HE WATCHED. BECAUSE that’s what he did. It’s what he did best.
He used to watch in person, but the gods had conspired against him, and now it was safer for him to watch remotely. Not as satisfying, but it got the job done.
When on the hunt, he lived behind the bank of computers—eating, drinking, barely leaving to shower and sleep. He watched, and bided his time. Patient. Ever patient. Said the spider to the fly.
They were so stupid, really, to think what they said and did online was remotely secure. A private direct message sent from a burner account, a text gone astray, a mistaken link. A few clicks in any direction, a little bit of malware, and he had them. Every private thought, every post, everything they shared. They were only talking to their friends, after all. They thought they were safe.
They didn’t realize he was one of the nameless, faceless, you’ve got the nicest smile, glad you had a fun weekend bots out there, tracking everything they did. Gorging himself on their secrets.
The internet made stalking so much easier. He didn’t even have to leave his house until he was ready. Until the urge was so bright, so intense, he couldn’t stand it anymore. And under the circumstances, the ever-watchful eyes, this was a very good thing.
In the beginning, he’d relied on his own skills—his careful, meticulous planning, watching from afar with binoculars and camera lenses. Developing the film himself so no one would see an overabundance of photos of a single woman in various stages of her life and undress and grief and happiness and think there was something wrong.
Now, a few clicks, and there she would be, in all her glory. Notes to lovers, to BFFs, hearts poured out onto a keyboard. Uploads and downloads and the occasional chic self-porn. A life that was supposed to be private was his to intercept and enjoy at his leisure. And enjoy he did.
There was only one problem. He’d recognized the growing sense of dissatisfaction a few years earlier. Convenience had usurped chance. His special muscles atrophied. The watching took on a mechanical air. Distant, so distant.
The thrill of the hunt was gone. There was no danger anymore. Physical contact was only made when he came to finish the job.
He missed the chase. Ducking behind buildings, wearing disguises, renting cars. The breathless moments—had he been seen?
Smelling the perfumes left on a vanity, the shampoo in the shower, the soap in the dish. Slipping between the smooth sheets. Riffling through drawers, lace and silk gliding against the pads of his fingers. Drinking from the orange juice, touching the lettuce and eggs, leaving bits of himself behind in the sink.
They told him the new world wouldn’t be as fun. That he’d have to be careful. But damn it all, he wanted more.
He wanted them all.
But he couldn’t have them all. Not now. Not with so many people looking.
So he searched. He befriended and dazzled, was a shoulder to cry on.
And he found the perfect one. Another perfect one.
He took a sip from his cooling coffee, adjusted the chair, the screens. Today he would watch her, and tonight, tonight she would be his at last.
The hours passed slowly, so very slowly. The camera caught fragments of her as she moved through her apartment—it was Sunday, a day of rest. She always stayed home on Sundays. Slept in. Had a leisurely breakfast. Read magazines, painted her nails, watched a movie. Mundane things. She was a creature of habit.
Too easy. She’s begging for it. She hasn’t taken a precaution in years. This won’t satisfy you a bit, and you know it.
He ignored the voice, as he had been since he’d picked her. The voice, whatever part of his conscience that still lived, was more of an annoyance than anything else. Sometimes it begged, cajoled. Sometimes it drove, commanded. He’d listened to it well for all his life, but lately, the voice had become less brave. Less artistic. Less everything.
Patterns create boredom. Boredom creates mistakes.
What would you have me do? Walk away?
An annoyed sigh. Yes.
No. Patterns are what makes the world go around. Without them, the world would descend into chaos. We would descend into chaos. I am doing my part to keep the world revolving. So shut. Up. Already.
He edged closer to the screen. Sweat trickled down his back, gathering in the groove above his pants. He shifted, pressed back against the chair. He was still in good shape, considering all the sitting he did now. He worked at it, using his own body weight to keep strong and lithe. Muscles tight, waist thin. Hair—short and chemically blond; jaw—square; teeth—perfectly straight; eyes—the lightest blue. All functioning normally, better than most men his age. The strange gift of symmetry imbued by his DNA that made him beautiful. He crossed between the races; he was a sight to behold.
That’s why his friends called him Beauty.
His beauty was his camouflage. Nothing beautiful could hurt you. Nothing beautiful could betray and deceive or harm. Nothing beautiful could slice and grind and strangle.
Beauty was a deadly weapon. The one no one ever saw coming.
He grinned to himself as he watched her settle in for a Sunday afternoon nap.
Her last nap.
It was time.
And when it was over, he would turn his attentions to a more interesting prey. A challenge. Since he hadn’t had one in so long.
The one who was looking for him. He would take his time. Be cautious and careful. But she would be his. If it was the last thing he did, she would be his.