Tuesday night – or Wednesday morning, depending on how you feel about that sort of thing. Around two am. I was awakened by a siren’s scream. Not the kind of siren that they strap to the top of emergency vehicles – the kind that, in the old days, would sit around on islands and lure sailors to their deaths. Of course, these days they mostly just work for conventions or direct traffic. But that’s not what I was thinking about when I heard the scream. I wasn’t really thinking about anything actually.
I got out of bed, moving on autopilot. I headed for the door to my apartment, making a brief detour to my kitchen to grab a knife. The long, thin one carved from bone that an old lady living underneath an overpass had given me, in exchange for my left sock. I don’t remember why I decided to make that particular trade – something to do with her sale’s pitch, I assume. I will say, it is a good knife. I mean, that sucker can julienne like nobody’s business. What? You don’t watch cooking shows?
I went out into the hall. There were other people out there, all dressed for bed. They, too, were armed with improvised weapons. We moved as a group, taking the stairs up to the fifth floor. More people joined us on every landing.
We all stopped in front of apartment 37c. The door was closed, but only for the brief moment it took for our combined strength to break it down.
And there she was, lying in a pool of her own blood in the center of her apartment.
I’m told that that was the moment when most of the crowd snapped out of it. Almost everyone else came to their senses when they heard the other kind of siren screaming. But me? It took a police officer in a stab-proof vest wrestling the knife from my hand to pull me back into reality.
“Are you alright, ma’am?” They asked me. This may have been a different officer by this point. I can’t remember. I nodded, but it was a lie. How could I be alright, how could anything be alright?
She was dead.
Nothing would ever be alright again. But maybe I could make things a little better. Maybe I could make sure that whoever… y’know – wouldn’t go unpunished.
“Who did this?” I practically shouted at the officer. They were taken aback by my intensity.
“Please, calm down. I assure you, ma’am, we’ll do everything we can to get to the bottom of this.” That wasn’t good enough for me. I thanked them and walked away, heading for the people who were standing around at the end of hall. There were a couple police officers standing there too, keeping them under control. They let me pass.
There was one person in the crowd that caught my eye. A musician. She looked vaguely familiar. I’d probably passed her on the stairs a couple times.
Apparently, her unconscious mind’s weapon of choice had been a sturdy-looking guitar. She was clutching it tightly. I also noticed that she was wearing a pair of headphones, and that she was wearing considerably more clothing than most of us had been (if I had cared about that sort of thing at the time, I would’ve been glad I had decided to wear a pair of pajama pants to bed that night, in addition to the usual too-big t-shirt).
“Were you recording when… it happened?” I asked her. She looked at me, the sorrow in her eyes causing the rage in mine to flicker for just a moment. She nodded. “Which apartment do you live in?”
She raised her armed and pointed past the police line, to the door across the way from where it had happened. 36c.
“Do you wanna come crash at my place? I mean, who knows when they’ll let you back into your apartment.” I suddenly realized that I didn’t want to be alone. I sweetened the deal a little. “I’ll take the couch.”
She looked at me for a moment, then nodded. We went downstairs. The door to my apartment was wide open. I led her inside.
I pointed to the bedroom. “Bed’s in there. I’ll be on the couch if you… need anything, I guess?” She put down her guitar and headphones on the counter and went into the bedroom. I laid down on the couch and tried to recall exactly how it had sounded.
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I remember waking up. It was still dark outside. Someone was crying. I got up, following the sound into the bedroom. I walked up to the side of the bed.
The musician grabbed me by the arm. Her hands were strong and rough. She gently tugged me into bed with her.
I wrapped my arms around her, holding her against my chest. I could feel each and every sob as it traveled through her body. Eventually, the sobbing stopped. She was asleep. A few minutes later, so was I.