By Gratia Serpento
Loraine thought she was being watched. Every time she crossed the street or stepped out of her car, her skin would prickle with the fear of eyes. She kept looking over her shoulder at every shake of the wind, half expecting someone with a machete to be standing behind her.
But, despite her fears, despite the shivers that shook her body, she didn’t do anything about it. No, she did nothing. Nothing at all. If anything, she did more to spite her panic. She picked up extra shifts at the restaurant on 42nd Avenue. She went to the library every two weeks, walking alone in the dimly lit parking lot. She left the window open in her third floor apartment. She went out with her two female friends, and accidentally left her phone at the club.
It was as if she was trying to convince herself that there was no danger. That it was all in her head. She ignored her body’s instincts.
She ignored me.
Not completely ignoring me, not by her fault. She didn’t know. I saw her, every Monday through Friday, on her lunch break. She’d visit the deli that was two blocks away from the restaurant she waitressed at, and get a turkey club sandwich and a Sprite. She’d smile at me, as I always worked the register, and leave me a five dollar tip. Her face would light up when I’d pass over the wrapped up sandwich. Have a great day she’d say, and it would be music to the gods, her voice so soft and sweet.
She was the most beautiful creature in the entire world.
But she was a creature of habit. I wanted to see more.
Humans are weak when in their state of comfort. No growth can occur when no growth is needed. Everything is set in perfect order, place, routine, and nothing, nothing changes, for better or worse. We fill out the little box, crowding and shrinking to fit, and we stay there for our entire lives, never stretching, watching everyone else’s box and craving to live there. Stuck. Stuck being less, being weak, being a coward.
Loraine was unconscious of her box. Unknown to her, she lived the same two week on loop, with only mild differences between them, like buying a new plant (one she’d end up killing) or getting a call from her family. In her box, she lived and laughed but never noticed where she belonged.
She belonged to me. She was mine.
She didn’t know if, but it didn’t make it any less true.
After all, I knew her best. I knew her better than the two women Loraine called ‘best friends’ did. I knew her better than her parents did. Better than the world did.
For here’s the thing: Loraine was being shoved in a box that didn’t fit her. She wasn’t the romcom, knee length dress, soft kisses and picnic dates that everyone believed of her, wanted her to be. No. She was more. But they wanted her less. They tried to shove her into a box that fit their standards, into a trope that would match them together, a cliché that would make her respectable to them.
What a joke. She wasn’t born to be caged. My Loraine was a lioness, not a house cat.
She watched horror movies every weekend–the gorier the better–and watched crime shows to help her sleep–the more innocent the victim, the faster she fell asleep. She read books on death and torture, craving to know what made others’ stomachs flip. From violence, chaos, and fear, she found her peace. She thrived, feasted upon another’s anguish, and watched them perish.
My Loraine was not what they said she was, not who her box wanted her to be.
But she never felt fear. Real fear.
She’d been spooked and felt sudden bouts of jump scares, but never felt the danger of being caught on the flip side of a knife. Never felt the danger of not knowing if you’ll live or die by your next breath.
So I was going to give it to her.
I was going to break her out of that box.
I set my plan in motion on Friday, May 13th, 7:48 PM. She’ll get off work for the week, and stop by the library like she always does. She’ll return three books, and, thirty minutes later, walk out with three more. Always the roughest novels, ones with sins beyond belief. If it startles or creeps, my Loraine wants it.
This is what she thinks will happen.
It’s not what actually will.
I’m hidden in a bush near the sidewalk, cloaked in darkness. A cheap hiding spot, but the night conceals me. The city should have invested in better streetlamps, better than these dim yellow bulbs, to save countless innocents from the crime that will occur tonight. But, alas. Money is time, money is effort, and money is lost.
I’m so caught up in my thoughts I almost miss her.
Loraine drives her yellow Volkswagen Bug into the parking space closest to me. Perfect. My heart threatens to spill from my chest. Soon, so achingly soon, it’ll be her and I till the end of time. This is our final moment of being strangers.
She hops out of her car, locking it without a glance. Immediately, I am transfixed, bewitched, her beauty knocking the breath out of me. In this lighting, you can’t see her features, but I know her well enough to picture her effortlessly in my mind’s eye. Big brown doe eyes that have the innocence of a baby cow, chocolate milk swirls. Mouse brown hair that she keeps up in a tight bun that leaves me begging to just reach out and touch. A sharp, hooked nose, with three moles on her right nostril that resemble an isosceles triangle. A loose figure, with enough folds to be the perfect cushions. Long fingers with bitten down stubs for nails.
My spine zings, nerve ends flaring with excitement. This is it. My Loraine, her life is about to be changed, for good. All. Because. Of. Me. That thought sets a delicious spark up and down my body. To have the power to change Loraine, to force her into destroying her box…it’s practically intoxicating.
“Whoopies!” She sputters, trying to balance her three books, coffee, phone, keys and purse. She’s so busy, so busy, a hivemind, living in her own world. She doesn’t notice me creeping in the shadows, too busy being Loraine to notice me destroying her world.
It’s so naïve it was almost sickening.
She steps onto the sidewalk and begins her walk, passing right in front of my bush, and I make my move. I lunge, covering her mouth and nose with a cloth before she even notices. Her eyes flare with fear, a scream builds in her chest and she jerks away from me. I wrap my other arm around her waist and press her to my chest, waiting for the knockout drug to take effect.
I don’t have to wait long.
One moment, she’s fighting, next, her doe eyes roll to the back of her head and her entire body goes limp. Her lashes flutter against her cheek, and her head sags against my hand. Completely unconscious.
Her items fall from her hands, her phone shattering, keys and books crashing into each other. The coffee tumbles out from the lid, and splashes all over my legs, the hot liquid burning.
I barely feel it, so focused on the feel of Loraine in my arms. So soft, she fits perfectly against my body. I smile so wide, my cheeks stretch to show all my teeth. I finally have Loraine, the light of my life.
Carefully, I scoop her up and carry her to the car I borrowed from my sister’s ex-husband’s friend–unbeknownst to him, of course. With extreme amounts of caution, I unlock the back seat and lay her down, gently smoothing loose hair strands out of her face. “I don’t want to do this part,” I whisper as I grab the zip ties. “But you don’t trust me yet. We’re not quite equals. Soon, yes, we will be. But for now…” I bind her legs and arms, careful not to cut the skin. “For now, we’ll take precautions. Until you realize–” I press my lips against her forehead, her skin so smooth it makes me shudder. “Until you realize that you are mine. Forever.”
I stare at her for a moment; watch her peaceful expression be tainted with residue fear, before shutting the door. I go back and pick up her purse and books–anything to not leave a trace, to give a trail of clues to Loraine’s location. I leave the coffee, no way to clean that up, and dial Ricki’s number.
“Lukas. How are you, man?” he answers on the second ring.
“I found a car for you, but you gotta stay silent if anyone asks where you got it,” I say, slipping the keys underneath a tire.
“You know I won’t tell. Where’s it located?”
“Library. Key is under the front right tire.”
“Uh-huh.” I hang up, and go back to my borrowed car. I climb into the driver’s side and take a deep inhale. Loraine’s sweet, honeysuckle perfume intertwines with her rough scent of fear, a harsh collision. It clouds the car, almost making me dizzy. Just so utterly perfectly, it’s impossible to describe.
I stare at Loraine through the rear view mirror. She looks, all things considered, wonderful. I can’t wait to destroy her box, can’t want to make her completely, undeniably mine. I can’t wait to force her out of that mask society makes her wear.
My breath hitches at the thought.
“Soon, my sweet, sweet Loraine.” I whisper. “You won’t recognize yourself when you look in the mirror. You’ll be so changed, so remarkable, a completely new human without a box to break you.” I chuckle. “We’re going to have a lot of fun together, you and I. You’ll see.”
I back out of the parking lot, Loraine not stirring, and begin the drive to my home. Reaching back, I rest my hand against her knee, desperate to feel her, to know this isn’t a dream, a trick of illusion. My Loraine, my love, my treasure, my everything, is finally within my grasp.
Bio: Gratia Serpento is an Oregonian writer who reads when she’s not writing, and writing when she’s not reading. She’s had works published with Poor Yorick, Wingless Dreamer, The Yard: Crime Blog , SPECiES ZiNE, Wild Greens Magazine, The Scriblerus, Pile Press, The Graveyard Zine, among others. Check out her Instagram (@poet_serpento) to see more.