He is following her again, through the darkened alleyway in this small city. She knows that this is the fifth time he has done this in the past month, theeighth in the past two months. She was vaguely frightened of him those other times, but tonight when she hears his footsteps about a half of a block behind her, it makes her smile. "You want to play?" she whispers to him.

She was walking with her arms around herself to keep from shivering in the autumn cold. Now she lets her arms go and seductively runs her fingers through her long dark hair. She can feel her stalker's eyes on her, wanting her as she swings her hips with every step, and she feels almost drunk on the power she possesses. She quickens her pace and he does so also; when she slows, so does he. It is a dance and she is leading, as she was incapable of doing for ages…

Her father taught her to dance before he died. She was seven then, still blond and thin. She used to stand on her father's feet while he waltzed slowly holding his daughter against him. "Now Sasha," he used to say, "you must always let the man lead." And she smiled up at him and nodded.

She was not able to take advantage of her dancing lessons until she was seventeen, long after her father was dead. He was not there to take pictures of his daughter, the special gleam in his eye that he bestowed only upon her, as she stood in front of the fireplace, her first homecoming date on her arm. Her date was a tall, intelligent, sweet boy.He brought her a corsage of daises that he gently slid on her wrist. When they danced, he held her lightly, but closely. As the song ended, she looked into his eyes and threw the flowers at his feet, a strange smile on her face as she left him stricken. She walked home alone, her heart fluttering.

It is becoming colder now, but she still struts with her arms at her sides, occasionally running her hands over her hips even as she clenches her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering. She shivers, partly from the cold, and partly from hearing the stalker's footsteps closer behind her; she can feel his desire. She thinks about entering one of the apartment buildings she is passing and leaving her stalker as she left her homecoming date. No, not yet, she thinks. We'll play for a while longer.

There are very few lights in this alleyway. The darkness is enveloping and she marvels that she is not afraid. She used to be terrified of the dark—she slept with a light on from the day her father died until she was sixteen. Sometimes her mother would turn the light off in the middle of the night and then she'd wake to see her father at her bedside, that gleam in his eye as he reached to lift her blanket. She didn't have the strength to scream. She didn't have the strength for anything then. All she could ever do was cower and tearfully comply until she finally realized that her father was not there, that she was alone in the darkness. Then she would turn the light on and curl into a ball under the blankets.

God I used to be so weak! She can hardly believe that she was onceso pathetic. That young girl would never be able to walk down a dark alley by herself. Hell no. She would run home and lock the door, and then eat a bag of potato chips and whine about being so fat. That weak young girl couldn't even stop eating. By the time she was nine, when her father died, she was well over a hundred pounds, her body disgustingly round. She could no longer fit into normal size clothing when she was fourteen. "Sasha," her mother used to say, "you're a beautiful girl, but you've got to lose a few pounds." She used to stare at herself in the mirror and cry like a baby, punching herself in the stomach until she bruised. She was nearly two hundred damn pounds when she was sixteen, a repulsive mess that everyone whispered about as she trudged past.

Now she shivers again runs her hands across her slim waist and with an intake of breath, she can feel her ribs protruding under her skin. She exhales, relieving some tension that she didn't know was there. She notices that she is past the apartment buildings now. There are dumpsters cluttering the alley, indicating that she is behind some of the small stores. She didn't even realize that she walked so far; she was too lost in her thoughts. For a moment she panics, wondering if her stalker left her. Then she hears his steady footsteps behind her and smiles. She knows he can't resist her. She still has that power over him.

She didn't find that power in herself until she was sixteen and her mother found that dark-haired, muscular replacement for her father. At the wedding, her new stepfather winked at her and she felt something harden inside. She didn't eat that night, or the next day, or the next night. When she finally did eat two days later, she shoved her fingers down her throat and rid her body of the food as soon as she could. After a month she lost twenty-five pounds, by the end of the summer she had lost forty. Her mother never knew what she was doing. "Sasha," she would say, "I'm just so proud of you. Whatever you're doing, just keep it up." For the first time in her life, she felt strong. When the hunger thundered through her she savoredthe sensationand she reveled in the headaches and calm emptiness that came soon after her stomach stopped growling.

When she began her senior year, she felt everyone's eyes on her. Boys lusted after her and she threw it back in their faces with a laugh. Stupid of any of them to think that they could have her: no one could have her. No one.

She suddenly feels angry with her stalker. Did he honestly think that she would submit to him? Who was he that she would let him touch her, when she never let anyone touch her since she was nine years old? "You must always let the man lead," she remembers her father saying. Fuck you! I'm leading!

Her stalker probably thinks she is merely some weak, silly college girl who would do anything he tells her to. Her mother and stepfather never thought more of her. They even tried to blackmail her into going to college, threatening to throw her out of the house, cutting her loose financially. "Sasha, you are the salutatorian of your class," her mother would shout at her. "It would be a waste of your life if you didn't continue your education!" She knew better, however. She knew that she would not do what anyone told her to do, not any more. She is in control.

The cold is nearly unbearable now and it is irritating her. She is not strutting any more; her arms are again wrapped around herself. She knows that she is almost home now and her game with her stalker is almost over. She tries to deny the empty feeling that overcomes her when she thinks of sitting on the floor of her barren apartment, alone. She knows that being alone is necessary, though. She is strong and no one can touch her.

No one can touch me, she says to her stalker. But she hears him gaining on her now: his slow, measured steps now at an allegro moderato. Trying to keep her edge, she walks faster also. Her heart is beating loudly and she realizes that her hands are shaking. How dare you? she thinks. This is my game! I am in control! But her stalker is getting closer and closer. She can hear his breath now, she can feel that he is just behind her.

In rage, she whips around to face him. "I am…" she starts to say. But she never finishes. She is already dying, blood dripping from her mouth like vomit as the stab wound in her flat stomach bleeds onto her tight black dress.