Short Story – Asking For It
by Ross Newberry
All rights reserved.
Synopsis: The story of an attempted sexual assault gone right.
CONTENT WARNING: This story contains some adult language and deals with an attempted sexual assault, as well as violent vigilante justice. If these things upset you, you may want to avoid this story.
She wears too much eyeliner, her hair is green, and her dress is exactly the color of dried blood. Almost ready for a night on the town. Almost. She stops at the door of the bedroom she almost never opens. Janey’s room. She lifts a tarnished silver locket from the doorknob. Four gouges glitter along one edge as she fastens it carefully around her neck. Eyes closed, she takes a breath almost deep enough to banish the fear and guilt. Almost. Then she’s out the door into the sticky Atlanta heat.
He cruises the bars, a hammer looking for a nail. Hour and a half of nothing but girl-groups. Ought to be a name for a group of bitches, he thinks. Like a cockblock. Finally, though, he hits the jackpot. Young, little black dress, green hair. Raccoon eyes. And, most importantly, alone. Alone and trying too hard. He resettles the jacket of the only suit he owns and moves in.
“Love your hair!” he says in his best Yankee Jewboy accent. “I always wanted to do something like that, but it wouldn’t fly with the other partners at the firm.” Hear that, baby? Other partners.
“I’d never work somewhere I couldn’t be myself.”
Dumbass. Trust me, you ain’t saving for retirement on minimum wage. “Oh, yeah? Whaddaya do?”
“I’m a masseuse.”
Some stories do have happy endings. “Can I get you a drink? This place makes the best Long Island.”
“Sure! I’m Trish, and you’re…”
“Of course you are,” she says, and her mouth smiles, but her eyes don’t. Maybe it’s just the eyeliner.
He drugs the drink smoothly, a move he’s practiced for hours in the closet at work.
“Thanks, babe,” she says, and looks at the drink in his hand. “What’s your poison?”
“Cuba Libre!” The best thing about a plain Coke is that it looks exactly like a rum & Coke, and doesn’t take the edge off your game.
“Well, down that sucker! I wanna dance!”
The way she cocks her head to the side seems really familiar. “Have I met you before?” he asks.
“I think I’d remember, baby,” she says with a smile, and flounces onto the dance floor.
He smiles and knocks his drink back, shaking his head at how easy this is.
He lets her enter the apartment first, as a gentleman should, his fingers crossed that she won’t notice the second-hand furniture that no lawyer, not even a third-rate ambulance chaser, would ever own. Turns on his secret weapon, jazz with a funky bass track. It sends the ladies over the edge, not that they need much of a shove once the drug takes hold. “Hey, can I get you another drink?”
“No, I just want to dance with you,” she says. She sets her purse in the corner and starts shaking her hips in time to the beat. “Come over here!”
Ten minutes later, she’s still grooving. It’s like a nightmare custom designed by Don Henley. He grabs her arm. “Come on, baby, let’s move to the sofa.” Her movements, though, somehow twist her arm out of his hand, and the dancing, if it were possible, intensifies. Honestly, there’s only so much a man can take. “Bitch, get your ass on the sofa. Now.” And he shoves her, hard, in the back, sending her sprawling over the back onto the cushions.
“Hey! What the hell? I thought we were having a good time!”
“No, you are having a good time, drinking my drinks and dancing to my music. Now, we’re doing something I want to do. Take your panties off, or I will.”
“Sorry, I don’t have sex on the first date.”
“It’s not up to you.” He draws his knife and throws himself on top of her.
She really wanted to stall a little longer. The song that’s playing is actually pretty good. She’s got verbal threats of rape and assault with a deadly weapon, though, and that’s going to have to do. As he falls on her, her left hand parries outside, sending the blade harmlessly into the cushions. Her right goes to the locket, flips it open to reveal a blade of her own. She flicks it, delicately, as he lands, the barest graze along his neck. Dark blood starts pulsing out immediately, feeling hot on her skin. “Hey, man, you’re cut!” she screams, and kicks him to the floor. “Oh my god, I’ll get a towel! Just stay there!” It’s a perfect performance of the panicked woman routine. Kind of cliché, but it’s what the police will be expecting.
She snatches a dirty kitchen towel from the counter, and throws it at the asshole. “I’ll call 911!” she says, fetching her phone from her purse.
“911. What is your emergency?”
“Oh my God! This guy tried to rape me, and he got cut! He’s bleeding bad! 123 Elm Street, second floor, door on the right! Hurry!” She hangs up and hopes to hell nobody’ll ask how she knew the address. Before she puts her phone down, she brings up the GoPro app and stops the camera in her purse from recording. Then she sits primly on the sofa and smiles at the dying man trying to keep himself from bleeding out. Jugular wounds are a bitch, and, as they say, you can’t tourniquet the neck.
“OK, Mark, it’s confession time. You do know me, or at least someone who looked a lot like me. This would have been, oh, eight years, four months, and five days ago, approximately. Also, she would have looked more like this.” She puts her hands to her neck, bugs out her eyes, and makes choking sounds.
The blood loss has made his face pale, but it lightens a couple more shades. “Her!” he says, starting to cry. “She ruined my life! I got kicked out of college over that slut, and anyway, she was ask–”
She slaps him, not very hard. Just enough to get his attention. He gulps.
“You don’t get to say that. You made a terrible mistake, and you made a down payment on it. I know buffing floors and cleaning toilets isn’t much of a life. Fortunately, that’s not going to be a problem anymore.” She makes a tiny, sitting bow.
He’s really blubbering now. “But I drugged you! It’s not fair!”
“You roofied the first drink, dumbass. You never roofie the first drink. I puked it up in the bathroom. God, you’re even a terrible rapist. I was ready for this to be so much harder.”
“Why?!” he croaks. “There’s no fixing what happened! I’m sorry, but why?!”
“Because I made a promise.” She looks at her watch. “Fire department should be here in four minutes, so I’ll need this.” She snatches the sodden towel from his weak fingers and kicks him onto his back, kneeling on his belly. He struggles a little, but with her training, she doesn’t even need to think about countering.
He’s really gray now. His eyes roll in their sockets, surveying the puddle of gore. “Who’s going to clean all this up?” he whispers. They’re his last words. Pathetic, really.
The police try to hold her in the beginning, but the GoPro shuts them down right quick. They don’t even take her to the station.
She shuffles into Janey’s room, leaving a bloody smudge on the doorknob. Everything exactly like it was, save for the black-and-white 8×10 on the desk of a snarling girl who could almost pass for her twin. Almost. She pulls scissors from the drawer and gouges a fifth mark in the locket, then fumbles through sudden tears to hang it from the picture frame.
“I finished it, sis,” she sobs. “The ones who hurt you won’t hurt anybody any more. Please be at peace, now. Please!”
When the tears finally stop, the girl in the picture is smiling.
This was my submission for the third and final round of the NYCMidnight.com Short Story Challenge 2015. Contestants were given 24 hours to produce a 1500 word story following these prompts:
- Genre – Open
- Subject – A dying wish
- Character – A janitor
I gave a fist pump when I saw these prompts. When I found out that I’d made it into the final round of the competition, I was both elated and discouraged, because I would be out of town attending a family reunion during the time allotted for writing. In order to help recoup some of the writing time I’d lose during the contest, I sat down and thought out a few story ideas that I thought would fit a very short story. I hoped that I would be able to adapt one of these ideas to the prompts in order to get a quick start on actually writing the story.
The one I really wanted to use was based on a line that had popped into my head a couple months before, of a man focused on getting himself some sex. He thinks a lot of himself, so he’s circulating through different bars, “a hammer looking for a nail.” My goal with this story would be to present a thoroughly unlikeable man doing thoroughly unlikeable things, and then have it all turn on him as the piece unveiled itself as, basically, revenge porn. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten so far from readers, I succeeded in providing Mark with literally no redeeming features. If you cheered as he paid for his mistakes, then I was successful. If you’re upset that you cheered, well, that’s something you’ll have to come to terms with on your own.
On character names: I know several people named Mark, a couple named Trish, and no Janey, though I do know some Janes. The names used in this story were NOT intended to refer in anyone in real life, so make no connections there. The only one I really nailed down early was Mark, because I wanted the irony that his name was Mark, but Trish considered him a mark in the sense that the word is used in street slang, basically an easy target or victim.
I was finally happy with the first draft of my story at 8:00pm, with the final submission due before midnight. Under those tight time constraints, I was only able to receive and incorporate feedback from two readers, Alice and Blue. They definitely brought up some issues with the original that were slipping past my sleep-deprived eyes. To them and all others who gave me early feedback, whether I was able to incorporate it in time or not, thank you!
Most authors or editors will tell you that, in a story this short, you should stick to one point of view throughout. In the hope that I might differentiate myself from the 39 other submissions in the final round, I decided to attempt two PoV changes. I think this works well to set up the action around the climax, as you know something is up with our heroine, but didn’t get quite enough info to figure out what it is. Then, when the PoV comes back to her at the critical moment, you realize that she’s had things under control all along.
This is the first story I’ve written in third person present tense, and I think it came out OK.
A reader told me that a man with an attitude this despicable would probably never have a date make it back to his apartment in the first place, and that male sexual predators often project a much nicer demeanor in public. I can agree with that, but I didn’t feel like I had the wordcount to build Mark up one way and then have him turn, so I had to avoid that in this story.
Well, out of the 40 entrants in the final round, this one didn’t make the top ten, or the honorable mentions. Based on the judges’ remarks, I really feel that the time I had to spend not writing during the 24 hours I was allotted held me back, but I spent that time with family, and wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’ll do my best to integrate the lessons learned here into better stories in the future.
What the judge(s) liked about your story
- The grammar, punctuation, dialogue, and other mechanics, such as sentence structure and formatting, are sound. The opening is compelling, and we understand the character’s motive for what she is about to do up front. What’s also well done is the ending is an echo of the opening; we go back to her sister’s room. Well done.
- A revenge thriller, well written, well played out with good twists. The structure was complex with third person narration mixed with voices-inside-the-rapist’s head making it function as a story from his POV. The flip to a more or less equal conversation in the middle worked well and set up the ending. The ghostly nature of the ending left the reader with numerous possible interpretations.
- Nice, descriptive opening to this story. Well written, interesting and intriguing. I couldn’t wait to get to the end to see how ‘Mark’ fared.
- Great characterization combines with strong writing to create a sharp revenge narrative in Asking For It. I especially love the line “He cruises the bars, a hammer looking for a nail.” The motivations of both characters are clear, and the villainous rapist’s POV well-handled. The author takes full advantage of the immediacy of the present-tense, to great effect. Backstory is also handled well, the reader provided glimpses rather than outright told what has happened.
- Nice. I love a good story about a rapist getting his due. I really liked how you set up the green haired girl and how the rapist was actually really sloppy.
What the judge(s) feel needs work
- This is really the girl’s story, but there’s a shift of POV to her attacker which is jarring, especially since it doesn’t come back. There also seems to be a distance; we see the characters, how they act, and what they’re doing, but we don’t get a strong internal narrative from either (yes, we get some thoughts from the man’s POV, but nothing that makes us understand him as a character). It would be interesting if this were a character/conflict/crisis/change piece, in which we see the girl, the girl who has finally after all this time tracked down the man who killed her sister, go through some sort of struggle–what if, at the last minute, she can’t murder? What’s also strange is the smiling picture at the end — is there a supernatural element to this story that’s untapped? It might be interesting if the girl thought her sister’s ghost was staring at her from the picture, and we knew this from the beginning. Perhaps her sister isn’t smiling at the beginning, and then once the girl commits the murder, she is. There are ways to go with this, but some development is necessary.
- The second half used to much Q & A to provide narrative information and backstory. Much of that information was either too on-the-nose, unnecessary or could have been deduced from the opening sequence. A little less dialog, a bit more visual writing (which was done well when it was employed) might have worked better.
- There is little to dislike in this writing so I’ll suggest my own three ‘golden rules’: (1) always aim to keep your writing as tight as you can get it; ‘as tight as an inner spring mattress’ was how an editor once put it to me (2) watch characterization (3) try to paint a picture with your words.
- Knowing Trish is hunting Mark from the beginning undercuts some of the narrative tension. Consider cutting that opening paragraph from Trish’s POV. Additionally, the image of the gouges in the locket is especially powerful, and would make a great closing line instead of the dialogue.
- I think what would make this better, is if we weren’t completely expecting the woman to take out this man. If it were set up more like a surprise I think I would’ve feared for her life more and her getting him instead would’ve hit harder. Perhaps if you set up the guy as a little more sympathetic to begin with that surprise would be better felt.
So, basically, if I’d cut the first PoV and smoothed out the back-and-forth toward the end, the story would be stronger. I can definitely see where the judges are coming from there.
Thanks for reading my stuff. If you, Dear Reader, have any feedback, feel free to let me know!