"I sure do like that rose tattoo,” he said as he pointed to her chest suggestively. "It's a scar," she replied, tugging at her dress to hide the crimson mark. "What was his name again?" she wondered to herself, "He looks like an 'Eric.' Or maybe Jake? I guess it's probably best I don’t know. Easier that way." "You ain't even took one bite of your food yet, pretty thing," he said with a crooked smile as he scooted closer to her in the tiny diner booth. He pushed his greasy, dishwater blonde hair from his bloodshot eyes, breathing down on her with the distinct smell of cheap liquor on his breath. "Maybe we can get out of here and find something else that will... please your appetite. And I can take a better look at that tattoo." "Scar," she sighed, amazed at his total oblivion to her disgust of him. "Let's go then," she said in a soft voice, almost a whisper.
The clicking of her heels against the sidewalk and the shuffling of his feet as he staggered drunkenly behind her were the only sounds beyond the traffic. She could hear him mumble something as he followed her, turning down a dark, dank alley. She almost asked him to repeat himself, but hesitated. "No names. No talking. The less, the better," she reminded herself as she continued into the shadows, finally coming to a stop. The stench from a nearby dumpster turned her stomach, and she startled as a cat pounced out and scampered away.
"Here?" He asked, "Alright, well, whatever works for you!" He reached out and caressed her shoulder, leaning in close as he said, "Now how about that rose?" She flinched at his touch, but he didn't seem to notice. "It has thorns," she said, but he seemed just as unaware of her speaking as he was of her repulsion. "You’re cold as ice, baby! You sick or something? I'll get you warmed up in no time." Part of her wanted nothing more than to run away, but she knew she had no choice. She broke her stillness and slowly reached up to touch his face.
Just when her fingertips grazed his cheek, their eyes met. "W-w-what are you?" he asked. Her touch sent a chilling pulse through his body as her eyes lit up like pools of lightning. He struggled to break free from her hold, but he was overcome by weakness.
She lifted him from the ground like a rag doll, one hand braced upon each side of his face. He tried to scream but only gasps of air escaped his mouth. "What am I?" She asked, "What are you? Your wife calls you abuser and adulterer. Your grandmother calls you thief. Wasn't it her pills you stole? And your sister? She called you monster. You..." "How?" he managed to whisper, "What are you? How do you know these things? How..."
He fell silent and his head dropped as the last bit of energy slipped from his body into hers, rushing through her, warm and somehow satisfying. "Well, Mirjana," she asked herself out loud, "He asks a good question. What are you? A vindicator? A vampire?"
She allowed his limp body to fall to the ground with a thud as she smoothed out her dress. He wasn't dead, but as far as she could tell, he'd never wake again.
She felt too restless to just go home. After all, she hadn’t spent more than a couple hours out at a time for weeks now. "Maybe a movie," she thought to herself as she walked back down the alley to the sidewalk, heading to the diner where her truck was parked. "He was a scumbag. A total jerk," she tried to console herself as she pushed the image of his terrified face out of her mind. She hated how good it felt draining him of his life essence. "At least I didn't kill him this time!" she continued, "What is this? Like, four in a row now still alive? Someone will find him, right? And they’ll call an ambulance, surely! And he'll spend the rest of his miserable life in coma where he'll never hurt another person ever again!" She thought back to the first few who weren't so lucky. They were all bad men, but reminding herself of that didn't seem to make her feel much better. "Get it together, MJ!" she thought as she climbed into her truck.
She sat in the parking lot of the movie theatre and took a couple long, deep breaths, looking into the rearview mirror and running her fingers through her hair. She wasn't quite used to her new shoulder length bob yet. It had only been about a month since she cut it herself with a pair of kitchen shears. She paused as she remembered that night and panic began to creep in. "Not now, chica!" she scolded herself, "Get your butt out there and do something normal!" She climbed out and slammed her truck door shut with an unintended force that rocked the vehicle, startling herself. She looked around and was relieved to see no one else seemed to notice, then she slowly crossed the parking lot, carefully watching the pavement as she walked.
"Hello! What can I get for you?" the ticket clerk asked. "Whatever is about to start," Mirjana replied, staring down at feet. "Huh? Sorry, what?" the clerk asked, unable to hear her soft voice, muffled as she looked down. "Whatever is about to start," she repeated, careful to not look up at him. "Miss, I'm sorry. Can you talk directly into the speak-thru?" She hesitated and almost turned to walk away before taking another deep breath and slowly looking up at him.
His face was young and his eyes were kind. The whole world seemed to stop and fall silent as Mirjana's brain began flooding with knowledge of this young man's life; not details such as his name or age, but snapshots. "Worked hard in high school to get B's, stole a candy bar from a gas station once but immediately regretted it, visits his nana at the nursing home every weekend..." "Miss? Hey, um, are you okay?" Mirjana snapped back to reality as the clerk called out to her, looking through the glass of the box office with a concerned expression, asking if he should call for help. "No, um, I'm… I just, I changed my mind," she stammered as she averted her eyes back to the ground and made her way towards the parking lot.
"Deed reading strikes again!" she whispered to herself, crushed that her first attempt in weeks to lead a normal life was disrupted by these afflictions. One might think the ability to know all the deeds of a person by simply looking into their eyes would be a gift; however, Mirjana saw it as nothing more than a curse. It felt like an invasion into the lives of strangers. And how could a good social worker do her job without even looking into the faces of the people she served?
"How many days has it been since I even worked last?" She couldn't quite remember. All she knew was that just over a month ago, she took a week off to volunteer at a small orphanage in Mexico and she returned... different. She couldn't even explain to herself how her life changed on that trip; how could she begin to put it into words for others to understand?
She felt tears welling up as she reached out to open the door of her truck, longing for escape. The tears burst free and ran down her face as she stared in shock at the door handle left in her hand, realizing she had unintentionally tore it from the truck like paper mache. She felt like throwing the silver scrap metal and screaming, but to avoid drawing attention to herself, she quietly slipped the handle into her bag. In desperation, she walked to the passenger side of the truck and, ever so carefully, opened the door, climbed in, and scooted across the seat to rest her head on the steering wheel and wept. “Where do I go from here? How did I even get here in the first place?” she asked herself.