“Mom! Mom! Come here, Mommy,” Kieran mutters in his sleep.
* * *
Five-year-old Liam lies on the concrete sidewalk, his knee bleeding after having fallen off of his bike. A man in black stands off in the distance, pushing an empty stroller as Mary rushes to Liam’s aid.
            “Aww, you got a boo-boo?” Mary asks patronizingly as she races over to her son with a bandage.
            “Kiss it, Mommy,” whines Liam. Mary lifts Liam’s little leg, using one hand to slowly caress his thigh while she serenely slobbers all over her son’s wounded knee. As Liam’s tears subside, Mary places the bandage over the cut, handling her son’s injury with the sort of delicacy generally preserved for the most fragile of plant life. Liam begins to laugh.
            “Stop it, Mommy. That tickles.”
            The two become muted to the man in black, who watches from afar as Mary begins to tickle her son, working her way up from his knees toward his groin. Liam enters a state of ecstasy as his mother lifts his shirt, pulls down his shorts just a bit, and begins to blow on his lower stomach and upper groin area. The man in black says nothing, looks down and walks away.
* * *
            “She ruined my life,” Liam muttered factually. “I’ll never be the same because of her. I never got a chance to be a kid. She stole my innocence.”
            “You really had it bad, didn’t you?” I replied.
            Liam paused. “I wouldn’t say that. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I was in high school. We had a great insurance policy when my dad died. Never had to worry about paying the bills or finding our next meal. I got everything I ever asked for. She always reminded me how great I had it. But I paid for it with my youth.”
            I stared at the twenty-one-year-old I had just met a few hours ago as he drove deliberately and calmly down the deserted road in the old Ford truck his mom had bought for him when he was sixteen. I would’ve never guessed he was under forty. He looked so worn, beaten down by the world. Bags under his eyes. Wrinkled skin. A streak of gray through his black hair. His body so thin and lanky the size small t-shirt he was wearing looked excessively baggy.
            I looked down at my carry-on bag and smiled proudly at the handgun sticking out. Locked and loaded.
* * *
            Twenty-one-year-old Liam sat at the table at a fancy restaurant, dressed in a nice suit and tie, sipping a glass of water through a straw, waiting for the waiter to deliver the bread. Across from him sat Maren, a beautiful, brown-haired, twenty-year-old college girl he met at the ice cream shop. She was wearing a stunning, tight, black dress that showed just enough cleavage to leave plenty to the imagination while still letting every guy know that she had the perfect breasts he could bury his head in. It was Liam’s second real date, the first having been with a burly African American woman who turned out to be a lesbian. Liam’s hands were shaking with anxiety. He had always been awkward around girls, and despite taking notes from several of his guy friends before the date, Liam was worried he was screwing this up.
            “This…is…delicious water,” Liam stammered.
            “Tasty,” Maren sarcastically retorted, rolling her eyes, wondering to herself why she had agreed to this date.
            Liam began to wipe beads of sweat off his forehead with his napkin. This date is already beyond fucked up, he scolded himself. In between wipes of the napkin Liam thought he saw his mother sitting at the table behind Maren, like she was watching him in disapproval.
            “So, um, what do you…like, what do you like to do?”
            Maren stared at Liam in silence, unsure of how to respond.
            Liam looked down at his phone, reading the jokes he had found online for breaking the ice on a first date. Then he awkwardly uttered one of them to Maren.
            “Are you a photographer? ‘Cause I know you could picture you and me together. Right?” Liam let out an awkward, forced laugh.
            “Seriously, just stop. This is brutal,” Maren teased with a hint of frustration.
            “Sorry. Sorry. I…I just, I don’t do this a lot.”
            “It’s okay, sweetie.”
            Sweetie. Liam knew that as “the hospice word.” It meant the date was on its last leg. He was at the point of being patronized by a girl. She knew he was a loser and was about ready to walk right out of there and never call him again. In a final moment of desperation, Liam pulled something out of his suit jacket pocket and threw it on the table.
            “I’ve got a condom. And plenty of KY in my truck. You want to have sex with me?”
            Maren stared at Liam for a few moments, in startled awe. Suddenly, for the first time that night, a smile wiped across her face.
* * *
            Kieran tosses and turns, half-asleep in bed. “Stop fighting it.”
* * *
            “It’ll only make it hurt worse,” Mary chides as she smooths the heat patch on seven-year-old Liam’s sore back. The man in black peers into their living room through a nearby window, still clutching the empty stroller, but it’s a bit heavier now and one of the wheels is broken off.
            “Mom, why do you make me play soccer? I fucking hate it!”
            “Now, you watch your mouth young man or I’ll have to give you a spanking! Soccer is good for your heart. And it’ll turn you into a big, strong, strapping young man. That’s what your father would have wanted.”
            “It hurts so bad.”
            “I know, my baby. Just relax. Mommy’s gonna take real good care of you.”
            As Liam lies face down on the couch, his shirt on the coffee table, Mary begins to gently massage his twisted back. She tries to keep her eyes away from his backside, but can’t help but notice his butt’s already started to pop out. Liam begins to moan in relaxation as Mary starts to massage more deeply. Her wandering eyes glance at the Fruit of the Loom waistband peeking out above the top of his shorts. Sweat begins to drip from her brow as she massages his back even harder. Within minutes, she can’t take it anymore.
            “Wedgie!” Mary shouts, grabbing the waistband of Liam’s underwear, yanking it up high and using the opportunity to quickly slap his butt before Liam sits up, laughing innocently and yanking his underwear back from his mother’s clutches. The two engage in a tickle fight and soon they are rolling around on the floor. The man in black wants to say something, but he can’t, and he isn’t sure why.
* * *
            “What the hell is that?” I asked as I hopped out of the truck.
            “It’s a turtle. He’s hurt,” Liam responded.
            Liam had slammed on the brakes as soon as he saw the big guy crawling in the middle of the road, but didn’t manage to avoid grazing the poor fellow with the front wheels of the truck. I was surprised by how compassionate Liam seemed about a mere turtle. I would’ve just kept driving and not given it a second thought, but Liam was really bothered. It was an old turtle. Lying there on its back with its shell cracked, it looked so helpless. It was going to die soon.
I thought back to when I was a kid. We had a little puppy named Charlie. One day, while he was playing in the backyard, he found a turtle, much smaller than the one lying there in the road. Being the rambunctious little pup he was, Charlie tried to eat the turtle. He was only a few months old and I knew he could die from eating it. I had no choice but to kick the turtle so hard that it would fly across the fence and Charlie wouldn’t be able to get it. That was the first time I’d ever killed a living creature – human or animal. The first of many. But sometimes, you have to take one life to save another.
“Liam, it’s not your fault. He’s not gonna make it. We’d best put him out of his misery and keep going,” I advised.
“No. He’s an innocent, old, helpless turtle. Killing him would be wrong,” Liam insisted, much to my surprise considering what we were about to do.
I could tell I wasn’t going to win this fight. I could either take out my gun right there and shoot it, or let Liam have his way and keep going, leaving the turtle to die a slow, painful death. With almost supernatural coincidence, at that very moment I spotted a large green rattlesnake approaching. It was big enough that I knew it would eat the turtle in a matter of minutes. I figured there wasn’t much point in arguing with Liam. The turtle wasn’t dead yet, but its life was already over, and it’d be dead shortly anyway.
We got back in the truck and Liam kept driving.
* * *
            “Well, here we are,” Liam introduced his one-bedroom apartment with timid pride. “It’s kind of small, but it’s mine. I pay the rent every month by myself.”
            “You’re a big boy, aren’t you?” Maren teased. Liam was glad she seemed to be loosening up.
            “Would you like some wine?” Liam showed Maren to the fridge, where he had a half-empty bottle of cheap wine and a twelve-liter of Coke.
            “No, thanks. I’ll take the Coke. Not sure I feel like losing control of my senses tonight.”
            Liam was growing desperate to turn this night around. He thought back to what his friend Ryan had told him that afternoon. Girls want an aggressive guy who takes control, not a cuck, Ryan had advised. Finally, Liam realized what he had to. He grabbed Maren, who was already walking toward the couch to turn on the TV, by the hand and spun her around.
            “Young lady, you’re going to take a sip of that wine and you’re going to like it.”
            Maren grinned mischievously. Much to her own surprise, she was feeling aroused. It wasn’t long before the two were buzzed and Maren was lying face down on Liam’s bed.
* * *
            It’s storming out. The thunder is so boisterous it would usually awaken Kieran, a rather light sleeper, but not tonight.
            “Keep me safe all through the night,” a frazzled, dreaming Kieran mumbles.
* * *
            “Amen,” Mary and Liam conclude their daily devotion and prayer in unison.
            “Now, Liam, that’s why you must never have sex until you’re married or Jesus will turn the rain into dead frogs and take you away from me,” Mary warns her ten-year-old son.
            “I thought Jesus loves me more than anyone in the world.”
            “Well, he does love you. But not more than me. And not too much to punish you if you are bad, just as I often have to.” Mary looks at the clock on the wall and gasps. “Oh, dear! It’s past two o’clock! I have to take my baby out of the windowsill.”
She races to grab a plant from the windowsill, where it is basking in the sunshine. She snatches the plant and closes the curtain. It’s a stunning little plant in a small pink flower pot. Shaped like a bird with five neat yellow pedals coming out of it that look like the bird’s beak and wings and vibrant green leaves that look like its feathers, this is nearly Mary’s greatest pride and joy – second only to her son. Its beauty stuns the man in black, who goes unnoticed despite watching the couple from a mere few feet away inside the house, the stroller still by his side.
            “You see this, dear? It’s one of the rarest plants in the world,” Mary explains as she places the plant in a dark closet and closes the door. “It’s called a bird of paradise. It’s quite expensive and almost impossible to come by. But it’s among the most valuable, special plants in the world. And it’s very tender and delicate. It requires lots of extra care, or else it’ll wilt away and die. It can only be exposed to sunlight for two hours a day.”
            “Am I your bird of paradise, mommy?”
            “Yes, you are, my sweet little baby. You and this plant are all I have in life. I have to take extra special care of you or else I’ll lose you. That’s why you may not always understand everything I do, but it’s always for your own good. There’s evil in the world, and I’m going to protect you from it.”
            A sentimental tear rolls down Mary’s eye as she approaches her son, still sitting at the table clutching the Bible. Suddenly, Liam experiences a strange tingling sensation and looks down.
            “Mommy, what’s going on?”
            Mary sits beside him at the table and puts her hand on his thigh. She chuckles.
            “Don’t worry. That just means you’re happy. Very happy. It’s perfectly normal. And it means you care about your mommy a lot.”
            As Mary begins to run her hand up Liam’s thigh, the man in black becomes mortified. He tries to lift the stroller beside him. It’s even heavier than before. He is barely able to hum it into a nearby window, which shatters open. Mary and Liam are preoccupied and unfazed by the noise. The man in black knows he is a worthless coward, but does not care as he races out of the house and doesn’t look back, abandoning the stroller in his hurry.
* * *
            “We’re almost there,” Liam assured me. It seemed like we had been driving for hours, but when I looked at my phone I realized we’d just gotten on the road fifty-five minutes ago.
            “You feeling okay?” I asked, noticing that Liam had become paler since we started the drive. I had barely seen him blink the past ten minutes. His hands were shaking and he had goosebumps on his arms. The truck had begun to jerk left and right. We had almost run off the road twice. He seemed nervous.
            “Yeah. Just…just ready to get this done.”
            “Liam, you know you don’t have to go through with this if you change your mind.”
            “No. We’re doing this. Tonight’s the night I free myself. My old life ends tonight.”
            “It’s gonna be dangerous...”
I stopped myself before calling him “kid” even though he was twenty years younger than me. Anyone who had been through all that he had told me about during our ride, who had that look in his eyes, was not a “kid” by any meaning of the word.
            “I don’t intend to die tonight.”
            “Neither do I.”
            I wondered what the rattlesnake was doing just then.
* * *
            Liam was suddenly feeling confident in himself and his sexuality. He kissed every inch of Maren’s perfectly sculpted body. She began to lose all feeling as he slowly licked her smooth butt and vagina, and Maren asked herself whether he was really a virgin like he claimed to be.
“Are you ready for me to fuck your brains out?” Liam whispered sensually in Maren’s ear. Despite feeling barely mobile, Maren managed to nod her head submissively.
As Liam lubricated both himself and the woman lying at his knees and held Maren’s hand as she slid the condom on, Liam felt more masculine than he ever had before in his life. He flipped Maren on her back and propped her legs up on his shoulders, ready to pop his cherry with one of the most beautiful girls he’d ever seen. Maren closed her eyes, eagerly anticipating how it would feel to have Liam’s manhood lodged inside her, wondering just how deep and how fast he would go.
Just before Liam moved on Maren, his ears began to ring loudly, giving him brief pause. Was it the wine? Was it his nerves? Then his vision began to blur and the room seemed to spin as the ringing slowly turned into a more distinct sound: the voice of his mother.
“Liam...Liam…Liam! Listen to me, baby. It’s Mommy.”
Liam tried to ignore the hallucinations and proceeded to penetrate Maren. As he slowly started to move in and out, he looked at the beautiful girl’s face to try to distract himself, and for a moment it worked. Mary’s voice started to fade into Maren’s earth-shattering moans and groans. She was quite a screamer.
“Oh, God! Liam! Jesus Christ! Ahhh!”
Liam only felt at ease for a mere minute before Maren’s face seemed to morph right before his eyes into the face of his mother. Mary looked like she was in a state of immeasurable ecstasy. Her eyes were closed, her eyebrows scrunched together, her mouth wide open. Then even Maren’s moans transformed into the sexually pleased moans of a middle-aged woman who hadn’t been satisfied in decades. It was suddenly like Mary was the woman Liam was having sex with. Lying there at her son’s knees, her legs resting upon his shoulders, Mary wasn’t just enjoying it. It was giving her new life.
“That’s it! Oh, yes! Yes! Make Mommy happy!” Mary moaned.
Liam began to sweat. He imagined the naked body of the woman who had raised him, his own erect manhood deep inside of it. Her skin was wrinkled. Her bosom sagged. The skin from her stomach to her vagina was stretched out from three pregnancies, two of which had ended in stillbirth. Her thighs were plump and bruised. Varicose veins bulged from her ankles, which almost touched Liam’s ears. Liam felt his arousal start to drop and his erection soften. He tried to picture himself back at the restaurant with Maren. That tight black dress she was wearing. Those breasts. But suddenly, Maren was no longer at the restaurant. Sitting right across from Liam at the table was his own mother, wearing the same revealing black dress Maren was wearing, and she wasn’t happy.
“What’s the matter, Liam? Weren’t you having fun with Mommy? Why do you need this other girl? Am I too old? Too worn and haggard? I gave up my beautiful, fit body to give birth to you!”
Liam quickly shifted his thoughts back to his bedroom. He close his eyes tightly, but he still couldn’t get the sound of his mother’s moans out of his head, or the image of his own mother, the woman whose bosom he sucked dry daily for the first two years of his life, lying on the bed, completely naked, receiving Liam’s erect penis, her lips and eyes twitching uncontrollably. Liam began to feel desperately ill. He slapped himself and opened his eyes, hoping to see the ecstatic face of the first girl he had ever satisfied, but all he could see was his own mother. As Liam gasped fearfully, his mother’s facial expressions quickly shifted from supreme joy to anger and frustration.
“What’s wrong, Liam? Am I not good enough for you? All I’ve done for you, and you go and sell me out for some filthy tramp! Is she that much better than me?”
“No, no, Mom. It’s not like that.”
“You can’t lie to Jesus. He knows what you’re thinking. And I know what you’re thinking. We know every last sinful thought that goes through your brain!”
“No!” Liam shouted and took a leap back from the bed.
Now that he had removed himself from Maren’s body, Liam had hoped to see her face return, but instead his vision began to blur entirely. He began to hear frogs croaking. Liam grabbed his robe and ran out of the apartment. Maren’s confused shouts to him were no more than a dull ringing sound in the back of Liam’s mind.
* * *
            Boom! Kieran’s entire house shakes as it is hit by lightning. Kieran is still sleeping, curled up under the blankets, now in a state of panic.
            “I can’t sleep.”
* * *
            “I’m scared, Mom,” eleven-year-old Liam moans. “Of the storm.”
It’s one in the morning and a nasty storm has been underway for hours. Liam has run to his mom’s room for comfort. The bird of paradise is perched on Mary’s nightstand. A groggy Mary pulls the sleep mask off of her eyes.
            “Liam, it’s nothing to be scared of. Go back to bed. You’ll be fine.”
            “Can I sleep with you, Mommy? Please?”
            “Liam, at your age you should be sleeping in your own bed. It’s really not good for you to be sleeping with me.”
            Liam beckons to the plant on his mom’s nightstand. “Why does the bird get to sleep with you? Is it more special than me?”
            Mary pauses, unsure of what to say. After a few moments, she sighs. The one thing she loves more than her plant is her son.
            “All right, Liam. You can sleep in my bed. But you’ll have to take off all of your clothes. Or else you’ll sweat in here.”
            As the young, vulnerable little boy strips entirely naked and climbs into bed with his mother, the man in black listens from under the bed. The stroller is gone. He knows what is about to happen, and he deeply regrets it already. But he understands why he can’t do anything about it now. This has already happened. There’s no way to rewrite history. Liam’s childhood didn’t always have to be like this, but now it’s irreversible. All the man in black can do is lie there and listen to the moans and groans emitted from the bed, as helpless a bystander as himself.
* * *
            “My god! This place has gone to hell!”
Liam seemed shocked by the condition he found his childhood home in. It had been over three years since he’d graduated high school and moved in with his uncle and he hadn’t seen the place since. The wooden fence had decayed. There was debris – mostly beer cans and cigarette butts – all over the front yard. The grass was overgrown. The plants had wilted. The shingles were coming off and the windows were cracked. There were so many different coats of faded paint on the house I couldn’t tell which color it was supposed to be. We parked a good distance away from the home, hiding the truck under some overgrown trees. Dressed in all black, we hopped out of the truck. I reached for my gun, but Liam stopped me. He handed me a knife instead.
“We’re going to do this as humanely as possible.”
As we quietly stalked up the driveway in the dead of the night, I realized that by taking one life, Liam felt he was restoring another. But he was wrong.
“All right, I’ll show you to the bedroom. Then, as efficiently and quietly as possible, I want you to kill my mother, with a single stab of this blade. And then you’ll get the other half of the money, Kieran.”
* * *
            Liam dashed out of his apartment in his bathrobe. He was hallucinating uncontrollably. He saw dead frogs raining down from the sky. He was soaking wet, or at least he thought he was, and he couldn’t tell whether it was rain or blood that he was soaked in. His mother’s voice seemed to bolster from the sky like thunder. He saw her face in the clouds. She had tears rolling down her eyes.
            “Liam, I tried so hard to help you. I warned you. I told you what God would do to you if you broke his rules. I tried to steer you down the right path, because I knew how tender and delicate you were and how much care you needed. You could’ve been my bird of paradise forever. But it’s too late now. You’ve broken our special bond. I can no longer help you. I’m sorry.”
            More dead frogs, along with blood, seemed to pour endlessly from the sky. Liam stripped himself of the robe, tossed it aside, and fell to his knees, fully naked like Adam and Eve after eating the poison apples. He folded his hands and begged his mother for forgiveness.
“I’m sorry, Mom. I’m so sorry! Please don’t leave me!”
Liam’s desperate shouts soon started to sound like the hopeless sobs of a five-year-old boy who had fallen off his bicycle and scraped his knee. His mother’s sad face in the clouds faded away, leaving Liam all alone in his tears of shame.
* * *
            “Don’t go, don’t go,” moans Kieran in his sleep. The storm has begun to subside.
* * *
            “But Mom, it’s the fucking junior prom. I’m not your little boy anymore. You can’t do this to me,” Liam, dressed in a nice tuxedo that his father wore to his high school prom, shouts at his mother.
            Mary slaps Liam viciously across the face. “Don’t you ever talk to me that way! I’m your mother. After all I’ve done for you, after all we’ve been through, you can’t just walk out on me like this!”
            “Mom! You don’t understand. All the other guys are---”
            “God damn all the other guys. They’re all tramps and whores who will burn in Hell. You’re not like them and you know it. I raised you to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
            “Please. Please, Mom. It’s…I…I met someone.”
            Mary’s mouth drops open in betrayed shock. After moments of dead silence, she manages to utter a few words.
            “Liam, how…how…could you?”
            “Mom, it’s not what you think.”
            “Did the two of you---”
            “No, mom. We haven’t had sex. She’s…she’s just a nice girl in my algebra class. She asked me to take her out. We’re just friends and no one else asked her and she wanted someone to just drive her there and give her a good time.”
             “Liam, do the past seventeen years of your life, of our life, have any meaning to you anymore? What about all this? All that we have! This beautiful house. All the food, video games, anything you could ever want. The relationship we’ve shared. Do you not realize how privileged you are? And you want to throw it away for some girl? She means nothing to you. I took care of you. I gave you everything you needed to grow into the perfect young man. And she wants to take it away from you. Remember what I told you when you were a little boy, Liam? There’s evil all around us. And I’m the only one who can protect you from it. She’ll tempt you. All girls will. I promise you. You will do something you’ll regret. And you’ll try to lie to me. But I’ll know the truth. You know how? Because you won’t be able to look me in the eyes anymore. Our special bond…It will all be ruined. Don’t walk out that door, Liam. Don’t do it, or everything we’ve ever had will be history.”
             “Watch me,” Liam taunts as he grabs his coat and walks to the door.
However, the seventeen-year-old boy stops short of leaving the house, seeming to freeze completely on the door mat. He pauses, thinks about what his mother has said, and realizes he can’t do it. He’s a prisoner to his mother. He needs her. A defeated Liam hangs his head down and turns back to his mother.
            “You win.”
* * *
            As we crept up the stairs to the bedroom of Liam’s mother, I thought about my life. Where would I be if I had gone to college instead of taking that job at my friend’s uncle’s strip club? I wished for the first time in my life that I had had decent parents to steer me in the right direction. I wished someone, anyone, had been there to tell me to get some help to quit drugs. Then I wouldn’t have gotten into debt, and I wouldn’t have been forced to become a freelance killer to pay off the bills. The loan shark wouldn’t have killed my girlfriend. Delilah would still be here. I could be married, have a couple kids and a happy family. Maybe everything would’ve been different if I hadn’t gone down that road so many years ago.
But I knew there was nothing I could do to change the past. Just like there was nothing I could do to change Liam’s past. I suddenly felt so powerless for the first time since I had become an assassin for hire. I wished more than anything that I could have saved that little five-year-old boy on the sidewalk. But I was as helpless as the man in black with the empty stroller. And suddenly I felt the weight of that stroller on my shoulders.
As we sneaked into the bedroom where Liam’s mother slept, I was shocked to see what looked like a woman who couldn’t hurt a fly. She was petite and frail, sleeping peacefully on her side, holding the Bible in one arm. But I’ve seen nicer-looking people do much worse. I prepared to kill her with one clean stab, but Liam stopped me.
“Wait,” he whispered, “I’ll do it.”
 I handed Liam the knife. He paused for a moment, closed his eyes, breathed in and out a few times, and slowly held the knife to his mother’s chest. He lifted the knife in the air, but froze when he caught sight of something on her nightstand.
“The…the bird,” Liam muttered. “She still has it. The bird of paradise.”
Suddenly Liam broke down. He dropped the knife to the floor and fell to his knees beside his mother’s bed, his eyes watering.
“It was supposed to be me. I was supposed to be your bird. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Mommy. I love you. I really do. I swear I do,” he sobbed remorsefully. Mary remained in a deep sleep, not even stirring once despite the noise.
I suddenly saw myself in that pitiful man sobbing on the floor, begging his mother for forgiveness. And finally I understood what Liam knew to be true but had refused to admit to himself. There was no way he would ever be the same. He couldn’t end this chapter in his life simply by killing the woman responsible for his plight. He’d become bitter, consumed by vengeance and guilt. He’d still struggle to grapple with his old memories and repressed emotions as long as he lived. He’d live the rest of his life in misery while his mother rested in peace.
As Liam fell on his back, crying uncontrollably, I saw in his eyes the confused little boy who still wasn’t quite sure why the one person he trusted more than himself touched him that way. Although I was unable to help the prepubescent Liam whose mother stole his innocence all those years ago, I wasn’t powerless. I could end Liam’s suffering. But there was only one way to do it.
I picked up the knife on the floor, and without hesitation slit Liam’s throat. He barely had time to understand what had happened before he was lying dead on the floor in a pool of blood. As I stared over his lifeless body, I whispered to him.
“Life is a penance. Death is a privilege that you, my friend, have earned.”
Indeed, life is a penance for all of us. We live out our lives, trying to do as much good as we can, and death is the reward we are given at the end. Liam had earned his ticket long ago. Mary, who would awaken to find the boy she’d abused for eighteen years lying dead beside her, would finally begin her penance, as she’d be forced to live with the guilt of what she’d done to her now dead son for the rest of her life. Did I have the right to make the decision to end Liam’s life for him? Probably not. But I made the decision nonetheless, and if his ghost were able to talk to me, he’d say that it was the right decision. Besides, I thought to myself as I sneaked out of the house, even though Liam hadn’t died until I slit his throat, his life had ended long ago.
Liam was the last living being – human or animal – I would ever kill.


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