Route 32 | By: Michael Christopher Thompson | | Category: Short Story - Horror Bookmark and Share

Route 32

Route 32


This work protected by copyright. Copying material from here without my expressed written permission is against the law. The electronic documents posted here are the intellectual property of Michael Christopher Thompson II. Copyright 2010.


    The world is full of people who do what they can, but there are not enough of them to bother counting. There have never been enough of them. There are always excuses to be made and habits to be sublimated. People often tell themselves lies and when enough people tell themselves the same lie, that lie becomes “the Truth.” This fact has been known by people who crave power and control for centuries, and that’s why it’s become such an important rule. Jenny knows about all this. She knows how people lie to themselves and each other and how the lies are pet and fed and groomed and taken care of, how they are domesticated.
    The lie is the most powerful poison, she knows, because people drink of it with full awareness. Oh yes, Jenny thinks, they pretend sometimes that they didn’t know they were lying to themselves or to each other. “I just misunderstood you!” some will say, or even worse, “You misunderstand me!” This is how it always works. So Jenny has been a liar all her life, and the most offensive kind; the kind that finds no shame in her wrongdoing, the type that actually finds a sick virtue in it. She must lie to make people stronger, she knows. They get smarter in the end and she’s doing them a favor. Or they stay stupid and die. It’s just survival of the fittest - natural law.
    Jenny is what most people might refer to as a “sociopath.” On the few occasions that she has thought of herself this way, she has found it amusing that others have actually come up with a label so completely stupid. Sociopath. How ridiculous. What does it even mean? It’s not quite a psychopath. Psychopaths cause physical harm, usually. And if not, they demonstrate they are remarkably capable of it. A sociopath is someone who knowingly lies to everyone for their own personal gain. But in Jenny’s experience, over half of the people walking the face of the planet are sociopaths. And “the experts” have designated a condition for people who openly acknowledge it? The “experts” are usually the biggest sociopath of all.
    Once again, how ridiculous.
    Although, sometimes she slips over from sociopath to psychopath - the line gets blurry after dark. And occasionally before it.
    She’s doing what she always does - walking around town, waiting for an opportunity. Searching for suckers. They’re everywhere, but it takes real skill to separate the big fish from the little. Some suckers just aren’t worth the time and effort. Her looks help, of course. They draw out the big fish - the big egos. They think they can impress her and subdue her. The ones that aren’t worth the time usually don’t even have the nerve to make the approach.
    At 27, Jenny looks more beautiful than ever. She has dark brown hair - almost black, really. It hangs to her shoulders and is as straight as silk. It looks like she’s dyed it, although not very often. Lighter brown hair surfaces at the roots, although it does not look unattractive on her. Her eyes are a light brown, almost hazel. She’s wearing a purple top that highlights her perfectly proportioned breasts and a black mini-skirt which she has strategically worn to show off her long legs. To top it all off, she‘s wearing mid-thigh length black pleather boots with heels, something which draws a lot of eyes her way. She’s more than beautiful enough to be a great sociopath, and she secretly takes pride in this fact.
    She’s been in this city for six months now. There were ten cities in the last year. Chicago, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington D.C., Columbus, Cincinnati, Lexington and now, Boston. She goes where the wind blows, as she likes to think. She lets the universe move her along. Where there are marks, there are marks. Sometimes she gets scared. Sometimes they try to find her afterward. She’s had to put a stop to that before - twice. Two dead men. It had not been pleasant. She had cried afterward, but the blood had still stained the carpet and the bodies had still rotted. There was nothing in it for her. The first time, she got the guys wallet and his debit card, but no pin. In his wallet was $300. The second time, he had no money at all. He had tried to attack her, and she had attacked back. He had deserved to die. Still, it had bothered her. A lot. She is more than prepared to do it again if necessary however - perhaps deadened more now to the emotional consequences of having murdered someone now that she’s done it twice.
    She makes enough of a living. There are good years and bad. She’s been doing this now for five years. Five years and six months, actually. And two weeks. And three days. What seems like forever. She pretends she doesn’t do it for the reason she does, but in her heart she knows she’s running. What she’s running from is so many things that she can’t even quantify them. Her family, her past, herself.
    That’s better when ignored. It’s easier to take what you want and move along. And she’s seen so much of the country. She’s met so many people, wonderful people. She’s then proceeded to rob them. And kill one of those wonderful people. She doesn’t know why she killed him. He caught onto her and became very upset - more about something else occurring in his life, what she cannot remember. Then he had told her he was going to the police. The rest is a blur. At least until she decides she’s ready to examine it more closely.
    She thinks about these things a lot when she’s walking. One thing shuts it all off. She comes to a corner and sees a bus-stop across the street. And more importantly, she sees an obvious mark. That’s when she stops thinking about what she’s done, that’s when the guilt stops threatening to infect her. There’s a young man standing there, waiting for the bus. But number 32. He has short, closely cropped blonde hair. He’s wearing a white t-shirt and a pair of plain white blue jeans. There’s a black hooded sweatshirt zipped half-way up his chest. Not exactly the most inspiring of attire, but she can tell by the way he wears it that he is not lacking in the financial department. He looks to be in his late twenties, around the same age as her. His eyes are light blue, but not particularly striking. He’s also wearing a pair of “emo glasses” which are taped in the middle and which Jenny thinks look quite silly. He looks kind of cute, she thinks, but he will never be a heart throb, and especially not with this absurd glasses. Still, she homes in on him immediately. If there was ever a more obvious mark, she can’t remember who it was (not that she remembers most of them anyway).
    This is the route 32 bus stop - it should be arriving here momentarily. It’s schedule to arrive around 4:38 actually. It’s 4:39 now. She doesn’t see it heading this way, and she wonders if it’s running late. Well, of course it’s running late, she thinks - why wonder? Inside of her head the chastising and hateful voice of her mother calls her a complete fucking idiot. She ignores it, as usual (but not as always).
    She’s standing on the corner of Duncan and Lyle and waiting for the orange, cautionary “DON’T WALK” signal to turn to a white, welcoming “WALK” signal, a siren singing “Come right this way!” The kind which lures unaware pedestrians into the dangerous street the way ancient sailors were lured to their deaths in the depths of the oceans. A siren… maybe that’s what I am, she thinks. And she feels like it’s true enough to make it so in her mind.
    A loud piercing pitch breaks into the air quickly after the signal changes and without warning it begins to wail. This horrible noise signals deaf people to cross the street, Jenny knows. But she’s not deaf. Not yet, anyway. She will be if the fucking thing doesn’t turn off soon. t does as the thought ends, as if on cue. She crosses slowly, strategically trying to attract the eyes of her mark. The crossing signal begins to flash yellow and there are cars now heading toward her. It’s a good omen that the bus is late - it’s almost like the universe left this one here for her, ripe for the plucking. She knows there will be more signs that he is just playing out his fate with her, to be robbed and left unconscious or confused. There are always signs that tell her he’s got it coming. Always.
    There is still no bus coming. It begins to rain suddenly and she shrieks. The downpour is ferocious, the rain falling so hard that it feels like it’s pounding into her skin. It’s as if God knows her intentions and has decided to soak her, because the rain starts pouring immediately as if it had been doing so all day - there is no slight drizzle to get things started. “Fuck!” she yells. The boy looks her way. She’s got his attention now. The “WALK” signal now blinks “DON’T WALK” again, warning Jenny of the looming danger. A car pulls up to her and honks. “Get out of the way!” shrieks an old man from inside, and he actually raises his fist at her. He’s taking a right turn and doesn’t need to wait for the light to be green. Jenny walks slower.
    She raises her fist at him in return, except hers has a standing middle finger. He returns one of his own and drives around her. She looks at him hatefully as he speeds off for a moment and almost gets hit by another car - but she manages to dodge out of the way just in time. She wishes it had hit the old bastard. The old codger driving the 99 Dodge Neon honks at her and a second middle finger is thrown out of the passenger window, which is rolled down just enough to stick a hand out. Afterward it immediately rolls back up, shielding them from the rain that she is not shielded from.
    She steps onto the corner of Evanston and Lyle. The young pulls out an umbrella and opens it, and she walks toward him. “Care to share?” she asks. “Uh, sure,” he responds. he steps under the umbrella. She is not wearing a jacket.
    “I’m Lillian,” Jenny says to the boy, and she offers her hand. “Nice to meet you, Lillian,” the boy responds Cordially. “My name is Mark. Mark Sarkos.” She smiles at him, and she can see she’s picked a good one. Mark, she thinks. Surely another sign. No reason to feel guilty. She’s just playing her part in the grand scheme of things. Probably even doing this boy a world of good. Blushes blossom on his cheeks at her smile and he turns away. “Lovely to meet you, Mark,” she says. “Where are you headed?” “I’m going downtown,” he replies. “Waiting for the 32. It’s late.” “It’s usually not late,” she responds casually. “By the way, thanks for letting me share your umbrella.” He looks at her and flashes a courageous half-smile. He shows teeth - a little, anyway. “Any time,” he says happily. She grins. “I might just have to take you up on that offer again sometime, then,” she replies with a hint of eroticism in her voice, and his blushing returns at full strength immediately. He looks away again.
    The 32 is coming, they see now, heading right this way. “You heading downtown too?” Mark asks her. “Yes,” she says, and thinks ‘I’m going wherever you’re going.’ They climb on the bus together, and Mark’s hand brushes hers. (She pretends that) he imagines he feels an electric shock, and she imagines she doesn’t feel slight revulsion at his touch. He’s cute, but that’s beside the point. She doesn’t like it when they touch her. It’s invading personal space. It makes her feel very uncomfortable. When she gets very uncomfortable, it’s not usually a good omen. The invasion of her personal space is the whole reason she’s been running for so long. At least the main reason. But she’ll put up with it, for now. A girl’s gotta eat.
    They move to the back of the bus and sit together. He looks somewhat surprised that she’s sitting next to him, and she sees it flash in his eyes and regards it with a satisfaction that she can almost taste. Yes, she thinks, she’s really hooked a good one this time. But what is she going to do with him? She doesn’t know yet. She just saw this sucker as she was walking down the street, and she knew there was something in this for her. That’s how it always works. There’s always a tip-off. Usually she can tell what it is that makes her think someone will make good prey - it’s often the way they’re standing, the way they’re dressed or how aware they appear to be of their surroundings (although sometimes Jenny has been faced with the unpleasant reminder that looks can be deceiving, as some individuals are well aware how to spot people like her). There are many tip-offs. Not with Mark, though. She doesn’t know why, but something told her that he’s going to be one of the biggest suckers of her long career in first-hand sociopathological research, and she can’t put her finger on what it is about him exactly that makes it so obvious. But it’s as obvious as darkness to a blind man. Maybe it’s the glasses?
    “So what do you do?” she asks. He smiles, looking glad to be asked. “Oh, I’m an engineer,” he responds. “Really?” she says incredulously, a good tactic for feigning interest she has discovered. “What kind of an engineer?” His smile widens. “I’m a structural engineer, actually, I build bridges.” “I wouldn’t have guessed!” she exclaims convincingly - convincing to everyone but herself, she thinks. The truth is, she would have guessed. She practically did guess. As usual, she got lucky. Fate seems to appreciate her talent in it’s orchestrations.
    “Yeah,” he says, “I don’t exactly dress the part. But I figure, I make enough money to dress however I want when I’m not working.” “But then what’s with the glasses? They’re broken.” With her voice, she turns this statement into one of random curiosity, but in truth, she really wants to know - because it’s the most important question. If he’s lying about being wealthy, she’s wasting her time. Although she’s usually spot-on, she’s been wrong before. Some people dress far more expensively than they live. If he’s not lying… “I just broke them this morning,” he responds. “Haven’t had time to get a new pair. But I need them today and I didn’t feel like going out.” Okay. Satisfactory answer… for now.
    She smiles and her hand brushes his again. It’s okay for her to touch him, because that means she’s in control. But if he starts touching her… she doesn’t want to think about it. He moves his hand under hers. Her heart starts to beat faster and second thoughts begin to race through her mind. ‘It’s okay’, she tells herself, ‘you’re still in control, just knock it off. Don’t blow this.’ She squelches that voice inside her that tells her she can still stop this now. She tells it to fuck off.
    “So what do you do?” he asks. “I’m a prostitute,” she almost responds - but then decides that is not quite the right line to reel in this big of a fish. She actually has used that line on a few of her targets. Only once did she get a reaction she didn’t expect. She sure knows how to pick them. That line is too much for now, so she goes with one of her favorite but rarely used lines. This one looks like a little danger might entice him. “I work in a casino,” she says. “Oh, really?” he responds. “What do you do there?” “Well,” she says, “I’m a… uh…” she leans in and whispers into his ear, making sure her lips brush his ears. “I’m a card counter,” she whispers. He pulls back and looks at her stunned. She is waiting for his reaction - this will determine everything. He smiles. Another good omen.
    “Really?” he says. “That’s…” He pauses, looking for a word. “That’s audacious.” “What can I say?” Jenny responds. “I’m an audacious woman.” She grins and leans her chest in toward him, actually pressing it into his own for a span of around three seconds. Just enough, she knows - three seconds always turns the trick. She sees his eyes trail down there for a second, but they quickly return to his face as he remembers his manners. She wishes he hadn’t. “Do you make a lot of money?” he asks. “Oh, I make a hell of a lot of money,” she says. “Well…” he starts. He doesn’t say anything and for a second she has trouble maintaining her fake smile. Luckily, it does not falter. “Well, what?” she asks. She does not sound annoyed, but she is secretly quite irritated.
    “Well, do you like it?” he finishes. She laughs aloud, and it sounds practically authentic. “I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it,” she says. In truth, she doesn’t know if she likes it or not, because she has no idea how to count cards whatsoever. She knows that it involves memorizing which cards have been laid down, but that’s about as far as she can get in that line of thinking. It is practically beyond her. She is much better at being a professional sociopath/psychopath than a professional card counter. “Are you passionate about it?” he asks. She looks at him seriously. “Am I passionate about card counting? Are you serious?” she says. “I just want to be rich, that’s all.” He smiles. “I know that feeling,” he says. “And now I’m rich!” She laughs aloud, she thinks of this laugh as laugh number five. It’s somewhat braying, but not so much as to be annoying. She‘s rehearsed it in a mirror many times, in the same mirror that she rehearses her stories and responses to potential questions in. “Good for you!” she bellows, although still in a feminine manner - she wouldn’t want to turn Mark off. “Me too.”
    “So do you keep your money in a bank?” he asks. “I mean, aren’t you afraid of getting caught?” She puts on her actress mask - here goes nothing. Time to become a professional card counter, at least for a few minutes. “We’re all afraid of getting caught,” she says, and it sounds convincing. “Isn’t everyone afraid of getting caught for breaking the rules somehow?” He looks at her strangely. “What?” she questions. “Well,” he responds, “I don’t do anything illegal.” “You don’t do anything illegal at all?” she asks. She actually is a little surprised. She makes sure to include it in the performance to give it a more authentic feeling. “You don’t smoke a joint every once in awhile? You don’t speed?” “No, I don’t do drugs, and I don’t drive a car, I just take the 32 to work every day.” “So you’re heading to work now?” she asks. “Isn’t it kind of late?” She also wants to ask, ‘If you’re a structural engineer, why the fuck do you take the bus to work?’ She decides to wait. If he’s not a structural engineer she’ll just ditch his lame ass and go find some other loser to steal money from.
    “I don’t have set hours,” he says. “I kind of go in when I want.” “I see,” she says. “Why are you heading downtown?” he asks. “I live there,” she responds, and this much of her story is true. “I’m heading home.” “Where from?” he asks. “Oh,” she says casually, “I’m heading home from a friend’s house.” Time to start plugging in the equation. “So if you don’t have set hours, would you care to catch a bite to eat?” He looks hesitant - not a look she expected. “Well,” he says, “I actually just ate before I left the loft.” The loft, she thinks. Good. She hopes he’s not feeding her a line of bullshit, because it wouldn’t be the first time. Jenny nods understandingly at his response. She just has to try harder.
    “Well, we should do something! It’s so strange we met, you know. I think people come into each other’s lives for a reason.” He nods in agreement. Mark seems to believe so too. “Maybe we’re just supposed to go see a movie or something. Just one time.” He shakes his head, this time not in agreement. “Sorry, I don’t go to the movies,” he says. “You don’t?” she asks. “Why not?” “I prefer books,’ he says meekly, and he sounds slightly embarrassed. “I just think movies… most of them are pretty awful. I watch one every now and again but I’m just not interested in anything that’s out and I pretty much never am.” She doesn’t know what to do, she needs to figure out some way to keep him from going to work. Before she can think of something, he speaks.
    “You never answered my question,” he says. ‘What question?’ she thinks. ‘What the hell is he talking about?’ “What’s that?” she asks. “Where do you keep your money? In a bank?” She shakes her head then looks around, pretending to care whether or not people are listening. Someone actually is listening, but she pretends not to see it and looks back at Mark. “I keep it at my apartment,” she finally replies. “Really? Like, stuffed in a mattress?” She smiles at him mysteriously. “Something like that,” she says.
    The 32 reaches their destination - the corner of 9th and State Boulevard. The bus screeches to a halt and the two step off. It wasn’t a very long distance, but she has to take whatever idiot with too much money that God happens to throw in her way. This seemed like as good an opportunity as any, and things seem to be going smoothly so far. “Well, I guess this is where we part ways,” he says. She looks disappointed. It can’t end like this. Everything happens for a reason, right? Right?
    “It doesn’t have to be,” she says, and she tries to sound as erotic as possible. She leans in to him and puts his hand on her chest. “We can go back to my apartment,” she says. “And hang out there. Or something.” She didn’t want to take him back to the apartment. But this one… he’s a fucking structural engineer. He’s loaded. She can knock him out with a spiked drink - a “mickey” like the one George slipped to Elaine’s boss in Seinfeld - and when he wakes up she can torture his PIN numbers out of him and empty his bank account. Then she’ll leave him there and get the fuck out of here. Maybe even out of Massachusetts. One city here is enough. Maybe she’s been doing this for too long - perhaps a little vacation in Mexico would be nice. She’s made enough money to vacation in Mexico, at the very least. Jenny is many things, but a frivolous spender is not one of them.
    There have been seven here in Boston so far. Nate makes eight. She knows she’s taking big risks to even have robbed this many without moving on. She‘s taken a lot of money from these people so far. Around $10,000 alone for just one city. Not a bad haul, considering the world involved. The risk… well, that’s another thing to consider entirely. Something she’d rather not consider, actually. There’s more to it than the money, a part of her knows. There is the power that comes with it. The power over these cretins, these pieces of human waste that flutter around like pissed on newspapers in the wind, throwing their money around and thinking they can fuck her because they’ve got big limits on their credit cards. They want to fuck her, but she prefers to do the fucking. She fucks them over righteously, and in a way they’ll never forget. She’s beaten a few, but it rarely gets that far. Only when she’s really horny.
    She likes to make them bleed. Something about inflicting the pain and watching that blood flow turns her on. She’s projecting, she knows. It’s really her step-father that she wants to beat make bleed. And when she killed both of those men, it was really her step-father she was killing. Or trying to. Most things don’t turn her on anymore. She’s been deadened to that. No sensuality can touch her heart, no longing aside from a desire for vengeance. And that desire is the only thing that really can turn her on at this point.
    “Okay,” he says, and his demeanor has suddenly changed. Mark leans in and kisses her on the lips quickly, then blushes again, flushing his cheeks with a bright, almost cartoonish crimson. He looks completely surprised at his newfound unabashed courage. She brings out the best in him, she thinks. Unfortunately for him. He slips his hand in hers and they walk to her apartment, on the corner of Olive and Johnson. It’s a cold gray brick building that seems to have been standing fifty years longer than any building should ever stand. They walk up the old to her room, number 23, and walk inside.
    Her apartment is dark and uninviting. It looks clean, however. A light brown coffee table sits on the dark brown wood floor in the center of the room. There is a faded pink couch that looks like it time-traveled from the 80’s to the left of the coffee table, and to the far right, up against the wall, is a 1994 Magnavox “big screen TV” (that’s what they called medium screen TV’s in those days). She bought this for fifty dollars at a pawn shop because she was so bored when she first moved to this city and had nothing else to do. She will leave it when she goes, just like she will leave all of this furniture. She doesn’t have nice things because it would be stupid to take things with her.
    There are black curtains on the windows, only two of which are in the living room. The window on the left, which is near a door that leads to the bedroom, has it’s curtains pulled tightly closed. The curtains on the right hang open and sunlight pours into the room, leaving a long square of light on the hardwood floor. In the back right corner of the room is an open doorway which leads into the kitchen. Jenny walks toward it.
    “Would you like a drink?” she asks Mark. “Sure…” he says shyly. She laughs as she walks into the kitchen. “I thought you didn’t do drugs,” she calls out to him. “I don’t,” he calls back in to her from the living room. “Well, alcohol is a drug, it just happens to be legal,” she responds, but not quite as loudly. She grabs a bottle of red wine and opens it, then grabs two wine glasses from her cabinet and pours them halfway full. She reaches into the back of the cabinet and pulls out an unmarked orange pill bottle. She opens it, grabs a pill, then drops it in the wine glass on the left and returns the pill bottle to it’s hiding place in the cabinet. She lets it sit for a moment watching it dissolve, and she knows that there will not be a trace of it left by the time she hands him the glass in the living room. “Here I come!” she calls out, and she notes that Mark does not respond.
    She walks into the living room and what she sees makes her drop her two wine glasses. She starts to gasp immediately and backs up, feeling the breath sucked out of her lungs. This is not possible. This is not happening. All of these thoughts go through her mind in the second that the glasses are falling, and finally they shatter on the floor, leaving a mess on the floor that will not be cleaned (at least not by Jenny). A remnant of the mostly-dissolved white pill lays in the pool of shattered glass and wine on the left of her. She’s seen something like this once. She saw it when she killed the man who attacked her.
    Standing there smiling at Jenny is something that isn’t human. It has the body of a man, and wears the clothes of a man, but it’s eyes are clearly not that of a man. It has the eyes of a snake. He smiles at her. “Jenny,” he says. “Er, Lillian. My apologies.” He bows to her. She backs away from him, beginning to hyperventilate. He looks up at her. “My, you are beautiful. Just like in the pictures.” She turns and starts to run, but stands staring at her kitchen wall. “Going somewhere?” he asks from behind her. She can hear the grin in his voice. Slowly she turns around? “What are you?” she whispers, not expecting a reply but only an instant mortal wounding. She doesn’t get it. She is not relieved.
    “I told you, I’m Mark Sarkos. Well, that’s what you can call me, anyway.” “You’re…” she stammers. “You’re not human…” He nods his head and a frown creases his face. “What’s human? Are you a human? A lot of people would say you aren’t.” She only stares, saying nothing. This must be a nightmare, she thinks. It’ll be over any minute. It has to be because this is fucking impossible. She remembers seeing it on the second guy because she’s had nightmare after nightmare about killing him, and the dreams have embellished her memories. That never really happened. Her rational mind knows it. Just like her rational mind knows this isn’t really happening.
    “We’ve been looking for you for awhile,” says the creature that looks like a man. “Why?” she manages to reply. “Well… you killed one of us. You know why I’m here. Why else would I be here? Although he’s not the only one of us you’ve bothered…” “This isn’t real. I’m dreaming.” “Of course you are, primate.” She is stunned, speechless. The air around him seems to shift and he smiles at her, his grin wide and toothy. Suddenly it seems as though smoke comes before that smile and when it parts, there are sharp yellow teeth gleaming out at her. They are tiny, like shark’s teeth. His skin shimmers for a second and looks almost green. She shudders with revulsion and a tear escapes her eyes, but she does not cry out. After a moment his skin returns to “normal.” Human looking.
    “You’ve bothered at least three people on a list which you will come to designate ‘SHOULD NOT HAVE BOTHERED’ over the next few hours. Her instincts kick in and she runs for the door. He is in front of her in moments, and she hits him like a brick wall. She stumbles back dazed, ready to fall over. He grabs her by the throat and lifts her and once more his skin shimmers. She wants to vomit but he is holding her by the throat and she swallows it back down, feeling even more sick for having done so. He throws her into a wall. She hits it with a force she has never experienced before and slides to the floor. She wants to ask him what he wants, but she has no breath to do so. And no courage. He stares down at her.
    “Thou shalt not steal,” he says. “You’re supposed to follow that rule. We made it for you for a reason.” She cannot say anything, she can barely even focus on what he’s saying. “Because it keeps you out of trouble. But you did steal. You stole from four of the wrong people. Three of them were like you. They survived your little charade. One of them was like me. He didn’t. Now perhaps if we reversed the statistic, and it was one human you killed, and three of us you let live - which is a joke, because we would have killed you on the spot - I might be more apt to forgive you. But that’s not the way things happened. And I don’t like it when you stupid fucking monkeys kill one of us. There aren’t enough of us up here as it is.”
    She doesn’t know what the fucking hell this maniac is talking about. She’s hallucinating, she’s starting to think. She must be. She was going to drug him, but somehow he drugged her. That’s when his hand touches her jaw and pulls her face up to look into his eyes. He opens them wide for her, and she feels a scream boiling up in her lungs. She launches it out into his face, but he only smiles at the assault. She tries to struggle and break free of his grip, but it is useless. His strength makes his hand like a steel vice. She couldn’t move even if she broke her jaw in the process.
    “Done, princess?” he asks calmly. “Because you’re just getting started screaming, so you might want to save some energy for later.” “No!” she protests. “There are other people here!” “Oh, are there?” he asks. “I’m going to tell you a little secret. We knew about you two years ago. Right after you killed our guy.” She shouts in his face, this time not struggling to break free of his grip. “What the fuck are you talking about?!” she shrieks. He stares her down. “You. Killed. Him.” “I never killed anyone.” “No point in lying,” he says. “We caught it on video. Like I said, we knew about this right after it happened. And you’re hard to catch. Hard to keep up with. So we had to set up a trap for you. And you walked right into it. And you walked right into me. Just your type, right? I was specially selected for you, baby.”
    His skin shimmers to that strange reptilian green once more and he flicks out a lizard’s tongue at her. She tries to bite it off, but he pulls it back inside of his mouth. She is suddenly overcome with horror again and starts to scream, but he forces her mouth shut. She is powerless to resist it and stops trying after a moment. “Thank you very much for bringing me back to your apartment as well, and for telling me you hide all of your fortune here as well. I wonder how much you’ve collected so far? $10,000? $20,000? Dare I say it, $100,000? Perhaps more. You’ve got quite the willpower, young lady. And I know that’s barely a drop in the bucket for Uncle Sam but every little bit counts, and I do thank you for your service to this fine country.”
    Her mind starts to revolt at this sacrilege. These concepts should not be merging. This strange creature should not be talking about the U.S. government. Not like it works for the U.S. government. That’s too bizarre. Too fictional. Nothing like that could ever be real.
    “And yet here I am!” he says. She lets out a gasp and her eyes scan his face frantically, looking for some kind of explanation in his expression as to why he just seemed to respond to her thoughts. “Because I did,” he says. “Took me a few minutes but I’m finally tuned in. We caught your frequency. Listening now to you for about thirty second.” He turns his head and shows her his ear-piece, which is tiny and concealed just inside the inner lobe. “Didn’t catch it before, did you? That’s because it was invisible.”
    Jenny doesn’t care. Because this is a dream. And she’s going to wake up any second now. She closes her eyes tightly, waiting for this nightmare to be over. When she opens them, nothing has changed. The snake man stares at her, his skin occasionally being overcome with green hue for a second or two at a time before returning to human. His strange teeth and eyes remain as they are the entire time, however, dislodging her sense of reality. “Do I scare you?” he asks. “Because this is just natural. You really shouldn’t be afraid of nature.” “This is a nightmare…” she responds. “Yes, it’s one of those types of dreams,” he mutters. He lets her face go, then stands up. “Let’s get started, shall we?”
    She looks up at him. “Started with what?” “With your lesson.” “What lesson?” “You think you’re a predator, Jenny. But you’re not. You’ve always just been prey. Today I’m going to show you the meaning of the word predator.” He smiles his shark’s grin at her, then opens his mouth, obscenely flicking his lizard’s tongue once more. She does vomit this time, and cannot stop herself. “So let’s see what you’re made of.”

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