On winter nights, just after we’d had a snowstorm, I used to look out the window of my 5th floor apartment and imagine how the scene would look on a postcard. The snow would lightly blanket my block, cover the worn-down sidewalk, and fill in the potholes in the road. It would smooth out the creases of my street, hide its imperfections, and give off a false sense of serenity. In my mind, I would swap out the homeless man bumming cigarettes and replace him with an old-fashioned street peddler. Mr. Frank, that aged man walking home from work a mile away when he should have retired five years ago, would be snuggled in bed already, surrounded by a loving wife and family. In my mind, the spot taken up by Mr. Frank would instead be occupied by a smart businessman walking to his apartment after a hard day at work. The alley that led into my street would have cheery windows, many with pots of greenery lined along their sills, and scattered throughout the windows would be early Christmas trees. There was a gorgeous lamppost on the corner of my street, Emory Road, and Cortlant Alley – the solitary post measured about seven feet in height, extending exquisite metal filigree that encased the globe of light above it firmly in its grasp. By this lamppost, I envisioned a little girl walking her dog, pulling on the leash as her dog stubbornly stood in the warm pool of light. The potential was breathtaking – I had only to close my eyes.
But unfortunately, I lived on the block with the pot-holes in the street, the worn-down sidewalks, and the dingy alleyway. It wasn’t dirty as much as it was dangerous though. Cortlant Alley was rumored to be the home of men with questionable character – the photographer would have had to capture the angle of my postcard picture just right in order to cut off the trashed scraps of life that littered the alleyway itself. This was a fact ingrained into the residents of my building, and although I knew this, my rebellious personality made me disregard the words of advice and decide to cut through the alley on my way home late one night.
I had been returning from a friend’s birthday party. It was already two in the morning, and the alley didn’t seem as fearsome in my current state of my mind. It looked empty and abandoned, and if I got on my tiptoes and craned my neck, I could just make out my own apartment building. As a matter of principle, I usually avoided the alley, but tonight, I just wanted to get home as fast as I could. The alcohol fortified my bravado and I began to speed-walk through the dark alley, the far end of which was illuminated by my lamppost.
This isn’t bad. Everybody’s afraid for no reason…nobody’s even in the alley right now.
Several steps in, I found myself suddenly thrown into a dark niche between two buildings onto an unseen section of the gritty pavement. The world lurched dangerously in my eyes a second before I began to fall toward the ground.
Although I braced myself, I know I would probably see some scrapes and bruises the following morning. I got up and began to make my way toward Emory Road again, unaware of what had caused my fall. I took two steps, and again fell back into the same spot. Got up, confused, and was pushed back down. This time, my legs refused to let me go anywhere, so I just lay there staring up at the shuttered windows of the buildings across from me.
The panic didn’t set in until the hand clapped over my mouth. My muffled scream and ensuing struggle was to no avail – whoever this man was had the upper hand. I was flinging my hands at him, trying to punch him off, and biting him wherever I could, but he just stood there calmly above me, holding one hand to my mouth. I tried to hit him between his legs, and that’s when he punched the breath out of me, grabbed me with his both of his hands, and threw me facedown into the ground.
I’m going to die today.
I’d been sitting in the same position for about an eternity. The man had been leering at my body until a minute ago, when he had walked away to answer a crackling walkie-talkie. I had not yet heard his voice, and he had given no indication of explaining his plan to me – I resent the influence that movies have had on my impression of a kidnappings. I needed to know why he had captured me, and I didn’t think I was a random selection. After all, if this guy was a serial killer, he wouldn’t have been so kind to me. I still had my dignity.
It could be worse it could be worse it could be worse
I lay still for the moment because struggling against the ropes that bound my arms, legs, and torso only made them further chafe against my skin. A tear escaped my eyes and slid down my soiled cheekbones before dropping from my jaw to the ground. I squeezed them shut, seeking a temporary solace from the dangerous uncertainty of the night. The trash littered around me disappeared from my view, but the nausea from being trapped did not abate. Two more tears fought their way through my lashes and spilled out from under my trembling eyelashes. I was trying my best to concentrate on escape, but my thoughts continued to stray to what I was positive would happen to me before this night would end. All signs of the alcohol I’d drunk had now disappeared, and the adrenaline that coursed through my body had done an excellent job of finally stunning my body into responsiveness.
The convulsions that ensued were the combination of the damp air with my fear. Before he left to answer that walkie-talkie, he had mercifully thrown a ragged blanket over my naked form. The stench of the blanket hit my nose, and a wave of nausea followed soon after. I hoped that he wouldn’t be gone too long. I didn’t have any way to unbind myself yet, and this blanket felt more torturous than the cold air from before. I was having trouble keeping to my senses. The smells were overpowering me and the world was beginning to swing lazily about in my eyes. The world periodically veered off its axis, and I had to remind myself to blink and re-focus on it.
I had lost count of how long it had been since I had been propped against the wall and sternly forbidden to move. It couldn’t have been more than several hours. The Dark was still heavily upon me, and I felt as though my only hope now lay in the Light and the rescue it would bring. I inched forward a centimeter, then two. Felt my skin scrape the disgusting alley and begin to bleed. I decided that the extra pain had been worth the increase of proximity to freedom, but quickly changed my mind and pushed my feet against the sidewalk to slide painfully back into place as I heard his footsteps approaching.
I called him Malvolio. It seemed fitting. He wore the night like a cloak, and in my head, he appeared to get a little scarier each time I was confronted by his fierce eyes. They were filled with an intense hatred, whether for me or for somebody else, I could not tell. He reflected anger and resentment with every inch of his being, and I secretly believed that touching the cloak he had wrapped around his upper body would crackle with static.
Zap me into oblivion.
Malvolio approached me and stooped down to better stare at me. He pulled the thin blanket off with a vicious thrust, and before I could feel thankful that the smell had receded, he brought his face closer to mine. His fingernail grazed my upper leg, running a line from my knees to my inner thighs, and I tried not to cry as his lips came closer and closer to mine. I was disgusted, and the tears ran freely now, a torrent of frustration and fear that flooded out of my eyes.
Maybe I had been too optimistic before? He’s going to rape me, and there’s nothing I can do about it.
I didn’t know if the man was armed, but I was in no position to take risks. The man had already overpowered me once, and I had the bruising and pain to prove it. He pulled away, and I tried to convince myself that my inability to wipe off the feel of his mouth didn’t bother me.
Somebody needs to come help me now.
“Why are you doing this to me,” I questioned. A blank stare. The coals in his eyes smoldered in response. He walked away, and I heard the walkie-talkie jump to life.
“Man, I can’t do this anymore. She’s too innocent. Doesn’t even seem to know her grandmother left her an inheritance. She lives in a shithole apartment in the shadiest part of NYC I have ever seen…Are you sure you wanna kill her?…No, she seems pretty happy where she is…what do you mean, how do I know? I’ve been keeping tabs on her and scouted her out proper, just like you wanted me to…yes, I know my job is to—…aiight boss, it’s your call.”
The walkie-talkie went silent, and I punched the wall. Why did I get myself into this mess? Why does she have to be so pretty? I needed the money, but how could I will myself into messing with this girl’s head. If it was a death he wanted, then why was he trying so hard to make me fail? I wasn’t afraid of going to jail – I was counting on getting caught. The money that I would get from this job was enough to take care of my wife, and that is the sole reason I had signed up for this. It still would have been easier if this woman had been an arrogant New York City hedge fund owner.
She’s got to be the only hedge fund owner who doesn’t live in an amazing condo.
I had seen the inside of her apartment several times, of course, but always the same bits of her life through her window. She forgot to close her blinds once, and I had watched her change. I felt guilty for days afterwards though, and from then onwards, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to murder her without killing a part of me as well. A killer emotionally attached to his victim won’t be able to do it. The crucial moment would come, and I would have to steel myself. Because no matter what, my wife was important to me, and this was the only chance I would ever have to redeem myself in her eyes.
I had already failed her as a husband. I couldn’t fail again. I won’t allow that to happen. If she doesn’t die, then my wife will suffer. If she does die, then I will suffer. If I suffer, will I be able to withstand the agony my wife goes through when I am put away in jail, and she is left with no money or husband. I’ve already got her in my possession. I can’t give up halfway through, I just can’t do it. I can’t allow myself to even think of such a possibility.
That she had decided to walk through Cortlant Alley was a surprise. He had studied her, and she had not seemed the type to take such risks. That he had decided to take up residence here as he observed her was another small miracle then.
But now, he had deviated from his structured plan, and he had her hostage tonight. The Boss was getting increasingly agitated by the minute. The plan was never to be broken. A perfect plan would have no need to be.
But who’s ever heard of a perfect murder?
The mind of a serial killer is interesting. I’d always found the mind a fascinating subject, and now that my fear had worn down into resignation, I began to study my Malvolio with increasing interest. I had long concluded that he wasn’t quite sure what to do with me – I was too large an asset to do away with so messily. I wasn’t going to die then. But if I wasn’t going to die, what was his purpose for holding me hostage? I had no rich relatives. I wasn’t famous. I was just an ordinary woman living out her dreams in New York City . I blended into the crowd, and yet, I had been picked.
Or maybe I’m just the idiot who decided to walk through an alley reputed for its danger at 2am. Maybe it could just as easily have been somebody else in my place? I continued to sit in the alley, too scared and weak to cry out for help. Actually, I think I’m just too scared to even try. I wouldn’t be able to bear the disappointment. I wouldn’t be able to bear knowing that my last chance at escape is a futile one.
“My whole body is sore. Can you loosen the ropes so I can move them around a little?” I was disappointed in how timidly my voice had come out.
Malvolio jerked me to my feet. He grabbed my shoulders roughly and shook my entire body. I had to try very hard to control the sobs threatening to escape. He then pushed me back toward the wall of the building. With bricks pushing uncomfortably into my bared back, I finally found the voice to scream.
An instant later, one of his hands was covering my mouth, and the other was unbuttoning his pants. He still hadn’t spoken to me, and my comment had set off some sort of savage hunger. The monster lunged at me.
She should have seen that coming. The woman had the audacity to ask me to make her comfortable. I’m holding her hostage, not taking her out on a date.
I couldn’t stop myself. She’d been there with nothing on but the ropes I had wrapped around her the entire night. I was a human being too, and the woman was a tease.
Yeah. She definitely had it coming to her.
I don’t know what I was going to do now though. This hadn’t been part of the plan either. I wasn’t a very good murderer. Don’t know what I was going to do now, not a clue. I could take several routes:
I had already satisfied my sexual hunger. Now that I didn’t desire her, I was starting to notice the condition she was in. Hair limp and matted. Body covered in scrapes, cuts, and bruises. Sweaty. Terrified. Ashamed. I did this to her. The knowledge that I could easily kill her now, while she was vulnerable, entered my mind. I had my gun. The gunshot would attract attention, but I would have fulfilled my part of the deal. I could kill her now, go to jail, and know that I had changed at least one life for the better.
If I let her go, she would report me to the authorities. I’d still go to jail, but the Boss wouldn’t be happy. I quickly dismissed that thought.
I could explain things to her first. That way, I could let her go and she wouldn’t say a word. I know her – personal integrity and reputation would exceed her need for revenge. My wife was never going to forgive me. I had to deal with her wrath later, but would she be able to accept my actions if she knew that I had explained myself?
She’s never going to forgive me. Work out that problem later, figure out what to do with the filthy heap lying there first.
I walked over to her and prodded her stomach with the toes of my boot. Her entire body lurched in response and she shuddered violently. I stooped down to see that her body was wracked with sobs.
I want nothing more than to cover her with a blanket and say I’m sorry.
Malvolio walked back to me. For a second, I thought I saw a flash of guilt on his face, but the darkness in his eyes quickly covered the emotion. Who am I kidding? This monster’s not capable of feeling. He’s a psycho. Nothing more.
I don’t know why I did it. If you asked me to explain, I wouldn’t be able to. I loosened her ropes and gave her back her clothes. I removed the bindings and allowed her to dress herself. Then I knocked her out and picked her up, the frail body in my arms reminding me with every step how much I had wronged her.
I left her tucked into her bed. Put a note next to her. Knew that she had the DNA she needed to incriminate me, but was beyond the point of caring.
I left her to judge my future and walked out. Couldn’t bring myself to look back.