The Cycle (V)

*I like doing segments of the same story for my prompts.  Maybe they will equal something like a whole novel one day.  More likely I’ll have to hack away at them, cutting and pasting until I get a useable short story.  Today’s prompt (“I’m being followed”) is courtesy of BareKnuckleWriter.   I just started following her.  I think I’m gonna like ‘er! 

The Cycle (V)

Many criminalists, and probably most anyone else who a longstanding career in most any aspect of criminal law enforcement, would probably agree that a woman should follow her instinct in regards to “bad feelings.”  If you feel like you’re being watched, you likely are.  If you think you’re being followed, it pays to be paranoid.  As the great author Joseph Heller once said, Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.  

Kurt Cobain agreed, and look how he ended up.  He chuckled at his own tasteless joke with evident self-approbation.

The women he had followed had no idea they were being watched.  When he finally approached them, disarming and all smiles, they had no idea they had likely seen him before.  He took no great pains to avoid being seen.  That was how you got noticed.  Someone trying to hide behind a hoodie or a menu, or surreptitiously slip into a doorway appeared suspicious.  His great talent was blending in.  He knew he was too classically handsome, too good-looking, to go unnoticed entirely all the time, but he had perfected the art of looking nonchalant or preoccupied.  Too busy to notice anyone, let alone be approached.

Even still, every once and a while, a woman would approach him.  Not usually the one he was observing, thankfully, but some clueless, brazen bitch who had no idea that the inconvenience of her advances far outweighed any minute ego boost which he might derive.  Yes, sometimes the shyer ones would just try to catch his eye, offer a tentative smile.  But then there were the ones who practically sauntered over.  Try to buy his coffee, make small talk, perhaps actually thinking they would leave with a phone number or a date.  He was usually able to shut them down quickly and effectively, without hurting their pride too much– a wounded woman would remember him– but he always had to abort whatever mission he was on so as not to draw any further attention.

Even those instances where he’d been “spotted” did not concern him greatly.  He’d had plenty of practice over the years, plenty of time to perfect the art of the hunt.  There had been plenty of times when he’d followed people just to see if he could.  There had been many times when he had no intention of doing anything but following.  He didn’t consider it time wasted.  Rather he thought of himself as an actor learning a part.  Like those prissy Hollywood types they called “method actors.”  Only he didn’t get so involved in his work that he wanted to go home and swallow a bottle of pills or drown in a bottle.  He liked his work.

And after his work became less random, more focussed on what came next, he began to be more selective about the object of his attentions.  When he finally moved on to phase two (what he was scarcely aware that he mentally referred to glibly as “the meet and greet,”) he was pleased to discover an unintended result of his “blending in.”   Often the women he engaged had in fact noticed him, but were largely unaware that they had noticed him.  Sometimes they said things like, “Do I know you? You look so familiar…”  The fact of his having been an unobtrusive presence in the background of their local grocery or coffee bar had resulted in a sort of false sense of familiarity, of which his targets were not consciously unaware.  In his efforts to learn master his craft with minimal mistake or misadventure, he had unintentionally perfected the art of being present just enough to be familiar, but not enough to be creepy.  The end payoff was that the women were often easier to lull into a false sense of security.  Their early warning systems, their “bad feelings,” had essentially been short-circuited.

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The Cycle (IV): Kintsukuroi

I’m going make this week’s prompt another short story in the same series.  You may find all the previous installments under the title “The Cycle,” with a theme and number, in the Hive Index.   I’ve been lazy about my fiction, and lately a reader has asked me about this story series, so…here goes. 

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The Cycle (IV):  Kintsukuroi

Angela had spent the whole weekend with her husband’s journal.  That journal and not much else.  She took the phone off the hook.  She didn’t eat.  Her path through house consisted of a truncated and zagging path between the armchair by the cold fireplace, the refrigerator where she kept multiple bottles of Evian, and the bathroom on the first floor.  It had been hard enough to sleep in the bed her and her husband had shared, ever since his crimes were laid bare…literally.  After she found the journal and read the first few entries, Angela gave over the idea of sleep completely.  Every time she closed her eyes, a fusillade of gruesome images kept her from achieving anywhere near the peace of mind required to relax into sleep.  Most of the images were montages conjured by her own mind– the few details the detective had shared with her from the crime reports , and the faces of the women as they had been before her husband had “fixed” them.  With these details, and the sickly ambiguous writing in her husband’s journal, prose that were somehow equal parts self-important, saccharin, and terrifying, Angela tortured herself with vivid scenarios of what had happened to each of the women.  In these scenarios, she recognized her husband’s face, his handsome face, but his eyes burned with the light of insanity, practically glowing, like the eyes of a comic book demon.

That he thought of these women, his victims, as finished products– as his art– was sickening.  That he thought he was “fixing” them, making them better somehow, like a craftsman repairing a piece of broken pottery with powdered gold, was untenable.   But his vanity and the truth of his hedonistic pursuits were revealed by the fact that all of the women had similar characteristics.  Petite, pale blonde hair, tiny aristocratic nose…   Fragile looking, yet with an undefinable verve.  Like a flower.

Like her sister.

Jill.  It was impossible to tell if the obsession had started with her, or ended with her.  Were all his victims merely substitutes, or were they practice for his endgame?

Or had Jill’s disappearance merely been a result of her conveniently fitting his ideal victim type?  No.  There she was, fooling herself again.  At the very least, he knew who Jill was when she had taken her.  She figured in to all of this somehow.

All of these horrid images and ideas chased one another through her mind, keeping her restless and nauseous, and wearing at her sanity like an angry dog wearing a groove in the ground at the end of its leash.

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The Cycle (III): Meraki

*in keeping with the past two segments of Prompts For the Promptless in which I participated (courtesy of Rarasaur,) I’m going make this week’s prompt another short story in the same series.  Here are the first and second shorts in the series.  I kind of like doing it this way because it allows me to keep to the same story idea, but frees me from having to worry too much about pacing and tying together chapters.  It allows me to play with different styles of writing with each segment.  Plus, Rara’s prompts give me a theme to work with.  So without further pontification on my part…

The Cycle: Meraki

She didn’t find the journal until several months after he’d been in prison.  It didn’t seem as if he had taken great pains to hide it from her.  Rather, he’d likely felt confident that she had no reason to mistrust him or to snoop through his belongings, so complete was his hold over her.

And, damn him, he’d been right.  A simple leather bound book with a snap, the journal was right in his car console, masquerading as a benign looking day planner, or maybe a forgotten address book.  In fact, she thought that’s what it at first, and only opened it in a sort of distracted and automatic way.  At least that’s what she told herself.

Only were the contents nothing like what she expected.  Still, had she found the journal a half a year ago, she might have passed off the contents as nothing more than lines from some obscure film, or perhaps her husband’s attempts at some creative writing.  But now the lines of obsessively neat script seemed damning–not to him.  He’d already confessed when he knew he could no longer make any reasonable claims to innocence, and yet here she was, knowing she would have given him the benefit of doubt with almost eager self-deception.

(photo: courtesy of Immortal Longings on Etsy)

(photo: courtesy of Immortal Longings on Etsy)

…It’s my art. The first thing I’ve cared about in a long time.  First, the woman- she is a blank canvas, and I paint her with blood.

But there’s more- the performance art.  All the world really is a stage, and everyone I meet is a bit actor, but they don’t know it.

Or a chess board, and they are all pawns.  I’m not the king though.  The king is weak, with no freedom of movement.  I am more like the queen- I move, silently and lethally, and the pawns never see me coming.

The Cycle (II)- Schadenfreude

*the following short fiction excerpt is a combination response to Rarasaur’s Prompt for the Promptless and answer to the interest shown by some readers on my short story The Cycle. Enjoy, and feel free to comment.

The Cycle- Schadenfruede

She could remember when she had loved him, been enamored with him.  She remembered it in the way one sometimes remembers a dream, like a detached observer.

…Their first meeting, on the back patio of the bar where she and her friends from work had gone after the dull and seemingly interminable company party…  The tentative anticipation and exhilaration of finally meeting someone who could potentially hold her interest for more than a few weeks.  She remembered his dark good looks and his easy charm.  The electricity of their first kiss.

Even now, she could remember his effect on her.  How she had lusted for him and had to force herself to wait even the short week before they fell into bed together in a furious tangle of limbs.  Now, the thought of her lust for him sickened her.  She felt nauseous and ashamed, disgusted by the memory of his face, still handsome and seemingly unaffected by his time in prison.  Disgusted that she had fallen for him, even though, objectively, she could still remember why she had loved him.

But mostly she was disgusted that she had been so completely and utterly fooled by him.  She felt used and stupid.  She felt responsible, as if, in her stupidity, she had somehow been an accomplice to his crimes.

Because now, casting a harsh eye back over the past ten years of her life, she could clearly see– she should have seen– that something was wrong.

He had handled her too easily on too many occasions.  They had fought little throughout their courtship and marriage.   He always seemed so considerate of her feelings, even when her fears or feelings may have been irrational.  He always knew the right things to say, or when to say nothing.  She could see now that what she had taken to be easy-going, what she had thought was just his generous nature, insouciance, had really been an expertly veiled sort of scorn.  The smug bastard had let her have her way simply because he could.  And he enjoyed being able to manipulate her so easily.

Once they had been together for a while, once her trust in him was complete and unwavering, he had enjoyed free rein to pursue his other...hobbies.   He had complete control over her, and she hadn’t even known it, because he had never harmed her, never threatened her, or even said so much as an unkind word to her.  

Now she found herself on some level wishing, perversely, that he had hit her, insulted her or belittled her…given some sign of his true nature.  His abuse had been so much more insidious.  It was in his contentment and pleasure in the  role he was playing– the doting husband–  and in his wife’s utter ignorance.

The Cycle

“I asked you a question.”

He’s trying to control the conversation.  Don’t let him.  You have the power now.  He’ll never control you again.

“Say something…say something!” His lapse in composure is brief, but she sees the rage that she now knows must have always been there.

“What do you want me to say?”

“I want you to answer the question.”

A pause.  “How could you do what you did?  Those women…”

“Have you never been taught not to answer a question with a question?”  She’s never heard that note of condescension in his voice before.  Not in 8 years of marriage or the two years they dated before that.

I never knew him at all…who is this man?

“You still love me…”  His eyes pin her to the spot, like a butterfly mounted in a display case.  “You miss me.  You need me.  Don’t you?”

don’t need him.  And I don’t love him, not anymore.  But, God help me, I do miss him.  At least, I miss the person I thought he was.

“Answer me.”  Somehow this quiet command is more frightening than all of his rage.

I’m not scared of him.  He can’t hurt me anymore.  I’m not scared, I’m…  Defiant,”Why should I?”

“Because I have something you want.”

“You don’t have anything I want anymore!”  No!  Don’t let him see your anger!  If you’re angry, he wins.

He smiles.  “We both know that’s not true.  I know where your sister is.”

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