Please Help Support CTTA By Checking Out Our Sponsers Products

Filet of Soul


Adrienne Jones



      My name is Pauline Paulson, and yes, I’d like to slay my parents for doing that to me.  I am a licensed professional psychiatrist with multiple awards, publications, and honors to my credit.  In addition to these shining qualifications, I have a complex sexual addiction that landed me in a world of trouble recently.  Well, in truth, I don’t consider it an addiction at all. That’s what my doctor calls it.  I call it a sophisticated hobby.


     The story I’m about to tell you has no moral.  It is not a lesson to be learned, or a warning as to what happens to bad little girls that don’t mind their manners.  Nor is it a redundant tale of obsession gone awry.  It is simply the story of what happened to me, when I stuck my hand in the wrong cookie jar.


     Despite the evident risks my double life posed, I’d always had control of the situation.  I balanced my two lives with precision, never allowing one to flow over into the other.  The college aged men that I studied from afar, and ultimately seduced, had no idea who I really was.  They only knew me as Heidi, the false name I assumed during my encounters.  After the tryst was over, Heidi would promise to call, then disappear from their lives, leaving them to wonder if she was ever there at all.


    And it was easy.  Too easy.  Perhaps that’s why I became so fixated on Baxter.  I saw him as a challenge, and I was blinded by the game.  By the time I discovered that he was actually a monster wrapped in the lovely flesh of a college senior, it was already too late. 


    I started randomly seducing young men roughly two years ago, just after my thirty-sixth birthday.  Genetics graced me with a petit, fit body and perpetually youthful face.  It used to bother me that I looked like a teenager, particularly in professional circles.  Though I had proved myself on paper, gaining recognition for my research and published theories, I still couldn’t attend a psychiatric conference without someone asking me if I was Dr. Paulson’s assistant.  When I’d inform them that I was, in fact, Dr. Paulson, they’d frown, as though I’d pulled off some sort of trickery.


    Eventually, however, I saw an opportunity in my youthful appearance.  I can’t count how many times I’d heard the phrase, ‘Youth is wasted on the young.’  It got me thinking. Why not conduct a little sociological experiment?  How would things have been different, had I possessed my current knowledge, my education, and my expertise in human behavior when I was twenty-one? I decided to find out.


     I cut my blond hair into one of those short wavy bobs I’d seen on college girls.  A nose ring and few trips to the junior’s section at Filenes later, and presto.  I was twenty-one again.


     Being an expert in human behavior, I relished in profiling my potential conquests.  For me, it wasn’t enough to seduce them.  I had to understand them first, figure out what made them tick.  And though they were all perfect strangers when I chose them, I knew a great deal about them before I made first contact; their college major, taste in food and drink, choice of music and reading material, and preferences regarding the opposite sex. 


     My own doctor called me a predator, and unkindly compared me to the Big Bad Wolf waiting in a granny nightgown to lure the innocent to my bed.  Dr. Steinberg means well, but I think he finds my particular case upsetting, either because I’m a fellow psychiatrist, or because I’m a woman.  Probably a little of both.


     My friend Gillian, the only other person who knew about my ‘hobby’, told me in no uncertain terms that my behavior was stalking, plain and simple.  I tried to lay a heavy rationalization on her, insisting that it was a form of research I was doing, but Gillian wasn’t having it.  “Give me a break. You’re stalking these guys, Pauline,” she’d said.  “There’s nothing complex or psychological about it, so spare me the shop talk.”


    Gillian was probably right, but I clung to my self-delusion that my addiction was a form of behavioral study.  Hey, we all need to sleep at night.  At any rate, it all came to a screeching halt when I met Baxter.  I remember that first afternoon, when I spotted him in the University library.


     He wasn’t like the usual beer swilling, soccer playing types I selected.  While he was pretty like them, prettier in fact, there was something different about him.  I watched him for an entire afternoon that first day, huddled in my special corner of the library, wearing a moderate disguise of sunglasses and baseball cap.  I have a ritual.  They don’t see me until I’m ready for them. 


     Baxter read twenty-four books that day.  I know, because I was counting.  At least he appeared to read all of them.  He’d sit huddled over, his brows knit in concentration as his green eyes zipped back and forth across the page. Then he’d slap the book shut, return it to the library shelf, and select another.  He repeated this action twenty-four times.  Twenty-four books in four hours.


    I should have figured out then and there that something wasn’t quite right about him, being an expert in human behavior and all.  But that’s just the thing.  I was an expert in human behavior. And Baxter wasn’t human.  But I didn’t know this at the time, and I was mesmerized, as blind to reason as a stray dog chasing a pork chop. 


     His college transcripts said that he was a senior, but he looked younger, more ethereal than my usual picks.  The hair was a wispy brown reaching to his earlobes.  The skin was fair, but with a flush of pink at each cheek.  Strange eyes, not quite green, and not quite brown, but something in between.  


    But as magnetic as he was, he sat alone, un-accosted by the twittering students holding social court at the tables around him. After watching him non-stop for two weeks, it became apparent that he was always alone.  I couldn’t believe anyone who looked that good could possibly be friendless.  But the other students moved around him when he passed them on his way to get more books.  Most completely ignored him, not so much as a flicker of eye contact.  Occasionally however, I’d catch one of them glance warily down at him as they passed his table, then look quickly away. Baxter didn’t seem to notice them at all.  But of course, he had his twenty-four books to read. 


    That first day I watched him, I assumed that he was studying for a test or an in depth term paper.  But each day it was the same thing, plowing through at least twenty books in a few hours.  The only break in his routine came when he’d periodically walk to one of the computers and scan the Internet for an hour or so. During one of these interludes, I breezed past his empty table to get a glimpse of the books, perhaps to get an idea of his interests or field of study.   


    But the books that lay spread across his table had no rhyme or reason, no connecting thread.  The subjects ranged from Quantum Physics and Atomic Theories, to Cajun Cooking and The Art of Sculpting. Part of me was intrigued, if not a bit confused by this unique young man.  But another part of me was baffled and frustrated.  If I didn’t understand him, then I couldn’t seduce him.  I couldn’t break ritual.


     Desperate to get a better take, I researched him. This is the part that my friend Gillian calls stalking.  On a quick brush past him in the library, I glimpsed his name on a notebook he carried.  Baxter Smith.  After scanning through the seemingly endless list of Smiths in the college directory, I found him.  I was then able to access some of his personal information, a skill I picked up while dating and FBI agent back in my early twenties.  What I found was vague to say the least.  After hours of searching, all I knew about Baxter Smith was that he was the foster child of a couple from Burbidge, Massachusetts. Aside from that, there was nothing.  He didn’t seem to exist on paper.


    I tried asking around about him to some of the other students, but few of them knew him.  Those that did recognize his name made sour faces and said that he was weird. 


     So I kicked up my surveillance, and started following Baxter Smith home, to his apartment off campus where he lived alone.  I knew I was out of control at this point, especially when I bought the binoculars. But what the hell.  Everyone needs a hobby.  I’d watch him pass by his windows.  I’d watch him read. I’d watch him eat.  And I’d watch his darkened windows while he slept. 


     It was about this time that I decided I needed a visit to Dr. Steinberg.  Dr. Steinberg is my psychiatrist, a pompous old sod with a superiority complex. I don’t know why I spill my secrets to Dr. Steinberg, exactly.  I don’t think he gives an owl’s hoot about me, but I feel better after purging my soul to him.  After telling him my tale of Baxter, he tried for the concerned psychiatrist face, but the smile was a bit too smug.  Dr. Steinberg is one of those terribly pretentious doctors that try too hard to look like an old school shrink, all nose hair and unkempt beard.  He studied me with satisfaction, thinking I’d finally come to my senses, and was asking for his help with my ‘disorder’.  He was wrong.


     “So this…Baxter person has gotten you into a state of unease, because…”


     “Because I don’t understand him,” I answered.


      Dr. Steinberg nodded, familiar with my routine of profiling my conquests.  “I see,” he said.  “And have you made a sexual advance yet?”




      He raised his eyebrows. “No?  But Dr. Paulson, this is out of character for you,” he said with a hint of contempt.  “It’s been three weeks. You usually approach your victims by now.”


     He knew the word ‘victim’ pissed me off, but pretended to forget at each session.  I wanted to choke him with his own beard.  “They are not victims, because I am not a predator,” I said. “And the reason I can’t make an advance is because I don’t understand him. I don’t get this kid at all. Do you see my problem, Dr. Steinberg?”


    Dr. Steinberg frowned deeply, and placed a finger on his chin. “Perhaps, Pauline, you are ready to go see that specialist I suggested.  The one who runs the sexual addiction clinic?”


     Dr. Steinberg misunderstood.  I was asking for his help, but not in the capacity he thought I was. I didn’t want psychoanalysis for myself.  I wanted a second psychological opinion on Baxter. I wanted Dr. Steinberg to help me develop a profile of the boy. I explained this to him in no uncertain terms.  At first he scowled down at his desk, confused. Then the realization flashed across his beady gray eyes.  He looked up at me, his jaw stiffened in undisguised irritation. 


     “Dr. Paulson.  Pauline.  Are you asking me to…help you stalk somebody?”


      I hesitated, trying to think of a more diplomatic way of putting it, but I came up with nothing.  I nodded.  “Yeah.  Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”


      I could see before he spoke that I’d gone too far. His bearded face flushed, and he stood from his desk, one crooked finger pointing to the exiting door.  “Get out!” he said.  “I have done everything I can for you, Dr. Paulson.  But I’m afraid I can no longer remain objective. Therefore I can no longer treat you as a patient.  Now get out!”


     “Is that a ‘no’ on the profile request?” I said.


     “Out!” he screamed.  “And be relieved that we have a doctor patient confidentiality agreement, Dr. Paulson.  You are a disgrace to the profession, and I’d see you stripped of your license if I had anything to say about it.”


     I left Dr. Steinberg’s office distraught.  Not because he yelled at me, or broke up with me as my doctor, but because I was no closer to solving the mystery of Baxter Smith. The kid didn’t seem to have any social interests whatsoever.  I’d have been less frustrated to find that he was gay, or even sexually deviant.  But he seemed to be simply devoid of passion.  I was stymied. I mean, man cannot live on books alone, right?   


     Then, one night, a break came.   I had a session with a patient that ran late, so I had to rush over to the college to catch up with Baxter. I wasn’t really worried about missing him.  Baxter’s actions were predictable.  On this day, he had an evening class that broke at five, then he would go to the library to read a couple of dozen books, then he would go home to read a couple of dozen more.  The boy definitely had a routine, bizarre and pointless, as it seemed.


       But this evening Baxter did something different.  He went into his house as usual, but instead of settling down with an armful of books, he changed his tee shirt and was out the door again in a flash.  I watched from my parked car as he moved with a steady stride down the street, a shadow in the falling darkness.           


     Of course, I followed.  I went on foot, as he was on foot.  I was about a block behind when I saw him duck into a video arcade at the intersection of two busy streets.  I quickened my pace, thrilled that my coveted conquest was finally out in the open after dark.  When I stepped into the video arcade, my heart sank.  I was sure I had seen him step through the doors, but he was nowhere.  Bells and sirens wailed as teenagers hammered on controls, shifting their shoulders stealthily as they annihilated the animated monsters on the game screens. 


    My eyes darted around the video gallery, and then I spotted Baxter’s baby blue tee shirt.  He stood before a video game, his fingers flailing wildly as the changing colors of the screen formed luminous shadows across his perfect face.  I recognized the video game, as I had played it with my nephew for three days straight at his home last Christmas.  It was called Robotic Beast Destroyer, and it had a thousand levels.  My nephew and I had only made it to level ten. 


    I stood a few feet behind Baxter and watched him play with an ease that blew my mind.  He was at level sixty-two, and his score was perfect.  I was about to approach him, when a short stout man moved out from behind a counter and came at Baxter, his face tight with rage. 


     “Hey!” he said, grabbing Baxter’s arm and pulling him back from the machine.  “I told you not to come in here anymore!  You break the machine every time!”


    Baxter scowled at the man, the most expression I’d ever seen on his stoic face.  “I do not break the machine.  I beat it,” he said in a perfect monotone.  “That is the object of the game.  To win.” 


    The little man pointed a stubby finger in Baxter’s face.  “I’m not having this argument with you again, kid.  No one can possibly beat that machine. You’re using some trick, and you’re breaking my games.  Now get out!”


     Baxter turned and stormed out of the arcade.  I ran out after him.  “Hey!” I said, shuffling to keep up with his angry stride.  “Hey, wait a minute.”


    Baxter stopped and looked back at me, his lovely lips pursed in annoyance. “Are you speaking to me?” he said. 


     “You can buy that game, you know,” I said. 


     Baxter frowned.  “Excuse me?”


     “I said you can buy that game.  The Robotic Beast Destroyer.  Compucheck sells the game, and the machine to play it on.  You should just buy a system, then you can play it at home.”


     Baxter’s frown smoothed, and he took a slow step toward me.  “Do I know you?” he asked. 


    I shook my head.  “No, I don’t believe we’ve met.”


    He took another step toward me, closing the gap.  He looked me up and down, then surprised the hell out of me by leaning in and sniffing my hair.  He pulled back and nodded.  “Yes, I knew it.  You smell familiar. You must be in one of my classes.  I’ve smelled you before.  I smell you all of the time.  Especially in the library.”


    The odd words chilled me.  “Did you um, did you say that you’ve smelled me before?”


    He didn’t answer.  He crossed his arms in front of his chest and studied me like I was a complicated math problem.  “You haven’t been following me, have you?” he asked.  


    I shook my head too fast.  “Following you?  No, of course not!” I forced out a laugh.  Baxter stared at me a moment longer, then abruptly turned and moved off down the street without offering me another word.  Apparently he was done with me.


     But I wasn’t done with him.  Baxter went back to his apartment, and I went back to my car.  After stewing for twenty minutes, I decided that I had to make real contact.  I was about to break my ritual of understanding my conquests before approaching them.  I needed to have some kind of physical interaction with this strange young man, if only to get him out of my system.


    I went to his door, intending to invite him for drinks, but he didn’t answer my repeated knocks.  I tried the knob and found the apartment unlocked.  My friend Gillian’s comment about stalking poked at my subconscious, but I shooed it away and stepped into Baxter’s kitchen.  “Hello?” I called out.  Silence answered. I moved into a sparsely furnished living room.  Piles of books formed pyramids on the floor.  I stepped around them and moved down a narrow hallway.  “Hello?” I called again. 


    Praying that I wouldn’t end up spending the night in a jail cell, I pushed open a partially closed door that led to a small bathroom.  I was about to leave the empty room when I saw steam rising off of the bathtub.  My heart doing a dance in my chest, I took the last steps and looked down into the bath water.


   My first thought was that Baxter was dead. He lay under the water with his eyes closed, hands clasped peacefully over his chest.  And he was blue. A whimpering started in my throat, like a scream trapped in a darkened closet.  But I couldn’t look away.  Baxter was blue.  But it wasn’t death blue.  His skin was neon, that brilliant blue sometimes worn by tropical fish or exotic lizards.  And the skin had taken on a rubbery sheen, like someone had fashioned Baxter into a claymation puppet.


    A flutter of bubbles trailed to the water’s surface, and that’s when I saw the gills.  On either side of his face, just under the cheekbone, were two flaps of flesh, waving in the water like a miniature pair of wings.  My scream would be stifled no longer, and I let out one of those startled whoops you give after finding a spider on your pillow.


   Baxter’s eyes sprang open in the water, and though they were still Baxter’s lovely eyes, they were iridescent yellow.  He rose from the water, his strange new face a mask of surprise and fury.  With a hissing wail, his lips pulled back from the gums, revealing a pair of elongated front teeth.  Though he looked even more startled than I was, I ran.  I screeched out of the apartment, down the driveway, and into my car without looking back.


     After a week of faking a stomach bug, I finally went back to work.  I had dodged a complete mental break down by forcing myself to believe I hadn’t really seen what I thought I did.  Stress, I told myself.  My double life had finally pushed me over the edge, and was affecting my sensory perceptions.  I determined at that point to finally give up my beloved stalking hobby.  Finding a mutant fish boy in the tub will do that to a girl.


      It was nine in the morning when I stepped into the reception area of my office building.  “Dr. Paulson, your ten o’clock is here.  He’s a bit early, but he seems quite distraught.  He insisted on waiting for you.”


     I shook my head at Darla, the receptionist.  “My ten o’clock?  He’s here now?”

    She nodded. My ten o’clock was a docile middle-aged man with a social phobia.  Though he was prone to agitation, it was out of character for him to show up an hour early. 


    When I stepped into my office, my leather desk chair was swiveled so the back faced me.  I couldn’t see its occupant.  “Mr. O’Leary?” I said, setting down my purse and briefcase in the client chair.  “Why are you so early?  And more importantly, why are you sitting in my chair?”  It was my office, after all. I don’t like other people touching my things. 


   The chair twirled around to face me, but it was not Mr. O’Leary sitting in it.  It was Baxter Smith.  He smiled coldly, hands linked behind his head.  “Hello, Dr. Paulson.  You come highly recommended.  I certainly hope you can help me with my psychological disorder.  You see, I have the distinct feeling that I’m being followed.”


     I couldn’t move.  Baxter stood and stepped around the desk.  I took a step backward and he stopped.  “Don’t be afraid.  I just want to talk.”


    “Talk about what?” I asked, finding my voice.


    He stepped forward and placed a finger on my lips.  Two weeks ago I would have relished the thought of him touching me, but now I wanted to run home and scrub myself down with cleanser.  “I said I wanted to talk,” he said.  “I didn’t say that I wanted to hear you talk, Dr. Paulson.  Or is it Heidi?”


    I flushed.  How the hell did he know my alias?  Nobody knew my alias.  I opened my mouth to speak, but he cut me off again. 


     “Now, here’s the deal, Pauline.  You will never speak about what you saw the other night.  If you tell anyone what you saw in that bathtub, I’ll come forward and expose you for what you are.  I’ll tell all of your esteemed colleagues, not to mention the press, that you seduce young men under false pretenses. I’m sure the media will eat up a story like that, and a pretty young woman like you will photograph well for the National Inquirer.”


     I took a step back. “How do you know about my personal life?”


     He laughed.  “It’s all in your file at Dr. Steinberg’s office. I had myself a good read before bed last night.  Your file was a bit dry, not as interesting as my usual reading material, but eye opening, nonetheless.”


     I was tingling with shock.  “How did you…those files are confidential!”


     “Yes, well, Pauline, I have certain research skills myself.  You’re not the only one that can, um… profile a victim before making contact.”  He moved back behind my desk and sat, resting his feet on my day calendar.  “You see, we have something in common, you and me.  Your hobby is to study human behavior.”  He grinned and raised his eyebrows.  “And so is mine,” he said.  


      I stared at his face, which was thankfully just a face again.  No yellow eyes.  No blue Gumby skin.  But it had been, damn it.  I’d seen it with my own eyes the other night.  This was no human sitting before me with his feet resting on my desk.


     “You ask me to say nothing about what I saw,” I said, “and I swear to you that I won’t.  But tell me something, Baxter.  What exactly…did I see the other night?”


     He smiled.  “You saw me,” he said.


    A tickle of anger started to overpower my fear.  He did have his feet on my desk, after all. “What the hell are you?  And what is your purpose?”


     “I’m afraid that’s classified,” he said.


     I took a daring step toward him, struggling to remember my skills as a psychiatrist, which seemed to have left me for the moment.  “I’ve noticed that you’re always alone,” I said.  “It might be a relief to talk to someone about your…situation.”


    He gave me a sneer.  “Do not try to mind-fuck me, Doctor.  You will lose. And speaking of fucking, I have one more request.  I’ve never had much interest in human copulation.  It all just seemed so primitive, like rutting dogs.  But I’ve read your psychiatric file. I find your particular tactics...intriguing. Unlike anything I’ve encountered thus far.  I think I’d like to give it a try.”


   I gaped at him as my mind tried to absorb the statement.  “You’d like to give what a try?”


   He spread his arms out.  “Sex, of course.”


   I let out a sound that wasn’t quite a laugh.  “Sex?”


   “Yes, sex,” he said. “Consider it a compliment. It takes some doing for any…person to capture my interest. Your research methods have won me over.”


     I stared at him, stunned. “Well, good luck with all that, but I’m afraid I’m not interested.”


    He raised his eyebrows.  “Really?  That’s not what your file says. You told Dr. Steinberg that you couldn’t sleep at night for thinking of me.”


   “Yes, well that was then.  It’s nothing personal.  I just don’t like gills on a man.  Find someone else.”


   He stood and I shuffled backward.  He laughed.  “Relax, Doctor.  I don’t mean I want to do it here and now.  You can come to my apartment later.”


    I shook my head.  “Thanks, but I don’t think so. You’re a good-looking…guy.  There are plenty of women that would be eager to participate in your…experiment. Find someone else.”


    He stepped toward me.  “I don’t want someone else.  I’ve made up my mind that it must be you.  I’m…ritualistic that way,” he said, using a quote from my own psychiatric file.  To my relief, he headed toward the door.  He grasped the knob, and turned back to me.  “You may as well comply, Dr. Paulson.  You won’t be rid of me until you do.  Oh, and don’t worry.  I promise to remain in this primary form you see before you.  Unless you want to do it in the water.  That can be arranged.”


     “Get out,” I whispered. 


     He smiled and opened the door.  “I’ll be watching you,” he said, and stepped out, shutting the door behind him.


     I did not go to Baxter’s apartment that night.  Instead, I packed a bag and went to stay with my friend Gillian. I told her only that I was having trouble with one of my patients.  She gave me a knowing smirk, but allowed me to stay with her for as long as I liked.  It was Saturday when I saw Baxter again.  Gillian had gone off to work some overtime, leaving me to sun myself by her pool.  After roasting for an hour, I took a dive and started to swim laps.  Giving a final plunge beneath the water, I opened my eyes and saw him.


   Baxter was in the pool.  He was huddled in the corner near the bottom, his blue skin blending in with the pool’s liner.  His gills were spread out like a fan on either side of his face.  Yellow eyes watched me through the hazy water.  I screamed underwater, nearly choking, and made a frenzied swim to the surface. 


    Baxter surfaced just as I was climbing up onto the patio.  I wanted to run but my eyes locked onto him.  He emerged like a blue tide and walked toward me, shaking his hair out like a dog.  He looked like a giant rubber doll with his strange blue skin. He snatched my towel off of the lawn chair, and rubbed his hair with it.  After tossing the towel onto the chair, he smiled at me.  The blue was starting to fade from his skin, and the gills were smoothing out, blending back into his face. 


    “You won’t be rid of me until you comply,” was all he said.  Then he turned and walked out of the yard.  By the time he reached the street, his skin was back to the normal peach color, and he looked like any other beach bum trotting down the sidewalk in his Hawaiian shorts. 


    Things got worse after that. I saw Baxter everywhere.  He was in the food market.  He was in the restaurants I went to.  I’d leave my office building to see him leaning against a car a few rows from mine.  I even spotted him working out at my gym, though he stayed out of the pool and the hot tub.  After three weeks of this, my sanity was hanging by a thread. Baxter Smith, was stalking me.


     I hadn’t been sleeping, for fear that Baxter would climb through my window or some such thing, and sleep deprivation can be a very dangerous thing.  In a sleep-deprived mind, extreme and horrible thoughts begin to take on a twisted sort of sense. The decision came to me after I left my dentist’s office one morning and saw Baxter sitting in the waiting room perusing a magazine.  Baxter Smith had to die. What other choice was there? Go to the police? Tell them that an aqua-humanoid crossbreed was stalking me?  No. My decorating tastes did not stretch to white padded walls.   


     I knew that I didn’t have it in me to kill another human being, but again, Baxter wasn’t human. I knew that Baxter followed me everywhere, so I couldn’t purchase a weapon myself.  Instead I had my friend Bill buy me a knife, one of those big suckers he used on his annual deer hunting excursions. I told him it was a therapy tool for one of my patients.  Ironically, Bill saw fit to mention that the knife was also handy for filleting fish.  


    After Bill dropped the knife off at my office, I fastened it to my body with the sheath he’d given me, and I went off to find Baxter.  It wasn’t difficult, since he was waiting in the parking lot for me. With the hunting knife pinching the skin of my hip, I smoothed my skirt and walked toward Baxter where he leaned against a motorcycle a few rows away.  He watched me approach, his face blank, his odd green eyes fixed on me. I stopped just inches from him, close enough for a kiss.  “Let’s get this over with,” I said.


     He spread his arm out in an ‘after you’ gesture, and we walked to his apartment.


     Baxter pressed me against the wall as soon as we stepped into his kitchen.  His lips found mine and his tongue melted into my mouth.  He kissed me with hunger, his breathing becoming fast and labored.  He seemed to be enjoying himself a bit much for someone who had no interest in sex beyond simple research.  Abruptly he broke free of me, and took four giant steps backward.  He caught his breath, offered me a cynical grin, and said, “First, lose the knife, Dr. Paulson.”


     I didn’t need a mirror to know that my face had gone pale. Baxter laughed.  “You didn’t really think you could fool me, did you?  You underestimate me, Doctor.”


     I’d like to say that I formulated a diabolical psychological strategy in a matter of seconds, but my survival instinct took over, and I ran for the door.  Baxter anticipated my move and caught me by the hair, yanking me back and wrestling me to the floor.  At first I thought he was tearing at my clothes in passion, but he was looking for the knife.  He found it up under my skirt and flung it aside, where it landed on the floor with a clank.


     I tried to go after it but he caught me and dragged me back.  I managed to wrestle him off, and broke for the living room, sprinting down his narrow hallway into the bathroom.  I thanked whatever God would create a mutant fish boy that the door had a lock on it.  As soon as I got inside the bathroom and flipped the little lock switch, Baxter started rattling the knob, slamming his weight against the door. 


     I searched his cabinets, frantic to find anything resembling a weapon.  All I found was a miniature pair of cuticle scissors.  Allowing a fleeting thought as to what fish boys did with cuticle scissors, I backed myself in behind the door and waited for him to break in.


    The door splintered, and then Baxter was in the room.  He took a moment to glare at me, his usually unaffected expression ripe with anger. Then he threw himself on me.  Pressing me against the bathroom wall, he invaded my mouth with his tongue, his hands tugging at my skirt. 


     With his hands occupied I saw my chance, and thrust the tiny scissors up into the soft flesh on the underside of his chin.  He grunted and fell back, but I did not let go of the scissors.  I jammed them further up into his flesh, and a trickle of mud colored blood squirted in a tiny waterfall out of his mouth.


    I let go and his hands flew to his chin, flailing as he struggled to remove the tiny blades.  I used the opportunity to dart out of the bathroom.  To my amazement, I heard Baxter’s footfalls behind me, an angry gurgling sound seeping from him.  He caught up with me in the kitchen, tackling me at the knees and I went down onto my stomach, landing just in front of the discarded hunting knife. Baxter was on top of me.  His hands groped for my throat, hands covered with slick brown blood.  I snatched the knife off the floor, twisted my body around and jammed the hunting blade into his throat. 


     He rolled off of me and onto his back, screeching like an animal, arms flailing wildly.  The knife remained lodged in his throat, and murky blood spilled in a brown tide across the floor around him.  His features shifted form, gills erupting from his cheeks, then sucking back, skin fluctuating between peach and neon blue. His eyes flashed from yellow to green like a traffic light. His front teeth erected to pointed fangs, and then retreated.  Finally his movements slowed.


   I stepped backward toward the door, shuffling my feet to avoid the growing pool of brown blood.  I waited.  Though my body was trembling, and my rational mind was ready to jump ship, I knew that leaving Baxter Smith alive would be a very bad thing.  So I waited.  I waited until Baxter’s body went still, and his multicolored skin paled to a sickly white.  The light left his eyes and they glazed over, frozen upward toward his brow.  Then I left the carnage of the apartment.


     I stayed in town long enough to be sure that Baxter was really gone.  There were no police files reporting a murder at his address, and a new tenant had moved into the apartment within a month.  I checked his school records, and he was listed as having abandoned his studies and moved on.  I’m not sure what became of his body, but someone had clearly come and cleaned up the mess with discretion and secrecy.  This tormented me, as my mind shaped itself to the truth of what it meant; that there were probably others that had known of him. Or others that were like him.


    I moved my practice out of state, and a blessed year passed with no repercussions to what I had done.  I’d begun to relax and believe that the nightmare was truly over, when I received a phone call from my friend Gillian.  We still kept in touch, despite my refusal to visit her at home, or even go back to the state.  Gillian was on a cellular phone when she called, and her voice was fading in and out in a storm of static.  From what I could muster of the conversation, she had found a new boyfriend, one that had captured her heart.


     “I can barely hear you,” I said.  “Tell me what he’s like.”


     Her sentences were broken by static, so I got “funny….smart and he’s….and we’re going away this weekend.  He’s amazing, Pauline!  He can…”


     “What?” I yelled. “Gillian, you’re breaking up.”


     “I said, he can…” Static.  Then she was back.  “Can you believe it, Pauline? Twenty-four books in one sitting! He reads all the time. I’ve finally found someone with a brain!”


     My blood turned to ice.  “Gillian!  Listen to me!”  Then the static fizzed out and the line went dead.