Home > Vicious Cycle (Vicious Cycle #1)

Vicious Cycle (Vicious Cycle #1)
Author: Katie Ashley

Bouncing her legs on the worn leather couch, Willow happily followed along with Dora as she took off exploring. No matter where the cartoon went, it was always better than the run-down apartment building where Willow lived. At the sound of splintering glass shards crashing across the kitchen floor, Willow abandoned Dora’s world, tucked her ratty teddy bear under her arm, and hightailed it out of the living room. Although she was only five, she knew all too well what was to come after the angry voices and the throwing things began. She had learned to read the signs, and sadly, she was never wrong. There weren’t many places of refuge in the tiny apartment where she and her mommy lived. But there was one place she could always count on to ride out the violent storms.

To other kids her age, the dark recesses under the bed were a frightening place. But for Willow, the known horror that often surrounded her was far less scary than the unknown. Lifting up the faded blue and white patchwork quilt, she crawled across the dingy carpet and underneath the ratty mattress that smelled like smoke and pee. Dust bunnies clung to her clothes, clouding her lungs and making it difficult to breathe.

Once she settled in, she pinched her eyes shut and imagined herself miles and miles away. Whenever she was scared, she went to be with her Angel Mommy. In Angel Mommy’s world, everything was happy, beautiful, and pure. Rainbows stretched across the sky over castles filled with unicorns. But the best part of all was Angel Mommy herself. Angel Mommy never drank too much out of the bottles with dark liquid that made her real mommy angry and then sad. Angel Mommy never had boyfriends who yelled at Willow or smacked her in the face or on the bottom. For Angel Mommy, Willow was her whole world—the only focus of her love and attention. They would play for hours and hours, running along the grassy meadow or playing hide-and-seek in one of the castles on the hillside.

She’d first begun to dream of Angel Mommy two years before at Christmastime. After her real mommy had drunk from the bad bottles and Mommy’s boyfriend had stuck himself with the scary needle, they’d started yelling at each other. Cowering on the couch, Willow had tried to hide behind the pillows. As Mommy and her boyfriend’s voices rose louder and louder, they began to push and shove each other. When Mommy tripped over one of Willow’s shoes, she lost her balance and fell into the small Christmas tree in the corner. Ornaments had broken and scattered along the floor.

After Mommy had screamed at Willow and thrown the offending shoe, hitting her in the face, Willow had tried to pick up the mess to make Mommy less mad. An angel in a long white robe was the only thing that hadn’t broken. It had soft, dark hair that she could stroke like one of her dolls, and it also had soothing brown eyes that gave Willow the reassurance she so desperately needed. Willow hadn’t let Mommy see that she kept the angel. And that very day, Willow named her Angel Mommy and always kept the ornament close to her side.

Under the bed, she let her hand creep down to her shorts pocket where Angel Mommy waited to give her comfort. Willow stroked the doll’s hair as the yelling in the living room grew louder. Just as she was about to plug her ears with her fingers, there was the bang of the front door blowing open and hitting the wall, like when Mommy’s boyfriend came home angry. More voices now. More yelling. More broken glass. It sounded like the living room was being torn apart.

Mommy was begging someone with a voice that Willow wasn’t used to. It rang with fear, and it was usually Willow who was afraid, not Mommy. Thump, thump, thump. Willow’s body began to shake so hard at the sound her teeth clattered. She tried to figure out what was making the noise. Was it pounding boots? Mommy didn’t like when Willow’s shoes made loud noises. Her now-clammy hands went to swipe at her runny nose. Holding her breath, she prayed to Angel Mommy that the man in the boots wouldn’t find her. But even as she was saying the words over and over in her head, the scary person came inside her bedroom. She could tell right away from the size of his feet that it was a man. He headed to the closet. Clothes and toys began to litter the floor as he went through her possessions as if he were looking for something in particular.

Then he went over to her chest of drawers. One by one, he pulled the drawers out and tossed them to the floor. When one landed a little too close to her, she jumped and hit her head against the mattress, which made her let out a squeak. The small noise caused the man to freeze.

Willow’s heart began to beat wildly, and she felt like she couldn’t breathe. As she tried burrowing further underneath the bed, the mattress covering her was ripped away. With a scream, she stared up at a man who was a vision out of her worst nightmares—long, stringy black hair, an angry red scar that ran down his face and onto his neck, and a patch over one of his eyes. Willow pinched her eyes shut with fear. Please, please, help me, Angel Mommy!

But then Big Booted Man snatched her up and hoisted her over his shoulder. She could barely breathe, least of all cry out or scream. It was as if her voice had been snatched away the moment her precious hiding place had been invaded. Her body trembled with fear as he marched out of her bedroom and into the living room. He tossed her about like a mistreated baby doll. When they finally came to a stop, he jerked her around to where she was facing away from his chest. His arm was wrapped tightly around her waist, binding her to him.

Her voice momentarily returned at the horrific sight before her. “Mommy!” she cried. Mommy and her boyfriend, Jamey, were tied with rope to two chairs from the kitchen table. Jamey stared at her with the same aggravation he always had. But Mommy wasn’t talking or looking at her. Blood trickled out of her nose and mouth; her head hung limp. When she didn’t respond, Willow kicked at Big Booted Man to try to get away. “Mommy!” she shrieked.

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