“Look, Milly! It’s a robin! That means spring is coming.”
I roll my eyes. Despite my small appearance, I am not actually a child, and the fact that strangers think so is somewhere between amusing and infuriating. Of course, I prefer to catch people off guard. So I dress in bright clothes, wear pigtails and go by Milly instead of my full name. Until I strike.
My latest victim is a widow and a piano teacher. I signed up for lessons with her through the library computer. I used the fake account my father left me. Jack Roman.
That was what they called him, when he was alive. The Roman. An assassin, who killed killers. The only one they never came close to catching.
It is also what they now call me.
I finger the bracelet on my left wrist, a thin bronze band with a decorative seam halfway. It’s one of those things you can flick to make it flat, except much more dangerous. Because half of the bracelet is a handle, and the other half is a sheath covering a thin dagger.
As soon as Linda comes out of the kitchen, I ‘break’ my band. My obsidian eyes blink and slowly fill with tears. The woman races over to me.
“Milly! Your bracelet!”
“It broke! I was playing with the clasp, and it broke, and it was my favourite, and my daddy told me never to take it off, and I broke it!!”
Linda wipes away my tears with her thumb and looks me in the eye. “My husband was a jeweler, I still have a kit downstairs. How about I run and grab it, and we can fix up your bracelet, huh?”
I nod slowly, slightly mollified. She stands and hurries across the room and down the stairs to the basement. As soon as she is gone, I snap the band flat and slip off the sheath, revealing a sharp, pointed blade of the same material. As she rushes back in with her jewelry kit, I stand and plunge it into her gut. She drops, her eyes filled with horror.
I slip the ties off my hair and drop them in the growing pool of her blood.
“Snitches get stitches,” I say coldly, “Killers get dead.”
“Who are you?”
I ignore her and begin to set the scene. I place all the evidence I have collected against her on a table, marking the envelope with her handprint. I write ‘murderer’ on the wall with a bucket of red paint, not even bothering to hide it. Then I pick up the phone and dial.
“Nine-one-one, please state your emergency?”
I hang up. Then I grab my bike, placing my helmet over my blonde hair, and pedal away as fast as I can.
“What the hell is her problem?”
“Their problem, honey, and they don’t have one.”
“She thinks she’s more than one person. She definitely has a problem!”
“Actually honey, that’s not true. I told you, they simply don’t identify as female. If you had paid the slightest attention, you would know what the singular they means.”
I listen to my parents fighting again. If either of them knew about the recording devices I had placed around the house, they would know they were half wrong.
I did have a problem.
But it wasn’t my gender identity. Being non-binary had nothing to do with my paranoia. That stemmed from my sister.
I was nine the first time it happened. She had come into my room, sleepwalking. Clearly her dream was awful because she had a knife and was using it to hack my favourite teddy to pieces. The teddy she hated.
I had been unable to move, afraid she would turn the knife on me. But she picked up the pieces of the bear and left the room, leaving the weapon on the floor.
I took it downstairs and put it back where she had found it, the block in the kitchen where Mom kept her paring knives.
Then the smoke alarm went off.
The police had said that the bear was likely flammable, and the warm night had caused it to catch fire. I knew they were wrong.
My sister had set that fire, and almost killed her entire family. The worst part was, even though she had dreamed about doing it and remembered perfectly, she still didn’t know it was her. But I did.
And I started researching, hiding cameras everywhere in case it happened again, spying on other people who killed in their sleep, those who had split personalities.
Waiting, unaware threats.
It wasn’t me.
The news report is loud, my heart is pounding even louder. The wailing sirens are painful. The words scrolling across the screen read: ‘Night Killer: twentieth strike. When will it end?’
The night killer. Again.
I start to have difficulty breathing, so I close my eyes and block everything out.
It wasn’t me.
That is my mantra. The one I recite every time my childhood bullies are reported gone, mean girls on fire, unrequited crushes with hearts ripped out of their chest or old, spiteful ladies from the grocery store yesterday are found without a tongue. I swear, the fact that everything I hate is ruined, and everything I love is mysteriously mine isn’t my fault.
I’m not a monster.
Nobody else thinks I am, at least.
Except my sibling. Ever since the fire, they flinch whenever I walk into a room, retreating further into their computer, ordering their weird robotics club stuff and sometimes I swear they were just sneaking around my room. What they are looking for, I have no idea, but clearly they haven’t found it because they keep coming back.
My parents mostly ignore me. Ever since Palm came out as non-binary, my father has rejected them, so my mother spends most of her time trying to help make him understand. So far, it’s not working. The only times my mom pays attention to me is when I make her take me shopping. Palm won’t go with me, but they also won’t stay alone in the house with dad, so it’s rare. I guess they’re not sure who scares them most.
To be truthful, I kind of scare myself at this point.
This time, it was Kaylie. Yesterday she had pulled my braid in art class. Then she cut it off. I remember looking in the mirror, seeing my dark hair falling just past my ears in waves. Not even down to my chin.
I was so mad I punched her in the face. Then I went home and cried.
I’m tired this morning. Typically, when I’m tired, it means I wake up to a dead body.
Except that is all a coincidence. Because it can’t be me.
It just can’t.
“Mom, going out.”
I wait for a reply. Of course, I don’t get one. Ever since Fara-
No, ever since the ‘accident’, my mother doesn’t live here anymore. I don’t mean she is missing, or moved out, I just mean she isn’t… her.
Eyes vacant, she wanders around aimlessly, silently crying. Her beautiful smile is gone. She never puts any effort into her clothes, who was once so put together now in sweatpants and tank tops if she even bothers to get out of her pajamas.
If it wasn’t for the money Gramps left her-
Once again, I will not think about that. I guess I’ve gotten pretty good at erasing thoughts from my mind, stopping dangerous ones in their tracks and erasing guilty ones from my memory. If I can’t hold myself together, everyone else will fall apart. And that can’t-
Again, no. I change the train of thought, biking down the drive towards Mia’s house. The richest girl in town, and my ex, I never bothered to erase her wifi password.
I turn on my phone, flicking through the news reports. Eesh.
Four murder stories.
Of course, the biweekly report on my twin’s mysterious death. No new information, obviously. Then-
God. All three killers in one night.
First, the Roman. Last afternoon, a piano teacher was found murdered in her home, along with evidence she murdered her husband. Well, at least that means he wasn’t another of the many casualties by the Night Killer, or worse, the Hacker. The only upside to the Roman- he only kills killers. And he always proves it.
Of course, second to him is the Night killer. With three to six murders per year, it took them only four to reach twenty murders. Best thing about the night killer- takes on assholes. Probably a personal vendetta, which means that the suspect pool is limited to basically anyone who’s lived in the Canyon their whole life, and wasn’t homeschooled. These victims have pissed off nearly everyone at Hudson Memorial, the only school in this town. Lately- Kaylie McCall. A total bitch, but never bothers to hide it.
Then last, the Hacker. Does all their killing from an untraceable computer. Could be anyone, anywhere in the world. And the worst part- kills randomly. No pattern. A lot of the victims do bad in school, have a mental condition, an explosive temper, or- trouble sleeping. Nobody knows why, but the youngest they’ve ever died was ten.
Not even a teenager.
Last night’s was thirteen, but only had one outburst in class and that was a couple months ago.
There is something seriously fucked up about this psychopath. All of them.
Seriously, how is this town still standing?
How are we not all dead?