Picture Perfect Murder

Picture Perfect Murder

A Story by Alexis_McLeod

When there are no sympathetic characters, is it really murder?


Alison stood over the prone woman’s body still uncertain of what she’d done. When she looked at the bulging eyes and casually noted the protruding tongue, she stifled a laugh. The face looked more like a particularly effective Halloween mask than a once lovely face that had met with the unfortunate disfigurement of a violent death. She suddenly became aware of the pool of urine that had collected at her feet. It annoyed her that she’d have to spend money on a new pair of sneakers as she was sure these were ruined. Her mind suddenly registered the situation. Two dead bodies, only one knife. If she stabbed the woman, she knew the body wouldn’t bleed; it would merely ooze in a way that would make it obvious that the wound had been made post-mortem. That would draw suspicion. No, she'd have to make it look like they’d killed each other. As she wiped her prints off the knife, it began to rain. At least there’d be no evidence of her urine. She curled the dead woman’s fingers about the handle of the kitchen knife. The rain should answer for the lack of blood on her hand. No way to explain the lack of blood on the dead woman’s clothes, though. She then chided herself for being so illogical. They were just cops. Big city cops who probably wouldn’t question a domestic squabble that got out of hand between two middle-aged, working-class dullards. She scowled at the dead woman. The woman had been an idiot. Couldn’t she see that she’d been trying to save her life. The guy had been following her with a kitchen knife in his fist. Alison shook her head. This idiot woman saw her struggling with the man and then ran up and started punching her. Alison ended up having to fight both of them. Luckily the woman was petite. It didn’t take much for her to land a stunning blow on the idiot’s chin and knock her out for a few moments. The guy was drunk and angry. Just the type Alison had trained for in her martial arts classes. The only problem was that he wouldn’t stay down. As far as Alison was concerned, the fool killed himself. She’d just been holding the knife she had wrested from his hand. It was an accident. But the woman had not seen all of that. By the time she woke up and saw the knife in Alison’s hand, all she could do was assume that this stranger had killed her man. All would have been well if she’d just listened when Alison explained.  She’d seen him stalking her. He had planned to murder her. The photo made it clear. Between the woman’s screams, Alison tried to explain in her most rational voice that he’d run into the knife. And that now she’d finally be free of his menace. The woman kept screaming his name, though. Frank! Frank! Alison realized that the fool had probably loved her would-be murderer. This was a bad part of town. Chances are no one would have heeded the cries of a woman coming from some dark alley. But when she swore that she’d tell the police it had been cold-blooded murder, that she’d say that she and Frank were just walking and had been jumped by some knife wielding woman, Alison had to reconsider. The woman’s bruised chin would support the story of being attacked by Alison. It was the only logical course of action. Of course, the woman flailed at Alison. Who wouldn’t with another person’s hands tightening around her throat. But she was so petite. And Alison’s father had always said that she had ‘man hands.’

         Alison took one last look. Why had the photo shown her this man and this woman? Not only was the intended victim ungrateful, but she’d attacked and threatened her. It made no sense. By the time Alison had walked to her apartment, it was 3 am. After showering and putting her bloody, urine-soaked clothes in a garbage bag, she decided to head back to the college’s darkroom. She wanted to ask Vanessa why she’d not shown her the ultimate outcome. That she would stop a murder but become a murderer in the process. The dumpster was almost full. Alison knew that meant that it was due to be emptied soon. ‘Good.’ She thought as she tossed the bag over the heap of other debris. Rich, the security officer watching the library, had left the well-hidden door to the library annex unlocked for her. For some reason, he’d attached himself to her. She never knew what to say to him, though. She was never good at small talk. And when she’d talk about things she liked, she never noticed when people were getting bored or wanted to change the subject. She’d been that way for all her twenty years on earth, she supposed. Always an outsider, always alone. Nobody understood her. That’s why she loved mathematics and computers. When the other women in her classes would ask her questions, she could talk and never run out of things to say. She felt herself getting better at reading faces enough to know when they looked lost in her world of numbers and data. And though she’d never really socialized with them, she thought the women in her class were pretty. She felt flattered that they even talked to her. ‘That’s why I love Vanessa.’ She almost said out loud when she opened the outer door of the darkroom. ‘She’s so pretty and she doesn’t get bored when I talk.’ Alison closed the first door, walked through the short vestibule, and then opened the second door. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim, red light.

         “Vanessa.” Alison was surprised at her longing. She’d never realized that the discomfort she’d felt all her life was loneliness until Vanessa found her.

         “Well, I went to stop the murder like you directed me to. But I actually ended up murdering the person I was supposed to save. Imagine that.” She chuckled. As she set up the trays of chemicals and the water bath, Alison became aware of the heaviness in her gut and the impending terror that indicated Vanessa’s presence. When she first felt it, it vexed her. She couldn’t figure out why she felt afraid. When her photography professor mentioned off-hand that a girl had been murdered in the darkroom back in 1981, she hadn’t given it much thought. He said that her murder, after these past eight years, was still unsolved. Alison simply said, “So what?”

“Her name was Vanessa Peterson, and she haunts this very darkroom!” he exclaimed, annoyed at Alison’s lack of response.

“I don’t believe in ghosts. They are the fevered workings of untidy minds.” She said calmly, then resumed making her contact sheets. That was early in the semester when she was certain that the class would be an easy ‘A.’

Now she would be lucky to barely pass with a ‘B+.’ She considered her professor to be a ‘poet.’ Anyone who was not a scientist was ascribed the epithet in her mind. She knew this was why she wasn’t getting an effortless ‘A’ in a touchy-feely class like photography. As the semester wore one, the class became a millstone about her neck. She’d sailed through all her science and math requirements, and only the electives remained. She had only three weeks to complete a photo essay and raise her present ‘C.’ Alison was sure that a ‘B+’ wouldn’t endanger her scholarship. But she chaffed at the notion getting the first ‘B’ she’d gotten in her life from a poet who believed in ghosts.

         Once the trays were set up in the sink, she peeled a piece of matte photographic paper from the box she’d place on the counter earlier. She didn’t even bother with exposing the paper under the enlarger. She knew that when Vanessa wanted to communicate, no matter what negatives Alison wanted to print, Vanessa’s images would be the only ones that developed.

         “Of course, I feel bad about murdering her, but she was going to tell the police that I killed the guy in cold blood. If I got arrested for murder, I’d definitely lose my scholarship. I might not even be able to finish school. Why did you send me there? Did you know what was going to happen? Will I get caught?” Alison watched as the silver on the photo paper clumped and an image formed. With the tongs, she transferred the paper to the finishing tray and then into the water bath. This was the hardest part, waiting the process. As the moments passed, Alison pondered her journey to this point. When she got her extra job as a data entry technician, they assigned her to second shift. With classes all day and her first job, the only time she’d have to devote to the darkroom was late night after her shift had ended. The library annex and the darkroom would be empty then. She preferred having the space to herself rather than being elbow to elbow with the other students. More than a few times she’d accidently been touched by the other women. And she was mortified by the contact, but she’d learned several years ago how to control the tendency to have outburst when she was touched by strangers. Although there was no danger of it happening again during her late-night sessions, she’d still felt a presence, someone staring at her in the half-light of the photo lab. She only felt it when she was developing prints. Alison had actually been afraid to turn around and see what was watching her so intently. Despite herself, one night she called out Vanessa’s name. Immediately embarrassed, she upbraided herself and returned to her work. But then it happened. The photo paper she’d drawn from the water bath showed a beautiful young woman staring directly into the camera with her head thrown back mid-laugh, her long neck arched. It made Alison ache as she gazed at the picture. And it took her a moment to realize that she hadn’t taken the photo. Never in her life had she accepted anything so unquestioningly as when she whispered, “Vanessa, is this you?” The next print out of the water bath stunned and then saddened Alison. The photo was black and white but the pool of blood around Vanessa’s head was vivid against her light-colored hair. The face that had caused Alison to swell with desire in the previous photo now looked grotesque. Her wide-open eyes pierced the camera lens, and her mouth was frozen in an oblique ‘O.’ It was evident that she’d died in agony. Alison looked away. She’d had only three more photos to develop that night. But as she’d put the next exposed sheet into the tray of developer and waited, she’d let her curiosity lead her to question the entity, “Who killed you? Did you know him or was he a stranger who surprised you here?”

Her question went unanswered. The next photo was of a street musician at Harvard Square that she’d taken on a rare weekend off.

         Since Vanessa’s first contact a few weeks ago, Alison became increasingly excited about her obligatory trips to the photo lab at night. She told Vanessa about her life. Her mother who proclaimed that she was as hard and cold as meat from the freezer. And her father who mirthlessly kidded her about her height and how she was the son he’d never wanted. Vanessa responded by showing her images of her face in various looks of understanding and acceptance. Alison then took a chance and told her a secret that struggled to hide from everyone. Vanessa responded by showing herself in an unbuttoned shirt starring longingly at the camera. Alison’s heart leapt. She’d known she was different from the other little girls when she was six years old. Other girls were so pretty. Their voices always sounded like violins in a melodic song. Her feelings made her uncomfortable, and when puberty took hold, she noticed how much stronger they became. It was at her parents’ church that she finally learned the words for what she felt. The God that she was certain didn’t exist had destroyed two cities with fireballs from the sky for practicing what she wanted to do to other girls. And so, these feelings became her most guarded secret. She’d never allowed herself to hope for another girl to feel the same way towards her. That’s why she decided that she loved Vanessa Peterson. Strangely, after a while, Vanessa stopped showing images of herself. Alison’s prints would show newspaper pages from the Globe or the Post. The dates on the pages were two or three days in advance. Vanessa wouldn’t respond when Alison asked her why. So, during the day, Alison would walk to a newsstand and peruse the papers on days that matched the dates in the prints. She’d search the papers and then find the stories verbatim. And although she’d abhorred her mother’s incessant waste of badly needed money on lottery numbers, Alison experimented with buying lottery tickets for the numbers revealed to her in the images. After winning a couple thousand dollars over the next several days, the newspaper pictures stopped. The next prints showed horrible scenes of people being shot or having their heads crushed beneath the tires of a truck. On the following day, Alison would read about the events in the newspaper. Over the course of a week, Vanessa’s images became more and more dire until Alison begged her to stop. Vanessa then imposed a series of images of a child being dragged by the arm into a white sedan. Alison studied the photo and saw the street signs in the background. With her Agfa loupe, she noted the time on the man’s wristwatch. She then understood what Vanessa had wanted. Alison loved her even more knowing that, though Vanessa had been horribly wronged by her violent death, she wanted Alison to save others. It made sense. Never in her life had Alison ever cut a class, but she was determined to save the child. After surveilling the corner, she waited until she saw the little girl. As she stepped towards her to take her hand, the white sedan cut the corner, almost jumping the curb. He moved so fast that Alison was hypnotized and stood motionless for several moments. When the exact scene from the print played out before her, her mind suddenly cleared. A long-time student of the martial arts, Alison acted on muscle memory as she incapacitated the would-be abductor. By then, the little girl’s screams had drawn a small crowd to the scene of Alison putting a kneeling man in a sleeper hold in front of his opened car door. She hadn’t noticed the police officer until the man crumpled to the ground in a dead faint. After she had answered all the officer’s questions, and the man was loaded into an ambulance, Alison was finally allowed to return home. She smiled, but it felt more like a grimace. ‘What the hell did I just do?’ she asked herself after hanging up the receiver from calling off her shift. Alison slept heavily that night, but she remembered each of her dreams.  They were all of Vanessa. And in the morning, she felt tired but happy. On the way to class, she stopped at the newsstand. In the Metro section was an article about how a child abduction was thwarted yesterday by Alison Winn. She smiled at seeing her name spelled correctly. Police had been after the serial abductor, Joe Francis, for years. He’d consistently avoided their traps, however. Now he was in custody. Alison wasn’t thrilled about the idea of testifying in court, but she allowed herself to feel good. The constant din of her parents’ insults in her head was finally quiet. She couldn’t wait to tell Vanessa. But then again, she probably already knew.

         Alison stirred from her reverie, and when she finally retrieved the print from the water bath, she saw a page from The Globe dated a day in advance. The article reported how the bodies of Frank and Rose Boothman had been found in a Dorchester alley between two shuttered stores. Rose was out on bail pending a particularly disturbing allegation of child abuse. Police were almost a constant presence at the couple’s home as Frank had several charges of domestic abuse. Detectives believe that the couple killed each other ending their long-standing record of domestic violence.

         “Well, I suppose that’s good news, Vanessa. I guess I don’t need to worry about that.” Alison exhaled. “I don’t think I’m up to saving the world, my love. I’m sorry. I know I’m letting you down, but it’s going to take a while for me to get over this. I think I just need to sleep.” With that, Alison emptied the solution trays and cleaned her space. She was determined to avoid the photo lab for a while.

         Mark Phillips knew he didn’t like Alison Winn for some reason; now Vanessa had shown him why. Ever since that sad, sad day, she appeared to him in his dreams. The love that escaped them in life, like the receding tide waters, had washed over him at night in the deepest shades of purple. The memories of his dreams had more than once aided him when he lay with his wife of 20 years. When he and Vanessa talked, she was solid and warm, not at all translucent like when he saw her in the photo lab when he was alone. At first, his wife had been jealous of his students when he took this teaching job at the all-women’s college. She knew that the young women, many of them devoid of a father figure in their lives, would be too great a temptation for his vanity. She knew this. But the obsession with Vanessa had truly surprised her. Mark admitted that he’d actually fallen in love with this one. Vanessa rebuffed his advances and knowing her husband’s immaturity, she knew his ‘love’ was just his thirst for the unattainable. Such was the understanding between Mark and his wife. They could stray to the ends of the earth just as long as they returned to each other in the end. Mark Phillips loved that about his wife. She tethered him. She stood by him when his indiscretions at the college occasionally got out of hand. Her father’s endowments insured that. And while he’d never be tenured, he could never be dismissed.

         Phillips bolted upright in bed. His wife did not stir, but he wouldn’t have cared if she had. His erotic dreams of Vanessa always made such a mess. It was as if he were back in junior high. But the embarrassment that consumed him then had long since crusted over and been washed away. He smiled as he remembered the first dream where they had made love. Vanessa told him about the in-between she now occupied. Though not technically purgatory, it did buffer Heaven from Hell and Oblivion. She had powers in this state that the living dared not to comprehend. But to be corporeal again, she needed to bargain with the creatures of the Twilight Realm.

         In the eight years since she’d died so tragically, she never withheld herself from him. She gave herself to him as she’d never done in life. And she seemed to have forgiven him for all the harassment with which he’d burdened her. She was so beautiful in face and heart. She seemed to understand how her loveliness had over-powered him. How he could not help the passion that boiled in him liked some wicked potion in an over-full cauldron. In the dreams, she’d been clear. The demon Soul-Eaters of this middle realm were bottom feeders. They required the unclean souls of remorseless sinners. If she gave them souls to satiate their rapaciousness, they would clothe her in flesh for twenty mortal years. She’d never have the warmth of the living. No blood would flow in her veins. But she’d have a body with which to live out the years stolen from her by violent death. She’d shown him scenes of rapists and murderers mid-crime. The faces of their victims distended in terror. But he just couldn’t bring himself to dispatch them. One murder on his conscience was enough. Besides, even if she would finally transition from his dreams to his bed, what good would it do him if he were in prison. No, no matter how evil, he could not kill a stranger in cold blood. It was impossible. Years ago, he decided that the dreams and the mornings of his soaked sheets sticking to him like a rain drenched shirt would just have to do.

         But this dream had been different. She’d shown him how Alison had throttled Rose Davidson and just left her like an unmade bed. Alison Winn had a coldness about her that truly irked him. He intuited it the first day of class. The slides of his most compelling photos had impressed all the other students. Some had actually cried at his award-winning photo of a mother at the scene of a house fire. Alison yawned. He didn’t like her. And when Vanessa revealed her to be a murderer, he glowed inwardly that his trusty intuition had returned to him after its eight-year absence. His eyes narrowed in the dark bedroom. ‘Yes,’ he thought, ‘I can do this. Alison’s a sociopath. The woman has nothing behind the eyes. And she’s not a stranger. She should die.’ He brought both his hands up to his face and rubbed them vigorously against his cheeks. Then it occurred to him. The cops might suspect him if there was a second murder the darkroom. He’d have to make it look natural. A soft, pensive grin spread his lips. He wondered how it would feel to penetrate Vanessa’s cold, solid form. He gently laid his head back onto his pillow and closed his eyes. It was still hours before daylight. Still plenty of time to dream.

         The final week of classes had arrived way too soon for Alison. She was annoyed that it was the first time in her academic career that she dreaded the end of the semester. She’d always scoffed at other students who complained and stayed up all night cramming for finals when they should have been studious for the entire semester. She’d become one of ‘them.’ Her stomach lurched a little at the thought of having to go back to the dark room. Maybe Vanessa would leave her alone because she’d understand that Alison had to make up past assignments as well as print her photo essay. She still loved Vanessa. But the feeling now made Alison uncomfortable. It was getting in the way. It had made her afraid to go to the photo lab. She’d missed due dates for fear of what next charge Vanessa may have for her. But it was Wednesday, and everything was due by mid-night on Friday. She’d just have to reason with her beloved. Surely, she’d not want Alison to get a ‘C’ in the class.

         ‘So far, so good.’ Thought Alison as she squeezed the tongs, pinched the corner of her fifth print, and lifted it from the water bath. She hadn’t felt the heavy, impeding terror that accompanied Vanessa’s presence. ‘Maybe another hour.’ She thought. ‘Another hour and I’ll be done.’ It saddened her to never see another photo of her radiant Vanessa again. But she still had the others. Those would have to sustain her. As she watched the next print develop, her heart rose to her throat. She’d not felt Vanessa, but it was obvious she was there. The image was a close-up of her face. Her laughing eyes were anchored by a sad smile on her lips. Alison saw the tears on her cheeks.

         “I’m sorry, Vanessa. I can’t do it anymore. Please, I only have five negatives to print. I have to get these done. I love you, but you’re a ghost. There was no way this could last. Besides, after this class is over, I wouldn’t even have permission to use the dark room anymore.” Alison was surprised by the emotion in her voice. And she was glad that she didn’t sound too reasonable. Cold, even. Alison placed her negative in the enlarger and prepared to expose the next sheet of photo paper. Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sudden movement. Despite the dread that seized her, she spun around to watch the entire box of photo paper slip page by page into the tray of developer. The chemical sloshed over the edges as some invisible hand rocked the tray from side to side. Curiosity pulled her from her stunned state, and she drew the tongs to peel the first print from the other pages in the tray. They were developing rapidly. Even though they stuck together, the chemical had still somehow managed to get between the sheets and form the stark black and white images. Alison didn’t stop to observe them. She automatically slipped each print into the finisher and then the water bath until ten sheets of paper floated in the sink before her. With her fingers, she pinched the corner of the print that was closest to the surface. It was Vanessa’s face. But the image was smeared as if the shutter of the camera was open for just a moment too long while catching swift movement. In the next picture, she saw a man’s fist entangled in a mass of light hair as the other plunged two-thirds of a chef’s knife into Vanessa’s exposed neck. Alison, perhaps desensitized by her own experience, wasn’t horrified. It troubled her because it was Vanessa, but mostly, she just burned with curiosity. The grisly series ended with a tableau of a blood covered face that Alison recognized. She shook her head. ‘Poets are capable of anything.’ she thought while pinching three more prints from the water bath. The first of the three showed Alison being held from behind. She couldn’t see the face of the man behind her. But she was not held long in suspense because the next photo showed Professor Phillips kneeling over her body on the dark room floor. He appeared to be injecting a syringe of a clear fluid into her arm. She brought the print up to her nose and squinted. There was no way to make out the numbers on his wristwatch. But Alison suddenly realized she was wearing the same shirt as in the photo. She swallowed and then looked at the third print. She gasped. It clearly showed her and Vanessa locked in a deep kiss. Vanessa’s shoulders were bare, and she looked real. Alison laughed, ‘she’s not a ghost anymore.’

Her throat suddenly became dry as she understood Vanessa’s message. For them to be together, she would have to be dead. Phillips would kill her in this very room, and Vanessa would finally be hers to hold. She’d dreamed of kissing Vanessa’s breasts. She imaged they were soft, like her own. But she would have to be dead. Dead! Alison vigorously shook her head. She wasn’t ready to die. She melted with desire at the thought of Vanessa’s nakedness. But she wanted to do so much with her life. The thought of graduate school had cheered her through a lonely, painful adolescence. She couldn’t give that up. Just for sex. Maybe she wouldn’t even like sex. What then? No, she couldn’t let it happen. She wanted to live. She turned away from the sink full of photos.

         “Vanessa,” she began,” I want to live. Maybe someday when I’m old and I die, we can be together. I’m sorry that Phillips killed you. Probably you’ll find someone else who will get you justice. But it won’t be me.” The threat of Phillips and the syringe came back to her. “I won’t let him kill me.” She said grabbing the dried prints of her half finished photo essay. She strode towards the inner door. She’d just have to swallow a ‘C’ in the class.

She froze when she heard the outer door open and close quietly. It would be easy to get the jump on the old man. Alison quietly laid her backpack on the floor. Her martial arts training would make quick work of a middle-aged, flabby gut like Phillips. The inner door of the dark room burst open but not far enough to slam the wall behind it. Phillips jumped into the room like an action hero. He even yelled, “Ha!”

         “Hello, Professor Phillips. I know you’ve come to kill me for some reason. So, I’m going to leave now before you get hurt. And we can both go home.” Alison intoned. Outfitted all in black, he stood in the middle of the room with a small syringe in his fist. Alison was too annoyed to find him pitiful.

         "Vanessa!" He called,” I’m here, my love! We will be together this night!” For an old guy, he sure moved fast Alison thought as he sprung on her, beating his one fist on her shoulders, and holding the syringe above his head with the other.

         “I know what you did, Alison Winn!” He shouted between gasps for air. “You killed two people in cold blood and left them to be gnawed on by alley rats!” He kept trying to do something, Alison couldn’t quite figure out what. But she made sure she kept her eye on the syringe. She didn’t know what it held but knew not to let him get too close. Without even breathing heavily, she countered, “And I know that you killed Vanessa Peterson. You murdered a beautiful, young woman. I can only imagine it was because she wouldn’t have you. She was too good for anyone like you!” Alison shot her fist into his solar plexus, and the blow sent him to his knees. Alison looked at him with contempt as he struggled for breath. “How could you ever think she’d love someone like you? You are nothing. You are beneath me, and you were certainly beneath her.” Alison flung her hair back from her face, stretched slightly, then bent to retrieve her backpack all while keeping him in sight. He suddenly began to laugh. A chuckle at first, then a full belly laugh. Using the counter, he pulled himself to his feet, then steadied himself against it. His baritone guffaw made the dark room suddenly feel crowded, thought Alison.

         “You think Vanessa loves you!” He managed between bursts of laughter. “Vanessa doesn’t have a lesbian bone in her body!”

         Alison shook her head. “You don’t know her. You never knew her you fool! Did you ever think that that was why she rejected you! Men, you’re all alike. You think every woman wants you. Especially if she’s beautiful.” Alison was incensed. Here was the man who ended Vanessa’s life and tried to end hers. Her mind told her to just leave. But she felt compelled to shame Phillips. This pathetic man dressed in black like some middle-aged, washed out, pretend ninja with nothing more than a syringe of poison. “One day, you’ll pay for murdering her. You�"”

         “Me! I murdered her because I was driven by passion. You, you wouldn’t know passion if it screwed you up the nose!” He noticed the slight droop in the corner of Alison’s mouth and decided to go in for the kill.

         “I bet you’ve never been kissed by a man or woman. I know your type; you’re incapable of love. What? I bet you can’t even stand being touched!” Again, he started laughing. He was emboldened by Alison’s silence and the sanguine wash that colored her face.

 “So, Alison, how many friends do you have? Oh, I bet you’re really, really popular. Yeah, a social butterfly, huh? Nope, Alison, I think not. You know, I will inject myself and empty this entire syringe into my member if you can give me the name of one friend, just one friend you have ever had in your life. Go ahead! Take your time. I’ll let you go through the throngs of names in you head and pick out one you could actually call a friend.”

Alison’s eyes burned. She felt ashamed that she couldn’t control the tears that flowed over her bottom eyelids and raced down her cheeks. There were too many of them, and they were coming so fast. She grabbed her backpack and slowly turned to leave. As pathetic as he was, she was no better. The memories of her parents’ cruelty crawled from under the years of academic successes she’d used to bury them. She was twelve again, standing in front of her parents seated at the kitchen table as each of them tried to top the other’s drunken insults thrown at her like darts. Only now, unlike then, she cried. Nothing they said could reach her. But Phillips for some reason made her cry. She was too embarrassed to do anything but leave.

         The hairs on the back of Alison’s neck stood erect when she felt the slight breeze against her skin. By the time she realized her mistake of turning her back on him, it was too late. Phillips enclosed her from behind. Her arms were pinned against her sides. His one arm crossed her chest with his hand gripping her bicep. In the other fist, he gripped the syringe with his thumb poised on the plunger. He was too tall for her to throw her head back into his nose. She writhed to keep him off balance and keep his attention on her upper body. Alison lifted her foot as high as possible then brought it down full force onto Phillips’ instep. When he released her and yowled in pain, she spun around to face him. He predictably dropped the syringe, and she scurried to it and snatched it up.

         “Goddammit, you b***h!” He yelled as he rubbed his foot. “I’m not going to stop. You know that, right? She showed me in the dreams. She needs you to die so that she can live. And you can be goddamn sure that I’ll do anything I can to bring her back!” As Alison’s breath became even again, she looked at him questioningly.

         “Oh,” he grinned, “she didn’t tell you did she? So much for lesbian love, eh?” He drew in a long breath, “She needs the souls of remorseless wrong doers to bargain back her life.”

         “What?!” Alison exclaimed.

         “What do you mean, ‘what?’ I thought it was pretty clear; you are a cold-blooded murderer. She showed me in a dream how you killed that married couple and got away with it. You’re remorseless. You didn’t confess your crime. If I kill you, then through me, she’ll deliver up a remorseless sinner. Something about demons feeding on the souls of the wicked, or some such. By that part of the dream, I’ve stopped paying attention anyway. So, there it is. Either you confess your crime to the police, or I end you in order to bring the love of my life back into the world of the living.”

         “What about you?” Alison asked. “You murdered her. You never confessed to the police. You’re also remorseless.”

         “But she loves me! She knows I didn’t mean it. I just�"just let things get the better of me. That’s all. Every night for the last eight years, we’ve made love�"in my dreams, I mean.” His voice became wistful. “Our love transcends life and death. I don’t need to know the details. All I know is that you’re a killer, I kill you, then I get the girl.”

         “Why are you telling me this? You’re a fool. All I have to do is kill you and she’s mine.” Alison scoffed. Phillips stood upright. He seemed to have regained his vigor. “She’ll never be yours. I told you; she makes love like a true woman. She definitely needs a penis, my dear. And I’m afraid nature just hasn’t accommodated you. Besides the dream showed me killing you. I assume you’re acquainted with her ability to see into things that have not yet come to pass.” He cracked his neck. “I am relentless, Alison. And I assure you, I will claim your soul for her, and she will take her rightful place by my side.”

         “Sure, Professor Phillips. Well, you’ll need more than a syringe. I’m not ready to die. If not for her, then certainly not for you. If anything, she’s brought you to me to kill and make right the injustice done to her. Meanwhile,” Alison stepped to the sink and held the syringe over the drain, “your poison or whatever is going down the drain, like your plans.”

         “It’s not poison.” He said casually.” It’s insulin. My wife’s a diabetic. It makes death look natural. No one would ever know you were murdered. You’d just be an unfortunate, rare case of a young person passing away from natural causes. I have several syringes and vials of insulin at my disposal. If not tonight, then she’ll send me another dream. And I’ll keep coming. Time and the future are on my side.” He moved so quickly. For the second time that night, he caught Alison off guard. She was too slow to block her face from the trayful of developer he’d lifted and flung against her torso. It was a spontaneous move, but it was effective. She flailed her arm madly feeling for the cold-water faucet, while still mindfully gripping the syringe. As she splashed her face and her left eye with cold water, Phillips used both hands to try to peel Alison’s fingers from the syringe. The burning didn’t stop, and Alison knew she needed both hands to splash her face with water. Suddenly the hands around her fist let go. She heard Phillips yelp, then felt the sink vibrate as a loud thud emanated from the floor. Alison dropped the syringe and spent the next several minutes bathing her face and eye with water. When the burning in her eye and on her skin subsided, she chanced opening both eyes. Alison blinked furiously as her vision slowly came back into focus. She had to grab onto the rim of the sink to steady herself when she almost slipped on the flooded dark room floor. She’d almost forgotten about Phillips until she saw him splayed face up on the floor next to the sink. She knelt beside him and placed her fingers against his neck. He still had a pulse. He was still alive, and she still had her vision. Given all that had happened that night, she considered herself lucky. There was a campus courtesy phone outside the photo lab at the end of the hallway. She stood up and prepared to propel her tired body to the phone and call security for help. She regarded him for a moment. Then she retrieved the syringe from the sink. Maybe she should weigh her options, she reasoned. This madness would never end. Every day she’d have to wonder whether one of Phillips’ dreams would compel him to make another attempt on her life. He was right. If not confessing her crime to the police meant she was remorseless, then she was indeed remorseless because she had no intention of revealing anything. Besides, she’d done something good. She’d stopped an abduction; she thwarted an attempted murder. Unlike Phillips, her intentions were good. Suppose she injected him with the insulin, what then? The police would never know. She could just say that he suddenly collapsed. They’d assume his heart gave out or whatever insulin did to the body. And what of his ravings about Vanessa? Maybe he wasn’t just a madman with a guilty conscience. Maybe she had led him to her to offer up his remorseless soul to gain herself a new life. Vanessa had driven him mad for eight years all the while waiting for Alison to come along and set her free. With syringe in hand, she knelt by Phillip’s head. The needle was so thin. It would be so easy. Then Alison shook her head. This wasn’t her! This would be cold-blooded murder. She could tell the police about his threats, that way if he tried again and she acted, it would be self-defense. What’s happened to her? It would be three deaths within weeks of each other. She drew her hands away from his body and looked away. His gasp startled her. Phillips opened his eyes wide and looked about wildly until they met Alison’s. He smiled.

         “My head hurts like a son of a b***h.” He croaked. “Help me up. Come on. You know you have to.”

         “I don’t have to do anything.” She retorted.

         “Vanessa sees the future. Dying on this floor isn’t in my future. But it’s yours. No matter what happens, your fate is sealed. So�"stop wasting time. Help me up.”

         “Are you really going to keep at this because of some stupid dream? You know, she’s showed me things, too.” Said Alison as she sat back on her heels.

         “That means nothing to me. You might as well trade places with me and hand me the syringe. Take your fate like a man, as it were.”

         “The things she showed me were also from the future. But they were in a future I could change.”

         “Yes, yes, of course.” He said impatiently. “But it has all led you to this point. You can’t fight your destiny. One way or another you will die tonight, and she will be on this plane again.”

Alison cocked her head as she watched him talk. His immutable faith amused her. He was rather like a freakish oddity at a carnival show. You’re almost certain that it’s not real, but there’s still that little darkened corner of your mind that’s still unsure.

         “Though I don’t respect you, I do admire the part of you that persists in believing.” She toyed with the syringe in her hand.

         “Here! Stop dallying and help me up. I can’t seem to move anything.”

         “You forgot a key element of the statement you made earlier.” Alison inched closer to the man’s head.

         He groaned. “You keep delaying this�"”

         “You said, ‘she sees things that have not yet come to pass.’”

         “Yes, the future, you imbecile.”

         “If it’s not yet come to pass, then anything can happen to derail it. It’s not immutable, Professor. ‘Yet’ is the operative word. And I’m willing to bet that Vanessa showed you something that had not yet come to pass because, like my photos, these were futures she wanted me to stop from happening.” Swiftly and wordlessly, Alison pulled apart the lids of Phillip’s right eye.

         “No! No! She loves me!” He screamed in his helplessness. “You can’t do this! It’s against all that’s right!”

         “It won’t hurt, Professor.” She said gently.” You won’t die in agony like Vanessa. I’m showing you far more mercy than you showed her.” Alison slowly depressed the plunger until it went no further. Then she sat with her legs crossed and watched him die. Phillips eventually drew his last breath. Her story would be simple. He had come in to help her print photos for her final project. They talked for hours before starting. After only a few prints, he said he wasn’t feeling well and then suddenly collapsed. They were just cops. Alison was aware that he was growing colder; she’d have to hurry to the campus phone if they were going to believe that she immediately went for help.

         Abruptly Alison felt the heaviness and impending terror settle at the top of her gut.  She’d not been aware of it since Phillips arrived. But now the feeling drenched her.

         “Vanessa.” She breathed. Alison’s throat seized when she heard a soft voice reply, “Alison.”

Alison froze, her eyes widened, and then she turned a full circle searching for the source of the disembodied voice.

         “Alison, I’m here.”

Alison felt a cold hand light upon her shoulder then squeeze. She couldn’t see anything. Then glittering light fell from somewhere above her head. The light poured itself into two feet, then legs, torso, arms, and head. The features weren’t fully formed yet, but Alison saw that the body was solid. Unlike Hollywood ghosts, she couldn’t see through Vanessa’s form. Alison was awed into silence as she watched Vanessa’s amorphous face take shape. It took only moments, but for Alison time slowed down. She closed her gapping mouth, swallowed, then whispered, “I love you, Vanessa.” Vanessa beamed at Alison. “I know.” She said. “And the moment you walked into the dark room I knew you would be the one to save me. Thank you, Alison!”

Vanessa threw her arms around Alison, and she instinctively stiffened. Gradually Alison warmed in Vanessa’s cold embrace.

         “I’m sorry, Alison. I’ll never be warm like you.”

         “It’s okay, Vanessa. I don’t mind. I actually kind of like it.” Alison chuckled. Vanessa took Alison’s face between her hands and looked into her eyes.

         “I’ve missed out on so much,” she said. “I can’t wait to start this new adventure. Would you mind if I kissed you, Alison?” Alison gulped. Her mouth opened to speak, but she could only manage to shake her head. Vanessa’s eyes closed as she brought her face closer to Alison’s. Not knowing what to do, Alison kept her eyes open hoping that she could watch what Vanessa was doing and then imitate her. But Alison soon melted into the kiss, and she helplessly let her eyelids fall. Vanessa’s hands began to travel down Alison’s back. She kissed her neck, and Alison heard herself moan. She was embarrassed by the sound, but Vanessa just laughed. The feelings between Alison’s legs that had once made her so uncomfortable and ashamed now flowed through her entire body, electrifying her nerves. She only knew that she wanted more. Alison hadn’t noticed Vanessa’s body until she paused for breath. She’d not realized Vanessa was nude. Her breasts were fully formed and heavy when Alison cupped one in her hand. Then she remembered how Vanessa’s shoulders were bare in the last photo. Vanessa was saying something, but Alison couldn’t focus.

         “When you executed him for his crime,” Vanessa breathed, “it fulfilled my bargain with the demon soul eaters.”

         “I’m so glad, Vanessa. I’ve never been so happy.” Alison rubbed a handful of Vanessa’s blonde hair against her cheek and inhaled deeply. It lacked scent, but Alison only knew that she wanted to feel that soft hair brushing against every part of her body.

         “I will have twenty years of life, twenty years that b*****d took from me.” Vanessa said as she guided Alison’s hands down her body. “I needed four remorseless souls. And thanks to you, I now have them.” Vanessa exclaimed as Alison fumbled with the buttons on her shirt. Only half listening, she finally loosened the last button. She reached out to pull Vanessa back into her embrace.  Then she stopped and crinkled her brow.

         “But my love, I-I only killed three people. Where are we going to get another remorseless soul?” Vanessa smiled and caressed Alison’s cheeks with the backs of her fingers. “Don’t worry, Alison.”

It happened so quickly; Alison couldn’t be sure she actually saw it. Vanessa’s featured smeared her face and her eyes widened as she seized Alison’s throat. Alison couldn’t even choke out the word ‘why.’ And she couldn’t break Vanessa’s grip on her throat. She wasn’t sure if it was the shock of betrayal or Vanessa’s superhuman hold, but she was powerless. The light in Alison’s eyes was fading fast. And as she sank to the floor, she quickly felt that familiar sadness envelope her like the darkness rapidly closing in from the periphery of her vision.




© 2023 Alexis_McLeod

Author's Note

I am a novice writer, and I appreciate constructive criticism. Thanks!

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I loved the story! It is hard to find a good long story on this website, while most of the things written are poems. This story had a lot to unravel, and I liked the twist at the end. I did see a betrayal on Vannessa's part coming from the moment you introduced the idea that she was talking to both Alison and Professor, sending them mixed messages, but I couldn't tell exactly where it was going to come from until Vanessa mentioned the 4 souls instead of 3 souls thing. I liked the surprises and subtle hints you dropped to create the confusion. Excelent work!

Posted 2 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


2 Months Ago

Thanks for the review! I appreciate your taking the time to read my work and then comment upon it! C.. read more


I loved the story! It is hard to find a good long story on this website, while most of the things written are poems. This story had a lot to unravel, and I liked the twist at the end. I did see a betrayal on Vannessa's part coming from the moment you introduced the idea that she was talking to both Alison and Professor, sending them mixed messages, but I couldn't tell exactly where it was going to come from until Vanessa mentioned the 4 souls instead of 3 souls thing. I liked the surprises and subtle hints you dropped to create the confusion. Excelent work!

Posted 2 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


2 Months Ago

Thanks for the review! I appreciate your taking the time to read my work and then comment upon it! C.. read more

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Added on December 21, 2022
Last Updated on January 10, 2023
Tags: Horror, supernatural, LGBTQ+