Twilight. Witching hour. Her favorite time. With no definitive arrival or duration, it blurred into reality until fading away as non-descript. No motif reflected her as genuine as dusk. That’s when she chose to do her work.
He sat on a bench in the park he’d driven by for years. He’d never stepped in prior and wouldn’t again. He should’ve been home after a long day. Instead, he indulged in a needless moment rather than maintaining his clockwork regime.
It was a suitable life for both of them. They’d found niches; purposes to wake for. He rose for sunrise on the comfortable monotonous rat-race. She rose for the endless sunset waltz of life, death and birth.
Routine was important, each requiring a certain tweaking over time. A refinement, like an artist’s trademark, makes the work special, if only to them. Individuality expressed in rote refinement through experience that no one could replace. No one would or could do their work like them.
She walked the pavement path between autumn-tinted trees like anyone else. Her pixie-cut hair was almost boyish. Her pastel green shirt with pink was heart enough to promote her intended presence. Light faded blue jeans clung to dainty legs. Frail arms wafted like pale branches in a breeze.
None would call her imposing at five-three and lithe as a weed. Her demure ensemble with canvas tote slung across her chest was how she preferred. She looked like ever other post-modern tinted millennial hipster. Each snowflake was unique, but all anyone saw was the dune. She relied on that. Warnings were brightly colored. She needed camouflage.
She saw him on the bench. Mid-thirties, maybe forties if he took care of himself. Doubtful. He had a dad-bod like her father and everyone’s father because he was as non-descript as everyone else. Boring. A non-player character keeping the world turning for the players’ and their real stories. No one would miss him any more than her.
He didn’t know she was there. He wouldn’t have cared. She wasn’t the point. Neither was he. That’s why he was there soaking in the fairy-light of the inbetween world. This transition time unveiled the world between day, night and consciousness. How many times had he neglected to see the transitions? Maybe his wife knew. It’d explain a lot.
She’d researched lots of ways to do it. She’d learned plenty of ways not to as well. Indoors was terrible. The mess was unnatural for the clean edged aesthetic of a building. And a man could scream louder than you’d expect with a punctured lung. The screams were always louder than she’d expected, no matter how deep the blade plunged.
Death bellows, like a knife or garotte were far too messy. Too personal. This was work, not art, even if the craft required a sort or artistic mastery. She preferred clean, but potent. That was the mark of professionalism; of knowing, and caring, for the quality of her work.
She disliked the anemic .22lr. It was almost disrespectful. Not to her frail arms, but the recipient. It was a vermin round for rabbits and coyotes. While it usually seemed fitting, she never knew who was the ten-point buck or bull elk that deserved better. It was befitting to presume anyone or everyone deserved the highest quality.
9mm was unexpected. A small round, it could pierce clean through a skull that a 22lr might otherwise glance off of. That presented a whole new dilemma: backstop, or moreso, the lack of one. A mindless bullet travels until something stops it. Sometimes gravity, but usually a solid target. A penetrated target leaves it wandering further until it discovers the next. One miscalculation and her ethical shot would be a lifetime of torturous regret. One survivor would haunt her. She wondered if anyone already had. If so, she didn’t believe. They hadn’t mattered before and proved not to after.
She thought she’d found perfection in .40 S&W. She’d committed to data only to submit to reality in practice. Slim wrists demanded reevaluation. This is the pursuit of mastery: neither success nor failure. Merely setback and preparation. If 9mm’s penetration was too variable and .40 S&W too much for her wrist, she would defy logic for exploration.
.45 caliber was slower, but recoil milder. Physics. With a larger projectile and a heavier gun requiring more effort to recoil, less energy passed through her wrist. Everything possible was transferred forward, away from her and into the target. It was poetry she knew existed.
The only physics he knew was the weight of falling into bed at night and fighting the same gravity each morning. He never considered muzzle velocity or joules of kinetic force. No need. It wasn’t part of his life yet. Might never have been. They waltzed on.
Somewhere beyond his solitude was a wife and child. They were parking. He gave them privacy. Or took back some dignity in not watching. Either, or both, left him on a bench more welcoming than his doorstep. Lawyers saved the house he didn’t want for the sacrifice of money he didn’t need. Because now he was on a park bench that was free and this was his life. He was alone. She knew otherwise.
She understood the reputation of Glocks. Engineered workhorses. Easy access to replacement parts. Always fired. Never jammed. Reliable. Professional. Light enough for comfort, but large enough to demand respect. It fired only when commanded to do so with a finger engaging the safety on the trigger. There were no accidents. Only intent or negligence. She was not the latter. It was unacceptable.
He deserved as much respect as any hunter’s prey. She didn’t know his name. Didn’t want to. Names ruined the work. Unnecessary distractions. Inefficient. She’d see through him without a name soon enough.
He never heard her footsteps. She stalked as light as the cats she watched. He’d owned cats too. They loved to play. It’s how they practiced her inspiration. They’d bring home mice and moles. A maine coon once brought a rabbit. He felt obliged to cook it. It seemed a waste otherwise. He’d been taught not to waste gifts.
She cherished when she could stand behind them. No one noticed her. No one wanted to. Nor anyone else for that matter. People talk about humans as social animals, but it’s only as far as it fulfills their goals. Ideally, people don’t want anyone else. They’d rather rely on themselves. They could control themselves, as much as anyone can. No being at the mercy of the chaotic “other.”
Omniscience: that’s the human ideal. Pure power to freely choose fate. For themselves. For everyone. For everything forever. Composing chaos into order rather than suffering whims. Humans are small. That’s the point. Weak and fragile far in excess of their egos. They don’t understand humility. She sought to teach them one body at a time.
He tried teaching the same, one body at a time. He’d imagined a large family with plenty of kids to tutor in life, reason and responsibility. He hadn’t considered his wife was misaligned. They hadn’t argued about their first. It seemed the thing to do after marriage. Arguing came later. Years later. Not anymore. There was no argument to make, At least he’d done well with the one. He tried taking solace in that. Someday, maybe it’d be enough.
By any mundane metric, she was a murderer. Victims don’t get to stay victims once they change sides. Doesn’t matter how many times she was beaten or nights she cowered under sheets too thin to protect from the cold reality of sleeping under the brim of Hell. Where else would one expect monsters to be birthed?
But “monster” is a relative term. We’re all monsters compared to Mother Theresa and we’re all saints compared to Dahmer. We’d like to call her a monster, but he would’ve welcomed her bullet if he knew it was aimed at the back of his head. Would’ve been merciful. Would’ve made things easier.
In life, he had to face reality. He was losing all that mattered to him and any hope of making more. When he’d return home, if he’d call it that, it’d be his mirror: hollow. In death, none of it would matter. That’s the appeal. Death is uniquely immaterial.
Every death made her feel alive. She was an agent of the cyclical dance. She cut silver cord so something new could be woven in its place. Maybe something better. Like her first. The unloving bitch with a boyfriend to match.
But he liked her plenty. Not enough to stop hitting her. Not enough to leave her bedroom door closed. Not enough to care about her, much less love her. He liked her. Coveted her. Desired. She couldn’t help thinking, as he gurgled on his blood, that she the person hadn’t mattered. Just what they got from her. An outlet to exercise power over. They were impotent. Now, much more so.
He was impotent too. Sitting on a bench, unaware relief was inches away. Trying to hold his, their, life had taken its toll. Physically, emotionally, dispassionately. Even the basic drives for pleasure eluded him. The spiraling descent tightened a noose. It’d be over soon. Death had come.
As it had for many others. Seventeen. Men. Women. Never children, the blameless. Products of parenting lottery. It wasn’t their fault if they were monsters. They were made, not begotten. One day, they’d have a choice. But that was in the adults’ world.
She’d made a choice. Same as he had. They’d let go of hope and accepted the dark sorry state of reality. She’d died years before the first kill showed her how to live. He was dying now in front of her gun pointed at the back of his head. She didn’t need to bother pulling the trigger. But she would.
“I’m done.” He whispered so no living soul would hear him. She flinched. They never speak. It upset the tranquil beauty of her work. She was cold with sweat. “I just want to die already.” His eyes hid beneath thin sheets of his palms. If he didn’t see the world, maybe he could forget about it. He couldn’t. He sobbed. “I’m tired… So tired…”
A new rush crashed over her. She was wanted and not just for what she could do for him. He didn’t want the muse to fulfill what he desired from her. He wanted the thing buried beneath the veil. He wanted, begged, for death; the release.
She felt a pervasive fullness that haunted her dreams. It was squirming inside her. Pulsing. Seeding. She could smell her mother’s boyfriend looming over the memory of every ex who’d abandoned her after finding her inside the costume. She thought the dead couldn’t leave her like the living would. No one could defy nature staying with the walking dead. Nature holds no mercy for defectors.
She didn’t want him to leave. He saw her. He went into her and knew her. He was agony in life. He’d be agony in death. She knew this because she knew him, once upon a time. She knew the hollow gushing chest run dry by life’s taunting. Maybe this boyfriend would stay. Maybe she’d come home tonight. Maybe they’d know family. Maybe optimists are just gullible.
The nervous system can respond in a tenth of a second. An eternity to a bullet flying five hundred and sixty-six miles per hour. Faster than a brain could register pain from a piercing skull. Clean. Merciful. Pure. The bullet was her humane choice.
One side of thunder was a tiny hole rimmed with ash. The other was a spray of hopes and dreams against waning twilight. Not hers. She was dead. His hopes for a better day sprayed into dimming sunlight. Dreams he’d wake up to in a sunrise an eternity away if he could.
Paramedics weren’t necessary. Anyone could see the body was cold. They’d come anyways, shaking their heads as the new member vomited. He’d learn. Death would teach him life or rob him of it.
He hadn’t stopped wailing. Not when he heard the gun. Or called for help. He wailed for years interspersed with bouts of functional adulthood. He didn’t cry for her. She was dead. He could hope her suffering ended. That her victims, past or future, would know peace from the fear of death’s stalking.
He cried for himself. Death had forsaken him. Deemed him unworthy. He’d be haunted for years at the loss of release. He’d surrender to the droning grind of work and the temptation of a drink when he was too hoarse to fill his head with fresh screams to drown out memory.
He’d surrender to death’s exception of him; his Passover. He’d surrender his heart to the woman in the barstool escaping her abusive relationship. She’d surrender her story for his over the longest drink since he’d been abandoned by the only woman he ever wanted. They’d surrender to mercy and redemption. To vows of dedication. Neither would abandon the other to demons left behind. Their kin would be born into the waltz and dance eternity away.
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Wow, you have masterfully painted a very dark picture. I love the parallelism in the alternating paragraphs. The reveal and the twist, well timed. Good job!
Holy crap, was it a b to get where it is. I clearly got too ambitious with it when I first wrote it. I'll probably rewrite a whole new version once I've gotten some other stories and projects sorted because it came so easily at first and every time I made changes or revisions I slapped my fave thinking, yeah, that's objectively better. It just so happened that it applied to this prompt at this phase of work done on it so I figured it was time to start dropping it in front of eyes.
As I started reading this, I was hopeful (like a victim) that this would be about two people meeting on a blind date. I naively ignored the obvious clues. You wisely took your time revealing what was about to happen, just like your hunter. Once I knew the inevitable was about to happen, I kept reading to find out why she was doing this and I expected I wouldn't get an answer until the end. But I also wanted to know a little bit sooner why he was out there if he was a creature of habit. I'd introduce that explanation sooner. A couple things...
I always get annoyed with names in short story when there's only two active characters. I'd tried in an earlier variation and it got clunky. Someone told me they weren't important anyways. This felt like a morbid romance between the MC's anyways and I thought, fuck all you're right, it IS about them and no one else matters when there's a hunt. Fair enough. I still feel weird about it though. Honestly my first version was all on her and the male had no agency except to be prey she "humanized" with later, but that flow felt worse and made t...
Adding his point of view deepens the story. Otherwise it's like you said, the equivalent of her buying meat. You don't have to give names to people. Just be careful when talking about past boyfriends so they don't get mixed up with the current victim. She could give each one a nickname or defining feature. Yeah, you can definitely drag the readers' emotion around by letting them think he might escape. Seems common in horror. Just don't go back and forth too much or reader's will notice the deliberate manipulation of their emotions. You we...
Oh God, my company started with mall kiosks. I wonder if I coulda had more fun having readers think he was a past abuser too, then reveal, after they don't feel bad for him, that he's totally innocent and she's just projecting to make it easier to stomach... Nah, I wanted her to be self-aware. That makes it scarier. She doesn't need convincing to be something she enjoys.
The hint that he might be a past abuser is intriguing but you don't want to over think it. Think of it in this way. She's done this before, what makes this "job" different? What is challenging her internally? What past belief is being put in question?
ok. I was wrong. Good. Confused or wanting more? I dunno... I looked at comments again and found this: "but now gives it up when she realizes he's like her. Maybe I could've given the readers a moment near the end where they go, "wait, DO they get together!?!" before ruining that hope too... I'm beginning to think I enjoy fucking with readers too much" 1> she did not die. Cool 2.> she retired? I think she did 3.) now that I am filled with answers... I beg the statement: Abusers/killers have a moral right to sympathy because they are vict...
I'm at the mid-section. I just figured out where it's going (and glanced at some comments)...but that doesn't matter. It's bambi legs purity. Isn't that the part about Bambi that is _real_ (the shaking legs?). I see words and phrases that are new and never used before. I see a pixie killer, not exactly a witch..probably a killer...and now I see why the man is characterized in first para with 'clockwork' references. The nether hours. So I stopped to say that I sniff Poe. I think the poetry is 9% awkward and it should stay awkward. That is...
I loved the dance macabre of this story, between her and him. I also really like the idea that the entire story is really a minute in time (perhaps less?). Great tension. Lovely expressive writing style. I love a dark tale and this was well executed.
It was a surprising short temporal experience to write, but it kinds flew off my fingertips when I first put pen to paper. I like when literature can take a single moment and extend it to take advantage of the importance and impact of a single moment. Things can be fast paced even when time is slowing down.
Absolutely, you did that so well!
I don't know what to make of this story. At first, it was most difficult to understand what was going on but towards the middle and the end, I think I got a general idea. It's haunting, really, and tragic for both the man and the woman. There were some paragraphs I couldn't quite understand. Like when you explained about guns and physics. I kept reading though because I liked the mystery and really wanted to know the back story of the man and the killer. I think you subtly showed us this in the story, explaining the tragedy in the piece an...
I had a hard time with the beginning because I wasn't sure if I wanted this to be a short story or something much longer. A few years back, I intended to write a short story about my time as a bartender. Almost four years later, I'm querying agents with a full novel. I wasn't sure at the time if this was going to be the same, but it ended up evolving into a short story that I tended to like despite my foggy start. Foggy starts fit the motif, I guess. No one sees what's in it until they walk through the veil. Great for imagery, but hard to ge...