Asking for It

Submitted into Contest #50 in response to: Write a story told entirely through one chase scene.... view prompt

2 comments

Thriller

Trigger warning: depictions of stalking and sexual assault

      When they found her overturned cart, its contents burst open and seeping across the asphalt, one wheel was still spinning. It squeaked into the air like a wounded animal until a hand reached over and stilled it. The absence of its cry felt like pressure, a riddle pausing for an answer, the connections right there underneath all this confusion.

Someone, later no one would remember who, pointed to the small red hatchback just across the lot. The dome light was on, illuminating an empty interior with the driver’s side door swung open. They all wearily approached, but it was one man who rounded the trunk towards the open door, who first saw the rust colored splatter against the shiny paint, who was the first to find the body.

*

           The first time they locked eyes was when their carts collided that day down aisle nine, but he had noticed her much earlier. Just before the collision he caught the grace of her pale neck turned the other direction. And before that, the way she delicately checked the ripeness of tomatoes, selecting the ones that gave just so under her fingertips. And before that, when she hovered like a hummingbird around the floral display, picking up and then putting down the barely-pink tulips; replacing them with the lavender grey of hydrangeas, and back and forth a few times before forsaking them both for a wild arrangement of greenery and deep burgundy.

           Just as he knew she would.

           And even before that, as she walked from her car in the underground parking lot, eyes downcast, digging for something in her bottomless purse. Distractedly bumping head-on into a stranger, a rosy blush creeping up her neck and onto her cheeks as she laughed and shook her head at her own foolishness.

           And earlier still, on her front steps locking up behind her, and for weeks now stretched out behind them from her morning jog to her days spent writing at the corner coffee bar, to the nights spent alone reading a book or watching a film curled in a tight ball under a blanket. He watched through windows bare and glowing like a stage set. Then later, after discovering the one that just didn’t quite latch, from much closer.

           In the beginning he would slip inside after she’d gone to bed, waiting an hour or so after her bedside lamp clicked off. He liked touching the things she had touched, smelling her perfume in the air. He liked getting to know her quirks, how she left dishes in the sink until morning, and went to bed with socks on only to tug them off in the middle of the night.

That first night he was sure she had seen him. She moved so abruptly and deliberately, sitting halfway up to pull the white cotton from her feet, looking straight at him before collapsing back down with the softest sigh. He held his breath, heart pounding, eyes wide, laser focused for any sign that she had been awake. He would look back on this moment and laugh, but at the time he was solid with fear.

           Had she seen him?

Did it have to end so soon?

He stayed for hours to be sure, listening to the soft rustle of crisp sheets, ready to do what needed to be done. Eventually the night came to an end, and he had to decide. Should he be safe and do this now? He moved closer, standing over her. He reached out a hand, hovering it above her fine features, so soft and serene. He knew he shouldn’t risk it, but the thought of losing all that lay ahead stopped him. He pulled back, crept slowly from the room, down the stairs, and eased back outside pulling the window closed behind him.

When her alarm clock sounded a few minutes later, he heard it from across the lawn.

           He felt closer to her after that, and their relationship developed quickly. He started letting himself in during the day, spending time with her things while she was out, leaving before she returned. Sometimes he would take something small, a puzzle piece or a page from a book. He liked to imagine her gently furrowed brow when she discovered it. How her heartrate would elevate while she wondered, had someone been here? The thought of her like that, alone and afraid, was enough to carry him until they were together again.  

           Eventually, he stopped leaving all together. It felt so intimate, him disappearing from a room just before she entered it, or trailing behind her as she got the house ready for bed. After nightfall he would wait, sometimes in the foyer, sometimes in the hall closet, while she gathered herself from the living room. Then he traced the same path her body took through the living room while she put her plate in the kitchen. He hovered in the kitchen as she ascended the stairs, languished on the stairs while she washed her face, and stood tormented in the bathroom, surrounded by the scent of creams and lotions, while in the next room she undressed and settled into bed. Finally, once the light was out and her breathing had changed, he joined her in the bedroom, touching himself to the gentle rise and fall of the sheets as she slept.

           It was amazing, he thought, the depth their relationship was reaching. Whenever he felt their time was drawing to a close, something new would happen. Sometimes she’d almost catch him, spinning quickly around mid-stride, searching the air behind her. Walking slowly around a corner, while he inched just out of view. Both of their hearts pounding as she paused, sensing the air shifting, molecules clamoring to fill the void where his volume had been. One more step and it would be over, the climax they’d journeyed toward for all these weeks finally here, but then her brow would gently furrow. She’d shake her head at herself, and turn away.

Something about the way she did it, stopped just short of exposing the truth, made him wonder. Was it possible she knew? There were other signs. Like when she let her robe fall open just so, revealing a little too much at just the right angle for him to see. Or how some mornings she’d leave the bathroom door cracked while she showered, those the graceful movements feeling like a shadowy performance meant just for him. The more he thought about it he could piece together a whole quilt of moments that separate meant nothing, but together revealed an unmistakable pattern that began with that very first night.

She had looked right at him.

He wasn’t sure, however, until he saw the shopping list.

When he discovered it on the counter, he was curious. She never wrote out lists like this. Whenever something crossed her mind that she wanted to track, she whipped out her phone and typed away furiously. It drove him mad, that they could share everything, but those thoughts stayed private. This changed all that. To an outsider it was just a shopping list, but he saw it for what it really was: A love letter. The key was to look beyond the words, to the emotion of the hand that wrote them. At the top it began so neat and controlled. As it proceeded down the page the words became looser, more relaxed. They built to a crescendo of erratic scrawl, the last item barely legible it was rendered with such passion. And then, at the bottom of the page, she’d drawn a perfect little heart.

It was their love story, told through penmanship. The simplest words bestowed with the deepest meaning. She had known all along. This was her extending an invitation. He knew exactly how to accept.

He’d bump into her and she’d smile, and they’d go somewhere and talk for hours. They’d live their whole lives together never saying aloud that they’d shared a secret life before this one. It would be their private and special thing. Their own beautiful story they’d carry along as a silent reminder of how special their love was.

It was this story he carried with him, garnering momentum as he crossed the parking lot behind her. His heart swelled with affection as he watched her bury her face in her purse, not paying attention to where she was going. He felt a pang of envy as she smiled and laughed, shook her head and apologized to the man she bumped into. He knew, of course, there was nothing to be jealous about, she was just showing him what it would be like. It was another thoughtful performance just for him.  

He followed after her as she selected the first few items, with each one he pictured it written by her delicate hand. As the items ticked off, they grew closer and closer to that instant of revelation until finally, when they were passing each other in the aisle, he knew the moment was right.

She played her part, turning her head slightly away. He angled his cart just so. When the impact gave them both a little jolt, he lifted his face confidently towards hers, ready to receive that lovely smile, those and eyes filled with laughter. It took him a moment to catch up. He stood frozen and flustered, confused, as the look on her face did not match the picture in his mind. He searched her eyes, trying to reconcile what he was reading behind them.

It was annoyance.

“Excuse me,” she finally said. The ugly edge to her voice, shaking him.

Her eyes darted from his face to his cart, still wedged against hers.

No.

No no no no no.

This wasn’t right.

She raised her eyebrows, waiting.

He finally backed up and she offered him a quick smile and a little shake of her head, but it wasn’t the right type of smile. It wasn’t the right shake of her head. His confusion receded with the rattling of her cart, and was instantly replaced with a swell of rage.

Who did she think she was, leading him on this whole time? Sharing a house with him? Offering little peep shows? She could bestow warmth and grace on a stranger in a parking lot, but not him? Him, who she strung along, torturing for weeks, coercing him out into the open just to what? To shame him? To make him feel foolish?

Afterwards, when the police reviewed the security footage, they would pause and replay that moment over and over. Viewing the transformation from average man to rage-filled predator as he stood still in the middle of that aisle, fuming. The footage is blurry, but posture says a lot about a man. Then they’d watch him rapidly take his cart aisle by aisle until he caught up with her and rammed his cart into hers. They’d stay locked together like that for a few seconds before she extricated herself, turning around, leaving the aisle the way she came. He would follow right behind her. She would glance over her shoulder, growing increasingly worried before rushing into the shortest line.

He would file in one person behind her, stand just off to the side, openly staring, wanting her to feel him there, watching. No one could say why she didn’t tell the cashier something was wrong. Maybe she thought she was overreacting, maybe she didn’t want to make a scene. The cashier would later say her hands were shaking, and that she was distracted, not quite listening or keeping up with small talk. And the cashier had found it odd the way the woman hurried off without her change, but hadn’t thought anything of the man who abandoned his full cart in line and took off out the door.

It happens sometimes.

The parking lot cameras picked her up wheeling her cart quickly, almost running, glancing over her shoulder a few times before shoving the cart away and vanishing out of frame.

A beat later the man ran through after her.

What the camera wouldn’t capture was the sound of his footsteps closing in behind her, or the clatter of the cart overturning as she ran. It couldn’t convey the panic of blindly searching for her keys in her purse, the animal fear of being so close to safety but knowing he’s closing in behind her. It didn’t catch how she found her keys at the last possible second, or the sound of the locks popping open, or how she made it to the driver’s side door, felt her fingers wrap around the handle, and yanked it open.

It didn’t record the scream she let out as he roughly snatched her arm, or the way he wrenched her body around to face him, his other hand tightening around her throat. How he squeezed and squeezed while staring into her panicked face with disdain. How in their final moments together she stared into his hateful eyes and felt powerful.

*

           It had never occurred to him before, how hopeful a cart of groceries could be. It was beautiful, the optimism it took to assume a future of hunger and pleasure. That’s what felt so wrong about seeing them all broken and useless. It was like the death of a dream. That’s what the man was thinking as he rounded the back of the hatchback and saw the blood blooming across the pavement. His eyes moving from the pool of red, to the body, to the face missing the back of its head.

It’s very confusing, finding a dead man in a grocery store parking lot in the middle of the day, so he didn’t see her at first. The whimpering snapped him out of it. He lifted his gaze to find the source of the small animal sounds, and there she was, cowering against the open car door. The gun still in her hand.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, it’s ok. It’s ok. You’re safe now.” He approached her slowly, crouching low, hands up.

“You’re safe now.”

*

The investigation was quick. With the security footage it was a clear-cut case of self-defense, but once they looked into the dead man’s background there was no doubt. He had been a person of interest in the case of woman who went missing in the same area just the year before. She had reported him for stalking and gotten a restraining order. When she disappeared everyone knew it was him, found his fingerprints all over her house, but with no body there was nothing anyone could do.

 When the case of his death was closed, no one thought anything of it when the brave young woman who killed him put her house on the market. The police said he’d been there as well. How could she ever feel safe there? It was only natural she’d want to move on.

It would have taken an unusually curious investigator to dig a little deeper.

If one had, it would have started with the security camera footage, and the strange coincidence that the man she bumped into on the way into the store, was the same who was first to the scene. Sure, he’d removed a baseball hat and sweatshirt, but posture says a lot about a man. Then they would think it was interesting, how she parked just out of frame so the only story anyone would ever hear of those last crucial moments, was hers.

If that seemed odd, they might have questioned why just a few weeks ago her hair was blond, and why she didn’t have any family or friends. And so maybe, when they were doing the courtesy sweep of her home, dusting for prints and making sure it was secure, they’d think twice about the safe in her closet. But even with all that curiosity, they wouldn’t have enough cause for a warrant. So, they’d never know about the collection of hard drives nestled inside. A library of dead men, just like this one, containing every detail of their lives, telling her exactly who to be.

Even if they did find it, they’d never know the real truth. The art of building the trap, the power of leading them into it. How good it felt to feel his fear that first night. To sense him feeling unsure, vulnerable, while knowing exactly what he would do. The satisfaction of playing it perfectly, toying with him and escalating the tension until the exact right moment.

It was the best feeling in the world, watching them wither when they realized the story they’d told themselves, the outcome they were expecting, was a fantasy. It was always hard not to laugh as they got angry, clawing desperately to get back in control. But the best part was when they thought they had her, and she could watch their eyes go from victory to terror as her partner put the gun to their head. In that split second she could see the light come on as they understood exactly what she’d done to them.

The ending is a little bit different each time, but her partner is always tucked just out of view, ready to follow the plan. For example, he might leave a store just a few minutes before she arrives. They might bump into each other in the parking lot, her on her way in, him on his way out. They might share a smile and a laugh. He might crouch around the front of her car, waiting for the door to fly open, giving it a few seconds before coming out. Letting the guy really think he’s won.

Afterwards he might place the gun in her hand, discard a few additional layers of clothing, and circle back. He might appear at an overturned cart, reach out and quiet its squeaking wheel, the newfound silence a riddle waiting for an answer. The connections right there underneath all this confusion.

July 18, 2020 03:15

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2 comments

Meera Dandekar
01:56 Jul 23, 2020

This is very well written!

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Lisa Hines
18:09 Jul 23, 2020

Thank you so much! I hope you enjoyed it!

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