TRIGGER WARNING: Sexual assault (last paragraph, can be skipped.)

THE FIRST DAY THAT I ALMOST DIED

      It was distinctly warm in the public library. I zipped open my hoodie and considered taking it off completely for a moment, but decided against it and instead rolled up my sleeves. Perhaps it hadn't been the best idea to wear as many layers as I now did into a warm library - I feared that I would forget to carry them back with me if I took any of them off.
I leaned my elbows on the table I was sitting at as I pretended to read. Concentration was difficult to find. The letters held no meaning to my blank stare, seeming to spill from the page and refusing to be processed.
I had never really liked reading all that much. For years I had pretended to like it, because I liked learning new things, and sometimes I liked stories, and I liked being left alone because it was clear that I was occupied by something seemingly useful - but the act in and of itself bored me. I didn't like sitting still for that long.
The only reason that I was doing it now was in order to pretend I didn't notice the man who was staring at me from two tables away.
He wasn't being obnoxious about it (unlike some other, much younger guys who I had manipulated into buying me fries a few days ago), but he wasn't exactly too subtle, either. He didn't quickly avert his eyes once I'd looked up, instead, he'd made eye contact for a few seconds, and then he had read further in his ridiculously thick novel. It felt almost deliberate - like a greeting.
I had been fighting the urge to look up again ever since.
The man was probably in his twenties, possibly thirties. He wore a button-down shirt, khakis, and woolen vest that appeared rather expensive and had always neatly combed his half-long hair - face shaved and eyes empty.
For the past week, which was about as long as I had been spending time in this place, he had come to the library around 16:30 - often on the exact minute once I'd started checking - then he would pick up one of the older horror novels, finished it before the library closed, and left.
It was, admittedly, somewhat ridiculous.
Though, I couldn't pretend to be much better, for I had been spending most of my time in this very seat reading vampire comics. (Unfortunately, I'd run out of those, and thus had to pretend to read Dante's "Divine Comedy".)
It wasn't that odd that he would, even if subtly, acknowledge me, since we both had been coming at this very place for nearly a week at the same time.
Still, I might've preferred him not to do so. It made pretending to be interested in books a lot harder when someone might be watching you read. It was as if I had to deliberately perform an act, now, and I didn't really like a nosy public. I liked viewers who simply accepted me as part of their environment, and viewers who spent money on me - anything in between was annoying.
I bounced my leg a bit. I was hungry.
The scraping of the chair beside me over the floor and the thud of a bag ultimately snapped me out of my concentration. I tensed a little and sat very still until I recognized the specific scent of men's deodorant.
'Ola, mystery girl,' Keith greeted me, rummaging in his rucksack, and then dropped a can of energy drink in my lap, 'Ran out of comics?'
I now finally glanced up at him - at the disgrace of what dared to be called a face - and put my hand over the drink. That was mine now.
'Yeah, thought I'd level up to something that would make me look intelligent.'
Keith lifted the book slightly to see the cover. He didn't seem particularly interested. 'Right.' He released the page from his sweaty fingertips. 'Done anything fun lately?'
I could tell him about the group of stray cats who had visited me at night in the park I'd been using as a place to sleep. I could tell him about the pretty girl with a cool fashion sense who had walked with me here this morning because someone had been walking too closely behind her and my company helped her get rid of him. I could even just tell him about the crow who had stolen a fry from someone and made me laugh.
I didn't, though. I knew Keith a bit by now, and he didn't actually care about my days - he was asking me to start a conversation, preferably one where he could talk about himself. Not the type of person I enjoyed hanging out with (no matter how hypocritical that was), but since he was my current wallet, I'd do my best to give him what he wanted so that he would keep feeding me.
'Not really,' I said, speaking with a pitch somewhat higher than I usually would, adding a short, nervous laugh. I was good at acting, at making people like me. It was what made killing Edwin Greenwood so much easier than it might have been otherwise. 'How about you? Heard anything from that college yet?'
'No, not yet. Sent the application file, no replies.' He leaned back in his chair. I was unsure when he had gotten the bag of chips he was now holding, but it creaked unpleasantly. 'Another friend of mine got rejected yesterday or s'mthing. Got pretty pissed about it too.'
Well, it wasn't as if he, lest forget his friends, were awfully intellectual people. 'What a misfortune. Let's hope you won't share his fate.'
'Uh-huh.' He shoved a handful of chips into his mouth. 'Say, I've been thinking, and I think you owe me a name. I bought you food and all. I wanna know who I'm talking to.'
My mouth corner strained ever so slightly as annoyance bubbled underneath my skin. I tapped my fingers on the desk. 'Does it have to be my real name?' I asked as lightly as I could.
'Eh, I don't know.' He frowned lightly. 'Just s'mthing to call ya, y'know. Don't really care.'
Wonderful. If I told him that I was Mallory Todd, who had been reported missing around the time that I had appeared in the city, he might hold the police over my head to try and have me do favors for him. I didn't particularly like that idea. In all honesty, I would've lied about it even if he'd demanded the truth.
'You should call me Horror,' I suggested.
Keith was still for a moment and then waved his finger, laughing shortly. 'Oh – I get it, because ya read horror books all the time,' he said, 'Fitting, fitting.'
I couldn't suppress a small smirk of satisfaction at his conclusion, the front page of the "The Horror of what happened to Edwin Goodwin" article flashing before my eyes. It was probably a bit arrogant, a bit smug – the type of attention-seeking and foolishness that got many criminals caught. However, I doubted that I would be ultimately unmasked by Keith, 22, flirting with minors because he failed to see the issue in such, who spent most of his time bullying kids and complaining about girls not wanting to sleep with him. (It would be wonderful if all of these were my own judgemental assumptions, but unfortunately, he had demonstrated enough to me to dislike him.) He might be dangerous due to his entitlement, but he also seemed rather stupid. I didn't think he would be my ultimate downfall on this secret – such would be an embarrassment.
'So, uh, Horror, you applying to any colleges yet?'
'I'm homeless and don't go to school,' I reminded him. I had told him that when we first met already, not feeling like coming up with excuses as to why I was wearing the same sweaty turtleneck-shirt-hoodie combination for days. "Walked away, I've got shitty parents," I'd told him – and it had not been a lie. I only had hidden that the catalyst of my escape had been first-degree murder, for I might have never had the guts running off otherwise.
'Ah, yes, I forgot,' Keith admitted, was quiet for a second, and then asked, 'But ya went to school before ya ran away, right?'
A silent nod. I didn't really feel like having this conversation. Dante's "Divine Comedy" had been more entertaining and I sincerely hoped I'd get a sandwich for my effort at bothering keeping up this conversation.
Keith just stared at me, waiting for me to continue.
I averted my eyes and rested them upon a page. Quick, come up with some college course that sounds believable – 'My parents wanted me to go to Harvard Law School,' I blurted out. Fortunately, there was truth in that.
'Harvard?'
'Yeah. High standards and shit. Don't think I'll ever go to a university like that now, though.'
Keith hummed. 'I get ya. I disappoint my parents all the time too. Guess it just be that way sometimes,' he stated after he seemed to have done some gymnastics. I wasn't sure what he'd been trying to figure out and decided I didn't want to know.
I smiled sourly.
'Anyhow, ya hungry?'

      I most certainly was.
I took a bite from the bagel that Keith still was paying for, wanting to be absolutely sure I had eaten something even if he turned out not to have the money. He leaned against the counter and glanced at him sideways. He was currently shoving his wallet back into his backpack and then swung it over his shoulder.
'Wanna sit somewhere?' Keith then asked me, flashing me an awkward grin that revealed that one of his teeth was missing. I assumed it had been removed forcibly, for the rest of them weren't particularly unclean. I might ask him about it if I could find an opportunity.
I smiled back at him and gave a little nod, following him to a table.

      One of the first things one would notice upon talking to Keith, is that he is an awfully boring conversationalist. So as soon as I saw an opening to ask about his teeth – which unfortunately had been the only thing related to him on my mind for the past ten minutes – I jumped in.
'I hope this doesn't come off as rude,' I began, 'But what happened to your tooth?'
Keith blinked a few times, frowning mildly for a split second. 'My tooth?' He paused for a moment, drumming his fingers on the table. Then he grinned. 'Lost in a fight. 'Twas kicked out.'
I considered pretending to be appalled at the idea of physical violence, but it seemed like he would prefer me to be impressed instead. I leaned back slightly. 'A fight? How fascinating. If you want to tell, I'm interested in hearing the full story.'
'Eh - don't think it's that interesting.' He shrugged slightly. 'Was 14 and dumb. Got the other guy in a hospital for a few weeks. He'd caught fire - 'twas in the local newspaper and shit.'
'That sounds wild.'
A slightly disinterested hum and stare at the half-empty cola glass was the only response I got to that. Ungrateful shite - couldn't even acknowledge my effort in pretending to be interested in his stupid life.
'Say, Horror, you single?' he asked after a brief intervention of silence.
I blinked a few times. Oh dear. 'It's complicated,' I lied. It was probably best to be somewhat vague - both implying that I could be into him and that I wasn't free. People tend to flock towards the emotionally unavailable, especially those who are either very entitled, or those very insecure. Getting to have something that no one else can is difficult, and thus is a good way to safely experience romantic attraction without escalation. But it also makes one feel special in a sense, making the achievement desirable for that reason.
I didn't really want Keith to flock towards me. I just didn't want to starve.
Keith studied me for a moment, sunken eyes staring at me over a glass before he took a sip. 'You ever been fucked by anyone?' he continued with a little smirk, barely acknowledging my response at all.
I wasn't sure what happened at that question, it was as if I somehow unfocused. The noises were suddenly all a bit... Much. They sounded far away, muted, needed to be closed out. My eyes were stuck on the table and I felt a bit sick. It took me a significantly long time to speak.
Lying was somehow more difficult when nothing felt real, even if I would've expected it to be easier.
'No.'
I had a headache.
I had to leave.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed Keith's missing tooth once more, assuming that he was grinning. It'd be best if he was. If he was baring his teeth for any other reason I had to run.
'You know, Horror,' he began, though it didn't feel like he was actually speaking to me. It was as if he was speaking to a body near me, and I was watching a recording of the happening. 'If I were your boyfriend, I'd let you move in with me without question. The guy who didn't let you must suck. Just sayin' though.'
I didn't like that. I didn't like this at all. I wanted to run - I had to run, run, run - but I couldn't. Even if there was no logical barrier keeping me here, I couldn't move away from the table. It was as if my body was asleep while the rest of me was awake - although drowsy in its panic.
'Oh,' was all I got out. It felt like ages before I managed to produce the singular vowel.
I had known that Keith was only trying to get into my pants.
But now that he was verbalizing his intent, it struck me with complete and utter terror.
I gave myself a moment to breathe before I attempted another statement. Focused on the texture of the chair, the bagel, on the smell of food, the cold air against my skin, the chattering of people in the background, on the white of my plate.
'I would like to talk about something else.' I paused for a moment, and then added, 'Sorry.'
Keith gave me a puzzled look. 'Oi, that guy must've really been a dick then,' he concluded, 'Whatcha wanna talk about, hun?'
I'd rather go to jail for publicly sewing your mouth shut than continue talking to you. I will cut off my own ears if it means no longer having to hear your voice.
I forced myself to smile. 'Let's talk about vampires. In many of the vampire stories I've seen, a singular vampire often drinks all the blood of their human victim at once. However, the average human adult has about five liters of blood in their body. Do you think they ever choke on it?'

      As soon as I could, I rushed out of the cafe and went elsewhere. Adrenaline was racing through my body as I walked and I could feel my heart beat tangibly in my chest.
I felt... Unsafe. What would Keith do if we ever met again? Drag me to his apartment and- and- I dug my nails in my palms and inadvertently shook my head. I shan't think of what would happen exactly, but rather, how to prevent it. I'd already killed one man – I could kill another if I had to. I, The Horror of what happened to Edwin Greenwood, was likely perceived as more of a threat by the general population than Keith, who got one of his teeth kicked out by someone his own age at fourteen.
I took a sharp breath.
I was safe. I had to be. Nothing bad could happen to me. Everything was alright. It was alright.

      For a couple of hours, I managed to silence the anxiety buzzing underneath my skin. I watched the sunset. I drank some of the energy drink – reminding myself that Keith was no more than a human fridge – and wondered how long it'd take me until I needed to buy new toothpaste. I sat in the grass underneath a tree in a park and watched a ladybug crawl over the wood.
After a while, a white cat came to sit with me, allowing me to pet them and curling up against me. I let my fingers rest on her breathing form and raised the can to my mouth once more, taking a sip.
Footsteps.
My stomach dropped and the can slipped from my hand. Suddenly everything was tense and I had to move. The cat leaped up and ran off.
I noticed a particular deodorant as a figure towered over me.
Fuck, fuck, fuck-
I inadvertently pressed up closer to the tree and squeezed my eyes shut for a moment, my entire body strained with a warning signal boiling in my stomach.
'What are you doing here?' I snapped at Keith as I opened my eyes and dared to look at him. My voice sounded foreign, as though it wasn't mine.
Keith raised a brow – only very briefly, but it was long enough to notice. 'I thought ya might've been cold. Ya sure ya don't wanna spend the night at my place?' His words sounded kind, but there was a certain edge to his voice that betrayed him. His very presence alone made me... Made me want to leap up and run- as he was looming over me.
'I'm fine. Please just go to bed.' I stated firmly, my trembling audible in my words.
A grin broke out on Keith's face – a twisted, ugly thing that allowed my fear to spread. 'Not without you.'
'I'm not coming.'
'Then I'm not leaving.'
We stared at each other for another moment, the silence spreading until I hoped there would be a wall of it between us.
Then I leaped up, grabbed my bag, and ran to the left as quickly as my limbs allowed me to. I heard Keith mutter a curse under his breath and soon I heard his footsteps following me.
My heart was pumping in my throat as though telling me not to scream – not to waste my energy on something that couldn't save me right now. All I could do was run.
An alley to my right.
I jumped in, hoping to throw Keith off that way.
Dead end.
Fuck.
I turned around, just in time to catch a flash of ginger hair and a grey bomber jacket before two hands grabbed my shoulders and slammed me against the wall. My head hit the bricks and I whimpered.
'You fucking bitch,' Keith hissed, lips near my ear. I cringed away. 'I paid for your food, I was so fucking nice to you, and this is how you repay me? You were just leading me on, weren't ya?! You cheap whore, your ex deserved to rape you, ungrateful cunt.'
Once my arms complied I tried to push him off- and then everything was a blur.
He was pulling my hair and suddenly there was a knife on my stomach. A line of sharp pain and warmth with blood staining my skin. I began coughing and grasped at Keith's hands to stabilize myself. Black spots danced for my vision until I saw nothing – and then I was there again, not holding Keith as he was cutting me open again.
A finger forced its way into my mouth and suddenly all I knew how to do was bite.
My teeth sunk into his flesh, deeper and deeper and deeper and snap- I faintly heard a scream but the main thing that rang into my ears was an oddly satisfying crunch. I tasted blood. A lot of it.
Keith stumbled backward, I could hear his pained whines, cursing and cursing- and a crack.
His body fell limp on the pavement.
I clutched at my stomach with one hand and let Keith's severed finger drop in the other as my eyes wandered up to see what figure was towering over me now.
It was difficult to make out all of his features in the dark very well, but the man was somewhat taller than Keith had been. His coat was long and black and his hair was tied into what seemed to be a low ponytail. He tilted his head.
'Good evening,' the man from the library then said, 'Are you alright?'

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