Chapter One part 1
She inspired my first ever fantasy.
As I stared across the racks of wine bottles at the girl with the blonde hair cropped just at her shoulders and thick pink glasses, something stirred deep in the pit of my stomach, then travelled lower. The book obscuring half her face was bound in bright colors with a man and woman embracing on the cover. Being in here every day this week has taught me that tomorrow she would come in with a different one.
Her name tag read Emma. Emma hadn’t taken notice of me studying her, which is exactly how it was supposed to be. I was no one from nowhere.
Looking at her made me ache in places I hadn’t known existed before. Like wiggling a loose tooth, I kept coming in here to feel it again. Loneliness. It had taken days for me to recognize the emotion she evoked in me. I hadn’t allowed myself the self-indulgent feeling since I was ten-years-old, enduring the trials. Imagining us together both eased and worsened the loneliness, but I couldn’t help myself.
The print on the blanket underneath us is covered in small blue flowers. Her eyes fasten onto mine and she can’t help but lean forward, toward me, reaching for me.
The refrigerator fans were so loud, I could barely hear the country music playing in the background. The fans also kicked up the smell of wet concrete into the air, which oddly enough, I’ve developed a fondness for.
I reached for the wine bottle in front of me, all the while watching her liquid brown eyes race across the pages. When I walked in today, she pulled her head out of her book to smile, attempt eye contact, and welcome me into Smoky Badger Liquors. I had pulled the hood of my heavy brown coat up over my head so she couldn’t have seen anything but a nod as I entered. My Masters always gave me high marks in camouflage. I’m exceptionally good at disappearing into shadow, so I can watch. So I can hunt.
My Masters trained me harder than the rest because of my bright blue eyes and dark curly hair. They explained the rare features were disadvantageous and molded me with disciplinary force until I was able to master silent movements and veil my presence until I became a ghost in any environment. I seldom removed my hood. In North America, it was easier to blend in, but I still garnered many looks if I left the hood down, especially from women. They would hold eye contact for too long, give me mysterious smiles. It was my understanding women are the keener observers of the sexes. I couldn’t help but feel they had spotted something which made me stand out, and I couldn’t have that. The hood stayed up.
I take her back to the half-built skyscraper where I spend my nights. The night air sweeps through the large rectangular cuts where floor-to-ceiling windows would eventually be installed, though no worker has appeared since I arrived in town. The white stars twinkle down at us, granting us with their divine knowing. Having Emma here with me is the utmost felicity. Her lips spread into a smile when she sees what I’ve brought out.
Normally, the numerous pockets on my dark khaki pants would be full of daggers, but I had to leave them behind to get through the metal detector. The first time I entered, Emma apologized for it, saying too many ‘yay-hoos’ had come in with their guns on their way out to or back from hunting trips. I didn’t comment because I was hunting too. Although physical weapons would not be of useful aid to me this time.
I tracked it to this area a week ago. It had been clinging to the shadows, waiting for the perfect moment to feed again. That wasn’t going to happen though. Not while I was around.
I pull out a bottle of wine, as well as a loaf of bread and a small block of cheese. In my fantasy, we sit on the blanket and eat to our heart’s content. She tells me about the books she reads, though I’m sure their content is too sophisticated for my understanding. In my fantasy, I don’t eat alone.
There is a word for what I keep imagining. I’d once seen a picture of two people eating on a blanket together on a massive sign by the road when I was hunting in Ohio. They smiled and waved, their other arms locked behind each other’s backs in half an embrace. I still couldn’t remember the word. I eat alone and don’t talk to humans because I am not worthy. Not yet anyway. But what is that word?
“Did you need help finding anything?” Emma tipped the book away from her face to ask me the question.
I realized then that I’d been holding the same bottle of wine for almost ten minutes.
Then it happened. Emma looked at me. Truly looked at me, so that no matter how expert I am at staying hidden, I was completely and utterly seen. It was both terrifying and exhilarating. My heart tripped over itself in earnest as if waving its arms and crying out, ‘Yes, I see you too. I am so pleased you see me.’
I hadn’t yet responded and my expression intensified toward her. The only other customer in the store glanced over from the bourbon display and raised an eyebrow in my direction. The man’s dirty blonde hair framed a round face covered in scraggly facial hair not quite long enough to be a beard. His eyes were skeptical, looking at me like he knew my every thought about the woman behind the counter. He wore his camouflage trench coat unzipped, showing off a black “Metallica” tee shirt. The coat still managed to nearly swallow up his six-foot frame. I resisted the urge to squirm under the gaze of a lanky young man with bad posture.
“Um.” I paused before walking toward Emma. “Yes, actually I’m not sure what I should purchase next.” I shouldn’t have engaged. It wasn’t tactical. There was no reason to do so, but I couldn’t help myself with those brown eyes boring into me.