The Dangers of Internet Stalking

Written while listening to ‘Bad Liar’, by Selena Gomez. Because reasons.
There is a lot of sarcasm in this piece. I have marked it using / for those who struggle to identify it.

I didn’t plan any of it. I didn’t even want it. And yet, there I was, sending him a friend request, like a twit. /Of course it was because he probably posted interesting things, that I would be interested in, and not because I was being a creepy stalker. Of course./ I was angry with myself, even as I clicked on his name. For Hades’ sake, I barely knew the man. One semester in the same tutorial did not a friendship make, and yet here I was, apparently reverting to teenage behaviour. Thirty years apparently hadn’t taught me as much self-control as I would have hoped.

I’d been single for a while, and I liked it that way. Dating was a nightmare, people were generally awful, and I already had too many things to fill my time without having to worry about spending time with another human being. I wasn’t exactly swamped with offers—to be more accurate, I had precisely zero—but even if I had been, I would have been single by choice. /Which was, of course, why I was scrolling down his Timeline at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, wondering if he was involved with any of the people in his profile picture./

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” I muttered to myself, turning off my phone with unwonted force. “Stop it.” The person sitting next to me on the bus looked at me strangely. I ran my hand through my hair, wincing as my fingers caught on the tangles, and nodded sharply to myself. That was it, I would let it drop. I was a mature adult.

I was not a mature adult. /When he accepted my friend request two minutes after I’d sent it, my stomach definitely hadn’t flipped itself over three times, and I definitely hadn’t smiled so broadly I felt like the top of my head would fall off. Definitely not. And I hadn’t dressed more carefully than usual the next day on the off chance that I’d see him on campus somewhere. Of course I hadn’t./

It’s situations like this that make self-awareness a thorough-going pain in the arse.

I firmly refused to scroll through his Timeline and see what he’d posted, or to check his relationship status. Instead, I pulled out my reader and forced myself to concentrate on Foucault’s thoughts on power all the way into uni, my highlighter squeaking in protest when I marked the important passages with more violence than was strictly necessary. I stubbornly opened the Action Music playlist on my phone as I walked to campus from the bus stop, not even looking at the Luuuurve playlist. I kept my eyes on the ground as I navigated my way through the people heading to work and school and shops, determined not to see him even if he did happen to walk by. /Which wasn’t why I kept my eyes down, of course, I wasn’t thinking about him at all, I was concentrating firmly on the panopticon and the ways in which it applied to feminist theory. Of course./

I couldn’t maintain that level of determined detachment forever, unfortunately, and I forgot myself so far as to start listening to Ed Sheeran on my way to lunch. I was feeling so good that I forgot I was supposed to be keeping my eyes down, and instead I strode along with my head up, observing the people flowing around me with a writer’s interest (although still avoiding eye contact at all costs).
The first time I saw him, I actually flinched. A second later, I realised it wasn’t him at all, just another tall guy with a neat beard. (/Curse him for having a currently popular hair-style./) I swore at myself under my breath, scaring the poor woman walking towards me as my usual /Resting Murder Face descended into Actual Murder Face/ due to my momentary irritation with myself. The second time I saw him, I managed not to react outwardly, and settled for being astonished that I could have mistaken someone with such bland eyes for him. By the fifth time, I had to physically restrain myself from slapping myself in the face. Fortunately for me, Resting Murder Face is a very good cover for this kind of nonsense.

I was definitely not a mature adult. But, by the time we were four weeks into semester, I got very good at faking it.

Well, I thought I was good at faking it.

I was wrong. All my friends noticed and laughed at me for it. I treated them to a dignified silence and determined not to look at his Timeline again. I reminded myself why I liked being single and wrote a blog post about why modern concepts of heteronormative romance were problematic.

At the beginning of week four, I found myself fighting temptation once again, seconded in a quiet corner of the library and trying to bully my brain into finishing an essay. It wasn’t a particularly scintillating topic, and 500 words in, I found myself searching for any distraction. As always, Facebook was attempting to come to my aid, and I was getting annoyed with myself about it. I managed to write two more sentences, both of which I immediately deleted, before I caved and opened my News Feed. I absolutely did not open his page. No, really! I scrolled down my News Feed, looking for his picture.

The moment I realised what I was doing I swore out loud and closed my browser.

“That bad, huh?”

I looked up into brown eyes and almost cursed again. This him was actually him.

“Maybe not that bad,” I said. By some miracle, I managed not to sound like I was being strangled.

“Mind if I join you?”

I really, really wasn’t a mature adult. It was okay, though. Turned out he wasn’t either.

Image and text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

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Soulless Killer Series: Ch2 Conflict of Interest

The problem with having Christen as a roommate, I soon discovered, was that on paper, she was the perfect roommate, while in reality, she was a nightmare. Most days I would have preferred a roommate who left dirty socks hanging over the back of the couch and half-empty bowls of cereal in the sink. Christen, however, always kept her clothes clean (with the help of my darling mother), and washed her dishes, and even wiped out the shower when she was done. She also moved all the cutlery into the TV cabinet so she could keep her socks in the kitchen drawer.
“Are you just trying to piss me off?” I asked, staring at her extensive collection of multi-coloured foot coverings.
“I left the other half for you,” she said, sounding hurt. I stared at her for a second with my mouth open.
“Because of course I’d want to keep my socks in the kitchen.”
“You’ve got to admit, it’s far more sensible,” she said serenely, taking a pair of rainbow-striped knee socks that no one would ever see under her black jeans and heading for her bedroom. She would never put her socks on anywhere but in the bedroom. I threw up my arms and put the cutlery holder back in the drawer next to her socks. It was a big drawer, after all.
As well as the socks in the kitchen, she spent the first week hand-sewing little white curtains for the few photos I’d put up around the house – including the family shots I had in my bedroom. She would close them every night and open them every morning. I’m sure you can imagine how unnerving it would be to awaken at 8am on a Saturday to find your roommate looming over you, opening a tiny pair of curtains on the family picture next to your bed so they could get some light.
“You do know photos hold part of the soul, don’t you?” she said, apparently astonished at my ignorance. “You need to make sure you maintain a healthy circadian rhythm, or the soul’s owner could start feeling unwell. I wouldn’t want that to happen to your mother.”
I didn’t bother replying to that particular gem.
However, these might almost have been forgivable quirks if it weren’t for my aforementioned mother, who had now quite willingly adopted Christen into the family.
“It’s not her fault she grew up the way she did,” Mum said severely to me whenever I dared to hint at my disapproval.
“All the more reason not to encourage her,” I muttered in reply. But Mum seemed to think she was helping, rather than enabling, my completely interplanetary roommate. I considered asking Christen to move out, but I couldn’t face the dual guilt-trip of her puppy eyes and my mother’s disapproval. I figured I’d just have to grit my teeth and bear it, and hope Christen got bored.
Sadly, she got comfortable instead. About a month after she’d moved in, my boss offered me a commission interstate, which I would normally have thought twice about, since I had essays to write. However, having just that morning found Christen taking the labels off all the jars in the pantry and rewriting the contents on the bottom in calligraphy, I was in need of a break. I packed a small bag, caught the first flight out, and settled happily into my hotel room, anticipating an easy transaction and a relaxing evening. I should have known better.
Two hours after I’d settled into my chair by the window with my novel, I became aware of a faint metallic scratching sound coming from my door. It was an older hotel, and still used regular keys instead of keycards, and I instantly realised someone was trying to pick the lock. I silently closed my book and reached for the Smith & Wesson I’d tucked into the seat with me. The faint sound of my finger clicking the safety off went unheard as the lock gave a clunk and the door started to open.
I know you, dear reader, will be far less surprised by what happened next than I, but I hope you appreciate that hindsight comes with rather more clarity than was available to me at the time.
“What the bloody hell are you doing here?” I spluttered, clicking the safety back on and putting the pistol back on the small table next to me.
“Your room has a better shot than mine,” Christen said, as though this fact ought to have been obvious to me. I stared at her, still not quite caught up with events.
“Why did you have to pick the lock?” I said. “You could have just knocked.”
“I didn’t think you’d mind.” She closed the door and locked it behind her, stashing a small leather wallet of lock-picking wotsits in the inside pocket of her coat as she turned back to me. “Is he back yet?” I stared at her some more, mouth open like a gormless goldfish.
“Oh no,” I said, finally realising what was going on. “No, no, no. This is my commission, you can just stay out of it.”
The puppy dog eyes made an appearance and I cursed internally.
“I thought we could do it together,” she said.
“You don’t think our employers might have an issue with that?” I suggested pointedly. She looked surprised. Clearly the thought hadn’t occurred to her.
“I can’t see why they would,” she said. “As long as the job gets done.” I sighed. Soulless people in movies tended to be incredibly intelligent and ruthless. How was it I’d got stuck with the human version of a baby Labrador? I opened my mouth to explain the difficulties of dividing the fee between two opposing companies, imagined the ensuing conversation, and closed it again. There really was no point. She sensed victory and bounced happily over to the window, where my rifle was already set up.
“See?” she said, grinning at me. “It’ll be fun! I’ll order us some room service.”
I sighed and put my bookmark back into my book. Short of murdering her in order to protect my commission – which any sensible person would have at least considered – it looked like I was stuck with her. It seemed I wasn’t feeling very sensible.
“Make sure they send up honey with the tea,” I said, and turned my attention back to the window.

Text: All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017.

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Soulless Killer Series: Ch1 Moving In

This is the first instalment in a series featuring these characters. They will mostly be silly snapshots, and there will be other short stories posted here in between, but keep your eye out for more silliness featuring Christen and her … not friend…?

“Don’t bring my mother into this!”

“Why not? At least she appreciates my superior wit.”

“It’s true, hun, she is pretty funny.  For a soulless killer.”

I will never wish for an interesting life ever again.

It all started about six months ago. (That’s how everyone starts these things, isn’t it? Never waste a good cliché, I always say.) It was one of those grey in-between days, where you’re too cold for a T-shirt and too hot for a jacket and you’re guaranteed to be rained on while you’re running for the bus you’re definitely going to miss. So pretty much like every other day in autumn. Despite my best efforts, I arrived at the bus stop in time to see the bus disappear down the street, which left me with two choices: stump up for the ridiculous parking fees and drive to uni, or invent an excuse for missing my tutorial that wouldn’t involve getting a doctor’s certificate. I wasn’t feeling particularly inventive, so that left me with driving.

I was still cursing my need for a second cup of tea with breakfast when I turned into the narrow street that would take me to the main road, which was perhaps why I wasn’t paying as much attention as usual. It probably wouldn’t have helped if I had been paying attention, to be honest, because what can you do when a black-clad stranger steps into the middle of the road and points a gun at you?

This was how I met Christen. How we came to be discussing the merits of her moving in with me six months later is still something of a mystery.

“Are you seriously telling me you think this is a good idea?” I asked Mum. I will never understand why my staid, normal-as-normal mother took to Christen so easily, but she did. Even when she heard the story of how we first met, she still took it upon herself to make sure Christen had a home cooked meal at least once a week and someone to iron her shirts. It’s a little hard not to resent that, all things considered.

“Maybe you could be a good influence on her,” Mum said. I snorted loudly.

“Yeah, because I’ve had so much success so far,” I replied. Christen was rearranging my alphabetised DVD collection according to some system of her own, while I ground my teeth and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening.

“What are you talking about?” she said, looking up from where she sat cross-legged on the floor. “I haven’t got into a single fight this month. That’s all down to you, you know. Imagine if we hadn’t met.”

“Oh, I do, every day.”

“That was such a good day,” Christen mused happily, sliding The Matrix in next to The Emperor’s New Groove. I felt my eye start to twitch.

“You kidnapped me,” I said flatly. “At gunpoint.”

“No I didn’t!” She looked up and caught my expression. “Well, okay, maybe I did kidnap you a little bit, but I said I was sorry. How else was I supposed to get your attention?”

“I guess ‘hi’ was too much trouble for you,” I muttered.

“You were in a car.”

“You could have called a taxi.”

“You know that leaves a paper trail. It’s like I haven’t taught you anything.”

Mum interrupted with cookies at this point, because she didn’t fancy the idea of her offspring committing murder. At least in front of witnesses in their own living room.

“If you two would stop bickering for five seconds,” she said.

“I’m not bickering!” Christen protested.

“I am, and I’m not going to stop,” I retorted.  “Imagine what it will be like living with that all the time.”

“Nobody’s perfect,” replied Christen serenely. I took a deep breath and counted to ten. It didn’t help.

Nothing ever did with Christen. It wasn’t that she was an assassin – god knows the world needs a few professional killers. And it wasn’t that she insisted on ‘dressing the part’ – all black and leather jackets isn’t exactly subtle. It wasn’t even that she had all the self-awareness of a pine cone. It was that she just assumed, after everything, that we were friends, rather than… whatever it was we were, which was definitely not friends. I’m told friendship requires mutual respect and shared values, but honestly, after Christen, I would have settled for someone who didn’t make me want to stick a fork in my eye.

I bit into my cookie and chewed resentfully in my mother’s direction. She ignored me and continued ironing Christen’s favourite black shirt.

“You know, I think you’re being a bit unreasonable about all this,” said Christen, putting Return of the King onto one shelf and The Two Towers on the stack next to her. I could feel the muscles in my jaw tensing. If I didn’t watch out, I’d have a tension headache to deal with as well.

“Oh, sure,” I said. “It’s totally unreasonable for me to be upset about a soulless killer moving into my spare room, what could go wrong? I should just chill out, obviously.”  Christen rolled her eyes.

“I wish you’d let the soulless thing go, it’s hardly my fault. I didn’t ask to be born without one.”

She gave me the Look, the same way she always did when this point came up. I really should have known better by now, but there was something about the big, pathetic eyes and pouty lip that got me every damn time. I sighed. I knew I’d lost.

“Fine,” I said. “But I’m not helping you move in.”

All Rights Reserved to Cambrey Payne 2017. Acknowledge sources when sharing and do not repost without original source.

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