We saw the body before anyone else did. It was stiff and cold, the last wisps of life lingering at the tips of its splayed remains. The face had been mangled, the nose ripped from its tissued place below the eyes, the eyeballs hanging from its sockets, the mouth drowning in blood and muffling any cry the victim possibly attempted to make. The stomach had been slit down the middle and the ribs were broken, the heart missing from its proper place. Yet I knew it was him. I stared at it in shock with my best friend silently at my side. The wind blew a chill breeze, causing our hair to blow over our eyes and shield the gory scene from our vision. The road beside us was silent, no cars to disturb the silence like a pebble would disrupt the calm of a pond, sending ripples through the wake. The trees swayed noiselessly as if to mourn the death of this being, gently, gently caressing the air with fragrances of pine and cedar.
Before seeing the body, we had been on our way back from the local diner, where we’ve always met up since we were 9. I had gotten there early as usual, buying two hot chocolates, and waited in one of the booths, mainly the back one by the restrooms where we have always sat in pastimes. I made sure she had extra whipped cream, just as she liked it. She came into the store wet, hair dripping with rain droplets falling from her face and onto the floor. She loved the rain almost as much as I hated it. She glided over to me, and sat down gracefully, unlike my clumsy stumble into the booth. It seemed as if she was everything I was not, in beauty, in agility, in personality, in thought. Her beauty overshadowed my plainness, yet she was unaware of our differences—or chose to ignore them. She took off the cap of her cup, and stuck her finger into the whipped cream, popping globs of it into her mouth. I grimaced and looked down at my cream-less hot chocolate.
“How was the dream?” She asked after a few seconds of unperturbed silence.
“How did you know about that?” I asked, shocked. She always seemed to know what I had to tell her. She shrugged and continued thrusting cream into her mouth. I sighed.
“It was different this time. I drew a picture of it.” I pulled out of my satchel a piece of paper in which I had drawn a heap of bright crimson, orange, yellow, and brown paint sprawled over a distorted face, a black film covering the identity.
She took it from my hands and inspected it, like she always did. Then, she put it down on the table, and finished off the whipped cream. “Is it him?” she asked matter-of-factly.
I defensively snatched the painting back and plunged it back into my bag. “No.” I said tersely. We finished our cocoa quietly, and then I watched her push her cup to the side. She finally looked at me with her piercing eyes.
‘When are you going to let him go?”
I lowered my eyes sheepishly, feeling the burn of my blushing face give notice to my growing anger. Just the thought of him sent my blood boiling, my mind spinning with thoughts, almost as mixed and jumbled as a schizophrenic’s writing. I began to sweat and shake. I felt my friend’s hand on mine and instantly I calmed down. The feelings surpassed and I looked up at her again. She was always the one to assuage my tempers, my anger. Yet she would never know what it felt like to feel for him, what it felt like to be unable to voice it accurately aloud. My dreams held the secrets, my mind a lock and chain around them; my pictures were the key.
“Let me see the rest of them,” she said and I obediently got them out and laid them in front of her. There were a total of six pictures. All of them were of the same, displaying a young man, a handsome young man at that, with an expression of wonder in his eyes as he looked off to the side. I admit, I had made him to look like a perfect god; and in my eyes, he was one. I felt as if I had already claimed him for my own, and he would be mine forever. His name was irrelevant because of the love that so greatly poured from my heart; he was my everything.
I had drawn all the pictures one at a time, waking up in the morning to put brush to canvas and capture my dreams through a painting. The boy was in all of my dreams, each night progressing into an even more detailed description of how he was. I never showed the pictures to anyone except for my friend, and the boy never knew of my boundless affection for him.
The bell above the diner’s door rang to announce a customer, and everyone instinctively turned to look. The diner rarely had more than five or six customers at a time, so I was surprised to see two police officers walk in and look around. They muttered a greeting to the cook and then proceeded over to an elderly couple nearest to them and began asking them a series of questions, but none I could hear. My friend, who had glanced to see who the new customers were, lost interest and turned back around. But oddly enough, my heart began to quicken in pace and I nervously drummed my fingers on the table. She stared at me, puzzled.
“Would you calm down,” she murmured in a tone that was not asking a question. I
listened to her, as I only sometimes did, and stopped the incessant rhythm of my fingers hitting the table.
She handed me the pictures back, and collected my nearly empty cup and hers. She got up to throw them in the trashcan and then strolled back to the booth.
“Come on, let’s go for a drive.” She smiled at me, and I could not help but smile back. Her smile was contagious; it lit up every corner of the diner with its radiance, and had secrets of innocence embedded in its curves. I followed her out to the car and we drove. We drove through the town, past my house, past Old Luther’s farm. We drove through trees quilted in oranges, browns, and yellows. We spoke of small things, laughed, and smiled. Thoughts of the boy were temporarily abandoned, the splendor of the moment replacing it.
We were on a long strip of road, forest on each side of it, when a fox scampered across the street a few feet ahead of the car, and I abruptly skidded to a stop, hearing the tires screech underneath. I watched it scuttle into the nearby bushes, causing golden leaves to fall delicately onto the grass. My friend giggled, excitedly. She loved animals; I despised them.
She leapt out of the car and ran to the bushes. I lowered the window.
“What are you doing?” I asked her.
She kneeled down to peer through the giant hole in which the fox disappeared. After a few minutes of her poking through the brambles, I grew impatient. “Let’s go,” I grumbled and parked the car off to the side of the road, just in case a car came dwindling up behind us. She lifted herself up and ran to my door, enthusiastically. “Let’s go follow it!” she breathed, her eyes boring into mine with intensity. She was always this excited when it came to animals. I sighed and she took my hand and ran over to the bush’s edge, where it began to taper off and make way for tall grass and small trees.
We trampled over the grass, making sure to stay right by the hedges, looking for any sign of red to indicate the fox. I felt stupid for giving in to my friend and instantly became frustrated.
I was not in the mood to chase little animals; I wanted to continue our drive. Yet, I let her hold tight to my hand and pull me deeper into the woods.
We eventually came to a clearing. The rain—which had stopped hours ago—had created a mist over it all, so dense that the sunlight could barely shine down through it. She let go of my hand and we both stared, feeling a sense of intensity that rumbled through the air.
And that’s when we found the body.
I stumbled back when I saw it, my stomach twisting in disgust. I wanted to cast my eyes away from it, from the blood, the bones, the pain. Yet I could not peel them away; I gazed in awe at my love, the boy, lying prone on the forest ground in front of me. His beautiful, sculpted face was no longer evident. He stank of death and dirt. I felt my friend’s hand on my shoulder and I jumped, coming out of my state. I did not know if she knew it was him, too.
Interrupting the morbid silence, I heard her say, “Let’s get out of here.” The dim sunlight danced across her face and brightened her hazel eyes, made her short, dark bob glisten with heavenly rays.
We ran back to the car, closing the doors behind us and breathing out huge, white puffs of air. I felt lightheaded and disoriented. I turned to her, panic etched across my face.
“I-I-It was h-him,” I stuttered, tears suddenly falling down my face. Sympathy filled her eyes.
“I know,” she whispered. The tears ran faster down my cheeks. I wanted to go somewhere, anywhere. I found myself starting the engine, pulling back onto the road and driving back the way we came. We drove in silence, my friend always aware of when to keep quiet. I did not know where I was going, but as the trees gave way to houses and fences, I realized I was heading back to the diner. I needed familiarity; the recent events were scary, unchartered waters and I wanted to be far away from it. I parked the car haphazardly and staggered out of the car, grabbing my satchel on the way. My friend followed suit and we walked back to our booth. I ordered two more hot chocolates, needing something to clear my head.
We sat once more, across from each other. The elderly couple had left; the police were still there, questioning a mother and her young son. I contemplated telling the cops what we found, and shuddered at the thought.
“You should tell them,” my friend said. She stuck her finger in the whipped cream, absent-mindedly. I was too much in shock over the boy to realize that she knew yet again what I was thinking. I shook my head hard and sipped at my hot chocolate. The police finished with the mother and came closer to us, stopping at a man who looked as if he had just been released from the town’s penitentiary. My heart began to quicken again.
“You should tell them,” my friend said again and I glared at her, angrily. I began
twiddling my thumbs in my lap, in sync with my racing heartbeat.
“You know why.”
I stopped twiddling my thumbs and looked at her with confusion. What was she talking about? I voiced this aloud and she eyed my satchel which lay in my lap. I grabbed it and brought it closer to me.
It was at this point in which I heard thumping, a severe and fierce thumping from my bag. It pulsated and vibrated through to my hands, causing a chill to run down my spine. I dropped the satchel in shock and looked at my friend for an answer. She stared at me, sorrow in her eyes. I had never seen that from her before, ever in the seven years we knew each other. This time, she did not tell me to calm down, even as the police began to finish their interrogation with the man near us.
“You know what you did,” she spoke sadly. I recoiled from her response in utter puzzlement, ready to defend my innocence and yet…
“What?” I cried. The thumping in my satchel continued to rumble, almost at the same pace as my beating heart. My friend sat still in front of me. I searched my mind for what she could possibly be talking about, yet I only came up with fleeting images, like pieces to a puzzle that I had no idea how to amalgamate.
Yesterday! It was him! I remember now. There he was! In the woods, where I so often went to paint the face of my love. He had finally walked past me and saw. Saw me like I had seen him every night in my dreams. He did not say hello when I reached for him like I wished him to, instead, recoiling from my outstretched fingers, staring at me as if I was crazy. His face was a series of angelic strokes of perfection, his hair a soft heap upon his head. He had loved me in the dream; surely, he was ready to love me now. I was beginning to announce my undying adulation for him, and just knew he would reciprocate, if not with a stronger passion. His eyes passed over me, but I grabbed his hand to keep him from walking away. Couldn’t he see? I was all for him! I was his heart’s desire! I was his beautiful love! Why couldn’t he know that?
I had forced him to look into my eyes, even as he tried to wring away from my clingy grab. I knew I was bothering him, and yet I could not let go. He had to know my love for him; he just had to. Smiling, I pulled out the pictures to show him how much I cared, how much I yearned for his love. He took them from my hands and gazed at them in disgust. He finally looked at me with purpose in his eyes.
“What is this?” he boomed, and my smile faded.
“Do you not like them?” I asked. In response, he shoved them back into my hand, pulling free of my other one.
“You don’t even know me, you freak,” he mumbled and began to walk off.
“No! Wait! I do know you! I do! Look!” I shouted and I pulled out more and more pictures, pictures I had stashed away in piles around my room, pictures of him in various poses, pictures of him I painted with me in them, of him giving me flowers, of him holding me, of him—
“Get away from me,” he said and backed away from me, cautiously, as if I was a dangerous rabid animal. My stomach cringed. I felt sick, confused. Why? WHY?! What’s going on? He was supposed to love me. WHY DIDN’T HE LOVE ME?! Sweat fell from my brow. Tears fell from my eyes as I began to weep in despair. Then, the tears suddenly stopped, and I began to shake with rage. A growl emitted from deep within my throat and I charged at him with animosity. He was taken aback by my adrenaline fueled strength. He had no time to defend himself before I had dug my fingers into his eyes, plunging them out of his sockets, using my nails to scrape at his face. If I could not have him for my own, then no one could. I left cuts and bloody marks on his angelic face, as he shrieked and writhed on the ground in pain. I remained
on top of him, my fingers searching for the painting knife I kept in my satchel. Grabbing it with a fury, I sliced it into his nose. His hand came up to stop me, but I knocked it away with a sharp blow. I then used the knife to tear open his chest, breaking his ribs with forceful punches. He screamed in pain, and I let the shrill sound ease my hurt feelings. I let it flow into my ears like music. I placed my hand gently on his heart, feeling it pump underneath me, warm and slippery. I closed my eyes, letting the rhythm become one with mine, like how I wished it to be from the beginning. Then, I opened them and brought my lips close to his ear. He had stopped screaming and I did not know if he had fainted or if death had clamped its slithery fingers around his soul. I did not care. I caressed the edge of his ear with my lips, my fingers still on the heart.
“Awwwwwwwwww,” I whispered. “I think I just broke your heart.”
I ripped the organ from its moor, feeling its warmth in my hands, and its beating gradually came to a stop between my fingers. I held it in my arms for a moment before putting the pictures back into my satchel and walked away, calmly, calmly…
I trembled and winced at the memory.
“No,” I cried quietly, not wanting to believe what I had done. My friend continued to stare, continued to remain quiet. I pulled out the picture, the one I had drawn last night. I eyed the colors, the reds and oranges I had spilled over the face, covered in black, the boy no longer familiar.
The police came closer to us. We were the last ones in the diner to be spoken to. They made their way over in a stoic manner, their faces rigid and serious. My heart felt like it was going to tear through my skin and plop onto the table. I grabbed my satchel to my chest, and my attention was brought back to the thumping within it. I lifted the flap, and carefully, carefully put my hand inside, my fingers clasping over something warm and slippery. A cry broke loose from my lips as I pulled out the heart of the boy. The police continued their walk over. I looked at my friend.
“I’m not crazy,” I whispered, more to myself than to her, reassuring myself that I could not possibly have done something so evil.
I heard a laugh, an almost guttural, demonic laugh, which escaped from her mouth. Her eyes turned dark and she looked through me with unflinching concentration.
“Aren’t you?” she asked and suddenly she was gone and I was left by myself with two police officers, a heart, my cup, and one untouched hot chocolate with whipped cream on top.