By Nightfall

They say God laughs at you when you make plans. Which is ain't so bad, really, when you think about it.

Because at least someone cares enough to pay attention.

By Nightfall by Mike Loniewski

She stood at the bathroom mirror that was flecked with dried spit. Through the streaks of grime, and lit by harsh light, Crystal could see the map of purple and black that seeped under her swollen jaw. She stared coldly at herself, wrinkling her young face to feel the dry pain of the bruising. She slipped her tongue over her lip, tasting the saltiness of the wound and crooked her body to one side to feel the nob of pain in her ribs. She needed the conformation.

Crystal grabbed her daughter’s Dora toothbrush out of the stained sink and walked into the cluttered living room where her night bag had been packed. She stuffed the toothbrush inside, along with pajamas and underwear, sweatpants and socks, T-shirts of kittens and cupcakes. She zipped the bag tight, the sides stretching at the seams.
When she went into the bedroom, Tim was lying face down in the yellowed sheets, the bristles of his wiry back hair rising and falling with each drunken breath. Crystal pulled the space heater over to the edge of the bed, dangerously close to the dangling sheets.

In her daughter’s bedroom, Makayla was sound asleep, dreaming of puppies or candy or soft teddy bears. Crystal remembered those kinds of dreams. She slipped her hands under Makayla, trying her best not to wake her. The girl stirred in her arms.

“Mommy?” she asked in a soft panic.
“Shhh. You’ll wake the Sandman.”
Makayla squeezed her eyes shut and held tightly onto her mother. 
Through the rusted storm door they walked into the biting cold of night, their breath wreathing around them like halos. The cold gouged a dull pain into Crystal’s hands, the hands that had blocked her husband’s punches. 
She froze when she saw the figure in black. Robbie. He stepped out of the shadows, a young man, tall and slender. He stared at her battered face with broken eyes, his lips pursed. She swallowed her heartache and shook her head. He could hold her when it was done.
“There’s a lighter by the dresser,” she said.
Crystal moved to the dented, sky blue Corolla that sat next to a rusted pickup. She placed Makayla in the back seat and buckled her in. She tugged on Crystal’s coat.
“Was that the Sandman?” she whispered in fear.
“No,” answered Crystal. “It’s the angels, baby. Close your eyes.”
The car was cold and stiff and started with a struggle. Through swollen eyes, she stared through the rearview, watching Robbie disappear inside the house. She focused on the dark path in front of her, a thirty-minute drive to her mother’s trailer. She drove in silence.
As Crystal drove she watched the walls of craggy pines envelope the road. She thought of the days that would come, when she could feel the touch of Robbie for the first time. Her Robbie had stayed true, a real man. Her knight. A smile struggled to grow across her swollen lip.
In the rearview, two headlights rose up from the road. They glowed like hateful orbs, growing closer with purpose. It made her uncomfortable.
Crystal took her foot off the gas, hoping the truck would pass. She wondered why they were driving so fast, so close.

A writer from New Jersey, Mike Loniewski has written for a variety of mediums. His prose work has been published by Shotgun Honey and One Eye Press. His comics have been published by Image Comics, DC Comics/Zuda, APE Entertainment, and Alterna Comics. Feel free to visit him on Twitter at @redfox_write.