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“Jonas. I met him online,” she says, in a flat, bored voice. “He told me he was eighteen. We were meeting for the first time tonight. I even snuck out.” Her last sentence she says with surprise.

“How old are you?” I ask. If I can get her to go home now, maybe she’d never talk. I could wipe down the area…

“Sixteen.”

“What’s your name?”

“Mary,” she says.

“We have two choices, Mary,” I tell her. “We can call the police—”

“They’ll tell my parents,” she rushes. “They’ll be so pissed.” She wrings her hands, and I notice the smudge of mascara under her eyes.

I blink at her for a minute. “Well, yes, they’ll be angry. There’s a dead man at my feet, and he tried to rape you. They’ll probably be happy that you’re okay,” I add. I lick my lips. My skin is itching underneath my clothes. I just killed a man, and this girl saw me do it.

“What’s the other option?” Mary asks. Her nose is running. She does nothing to wipe it away. She’s in shock, I think.

“We walk in opposite directions, and we never talk about this again.”

She turns without a word and heads out of the alley, hugging her arms around herself. “Hey,” she calls. I glance over my shoulder. She’s walking backward. “Thank you.” And then she sprints out of the alley, her hair whipping the air around her.

I want to tell her to be smarter next time. To stay away from men who want to meet up with her in alleys. To definitely stop sneaking out of her parents’ house in the middle of the night. But she’s gone, and I just killed a man, his blood cooling on the tar at my feet. There will be fibers, I think. My DNA will be all over him: hair, skin, perhaps blood. Thank God for the rain. That’s the key right there: commit a crime in the rain, and your chances of remaining a free man or woman significantly goes up.

“Jonas, my ass,” I say, slipping my hood around my face. Try Peter Fennet. And he was thirty-one. Pervert. I pocket his ID and prop his body against the side of the dumpster and pull the cash out of his wallet. Eighty-six dollars. I slip his watch off his wrist too—make it look like a robbery. I’ll dump it in the Sound later, I think, slipping it in my pocket. I look down at the body one last time. I don’t feel a single thing. Strange. I crack my neck as I leave the alley. I have to stop fucking killing people.

I throw Peter the Pervert’s watch in the Sound later that day. There’s a little plop, and it sinks gracefully into the gray. I wait until I know for sure that it’s not going to resurface like a demon to haunt me, then I walk over to the market. I buy fruit and spiced orange tea, and make my way home—body aching. I am black and blue under my clothes; I look like abstract art. Peter the Pervert whipped me good. But not good enough. He is dead, and I am alive. I was just there at the right time to punish him, but anyone else would have done the same. I make tea and carry the mug to the bath where I soak in hot water until my fingers are puckered. I wonder if Mary will tell anyone. If she’ll think of that night and always wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t heard her scream. Or maybe she’s like my mother—a shut-down-and-don’t-think-about-it kind of girl. Either way, I doubt I’ll ever see her again. And I’m okay with that.

I pull my laptop from underneath my mattress. I am afraid of someone stealing it. I hide it in a different place every day, even though if someone really wanted to, they could ransack the apartment and find it tucked somewhere fairly obvious. I search the news to see if anyone has reported a murder in Seattle. I wonder how long it will take to identify Peter Fennet and notify his family. I wonder who found him propped against the dumpster.

And there it is, the headline: “Man’s body found near Pike Place Market.” Except it wasn’t really near Pike Place. The media just wants you to know there is a killer in Seattle. An ugly blonde girl from the Bone, I think. The article is boney, just the basics. An unidentified male found dead. Late twenties to mid-thirties. Stab wounds and signs of a scuffle. It ends with the typical urge for information from anyone who saw or heard anything.

I bite my nails and think of Mary. She didn’t know my name, but I bet she could pick me out of a lineup. It was stupid, impulsive. I could have fought with him and given her time to run off, then perhaps gotten away myself. Unscathed , no … but perhaps not being sought by the police. I put my laptop away and crawl into bed. I sleep, but I have nightmares of being chased by headless lions down long alleyways.

Around four PM, I wake up and brush my teeth. I eat an orange over the sink and check my computer again. There is nothing else about Peter the Pervert. Some of the tension leaves my chest.

I REMEMBER WHEN I FIRST MOVED TO THE CITY; I thought I was very different from the people around me. I told myself that I was the one pretending to fit in, but life has taught me that we are all pretenders. Every single one of us. We are born ready to cultivate ourselves, find a place where we feel comfortable. Whether that is to fit in with the geeks, or the jocks, or the cold-blooded killers. There is nothing new under the sun. Nothing new we can invent or make up. We grapple with our likes and dislikes, who we want to please, what we want to wear and drive. Our interests, whether they include drawing Italian sunsets, playing video games, or thumbing our way through erotic novels, they are all handed to us by a society that produces them. No matter how hard we try to invent ourselves, there have always been druggies, and tattoos, and ambitious men who take over the world. There have always been artists, and hippies, and meatheads, and that beautiful, single Mother Teresa, who lights up the darkness. There have always been murderers, and mothers, and athletes. We are all pretenders in life, finding a patch of humanity that we relate to, and then embrace it. We come straight down the birth canal and our parents start telling us who to be, simply by being themselves. We see their lives, their cars, the way they interact, the rules they set, and the foundations for our own lives are laid. And when our parents aren’t molding us, our situations are. We are all sheep, who get jobs, and have babies, and diet, and try to carve something special out for ourselves using the broken hearts, and bored minds, and scathed souls life delivered to us. And it’s all been done before, every bit of suffering, every joy.

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