I walk home at night on the left side of the street. Always left, never right. I’m actually not sure why this is, but I notice a lot of the time people tend not to be on the left side of the street walking behind me. I can see when someone is coming and prepare for their approach. I put my hand in my purse, cradling the tazer I bought two years ago always just in case. Should my time ever come, I am prepared. Don’t worry, if you were, my time did not come on the street. It came in my apartment.
I approached quietly, so as not to wake a single neighbor. What I never seem to realize is how futile my attempts are when I reach the second door in the complex on my way up the stairs. Some time ago, the hinge must have been bent downward from someone leaning on the protruding door handle. Every time it opens or shuts, it requires a little too much push or pull to be remotely quiet. The sounds of what little leftover paint coats the doorframe getting scraped off permeate down four halls and up the stairs. It is because of that I try not to come home too early. It is also because of this that I feel safe at home at night because I can hear if someone has entered into my complex and time how long it would take them at a full-on sprint to make their way to my door in particular. I might seem paranoid to you, but I am prepared. Always. Living alone will do that to you.
It’s funny how you never hear about how careful a woman must be until its too late. I must regretfully add myself to that list, for I did not remain safe in the city forever. Two solid years after college of meticulous preparation and studying did me no favors whence the time of my reckoning came upon me.
The door never sounded, the left side of the street was empty, and I was in the middle of checking the windows to ensure they were still hinged and locked when he came from behind. It doesn’t take much imagination or deduction to realize the strength and gender of an attacker. It isn’t often that it’s another woman, and his burly hands would seem monstrous on anyone besides a seasoned killer. Men kill. He killed. I’d like to say I put up a struggle if I had any preference left in me. But, like the air left in my corpse’s lungs, that has escaped me too. With hands like iron steel, he grabbed me from behind and went straight for the neck. I reached for his hands first, scratching, tugging, ripping, but the black leather gloves wouldn’t let me through. Each finger hooked around my larynx and pressed in hard. I kicked blindly toward where his crotch might be, but my feet found nothing. My elbows swung with as much force as I could conjure but he was tall and his arms were long. From somewhere deep within the flowing currents of panic and adrenaline, the last of my logical thoughts bubbled to the surface. My eyes, probably bulging and red at this point, darted around in search of my purse. When I made out saw it, I reached with all my might. I now know it was laying on the floor, its contents spewed out. He must have grabbed it with one hand, thrown it on the floor, and taken me by the throat when he initially attacked. My last thoughts, mixed into the cocktail of fear, were probably the ideological fetuses of anger. I had done everything right. I had taken advice from so many people on how to be safe. One could blame me for not taking those self-defense classes, sure, but they weren’t cheap and took time out of my life. Why, I thought, should I have to spend my time and money because the male sex can’t keep their perverted hands to themselves? It wasn’t fair. None of this was fair. This was murder. I was being murdered.
I can remember then, two memories simultaneously recorded, like two rolls of film overlaying one another, or a double exposure shot taken by an old camera. One felt the peace of death, the light at the end of the tunnel as the last of my synapses flashed away. The other watched what happened before me. My lifeless, very dead corpse lay with her eyes wide open, spilling tears out of the crevices between my eyelids, but besides that, stationary, suspended in a perpetual expression of horror. The face of my last gasp. This is the part when the shows would transition into the fall in the crescendo, when the scene would return to the daily life of the detective before the case to give the audience a break from the horror. To give a nice contrast between the manic, horrific nature of the villain and the loveable, enviable life of the hero. But not for me. I stayed with the villain. Thoughtless– truly thoughtless. You can’t imagine what that’s like, because to think about it is to think.
He did not flee. He did not move about frantically trying to hide any evidence. He sat on my couch, in my favorite spot and admired his handiwork. He even bothered to take off his gloves and set them down on the table. He slowly rubbed his hands across his thighs, wiping off my sweat and drool. Everything was so clear and vivid. For the first time ever, the sounds of the external world did not have to compete with the thump of a heartbeat or the rush of blood or the soft turbine engine sounds of breathing that remain ever active during your lifetime. He let the adrenaline extinguish from his body. He pulled out a cigarette and smoked. He chuckled. He smiled. He followed the curves of my body with his eyes. My landlord doesn’t allow smoking of any kind and has these super touchy smoke alarms set to go off in the presence of the slightest lack of pure oxygen. I came home one night after an evening with some friends and some weed and the thing went off. I kept it undone for a long while until it dawned on me that I could leave the gas on overnight and not wake up the next morning. Apparently, he’d thought this through as well and taken it apart.
He sniffed the air and got a whiff of the increasingly grotesque atmosphere of my apartment. He approached my body and caressed my face with his hand. He proceeded to shape my face into different expressions until he got bored. What happened next, I’m not sure. Like I said, I was not there before. I was dead. But when I was brought back, the memories of being dead came along with them. The first thing I remember from my new life was the blurry silhouettes of black tree branches and vines up against a white background. The image refined as I came back into being and the vines and branches became veins. Beyond the veins came my apartment and in it, he stood looking down at me. I did not move. I did not speak. I felt nothing.
He told me to stand and so I did. Just like that, the dead had risen. But no one would praise me for it. No one would ever know. He ordered me to shower and so I did. He picked out my outfits and I wore whatever he wanted me to wear. He started living around a little more. I was ordered to live a routine life. I did. I did whatever he wanted me to do. I am whatever he wants me to be. I am his object, his plaything. When he says, I am putty in his hands. People would ask where I met him. I was always told to tell them I met him through some friends to family and family to friends. He’s rich, he says. I believe it. If you haven’t caught on, I believe everything he says.
Now, we sit together at the restaurant. Something is off in his mannerisms. I may be dead, but I can see something is different in the way he glances around awkwardly at everyone else. His head is shinier than usual and he breathes through his mouth more than usual. The crumbling memories of feeling things drops one last familiar brick, he’s scared.
“Tell me somethin’,” he goes digging for a cigarette to no avail, “D’ you like this?”
I stare at him. I was told to answer yes, but “believably” whenever he asked me questions like this. However, this time was different. I tell him yes and he just nods while his gaze falls elsewhere.
“Do you think people can come back from what they’ve done? Like… even special people? In movies, there are heroes and villains and I know…” his eyes lock with mine. Since I died, it’s become challenging to keep my face working as well as it used to. Now was one of those times when it fails to look human. He sighs and shakes his head. “I have a new command for you,” he says solemnly. “I want you to think again.”
After some silence, he asks me, “Can you do that? …please?” He has never used this word before. “I want you to be your own person again. I don’t want this. You don’t want this.”
I stare blankly. I am lost.
“Please, just go back to being a person again. Can you do that? I am…” he sputters off. I can’t hear what he says under his breath. Looking around the room, his eyes begin to dart back and forth in a way that I’ve never seen them do before. I hadn’t known him when I was alive but I think he knew me. I think this place was where he would come before. Before he had to power to make people into objects. I think he’s sad he did that. I just stare.
“Can’t…” he starts, “I dunno. Can’t any of you just think?” Everyone in the diner turns to face him. I look closer. I had never realized that he could do this to other people too. The closer I look, the more I realize that he could do this to anyone and he’s done it to just about everyone. “Everyone, please, go back to being yourselves. I-I’m sorry. None of you deserved this.” They stare. I stare. “This-this is hopeless.” He gets out of the booth and makes his way outside without paying. No one stops him.
In the streets, I can hear him shouting. The whole city stares. He’d had his fun. Covered his tracks. Killed and renewed again and again. Now in loneliness, he wishes he’d never done any of it. Objects are fun, they feel nice, they do what you wish. But that’s not people. No, now the people stare. And one by one we collapse.