- Byliner Original
It’s late afternoon, the December sun is low in the sky, the street is empty. Or it seems empty: as Stan has increasingly come to believe, there are eyes embedded everywhere—the lamppost, the fire hydrant—and just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean they can’t see you.
He’s trimming the hedge, making an effort to appear not only useful but cheerful. The hedge doesn’t need trimming: he trimmed it two weeks ago, and if he keeps on like this it will soon be reduced to a lattice of twiggy stubs. But he finds the activity calming, for the same reasons nail biting is calming: it’s repetitive, it imitates meaningful activity, and it’s violent.
The hedge trimmer emits a menacing whine, like a wasp’s nest that’s been stepped on. The sound gives him a fleeting illusion of power that dulls his sense of panic. Panic of a rat in a glass cage, with ample food and drink and even sex, though with no way out and the suspicion it’s part of an experiment that hasn’t taken place yet but is sure to be painful.
The source of the panic: Jocelyn, the walking vise grip. The Leatherwoman Crunch. She’s got him shackled to her ankle. He’s on her invisible leash, he’s wearing her invisible choke collar. He can’t shake her free.
Deep breath, Stan, he tells himself. You’re still fucking alive. He laughs inwardly. Or alive and fucking. Good one, Stan.
He’s got buds in his ears, hooked up to his closed-circuit Consilience cell phone. The mean whine of the trimmer plays backup to the smiley-face voic...