This story is by Alicyn Grace and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
No one can say I didn’t warn them.
Trespassers Turn Back! Warning: Private Property! My hand painted sign is ignored.
The boys aren’t used to hiking in the mountains. Their breath is labored and they aren’t carrying water, but at least they have flashlights so they can navigate in the dark. Both of them are overweight like pigs at the slaughterhouse. The only way I can tell them apart is the taller of the two wears a blue hat and the smaller one is carrying a red backpack that rattles like soup cans.
“I can’t believe you talked me into this,” the shorter boy gawked up at the height of my monument.
I can’t believe hooligans are still coming to my property. Ten years ago, my father passed away and I still can’t sleep because I miss him so much. The only way to put my mind at ease is to build. So, I built a monument for my father. I started with the ground floor and built my way up with stair cases and makeshift arched doorways and I did it all without a schematic or instruction—I did it all by myself. Father would have been proud.
At least, I think so. I wasn’t like my father. He worked construction for fifty years and his blond hair only started graying when he turned sixty. I am balding and I had never completed an hour of manual labor until he had passed. Now, at least, my hands were thick with calluses, like my father’s.
But then people wanted to explore my monument. It started small, like tramping through the sacred halls, but escalated to leaving trash in the stairwells, urinating on the walls, and having sex on the bridges.
So, I began laying traps—uneven bridges, dead ends, foot holes, and missing handrails. This only slowed them down with sprained ankles and infected cuts. I was hungry for more.
“Look at this, Toby,” the flashlight blazes through the first floor of the monument, where I installed hand made stained glass windows, wood floors, and a small fireplace. The vibrant red petals, green leaves, and blue sky spark to life as the faux light strikes the windows.
Toby wipes sweat off of his forehead, “Pete, I need a break.”
“Stop being a baby. If you wanna be in the club, then you gotta leave your mark somewhere cool.”
What mark were these vandals going to leave? I grip the windowsill so hard that my nails grind against the stones that I carried to this spot piece by piece.
“Can’t I just do it here?”
“Anyone can tag the first floor. Even you. We’re going up.”
Pete disappears up the stairwell to the second floor and I watch Toby follow him. His pit stains grow so large on his shirt that they are covered by the backpack.
I take an alternative route to follow the boys, an exterior staircase on the opposite side of the monument. I peer over the edge and watch from a safe distance. There are three possible paths they can take from the second floor. They can exit to the second floor path that skirts the monument, where I have left holes in the grid. They can walk up a straight staircase to connected bridges with uneven pathways. Or, they can head up the spiral staircase to the overlook, where the railing is loose.
“You know I’m scared of heights,” Toby’s voice was so high pitched that he sounds like a howler monkey.
I smile. I delight at the prospect of scaring this boy.
Pete selects the spiral staircase to the overlook. He has no clue how close I am to him. I can smell his fried-food, candy-eating diet excrete through his chubby pores. He makes me sick.
Toby looks up the staircase after Pete and shakes so hard that the contents of his backpack rattles.
I reach forward to the metal grid walkway that skirts along the outside of the second floor, I make a fist, and I pound down on it. The whole grid rattles like a chain-link fence.
Toby shrieks and clutches the straps of his backpack. “Did you hear that?” he runs up the stairs so fast that he stumbles over himself, falls back down a few steps, and continues on. His fear delights me and I hunger for more like I crave my father’s approval.
I know that once they reach the top, there is only one way to go from there—across the bridge to the overlook, a dead end. I use the walkway to get right under them, where I jerry-rigged the supporting beams to connect with the level below it. Pete marches across the bridge, not even holding on to the railing. He expects to come out the other end, but he freezes at the outlook. The dry, summer wind blows so hard that he holds his hat down so it doesn’t fly off.
At first, I think he will be scared and my heart sinks with disappointment that he is smiling. I want to destroy his smile and I grind my teeth in disgust.
“There’s something out here with us! I heard it a second ago.”
“You think a monster is out here? What a loser.”
“Who do you think built this thing?”
“Don’t be a pussy. Get out here and leave your mark. Look—you could reach over here and tag this tower.”
No—the pieces fall into place. Tagging. The rattling in the boy’s backpack. They brought spray paint. Criminals!
I grip the cold supporting beam. The heat of anger courses through my veins and ignites every hair on my body. I can’t think straight and all I hear is my heart pounding in my ears. I push and pull the supporting beams to make the bridge above rock. It is hard at first, but when I work in tandem with the wind and I use the momentum I generate, I am able to make the bridge sway.
It doesn’t need to be a violent sway for the boy to stumble. Pete gasps as he loses his balance. I look up to watch him. He falls to the side into the railing—but it is a false railing. We make eye contact as the side gives way with a loud screech of bending metal like a rusty door opening. I grin at him and he realizes he is going to fall.
The boy screams as his arms flail, grabbing for anything to keep him from falling. But it is too late. His voice comes to a sudden end when his head collides with one of the metal walkways. His head makes a popping noise, like smashing a cockroach under my boot. When his body falls to the ground in a heap, his face is obscured with blood and I cannot see his features besides his mouth hanging open.
At first, I wonder if my scare tactics have gone too far. But Pete is no longer smiling and I feel satisfied for the first time in ten years.
“What happened?” Toby’s voice shakes.
I rush to the stairs, stomping to create as much noise as possible. Toby will soon realize that today is the worst day of his life. He hears me on the steps, looks down, and hollers like a full-grown man. He drops his backpack, stumbles backwards onto the bridge, and the cans fall down the steps. I rush to get him.
“Please, sir! Let me go. I swear I won’t tell anyone about this.” Toby says as he scrambles with his butt on the bridge and his fingers dig into the grid.
It had never occurred to me that this boy could report me. But, he does have a point now that Pete is laying dead on my property. I have never killed anyone before. But it felt so satisfying that I didn’t want to stop.
“I don’t think you’ll say anything,” I tell the boy as I wrap my rough hands around his fat neck. His eyes are wild, watching me in disbelief as his air way closes and he fights to breathe. He tries clawing himself free, so I bring my knees to his chest to keep him still. I let my body weight crush him. His feet pound on the bridge and I see him realize that he is going to die. The light extinguishes in his eyes. I sink down when his breastbone cracks and I know it’s over.
I roll him to the end of the bridge and push him to the ground by Pete. He lands like a fifty-pound sack of potatoes.
As I consider how to dispose of the bodies, I decide to paint a new warning sign:
Vandals Will Meet Their End.