tagBDSMA Lack of Suffering

A Lack of Suffering

bySDNight©

1

She found him beneath a weeping willow tree, and he was crying. Not from grief, though that was there. The world had ended. Anyone left had that in abundance. This was pain. A wound on his right thigh had stained his weathered blue jeans black.

Fifteen yards away, Jessica trained her rifle on him, called, "I'm coming in."

The man didn't look up, but shrugged with a wince. He held a dirty piece of cloth to his leg.

"You armed?" she asked, glancing around, then taking a first cautious step.

The injured man took in a breath with effort. He shivered as he spoke in a chattering voice. "Would I still be here if I wasn't?"

"Two fingers. Slow."

For a long moment, he didn't move. Jessica glared down her sights at him. Finally, he reached beneath his arm with a grimace. He produced a pistol from a shoulder holster. It dangled between his thumb and forefinger.

"Toss it," she said.

"Lady, does it look like I have the strength to do that?"

"I could just shoot you now."

"Fair point." With a grunt, he hurled the weapon about three feet, then offered her an I-told-you-so look that under entirely different circumstances, in an entirely different world, might have come across as charming.

Not lowering her rifle, she closed the gap between them. She kicked the pistol a safe distance away. Close up, she noted further blood stains spotted about his clothing, a pair of minor cuts on his neck, a red bruise on his cheek that would yellow by the morning. "What happened?"

"A fight," he said with an air of finality that halted any further questions on the subject. Jessica understood. Only in her sleep did she relive the handful of similar experiences she'd had in the last eleven months.

"I'm going to put this down," Jessica said. "But try anything..." She didn't need to finish. Beneath a couple months' worth of scraggly auburn beard, the man's face paled by the second.

He didn't protest when she placed her hands on his and gingerly moved them from the soiled cloth on his leg. She peeled the cloth away, and then it was her turn to wince. The blade - just the blade - of a knife was embedded and broken off in his leg.

"How the hell did the handle break off?" she asked, more for something to say than expectation of an answer.

"Shoddy craftsmanship," the man said and made a gurgling sound that might have been a laugh.

Jessica unslung the pack from her back, set it in front of her, and began rifling through it. At the bottom, she found a rusted pair of pliers.

The man's glossy eyes went wide at the sight of the tool. "The hell are you...?"

"It has to come out," Jessica said, steeling herself for the gruesome task.

"No," the man said, but he offered no opposition as Jessica slipped her arm around his shoulders and gently eased his back from the tree trunk and lowered him to the ground. He shivered with tremors of shock.

She used her knife to cut away his pant leg. Staring at the gnarly wound, she drew in measured breaths. Why was she doing this? She didn't know this man, owed him nothing. Worse, she'd tarried out in the open too long already. The hairs on the back of her neck tingled, and she did a quick scan of the perimeter.

"Have any alcohol?" the man asked.

"Yes," she said, "but not for you."

The corner of the man's mouth quirked up in a lazy grin. "Bad girl."

Jessica flinched, but only slightly. "Shut up and be still."

The man looked up, seemed momentarily transfixed by the gentle swaying of the willow branches. A look that could almost pass for serene spread over his face. He sighed. Then he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His jaw clenched tight.

The pliers felt heavy in her hand. Once she pulled the blade free - if she even could - she wouldn't have much time to stem the blood flow. She didn't like his chances. He already looked half dead. But his chances out here with this wound were zilch. Again, she wondered why she even bothered. She didn't need this trouble. She had plenty all on her own. She pushed a memory of Ft. Worth from her mind before it could take hold, but she had her answer.

The man jerked when she bit the blade with the pliers. Three...two...one. She pulled out hard. The man screamed. Instinctively, Jessica whirled around, trained but panicked eyes searching the area. Fifty yards away, a rustling bush set her heart jackhammering in her chest. Her eyes remained glued to the spot for what seemed an eternity. Her breathing sounded like a jet engine in her head.

Nothing ventured from the bush.

Blood spurted. Jessica snapped to. She snatched a roll of gauze from her pack, sneered at the filthy rag then pressed it hard to the open wound. She held it a few moments, putting her weight into it. The man groaned, eyes flitting open and shut. She was surprised he hadn't passed out. She lifted his knee and began applying the gauze. Finished, she looked her patient over. He was covered in sweat and still shivering sporadically. She used his shirt sleeve to wipe his brow.

"Still with me?" she asked.

"Ask for me tomorrow," he said in a hoarse whisper, "and you shall find me a grave man."

Despite the peril of the situation she'd gotten herself into, despite the fear spider-walking along every inch of her skin, Jessica smiled and let out a soft laugh. "To sleep, perchance to dream - ay, there's the rub."

"Nice," the man breathed, offering that quirk of a grin again.

Then he passed out.

2

Jessica took the steaming pot from the fireplace and set it on the coffee table next to the couch she'd laid him on. Also on the coffee table, arranged in a neat, efficient manner were a pair of scissors, a half-empty bottle of antiseptic, a hand towel, fresh gauze, sports tape, a shirt, pair of pants, socks, and men's briefs.

Once she'd dragged the man into town on her makeshift gurney, she'd stopped at a little store called Roma's. Like most all the businesses in town, it had been ransacked months before. However, the scavengers hadn't bothered with the stockroom at the back. On the bright side, the world may have ended, but you could still get quality garments at rock-bottom prices.

On the couch, the unconscious man's chest rose and fell easily, if a bit too quickly now and then. Jessica stretched her overtaxed muscles, relishing the few good pops and creaks, then crouched, took the scissors in hand, and got to work. She cut away what was left of his jeans. She did the same to his ratty vest, shirt, and underwear. Workmanlike, she inspected his bevy of abrasions, cuts, and bruises. The worst, she cleaned with hot water and the towel, then applied what antiseptic she could spare. Never once did the man stir as her practiced fingers poked and prodded.

Like her own, his body was skinny, taut, and hard. Not like the old days (when had she begun to view them as the Old Days?), where you worked out three days a week at a state-of-the-art gym to sculpt such a physique. No, his body, her body, these were rigorously crafted by hard days on the road, swift brutal encounters, long tense nights. Jessica's fingers languished down the man's solid abs and up again. She told herself she was being thorough. Her held breath told her otherwise. Exhaling the offending breath, she resisted the urge to lift the shirt she'd used to cover the man's privacy.

Once she'd applied a fresh bandage to the leg wound, she slid down to her knees, sitting on her legs, hands in her lap. She watched her patient sleep. How long had it been since she'd been this close to a man, or anyone for that matter? A month ago. And that had been a far cry from pleasant. Did that mean she counted this as pleasant? Funny how perspectives changed. The last time she'd sat and watched a man sleep, there had been two glasses of red wine beside them, scented candles flickering, piano music playing low on his stereo. Now, she was in a dusty, humid house with boarded up windows and doors. Instead of expensive wine, two one-gallon jugs of water stood against the wall. The fire did flicker, but the only music filling the small room was the rush of wind outside and the stranger's soft snoring.

As her eyes slowly took him in, her breathing began to match his own, and she slowly became aware of a flush in her cheeks, a tingle to her flesh. She reached out, brushed a long strand of auburn hair from his eye. A silly thought - he needed a haircut. Just a nice trim to root out the frayed ends. Nothing drastic. She liked the wild look the mane gave him, and his beard could use some taming. She wouldn't shave it. It gave him a rugged look she found appealing.

How her hand had come to rest on his cheek, she didn't know. Nor did she remove it. He was warm to the touch. That, or the flush had spread from her cheeks to her entire body. Her thumb stroked his strong jaw line.

Something stirred inside her. Images of times long forgotten flashed in her mind. No, not forgotten. She'd tried. She'd tried very hard. But they wouldn't fade. No matter how she wanted them to. No matter how much easier it would make the life she had now. A calloused hand on her burning cheek. Greedy fingers exploring her hair. Lips on hers, devouring. Her hand was on his stomach now, fingers playing at the thick patch of hair. In her head, she heard hungry moans, not just her own. And the sweaty slap of flesh against flesh. And a cry of pain. And the harsh snap of a belt...

Her hand drifted lower. Jessica jerked it back as if she'd been burned. He's a stranger, Jessica. And your patient.

Gritting her teeth, she gripped her bicep with thumb and forefinger, squeezed hard on the already fading bruise, until spots formed in her vision.

Then she swiftly dressed the man, made a pallet for herself on the floor, and went to sleep.



3

The man awoke on the third day.

"What...is that smell?" he asked, voice groggy and hoarse.

Jessica stirred the pot on the grating in the fire, then turned to face him. "Beef stew. It's just canned. If I'd known you'd be gracing me with your conscious presence today, I might've made it from scratch, but..."

"Not that," he said, sniffing.

"Oh, that's you."

"Hmm?"

"You're clean."

He breathed deep, closed his eyes as if savoring. "So I am. You bathed me?"

"Sponge bath," she said.

A lazy grin. "Sorry I missed that," he said. "One other question."

"Yeah?"

"Why am I tied to this couch?" He tugged at the rope binding his arms overhead at the wrists, and similarly tested those on his ankles. He seemed to find them quite secure.

With a mitten, Jessica took the pot from fire, carried it to the table. "I'll have to open another can now that you're awake."

"Lady?"

"Yes?"

"Why am I tied down?"

She poured the stew into a large bowl. "Because I seem to have misplaced my straight jacket."

"Pity."

"This was the next best option," she said.

"Obviously," he said. "For?"

She went to the cupboard where she kept her pilfered canned goods, rifled through them, and came away with a can of chicken noodle soup. She opened it with a manual can opener. It took a few tries. She'd always detested those things. Once she had freed the lid, she spilled the contents into the pot. "Time," she said as she placed the pot back over the fire.

"Time? To?"

"To ascertain your intentions," she said.

"My intentions?"

"And your character," she added.

He sighed deep. "Alright then. My intentions? I have no intentions. You brought me here, wherever here is. You saved my life, but I don't remember asking you to. If I have any intentions at all, they are to be on my way and on my own. I in no way intend to spend any longer than I have to with a crazy lady who has seen fit to tie me to a couch." He tested the binds again for good measure. She didn't miss the smile he tried to hide. "Now, as to my character, that's tougher, and I think my hands will fall off from lack of circulation long before we can delve to the bottom of that."

Only the crackling fire saw Jessica's own smile. "They're not that tight."

"Kindly remove them, and we won't have to argue about it."

"A few questions first," she said.

"How many's a few."

"Until your dinner's ready. Then, if I'm satisfied you won't kill me and rob me the second you have a chance, I'll let you go, and we can sit down to a lovely meal. If not," she said, patting the holster on her thigh, "I'll still release you...while holding this very nasty thing on you, until you've vacated my premises. Fair enough?"

"Fair is foul, and foul is fair."

"Hover through the fog and filthy air. One point in your favor," she said. "First question: what's your name? I've been calling you Scruffy."

Again that soft laugh. "Andrew Matheson. Drew."

"Hello, Drew. I'm Jessica."

"Just Jessica?"

"I mean, last names are kind of out of fashion as a distinction now, don't you think? How many other Jessicas can there be left?"

"Nice to meet you, Jessica. I'd offer my hand, but such pleasantries seem to be currently out of fashion as well."

Jessica didn't favor him with the smile she felt brewing inside. She didn't know him, had no idea if she could trust him. But, despite herself, she wanted to. Maybe it was simply the loneliness and isolation of the last eleven months. Maybe she just wanted someone, anyone, to talk to, to engage with. Maybe she just wanted to let her guard down for a little while.

Her life now - if it could even fairly be called a life - was a brutal, waking nightmare of constant anxiety. The cities, with their substantial populations, had succumbed first. Then as now, Jessica's mind reeled at the abhorrent speed with which those titans had fallen. One day, they bustled with the energy and life of millions of souls. Three days of blood and carnage later, they were gone, sprawling skeletons picked clean of meat and flesh.

The smaller municipalities didn't last much longer. The world's newest and worst cancer was rapacious in its spread and unforgiving in its hunger. Those that survived had taken to the road. Always moving, always searching, always in need of eyes in the backs of their heads. Mostly, they had traveled in groups. Loners hadn't fared well, not in the early days. But really, no one had lasted long. And those that had, what did they have to look forward to? What prize did their resilience warrant?

Jessica's days were now long, purposeless drudges. She scavenged. She horded. She cried. She went weeks without seeing another soul. At night, her body was so tightly wound, she would've screamed her lungs raw, save the constant threat of swift, merciless death. Far too often of late, she wondered why she carried on at all.

So maybe it could've been anyone sitting - laying bound - across from her. But he did have a nice smile, she had to admit. And kind eyes. And the nonchalant way he was handling the situation intrigued her.

"Where were you from?" she asked, hating that she now always thought in past tense.

"Dallas."

Jessica gave a low whistle. When it had all started, Dallas had been bad.

"Yeah," he said, a grave note seeping into his casual tone. "You?"

Jessica considered lying. Her past was her past, no need to dwell. "Big Springs," she answered honestly.

"Not big and no springs to speak of," Drew said, "but hardly a stone's throw away from the big D. You should've popped in, then I wouldn't have had to wait well into my thirties to feel the intoxicating sensation of scratchy hemp biting my wrists. Or is this a new thing for you?"

Stone's throw. She liked that. "It's something I'm trying out," she said.

"Your technique is efficient, if crude."

"I'll work on it."

"Please don't."

"How long have you been on the road?" she asked.

Drew's head fell back on the arm of the couch. He closed his eyes and didn't answer for a few moments. When he did, a sliver of something dark wafted into his voice. Jessica got it. "Ten months, I think."

"How have you...?


"I'm not talking about the road. If that's what it will take, then you can just put me in the sights of that thing now and let me be on my way."

Jessica leaned back in her seat, feeling chastised by his suddenly harsh tone, slightly fearful of the cloudy look that had crept into his eyes. For a brief moment, she wondered how she could ever have thought them kind. They bored into her, making her feel twelve years old again and in trouble for taking money from Dad's wallet. Her chest tightened. Then the man exhaled a long breath and with it went the darkness. His eyes softened again, and she couldn't help but wonder if she had manufactured it all. Kind eyes. Kind eyes that could never look so sinister.

"I'm sorry," he said.

Jessica busied herself with the soup on the fire, so he wouldn't see the flush she felt burning on her cheeks. "No, I get it. I shouldn't have..."

"Next question," Drew said amiably.

The soup began to bubble as she thought on her next query, suddenly not as confident as she'd felt earlier. She couldn't understand why. She had all the power. He was immobilized, and she had the only weapons. But he'd disarmed her, and she didn't know how. For damn sure, she'd dealt with far worse than him on the road. How the hell had he done that? She wouldn't let him again.

"Where are you headed?" she asked, forcing composure into her voice.

"West."

"Why?"

"Haven't been to the beach in a while," he said. "Or maybe north. Never been to Canada."

"Just maple syrup and hockey," she said, "and I hear the league really sucks this season."

Drew laughed, and his eyes twinkled with the act. "Well, that settles that then." His face took on a serious expression. Not harsh like before, just purposeful. "I'm not going to hurt you, Jessica. Undo these and tell me to leave, and I will. Invite me to sit at your table, and I will. I know what you've been through. Your story's the same as mine, give or take a few gruesome details. You're still here, so I know. Before all this happened, I was just a normal, boring guy. I did normal, boring things. God help me, that's all I want again. Normal. Boring. Chicken noodle soup? Doesn't get more boring than that."

Jessica forced herself to keep his gaze. She wouldn't look weak in front of him. Weakness got you killed. The road had taught her that. Not that she'd been weak before all this. She'd never been some delicate flower. But she'd hardened now. There was no room for softness in this landscape. But damned if she didn't want to trust him. And she did. Was that terrible? Was it a lack of good sense? Was she so needy for companionship, even briefly, that she was letting that cloud her judgement? Or was it his face? She'd always prided herself on being a good judge of character, and this stranger - Drew - he seemed sincere.

She rose and began undoing the rope from the couch's stubby, wooden legs. The multiple knots came away with a couple tugs. To his credit, Drew didn't jerk the bonds free as they slacked. He waited, still and patient, as she removed them.

"Nice knots. Were you a sailor?" he asked, sitting up and rubbing his wrists.

"A nurse," she said tightly. Her skin prickled and her muscles wouldn't relax now that he was free.

Drew regarded his bandaged leg. "Lucky me."

Jessica tried to covertly breathe some calm back into her body. Her hand trembled close to the holster on her thigh as she watched him as a mouse would a cat.

"I meant what I said," Drew said.

"I know," she said, though she didn't know why.

"I'm starving."

"Me too."

He waved a hand toward the table with a flourish. "After you, madam."



4

"Cool Hand Luke."

"That would be your pick."

"Oh?"

"Flippant, tough guy. Doesn't care for rules. Always bucking the system. Yeah, that's a little on the nose."

Drew rolled his eyes, then shrugged and made his way to the pantry of the spacious house they'd broken into. He was favoring his right leg less and less. Jessica was glad to see her patient on the mend.

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