“W-what are y-you?!”
A maiden, on the receiving end of my purple blade, shouted the question before succumbing to her injuries. It was a question that required me to think, and as she slipped away, I gave her a posthumous answer.
“…I’ll leave that for you to decide.”
People were beginning to understand how dangerous it was to love. They were afraid of me, they were afraid of death, and they were afraid of losing everything that they had worked so hard for. That was the point of the entire operation.
The problem was that they were scared for the wrong reasons. It was not a matter of fearing what love can do; people were simply scared of getting caught. I was sure thousands upon thousands still laid dormant in their homes, choosing to remain blind as opposed to accepting the truth.
They thought they could hide from me…
I was perched on top of a high rise, scoping around for more people I could teach. Before the awakening of my powers, I had already been on the lam from missing persons detectives, and now, I had to be even more cautious with my movements. Luckily, I had been given the perfect way out of that problem.
My manifestation powers extended to other parts of my body as well, not just my hands. Those who looked upon me would certainly notice long and flowing purple hair and a left eye which was strikingly violet compared to the right’s shade of shamrock.
From my position on the building, something caught my eye. There was an older man, in ragged clothing, quickly sprinting down the sidewalk. He ducked into an alleyway to catch his breath.
Half-curious, half-malicious, I spread my wings and flew down for a closer look. Auburn didn’t have many that lived outside the lap of luxury, and those that did were typically ignored by those that didn’t.
When I landed, I took my time examining the figure in front of me. He had bags under his eyes, his black hair overgrown and dirty. It seemed as though he hadn’t changed his clothes for weeks. The man was clearly homeless, living in a busted-up cardboard box that I spotted nearby.
I stepped closer, feeling the wind on my wings as I folded them down to my back. Staring at the man, it suddenly snapped into my mind why I was so innately curious about him.
I was able to place him. We had met a month and a half ago, when he slammed me to the ground, robbed me, and left me for dead. His eyes told me that he didn’t recognize me, but I’m sure he heard whispers around the town of the demon in the night who came to claim souls.
“P-P-Please!” he shouted, scooting back and holding up a pipe for protection.
My killer cowered downward, crying and begging for his life. I created the dagger in my hand, ready to enact the justice that I had longed for, but hesitated as my eyes darted around to the items scattered in the alley.
The cardboard box was damp from the rain and there were tons of open, empty food containers scattered around, including a new batch that he just brought in.
“I don’t have anything! Please don’t kill me…” he blubbered, curling into a ball on the ground.
I stood still for a moment. He was right; he didn’t have anything. A box on the side of the road, meals consisting of nothing but table scraps. Was this worth living for? Was this worth dying for?
I leaned down to meet his eye level and firmly asked, in response to his request, “So why do you choose to stay alive?”
The man once again scooted away from me, backing himself up against a dumpster.
He stuttered out, “I- I… I want to live…”
Oh, the irony…
It made me think, however. He had no family, no friends, no love in sight. All he had was that primordial urge to survive. When all of a human’s love was stripped away… What remains? Someone who was willing to do anything to live. Willing to steal. Willing to beg. Willing to kill.
I dissipated the dagger, switching it out for an old, purple-tinted photo of me when I was still alive. The man looked at the picture. Tears began to well his eyes. I sat down in front of him, and even returned my hair to the dirty brown color that it was before the incident.
This time, he couldn’t even make out words, just sputtering noises.
I took the picture back and got rid of it before calmly speaking, “You remember me, don’t you? You remember what you did to me.”
The man’s eyes shot wide open as he stared at me, taking in the sight as it all flooded back. I then watched those eyes slowly come back to reality.
He switched between staring at me and staring at his hands.
“What have I done…?” he asked, putting his head in his palms.
I raised back up and let my hair change back to a lavender hue, answering, “You did what you had to do.”
The man once again struggled to get words out. “But I killed you!” he eventually yelled.
With that, I instantly spread my wings out to my sides. The man was taken aback by awe, his mouth wide open, and his eyes full of wonder.
I simply replied, “You’re still alive, are you not? And look what I’ve been able to become.”
The man crawled over to me, seemingly kneeling at my feet as I again turned back towards the now-empty streets.
“What happened to you?” he asked, admiring my wings.
Without turning around, I simply responded, “I got a second chance. Perhaps you deserve one as well.”
It seemed wrong. I chose to spare the man who killed me in cold blood while I massacred people who I never once met.
But no. It was right. It had to be. When I died, my eyes were opened to the truth. This man never wore a blindfold, though. He didn’t need my help…
“I’m sorry…” I heard a whimper from behind me.
I glanced over my shoulder and responded, “I honestly don’t care, and I don’t want you to stop now. Stay vigilant.”Getting a running start, I once again dove into the night sky, taking off toward the stars. Letting them be my guide, I shifted my voyage in a different direction.
I glided over the rural part of town, where most people now rested. Everyone else stays locked in their own worlds, trying to pretend like they don’t have to be a part of the bigger world.
If they don’t want to face reality, reality was going to have to face them.
I tracked a pair of headlights as they pulled into a modest house and shut off. A husband and wife stepped out of their car, along with two smaller children.
I lounged by my fireplace, looking over a group of old pictures I had decorated my mantle with. The first was a photograph of me and Travis, and I remembered its context like it was yesterday.
It was Christmas time, and Travis had invited me over to his house for the holiday. The Montgomery family was very welcoming of me, because Travis had apparently been parroting them stories about how great I was.
When I arrived at their house, Travis surprised me by having his little sister come around the back of the couch with some mistletoe.
Our first kiss…
His parents loved me, and had already considered me part of the family. At another visit, when he thought I wasn’t listening, Travis’s father pulled his son aside and offered the suggestion, “When you’re ready, I have a friend who’s a jeweler. They can get you a good deal on a ring.”
Out of the three of us, I couldn’t tell who was more embarrassed.
My parents were different, though.
They were fine with Travis. He was a respectable young man, someone who never really got into trouble. They didn’t get his dream of becoming a singer, but they kept their mouths shut whenever he talked about it.
Maybe we were moving just a bit too quickly for their liking. I remember the first time he came over to my house. My mom wouldn’t take her eyes off of us the entire time.
She went so far as to prohibit the two of us from entering my room when I offered.
I just wanted to show him my manga collection…
We spent the rest of the night playing video games. I always beat him, but he never seemed to mind.
Next to that picture was the selfie we took at the top of a ferris wheel at the carnival he took me to during the past summer, and the other from an audition I had that he came to support me…I didn’t get the part, but I barely remember feeling torn up about it at all. Afterward, he took me out to ice cream at my favorite place.
I smiled. So many memories… I wondered for a moment if this is what widows and widowers felt like, looking over photos of their lost spouses.
Of course, Travis and I hadn’t gotten there just yet when it happened. We always joked about it, though. As we were together longer, the jokes started to turn into actual conversations as we made pseudo-plans.
It would’ve been nice. Travis was smart, caring, funny… He would’ve been the best husband in the world, and an even better father. Cynthia was right. Just moping and pouting about it would be wrong.
I was going to live my life happily and successfully, just the way Travis wanted me to. Or, at least, I was going to try. In order to be successful, I needed to find another acting gig, and fast.
As I lounged on the couch and scrolled through pages of Google search results, I turned on the TV for background noise and nearly choked on air when I heard the news reporter that popped on.
“Police are currently investigating a series of brutal murders believed to be conducted by a rising serial killer. Each body that’s been discovered has been stabbed through the heart with what has been determined to be the same dagger.”
“Witness testimonies have also linked these murders and exposed the killer’s M.O, as each body identified has been found to be part of a couple. Whoever this killer is, his vendetta against the public is gruesome—one member of each separated young couple has been left alive.”
Oh god… Talk about disturbing…
“What is currently unknown about the killer in question is their identity. All witnesses have claimed they saw a purple-haired male with wings attack them and fly off, but police and investigators believe this to be the result of paranoia and unfortunate sudden trauma, perhaps even shock. There is currently no suspect as to the identity of the ‘Auburn Demon’, as it has been dubbed by investigators.”
I perked a brow up confusedly. Wings? And they only went after couples?
I chuckled in spite of the situation. This sounded like some kind of deranged Cupid going after people. My laughter quickly stopped when my eyes caught the photos on my fireplace again.
It wasn’t just them. I hadn’t been attacked by a demon or anything, but I knew what it was like. Couples without their loved ones, children without their parents…
Knowing how distraught that made me, I didn’t want others to go through the same thing, feel the same pain. I was also just trying to subconsciously excuse the fact that all of the survivors saw the same hallucination, trying to come up with some kind of rational explanation for it so I could move on with my life without thinking about it.
Even if you ignore the wings for a moment, there was a killer on the move, going around every part of town and murdering tons of innocent people with the same dagger, but the police still didn’t have any evidence?
It was all really odd. How could someone be able to accomplish that, or be heartless enough to attempt it in the first place?
I never really thought much about the supernatural. Deep down, I think I did believe in a higher power, but I didn’t worship it or try to assign attributes to it.
After what I had been through, I had certainly accepted that if there was one, they didn’t care about me.
A demon, though? An actual demon?
That couldn’t be right. He must’ve got his hands on a jetpack or something.
I don’t even know if those have been invented yet, but it was more likely than some kind of evil spirit haunting the couples of Auburn.
I absolutely refused to get caught up in all this talk of demons and the apocalypse.
What would anyone have against love, anyway?
When I was in love with Travis, I had the best times of my life. Now some madman was taking that opportunity away from everyone else.
It was disgusting.
I made a mental note to be extra careful when going anywhere from now on before turning the channel to a familiar cartoon and going back to my Googling.
One entry piqued my interest. I tapped it and signed up for an audition for next week.
I needed to get out in the world again, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me!
"What the hell are you wearing?” I asked from the top of the staircase.
Penny was fiddling with her hair in a mirror in the clock shop. She was dressed rather unorthodox for the kind of work she does. “I told you a bajillion times, Doc! I’m going on a date with Zinovi today!”
When did she tell me that, again? I couldn’t remember.
Apparently, if Penny was to be believed, she had told me repeatedly. I must have tuned her out. I’m sure that I had more important matters to attend to, and no time to care about her newest crush.
Turning away from the stairs below me, I headed back over to my desk, where my work was awaiting me.
Once again, that same zestful voice rang out, “I’ve never been this excited for a date before! It’s gonna to be so fun!”
I ignored her once more. The prospect of Penny going out to dinner with some random boy didn’t intrigue me in the slightest.
At least she’d be out of my hair for a while.
But I swear, if she was going to start bringing him over to the shop for dates, then we were going to have a problem.
I apparently had zoned out, because Penny was in my workshop now, much to my dismay, smiling a bit at me. “Don’t you know what it’s like to be in love?”
That’s a question that I wish I had never heard. I could tell how she would react to my answer, and that would only succeed in creating more drama.
“No,” I honestly answered in a flat tone, not raising my head up from the blueprint I was choreographing.
Penny frowned, predictively following up my response with, “How have you never fallen in love?”
I shot back, “It’s a waste of time.”
I know how mean that sounds, but it’s true.
There’s already enough on my plate with my work and one simple assistant. If I ever got a husband, it would just serve as one gigantic distraction. It’s not like I would be a good partner, anyway, I don’t form bonds with people. Never have, never will.
I know that if I did ever get attached to anything, I would feel guilty once I inevitably lost it. Then the distractions would keep piling up. I would never get anything done at all.
Penny tried to convince me otherwise. “If you just got out more, I’m sure you’d find someone who’s right for you!”
“I don’t care,” I snapped back.
Penny looked noticeably offended by that. As if to think of some kind of response, she opened her mouth, but closed it after she couldn’t find the right words. She might’ve realized that I would be unrelenting no matter how hard she pushed.
Penny just sighed, and soon after, I heard the clacking of her heels moving back down the stairs.
I don’t know where that attitude she has came from.
When I was younger, it was understood that you were to treat those in authority with the respect that they deserve. Once I finally knew what it was like to hold any real influence, I was unlucky enough to be stuck with the one person who couldn’t read a room to save her life.
I only got the privilege after all my years upon years of hard work, dedication, blood, sweat, and tears. It was worth every sleepless night that I had to endure. I moved out and started my studies a decade ago, and haven’t regretted a second of it.
Time travel had been my main passion since grade school. I had fuzzy memories of discussing all things I would visit in the past to anybody who would listen, be it over lunch or on the playground. I couldn’t care less about what other people thought of me. We would see who would be laughing in ten years when they were working paycheck-to-paycheck.
No matter how many times I tried to explain it, nobody else ever seemed to understand. That problem was multiplied tenfold once Penny cartwheeled right into my life. Her interests laid elsewhere, and she always rambled on about wanting to be an author.
I’ll admit, Penny was a good writer. She wouldn’t be getting her work published if she wasn’t, and I do concede that I admired how ambitious she was in her goals. I simply didn’t see the point of any of it. Perhaps those ambitions were better suited for something worth it?
She created little distractions for a short amount of time, a glimpse into a world different than our own. Penny spun a web that unexpected listeners would always find themselves trapped in. Building a new world? I only saw it as an excuse for not trying to improve the world that she was in.
I don’t care how much people enjoy it, or how ‘fun’ it is to write. Unless you’re one of the greatest literary minds on the planet, and I assure you, Penny was not, your books will be forgotten soon enough. Go to any library. I guarantee there are some books inside that nobody has touched since they were put there.
It’s useless. You can’t just put a bunch of words on paper and expect the world to thank you for it. She likes to call herself a creator, but true creators are different. Think about von Braun. Ever since his work, travel through the cosmos has been open for all of us to explore.
From what started with just that one man, now the possibilities of new frontiers are endless.
…Well, there was no use not at least trying to open up Penny’s eyes.
“Look, Penny,” My attention was diverted away from the handiwork at my desk as I joined my assistant in the clock shop’s main area. “Is there any way that you’re going to reconsider?”
“Not unless you’ve got a mind control device tucked under that coat.”
“…Right. Granted, I may have been a tad harsh earlier, but the message should always triumph over the messenger.”
“Just a ‘tad’?”
“You’re lucky you got that much out of me. Don’t you think that this ‘Zinovi’ or whatever would distract you from your… Books?”
“Nice try, Doc,” She snickered, making a mockery of me. “That's not gonna work either.”
“Doc, what is your problem…?”
“I’m going out with a boy… I don’t think it’s really that big of a deal.”
“…Of course you don’t, Penny,” Seeing each and every one of my attempts shot down, I found it practical to mount a retreat. “Not yet at least. Time will tell soon enough, and when it does, don’t come crawling back to me.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure… Whatever you say, Doc.”
In one ear and out the other. Oftentimes, I would question if it was truly worth it.
Penny’s imagination was unmatched.
She should do something useful with it.
I gathered my things and headed down the sidewalk, toward the restaurant. My hair was in a braid and I had a shawl to go with my dress. My heels clicked on the pavement as I walked, my purse slung across my body.
I was excited a second ago for it, but I felt a bit down afterward. What was up with Doc? He’s never fallen in love before ever? Not even once?
That couldn’t be right… I dunno how old Doc is, but he didn't seem too much older than me… He wasn’t not exactly an ugly dude or anything, just cold and calculated.
I know a few people into math and science that came off like that when I first met them. Maybe I just needed to get Doc out of that mode for him to be able to mingle properly…?
I found myself at the entrance to the restaurant by the time I zoned in again. Immediately, my excitement returned. I beamed and walked inside, sitting at a booth for two.
I ordered a drink and looked over the menu. It wasn’t long before I heard a familiar voice.
“…Wow… You look amazing…” I blinked in surprise and looked up to see Zinovi dressed somewhat formally and smiling at me. He was blushing slightly. My heart was already racing.
He sat down and ordered his drink. Before I knew it, we were making pleasant small talk, and not any of that awkward nonsense with pauses in-between responses.
Zinovi was a game developer. He had two cats. He lived in an apartment that, thankfully, was close to mine.
I couldn’t help but keep smiling as I focused on him while he talked about his latest project. I dunno what it was, but something about this boy kept me smiling nonstop.
“What about you?” he asked over the rim of his wine glass.
I perked up and bit my lip before I started explaining my work: I was a writer. I wrote articles for the local paper for quick cash, worked part-time at Doc’s clock shop, and I obviously wrote novels.
I mentioned how I was close to his apartment and how I was looking to adopt a cat, but unfortunately, the shelter didn’t have any when I asked.
He asked what sort of novels I wrote and I was off to the races. What can I say? I’m passionate about my work. Unlike the complex and boring equations and sciencey mumbo-jumbo that Doc was obsessed with, stories were far easier to understand, and they came from all sorts of different cultures and peoples.
Stories could appeal to anyone, so long as you found the right genre and topic. Education and writing have changed the lives of so many people for the better. What’s cooler than that?
I realized too late that I had been rambling again. Doc hated when I did that. Sometimes he’d yell at me when he was really stressed out.
I had people who had told me playfully to shut up before, and others who politely told me not to talk as much. I just got so excited that I forgot, and then by the time I was reprimanded, I felt like a child being scolded by their mom or something…
Once I realized my mistake, I stopped mid-sentence and paled. My stomach dropped. I shrunk down, bowed my head, and bit my lip. “I’m sorry… I’m rambling…”
“‘Sorry’? Are you nuts?” My head was tilted up so I was facing Zinovi again. He was holding my chin up by his index and middle fingers, smiling at me. I could see a sort of excited spark in his eyes…
“Your work sounds amazing, Penny. Why did you stop?” I gasped softly, my eyes widening slightly.
“Why did you stop?” wasn’t “Why won’t you stop?!” So many times in my life, people have told me to more or less sit down and be quiet, even if they were family or friends.
But this one guy I barely knew was smiling at me and telling me, a girl that he barely knew, to continue rambling on and on about her imaginary fantasies filled with dragons and elves and sword fights and adventure, topped off with romance on the side.
A lot of people asked me why I even bothered with “garbage that wasn’t real”.
I think a lot of them questioned my career choice because it wouldn’t guarantee me money, or because I was an adult talking about princes and princesses and things like I was six and had seen a Disney Princess movie for the first time, or something like that. Maybe even both.
But Zinovi? His only question for me was why I stopped. I felt myself tearing up ever so slightly as I sat up and blinked it away. I wanted to lean over the table and kiss him right then and there, but instead, I smiled wide and murmured, “Then… Let’s see… Where did I leave off, again…?”
I rested my hand on the table and held Zinovi’s hand that had dropped there after he lifted my head.
I rambled on and on, answering his questions and becoming more and more excited at his interest. I kept talking even after our food came. Our hands stayed together all the way through dinner and dessert.
Zinovi was a real gentleman. Maybe Doc should take a few pages of notes from his book.
After dessert, we ended up walking out together, still holding hands. We hadn’t made it official, but I think both of us knew that we weren’t single anymore.
As we walked along, though, we saw a woman and her two kids looking around frantically. The woman held her children close to her as if she was scared of someone coming up behind her and grabbing them.
When she saw us, she started booking it towards us. When they stopped in front of us, I frowned.
The small family looked like a wreck. The kids had obviously been crying recently because their faces were red, and they were holding onto their mother’s legs for dear life, shivering and looking around.
The woman had messy hair and looked like she was staying awake through sheer fear and possibly caffeine alone, given the dark bags under her eyes.
“Please! Please help us!” Zinovi held me closer and moved a step in front of me, but I did the same to him, so we didn’t exactly protect who we were trying to protect.
My practically-boyfriend investigated, “What’s going on? What happened?” The children started sobbing and crying again, tugging on their mother’s pants.
“My husband! A madman followed us home and killed my husband!” My stomach dropped. I immediately remembered a news report that Doc had checked briefly before turning off; there was a serial killer on the loose. The “Auburn Demon.”
His victims were all parts of couples, and only one from each was killed. I gulped and held onto Zinovi’s arm tightly.
I just found the most perfect guy I could possibly find. I couldn’t imagine losing him just like that. Zinovi glanced at me, too. He probably saw how freaked I was at the situation.
“I’ve been hopping from place to place for days… I can’t go back home tonight… What if he comes back and tries to take my children?!”
The woman was more or less in hysterics. “Hey, hey, hey… Easy…” Zinovi soothed. “You can stay with us tonight until you find a stable place to—”
“No! You cannot be together!” We jumped at the woman’s sudden outburst.
“You must be separate, for your sakes! Please! I don’t want you to suffer like we have!”
Zinovi and I exchanged glances. This lady needed serious help.
“I have room for them for the night, it’s fine.”
Zinovi looked at me with concern. “Are you sure…?”
“Yeah. There’s a shelter not too far from home that I can drop them off at tomorrow morning once they’ve rested. They’ll be safe there.”
I squeezed his hand, him squeezing back after.
The five of us traveled in a group to my apartment, where I let the family in first. Before I could walk inside, Zinovi grabbed my arm gently. “Hey…”
I turned towards him. He paused for a bit as he looked me over, before sighing. “Stay safe, okay? I really enjoyed our date. I’d hate it if it was our last.”
I bit my lip and nodded slowly. He paused again before blushing and leaning down… And he kissed me. Instant sparks.
I didn’t want it to end, but with a crazy guy going around killing people in love, it had to. Zinovi pulled away and started down the sidewalk, waving at me. I watched as he walked down a few blocks before going into his apartment.
I smiled dreamily as I headed inside and locked the door closed behind me.
There may have been some deranged, romance-hating lunatic going around on a murder spree, but I could still feel the love in the air.