Vladimir didn’t know what it was about graveyards that freaked him out so much. He had plenty of experience around dead bodies and the fact that hundreds of not thousands, of bodies were buried 6 feet in the ground wasn’t something that bothered him. Maybe it was just the somber atmosphere of this place, now late autumn, when the trees were without leaves and, just like the rotting bodies below, were lacking the life force he desperately needed and craved. The sun had gone down early once again and he stood in the cold glow of one of the pathway lights ahead. He glanced at his chronometer and saw that it was almost time for his date with Mariah.
Maybe that was the reason for his nervousness. Mariah and he had met in much darker and more odd locales, but there was something about the way she had talked on the phone when she had set it up with him yesterday. He rubbed his neck and straightened his collar. He breathed in the cold air, closed his eyes and realized that he was quite hungry. When was the last time he had seen Mariah? It must have been over a week. Sometimes he lost track when the nights became longer and longer, too long, even for his liking. In the summer, people spent their nights outside. In the winter, the streets were abandoned at night like this stretch of graveyard.
He looked down at his watch and when he looked back up, he could see Mariah’s shape appear from the dark underneath the lights. He could feel his heart quicken and he had to swallow. Mariah had her hands in her pockets and the collar of her coat was pulled up as high as it went. The few blond strands of hair not contained by the kitted beanie swayed in the wind. Vladimir walked towards her, meeting her under the next buzzing fluorescent lamp.
“Hey, babe,” Vladimir extended his arms and when he hugged her, he noticed she had kept her hands in her coat pockets. He held one for another awkward moment and then took a small step back.
“Hello, Vlad,“ Mariah looked at him. Even with her eyes cast in deep shadows, Vladimir could see her bright blue eyes full of life. He swallowed.
“So, you want to go grab a drink?” Vladimir said, and put his hand around her shoulder.
“Or do you have something else planned for us here?” Vladimir said with as much charm as he could muster, but he wasn’t feeling in control of his voice and it came out weak and broken.
“I need to talk to you.” Mariah took a step aside and freed herself from Vladimir’s embrace. “Or… I need you to at least listen, okay?”
Vladimir cocked an eyebrow and looked at Mariah, “Did something happen?”
“No, nothing happened, it’s just…,” Mariah trailed off.
“You know you can tell me anything, right?”
Mariah seemed to search for the right words. “You know, you’re a really cool guy and I really enjoyed our time together, —“
“Hey, don’t —“ Vladimir interrupted.
“No, Vlad, please.” Mariah spoke up louder, “Let me finish!”
They both stood still for a moment before Mariah continued, “Like it was really a lot of fun at first and even though it was super exhausting, I really looked forward to our dates. It’s just that…”
“What? What is it?”
“My mother has seen the bruises and started asking questions.”
“Don’t let you mother tell you how to live your life!”
“It’s not just my mother. I’ve had other people come up to me and ask me. I can’t keep wearing long turtlenecks all the time or scarves,” Mariah’s voice trembled. “I miss swimming!”
“Just say it, you’re ashamed to be with me!”
“It’s just so exhausting to hide.”
“Then why don’t you just live with me?” Vladimir held Mariah by her arms. “You don’t have to hide anything there!”
“You know I can’t do that.” Mariah pulled away, “It’s just too dark.”
“You know that I have a condition.”
“I know, I know, and at first I really liked our nightly dates,” Mariah was crying now, “but now I am always so tired at my job. Vlad, listen–”
“If you stay with me, you don’t even have to work!”
“You know I can’t do that. I love my job!”
“What if I don’t go for the neck anymore?” Vladimir said quickly, almost stumbling over his words “We could do the legs or maybe under your arm.”
“We tried that, and you hated it. I wouldn’t feel right asking you to do that.”
She was right, it just wasn’t the same, but he didn’t want to accept the idea that their relationship was ending just like that. With one hand, he gently took her chin and lifted her face up towards his.
“You don’t really want to do this,” he said as he was looking straight into her tear-filled eyes.
For a moment she stood in place, then her hand shot up and she slapped Vladimir across the face. He let go touching his cheek where she had hit him.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” The sorrow on her face was replaced by anger. “Did you seriously try to control me?”
“No, I wouldn’t —“
“What is wrong with you?” She punched him in the shoulder and turned to walk away. “I can’t believe this.”
He tried to reach for her shoulder, but when he touched her, she spun around “Get away from me!”
He had never seen her so angry and he took a step back, lifting both his hands defensively in the air.
She turned around and wordlessly walked away. He could hear her crying as she walked away.
Vladimir just stood in the dark, watching her disappear as she left the cemetery. Once she was out of sight, he punched a statue sitting atop an old, breaking its head off. If he could, he would have punched off his own head.
What was he thinking, trying to gain control of her? He had panicked and didn’t know what else to do, but what would have been his plan? By the morning she would have realized what he had done anyway and now he had ruined whatever chance he might have had to repair their relationship. He picked up the statue’s head and placed it on top of the grave.
Vladimir sat down on a bench in front of to the large centerpiece of the cemetery, letting his head hang low. He wanted to run after Mariah, but he knew that there was nothing right now he could say to make it up to her, maybe never.
He hated how bad he felt and how vulnerable he was. He needed something to drink.
Once Vladimir regained consciousness, it took him a few moments to realize that the headache wasn’t just from being hungover. A beam of light that was hitting the right side of his face. He heard his own flesh sizzle and instinctively rolled out of the way of the beam of light, scrambling into a dark corner of the tiled room he found himself in. He tried to make sense of his surroundings and when he saw the urinals on the wall; he realized he must have passed out in a men’s restroom last night and nobody had come to check if everyone had been gone.
The beam of light that had burnt his face came through the dirty, shoe-box-sized window at the top of the room. He could hear the sounds of someone cleaning through the door and knew that he was stuck. There was no way he would be able to make his way back to his home with the sun already being up. His only hope was to hide away in here until it was dark enough for him to leave and hope that nobody would find him in the meantime. He quietly staggered towards one of the stalls, careful to avoid the rays of light shining into the room. He lowered the lid of the toilet. It looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in a while. The walls were plastered with crude messages written and scratched onto the walls from the bar’s many patrons. He sat on the toilet and rested his head in his hands. He just wanted to sleep, but he couldn’t afford to be caught, so instead he tried his best to remember the events of last night.
The last thing he could clearly remember was Mariah’s angry, tear-stained face, that she had broken up with him and he had made an ass of himself by trying to sway her with his gaze. If he wasn’t already having a massive headache at that moment, he would have punched himself in the head.
At one point during the night, he must have gone to this bar and consumed an unholy amount of alcohol. You didn’t need to be a detective to figure that one out. He looked down at himself and saw that his pants had a tear on his right knee. At least he was still wearing his black coat. That one was one of his favorites. Then he saw that dried drops of blood on his sleeve, leading all the way up to his collar. Had he gone hunting last night and had been sloppy? He could not recall even a single moment from last night. His heart skipped a beat, and he hoped he had not compromised himself. Whatever he had done, he must have gotten away with it. For now, he had to focus on staying hidden until nightfall.
He hoped that the current state of the bathroom was an indication that nobody would come in here to clean today. It was tempting to try to sleep off the hangover here, but he needed to stay awake, should someone come in.
A loud, upbeat melody pierced the relative quiet. Vladimir’s hand shot down into his coat pocket and quickly grabbed his phone and in his moment of panic, picked up the call, rather than just mute the ringing. With his heart beating fast in his chest, he pressed the phone against himself and listened carefully if someone outside had heard the phone ring.
Vladimir heard footsteps approach the bathroom door. He could feel the quiet voice of the caller coming from the headset. The restroom door swung open. He lifted his feet and stayed quiet, wondering what he could say or do if he was discovered.
After a few agonizing seconds, the door closed. The footsteps were now moving away. The person on the other end of the line was still calling out, and Vladimir slowly lifted the phone to his ear. Maybe it was Mariah, calling and telling him she had made a mistake, that their relationship wasn’t over. He glanced at the screen and saw that he did not recognize the number, and his hopes evaporated.
“Yes, hello?” Vladimir whispered quietly into the phone.
“Hello, am I speaking to… Vladimir Chuck Afanas?” the male voice on the other end said.
“Yes?” Vlad said, not sure who would call him and how they had gotten his full name, but it made him nervous.
“Hello Mr. Afanas, we found you phone number listed as an emergency contact in Mariah Wolfe.”
Vladimir’s heart skipped a beat, followed by a rush of adrenaline shot through his body. He couldn’t say anything in reply.
“Sir, I am Detective Gambino. Are you related to Mariah Wolfe?”
His hands and feet were numb.
“I’m the boyfriend. Why? W-What happened? Is she okay?” Vlad tried to keep his voice low and from trembling.
“I am afraid I have some bad news. Miss Wolfe’s body has been found dead in her apartment this morning.”
Vladimir heard little after that. For a while, he just sat in the bathroom stall, trying to make sense of the words.
He felt he had just seen her moments ago and now she was supposed to be gone?
“Are you certain it’s her?” Vladimir asked, clinging to the last bit of hope.
“Yes, we could confirm her identity.” Detective Gambino said. “Mr. Afanas, are you in Blackside right now?”
Vladimir couldn’t be certain, but he had no reason to think otherwise.
“I know this is a difficult time, but would you be willing to come down to the station to make a statement?”
“A statement? For what?”
“As of right now, we are just making inquiries.”
Vladimir felt as if someone had punched him into the stomach.
“We are not entirely certain at this point, but we are trying to figure that out. That’s why we would like to talk to you,” the detective said. “I can give you more information in person. Could you come by today?”
Vladimir stared at the dried blood on his coat in horror.
“I’ll be… I’ll be there tonight, I am…” Vladimir tried to focus and took a deep breath. “I’ll just need a moment.”
“Of course, I understand. I’ll be here until later in the day. If I am not around, you can speak to my partner Detective Phillips.”
After telling Detective Gambino that he was going to be okay, and that no, he didn’t need him to call anyone on his behalf, Vladimir hung up.
Vlad’s head was spinning. What had happened last night and could he have killed Mariah?
Note: This First Draft was part of NaNoWriMo 2021 – 30 First Drafts in 30 Days