Dolorous

The protests ran rampant outside the courthouse. Mayor Chavez called in two additional units to guard the front door. Death threats came in daily, and I no longer checked my email.

“Mr. Esteban, please stand,” I said.

The accused serial killer rose to face me from his temporary barricade behind the defense table. His lawyer sat next to him, biting her fingernails down to the quick. I cleared my throat, cutting my eyes to the window where a police officer stood outside, holding his shotgun across his chest.

“Due to the overwhelming amount of evidence and testimony presented to the court, the state of Arkansas finds you guilty of all seven counts of first degree murder.”

His lawyer slammed her palms on the table, knocking her chair over as she shot up. Blood shone on her fingers.

I continued. “It is the court’s decision that punishment for such heinous crimes is to be death, administered in regulations with the state. Mr. Esteban, may God have mercy on your soul.”

Before my hand could reach the gavel, the courtroom erupted. The commotion outside grew to glass-shattering decibels and deputies began escorting his belligerent family members out. The defense attorney screamed, scratching her face with her nail-less fingers, leaving a bloody trail down her skin. The defendant took her in his arms, whispering in her ear. I’d never before witnessed such a strange reaction from an attorney.

I stood to leave my stand when three windows shattered. Panicked screams filled the emptying courtroom. Two deputies ran to my side, ushering me towards the side door, when a thrown bottle exploded on the floor, leaving a blossom of fire in its wake.

“Cocktail!” a deputy cried.

I ducked out of the courtroom; two guards escorted me to the back chambers. I looked down at my palms once I calmed down. Four of my fingernails had broken clean from the cuticle.

I’ve always been a light sleeper. Just the AC kicking on or off is enough to stir me from my sleep, so when I woke at 2:00am a week later I thought it must have been something of that nature. My mind was breaths away from sleep when I heard it again. One of the chairs on the back porch was scraping against the concrete.

The wind? No, the weather was quiet.

The dog? Impossible—my ex-husband took her when he left.

Still half asleep, I wandered downstairs, flipping on the back porchlight.

I shook my head once—

blinked my eyes twice—

then fell backwards, running into the kitchen wall.

Her hair ran across her face, shrouding her eyes under a fortress of matted tangles. She wore baggy sweatpants and a plain white T-shirt, the fabric ripped along the sleeves. Her arms held scratch marks down to her wrists. Down her fingers dripped blood onto the patio.

I clasped my hand over my mouth, quickly eyeing the metal latch that held the sliding door in place. Both of my thighs trembled as I took two steps forward. “Wh… what do you want?” I asked.

My gun sat in the night stand upstairs.

Her head slowly rolled to the other side of her shoulder, and she took three steps towards the door, placing her hand on the glass. Tilting her head upward, her hair fell back from her face. “I… I loved him,” she whispered. I stared hard at the deranged face at my window.

Her face rang a distinctive bell. It was the lawyer. Barlow Esteban’s lawyer. Her lips curled into a morbid grin, then dropped into a wicked scowl, her handprint streaking down the glass.

I awoke the next morning convinced it had all been a dream. I didn’t quite remember the details. I chalked it up to the sleeping pills; my schedule the last few years remained an incendiary mess. I made my way downstairs and started brewing a cup of coffee. My daughter was already awake watching TV.

I yawned deeply, turning around with my cup of wake-me-up juice, when I saw Samantha staring at the back porch. Her eyes didn’t move from the glass.

“What is it, honey?” I asked, walking next to her.

My daughter lifted her arm, pointing into the backyard. I dropped my cup to the floor, the glass shattering at our feet. On the backdoor glass ran a streaked hand-print, a small pool of dried blood below it.

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