Author's note: I ran across this quick grip of stories while doing some maintenance in my erotica folder; it brought a smile to my face as I re-read it, so I thought I might post it here. There's no real erotica here (it was written before I imagined such a thing could be proper!), but it is a precursor to the story that eventually became Cheating Life, so I thought some of you might enjoy it.

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No one thinks that anything bad will ever happen to them, or so I hear. Well, I always knew that something would happen to me. I lived in the city, after all, and I read the crime report in the paper. I knew how often people were mugged, or raped, or beaten for no reason at all. I worked the late shift and had to walk a quarter-mile to the parking lot every night, and I wasn't very big or threatening-looking. Of course I did what I could to protect myself - I took the self-defense class at the YMCA and was planning on moving up to Karate, I carried a can of pepper-spray, and when I walked I always kept my eyes up and stayed alert. But I knew, sooner or later – probably sooner – something bad would happen to me. That was just the way life was.

So I wasn't surprised when I saw it all coming well in advance: I got off work the same time as usual, just about midnight, and took the hurried walk to the lot. The streets were empty, except for the occasional speeder and yellow-light runner. My car was lonely in the far corner of the lot, but of course at two in the afternoon I had been lucky to even find a space. There, slumped against the pole of a parking lot light not a dozen yards from my car, blocking the path between where I stood and the relative safety of my Volvo (of course, even in a car you still have to avoid long traffic lights or suffer the likelihood of car-jacking), a disheveled-looking man sang some drunkenly-slurred song a bit too loudly. He saw me as I entered the orange-drenched anti-shadows of the parking lot, before I had decided what to do, and yelled out with a failing voice, could I spare any change? A quarter perhaps?

That was enough for me. I knew how this scheme worked; we had seen the scenario in self-defense class: while you slow long enough to dig in your pocket for a quarter, or just turn to ask him to leave you alone, his buddy jumps out from behind a car or fence or pillar and sticks you in the back with a rusty knife. They take your wallet and leave you without the slightest concern that they probably killed you – if not from the bleeding, then from tetanus. The drunken slur was probably just an act.

I should have just walked straight to my car; I could have ignored the panhandler, but he was pretty large and really seemed drunk, and I was a bit edgy. So, I casually adjusted my course to follow a walkway away from the lot, as if I hadn't seen or heard him at all. The plan was to walk around the buildings beside the lot and come back to my car from the other side; with any luck, the man would be gone or too drunk to hear me until I locked my door. But he started toward me, yelling something angry and waving his arms, so I stepped up my pace and turned down an alleyway that led between two of the buildings.

When I looked down the alleyway, my heart sank - it was littered with the silhouettes of garbage bags and cardboard boxes, and halfway down a couple of dumpsters almost blocked the path entirely. It was too far to go to the end of the block and follow the streets, and it would have been even worse to turn around and go back through the parking lot and face that man now; beside I could still hear him yelling and sounding not too happy and maybe even getting closer. I figured that at least down the alley there would be no traps set for an unwary citizen, as not too many citizens were stupid enough to enter it. So, I picked my steps, held my satchel to my chest, and made for the far side.

It was darker than I thought once I made it a few yards into the alley, since I blocked the light from behind me. The black shapes of bags and who knows what else swarmed together in a rather threatening manner. The light from the street at the far end was my beacon of hope, and I pressed on, even when I brushed up against something that felt alive and mangy. I drove fear from my mind by concentrating on how I would congratulate myself when I got home for making it through such a gambit without fleeing in terror - maybe I'd have a wine cooler and write about this adventure in the journal I had started, dramatizing it a bit to capture the mood, of course. That drunk man had a knife or a big stick in his hand, hadn't he? I set a brave face and squared my shoulders – this was heroism, here.

By this time I'd picked my way through the refuse as far as the two dumpsters, and had begun to take soggy steps through the cardboard piled up around them. But when a rather stable-seeming box collapsed beneath my shoe and I flung my hand out toward the rim of the dumpster to catch my balance, instead of finding the cold steel I expected, my fingers closed around what was almost certainly another human hand, but cold and lifeless. I lost my composure. With a shriek that embarrassed me even then, I scrambled down the cardboard between the dumpsters, tripped on something, and landed with a great crash on my side in a pile of garbage bags, which broke open and spewed out some rather unpleasant-smelling, sticky, wet things. I had lost my satchel, and with a curse I begin pawing about to find it. The police department would be getting a call about this place in the morning – whether that was an overdosed bum or the mutilated victim of a slasher, I knew they would have to do something about it. I bumped into a garbage can and sent it to the ground with a glaringly noisy clatter. I sat down against the dumpster and rubbed my head. The ground was as wet as the boxes, but I was already filthy, and I was tired, and cursing seemed futile.

Then a door opened on the balcony above me, and a strong yellow light filled the alley. I was spotlighted like a criminal in the police department's NightSun. A silhouetted figure stepped out onto the metal grate and looked down to me. I expected an annoyed barkeep with a handgun to mistake me for a vagrant and chase me away, but the shadowed person said nothing. It was a woman – even though she wore some long, form-concealing coat and the bright light obscured her features, I could tell by the way she leaned against the railing. I could see my satchel now - it was on the other side of me – so I grabbed it and stood, brushing the garbage off my suit.

"Sorry for the noise . . ." I raised a hand to shade my eyes and maybe see her face. "I fell." I really was a mess - there was something disgusting slimed all over the arm of my coat. I called up again, emboldened by the heroic adrenaline in my veins, "You wouldn't happen to have a paper towel I could borrow? My uniform . . ." I twisted my arm in the light to show off the brownish smear.

She paused, then answered, "Come up. I will take care of it." She had a low voice, but it carried well. She had some immigrant accent I couldn't place – from Eastern Europe, or South America, maybe. Her words sounded thick and deliberate.

She kicked down the fire escape ladder and disappeared back through the door, so, shifting my satchel to my back, I started up the rungs to the balcony. Then I paused. What was I doing? This was still the bad part of town, and an alleyway, and there was no reason to think I was any safer up there where she was than I was discussing the relative value of a quarter with the drunk man from the parking lot. She certainly hadn't exuded much concern or friendliness. I should just go and get to my car and clean myself up when I got home.

But she wasn't homeless, and I doubted she would rob me, or that this was some kind of set-up. What did the establishment sign beside the door say? I couldn't read it, hanging as I was on the ladder. What was there to worry about, really? It was light up there, and with luck maybe she could show me another way around the block than through the alley.

She came back out the door and I started up the ladder again. When I was near the top, she hooked a hand under my arm and helped me to my feet. Again I paused, twisting my shoulders away from her, but this time I could not think why. She had an exceptionally firm, strong grip. I loosened my shoulders, straightened my coat, and composed myself. She took my hand in her own and turned my arm to dab at my coatsleeve with a paper towel. Her hand was cool, almost cold, and I realized for the first time how hot and sweaty my own were. I looked into her face, through the glare of the balcony light, and could see into her eyes now, the "windows to her soul". Her eyes were large and dark, and her gaze held mine as firmly as I now realized her hand gripped mine. I felt tension build briefly, and I almost tried to pull my hand free, but that all silently slipped away, like an autumn leaf plucked from the tree by a breeze. My shoulders drooped, and some of her calm passed into me. In her eyes I saw not her soul but mine, and she was actively soothing it. She was taking control of my emotions. Her lips parted as the tendril fingers of her psyche wrapped around mine. I realized then that she was calling to me, she had been calling to me, in my mind. She was a whirlpool, a Charybdis, and I was the sailor riding inescapably into her swirl.

And when I realized that, she had me. She had me down on my back on the grate of the balcony, and she was arched over me, her teeth deep in my neck. If there was pain, I didn't notice it, or rather it was removed, as was the cold from the steel grate biting into my naked flesh - I was already hers, and all my feeling went to her. The hungry kiss of her lips, her fingers smoothing back my hair, her leg folded around mine – I sensed these only through her. Even then, as I thought, it was from within her, a mote in the inky depths beneath the swirl.

Still, I couldn't help but feel a bit smug. I had known, hadn't I?


I never hated her.

Oh, I hated what she did, and I certainly feared what she might be able to do to me, but I never hated her.

Finding her lair was a simple enough matter: she never looked behind her that night when I followed her back to her rambling estate edging up to the woods outside of the city. She was still glutted after the attack I'd had to watch while I waited, and she was careless.

Nor did breaking and entering pose a problem: whether through arrogance or confidence, she had no significant security system.

I took no real pleasure in my job, not the way I knew some others did. Some of them cackle with glee, or hurl insults, or even derive some form of sexual gratification from doing their killing; they are the ones who hate. I simply administer justice. At times I even pity them, the ones I must kill. I am not always so sure they can help themselves. There is no joy in putting down what was once a face-licking, tail-wagging pet, though it may now be a rabid dog.

When I found her she was sitting in an over-stuffed arm chair, watching a large portrait hang in a heavy, gilded frame on the wall across from her. As I paused in the doorway, deciding between taking her quickly and quietly - by surprise - or announcing myself - allowing her the drama she deserved - she turned her head to face me. It was not a movement of surprise, nor was it slow and deliberate. Rather, it was cordial, as if I had responded to an invitation and had arrived just on time.

Welcome, she said. Rather, she didn't say it, but her eyes spoke it clearly, and I heard it in my head - not in the soft, sultry voice I knew to be hers, but in my own voice, indistinguishable from my thoughts.

She lifted herself from her chair, and I saw that she wore only a heavy black cloak. It was held in place by a large broach perched where her neck met her shoulders, and fell to brush the floor lightly around her feet. The moonlight streaming in from the French doors behind her cast a blue glow around her and shimmered off the heavy, velvet folds in the cloak.

I had expected you, she said, again with the voice of my own thoughts. Her eyes held mine, held me like stone, as she softly crossed the polished floor to where I stood. Her bare feet made no sound, and her hips swayed gracefully beneath the velvet. The cloak parted slightly as she walked, revealing smooth legs, white like marble, long and lithe. I knew I was being seduced - not actively, but by the nature of her being. I was graced with the attentions of a goddess. The beauty of her person demanded worship. Worship demanded sacrifice.

She stopped no more than a foot from me, and it was I who lurched as if fighting momentum; we stood in the moonlight across the room by her armchair. Her eyes left mine to roam over my body, studying me as I had studied her the past few weeks. Her eyes paused and narrowed at my belt, where my weapons hung, and a hot wave of shame washed over me and flushed my face. Had I really come to kill her, to extinguish her, to mar her beauty with a sharpened piece of wood? The belt hung like lead at my waist; I wanted to cover it, to hide it, to send it a hundred miles away. She would curse me, revile me - and rightfully so - for this blasphemy.

I lifted my eyes, and saw that she was once more gazing at my face. I am not angry. Her eyes spoke again, through the voice of my thoughts. I understand, and I forgive you. And then the belt was gone, lifted from my hips. I felt relief like joy; I felt free; she had lifted my guilt; she had accepted me and washed me clean with her forgiveness; I was not unworthy. She touched a finger to my cheek to catch an escaped tear. I worshiped her.

Her dark, knowing eyes slow-danced mine as she drew me to her, beneath her cloak. My clothes were gone, and the heavy silk lining closed on me, washing over my skin. Her arms surrounded me, enfolded me, electrifying my skin. I had not realized it before, but she was taller than me, and as her face came close to mine she seemed almost to loom over me. Her presence was more substantial, more tangible, than my own.

Her skin was smooth, her body supple; her curves molded to fit me. She was cool, not cold - like an autumn breeze - and the warmth of my body seeped into her like rain into grass. I knew that with my heat went my life, and I was frightened. She felt this, and was concerned. With pleading eyes she soothed me, and explained that she needed me. My fear saddened her; she mourned with me. She was so very cold, so fragile, and I would protect her, preserve her. I was a worthy sacrifice. I was worthy.

She kissed me, gently, and I knew I was appreciated. Her lips were like rose petals brushing over my face and neck. I felt she was growing warm; my own heat began returning to me through her skin. With great care and love she kissed the vein on my neck. There was a gentle prick as her sharp teeth slipped through my skin, opening me to her. The sigh of pleasure and relief which ran through her body comforted me. Her warmth grew and mine diminished; with increasing strength she held me to her, supporting me as my toes and fingers gave the last of their life to her.

When she was warm and flushed and safe, and my legs could no longer hold their own weight, she laid me softly to the ground and knelt over me. Her kisses were hot and sticky on my neck; they were salty when she pressed her lips to mine.

My thoughts were slippery, confused and lost within my head, but her eyes smiled down to me in contented pleasure. I will be well, they told me. You have given me peace. Your life has found meaning in mine. This came clearly, but fleetingly, and then was lost to me. She tenderly closed my eyelids; they were no longer in my control. My thoughts were fleeing, disappearing into the darkness of the encroaching shadows, slipping like sand between my fingers. One, however, remained.

I loved her.


I don't know what it was that finally pushed me over that precarious edge, what made me decide the time had come. I had pondered it for some time - years, in fact - but I never had the courage to do violence to my own body. The pain in my heart and soul had never outweighed the pain I felt a thousand times over when I imagined a knife in my chest or a bullet in my head.

Maybe it was that one movie, where the man I thought could have been me found someone who loved him just like I wanted to be loved, then threw it all away. Or maybe it was that song on the radio, the one which I had once called my theme song, the one that now only filled me with the despair of what I knew I would never be. Maybe I had just finally been convinced by a friend at work, through an impassioned but meaningless conversation (meaningless to him, anyway) that there were "people" out there who would take the responsibility from me, who would do it without pain, and who would find some use for a life I had given up on.

I went downtown, to the strip, and, because it was summer, all the clubs had spilled out onto the streets and flooded them with a swirling mass of people and music and lights for at least ten blocks. Tables and chairs and couches were scattered about on the sidewalk and the street, and dancers clogged the intersections - which was safe enough since the block had been pyloned off from traffic. Someone had driven an SUV between the barriers and parked it outside a bar - the doors were open and the radio blaring, and the hundred-odd watt bass sounded better than the over-taxed speakers from the clubs. A black-clad man and a barely-clad woman leaned against the mirror-like polish of the sidepanels, entwined in a throbbing, wet embrace.

There were empty bottles and discarded red plastic cups everywhere, but I didn't buy more than Pepsi myself, since I thought it would be best to keep my wits about me for a little while longer. I wandered further down the street, past the pop and hip-hop music, past the alternative stuff and that little jazz club, down to the end of the strip where everyone wore black and silver and leather, and both men and women had eyeliner on. I felt a bit out of place among all the darkness - I was a normal, average-looking fellow wearing blue jeans and a T-shirt. The only thing saving me from complete social rejection was the pair of army-surplus combat boots I had worn to put out the bad-ass vibe and avoid muggers or pickpockets or whatever. Tattoos of an eight-ball and aces, and of Crazy Jane on a Chevy peeked out from beneath my sleeves.

I sat myself down with my Pepsi on a saggy purple-velvet couch just outside a club where they were playing what sounded like a funeral dirge set to a drum machine. I watched the people walk by, especially the women. I hadn't ever paid much attention to them before, but they were pretty attractive in an evil, dangerously seductive kind of way, dressed in their shiny black leather and leopard spots and fishnet stockings, all made up to look like agents of death. Whether with natural beauty or with a mask of blood-red lips and heavy-shadowed eyes, whether thin as a waif and draped in long, flowing black gowns or slightly plump and sensuous beneath tight and suggestive skirts, they all had something to offer, but they certainly weren't offering it to me. Out of the 90 minutes or so I sat watching people from the couch, I caught the fleeting attention of a half-dozen people at most, all of whom seemed more interested in the couch than its occupant; the rest didn't notice me any more than the fire hydrant a few feet away. It was all right, I was used to it... and that wasn't my reason for coming, anyway.

About an hour after I had coaxed the last drop of Pepsi from the bottom of the cup, I stood to stretch my legs, then squeezed my way through the crowd to a promising-looking club across the street. (The couch was instantly taken.) I headed inside, stopping at the door to pay seven dollars for an ink-stamp on my hand and a once-over of disdain, then made my way down the stairs and around the floor to the bar, to begin numbing my senses.

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