CHAPTER NINE: SUSIE
The abuse began when she was seven. Doug called it playing “Something”. That way he could ask her in front of their parents: “What d’ya want to do this afternoon, Suze?… Wanna play Something?”
Only she and her older brother knew what he meant by this. She didn’t really like it but she accepted it. Doug was six years her senior, and she was used to doing pretty much whatever he wanted. It wasn’t like he beat her or anything. He never forced her to do it — not physically, at any rate — but Doug had a way of playing on her emotions. If she refused, he would actually cry. It so amazed and frightened her to see her big brother crying that she would eventually give in. She felt sorry for him. After all, she loved Doug, as only an admiring little sister can. She wanted him to be happy, and playing “Something” always seemed to make Doug happy.
The first time they did it was in the big barn. It was a hot summer day and Doug said he had a new game to play, up in the loft. Being farm children, with the nearest neighbors two miles down the road, it wasn’t unusual for thirteen-year-old Doug to be playing with seven-year-old Susie all afternoon. In fact, their parents encouraged it and were pleased with Doug for “watching out” for his little sister the way he did. The way they saw it, most boys his age wouldn’t want anything to do with a younger child, but Doug seemed to dote on little Susie, spending hours a day with her. And she obviously loved and admired her older brother, catering happily to his every whim. Yes, her parents agreed that they were closer than any two children they ever saw.
In the beginning, it was just touching and feeling. They took turns — first he would be the patient and she would be the nurse. Then she would be the patient and Doctor Doug would have a look. It was fun! But it did make her feel funny inside. However, she didn’t like the way Doug made such a big deal about not telling their parents. Why would their parents care about some dumb game they’d play? But Doug insisted, and after she thought about it, she was impressed by the idea that he trusted her with a secret that only the two of them shared.
So she kept quiet…
And as time went on and they grew older, Doug kept asking to do more and more. And Susie grew to dislike his little games. They made her feel… dirty, like something that washed up on the beach. By now, though, she knew she was a co-conspirator in their little secret. If their parents found out, surely she would be punished as much as Doug for what they were doing.
Susie began to despise her brother. He no longer made her feel “special” and loved when he touched her. She had made up her mind this was going to have to stop. Some way, some how, she was going to escape this situation.
And that’s how her life transitioned from a nightmare to a horror story.
About a month ago, she and Doug were down at “The Fort”. That’s what Doug called the new playhouse shack he’d built out of scrap lumber down by the river. Susie had been excited when he had started building it, envisioning a place where she could take her dolls and have tea parties and other such little-girl fascinations. It was to be their special clubhouse.
But that wasn’t what big brother had in mind. He had been growing more and more worried that they would be discovered in the loft or in his bedroom late at night where they sometimes played “Something”. And their parents couldn’t always be counted on to be away from home when he was in the mood for games. What they needed was yet another secret… a secret place where they could go and their parents wouldn’t know.
There was a clearing on the bank of the river, just below the bridge, and Doug could hide the building amid the poison sumac and small scrub trees which grew there. He made a path which ran a circuitous route through the woods and down along the river, bending back at an angle, to come in from behind the shack so nobody would be likely to see it from the road and discover their little hideout.
They would ride their bikes down to the bridge, hiding them in the Queen Anne’s Lace growing thickly by the roadside. Then they followed the path from the west side of the bridge, out through the woods until they wound around and came out on the east side, just twenty or thirty yards from where they’d started. The idea was to throw off anybody that might be following them. Doug wanted to be completely and safely alone with his secrets.
They’d followed this trail dozens of times during the construction of “The Fort”. One of Doug’s favorite things to talk about while they hiked through the murky wood was the Monster that lived beneath the bridge. It lurked there in the deepest shadows, drawn back against the wall so nobody could see it. But if you got up real close and peered way back in the darkest corner, you might just see two eyes, glowing pallidly from its grotesque face. The Monster’s favorite food was, of course, little girls. And he was always hungry.
Susie didn’t like Doug anymore, but she did believe him. It never occurred to her this might be just another of his little mind games — that he might be playing on her childish naivete to get his jollies. She had no way of knowing that Doug, like most pedophiles, received his pleasure not only by physically abusing his victim but by emotionally dominating her as well.
There was a monster, all right, but it didn’t hide in the shadows beneath the bridge. It walked the path with her and forced her to do terrible things — things that would haunt her subconscious for the rest of her life.
On this particular day, August third, the story of the Monster had really gotten to her. She listened with rapt attention as Doug masterfully described the creature’s glowing red eyes and shaggy, blood-stained coat. He lowered his voice and growled in a chilling voice that verbally painted vivid pictures of the horror that lurked there in the shadows. He carried a stick with him, and his hands would wrap tightly around the shaft as, occasionally, he would pause and elaborate on some finer detail of his story. As Susie listened, the sounds of the forest seemed to come alive, and the shadows beside the path hid evil, hulking creatures that glared hungrily form their depths.
By the time they reached “The Fort”, she was happy to get there, and she sighed with relief when Doug slid the deadbolt over, locking them safely inside. The shack was sparse with a dirt floor, a stained mattress and a crate turned over to act as a table with a small porcelain lamp.
Doug immediately walked over and pulled out the pack of cigarettes he kept stashed beneath the mattress lying on the floor. Flopping down on his back, he propped his head and shoulders against the wall and lit up. He inhaled deeply, shaking out the match and tossing it into the corner. He tucked the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and squinted up at her through the smoke curling around his head.
He spoke around the butt of his cigarette. “Take your clothes off.”
This surprised her. Doug had never taken off all her clothes or even his. He was too paranoid and in case his parents came home unexpectedly, they could easily hide their activities. Now that Doug was growing older, they no longer bothered with pretending or roleplaying. Doctor Doug no longer came to see his patient, only her nasty older brother, with the hair sprouting on his chin and various other places.
The closest they ever came these days to make-believe was when Doug made her say things to him that turned him on. Sometimes, she didn’t even know what the words meant, but she had learned not to ask questions because he liked to explain by showing her. Later she would try to convince herself she hadn’t said such things, pushing the knowledge and the words far down in her mind. She buried a lot these days — nasty, shameful secrets buried deep like so many rotting corpses. And God help her if they ever rose from the dead to walk the hallowed ground of her consciousness.
“No! It’s too dirty in here.” She complained weakly. The walls of their clubhouse suddenly moved in around her, tight and choking.
He ground out the cigarette in a silver ashtray on the crate. With a louder command, he said, “I said take off your clothes! Get on the mattress if you want to stay off the dirt.”
Doug sprang to his feet and lunged at her. He slammed one hand upon the wall above her head as he leaned in, towering over her in a threatening manner and stood so close she could smell the stale cigarette and feel the heat of his breath. He growled in that Monster voice again, “In The Fort, you do exactly as I say, when I say and how I say it. Susie, do you understand me?”
She sniffed and tears started to well up in her eyes. “Dougie… you are sca–“
He slammed his open palm into the wall again over her making the shack shake and screamed this time in her face, “Do you understand the rules of The Fort? Or do you want me to lock you outside for the Monster to eat you? Take off your goddamn clothes now!”
Susie could only stare back at him, dumbfounded at the rage in his voice and the lust in his eyes. When he raised his open hand intending to slap her, she nodded profusely and started unbuttoning her shirt.
He doesn’t mean it. He wouldn’t let the Monster eat me… he wouldn’t. She struggled to hold onto that thought and not burst out in tears of shame and fear as she still undressed as he demanded.
“We are going to add to our game today. A little something to Something.” He then chuckled at an internal thought, a joke at her expense.
He studied every minute movement she made. She felt like an insect under a magnifying glass. And the malicious tone of his voice chilled her. Susie shivered standing in her undies.
“Take’em off and lay down.”
Turning red with embarrassment, she obeyed. This would be the first time that he had seen her fully naked. Something was…wrong. Something unknown and something more to his intentions… And being struck had never been a part of “Something” before.
He yanked at his grey sweatshirt and threw it to the side of the mattress. As he unfastened his belt and broke from leering at her, she ventured, “What did you mean by adding to the game?”
Doug ignored her as he continued undressing. He turned his back to her as he fumbled with his jeans. He then lit another cigarette. When he faced her again, she saw he had the black leather belt wrapped around his fists.
“It’s time to make you a woman, Suze.”
The world around Susie shut down, frozen in the span between two heartbeats and then shattered like glass. She finally realized what he meant and what he meant to do. He was crossing a line, dragging her over it against her will and ending her life as she knew it. She was too young to fully understand the ramifications of rape; she just understood on instinct that he was bent on destroying a part of her forever. It was “Something” beyond hurt and innocence. It was a step that could never be taken back. She would not give him that. He had taken too much from her. Too much!
An animal-like instinct took control of her. Maybe self-preservation or something else; whatever it was, it steeled her for him. She would not react until she was ready although her body trembled in terror. As Nate had discovered, there were some people in times of crisis that would flee or panic, others would lock up and freeze where they stood or some people that refused to be victims and fought back. Susie Dawn Chamness was a fighter!
He placed her between his legs and stood over her, straddling her body on the mattress.
“Going to make you my little woman today. Mine!” Doug snarled down at her. Then he squatted and snatched her left hand, making to tie it in the belt.
That was his mistake. With her right hand, she lunged forward and snatched the lamp off the crate and shattered it upon his jaw. He flew backward, knocked off balance by the strike and smashed his head on a stud in one of The Fort’s walls.
Susie didn’t wait to see the outcome. She bolted to her feet, grabbed her pile of clothes and flung herself toward the door.
She didn’t even feel the knob of the deadbolt in her hand as she jerked it open and escaped down the path into the woods. Numb from the terror, she felt nothing. Her only thought was to get out — had to… had to… had to…
If Doug caught her now, he would really hurt her. He might not even stop hurting her this time!
Seconds down the path, she heard The Fort’s door explode open and heard her brother calling after her. His voice chased after her as she ran, running its icy fingers along her spine and snatching at the long strands of blonde hair trailing behind her.
Doug followed after her, calling her name and demanding for her to stop. Susie had one shot at losing him — she left the dirt path, plunging into the thick undergrowth of the forest and forging her way through the thicket down to the river’s edge. She desperately pulled on her clothes and shoes before she waded on out into the river, which was no more than waist-deep at any point, this being the dry season.
It would take Doug some time to traverse the path and catch up with her. She decided to follow the river under the bridge until she came to the other side. Once there, it would be a simple task to retrieve her bicycle and ride away. She had no idea where to go, but she knew she didn’t ever want to see her brother again. Hot tears boiled down her cheeks, making everything she looked at swim and wriggle as she splashed her way along the river. Her face was flushed with shame and anger and her breath came in great hitching sobs.
This was a girl whose whole life was in turmoil. She couldn’t go on with things the way they were, and yet she had no idea where to turn to affect any change. With an unknown strength, she was taking the only action she could, she was running away. She intended, in fact, to keep right on running until something made sense — until she found a place where her life could be as it was in her fantasies.
The water was extremely cold, and her legs were beginning to ache. Occasionally, she would slip on the smooth gravel lining the bottom of the river, but she managed to maintain her footing, flailing her arms and stutter-stepping to regain her balance. At last, she reached a sandbar and she was able to step out of the water, warming her legs in the August sun.
The sandbar continued on under the bridge, but as she stood there, gazing into the darkness beneath it, her brother’s words came back to her and she locked up with dread. The Monster lived under the bridge and his favorite food was little girls. If she went under there, she would see its glowing eyes and it would come snarling and snapping out of the shadows. The last thing she would do in life would be to soil herself before it clamped down with its yellow teeth.
She had had enough humiliation for one day. So there lay her only means of escape, on the other side of the bridge on the other side of the Monster hidden in a patch of weeds by the side of the road. In a quandary over what to do, she collapsed to her knees sitting upon her haunches down in the middle of the sandbar, folded her bare arms across her chest and wept.
All the degradation and torment of the last four years of her life came out in a heart-rending rush of self-deprecation.
How could I be so stupid as to let myself be used like that? How am I ever gonna wash away his… grime? Wash away what he has done to me? The sins unfolded in her mind and all the buried feelings of disgust burst forth. These were feelings and emotions a little girl her age should not be forced to deal with.
Her cries were heard.
Susie reached out and gathered a handful of water, which she brought up and splashed into her face. As her life replayed for her, she began to feel anger. She allowed the anger to build, leaning on the strength it brought with it. She kindled and nursed it, like a small fire, and her soul began to warm itself beside it.
She began to think along the lines of what her next move would be… should she go forward, or should she go back? Where was she to go now, home to her parents? Could she ever hope to make them understand what she’d been through? A small wisp of hope sprouted somewhere inside her. Maybe if she told her mother everything, she would not be punished too harshly, maybe her mother would understand. She would never be able to tell her father, of that she was certain.
But maybe, just maybe if I could convince Mother to forgive —
She looked up startled to see Doug silhouetted against the sky atop the bridge. He was leaning over the side with his hands on the rail, looking down on her in the water. Blood flowed from two lacerations along his jaw and cheek. She jumped to her feet and splashed over to the bank, where she climbed out and charged off into the woods again.
“Wait, Susie, wait right there!” he called in vain.
“Leave me alone!” she screamed over her shoulder, “I’m running away — far away, where you’ll never touch me again!”
The briars cut into her legs and snagged her clothes as she crashed through the undergrowth, but she continued on until she connected with the path again. Here she hesitated, undecided as to which way to turn. Her brother would be coming back from the bridge. She groaned a bit and then charged off into the undergrowth once again.
She had gone maybe forty feet into the woods and was just about to pause for a rest when something hit her in the back and sent her sprawling amidst a patch of may-apples. Rolling over and sitting up, she looked to see who had struck her, but to her amazement, there was no one there. She remained on the ground for a moment and listened, but not a sound could she hear, save for the calling of birds in the trees and the sound of Peepers calling brightly from the water’s edge.
Then she heard Doug’s footsteps, padding down the path and continuing on toward the shack. He was panting heavily, and he swore when he stumbled across a root. She waited for him to go past, and then rose insecurely, figuring to try the path once more, now that the way was clear.
When she turned, she was face to face with the Monster. It must have followed her from under the bridge. The poor girl hadn’t the strength to run and she hadn’t the breath to scream. She was struck dumb, and all she could do was stand there and wait for it to eat her. Doug for once had not been lying to her. Her life had never been a happy one and now she was to die a violent death at the hands of a horrific fiend.
The shaggy beast swayed slowly back and forth on its four legs, sizing her up. Slowly, she reached behind her hoping to find a stick to defend herself, but before she could do anything it attacked. In two swift bounds, it was upon her, its forepaws on either side of her head and its ghoulish face snarling fiercely into hers. She whimpered pitifully and buried her face in the leaves which littered the forest floor.
Her cries were cut off and she fought for breath as it flipped her over and grabbed a mouthful of her shirt collar, carrying her by the scruff of her neck as a mother wolf would transport her cubs. It bounded off, noiselessly, into the woods; and the last time Susie ever heard her brother’s voice, it was echoing through the trees: “I’m sorry, Susie! I’m sorry! Susie, come back… If you tell anyone, you will be SOR-R-R-EEEE!!!”
Susie thought wildly of the story of Little Red Riding hood, alone in the forest with the Big Bad Wolf. She closed her eyes and wondered how bad it hurt to be eaten.