I was half asleep, snatched away from dreams of my wedding day, when my phone chirped. Short, high pitched sounds that would send a dog insane.
I pawed at the screen, assuming it was my alarm, until I noticed my fiancé’s name with two pink hearts beside it. A FaceTime notification.
Michael barely texted me, let alone called me, so I assumed it was a mistake, a butt dial. But I was awake now and needed to whine about him ruining my sleep, so I answered the call.
I expected the contact brown eyes and buzzcut, but not the dried blood. On his chin. Beneath his nose. Across his cheek.
He was handcuffed to his radiator, not the flimsy cuffs we stored in the closet for sex, but shiny metal restraints. Duct tape covered his mouth. And a thick, frayed rope circled his waist that was tied too tight, dug in too deep. I could imagine the pain, the itch.
And, standing beside Michael’s limp body, there was a man.
I could only see his legs, his sleek black trousers, and one hand, holding a glock.
You like books, don’t you, Tanya?
I flinched at my name.
I’ve seen your shelves. With a little bit of everything. Mysteries. Science Fiction. Fantasy. Horror.
Michael tried to speak. I could see the tape creasing, but whatever came out sounded like muffled barks.
It’s time for you to be the star of the story. Unfortunately, this one won’t have a happy ending.
I wanted to call 911, to text 911, but I couldn’t open up any other pages on my phone while Facetiming. I was stuck.
Let’s start with a mystery. Go through your closet. There’s a clue hidden inside.
I could have run from the room. Hung up the phone. Gotten help. But I had a feeling that the gun would go off if I did that. That the stranger would kill Michael if I acted out.
After all, the glock was right there. The man could pull the trigger before the cops switched on their siren. Before they even received a radio call.
I had to comply. I had to give him what he wanted. I had to.
When I reached my closet, I slid the hangers to the side, one by one. Shirts. Jeans. Skirts. Dresses.
And one of those dresses, my favorite dress, the dress I had worn when I first met Michael, had dark blood splatters across the breasts, over the neckline, down the sleeves.
Guess whose blood that is, Tanya.
I bent my knees to vomit, but nothing came out. No chunks. No saliva. No words.
I didn’t have time to think, to feel, because the stranger gave me specific instructions: Put on my Bluetooth headset and slip the phone in my pocket. Buy a bus ticket and ride to 217th street. Wait in the lobby of the apartment building across the road.
No talking to strangers, answering him aloud, or even glancing at a cop – or he would blow Michael’s brains out.
I felt dizzy the entire walk down the road, my fingertips as shaky as my lower lip. When I reached the bus, I prayed for a seat to rest my wobbling knees, but of course, I was stuck standing, slippery hands against the overhead pole.
Let’s try erotica this time.
I strained to hear him as the bus pulled away from the stop, jerking me to the left. I almost fell on the guy sitting next to me, but caught myself at the last second.
I want you to touch yourself.
I choked back a laugh. What kind of sick request was that? Did he even have a camera on me? My phone was in my pocket, he couldn’t see me anymore. Could he?
Masturbate. Do it.
I heard the click of a gun. More muffles from Michael.
I hovered my hand across my crotch, lightly brushing the fingers against the fabric. I tried to make it look like my hand was swaying from the movement of the bus. Like it was natural. Accidental.
You have to do better than that. Moan.
Was he out of his fucking mind? If I made a scene, I was going to get thrown off the bus. Arrested for public indecency. But maybe that would be a good thing. Maybe it would ruin his plan.
So I did it.
I placed my hands between my legs, on the silk of the pajama pants I was still wearing, and rocked my fingers back and forth, releasing the tiniest moans.
I wanted to die. There were people on that bus I knew. Not by name, but by face. Neighbors I stumbled across at the grocery store. What the hell would they think of me?
I never found out, because they kept their comments locked inside. No one said a word, at least not with their lips. But their eyes told their own stories.
The woman standing in front of me kept craning her head, glaring. Teenagers sitting to my left giggled. And the man to my right, the one I almost collapsed on earlier, was smirking like I was giving him a free show.
My cheeks turned to cherry by the time we reached my stop, but I ignored the humiliation to focus on my instructions. Walk across the street. Into the apartment buildings. Sit down at the bench across from the elevators.
Dozens of people passed by, paying no attention to the homeless looking girl with bedhead and flannel. I must have been there for at least fifteen minutes before a woman in her twenties carrying an infant stepped inside the elevator.
Go inside. Now. Follow them.
I did. It was the type with folding lattice doors, the type that stopped the machine midair if you opened them.
The woman jabbed the button for the top floor with a thumb and the machine clunked to life. I didn’t press anything, so she gave me a look. Scared even before she had a reason to be.
It’s time for horror. Open the elevator door.
I yanked it open, no hesitation. I could hear the woman asking me what I was doing, shielding the baby’s head with her palm.
Reach into the pocket of your pajama pants.
I kept one hand on the door and slipped the other inside. Wrapped my fingers around something oval. Wooden.
How the hell did he get that in there? How did I not notice it on the bus?
Kill one of them. You get to choose.
I shook my head. Rested it against the door, pressing my forehead hard enough to leave crisscrosses against the skin.
It’s one life. Either she dies or your fiancé dies. Those are your choices.
I shoved a fist into my mouth and bit down on the knuckle, thinking about how anyone who claimed all people were equal spouted bullshit. Occupations didn’t matter. Neither did gender or age. What mattered was whether you loved the person or not. If they meant anything to you or were just another body.
Michael was the love of my life.
And she was a nobody.
I twisted my neck, just enough to make eye contact, and asked her to put the baby down. She called me a bitch, told me to close the damn door and let her get home – until I popped the blade from the knife. Then she got quiet. Placed the baby in the corner with its blanket tucked around it like a shadow.
Tears slid out of the mother, but I told her not to worry, that I wasn’t going to hurt her baby.
And then I cut her throat.
Blood spurted from the slit in her flesh and stained my top, but only for a moment, only until she collapsed and made a fresh puddle on the ground.
It’s time for science fiction and fantasy. Drink her blood.
The baby didn’t cry or whimper or whine. It just sat there, wriggling, unaware of what I’d done. What I still had to do.
This is the last thing. After this, you get to see Michael.
I lowered myself onto to my knees, dipped a finger into her blood, and sucked it off.
I squeezed my eyes shut tight and bent over her corpse, pretending I was lapping juice. Pretending that’s all it was. Juice. Sliding across my tongue. Squeezing down my throat. Staining my lips.
I must have swallowed at least a pint of it before I heard the voice again.
Okay. Finish the fairy tale. Grab the baby and go to room 515.
I found the keys in my back pocket during the run down the hall.
When I unlocked the door, Michael was still on the floor, struggling to break out of his cuffs. And beside him, with a glock in hand, was the faceless stranger, skin as white as tissue.
Except it wasn’t a man at all. It was only a mannequin, hand wrapped in duct tape to keep the glock stuck to his hand.
And just like that, the illusion vanished. I couldn’t play pretend anymore. I was thrown out of my story. Tossed back into reality.
“This is your other apartment, isn’t it?” I asked. “I knew you weren’t away for work all those nights. I knew you were cheating. I’m not stupid, Michael. I’m not a fucking idiot.”
I bent to his level and ripped the tape from his mouth. “Tanya. Tanya, please put down my daughter.”
I forgot I’d been holding the baby. His baby. His whore’s baby. The one that he’d been hiding from me for months. The one that gave me the idea to create a fairy tale of my own.
“Just so you know, your mistress is dead. Some psycho killed her in the elevator.”
I said it while looking at my phone, like we were having a casual conversation, the type we used to have back when he was loyal. Of course, that phone screen was black. It had been black all day. I’d never received a call. I’d just been pretending, playing a character. Having a conversation with the voices inside of my head.
The truth was, I’d gone to Michael early that morning, put a gun against his temple, tied him up after leaving a few cuts and bruises – and then drove home to wash the gunk off of me, put my bloodied dress back in the closet, and tuck the knife and stolen keys into my pajama pockets.
A few hours after that, I pretended to answer his FaceTime. Pretended that I had to play the hero and rescue the love of my life. Pretended that my fiancé actually loved me.
But that wasn’t the truth at all. He wasn’t the boy that came home with flowers and chocolates. He was a cheater. And I wasn’t the girl that would cross the earth to rescue him. I was a masochist, a killer. I’d climaxed on that bus. I’d had a smile on my face as I murdered that woman, as I swallowed her blood.
And I’d have another smile as I shot my fiancé through the teeth.