I don’t even know if I can still get an ulcer, now that I’m dead. Death. Deadly. Whatever the hell I am. Does it matter? Of course it matters. It has become painfully evident to me, now that I am whatever it is that I am, that everything matters. The neighbor’s dog barking its friggin’ head off next door, the color of the car parked next to you in the lot of the video game store, the haircut your mom had the last time she saw you. All of these things have effects that have effects that have effects. Rats can’t fart without someone getting married because of it, somewhere down the line of effect upon effect upon effect.
Anyway, all of these things are probably things that contributed to where I am right now, and if I’d been paying attention – even though I’m pretty sure I was – maybe I could’ve headed the whole thing off.
Well, crap. Well, damn. Well, hell.
Nobody cares if I swear now, which is possibly the saddest commentary on my existence I can offer.
So, I kill people. Not because they piss me off, but because I have to. Now ya know. So you can stop staring at me. I know you’re thinking it, you know, thinking I don’t look quite right. Thinking I give you a kind of queasy feeling in your stomach, right there on the left, under your ribs. Oh wait, that’s me. The ulcer.
Which comes from having to, you know, kill people. I always thought they just sort of died on their own. Very tidy, very random, very no-mess-for-me. But no, it’s this extremely orchestrated, engineered process by which some people are chosen at certain times to die and others are chosen to not die and the upshot is my life (or lack thereof, etc. etc.) becomes a cesspool of living suck.
I need a milkshake.
* * *
It began the day I woke up and I was invisible. I had spent the past seventeen years carefully cultivating an exterior which was the perfect combination of don’t-eff-with-me and honor roll student — harder than you might think at a posh boarding school where everyone looked like an honor roll student. The don’t-eff-with-me part meant that I didn’t expect people to talk to me, especially not in the mornings. But I was used to heads at least swiveling when I walked by. This morning?
You guessed it. No swiveling.
And, more important, no me in the mirror of the second floor bathroom. Just the grayish reflection of the faded blue wall behind me, and in the corner of the mirror, the edge of one of the urinals. Right away, I had that dull ache in the back of my mouth, somewhere around my molars, because I knew the empty glass meant something more.
I reached up and fisted my hand in my dark hair, then singled out a single hair and jerked it out. I held it in front of my face; a single, three inch long strand, dark and shining and real. And then I looked back up to the mirror, where there was no face, no fingers, no strand of hair. It wasn’t that the mirror had forgotten to reflect me. It was that I wasn’t quite standing in front of the mirror anymore. I wasn’t quite in the same place as the mirror anymore. Or the same place as most other things, for that matter.
I set my backpack down on the tile, really slowly. Because I realized I didn’t have a use for it anymore.
“This is just brilliant,” I said, but I knew no one heard me. I just knew.
* * * *
The first time I killed someone, it was my mother’s thirty-seventh birthday. I was standing in her bedroom, watching her sleep. It was two in the afternoon and she’d slept all the day before too, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about the birthday present I had hidden on the back of one of the rusty basement shelves, and then I felt it.
* * * *
“It’s a –” Love gestured in the air, a madly vapid little gesture. “No. It’s like when you see someone super cute go by. And your heart goes crazy. And your chest gets achy. That’s when I know. That someone needs to fall in love.”
She was dressed all in pink. I don’t know how one person can stand to wear that much pink all the time, every day. Her shirt was pink. Her stockings were striped pink. Her cheeks, flushed, were pink. She was looking at me in a way that made me think that all that ever rattled around in her head was pink and falling in love.
“It’s an ache,” Love added. “And then you do it, and it’s gone. That’s how it is.”
Love is wrong. That is not how it is.
I didn’t have much time, there on my mother’s birthday, before I was supposed to kill the red-haired man. I just had enough time to run down to the basement, shoving the boxes of fertilizer and chainsaws and bags of nails out of the way to retrieve the blue-and-gold faberge egg that I’d hidden there. It had cost a fortune. Most of it was from my summer job at the Rookery. The rest of it was from blackmailing that ass Elliot Wentz the fall before. My mother and I had gone to a faberge exhibition and I still remembered her face when she looked at the delicately patterned creations. She would know it was from me. She’d just know.
I scrambled up the stairs, half-running, half-climbing, and was just able to push the egg into her sleeping hands before I was back down the stairs and out into the afternoon sun, blinking in the sudden light, pelting down the sidewalk.
I ran so hard and so fast that I didn’t know where I was. I just knew that there was the red-haired man, right in front of me, and I knew that he needed me. Just me. That if I could just say something to him, get close to him —
The red-haired man fell to his knees. Just one knee, actually. After he fell on the one knee, he crumpled to his side and lay in the middle of the sidewalk. I jogged to stand next to him, my hands on my knees, my breath coming in huge gasps that seared and snarled in my throat. I was close enough to see his slits of eyes, damp and dark and staring. I could not feel a thing. Not a damn thing.
And he died.
* * * *
It’s my superpower. The numbness starts in my fingertips, and I know who is supposed to die. I just know. They’re in my head. Not their name, but their face, and that’s all I seem to need. And if I am by the wrong person by the time the numbness gets to my heart, the wrong person dies.
When I get it right, I think I know I’m supposed to be doing this. That in the balance of things, someone has to die so that someone can be born.
I think all the time how I could’ve been standing next to my mom that first time, just standing there and wondering why I was going so tingly. I could’ve killed her.
When I get it wrong, I wonder why me. I wonder when it will end.
* * *
“You take it all too personally, pet,” Love told me, her hip shoved close to me on the concrete stair. “That last guy was really not a nice person. And his apartment was disgusting. I sort of thought in this century, most people knew about things like Clorox and Swiffers.”
“Love,” I said, “You are giving me an ulcer. I can’t even think for the ulcer you’re giving me. Every time you I bring you with on one of these, I am filled with depthless regret for the folly of my actions. My gut burns.”
She reached over to twirl a lock of my hair around one of her fingers. “I think you just like hearing yourself talk with your giant words. You’re just frustrated because you can’t think of a synonym for ‘ulcer’.”
“Ulcus pepticum,” I said, bleakly, looking down into my hands.
“What is that thing, anyway?” Love leaned over, resting her head on my shoulder and following my gaze. My fingers were starting to go numb, but there was no hurry. Not yet. And Love was in no danger from me. “It’s almost as pretty as me.”
“A faberge egg,” I replied, turning it over in my hands, the gold patterns like braille under my fingertips.
“Where did you get it?”
Love said, “People should not throw out pretty things.” She said it as if she, personally, was included and offended by this remark.
I stood up. I could barely feel my hands. “It happens. I have to go. Someone’s dying.”
Love looked at me. "Well, now they are."
Author’s Note: The companion character sketch to Tessa’s WedFic.
image courtesy vlad xp