Novel excerpt: Don't Trust Her
It proved her arrogance that she felt safe sitting beside a stream she couldn’t hear, reading a novel. Earphones blocked every sound, including my footsteps, as the Walkman pumped music inside her skull. The words in her book filled the rest of her brain with an imagined world so that it might as well have been only her body sitting there alone, silencing all her instincts for self-protection.
I watched her for quite a long time, although maybe it only felt like a long time. Unlike her, I was hyperalert to every sound in the woods surrounding us. The trickle of water over rocks, the occasional rustle of undergrowth and dead leaves as squirrels raced for their last bit of food in the darkness that was falling fast.
Her head was bent forward. She hardly moved except her fingers flipping the pages. She was always reading thick books, maybe to prove to the rest of us how smart she was. Maybe only because we bored her.
Whenever it was hot, she came out to the wooded area behind our street, to the enormous flat rock beside the stream, and sat there with her backpack beside her, the headphones in place, and the book on her lap. She never swatted at gnats; she was so lost in the pages she didn’t seem to notice them.
I moved closer. I stood beside a pine tree now, the sky impossible to see unless I tipped my head back until my neck ached. At the base of the tree was a rock the size of a woman’s shoe. I picked it up and held it in my hand. The weight of it pulled at my shoulder. I wondered if it was too large. I let my arm go slightly limp, raising it up and down to see if I was able to control its movement.
Confident, I moved closer. I watched where I placed my feet, even though I knew she couldn’t hear me. I wondered if a sixth sense might warn her that she wasn’t alone, but I hadn’t seen her look up for the entire time I’d been watching. Did that mean she might look up soon out of habit? Was the idea that someone could sense another’s presence real, or just an idea that we believed after the fact?
I knew he was there all along. I felt her watching me.
We believe a lot of things after the fact.
I moved more quickly now, not wanting to risk that she might sense my presence.
A moment later, I was right behind her, and still her fingers touched the corner of the page, ready to turn to the next. I raised my arm. Without pausing to think or to plan how this might play out, I brought the rock down on the back of her head with every ounce of strength I possessed.
She didn’t scream, as I’d thought she might. The damage was too great, even with a single blow. Instead, she grunted, and her upper body collapsed forward.
Without thinking, without hesitating, I raised my arm again and brought the rock down as hard as I could. This time, I heard a crack. Or maybe I imagined it.
Then it felt as if I drifted out of my own body. I brought the rock down again and again until she was lying on her side. The huge, flat rock where she’d been sitting was covered with a thick pool of blood. Her headphones were dislodged from her head, but she still heard nothing. Her eyes stared blankly at the trees surrounding us.
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