Marcia is almost motionless in bed. Sometimes it looks like she isn’t breathing but then he saw the swell of her ribcage moving up and down. It’s too warm in her room, he can tell, because every once and awhile she rolls out from under the sheets and splays her limbs across the white cotton pillow.
He prefers her this way, with her humanity teeming around her like bacteria. When he sees her in the hallways at school, she radiates like an angel. She is something otherworldly living in a world he does not have access to.
It would be easy to be in the house with her, to be among her things, her books and her smell (slightly sweet, rose perfume mixed with sweat from walking around all day) and her stuffed animals from childhood, propped up on a shelf above her dresser. He could work a hacksaw blade between the frame and the cheap lock of her window and climb right in.
He brushed a small red ant off of his boot. Their hive was near the tree and they bit, though it only hurt for a moment or two. He reminded himself to bring some Borax next time so they wouldn’t bite Marcia as she sat in her chaise lounge in the early morning light and read a novel.
He could see Marcia because it wasn’t totally dark in the backyard of her duplex. There was a light on near the living room window. It was a full moon tonight too so her face looked translucent in the moonlight. If Christ’s love was made tangible in the sunlight, then Marcia’s face was made tangible in the moonlight.
Marcia exhaled as the lights were extinguished. From his vantage high in the oak tree, he could see that the two houses next to Marcia’s were also dark.
If he wasn’t so familiar with the latch of the door to her backyard, he would not have noticed the sound. The rusty door was made of old warped sheet metal so it always made a high-pitched whine as anyone pushed it from the outside. That whine was why he started climbing over the fence near the red brick enclave where Marcia put her garbage cans. He shifted in the tree to watch two hooded figures enter Marcia’s backyard.
They weren’t hooded in the way he expected thieves to be hooded. They wore heavy cloaks that shrouded their faces. They replaced the latch to the back door carefully. He looked over at Marcia, who had not stirred in her bedroom. The two figures walked past the yellowed tomato plants Marcia had attempted to grow over the summer and then forgot about. Time began to move slowly. A jellied film settled over the ecosystem of Marcia’s backyard. He was used to being alone with Marcia, for this was his solitude, and now that there were intruders he could not figure out how to rectify their presence here.
The two men, he did not know why he thought them men but he did were familiar with the L-shaped backyard and headed to the window of Marcia’s bedroom. They stopped and watched her. Her lips were slightly parted and a few strands of blonde hair fell across her face. They stood without moving for a long time and watched Marcia through the window.
The oak tree he was in was situated at the edge of Marcia’s backyard so that some of the branches fell over into the neighbor’s backyard, something that he knew the neighbors resented Marcia for by the way they bagged up the dead leaves and presented them like an unwanted Christmas gift in the alleyway behind Marcia’s house. There were two hooded figures in that yard too, standing in front of a window and staring inside the house.
He thought of surprising the hooded men and beating them unconscious. He thought of Marcia’s face when she found out, how her eyes would widen with tears, and how she would then throw her arms around him in the teacher’s lounge and say “Oh, you saved me!” Then he thought of one of the hooded men pulling out a gun and killing him. Then he thought of what Marcia would say when she found out that he was in her backyard late at night, of what the other teachers at school would do when she told them.
One of the hooded men moved towards the sliding door that separated Marcia’s back porch from the living room and peered inside. The other remained at his vigil, watching Marcia sleep. There was a small leather bag that was halfway zipped up. There was something metallic with a piece of brown cloth wrapped around it poking out of the bag awkwardly.
The figure flipped pulled open the sliding door easily. He was very tall and had to stoop over in the cramped living room. His cheekbones were too big for his thin face. He started walking around Marcia’s living room, examining things. He walked to the coffee table and flipped through her mail. He looked at the Post-It notes she had written inspirational quotes on and attached to her windows. Her keys, the remnants of her dinner, her cell phone, and purse. He looked at the pictures on her mantle and chose one, the one of Marcia as a high school cheerleader, and looked at it for twenty seconds before replacing it. Marcia had kicked off her high heels next to the couch when she had gotten home. He bent over and ran his hands over the cheap red plastic.
Finally, he stood and pulled a knife from his robes and closed his left hand around it. He let the blood from his hand splatter onto the white carpet and then went to the far wall next to a cheap credenza.
Now was the time to act. He could escape, or knock over the man outside Marcia’s window into the space between the house and the fence. This was her only chance. Marcia would not wake up, she never did, she always slept through the night. She was not like him, she only dreamed of sweet things, he could see it in the spaces under her eyes and around her lips. These were people like him, he could tell, and only he could stop them.
The man inside the house started writing on the wall. The blood didn’t spread as nicely as the man would have liked so he ran his cut handover the letters again and again until they were dark red. He navigated the big and messy letters around Marcia’s high school diploma, a hung picture of her parents, a painting she had done when she was in an art class at the community college last year. The hooded figure stood back to inspect his work. Please, the letters read.
The dog surprised both he and the man outside Marcia’s window. Before he climbed into the tree, he always gave Marcia’s dog a treat and pet him. The dog usually roamed around at night in the forest behind Marcia’s house. The dog growled at the hooded figure and started to bark. Marcia began to stir, she opened her eyes. The man knelt down quickly and removed his hood to reveal that it wasn’t a man, but a woman, with an angry scar running from her left green eyeball to her chin, dividing her face into hemispheres of ravaged, stretched red skin. She reached out to the dog who stopped barking and stared at the woman’s face. The dog took a step towards the woman. She beckoned it closer. The dog nudged at her hand with his head and she scratched the dog behind the ears. Marcia closed her eyes again and turned over.
He was so engrossed in what was going on that he didn’t notice the small red ant crawl onto his hand. It bit him, and he instinctively slapped at his hand. The woman tensed and looked in his direction while the dog licked her hand. From where she knelt, she should not be able to see him, as long as he was very still.
She finally looked away and he took a breath. She reached towards the dog’s head with one hand and closed her hand firmly around the back of his neck. With her other hand, she reached for the instrument bound in cloth and began to pull the long instrument out of the bag. Inside, he could see the doorknob to Marcia’s room turn slowly in the moonlight. Marcia had turned over in her sleep so that her long-sleeved shirt had bunched up and he could see a pale patch of her bareback. He would not do anything to stop whatever was going to happen, he knew that now, and he hated himself for it because Marcia was his. The tall man opened the door and slid inside, ducking his head under the frame gracefully. He reached out towards Marcia’s face and stroked it with a long fingernail.
There was a bloodcurdling scream. The scarred woman turned sharply towards the backyard next door where a woman was running outside with an ugly knife wound across her bare breasts. She fell in the grass and struggled to get up again. One of the hooded figures was walking towards her swiftly. Marcia awoke and screamed as she saw the tall figure jump back and hit his head against the shelf of stuffed animals. The shelf broke and the stuffed animals fell everywhere. The dog erupted into barks and the woman reared back to strike the dog.
He leaped from the tree in the confusion and landed hard on the dirt, knocking the air from him. He pushed himself up used all of his might to push the scarred woman towards the porch. He heard her head crack against the pavement. The dog leaped on top of her.
He ran out of Marcia’s gate. He ran down her street and all the way home. When he was inside his apartment, gasping for breath, his vision blurring, he heard the faint sound of sirens in the distance.
Kate Shapiro is an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her nonfiction work has appeared in Thought Catalog and her plays have been performed in New York City. She grew up in Dallas, Texas and lives in Las Vegas.
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