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Old 03-30-2011, 12:12 PM
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Butterfree Butterfree is offline
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Default Malice Aforethought (original short story, take two)

I actually had this idea a couple of years ago and thought of it often, but never actually wrote it until now.

Though this is written in first person and is set in the real world, it is not autobiographical, as I sincerely hope will be clear before you've reached the end. Contains some swearing and a lot of creeptacularness.


It was starting to rain.

I stuffed my hands in my pockets, silently cursing the public transport system as I peered up the road from the bus stop. There was still no sign of number twelve. It wasn’t exactly behind schedule, not yet, but it was cold and I wasn’t dressed for that. I was still less dressed for rain.

As I stood there freezing, trying to keep my head down and my eyes squinted, the sound of rapid footsteps approached through the rain. I didn’t look up or really think anything of it until a woman came to a halt a few feet away by my side, looking frantically up and down the road.

I glanced up at her out of the corner of my eye as she caught her breath. She was young, hardly more than a couple of years above twenty, her face made up hastily, eyeshadow a little streaked by raindrops. She wore a black coat with a fur collar, the kind of garment that looks superficially impressive but gives off some cheap, imitative vibe anyway. Her hair was blonde, brushed back into a ponytail that disappeared under the collar of the coat. I wondered idly where she was going.

She turned towards me and hesitated, her eyes wide and urgent. I turned my head slightly in her direction to acknowledge her; she gave a quick, small nod in return. “Excuse me,” she began after a moment’s further hesitation, a vague impression of a polite smile barely flickering across her features. “Do you know if number fifteen has come by yet?”

It hadn’t. I’d been there twenty minutes and there had been no sign of either of the two bus lines that stopped here since I’d arrived.

But I nodded anyway. It was a lie, a pointless, stupid lie. I don’t know what it was that made me want to lie – some mixture of my boredom and my vague curiosity about this woman, I suppose – but I did. “Yeah,” I said, marveling at my nerve. “It was here a minute ago – you just missed it.”

She looked at me for a split second more as my words sank in, then blinked. “Shit,” she said, and I saw her eyes start to water before she turned away. “Shit,” she said again, louder, looking around; I could hear the waver in her voice. “Oh, shit.”

I watched her cover her mouth with her hand, blinking into the rain, then suddenly turn back to me. “Sorry, are you taking number twelve? Where is that headed?”

“Around the neighborhood,” I replied, shrugging. “The one on the other side of the street goes downtown.”

“Shit,” she said yet again as she turned away. She wrung her hands for a moment, then turned to examine the bus stop sign. I continued to look at her, at the mounting despair in her expression, the tears she blinked rapidly away as they formed. Again I wondered where she was going. Did that nonexistent missed bus ruin her day, her week, her life? It was an odd but weirdly intriguing feeling to stand there and realize that she was despairing because of me, because I’d opened my mouth and said words that weren’t the words I was supposed to say. Because she’d trusted a stranger who had no reason to lie to her, and he’d done so anyway in a random act of malice, without purpose and without motive.

Everything she was right now was my doing; everything going through her mind was tainted by my strange little spontaneous lie. I had never seen her before – or if so only fleetingly, without either of us sparing the other a second glance – and yet in this moment, I owned her. In my mind’s eye I saw myself dangling her brain from a set of marionette strings; the thought amused me, but my face remained expertly in character anyway, surprising even me. I didn’t know shit about acting and here I was delivering an Oscar-worthy performance on a spur-of-the-moment impulse. I could get used to this.

She finally looked up from the timetable, her face anguished. I smiled at her, sympathetically; she didn’t notice or care. I watched her turn a few times, as if she were evaluating different, hopeless ideas for remedying her situation. “Could I borrow your phone?” she asked after a few seconds, the pleading in her voice strikingly pathetic as the rain continued to smudge her makeup.

“Sorry,” I said, shaking my head; another lie, emerging so naturally I almost believed it myself. “My batteries are dead.”

I watched her as she turned away and buried her face in her hands. What was she late for? I wondered. What was her story? How much of her life would be altered, indirectly, because of my intervention, because of the increase of stress hormones running through her body right now? Perhaps she was on her way to a job interview, would show up nervous, botch it and end up leading a completely different life, all because of me. It was a fascinating idea: I could change the course of a person’s life forever simply by lying to them about something stupid like the bus. This was power.

Imagine what I could do if I didn’t stop at that.

Imagine what I could do if I did something that mattered.

Immediately ideas were blooming in my head, ideas of intriguing but dangerous possibilities – ideas where, once I was home, I could take the car, drive out here again and offer her a ride, giving her that sympathetic smile, and she’d accept because to her I was the guy from the bus stop who wanted to help. Bus number twelve was appearing over the hill now; I knew it only took it a few minutes to get me there.

She looked dully at it, and I knew that she was envious, envious that my bus was arriving and hers supposedly wasn’t. I walked to the edge of the sidewalk without looking at her, then gave her another apologetic smile, another piece of perfect acting as my mind imagined all the ways I could change her and mark her as mine forever.

The bus slowed to a halt in front of me and opened its doors, and I stepped in after shooting her a final concerned glance. I looked through the rear window as I walked to the back of the bus to find a seat, and just as I was going to sit down, bus number fifteen rounded the corner at last.

The young woman at the bus stop stared at the approaching vehicle, then turned her head towards me through the side window, expression puzzled, bewildered, lost. Our eyes met, and I smiled serenely at her. It would never occur to her that I had lied; she would rationalize it as a mistake or a scheduling mishap. After all, why would I lie?

As my bus drove off and left her behind, I grinned.
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Last edited by Butterfree; 11-09-2011 at 02:22 PM.
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Old 11-09-2011, 10:32 AM
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Default Re: Malice Aforethought (original short story)

So I revised this thing because it wasn't quite creepy enough for my tastes before. Most problematically, the first and for a long time only review I got on it (on another forum) appeared to interpret it as simply my personal musing on the butterfly effect, which was kind of worrying.
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Old 11-09-2011, 10:48 AM
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Default Re: Malice Aforethought (original short story, take two)

Not truly creepy, more than just the main character being a bored trickster with nothing to do. Not to mention, it was raining, so he was clearly bored and a little pissed.

And, not to mention, who doesn't like being malicious every once in a while?
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Old 11-11-2011, 05:01 AM
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Sandstone-Shadow Sandstone-Shadow is offline
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Default Re: Malice Aforethought (original short story, take two)

I like the idea of "random acts of malice" as opposed to "random acts of kindness." It's an intriguing idea and very well-written, too. I've always enjoyed the way you build with your words; they fit very naturally together.

I like what it says about people, too; it's interesting to think how easy it is to believe a lie like this.

The ending feels a little anti-climatic, though. He's thinking all these dark thoughts about what he could do to her, but then he doesn't actually do anything; I was anticipating a bit of a worse fate for the woman. I suppose that's part of his just thinking about what he could do. But there really wasn't any permanent change to either character - it was just a quick moment in which a lot of potential was analyzed.

I don't necessarily know that you should change anything (unless you want to, of course); it's a good analysis and well-written. I just think you could go farther and darker and have him actually act on some of those more serious impulses, if you wanted him to and if you wanted the story to go that route.
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Old 11-11-2011, 02:34 PM
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Default Re: Malice Aforethought (original short story, take two)

Mm, the fact nothing really happens is a pretty large part of the point here. The narrator commits nothing that could be construed as a crime of any kind, his actions are all pretty innocent, and as far as the woman is concerned he really was just a guy at the bus stop who was apparently mistaken about her bus having already arrived. But the sick enjoyment he gets out of having this measure of power over her, feeling like he owns her, observing her distress without any shred of real sympathy, and perhaps especially that he imagines actually doing something to her as simply an extension of this without so much as flinching away from the thought, make his superficially innocuous actions far more sinister when observed from his point of view. That's the core premise of this piece, more than the narrator's ideas about power or lying or random acts of malice.

Of course, it could be that none of this got across properly, in which case I just fail at sociopaths.
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Old 11-11-2011, 05:13 PM
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Coroxn Coroxn is offline
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Default Re: Malice Aforethought (original short story, take two)

This was a story I enjoyed. I especially like how we don't know about the woman's life or how this affects her-whilst it could be superficial, it could also be life-altering, and he just doesn't care. My favorite part of the story is how he loves the power he's just found-I liked how he was handled. He never seemed extreme or unbelievable, you could really expect an ordinary person to become hooked to the prospect of marking someone's life.

I didn't find it creepy, really, until the very end. Though that was a little anti-climactic, you just know that he's going to experiment and try it again, and that his victims could be anyone-and that he just doesn't care, no matter who he hurts or how much he hurts them.

Chilling.
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