BY NANCY BOYCE
Copyright is held by the author.
IT WAS their usual morning routine, walking to the highway to get the mail, but this morning was anything but usual.
She had taken early retirement a couple of years ago. Her mornings were scheduled, but relaxed, a walk with her dog, some volunteer work and then lunch with her husband. Today they would have lunch on the boat. Life didn’t get any better than that.
A car was parked across the road from the mailbox. As she got closer, she saw a man through the open window. She knew everyone in the neighbourhood, but she didn’t recognize this man.
“Good morning,” she said.
She crossed the road towards him. She was a stickler for facing traffic when she walked, not that they had much traffic on her country road. As she approached his car, his door flew open and he jumped out. She found herself face-to-face with the stranger. She backed up and so did her dog. She started to go around him and he blocked her way.
“Nice dog,” he said.
The tension in her chest lessened with his soft tone, but she instinctively crouched and put an arm on her dog’s chest, rubbing gently, partly to reassure the dog, partly to comfort herself.
“How’d you like to go for a ride?”
Her heart pounded, but she willed herself to stay clear headed.
“Not a chance, Bud.”
She glared at him to show she wasn’t intimidated even though she was. She removed her hand from the dog’s chest and fingered the bear whistle hanging from her neck.
She had thought this out in her head before. So many people had warned her about walking alone. She should have taken a self-defence course, instead of practicing in her mind. She liked to pretend that she was strong and capable, but as she crouched on the road, she felt weak and vulnerable.
She kept eye contact with him. From her position, she could take in his entire body and she watched for a signal that he was about to make his move, that he was going to attack.
Their movements couldn’t have been more in synch. As he lunged forward, she sprung up with the heel of her right hand aimed at the base of his nose. She hoped to break his nose, to incapacitate him and then run onto the highway and flag down help.
She had read how you could kill a person that way. She knew she didn’t have the strength to kill anyone, but she could buy herself time. Of course, if she broke his nose in the process, it would serve him right for scaring her.
The heel of her hand hit the hard base of his nose, her palm felt the soft tip of his nose, she kept pushing, one strong upward motion. She heard cracking, the sound of cartilage condensing. She felt something warm and wet on her hand. It disgusted her; she didn’t know if it was mucous or blood.
He tried to grab her, but only caught the cord of her whistle. He felt intense pain as a flash of light went through his head. His eyes burned, he tasted blood. He hadn’t expected to be the one that was attacked.
His last thought was, “I underestimated this one.”
She noticed his eyes bulge. He had managed to grab her whistle. The cord cut into the back of her neck before it broke. He didn’t even try to break his fall. The crack was louder this time. It was the crack of bone on pavement. He was dead before he even hit the ground, dead of a massive hemorrhage.
It was blood. Blood was on her hand and on her arm. Blood was coming out his nose and his ears and she thought his eyes looked bloody.
She wanted to go to him, to check him, but she was afraid. What if he was conscious and he grabbed her. She knew that didn’t make sense. She knew that he’d never grab anyone again, but she couldn’t accept that he was dead. She wasn’t capable of killing someone. She stood there frozen not knowing what to do.
She didn’t notice the pickup truck slow down and signal to turn off the highway. It was her neighbour from one road over.
“Maggie, are you okay? What the hell happened?”
“I wanted to stop him,” Maggie said, “but I think I’ve killed him.”
Maggie finished explaining the story to the detective for the third time. Was he trying to trip her up? Looking for inconsistencies in her story?
“Mrs. Scott,” the detective said, “if we can’t find any evidence to substantiate your claim of self-defence, we’re going to have to charge you with manslaughter.”
“But I’m the victim,” Maggie said. “Whether you charge me or not, my life will never be the same.”
“You used excessive force,” the detective said.
“Look at me. I’m a petite woman. I didn’t think I was capable of excessive force,” she said. “If I hadn’t fought back as hard as I could, it would be him you’d be charging now, that’s if you ever caught him.”
“Mr. Foley was a well-respected businessman and family man. He had no priors,” he said.
“Then look a little deeper, detective. He meant me harm and I find it difficult to believe that I was his first victim,” Maggie said.
Maggie spent the next few days sleeping as much as possible, taking sleeping pills to the point where she was only half aware of her surroundings. She managed to go through the motions of life. She could fix herself a cup of tea, but had no energy for much of anything else.
She was angry at the man that had ruined her life. She didn’t want to face the stark reality that she had taken a human life. She felt she had become someone unworthy, someone to be loathed.
A week later, she read the story in the morning paper. It had been leaked before the detective was able to visit her and explain. Brian Foley was once Brian O’Dwyer. He was wanted in three states. He faced several charges of abduction and sexual assault and one charge of murder. He was on the United States Most Wanted List, but he had disappeared five years ago. Apparently he had reinvented himself in Canada, married and started a family. The OPP was beginning to link him to unsolved crimes in Ontario.
The detective explained to Maggie that charges would not be laid. She was right; she had been very close to becoming Brian O’Dwyer’s next victim. Maggie felt justified in her actions now, but she wouldn’t allow herself to be absolved of the guilt of killing someone, even if it meant she had saved her life and the lives of other possible victims.
It wasn’t long before letters from the victims and their families started to arrive. At first, Maggie found it difficult to read them. She wanted to put the whole experience out of her mind. She was forced to relive not just her experience, but was drawn into the stories of all the victims.
They praised her and thanked her. Every one of them called her a hero.
She dwelled on her new reality, the reality of her as a hero and not as a victim or a murderer. It energized her, but in a manic way. She used her newfound energy to work out, run with her dog; do anything physical. She fell into bed exhausted every night.
She withdrew from people, from her husband, her friends, her fellow volunteers. She didn’t want to talk. They only wanted to talk about the attack, as if talking would somehow make it better. It didn’t make it better, only keeping busy made it better.
Maggie found herself getting fitter and stronger every day. She started to reread the letters once a week; she’d review them in her mind as she ran. Her life became thoughts of being a hero and being strong.
Being a hero was not just her new reality; it became her purpose in life. She had thought she was meant to be meek and work with others to accomplish a greater good, so she had volunteered with so many groups. She came to realize that was all a waste of time. Her purpose was to protect other innocent victims. To do that, she had to get rid of men like Brian, but they weren’t the type of men in her neighbourhood, they were the type of men that lived in cities.
Maggie signed up for a self-defence course in the city. Her husband thought it would be good for her, to help her to not feel afraid and defenceless.
Maggie took long walks in the city after her class. She reasoned that she needed to clear her mind before her drive home. She walked a little farther each time, going deeper and deeper into the seedy side of the city.
She travelled light, had her hands free, ready for fight or flight. She watched each person that she passed, sizing them up. She felt stronger and bolder each time.
She graduated as one of the top students in her class. This energized her even more. She signed up for the advanced course.
It was the first night of her advanced course. She was kicking butt — literally.
She walked through downtown, carefully watching each person she passed. She felt like she was being followed. She had learned to not let anyone approach her from behind. She walked over to the wall of a store, turned her back to the wall and waited for the man that was following her to pass her by. He stopped in front of her and looked her up and down.
“Hey, baby,” he said.
She didn’t wait for him to finish his sentence. She wanted to be the aggressor, to take him by surprise. She kicked him hard in the gut.
“Bitch,” he said.
His physical response was instantaneous. As quickly as her foot touched the ground, he stabbed her under her ribs. His knife travelled across and out.
Her last thought was, “I underestimated this one.”