This story is by Denise Devin and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A True Calling
I felt the blow to my head from yet another stepfather, as he berated me for something. The something was never important; it was just an excuse to release the rage always bubbling just below his skin’s surface. I was the unlucky recipient of the blow, but I could have been anyone that crossed his path. Or maybe not. Maybe the fact that I was a kid, a twelve-year old chewing on a pencil, attempting to do homework, an unsuspecting kid, maybe that was the key that set off his violence. There would be no need to fear retribution, and anyway, another whack to the head would solve that. If my mother interfered, her cracked ribs would send her to the hospital, again, with yet another story of falling down the stairs, tripping over her shoelaces.
“So stupid” she would say.
And he would smile and pat her hand and tell her she needed to be more careful. I would keep my head low, my mouth shut, but no one ever bothered with me. Except him, later that night, punishing me for the inconvenience, and my mother’s pain. I never made it to school the next day.
But this time, something snapped. Some line separating “acceptable” from “un-acceptable” behavior. It stretched tighter and tighter across the cortex of my brain, a pressure that was building. And then SNAP!
I crossed over the line of acceptable behavior into the limitless expanse of behaving any way I wanted to. And I wanted to kill.
I flew at this latest man, with the pencil still in my hand. And with that pencil, the advantage of surprise, and the force that this snap gave me, I plunged headlong into him, knocking him down and jabbing that pencil into him. But not in his stomach or chest, where I wouldn’t have had much success in hurting him. Oh no, I knew where to strike, what to aim for, deadly and damaging and vulnerable, as vulnerable as I was. I drove that pencil over and over, first into the soft part of his neck, blood spurting out like a geyser, his eyes wide and protruding with surprise. And then into those protruding eyes.
I felt him freeze. I heard him gasp. And then he died.
It was all pretty quick, really. Maybe a minute, maybe two. My life was forever changed, and his life was gone.
When my mother appeared to check out the noise, she took one look at the mess, screamed and fainted. It was pretty funny really, she knocked her head against a chair and landed on her face, which broke her nose. I heard the bones crunch. That was probably the first time she went to the hospital with injuries due to a bona-fide fall.
So there I was, in the middle of all that bloody chaos, and I started to laugh, slow at first but building up into a wild, deep, throaty laugh that had tears rolling out of my eyes and actual snorting sounds coming out of my nose. It occurred to me that I had never laughed out loud like that.
When the laughing subsided, I called an ambulance and the police and just sat there, waiting.
See, I wanted to get caught, then. I was twelve. I still needed someone to feed me and clothe me and put a roof over my head. I was not at all interested in turning tricks like some of the other ‘tweens in the neighborhood. Nope, not for me. I figured juvenile detention was my best option, at least I would be in one place until I was eighteen, with a full belly and clean sheets.
And I was right, juvy turned out okay. The other kids were tough, but I had a great ace card that kept them away. I was a killer. They were there for B&E, or assault, some were druggies who stole from their grandmothers, but I was the only honest to God killer. They looked up to me, even the counselors. We all dreamed of killing our abusers, but I was the only one who had actually done it.
My mother never visited. Probably because I told her I never wanted to see her dumb ass face again, and that I would do the same thing to her if she came. That sealed my juvy fate, and she disowned me. In other words, I got exactly what I wanted.
And then, at eighteen, I got out, with a sealed record. Yup, they let a stone-cold killer loose on the streets, with a sealed record so the cops wouldn’t have a hope in hell of knowing who I am, for real. They somehow thought that six years of shitty food, and a place to sleep, was going to solve the inside of my head. Only one case worker out of the fifty or so I saw (fast burn out in that job) ever asked why I killed my stepfather. I told her I wanted to see what smashed eyeballs would taste like. She went pale and quit her job soon after. Hilarious.
But I had thought about that day, often. Thought about what it felt like to watch his shocked eyes register that it was me who stabbed him. Me, the scrawny kid whose name he couldn’t remember. Me, his always available punching bag. Me, the inconvenient speck in the corner. A purpose for my life emerged, a passion, a need, a desire so strong it woke up with me in the morning and went to bed with me at night.
Anyway, there I was on the street, money in my pocket, and a place to sleep. I had no intention of going there. I figured it would take them a week to realize I was missing, and you know what? A person can get really far away in a week, just vanish in plain sight. Keep your hoodie low, backpack plain, put a dumb look on your face, and move casually along with the crowd. Which is what I did to start my new life.
I hunt. In bus stations, or around shelters, or wherever young kids are being dragged along by their bruised mothers. I hunt for kids who have the same look in their eyes I had, the look of a body disconnected from its soul. Sometimes they’d look up and see me, I’d wink, and they’d look quickly down again.
I’d follow, and I’d watch, I got really good at it.
And I’d see it through a window at night or follow them to emergency with the same old stupid story.
Then I’d wait. And when the time was right, an alley or a deserted street or a dark parking lot, I’d strike, swiftly, lethally.
And then I’d disappear. Hey, I know the mother will just find another one, sometime soon after they visit the morgue, kid in tow, to identify the body. But I am hoping that maybe, after realizing that at least this one is dead, well, that maybe the kid might have a good laugh, in private.
Sometimes, I hang around long enough to follow and see their reactions. I watch as their wailing mothers exit the morgue, dragging them along. If I have a good vantage point, I’m able to see underneath the dirty hair and bowed heads, just able to see the small smile hovering on their lips, as they struggle to keep up.
Once, years ago, a girl looked up, and saw me. She looked quickly down, but almost imperceptibly, I thought I saw her wink.
And then one day I was walking down a busy street, near a train station, when I accidentally caught the eye of a young woman. She looked startled for a second, confused, but there was a light of recognition in her eyes.
Suddenly, amazingly, she winked, then looked down, pulling her gray hoodie lower over her face, a small smile hovering on her lips. She passed me by, and almost imperceptibly whispered,
“Same hoodie, same stain. And thanks.” Then she walked off, quickly vanishing into the crowd.
I looked down at the small bleach stain on the edge of my favorite ten-year old sweatshirt that I’d picked up at a thrift store for fifty cents.
I’d been caught.
I went into the station restroom and into a stall and took off the sweatshirt and put on a fresh one from my backpack and threw that favorite away. I would need to be more careful.
A distant memory of her stirred in the back of my mind. She had grown up over the last ten years, I looked about the same. I never wanted to see her again, but I was glad to know she existed.
Then I walked out of the restroom, pulled my new gray hoodie lower over my face, hid the smile on my lips and vanished into the crowd.