Wil A. Emerson WHo, Where, How, When

Wil A. Emerson: Who, Where, How, When

Excerpt from
Diminishing Returns

Coming soon from Wil A. Emerson


Eiffel Tower, Paris, France (Photo: Laurie Firth)       A vacation in Paris ends unexpectedly when two friends are abducted and held for ransom. On return to the U.S., Leslie shakes off the harrowing ordeal and returns to a routine life with her family. Carolyn, however, is being treated for PSTD and struggles with recovery in a Michigan mental facility. Before Carolyn trusts again, she must reconcile who’s to blame for the brutal abuse rendered by the captors.

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“In my Dark Corner”

       On a starry Thursday evening, September 15, 2011, my best friend and I enjoyed a pleasant dinner in the heart of Paris. The outdoor eating area of the small restaurant overlooked the Seine River and the window view provided a magnificent reflection of the Eiffel Tower. The famed icon, not more than a block away, was ablaze with thousands of white lights. Sightseers by the hundreds stood with their heads turned upward, gazing at the towering structure. Why not be enamored by the City of Light?

       Le Clos des Gourmets, an expensive restaurant by American standards, had been recommended by our concierge and with a sweep of charm and wit, guaranteed we would feel the very heartbeat of Paris as we dined amongst residents of the area. Trust not being an issue, we let him make the reservation and discovered it to be too loud and cramped for fine dining. The entrées were not perfect but, the blend of international wide-eyed tourists and expressive, cheerful people made the experience worth all the grandiose build up.

       We were stimulated by more than just the ambience. Our spirits were heightened because we had achieved our goal. Two empty-nester girlfriends together in the most enchanting city in Europe.

       Leslie Duncan, friend for more than fifteen years, looked more beautiful than ever. My glow, I’d humbly admit, would have netted me a close second. We were happy then as we sipped a glass of expensive Bordeaux and talked about our selfish adventure and how much we’d gain by exploring France without our husbands. No compromise over which museum to skip, no groans about too much art. Delicious red wine—freedom, selfish indulgence, more promise than ever imagined.

       On the return home, our husbands would welcome us with wide arms and then delight vicariously in this whimsical venture.

       However, spirits collided with reality and all too soon Leslie and I clung to each other by a thin thread of hope. Events led to altered dreams. Souls shattered, but yet not broken. Death imminent.

       I, alone, slipped into utter darkness, an abyss so profoundly unreal the struggle to maintain sanity lingers five years later. I shudder frequently. My laughter is often cruel and tears fall unexpectedly.

       Leslie’s unwarranted scars rest beneath sinew, but not far from her heart. Her dignity is intact. She has become an idol, the image of strength, even though we are more distant than ever. The terrible event that kept us captive to the whims of violent men fractured our friendship in a manner that inhibits general conversation. It was no laughing matter. Not one to chat about over Sunday brunch.

       We do, however, continue to work together. To diligently derail, if not to forget, the long period of seclusion that defied all sense of humanity. This work effort comes from the need to avoid the extreme emotions that ride sidesaddle with memories of that dire time when we were lost to the world. Images have faded, like chalk dusted off a blackboard, but jagged lines and shadows linger.


       After a long, isolated period in an exclusive mental facility in southern Michigan, I’m well enough to unleash in writing those first few weeks of a once in a lifetime adventure that altered the essence of my well-being. Intended as a purge, like an antiseptic rinse, the ultimate goal of my story is to flush out the flashbacks, those that lull in an unconscious mist, and reduce them to nonthreatening facts.

       This notebook serves as an attempt to close the margins of serious wounds.

       The fact is, on the journey back to the U.S., where freedom reigned, I turned those distasteful dreams into a slow simmer of self-abuse. They grew into grueling nightmares. Hot and destructive on the surface, I buried them deep and let them burn into the images I had of my family: husband, daughter, son. The people I had once loved were rebuked by my charred soul.

       This catharsis, the story, is meant to wash away the total disdain I wrapped myself in. The plan is for the dirty memories to dissolve, dissipate, like sewer water swirling down a drain.

       The beginning comes in an unlikely fashion. Long after the event but as vivid as a threatening purple sky. Sick beyond imagination, I scribbled the causative events on note paper then hid them in a drawer so no one would know the secrets I bore. On better days, I wrote in a frenzy, hour after hour. Scanned what I wrote and then crumbled the sheets of paper in my hands. The floor of my room was often cluttered with endless amounts of wrinkled pages. The abduction had taken me beyond lucid consciousness, unable to understand why I made certain decisions.

       During therapy, medication and endless hours of darkness, when days and nights of terror were intermingled and at full throttle, I closed my eyes to a world that could be and slept in a coma-like state of nothingness. In purposeful solitude and self-hatred in high gear, I retreated in a place where tireless sentinels, mental health aides, nurses and one special doctor, stood on constant watch.

       After my release from the hospital, those weeks of captivity are still vivid but I manage their significance and finally acknowledge the cause of my mental illness. The sordid tastes from those days linger but can’t cut through my soul any longer.

       So I start with the hard part, even though it’s been written after my release. Pages written in the dark days will evolve to fill in loopholes. Leslie looks over my shoulder and assures me this tell-all is wise and just. Then she and I intend to part, walk away from the subtle, lingering debris and embrace new lives.

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       Leslie’s dark eyes bulged over her red swollen cheeks. Gray tape, wrapped tightly, cut into her flesh and created a cartoon-like image of hyper-wide eyes. Gone were the round sharp orbits and her gaze was hauntingly translucent. Taped again and again, the strips dug into her cheeks and inflammation flared like a balloon ready to burst. Her lifeless body looked pale, ghostly. Terror hid itself deep within, beyond the taut lines of her bound body and disheveled hair, behind the bruises and raw abrasions. The effect was more than surreal. The aroma of undignified horror permeated the air. Odors that sprang from unimaginable fears hoovered around us. Our senses, our nostrils full of circumstances beyond our control. Utter shame mixed with incredulity. Two desperate women imprisoned on foreign soil.

       My pulsing heart had finally settled to a normal rate. The lub-dub less thunderous. However, other manifestations of the attack lingered. Visual and sensory reminders came at me, darts with sharpened points. Fractionated streaks of lightening, highlighting the degradation, raced across my brain like a meteorite storm. Urine spilled over my thighs. Yet, I welcomed the minor relief as a full bladder no longer irritated tender nerve endings. The least of my concern was to sit in my own stench even though an acidic burn on fragile tissue couldn’t easily be dismissed.

       The uniformed captors, in black twill pants and black long sleeved shirts had duct-taped my arms and legs to a chair not long after the initial introduction to the reality of our kidnapping. Pain riveted through bones and muscles now, nerves fired on auto pilot as a result of the prolonged contracted angle of my extremities. I sighed through my nose, instinctively to gain a reprieve, and then exhaled. I gazed in Leslie’s direction and saw a slight movement of my friend’s back. Then her arm. Just ever so slight, more like a fine tremor. It could only be an anatomical reflex, an oxygen release in her chest. And yet?.

       Leslie, definitely in far worse shape than I, had been subjected to a horrendous beating. Please, please let her be alive. I hoped, prayed, that Leslie had taken a shallow breath by her own will. If there were one, there would be another. But I wouldn’t encourage her, could not utter a sound. Fear of another attack prevented communication. If she were still alive, she wouldn’t endure another assault.

       Her gray linen slacks had been pulled away to expose her body. Blue lace panties, cut away by a knife, were stuffed in her mouth. One pant leg remained attached to the waistband that dangled at her side. Blood, not only caked in her hair, ran down in streaks across the side of her face and trailed over the remnants of her underwear and the gray tape.

       At the beginning of the ordeal, when they lead us to the room where we would remain for several weeks, Leslie’s arms were drawn and taped at her back. Then inside the dank, musty area one of the abductors drew a large knife from his belt, cut and unleashed her arms and cut away at her clothes. They pushed me into a chair and duct taped me to it, positioned so I could witness the first attack on my friend.

       I closed my eyes. A fist jolted my cheek and my head rocked back.

       “Open, open!” The man shouted and pushed my chin up, grabbed a handful of hair and held my head straight. There would be no mistake as to who wielded power here; who would control every aspect of our existence. The message all too clear.

       I would watch every blow, every thrust and every degrading insult or be beaten to death.

       An hour or more later, with tape over her mouth and cheeks, I could barely recognize Leslie. One visible eyelid, a dark line smudged above a bloated cheek. I muttered another prayer for her to wake up. If she rolled toward me, I could assess the damage. Could determine if her fate had been sealed by this long encounter. Know if the struggle on foreign soil would be mine alone. If we made eye contact, I would cope better. Selfishly, I needed her. But my gut said the beating had been too much to endure.

       I gazed at her fractured face and wondered if mine showed the same horror. Did these eyes project the same fear? Was that why my stomach wrenched, choked my lungs, made my heart feel like it had ruptured? Had my blue eyes turned black or red? Were they empty shells, blinded by angry men who took turns to induce a physical punishment no woman should ever endure?

       Carolyn Marie Hayes, 43 years, mother of two, wife of the successful, straight forward, unbending Warren Hayes? Was I still a Midwest suburbanite, who thrived in prosperous America, who went on a carefree vacation to prove she was free to do as she pleased? And then I asked why we were being defiled. How could this happen to two women who had no intention of doing harm. Why?

       A silent, howling rage exploded from the stranger taped to the chair.


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Author photo courtesy of the Pioneer Group .
Excerpts © Copyright 2018, Wil A. Emerson. All Rights Reserved.
"Eiffel Tower" photo © Copyright 2015, Laurie Firth. All Rights Reserved; used by permission

Website design © Copyright 2011, Michelle Crean, Hook & Web Designs. All Rights Reserved.