In 2005 when I graduated high school, I did so without much concern for what kind of person I was upon leaving, or how that person might affect my future. In fact, I don’t think anyone I was in a social circle with did that much thinking. My parents made the mistake of giving me $200 in graduation money that was added to another $150 from various proud relatives. I could have donated a portion of it or put it in a savings account. But I didn’t. I got crocked with some of my other delinquent friends. It’s a little difficult and way more expensive to do that at seventeen. There’s the cost of the drinks plus the extra money you have to slide the bartender to serve you since he knows you’re definitely not 21.
I didn’t quite know it at the time, but I was preparing for a future as a weekend rock star. I ended up the lead singer of Kill Cecilia, a punk rock outfit from Statesboro, Georgia lovingly named after me. Haven’t heard of us? You have something in common with most of the southeast. In our two years as a band, we haven’t played many shows, but we’ve still managed to pick up a small and very passionate fanbase along the way. That’s how we remember that we don’t completely suck.
As you can imagine, some of our fans have found our personal Facebook accounts. As someone who couldn’t find her own family members on there, I’m not sure how they do it. We’re not important enough to have our privacy truly matter yet, so we usually add them back. And that is why I added Elizabeth Xae without a single hesitant thought.
A few days later, I got message from her. Elizabeth was not a fan, she was an old high school classmate. She admitted that I probably wouldn’t remember her (and I didn’t) and spent a few paragraphs of her letter telling me more about my high school self than I cared to remember on my own. She convinced me that I knew her, so I agreed to meet up with her at a local coffee shop for her to tell me some things she didn’t feel comfortable discussing over the Internet.
There were no pictures associated with her Facebook account, so when I walked into our meeting place, I had to use a process of elimination. Luckily, most of the crowd were high school kids in shirts for bands I’d never heard of, desperately trying to pretend being old enough for coffee made them an adult. And then there was a brunette girl in the corner with a purse wider than her frame at her feet. She stirred her coffee with a shaking hand several times before taking the smallest of sips. It was dainty and paranoid. She looked like the frantic nature her email had been written in. I knew immediately that this was Elizabeth.
When I walked over to her, she immediately instructed me to sit down, as if a sniper’s laser sight had suddenly appeared on my head. I did so.
“You look well,” she said, barely looking up at me enough to actually confirm that.
“I probably looked better before I got your email.”
“Sorry about the vagueness. It’s a constant effort to stay safe.”
She sat down her mug. The spoon in it rattled all the way to the table.
“Did you come alone?” She asked.
“I didn’t know I needed to.” “So, you didn’t?”
“Don’t worry, I did. What the hell is this about, though?”
She looked up at me for the first time, and I got a chance to see her face. Her features were terribly familiar but in the uncertain way details from a dream are after being awake for a few hours.
“Maybe we shouldn’t talk here.” Our growing and slightly nosy adolescent audience was beginning to bother her.
“Okay. Where to then?
“How secure is your place?”
Elizabeth walked into my apartment, quietly judging every bit of décor she got to pass in the process. She finally laid eyes on the framed vinyl sleeve of our album cover mounted to the wall next to the chair she chose to sit in.
“Is that you?” She asked. The cover was an artist’s minimalist interpretation of myself and my two bandmates, but still clearly us.
“Yeah. Me and my band. Pretty cool, huh?”
“What’s your band’s name?”
“Oh.” If she would have had a sweater to pull over her shoulders in chilling discomfort, she would have. “That’s very good. I’m sure you’re very good.”
“We do okay. So…do you think it’s safe enough for us to talk now?”
She nodded. “Do you remember Fiona Russell?”
Of course I did. More in name than in face at this point, but she wasn’t easy to fully forget.
“Do you remember what you did to her?”
“Not really. I have a few less brain cells than what I did in high school, I’m afraid.”
Of course I did.
With mentalities that clearly carried over from middle school, myself and my group of heathens made the life of Fiona Russell an experience only slightly more appealing than genocide. Simply making fun of her might have been easy, though we did plenty of that. A few times a week, we’d follow a few feet behind her as she walked home. The boys talked explicitly about the violent, horrific things they’d do to her if given the chance while the girls offered locations to carry out the acts at and ways to keep her quiet about it. I would love to say that we were all talk, but in 9th grade, Chelsea Rivers and I held her down in the back of the school and covered her used cat litter. And in 11th grade, Jake Meyers somehow got her in a janitor’s closet and threatened to violate her with a mop stick simply because he was in a bad mood.
“Well, maybe you need to start remembering and apologizing for it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have reason to believe Fiona’s been playing the reaper and sending her high school torturers to Hell. The ones that made her go through it herself.” My first reaction was to laugh, but I held my serious face long enough for Elizabeth to continue. After all, she was clearly serious about it.
“You were one of them,” she continued, “I remember that clearly. I wasn’t, but I don’t think I’m much safer than any of the rest of you.”
“Why would she be after you for being innocent?”
“Uninvolved, maybe, but not innocent. I saw what was going on. I could have helped, but I found it easier not to. To her, that’s as sinful as putting a noose around her neck and telling her to kill herself.”
My serious face became a lot easier to keep. I had done that. It wasn’t a real rope, of course—not the kind used on boats or for actual hangings. It was decorative. I imagine Fiona didn’t take comfort in that when I slipped it around her neck at her locker one day. The symbolism of it was clear. And if it hadn’t been, I made sure to tell her what it meant. Out of everything I had done and said to her, that always felt like the worst.
Elizabeth opened her purse and presented a handful of newspaper clippings to me. They were all from newspapers from different cities, dated a few days apart from each other, but as I scanned over them, I recognized all the names of the victims. Most of them had eaten lunch with me every single day, gotten sloshed with me after graduation, and punished Fiona Russell for the better part of four years.
“Their deaths were graphic. Personal. Wren Peterson was stabbed 33 times. Clayton Barnes was doused in lighter fluid and burned alive. Chelsea Rivers was beheaded in her own home.”
“What…what proof do you have that this is even Fiona?” It was my turn to tremble now. “None of these crimes have suspects.”
“Does this look like random acts of violence to you?”
“No. I can see that someone is after us, but we put more than just Fiona through Hell back then. Remember that kid Ronaldo Reynolds? What if he’s the one that snapped? He’d have just as much of a reason as Fiona.”
Elizabeth ripped the news clippings from my grip. I thought she looked a lot less timid and tiny in this moment.
“This is not Ronaldo Reynolds! He isn’t capable of something of this magnitude.”
“Have you been able to get in touch with whoever’s left? Ethan and Wren are still alive, right? I didn’t see any clippings about them. We have to find some way to warn them.” My mind tripped across the last person of our group, “Jake Meyers. Oh God. He was horrible to her. I honestly don’t know how he wasn’t the first to die.”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Cecilia, we can’t tell those people anything right now.”
“Why the fuck not?”
“She’ll kill me if we do. And then she’ll simply continue killing all of you. I know I’m on the list, but me being dead right now does nothing. Do you have any idea the risk I’m taking by contacting you?”
“How do you know you’re on the list?”
“Elizabeth…how’d you find out I was next?”
Elizabeth shifted her gaze away and selected the words of her response carefully.
“She told me.”
“You’re in contact with this psycho?!”
“It’s not like I picked up the phone and reached out! She contacted me. It was months ago, before any of this started. She found me on Facebook, we Skyped a few times, caught up on our lives. She looked and sounded fine. Well adjusted. She was interested in being friends with me.”
“Why didn’t you contact us sooner to warn us about her rampage?”
“She didn’t exactly lay out her plans for me. And even if she would have, I honestly don’t know if I would have believed her. She seemed so…normal.”
In my mind, I imagined Fiona charging through my door at any moment with an axe and hacking me like she was auditioning for a Japanese horror movie. My chest clenched so tight at the thought I expected my heart to rage quit. If Fiona didn’t kill me, the anticipation of her arrival surely would.
Elizabeth shrugged. “Maybe we deserve it, ya know? I mean, I don’t know. People should pay for being horrible, right? It’s only fair.”
“It was high school. You graduate, grow up, and accept that everyone’s horrible to someone at that age. If you weren’t, you were probably homeschooled.”
“It’s not that easy for everyone. Look, I certainly don’t condone her actions, but I can’t pretend I don’t admire her a little.” Elizabeth must have felt the shift in the air around us because she quickly followed that up. “Think about it. Most people spend a lifetime letting this stuff create a hole in them that one day becomes big enough to swallow them. And then the people responsible for that hole get to just live their lives and become financial advisers or school teachers or wannabe rock stars…”
Elizabeth stood up and locked her eyes in mine. I couldn’t figure out where the suddenly intensity came from since I had watched her shake like a maraca in the coffee shop a few hours earlier. I slid back onto the sofa a little bit more when she started slowly making her way over to me.
“Where’s the justice for people like you in the world, Cecilia? There’s punishment for crimes committed with guns and knives. But what about the ones carried out with words or humiliation? Those are just as dangerous, and the victims have every right to become twisted as a result of them.”
“I think you should leave, Elizabeth.”
“But I have to protect you from Fiona.”
We both got the idea to run to my front door at the same time. I got there first, but that allowed her to catch a large chunk of my hair and pull me away before I had a chance to escape.
“You’re gonna play this game too, I see. That’s fine.”
When she flung me downward, my head took the opportunity to bounce off of my recently redone wooden floor. My brain exploded right in my skull. She put me between her legs when she stood over me and waited for me to turn over and look at her.
“I don’t think I look that different, but no one has recognized me. Sure, I’ve changed my hair color and maybe I got a little plastic surgery done—I’ll never tell—but I was so insignificant to you all that none of you bothered to save enough brain space to remember my face! You watched tears come from it every day. You spit in it and yelled threats and insults at it. But you didn’t have the courtesy to remember it.”
She went to her purse and pulled out a rope with a premade noose.
A real rope. Not the decorative kind.
I continued to reel but regained enough wits about myself to send my foot firmly into her lady area when she got close enough to me and scramble away.
My whole apartment became a maze. I suddenly couldn’t remember what doors lead where, if they had locks on them, or if they had a window I could climb out of. I picked the one that happened to be my bedroom and worked my dresser in front of the door in lieu of worrying about a lock that wouldn’t stand up to ten years of marinating revenge anyway.
I ran to the window and opened it, hoping that being five floors up wouldn’t look like an instant death sentence. It did.
She was gaining on me. I could hear her opening doors and slamming them a few minutes later after a quick inspection. Finally the dresser against the door bumped.
“Cecilia, what are you doing? You don’t have the right to hide from me like this!”
The dresser bumped with each thrust Fiona gave the door.
I ran to my tiny corner desk, and open the drawer, not fully even remembering what I had in it. Through the papers, pens, and uncategorizable junk, I picked up a letter opener.
It was around that time that I looked back at the dresser and watched it topple over in slow motion. It was still a hindrance to the door, but her opening was getting wider. Behind me was the double doors to my closet. I quickly jumped inside and prayed my breathing only sounded noisy to me.
Being behind completely solid doors made me hopelessly incapable of seeing where she was exploring when she did get in.
“There are only so many rooms in your apartment, Cecilia, and this one had a dresser behind it so I’m probably getting pretty warm. Why don’t you just come on out?”
The covers on my bed rustled. She was looking under it.
“Why did you run when you saw the rope? I know you don’t have a phobia. You had no problem with the one you put around my neck that day, Cecilia. You taught me something that day, ya know. That everyone enjoys being able to take a life. They may never do it, but it doesn’t matter. The ability to do it is intoxicating enough for the general population.”
A door whipped opened to my left, and shower curtain hooks jerked across a metal bar.
“We were the only ones in the hallway that day,” she continued, “You could have done a lot more than what you did. The same way Jake could have done more to me in the broom closet. But you and Jake were satisfied with the fear in my eyes.”
“She couldn’t have gone out this window,” she mused to no one in particular, “unless she can fly now.”
Without thinking about it, I charged from the closet with the letter opener in hand. I brought it over my head with the target being her back, but she turned around and I came down on her right breast instead. I didn’t hit anything major, and Fiona barely reacted. Instead, she finally wrapped her rope around my neck and tightened it. She walked around and put her foot in my back while she gave it another hard tug. Everything inside of my neck squeeze together and touched.
As I desperately fought with the noose to slacken it, she let out a primal scream and rested her hands on her knees a moment. “What’d you do that for?” She touched the letter opener lightly and psyched herself up before ripping it straight out, band aid style.
She tossed my weapon out of reach and looked back at me.
“That wasn’t fair, Cecilia. And it hurt like hell.” A tiny red splotch invaded her shirt at the point of insertion. “More injustices!” Fiona took the free half of the rope and began dragging me out of the bedroom. I had no choice but to follow, but I flailed and thrashed about like a cat on leash.
“This is why what I’m doing is so important! Ten years of pretending you’re a decent person has probably glossed over the fact that you hurt me, Cecilia. But that’s the best case scenario because you probably never thought you hurt me to begin with. Words are pain, and the way people classify pain as strictly physical is the most disturbing thing about this believe it or not. You made me feel like I wasn’t worth the chance to live my life like a human being, and soon, I actually stopped feeling human at all. Did you do this by hitting me? No. Did you do this by acting on all those disgusting things you and your friends threatened me with? No. You did it with your words. Maybe you didn’t know exactly what you were making, but this is what you wanted. Look around. This is the Hell that you created, Cecilia.”
Through my tunneling vision, the double doors to my balcony came into view. I didn’t have a plan, and seeing them didn’t give me one. It did, however, give me a surge of strength that made me think I could haul us both over there. I took lead and changed our direction. The force I used caused us to crash through the doors, shattering several window panes and spilling us onto the outside. Fiona landed in front of me. Before the stun wore off, I took her head in both of my hands and ran it into the nearest wall several times like there was a prize inside. She put distance between us with her arms, and pulled my head into her knee using the rope. My nose caught most of it, and it ruptured like a dye pack.
“We could have been friends, Cecilia.” She grabbed the back of her head and checked for blood. “We had the same taste in music. We had the same taste in boys. We even had the same sense of humor. I might have found many of the things you said hilarious if you would have been saying them to someone else!”
I gored her into the railing and got both my hands around her neck. It bent her upper-half completely over the railing. Fiona seemed amused by the change in power.
“Could you do me a favor, Cecilia? Before you end this.”
I didn’t answer so much as I dug my grip harder into her neck. She grabbed my wrists and held onto them.
“Could you just… tell me that you’re sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“For everything from high school.”
“I really don’t think I owe you an apology anymore.”
“Those things that you did to me still exist. They didn’t fade over time or get canceled out by what I’ve done to you. Have you been listening to anything I’ve said? You ruined who I could have been. Take some goddamn responsibility for once in your life!”
“If anyone ever asks who killed Fiona Russell, I’ll tell them it was me.”
It didn’t take too much force to upset the gentle balance of her body on the railing. I didn’t blink until I saw Fiona hit the ground, and the life leave her body in the form of a rapidly expanding red pool.
In my first moment of relief, the effects of oxygen deprivation finally dawned on my body, and I blacked out.
When I came to, Tilly Francis, my neighbor from across the hall, had her big, vibrant green eyes bearing down on me. They were glossy and still running. I had seen them like this a few times before–once when my father died and then again when I told her about Hunter and I, who still drums in my band, breaking up. She was so good at being concerned about me.
“Dear God, Cecilia. Are you okay? There was a rope around your neck when I found you! What the hell happened?”
We were still outside. I could see that rope discarded at the opposite side of the balcony.
“Fiona Russell…” I had more but harsh, hacking coughing put a period on that and ignited my vocal chords. Being freed nearly hurt as much as being leashed.
“Is that who did this? What does she look like?”
I pointed to the balcony floor. “Down…there.”
Tilly removed my head from her lap and stood to peer over the balcony.
“Holy shit. That’s a lot of blood. Where did it come from?”
“What?” I pulled myself up and joined Tilly at the railing.
She was right. There was a huge pool of blood. It had spread significantly during my unconscious state.
But it was the only thing down there now.
“Where’s her body?”
“Body? I…I don’t know.”
“I KILLED FIONA RUSSELL, TILLY! WHERE IS SHE?” I didn’t mean for it to sound like I was blaming her for the missing corpse, but it was already out of my mouth.
“Let’s just calm down a bit okay, Cecilia? Emergency services are on the way. They’re going to take you to the hospital and you’ll be able to figure everything out then.”
I knew things wouldn’t happen like that, but I nodded. It was still comforting. She took traumatized strands of my hair and calmly tried to find their place on my battered head. I must have sounded completely fried to her, but she didn’t make me feel patronized as she did it. She was such a good neighbor.
Things got a little weird at my complex after the incident. After I had been medically examined and the smoke had settled, I still couldn’t provide a logical explanation for the blood to authorities. The lack of evidence and witnesses—the tenants that were home on the day of the incident all claim to have seen and heard nothing–prohibited them from properly convicting me of anything, but my baptist, southern neighbors provided their own theories. The talk of my experimenting with the dark arts spread soon after. My band became a cult, and our music became subliminally delivered spells. Tilly tried to fight on my team, but she grew tired of being the only member after a while. I wasn’t kicked out, but I was politely whispered about and alienated enough to get the point. Some might call it a taste of my own medicine.
I’ve had some time to relive the events and words of that day with terrifying clarity, and I’m no longer upset about what Fiona did to me. I’m shocked it didn’t happen sooner. Fully absorbing what Fiona said has finally allowed me to shamefully realize that…she was right. We absolutely were to blame for what happened to her, and we all deserve what’s coming. There is no civil way to pay for desecrating someone’s dignity, and I understand that now.
In my selfishness, I took away her chance to carry out what she needed to do, but I promise that when she finds me again—and I know she will—that I will not fight it. It’s the least I can do.
I hope this public Internet posting will find some of the guilty still out there as I have tried and failed to locate you via other means. Wren, Ethan, and Jake—this is not a warning though I know you will all most likely receive it that way. This is a plea for you guys to do the right thing after failing to do so for so many years. Fiona will be contacting you all very soon. I don’t know in what order it will be, but I encourage you all to at last take responsibility and let what needs to happen, happen.
This is the Hell that we created.