I reach to shut the medicine cabinet and see the reflection of my murderer behind me in the mirror. Axe raised high ready to swing. I brace myself for the impact. I should have known this was coming. There are only two of our original group of five left, and of the two of us, I am the one you would most expect to survive. I’m studious, I’ve been tracking the murders. At each turn, I’ve been the one who knew exactly what was coming next. I’m still a virgin. In fact, I’ve been single since last week, after my boyfriend’s body came tumbling out of our umbrella closet, left there by our murderer as a grisly—if wholly predictable—surprise.
There may be a twist ending of course. Perhaps all of us will die. Or the two of us will survive. Or one of us will fall in love with the murderer, marry him, and live out the rest of our days beneath his watchful eye. We will buy a house together. We will die slowly, needling each other about the grocery list, the cable, the lawn. Forced conversations with the neighbors and with one another’s moms.
Just as my murderer’s axe reaches the soft space between my shoulder and my chin I say "WAIT" and start to wave my arms around. This is not something either one of us saw coming. In the silence that ensues, I ask my murderer how long he has been following me, how he timed this moment so perfectly—one second I was looking in the mirror, and the next second he was there in his ski mask, holding an axe, taking up the rest of the space in the glass. I tell him I am surprised at his stealth. I ask how he managed to keep me from hearing him climb up the stairs to my apartment in his heavy, muddy boots.
My murderer says that the key is to be patient. He has actually been trailing me for weeks, he says, hiding under my bed at night, watching my routines, sitting underneath my desk at the office, stealing bits of slivered almond from the bag I keep there so I won’t stuff my face at lunch. Once he’d caught a ride with me from work to the gym. He spent the whole twenty-minute drive in my backseat. I hadn’t even noticed.
It was surprisingly straightforward, he says. You’re not even one of my hardest cases, not by far.
I ask him which of us was the hardest and he says, well, Casey, that girl was a firecracker, you never knew what she was going to do next, so unpredictable, so full of surprises.
He notices my interest waver. He stops. I watch him search for something nice to say. You keep the space under your bed very clean, he says, finally.
I have by this point relieved my murderer of his weapon, taking the opportunity to disarm him completely. I strike his head with the blade several times, splattering blood all over the floor and the mirror and the ceiling. After my murderer stops twitching, I kick his corpse, mourning our brief companionship and the security deposit I know now is not going to be returned to me
The night air dries my shirt to my skin and speeds me along as I run. I run toward Casey’s house to tell her the good news. Casey, I will say when I open the door with my axe raised over my head, I saved us, the murderer is dead now, and, guess what else: I figured out the twist ending. In this story, I get to be the one who survives.
But Casey is already standing on her front porch with her arms crossed. She seems to have been expecting me.
Hey, Casey says. Your butt looks great. Have you been working out?
A little, I say, twisting to look. It’s just, all this running in terror, you know? Thanks for noticing.
No, thank you, Casey says, and I follow her eyes up to my axe, the axe I understand too late I have delivered directly into her hands. She smiles at me. I smile back—I can’t help it, she just has one of those smiles. And so I am smiling still when Casey pries the axe handle from my weak fingers, and gently, almost sweetly, as if she is offering me relief, cleaves my skull in two.
About the author: Sarah LaBrie's short fiction appears in The Literary Review, Epoch, Lucky Peach, Joyland and Encyclopedia Journal (Vols. 1 and 3). She's written about books for Literary Hub, Lenny Letter, the LA Weekly and the Millions and has received writing fellowships from Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She lives in Los Angeles.
About the book: We’re living in a loop. Things keep repeating. The eighties almost killed us, and now they’re back to finish the job.
(Image: Bryan Tipton)