THE MAN WHO APPEARED • by Kasey Renee Shaw

“Get up.”

Diane stirred from her impromptu nap and a dream of her ex-husband, Marc. Before he served her divorce papers, before their relationship started to disintegrate.

In the fantasy, they were holding hands through Central Park, the same place they strolled through on the night of their first date.

He bought her a waffle cone even though it was forty degrees out.

She followed him back to his place and had sex with him.

Blinking away her drowsiness, she realized that she was not in Central Park nor was Marc on top of her, his heavy breath on her neck.

She was in her new home of two weeks, where she’d neglected to unpack boxes, always finding an excuse. She must have nodded off on the couch during a break. However, it wasn’t the lack of productivity that alarmed her.

It was that Diane did not recognize the voice that woke her, or the man that it belonged to.

He stood tall over her body, dressed in all black: black short sleeved shirt, black jeans, black ski mask. In another situation, Diane would find the get-up comical: a caricature of a robber, only missing a sack with a dollar sign on it. The man peered down at her with the most unremarkable eyes she had ever seen.

He tugged on her arm, forcing her to sit upright. One of her heels clacked against the hardwood floor. She was still fully dressed. “Don’t hurt me,” she pleaded instantly, reflexively: “Take anything you want. I won’t call the police.”

The television was on the lowest volume. Marc sat on the screen and read the 11 o’clock news. She hadn’t spoken to him without a lawyer present in over six months.

“I don’t want your stuff. Don’t try anything smart and nothing bad’ll—” Diane took the opportunity to wriggle from his grasp while he spoke. The man let out a surprised yelp. She didn’t get far before he tackled her on the kitchen floor, leaving her face-down.

The news switched to an excerpt of an interview. The sheriff, a young, good-looking blonde, announced a drop in the city’s crime rate. He attributed it to the mayor’s dedication to mental health services.

“Goddamnit,” the man mumbled in Diane’s hair as she thrashed underneath him. His voice was surprisingly youthful, a young man testing the word. He pinned her legs down with crooked thighs, her wrist with his hands. “Goddamnit, stop moving!”

Marc appeared back on the television. He laughed and made light small-talk with his co-anchor. He wasn’t wearing his wedding ring; the first time it was absent since the split. His cheeks looked rosier, his face more boyish; a sharp contrast to Diane who looked her age of forty-two, budding crowfeet and laugh lines on her weary face.

Diane spotted the door, a glossy web in its upper frame. She meant to destroy the spider so it wouldn’t lay eggs in the house. But there it was, wrapping a fat fly in silk; the victim was motionless. Paralyzed but still alive. It was only a matter of time before the spider could eat.

Diane’s chest heaved with air, her energy drained, but still kept up her fight.

It proved useless – she flopped around like a fish out of water, his weight cutting off blood circulation to her legs. Painful prickles started in her toes, rising up her calves.

“Just let me go,” she whispered, a plead to the floor, without confidence. “I haven’t seen your face. I won’t call the police if you just… if you…”

The man lifted himself off of her, turning her tired form over to face him. She landed on her back with a small thud, her hands now free to shield her face, preparing herself for a blow. He hovered so closely over her that she could smell his body soap.

“I won’t hit your face, I’m no thug,” he snorted, sounding almost wounded.

The irony prickled at the back of Diane’s neck. He intertwined one hand within hers, like they were familiar, like they were lovers. She remembered Central Park.

With the other hand, he pulled off his mask. “Now you have seen it, huh? My face. Take a good look.” He couldn’t have been older than twenty-five. The only distinguishing feature he possessed was a small freckle above his upper lip. A sadistic smile pulled his mouth upwards.

Diane, horrified, became fully aware that he intended to kill her. “Why me? Why any of this?” Her voice quivered. She wondered who would find her body. She wondered if Marc would cry.

He looked at her as if the answer was obvious: “Because I saw you were alone. Because I can’t control it anymore.” Then, he added tenderly: “You’ll be my first. I want to enjoy this.”

They shared a silence. The man licked his lips, a child with a magnifying glass and a colony of ants.

In one fluid motion, her freed leg connected with his groin. The man howled, cowering, covering his pelvis. Diane lifted herself and made for the door, her heel snapping. She caught herself on the table.

The man grasped Diane’s hair, having barely collected himself. A scream escaped her throat. He clamped a hand around her mouth. “You bitch,” he mumbled in her ear. She could feel his hand trembling just as hard as she was. “Why can’t you just shut up!”

The spider’s fangs sunk into its victim. Her sobs became muffled, silent.

From the living room, Marc signed off for the evening. “Have a good night,” he told viewers. He turned to his co-anchor once more as music played, talking and smiling.

Diane gurgled on her saliva as the man tightened his grip over her neck. Diane’s brain played flashes of Central Park, Marc’s bare chest, the moving truck she loaded up alone.

But then, her vision blurred to black and then nothing, nothing, nothing.

Kasey Renee Shaw is currently studying Creative Writing at Ohio University.

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