Friday, June 16, 2017

A Year of Bodies

I didn’t realize salt had a smell until I moved inland. Maybe my smell sensors were always full, clogged, and couldn’t register the salt. Maybe it was just pleasant, a lovely thing that blended into the background. Unlike the air here. Here I am full of the absence of salt. I miss it.

I knew that I would miss the water. I planned for that. I found a cute little house sitting at the bend of a long skinny lake. The water lies twenty feet, maybe thirty, from my front door. But it’s fresh water. Fresh. That’s not what the smell says. The smell says full of living things and the things they make. Poop. Pee. Previously dead things that are slowly decomposing below the depths. The smell is earthier than the sea I loved. More minerally. Less salty.

I can’t describe the salt smell. It’s just there. A note of fresh laced through the smells of life. A whiff of movement in the stagnant air.

I moved here to protect myself. I was lucky that I could. I try not to think about all the other women, the women who look like me but couldn’t afford to flee the city the killer used as his hunting ground. I’d like to think I would have saved them all if I could, but the reality is, he wants us. He’s going to take some of us. I can only make sure it’s not me.

The Pin-up Man.

That’s what the newspapers call him. That’s the name I heard every time I turned on the TV or radio. The name splattered across billboards next to the picture of the current month’s girl.

It is supposed to be a warning. Watch out. Protect yourselves. I think he likes it. The fame. The fact that everyone knows what he likes, what he’s looking for now. The fact that the police still can’t find him. It’s October. This is the tenth month of his reign.

This is the month that the pin-up girl looks likes me.

The first body was found in January. A tall, leggy, sliver of a girl. A fountain of blond hair dripping to her waist. She was posed on a park bench, her legs tucked neatly together, her back arched, hands tucked behind her head. Next to her on the bench was a page from a wall calendar. January. The picture was a near match to the scene on the bench.

February brought a short redhead, March a muscular brunette, April a stunning black woman with a massive afro.

Every month brought fresh girls posed to match the calendar photo they were paired with.

In May, someone finally figured out which calendar the killer was using. American Beauties, it’s called. Pretty, fresh-faced girls to represent the ideal of America.

People went crazy, tracking down places to buy the calendar. Physical stores were out in a matter of hours. Online wasn’t much better. Bidding on BuyItHere had the price jacked up to over a thousand dollars. Everyone wanted to know who was next, who should go into hiding in June.

I know the price on BuyItHere because I had the winning bid. One thousand, two hundred, fifty-three dollars. It was worth every penny.

The second the calendar landed on my doorstep, I tore off the plastic sheeting and flipped through the months. I stopped cold at October. Raven dark hair in tight curls to the shoulder, green eyes, a scatter of freckles over the bridge of the nose. A tattoo on the exposed right shoulder. An octopus with a pencil clenched tight in one arm.

I dropped the calendar and turned my head to catch the mirror on the wall behind me. I could see my octopus reflected there, stretched under my raven curls.

There was no question, I had to leave the city. How much of a catch would I be for the Pin-up Man? Not just a near match to the photos he clearly had a fetish for, but the real deal, the actual girl who posed for the shot. If he found me, if he somehow knew I was in the city, I doubted he would be able to resist.

So here I am. In the place with no salt. No sea. Wrapped in the stagnant, ripely rotten smell of the lake. Safety is worth the smell.

There’s just this one thing.

An hour ago, I was in the little shop down at the base of the lake, the only place within a thirty minute drive of my little safe nest. It’s a bait shop, really, a place to rent a boat and stock your beer cooler before setting out in your boat. I found milk, bread, sliced processed cheese stuff, peanut butter.

And the calendar. Hanging behind the register.

I left the things I had chosen helter-skelter on the closest shelf and managed to not run to my car. As I turned to pull open the door, I saw his face. The man behind the counter. A grin split his face in response to what must have been panicked terror on mine.

I should have never left the city.

I am the October girl.

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