Here’s another story I wrote back in 2014, submitted to a few places to no avail, and am now posting it to my blog to bring it to light.
The worst days always start out as the most normal days.
Listen to any interview from someone near Ground Zero on 9/11. The skies were blue, no clouds in sight and then within two hours, the tallest buildings in New York were aflame with a black plume that could be seen for miles and men in suits were jumping to the pavement below.
Travis was only three when men with boxcutters changed the world. He still wet the bed and would until the age of ten.
On a day that changed, too, Travis wasn’t nosediving 563 mph into the ground from those cloudless skies or watching his coworkers’ skin melt off from jet fuel, but all the same, it was to be the worst of days for his victim, Lana.
She had black zip ties around her wrists, which was redundant given the chloroform ravaging her bloodstream. But she would be awake soon and Travis didn’t take chances. To keep her from yelling when she awoke, Travis clogged her mouth with a tennis ball and kept it lodged there with a black strap that secured behind her head.
Chloroform had become something of a punchline over the years for would-be sex fiends, but it was once an anesthesia for a reason.
As her eyes found Travis bobbing in front of her, the first thing she noticed was the blade of the boxcutter. Travis didn’t need to bother with cartoonish weaponry. This would do.
From the two-story window of a foreclosed home across the street, Travis watched Lana’s routine through his newly acquired Bushnell Legend Ultra HD binoculars.
People said they valued their privacy, but they lived in boxes with enough windows and openings, anyone curious, like Travis, could view in.
The Bushnell were top of the line, award-winning binoculars that could spot a bed bug crawling on a sleeper’s eyelid from two miles away. But watching Lana eating her favorite cereal, Cheerios, in the morning was enough for him.
When she reached the last few spherical oats, she would eat them one by one, as if savoring the taste. And she never drank the milk at the end, which Travis scribbled down in his notebook with curious question marks.
Afterward, she would shower, but Travis made sure to turn away at that point, electing to twist moth balls between his fingers rather than peek. After ten minutes, always ten minutes, she would reemerge in the downstairs living room with bright pink yoga pants and a sports bra on.
Mom and dad pulled out of the driveway before the sun rose and it seemed Lana was an only child. Or maybe she had an older sibling away in college or bleeding out in the Afghanistan wasteland.
She did minor stretching of the legs and ankles, then plugged in headphones and gently flowed through the front door. Travis imagined she listened to something that betrayed her youthful innocent, like Pantera’s “Walk” or Motley Crue’s “Wild Side.”
After thirty minutes, sometimes thirty-five, maybe she stopped to talk to another jogger or pet a dog, she returned, with sweat beams draping her developing figure. And the first thing she did was go to the kitchen and retrieve a smoothie from the refrigerator. The Bushnell wasn’t good enough to identify the contents, but it must’ve been delicious or necessary because she always gulped it down in two tries.
Her face was sweating now, residual side-effects of the chloroform and her predicament. Travis had a white exercise towel handy and wiped the sweat from her brow. She winced and tried to tug her head away.
“I don’t want the sweat to drip into your eyes, it might burn,” Travis said.
Those pink yoga pants and sweat looked out of place in the basement of the foreclosed home.
He wore plastic gloves, rubber boots and a white mask. And he used a voice changer app on his iPhone. Bane’s voice from the Batman movie was too dramatic for Travis’s taste, but effectiveness overruled style.
And it also meant that everything he would say to her was prerecorded. And that wouldn’t have been possible without three months of observation and judicious notes. The activities of any potential nosy neighbors was also crucial in the pre-planning. Then he was ready.
When she took off down the street for her jog, Travis slipped in through the front door. She never locked it because there was never a reason to lock it.
The pantry offered just enough space for Travis to wait with his chloroform rag and boxcutter in his back pocket. She would go to her smoothie first. He checked his watch. Thirty minutes. She returned.
Her heavy breathing made him breathe heavy and then he regulated his blood pressure by taking big, silent breaths. The refrigerator opened, her shadow visible underneath the door and he heard her footsteps move to the kitchen sink.
When she finished the first gulp, Lana liked to gaze out her back window at the cherry blossoms on the trees beyond her fence. That was her downfall — a turned back. And the cherry blossoms were the last thing she saw until Travis’s white-masked face.
Travis disappeared and returned a moment later with a small, plastic bowl and a plastic spoon. One serving cup of Cheerios collected at the bottom of the bowl with a light pouring of milk. He set it down next to her feet.
“I’m going to remove the tennis ball and strap. Please do not yell, Lana,” Travis said in the Bane voice.
With a blade in his hand it seemed pretentious to say please, but Travis was always polite.
She didn’t scream, but Travis was prepared for the usual pleas from a kidnapped victim. “Who are you?” and “Why are you doing this?” Travis had his finger hovering over a pre-recorded response.
“Hi, Travis,” she said.
He almost dropped the boxcutter and iPhone. If he didn’t have a mask on, his raised eyebrows surely would have satisfied Lana.
“Do you think I’m stupid, Trav? You think I wouldn’t notice someone going in and out of the house across the street? That I wouldn’t notice binoculars up against the window?”
Travis felt as if someone had just poured cement down his esophagus. Everything was wrong. All wrong. He forewent the useless pre-recordings and used his real voice, a soft, almost inaudible cadence.
“Then why did you put your guard down? Why did you let me take you?” Travis said.
“In your notes, you-,” she started.
“How did you get those?” Travis squeaked, unable to hide his astonishment.
“You said you just wanted a friend. You made clear that you wouldn’t harm me physically or sexually. If you wanted to be my friend, Trav, you didn’t have to chloroform me and tie me up in the house across the street. A ‘hello’ would have sufficed,” she said. “Now feed me those Cheerios, as they look delicious.”
And he did because he didn’t know what else to do. This wasn’t in the script. But she was right. Travis had no intention of harming her. He just wanted to play.
“After I finish my cereal, you’re going to untie me and I’m going to return to my house, okay? And we’ll pretend like none of this ever happened, Trav,” Lana said.
Travis, The Bedwetter, as he’d been known through much of his schooldays, was familiar to Lana and everyone else in her neighborhood. He was smart, his mother always said, exceptionally smart, in fact, but his reality differed from theirs.
My “Trav Trav” his mom would say when he would get in trouble. Mixing chemicals against safety protocols in science class or sniffing too close to a girl’s face because she smelled nice. He was always polite in a “yes, sir” and “no, sir” way, but he lacked perspective.
Lana would offer him that perspective today.
After she finished her spherical oats one by one, just as Travis had documented, he freed her, per her request.
“Now hand me the boxcutter, Trav, you don’t want your mom catching you with this,” Lana said. Her voice measured, calm.
His still white-gloved hand handed over the boxcutter.
With three quick thrusts of the blade to his stomach, Travis soon bled out over the empty cereal bowl.
Lana used his white glove to wipe down the blade and retrieved the tennis ball and chloroform rag with her saliva on them.
She had a smoothie to finish.