
“Come on Annie.” He yelled. “I’m going to have to beat-off pretty soon if you don’t get the hell out here and service me.” His laugh was hideous and vulgar. She opened the door cautiously. What she saw next made her weak-kneed. Feeling the blood leave her head, Annie thought she would pass out. Art had placed ropes on each corner post of the bed. She knew what would be next, horror. It was something that had been below her conscious, hidden in recesses of fear. “I created a little something for you. Do you like it this way?”
“I don’t know…what’s it for?” Feigning gullibility, she tried to smile shyly. She tried to pretend she wasn’t scared out of her mind. Of course she was she now understood her husband’s intent to overpower her. She would be his slave forever. “Shouldn’t you wear something, honey?” She tried
“Lie down here and I’ll show you what for.” He laughed fiendishly again. She did as instructed knowing that to do otherwise would be certain punishment. “I aint wearin’ nothing, but a smile bitch.” All hell broke loose. Annie was dizzied by the event that followed.
He ripped her brand new nightgown off revealing her youthful breasts. They had been touched by a man only once before and Art’s filthy gawking made her feel small, small like a bug, a useless bug. He groped them and began to slobber on them. She stiffened as he clumsily tied each ligature to her. Her position on the bed was religious looking, but Jesus’ legs weren’t spread on his cross. Art ripped her panties off her with one movement leaving her darkness exposed and easily accessible. Surprisingly, Art stopped. He stared at her with disgust. “You hate me don’t you?” He yelled. Reaching for a bottle of some kind of whiskey, he chugged several times. Annie for a moment was frozen with curiosity, never seeing anyone drink almost half a bottle of booze with one flick of the wrist. Her curiosity turned to horror.
“No, Art honey, I don’t hate you.” She lied, but not good enough. Art sensed the sparrow’s passivity. He would crush the helpless bird much like he smashed all the dogs in his neighborhood.
He slapped her. “You lyin’ little whore.” He slid his belt out of its loops and wrapped it ceremoniously around his hand. “Think I’m gonna beat you?” His eyes were glazed with anger. “Not that easy, slut.” He swung his hand with the belt wrapped around it and hit her square in the face, splitting her nose wide open. Dark clouds of blood covered her face including her eyes. Annie passed out and felt nothing. Her new husband had his way with her. Entering every orifice he could find. Art was like a kid in a candy shop. Every one of his deviant dreams came true.
She awoke in cool darkness. She was lying in the bathtub, naked with Art’s belt wrapped around her neck. She couldn’t breathe through her nose. She lay silently and listening. Annie could hear Art’s heavy snoring in the bedroom. She moved quickly. In her overnight case by the rusted sink was a rope, which she had already fashioned into a hanging noose, something her brothers remaining in the Appalachians taught her to create. The bastard would never know, she thought. The snoring continued as she removed the monster’s belt and placed her homemade noose around her neck and tied the other end to the old showerhead. She stood on the edge of the tub with a sad smile on her face and jumped. This had not been her plan. Her plan was to escape in the middle of the night and disappear into the backstreets of Pittsburgh, but her damaged condition, emotional and physical gave way to desperation.
Art the monster did not hear the crunch of her neck and when he found her in the morning he did not notice the blood soaked map of Pittsburgh lying at the bottom of her overnight case. All he could say was, “Holy shit.” Opening another bottle of whiskey he sat down beside the tub and stared at his bride. “Wonder if she had insurance?” Maybe her folks did because he sure as shit didn’t have a dime to plant her in the church graveyard.
Art did what every outstanding citizen would do in such a situation. He dialed 9-1-1 and feigned shock and overwhelming sadness. He removed all the telltale signs of his tortuous meltdown, the ligatures, the bloody belt, and his empty body of Old Turkey Whiskey. He lied like a good sociopath telling the cops that she was known to self-inflict pain and injuries to herself. The cops believed his story because after all they crawled out of the same prehistorically genetic molding. “Looks like she was planning on checking out anyhow,” the one officer shrugged his shoulders. “Hell she had six hundred bucks and a map of the city.”
The local coroner pulled up in an SUV and walked into the crime scene and pronounced it a suicide. He ignored the swollen lip and chipped teeth figuring the girl probably was given due justice by her husband. Fact is Barry Singleton didn’t give a shit. He was a public servant and the public hardly paid him squat. “Sorry son,” He patted Art on the shoulder. “You just never know nowadays what someone is capable of doing. Damn, she sure made a nice knot. I bet her daddy would be proud.”
“He sure would be. Damn nice knot.”
The ambulance hauled the eighteen-year old girl away. She would be taken back to her hometown and mourned by her family over at the Holy Warriors of God church. Her tombstone would be a metal plaque afforded to the impoverished. Homemade meals would be brought to the wake and the coalmine whistle would bawl for its workers, and mourning would be placed on hold. Life and reason would be placed on hold until another wedding could be planned for poor Art “String Bean” Gaylord.