Mourning Stars

Present

It's dark in my bedroom. If there'd been a storm going on outside, I'd know it was because the winds destroyed the wires. But the night outside my window is clear and shimmering with stars, and the leaves on the trees are still.

It can only be him.

A fissure of terror opens in me, followed by a larger jolt of something else. Everything in my dull, mundane life has been building up to this moment.

I can't hear anything, even though there is silence everywhere. He's good at this, really good. I may have underestimated him, which is surprising, given his reputation.

Then it's there, that sound of the bolt turning in the door and the squeaking of something large and metal against the ground. Something with spikes.

From the doorway comes a rough voice that sends chills down my spine. "You know why you're here, don't you?"

I smile secretly to myself and add a tremor to my voice. "Y-yes."

"Good. Then you know you'll be leaving this place. Just not alive." He chuckles from behind me, and I spin around to see the mace glint under the sparse moonlight straining through my blinds as he brings it down towards my head…

Five Hours Ago

Worst Jobs in History

5. Gravediggers. Grab a shovel! Back then, everyone was dying of disease and plagues; gravediggers took the risk of dying to bury the dead. Without them, Medieval England may have been Medieval Corpseland instead.

4. Arming-Squires. The glory! The honor! Your job is to run into battle (unarmed, mind you), and risk your own life to replace your lord's armor. Stick around and avoid being killed, and you just might become a knight.

3. Leech-Pickers. Want to be pale as a corpse? Become a leech-picker! Explore the slimy marshlands and allow those buggers to attach to your body parts. Just make sure to stick them in a jar before they suck you dry!

2. Gladiators. You might die today, you might not. Depends how well the people are entertained, and how well you fight. Today might be your last, but at least it'll be eventful!

1. Secretaries. Prepare for doom as you struggle at the whim of whichever tyrannical employer you may be unlucky to have.

"Get me a coffee, will you, sweet cheeks?"

I looked up at my boss. Jameson Williams was a man wider than he was narrow, with a permanently ruddy face and a disgusting penchant for overly sugared coffee.

"Five sugars and two creams. Bring me another five, just in case." He groped for my ass as I stood up, and with a skill borne of experience, I dodged him and headed towards the mailroom's coffee machine. I didn't bother telling him that if he wanted his own coffee, he should've hired some poor intern to do it, not his damned secretary. He would've just ignored me and tried to grab my butt again.

Nobody said hello to me as I walked through the halls, teetering in my heels and balancing a steaming hot cup and a huge file of folders.

Just Lorelei, out on her daily errand to appease her slave-driving, chauvinistic boss…

I directed their calls, scheduled appointments, distributed papers. Jacobson, Incorporated would have been Jacobson, Disorganized, without me. But what did they care? I wasn't deciding the future of the company, even if I was contributing more than any of them did.

"Lorelei, is that coffee? Will you get me some too, love? There's a dear."

"Hey, Lore, that coffee smells mighty good. You mind pouring me a cup?"

Why couldn't people get their own damned coffee?

Sometimes I daydreamed that they'd drink so much of it that they'd burst, and I'd be the only one left here because I avoided caffeine like the plague.

Health Issues Associated with Coffee & Caffeine:

Female Health Issues. Miscarriage, infertility, and low birth rate are loosely related to women who drink too much coffee. Hot flashes during menopause may also be an effect.

Male Health Issues. Frequent urination.

"Here, Mr. Williams," I said, smiling sickeningly sweetly as I handed him his coffee.

"Thanks, sugar. Actually, I'll run to the restroom real quick. Take a look over those files for me?"

I nodded obediently and sat down in front of the computer, my eyes burning already at the prospect of going through millions of words just to facilitate the life of someone else.

To make myself feel better about the interminable torture that I suffered with this job and a boss who could avoid sexual harassment charges if he so desired, I thought of my boyfriend, Dale, who always was a welcome distraction in these dire times of need. We'd been together for two years, and he was the shining light in this dark, chaotic nightmare of endless quotes and tyrannical bosses.

Missing him intensely, I plucked my phone out of my bag, shooting him a quick text.

Miss U!

xoxo Lorelei

His reply came instantly.

You should be concentrating on work.

Regards,

Dale

The text made me smile. Dale worked at a law firm, so it made sense that he was so serious all the time. But that was one of the things I loved about him.

Looking forward to tonight ;)

xoxo Lorelei

I was pretty sure he was proposing tonight. No guy invited his girlfriend out to a posh restaurant in the city without some ulterior motive. Unless his ulterior motive was sex, in which case he didn't need any fancy restaurants to get it from me.

I'm busy.

Regards,

Dale

I giggled before darting my eyes around and making sure no one had heard me. But of course no one had.

dis·re·gard [dis-ri-gahrd]

verb (used with object)

1. to pay no attention to; leave out of consideration; ignore: Disregard the footnotes.

I didn't know how, but I got through another day. Ducking around Mr. Williams's wandering hands, I slapped his files down on his table and raced for the door before he could call me back.

As I neared the exit of my hell, SPECIAL REPORT began flashing across the TV screen in the lobby. Everyone else stopped to stare at the screen, and I stopped too, curious as to what was more important than this week's showing of Dr. Phil.

The frighteningly straight-faced anchorwoman glared at us. "This is an ABC Special Report concerning the serial killer who last appeared in a home in downtown Chicago. Michael Anderson, 26…"

Michael Anderson. What a normal name for someone who'd just made national television.

I looked at the screen again, and there was a picture of the guy on TV, although it wasn't a very good one. It must have been some sort of high school photo, since he looked grainy but young and vibrant. Actually, he was kind of cute.

I couldn't believe I'd just thought a serial killer was cute.

"… His last victim, Cerise Ventra, twenty-three—"

Twenty-three. I was twenty-three! And I lived in Chicago!

"—was found in her home with puncture wounds that may have been caused by a large, spiked object. The police suspect that it is a morning star, a medieval weapon that went missing a week ago from the Chicago History Museum. The suspect cut the electric circuits so she could not see his approach inside her home…"

Brutal Weapons of War and Decapitation: The mace's nastier cousin, the morning star, consists of solid wooden or metal shaft atop a large metal ball adorned with number of spikes and blades. Commonly swung at face and head, or at legs and knees to disable an enemy.

Who called an instrument of torture a morning star? What, did the victims' blood shine more brightly when they were killed with it? Did their dying screams symbolize the dawn of a new age?

"This man appears to prefer victims in their twenties, and all previous women were also discovered with similar injuries in their bedrooms."

Okay. I couldn't step outside of the building when a maniac like this was on the loose. I needed protection. I texted Dale.

Can you pick me up?

xoxo Lorelei

"Michael Anderson, who used to work as a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, left his job a few days before his killing spree…"

I'll be late, but sure.

Regards,

Dale

I'd always known journalists were suppressed psychopaths.

Knowing Dale, he'd work until he had to leave. I would have to wait over an hour in the lobby while a serial killer prowled the streets. Which meant that Mr. Williams would probably pounce on me, make me carry errands, and cop a feel while he was at it.

Sighing, I responded.

Sounds great!

xoxo Lorelei

He didn't reply.

Mr. Williams poked his head around a corner. "Lorelei, you're still here? Come take a look at this document for me, will you? And can you grab me another coffee?"

I stood up. "No."

J.K. Rowling was fired from her job as a secretary at Amnesty International because she spent too much time daydreaming about a certain boy wizard. Her expulsion allowed her to pursue her dream and ultimately become one of the world's most celebrated authors.

Steve Jobs got booted out of his own company, giving him perspective and allowing him to focus on his own pleasures, leading to his triumphant return to Apple.

A major record label dropped Lady Gaga, but instead of wallowing, she picked herself up and continued using her resources to become one of the major pop icons of the decade.

"Hello? Lorelei? Why the hell are you calling me right now?" Dale's voice was hushed and brusque; I could tell I'd interrupted him in the middle of a meeting.

"Can you pick me up? I think I, uh, got fired."

"You got fired?"

"I really don't want to explain right now. But I'm trapped at the company, and I don't want to go out alone on account of that serial killer who's on the loose in Chicago right now because I fit the entire description, and I'm really scared—"

"What are you blabbering about?" I heard him say, "Excuse me," and then his voice got clearer. "Listen to me, Lorelei. This isn't going to work."

"What isn't going to work? You picking me up? Dale, I don't ask you for anything, but I'm asking now. Just take me home. Please."

"Lorelei, you brought this upon yourself. Please don't burden me with your problems."

My jaw nearly hit the ground. Did he just—did he just pull the bastard card with me?

"We obviously have conflicting desires. I'm at the height of my career, and you just… got fired. Those aren't good ingredients for a relationship."

You know the recipe for a good relationship? Here it is:

Ingredients:

3 cups mutual attraction

2 tbsp. common interests

5 lb. tolerance

dash of personal space

A bastard boyfriend

Instructions:

In relationship, mix mutual attraction and common interests, gently whisking in personal space and tolerance. Then dice bastard boyfriend and hope he doesn't figure out how to put himself together again.

"You know what's not a good ingredient for a relationship? You," I snapped.

"Then it's clear we feel the same way," he said smoothly. "It was a pleasure making your acquaintance." Then he hung up.

I stabbed the end button and seethed, wanting to kill something. It was then that I realized I had basically nothing. I didn't have a boyfriend. I didn't even have my shitty job anymore.

The sun had begun setting, spilling pink and purple across the horizon. They bled across the sky, and I thought of the serial killer that was Michael Anderson. At least he had a purpose. I had nothing. I had a giant black hole of emptiness gaping inside of me, sucking in the planets and the stars, my chances and hopes.

I had nothing to live for.

The thought should have made me feel slightly suicidal, but instead, I felt disgruntled. I worked this hard for shit. It was time to make myself heard.

It struck me then, in a brilliant thunderbolt of certainty. What was the best way to find myself on TV, talked about quietly by parents during dinner, headline of the news?

I had to kill someone.

The idea electrified my blood. It gave me purpose, shining like the new dawn, alighting fire in my veins. I swore I'd reached self-actualization and it was glowing neon-bright through my pores.

But I couldn't murder anyone any old way. I had to come up with something good, something memorable.

One thing was certain: blood would be shed.

I was so caught up in my own genius that I hardly noticed when I wasn't attacked while I was on my way home. I hardly noticed when my door creaked open, unlocked.

I did notice, however, when my lights didn't click on even when I flicked the switch.

Present

It's him.

Michael Anderson.

His voice is surprisingly soothing and soft, even though he means to kill me. Of course I'm one of his victims. How many twenty-some women in downtown Chicago are there?

I can't let him kill me. I have to know. I have to know how he did it.

I crawl away, just as he brings the deadly weapon down.

He curses. "What the—"

"Wait, wait!" I bang into something and swear as I search for what I'm looking for. "I just have a question."

"What do you think this is, an interview? No questions!"

My fingers encounter the smooth wax of my rose-scented candles, and I dig around for the matches. A bright flame flares up, tickling my fingers with heat, and the aroma of rose petals burns into my nose.

Disclaimer for Flora Candles: Flora Candles has no control over the use of our products once they leave our warehouse and makes no warranties or guarantees, expressed or implied, as to the suitability or results of any items used in combination to create another product.

Michael starts sneezing. "What the hell?"

"Candles!" I say brightly. "I never use these; thanks for giving me the chance."

"Well, whatever's in it—" He sneezes again. "—I'm allergic!"

"Oh." I frown. "Sorry."

"That's beside the point." He raises his weapon again, and I point at it.

"So that's the mace?" It's rotted, handle jagged with shattered wood. Blood has formed dark splotches against the corroded metal. "Won't you get splinters from it?"

"It's a morning star," he says through gritted teeth.

"I know. But mace sounds so much more badass." I'm having fun with this; he's quite interesting to talk to. And the candlelight brings his defined features into focus; his eyes are a comforting, midnight blue, and his lips look soft and nicely shaped.

He growls. "I'm so going to kill you."

"Have I told you how brilliant you are?"

"What?" he asks, bewildered. The morning star falls an inch; he's obviously having trouble holding it up.

"I mean, journalist or serial killer? It's obvious which one's more glamorous. I want to be just like you, you know?"

He sighs, and his weapon clunks to the ground. Sitting down, he pats the space next to him. "It's really not all it's cracked up to be."

I join him.

"Why not?" I ask.

"Because it happened on accident."

"No."

"Yes."

"What kick-started this whole thing?"

"You've seen the news, right? The reporters, standing in front of fires, looking all cool and distant from the catastrophes happening behind them. I was one of those people. I took all the explosions and terrorist attacks. I saw buildings go up in flames. I had to shove microphones into the faces of people whose children had been kidnapped or raped so the public could gawk. I was an ass, not an asset."

He takes a deep breath. "Then my own sister died. Suicide. Jumped from a building. And I was told to write about it because I could give an inside look on the debacle." His laugh is cold, harsh. "Can you believe that?"

I shake my head mutely.

"That was the last straw. I was done. Then they told me to go to the museum to write about the new medieval collection. It was supposed to be a break from everything."

"How was that?"

"How do you think? I stole a weapon."

"You just… stole it?"

"Think about it. Medieval Europe. Cool place. Lots of horrifying, gruesome deaths, and equally frightening weaponry to go with it. I stared, thinking about how life sucked, and how good that thing would look on my wall."

"Did it?"

"I never got the chance to see. I mean, I punched the security guards, unscrewed it from its bindings to the wall, then ran. They've been looking for me ever since."

"Why did you kill someone?"

"I had a fucking morning star and nothing to do with it. Then, there was this woman in the line at the supermarket, and she was being terrible."

"Terrible enough to warrant being killed?"

"Eh. Probably not. But she was pissing me off. She told her friend to keep her place in line and then kept going back for more groceries. I hate people who do that. Don't you?"

"Yeah. But not enough to kill them."

"You're going to keep rubbing that in my face, huh? Anyway, I followed her back, cut the circuits so she couldn't see. Then I killed her with this baby. That was the first one."

"What about the others?"

"Honestly? The first one was an accident. I hate accidents. They're so… erasable. I didn't want to get thrown in jail and forgotten. And what's better: reporting the news, or being the news? I kept doing it. I wanted to be remembered. I hacked into the databases and tracked down all the women like the first: young, annoying."

"Hey!"

"Don't deny it. Chain reaction. That's how it goes. And it was going fine. Until you."

We stare at each other.

"I want to kill someone," I announce.

"It's not worth it," Michael replies, shaking his head, movement casting long shadows against the cracked plaster of my wall. "This life's going to be a short one, but whatever. I've seen enough horrible things to last a lifetime."

"Just my ex. Maybe my boss," I amend. "I'll do it alone. I just want some pointers."

"Killing has nothing to do with pointers, and everything to do with luck. Just make sure not to do it in daylight. And that victims aren't near a phone, and all exits are open. What'd this boyfriend and boss do to you, anyway?"

"The boyfriend dumped me over the phone. The boss has basically enslaved me for 30K a year."

"Technically, you're not a slave if you're being paid," Michael points out.

"Technically, you shouldn't kill people over groceries."

"Touché." He puts his hands in his pockets. "Okay. I'll help you. But not in thinking of a method, just in the execution."

ex·e·cu·tion [ek-si-kyoo-shuhn]

noun

1. the infliction of capital punishment or, formerly, of any legal punishment.

2. a mode or style of performance; technical skill.

That's how I find myself looming out of the shadows as Dale unlocks his front door.

"Lorelei? What the—" He shuts up pretty quickly when I shove the knife at his throat, his eyes widening when Michael skulks out from behind me. Michael wouldn't let me try anything fun for Dale, saying I had to be comfortable with the basics first.

"A test run," he'd said, handing me an ordinary kitchen knife. "You might need it."

"I warned you," I coo to Dale, feeling absolutely diabolical. "You just didn't listen."

Dale gurgles, more pathetic sack of ex-boyfriend than hotshot corporate lawyer. Blood pools around the wound and drips slowly down the knife, covering it in a red film.

Then the strangest thing happens. Nausea squeezes grimy hands around my stomach.

Dale flings himself back as I retch into the drain.

NO DUMPING

DRAINAGE LEADS TO BAY

I hear the sounds of a scuffle before a thick, wet smack echoes through the air.

"There goes my record," Michael grumbles as he pulls hair back from my face while I upend my dinner, hefting his newly bloodied morning star onto his shoulder. "Nowhere does pretentious lawyer dude fit into the pattern."

"So we've established that I'm a bit squeamish near blood," I say as we regroup behind a Dumpster.

"A bit? You heaved up every goddamn thing you ate."

"Immaterial. Dale's dead."

"Yeah, and my reputation's been stained by his corrupted lawyer blood."

"I need this, Michael. I need it to feel complete. I don't care what happens after."

We lock eyes for a moment, and then he nods. "We'll go for the boss."


Mr. Williams whistles as he plays checkers on his computer, instead of doing whatever he's supposed to. He was too lazy to even delete my ID from the system, so getting into the building is easy as killing Dale.

I couldn't bloody him up, but I realize that being a good killer doesn't mean you have to resort to drastic measures. Sometimes, it only requires a little creativity.

"Lorelei?" Mr. Williams's pig-like eyes widen before a smirk crawls onto his face. "Back to beg for your job back? You're lucky. No begging necessary, as long as you write these emails and get me another cup of coffee." His eyes sweep over my body. "You'll have to stay late tonight to… finish."

I smile sweetly, bringing my hands in front of me, proffering the freshly brewed cup. "Already done."

Mr. Williams grins, and I struggle not to choke from the coffee fumes escaping his decrepit mouth. He takes the cup and swigs.

And begins choking.

"What did you put in this?" he gasps.

"Your usual," I say, fluttering my lashes. "And a little extra, too."

Mr. Williams's Daily Coffee

Ingredients:

1 cup black coffee

5 packs sugar

2 creams

1 tbsp. cyanide from one of Michael's "friends"

Instructions:

Stir that shit up.

His eyes bug out, and the cup crashes to the floor, dark stains creeping along the white carpet of his office. His sausage fingers struggle, spasm uncontrollably. I grind them into the ground with a heel and listen to his howl of pain with fascination.

But the light leaks out of his eyes too soon, and his mouth opens stupidly like that of a gaping fish.

Michael senses my disappointment, because he shrugs and says, "Next time, don't use cyanide if you want a slow death."

"Not all of us can break into museums and steal medieval weapons," I say bitterly.

"Sometimes it takes a few tries to find your calling." He gives me a heart-stopping smile. "You'll find yours in no time."

"You know, the security cameras probably saw this," I note.

"Yeah. You're screwed."

"I don't know," I wonder, examining my coffee-stained fingers. "Sometimes screwed up is a good thing. A happy thing."

"Are you happy?"

Sirens shriek from the distance, and for once, I'm not standing on the street watching the blue-red lights flash by, an innocent bystander separated from the torrent of life. This time, they're coming for me.

"Yeah," I say, looking at Mr. Williams's lifeless form, the hands that won't ever touch another poor woman again. "Yeah, I am." After all, haven't I found my calling?

The stars twinkle overhead as he grabs my hand and we run. They could be crying diamond tears for the beginning of my downward spiral into oblivion, but I prefer to think they're winking at me for doing what I've wanted to do all along.

Ingredients for Happiness:

Everything you love.

Instructions:

Do it.


A/N: While struggling over loads of coursework and college apps, I felt bad for not updating EIN. So I decided to post this baby. I wrote it during a creative writing workshop, and I think it's the best one-shot I've ever written, which was why I felt kind of weird about posting it here on FP. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed it, and it's left you appropriately happy and bloodthirsty. For those of you who are sick and tired of my terrible updating, I swear I'll try to get another chappy of EIN up soon. My decision to work on HHNF instead is beginning to have severe ramifications, heh. But come NaNoWriMo, there will be some serious word count going on here!