She tapped him on the shoulder first because she thought that it would be more exciting than sneaking up on him.
The last time she had snuck up on someone, it was boring. She tried to avoid doing that anymore.
“Huh?” he said, but the second he turned she slammed her fist into his throat.
Gasping, clutching his neck, the man stumbled backwards. His eyes widened when he saw her face. He forced his mouth to form her name: “Natalia Hensen...”
Natalia smiled and blew him a loveless kiss.
Then with the force of a lioness she was upon him.
The man’s scream stopped short when she landed a kick to his chest, knocking the wind out of him. He searched for air as he fell to his knees, mouth opening and closing like a fish that had leaped out of the fish bowl.
She didn’t like when they begged her to stop. When they could barely speak, they chose their words more carefully.
His eyes met hers. “W…what…”
Dull. Natalia grabbed his head and pulled it into her knee. She shoved him to the ground and destroyed his face with her boot, stomping, stomping, stomping…
Blood pooled on his pulpy face; tears formed in his eyes.
She’d left his eyes intact.
She always did.
The welling tears in them brought her indescribable joy.
The rush inside Natalia felt overwhelmingly good; the feeling of accomplishment, ultimate justice and control, and finally her favorite feeling of pure exhilaration. Happiness.
She closed her eyes and breathed in through her nose.
Natalia waited a few seconds, observing the clear tears on bloodshot eyes.
Then she smiled and retrieved a knife from within the pocket of her red coat.
Pulling it open, her heart leaped with anticipation for the task at hand.
How beautiful it is that joy and justice can come from something as simple as a certain act.
“And it made you feel…?”
Natalia did not smile at the psychiatrist. Her face was as neutral; a blank mask. She crossed her legs on the sofa, flipping her light brown hair over her shoulder.
The psychiatrist glanced away, then back at Natalia. “And why are you telling me this?”
“I don’t know,” Natalia admitted. “I think there might be something wrong with me.”
“That murder was just an example. It was the first thing that popped into my head. Sorry, I just wasn’t sure when to start.”
“And… you say that you’re a psychopath?”
“No,” said Natalia sharply, making the psychiatrist jump. “I know what a psychopath is. I am not one. I feel sympathy, I feel empathy, I feel emotion. I sometimes think that I feel too much emotion. No, I said that I am NOT a psychopath.”
She glared at the psychiatrist, her eyes swallowing him whole.
“Then why do you do such… such things?”
“Because such things make me happy. Are we not continually told throughout our lives to do what makes us happy?”
Natalia recited a song from her childhood, her voice low as she purred to the psychiatrist: “Oh the measure of success/ is happiness. Doesn’t matter what you choose to do, it’s true. Any job you wish to try/ should make your heart grow wings and fly/ Oh the measure of success/ is happiness.”
The psychiatrist gulped audibly.
“Perhaps you could say that I’m addicted to my occupation; in love with my own source of happiness.”
“I don’t think you understand. Nothing else makes me happy in life; there is nothing else on my mind except planning my next… task.”
Natalia could tell that the psychiatrist wanted to tell her that serial killer wasn’t an occupation.
She begged to differ.
When Natalia was six years old, she killed a toad.
The little creature had hopped its way onto her porch and she had come across it. Natalia had picked it up and stared into its deep little eyes. She remembered wondering how such a silly little thing could look so blank yet so elated at the same time.
Then, in that type of spilt-second intrusive thought that we are all familiar with, Natalia wondered something. She wondered something that was horrific.
She wondered what it would be like to end the toad.
Most of us don’t act on such intrusive thoughts. We let them fade and try to forget that our mind had ever gone to such a dark place. Natalia, however, couldn’t help but keep the thought in the forefront of her mind.
Natalia picked up a twig from nearby and set the toad back on the porch.
Then she slowly inserted the twig through the center of the toad while her heart raced with excitement.
The toad writhed in agony.
An overwhelming feeling of guilt rushed through Natalia, and she quickly pulled out the twig. The toad thrashed, obviously still in pain.
Natalia couldn’t look at it anymore.
She stomped on the toad, one, two, three, four, five, six times…
The mashed toad was now a sickening smear on the porch.
Natalia remembered running inside and rinsing off her shoe in the bathtub, then lying on her bed and sobbing into the covers. Natalia was inconsolable for what seemed like an eternity. Her grandmother tried to talk to her, but Natalia wouldn’t have it— so her grandmother let Natalia sob alone.
She hadn’t wanted to kill the toad, she told herself.
When the tears stopped, however, despite the guilt she found that there was a place inside her heart that longed to end the toad all over again.
When Natalia was eight years old, a nine-year old boy punched her in the throat.
“Hey, Gnat!” the boy had jeered as Natalia swung back and forth on the school playground’s swing set. He was followed by three friends, also nine-year-old boys.
Natalia frowned. They often bullied her for no good reason other than that she was quiet and small and kept to herself. She went to school because she felt obligated to study— and that was it.
“Gnaaaaatttt!” he continued, “Just as annoying as a gnat and just as puny!”
Natalia ignored him and swung slowly, slowly. School had ended an hour ago, but she liked to visit the playground afterwards so that she could enjoy the absolute serenity. She knew that as soon as she got home, her grandmother would insist that she finish her homework before she could go outside at all.
“Gnat,” said the boy, approaching the swing, “Why don’t you have any friends? Huh? Annoy them all, too?”
The boy’s own friends laughed.
“Be quiet, Kevin,” said Natalia calmly. She continued to swing slowly.
“Maybe that’s why you live with your grandmother. Huh? You annoy your parents so much that they left?”
One of Kevin’s friends let out a long, “Ooooooooh.”
“Be QUIET!” Natalia shouted. She leaped off the swing and turned to leave, but Kevin grabbed her by the shirt and shoved her on the ground, hard.
“Know what that’s for?” said Kevin, “That’s for annoying us so much!”
Natalia stood up and tried to push past Kevin’s friends, but they threw her into the ground. When she rose a second time, Kevin punched her in the throat.
Kevin’s eyes widened. Natalia could see surprise in them; he hadn’t aimed for her throat.
Natalia didn’t care. She felt like her throat was collapsing in on itself. She could barely breathe.
Natalia slapped him in the face and then kicked him in the shin. When he leaned over from the hit, she leaped on him and punched him in the face.
“Know what that’s for?” she panted, still struggling to breathe, “That’s for pushing me around.”
Natalia punched him in the face again.
“Know what that’s for?” she said, “That’s for calling me annoying.”
Kevin’s friends were backing away now, not sure what to do.
“And know what this is for?”
Natalia began pounding on his face with her fists.
Natalia punched and punched. Untrained on how to make a proper fist, her thumb began to hurt— but she kept hitting.
When she started to draw blood, Kevin’s friends took off running.
Natalia kept hammering until her hands were red with Kevin’s blood.
Gasping, Natalia let herself fall off of Kevin. She lied on the ground next to him and panted as he stayed there, motionless.
She breathed in and out.
Natalia wasn’t sure how she felt at first. Then she realized that she felt good.
She was shaking, but not with nervousness. She forced herself to remember that Kevin was there, an actual person.
She laid a hand on his chest. He was still breathing.
Then Natalia stood up and looked down at Kevin’s blood-covered face.
“Leave me alone,” she whispered, spitting into his eyes.
Then she walked away and didn’t look back.
The swing she had sat on swayed gently in the wind.
Later Natalia found out that Kevin’s friends had told his parents and they had taken him to the hospital. His face would never be the same, they said. When Kevin healed enough, he was transferred to a new school.
Natalia surprised herself when she realized how proud she was feeling, thinking about Kevin.
Kevin deserved it.
When Kevin’s friends had said that “Gnat” had been the one who pounded Kevin, no one believed them. The adults concluded it must have been one of Kevin’s friends, and each of the boys’ parents told each individually not to spend time with the others anymore.
Natalia had been asked about the incident, and she had denied even being at the playground that day.
No one questioned her perfect lie, the perfect look of surprise on her sweet little face. No one bothered to ask her grandmother where Natalia had been, either. Natalia was quiet and kept to herself; not the type to fight a bigger boy, they thought.
Natalia had long washed the blood from her hands; it had run in a thin stream when the water from the sink washed it down the drain.
That didn’t stop her from remembering the feeling of pounding Kevin’s face and looking back at the moment with satisfaction.
“So you hurt children when you were a child?”
“Not all children,” Natalia corrected, “Only the bad ones.”
“Bad ones?” the psychiatrist breathed.
“The bullies, the arrogant ones, the ones who should have been expelled but weren’t. I stuck up for the littler kids, and I stuck up for myself. Sometimes I would know if someone was becoming a bully so I would hurt them before it got too bad.”
“And… your grandmother…”
Natalia’s face showed no expression. “No, she never guessed. I was careful. She was old. I only lived with her because my parents died in a car crash when I was young, anyway. I don’t even care, though. I don’t even remember them.”
“I see…” said the psychiatrist shakily.
“I bet you want to know if I was caught.” “I…”
“I was,” said Natalia, “But not until the end of middle school. Then it didn’t matter. I started high school in a different state anyway.”
“My grandmother died.”
Natalia said this simply, as if it wasn’t of consequence.
Natalia snarled. “No, I most certainly did not kill my grandmother. She died of old age. I then had to live with my uncle who didn’t care about me. He was my mother’s brother, and he had never even met me before then. It didn’t matter; I didn’t stay at his house much anyway.”
The psychiatrist sniffed. Why, Natalia could not be sure.
“When I was in elementary school and middle school, I was careful. No one ever knew it was me who was hurting people. I never hurt them on campus— until once during middle school. No, I found out where they would be later and hurt them then. I planned well.”
“No one suspected me. Who would think little Natalia Hensen could do something so ‘wrong’ as take down bullies? And the bullies would be too injured to tell. They were normally transferred afterwards anyway. The ones that weren’t were too…. Scarred to tell anyone. Did I think it was wrong? Oh, maybe. To some people. I’m sure the kids that I pummeled were scarred for life, psychologically, don’t you think? The idea is delicious to me.”
Natalia was almost ranting now.
“And… and you said you were caught in middle school?”
“…I was very precise,” Natalia said. If she heard the psychiatrist she did not respond. “I watched videos of martial arts and street fights and such online. I would try techniques in my own life on these bullies. It was my happiness.”
“But you were caught,” the psychiatrist tried again. “Yes. Once.”
“On the last day of middle school, actually. A friend of someone I had hurt previously found out from him what I had done. He confronted me. I denied it, but he didn’t believe me. A fight broke out. I hurt him.”
Natalia said this so simply, as if it was merely part of life.
To Natalia, it actually was.
“Not my best,” she continued, “It didn’t feel as good hurting him. He was just angry. He wasn’t that bad. Anyway, I was caught, then. The boy only needed a few stitches. I didn’t think he really deserved it as much as his friend did. I felt guilty about that one. His friend, though— not so much. His friend really deserved it. Did you know that his friend had been hitting his girlfriend?”
“Anyway, they thought that it was bad enough because they weren’t used to such things from me.”
Natalia chuckled, remembered joy filling her wholly. The chuckle sent chills down the psychiatrist’s spine. Whether it was from the timing of it or the sound of it, or perhaps both, we cannot be sure.
“And when you went to… to the high school… then what?”
“Then,” Natalia explained, “Hurting people wasn’t enough anymore.”
“You… you have… you are insane,” the psychiatrist stuttered.
“I am certainly not. I merely seek my happiness in a way that society decided was unacceptable. But how can society decide what can cause happiness and what can’t? Besides, the death penalty is typically acceptable in many cases, isn’t it? All I do is give out a death penalty early. Some people deserve it. I don’t feel happy any other way.”
“But I’m pretty sure that there is something wrong with me. I’m normal, really, but there is something that isn’t… right in my brain. Most people don’t think like this, do they? I don’t behave like most serial killers. I don’t just kill, do I? I bring people to justice and then I experiment.”
Natalia emphasized every syllable in experiment, enjoying the feeling of the word on her tongue. “I’m normal, yes, but most people just don’t think like me.”
“Normal people don’t act like you do!”
Natalia’s eyes narrowed.
“I would watch my mouth, sir, if I was you. Normal people watch their words when around Natalia Hensen.”
When Natalia was fifteen, she found the basement.
It used to be connected to a house, she figured, but now the only way to get in was a small hole in the ground. The rest was buried, and the upper levels of the house were long gone.
Natalia’s uncle stayed out late and drank too much. Most of the time, he looked at her in surprise as if he had forgotten that she lived with him. Natalia did not care about him and did not think about him. Now, she has mostly forgotten him because he was unimportant to her.
Natalia found the basement when walking back from her first job.
She worked at the bank, and it was boring. However, having money was beneficial and she sure wasn’t getting much from her uncle, so she worked there.
Every time someone behaved offensively, she plotted how she would hurt them if she could. However, working at the bank was important to her so she refrained from tracking down bank customers and hurting them, or beating up coworkers who bothered her. She knew she would have been caught then.
Now on the way back, she debated on whether it would be best to knock the wind out of her bothersome boss or whether it would be best to choke her from behind.
Her thoughts were interrupted when she found the hole.
Curious, Natalia explored. She decided to climb down with an old rope that she found nearby. It only took her a minute to discover the concrete basement.
It was a perfect square, no closets, completely empty and gray except for an old chest of drawers in the center. Upon opening it she found a red coat long abandoned and a pair of broken shoes.
Natalia took the coat and climbed out of the basement with the rope.
That year, Natalia made the basement her own. She made herself a fireplace for when it got colder. She stole supplies from her uncle’s house. He didn’t notice, not even when she took the red rug from her bedroom or the ladder from the garage.
She eventually saved up and bought a small punching bag with her money from work, and lowered that into the basement as well. It was harder to find people to hurt at high school, and on days when she couldn’t she would practice punching the bag until it no longer hurt her hands.
Natalia started sleeping in the basement.
Caring for the basement wasn’t as thrilling as hurting people, but it kept her occupied.
When Natalia was sixteen, she committed her first murder.
She had been sitting in the basement at night after school, doing homework because it was something that needed to be done in life. She alternated doing homework with carving wood with a small knife. Natalia liked creating figures and watching them burn in her fireplace, the little creations turning into nothing but meaningless blackened forms.
Natalia wore the red coat that she had found in the basement. It kept her just warm enough…
Natalia jumped when a man climbed down into the basement.
“Who are you?!” she yelled. The man just looked at her. He was frantic, panting as if he had been running. Natalia saw that he was wearing a ski mask with eye holes cut into it. He looked like a stereotypical robber.
Natalia knew he was a robber, though, because the man was carrying a large backpack filled with items that were spilling everywhere. Plates. Utensils. Tools.
“Get out of here right now,” Natalia ordered, her voice never wavering.
The man still didn’t speak.
Instead he swung the backpack at Natalia.
Natalia ducked and dove at him, but the man elbowed her in the face and knocked her to the ground. Natalia felt a crackle in her caw.
He forced himself on top of her, legs on either side of her stomach.
The backpack dropped at his side.
Natalia squirmed, thrashed as the man tried to force her arms down.
Natalia slammed upward with her shoulder.
Where was her knife? She couldn’t reach it.
In the moment of bought time she thrashed until her legs were free, then she kicked him in the chest as hard as she could.
As he stumbled, Natalia snatched up a dinner knife from his backpack and plunged it up into his kidney.
Then she hurled a front kick at his chest and sent him falling to the floor. His head hit the basement wall and he went limp, knocked unconscious.
Natalia didn’t stop. She grabbed her own knife and slashed it across his neck, back and forth, back and forth…
Her heart raced, raced more than it ever had before.
Her whole self tingled; she was shaking with excitement.
It hit Natalia instantly that she had killed the man.☁
There might have been a part of her that was shocked by this, a part of her that felt sad that she had stooped so low— but if there was, it was buried deep beneath the pure joy and perfect exhilaration that she was experiencing.
Natalia reveled in this feeling, taking a seat in the basement and breathing in murder and breathing out happiness.
Finally, Natalia stood again and put all of the man’s stolen items back into the backpack. She wiped off the dinner knife on his shirt before adding it in, too.
It took her a while, but after making sure there was no one else nearby she managed to take the man out of the basement and drag him into a nearby river.
Natalia threw the backpack beside him and washed her hands and her knife in the running water before returning to the basement.
When a newspaper article chronicled the death of a wanted young robber Jason Mursberry, body found in the river on the edge of town, Natalia cut it out and glued it to the wall of the basement. She read over and over about how it didn’t seem that Jason Mursberry had committed suicide because the waterlogged knife injuries seemed to have been delivered by another person. Natalia found a platform and covered it with grass and sticks in order to hide the entrance to the basement after that.
Natalia’s punching bag was not in very good shape for very much longer. One day she felt an overwhelming desire to slash at it with her knife. What started as a small experimental scratch turned into enormous gashes and deep stab marks, marks that became even worse when Natalia saved up for a larger knife. After work and school, Natalia slashed at her punching bag, motions smooth and elegant like those of an artist wielding a paintbrush. Sometimes she revisited the day that she killed the robber. Other days she imagined where she would strike her boss with her new knife.
“And did you keep killing?”
“Yes. A few students. Not many. There weren’t many who deserved it.”
“Did… did you ever kill your boss?”
“I would have been caught, don’t you think?”
The psychiatrist shuddered.
“Well, looking back on it… maybe not. I never get caught.”
Natalia rested her head on her knees.
“Do you know what’s wrong with me yet?” Natalia said softly, her eyes piercing.
“I… I don’t…” “I’ll tell you more.”
Eighteen-year-old Natalia didn’t understand why no one had caught her yet.
It had gotten to a point where if she resisted murder for too long, she felt almost physically sick. She had a desperate need for killing, for happiness, for that moment of exhilaration that it brought her. Her only true joy in life. When she refrained from killing, she just felt more of a compulsion to end someone.
She didn’t get sloppy, but her murders became more frequent— and yet no one had found out that she was a serial killer.
Serial killer. Natalia had embraced the label.
For example, she killed Leslie, the girl who sat next to her during senior year of high school, because Leslie was always disrupting the class. Leslie’s mangled body turned up in a pit at a construction site.
She killed a bus driver during a school trip to New York. The bus driver made racist remarks to fellow students, so when he went to drop them off at the stop in New York Natalia stayed on the bus until all the other students had gotten off and then slit his throat from behind. As she dragged his body into a pond near the bus stop, she decided that she would never sneak up on anyone again. It didn’t bring her happiness; it was boring.
The day that she graduated high school, she finally decided to murder a coworker from the bank that she worked at. Natalia, the “brilliant student destined for success,” wore her cap and gown to the house of coworker Drea. Drea was a loudmouth who had been making snide remarks aimed at Natalia for years, but Natalia had let her live. After discovering that Drea was quitting the job, Natalia had kept herself occupied during the graduation ceremony by planning Drea’s murder.
Drea’s body was never found.
Natalia had dissected it piece by piece, thrown it into a black trash bag, and shoved it into a trash compactor.
She hadn’t meant to be that thorough, but once she had removed Drea’s heart she couldn’t help but keep going.
Natalia felt blessed that she had never been found out. How awful it must be, Natalia thought, to be confined by what society thought was right and wrong. True freedom involves freedom from both the morals of society and freedom from your own conscience.
Natalia whirled. “Hello, Jamie.”
Jamie had been a high school classmate. They’d exchanged smiles a few times, but they had never talked about anything that wasn’t school related.
Natalia did not have friends.
“So, Natalia,” Jamie continued. He pushed his floppy hair back, running it through his fingers, “Um, what do you want to do for college? I mean, like what do you want to be?”
“I want to be a surgeon.”
Natalia wanted to be a surgeon because she wanted to know how to dissect people while they were still alive and it was too difficult to learn through books or internet.
She did not tell Jamie this.
“Cool, cool,” said Jamie, nodding. “I don’t really know what I want to do. I might just stick with being a soccer player.” He chuckled nervously.
Natalia nodded back at him.
“So, uhh…” Jamie rubbed the back of his neck, “Do you want to go out with me? I mean, hang out with me?” Natalia did a double-take.
“Um, sure,” stammered Jamie.
Natalia had never been asked out before. She had no idea what brought other people joy, and she doubted that Jamie would agree to help her kill someone.
“Want to get milkshakes?” asked Jamie.
Jamie and Natalia walked to an ice cream stand that offered milkshakes. Natalia couldn’t remember ever tasting a milkshake before. Her strawberry milkshake tasted sweet on her tongue.
Natalia talked with Jamie for a while. They talked about things that Jamie liked because Natalia really didn’t like much. She did, however, think that she probably liked Jamie.
For months afterwards, Jamie called Natalia on the phone and they would meet up. Natalia was not sure if they were dating or not, only that she didn’t mind seeing Jamie so often. Sometimes Jamie would call her during a murder, so she had to put her phone on vibrate in order to avoid alerting anyone.
“Do we have to tell people that we’re hanging out?” Natalia asked Jamie one day.
“Wouldn’t you want everyone to know?” Jamie said.
“I don’t know. I don’t have anyone that I care about to tell, and I don’t want strangers to me knowing.”
Jamie smiled at her. “Okay, so you’re a little shy. No big deal. I don’t even have to tell my parents if it bugs you, okay?”
Natalia nodded in thanks.
Jamie and Natalia promised to keep their relationship a secret, and a secret it remained.
Natalia started college and began learning how to be a surgeon. She planned on transferring to a medical school.
She practiced new techniques on new victims when possible. She often went further than she should have with bodies, she thought, but Natalia couldn’t resist trying to outdo herself. With each kill, the murder style became more and more complex, more and more satisfying.
One time, Jamie called Natalia and invited her to explore near the river.
Natalia knew the river; it was the river near the basement.
She wondered if she should show Jamie the basement. The basement was her secret place that she never shared with anyone. She wondered if she could tell him that she was a serial killer through showing him the now-many newspaper clippings that were glued to the basement wall, covered in modge-podge to prevent peeling from humidity.
“Yes,” Natalia told Jamie when he asked, “I do want to explore around the river.”
“You know,” Jamie said, looking at the river, “the water is actually really beautiful when it’s cloudy.”
Natalia had not noticed the clouds because she was remembering her first murder, the body of the robber lying in the river as water rushed over it…
“Yes,” she agreed.
“Natalia,” whispered Jamie, “I need to tell you something.”
“I love you, Natalia.”
Natalia stared at Jamie, their eyes locked for what seemed like forever.
What did Natalia love? Was she capable of loving anything other than murder, that true occupation that gave her happiness in life?
Natalia didn’t answer.
Jamie leaned in for a kiss, and their lips locked. He ran his hands down her shoulders and she moved her mouth in time to his.
Before Natalia could decide whether she liked the kiss, thunder crashed. She jumped and broke away from the embrace.
“We’d better get out of here,” said Jamie awkwardly, “It’s going to rain.”
As if on cue, fat drops of rain began splashing around them.
Thunder crashed more. What had once been a cool breeze turned into violent winds.
“Follow me,” said Natalia, “I know a place where we can wait out the storm.”
Natalia was taking him to the basement.
“This is the basement,” Natalia explained when they arrived. She wondered if he would notice the clippings. She decided not to point them out.
“Do you… live here?” questioned Jamie, looking around the square room.
“Sometimes,” Natalia lied; she hadn’t been to her uncle’s house in ages and he had never cared enough to look for her. He was addicted to alcohol, she had come to recognize. As addicted to alcohol as she was addicted to her happiness.
The wind picked up outside the basement.
“Is the entrance closed securely?” Natalia asked.
Jamie climbed up the ladder and tapped on the entrance platform Natalia had put there years ago. “I think so.”
Jamie walked over to Natalia and they stared at each other until Jamie finally pointed to the destroyed punching bag. “What’s that?”
“That’s mine,” said Natalia.
“Is it… a punching bag?”
Jamie approached it cautiously, running his fingers over the deep gashes and holes in it. “Pretty destroyed,” he determined.
“I, uh…” Natalia didn’t know what to say. She felt nervous. She hadn’t felt nervous in years. “I sort of train with knives,” she explained.
“Okay, that’s pretty cool!” said Jamie cheerily, “My friend Jake did this martial art called Eskrima; he was a knife fighter, too. I should probably learn sometime just so that I can tell him that I know knife moves too. Haha.”
The wind outside was louder now.
Natalia gazed at the punching bag. She wanted to slash at it with her knife, slash, stab, slash stab… No, she couldn’t do that yet. She had to wait. Jamie was here.
She sat on the floor of the basement. Jamie hadn’t closely observed the newspaper clippings yet. He was a bit oblivious, Natalia thought.
Jamie sat down, too.
“I can hear the wind,” he said.
“Do you have anything else cool in here?”
Natalia stood up and retrieved her red coat, the one that she had found in the basement when she was fifteen.
She had been wearing it when she committed her first murder. Killed robber Jason Mursberry. The robber whose throat she had slashed, back and forth across the neck of his unconscious self…
She imagined slashing Jamie’s throat— no, no, she wasn’t going to slash Jamie’s throat.
“This is my favorite coat,” Natalia said. “If you get cold you could wear it. If we get really cold then we could light my fireplace.”
“Cool,” said Jamie, “You can wear it for now. I’ve got long sleeves on and you don’t.”
“Oh, yeah.” Natalia put on the coat even though she didn’t feel she really needed it.
“What’s in that chest of drawers?” asked Jamie.
Natalia walked towards it.
“Food, surgeon’s equipment, some painkiller drugs, some wood for my fireplace…” Natalia talked as she rustled through it.
“Whoa,” said Jamie, waving his hands, “Surgeon’s equipment? Painkillers? Why--?”
“I’m in college to learn how to be a surgeon, remember? Planning on transferring to medical school?”
“I know…” said Jamie, trailing off, “It’s just… I dunno, is that even safe? Or legal?”
“What’s legal is determined by laws created by society. Legal is just a word”
“Okay, but still—”
“Jeez, Jamie,” said Natalia, “I keep this here for practice. And I got the painkillers from this one class…”
In truth, she had stolen them in case she decided to see what they did to any victims. In truth, the equipment had recently helped her take apart those that she killed.
Jamie wouldn’t understand though.
She felt guilty, lying to him. She’d tell him eventually, she told herself…
The wind got even louder.
“Sorry,” Jamie said, “I guess I was just worried that you were taking the painkillers yourself.”
“I would never do that, I assure you. I don’t need drugs to achieve happiness.”
Jamie smiled. “I worry too much. I love you, Natalia.”
As his mouth moved, she imagined removing his lips with a sharp surgeon’s knife…
She didn’t want to kill Jamie. She only hurt bullies. She only killed those who deserved to die. Jamie didn’t deserve to die… die… Jamie dying quickly as she pounded the life out of him or maybe ran her knife through his… NO.
“Natalia, are you okay?”
She began pacing throughout the room. She didn’t like being confined here. This was her place, the basement that she visited and left when she chose to and not when the weather forced her to stay…
The wind roared and roared.
Natalia didn’t feel good. Perhaps she had gone too long without murder; the panging in her chest was almost certainly longing for her happiness… her source of joy…
“Let’s just get out of here,” said Natalia shortly, “Come on.”
Natalia rushed to the entrance platform and tried to push it open, but it wouldn’t budge.
“No, no, NO!”
“Natalia, what’s the matter?”
Natalia shoved the wooden panel with all her might. “We’re STUCK. We are STUCK!”
Panting, panting, chest heavy now, wondering what it would be like if she removed Jamie’s lovely, smooth ears…
“Hey, hey,” said Jamie, walking towards Natalia and placing a hand on her waist. “It’s okay.
The wind is probably just too strong; it’s pushing the platform down or something. I don’t
know. We’ll just stay here and we will get out soon enough.”
Natalia wanted to dig her fingernails into Jamie’s hand until she drew blood and felt bone and…
“Natalia, are you listening to me?”
“I… yeah, yeah. Make a fire.”
“My fireplace. I call it that; it’s more of a fire pit. Over there. Do it now.”
Natalia pulled a lighter out of the pocket of her red coat. “Here.”
Jamie accepted it. “Are you sure that you’re okay…?”
“Yes. No. Yes. Just… make the fire, okay?”
Natalia was shaking and wasn’t sure why. Was she nervous or excited?
“Natalia. Natalia, the water’s ready.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
Natalia blinked. She wasn’t sure what had been happening, only that she hadn’t been paying attention for who knows how long. “Yea— water?”
Jamie bit his lip. “You told me to boil water so we could make pasta.”
“Natalia, you’ve been pacing and pacing since we got in here. Are you sure you’re okay?”
Jamie stepped away from a large pot that was set on the logs in the fireplace and walked towards Natalia.
Natalia saw the water and imagined it on someone’s skin… No, more than just skin…
Wind was still roaring. Natalia felt horrible, her chest heavy and her body shaky. She needed to feel happy. She couldn’t take it anymore.
“Natalia, just let me give you a hug. That’ll help, okay?”
Jamie walked towards Natalia and extended his arms. His warm torso met hers and his arms reached around her. He leaned his head on hers.
“It’s going to be okay,” Jamie whispered.
In an instant, Natalia had kneed Jamie in the stomach. She kicked him in the knee, shoved him into the wall, slammed his head into the hard concretd.
She punched him in the chest to knock the wind out of him.
Natalia elbowed him in the chin until he was unconscious.
She wasn’t sure how it happened, but Natalia found herself leaning over Jamie and feeding him painkillers.
She could barely register that this was the Jamie who had gotten a milkshake with her months ago, the Jamie who said that he loved her. All she could focus on was his chest, so tempting, so tempting…
Wind roaring outside.
Natalia was then standing over Jamie’s open chest.
Open chest? She was sliding her surgeons’ blade across his chest and opening it to the air, unwrapping his insides as if they were some kind of twisted gift…
Her heart leaped. She smiled wider than she had in months.
This was her happiness. Here she was, taking apart…
Jamie was awake now.
Jamie’s chest was open to the air and Natalia was staring at muscle… No, she’d cut away the muscle… there was the heart and the ribs and… was there blood? Blood as red as her coat? She wasn’t sure what she was focusing on, only the exhilaration filling her soul. She certainly wasn’t focusing on the fact that Jamie was being dissected like an animal—
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING DEAR GOD STOP STOP!!”
Natalia was killing Jamie, wasn’t she. Wasn’t she? He wasn’t in pain, was he? She’d given him painkillers… “Oh, god, Jamie. I’m sorry, I…” she trailed off as she wondered what would happen when boiling water hit internal organs. Were the painkillers wearing off? She had to hear the noises escape from his throat when the water… NO.
“STOP PLEASE GOD NO STOP STOP STOP NO!”
Why wasn’t Jamie moving? Oh, she’d tied him to something. The ladder. She’d tied him to the ladder. Good, then it would be easier…
She was hurting Jamie. Was she? Had the painkillers worn off yet?
They must have.
Natalia fetched the boiling water from the fire and held it over top of the open chest.
Tears welled in his eyes and her heart filled with joy, complete joy in the thrill of the moment…
Steam rose as she poured the water into the cavity. The steady stream of water pouring over the victim, sizzling as it hit his innards… The victim? Jamie. JAMIE.
He screamed as he died.
Natalie must have fallen asleep, because she found herself waking up leaning against the wall of the basement.
It suddenly hit her that Jamie was lying there, dead. Dead.
Death had never bothered her, but the act of killing Jamie…
What bothered her was that it had felt so good. Jamie hadn’t deserved it and yet it felt so good… She was suddenly six years old and it was the toad all over again…
Tears welled in her eyes. Natalia buried her head in her hands and sobbed and sobbed, completely silent.
She couldn’t control herself, could she? She had liked Jamie, but now he was dead all because she’d gone too long without killing anyone else. Was this the happiness that she wanted? Jamie hadn’t deserved it. She had liked Jamie.
But it felt so good.
While her heart ached, her head applauded herself for keeping her relationship with Jamie a secret. No one would have even seen them hanging out.
No one would question her.
Natalia cried until the tears stopped coming.
The wind was no longer roaring. Natalia ran for the hole to get out, noticing that the panel was gone, but Jamie was still tied to the ladder.
She tipped over her chest of drawers and used it to climb out.
The panel had blown away in the wind.
It was gone.
Gone like Jamie.
Natalia ran off, leaving the basement and everything in it, and never returned.
With each step she numbed herself to the pain and focused on the exhilaration of the kill.
The psychiatrist didn’t speak as Natalia sat on the sofa and grasped her knees tightly.
“So… there’s something wrong with me.”
“I… I can’t… I can’t…” The psychiatrist was stammering, and Natalia knew that he was frightened.
She breathed in and out on the sofa for a few moments. Finally, the psychiatrist spoke.
“But… but you didn’t stop after that. You became Natalia Hansen, the… assassin or whatever you call…”
“I am NOT an assassin.”
Natalia leaped to her feet.
“I CAN’T STOP, OKAY? I LIKE KILLING PEOPLE. I LOVE IT. I NEED IT. IT IS MY HAPPINESS AND I CAN’T NOT…. CAN’T NOT… CAN’T…” Natalia sank to the ground, burying her head in her hands. Suddenly her voice softened. “You see, the measure of success is happiness. So
if I can’t be happy, I am nothing. What is life without joy? It’s just… I only kill those who deserve to die. But sometimes… sometimes I don’t.”
“Don’t… kill people?”
“Don’t kill those who deserve to die. Like Jamie. Jamie… I don’t think he should have died. But it felt so good, and I NEEDED it. I needed his death like you need air.”
“That was when you were eighteen. How… how… how old are you now?”
Natalia could tell the psychiatrist was struggling to get his words out.
“Twenty-five. And I’ve killed so many people since then… But I don’t care because I keep myself occupied with murder. I need to.”
“You never became a surgeon?”
“I could have. I could have become a surgeon and ended patients. Taken their lives. But I didn’t. I became a vigilante of sorts. A serial killer to top all serial killers. Isn’t that admirable?”
By the time that Natalia was twenty-four, she had firmly established herself as the notorious Natalia Hensen, an underground murderess who sought out lesser killers, dangerous drug lords, rapists… Anyone she thought deserved her death penalty. Some came to her with requests, and sometimes she would agree to kill for money.
Usually, though, she made her own choices and killed those she decided to.
Natalia Hensen was a sort of goddess, she thought, a free soul with the power to end those she deemed deserving of death. Justice was hers to serve.
Maybe Natalia only told herself this to justify her addiction to the happiness that came with murder.
Maybe she came to truly believe it.
When she ran off at eighteen, she hadn’t known where she was going. She considered visiting her uncle and killing him for his neglect, but she knew if she did the police would look for her and she couldn’t have that.
Natalia used what little money she had had with her to take busses as far as they would go. In a shifty neighborhood that Natalia’s mother might have been wary of if she had grown up with a mother, Natalia came upon an underground club and made money fighting. Demonstrations of “chick fights” where Natalia fought hopeless women in bare-knuckle brawls with little to no rules. When Natalia starting beating her opponents too brutally even for the club, she was told she had to stop participating. There were those who admired her, though, and it was within this crowd that Natalia learned of those who she decided to kill.
She started killing on the side demonstratively while sick individuals who convinced themselves that they were numb to violence gawked at her. This lead to specific requests that Natalia would agree to carry out. Kill this rival here. Kill that gang leader there. At first no one she hunted knew that it was she who was killing people.
Natalia Hensen was not a bounty hunter, she told herself. She began making decisions herself. She would find people who were wanted by the police and would seek them out, killing them to satisfy her hunger for the exhilaration that brought her such happiness.
Natalia was a serial killer, she reminded herself, reminded herself to embrace the label.
It wasn’t long before her name became a title that brought about fear and admiration amongst the lowest of humans. Rumors spread of a female killer who killed those that she deemed deserving of death. Natalia Hensen, in and out as quickly and silently as a ghost. Natalia Hensen, uncatchable. Natalia Hensen, unbeatable.
Natalia Hensen— if she was after you, you died.
At twenty-four, Natalia Hensen was notorious and still had not been caught.
“Tell me what is wrong with me.”
“I… I don’t know. You’re addicted to murder, you’re… you’re…”
“I know that. I KNOW that. I brought you here for a reason, sir.”
Natalia stepped towards the psychiatrist. “Tell me what you think.”
The psychiatrist shuddered as he tried to speak. “I think that you wanted to talk to me because there is a part of you that doesn’t want to kill… kill anymore.”
Natalia stood still.
“Then why did you tell… tell me so much?”
“I wanted to know what’s wrong with me. Why I think like this. I’m not like other killers. I am the monster that other killers look for under their beds.”
There was a hint of anger in her voice.
Natalia stepped towards the psychiatrist and ran her finger along the ropes that bound him. He was bound, tied to a chair in his own home.
“I think that you don’t want to be addicted to mur… happiness… anymore. Maybe you don’t know how to find new happiness. Please, let me go and I will help you. I will help you find a new source of joy.”
“I… I can’t,” whispered Natalia. “Do you realize what I have done with my life? And I don’t regret it. I really don’t. I… I don’t KNOW. Killing people is the only way that I can be happy.”
“Anyone can be happy if they… if they just choose—”
“I would rather be a psychopath. I’ve decided that. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. If I didn’t care at all, if I didn’t… I could be happy then, maybe. Happy without the guilt. The guilt is… maybe I run from the guilt. Maybe I can’t stop killing because if I do, the guilt will hit me. I must keep killing, bringing back the joy, bringing back the happiness so that it can envelope the guilt.”
Natalia was no longer looking at the psychiatrist. She looked off into the distance. Maybe she was thinking about those who she had killed throughout her life. Maybe she was thinking about her six-year-old self ending the toad.
“And the problem is,” said Natalia, “I won’t be caught. I don’t know why; maybe I’m too precise, too careful. Maybe God is on my side. Maybe he finds my life amusing and calls me his little justice goddess. I don’t know. I just won’t be caught; I know it. And then I will continue to hurt people, to kill people, forever, and I won’t stop because it makes me happy. And there is nothing wrong with being happy.”
Natalia turned back to the psychiatrist. A single tear rolled out of her eye and down her cheek. Of what the tear was for, perhaps no one could ever be sure.
Natalia was wearing her red coat. She reached inside of it and pulled out a knife, the same knife that she had had since she was sixteen.
Natalia stepped towards the psychiatrist again.
“See,” she said, “I was going to use this knife to cut the bonds and free you. But now I can’t stop thinking about thrusting it into your stomach and tearing upwards…”
“You don’t need to do this… you... you don’t…” the psychiatrist was sweating now, struggling in the chair.
“Thank you for listening to me, I suppose, even though you were boring and unhelpful.”
Natalia extended the knife towards the psychiatrist, slowly, slowly…
“It doesn’t matter what you choose to do, it’s true,” Natalia recited softly, “Any job you wish to try/should make your heart grow wings and fly…”
Natalia barely registered her actions as she plunged the blade into the psychiatrist.
Exhilaration filled her body, filled her soul and heart with perfect joy.
Even as a part of her felt that the psychiatrist didn’t deserve to die, even as a part of her felt a sinking feeling of guilt, she breathed in the murder and breathed out the happiness.
She might sob later if guilt hit her harder. Then she would plan out her next kill and relish the hunt until she could commit her murder. Then she would do something to the body and then she would dispose of it, but she wouldn’t be caught for reasons unknown to her.
For now, she smiled as she twisted the knife around inside the psychiatrist.
For now, she bathed in the exhilaration.
“…Oh the measure of success/is happiness.”