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417. method to madness

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There’s a receipt in Sarah’s pocket for Burger King, and on the back in shaky lopsided handwriting is written: BAD MEN. There’s a list. There are five BAD MEN in a wavering column down the back of the greased-stained paper. Sarah only recognizes the names because two of them are already dead.

It’s been all over the news. Two middle-aged men with bad reputations, dead in a month. Stabbed to death. Violent, bloody, completely lacking in fingerprints or DNA or motive. The media is consumed. Sarah has been paying attention maybe, but not enough to start carrying a list around.

It’s also not her handwriting.

She doesn’t remember putting it in her pocket.

It’s fine, though. It’s probably fine.

--

It’s less fine when Sarah wakes up almost face to face with a man lying dead on the ground – there’s a knife sticking out of his neck, and Sarah stumbles backwards and dry heaves. There’s nothing in her stomach. She just ate lunch half an hour ago, how can there be – why are there gloves on her hands – where is she. God, she can’t stand blood. She turns her back on it but the smell crawls into her nose and curls up there, smelling like every awful playground fight or scraped knee she’s ever had to deal with. She retches. Her stomach keeps on stubbornly not emptying.

There’s nothing to do but stumble backwards and out of the room and down the stairs and out of the house and away, away from the body. When Sarah rummages in her pockets her phone isn’t there, but the list is.

The third name on it is crossed out.

--

JANE DEATH? blares the news, and Sarah turns off the television.

--

“Alright,” she tells the ceiling. “Alright.” She’s lying awake in the dark, and she’s terrified to fall asleep. She ripped the list to pieces and dropped them behind her as she walked home, but that doesn’t make her feel any safer; she’s scared she’s going to fall asleep and wake up to Bad Man #4 all ripped open in front of her.

Alright. So she’s losing time. So men are dying. So Sarah hasn’t eaten at Burger King in years, because their food is shit. These are all facts. What does she do with them? What the hell is she going to do?

--

Sarah wakes up again. She’s sitting in a McDonald’s, and when she sticks her tongue out of her mouth tentatively there’s ketchup smeared all around her chin. She is holding a pen in her left hand – she’s right-handed – and there’s another list. BAD MEN. A name and a half spelled out on a burger receipt. There’s pepper lingering in her nose; she must have just sneezed, although she doesn’t remember it.

I DON’T WANT THIS, Sarah writes on the receipt, though she feels like an idiot the whole time; she slumps lower in the booth, as if anyone could watch her writing notes to – what, herself? God. Herself?

When she sinks lower a puff of dust flies out of the booth, and her nose tickles, and she opens her mouth to

 

choke on a chicken nugget that’s appeared between her teeth. Sarah is sitting up, now, legs folded underneath her, and she’s holding the pen in her left hand again. The back of the receipt goes like this:

BAD MEN

1. HENRIK JOHANSSEN
2. TOMA I DON’T WANT THIS
SORRY =)

--

Sarah sneezes. Sarah wakes up somewhere else.

Sarah sneezes. Sarah wakes up somewhere else.

Sarah falls asleep, and she wakes up somewhere else. Sarah sees too much blood, blacks out, wakes up somewhere else. Sarah sneezes

 

and she’s piecing letters together to make a note, like an old-style ransom letter. The second she realizes that’s what she’s doing she puts her hands in her lap, fast, like that’ll stop anything. The note says:

MY NAME ISNT JANE I AM HELENA PLEASE CHANGE YOUR NEWS STORYS TO BE T and then it stops. Sarah can’t help herself; she screams, sweeps all the magazine cuttings off the table and slams the chair against the ground. “That’s not my name,” she yells, like anyone is listening. Then she feels like an idiot, so she sits back down. Her foot hops hops bounces against the ground. The cut-up letters stare at her from the ground, spelling out words that aren’t hers. She bets she knows whose hands were holding those scissors. They’re in her lap right now.

“Am I going insane,” she whispers, like she doesn’t already know the answer.