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Excerpts: Just Things by Erin Lee

Excerpt #1


I can’t sleep. It’s nothing out of the ordinary. My mind has raced since I was a kid. While I probably should be accustomed to it by now, I’m not used to it: At all. Worry. Worry. Worry. Stop. Worry some more.  Then stutter, so I can worry about that too. Why not?
It’s like the ringing in my ears. That won’t stop either, and it drives me crazy. Although I sleep with a fan, it doesn’t help much. It merely mocks me, blowing dust around the room and forcing me to pull the covers tighter, the way I do with my Things’ bandages for wounds. (Not that I hurt them all that often anymore, I’m a nice guy lately).


Don’t mistake nice for not callous, or, maybe more like sentimental. Some people count sheep. I count their screams. If it wasn’t so darn cold out, I’d go back to visit my Things. I like checking up on them, seeing how they’ve changed. Sometimes I bring a bag of make-up. I fix them up the best I can. You see, I’m not all evil either. Wait. I said that already. I can’t really explain it, you see. It’s complicated. There’s one good way to describe it: I’m a collector. Because of that, I mostly take good care of my Things. Whatever. I don’t owe anyone explanations.


Back to the screams. I lost count at forty-seven on the last of my Things. Forty-seven bellows, pleas, and “Mister, why are you doing this to me’s?” Forty-seven blissful moments of feeling, no, knowing, I was God. Go ahead, roll your eyes, give me a dirty look. It doesn’t matter what you think of me. Until you’ve killed, you can’t possibly understand. You can’t know. Not until you’ve become an accumulator and taken pride in your belongings.


It’s in those final breaths before surrender where I get the high. Submission comes first through their eyes, which bulge and, when I’m lucky, turn red. It’s even contagious. I’m sure mine turn red too, reflective of the panic. In that moment, we’re connected most. If you’ve done it, you know that the terror races through them and into your own hands toward the finish line. It enters your limbs, likely wrapped around their necks if you are anything like me, and doesn’t leave until they are finally dead. I never kill someone from behind. That’s for cowards. I want to see it. I want them to see it coming too, so they know who’s in charge. What good is owning a Thing if it doesn’t know who its master is?


Maybe it was forty-eight. I can’t be sure. The last Thing mumbled at the very end. I can’t decide whether to count it or not. I guess it would depend on what she said. I think it was “help,” so that would count. Right? Do you agree? Answer me. Yet if it was only a grunt, it doesn’t. I really, really need to get some sleep. This is their fault; my Things.


Silly little Things they are. They think so little of me. I should be used to it. Everyone underestimates me. As if I haven’t prepared for their yammering. As if I don’t have a place where I can do my best work. As if I don’t have routines and a spot. As if they have a chance of escape. As if I haven’t prepared for this my whole life since that bitch in high school thought she was better than me. The one who made Momma laugh and say I was too “pansy” to ever land a girl like that.


Whatever, Momma. Look at you now.


It’s cute, though. The screamers, as much as they annoy me, are also the most fun. There’s something more satisfying about possession after you’ve really earned it. That last one, well, she certainly gave me a run. I’ll have to pick up lipstick—cherry red—for our date this week. I’m a considerate man. I take care of my Things. I told you that already. I don’t think I’d like her so much if she hadn’t screamed. I wish I could be sure how many times it was. It’s really haunting me. I need my rest, though it’s not going to happen until I’ve completed my mental inventory. It’s just something I know about me. Step one in being an effective collector is knowing yourself. It’s as important as keeping track of your Things.


I catalogue everything – journal entries of why I do the things I do, scrapbooks as reminders, and even logs of activities and research. I take this seriously, you see. And numbers, well, sometimes they bother me. Forty-eight is better than forty-seven. I don’t like odd numbers. I don’t like a lot of things. I don’t like Things that think they are better than others. I can’t stand pumpkin latté and I’m never late. Punctuality is the first step of being in control. The wonderful thing about Things is that once you possess them, they can’t ever be late. Better? They have to respect you. And they are fully in your control.


My wife Shelia was always late. Couldn’t even show up to church on time. What kind of woman of God was she? Never trust a ginger. Doesn’t matter now anyway. She’d never have been good enough to be one of my Things. I’m not saying they’re all perfect. My Things come in every shape and size. I’m sure lots of them were like Shelia – loud mouthed, white trash, and big, with lopsided titties. Hell, Thing Ten is the perfect example of that. When I get to her, you’ll hate her too. You’ll thank me for doing what I did. The world’s a better place with her mostly out of it. That one doesn’t get a bag of potato puffs for her head. She’s jammed in a freezer out back, alone, odd, left out… I’m not sure why I even keep her.


Wait. That’s it. That’s why I can’t sleep: Odd numbers.


Currently, I only have fifteen Things. I never sleep right when I’m stuck on an odd number. I hate odd numbers more than pumpkin latte with extra cream. Odd numbers are the worst, especially thirteen. I hate odd numbers even more than I hate Halloween, a holiday for posers.


Some shitty little kid with a sheet over his head and oval cut-out eyes isn’t of any interest to me. Nor are their mothers, who couldn’t be bothered to put together a proper costume. No. Not for me. I prefer to find my Things in much more refined settings, like book clubs, the library, the local university. I like my Things tidy, educated, neat. Sadly, it doesn’t always work that way. My research says it’s because I’m “impulsive.”


Whatever.


Sixteen will feel so much better to me. I look at my nightstand, squinting in the dark to see my alarm clock. Its blue numbers read 3:16. I smile. It’s a sign. I still believe in those, and I don’t believe in a lot of things. Tomorrow is killing time. Tomorrow is my day to collect my sweet sixteen.


I’ll have to dress the other Things up and throw her a party when I get her home. I bet she’ll like that, being the center of attention and all.


I close my eyes and quickly drift off to sleep, dreaming of the gym.

 

 


Excerpt #2


My name is James “Jimmie” William Putnam, Jr. I apologize. I’m actually a very polite man. I just don’t do well on so little sleep or when my mind is racing. I should have introduced myself in the beginning. It was very sloppy of me. I hope you will forgive me. I’m not a perfect man by any stretch. With that said, I have to be candid with you. This is, after all, my story. I refuse to censor myself. So if you can’t handle it, I suggest you stop reading now. My version of things won’t be like the stupid newspaper articles referring readers to another page for more information with the worlds “in lieu of.” I collect those too, anything I can find written about them or me, tiny reminders of my Things. I keep them in a scrapbook. Momma would be pleased.


I’m thirty-five years old. I work as a clerk at Ducharme, (he’s dead) Tweed, (he’s the dead guy’s son by marriage) Hadley & Roderick. These guys, all four of them, think they own me. Sorry, but I’ll never be anyone’s Thing. Pretentious pricks think their shit doesn’t stink, all because they have the word esquire behind their names. All because their parents had the cash to send them to fancy schools with fancy names. All of them think they are God. None of them respect me.


They make fun of me for wearing a wedding band all these years from a woman who left me with maxed out credit cards and an ugly cat. That’s fine. I’m a man of my word, in spite of Shelia. The cat’s long gone; out back. They don’t get that. Although I want to scream at them that they can’t commit, I say nothing. They tell me I need to get out more, that my dick’s going to fall off if I don’t start using it soon. If they only knew. I press my lips together and smile. I tell them I swore off women years ago. They look at me with pity, shrug, and pile more work on me. I tell them I don’t have time to date. More work. More pity. More slavery.


It’s fine. I use it to my advantage. I allow them to underestimate me. I’m actually a really smart guy. Just because I got most of my smarts on the streets and at a community college, not the Ivy League, doesn’t mean I couldn’t beat a single one of them in a game of paper-push bankruptcy style law. The truth is, I do all their work for them anyway. Don’t let the stutter fool you, I’m a fast learner.


I’ve been here at the firm since 2005, back when I was with blissfully hopeful with Shelia. In those days it was a refuge for me. I didn’t mind coming in early to get away from the landlady who sang the national anthem to her cats and told us to keep the music down. It was a relief to be away from Shelia’s loud-mouthed cackling and endless phone calls to her even louder mother. I spent early mornings filing cases in massive cabinets out back. I miss those cabinets; everything in order, in its place, like my Things in the freezer. These days we use hard drives. There’s nothing to smell, touch, or check on.


I don’t get the same peace I once did at the office. It might be because the landlady’s gone and I haven’t heard from Shelia or her mother in years. Living alone, you don’t really need a place to escape to. Now coming to the firm is more of a chore. I’d rather be home with my Things out in the barn.


They say that two out of three ain’t bad. I wonder what they say about three out of four. Only one of the partners in in today. Roderick isn’t a bad guy. I get his complex and why he thinks he’s a god. He’s been treated that way since he was a kid. He still takes his mother to lunch on Thursdays at noon. It’s the one appointment he’s never late for.


I don’t mind slow days like these. They give me time for thinking and planning. I have a lot of work to do in that area. Normally, I take my time. Lately, my urges have been too strong. I’ve never collected as quickly as I’m about to now, with another Thing, tonight.


Cravings are strange like that. You can never tell exactly when they will come on. For me, killing is like craving ice cream. It might be why I keep my Things in the freezer, besides the obvious reasons. Anyway, I’m not sure if it’s the odd numbers or the other obsessions that are getting harder to ignore. Maybe it’s just that the cravings never go away once you get a taste for it, like hot fudge on a banana split. Maybe it’s that the last few have been such fighters, challenging me to work harder and harder to obtain them. I’ve always been a hard worker, never one to turn down a dare or challenge.


Even as a kid, there wasn’t much I wouldn’t do. When I did play with other kids in the neighborhood, because Momma forced me to, I was the kid who would climb the highest tree or pick up the fattest salamander bare-handed. I was the kid who drove past Mr. Vitous’ ‘Beware of Dogs’ and ‘No Trespassing’ signs to peek at the old man passed out in his chair. It’s probably when I got my fascination with watching things. Also, being the kid who would do anything helped take attention away from my stutter.


I’ve always been wired a little bit different. It’s not enough that anyone would notice, aside from my speech. Because of it, I’ve focused—hyper focused—on everything. It was a matter of survival and a lesson my Things could have learned from me. Even on the playground, I made sure things went my way. I had a group of kids who did what I said simply because they knew I’d keep things interesting. At the same time, I wished they’d go away. I didn’t see value in their requests for play dates. I didn’t have much fun hanging out with them after school. It was merely something to do to shut my mother up. Secretly, I wanted to be in my room reading and studying the encyclopedia. I like learning. And I learn fast. I told you that. I hope you are listening. Never judge a person by the way they talk. I’m a living example of that.


People always thought I was dumb. In third grade, I was in the remedial reading class, something Momma insisted on so I could keep being on disability. The truth was, I could read full length novels in my head but when it was my turn to read aloud, something in my brain shut down and my words came out twisted, probably guilt and worry about not wanting to betray Momma. Betrayal is the worst, and I still struggle with it now. I stuttered through the shortest of sentences and turned blood red when teachers said things like, “It’s okay, not everyone’s a reader.”
Momma would argue, telling them that I liked to read for fun. She didn’t mean it. She laughed, telling me they were dumb when we got in the car. She’d spend the whole drive home telling me every single thing she loved about me. She counted them, like I count my Things. Then she’d go back and say the same thing, threatening lawsuits if they didn’t do something more – testing, anything. They didn’t listen. They thought she was crazy as a bat. Momma was misunderstood too, a fact she called “intentional” and proof of her intelligence. She’d repeat it over and over in her gravelly voice. When she said it, she’d look at me to be sure I understood.


It was strange, people said, that I didn’t have a dad or a brother or sister to play with. “Only children are odd,” they’d say. Maybe you live up to the things people say about you. Either way, Momma taught me not to worry so much what people thought of me. I tried, I really did. Sometimes it even worked. Other times, even now, it doesn’t work so well.


Frankly, I was glad I didn’t have a sibling, or even a dad. Momma said only children were smarter, more capable of getting their way. Momma mostly left me alone. She had her hands full with her pills, bottles, and three-pack-a-day habit. Momma spent nights sipping on vodka and talking on the phone to any man she could get to listen. Luckily, she never brought them home for more than a month in a row.


See, that’s the thing. People thought of Momma as a bad mother. Truth was, she was perfect for me. She left me alone and never tried to change me. She only wanted to improve me. She told me the system sucked and that she was going to teach me how to work it. She said it was the key to survival and she only wanted the best for me. I believed her. Momma was always loyal.
She was the opposite of Shelia, who was always nagging. Momma collected too. Not my kind of Things though. She collected little figurines of animals. Her favorite was an orange glass cat. I still feel bad that I broke it when I was ten and buried it under her shed. When she died, I tried to go back and dig it up. I never did find it. I feel bad about that.


Tonight I’m going to even the score. Sweet sixteen has me on my toes. I jump when the phone rings. The anticipation is one of my favorite parts. The killing, well, that’s okay. Really, it’s about the planning and the control. We’ll get to that later, if you care to join me. You can be the cherry on top. I like having an audience.


 

 

 

 Excerpt #3


She bounced when she walked. It was like she was in her own world. If he hadn’t checked and seen for himself, he’d have been sure she wore earbuds in her ears. There was nothing, not even earrings. It was like she was dancing to music in her own head and it fascinated him.


He really didn’t like the idea of driving this far for groceries. But Jimmie had taken enough chances and he wasn’t about to get caught. No, he had to have her and getting caught wouldn’t be part of the plan.


Her smile was gigantic, one of the biggest he’d ever seen. When she looked at him, it made his stomach jump, something that rarely happened. It’s not that she looked at him for a long time, or that her look was anything special. There was just something about her. He wondered what Momma would think of her. Then he told himself it didn’t matter. He wasn’t required to answer to anyone. Besides, Momma would never meet her.  He had much better plans, and this time, to keep her. Maybe if he worked quickly she could be the first of his Things…

 

 

Excerpt #4


“Hello, my lll-lovelies. How is everyone doing today?”
I always stop by the barn before picking up a new Thing. I like to think the others are waiting for her, anticipating what it will be like to have a new friend. I told you, I’m not so horrible. I do take good care of my Things.


There’s nothing like that feeling of first opening the barn door and seeing all the freezers lined up against its walls. It’s always a big decision: which freezer to open first, who to unwrap last, how much to let them thaw, or not, and who to play with or talk to. Of course, the decision is easier when I’m actually really in the mood for ice cream. I know what flavors I keep with which Thing. Mint chocolate chip goes in the freezer with Thing Eight. She should be grateful; it means she gets extra attention because mint chocolate chip’s one of my favorite flavors. Thing Nine gets none of that, I haven’t been in the mood for sherbet lately.


I rest the Walgreens bag on Thing Ten’s freezer. Today, I know exactly who I need: Thing Fifteen. I want to see what she thinks of the new lipstick I bought for her, cherry red. Fifteen is my cherry on top, so it’s appropriate.


Maybe I’ll move the mint chocolate chip into her freezer – a little reward for her.


I’d like to take them all out. I’d like to see what Twelve thinks of Fifteen’s new look. But today there isn’t any time. It takes a lot of strength to hoist Fifteen up and out of her freezer. My fingers slip on the trash bag but I’ve learned to get a good grip. I lay her on the floor before removing the bag from her head. Her frozen eyes stare at me.


“Oh, lll-love. Don’t look so surprised to see me. I’ve brought you something. And tonight, I’ll bring you all something – a new Thing.”



Excerpt #5


I’ve been watching the woman that will become Thing Sixteen for two full weeks. She works out at the gym. She may be a bit of a challenge. I like that in a Thing. I know, from watching her, that her legs are stronger than her upper body. I know that she can squat more than me. Not bad, for a woman. Momma could never do that, not even in her thirties.


Thing Sixteen goes to the gym every night at exactly 8 p.m. She does exactly forty minutes of cardio, ninety of free weights. She’s training to be in a women’s power lifting competition. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I like my Things soft, which is the reason I thaw them enough before…


I smile at the woman at the counter, running my gym card through the machine. She asks me if I had a late day at the office. It makes me nervous. I tell her I did and walk past her toward the stationary bikes, a place to rest and watch Thing Sixteen.


It takes under a minute to spot her. She’s right on schedule, where I thought she’d be. I smile, watching her on the stair master.
Keep on climbing, sweetheart. Plenty of time. Get those legs nice and tired…

 

Excerpt #6


Getting them here isn’t as easy as you might think. There are ways you have to do it so you don’t get caught. All these years and no one has a clue. They simply go missing. Pretty little girls with perfect tidy lives, never to be seen again; unlucky little Things. I’m not a gambling man, as funny as that may seem. I don’t take chances. And, well, I have luck on my side.


“That’s a good girl. I’m so pleased.”


She chokes on saliva. I chuckle, remembering how that whore from high school spit in my face and told me I’d make a horrible father anyway. I’m tempted to cover her mouth with my hand so I can watch her eyes bulge. Yet that would take the fun out of it, watching the struggle. I look at my watch. Two more minutes. If I’m lucky, three. I already miss her screams. Her black eyes, wide and staring at me as I fondle her feet. A good pair of ankle restraints and there ain’t nothing to it. Who has time for rope? Please. Not me. Not anymore. I think about which freezer I’ll put her in and curse myself for not planning better.


I close my eyes and stroke it off, thinking about the last time that Shelia fucked me. She rode me into another planet. Took her three minutes. Maybe less. No woman could ever get me off like that.


“Stupid slut.”


It’s time. I use my favorite knife to slit her throat. Her blood comes pouring out like a cherry topping and, oh, so tasty. I can’t wait to drink her sweet nectar. I’ll save it, like I have the blood from the others, for special occasions. If you freeze it right, you can keep it longer. Never more than a month. I don’t have the willpower. Never did. It goes real nice over mint chocolate chip.
Minutes are counting down. Three. Two. Her breaths become so shallow I want to kiss her. I’m tempted to breathe the life back into her, just enough so she stays with me longer. But that wouldn’t be very gentlemanly. I’m a nice guy. Harder, faster, as her breaths become softer, further in between…


“That’a girl. Easy now…”


And it’s that simple: Thing Sixteen. The others will be pleased.

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