As soon as Mason enters the hallway of their building he can hear the sounds of abuse from apartment 116. He stands alone in the hallway listening to it all, minutes drifting by like small lifetimes. A slap on a face, a threat to leave, a broken dish upon the floor; the corridor fills with the sounds of misery and despair, of anger and regret. A woman crying, a child pleading in defiance and fear to protect her, all from a monster that was supposed to love and nurture them.
An old light fixture on the ceiling flickers, its bulb nearing the end of its life. A moth flits about, desperate to get to the warm glow that teases it from behind a dirty glass globe, not realizing the heat of the bulb will kill it. Mason ponders the similarity of the moth and light to the sounds of cruelty coming from the apartment. People, attracted to the lure of a relationship, desperate to have one, needing one; never realizing that actually getting into one might destroy them.
Mason’s gaze drifts to the stairs, looking upward to the apartment that was his and Sue’s just days earlier. He wonders if that relationship, no matter how desirable, may have destroyed them both. He stands here now, alone in a dim and dirty hallway somewhere in Detroit, a broken soul. Even a beautiful relationship can be the catalyst that destroys lives. The most magnificent of fireworks are but fleeting moments that leave behind only dirty ash when they are gone.
There’s a sudden powerful thump on the corridor wall. A door slams, angrily and forcefully. Voices are raised and things are breaking; things like dishes, chairs, and human spirits. The crescendo of madness emanating from behind the apartment door grows until Mason cannot endure the burden of witness any longer. Behind his psychological wall his demons, weeping in the darkness moments earlier, are shifting to rage. He takes one last glance up the stairs, some deep corner of his wounded mind hoping somehow he might see Sue standing there, to stop him. She isn’t, and Mason’s boots carry 240lbs of angry broken soul to the door of apartment 116.
He knocks on the door, and with no answer knocks again, a greater tone of insistence bearing down upon it.
Faint sounds drift from behind the door. Whispers of muffled aggression; a woman told to shut up, a child ordered to his room. Inside is a struggle of indecision, to answer the door and weave a façade of normalcy, or to hide in defiance and shame. Moments pass, but Mason’s demons will not be denied. A fist pounds the door, monsters of different breeds standing on either side of it. The portal opens, and an angel of justice and liberation locks eyes with a demon of betrayal and oppression.
“What the fuck do you want,” speaks one demon to the other.
Mason’s stare is cold and steady, his intentions unwavering in spite of any resistance that might come. “Let me see your wife.”
There are split seconds in life when an entire story is told in a moment of changing facial expressions, if you look hard enough and have the insight to interpret it. In just a few fleeting moments, the demon of apartment 116’s entire story is revealed there in the flesh of his face; the guilt, the fear and the shame. The facade of defensive defiance comes anyway.
“Go fuck yourself. Mind your own business.” The door quickly begins to close, the portal between liberation and subjugation trying to seal shut, to keep the status quo just a while longer. But the time of apathy has passed, blind eyes will not be turned, and Mason’s demons, unrestrained by a keeper no longer alive, are stampeding over the wall.
Mason rears back and kicks the door with all of his unbridled rage. The gateway to emotional imprisonment gives way to an angel of salvation as the wooden barrier strikes its guard in the face, knocking him back hard against a wall. Mason rushes in and grips the man by his Adam’s apple, powerful fingers wrapping around the ball of his throat, threatening to rip it from its moorings.
Mason holds the man firmly against the wall, the door closing behind him, two monsters now locked in the same cage. The man struggles and fights at first, thinking he can overpower the intruder of his lair. Mason easily contains his efforts, the iron grip on his Adam’s apple causing the man to choke and gag as he struggles. Mason, shoving the man down to his knees by the throat, leans into his face. Momentarily they share the same air, with far different intentions. “I said I want to see your wife.”
The angel of retribution drags the demon of isolation around the corner of the foyer and into the living room, where the woman stands staring in his direction. Her eyes are open wide, a look of fear in her face. Mason raises an empty palm, holding it out to her, trying to tell her to be still, to be quiet, to not be afraid.
The man’s vocal chords vibrate against Mason’s fingertips as he calls out to his wife. “Dial 911. Call the police.” Her phone is in her hand, the light of the screen illuminating her face, contrasting it against the darkened room. Before she can press a number, she sees Mason’s changing expression as he stares at her. His shoulders seem to drop, his demeanor softening. She doesn’t understand, until she catches her own reflection in the mirror behind him.
Both hand and phone lower to her side; the light twisting around with the motion but still reflecting against her face. She begins to cry, each tear weaving a path among the bruises and scars in the mirror. They mix with the blood as they pass her nostrils, the combination stinging the split in her lip.
In our own minds we all see a vision of the person we believe ourselves to be. In the mirror the woman finally puts denial aside, to face the woman she had actually become.
For long moments, she faces the reflection that for years she had refused to make eye contact with. Her eye is so black and swollen it reminds her of the eye patch from a pirate costume she had worn last Halloween. She suddenly remembers that a black eye a year ago was why she chose that costume in the first place. She’s had black eyes for so long they have become normal, almost unnoticed, except to cover them with makeup so no one else will see.
Her captor struggles in the grip of her liberator, drawing her attention away from herself. He is on his knees, the intruder still holding a death grip into his throat. “Call the police,” he commands again. Mason punches him in the face with such force one of his fingers breaks and a tooth flies across the room. Mason releases him and pulls his .45 from behind his back, telling the man not to move as he approaches the woman. Her fear returns and she hits the three numbers that will bring the police. She backs away slowly while the call connects. Mason shoves the .45 back into his waistband, lifts his hands slowly out to his sides, palms out.
He tries to make her understand, to awaken her. “It doesn’t have to be like this. This is not a life, and you can be free.”
Behind Mason the demon of apartment 116 calls out, his grasp on the woman’s soul in jeopardy. “You stay away from her. Baby, get the cops.”
The call connects, the dispatch operator’s voice trickles from the small phone speaker for all in the room to hear. Mason and the woman’s eyes linger in each other for several more seconds, Mason gently shaking his head from side to side. “No more.”
“Hello? This is 911 dispatch, is anyone there?”
A child comes from the side hallway and stands at the entrance to the room. The woman’s eyes break away from Mason’s as she turns to her son. Even in the dim light of the room she can see his swollen lip and the bruises on his arms. The child is crying, as he often does. “Mom?”
“911. Is anyone there? Do you need help?”
The woman turns back towards Mason, who stands there waiting for the decision she is making. She looks down at the phone, and as she slowly raises it, presses the red button to freedom. As the call disconnects, she sees her reflection again in the mirror. There beyond the years of beatings, beyond the black eyes and the emotional scars, a glint reflects in her eyes; a spark of life.
Behind Mason the demon roars, his power fading. “What the fuck are you doing?”
Her eyes meet Mason’s, and they speak without words. She nods, just slightly, the decision made, the approval granted, as she turns to grab her son by the hand and lead him out the front door. Behind her she closes the exit of her former prison, now a tomb that her former keeper will never leave again.
The sounds of madness emanate once more from the apartment. The retribution and reckoning is swift, merciless, and brutal. The corridor fills with the sounds of things being broken; things like emotional shackles, control, and human bones.
“Please, I’ll never touch her again, I swear to God.”
“God isn’t here.”
When the police arrive, only fingerprints will positively identify the demon of apartment 116.