First published in Weirdyear (2010) -- read editor interview
Gerald noticed the smell first. He rounded the corner and saw a woman with three chins sitting on the top step leading to the apartment building entrance. Sweat spotted her yellow dress. An overmatched, oriental fan struggled to cool her face.
"Hot, ain't it," she said, not looking at him.
"Worst ever," he replied.
She laughed. "How would you know? You're barely out of diapers."
Twenty-seven, he said to himself, not that it's any of your business.
"What's that terrible smell?" Gerald asked.
"You don't smell anything?"
She stuck her nose in the air and inhaled. "Oh, that smell." She pointed to the stairs leading to the ground floor apartment.
Keeping his eyes on the woman, Gerald walked over to the railing, glanced down, and saw the contorted body.
"Is she. . .?"
"Dead?" the woman said. "Oh, yea. A doornail, for sure."
Gerald stepped back and put the back of his hand over his nose.
"Did you call the cops?"
"Not yet." The woman continued to fan herself.
"Are you going to?"
"Thought you might want to."
"Cops go easier on someone who admits to a crime."
Gerald's mouth fell open, and he gagged.
"I didn't kill anybody." He looked over the railing. "I don't even know that woman?"
"Can't see her face. How do you know you don't know her?"
"I...I just know."
"According to the note in her purse, you do." The woman swatted a bug from her face.
"What the hell are you talking about. I've never seen her before."
"Maybe she was a lot younger, and you forgot."
Gerald stood silent.
"Maybe," the woman continued, "you like to molest girls. Maybe it was too much for her to handle, even after five years, and she jumped off the roof of the building."
Gerald tilted his eyes toward the top of the building, then back to the body.
"Then it was suicide. The cops can't blame me."
"Could be, but there's still the note."
Gerald turned to run.
"Won't do you no good. I'll find you again."
Gerald took a step.
"Not a good idea, Gerald. You don't want to piss me off any more than I am."
"And evil." She turned and looked him in the face for the first time, her eyes red. "And not even the Devil likes men who do things to girls without their permission."
The woman nodded. Three men stepped out of an alley and grabbed Gerald.
"It's time for you to go, Gerald," the woman said. "And to a place worse than Hell."
She nodded again. The men dragged Gerald into the alley. The woman nodded a third time, and the girl climbed the steps, mouthed a 'thank you,' and scurried away.
An hour later Gerald's screams died, as did he.
The woman hoisted herself from the steps and headed south on Lilith Street. She was late for her appointment with Father Raymond.