Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
For the average college freshman, many are surprised to see that the first day of class is no different than what he or she had experienced in high school. Between droning syllabuses and awkward ice-breakers, there’s nothing imperative about “Day One” except for avoiding absence penalties, but what a college freshman like Marcy is surprised to see is the diverse cast of classmates inevitably found in a two hundred-level English course. From thirty-year old mothers to veterans of war, there are many unique faces that greatly differ from the pool of mostly white-washed fodder that populated her first twelve years of grade school in a rural school district. Still, she’s disappointed that she had woken up two hours early and spent her entire morning washing, drying, and styling her silky, jet-black hair and applying various creams, liners, and powders to her dark complexion.
She’s not quite who she expected to meet in her Studies of American Literature course, but, still, she decided that she would try to make a decent first impression on her professors. As a child adopted by middle-class white parents in a town that lies just outside of Grand Rapids’ city limits, she awoke this morning in an anxious temperament as she predicted the many possible questions of her heritage similar to what she had received all throughout her childhood. Although her biological parents are of Pakistani decent, which she learned at eleven when her adoptive parents finally ceased their fairy tales and excuses about their difference in skin tone, she knows little more than nothing about her bloodline.
However, she doesn’t identify as Pakistani, but as an American, which is obviously reflected in her dialect, mannerisms, and proficiency in the English language. Still, questions about her appearance have always been prominent throughout her life, and the children that would ask such questions always aggravate her to the point of anti-social tendencies. She’s a kind, altruistic person at heart, but the perceived ignorance of her peers tends to cause her to exhibit self-induced alienation.
She’s greatly relieved when, on the first day of her American Literature class, she receives no such questioning from anybody at all. In fact, even when she thinks back to orientation and all throughout “Welcome Week” at Grand Valley University, nobody had bothered to ask her more than what high school she graduated from. So, when her turn comes to give her brief biography during class introductions, she simply lists her home town, her major, and her dearest hobbies, which are, as she would admit, as bland as any of her childhood classmate’s interests.
Feeling a bit bashful about her equestrian hobby, she pushes back her nervous thoughts and continues to listen to the rest of her peers as they share their stories. The metaphorical spotlight revolves around the class of twenty, and each student discloses their unique backgrounds and prospective studies. Despite varying differences in life events, though, one person in particular protrudes among the rest of the class’s seemingly limitless pallet: his name is Chad, and he’s an ageless student pursuing his English baccalaureate. His memoir is concise, his spoken word is eloquent, and nothing seems awry or even suspicious to the rest of the students, most of whom sit with their chin or cheeks resting upon their hands, but Marcy is a bit unnerved. The feeling she experiences seems to have appeared from the ether, since it seems Chad emanates a dark aura, yet she can’t pin the impression on anything he’s said.
As the spot light continues on, it travels from Chad and onto the next woman, but Marcy’s focus remains pinned to the strange student in the back of the classroom. She examines his pale skin and facial structure, beginning at the shadow of facial hair underneath and around his chin, to his supple button-like nose, and, finally, onto his eyes. As she narrows her own, she surmises that her irrational skepticism is entirely based upon Chad’s bright blue, sunken, and piercing eyes. The sleepless bags beneath, which rest upon his carved cheek bones, accentuate his pupils and irises. The sockets are spaced close to the bridge of his button nose, but he doesn’t appear cross-eyed when he turns to look directly at Marcy, who stares with an expression of curiosity and, as she, herself, begins to realize, horror.
That’s just too creepy, she thinks as she quickly averts her gaze with a gulp.
During the rest of the class period, which is mostly the professor’s vain attempts at humbly offering her life’s tale, Marcy steals rapid side-peeks at Chad, who sits intently and eagerly in his seat. He contrasts the rest of the students, who appear to be drifting off as the professor drones on further. Finally, after what seems to be a millennium to many, the self-directed presentation ends and the first discussion, beginning during the last twenty-five minutes of class, starts on a piece of prose by Kate Chopin, which the students were required to read before the start of the semester.
Although Marcy had done her homework, she decides to allow the rest of the class initiate the discourse before she offers her thoughts. To her dismay, Chad is the only one to volunteer, although he takes the heat off everyone else by his prompt offering. In a manner similar to his introduction, he speaks gracefully and whimsically.
“Mrs. Mallard’s conflicted struggle is described in passionate, physical terms,” he begins, and his off-putting eyes trace the room as his mouth morphs to form various long-winded words until they land on Marcy.
Although nearly everyone has turned to face him, his vision seems to cut away his peers as he talks directly towards his target—that’s how Marcy perceives his analysis, at least. His sharp pupils stab into hers, and she can’t force herself to meet his anymore. She turns away to open her textbook to a random page, excusing herself from the obligation of eye contact, and she remains “buried” in the text, though her gaze is unfocused as she sits within her inner monologue. Her retinas display the same grim image she had just witnessed, and she only wishes for the clock to strike four forty-five.
When class finally ends, she hastily stuffs her book, binder, and utensils into her backpack and makes for the door before anyone else in her row has stood up. Her goal is to leave the room as quickly as possible and make her way back to her dorm on the other side of campus in “Freshman Land” before she has to look at Chad’s sunken eyes again. Unfortunately, her short-lived dream is crushed as the two simultaneously approach the door frame. She utters a nervous chuckle as he grins and gestures to let her proceed first, and she rushes through the threshold and into the hallway. Crossing a flood of other students released at the same time, she traverses the flow and heads down the stairs, across the expansive lobby, and out into Grand Valley’s campus.
Freshman Land is a little less than a mile from Lake Ottawa, the building that houses the English department. There are acres upon acres of forest that line the campus, and Marcy finds herself a bit leery at night, since she’s not sure who or what may be lurking behind the thousands of evergreen clones. Fortunately, it’s only early September, so, at four fifty, the sun hasn’t begun to set quite yet. Even if the sun had disappeared beneath the horizon, she’d be comforted to see that there are hundreds of students travelling in every conceivable direction to and from late classes.
She crosses the “Little Mac” bridge, which hangs about one hundred feet above a large, dried ravine, which used to be a deep river thousands of years ago. The Ravine is a staple of Grand Valley’s campus, and students hike down, up, and throughout the natural landmark every day—weather permitting. As she stops to take a selfie in the nearly middle of the bridge, distracted from her perceived pursuer by marveling at the natural landmark and the man-made bridge above, eight students line up directly on a seam at the halfway point. In tandem, the eight bodies jump into the air and land firmly, causing the suspended cement structure to vibrate. Marcy feels a bit nauseated by the possibility of the bridge collapsing, but she figures it’s “one of those freshman things”, and she’s glad to have experienced it.
She continues with her picture, but she stops short of capturing her image as she looks into the phone screen, which shows a reflection just over her shoulder. Her heart palpitates as she sees Chad approaching in the distance. He’s smoking a cigarette, which causes the students around him to wrinkle their noses, but he doesn’t seem to notice or care. Most prevalent, though, are his eyes, which seem to caricaturize further while in the shadows of the evergreen branches as the sun creeps westward. Rather than letting him pass, Marcy decides to push past the second octet that line up to shake the Little Mac and continues on towards her dorm. She begins to put her phone on standby, but then she turns the screen back on and holds the selfie camera out in front of her.
The phone acts like a mirror that allows her to see over her shoulder once again, and she’s shocked to see that Chad’s trailing about ten feet behind her. The two pass by the school’s buffet, the math and science building, and finally arrive in Freshman land. She keeps the camera trained past her head, periodically glancing back at her pursuer, and it seems as though he’s relatively aloof: his head moves on a swivel as he glances at passerby and puffs his cigarette. Finally, he tosses the spent butt into the grass, which he receives a dirty look for, and, to Marcy’s horror, he seems to look directly into her camera, just as he had looked directly at her face during class. She stares at him for five seconds, and he looks back unblinking. She decides to finally shut off her phone to avoid any further dread.
In a panic, she frantically roots around in her back pocket for her key card, which allows her inside her building. Having arrived at Hills, the two-story dorm in which she believes she’ll be safe and sound, she swipes her card into the reader, but the door doesn’t unlock. She swipes three more times to no avail.
“Let me help with that,” a familiar voice calls from behind her. She shivers because she’s met with tobacco odor and recognizes the voice’s tone as Chad’s.
Without turning to face him, she slides over towards the wall and allows her potential predator to attempt to open the door. With one swipe of his card, the lock clicks, and he pulls the handle.
“You can’t be too hasty with it,” he says to Marcy, and she turns towards him to show respect. He gazes back at her with his deep pupils, which seem like trenches that could house anglerfish or other unsavory creatures that exist in extremely deep parts of the oceans.
“I guess I’m anxious to get home,” Marcy replies, laughing nervously.
“It’s ironic that you’re already calling this ‘home’,” Chad chuckles. “It’s only been one week, and I still miss my parents.” He scratches his head and holds the door open further, and Marcy slips into the stairwell. She purses her lips and clenches her jaw as she opens the second door to the first floor, and Chad follows behind.
Of course he lives here, she thinks to herself. She reads the room numbers as she passes them and finally stops at 131. She retrieves her key from her backpack, which she’s set on the ground, and glances to her right to see that Chad is unlocking room 129.
“Oh,” she utters quietly, but Chad picks up the errant vocalization, since nobody else is in the vicinity to dampen their ears with white noise.
“That’s funny,” he says, staring at her with an unblinking expression. “I didn’t expect us to be neighbors.”
When her watch strikes nine in the evening, Marcy jumps a bit as the brief tone sounds off to indicate the change of the hour. She’s been sitting in her uncomfortable desk chair and watching the traffic outside her dorm window for the past half hour. Her English literature textbook is splayed open on her desk, but the lights are all off. Concealed in the dark, her intent is for nobody to look over to her window to see her people-watching, and she wishes to remain especially hidden from Chad, who has stepped outside for a cigarette. She attempted to read her book for the past couple hours, straying away for a snack break and a very brief nap, but she was stirred awake by a thump on the wall that her dorm shares with Chad’s. Ever since then, she’s waited for the off-putting man to step outside to fulfill his inevitable nicotine craving.
Noticing his routine, she’s not too surprised, evidenced by his appearance, that he smokes a cigarette once every two hours. He smoked one on the way back from their shared English class at five, and then he had one at seven after he—or his roommate—bumped into the wall, and now he’s having one at nine. As he puffs on his freshly-lit smoke, the door opens behind Marcy, soaking the room with incandescent light. She turns to see her roommate, Lisa, has entered their abode.
Lisa’s flowing blonde hair shines with the light from the hallways, but her figure is back-lit, obscuring her beauty product-laden face. The two girls were best friends at the high school they both attended, so they decided to enroll at the same university and, subsequently, requested to share a dorm together. Although Marcy is generally more interested in studying and Lisa is more interested in partying, the two make a classic Yin-and-Yang duo.
“It’s so dark in here,” Lisa remarks, flipping on the switch for the overhead light.
“No, no, no!” Marcy panics, frantically waving her hand up and down, which is supposed to gesture a need to return the room to its previous cave-like quality. “Leave it off!” Her voice is hushed, since the window is open to allow the cool sixty-degree air to brush through the cramped, stuffy dorm.
“Why?” Lisa replies, flipping the switch off. Her eyes try to adjust to the dim lighting of the street lamps outside, and she trips over a clothing hamper as she carefully makes her way over to the window. “I didn’t think you were a night-dweller.”
“Well, not normally,” Marcy whispers. “I’m looking at this creepy guy out here.”
“Who?” Lisa asks, and Marcy points to Chad, who is inhaling a deep drag. “That guy smoking?” Marcy nods, although Lisa can’t tell that she’s moving her head.
“He’s in my three o’clock class,” Marcy states, her voice still hushed. “I think he followed me home. He’s so… strange.”
“What’s so weird about him?” Lisa asks, unaware of anything off-putting. “I mean, he’s our neighbor after all, right? And you’re in the same class. Yeah, he probably followed you home ‘cause of your good sense of direction.”
“Well, look at his eyes.” Marcy ignores her roommate’s sound reasoning and turns towards her, pointing her index and middle fingers at her own eyes. “They’re just so weird.”
Lisa squints to try and gather a better picture of the unaware subject. Then, she widens her eyelids and an open-mouthed smile of wonder creeps across her face.
“Yeah…” Lisa replies, giggling slightly. “He’d be cute if he didn’t look so sickly.”
“Cute?” Marcy questions, a bit aghast.
“He’s got a nice jawline, I think,” Lisa shrugs. “You should tap it, Marce.”
“What?” Marcy barks. She’s raised her voice, unimpeded by the possibility of Chad noticing his audience. “No way!”
“Come on, Marce,” Lisa replies. “You’re in college now! Take a few shots and get at it, right?”
“Well, what makes you think I’m thirsty?” Marcy scoffs. “I’ve got time, don’t I?”
“If you say so,” Lisa replies. “Guys will find you one way or the other. Just saying: it’s better to pick them out first.” She glances out the window again, and she recoils a bit as it appears that Chad’s staring directly at their window. “He’s kinda got… serial killer eyes, doesn’t he?”
Marcy leans onto the windowsill, crossing her forearms to support herself. “Serial Killer Eyes” is the perfect description, she concludes. Only such a phrase, although harsh and stigmatizing, could convey the feeling she gets when in Chad’s immediate presence. It does seem that he could possibly have his miniature refrigerator full of body parts and frozen packets of human blood. Maybe he has blades, rope, and other sadistic tools hidden underneath his bed. Maybe one of these days, she and Lisa will be jarred from their slumber by screams of death as he mercilessly hacks apart his still-living roommate with a dull machete.
“Serial killer eyes,” Marcy mumbles to herself as she stands up from her chair and slides it back underneath her bed, which is set like a loft above her desk. She lowers the blinds as Chad stomps out his cigarette, his eyes still appearing to cut through the window.
“Watch out, Marce,” Lisa says, her voice lowered to indicate playful sarcasm. “One of these days, he might kill you and toss your body in the Ravine.”
Over the rest of “Week One” and into the following week, Marcy and Chad’s routine of cat-and-mouse continues. Although their shared literature course is only three days a week, it seems, to Marcy, that she can never escape his Serial Killer Eyes. She’s tried staying after class and conjuring a phony question to ask the professor, but, even then, Chad will use the bathroom just long enough to see Marcy pass by when he opens the door. She’s tried going to the library to work on homework for a couple hours, but when she exits the front doors, Chad’s walking by with a cigarette and a smile in his mouth. Even on off-days when they don’t share a class, he always seems to be around when she least expects him, and she’s startled into a jump every time, even breaking off conversations mid-sentence when she’s walking with a friend or other (much less creepy) classmate.
Against her friendly resolve, she’s beginning to grow tiresome of her potentially dangerous admirer. She wants to confront him, despite the possibility that he might have a fish knife in his belt loop, but her nerves begin to take hold of her, and she remains silent day after day. His gaze continues to pierce her, and she feels as though there’s no hope for a normal Freshman life. However, she wonders if any other girls on campus deal with predators like Chad.
There must be a reason, she surmises, that there are emergency-contact beacons all throughout the three-mile radius of Grand Valley’s property. Furthermore, she sees Grand Rapids police officers travelling by on Segways all hours of the day and night, so there must be a need for them. At this thought, she wonders if she should alert an officer about Chad’s threatening demeanor, but then, crossing that thought with another, she realizes that her entire worry may likely be a product of her own paranoia. Is she worried over nothing? Could she simply be judging Chad the way other people judge her based on her skin color?
She feels ashamed of herself as she walks home from Friday’s class. Guilt continues to grow into her skull as she crosses the Little Mac. She decides that, even if Chad follows her, she won’t worry herself. He might just be unfortunate enough to have inherited his mother or father’s off-putting facial features, and it’s probably nothing more than that.
She then decides, without glancing over her shoulder, to use a meal token from her overly-extensive meal plan at the school buffet. There are plenty of people around, so even if the now possibly benign Chad happens to be inside, there are witnesses aplenty. After a couple hours of reading with a soda, which she normally never drinks unless it’s a special occasion—which, in this case, is her admittance of fault—she finally packs up and heads home.
The bulk of her journey is through a path behind Freshman Land, which borders the Ravine. It’s a long, winding sidewalk obscured by trees, branches, and the tall three-story dorm buildings on either side. The Ravine seems to go on for miles and miles, but it’s impossible to see exactly how long and wide it is because of the colossal amount of flora as far as her eyes can see. The trough of the Ravine, she estimates, is probably a hundred feet deep. As she scans the ocean of chloroplast, she peeks over her shoulder out of habit, it seems, and, although she sees a figure about fifty feet behind her, she’s still relieved to see that it isn’t Chad.
Continuing her lethargic pace, her backpack weighs upon her. She filled it with enough books to keep her busy for a couple hours in case Chad decided to trail her, but she’s now regretful of that decision. She slides the straps off her shoulders and sits down on a bench behind a dorm building. There aren’t many lights on, despite the late hour and dim sunset, and Marcy realizes that she and the approaching figure are the only two people in the area.
The person who had been in the distance moments ago is rapidly approaching. It’s a man, she presumes, and he’s wearing a dark sweater, black jeans, and a beanie, which contrasts the warm weather. Feeling a bit apprehensive, Marcy decides to push through her moderate back pain and stands up to continue towards her dorm, but the man increases his pace. She goes to pull her phone out to act as eyes in the back of her head, but, as she enters her password, a hand grabs her shoulder and whips her around.
She’s now face-to-face with the man who had been trailing her. Although she thinks she should scream, she’s frozen as she stares into his deep brown eyes. They’re soft and flush with the rest of his face, as opposed to Chad’s, but his pupils aren’t dilated, and she can smell alcohol on his breath.
“Don’t scream,” he whispers and shoves his hand over her mouth. Her eyes are wide with horror, and, in this moment of capture, she knows that she’ll either be raped or killed.
During Welcome Week, one element of college life that the presenters made extremely clear to every student, especially the women, was that sexual assault is prevalent on college campuses, and it’s not a figment of media. Although she had been pressed to be extra cautious at night and always carry a weapon or mace, she convinced herself that it could only be something that happens on television or in big cities like Chicago or New York. Her mother had forced her to take a miniature can of pepper spray when she left for Grand Valley, but the can remains on her lanyard deep within her backpack.
Attempting to reason with her potential rapist, she only utters a muffled plea, and he begins to drag her towards the Ravine. He tells her that they’re going down to the bottom, and if she screams at any point, he’ll kill her. She tries to wrestle away, but his grip on her shoulder and arm around her waist overpowers her meek strength. Suddenly, the two are met with a shout from the distance. It’s a familiar voice, and Marcy recognizes it as Chad’s.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he shouts, flicking his cigarette to the ground. He drops his backpack and begins to run over to Marcy and the inebriated rapist, who releases his grip and sprints off into the distance towards the general direction of Marcy and Chad’s dorm. “You’d better run!” Chad shouts after the would-be assailant. “You’re dead if I catch you, you coward!” He’s out of breath due to his excessive nicotine habit, but he manages to catch it as Marcy begins to sob.
“I can’t believe that almost happened,” she cries, her hand covering her mouth.
“He didn’t do anything, did he?” Chad replies, running his fingers through his own relatively damp hair. She glances up at him and, perhaps because of the tears obscuring her vision or because it’s who he actually is, he appears caring and heroic. His eyes, which would normally run on par with a vampire or werewolf, don’t bother her in this instance. In fact, as he looks at her with a deep concern, he almost seems like a marbleized god.
“No, but…” she begins after a moment of staring. “Oh, God, it almost happened. Th-they warn you about this kind of thing, b-but you don’t think it’ll happen…”
“Hey,” Chad replies, mustering a smile that he hopes will become contagious. “It didn’t happen. You made it out unscathed.” His speech is becoming poised once more, and Marcy smiles as Chad’s kind words reach her. Although the air is humid on this autumn night, she feels an additional warmth from her savior.
“God, I feel so helpless,” she sighs as she sniffles and wipes a tear from her cheek.
“I know what you mean,” Chad replies, taking a deep breath. “There’s a lot of evil in this world… but you can fight it.” He lights up a cigarette. “You don’t mind, do you?”
“No,” Marcy chuckles. “Can I have one?”
“Sure.” Chad produces a cigarette and hands it to her filter-first and then lights it when she puts the end in her mouth much like a suave gentleman in an old casino film. Marcy coughs as she inhales the first drag, since she’d only smoked a few in her life, but she tries to relish in the rush of nicotine as she and Chad stand in the dim dusk of a Friday night.
Over the weekend, Marcy rarely makes any appearance outside her dorm. She’s homebound out of dread, especially when she considers that whoever tried to rape her had managed to escape without reprimand. If she goes out, she’s sure that he’ll find her eventually.
On Saturday, nobody bothers her except for Lisa. As a friend, she tries to comfort Marcy any way she can, from sitting with her nearly all day and watching a movie to going out to buy her a sandwich to loaning her a pocket knife.
“You owe me one,” Lisa jokes, but Marcy doesn’t respond in any playful manner as she normally would. The two had grown exceptionally close during high school, and this is the first time Lisa has ever seen her friend stricken with paranoia and grief.
On Sunday, Lisa decides to try and get Marcy to go out, but she refuses.
“Marce, you can’t stay inside forever.”
“He’s out there,” Marcy replies, gripping her blanket with both hands. She still hasn’t eaten her meal from yesterday, let alone gotten up from bed. “I-I can’t make it easy for him… he has pry that lock open if he wants me.”
“Marce,” Lisa begs. “I’ll be there with you. You have pepper spray, friends, a knife… you have everything you need, right?”
Marcy slides the blanket over her head and tells Lisa to go away, and after a few more pleas, her roommate obliges. However, she begins to think about the short blade that Lisa had given her the night before. She knows it’s technically illegal to possess a weapon on campus, but she supposes it’s a rule that needs to be broken if she wants to remain alive and untampered. If she had that knife during the attack, she wonders if it would have gone any differently. She wonders if she would have developed a bloodlust as the intoxicated assailant grabbed her shoulder. Could she have followed through with plunging the stainless-steel blade into his side?
Suddenly, she begins to feel intense hunger pangs, and she decides it’s time to eat her meal from the day before. When her feet land on the short carpet, the palms of her feet ring with pain since she hadn’t even bothered to get up to use the bathroom in the past twenty-four hours. She recoils, crouching down to mitigate the sharp throbbing that shot through the bones in her legs. After recovering, she opens the miniature fridge to grab her sandwich, and as she unwraps it, she notices the bread is soggy and she loses her appetite when she realizes Lisa hadn’t fulfilled her order by adding mayonnaise to the sandwich. Her stomach growls, and she knows, with a shudder, that she must go outside, lest she starve.
After texting Lisa, she waits for a reply as she gets dressed in lazy yet considerate clothing. Aside from her lethargy and depression, she decides she doesn’t want to bother dressing herself up anymore because it probably made her a target.
Looks like all that makeup mom got me is going to waste, she thinks to herself as she sighs. She figures Lisa can use some of it, and maybe the rest can go to the other girls in the building. As she ponders how she’ll ration out her beauty products, a slight tinge of rage begins to build in her skull, overtaking the anguish and apprehension that has annexed the space between her ears. Will she really let this rapist win? He hadn’t touched her any more than a firm grasp on her shoulder and waist, but he still has a grip on her mind, and she decides she’ll rip those mental fingers away. She has all the tools she needs to defend herself, and she knows that she’ll simply have to avoid walking in dark areas at night. Maybe, even, she’ll walk with Chad to and from her Literature course, which is the only class she has in the afternoon.
Before Lisa can even reply to her text, Marcy is already out the door and walking through the evening glow of Freshman Land. There are plenty of students still outside: most are in transit, some are smoking hookahs in the grass, and all are carefree, it seems. She heads, still a bit briskly, to the nearest food court and purchases two sandwiches (one to pay back Lisa). Enjoying her meal in the sanctity of the bustling student-staffed restaurant, she sees a few familiar faces from her home town and chats with a smile. Through her short meal, her newly found empowerment is reaffirmed, and she’s glad, most of all, it seems, that she didn’t throw away her makeup yet, since she feels a bit shy while talking to her old classmates with a “morning” face.
On Monday, she feels fully prepared for class once again. Today, as she had decided through her self-directed internal pep-talk over the weekend, she knocks on Chad’s door and asks if he’ll walk with her to class, and he happily accepts the escort job. The two walk towards class, and Chad decides to refrain from smoking. Marcy doesn’t mention it, but she’s grateful to not be subjected to the thick, disgusting odor of a cigarette, although his previous smoke still clings to his t-shirt. They talk about the weekend’s reading, but Marcy had been too distraught to complete it, so Chad gives her a brief synopsis and offers a detailed description of a certain passage so that she can wing the discussion.
The next two days of the class—Wednesday and Friday—unfold similarly to Monday’s, but on Friday, Marcy’s met with an inquisition that she could not have expected: it’s Chad’s inquisition of admiration. In an oddly bashful manner, he confesses his distant adoration of Marcy’s character, and the words he uses are no less decadent than they ever are. In other words, he admits that he’s had a crush on her since the first day of class, but he had always been too nervous to talk to her.
“It’s just so incredible that someone as-as pretty as you can also have such a confounding interest in the English language,” he continues.
The two have stopped in an alcove similar to that of the Ravine, which Marcy has tried to avoid, and they face each other as Chad spells his infatuation. However, as flattered as Marcy is in this moment, she’s a bit uncomfortable, and, above all, a bit annoyed. It seems, to her, that he’s taking advantage of his position of “hero”. Had he saved her because he expected reciprocation? Is he using his good deed to get into her pants? These questions surge through her like hot electricity, but the bolt is dampened by a rubber stop on the tip of her tongue.
“Um…” she begins, trying to formulate her words in a way that won’t come off as too abrasive. “Th… thanks.” All she can muster is an awkward reply, and Chad isn’t unaware of her skeptical demeanor, so he tries to follow up with more compliments that are a bit less intimate, but his intent remains apparent.
“I just think you’re so incredible,” he admits, but, at last, Marcy knows that a certain question is about to surface, which she had been dreading since the beginning of his many hyperbolic compliments.
“Chad,” she begins in a bashful manner. “I-I think you’re great, too.” Her euphemistic speech catches Chad off-guard, and it’s as if he already knows his impulsive endeavor is fruitless. “I-I just… I don’t want to get involved in anything.”
“O-Oh, of course,” Chad replies quickly, trying to regain his mental footing. He scratches the back of his head and glances around, his Serial Killer Eyes becoming sharp, gaunt, and emotionless once more. Perhaps he seemed less off-putting because Marcy had seen him in a positive light after he saved her from her imminent demise. Now, as his true murky colors have arisen from the vivid and colorful hues he had previously portrayed, his portrait is returning to his original impression.
“I want to be friends,” Marcy follows, trying to salvage any possible ties, but it’s clear from Chad’s face of dismay that those ties are burned and frayed.
“I screwed up…” Chad replies, turning away from his focus of admiration. “I should have just let an incredible thing be. We had a great friendship blooming, and I killed it. I’m sorry. I-I should get going, but please don’t stay back here by yourself.”
“No, Chad…” she offers reconciliation, but he’s already started off towards an unknown destination. She’s left on the fringe of a much shallower river bed than the Ravine, and she decides to make her way into civilization before she’s caught alone.
The following Monday, Marcy’s simultaneously thankful and disheartened to see that Chad isn’t in class. On Wednesday, he’s absent again. On Friday, it finally occurs to her that he’s dropped the class. She hasn’t seen him at all in their dorm building, in Lake Ottawa, or anywhere besides smoking a cigarette in a new spot adjacent to the Freshman Land food court. Of course, she doesn’t want to bother him, and she feels too shy to go and offer peace, so she lets him keep his distance. Finally, over the weekend, the two pass each other in the hallway, and Chad can only offer an awkward smile and wave. Marcy wants to stop and chat, but she somehow believes that he’s given up on any hope of the two having a normal friendship—his affection has burrowed itself too deep for any possible recovery.
As September comes to an end, October emerges, and the nights are beginning to grow colder and shorter. By the time her American literature class is over at four forty-five on a Monday and she’s gotten her meal and finished her homework at the closest food court, she finds herself walking in darkness. No matter what path she takes, it seems, there are so few people around that she wonders if she’s a plague survivor. She tries to only take lit and populated routes, but there comes a point in every path where she is utterly alone. Since she and Chad parted ways, she’s kept Lisa’s pocket knife clipped to the waistband of her jeans, and when she walks the horrifying sidewalk around the Ravine, she takes it into her hand and fiddles with it as she picks up her pace.
Although she had run through the following scenario many times in her half-dream consciousness and in many daydreams during her classes, she’s still unprepared when a man, who had been trailing behind, begins to jog towards her. Immediately, she’s sure it’s the same person as her last attempted assault, so she begins to break for the other end of the sidewalk, but she’s caught by a second person that jumps around the corner. She shrieks briefly, but, like before, the assailant puts his hand over her mouth.
“Remember last time?” he questions, his familiar booze-breath meeting her nostrils. “Don’t scream.” Her eyes are wide with terror as she hears the second person’s footsteps just behind her. She holds the knife in her hand, and as she tries to flick it open, the man behind her snags it from her loose, sweaty grip.
“Good thing I grabbed this before you did anything stupid,” the second assailant whispers into her ear. She begins to silently sob with fear as the voice behind her begins to cackle quietly.
“We’re going down there,” the first assailant mutters, and she already knows they’re going into the Ravine. There’s a clearly defined path that hikers use to climb down, and, although it’s not entirely safe, it’s much more traversable than the way the three presently take.
The assailants decide to simply stumble down the hill directly near their feet, and, although Marcy struggles and digs her heels into the dirt, she’s unable to prevent them from lifting her up and carrying her down to the bottom of the river bed. It’s an awkward maneuver, but the drunken men pay no mind to whether they’re twisting her ankle too severely or tugging on her hair.
When they’re at the trough, they stand her up and the second man flips the knife open.
“If you make any sound, this goes into your back,” he says from behind.
Thirty feet deep, they’re sure nobody will notice them. The nearly pitch-darkness of the forest conceals their bodies from any errant travelers, and Marcy’s eyes are finally fully adjusted to the night. She doesn’t foresee any possible way of escaping without bodily harm, so she decides, as if by animalistic instinct, that she’ll take at least one of them down with her. The first man has had his bare hand wrapped around her mouth during her entire apprehension, and she gnashes her teeth and bites as hard as possible into the palm of his hand, and she’s met with an irony taste as she draws blood.
“Shit!” the first assailant shouts, yanking his hand back from her face.
Suddenly, in the brief panic of the situation, Marcy feels a sharp push and pull in her lower back, and she immediately realizes that she’s been stabbed. The blade is only two-and-a-half inches long and an inch wide, but it’s enough to drive into her flesh and muscle. Although she’s unaware in the moment, the steel manages to miss any vital organs and her spine, but, all the same, she’s been stabbed.
“Get the fuck out of here,” the second assailant blurts, and the two scramble up the grassy hill and out of the ravine, leaving Marcy at the bottom. She tries to step forward, but the wound throbs immensely, and she collapses onto the damp ground. She gazes up towards the dorms and sees only a street light, which beams back at her.
With all her strength, she screams for help, and for the first five minutes, nobody comes to her. She’s pressing onto the puncture in her back, and she feels her warm blood cooling in the crisp October air. Many thoughts and memories course through her mind, but the only image she focuses on, which pushes out her parents, friends, and Lisa, is Chad and his eyes. She remembers how he would look at her after they began to talk, and she longs to meet his stare. In her death, she concludes, he’ll be the last image she sees. Still, she tries to call for help, but she feels as though it may be fruitless. She believes the Ravine will be her grave.
She’s about to give up hope for rescue when a flashlight beams down parallel to the street light. It waves around sporadically, and she shouts as loudly as she can towards whoever it is that’s producing the light. She convinces herself that it must be Chad; in her delirious state, she believes that he must have felt their minds connect as she lies upon the damp rocks and pebbles that soak with her blood.
However, to her slight disappointment, a Grand Valley police officer, who had been patrolling the campus alone on a Segway, slides down the grassy knoll. As he reaches the bottom, he calls for an ambulance, and he tries to comfort Marcy the best he can. The stab wound isn’t deep, as he can tell by illuminating her figure with his flashlight, but he knows, as anyone would, that she needs medical attention nonetheless. He lifts her to carry her up the hiker path a few feet away and towards where the ambulance will arrive. As she lays a bit numb within the officer’s burly arms, bouncing slightly with each step, she wonders if Chad will ever come to see her.