Wynona has felt eyes on her for the last ten minutes. She knows he’s watching. Sitting at the end of the bar with his phone out, following her every movement. She can’t look at him. She won’t let him have a front-facing picture. That’s too much. It’s already too much.
Her shift is over in an hour. She knows she should tell her boss what’s happening, but it’s pointless. He didn’t even back her up when a drunk customer groped her.
She glances over the bar. He stares right back at her, phone up and all. She shutters and hides by the sink. A few moments later, the phone rings.
“Painter’s Pub, Wynona speaking.”
Wynona looks at the man as he tucks the phone into his jacket pocket, gets up, and leaves. She stares at the closing door. It was him. It had to have been. He knows her name.
She clocks out. Bar is closed for the night. Wynona takes a deep breath before walking to her car.
Her boss left hours earlier. He parks up front and makes everyone else park across the street. Real stand-up guy.
Wynona digs in her bag for her keys as she walks. Still searching her bag, she pulls the keys out halfway across the street. A car horn blares at her, headlights stop a foot from her. She lets out a cry and drops her keys.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” she calls out as she reaches down for her keys. They’re not there. She gets on her hands and knees, looks under the car, all around. The keys are nowhere to be seen. The horn honks again. Wynona jumps up and out of the way and the car leaves.
She searches the road. They have to be there. They were right next to her feet. There’s nothing. Not even a piece of garbage.
She tears through her bag. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Wynona sits in the middle of the road. Defeated.
Keys jingle in the distance.
Her head snaps up.
That man is holding her keys up in one hand and that damn phone in the other. Keys swaying just in front of the camera. He’s recording her horror.
Her jaw drops. She looks at the road, back at him. Impossible.
She reaches the bar but an arm wraps around her.
He pulls her close and covers her mouth as she tries to scream. She lashes out, tries to pull away, but it’s no use.
“I just wanted to give you these,” he whispers in her ear.
The keys dig into her side as he slips them into her pocket. She struggles to pull air through his fingers.
“Now, why don’t you take me on a little reward trip?”
She doesn’t respond. He shakes her violently.
“I’m going to let go of your mouth, and if you cry out, I promise you won’t like what I do.”
She nods again.
He lets go of her mouth, keeping a strong arm around her body. He pulls out his phone. The face camera is on and recording.
“Quick update to my love supporters,” he says to the camera. “My lady and I are about to go on an adventure.” He kisses the side of her head and ends the livestream.
The man holds Wynona close as they venture to her car. Her footsteps jumbled. She searches the street for help, but it’s a ghost town.
The man pulls the keys from her pocket and unlocks the door, swings it open.
“My lady,” he says. He bows his head slightly, and gently pushes Wynona into the driver’s seat. Before closing the door, he leans in and takes a deep breath.
“Just what I thought,” he kisses her head, “perfect.”
He closes the door and repeatedly hits the key fob’s lock button.
Honk. Honk. Honk. Honk.
Wynona stares at the door as he circles the car. He hits the lock over and over. She reaches for the door handle. If she could just…there’s a lapse in the locks. She rushes for the handle—
“Oh, Wynona,” he says from the passenger seat.
She shrieks. She yanks the handle, still trapped.
Wynona, Wynona, Wynona. Didn’t they tell you I was a fast one?” She slowly turns toward him with tears rimming her eyes.
“Who are you?”
He throws his head back and laughs. “I am your distant love, here to sweep you off your feet and make your wildest dreams come true. I am a man of heart. A man of…talent. I’m Jack.”
Jack holds out his hand. After a moment, Wynona takes it and he brings her hand to his mouth.
“So lovely.” He gently thumbs her hand. “So soft.”
Wynona lets out a whimper.
“I know you’re ready to get going, but let’s enjoy this moment. Moments alone are so rare.” He stares at her. Wynona’s breath shortens. Jack begins leaning in and wraps his hand around the back of her head, quickly closing the space between them. A long, hard kiss. He pulls away, smiles.
“I bet I got a good one.”
He moves through the pictures. Wynona sees her face pressed against his. Her body language tense. He keeps scrolling, having taken dozens in the moment. He settles on one. One full of lies. Two people, passionately embraced, love in every pixel. Wynona grimaces.
“This one is going to the supporters,” he says as he posts it. “Let’s get going, love.”
The moonlight shines through the trees as they pull onto Lover’s Peak. Wynona parks close to the peak, distant from the only other vehicle.
She switches off the ignition. Silence envelops them. Implications run through Wynona’s mind. Jack puts a hand on her thigh. She flinches. Closes her eyes. No movement. She slowly opens her eyes.
Wynona searches the car. His warmth lingering on her thigh. He was just—
Her door opens.
“Let’s take a look at that view.”
Jack holds a hand out. Wynona looks at it, then past him into the forest. She could run. Hide.
But he would find her.
She takes his hand.
They walk hand in hand to the peak, stopping two feet from the edge, overlooking the lights of the city. Jack wraps his arms around her shoulders. Romantic from any outside perspective.
In one swift movement, Jack brings his phone up and records the view. It captures the flickering lights from the cars and buildings below. The faint stars above.
“What a beautiful city, love supporters,” he flips to face camera, “and I’m sharing it with my girl.”
Wynona looks away.
“The plan for this evening: star gazing, soul searching, and a little art making. And let me tell you, we know how to make beautiful art.”
Jack turns his face to Wynona and kisses her cheek.
“Soul search question number one: what do you love?” He looks at her with earnest. The question could not go unanswered. The camera continues to record.
“I—I,” her voice breaks, “love my…family. My mom and dad, brother.”
“Ah, yes. The misguided brother, Jeremy. Falling for every trick in the book, but still loveable.”
Wynona’s heart leaps. “You know my—”
“Of course. Your mother, the bank teller. Father, the dental hygienist. Next question: what is art?”
Her face transforms into confusion. “Art is…expression.”
“Oh, I love that answer. Shall we go express ourselves, make art? I would love to recreate some of your paintings.”
“My paintings? No—you can’t.” She sobs. “Please don’t do that to me. Please…”
“Oh, sweetie, not to you.” He pivots them one-eighty. They face the only other car. “Let’s join the other couple.”
Wynona fights back for the first time. Each step forward, she pushes back, attempts to evade his grip, but he just laughs.
When Wynona doesn’t stop struggling, Jack’s amusement transforms. His angry gaze turns on her. She continues to twist and pull. He stops and yanks her arm. A deep pop emits from her shoulder. Wynona cries out. Jack slaps a hand over her mouth.
“Let’s stop playing around,” he snarls.
Her eyes are welled with tears. They spill over Jack’s hand. Her shoulder throbs.
Jack gestures toward the car.
“Don’t just stand there. Take a peek.”
They close the short distance and Wynona looks in.
A couple is tied up in the back seat, unconscious. Their mouths are gagged. The woman’s eye is swollen shut, and her bottom lip bloodied. The man has an open cut on his forehead, blood streams down his face.
“What have you done?”
Jack peeks in.
“I know, I know. I got a little head start, but I think we can still make something great together.”
Jack opens the car door, startling the woman awake. She lets out muffled cries. Jack reaches in, yanks her out and holds her against his chest.
The woman manages to drop from Jack’s grip and tries to crawl away.
Immediately, Jack is on her, knife out, shoving her face into the dirt.
“Now, let’s make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
He brings the knife down by her feet and flicks it through her achilles. Muffled scream followed by a flow of blood. Completely severed.
“Would you look at that Wynona? Beginning to look a lot like your work. Such beautiful red. I can’t wait to see what you make.”
He sets the camera up and starts a live stream.
Scene: old rustic car. A bloodied couple propped against it. A sleeve of blades. One intent.
A knife handle is shoved into her hand.
“Wake them up. Take the lead.”
She resists. A scalpel held against her waist. No choice. Wynona stands above the man. She fixates on his shirt. Wonders what it would look like open.
Blue shirt separates and a red smile pours.
The man remains still. Wynona blinks and her head tilts in confusion. She takes a step back. She can’t do this. Shouldn’t do this.
As she backs away, Jack’s scalpel digs into her hip. She jumps forward and cries out.
“He’s not done yet, sweetie.”
Wynona takes a deep breath and brings the knife to the man’s shoulder. She slowly pushes it in. Deeper. Deeper. A cry of pain.
Wynona jumps back with the knife and her hands shake.
“You’re doing great. May I?”
Jack pulls out his scalpel and turns to the woman. He guides it across the tops of her collar bones, driving it down into the pocket of her left shoulder. The woman lets out a muffled scream. The man echoes.
Wynona looks at the bloody scene. Man and woman bound together in helpless terror, set in a picture perfect date. She lets out a giggle. It’s everything she imagined.
“I knew you would love this,” Jack says. “It looks like your paintings. Just missing one thing. You get her. I’ll take him.”
Wynona mindlessly nods. She steps toward the woman, tranced. She squats down, eye level. She lifts the large knife, sways it back and forth. The woman’s eyes bulge and tears stream down her face, snot down her lips. Wynona drives the blade into the woman’s torso and carves out under the ribcage, painting a full arc. She drops the knife and reaches into the separated skin. Her fingers slip in, and she pulls out the layers of skin and fat. The glory of the woman’s insides are revealed. Wynona must pull them out, paint the scene.
Jack has done the same with the companion. The couple squirms and screams. Jack and Wynona pull and arrange, not stopping when the couple finally calls it quits.
They step back from the art. Wynona holds her dislocated shoulder with a red-stained hand.
Intestinal roots reach out to the world, streamed along the car, merging at the center in a symbol of love. The lovers rest against each other, eternal in their condition.
Wynona grabs the phone and brings it closer.
“This is it, my masterpiece.”
Alyssia Gonzalez is a dark fiction writer and book publicist based in Los Angeles. An avid consumer of horror and dark comedies, she is a sucker for unhinged characters. “Art Night” is her first publication.