"Are you sure this is what you want?"
The girl nodded, but Adrienne noted that her lips were pressed tightly together, as though to steel herself for something unpleasant to come. She noticed her thick throat move with her swallowing before she nodded a second time.
"Because as I'm sure you understand, if you've changed your mind, now that you're here, you need to back out now, before things so any further than they already have," Adrienne pressed on, keeping her voice calm, but firm, her gaze steady on the other girl's pale face. "So if you're going to change your mind, then do it now."
The girl shook her head, then, seeming to understand that the gesture was ambiguous in its meaning, took another visible breath in and huffed it out, her chest rising and falling with its release. Her eyes looked towards Adrienne's feet rather than anywhere near her face.
"I'm…I'm not going to change my mind. I want this."
Adrienne appraised her, dark eyes narrowed intently behind the frames of her glasses. Judging her as sincere, if understandably nervous, she gave a brief nod in acknowledgement of the girl's affirmation.
"All the same, I'd like for you to give me your reasons why. I know you've already talked about it, over the site, but I'd like to hear it again from you, if you don't mind. It's different to hear a person's thoughts in person, rather than just reading printed words."
She would be better able to judge the sincerity behind them, the intensity of the emotion that was their driving force. But most importantly, she would be able to see any inconsistencies in the story she had already heard, and the one the girl would tell her now.
The girl flushed, though Adrienne didn't see a reason for it that was obviously apparent to her. But then, the girl had been clearly awkward and ill at ease throughout the few minutes they had spent in each other's company. She had introduced herself with a stutter when they met, thrusting out a shaky hand for Adrienne to grasp as she blurted out her name. Sinead Anthony, if she was being honest, and Adrienne was fairly certain that she was. Adrienne had not taken the offered hand, nor had she given Sinead her name in return. She had not asked for Sinead's, nor did she think that she wanted to know it. She didn't want that much involvement, or the closeness that a cordial touch would bring, if only as a social nicety.
"Okay," Sinead said slowly, shifting her weight to first one hip, then the other. She twisted her hands in front of herself, and Adrienne noticed the chewed skin around fingernails bitten to the quick. A good sign. "Okay. I guess…it's just, it's hard to talk about, you know?"
"I'm a patient person," Adrienne told her.
Sinead was not the sort of person she might have been drawn toward, had she met her in any other way. Although she claimed to be nineteen, she had the sort of round, featureless face of someone who could be thirteen or forty, or anywhere in between. She draped her chunky frame in blandly colored, shapeless clothes, designed to hide herself rather than chosen for style or even for camouflage. Her hair, a nondescript color in between blonde and brown, hunk lank and unstyled around her face, split ends visible even from the distance. She was one who would certainly blend into a crowd, and who likely preferred to blend in with the wall itself.
But she was the person who had answered Adrienne's advertisement. She deserved a chance to prove herself, and Adrienne could not be choosy when it came to possible prospects.
"I guess…I guess I'm here, I mean, I guess I want this because…I just don't see anything else for me," Sinead started, her eyes flickering briefly up to Adrienne's before skittering away. "It seems…it just seems like the best thing, the only thing. I mean…"
She took another breath, seemingly to steady herself, but it did not appear to help. If anything, her face seemed to shiver with barely contained emotion before her words came out, halting, strained.
"I guess…I mean, I haven't ever really been happy. Not since I was little. Maybe not even then, I don't know. I don't remember much about being a little kid. It doesn't seem like I was the same person then, you know? But…the stuff I do remember…I wish I didn't. I wish I could forget."
Sinead swallowed, her eyes rolling up towards the ceiling, and her round shoulders hunched.
"I just…I have so much that's happened to me. Stuff I can't forget, and stuff I can't get past. I don't have anything to look forward to, and I don't have anything to look back on. I just…I don't have anything."
"You said that you have a history of depression," Adrienne prompted. "You said that you have been thinking about suicide for years. So why didn't you follow through on it before, if that was what you wanted? What brings you here now, and how can I be certain, when you never actually acted on those thoughts before, that you're genuine in your wish to die now?"
This was an important question for her, the main point that she intended to clarify. It was the reasons for her asking Sinead to repeat everything that had already been said; she wanted to see for herself whether there were any inconsistencies in her stories, whether she wavered in any way in her supposed conviction.
Sinead flushed, one hand raising to her mouth as she gnawed at already damaged nails. "Yes, um, yes, I've…I've been depressed for a long time. And I tried to kill myself a few times. It just, it never really worked out, I guess. I didn't take enough pills one time, and the other time, my mom found me before anything really happened. I just…I guess I was scared."
"And you're not scared now?" Adrienne countered. "Because if you're not, then maybe you should be. I'm not certain we can go through with this, if you aren't mentally stable enough to have even the smallest level of fear."
For the first time, she saw a spark of reactivity in the other girl. Sinead's shoulders straightened, and she actually let her eyes make and hold her gaze.
"I've had a lot to be scared of in my life, as you already know. My parents didn't want me, and they split up when I was three. My father hasn't been in my life and my mother has always felt that I've held her back and wished I wasn't here at all. My stepfather molested me for years and when I told my mom, she said it was my own fault for looking too old for my age and trying to make him like me better. I'm fat, I'm ugly, and I've never been on even one single date or had a guy say he loves me when it wasn't a joke. I just flunked my first semester of college and lost my scholarship, so I'm about to have to be forced into moving back in with my mother, if she'll even let me. I've been bullied for everything and I don't have anyone I can really say is my friend. I've been in therapy on and off and only feel worse. Medications make me gain weight and feel like nothing around me is even real, and religion makes me feel fake and worthless. I don't like drinking and I don't use drugs, and I don't have one single thing in life that makes me feel good except thinking that soon I won't have to be alive anymore at all."
Breathless from her outbursts, Sinead's chest rose and fell quickly as she tried to regain control. When she spoke again, she sounded calmer, but her expression was stark with her pain.
"I've already failed twice at suicide. I can't afford to fail again. I'd rather go out knowing that I'm helping people, that I'm keeping someone else from having to go through this instead of me. I mean, if someone's going to die, it's better if it's someone who wants to, right? I mean, isn't that why you made your ad?"
Adrienne had hardly expected this degree of passion from the girl, particularly in the absence of tears. She felt her lips curve into a reluctant smile, and she inclined her head in a nod, feeling a small measure of respect for Sinead.
"It's one of the reasons, yes. I do believe in being fair, and it hardly seems fair to go against someone else's will and their hopes for their future, just of what I want."
"Well…since I told you my reasons…can you tell me mine?" Sinead asked. "I mean, I feel like…I just kind of want to know a little about who you are, you know? And why you're doing this. I mean, it's okay if you don't want to say, I guess it doesn't matter, but…I just kind of want to know."
There was a slight shaking to her voice, and she did not maintain eye contact for long, but there was enough time for Adrienne to see that the question was not an idle one. Adrienne's reasons mattered to her as much as Sinead's did to Adrienne. Adrienne could understand and appreciate that.
"Sure," she allowed, nodding. "I guess if you're going to do this for me, I owe this much to you. You deserve to know who it is that ends your life, and some of her reasons for it. You're doing me a favor, after all. I suppose I owe you an understanding of why."
She cleared her throat, wondering to herself where to start. Hers wasn't an easy story either, though not in the same way of Sinead's. She couldn't identify any traumatic events that could have shaped her into who she was or the way that she felt, nor had she undergone any tragedies or significant failures. That was the mystery of it all, and perhaps the reason why even now, Adrienne sought out a way to solve the problem of herself with minimal harm caused in the process.
"I've always been different, I guess. I didn't have any of the things you talked about, the abuse or the neglect or anything really terrible in my life. I had parents and a sister, and they took care of me, they loved me, and I suppose they tried to understand me. I wasn't bullied, or if I was, I didn't know about it, so I suppose it didn't matter. I've never been depressed. I guess I could be called mentally ill, but the truth is that I feel just fine. Certainly better than you do. I just happen to want to kill someone, and this is the only way that I can think of doing it without it going against their will."
She watched Sinead, waiting to see any hint of fear in her response to this. But although the girl was still fiddling with her cuticles, she was listening, taking it in without any particular emotion seeming to overpower her. Assured, Adrienne continued.
"I'm Adrienne Borden. I suppose it's important that you know the name of the person who kills you. It doesn't seem right, not to know, especially if no one else ever does either. I didn't lie to you about anything I said online. I'm 23, and I'm enrolled in a graduate program of psychology. I've tried, all my life, to understand my own thoughts, but nothing I've learned has gotten me there yet."
She was further reassured when Sinead didn't make the inevitable crack or comment about her last name, nor question her about any distant relations to Lizzie. Perhaps this girl really was what she had hoped for; perhaps they could both help each other in a way neither had been able to achieve until their meeting.
"I suppose you could say that I'm drawn to darkness in life. I've always wanted to read all the books about true crimes and I was fascinated by the pictures of victims I could find. I would imagine how it must have felt, in the last few moments when a person knows they will die, and how it felt to be the person to bring them to that point. I watched when people got hurt, and I wanted to be involved. I wanted to feel what they were feeling, and at the same time, I wanted to make it bigger and more intense. I wanted to understand death and pain, even to enjoy it, instead of fearing it."
Adrienne paused, assessing Sinead's reaction again. The girl had not moved, although Adrienne noted a flicker of some emotion she could not quite identify in her eyes. Adrienne continued, musing aloud to herself as much as to the girl before her. There was an odd freedom in this telling of her story, a relief of she would not have anticipated she could feel in the simple act of releasing her hidden true feelings.
"I knew that it wasn't right or usual, of course, to feel this way. I got all the usual messages in society about being empathetic over pain and suffering and not harming other people. I learned from the disapproval I received, any time I started to edge over the line of what was acceptable behavior for a young girl. But learning to show what was expected of me didn't change me. It only made me more restless, and more in need of outlets for what I felt."
"I took to cutting and burning myself when I was a teenager for a brief period. I thought if I simply experienced pain for myself, maybe I wouldn't need to see it or cause it in others. But there was no sense of power in harming my own body. It was mine, to do what I wished with. There was nothing exceptional in the acts. I turned to the dark web then, and I thought perhaps that would do. Watching movies of death, real death, should answer my questions and satisfy the need I was feeling. But it didn't work. It wasn't enough to know and to watch. I needed to do it. I needed to be responsible for the death, to have true understanding and power."
Adrienne noted as she came to another brief pause in her recounting how Sinead's face had paled, how her fingernails had stilled against her skin, and she could not seem to take her eyes off Adrienne's. Adrienne pushed her glasses up her nose, shook her uneven bangs back from her eyes, and returned her gaze, her voice as even as ever as she continued on.
"I tried to satisfy myself with animals, but it is not the same, I think. For one thing, animals can't speak. I don't know what they think or feel or if they see it coming. I don't know if they really understand what is happening to them when they die. And beyond that…well, you may disagree, and I'm sure many would. But I'm not a sociopath. I don't like the thought of bringing death upon creatures who are unwilling, even if it's only an animal. The thought of killing an unwilling person…I'm not sure the pleasure I might get would balance out the guilt I would feel for its immorality. It would be wrong, and therefore, I might not gain a true sense of how it feels to kill without my emotions being diluted with my conflict. Besides," she said, giving a faint chuckle as she looked down at herself, "I'm not a large person."
She gestured towards her slim but compact build, her modest breasts and short legs. Although Adrienne was not what a person might call unattractive, her small frame and loose clothing, put together with a plain face free of any makeup or embellishments, was neither powerful nor particularly strong, and she looked closer in age to a teenager than a legal adult.
"It isn't likely that I would draw in many unsuspecting victims, given my appearance, and even if I succeeded in that, I would think the risk of them overpowering me would be greater than the possibility that I could catch them by surprise. So, that's how I decided on this."
She gave Sinead a genuine smile as she nodded her head towards her in indication. "Putting out an advertisement for exactly the situation that I was working for. Meeting up in a neutral, private environment with a willing victim, someone who already had decided that they wanted to die. They would need to be over eighteen, of course, as I'm not about to kill a thoughtless child, or even a teenager too full of angst to really know her own mind. Perhaps even someone not quite possessing of the courage it would take to end their life by their own hands, but wanting death all the same. Perhaps someone who would not want their family or other acquaintances to suffer the stigma and guilt of their suicide, who could more easily accept murder or a simple disappearance. Or perhaps someone who was just unusual and special enough to understand things from my perspective. Someone who would see their death as noble, in a way. A way to save someone else who was unwilling, and a way to help me get what I most want."
She tilted her head slightly, concluding with another small smile. "And so here we are. You answered my ad, and if you are sincere, then I suppose you are precisely the perfect person for the task."
When Sinead looked away from her, her breath catching and then heaving out in a loud, strangled huffing, Adrienne raised an eyebrow.
"Well…are you that person?"
Sinead didn't fail to hear the note of challenge in her tone. Nor did she wish to know what might happen, if this young woman did not receive the answer she so clearly expected.
She had come here knowing and expecting all of what Adrienne had told her. She had come here with the full understanding that keeping her word to this strange girl would mean her death. And yet even as she let her head drop into a nod, even as she whispered her affirmation, her stomach flopped, sick with dread.
She could hear Adrienne approving her response, just dimly, without quite taking in her words. She could hear the girl asking her something about the preferred method of death, saying something about having no personal preference for how she would die, as long as she were able to execute full control and as long as there was at least brief pain involved. She heard, but she could not seem to bring her thoughts and her tongue together into being capable of giving her a response.
She supposed she must have made some gesture that Adrienne had chosen to interpret as a response, or perhaps the girl had simply grown tired of waiting. Whatever the case, her distant seeming words had cut off, and Adrienne's smaller form was coming close to her, her indistinct features suddenly sharp and savage with anticipant delight. Sinead saw this first, the sudden shift that made her ordinary face almost beautiful, and the horror of this left her cold from head to toe, almost incapable of movement.
She saw the knife second. First barely more to her than a glinting of silver, then as it came closer, she understood in a rush of horror just what was moving towards her in Adrienne's hand, and exactly what she intended.
She was about to die, as she had longed for and thought of so long and so fervently. She was about to die, but for the first time, Sinead understood the reality of death, just as it drew close. For the first time, she understood that death was nothing to dream about, nothing to think of with hope and romantic fantasy of solved problems and saddened enemies. For the first time, Sinead understand that the one thing she could be sure of in all of her uncertain existence was she did not want to die, and she certainly did not want to stand back passively and allow herself to be fucking murdered.
Adrienne's arm came up, a pale, narrow sliver of flesh lacking in either muscle or fat for added force behind its motion. A cry not of fear or even protest, but of instinctive defiance broke forth from Sinead's throat, and as Adrienne stepped in closer to her, her thin arm simultaneously coming down to stab, both of Sinead's arms came up to block its path. With an amount of aggression and strength that she would not have thought herself capable of, Sinead's hands locked around Adrienne's wrist, squeezing and then twisting hard enough for the older girl's arm to bend back in a pained, uncomfortable angle. As Adrienne uttered a stunned gasp, her face going pale, her grip on the knife loosened until her fingers fell open entirely, allowing it to drop to the floor.
It could have ended there. It was clear to them both that Sinead was unwilling for the death Adrienne had planned, that she was large and strong enough to stop her if Adrienne's words of desiring a willing victim turned out to be nothing more than hot air. But to Sinead, it did not feel finished. It was not enough to simply release Adrienne's arm, to kick the knife out of her reach, and to stalk out of the room, unhurt and living still. No, the adrenaline now roaring through her veins, pumping blood into each of her limbs, could not allow for something so simple, so logical…so humane.
She wanted to get back at Adrienne for even making the effort, even having the thought, of hurting her. She wanted to strike out at not only Adrienne, but every other person in her life who had ever caused or meant her harm in any way. She wanted in that moment to keep hold of the power she was feeling for the first time in her life, to take it on as hers forever…at least for this one person, this one time.
And so she reached down and grasped the dropped knife in a tightened grip, holding on to it hard enough that it seemed to be part of her own skin. Sinead brought it down, blade first, into the spare flesh of the crumpled girl at her feet, once, twice, three times, her heart leaping in response to the blood quickly staining her simple blouse. And then she had lost count of just how many times the knife had made its mark, or when it was that the twitching, gasping croaks of the girl being bludgeoned had stopped.
Breathing heavily, Sinead sat back on her haunches, her hair tangled and damp with sweat and flecks of Adrienne's blood. She regarded the sight before her, but rather than feeling guilt or horror at what she had done begin to sink in, she felt only a deep satisfaction…even a sense of triumph, accomplishment.
She may not be worth much in life. She may not be capable of making friends or maintaining relationships, having a sexy body or a pretty face. She may not be able to keep a job or satisfy anyone who was supposed to matter.
But she could do this. She could have power, albeit not in a way she ever would have expected. She had found at last what she was good at, the one role that felt like it was hers.
It was too bad that the world could never know about the talent she had come into so belatedly. But those who mattered would know, even if it was the last thing they were to learn in life.
Standing with some difficulty, Sinead stepped away, already making her plans. There was the matter of the cleaning, of course, and she would need to find a place and a way to dispose of the body and all evidence associated with it. It would be difficult, but certainly not undoable. There were a lot of missing people in this world who were never found, and Adrienne Borden had certainly not presented as a person who a lot of people would miss. So many details to attend to, each important and necessary.
But most of all, Sinead's thoughts focused on the exact words she would use in her online ad. She couldn't steal from Adrienne's, after all. She might not be all that smart, but at the very least, she could be original.