He had the perfect cover, working as a security guard for a large corporation. It gave him ample opportunity to be walking the outskirts of the parking lot, and up and down corridors, and interacting with all sorts of people. His schedule was changed week over week, giving him the chance to work odd hours. He had access to the video room so he could review and edit any footage that happened to catch him doing something he wasn’t supposed to, but that rarely happened because he knew where the cameras were and how to avoid them. Plus, as a guard, having passed through their screening process and gone through their training, who would suspect him?
So, he passed his days living his double life, giving the employees some semblance of security by being present to screen people coming into the building and walking through the large parking lots to deter illegal activities there, while selling drugs. Sometimes he sold to the employees but he didn’t like to do that. People using on site could lead to trouble and that could lead back to him. So, those instances were rare. Usually, he just had his clientele walk through the lot and he’d meet them between cars and swap baggies for cash, both then carrying on in opposite directions. Or, should the transaction occur close to a camera he would stop and make it look like he was asking if they were an employee, if he could see their badge, and then ushering them off the campus.
While the current setup was good, he knew it wasn’t foolproof so he had plans to cut and run if it seemed like he’d been figured out or if a sting was getting put in place. He also didn’t plan on working at one location for very long. He would request a move to a different building, a different business. He might bounce around for a bit, under the guise of the contracted security guard and then he would figure out what to do next. He didn’t need the real income. His drug sales kept him in more cash than he needed. But, having a legitimate job smoothed out some other parts of his life, like relationships and bank accounts and taxes.
Then all his plans went out the window. She, he would eventually find out, had a way of doing that to everyone she met.
She walked by the designated trash can for the area, taking the last drag from her cigarette, shuffling her feet slowly forward, loathe to get back to work. Then she dropped the spent butt on the ground and smashed it with her heel, carefully lifting her long skirt to make sure it didn’t get marred by the mess she was spreading on the concrete. Satisfied that her leavings wouldn’t start a fire, there on the pavement, she let her skirt fall back into place and carried on with her slow steps, lamenting how quickly she had gone through the cigarette and how long it would be before she could taste its sweet release again. Those two hours would be agony. They always were.
I watched this unfold as I got my morning round of steps in. And then I zipped by, avoiding eye contact and the confrontation that was welling up inside of me. Not my place. Not worth it. But… the trash can… the one specifically designed to collect spent butts was right there. She had to walk by it and she chose not to deposit her trash there but to drop it on the ground instead. What is that? Laziness? Routine? And why did it bother me so much?
Though, I know the answer to that one. He has grown out of it but the littler prince used to collect cigarette butts he found on the ground and bring them to me as treasure…
Smoke them if you’ve got them. Seriously, go for it. Light them up. Take those drags. Enjoy the feel of the smoke, the taste, the high. Please, please stop throwing your trash on the ground.
She spent her mornings hidden in the cart return of a closed grocery store. The alcove provided shade and gave her some privacy to just be, away from the judging eyes she dealt with the rest of the day and away from the predatory eyes that came out of the night. Sometimes the patrons visiting the neighboring stores would catch a glimpse of her and hurry their steps away. Other times they would stop to talk, or offer money and food and she accepted those. She never asked for their charity, though. She didn’t stand out in the open with a sign, announcing her presence and begging. That wasn’t really what she wanted even if it was what she needed.
Her only possessions were never out of hands’ reach, in an old and battered backpack she had picked up somewhere along the way. When she found herself with extra cash, for one reason or another, she would go to a laundromat and wash her clothes. Once she even splurged on a hotel room so she could have a proper bed and a hot shower. That had been a long time ago, though, and she couldn’t remember when it exactly was. Just as she could no longer remember the story that went with each of her missing teeth. She knew some had rotted out and some had met more sudden ends but that was the end of it. She kept her nails long and her hair short. Occasionally she would pal around with others like her but for the most part she enjoyed solitude. She found it hard to trust people and she had found there was usually more safety in being alone. Everyone has issues and when she was by herself she only had to deal with her own. But humans are social creatures and when she felt the craving for someone to talk to she would visit the places where she knew she could find someone. Then it was only a matter of striking up a conversation and finding someone to pal around with for a couple days.
As the foot traffic in the shopping center picked up, she would pack up her bag and wander off. There were a series of parks nearby where she could sit in the shade of a tree to pass the hottest part of the day. Then as they heat began to dissipate, when the nightly marine later rolled back in from the coast, she would head towards the spots she knew she’d be safer during the long hours of darkness. Just safer. There was never a guarantee of absolute safety no matter where she went. But, as she had realized when she made the decision to live on the streets, homes only provide the illusion of safety as well, there is no place that is and will always be completely safe.
He scrolled and scrolled and scrolled, drinking it all in with one eye on the clock in the bottom right corner. He wasn’t supposed to be on the computer but his mom had gone to cook dinner and he knew he had a few minutes to check out the response to his latest posts. He was something of an online star among his friends. In truth, he was a star for most of the school but it was only his friends that knew he was the one behind the posts on the schools social platform. At least, he hoped his friends weren’t telling anyone else. He thought he could trust them but… The rise to fame had been swift and he knew that the fall could go even faster.
His latest post was a scathing review of the school board meeting that had occurred the week before. He hadn’t attended in person. Hardly anyone actually went to the meetings anymore once they had started streaming them live online. So, he watched on a tablet from his room while he was supposed to be sleeping, scribbling notes throughout that he turned into his rebuke the following day. Two days later, after reviewing for content and clarity, and double checking some of the facts he had included to make his points more salient, he had posted the essay.
As expected, the replies from his fellow students were supportive in nature while the administration scrambled to provide a coherent counter-argument. They wouldn’t be able to, though, and the next day at school every social group would be abuzz talking about him. Well, talking about the anonymous poster. That was enough for now. He didn’t really care about the fame aspect of it, anyway. He was genuinely tired of the school using the “children” and the “needs of the children” to justify the ridiculous financial decisions they made. He was tired of the watching them waste money that could be better used to actually support their students in meaningful ways.
Quickly closing the browser and then erasing the search history and related cookies, being careful to leave the trail of sites his mom had visited recently intact, he locked the computer and moved back to the tasks he was supposed to be doing while his mom cooked. Riding high on yet another online victory, it was easy to finish his chores.
They say to never walk alone at night and he was the reason why.
For as long as he could remember, the urges had always been there. When he was younger he was too weak, too scared, too dumb to figure out how to act upon them. As he grew older, stronger, and smarter, he figured out how to use the system of laws and regulations to his advantage, to hide within plain sight so he could then act upon his instincts without getting caught. And once he had started, it wasn’t fear of punishment that guided his hand and ensured he followed his own, strict, code to get away cleanly each time. It was the knowledge that if he were caught, he would never be able to act on his urges again. That would surely kill him.
Not that he had always been so methodical and meticulous. His first had been clumsy despite how well he had planned and prepared. But, he had gotten away with it and over the years that followed he grew calmer, more confident and improved his technics until he was flawless. As perfect as a human ever could be. Despite the monster he was, he was still human. His tastes just ran slightly askew of what society deemed acceptable.
He relished the feel of the night, the adrenaline of the hunt. He liked to watch their eyes go wide with fear and surprise. He enjoyed the power he could wield in the shadows, stifling screams with ease, taking what he wanted. He didn’t run away from his crimes like a coward once he was finished. He savored the moments and when he was done he walked away calmly, fulfilled. And then he slipped back into the cloak he had learned to wear over the years, his shield against prying eyes and ears, his beloved darkness, to wait patiently for more prey to venture his way.
They say to never walk alone at night and he was the reason why.