For months, I kicked around the idea of creating a Kickstarter to keep me in school, but settled on posting a whiny Facebook status about how badly I needed cash.
I added a line at the bottom of my post about how — if anyone transferred me money over Venmo — I’d do whatever they requested in the ‘what’s it for?’ section to feel like I’ve actually earned it.
It was meant to be funny, a joke, ha-ha, but my friends actually took me up on the offer.
My girlfriends mostly made requests for me to ‘remember to smile’ or to compliment them or to tell them my best joke. Cutesy stuff. Excuses to give me a dollar or two or five.
And then there were the fuckboys that asked for nudes – and I provided. I didn’t care how many boys saw my boobs. I needed the money to get myself through college, to catch up on my rent, to stock the cabinets with something more filling than Ramen.
I’d only made about fifty bucks from the whole thing – until I received a notification for $500 that made me choke on my homemade coffee.
I didn’t recognize the name of the guy at all. Morgan Alexander. I figured I must have known him though, he must have seen my Facebook status. How else would he know what I was up to? He sent a request and everything, asking me to take ‘a series of provocative photos with a knife’ and send them to a specific email address: MorganAlexander@gmail.com.
So I obliged.
I stuffed myself into a lacy blue bra and posed with the knife rested against my cheek, between my teeth, and hovering over my neck. I figured the guy had some sort of fetish. Some bondage, BDSM, masochistic shit.
For 500 bucks, I really didn’t give a damn.
And a few days later, when the same guy sent over $1,000 for me to email him again, I still didn’t give a damn. Even though he wanted a video this time. Even though he wanted to watch me draw a heart on the wall in my own blood.
I wish I could say I hesitated, that I had enough dignity to call the idea crazy, but a grand almost covered my rent for the month. I wanted to shut up my landlord, save myself from another eviction.
And, honestly, I wanted to make the stranger happy to see if he’d send even more money in the future. I wanted to test my luck.
So I propped my phone against the counter, pressed record, and stood in front of its camera with the same knife I’d used in my photo shoot.
I forced a smile as I rested the blade against my palm, sliced the skin open, and dipped my finger into the ooze. Then I scribbled a heart onto the wall, as big as I could without having to draw more blood.
After I finished recording and bandaged up my hand, I tried to wipe the design away, but the red lines turned to red smudges. No amount of water or bleach removed the stain, so I ended up covering it with a picture frame and forgetting all about it.
Except every so often, when I would try to grab a water bottle or a broom, my hand would sting, reminding me of what I’d done.
But I didn’t feel ashamed. Guilty. Embarrassed. I felt proud. Like I’d finally figured out a way to beat the system. To survive as a twenty-something.
A week went by without any contact from Morgan Alexander, and then a notification popped onto my screen at two in the morning. The alert woke me from a nightmare fueled sleep, so I squinted my eyes to adjust to the brightness, to the number on the screen I swore was wrong.
Before I even read the request, I decided I’d do it. Whatever it was. I needed that money, even if I had to…
“Place a dead animal on the stoop of [ADDRESS REDACTED] with a love note attached to it.”
There was no way in hell I’d hurt a squirrel or a raccoon or even a bird, so I jumped on my bike and rode down the side of the highway. I almost got ran over twice and was catcalled three times before I spotted a dead opossum on the side of the pavement, half in the grass.
I pushed the kickstand into the dirt, got to my knees, and stuffed the road kill into the backpack I’d brought with me. Another animal must have been picking at it, because the stomach came apart in my hands. Guts slid under my nails. Fur stuck to my bloodied fingers.
I felt the urge to vomit, but swallowed it, pushing the bile back down my throat.
I should’ve brought gloves. Tongs. A garbage bag. I should’ve thought my plan through instead of bursting into action like a fucking idiot.
I promised myself that I would be more careful the next time. Because I already knew there would be a next time.–
$2,000. I kept rereading the number to see if it would change, but it was solid, unmoving. A two and three zeroes. Two thousand dollars. It would take me over two hundred shifts at the movie theater to make that kind of money.
But in order to earn it, I had to break into a house, the same house where I’d left a shoebox filled with road kill and a love note signed with my name.
I remembered how shoddy that place had looked when I’d first snuck up to it with the opossum in my arms. Open windows. Broken glass doors. Rusty handles.
Breaking in would be easy, in theory. And it’s not like I had to do anything once I got inside. I didn’t have to steal any money or go through the person’s jewelry. All the message said was that I should break in that night. That was it.
And that would be easy.
Of course, I didn’t want to jump into a sketchy situation like last time, so I played Devil’s advocate. I kept telling myself that there must be some sort of a catch, that no one gets handed money as easily as this — but there hadn’t been a catch with the other requests. I’d gotten my money and I’d used it. On rent. On loans. On groceries. I even had some left over for cigarettes.
Nothing bad had happened so far. Why would anything bad happen this time?
I debated it for hours, listing out the pros and cons. Trying to convince myself that greed was the root of all evil, and then deciding that wanting enough money to live comfortably wasn’t greedy. That I deserved the man’s cash to make up for the low salary I earned at the movie theater and the free internships I should’ve gotten paid for over the years.
I’d gotten screwed in the past — by my bosses, by my college, by the government. If I had the opportunity to earn some extra money, why the hell shouldn’t I take it?
So I did. I rode my bike down to the address, hid it behind a row of bushes, and snuck toward the open window in the back. Pushed it up just a bit further, enough to squeeze my head and torso through, and then climbed inside.
The living room looked like it belonged to any random person, with DVDs scattered across the sofa. Phone Booth and Boondock Saints and Se7en.
But the walls… The walls were covered in stalker photos, taken from windows and around corners. Most of them were of a pretty blonde in sundresses. Pastels. And then there was me.
Me in pajamas, grabbing my morning coffee a block away from my apartment. Me in my work uniform, outside of the theater with a cigarette between my fingers. Me in a skintight skirt with high heels in my hand, doing a walk of shame back to my room.
What the hell was this?
Before I had the chance to put two and two together, I felt my phone vibrate. Another notification. This time, for $5,000.
All I had to do was kill the person in the house.
I should have bolted for the door, back to my apartment, deleted my Venmo app after sending the remaining money back – but I had my knife in my pocket, the one from the photographs, the one from the video. I brought it just in case. Or maybe I knew I would need it. Maybe I wasn’t as shocked as I pretended to be.
And maybe, maybe murdering this stranger wouldn’t be such a bad thing. They had pictures of me. Of multiple girls. They could be a rapist. A pedophile. A killer themselves.
So wouldn’t offing them be doing the world a favor? Wouldn’t it be a good thing?
Or maybe I was just justifying it for my own selfish reasons… I couldn’t kill a human. I couldn’t even kill an animal. No. No, I wouldn’t do it. It was out of the question.
But the second I heard a voice, the knife was in my hand, pointed in the direction of the sound. It wasn’t for protection. I was ready to do it. My mind might not have been, but my body was ready to fucking do it.
Until I saw a gun aimed at my chest.
“You would do anything for money,” the man with the pistol said, stepping closer with each word. “It’s disgusting. You were going to kill an innocent person.”
That must have been him. Morgan Alexander. He was the guy that had been feeding me money. He had asked me to break into his own house.
“I hope you understand,” he said, swiping my knife and letting it clatter to the ground. “I can kill you and say it was in self-defense. I can claim that you broke into my house after sending me inappropriate pictures and leaving a dead rodent at my door with a note declaring your love.”
“I’m confused,” I said, straining to keep my voice from cracking. “Are you going to frame me or shoot me?”
“I’m not going to shoot you. I’m not a killer. I’m just a man trying to restore good in this world. And extract the bad.”
“You can have the money back. I spent some of it already, but you can have the rest. I’ll pay you back if you give me a little – “
“It’s not about the money for me. It’s about the money for you. That’s the problem. People like you are the problem.”
Beg him? Blackmail him? Hit him? Which move was the right move? What could I do to convince him to let me go? He was twice my size, three times my weight, so attacking wasn’t going to work. Bribing wouldn’t work. All that I could do was talk. Talk my way out of it.
I told him how badly I needed the money. How hard it was to make a decent living while attending school. How I wasn’t the type that needed a two-story house or designer clothes or a new Cadillac. That I still drove around on a fucking bike.
I was in the middle of a sentence, babbling for my life in the same way I babbled on my Facebook page weeks early, when I heard creaking. The window. Opening even wider.
I could hear something else, someone else, climbing through, through the same window that I’d used.
When I found the strength to twist my head, to see what the psycho had in store for me, I was face-to-face with the girl in the pastel dress. The girl from the stalker pictures. He must have been sending her requests, too.
“Sorry,” she said after being handed the gun, aiming between my eyes, and cocking. “I really need the money.”