Jump. Die. Stay. Die.
There are some fates we can’t escape. Lexi knew she was going to die — she was, however, unaware that she was going to die tonight.
Lexi’s summer had come and gone just like any other, the days were shorter now as Autumn came passing through. Soon her surroundings would turn cold and dark. This night seemed rather ordinary, even for how warm Michigan was this time of year.
Lexi had the windows in her apartment open to allow the warm breeze in. She should have noticed the silence. There was no crunching of leaves, no neighbors arguing, no roar of traffic. Nothing.
The young woman was wearing a baggy t-shirt and leggings. She was in the living space of the apartment, standing by an open window with an incomplete canvass in front of her. There was paint in her hair and on her hands. Her loose curls were tied up in a bun and gathered near the top of her head.
Lexi frowned at the work in front of her. When she painted, it never came out the way she imagined it. Her lack of skill didn’t stop her from painting though. It was just a hobby. She did it for herself, not anyone else. It didn’t matter to her if her work was appreciated or not.
On this particular night, she was painting the same tree she always made — or, at least, tried to make. The black branches curled up toward the sky, but not the way she thought they should. Lexi was trying to decide if she should keep working or give up for the night. Every time she tried to paint this tree it turned out different — but never closer to what she saw in her mind.
She set her brush down and decided she was done painting for the night.
She walked over to the window nearest her and placed both her hands on the top. She was just about to close the window when laughter sliced through the silence outside.
The laughter wasn’t light-hearted or joyful — it was bitter. Lexi felt a chill run up her spine. She recognized that sound. She leaned forward to look out the window. Three boys were standing in the dimly lit parking lot.
Lexi didn’t like them. She often caught sight of them going into unlocked cars, heard them setting off fireworks, or bullying the local cat. Lexi loved that cat. She named him Milkshake.
Milkshake was a rather large cat with grey fur. Lexi suspected he was some type of mix between a Maine Coon and a Norwegian Forest Cat. He didn’t live with Lexi. He didn’t live with anyone. But he visited.
She first met Milkshake a couple of years ago, when he was just a kitten. She found him in a parking lot with his head stuck in a flurry cup. She brought him home, dewormed him, and made sure he had enough to eat. He didn’t want to stay though, he preferred the outdoors. He only visited for food and the occasional head scratch. On the more bitter, winter nights he would come inside and sleep at the foot of Lexi’s bed. She never tried to take his independence from him — but she would fight for him if, or when necessary.
Unfortunately for her, this would be one of those nights. The tallest boy, who coincidentally was also the loudest, spotted Milkshake and pulled out a BB gun. He fired twice — the sound from the gun ignited a fire in Lexi’s head.
Lexi rushed across the living room and into the kitchen where she leaned over and opened the cabinet under the sink and grabbed an air horn she kept for moments such as this particular one.
Lexi ran back to the window and pushed the screen up and open so she could stick her hand and the air horn completely out the second-floor window. Her goal was to draw attention from neighbors so the bullies would have to leave — or at least distract the boys enough for Milkshake to get away.
The air horn blared and the sound bounced off the nearby apartment buildings. She saw one of the boys jump out of fear, or surprise, and that brought a smile to her face. When they all looked up at her she waved.
The distraction worked. Milkshake made his escape. He slunk back off into the shadows.
“Go home, you little assholes,” Lexi yelled from high up in her window.
“Mind your own fucking business,” the tallest yelled back up at her.
“Don’t bully animals,” she responded.
“Fuck you!” he yelled.
Lexi was over the conversation.
She placed two hands on the top of the window and was getting ready to close it when she noticed the kid raise his BB gun and aim it at her.
She yanked the window completely shut and jumped back with a yelp as the BB struck the glass. It left a crack that spider-webbed out from where the BB struck the glass.
Lexi ran her fingers along the crack. She felt the sharp bits brush against the skin on her finger.
A quick flash of police lights caught her eye from the parking lot below. She watched as the teen boys scattered in different directions. The police officer turned off the lights and kept driving slowly through the parking lot. An empty threat. It happened a few times a month.
Lexi knew the officer had no intention of actually getting out of the car and chasing the boys. But at least the complex would be quiet for the rest of the night.
There was a tree next to Lexi’s apartment. Milkshake often followed the winding branches up to the top and got close enough to jump onto Lexi’s balcony.
She walked along the wall of her apartment and to the sliding glass door by her patio. She pushed it open and let Milkshake come inside.
Lexi slid the door mostly closed — leaving Milkshake a wide enough crack to leave when he wanted to. Then she reached into a basket she kept by the door and grabbed a can of wet cat food. She cracked it open and poured it into a bowl she kept by the door.
“Here you go, buddy,” she said.
He allowed her to give his head a good scratch, and run her fingers along his spine. That was all though. She stepped away to give him his space while he ate. Milkshake finished his meal, gave a short meow, and jumped up on to the sofa where he stretched out.
“Jesse should be home soon,” she said.
Milkshake rolled onto his back and kicked his legs out.
“You wanna play?” She asked.
Lexi reached into the same basket where she kept the wet food cans and pulled out a little chirping bird. She tossed it at Milkshake who snatched it out of the air and chewed on it as it chirped. Lexi was enjoying the moment when three loud knocks on the front door shook her out of her relaxed state.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Nobody knocked anymore. Jesse would have texted her if he forgot his keys. So she stayed quiet. Maybe the person would just give up and go away?
She heard a soft thump as Milkshake jumped down from the sofa. His fur bristled and he hissed softly. His yellow eyes darted from the door to Lexi and back.
“What’s wrong?” Lexi asked. She kept her voice low.
She furrowed her brow, confused with how Milkshake was behaving. She’d only ever see him hiss when he was in danger — or when he was a kitten. Before she had earned his trust.
She took a few steps toward the front door and Milkshake growled again. This caused Lexi to pause.
Lexi was standing about twelve feet away from the door. Milkshake was still very much on edge. He took a few steps back toward the open sliding glass door. He looked at Lexi as if asking her to leave with him. She shook her head and turned her attention toward the door.
“See, Milkshake. Everything is fine,” she whispered.
Lexi was trying to decide if she should call Jesse and hide or just look out the peephole to see who was there.
“We’re both just overreacting,” she said. “It’s nothing.”
Lexi stood frozen as the doorknob turned. She was trying to convince herself that it was just Jesse. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d returned home early. Her concerns only heightened when the door swung open.
Suddenly, she was staring down the barrel of a handgun. At least, the barrel of something that — based off what she’d seen in movies — she thought must have been a silencer. Is that a barrel? Lexi didn’t know. She didn’t have any experience with guns. It didn’t matter.
Lexi didn’t get a good look at the person holding the weapon. Their face was hidden by the shadows cast by a hood pulled over her head. Her. Lexi realized it was a woman.
She couldn’t be bothered to learn any more information, and she didn’t think it would be worth the effort. Somewhere in the moments between when the door opened and her sudden death, Lexi didn’t think she would be around to describe the scene to the police.
“You look just like your mother,” her killer said.
Definitely a woman. That assumption was confirmed.
Lexi didn’t look just like her mother. Her mother had blonde hair, green eyes. Lexi had black hair, brown eyes. Their features were completely different —
“Oh,” Lexi said.
Lexi’s heart was racing. It slammed against the inside of her chest — like a wild animal trying violently to escape a cage. She had already wasted enough time. She turned her back to the woman holding the gun and charged toward the sliding glass door. She had her hands on the handle and was in the middle of sliding it wide enough open to get on the porch when she heard a pop and felt something tear through her shoulder. A bullet.
Her shoulder jerked forward and Lexi cried out in pain. She turned just enough to see that Milkshake launch himself at her attacker. He managed to leave two long scratches along the side of her face before the woman grabbed him and threw him across the room. The woman wiped the blood away — and there was nothing there. The scratches had faded away to nothing. Lexi didn’t have time to sit and unpack what she just saw.
She rushed onto the patio — there was no real plan. She considered jumping for the tree and climbing down, but with her shoulder injured she knew that would be useless. In a split-second decision she lifted herself up with her good arm and got a leg over the wooden railing.
She looked back. The woman had followed her into the house and was standing just inside, beyond the sliding glass door. She raised the gun and aimed it at Lexi’s head.
“Jump. Die. Stay. Die.”
Lexi decided to take her chances with the fall. She swung her other leg over the balcony. Her mouth went dry. She heard another pop seconds before she could launch herself off the railing. The bullet entered the back of her head.
She remained conscious long enough to feel her body give out and topple forward. There was a sick feeling in her stomach as she fell. Her limbs went numb and the world went black just before her body met the ground.
This was the first chapter of Lexi’s saga.
Copyright © 2021 k.c. statler