“Killer” by Simon Shadows

His hair was a burnt-out green when we first met, the roots growing in dirty blonde. He had been scrolling on his phone when we met, tugging at the shredded cuffs of his jean jacket, playing with his lip piercing, popping it all the way out of the skin and then sucking it in and making a deep dimple in the skin below his bottom lip. He had told me he liked my tattoo, the sunflower peeking out from under the sleeves of my T-shirt. I had smiled, had asked about the patches on his backpack.

I had been drawn to him from the start, from the countless white-pink shiny lines of scar on his upper inner arms, from the way he did that smoky, too-much-eyeshadow thing and glared at the world over the waxed paper rim of his coffee cup, from the time I found the Percocet bottle from my surgery emptied after he’d left my place, from the way he scrolled through the heathered grey and pastel pink and tropical locales and LA backdrops of yoga influencers on his phone, his face pinched with a blunt animal longing for the myth of a clean, trouble-free life lived on porches in a perpetual sunset.

The incompleteness of him, the palpable pain and misery, and the way he threw himself into my care. “No one else understands me,” he told me too many times to count, sounding like snippets from any teenage journal, his eyes big and wide and round like coins.

When he lied to me, and he lied to me often, there was a drawing-inward about him, an entirely unsubtle tell where his eyes would flick to my feet and his mouth would open only the smallest amount, as if he could escape his lie by barely saying it.

I craved these moments, moments where his shell cracked and I caught glimpses of the raw thing wriggling within and wondered about the thinness of its skin and how its spindly bones might snap like dry straw in a late summer wind.

* * *

He had been shy when he asked about it at first, which was strange since he’d been unabashedly kinky the whole time we’d been seeing one another. This was different to him, clearly, and it became clearer when the dam broke and the specificity of the fantasies came out. The brands (Wusthoff chef’s, Cabela’s deer-gutter), the settings (tied to a post in a shed while Eddie Vedder played on the radio, held face-down in a creek in the chill of late autumn), even the surrender of such details felt erotic in its intimacy. I listened with the air of concern I knew appropriate to the situation and hoped he couldn’t hear the blood that made the backs of my hands hot.

I agreed to try, but I set the boundaries he seemed disappointed by: a dull knife, no gags, no restraints. That first time had been a disappointment for him, I could see, his eyes falling when I pressed the dull blade against his skin and it failed to leave anything but a slightly raised welt. It had been a disappointment for me as well but I did not let that show.

* * *

I had been planning something like this in the abstract for years, you must understand, researching forensic technologies and anatomical details and learning what oversight got people caught, most of all. I had a curiosity, born at a young age and nurtured by the small violences of rural living. A curiosity I was not necessarily determined to follow to its logical conclusion, but one that dogged me regardless and found ample space in my daydreams.

The eyes of a chicken, of a rabbit, they are always blown wide in a perpetual sort of fear from the moment you lift them to the point where they jerk in thunking, half-dead throes and the shininess goes out of their eyes. Their responses are mindless, nearly mechanical. But the eyes of a human, I thought those might hold more nuance. In this I was not disappointed.

There is an art in this, but perhaps you cannot see it, and that is a shame.

* * *

I told him the gloves were for my protection. I told him we needed to take precautions, that blood-borne pathogens were no joke and that I would indulge him in this, but only if he indulged me in my concerns. He had laughed at this but allowed it.

His eyes broke first, those moon-grey irises blown wide with fear, and the tics of his skin, muscles tweaking nervously beneath flesh, and a certain trembling-between. A shudder towards and an immediate pulling-away as his body did what it could to protect them, though those reflexes were dulled from years of self-abuse.

It fascinated me, the way blood took a few moments to pool in the shallow cuts I left on his arms. I was particular in my cuts, following those guidelines written in scar, keeping only to angles plausible for self-infliction. I told him this was so he would not have to explain the marks to anyone else, though I am not certain my words meant anything to him at that point.

Will you believe me, then, when I tell you that he asked me to do it? That the shallow marks were not enough? That he ached for the blade to unearth those deeper arteries, the ones that spurted forth, taking us both by surprise, and myself immediately thankful for the plastic apron I’d worn to protect myself. We two watched the glutinous coagulation, not thin and watery at all but already sticking to itself, becoming tacky and clogging the drain and leaving a substantial thickness of ruddy red-brown in the tub.

Will you believe me when I tell you that he took my gloved arm and pulled it deeper?

Perhaps these are lies. You would have no way of knowing, really.

* * *

That night the sky bruised brown and black, the machinations of a wildfire to end all wildfires out somewhere on the eastern slopes of the mountains. A windstorm contrived to blanket the sky in hazy darkness shot through with blood orange, almost neon, where the sun tried to break through. I walked the streets afterwards, feeling a high not unlike the purposeful near-madness of cocaine, not afraid of who might see me. Reckless, yes. A mistake, but a harmless one in the end; everyone was outside but all gazes fixated on the inexorable, dun behemoth in the sky that schemed to black out the sun. A man on a rooftop blowing leaves out of his gutter with a leafblower nearly lost his footing as a great gout of wind blasted through, staring as he had been at the cloud. Leaves and dust and little bits of trash kicked up. Hollow ponks marked the impacts of too-early buckeyes striking carelessly parked cars, still in their spiky green shells, jarred loose by the wind. I waved to a family and their kids, knowing they would hardly remember me when the world seemed so intent on ending itself around us, feeling a spidery lightness from the soles of my feet to the crown of my head.

* * *

When his roommate found him two days later, I confess I was out of town. I had fabricated an alibi for myself and it was airtight. I was suspected only in passing, as the partner always is in these matters, but even his friends came in to speak in my defense. I always made a point to court the friends; they would be indispensable if needed, and my care was worth the trouble as the police did not even question me as a suspect, as far as I could tell.

They did bring me in, but they mostly asked about his self-harm behaviors. The cops had his whole psych ward history spread there on the table, intakes and medications and years and years of therapy billed to insurance. I had been distraught, calling upon the skill I had practiced to summon tears. I rubbed my eyes red and puffy and raw. I gave conflicting answers and apologized. I gulped great sobbing breaths. They gave me tea and drove me home. The officer hugged me, man to man, patting me roughly on the back and mumbled some words of comfort.

* * *

It was a sadness, I am told, that he passed, but to me it was a revelation. The world seemed bright, full, profligate in its bounty, and the skies opened in rapturous downpour.

Simon Shadows is a queer and trans demon prince living in the gloomy grey of Portland, Oregon. Outside of alchemizing his dreams and visions into strange art and fiction, he loves watching anime, listening to filthy metal, and learning to identify all the plants and animals he possibly can. You can find more of his weird at www.simonshado.ws.