I've been completely addicted to detective stories and murder mysteries lately, so when the following submission appeared in our inbox, it felt like receiving a nice little a box of gourmet chocolates -- impeccably crafted, satisfying to the core, and wrapped in attractively compact packaging.
Maybe you can't read that massive New York Times bestseller at your office desk, but you can read this. And you should!
By James Robinson
I haven’t slept in days. I lay here, staring at the ceiling and listening to the incessant hum of the fluorescent lights above me and I think. And God help me, I remember.
My mother came to see me, once. Aside from various police officials she has been my only visitor. She walked in, that same stooped shuffle that had carried her as long as I could remember, and she could not look at me. I didn’t dare breathe, praying, hoping she would look me in my eyes. Finally, she raised her head and our eyes met through the glass and I saw. I saw that dawning horror I had seen so many times the past few days and I knew that she knew. She knew what had become of mama’s darling bouncing boy.
A murderer. She had raised a murderer.
One look was all she wanted. A few seconds of emotions flying across her face too fast to follow and she was stumbling out of the room, tears in her eyes. The strongest woman I had ever known, and all it took was one look at the burden, the knowledge in my eyes and she had broken. Momentary guilt was followed by a feeling of exultation. I had always been broken. It was only fair she was too.
My sin, other than the obvious, was loving too much. I think. Perhaps I may have been too possessive, I don’t know. My thoughts are getting more and more muddled. I just want to sleep but those GODDAMN LIGHTS. If I could just close my eyes…But if I close my eyes I know all I will see is her.
Karen. Tiny, adorable Karen. Barely coming up to my chest she moved with the quiet confidence of someone twice her size and three times as beautiful. I wanted that. I wanted (to be?) her as soon as I saw that self-assured stride. I imagine Cleopatra walked like that, occasionally deigning a nod to one of her worthier subjects and lighting their life for a small instant. Except I didn’t want an instant. What I got was three months.
I will not say it was too good to be true, because it wasn’t. Aside from her unnatural confidence, Karen had a bitterness to her; a coolness to the rest of humanity that I never saw a reason for. It left a sharp edge where most people wanted soft roundness. It made us a good match in my eyes, her coldness and my isolationism. We did well together.
Eventually, obviously, she broke it off and I may have overreacted a bit. I did not touch her, or threaten her. Aside from my awe for her, I was afraid that if she felt inferior for even a moment, that glorious confidence would be gone forever and she would be lost to me. I just watched. There’s no harm in watching, right? Of course not. Sometimes she knew I was there, most of the time she did not. And then she left.
How dare she? She knew what I needed from her, and it was easy to get. She didn’t have to do a thing. Why was that so hard? Just walk. Walk and I watch. I paced the sidewalk outside her apartment for days, not believing. I may have overreacted a bit. Did I say that already? The humming. You understand. I may have gotten a bit angry. Ok, I was seething inside. What she freely gave to everyone around her was too good for me to catch the fringes of. She was already lost to me, confidence be damned.
So when I saw her duck into the alley that went behind her apartment I followed her. I just wanted to talk. I wanted her to know how I felt, that not everyone was a cold-hearted bitch. That normal people have feelings and you DON’T FUCK WITH FEELINGS.
When I turned the corner she was waiting. She just stood there, all illusion of confidence shattered. She was shaking. It was all an illusion. A lie. This whole time she was lying to me with every step she took. Here, finally, she was being honest with me. I was grateful. It would make everything easier.
We both looked down when the knife came out, a sharp light in the gloom. She began to back away and I closed, the knife burying to the hilt in soft, yielding flesh.
It came out a whisper. She answered with a weak smile. The sympathy and warmth in her eyes was a blow to my chest, leaving me unable to breathe. I didn’t understand, and then I did. Yes, it had been a lie, but not the lie I thought. I thought she was weakness hiding behind a guise of strength. I hadn’t been sorry. I was the liar. A liar, and now, a murderer.
I sat there with her, holding on to her until I felt the warmth of her body leave, but I hadn’t been thinking ahead and now it showed. Someone had called the police. Two black and whites screamed around the corner and slammed to a stop, the officers scrambling to get to me. I sat woodenly, too numb to resist.
It was all rather straightforward from there. I was sure people had seen me watching Karen’s apartment. I was at the crime scene covered in blood. My fingerprints were all over the murder weapon. What could I say in my defense? Two uniforms flanked me, keeping me there until a detective had looked over the scene. A quick walk through apparently gave him all the information he needed. Finally, he looked at the corpse. He looked at me; giving me a slightly sad, disgusted shake of the head and waving the uniforms to take me away.
Since then I haven’t slept a wink. They say you can tell when you’ve the murderer. When you put him in his cell he goes right to sleep. He knows he’s been caught. If that were admissible evidence, any jury could take one look into my insomniac’s eyes and immediately find me innocent. But I’m not.
A sound. My door. They have kept me waiting long enough; it’s time to tell them my story. Two of them come through the door, the detective from the scene dimming the lights on their way in. Thank God, the humming stops. The one I don’t recognize turns on a bright overhead I hadn’t noticed before and points it in my face. I expect them to interrogate me or ask me why. They do neither. Instead one of them begins reciting the details in a disinterested monotone.
“22 year old male, puncture wound to the chest.”
No, no no. How stupid are these people? They’ve left me alone all this time and now they’re going to try and pin the wrong murder on me?
At least the humming is gone. I can gather my thoughts. I will confess. I owe her no less.
Except…I gather my thoughts.
The detective, walking through the scene of the crime.
He looked at the corpse. He looked at me.
James Robinson is a (recently) former US Marine. He is a student currently enrolled in his first semester at a community college. No, he won't tell you which one. Aren't they all the same? He has no idea what degree he is pursuing or what to do with this new thing called "free time," so this week he wrote something. When James was ten his father made the mistake of leaving his Brian Lumley books out, starting James's one-sided love affair with horror