Caroline. I learned her name through the phonebook, my shaking fingers carefully caressing its pages as I searched for the address I’d seen her at so many times. 43 Mako Drive, the small, brick house on the corner of Braxton and Mako. I’d memorized the shape of her home weeks before, my bare feet sliding across its wet grass every time I closed my eyes. Letters from her mailbox, addressed to Caroline Smith, confirmed what the book claimed.
She was impeccable, absolutely flawless in every way. I’d watched her for seven months—almost every single day and night—silently following her as she strolled to and from her classes. Sometimes I stayed outside her bedroom window as we slept, my heart racing as I matched my breathing to hers. She never knew I was there, never acknowledged me as more than the distant shadow of a faceless tree, but I knew she needed me. She was all I could think about, all I wanted to be with. Beautiful, flawless, ideal. If anything could convince me that angels truly visited this greasy, obscene, vile planet, then it would have been to see her.
She was an artist, a creator; she built perfect worlds that only she and I could appreciate, universes fit for the two of us. She taught her art at the community center next to the unsightly yellow pizza restaurant. I didn’t understand why she bothered showing up. The students didn’t respect her; the other teachers didn’t understand her; no one truly valued her. They couldn’t see her perfection, her talent, the unearthly skill she possessed. No one knew what she was worth—except me. It was clear to me, everything she was capable of. The world wasn’t able to comprehend what she could do; only I, and the God above, could fathom such beauty. I knew I had to free her, to save her from the life of dismay and disrespect she endured. Her perfection had to be known.
She always walked alone, always spent her days and nights with a just paintbrush and canvas. The mail at 43 Mako Drive was never addressed to anyone but Caroline, my fingers becoming accustomed to the rub of the ink-stained C of her name pressed into each envelope. She had no one but her art, nothing but the worlds she created in the comfort of her home as I silently watched under the shroud of the long-set sun. She had me, had my support and devotion, my undying love and admiration, yet I knew that wasn’t enough for her. She needed more, needed the embrace of the planet as they all screamed her name in singularity, hung her portraits in galleries and traveled halfway around the world to admire her brush strokes. She needed fame and fortune, acclaim and respect, followers and immorality. I knew I could give that to her, make her name a commodity and brand us forever as a single entity.
I wanted to be the one to launch her fame, the name that always followed her around. I wanted to be the reason she went missing, the person to force her into the world. I needed to free her from this filthy planet, be the one to release her soul to the millions scattered throughout the corners of this uncivilized, obscene Earth. I knew she could inspire the masses and provoke the future.
I left her alone one night, let her sleep without the comfort of my warm carcass nestled just feet away. I had to, I needed to prepare. It was soon to be our time, the moment we’d forever become names tied together in the media, in the voices of the people, in the pages of history and the world alike. I wanted to perfect where I’d take her, where I’d free her soul into immortality. I needed it to be flawless enough to display her art to the world. I prepped and painted, cleaned and set forth the tools to extract her; my memory became blurred and uncertain as I toiled endlessly. The room needed to be just as immaculate as she. I thought I saw her as I worked, felt her skin tear against my fingers. By the time I was content, my eyes had become bloody through lack of sleep, and the sun had long-since risen.
She was not in her room as my bare feet touched the familiar grass outside her window. I pulled open the unlocked back door, silently dragging my heels across the hardwood floor I’d felt so many times before. I’d once danced in that very spot, my feet softly tapping the ground not inches from where she slept; I could hear her breathing in perfect synchronization as I spun. Now her bed was empty, the window above it I’d stared in so many times shattered and shimmering atop her sheets. Her bureau lay sideways, its contents spilled out on the floor. I picked up the burgundy shirt she wore to bed almost every night and held it to my face, the familiar scent of her perfume washing over me. I continued through her house.
She valued her cleanliness, as did I. I’d watch as she spent hours, sometimes entire days, washing and organizing each and every inch of her home, always to perfection. Now it was a mess, a chaotic wreck of turmoil and struggle. She’d never done this to me before, never forced me to see her in such a shape of sheer humanity. Her walls, once rife with the beauty and life she painted, now lay bare, the art scattered and broken upon the floor. I clenched my teeth as I righted them, muscles tensing as I tried to hang them back in their correct places, but they were simply not the same. She had let someone else touch them; they had lost their purity. I allowed them fall back to the floor as I continued up her stairs.
The crème carpet outside her studio door was stained a ruby red, still moist under the weight of my bare feet. I could hear her breathing heavily behind it, her gasps raspy and strained as if under a tremendous weight. I wrapped my hand around the handle, twisting the cold brass knob and silently pushing it open. I had to blink as I peered in, the vulgarity she exposed me to almost unbearable. The room was in disarray: paintings torn apart, brushes scattered across the floor, shelves toppled over sideways. The worlds she’d created for just the two of us, the universes that were supposed to inspire the future, were now stained, covered in blood and paint and split by knife. The hope she’d given the planet lay destroyed in the middle of the room by her broken body. She couldn’t even save her own self.
She glanced up at me, her eyes studying me with a faint hint of recognition and dread, her mouth gagged and broken. I could hear her whimper softly, just as she occasionally did in her sleep as I stood watch. Spilled paints surrounded her and mixed into a single, grotesque shade—red, blues, yellows, whites, and every other color she’d once had organized on the shelves beside the door. I stared at her for a moment, waiting for an apology as my eyes searched for the hope I’d seen for so long. She had been flawless, the only thing that could save the world from the pornographic, filthy wreck it had become. Now, as she lay on the ground, her eyes screaming for my help, all I could see was failure and dependence. A mirrored figure shifted in the far corner of the room. I glanced up at it and slowly shook my head. She was no more perfect than the others.
I turned around and quietly shut the door, then began back down the path I’d become so familiar traveling.
VIOLENT ALTERNATIVE ENDING:
She valued her cleanliness, as did I. I’d watch as she spent hours, sometimes entire days, washing and organizing each and every inch of her home, always to perfection. Now it was a mess, a chaotic wreck of turmoil and struggle. I’d never seen her in such a shape of sheer humanity. Her walls, once rife with the beauty and life she painted, now lay bare, the art scattered and broken upon the floor. I clenched my teeth as I righted them, muscles tensing as I tried to hang them back in their correct places, but they were simply not the same. I silently placed them back on the floor.
A figure crossed the hall beside me, a long black piece of cloth trailing behind. It turned around the corner, slowly climbing its way up the impeccably vacuumed carpet stairs. I’d crept up those same steps so many times, careful to keep to the far left—close to the wall—so as to avoid any noise. It led right to her studio, the only room on the second floor, where she spent most of her time creating masterpieces. I glanced back at the shattered paintings now propped against the wall by my feet and turned toward the steps.
I never had much reason to go upstairs, as she did her sleeping in her first-floor bedroom, but I still enjoyed wandering there late at night, sometimes even spending the evening in her never-used closet. It comforted me, being with what I knew would save the future. Her talents gave me hope, I needed to ensure the world saw her beauty. I climbed over the last step, feet automatically following the path I’d traveled so many times, and stopped in front of the closed stairway door.
The crème carpet outside her studio was stained a rose red, still moist under the weight of my bare feet. I could hear her breathing heavily behind it, her gasps raspy and strained as if under a tremendous weight. I wrapped my hand around the doorknob, twisting the cold brass handle and silently pushing it open.
She lay on the floor in the center of the room, body encased in a rainbow of spilled paints. Cans of red, yellow, blue, orange, and every other imaginable hue lay scattered around her, their contents soaking in with the blood seeping out of her. The worlds she’d painted for just the two of us, the universes that were supposed to inspire the future, were now stained beside her, covered in blood and paint and split by knife.
She glanced up, her eyes studying me with a faint hint of recognition, her mouth gagged and broken, hands tied back. I could hear her whimper softly, just as she occasionally did in her sleep as I stood watch. I stared at her for a moment, admiring her beauty. Even before a near-certain death, she was still stunning. The way her blonde hair, matted down with paint and blood, stuck to her floor and forehead: it was simply divine. She had to be famous, had to be known as more than just a teacher. A figure shifted in the far corner of the room, its back to me. I glanced up at it and slowly began my way forward.
The floor of Caroline’s studio still felt the same, even as I silently crept around the spilled paint and blood. Soft and warm, the wood absorbing heat from the bright, white lights overhead. It was simply my favorite place to be, maybe even more so than the nights I’d spend lying just outside her window.
The figure was leaning over a table, its hand entering and exiting the burlap bag Caroline kept her money, passports, and other items in. She stored it in the drawer behind the studio door, stopping in once or twice a day to take something out or put something in. I’d occasionally look at her picture on the ID cards, but never took anything. I had no need for her cash or items.
It was a man in front of me; the cloth I had seen trail behind him was the tail of a long, dark-black overcoat. His orange hair was unkempt and curly, spiraling out from under a brown beanie cap. Although he faced away, I could still see the five-o’clock shadow forming on his face, the individual prickles of hair standing up and trying to alert him to my presence.
I didn’t like what he had done to Caroline. She was my conduit; I was to be her vessel to success. He was interfering, threatening my plans. I took a step forward and sunk my teeth into the side of his face, my tongue slipping against his ear as I pulled. It came off easily, much to my surprise. He screamed and pushed me back, blood dripping from my teeth as a metallic taste filled my mouth.
I shoved my way back through his flailing hands until I was back at his face, again biting down into his cheek and clenching with all my might. A ruby red poured out of him and onto my sweatshirt, my fingers digging their way into his eyes. It was soft, like putting my pointers into a tub of pudding. I wiggled them as he struggled, his throat gurgling with an instinctual cry. I’m sure he hit me back, but I just didn’t care.
He continued struggling, but to no avail. I grabbed the X-ACTO knife Caroline kept in the mug on her desk in front of us, the one she used to put her paintings into her frames. She was quite good at trimming down the edges, always getting it to fit on her first try. It was simply ideal; each masterpiece framed expertly. I plunged the long, thin blade into the man’s abdomen again and again and again. Spurts of warm liquid splashed out onto my hands and the desk ahead, painting the walls in a Jackson Pollock-esque design I knew Caroline would appreciate. Again, and again, and again, until he fell to the floor encased in ruby.
I turned back around, wiping my hands off on my sweatshirt. I was a mess, I knew it. I had hoped I’d look at least semi-presentable the first time Caroline met me. She had no choice in my plans, but I still wanted her to like me. I glanced toward the wall beside her. Several pieces of her art remained in-tact, along with the ones I knew were still downstairs and at her work. The world had not been robbed, I would make sure of it.
I stared down at Caroline. She looked stunning, her hands tied behind her back, a thin piece of black cloth over her mouth. She was perfect, flawless, even with her face shattered and bruised. If the world could just know her name, see the beauty she could create, then there would be hope for tomorrow. I knelt down and untied the cloth around her mouth, a tickle of blood dripping across her burgundy lips.
“Thank you,” she whimpered, her voice angelic and soft.
I smiled. She had no reason to thank me, the world didn’t even know her name yet.
LESS AMBIGUOUS ALTERNATIVE ENDING:
She valued her cleanliness, as did I. I’d watch as she spent hours, sometimes entire days, washing and organizing each and every inch of her home, always to perfection. Now it was a mess, a chaotic wreck of turmoil and struggle. She’d never done this to me before, never forced me to see her in such a shape of sheer humanity. Her walls, once rife with the beauty and life she painted, now lay bare, the art scattered and broken upon the floor. I clenched my teeth as I righted them, muscles tensing as I tried to hang them back in their correct places, but they were simply not the same. I let them fall back to the floor as I continued up her stairs.
The door to her studio was splattered in a ruby red, which ran from door handle and down into the crème carpet. I softly placed my hand onto the knob, the still-warm liquid soaking and staining my flesh, and turned. The door opened with a soft, wooden creak, a rainbow of color invading my vision.
Her studio had long been our favorite spot, the place she spent most of her time in. When she wasn’t working, I’d silently watch from the nearby trees as she created masterpiece after masterpiece. No one else knew of the perfection she created, the beauty she was capable of. Every piece was better than the last, each one the key to saving the world. All she needed was a way to be seen—all she needed was me, the hero.
She lay motionless in the center of the room, a rose-red trail leading up to her slit wrists. Cans of paint encircled her, their contents spilled out into a liquid rainbow of reds, yellows, whites, blues, and every other imaginable hue atop the linoleum floor. She stared at me with a faint glimpse of familiarity, her eyes slowly studying me like old friends reunited. Her breathes were shallow and deliberate, her lips slightly open and tinted purple. I knew she would still look beautiful, even in death.
I stared at her, the blood from her wrists blending with the spilled paint, as her head slowly tiled back. She was supposed to die in my care, for it to be displayed to the world alongside her art. She was supposed to be a martyr; I was supposed to be the vessel to her fame. We were going to free this vile planet from its incestuous decay, become names that were synonymous with each other. She would have had fame, immortality, success. The world would have embraced her as more than just a faceless name on page 17, but as a hero.
I closed my eyes and turned back toward the staircase, closing the door as I began back down the path I’d become so familiar traveling.