Bound For Carnage: Thriller Short Fiction By Pat O’Malley
Pat O’Malley, author Bound For Carnage, lives in New York and has previously published short fiction in The Weird and Whatnot, Teleport Magazine, and Dark Fire Fiction among others.
His name was Mark Thompson, a Professor of Literature at Brubaker University, Rhode Island. Charming and good at his job, Mark was well-liked by students and admired by colleagues. At almost forty years old, he worked hard to stay in relatively good shape. He had a chestnut brown beard and dark glasses that he usually wore with a long-sleeved plaid shirt and jeans.
Over the semesters, it wasn’t uncommon for one or two of his female students to slip him their cell phone number.
While tempting, Mark would never dare to commit such an unethical action, or worse yet, betray his wife Phoebe. His wife of eight years, had a warm, gorgeous smile and blonde hair. She was his best friend and the love of his life.
Then he met Dana Sinclair.
The first time he saw her was on the first day of the fall semester in his 21st Century Authors course. In-between introducing himself to the class and discussing the syllabus, Mark found himself locking eyes with this beautiful, tall woman seated in the row of desks. In his professional career, he never imagined feeling this way towards a student. Just looking at her sent the butterflies in his chest into a frenzy.
The first time he saw her was on the first day of the fall semester in his 21st Century Authors course.
Dana was nothing short of stunning. Wavy brown hair rested on a young, porcelain face with a nose ring that shouldn’t have made her appear sexy, yet somehow it did. Dressed in a black tank-top and tight jeans, there was just this cleverness, this alluring spark that inexplicably drew Mark to her.
In the classes that followed, Dana’s school work also proved to be impressive. Reading her analysis of Mark’s favorite authors made it feel as though she was speaking directly to him. Every-time she spoke in class, he felt her taking his breath away.
One day at the end of class, after the other students had already left, Dana came up to Mark’s desk. Books in her hand, she nervously asked him if she could schedule an appointment during Mark’s office hours. It seemed that she needed help figuring out how to organize her essay on the works of Haruki Murakami.
“Absolutely! I mean-“ Mark cleared his throat,” I could schedule some time.”
Later that week, they met in his office for their session. It was close to the end of the school day which Mark had said was the only time available for him. Coincidentally, it also just so happened to be the time when it was likely most teachers and students had gone home for the day.
Mark sat next to her with her notes in front of them while he discussed the recurring themes of Murakami’s bibliography. Try as he might to ignore it, he could feel the heat of her slender body radiating off of her. Flustered, Mark tried to keep his mind focused on organizing her notes on the author, but when he turned to look at her he saw that her beautiful young face was looking into his eyes.
He looked down. Her hand had moved to his thigh.
They only made out that day. Squirming in guilt, Mark told her that this was a mistake and it never should have happened. Three days later, after obsessing over the memory of Dana’s tongue swirling around his, he told his wife that he was working late and soon booked a hotel room.
The affair that ensued was primal. It was a montage of dirty, filthy sex that Mark never would have imagined with his wife. The sex was like fireworks, or like the greatest drug in the world. Mark couldn’t keep his hands from rubbing all over Dana’s naked body, feeling her and grabbing every inch of her.
Naked with her, Mark would kiss around Dana’s flat stomach, circling the jewel piercing her belly-button before moving his mouth lower towards her hot, wet pussy, soaking his beard in it. The moaning that followed from her echoed in his head hours later. Afterward, he always made sure to wash up in the motel showers before heading home. When he arrived home, Phoebe would be reading or in bed waiting to kiss him hello. As they turned in for the night, lying in bed together, Phoebe would snuggle up to him and whisper that she loved him so much.
“I love you too,” he whispered back.
Mark’s sultry affair with Dana continued. Each time he told his wife that he was staying late to grade papers, he knew that excuse wouldn’t last forever but he was too busy focusing on the present to care. At least twice a week he would rendezvous with Dana at a series of seedy motels, with their mirrored walls and 24/7 porn channels.
Then it all went straight to hell.
“I want five thousand dollars and you’re going to give it to me,” she texted him one day while on his lunch break.
“What? You’re joking?!” He responded, suddenly sweating.
She then texted him dozens of screenshots. It was all the sexting from their chat logs. Descriptions of graphic sexual acts they wanted to do to each other accompanied by the various nudes they had each shared.
In several of the nudes he had sent her, Mark’s face was clearly visible. Dana had told him that his pics looked sexier with his face in them. Through sheer hubris, he had believed her.
He quickly picked up the phone and called her.
“Either you give me five grand or I email everything to your wife and the head of the School Board. Which option do you think is more expensive?” she answered.
“Why are you doing this? I thought we had a connection!” He replied.
“Sorry Marky-Mark, but being a sleazy pervert isn’t cheap. Put the money in an envelope and drop it off at your office on Friday night around 8. Flake on me and I will ruin you.”
“Dana, baby, please. For God’s sake! Y-you can’t-“
“See if I’m bluffing. Don’t fuck with me.”
She hung up on him.
Mark just sat there with the phone held up to his face as the dial tone droned into his ear.
The college professor felt himself begin to hyperventilate. Everything was crashing down on him. The consequences that he had tried desperately to pretend wouldn’t happen were now grabbing him by the throat.
The money she was asking for didn’t compare to the torrent of shit that would befall him if she did email his job or worse…Phoebe with evidence of their affair.
He couldn’t let that happen.
All the rest of that week he went through the motions like a zombie. He did his best to maintain his composure but he knew that his students could tell something was nagging his mind. He did his best to put on his poker face around Phoebe but she could tell something was off.
Each night leading up to the payday he couldn’t sleep at all. He just laid in bed staring up at the ceiling while he tried to figure out just what in the holy hell he was going to do. By the time the sunrise crept in through the window, he still hadn’t come up with anything.
Mark knew he had to pay her.
It was that single thought that consumed him every last second all the way up to that fateful Friday evening.
Through it all, even after the extorting and threatening to destroy his life, the thought of Dana owned his heart. Even so, Mark deleted all of their texts, desperate to destroy any evidence of communication between them. He had to start somewhere.
Friday night, Mark pulled his car into the parking lot by the University building where he taught. Fall was in full swing; the days were getting dark much earlier now. It was barely six o’clock yet it was so dark it could have been midnight.
There was a defective bulb in the street lamp in the parking lot. The light flickered down on Mark sitting in his car.
Anxiously, he adjusted his glasses and exited his car before grabbing the manila envelope containing the cash in the glove compartment.
Slowly, he walked across the parking lot towards the building entrance. The strobe light effect of the flickering streetlamp wasn’t helping his anxiety. Mark tried to control his breathing as he rehearsed in his mind what he would say to Dana when he saw her.
“You can’t do this. You can’t keep extorting me. Please, please I’m begging you!”
Mark knew she would never go for that. Still, he had to try.
Inside the building, he walked up the stairs and down the empty hallway on the second floor towards his office.
As he walked towards his office, something caught his eye. His office door was slightly ajar and light was coming out of the crack in the doorframe. He remembered that he had left his door unlocked earlier tonight. The light peering out probably meant that Dana was already inside waiting for him. Readying himself to plead with Dana, Mark stepped forward and opened his office door.
Inside, Mark saw her and immediately wished he hadn’t.
Dana’s body lay motionless and facing him. Her legs were sprawled on the ground. One of her arms was spread straight at her side while the other rested on her chest.
A pool of dark liquid had spread into the carpet of Mark’s office around her wavy dark hair. It looked as if Dana’s head was framed by a halo of blood. One of her eyes was closed, the other was swollen and black.
She wasn’t breathing.
Mark felt the scream rising in his throat. He trapped it with a hand to his mouth as he stared in wide-eyed horror. Slamming the door shut, he ran back down the hallway, the way he had come in.
Soon he was running outside the building. In his blind hurry, Mark tripped over a parking curb and hit the pavement. He groaned as he felt his knee scrape on the solid ground. Mark mentally assessed himself in a daze.
“What the fuck am I doing? Get a hold of yourself!” His mind panicked.
Brushing himself off, Mark frantically pulled out his smartphone and dialed 911.
“9-1-1 what’s your emergency?” The operator asked.
“I-uh, I need help! Oh God, she’s dead!” Mark immediately fell apart, sobbing hysterically.
An hour later the darkness of the University parking was filled with the glowing swirl of flashing red and blue lights. Mark sat in shock on a campus bench staring at nothing while two uniformed officers stood above him peppering him with questions. It was like a bad dream.
“So, you just found her lying there?”
“Do you always leave your office unlocked?”
“How long has she been a student of yours?”
“Any idea why she’d be in your office at this hour?”
“Yes, I just found her there. Sometimes I leave my office unlocked. Today, I went back because I forgot my phone charger. Dana-Ms. Sinclair has been a student in one of my classes since the beginning of the semester. We had made an appointment to meet up and organize a term paper she was having trouble with later this week. That’s all I know,” Mark took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes before choking back another sob.
“Who would do this?” Mark cried.
The officers looked at each other then back at Mark, their eyes squinted.
“That’s what we intend to find out. You’ve done a good job of giving us the first step, Professor Thompson. Do you need someone to drive you home?”
“N-no, I’m okay just shocked obviously. I can drive myself home though, thank you.” Mark wiped his face and awkwardly shuffled back to his car.
Fortunately, the police hadn’t noticed the envelope of cash he had hidden in the back seat. As he drove away from the campus, Mark caught a final glimpse in his rearview mirror. Among the flashing red and blue lights, he could just make out the sight of coroners wheeling a gurney out a building. A white sheet was draped over it, over her.
Word of Dana’s murder spread like wildfire throughout the University. Parents pulled their children from school until the police had a suspect. The campus, once bouncing with eager students, now became a ghost town replaced with an atmosphere that was eerily macabre.
A week after her body had been found, the Dean held a campus funeral on the football field. Nearly all of the students and faculty were in attendance. Mark was in attendance as well. Uncomfortable and feeling guilty, he stood there with everyone wearing his best poker face on top of his black funeral suit. He tried not to look at the large portrait of Dana’s face standing at the center of the funeral. Try as he might, he couldn’t help but lock eyes with the frozen stare of the portrait.
Phoebe, who Mark knew deserved so much better than him, helped Mark overcome the trauma every step of the way. After telling her the fabricated version of events that led him to his office that horrible night (forgotten phone charger, no I don’t know why she was there) he held on to his wife tightly like she was the last life-preserver keeping him from sinking into total despair.
“It’s all right, babe. Everything will be okay,” Phoebe promised, wrapping her arms around him.
As Mark held her, he caught a view of something in the living room mirror. It was Dana, she was standing in the reflection watching them with blood dripping down her beaten face. His murdered lover smiled at him just like she had done in all of their classes before they got together. Mark shuddered before closing his eyes and squeezing his wife tighter.
A few days after the campus funeral, the police called Mark to ask him to meet for a sit-down with the detectives handling the case. They had some extra questions for him, you see. That wouldn’t be a problem, right?
“Of course not, I’ll be there,” Mark gulped anxiously.
Oh God, Oh God they know. Should he bring an attorney with him? No, then he’d look guilty for sure. The only viable option he had was to listen to what they asked him, learn if they had anything on him, and take it from there. For now, he just had to stick to his story.
“You’re only guilty of the affair. You can get through this,” his mind calculated.
The next day, Mark sat in the interrogation cell, nervous and fidgeting, with an anxious bladder to top it off. The door opened and two detectives came in, a large, bulky middle-aged man with a crew cut who introduced himself as Detective Shultz and a thin African-American woman in her thirties who introduced herself as Detective Paulson.
They went over what had happened the night of Dana’s murder. Mark just repeated his story, that he went back to his office to get his phone charger (technically true, he had left it in his office earlier that day). No, he hadn’t realized he’d left his door unlocked and he still had no idea why Dana had been in his office.
The detectives switched gears.
“Does the name Pat Ellroy mean anything to you?”
“I don’t think so, no. Should it?”
“Maybe. See, Pat was Dana’s boyfriend,” the larger detective let that sit for a moment to study Mark’s reaction. The look of confusion on the Professor’s face signaled him to press on.
“A Junior in the Writing Arts major, a literary type like yourself. Word around campus from people who knew him said he was visibly drunk and belligerent the night of the murder. We brought him in yesterday. Kid rambled on about a huge fight he had with Dana before she died. He also admitted to blacking out the night of the murder and couldn’t account for his whereabouts. It wasn’t long before he was breaking down right where you’re sitting now.”
“Oh God, are you saying he’s the one who killed her?”
“Now why would he have done a thing like that?” Schultz asked.
“I have no idea! You said they had a fight! He was drunk!”
“That does make the most logical sense, except we questioned a few more students, mostly those in your class with the girl. More than one person mentioned that you and Dana were always looking at each other,” Paulson said with her arms folded.
“Students seem to think there was definitely some kind of tension between you two,” she continued.
“Any of this ringing a bell, Professor?” Schultz’s large, brick frame leaned in close looking down at Mark.
“I-I try to have a rapport with all of my students,” Mark stammered, another half-truth.
“Are you nervous about something?” Paulson asked.
“I’m just still haunted by what I saw that night. I’ve been jumping at my own shadow ever since,” Mark said avoiding their piercing gazes.
“We asked Pat what caused such a huge blow-out between him and his girlfriend. Wouldn’t you know it, the poor bastard said he found out that she was cheating on him,” Schultz shook his head in mock pity.
“What does that have to do with me?”
“Does it have something to do with you?” Paulson studied him.
“Were you fucking your student Professor?” Schultz asked not wasting any time.
“That-that is disgusting! I’m not listening to this!” Mark got up to leave.
“Sit down,” the large man growled.
“I-“ Mark tried to speak.
“Sit!” The detective slammed his meaty fist on the table.
Mark jumped at the sound. Trembling, he turned to the other detective for some kind of rationale. He was met with no comfort in her frowning, suspicious face. Mark could feel their contempt for him in that small room. Invisible tentacles of suspicion were writhing across the room, suffocating him.
He shriveled back down into the chair.
“Look, we know you’re a piece of shit. You know you’re a piece of shit. Just tell us what really happened that night. You didn’t want Dana to go public with your affair so you bashed that poor girl’s fucking face in,” Schultz said.
“I. Did. Not. Kill. Her,” Mark hammered the emphasis of each word. He saw that he was white-knuckling the arms of the chair.
“But you were fucking her, weren’t you? That’s why you took her cell phone?”
“No! I-what? Her phone?”
“Come on Mark,” Schultz chuckled. “You didn’t want there to be any evidence of your affair so you killed her and took her phone with all your dirty pictures on it to be sure.”
“I…don’t know what other people are saying but I’ve never crossed a line with any of my students. I have people to corroborate my alibi. I know my rights. If you’re not arresting me, I’m leaving,” Mark got up from this chair and this time didn’t stop.
Gathering what was left of his courage, Mark headed for the door before he could be intimidated again. He was half-way out before the detectives called out to him one last time.
“So, you’re really just gonna let this Ellroy kid take the fall for the murder? The girl wasn’t enough for you so now you have to ruin two young lives? Professor of the Year material.” Schultz sneered.
“We can tell there’s something you’re not telling us. Please, help us so we can arrest the right person. For Dana.” Paulson said, urging him to do the right thing.
Mark stopped for a moment. Uncertain, thoughts swirling in his head he turned around to look at the detectives. As he was about to say something, he saw Dana’s pale body standing behind the detectives. Blood dribbled down her beautiful, smashed-in face. White-hot fear shot through him before he blinked and she vanished.
Without another word, Mark spun around and ran out of the police station.
Time passed, life went on but it wasn’t easy. Mark lived in fear, expecting the police to show up at his home. He had nightmares of them pinning Dana’s death on him and dragging him away in chains, screaming. Then he would wake up and another day would pass where nothing of the sort happened at all.
It wasn’t long before news broke of Patrick Ellroy being officially charged with Dana’s murder. One morning, when Mark was buying his morning coffee, he glimpsed a newspaper with Pat Ellroy on the front page. With officers at both his sides, shackled in chains, the Writing Arts major looked like a dog that knew it was about to be put down.
The trial was set to begin that spring, Mark was paranoid he’d be called in for questioning again or worse, to testify. Days turned to weeks and Mark heard nothing. Each day going into the next, he expected Paulson and Schultz to be right outside his door with handcuffs in their hands and hungry looks on their faces, but it never happened.
His secret affair with Dana remained just that. By next semester he had gone back to teaching classes. Despite some visible frostiness from students and members of the faculty, Mark was more or less able to resume his life.
The image of Dana, pale and bleeding, still appeared to him from time to time.
Whatever she was, whatever she would have done to him, she didn’t deserve to go out like that.
Some days Mark would be coming out of the shower and Dana would be there waiting for him. Late at night when he would be on top of Phoebe, his wife’s face would morph into Dana’s staring up at him. Disturbing as this all was, the more time passed, the less frequent his visions of Dana became until they finally stopped altogether.
The police were off his back and seemed set to pin the murder on Pat, so the story seemed to go. I mean, it probably was him anyway, right? Mark shouldn’t have to feel bad for Pat going to jail for murdering Dana, that was on the young man.
Besides, if it hadn’t been Mark that Dana had slept with and blackmailed it probably would have been some other professor.
Mark re-dedicated himself to Phoebe. It was like they were dating for the first time again. They had meaningful conversations and went for long walks while holding hands like they used to. He remembered why she was his everything. Mark would never forgive himself for betraying her but he would never allow for that to happen again.
One night, months after the murder and a week before their vacation was to begin, Mark thought he would surprise his wife with a nice dinner. After classes, he picked up salmon, wild rice and green beans, Phoebe’s favorite.
Later in the kitchen, he dropped the rice into the pot of water. He turned the stove on and slowly the water began to boil. Smiling, he took a moment to reflect on how lucky he was.
The thought was interrupted when Mark realized he was missing the garlic press. He knew that it was in one of these drawers. He walked over to a cupboard with all the kitchen utensils Phoebe normally used. No, it wasn’t in there, maybe in one of the other drawers? Just then he heard the sound of the front door opening, followed by Phoebe calling out to him.
“In here!” he called back.
Rifling through an adjacent cupboard, he felt something small, flat and rectangular.
Curious, he pulled the small object out of the drawer. In his hand, Mark’s confused face stared back at him from a small black screen. Mark turned the phone around and immediately recognized the colorful, space-themed smartphone case. Memories flooded his head. The phone in his hand was unmistakably the same one that he had seen Dana texting from several times after their trysts.
Mark’s stomach back flipped. Terror shot up his body as he steadied himself on the counter. What the fuck was Dana’s phone doing here? Behind him, the sizzling water bubbled loudly in the pot. He felt beads of sweat tickle his brow. The kitchen was spinning, he felt like he was going to be sick.
“Oh God,” he whispered.
Dropping the phone into the drawer, he slammed it shut. Mark didn’t even hear his wife behind him until he turned around. Phoebe, his loving wife, the same woman he had betrayed, who had told him that everything would be all right, just stood there smiling.
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