How to Know You’re a Killer

1) You’re a killer because you say “Goodbye, Tiffany,”to the college girl passing your butter and white bread across the scanner at the grocery store, even though her name tag is scarred and beaten and only visible in flashes under the windbreaker she’s got on because the register is right by the front door, and the front door is always hissing open, sometimes even when nobody’s there.

2) You’re a killer because you let the mouse go that shows up on your glue trap under the sink, and you stand there and watch it to see what it’s going to do now, in the alley, where it’s going to go, and how, since its four feet are now four tufts of grey on the glue trap you’ve stuck to the side of the scarred and beaten dumpster. Mouse bones are like wet toothpicks. Just scissors.

3) You’re a killer because you think about your brother at odd moments, about the way his name tasted in the air when your mother would call it, like it stood for both of you, like you would of course follow wherever he went, like you liked eating mashed potatoes and casserole as much as he did, but you didn’t, you couldn’t. In those scarred and beaten dishes you only ever saw all the hundred other casseroles that had lived there, and died there.

4) You’re a killer because you know to never look away when an off-duty police officer locks eyes with you at a stop sign, his instincts ringing all his bells, and nobody even had to tell you not to look away, you just know this from your own instincts, you know that his scarred and beaten soul, that it’s calling across to yours, that it’s the same kind of lonely and afraid. Just pull forward when it’s your turn. Keep moving.

5) You know you’re a killer because you never can remember the plots of the movies you sit through at the second-farthest theater from your apartment, but you can list the color and pattern of every shirt the two leads wore, because that’s where the real story was, it was in those selections, it was like standing before a closet for you, standing there and parting the shirts, looking behind them, to the wardrobe designer, the one you waited until the end of the credits to find. A name you say later in your bedroom, in secret, like a promise.

6) You’re a killer because you know the truth about Batman, about why he works at night, and why the mask, the gear, all the complicated exit strategies, and why he never uses guns—they attract too much attention—and, most of all, why he’s always watching, and why his mouth when he’s watching is so important. And why he needs a cave like that. And why this scarred and battered city, it’s his and his alone.

7) Another way you know you’re killer through and through is that you can’t stop with the lists, they’re everywhere, and they’re all so necessary, they’re all so perfect, so elegant, so right, they each take so many drafts to get them that right, but the main way you know you’re a killer is that you’re not on a single one of these lists.

8) The eighth way you know you are what you are is that when your brother dared you to eat that Christmas light bulb in fifth grade you did, not little by little like he meant, but all at once, like a glass chili pepper from the cafeteria, and then he had to pay you like he said, only, that night, you crept across to his bed, your mouth still bloody, and you slid that scarred and battered five dollar bill under his pillow, and never asked him if he found it.

9) You know you’re a killer because of the way you can feel the whole city watching you push your shopping cart past the scarred and battered meat cooler at the grocery store, your eyes and mind and privates not not not catching on the slash of white rib bone coming up through the red meat, you’re not looking at all, you’re just walking past, your legs working just like everybody else’s, just like normal.

10) You know all this, can feel your true self writhing around in your chest, but a list doesn’t prove anything, does it? No, what proves it finally is that you’ve sat in the back seat of a scarred and battered car for three hours now, a name on your lips to say when her shift’s over, and she’s behind the wheel: “Melissa.” Not “Tiffany.” It’s so she’ll think this is all a mistake. So she’ll think this doesn’t have to be happening. But it does. It already is. The look in her eyes in the rearview, it’s going to be perfect.

About the Author

Stephen Graham Jones

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of fifteen novels, five collections, one novella, one chapbook, and more than two hundred stories. Most recent are Sterling City (science fiction), Not for Nothing (mystery), and The Gospel of Z (horror). Up next are the horror collection After the People Lights Have Gone Off and the YA fantasy Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly. Maybe pertaining to this story is The Least of My Scars. Stephen teaches in the MFA programs at CU Boulder and UCR-Palm Desert. Find him online on his website, and on Twitter as @SGJ72.

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