“Nature versus Nurture”
Twenty minutes later
Abandoned Department Store outside of Lawrence, Kansas
Paul Revere dazedly peered at the knife protruding from his abdomen—and despite the number of times he blinked — it did not seem to go away. His head fell onto his shoulder; his mouth completely full of blood from his taped mouth. He checked on how Marie was doing with an ice pick dangling from her shoulder. She looked terrified but alive.
The man with the knives was humming the theme to Little House on the Prairie as he double-checked the equipment he brought along for the ride. He did a simple dance as each knife was carefully tucked back into the purple velvet tool holder in a tidy array of tortuous implements. His gaze turned to the pair he had tied up. “One of you will be dead five minutes from this moment. Now, before you get too excited, I have not yet decided which of you it will be. Would you say that’s more scary or more comforting that the decision is still up in the air?”
Marie and Paul shared a long look, neither wanting to turn back and face the monster gently arranging a menagerie of knives before them.
He continued, “I would guess that the vast majority of major scientific breakthroughs are a result of completely unrelated experimentation. Case in point my little baby birds, in the battle of nature versus nurture it came down a controlled experiment. We are all quite special, the returners,” he laughed, or at least attempted to. It came out more like a sarcastic cough. “We all got to live twice through in two different timelines, and surprise, there were dramatically different results. I’m sure under that layer of duct tape you’re asking yourselves, now, Marie and or Paul, wouldn’t that mean that our upbringing decides who we are? Nurture is the correct answer.”
He kicked hard into the knife protruding from Paul’s stomach. The chair fell backward and he screamed as he collided with the ground and the tape came off his mouth.
“You would be wrong, Paul!” the man screamed as he grabbed for a strange blade no longer than an inch in length. “Explain to me how in one life, a man can be one of the most revered men in history but in his second life—no pun intended on the revered thing, by the way—but in his second life, he became a psychopath. Such divisive paths can only be the result of nature! My brain did not form the same way twice. It’s so strange; I remember the feeling of remorse clearly, but I no longer feel it.”
The corner of the tape on Marie’s mouth had come up enough to breath. Instinctively, she whimpered, “please.”
The man sliced through the air, leaving a gash from Marie’s ear to her nose. It was so deep that the skin had come off the bone.
“You will speak when spoken to. Now, Marie, we won’t learn from our mistakes without proper punishment. It kills me to do it, it really does. There is a difference between speaking to and speaking at. I am speaking at you, darling.”
She lifted her gaze, spitting out the blood rushing across her lips, and stared into his eyes. “Permission to speak, then,” she said breathlessly.
The man with the knives grimaced, biting his tongue. “Granted.”
Marie watched as the blood continued to drip down to her chin and onto her pants. She glanced to her left and saw Paul trying to right himself in the chair so the dagger would be resting and not moving through his body with every breath. There was no question he would be dead in a few minutes with no medical attention. “Who are you?”
The man passed the tiny blade between his fingers like a quarter. “We both know I won’t be passing that information along. I am saving that for when it will do the most damage.” He did not break his gaze with Marie as he curled his lips in annoyance. “Is that your only question, love?”
“Yes?” He responded, correcting her answer. “Delightful!” The man tossed the small blade over his shoulder with abandon and grabbed a makeshift mace from his spread. He put it up to Marie’s face so she could examine it at a close distance.
She noticed it was nothing more than two hammers duct taped together with somewhere in the ballpark of twenty corn-holders super-glued to it.
The man with the knives smiled, “you see Marie; this is my point. I’m sure among the myriad of emotions swimming around in your head right now, the one sticking out the most is déjà vu. To quote the great John McClane, “How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”
“I was scared the first time,” she replied coldly, oblivious to the Die Hard 2 reference.
“And how do you feel this time?”
“That it better go quick.”
The man smiled for an uncomfortable number of seconds before bringing the strange mace down with enormous force into Paul’s shin, who awoke from blood loss just enough to scream and pass out again. “Gosh, Marie, I’m just not sure Paul is going to make it.”
She didn’t waver. “You can’t scare me.”
The man put on his best fake frown and skipped back over to the chair Marie was taped into against her will. “Now who is being a Grumpy Gary? If I wanted to scare you, I’d probably just start talking about eating cake.”
“I never said that—”
He punched hard into the cheek he had already sliced deeply into. She recoiled and returned her gaze, trying to focus on his face through the blinding pain. “Here’s a funny thought, do you have a Facebook, Marie?”
“I had a MySpace.”
“Marie Antoinette, always doing it backwards.”
She spit out some more blood onto the floor. “It’s been over five minutes.”
“Now, if you rush me cake-face, I will have to kill you both and find two more returners to conduct my little experiment.” He gave her a kiss on the forehead and walked back over to Paul who was unconscious on the floor. “Poor guy. He’s just tuckered out from all the blood loss.” The man with the knives tussled his hair as he dropped Paul into Marie’s lap. “I warned you guys to eat a big meal before coming, and did you listen?”
Paul’s eyes blew open.
He swung his taped hands under his legs like a jump rope. He grabbed the man with the knives around the throat and ran forward into a nearby counter top. They crashed through the display case that used to house watches and back down onto the floor. The two of them rolled around trading blows on the dusty department store tile.
Paul kicked the man with the knives in the stomach and lifted him, tumbling over his head. With only a split second to make the decision, he screamed at the top of his lungs as he pulled the knife from his abdomen and turned back to his attacker. He managed to get all the way to his knees, still holding the knife as he tried to steel himself to take him down the kidnapper. “Unlike Marie, I don’t really care who you used to be.”
The man with the knives swung up behind the counter, wiping blood from his lip with a deranged smile. “All you had to do was ask nicely, and I would have told you. Gosh!”
Marie leaned around Paul so she could see the man. “Who are you? Uh, please?”
The man stood up straight and dusted himself off. “I’m Abraham Lincoln.”
Stunned silence came over Paul and Marie. Paul figured it out first.
“No you’re not.”
The man with the knives laughed heartily. “Oh, god no. Had you going there for a minute though, didn’t I?”
Paul switched the hand the knife was in, he could feel the world growing dim around him from blood loss. He needed to make a move soon or he wasn’t going to be able to make one at all. The blood could not be blinked from his eyelid.
The man with the knives took three steps forward, talking as he made his way down the path to Paul. “What’s that he used to say about a house divided by itself?”
Paul Revere fell over onto the floor.
“Yes! Thank you for reminding me, Paul.” The man grabbed him by the lapel. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to have a private conversation with Marie, here. If you wouldn’t mind waiting outside.”
The man with the knives threw Paul out of the plate-glass window on the second story of the department store. He landed on the ground and rolled over into the street, most of his bones having shattered on impact.
Marie looked up as the man walked over to the knife that Paul had recently removed from his gut—he picked it up and turned his attention back to the girl in the chair. “I guess you made your decision,” she said, her voice trembling.
“Well, darling, I guess I have. Poor Paul took a hell of a beating just now.”
“Is he dead?” She knew he wasn’t.
The man walked over to the window and peered down to the street below. Paul was lying motionless on the road, there was blood surrounding him. “Yeah, I’d say there’s a pretty good chance he’s dead.”
Marie Antoinette closed her eyes. “I spent this life doing charity work.”
He spun around, so confused he was actually angry he was confused. “Post about that on your MySpace, did ya?”
She ignored him; “I’ve been all over the world, never having more than two thousand dollars in my bank account at any time. I gave away whatever I could.”
The man with the knives backhanded her, but she kept on describing her life, never opening her eyes. “Please, dear, do have a point.”
Her words became whimpered and shaky. “It doesn’t come down to nature versus nurture; not for us. Our new lives are a reflection of our first lives. If this life was only an opportunity to make peace with our sins, then it was more than worth it.”
The man rolled his eyes. “I liked you better when you acted like a Kardashian.”
She opened her eyes and looked deeply back into her kidnapper’s, completely at peace with the moment at hand. “You chose Paul, didn’t you?”
“Changed your mind?”
He slid the knife into her chest and slowly through the tissue of her heart. Her head fell onto his shoulder and he held her for a moment, kissing her softly on the head. It was excruciating, but she managed to speak one final whisper into his ear as she began slipping away.
“I know who you really are.”
And not a moment further, Marie Antoinette died on his shoulder.