"Tell me a story."
She has the most beautiful eyes and that smile, God in Heaven, that smile. I remember the first time I met her. I had a job on the side, working at a convenience store while studying in college.
The owner paid me under the table to avoid taxes. More often than not, he wasn't present at work; when he was, he was typically sloshed. He was fond of drink; I was not. I’m no teetotaler, but there was just something discomforting about losing control; I like to be in control.
The job was completely soul-crushing. I stood in a spot for eight hours a day while people threw cigarettes, condoms, and junk food at me to ring up like I didn’t exist. To them, I was merely a dispensary for their vices. Most wouldn’t even look me in the eyes or even bother with a word of introduction; I hated it. I saw them as people. Why couldn’t they see me as a being worthy of dignity? Not even to inquire how my day was going. She did.
The second I saw her, I knew there was something about her. She smiled at me the moment she walked in and ducked into the aisles to make her purchases. Her smile suffused warmth through me. I wasn’t quite the ladies' man in high school so a smile did go a long way for me. She was gone for a few minutes, but when she remerged from the aisles, she had food with her.
She said, "Lovely weather we’ve been having.”
In truth, I hadn’t even bothered to look outside since I came in at seven, but I jumped at the opportunity to talk, "Beautiful, really.”
"My name’s Annie.”
She looked at her purchases as I rang them up and said, "I’ve been really busy with work and everything. I don’t have time to cook everything the air freshener is because my car smells. I haven’t been able to clean- Sorry I’m rambling.”
I responded quickly, afraid she might stop talking, "Don’t be, it’s been a couple hours since I’ve seen another person. Truth is… I’m kinda lonely-”
I paused, fearing I had overstepped my bounds.
Annie looked concerned for a moment before saying, "A guy as cute-looking as yourself must spend his time here chatting up his girlfriend, right?”
I answered with a little bit of embarrassment, "I’m not dating anyone at the moment.”
She paid for her food and said quickly before leaving, "Well, maybe one day we could get together, cook a nice meal and have a little date. Bye Paul.”
She left me flabbergasted before I could respond. Annie, her name was Annie.
That night I dreamt of her. Annie. Don’t think I’m some sort of weirdo. I wasn’t dreaming of her sexually. I’m not a pervert. I just dreamt of her. I dreamt of her warm smile, her flowing hair, her expressive eyes. She had brightened up my day and now she was brightening up my night. I woke up with a smile on my face and actually whistled at work.
My boss noticed my upbeat attitude and slurred, "Hey Paulie, what’s going on? Typically you’re such a Debbie-Downer, a Pessimistic-Paulie even. What’s brightened your day? Meet a girl?” I avoided eye contact and he picked up on it. He pressed, "You did?! Awesome! You give her the D?”
I snapped, "It's not your business!”
I could see he was a little taken-back. I think that was the first time I had actually snapped at him.
He raised his hands in a mock-defensive gesture and said, "Hey, no offense man! Just joshing as you kids say.”
He left quickly after that, saying he was going to pick up more supplies for the shop, but I knew that he was probably going to go tie-one-on and pass out on his couch in the back of the convenience store. The day only went downhill from there. Annie didn’t show up today. Instead, I was visited by an endless procession of idiots. Even one asshole who stood at the counter for thirty minutes buying scratch tickets and scratching them. Just when I thought he was going to leave, he won fifteen bucks on a ticket and continued to buy more. He eventually left and I made my way home. I never felt it before, but my house felt strangely empty. The only thing I had to look forward to was the thought that I might see her tomorrow.
Annie, sweet Annie. She didn’t show up the next day, but she came in the day after.
She bought some more food and proceeded to check out. I spoke first, "Hey Annie, another busy day at work?”
She looked at me for a few seconds like she didn’t know me before recognition flashed across her face and she said, "…Paul, right? ”
I was a little offended, but I couldn’t stay mad at her. She looked like an angel. Her smile ebbed away my anger.
She said, "Another day, another dollar. I’m going to get fat eating unhealthy like this.” I told her that that was impossible, she looked stunning and maybe I could cook a nice home cooked meal for her one of these days. She paused for a moment before saying, "Yeah, sure. One day.”
She left shortly after.
Annie, you are the empress of my dreams! I know I sound like such a romantic fool, but I can’t help it. She inspires me. She is my muse. She keeps coming to me in my dreams. In my dreams, she owns me. I am hers. I am at her every beck-and-call. Sometimes I dream that I’m cooking for her. Other times, we are having a picnic on a beautiful day. We are playing in the snow. In the arctic dreamscape, I gave her an Eskimo kiss and she returned it. Even once, we made love. It was a magically dream, slow and romantic. I couldn’t wait to see her again.
Annie, you are beautiful! I didn’t see her for another week, but my heart grew fonder in that time apart. When she did show up, I kept the conversation casual. I think I weirded her out a little before. I played in the safe zone and was rewarded greatly. When she reached across the counter to pay, our hands briefly touched. It could have been an accident, but it wasn’t. It was intentional. When she had left, I had to sit down for a minute to catch my breath and still my beating heart.
Annie, I think I love you. It was another couple of days before she came in again. This time it was in the morning. She actually surprised me coming in the morning. She bought a cup of coffee despite my insistence that it tasted terrible. (If I were to be vulgar, I would have told her it tasted like piss and battery acid, but I didn’t dare offend her virginal ears.) She took a sip and told me that it was terrible, but she needed something with bite to get her through the day. I took a gamble and nonchalantly asked where she worked. She said that she worked as a secretary at a notary.
Annie left for work and nothing could contain my grin for the rest of the day. Even my boss coming in drunk and getting sick in the bathroom (Which I had to clean up because he was in no condition take care of it.) couldn’t ruin my mood. I almost thought my face would crack, I was smiling so hard. Annie was opening herself up to me. Pretty soon, I would do the same and she would realize how much we had in common. She would fall madly in love with me and we would live a storybook life.
I thought I loved Annie and now I knew it. The next day when my boss was gone, I left work and drove down to the notary. I didn’t enter the building. I didn’t want to bother her while she was at work. I just felt better knowing that I was closer to her. I felt warmth suffuse my core just knowing that only a couple hundred feet separated us. That’s how I knew it. That’s how I knew I loved her. I waited in my car in the parking lot for three hours and didn’t even get bored. If that’s not love then I don’t know what is.
I made up my mind! I was going to woo Annie. I had that realization after another night spent dreaming of her. She has a hold on me. She has a spell on me. I am completely enchanted. I knew what I had to do to make her love me. I would cook a meal for her! It was perfect. It was unexpected! It was touching! Most of all it was romantic! All I had to do was find out where she lived. A simple enough task. Nothing is a challenge when you’re in love.
I called her credit card company. I had memorized her card number in one of her many visits to the store. I repeated the card number and told her that I would like to change my address. It wasn’t a complete lie. She would move in after I got her to love me. I told her I wanted to make sure the address was current before we filed the change. The worker was hesitant at first, but when I told her that Annie was my wife; she was a little more lenient. She read the address to me and I thanked her from the bottom of my heart. She brought me one step closer to my love.
I was fired a day later. My boss confronted me about skipping work. I told him that I was a little focused on something else. When he said something vulgar, I lost it. He said that maybe I shouldn’t be so focused on getting a certain part of me wet. I punched him. He was fairly intoxicated at the time so my punch leveled him to the ground. I was on him in a flash, raining punches down on him. He was too out of it to properly defend himself. I just kept punching and punching. I’m not sure how much time had passed, but when I realized what I was doing, I got off him. He wasn’t moving, but he was breathing shallow. I left, knowing I could never return.
Annie, you will be mine. I have to make you mine tonight. The police would probably be coming soon. My boss would probably not be stoic about the beating. Tonight was the night. I left my apartment and walked to her house. She was only a few miles away. I didn’t want her to see my car. I wanted it to be a surprise. She lived in a small idyllic house in the suburbs. There was no car in the drive way. She was probably at work. This was going to be everything she wanted and more.
It only took a couple of minutes of searching to find the key for her house. I looked under rocks and in the gutter drainage before I found the key under her mat. I would have to scold her for that. Leaving a key around was dangerous. Any monster could walk in and do whatever they wanted. She was lucky that I had found it first. I unlocked the door and let myself in.
My first thought upon entering the house was that it smelled of pine. Like I was taking a hike in the woods. The living room had a modest television and photos of family and friends. One photo disturbed me. There was a man with his arms wrapped around her waist. He was pulling her close. I knew what had to be done. This man clearly only wanted one thing. He was disgusting. Maybe I should stay here tonight to make sure he doesn’t try anything. A closet or under the bed would be more than accommodating. With love, I could bear any burden or discomfort.
I grabbed the photo and smashed the glass. I tore the photo into hundreds of pieces. My anger threatened to envelope me, but thinking about Annie’s smile calmed me down. I had to get to work cooking up a nice dinner for her. I went into her kitchen and searched around for something to cook. Maybe a romantic Italian dinner by candlelight? I couldn’t find any food in the kitchen. Was it possible she had some food downstairs in the basement? I proceeded downstairs and went to look for a cupboard.
I didn’t find anything. I resigned myself to have to run out and get supplies before I could cook for her. I would have to sleep at her place because mine was probably swarming with cops. It would be better that way. I could do it right. I could make tomorrow’s dinner so romantic. I just wanted to look around her house for a bit longer. The basement was small, but there was a little room at one end. The door was locked, but I found a key right next to the door on a nail. Was it a walk-in pantry? A part of me had hoped to make dinner for her tonight. I guess that’s why I opened the door.
The room was pitch black. The smell of pine was overbearing and I found the source. There were dozens of those little pine tree air fresheners hanging up around the ceiling. I pawed along the wall and found the light switch a few feet away from the door. I flicked it and cast light on the figure in the center of the room. I saw why the air fresheners were so necessary.
There was a man bound in the center of the room. His hands and neck was bound in what I could only think of as a stock. It was a wooden thing with two holes for the hands and one for the head.
He rasped somewhere between a whimper and a supplication, "Please, no more-”
Several instruments went on the padded, well-insulated wall behind him. He was facing away so he couldn’t see them. One of the implements, looked like a whip with the end having frayed into ten strips. It was when I got close that I could see all the damage that had been done to him.
His back had been ripped to bloody shreds. All the blood had dried to a thick shell. The skin on his left hand had been peeled back and the skin hung rotting. He had small cuts and deep gouges along his legs. How long had he been here?
He gasped when he saw me and said, "Please for the love of God, you gotta help me! She’s-”
The sound filled my ears and a sharp stab of what felt like fire stabbed into my back and my muscles seized up. I collapsed on the floor. I craned my neck to look up at Annie holding the taser in her hand. The last thing I saw before losing consciousness was her face breaking into an angelic smile.
When I woke up, I was in the stocks. My head was pointed to the floor, pointed at a large puddle of blood. There were bloody drag marks leading out of the room. She was nowhere to be seen. I was pretty sure I never wanted to see her again. She wasn’t an angel, she was a demon. I can see everything with clarity now. At first I had stalked her, wanting to get closer to her. Now… Heh, now she had me stocked.
"That was an interesting story, my little knight. I loved the beginning, but the ending, well the ending left a little something to be desired. You came so far to get me and now you have me, are you happy? You have my full, undivided attention. I liked the little wordplay at the end, but the ending deserves some castigation. I think you need to be punished. Tonight I’ll use the scourge. This is how I love. I love you Paul."
Written by EmpyrealInvective