The first thing William Travis Morrison thinks of as he shakes Darla Miller’s hand is how amazing her skin feels, and how much he’d like to wear it. He notes her milky-pink complexion, and subtle notes of coconut lotion.
“You’re prettier than your picture,” he says, then motions to the booth he was sitting in. They sit, and Will tries not to let his excitement show. “I’m sure that sounds like something ‘they all say’, but it’s true.”
“Who are they anyway?” Darla smiles and rearranges her place setting so the fork is to the right of her plate, and her water to the left—an exact mirror to Will’s setting.
“Exactly! They have a lot of sway on social norms, for a bunch of hypothetical sages.”
“That would make a great band name, The Hypothetical Sages.” Darla says, and opens her menu to scan the appetizers. The waiter approaches and sets two small cups and a kettle of Oolong tea down.
“Welcome to Junk Food—you want anything to drink other than tea and water?” the waiter swirls his pen at the drink portion of the menu. Will motions to Darla who purses her lips.
“I’m fine with the tea, thanks.”
“Me too,” Will adds.
“Ok, I’ll be back to take your order in a few minutes, boring people…”
“Junk Food, that’s clever.” Darla smiles. Will’s jaw drops.
“You—you get it?” he stammers.
“Yeah, the boat on the menu is called a Junk, right?”
“Nobody I talk to ever gets it! Sorry, I know this sounds dumb, but, this is kind of a big deal to me.”
“Bring a lot of dates here, do you?” Darla smirks and then blows on her tea. Panic tasers Will’s brain. He does bring a lot of dates here. It’s close to home, familiar, and the staff doesn’t really care much one way or the other. Will always tips generously, but not too generously. If you skimp on the tip, you’ll be remembered—same goes for over-tipping. Be the guy they’re happy to see, but forgotten about after.
“I, uh…well…” Will’s blowing it. He shifts uncomfortably.
“I’m messing with you, relax!” Darla laughs. “You’re a good looking guy, is all. Clean cut, kind face, maybe a little awkward. I’d be surprised if you didn’t go out often.”
“Thanks, Darla. I guess I just panicked…heh…tell her ‘sure, I always take dates here,’ and she’ll think I’m a jerkoff—tell her ‘you’re the first human to ever share a booth with me,’ and she’ll think I’m a creepy dickhole. That pretty much sums up the last few second in my head.”
“So which is it?” Darla sips her tea.
“Are you a jerkoff or a dickhole?”
“I, uh…in between, I guess?” Will buys some time by sipping his own tea.
“So a jerkhole?”
“Better than a dickoff, I guess?” Will winces. Both chuckle, and Will feels more at ease. He thinks about his last date, and they way her hair soaked up blood better than a sugar drink dye job. She went from a Gwen Stacy to a Mary Jane. What a dork, he chastises himself. “I do go out on dates from time to time, but I always seem to screw it up. I guess I’m not the typical type woman go for.”
You know, a serial killer…
“I know what you mean.”
“Gee, thanks…” Will sneers jokingly.
“No, I mean typicality. Once again we’re back to how other people’s viewpoints set the standards for the rest of us. Let me guess…” Darla places her fingers to her temples, mimicking the psychics of old. “I see…a lack of sports interest…stacks of comic books…and, wait…I see…I that a blow up doll??”
“Hardy Har Har…” Will rolls his eyes with as much sarcasm as humanly possible. “Two out of three isn’t bad, Madame Manners.”
“Oh, right, they’re called ‘graphic novels’ now.”
“You are too much!” Will laughs. The waiter returns with a bowl of crunchy noodles and sets them down.
“Can I assume you two aren’t ready to order?”
“You assumed correctly!” Will nods.
“I’ll have combination platter B6,” Darla says.
“Wait, you didn’t even look at the menu,” Will states with confusion. “How do you know what you’re getting?”
“Doesn’t matter, it’s all good. B6 is something like, sesame chicken with fried rice and an egg roll, am I right?”
“Teriyaki chicken, actually.” shrugs the waiter.
“Okay…and you?” he turns to Will, who scrambles to open his menu. Darla yanks it from the table and hands it to the waiter.
“Just give him a letter and a number—and not B6!”
“Uh..” Will is taken off guard once again. This is not like him at all. Darla is spontaneous and confident. This could prove difficult. “C…3…P…”
“–Don’t you say 0,” the waiter said through a breathy sigh.
“…0.” Will states with a hearty nod.
“You’re getting the chicken fingers, barbecued ribs, and I don’t care what else.” the waiter snaps up the remaining menu and darts toward the kitchen, spouting a string of angry Cantonese. Will shrugs and winks at Darla, who is laughing into her teacup.
“Oops!” Will chuckles.
“You’ll be getting the secret sauce now.”
“Nah, that’s Brian, he’s a good guy. He’s probably trying to figure out how a dork like me is on a date with a fox like you.”
“A fox? Really? People still say that?”
“I just did.”
“Yeah, but I’m not sure you’re actually people…” Darla tosses a fried noodle at Will. “But thanks, I’ll take the compliment regardless of how dated it is.”
“Golly, that’s swell!” Will tosses the noodle back, but Darla deflects it, sending it sailing toward the large fish tank that bisects the restaurant. The event is met with various head shakes and eye rolls from the other patrons. Will and Darla just chuckle. “So what do you do for fun? I mean, besides throwing food?”
“You threw it, I was just defending myself. Just want that to be on the record for when they eventually ban us from the place.”
“Noted.” Will raises his hands in surrender.
“As for fun, you know…regular stuff, I guess. Movies, books…yoga. I paint a little. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
“Hot yoga?” Will asks while cooling his tea.
“God, no. The room smells enough like farts as it is. I can’t imagine letting one slip out of a stretched, sweaty ass. A fart like that brings friends, you know.”
“So you admit to farting?” Will rubs his chin like he’s pondering the revelation.
“Well, yeah. I’m not trying to come across as someone without tact, mind you. It’s not like I walk up to people in the store and just spray heat on their legs or anything. But, yeah, I own a functioning intestinal tract and anus, so it’s been known to happen. This some kind of fetish for you? Or a deal-breaker, maybe?”
“You had me at ‘spray heat’,” Will smiles. “No, it’s cool. I didn’t mean to make a thing out of it. Most women I’ve met would try to convince you that they don’t fart, like, ever. It’s so dumb.
“Humans are dumb. True story.”
“Thank you—yes. I’m with you one hundred percent. So, what kinds of books are on your shelf at home?”
“Smut, mostly. Some poetry and a few biographies of dead comedians…but mostly smut.”
“Smut? Like those paperbacks with a hunk on them, holding some chick while they ride a horse?”
“Yeah, like that. I’m reading a series by Rebel Ranger, called ‘Along The Lusty Trail.’ Currently, I’m on book two, ‘Trailblazers of Lust’, and it’s sooooo bad but soooo good.”
“The author sounds made up.”
“Probably is, but no fucks are given. They’re that much fun. What about you, Will? What kind of extracurricular hijinks do you get up to when you’re not throwing fried foods at beautiful women?”
I try and make Dahmer and Bundy look like bumbling amateurs, runs through Will’s mind. He smiles mischievously, and takes a sip of his tea. “I cook…”
“You any good?”
“I think so.”
“Then what are we doing here when you could be catering to my every dietary whim?”
“I said I think so. I’d hate to risk a potential relationship on a potentially shitty meal.”
“Lott’a potential in that statement.”
“You’re too much!” Will laughs. Thoughts of Darla boiling in a pot are quickly replaced with those of what other people call ‘happiness’. “Seriously!”
“Better than not being enough, right? But okay, what else does Chef Will like to horse around with?”
“…I’m big into…history.”
“Why’d you say it like that?”
“Like…you…forgot…how to…words? History is cool! Without it, we’d have nothing to regret!” laughs Darla.
“Heh, yeah…” Will feels conflicted. On one hand, he feels like he wants to open up to Darla. To relate—to see what a normal relationship might be like. On the other hand, however—he’s in red alert over the threat that his carefully crafted secret life might be exposed.
“Woah…what just happened? Did I say something?”
“No, I’m…sorry. It’s me. I never know if I’m going to say the wrong thing, or scare you away with…” the foundation of my basement being more bones than dirt “…me being a dork.”
“Dorks aren’t scary, Will. Normal people are scary, but not dorks. Dorks are my people too. Besides, what could you possibly say that would make me uncomfortable after I admitted to having a sizable collection of romance novels? You like history. My dad did too. His era of focus was the Second World War and what he called ‘The Nam’. What about you?”
“Okay, if I’m being completely honest?”
“No, lie to me, dipshit.” Darla winks.
“I find the evolution of torture throughout the ages intriguing as hell. Like…there are methods that have evolved, but also those that have remained constant—some that are common even, with cultures who’ve never even interacted. It’s difficult to explain without sounding like a nut-job…but, the fact that humans have spent so much time and energy on developing ways to bring their fellow man pain is…well, awe-inspiring frankly. Pain and death is like, a default setting. We’d watch two people punch each other to death without blinking, but seeing two people have sex? Forget about it—total no-no.”
“Or breastfeeding,” Darla adds. “People lose their collective shit when a mother whips her ta-ta out to feed her baby. It’s immoral! It’s perverse! It’s a titty, people! You don’t bat a fucking eyelash when you walk past a person literally starving to death on the street–but a boob? Heaven forbid!”
“I—I…” Will stammers. “You get it. You fucking get it.”
“I get it, and don’t want it, you know? This country’s priorities are all mixed up.”
“Genocide page three, celebrity douche lunch on the cover.”
“Newspapers don’t have covers, Will,” Darla sticks her tongue out playfully.
“Argh! Stabbed in the pride!” Will yanks the imaginary knife from his chest and sets it on the table. The waiter returns with two large plates covered with a massive amount of food.
“Teriyaki Chicken for the lady…” he sets Darla’s meal down. “And a kid’s meal with extra special sauce for the dork.”
“Thanks, Brian,” Will gives a thumbs up. “That may or may not be reflected in your tip.”
“Try not to choke, the staff here forgets CPR when it’s convenient. Seriously, though, enjoy.” Brian smiles and walks back over to the small sushi bar and chats with the chef. Will and Darla dig in.
“Mm, yeah. I mean, Chinese food is pretty universal wherever you go. No, that’s not accurate…Americanized Chinese food is universal—actual Chinese cuisine is not. But this is good.”
“What about this?” Will points to Darla then to himself then back to Darla. “This good so far too?”
“So far. I enjoy that we share an acerbic disdain for most of humanity. That’s definitely working in your favor. What about you?” Darla stuffs her mouth with food.“You fing biss ib seggzy?” Will can’t help but laugh. He imagines what life would be like with an actual girlfriend; how they could see movies and go to dinner parties like other people do. He’d have to clean out his murder junk pile and flay station if things did get serious, though. Murdering folks can’t be a sustainable hobby forever, he justifies. He’ll get caught one day, or get too old. Will imagines trying to strangle someone while coping with arthritis, or chasing an escaped victim while in a wheelchair. Can serial killers be terrifying while incontinent? That actually might make them scarier, Will thinks.
“Yes..” nods Will. “…I’m having a great time, actually. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a conversation this much. You (forgive me for being too forward) are pretty amazing, truth be told.”
“Thanks, handsome! And you’re what the Brits would call ‘a bit of alright’ yourself!” Darla smiles and it sends tendrils of excitement through Will’s body. He usually equates the exchange of compliments and acceptance with leveling up in a video game—achievement unlocked—but this feels different. This feels much more tangible and rewarding.
Devil help him, he might be falling for her…
Will doesn’t think about asking Darla back to his place for the old drug-n-shackle, like those before. Instead, his thoughts turn toward methods of enchantment and desire. This strange sensation fills his head with light and laughter. Will can’t tell if he wants to sing or scream till his uvula blasts from his throat like a pulpy chunk rocket. “You wanna, maybe…box this stuff up and…go to my place? For, you know, desert, not…other…things…” Will scratches his head, looking for a way to salvage his newfound feelings. “I make really terrific brownies.”
“No.” Darla purses her lips and squints apologetically.
“Oh…” Will clicks his tongue in defeat. He thinks, if only I wanted to kill and wear her, I wouldn’t have fucked this up so bad.
Darla smiles, “I didn’t mean to crush your feelings, Will. I just have a policy that I do not go back to the living space of any dude I just met. You never know what they might have waiting there.”
“N-no, that makes perfect sense,” Will says. “You never know who might be a nutbag.”
“But…” She begins, “That doesn’t mean I can’t invite you back to my place of power…”
“That doesn’t contradict your policy, though? If a dude is dangerous at his place, why not at yours?”
“You’re so not helping yourself here, Will.” Darla laughs. “But you’re right, in a way—a creeper is a creeper is a creeper—but at least at my place, I know where all the sharp utensils are.”
“That…is a very good point.” Will raises his tea in salute.
“So, what do you say? You in?”
“Absolutely!” Will sips the tea and waves Brian over to box up the leftovers and bring the check. Brian hands them two Styrofoam boxes and balanced on the check are two fortune cookies and sticks of ginger gum. Darla opens her cookie and ponders the mystical words.
“Crowded elevator smells differently to midget.” Darla nods her head with a profound expression. “So true, so true…”
“Bullshit, that can’t be what it says!” Will laughs. Darla hands it over. “When things are going your way, don’t block the current…” Will reads. “…In bed.”
“No, don’t be corny,” Darla scoffs. “This is ancient wisdom we’re talking about here. Read yours.”
“Okay…Help! I’m trapped in a Chinese bakery!”
“Calling shenanigans on that,” Darla holds out her hand. Will graciously passes it to her. “Huh, it actually does say that! Imagine there was an actual guy trapped, and he thought printing this would be his best chance? Sorry, pal, looks like you’re screwed!” They both laugh and Will, for once in his twisted, tortured life, feels happy. They exit Junk Food and Darla points down the road a bit.
“I’m parked that way, you?”
“I walked, actually.”
“You don’t own a car?”
“No, I do, I just live so close there’s no need to drive.”
“Well, then your chariot awaits…” Darla reaches out her hand and Will takes it. Once again there’s the soft, coconut skin and the urge to sew it into something fashionable. He sighs hard and pushes the thought down. “You okay?” She cocks an eyebrow as she asks.
“Yeah, I’m good. Just got a belly full of food.”
“Now’s the perfect time for hot yoga,” Darla smiles. “Here we are…” She pulls keys from her bag and unlocks her white Honda Fit .
“This is nice,” Will says as he slides in the passenger seat.
“I don’t think there are any famous songs written about it, but it does the job.” Darla pulls away from the curb, and they head off.
Darla leads Will up the stairs to her condo on the second floor of the complex. The door squeaks slightly as she opens it. The doorway leads straight to the dining room to the left, and the living room to the right of the long, wood floor hallway. The dining area connects to a small kitchen with a half-wall counter top. Will notices several pieces of kid art on the fridge.
“This is nice!”
“Home sweet home,” Darla sweeps her hand in an arc. “Have a seat in the living room. You want any wine? Tea? I’d offer you coffee, but all I have is this ridiculously potent Central American shit that will literally keep you up for days while slowly eroding your innards.”
“When you put it like that, I guess some wine would do the trick.” Will walks over to the three-cushion leather couch and plops down. “Holy crap, this is a comfortable couch!”
“Yeah, It was a housewarming gift from…a friend. Comfy, right?” Darla says from the kitchen.
“Very! So, an ‘awkward-pause friend’, you said? Should I ask?”
“No, you shouldn’t,” Darla chuckles lightly, and Will gets the hint. He hears the cork pop and the clinking of glasses. “Oh, shit!” Darla whispers harshly to herself.
“Yeah…it’s–I just opened a bottle of red without even asking you’d rather that over white.”
“Red is perfect.”
“Good, ’cause I’m not putting the cork back in.” Darla pours the wine.
“Saw you have some Fine Art on your fridge.” Will looks at the various canvases that also adorn the living room walls. They are abstracts, and Will finds the vibrant colors intermingling with murky, nearly visceral colors to be both beautiful and garish.
“Some of my students,” Darla walks into the room and hands Will his wine and sits on the other side of the couch, leaving the middle cushion as neutral ground.
“You’re a teacher? How did this not come up?” Will sniffs the contents of his glass.
“We were too busy judging the world and being witty. What are you doing, by the way?”
“Smelling the wine? That’s something people do, right?”
“Most people drink it,” Darla raises her glass then brings it to her lips. “Like this…”
“I was just trying to be fancy, God!” Will jokingly rolls his eyes and gulps a mouthful down. “Mm! Nice. So, students? What do you teach?”
“Art,” Darla takes another sip.
“Like drawing turkeys by tracing your hand, or, like…Monet?”
“Since they’re second graders, I mostly do the turkey thing. But every once in a while, I’ll drop some actual art knowledge on their tiny asses.”
“Stuff like those there?” Will motions his wine towards the abstracts. Darla nods and takes a sip from her glass.
“Yeah, those are mine. They aren’t big sellers, but that’s only because I haven’t had enough affluent assholes pretend to understand them yet.”
Will stands and walks closer to one of the paintings. “You do any shows?”
“Not often. Those tend to get pricey, and hardly worth the effort.”
“These are great, though. These colors are unreal, but…completely familiar in a way. What’s your process?”
“I’ll show you later. you’re not drunk enough yet.” Darla laughs.
“You know what we should do? We should…sorry…the wine is kicking in–” Will drinks the rest and shakes his head. “Damn good wine. Anyway, we should rent some gallery space, and I can…pretend to be an art snob…shit…” Will staggers and props his head between two paintings. “Fucking…good…” Will falls. His unresponsive limbs do nothing to soften the impact.
“Now…” Darla sets her glass on the coffee table and steps over to Will, who’s face is mashed against the chestnut-colored area rug. She grunts as she flips him to his back. Darkness ebbs and flows around Will’s vision—creeping further across his eyes with each heartbeat. He sees Darla’s smile, “…you’re ready to see my process.”
Will wakes up naked and strapped to a gurney in a room decorated with dozens of Darla’s paintings. Each one has a Polaroid taped next to it of a person in the same predicament Will finds himself. He tries to move but can’t—he can feel the straps around his wrists, his chest and feet, but they aren’t what’s stopping him. It’s as though his brain and body are no longer on speaking terms. The door opens, and Darla walks in stark naked and smiling.
“You’re awake! I was beginning to worry that you were going to take all the fun out of my Saturday night by sleeping through it.” Will tries to speak, but his vocal chords, too, have failed him. “Don’t bother trying to speak, Will, you are totally immobilized.”
Don’t you know who I am? Will screams in his mind. The rage in his eyes the only indication. I am the hunter!
“I inject my subjects with Quaternary Ammonium…something or other—it’s a neuromuscular-blocking drug I get from a guy I know. Basically, surgeons use it to make sure their patients don’t spaz out during an operation.” Darla caresses Will’s cheeks, and runs her fingers down his neck to his belly button.
I know what it is! I am the harvester of flesh!
“It’s crucial to my work–”
I am The Skinsmith!
“–My vision…” Darla lifts Will’s head to better see the room. “I’ll start small, a few incisions. See how well your blood works on the canvas—see? There’s your canvas on the easel there, all freshly primed and ready to live. As my work continues, other colors will make themselves available. Nothing to be ashamed of, believe me, it’s part of the pallet. It’s your body’s way of telling me what to use next. Once all is said and done (which is entirely up to you), You’ll get the old choppy choppy, then into that barrel you go.” Will sees the blue acid drum, and a pang of excitement strikes his heart.
She uses the same acid barrel as me! Will thinks. Darla sets his head back down and kisses him on the lips. He envisions the two of them making love atop a bed of corpses. Visceral, savage beauty swarms his mind like carrion beetles. Something in his brain clicks, causing his kaleidoscopic mind to focus. They have more than just a hatred for humans in common. She is a hunter like him, and he has fallen prey. She is perfect. Darla removes her camera from the surgical tray and pops the cover off the lens.
“But first! Think cheese!” A flash, then the unmistakable sound of the picture pushing itself out from its slot. She strokes his chest while the picture develops. “Huh! The look in your eyes…where’s the rage? You almost look happy.” Darla flips the photo around for Will to see, and his paralyzed face indeed looks somehow content. “The fuck just happened?”
You are my soulmate.
“This won’t do at all,” Darla sets the picture down and plucks the scalpel. “Gonna need to get that terror up.”
I’ve found you.
“Can’t be called a painting without pain, you know? Otherwise it’s just called a ting.” Darla begins to carve. Pain sprints across Will’s flesh, but he doesn’t show any signs of it. Darla removes his left nipple then throws it against the canvas. It sticks for three seconds then falls, creating a two inch streak. It isn’t sitting well with her.“This is all wrong!” Darla slaps Will hard across the cheek. She picks the tweezers up from the tray and puts it to Will’s left hand. She slowly forces the nail of his index finger between the prongs and clamps down. She stares into his eyes while pulling, lifting, tearing the nail free. Will’s eyes are calm despite the flowers of pain that bloom from Darla’s work. She does the same to his pinky, slower this time, and she swears Will winks slightly.
I will be your masterpiece.
“Give me something to work with!” She straddles him, and stabs Will’s chest and shoulders in a fit. Blood sprays against Darla’s breasts and throat, showering across Will’s vision like fireworks. He focuses on the sensation of Darla’s body grinding and writhing against him while she stabs and claws like a frenzied beast, lubricated by blood.
I love you.
The scalpel strikes Will’s carotid artery, his blood gushes in heavy gulps. Darla panics, dropping the scalpel to the floor and trying in vain to stop the bleeding.
“No-no-no-no! Too soon!” She cries. “I got carried away! Shit! You—you…I need pain! It doesn’t work with any other feelings! Don’t die! I—I…” Darla removes her hands and lays on Will, resting her head on his chest. He watches her head rise and fall a little less with each weakened breath. “I need you…”
Will smiles upon his bed of corpses.
Best. Date. Ever.
©Peter Hammarberg 2019