Content warning: stalking
Originally published by The Stygian Lepus

The stranger passes his purchases over the Home Depot self-checkout scanner. Sweat glistens on his round face.

Trash bags. Duct tape. Hammer. Bleach. Scrub brush. Hacksaw. Plastic tarp.

He pays with cash.

The front door of the mansion opens, revealing a magnificent foyer

“Come in,” Emilia says, offering her hand. Her skin is soft and warm.

She leads the stranger into the living room, then curls up beside him on the couch, feline, and traces her fingernails along the underside of his forearm.

She whispers, her lips grazing his ear.

“Stay with me.”

A roll-top door clatters violently towards the ceiling. The racket sends a pair of rats scattering. They splash through an oily puddle leaking from a nearby dumpster and disappear into the shadows.

The stranger enters, then drags the door down with a crash. A dim fluorescent bulb flickers to life, revealing a bare mattress on the floor. The stranger reclines on the mattress and takes out his smartphone. The screen is cracked, with a long narrow fracture running down the center from top to bottom.

The stranger opens Instagram and begins scrolling. He stops at a photo of Emilia beaming in front of a gloriously catered brunch: fresh fruit, fluffy waffles, champagne.

The stranger double-taps the photo. A heart icon underneath pulses red.

Emilia smiles coyly across the brunch table. She picks up a strawberry and takes a delicate bite. A trickle of red liquid dribbles down her chin. She giggles then wipes it away with the back of her hand.

Brushing a lock of blonde hair behind her ear, she lifts a crystal champagne flute and offers a toast.

“To us,” she says. Her voice is honey.

The stranger clinks his glass against hers. She sips.

Morning. The stranger pulls a faded GameStop shirt over his belly, then removes a styrofoam cup of instant ramen from the microwave. He sits alone at a plastic card table.

As he stirs the steaming noodles, he stares at a video on his smartphone. In it, Emilia reclines on a balcony overlooking a harbor lined with sailboats. The story is tagged with a location: Newport Yacht Club.

The stranger stabs his finger at the screen, tapping the location tag.

The Maps app opens.

Sunlight streams into the bedroom through the open balcony doors. Seagulls shriek as they swoop past the sailboats bobbing outside.

A white duvet is piled in downy snowdrifts of Egyptian cotton across the king-size bed.

Emilia enters. Silky lingerie hugs her curves. She climbs onto the bed and crawls towards the stranger.

“I’ve been waiting for this,” she breathes.

The trash truck’s mechanical arm raises the dumpster and tilts it into the compactor. Trash bags, soggy cardboard boxes, and a blood-soaked white duvet tumble out. The truck drops the dumpster to the asphalt with a hollow boom, then rumbles away. A few of the seagulls circling overhead swoop to the ground to search for bits of fallen food.

Inside, Emilia removes a fresh white duvet from the closet. She arranges it neatly on the bed, then picks up a cell phone from the nightstand. There is a long narrow crack running down the center of the screen.

Emilia wipes a drop of blood from the screen with her thumb, then opens the nightstand drawer and drops the phone inside with the others.

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