Filthy Crown by Eleanor Aldrick


“Don’t watch.” Mom’s strangled sob cuts through the haze as our eyes meet through a sea of despair.

I can’t do it. I can’t look away.

She’s bound, kneeling before us with one of our captors holding her head upher face contorting as his meaty fingers grip tightly onto her hair.

The scene unfolding before me is one you’d expect from a horror movie, not real life. I take it all in, wondering how in the hell we got here. How did a family vacation turn into something so dark?

My stepfather’s body is lying next to mom’s. His head missing, nowhere to be found. Time stands still as I watch the pool of crimson, and for a second I wonder if this is all just a dream, a nightmare I can’t wake from.

As if in answer, the sting of pain brings me back to the present, making me suck in a sharp breath. Looking down, I see tiny fingers digging into my arm, reminding me that this is all too real.

“Momma!” My sister’s voice cracks, just like my soul.

“Please.” Our mother’s eyes dart between the three of us, begging us to look away. “Pen, take care of my babies.”

A lump lodges itself in my throat with the realization that Mom won’t be there to make it better in the end. She’s leaving us and the only thing I can do is give her this.

In that moment, I vow to do whatever it takes to get us out of this hellhole. It’s up to me to save us from her fate.

“I promise, Momma.” I jerk my head in a nod, tucking both my little brother and sister into my chest, pressing their little faces into me.

They miss the thug’s machete as it comes down on our mother’s neck, her eyes losing their light as soon as the blade connects with her body. In that moment I know, the sound of metal connecting with bone will forever be the prelude to my desolation.

As if in slow motion, Mom’s head falls with a heavy thud. I should look away, but I can’t. I’m transfixed by the horror, and my only tether to reality is the deep ache settling in my chest.

In complete contrast, the killer lets our mother drop to the floor, unaffected by his actions. His face devoid of emotion as he walks past the desecrated bodies of our parents, not even sparing us a glance as he leaves.

This can’t be real. This can’t be happening.

The fresh smell of copper creeps its way up my nose and I do my best not to gag at the vision before me.

This is very real. This is definitely happening.

“Shh. Don’t look. Everything’s going to be okay,” I whisper to my brother and sister, my arms gripping tightly around their little bodies.

Even as I utter the words, I doubt their truth, but it’s all I can offer. Words and a comforting embrace.

We have to get out of here.

My fingers stroke their greasy hair as I push us back toward the nearest wall, needing to get us as far from the horror show lying not two feet away.

Alex whimpers and I see that he’s turned his head, his eyes locked onto our parents’ lifeless bodies.

Damn it. I told him not to look.

Quickly pressing a hand to his eyes, I turn him toward me. No child should have to see their decapitated parents lying in a pool of their own blood.

I’m about to utter false words of hope when a thud outside has my grip tightening. I knowwe’re running out of time. My mind races with ways of escaping whatever lies beyond that door, because deep in my bones, I know we won’t last another night.

It’s been a long week of starvation and beatings, ending with the death of our parents. There’s no doubt we’re next, and I can’t let that happen.

Over my dead body.

A quick glance ahead lets me know… that just might be my future.

The door creaks open and my eyes focus on a man wearing full tactical gear. In all black, he looks like a dark angel and nothing like the men that have held us captive for far too long. What’s he doing here?

He doesn’t look like he wants to hurt us, but based on the fury rolling off of him in waves, I can tell he’s capable of murder. With a string of curse words under his breath, the man finally turns, crouching in front of us.

“Hey, I’m Hudson,” he whispers, holding both palms up. “I know this has been really hard for you, but we need to get you out of here before the bad guys return. You don’t know me, but your uncle asked me and my friends to bring you home. Everything is going to be okay now.”

I rear my head back, knowing that his words are the farthest thing from the truth. Things will never be okay again.

For fuck’s sake, we just witnessed our mother lose her head next to Austin’s lifeless body.

No. Things will never be okay.

Those words are just the same bullshit line I fed my little brother and sister. Only uttered to keep them calm.

“Look, the longer we stay here, the more dangerous it becomes for you. The men who did this...” he pauses, nodding toward the door behind him. “They’ll be coming back any minute and we need to not be here when they do.”

He’s right. We need to get out of here, and fast. I lost track of how many armed goons came in and out of this room. Who’s to say they don’t have the numbers to stop our cavalry.

Closing my eyes, I take in a centering breath. I can do this. Even though I’m weary of any and all men, I’ll be damned if I let my apprehension keep us from escaping.

Sending up a prayer, I hope that by some miracle, one of my uncles sent this man. My stomach churns as I quickly glance back at our mom. It’s either trust him or end up being next.

Finally gathering the courage, I let him pull us up to standing.

“Okay. Stay behind me. My friends will help us get out of the compound, but we have to be fast and quiet. Can you do that for me?”

I give him a quick nod and grab a hold of Alex and Amanda’s little hands, pulling them against me on either side.

This is it.

We either make it out of here alive… or we don’t.