November 30th, 2012
The spiral staircase still creaked, even under Rebecca’s light footsteps. The three times she called my name from downstairs, I ignored her. Now the staircase let out a light croak every time she neared the second floor by a step.
“M? Miles?” she said. “Are you alright up there? Did you pass out already, you lazy ass?”
I could almost tell where she was on the staircase by the way the croaking grew louder as she did closer. I tip-toed into my bathroom as I heard her approaching what I thought was the halfway point. Now, I could hear the ice in her glass lightly clinking. I turned on the shower. The scorching drops evaporated quickly, so I couldn’t see my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I was still naked and speckled with Fenton’s and Phillip’s blood.
“Miles, can I come in?” Rebecca asked, now on the opposite side of my bedroom door.
“I’m about to get into the shower. I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Alrighty. Are we still going to get to talk tonight?”
I ignored her last question and continued tip-toing around my barely-lit bedroom; sulking with the shadows that were cast by my bathroom light. I listened closely to the house’s noise to see if Rebecca was still standing at the door. When I heard the floor squeaking under her departing steps, I opened my bedroom window and lit a cigarette, sticking most of my naked body outside, so my room wouldn’t smell like cigarettes.
The freezing wind bit my bare skin and dispersed my grey puffs of smoke. The light from my living room illuminated Rebecca’s shadow, which was swallowed by my couch’s silhouette. I flung my cigarette into the snow and came inside to thaw out. The steam from my shower had crept through my open bathroom door and into the first half of my room. Just outside of the fog, Fenton’s brown shoebox sat, engulfed by a damp and bloody mouth made by my heaped dirty clothes. I didn’t bother thinking about opening it. Sandy helped me focus on more pressing issues, like that of my stolen car. As I was staring into the bloody mouth, I felt his cool, leather-gloved hand press against my shoulder blade.
“I think it’s time to leave, M boy.” He said, pulling my eyes to meet his.
“Todd stole my car, Sandy. I can’t go anywhere. I had to walk home in the cold and I went into that store—“
“Don’t ramble, M. It’s going to be fine. Why don’t you get cleaned up and we can talk.”
“I’m supposed to talk to Rebecca.”
“You’re not going to blow me off for a boring talk about your feelings, are you?”
“I’m going to ask her about you. You said I could, so that’s what we’re going to talk about.”
“I really don’t think that’s going to be a good idea.”
“What the fuck, Sandy? The entire time I’ve known you, you’ve told me that I could ask her about you. You said she would clear everything up. You said that she knew you.”
“I remember the conversation. I was there too, asshole.”
“Conversations. Plural. You’ve been nice enough to remind me what a great idea that is on numerous different occasions.”
“The point is: things are different now. When I said that, you weren’t a careless, homicidal maniac.”
“You told me that was for my own good! I was only doing—“
A loud knocking on my front door shocked me into silence. I rushed through a cloud of steam to turn off the water. I could hear Rebecca’s bare feet clapping against the tile as she approached the door, followed by a duet of muffled voices. After a few minutes of eavesdropping on the unintelligible murmurs, I heard Rebecca, running up the stairs.
She beat on the door and said, “Hey, hurry up, M. Somebody wants to talk to you. He says he’s a friend from work and you let him borrow your car and now he needs a ride home.”
I jumped into a quick change of clothes and ran downstairs. Todd stood in the door frame. I stuck my hand into my pants pocket, but my gun wasn’t there. I could see his eyes grow with fear as they traced my wrist, up my arm and neck, and finally met mine. I greeted Todd with a faked smile.
“Get your fucking gun,” Sandy said, “now.”
I told Todd that I had forgotten something and asked him if I could run to my bedroom to get it, but he said he was in a hurry.
“Actually, you look dressed. Is it alright if we leave?”
“Well, I really need—“
“If we leave now, I’ll buy you a bottle of scotch.” He said.
Rebecca said we were out and that I should go with him, so I said that would be fine and walked out the door.
Todd led the way down my icy driveway, spinning my key-ring around his index finger and looking over his shoulder.
“We won’t be gone long. I bought a pack of cigarettes, so you don’t have to worry about being out of smokes,” he said, dragging his feet through the snow.
Todd climbed into the driver’s seat without offering me the keys. He wasn’t jittery or overly suspicious during the short walk from my front door to my Pinto, but the minute I closed the passenger door, I felt a dull, nuchal shock. Black splotches speckled my snow-covered driveway, and the twin track-marks left by Todd’s lazy footsteps became blurry quadruplets. I was extremely dizzy, but didn’t black out. I did, however, decide to rest my head on the passenger-side window in hopes of deceiving Todd, but I was so light-headed that my forehead hit the glass much harder than I expected, adding another distracting element to my pounding, disoriented mind. The thud of the glass must’ve been convincing enough, because Todd drove away as soon as my head hit it.
November 30th or December 1st
I let my head rock, lazily. The heels of my white converse scraped through the snow and soaked my feet. I wore a button-down dress-shirt, but hadn’t buttoned it, so the cloth didn’t protect my skin from the falling snow. My wrists were the only part of me that wasn’t freezing cold. Todd’s sweaty hands kept them from dropping below ninety-something degrees.
Todd had taken me to Cougar’s Cock Park. He was dragging me into the woods, but he left his jacket in the car, so he had to stop frequently to warm himself up. Each time he stopped, he sighed an aggravated sigh and let me drop into the snow.
The first time he stopped, my head met the ground quickly, but I didn’t make a sound; although, my head was already sore from Todd’s first hit, so it was extremely difficult to maintain my comported catatonia. After dropping me, Todd started pacing a circle around where I stood. He blew into his hand and spun around to try to gain circulation, huffing and grunting the entire time. I continued to lie in the snow, feigning unconsciousness.
The second time, Todd was slightly less brutish in the way he loosened his grip, but my head still hit the ground swiftly. The circumference of Todd’s parade of grunting, huffing and pacing grew wide enough that I wasn’t worried about him seeing my eyes; so, I opened them slightly. As he circled me, I saw a shiny, onyx handle, which was divided in equal moieties by a shiny stainless-steel plank. It was sticking out of a brown leather scabbard that he had laced between belt loops. His steps—long, spinning and jumping steps—made the stainless-steel hilt of his knife jiggle and flash as it hit his thin cotton shirt.
His third stop would be his last. He left me in the snow and walked to the car to grab his jacket, still dragging his feet through the snow. On the trip back, he lit a cigarette. When he found a vacant snow-angel in my place, he grabbed his knife and dropped his cigarette.
He shouted a lot, that night. He was yelling into the dark about the things that I did at Daedalus’ Donuts. He said that he promised Philip that he’d keep his eye on me; that Philip told him where I lived and what I’d done. That one-sided conversation lasted almost 10 minutes. I crept up behind Todd while he was talking and grabbed his throat with my hands. His immediate response was to try to pull my hands away from his throat, but he dropped his knife. I kicked him in the kidney, which pushed him a few feet away from his knife and me. While he coughed and held his throat, I leaned over to pick up his knife.
“Todd,” I said, “I’m sorry they talked you into this.”
I lunged forward and grabbed a fistful of Todd’s hair; tugged against the skin of his temple; shook him in my hands. Sandy was silent. Todd started screaming, saying he wouldn’t go to the cops or put up a fight, just, please, let him go. Sandy’s leather hand pressed against my neck.
“I can’t help you, M boy. You have to choose the next step.”
“I can’t cut his throat.”
Todd squinted confusedly at me, like he had no idea why I was about to kill him.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“Shut the fuck up. I’m figuring it out. I’m not going to cut your throat, though.”
“That’s great news,” Todd said. “I swear I won’t say a word.”
“Liar,” Sandy said.
“I will shut up. I won’t tell anyone. Please let me go,” Todd asked.
I couldn’t. He started screaming again, so I let go of his hair and put my hand over his mouth, but he bit me and started to run off, into the woods. I didn’t want to chase him, so I reached for the heaviest thing I could find—a cold stone, buried in the snow—and threw it at him as hard as I could. When the rock hit him, he fell on his stomach.
It was hard to navigate between Todd’s ribs, with the knife. His back made a hilarious squishing sound. His knife was freezing cold.
I still had constellations on my arms—stars of blood that spiraled around my skin that now ran with fresh splashes from Todd’s back.
“It was for my own good,” I said. I smoked one of Todd’s cigarettes on the drive home and went to talk to Rebecca. Sandy said nothing on the drive home. Rump did all the talking. He repeated his broken-record’s song: I’m a villain: can fix everything.
I still had to pick up a bottle of Scotch for Rebecca, so I stopped by the Drunken Redhead, which, by now, was a ghost-town. I stepped through a few of the luminescent streetlight circles, watching my shadow dissolve into the dark spaces between the light as I moved to the back entrance. The door was left unlocked, as usual.
After I rounded the front counter, I stumbled upon a few scattered neon lighters that my cashier had left on the floor. Rumple Minze voice followed my footsteps.
I followed the familiar path to the aisle that held my Johnnie Walker Black. The ochre liquid splashed in the opaque bottle as I walked to the bathroom to clean the blood off of my clothes and skin.
The light in the restroom was bright and blinding. I ran warm, soapy water over the spots on my arms and watched as the pink stream flowed down the drain. I took off my shirt and tried to clean some of the blood splatter, but I ended up making a pink, running mess that permeated the cotton and covered the floor. I put a handful of money on the counter before leaving, but it wasn’t the exact cost of the liquor. I think it was a little over, but I don’t know.
By now, the blood and water mixture had saturated my undershirt and my skin. The cold night air nearly froze the shirt to my skin. I rubbed my bare arms and shuffled to the car, paying no attention to my dissolving shadow or Rump’s still repeating voice.
“You’re more villain than victim.”
Todd’s tracks were barely visible under the fresh slurry, but I traced them with my own lazy footsteps as I walked to my front door.
“Honey, I’m home.” I said.
Rebecca ran to the door, grabbed my hand and pulled me back to the couch. She didn’t seem to notice the running pink stains in my shirt, but reached for the cold bottle instead.
“Alright, let’s get down to business.” She said, unscrewing the bottle-top.
“What do you want to talk about?”
“Well, I already asked you: why don’t you ever do anything with me? I’ve made advances at you. You know that I’m into you, or whatever. “
“What does that mean?”
I started to respond, but she interrupted me.
“Wait. I’m sorry, but…just wait. Your glances aren’t a secret. Your eyes: I’ve seen how they tug at the thread of my blouse.”
“You’re attractive; I’m a pig. I’ll stop staring, if it bothers you.”
“It’s fine. If I thought you were a misogynist, it might bother me, but I don’t—you might be, for all I know, but I don’t think you are. I’ve been pretty obvious about my feelings toward you. I made myself pretty clear the other night, before you went in your room to pass out.”
Rebecca paused to pour Scotch into her glass. She walked to the kitchen for a second glass and filled it with ice. She kept talking while she moved around the kitchen, but her voice was so soft and her movements so loud that I only heard fragments of “I know you’re a…” interrupted by a slamming cabinet door and “our interests are…” silenced by rattling ice-cubes.
She sat back down and poured me a drink and then went to the radio to turn on an album. It was Kind of Blue, by John Coletrane. “I’m Old Fashioned” played softly in the background.
“Just relax. John Coletrane is amazing, right? You have good taste.”
I thought she was changing the subject, but she piped up a few seconds later, saying something about our conversation being a moot point, or that we weren’t getting anywhere by talking. She and I leaned back on the couch. Her head migrated to my shoulder and a ribbon of pig-tailed auburn hair draped over it. Another fell over her chest.
“Did I tell you that I finished Second Variety?” she asked. “It was amazing. I really thought that what’s-his-face—you know, the Russian guy—“
“Yeah. I thought Klaus was the robot the whole time.”
“Me too. I honestly still held onto hope up to the point that Tasso flew away on that escape rocket.”
“What? No way. The fact that Klaus dies is a major tell to the ending. Up until that point in the story, he was a main center of conflict. Then he gets completely fucked up by that heard of robots—“
“Whatever. After he gets killed, his place as the main bad guy is superseded by the only other supporting character in the story: Tasso. It was a clever misdirect. I thought he was evil too. But, if your writer takes away the only visible center of conflict, you know there’s going to be a plot twist of Shyamalanian proportions.”
“Good point. I don’t think he did it poorly though. This was no ‘Lady in the Water’. Second Variety is a classic. It’s probably my favorite short story.”
“It doesn’t disappoint. Phillip K. Dick, man. He gets me. By the way, you said you had something you wanted to ask me.”
Sandy’s leather glove pressed tightly on my collar bone. Rebecca sipped noisily from her drink. Breathless stood on the opposite side of my living room window pane, ready to drop his jaw. Rump repeated in my head:
“You can fix everything right now.”
Sandy said, “I’ll fucking kill you.”
Breathless dropped his jaw.
I sat there, staring into Breathless’ open mouth. My chest rose and fell. My shoulder lifted Rebecca’s head up slightly; then, gently lowered her. She giggled: coquettishly, I think. I could still feel Sandy’s leather gloved hand gripping my collar-bone; his thoughts clamoring with Rump’s reminder.
“I’m sorry, Rebecca.” I said. “You’re lovely. I like to trace your skin with my eyes, and I like your warmth, pressed up against me. I want to feel your breasts and run my fingers through your hair, but I can’t. I’m afraid. I can’t escape it. I feel like you’re out to get me.”
She sat up quickly and mockingly laughed at me.
“You’re fucking nuts.” She said, still bursting with laughter.
“I’m not nuts! Just listen to me.”
She stifled her laughter, barely, and sat, staring at me, faking obsequiousness and concern. She wore a half-smile and almost cried from choking down her laughs.
“I’m listening.” she said.
I felt like keeping it from her would be the safest thing for both of us, so I made something up. I told her that work was stressing me out; that I needed to take a vacation. She said she’d noticed that I’d been acting strange and recommended that we take a trip to Dallas. I agreed. It was relieving at first, but after I relaxed, she leaned across the couch to try to kiss me.
I was so scared for my life. I leaned away, but Rebecca just moved quicker. Her pigtails dangled over her opened shirt. Her eyes, filled with longing, swirled in their sockets. Her lips were poised to kiss me; kill me. Sandy had been right. She’s just wants me dead. I still had Todd’s knife.
I moved my hand to her chest to push her away one last time, but she grabbed my wrist, softly. I pulled the knife from my pocket and stuck it into her chest. Rebecca let out a soft, shocked gasp. She fumbled to find the knife-handle sticking out of her chest. She started crying loudly and asking me, “What the fuck, Miles?” I pushed her onto her back, where she continued to bleed out.
“M boy, you did this on your own. You resolved your conflict. The story’s over. Your fickle friend is leaving.”
“It’s time for her to go.” I said, finishing the song’s chorus.
Rebecca’s question grew softer and softer with each repetition, harder to hear over her feeble crying.
“What the fuck, Miles? What the fuck?”
I thanked Sandy for saving me. I told him that his damned fucking work had saved me and that he was my fucking fairy godmother. Rebecca tugged at me while I thanked him. I brought my ear closely to her lips and listened to her.
“Who are you talking to?” she asked. Then she pulled me close, kissed me and died.