DEFECTIVE aka Tragic Spawn
It was mid-afternoon, overcast, and The East End Mall in Kingsdale was crowded with shoppers. The Eraser, as he liked to think of himself, sat at one of the molded plastic tables by himself, nursing a Pepsi and eating fries from a small cardboard plate, and people watching. It was one of his favorite things to do, especially in nice weather when the girls wore shorts or tight jeans, some with their tanned midriffs bare, skimpy tops that showed off their boobs and skinny jeans that accentuated their tight little butts. Why not? He was a normal guy, he told himself. He avoided looking at the ones with flab hanging over their waistbands. He had girlfriend once or twice, but it didn't last. The last one said he was weird and just stopped returning his calls. Well, to hell with her.
His eye strayed momentarily to the big screen monitor advertising Nike sneakers. Then it changed to a rent-a-car commercial and on to something else, but he'd already looked away. Idly dipping a French fry in the small pool of ketchup on his plate, he popped it in his mouth and went back to girl-watching. They did little for him today. His hand moved to cover the scratch that the retard left on his cheek, though it was fading now. That Polysporin ointment was good stuff.
Music played over the sound system, competing with the jabbering of shoppers, nothing he recognized. Probably supposed
to keep people shopping, buying junk they didn't need. His gaze narrowed ever so slightly as a young girl with a silver ring in her lower lip and wearing black eyeliner got up from a table not far from him and limped heavily to the waste bin and dumped in
the remainder of her meal, a half-eaten hamburger, fries. She sat the tray on top of the stack. Behind her, someone called out, "Hey, Lana," and the girl turned in his direction and took a step forward so he could see her full-length; she looked past his shoulder
and waved. He felt his heartbeat rev up, his throat go dry.
She had short dark hair, and was wearing a khaki skirt and cream-colored blouse. Her dimpled smile, the gleam of white, even teeth barely registered on him. He didn't even glance behind him at the woman who had called out to her. He had no interest. As he had no genuine interest in the woman who returned the wave, really.
No. It was her foot in its big brown shoe that drew and held his attention. Not brown exactly, but like tea when you put milk in it. Taupe. Yes, that was what his mother called that color. It was all he could see when he looked at her: that big clunking shoe. So ugly it offended him, as deformities of any kind offended him. Even horrified him. A chill had crept down his back. He had to work extra hard to keep the disgust and pity from his face. She was a mistake. A blight, a tragic spawn. She must be erased. Like when you're a kid and you draw a picture of something and it doesn't come out right. You just erase it. Or rip out the page, and start again.
He was the eraser of mistakes. The good Lord had chosen him to do this work. Not that he was blaming God. No, there was no blame to be handed out here. Some small voice told him his reasoning was flawed, that that wasn't why they had to die. But he wasn't listening. As people were born of sin, women carried the faulty limbs, twisted features and minds within them. Carriers. As his mother had been a carrier, her womb spewing forth a defective, barely human—thing. Not the defective's fault either. But since the flaw couldn't be repaired, the whole issue had to be erased. The burden lifted. The Eraser held that kind of power; he could end suffering, change lives for the better. He remembered well the very moment he had changed his own life but no time for that now. She was heading for the exit doors. He rose casually from his chair, tossing the remainder of his own fries and drink into the trash, dropped his tray on top of hers, and followed. He was really following the 'shoe'. His eyes were riveted on the shoe. It filled his vision, his consciousness. That big, ugly shoe that rose and fell, rose and fell, her left hip dipping in sync, the shoe dragging it downward, seeming an entity in itself. When she stepped through the automatic doors into the grey, drizzly day, he was right behind her. Close enough to touch her. He buried his hands deep in his pockets to stifle the urge.
The bus pulled up with a hiss of air brakes and a belch of exhaust, and she hitched herself up onto the step. He followed, paid his fare. His bike was chained and locked in the parking lot; it would be fine. She took a side seat near the driver, and he sat himself two seats behind her and pretended to look out the window.
In the grayness of the day, his reflection in the glass was faint, but almost at once he could see his reflection begin to morph into that of another, as she had once been. A raindrop ran down the window and caught one corner of her mouth like the drool he remembered, couldn't forget, and he could not tear his eyes away. The small voice in his head spoke to him, sending the familiar chill through him, as if his heart had just received an infusion of ice water. The voice could form words now, where once it was capable only of mindless gibberish. "You know it's me in there, don't you. I'm watching you. I've come back. I'll always come back. I'll never leave you."
Fearing he had cried out, he jerked his head around in sudden panic, but no one on the bus was looking at him. One man was reading a newspaper. A woman was talking and smiling at her little boy. Relief swept through him, but he was trembling just the same. A Chinese man seated across from him turned the page in his paperback, paying him no mind.
The girl had put earphones in her ears and her lips were moving to a song only she could hear. Her legs were crossed, the shoeswinging in time, mocking him.
WHAT IF EVIL STALKED THE ONE PLACE
WHERE YOU FEEL THE MOST SAFE?
He stood near the ancient gnarled apple tree that for years now had produced only sour, wizened apples, waiting
for her. The hot thick air hummed with the chirping of crickets. Behind him, an occasional fat June bug bumped against the screen door, drawn by the night-light. Now and then a car passed by, seeming only to emphasize his sense of aloneness. Not much traffic
on Elder Avenue since they built the thruway.
Three houses down, Nealey’s old black lab set to barking excitedly at something – a raccoon scavenging in a garbage can, most likely, but it could just as well be shadows. The mutt had a game leg and was as deaf as his mother’s turquoise plastic crucifix that hung on the wall above the TV. The old man oughta have him done away with, put the damn thing out of its misery. Maybe I’ll do it for him one of these days, he thought, a grin playing at one corner of his cruel mouth. As he retrieved the pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket, he heard Nealey’s door open, heard the old man’s low, gravelly voice call the dog inside.
He gazed up at the starry sky, grin fading as he envisioned Marie and that hotshot kid in the fruity white blazer slow dancing under these very stars. Bodies molded together, the kid’s hands moving over her, groping… his breath hot in her ear…
With a muttered curse, he shook his head as if to banish the image, checked an impulse to crush the pack of cigarettes in his hand. Instead, he struck a match against the tree, but his hand was unsteady and it took a few tries before he managed to get it lit. Leaning his back against the tree he closed his eyes. The rough bark of the tree stabbed like jagged stone through his thin nylon jacket. He sucked smoke into his lungs, exhaled slowly, trying to calm himself.
He wasn’t usually a heavy smoker, but four hours later, when he finally heard the car drive up, a small mound of butts had accumulated beside him on the ground. With slow deliberation, he mashed this latest one out too, and rose to his feet. Although stiff from sitting, at the same time a power born of rage surged through his veins like electricity.
Music drifted through the open, car window – a soppy Manilow ballad about a girl named Mandy. Above the music, her laugh floated to him, high and lilting as wind chimes. Mocking him. The flirtatious note in her laugh made his throat tighten, his hands curl into fists at his sides. But it was the maddeningly long silence that followed, while the music went on playing, that made him want to fly at them, yank them both out of the car and beat that scummy kid with her until he had to crawl home through his own blood. He wanted to do it. He saw himself doing it. It took all his will to remain where he was.
At last she got out of the car. He could see the pale flair of her skirt through the leaves.
“Night, Ricky. I had a really nice time.”
“Yeah, me too. Okay if I call you tomorrow?”
“You wanna go to a movie? Christine’s playing at the Capital.”
The car door closed with a solid thunk. The kid’s old man was a dentist; the car was a graduation present.
As Marie turned away and started up the path toward him, the kid gunned the motor and drove off, taillights glowing like twin rockets, swiftly disappearing into the night.
Now the only sounds were the crickets and the soft click of her shoes on the cement walk. Yet she looked to be almost floating toward him, her white, strapless dress blue in the moonlight.
When she left the house tonight, her black glossy hair had been swept up into a satiny swirl, a few wispy curls trailing down past her ears; now it was messed up. The muscle in his jaw ticked as he moved deeper into the shadows.
Her pearl drop earrings swayed lightly above her bare shoulders as she walked. He knew how smooth those shoulders would feel beneath his hands because he’d touched them before. He had touched her. Had tasted the warm, throbbing hollow of her traitorous throat, crushed her mouth beneath his own, sometimes to silence her crying. Even now, he could taste her salty tears on his tongue.
As she drew nearer to where he stood in the clot of darkness, she touched her fingertips to her mouth, a small secret smile on her lips like the goddamn Mona Lisa. Face all soft and dreamy – all of it for someone else – never for him.
He waited until she was directly parallel to him, then stepped out of the shadows. He enjoyed hearing her gasp of shock, in seeing her hand leap to her breast in fright, the smile vanish as she stumbled on the walkway, nearly falling.
“Damn you! You scared me half to death. What’s wrong with you? Why are you always sneaking around? Always watching me. Can’t I have one normal…”
His hand clamped hard and sudden over her mouth, cutting off her words. It made him feel good to see those lovely eyes widen with shock, then fear. Fear that turned swiftly to terror, then to pleading. But it was too late for that. Too late. The beast had risen up in him.
“It’s midnight, Cinderella,” he whispered.
He noticed her as soon as he walked into the bar. She was sitting with another girl, a blond; pretty, he supposed, but his attention was riveted on the dark-haired one. He ordered a beer and took a table in the far corner where he had a good view, while he himself was safe from watchful eyes. She had satiny hair to her shoulders, high cheekbones, was slender in a silk print top, black slacks, like a woman on the cover of a magazine. She was laughing at something the blond said, flashing perfect white teeth and his heart tripped. She's the one, the voice told him. Excitement surged through him as he recast her in the movie that for years now, replayed endlessly on the screen of his mind.
When the two women rose to leave, he left his unfinished beer on the table and casually, so as not to draw attention to himself, followed them outside. She had put on a jacket and it shone bright white in the lights from the parking lot.
After chatting briefly, the two girls gave each other a quick hug, then parted and went to their respective cars, parked a good distance from one another. There was a rightness to it. They might just as easily have come in one car, or parked closer to one another. But they did not. The stars were finally lining up in his favor.
He came up behind her as she was fitting the key in the lock of the red Corvair. "I'm Buddy," he said softly, so as not to frighten her. Despite his best intention, she whirled around, eyes wide. "Jesus, you scared the shit out of me. What do you want?"
He felt the smile on his face falter. A mask, crumbling. "I just want to talk to you."
"Fuck off, okay? I'm not interested."
With those words, her beauty vanished, as if he'd imagined it. Her mouth was twisted and ugly. Disappointment weighed heavy on him. Anger boiled up from his depths.
"That was wrong of you to say that to me," he said, still speaking quietly.
Belying the softness of his voice, she saw something in his eyes then and he saw that she did, and when she opened her mouth to scream, he stuck her full in the face with his fist.
She slid down the side of the car as if boneless. He caught her before she hit the ground, then dragged her around to the other side of the car, blocking her with his own body in case someone saw them. Not that he was too concerned. If anyone did see them they would just figure she was his girlfriend and that she'd had one too many. But there was no one in the lot. Even her friend had already driven off.
He lowered her limp form to the ground while he hurried round to the driver's side and got the key out of the door. He put on his gloves, and opened the passenger door. After propping her up in the seat, he went back around and slid into the driver's side. Then he turned on the ignition and the car hummed to life.
Shifting the car into reverse, he backed out of the parking spot. He gave the wheel a hard turn and she fell against him, her hair brushing his face and filling his senses with her shampoo, something with a hint of raspberry. He pushed her off him and her head thunked against the passenger window. A soft moan escaped her, but she didn't wake.
He drove several miles out of the city, then turned left onto a rutted dirt road and stayed on it for a good ten minutes. Spotting a clearing leading into the woods, an old logging road no longer used, he eased the car in, bumping over dips and tangled roots. He went in just far enough not to be seen from the road on the off-chance someone drove by, but also taking care he wouldn't get stuck in here. The headlights picked out the white trunks of spruce trees, spot-lighting the leaves that seconds later receded into blackness, as if this were merely a stage set.
Beside him, the woman moaned again then whimpered, her hand moving to her face where he had struck her. Blood trickled darkly down one corner of her mouth and her eyes fluttered open. He knew the instant she sensed him there beside her, like the bogeyman in a nightmare.
Except she was awake now. When she turned to look at him he felt her stiffen, could see in her eyes that she knew she was in big trouble. He almost felt sorry for her. Almost.
"Who are you?" she croaked, more blood leaking from the corner of her mouth, eyes wet with tears.
"What does it matter?"
"Please…please don't hurt me. I'm—I'm sorry for what I said to you. I shouldn't have. If you want to… I mean, it's okay. You don't have to hurt…"
His fury was like lava from a volcano and his hand shot out, the back of it shutting off her words in mid-sentence. "Shut up, whore."
She was crying hard now, heavy, hiccupy sobs, helpless, terrified. But her tears meant nothing to him. She was right to be afraid. He slid the knife from its sheath that hung on his belt and let her see it.
"Oh, God, no please…" She was choking on her tears, wriggling away from him, trapped, like a butterfly on the head of a pin. He smiled when she reached for the door handle on her side, and then drove the knife into her upper arm. She screamed and he wound his fingers into her hair. "Be quiet," he said, while she held her arm with her other hand and wept like a child.
As he had wept. As he wept still.
"You can't get away," he said. "There's no place to go."