This story is by Elizabeth Adams and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This bubble of hysterical laughter that is rising dangerously to the surface cannot happen.
I force it down and keep walking.
I can’t have people staring. Not today.
I have to distract myself. I have to think about something else.
So, I think about my obsession. I think about truth and lies.
The lies you tell. The lies you believe.
Lies are obviously made up. I mean we decide to lie, right?
We make lies up to hide something.
Or, we tell lies to ourselves so we don’t have to face what we’d rather not know.
There are only two choices.
Lie. Or tell the truth.
Me? I decided to tell the truth. Do you know how freeing that is?
To not hide from who you really are? To be yourself?
Where did I learn all this?
Here is the crazy thing. From you of course.
You might be pleased about that, being a teacher and everything.
The hysteria gone now, I can let myself drift back to when it all started.
Before I became who I really am. When I could still pretend I was just a regular girl.
Can I be honest now?
This will sound really weird, because like, how could I miss anything that has to do with you?
I miss the way you used to look at me.
Like I was the only person in the whole room worth knowing.
Like I was special. Like you only wanted me. Just me.
I think it was real.
I am right about that, aren’t I? It was real. Just not exactly in the way I thought, but then again, what did I know?
The correct answer is… nothing. I was just a walking, sorry bag of need.
A sad, lost girl ripe for the picking.
Which is why you choose me. I was so perfect. A dream for you.
It’s called grooming actually. What you did with me.
I looked it up afterward.
You. Groomed. Me.
Those meaningful looks? Did you practice? Or did it come naturally?
I wonder too how many times you’ve played this game, because that’s how it was right?
I think half the fun for you was in setting the stage. All that preparation, all for your big finale.
It must have been so easy. I was so easy. Didn’t you ever get bored?
I mean it was hardly any work at all. I was just so hungry for one lone drop of attention.
It’s pathetic really, I was pathetic.
You know, back in the old days, back when I had a family, that last morning before all the bad things started to happen.
On that one day, I was left in charge of getting my little brother up and off to school, he looked at me with his brown eyes that always seemed so big in that small face and said in a pretend high squeaky voice,
” This morning I woke up and looked at my feelings” and they said… “pathetic”.
He started to giggle even before he got the last word out, rolling around on his tangled sheets laughing so hard I started to laugh too.
I picked him up and swung him around and squeezed him in a bear hug.
“Pathetic loser” I said, pulling his pajama top over his head.
“No, you’re the pathetic loser” he shouted, as he tried to squirm away from me, squealing, laughing.
We had breakfast and made faces at each other over cereal and toast and started all over again on our walk to his school.
We did a high five as we arrived and I said,
” I love you. Pathetic loser”, “You’re the pathetic loser” he giggled.
His favorite red Spiderman cape flapping behind him, he ran to be with all the other kids.
I smiled as I turned and walked away.
I never did look back or stayed to check to see if he actually went into the building.
I wish I did. I wish I wish I wish, because he never showed up to his classes.
I never saw him again.
That’s when I began to hate myself.
That’s when I felt my inner self separate, peeling away from the terrible world.
I have parents. I see them sometimes in the evening and sometimes on the weekends.
They’re never home. It’s like we all live in grey. They work all the time because they can’t stand to be at home and they can’t stand me.
I’m not making that up. It’s just a fact.
I know, because a couple of months after it happened, before we knew that those months would turn into years. I accidentally heard my parents arguing, their voices low and tight.
I heard my father say,
“That’s not fair, it’s not her fault”, he sounded unsure, nervous.
My mother replied bitterly, in a terrible empty voice I didn’t recognize,
“Yes. It is her fault and don’t you forget it, she left him there!
She left my baby boy and never checked to see if he really went inside.
I will never forgive her! Oh god, why was it him that never came home, why?”.
I waited a long time.
Frozen outside their bedroom door, expecting to hear my father protest.
For my mother to say she didn’t mean it, but all I heard was the sound of my mother weeping.
So that was the day I stopped having a family.
It was just going to be me now. Well, me and my computer.
I guess I became a geek.
Better, I discovered the dark web.
Oh, you should know that I’m good.
That’s all I need to say about that.
As I walk, I continue to think about you.
About all those discussions after class, where I slowly began to reveal myself.
You seemed so good at listening.
Those secret glances between us when no one was looking.
When you began to confide in me.
Acting like you seriously wanted my opinion.
You liked my “input”, my “take” on things.
On that horrifying day, you offering to drive me after seeing me “by chance” walking home after school, did you know I was thrilled?
I felt so wanted, needed even.
Until I saw your mask slip.
When the real you looked at me and I knew something awful was about to happen.
I became the prey. You the hunter.
I never dreamed of the horrors that can be done to a human body.
About the shocking warped mind that lives under a friendly smile.
The smile I trusted.
Still I think that you trusted me too.
You let me go that day because you knew I would tell no one. Who would believe me anyway?
It turns out you were right.
I didn’t tell. I won’t be telling. See, I don’t need to, do I?
Thing is. I’ve changed.
That day, when I was the prey? I slipped over into the dark side, or maybe I was pushed.
The student has surpassed the teacher.
I too am a hunter.
Are you ready?
The lies you tell.
The lies you believe.
At last I reach my destination, right on time. I sit down and make myself comfortable.
I lift my face to the pleasant warmth of the afternoon sun on this luscious fall day, and for the first time in a very long time everything feels just right.
How convenient that this park bench faces your perfect storybook white house.
As I gaze across the street, I wonder, did you think that a house like that would protect you? That your secrets would be sheltered by that leafy tree in the front yard? That your perfect lawn in your perfect neighborhood would keep trouble away?
I stare, wondering. I wait.
Oh good, here they come now.
Well, this is disappointing, I was hoping for sirens and uniforms. Oh well, can’t have everything. They get out of the car and head for the door. They look like cops, you can just tell.
A dog barks. Someone is mowing a lawn. A breeze lifts dead leaves on the ground and scuttles them along the sidewalk.
Oh, here you come. In handcuffs, just like I hoped.
There she is, your wife.
Screaming, hysterical. For a second I feel a twinge of something. Pity?
” You’re a monster, you’re vile, disgusting!” She is shrieking, sobbing.
That is so true. I agree.
You look stunned. Well, you would be. How did this happen? You turn your head bewildered and then…
You see me. You see your biggest mistake.
You know and I know, you don’t like little boys.
Despite all those pictures on your computer.
Despite the evidence. The inescapable digital trail.
Well, I did tell you I was a geek, if you were listening.
I watch you being driven away. I have never been more content. That’s the truth.
But what is the truth really?
I mean, from one monster to another?