The worst part of the jump is the unyielding tightness, like being squeezed through a sausage casing.

 

I was twenty when I was chosen. Stolen. I jogged past that phone booth every morning for a year before I’d heard it ring. Blame curiosity – I picked up the receiver. A flash of sharp white light, and I was being crushed in an invisible fist. Finally loosed, gasping, I looked up to see a blank room with blank-faced beings. They spoke to me with no lips and looked dead at me with no eyes.

 

Now I hear voices that tell me to do things.

 

I’ve only disobeyed once.

 

***

 

The call comes a little after three am. I bolt awake with images of a woman in my head. Dark hair, large nose, boyish, lanky body.

 

She must die, the voices sing-song in disharmonic unison.

 

“Why?”

 

She must die.

 

I don’t know why I ask. They never answer.

 

I barely have time to change my clothes and pull on my sneakers before my body is clenched an all too familiar, but still unbearable tightness. Seconds before I think I’m going to pass out, the grip relents.

 

An alley.

 

We won’t need you forever, they remind me. Just until we can replace you.

 

“Won’t let you,” I remind the voices. I wouldn’t pass this hell to anyone.

 

The woman.

 

“Where?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another image. A hotel suite. Large. Expensive looking. A bag with my tools behind a panel inside the elevator.

 

***

 

The concierge follows me through the lobby with her eyes, but I keep mine fixed on the bank of elevators. No eye contact – that’s the key to avoiding questions and unnecessary clean up.

 

I look at my watch as I wait for the elevator doors to open. Three-thirty am. The woman will be sleeping. Thankfully, they’re always sleeping. It makes the job bearable.

 

The doors close behind me and I make quick work of pealing back the laminate liner where a small cut has been made in the panel. I pull it out and find my bag, nestled in a rut inside the concrete wall. I see the other elevator moving through the shaft and it makes my stomach turn.

Room 4D.

 

Holding my breath, I slide the key card from my bag through the reader. It beeps. I press my ear against the door and listen for movement. Nothing. The hinges are mercifully silent.

The woman is lying on her side, facing away, on top of the floral duvet. Her body is half covered by a sheet. Her breathing is slow, steady. I kneel next to the bed and open my bag. A syringe, a vial, and a .45 with silencer – just in case – with its original rounds. Does ammunition expire after three years of non-use? I pull out the .45 and set it aside. The cold metal shoots goose-bumps up my arms.

 

I fill the syringe.

 

I brace my knee against the mattress and lean over the woman to examine her neck, but her hair is draped protectively over it. I gently push it away and wait. Her breath quickens, then returns to its sleeping pace.

 

The needle pierces her skin, but before I can press the plunger down, the woman’s eyes flicker open and fix on me.

 

I freeze.

 

She screams.

 

God damnit!

 

She tries to sit up. I straddle her waist and shove her shoulders down. I use my ankles to pin her flailing legs but she’s surprisingly strong; I struggle to hold her wrists down with one hand while I shove the sheet in her mouth to stifle the screams. She turns her head and I see the syringe still protruding from her neck. Leaning in to hold her, I ram the plunger down.

 

The effect is almost immediate.

 

Her throat closes. She gags, her body jerking hard against me. Her eyes are bloodshot. I can’t look away.

 

“Why is this taking so long?” I ask her, as if she’ll know.

 

The spasmodic breaths she is able to suck in are just enough to keep her conscious. Agony twists her face beyond recognition.

 

“Just give in!”

 

Noise on the other side of the wall. I have to end this now.

 

I taste vomit as I reach for the .45 and press the silencer to her temple.

 

Deep breath.

 

Pull the trigger.

 

Her body goes limp.

 

I don’t open my eyes for a long time.

 

***

 

It’s raining. Hunched over on the bench by the phone booth, I can barely see through the wet sheets of grey. But I can see her.

 

A car juts and sputters to a smoking halt in front of me. A young woman runs to the booth, covering her head with a newspaper, without even a glance in my direction.

The voices buzz excitedly in my head.

 

I should stop her. Warn her. Something. I cover my eyes and I’m back in that hotel room with a gun pointed to a woman’s head.

 

I don’t move. 

Katrina Monroe and the Dark Side of Fiction

The Assignment

Katrina Monroe is an author, mother, and professional haterologist. Her favorite things to hate include socks that fall down, grape-flavored anything, and the color 'salmon.' Grab her books here.

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