“Verifiable Vengeance” by Maegan Reese
It is astounding how we, the human race, can become so quickly enraged, so furious with one another within a split-second that we attack each other with no restraint or mercy. Sometimes, we puff up our chests and defensively claim to have had good reason for committing such acts, and other times we are heavily laden with guilt and are shocked at what we’ve done, at a loss of words for the heinous crimes we’ve executed. In some cases, we choose to attack not for our own benefit, but for those who are hurting and cannot fight for themselves. As a result, we take revenge on their tormentors, infuriated. Instead of carrying out such vengeful deeds, some of us watch these horrific scenes with dread, apathy, or even excitement, not wanting or caring to step in, to intervene, even if doing so would not cost our safety. I have learned that being a bystander may not cost me my life, but can cost others’, and that although engaging in the violence could help them, it is neither the best nor only way to intervene and make a difference.
My mother briskly walked across the street, carrying the small, red cookie platter in her bosom as if it was her newborn child. I, her actual child, trailed behind her, scowling at the ground and slowing my steps in rebellion. The blazing sun beat down on our backs and the humidity was stifling; mosquitos circled above us and flew at our ears. Yet, my mother maintained a positive, “go get ‘em” attitude and a smile in her eyes, simply for a good impression and friendly gesture for our new neighbors.
She’d always been excellent at wearing multiple masks at a time— whether it be to angrily scold my brothers and me in between sweetly speaking with customer service on the phone, to nearly crush our fingers as she dragged us by the hand into our uncle’s house on Thanksgiving
Day and greeted our aunt with a warm, hearty hug with her free arm, or to speak cheerily with us in order to arrest the gloomy atmosphere hovering above our heads when her dearest great grandmother died. Today, she looked on pleasantly in the direction of our neighbor’s house, maintaining the cheery bounce in her step, and growled.
“You’d better smile. I am not raising you to be some kind rude, reclusive brat with no social skills. Get rid of that attitude.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I groaned inwardly. I was angry; I didn’t want to go anywhere, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, it was too hot outside, there were too many mosquitos, and my cramp was killing me. Besides, I needed to pack a bag for my friend’s sleepover that evening. I didn’t even want to go to that; I only felt obligated because it was her birthday and she really wanted me to go.
When we arrived at the house, I rang the doorbell and held the screen door open for my mother. The polished, hardwood door soon opened to reveal a heavily built and somewhat muscular woman, her flushed pink skin a strange contrast to her graying, platinum blonde hair. Her forehead was deeply wrinkled, her lips pursed into a thin, straight line, and her eyebrows furrowed over icy, blue, deep-set eyes.
Once my mother introduced us and put forth the cookie platter, the woman grinned and invited us inside, but the cold stare never left her eyes. After introducing herself as Mrs. Lanck, she called her sixteen-year-old son, Malachi, downstairs to meet us. It was taking him awhile, so Mrs. Lanck shouted his name again, now with a twinge of menace in her voice. Eventually, he slowly limped down the stairs, his face pained and drawn. My mom asked if he was okay, and I looked to Mrs. Lanck just in time to see not an expression of worry, concern, or even guilt upon
her face, but of fear, like the face of a child caught disobeying his parents or an extremely dedicated student who’s forgotten his homework.
Malachi was rather tall and lanky; his gaunt face suggested he rarely ate, and his fingers were strangely long and very thin, reflective of his entire body. His shoulder-length, dirty blonde hair was lazily swept into a low ponytail, loose strands swaying in front of his face as he steadied himself against the railing at the foot of the stairs.
Mrs. Lanck hurriedly explained, as a disobedient child would give excuses for his trespass or a student may defensively explain away his forgetfulness, “Oh dear, I completely forgot! I’ve been so busy today, what with groceries and unpacking and all, his soccer injury hadn’t even crossed my mind. Gosh, I feel so terrible!” She then turned to Malachi and continued in her very slight southern drawl, “I’m so sorry, honey, you can go back to your room. Do you want any help up the stairs?”
Mrs. Lanck sounded apologetic, and her facial expression was sympathetic, but her eyes lied. At the time, I’d wondered if my mom had noticed that as well, but I doubted so. I’ve always been known as very observant by those who know me well, and even though my mother is excellent at reading people, she doesn’t usually pay mind to their appearance or disposition.
Malachi stared at the floor and shook his head, then turned to head back up the staircase.
“Don’t forget to say hello to the Reese’s. They’re our new neighbors and they’ve come to drop off homemade cookies,” Mrs. Lanck’s voice rang.
Malachi turned his head to look at us, attempted a smile, nodded once, and slowly climbed the stairs.
Suddenly, I felt a strong urge to use the restroom. I’d been so angry over the past few hours I hadn’t realized I’d needed to relieve myself, and had been holding my urine for quite a long time.
Assuming we’d be at the Lancks’ awhile since my mother can be quite the social butterfly, I asked to use their restroom. Mrs. Lanck ever so politely agreed and seeing that Malachi had only made it up three steps so far, asked him to show me to the bathroom.
“Um, no thanks, it’s fine. I don’t want to be a nuisance or anything. He looks like he’s in a lot of pain, so I’ll manage,” I said.
“No, no, no. It’s okay, he’s only got a sprained ankle and the house is a bit of a maze, what with all the boxes left to unpack. I wouldn’t want you to to get lost, oh no,” she replied.
As Malachi slowly turned to make his way back down the stairs, I caught Mrs. Lanck’s thin lips twisting into a slight smile. It wasn’t the sort of smile reflective of a heart caring for a stranger’s general well-being, or even a smile revealing a sort of pride in oneself for committing a good deed. It was the kind of smile that meant a woman’s got her revenge, a smile of cruel enjoyment, a smile of spite.
A sudden thud reached my ears, and I turned my gaze from Mrs. Lanck onto Malachi to find him collapsed on the hardwood floor, a heap of bones and clothing. He began to cry, and we all rushed toward him. His mother made it to him first, placing her body in front of his favored leg and helping him up. She softly murmured in his ear, words of what sounded like soothing assurances, but had a slight edge of anger to them, as if they were only for show.
My mother insisted we check his ankle to make sure its sprain hadn’t worsened; Mrs. Lanck insisted otherwise and began to rush him up the stairs. I suspected something was wrong and didn’t understand why Mrs. Lanck didn’t want to make sure his ankle was okay, so I ran up to
her and held onto her arm, slowing her down. I pulled it to pause her advance, and carefully but hastily tugged Malachi’s pants leg, revealing not a sprained nor swollen ankle, but several fresh, deep cuts in his calf. His mother shrugged me off and angrily told me to get out of her way, cursing at me. As my back hit the railing, I noticed for the first time a large, purple bruise behind his ear and what appeared to be bruises of strangulation around his neck, discolored and swelling. Then it hit me— she’d done this. He’d had no such “soccer sprain”; in fact, he probably didn’t even play soccer. Maybe he’d done something to make her angry. That would explain why she’d seemed more than happy to have him limp his way to the restroom in extreme pain when she could’ve showed me to the restroom herself, as well as why her guilt for making him come downstairs to meet us and forgetfulness of his injury was feigned. It all made sense.
I looked to my mother, who appeared ready to jump the woman simply for pushing me into the railing and cursing at me, then back to Mrs. Lank. The despicable monster, I thought, and my blood began to boil.
Mrs. Lanck and I fought, tumbling down the stairs, clawing at each other, punching and kicking, screaming and shrieking, biting and tearing. Finally, she was on top on of me, her hands wrapped tightly around my neck and mine around hers. In the background, I heard my mother screaming my name and yelling for Mrs. Lanck to stop, tossing her phone to Malachi— who was sobbing and shaking, still trying to regain his balance on the stairs— and telling him to call 911, her earsplitting roar increasing in volume as she raced toward us. The room darkened, the black corners creeped further into my field of vision, the ceiling lowered and pressed Mrs. Lanck’s knee deeper into my chest, her glower blurred, her snarl quieted. I vaguely noticed my mother trying to get Mrs. Lanck off of me, pushing and pulling and kicking. Her body began to fade away.
Suddenly, Mrs. Lanck’s scowl became a grimace of pain. Her fingers loosened around my throat, my vision began to clear, the ceiling backed away, and the weight of her body gradually lifted as she fell over to slump on her side, her waist bleeding ferociously. A shattered, bloody vase lay on the floor a few feet away. My mother leaned over me and held my head as she repeatedly kissed my forehead and cheeks, greasing my glasses— which, for some unknown and surely strange reason, were still on. I slowly sat up, gasping for air. The pain in my throat was agonizing; every breath I took felt as though I was inhaling splintered wood. My mother helped me slide backward to lean against the wall, and fervently praised God whilst her arms were wrapped around me.
A few minutes later, sirens sounded in our ears, nearing our street. Malachi crawled up beside me and pulled his knees to his chest. Tears streamed down his face as he leaned on my shoulder and softly, shakily whispered, “Thank you.”
Malachi and I have been the best of friends since, and his father— who had been employed as a truck driver and was rarely home because of his occupation— had never known what Malachi had been going through, and now adores me and nearly thanks me every day for what I did. I tell him that changing his son’s life wasn’t of my doing, that it was God’s work, as every blessing comes from God. As far as Mrs. Lanck is concerned, she barely survived her wound and is now in prison. She has tried to press charges against me, but they’ve all fallen through before a trial has even commenced. Although attacking her may not have been the best idea considering that I almost died that day, I am glad that I stepped in, for I cannot help but wonder every once in a
while if anyone would have found out what Malachi was enduring if I had simply ignored the signs and returned home.