ISSUE #69 GUEST CURATOR Steffaloo, a.k.a. Steph Thompson, was previously featured as Storychord's Issue #41 musician and Issue #10 artist. The Los Angeles transplant has lent her haunting vocals to collaborative projects with Blackbird Blackbird, Germany Germany, Sun Glitters, and Billy Comfort. Her debut love song EP Meet Me In Montauk self-released in 2011, and more recently, she premiered her first full-length album Would You Stay with MUSH records. For more, visit her online at steffaloo.com.
DYING TO BE KNOWN
by Jooj Brooks
By the time Sophia June Abbott arrived at LAX, the police had been called about a fourth, unidentified female body, but she wouldn't know that until after. The red eye flight from LAX to Raleigh was the earliest one she could book after she’d received her Momma’s voicemail. The second she heard her Momma’s tone of voice, she knew it wasn't good news. Hey, Juney, it’s Momma. I-I’m calling to let you know that Granddaddy Abbott has passed on. June, he’s- he’s gone to be with our Lord. Oh JuneBug, please call. Bye, darling. No one in LA knew her as June. Sophia couldn't blame her Momma for leaving a voicemail. Her 12 to 16 hour shifts, six days a week, as assistant costume designer on movie sets didn't leave her much time for herself, let alone anyone else. Over the last four years, as long as she’d lived in LA, she had not made time to go home to Raleigh. Aside from the insane hours she was working, Sophia had horrible motion sickness and found every excuse not to fly. She hated small planes, and although she was not particularly spiritual, she prayed she would not die during every take off and landing.
Issue #69 soundtrack: Night Things "Sleeping Beauty"
Now here she was at LAX airport at 11:45pm, waiting to fly through the night and straight to her granddaddy’s grave. To top off the chaos of the evening, it had taken her an extra hour to get to the airport due to the fact that several streets were roped off near her neighborhood, forcing her directly into traffic. She turned on the radio right as the latest news story filtered through the speakers and into the silence of the car. Police have determined that this is indeed the work of a serial killer. In fact, they are now referring to him as the Fast Food Killer.
Over the last six months, three bodies had been found in dumpsters behind fast food restaurants. The news stories were all the same: unidentified female body, naked, sexually assaulted, found in a dumpster around LA, Venice Beach, and Malibu. Sophia barely had time to watch the news, but some of her female coworkers had started an email chain encouraging one another to carpool to and from work if they drove, or to walk in groups if they didn't. Some of the girls at work bought mace for each other and signed up for self-defense classes. The victims had disappeared after work, usually at night or in the early hours of the morning. Sophia felt sick and somewhat afraid each time she received an email update.
She stopped to look at herself in the mirror one last time before boarding the flight. Her face was pale, and the bags under her eyes indicated the lack of sleep. Personal days were non-existent in her line of work, and she had spent half the night calling co-workers, begging someone to cover three days of work. She stared even deeper until she almost didn't recognize her own face; it was something she’d done since she was a child. Her defined jaw line was just like her Granddaddy’s, as well as her sense of humor and love of the finer things in life. She thought about the many nights they’d sat together on his front porch overlooking the lush, green acres of his country home, outlined by trees and honeysuckle bushes. He always had to smoke a cigar at night, and she had joined him once she was of age. How odd that 24 hours earlier she and her friends had been laughing and talking over drinks. She’d felt so blessed running on Venice Beach, close to her tiny but comfortable apartment. Though they talked on the phone once a week, in those moments she hadn't been thinking of her Granddaddy; she’d been thinking of herself. What would her life be like once she had made enough money to move into a one bedroom instead of a studio? What would life be like once she found time to date someone? Guilt swept over her. She couldn't have known; there had been no signs. He wasn't sick, he didn't have cancer; he had just died. Eighty-six years of life, and now he was gone. She felt the lump in her throat, the pain in her chest, but before the tears came she dabbed her face with cover-up, straightened her hair, and walked to terminal 36B.
He had been fantasizing about this moment for months. She was beautiful, maybe the most beautiful of all of them. He had first spotted her on Venice Beach. She’d been running in a hot pink sports bra and shorts, they were so tight he could see the outline of her thong. Her body was young and perfect. She must have been all of 25. It wasn't just her body that made her stick out to him; there was something in her eyes. She was vulnerable.
For months after that, he would go down to the beach in hopes of seeing her. When he realized she ran daily, he worked up enough nerve to follow her back to her apartment. It was then he began to learn about Sophia. He dug through her trash can during the day. That’s how he had found her ticket and flight time. He also had a pair of night vision binoculars he’d bought off someone along the boardwalk. He learned she was home every Friday night. Her diet consisted mostly of fruit and vegetables, with the occasional chocolate croissant. He knew she liked to walk into her apartment, take her clothes off, and sit in her bra and panties sipping wine and watching movies. It must have been hot in there because she always had a soft glow; tiny beads of sweat dripped down her neck and inbetween her breasts.
Now he was finally going to meet her. He shivered at the thought of her, and had to redirect his focus as they boarded the flight. He did not want to appear too eager. He had it all worked out. He knew she would be kind; they had all been kind. He also knew they would be mid-flight by the time the police found the fourth body.
Sophia reviewed her work messages on her iPhone before boarding the plane. She’d already received two sympathy e-cards from coworkers and another message about the funeral arrangements from Momma. She tried to breathe deeply as she put her bag into the compartment above her seat. She sat down in 13A, thankful to be on the aisle, and closed her eyes as everyone else boarded the plane.
Good evening, folks. This is your captain speaking. Just want to let you all know that the flight from LAX to RDU will be about 5 hours and 5 minutes. Should be pulling into the east coast around 7am. Temperature in Raleigh is currently 63 degrees. Thank you again for flying with us. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. Flight attendants, prepare for takeoff. Sophia popped two Dramamine and leaned her head back. The plane bobbed up and down as they headed down the runway. Lord, please let us live, please don’t let me die on my way to see Granddaddy, please let Momma be okay... The force increased. She felt like she was pressed into the back of her seat. They were lifting off the ground, up and up. God please forgive me, I should have been there and up, I should have known, the plane bobbed up and down as she silently prayed. She hated the way it felt, like they were going 1000 miles an hour. Please don’t let me die. That sick feeling came back to her. She saw her Granddaddy’s face, swore she could smell cigars. She didn't know if it was someone on the plane or her memory. As the lights dimmed, tears silently fell down her face. And the Dramamine, which made her feel half-drugged, led her into a deep sleep. The deepest she’d had in weeks.
Sophia awoke to a jolt and a man’s silhouette above her. For 30 seconds she could not remember where she was and let out a gasp.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you.”
Sophia was still feeling the Dramamine, and it took her a minute to adjust to the light, which she didn't remember turning on. She couldn't quite make out his face, but his voice was deep and soothing. He pointed something at her.
“You dropped this while you were sleeping.”
As her vision focused she saw that he was an older man, and he was holding her iPod.
“Oh my goodness. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I’m sorry to disturb you, but I was curious if you would allow me to sit here. There are no other seats close to the front, and, well, I’m a bit squished back there.”
He pointed to his seatmate, who was very round and snoring quite loudly. Sophia cracked a wide smile.
“Yes, that’s fine.”
She moved over to the middle seat. Still half-asleep and feeling awful, she looked out the window. It was pitch black and empty like her insides.
“Do you know what time it is?”
She studied his face as he checked his watch. He had deep set, dark eyes and graying black hair. He must have been at least 30 years her senior.
She felt her anxiety increase. The Dramamine was helping with the motion sickness, no doubt, but nothing could cure her broken heart. She thought about exiting to go to the bathroom but then felt she may give her new guest the wrong signal. Maybe, she thought, this unexpected interaction is a blessing -- a pleasant distraction.
“I’m Sophia,” she said.
“Nice to meet you, Sophia. Beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”
She blushed. The flight attendant came around to gather their drink orders. Sophia, determined to sleep some more, ordered a vodka tonic. He ordered apple juice.
“That will be 8 dollars.”
Her new friend pulled out a wad of cash. “It’s on me.”
“Thank you,” said Sophia. He smiled, and it was the first time she noticed he was strikingly handsome.
“Why are you flying to North Carolina?” he asked while he sipped on his apple juice.
“Going to visit my family,” she nearly whispered. She cleared her throat and said, “That’s where I grew up, so I try to get back from time to time.”
“You don’t have much of an accent. How long have you lived in LA?”
She laughed. “That’s good to hear! I try not to be the obvious Southern girl living in LA. I’ve been there for about four years. Went out for a job, and I plan on staying.”
“That’s very good news. Very good indeed.”
“Why is that?”
“Well, maybe I plan on taking you out when we both get back to LA.”
Sophia smiled and said nothing. Was this guy really hitting on her? She suddenly felt very aware of herself. What did she look like? Did she have drool crusted on the side of her face? Was her mascara smeared?
“Um, mind if I excuse myself to the restroom?”
“Oh yes, of course.” He stood up but did not move out into the aisle. Instead, he made it impossible for her to get by without their bodies pressing into one another. For a split second he almost reached out and touched her.
Sophia found it odd that he did not move out of the way. Even more odd was her desire to know about this man. The Dramamine was still in her system, and the vodka was making her feel tired. She wanted to dull her senses. She also wanted to decide if this man was absolutely creepy or absolutely charming.
Her body felt warm -- warm and alive. He wanted to see her insides, wanted to feel her turn cold. Half his satisfaction was in his ability to control himself; he had perfected this over the span of his entire life. The urges started when he was a child. No one knew he was the one that had set fire to all the neighborhood cats. No one knew that in college, while every other idiot was out getting drunk, he was watching women undress through the window of their dorm rooms. No one knew he would later touch himself at the thought of it. Best of all, no one knew he had successfully murdered four women. He was trying to engage her, keep it easy and light. He wanted her to trust him so that by the end of the flight he would convince her to meet with him before they returned to LA. This would be the final act. For three years he had stalked, chosen, and taken what was his. He was in control. Before she returned to her seat, he reached into her purse and pulled out her ID. Sophia June Abbott. Soon everyone would know her name.
As you can see, the captain has turned on the seatbelt light. Everyone please return to your seats and buckle up. There was a jolt as Sophia came out of the bathroom and returned to her seat. To her surprise, her friend was asleep. She carefully climbed over his legs and sat back down, chugged her drink, and allowed the vodka to do its magic. Forty-five minutes later she was asleep. Her head fell onto her neighbor's shoulder, and he didn't dare to move it.
Flight attendants prepare for landing. Sophia awoke. Her seatmate was still sleeping, and she realized that her head had been on his shoulder. She felt embarrassed. She looked out the window into early morning air. The clouds were dense and abundant. The light poured through them, revealing millions of green trees below her. She could almost smell them. And then she remembered why she was returning. Flashbacks of Granddaddy Earl and her Momma entered her mind. She thought about North Carolina BBQ. She thought about the people she’d see at the funeral, people she hadn't seen in what felt like decades. She gripped the sides of the seat and prayed silently as the plane landed. Lord, please let us land safely, please let us make it.
As they exited the plane, he made sure to stay right behind her. He would ask her out for a drink. If she said no, he would follow her. He hadn't slept at all, but he did not feel tired. The adrenalin coursed through his veins. She was about 5 feet in front of him. Sophia was exhausted. She immediately turned on her phone as they got off the plane. She carried on and did not have to wait for a bag, something her granddaddy would have applauded -- a woman who could travel light. As she walked down the ramp and out into the airport, she waited for him to catch up. She realized she hadn't even asked him his name. He came out and smiled at her.
“Thank you again for the drink.”
“Listen, I never do this, but you’re beautiful. I don’t want to wait until LA. Let me take you out tomorrow night.”
Sophia hesitated. Right as she was about to answer, the phone rang. It was Momma.
“Sorry, I have to take this. Excuse me.”
He felt a flash of anger as she turned away from him, and right then they both saw the TV screen.
“Juney, hey. Baby girl, you landed okay?”
“Yes, Momma, I just arrived. I carried on, so I’ll meet you out...”
But before she could finish her sentence, Sophia’s hand fell to her side and she dropped her phone. There on the TV screen, CNN Breaking News: Witness comes forward, provides sketch.
The blood drained from her face. She felt short of breath, dizzy.
“He... knows... my... name...”
"Sophia! Sophia!" Her Momma’s concerned voice came out of her phone, which was still lying on the ground.
This whole time, it was him. This whole time.
She grabbed her phone and turned around, but he was gone.
Jooj Brooks is a writer who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She is currently finishing a bachelor's degree in English / Creative Writing.
Zac Thompson is a 21 year-old drawing major at the University of Florida. He currently is spending his summer gallivanting around Florence, Italy, studying art and eating more gelato than he can handle. His work has been featured in a number of art shows in Florida.
Night Things' (previously known as Badlands) self-released single "Sleeping Beauty" recently debuted to positive reviews on Pitchfork. For more, visit Night Things on Facebook.