His heart pumped fire, a war-charge. His feet thumped damp Earth, beat a near supersonic rhythm jet-fueled by adrenaline. He’d have panted terror if it weren’t for fear that it might slow him down. Instead, he took half breaths, held them. His temples pounded. Brain half-suffocated brain. He didn’t care. Higher-brain functions weren’t important now. So long’s his heart kept his blood moving, his legs would keep working.
He slid down a hill, pivoted, sprang across a ditch. He landed, still running. Blood-hounds barked and howled over grumbling ATVs and whining dirt-bikes. Moonshine and gunpowder pierced the air, inflicted by the clothing of his pursuers. He wasn’t even sure how he’d escaped. It didn’t matter. Nothing but running did.
They’d tied him up days ago, had been starved and tortured him since. Mason wasn’t sure who, but knew they represented the less-enlightened sect of populous in these parts. They were almost fanatically devoted to eradicating those unworthy of their antiquated, myopic lifestyle. Mason knew what his crime was. They’d bludgeoned it into him. “Choosing” to love a man was the highest disrespect to them. Never mind the fact he hadn’t chosen a damned thing.
The assholes would’ve never been part of his thoughts. They weren’t either. Not until they started attacking him, anyway. He knew well enough they were a part of a local order of hicks– most-likely the Smith or Flynn clan. A few others like them inhabited the area, but none were so brazen as to kidnap and torture a man.
Mason and his husband arrive home one day to find a giant swastika scorched into their front yard. A giant, brown and white “FAG” burned beneath it. It was hardly clever. In the end, all it did was anger his neighbors. Even the less, “liberally-minded” cites of the American South would’ve cared so much. Saying that would’ve missed the point that current era was hardly any of the 1900’s. Even the more conservative folk– most elderly– didn’t care. He’d changed more than a couple minds on “his type” himself alone.
The his was even simpler than the why. It was all freedom, openness; most folk judged a man’s worth by the sweat on his brow. The rest didn’t care to know anyhow: It wasn’t their place to broach such uncouth topics. Changing minds became about how the sweat poured from the couple’s brows. If there was anything to either of them, it was hard-work. From the trades of carpentry and auto-maintenance, to their home renovation hobbies, to landscaping “FAG” from their yard with new sod, both men earned their respect.
Yet here he was: sprinting through back-assward woods. The snow-ball’s chance in hell of escape was as likely as his becoming another hate-statistic.
Engines revved. Dogs howled. Powder and booze-smells grew stronger. His heart readied to give out, accept death. His mind readied to watch on-high as his blackened and bruised body crumpled. The spatter of bloody knife-cuts across him were even less a choice than anything. He hadn’t chosen a damned thing. Never. The fucks behind him didn’t care in the least.
But he had to find Ben, had to reach him. He’d been working late, hoping for extra cash for their trip when Mason went missing. The hicks feared him. Ben was twice the size of even the largest captors, but all muscle. He could’ve punched a fist any one of ‘em Terminator-style. He tended toward pacifism though. All the same, had he been there, Mason would’ve never been caught off-guard. Never frozen. Never been jumped from behind and knocked unconscious to be tied up. It wouldn’t have happened. Mason’s state would’ve enraged Ben’s rare but fierce temper.
Mason wouldn’t go back, couldn’t. He wouldn’t lie down. Wouldn’t die. He’d never submit to another torture session. He’d kill himself before those bastards carved anything else into him. “Fag” was the least of it. The first cuts were quick, easy. Eventually, all of them were made with dull blades.
A passing gleam appeared through the trees. It curved away. Distant engines mingled with dogs and shouts. Mason’s heart nearly stopped. The rural highway to town appeared. He scrambled up-hill, more determined than ever. He bobbed and weaved through trees met asphalt. An old Bronco screeched to a stop, nearly hit him before the blue and red lights appeared. The deputy was out, gun in-hand before he realized the man’s sordid state.
The ATVs rumbled nearer. The dogs howled over Mason’s hysterical pleas. The cop ordered him into his truck, peeled out as the first pursuers appeared at the tree-line. He raised his rifle to fire, saw the lights, then grit his teeth and lowered his weapon. The Bronco raced to town and the hospital. The officer took Mason’s statement as he was tended to by a nurse. Ben appeared, face pale but with fiery eyes held at-bay by concern.
Ben hugged Mason carefully, parted only when the nurse insisted she finish stitching and bandaging him. The officer left a guard on the hospital room over night. He returned the next morning alerted the couple that all of the men Mason had reported were being arrested.
Justice was swift, as near to complete as it could be. Mason’s testimony was given via teleconference from his hospital bed. His injuries were too severe to allow him to leave. Nonetheless, his story went public. Debates of hate-speech, freedom, and crime were sparked locally and nationally. Most sided in the couple’s favor.
Mason, on the other hand, was merely glad to be alive. He was wheeled into his house, at Ben’s insistence, to find a giant banner welcoming him home. Beneath it, stood all of the couple’s friends and neighbors. If nothing else, Mason was who he was, and most were grateful for that. No matter what others felt for a moment Mason knew, if given a choice, he’d have chosen to be himself– if only to selfishly retain the love that welcomed him home.