Carter reached into the trashcan, searching for food. He didn't care what it tasted like or what condition it was in; he just wanted something to ease the empty throbbing in his stomach. His whole body was racked with pain and he wanted at least one part of his body not to hurt. He was standing under a graffiti-covered bridge while the rain hammered outside. While he didn't make a smile or even a grunt, he was relieved to find a half-eaten hotdog. He walked outside and sat on a bench, gorging himself on the ratty food. He leaned back, letting the rain wash away the dark bloodstains in his clothes.
Carter was in his early twenties, had medium-length matted hair, and a shady beginning of a beard from days of not shaving. He had a sickly complexion and sunken bloodshot eyes. His build was more muscle than fat, but that was due mostly to how little he ate. He was a man between life and death, with his body leaning towards the latter and his soul so hollow that it might as well be the same. His mind was even less healthy, and his actions in the past would prove that, along with the actions of the near future.
His life had been a tragedy, marked by disease and death. Little could be said about his personality, there wasn't much to describe. His emotions were gone, he had no tastes in music or art, and a path down memory lane didn't exactly bring up any happy stories. The person formerly known as Carter Locke was gone, his identity was gone, and pain and insanity had taken everything away. All that was left was agony. It was all he felt and it was his identity. Pain was all that remained of what was left of his life, and soon more people would feel his pain.
Eleanor Rose was sitting in her dorm room, watching the news on TV. Her eyes were filled with fear and her hands were over her mouth. The story of the evening was a very grim one: another campus massacre had taken place, the fifth in a brutal chain. The story was the same in each case: a stranger enters a campus house party, pulls out some sort of machete-like weapon, and begins slaughtering everyone. Over a hundred people had been murdered so far, with the killer still on the loose.
Eleanor was nineteen and was in both the prime of her youth and beauty. She had pale skin that looked like marble, bright blue eyes that seemed to glow, and long straight hair that was darker than granite. She was also gifted with the figure of a ballerina, but with a fuller chest. Regardless of her physical beauty, she always hid her body with very bland or dark clothes and multiple layers whenever possible. She had always been a shy girl, always lonely but wanting to be alone, brought on by life with parents that couldn't care less. The only reason why she was in college was because she managed to get a scholarship. She considered herself lucky that alcohol didn't run through her family, or abuse would have occupied most of her life: physical, psychological, and even sexual.
She had very few friends, and even fewer close friends. She had spent her middle and high school years wishing she could join a clique, but was never happy when she tried or was even in one. She had never been in love, never been where she felt she belonged, never gotten involved in anything, and never even been happy.
The door suddenly opened and her roommate Anna stepped in. The blonde beauty had a heart that was the same shade as her hair, but she also had a pussy stretched by over a dozen frat boys. Ever since the two had met, Anna had taken it upon herself to pull Eleanor out of her shell.
"What are you doing? There is a party down the road with your name on it!" she said with excitement, checking her hair in the mirror for the umpteenth time.
"I'm not going."
"What, are you listening to those media horror stories? Come on, there is no chance of that maniac heading our way. Listen, you make excuses every time. If you go out now, you're curse will be lifted!"
"Listen, I just don't want to go. That killer out there should be reason enough."
"Well what are you going to do? Sit in the dark and feel bad for yourself? You're always saying that you wish you had someone to talk to, well how are you supposed to find someone like that if you always choose to be alone?"
Eleanor was silent.
"Listen, just come this time, try and talk to people, and if you aren't happy after ten minutes, we'll both come back."
"Come on, honey. You REALLY need a drink," Anna said with a smile as she pulled Eleanor out into the hall. As Eleanor followed her unwanted life coach to the stairwell, she tugged on her sleeves, making sure that the scars on her wrists were covered.
Loud music bounced off the walls of the house and was quickly distorted by the conversations of the drunken college kids. Eleanor stood by the staircase, desperate to have someone to talk too, but too shy and nervous to actually say something to someone. Across the room, Anna was flirting with a buzzed football player.
Carter was standing across the street from the house, nearly invisible with his body hidden behind a small tree.
'Kill them all, ' a voice hissed in his mind.
'Slaughter them, ' Another voice ordered.
"I know," Carter muttered.
'Make them pay, ' a third voice said.
"Shut up, just shut up!" Carter swore, trying to keep his voice down.
'They all deserve to die!' The first voice roared. While the sound was all in his head, he instinctively tried to cover his ears and block it out.
"I will end their lives. I will make them pay for the crimes they have and will commit. Just be silent and stay out of my way."
His tone so cold and harsh that his breath was almost turning to fog in front of his face. When the voices in his mind didn't reply, he took a deep breath and stepped forward, making his way towards the house.
A knock thumped from the front door, but it was barely heard over the garbled noise of the party. The drunken hostess staggered over to the front door and wrenched it open. Her open cleavage was soaked with beer, most of which from the plastic cup that she was swinging around.
"Hey, come on in! Beer's in the kitchen and pussy is in the bedroom!" she laughed.
The figure standing at the door slowly raised his head, glaring at her with sunken bloodshot eyes. "You are guilty."
As fast as lightning, he reached into a sheath hidden in his overcoat and drew a strip of rusty steel, honed into an amateur sword with only a layer of fabric as the handle. The blade was jagged and serrated, but that was only a mistake in the attempted creation of an edge. Before the girl could even realize what he was holding, he lashed out and stabbed her in the gut, piercing her through. The rusty edge burst out of her back with blood oozing from the jagged points that ran up the edge. As he pulled the blade free, a woman spotted the dead hostess fall to her knees and screamed.
"You are all guilty!" Carter snarled as everyone in the vicinity turned to him.
Eleanor stared at Carter and released a trembling gasp. Even from that distance, Eleanor was able to look his eyes and see the hatred within him. Never before had she seen so much anger and pain in someone or felt so overwhelmed and crushed by its intensity. He didn't even seem to be human. She quickly ducked down to the floor, hoping she wouldn't be noticed.
The madman bolted forward, swinging his mock sword wildly and slashing at the people closest to the door. With each swing, the serrated blade would tear through flesh with ease. His second victim was another woman and he stabbed her through the chest, right through her open cleavage. He then turned around and struck a man who had come forward to see what was going on. Carter slashed him from shoulder to hip, severing almost every artery in his chest and making it so that he would bleed to death in less than a minute.
Until now, the party had been so cramped that no one could run away, but that wouldn't last for long. People were already shoving each other as they tried to get to another part of the house, and until the backdoor was used and people actually began to escape, they were all packed like sardines and completely vulnerable. Eleanor was one of them, trying to get away, but all of the frantic partiers just pinned her to the wall in their own desperation, as if she were thrown against the rocks by a raging river. She was forced to hide under a table and wait for the crowd to thin out.
By now, Carter was completely blood-drunk. The pain that racked his body had not lessened, but it was now being fought by a sensation of fulfillment. The voices that haunted his mind could not stop him, his disease could not stop him, and until his mission was complete, he would never end his path of destruction. With that sword in his hand, he had abandoned his physical form, leaving only the pain and vengeance in his heart to wreck havoc upon those he deemed guilty. He did not enjoy killing, but it was something he had to do; it was his purpose.
Moving into the crowd, he hacked, stabbed, and slashed wildly at everyone in his reach. Blood sprayed freely with each injury, soaking the walls, floor, and Carter's clothes. Bodies were falling like dominos as he worked his way through the horde. No one could even hurt him, because they were all too drunk to properly fight back. He stepped towards a couch where a couple was making out. Even with all the screams, they were completely unaware of what was going on.
"Oh shit!" the boy cursed, looking over his girlfriend's shoulder and spotting the bloody sword in Carter's hand.
With a wide slash, Carter beheaded the girl, sending up a fountain of blood. Still erect from his girlfriend straddling his lap, the man didn't have time to react as the killer slashed his throat, giving it a wide bloody smile. Throwing aside his football jacket, a jock ran towards Carter with a broken beer bottle in his hand. Carter lazily turned around and didn't bother to stop the jock from stabbing him just bellow the ribs. The ring of lacerations further soaked his already bloody shirt, but the tormented swordsmen didn't even react.
"Do you honestly think that you can make me feel more pain than I am enduring now?" he said coldly before stabbing his next victim through the gut.
By now the house was almost empty, as the partiers were rushing out the backdoor or climbing out the windows as fast as they could, but there were still over two dozen people in the first floor alone. Carter spotted a group of partiers at a window, frantically trying to open it. In desperation, one of them punched through the glass, tearing up his hand. He then tried to climb out, while getting torn and shredded on the remaining shards. The others quickly tried to push him through so they could escape.
"You cannot escape your sins!" Carter roared in a blood drunk daze before charging towards them.
The partiers screamed and begged for mercy, but the madman did not hesitate in cutting them all down. From under her table, Eleanor had her hands over her mouth, trying to stifle her fearful sobs. When Carter had his back turned, Eleanor left her hiding place, running towards the staircase. Hearing her, Carter turned around and gave chase. With the heavy footfalls of Carter behind her, Eleanor was more terrified than ever before in her life. Just the distance from the table to the staircase felt like it was a mile long, with the serial killer behind her more resembling a pack of rabid wolves, snapping at her heels.
He reached her before she could climb up the stairs, grabbing her by the wrist. He quickly turned her around and threw her down at the stairs, raising his sword above his head. Eleanor turned to face him, and the second their eyes met, Carter stopped. In a single moment, he seemed to become like a statue, holding his sword over her in mid-stab. Eleanor was in the same state, unable to move. She was fixated on his face and eyes, which had completely changed. Before, they showed only hatred and agony; the unstoppable desire to kill, but so much misery that came with it, as if killing was the only way to relieve his pain.
Now the hatred and misery were turned inwards. He looked like tears were about to fall from his bloodshot eyes and his face showed more misery and pain than Eleanor thought possible, as if she were looking at someone who had just had everything they loved destroyed in front of them. His eyes almost proved this belief, being filled with deep mourning, as if he were at the funeral of someone he loved.
Carter couldn't believe his eyes, there was no way that this could be real. He analyzed and focused on every single detail of her visage, from the complexion of her teardrop-shaped face, to her bright blue eyes, to her obsidian-shade hair. Every single centimeter of her beautiful face sent a wave of toxic pain through his icy heart. 'Why? Why do I have to face this? After every hardship I've faced, why must I be haunted and tormented even further?'
Carter and Eleanor were so still, it was as if time had frozen, and they were both staring at each other without even blinking. Suddenly, Carter lurched forward and covered his mouth to stifle a bloody cough. Eleanor gasped as a few spots of his blood peppered her face, contrasting brightly against her pale skin. He staggered back, coughing uncontrollably with blood oozing from between his fingers. Again, his expression had changed. Now he seemed full of fear, as if he were more afraid of Eleanor than Eleanor was of him. She desperately wished to say something, but she felt like she couldn't even breathe. Carter staggered to the door, wrenching it open and running out into the cold night, still coughing up blood. Eleanor remained on the stairs, not sure of what to do or say.
Finally, the softest words she had ever spoken passed her lips, "Don't leave me."
Police swarmed through the entire university, searching every single room for Carter. The house itself was completely filled with officers, all analyzing the bodies and getting statements from any survivors they could find. There was so much blood that it was soaking through the floorboard and dripping into the basement, and the body count was incomprehensible. Many of the forensic investigators struggled not to throw up or even cry at the sight of the gruesome massacre.
Eleanor was sitting on the stairs, wrapped in a blanket that the police had given her, though she wasn't even aware of it. Her mind was completely fixated on that indescribable stretch of time when she and Carter were as still as statues, staring into each other's eyes. Never in her life had she ever been so terrified and afraid of her life, but also never felt so ... comforted. As scared as she was of the serial killer that had just massacred dozens of people right in front of her, looking into his eyes actually made her feel safe and feel like she wasn't alone. She hadn't even wiped away the dots of blood on her face.
Anna walked over to Eleanor, mentally and physically deflated from the night. Like her friend, she was wrapped in a police blanket and completely shaken to her core. "Come on, the cops say we can leave," she said softly, desperately looking for a place to rest her gaze that wasn't soaked with blood.
"Ok," Eleanor whispered and she stood up, letting the blanket fall away.
As they walked out of the slaughterhouse, Anna turned to her friend. "I saw you, you were the one person he didn't kill. He completely froze when you saw you. Eleanor ... what happened? Why didn't he hurt you?"
Eleanor was hesitant to answer. "I don't know, but I hope I meet him again so that I can ask him."
Carter fell to his knees in a field on the outskirts of town. His bloody sword lay beside him and his body shook as he screamed in agony. The pain in his body was so terrible that it went beyond comprehension, but it was the pain in his soul that was affecting him the most. The dark storm clouds that filled the sky answered his roar, cracking with ear-splitting volume. In one great deluge, rain began to pour down from the tempest, bombarding Carter and the surrounding landscape. The ground around him became red as all the gore had had soaked his clothes was purged, like a spirit being released of its sins.
Carter looked up at the sky, letting the raindrops wash away the blood and his own tears. The image of the girl on the staircase was burned into his mind, reigniting old feelings and old memories. The heart he thought he had lost had reappeared, but with it, his pain was greater now more than ever. He howled at the top of his lungs, trying to forget Eleanor's face and the taunting sting it left in his heart.
Classes were suspended while a ceremony for the slain students was prepared. Therapists and grief counselors flooded the university to provide psychiatric help for people who were traumatized by the massacre. The people who were in the house during the massacre were both treated as heroes and victims. Almost every student who had attended the party took advantage of this, looking for attention to act like they were right in the middle of the killing, even if they didn't actually see anything. The PTSD wannabes acted like they personally fought off the madman or watched as everyone they loved was brutally killed, even if they were just having sex in one of the upstairs bedroom and jumped out the window the second people came in to hide.
Eleanor was curled up in her bed, having spent the last two days drifting in and out of consciousness. Her mental state had not changed since the night of the massacre; every single thought that passed through her mind was completely focused on her encounter with the killer, and that indescribable feeling of when their eyes met. On the other side of the dorm room, Anna was packing her things. Almost half of the students at the university were leaving to spend time with their families before classes resumed. They were trying to get as far away from the scene of the massacre as possible and try to cope with it, even if it meant just temporarily forgetting it.
"I can't believe you aren't going home to see your parents," Anna hummed sadly.
"Just because my parents are there doesn't mean it's home," she replied, so softly that Anna barely heard her.
"Well you should really get out of here, get a change of scenery."
"The last time I did that, I was nearly killed."
"I'm sorry, but I'm just trying to help."
Eleanor said nothing in return. Anna sighed and picked up an index card on her desk, quickly scribbling something on it with the first pen she found. She set it down on Eleanor's bedside table. "This is the address and phone number of my parents house. Feel free to come over."
After a night of lying awake in the dark, Eleanor finally rolled over and looked at the card that Anna had left, using the pale light of the rising sun to read it. She began mulling over the idea of meeting up with Anna, but in truth, she had already made the decision. She could stay here in bed or go to a place where she would be welcomed. She stood up to begin packing her things and instantly fell to her knees. She couldn't remember the last time she had eaten anything.
The sun was shining brightly on the country road, with the roaring of the engine in Eleanor's car being the only sound that bounced between the two walls of trees. With her eyes darting between the road and printed directions from map-quest, Eleanor struggled to keep her car below the highway speed limit. She cursed when her eyes flicked to the gas gauge, showing that the tank was almost empty. Her swear was replaced by a huff of relief as she saw a rest stop sign.
She pulled up to the gas station, spotting no one else. There was only one other car, and it belonged to the cashier inside. As Eleanor began filling the tank, her eyes wandered to the surrounding area. I was a beautiful day to be outside. Her gaze finally fell on a homeless man, digging in the trash on the shady side of the building. He had a shaggy head of hair and a long black overcoat.
Eleanor was shaken from her daze by the ringing of the gas pump, signaling that the tank was full. She hooked up the nozzle and walked into the station to pay. She stood by the counter, waiting for the cashier to finish organizing cigarettes. Again, Eleanor's mind drifted, this time returning to the homeless man she had seen outside. Something didn't seem quite right...
The gas station was miles away from town, so why would a homeless person walk all the way out here? Not to mention the fact that he would have been picked up by police if he walked along the side of the highway, plus the fact that there wasn't any food out here in the wilderness. That guy wasn't out here looking for food; he was traveling cross-country.
"Uh, excuse me..." the cashier said, drawing her attention. Apparently that wasn't the first time he tried to get an answer.
"Sorry, I've been zoning out a lot today," She said shakily, handing the cashier a debit card.
As she paid for the gas, her suspicions did not go away. Her card was returned to her and she walked outside. Halfway to her car, she came to a dead stop. She had seen almost a hundred homeless people in town; one wearing a black overcoat and digging in the trash was pretty common. But if there was even the slightest chance that the man at the side of the building was who she thought, she had to see it to the end.
After taking a deep breath, she walked over to the side of the building, where the stranger was still searching for food in the trashcan. He hadn't noticed her, but even with his face hidden under matted hair, she knew it was him. It wasn't until he began coughing into his hand and leaving splatters of blood on his palm that she was completely sure.
"It really is you."
Carter turned to her and his eyes widened at the sight of her beautiful face. The face that had been haunting him for days was staring at him now. Her beauty brought waves of relief to his cold soul, like sunlight after weeks of a cloudy weather, but along with relief, just the sight and existence of this woman filled him with more pain than he could endure. He staggered back, coughing into his hand with his eyes filled with pain and misery, just like last time. The man who had just gone on a killing spree looked no more dangerous than a warzone orphan. Eleanor's fear of him was gone, replaced by sympathy, regardless of what she had seen him do.
"No, wait!" Eleanor called out as he turned around and ran into the woods.
Desperate for answers, Eleanor chased after him, sprinting through the forest. Carter's steps were clumsy and erratic as he tried to run, but his bloody cough was making it next to impossible to breath. Even with this handicap, he managed to elude his pursuer.
Carter fell to his knees, coughing up so much blood that a crimson puddle was forming beneath his face.
"Why ... Why? Why! WHY!" he snarled, slamming his fists on the ground.
'Kill her... ' a voice whispered in the back of his mind.
"No, shut up."
'She is no different than the others, she is no less guilty, ' another argued.
"I said shut up!" he ordered, even louder.
'Kill her!' a third yelled, so loudly that Carter winced.
With his hands over his ears, he looked up at the sky. "LEAVE ME ALONE!"
Eleanor was finally forced to stop and catch her breath, swearing in frustration. She was so close to figuring out who the killer was and why he spared her life, but now he was gone. Reluctantly, she turned around to walk back to her car. After only a few steps, she heard his voice call out. He seemed to be shouting in pain and was more than loud enough for her to follow him. As his tormented voice echoed through the forest, Eleanor followed the noise and finally found him, but kept her distance.
Carter was on his knees in a small clearing, gripping his head as if his scalp was on fire. With the agony in his voice and how loud he was shouting, it seemed like that's what he was really experiencing.
"SHUT UP! SHUT UP AND LEAVE ME ALONE!" he howled, clawing at his ears while tears poured from his eyes.
Eleanor was breathless, finally being able to see the pain that the man she had been obsessing over was dealing with. He wasn't evil, just sick and in agony.
"BE QUIET! I DON'T WANT TO SUFFER ANYMORE, JUST LET ME BE IN PEACE!"
He then ran over to the nearest tree and began slamming his head against it, trying to beat the voices into submission, but only leaving a bloody gash on his forehead. Carter finally fell to the ground, sobbing as blood and tears fell from his face. Eleanor silently stepped into the clearing and slowly walked over to him, no longer feeling any fear. She crouched down and placed her hand on his cheek, causing his eyes to bolt open and him to stare at her.
"Who are you?"
Carter did not reply, but his whole body was trembling.
"Who are you? I have to know!"
When Carter didn't say anything, tears began to fall from her own eyes and pelt his face, just like when his blood pelted hers.
"I saw what you did, I saw all the people you killed. I want to be afraid of you, I want to hate you, and I want to see you as the monster that has murdered so many innocent people. But whenever I think of you, in my heart, I want to help you. Please, I have to know why I am feeling this way."
"I don't know. I don't want to see hatred in your eyes, but neither do I want to see kindness. I don't deserve anything from you. Just forget about me."
"Why did you spare my life?" Eleanor asked, desperate for the answer that had been plaguing her for days.
"I couldn't bear to hurt you."
"But why? Why me? Why couldn't you just end my life? Why couldn't you just kill me so that I wouldn't have to be alone anymore?" she begged, unable to maintain her composure.
Carter and Eleanor stared at each other, both trying to think of something to say. Carter's heart ached to hear her say those words and Eleanor couldn't believe how honest she was being with a total stranger.
"I don't know what you have experienced, but it seems like you have been through pain as well," Carter said softly.
"I just don't know what to do to be happy. I don't want to be miserable anymore, but I don't know anything else. I don't even know if I can be happy."
Carter slowly reached up and placed his shaky hand on her cheek, just as she had her hand on his. "I was happy one time, but I will never be happy again. That is my fate."
"What's your name? I'm Eleanor."
For the first time in a long time, she smiled. He was about to smile as well, but his bloody coughing returned.
"Let me take you to the hospital, a doctor should look at that cough," she said without losing her smile.
"I already know my disease and there is no cure for what I have."
"Do you know how long you have?" Eleanor asked, taking Carter's hand off her cheek but clutching it with both of hers.
"A month, maybe more, maybe less. But that is only how I feel. For all I know, this cough could just be a minor inconvenience and I could live a long and full lifetime."
"Well how do you plan on spending that time?"
Eleanor lost her smile. "Why? Why do you have to kill?"
"For vengeance, for punishment."
"But the people you killed at that party have done nothing to you."
Carter stared deep into her eyes before speaking. "They are all guilty, but not for any crimes against me."
"But you don't need to kill. I know you're mind is sick, but if you can get the right medicine, you won't be tormented by those voices anymore. You don't have to live and die this way."
"Yes I do, it is my only path."
"You say your only path is one that you kill, but you didn't kill me. Tell me, why did you spare my life?"
Carter was silent and could not meet her gaze.
"If I can help you so that you no longer need to kill, will you answer my question?"
"Are you saying that because you want to continue killing or because you can't imagine your fate as anything different?"
Carter did not respond.
"Please, let me help you."
"I don't deserve help. I don't deserve kindness or happiness, I only deserve pain, and that is all my life is and will be."
"Let me show you different. Please, for me."
Carter looked back into her eyes, trying to come up with an argument so that he could resume his miserable existence the way it was.
Eleanor's smile widened, growing brighter than ever in her life. With his arm over her shoulder, she helped Carter walk back to her car.
"We'll spend the night here," Eleanor said as she unlocked the door of the motel room.
Carter was silent and had an unsure look on his face. They stepped inside and turned on the lights, looking around the subpar room. The motel dwelling was pretty standard, and could actually be considered comfortable (as long as you ignored all of the nearly invisible stains and germs). The bed was queen-sized with yellow sheets, matching the tacky 70's wallpaper and the red shag carpet. Next to the bed was a night stand, with a small dinner table and two chairs ten feet away. Against the wall was a TV and a mini-fridge on a bureau, covered in rings from over a hundred beer bottles and cans.
"Where would you normally sleep?" Eleanor asked, noting that Carter almost seemed lost in the motel room.
"Anywhere warm enough to stay alive."
"What do you mean 'enough to say alive'?"
Carter crouched down and pressed down on the bed with his hand.
"I would look for a place that would at least keep me alive, but I would do everything I could to avoid being comfortable."
"Why didn't you want to be comfortable?" Eleanor asked, walking over and placing her hand on his shoulder.
"Because I don't deserve it."
"Well what did you eat?"
Carter finally looked at her. "Anything I could find, but only enough to keep me alive. Why do you want to help me?" The longer he looked into her beautiful eyes, the more relief he felt.
"Because you need it. You're sick, mentally and physically. I don't know why you kill, but you don't need to do it. If you can get the help you need, then you will no longer be a danger to society and you can live in peace. You spared my life, so now I want to save yours."
"There is no peace for me, I can never be happy or content. For me, there is only pain. Why on earth would someone like you want to help someone like me? How do you expect me to believe that you won't call the police are haven't already?"
"Give me the chance to show you that there is still hope. I don't believe you are a monster, just someone with a broken heart and an unstable mind. I won't hand you over to the police, not until I'm sure I can help you first. Here, lay down," she replied, motioning to the bed.
Reluctantly, Carter lied down on the bed and Eleanor lifted up his shirt, examining the wound he had received at the party. The ring of lacerations had closed and was now a dark scar. The fact that it didn't seem to be infected was a miracle. While she examined it, she couldn't help but notice that he was practically skin and bones.
"Your injury seems to be ok, but have you done anything at all to take care of it?"
"Do you do anything to take care of your body?" She inquired, already knowing the answer.
"I don't deserve to be healthy. This body is worthless, it serves no purpose other than to take people's lives and fill my own life with agony. If I bleed, I let it stop on its own. If I'm cold, I just ignore it and keep moving. If I'm hungry, I find whatever is even slightly edible and eat just enough to keep me from starving," he stated before coughing up blood into his hand.
"You're punishing yourself."
"It's what I deserve," he repeated, finally looking into her eyes. Several silent moments passed by, with the two tormented souls just staring at each other.
"I think getting cleaned up will do you the most good right now," Eleanor suggested, backing off to the foot of the bed.
Carter still couldn't believe what was happening. For weeks, his mind had been occupied solely by pain and misery. Now, this beautiful woman was being more kind to him than he thought possible. He looked around the motel room, almost expecting it to shatter as nothing but a dream and to wake up in the woods. Barely aware of what he was doing, Carter slowly got to his feet and began limping to the bathroom, but Eleanor quickly stopped him. She stepped behind him and gently removed his coat.
"Thank you," He murmured, confused by her actions.
Once Carter stepped into the bathroom, Eleanor set the dirty overcoat down on one of the chairs. As it left her hand, his handmade sword fell out of the mediocre sheath hidden inside, bouncing on the shag carpet. Eleanor froze as she gazed at the weapon, still covered in blood. She slowly crouched down and picked up the blade, holding it with shaky hands.
As she examined the blade, she could hear Carter in the shower. The single-edged sword was by no means master-crafted. It seemed more like a strip of heavy metal that had just been beaten into a sword form using rocks and a trashcan fire. Like Carter's lifestyle, the blade offered no comfort to the user. The thin fabric handle did not protect the user from the rough edges of the metal. It only served to keep the sword from falling out of the user's hand. Eleanor couldn't imagine using it without her hand being torn up.
In the bathroom, Carter was scrubbing off so much blood and grime that the water on the shower floor was dark brown. In all honesty, he was only using the shower because Eleanor suggested it. Under normal circumstances, he would not have used it, as he believed he did not deserve such a luxury. But now that he finally had the opportunity, he had to admit that it was great. Once all the dirt that could be removed without a hammer and chisel was washed off, Carter put down the bar of soap (which was now half its original size and looked like a chiseled brick), stepped out of the shower, and looked down at the sink counter, where a small personal hygiene set had been laid out by the motel staff.
While the motel was maybe only one star (at most), the complimentary gifts were surprisingly thorough. There was a set of shaving razors, a small can of shaving cream, two packaged toothbrushes, a small tube of toothpaste, tampons, cologne, deodorant, and just about anything else that someone spending the night would need. Someone at this motel was definitely taking their pride in their work.
He picked up the razor, once again only doing it because Eleanor suggested it. Ever since they had first spoken, something within him instantly became loyally bound to her, like an old hunting dog following its owner.
As the sound of the door handle shaking rang through the motel room, Eleanor quickly stashed the sword back in the sheath in Carter's overcoat. Carter stepped out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. The man and woman stared at each other and each gained a very small but very warm smile. Today was the first day either of them had smiled in a very long time. With his hair combed back and his face shaved, Eleanor had to admit that Carter was much more handsome than before. By taking a shower, Carter felt like his senses had been cleaned as well as his body. His hearing was much sharper, his eyesight didn't blur everything he saw (something that had happened without him even noticing), and with it, his view of Eleanor had been enhanced. She was even more beautiful than before, with every facial feature clearer than glass. Radiant was an understatement. But soon, Carter's smile faded.
"For your sake, I should get going. Your life would be better if I wasn't around."
"Please, don't go."
"Why ... Why are you trying to help me? Why are you being so kind to me? Why in the world would you care about someone like me?" he asked, taking a few steps towards her.
"Because you need help, you need someone to be kind to you," she said softly, taking a few steps towards him.
"But why you? Why don't you just hand me off to the police? Why is it so important that you are the one to help me?" he asked, taking a few more steps towards her.
They were standing less than a foot apart. Carter's face was stricken with sadness and Eleanor was silent as she tried to come up with a response. Finally, she reached up and placed her hand on Carter's cheek. "Because maybe you can help me."
Just as Carter was about to respond, he began coughing uncontrollably, falling to his knees and trying to keep blood from splattering on Eleanor. Eleanor quickly crouched down, and before she knew what she was doing, she had her arms wrapped tightly around his neck. Once Carter finally stopped coughing, Eleanor smelled the air and smiled. "Thanks for brushing your teeth," she said, almost making Carter laugh.
A sudden knock on the door sent him sprawling back to the bathroom, fearing the police. "Don't worry, I just ordered takeout!" Eleanor quickly said, trying to calm him down.
As she paid for the food with the door only half open, Carter kept his eyes focused on his coat on the nearby chair, trying to figure out how quickly he could grab his sword if he needed it. He gave a sigh of relief when a bag of Chinese takeout came into view.
"Don't worry, you're safe with me. I won't just hand you over to the police," she said warmly. Carter gained a sad smile as she set the food down on the table.
"I'm not sure what you like, so I just got a lot of simple stuff."
"Don't worry, you can have it all. I ate yesterday, so I don't need anything for today."
Eleanor lost her smile. "Please, Carter, eat with me. You can eat more than just the absolute minimum. Just this once, try and be happy instead of torturing yourself."
"As you wish," he reluctantly said, making Eleanor smile.
They both sat down at the table and began eating. Before he even knew what he was doing, Carter was devouring every last bit of food he could get his hands on. For the first time in her life, Eleanor was struggling not to laugh as she watched him become a human garbage disposal. She was almost afraid to reach out past her own food on the chance that she could lose her hand. She actually had to match his speed so that he wouldn't take all the food for himself. After twenty minutes, Carter and Eleanor both sat back and sighed in bliss, holding their full stomachs.
"You know, I can't remember the last time I ate with someone like this; enjoying a mean with someone," Eleanor said with a sad smile.
"What do you mean?"
The bright mood was dampened.