For my mom and dad.
If you get this letter, it means I’ve been murdered.
I competed in a dating show meant to be shown to a bunch of sociopaths willing to pay top dollar to see snuff. Each week a girl’s eliminated, and then her heart is torn out and eaten by a monster, all on camera. Not hypothetically, a real monster- with a scorpion tail and a biological need to eat human hearts. His name is Donovan.
And sometimes, I think I’m in love with him.
Sometimes I have reason kick in. I can’t be in love with someone who I’ve seen butcher innocent women. But sometimes I wonder if it’ll be so bad, living the rest of my life with him.
But you’ll only read this letter if I lost, so I just want to tell you this-
I love you. I love both of you so much. I’m sorry I got caught up in this. Tell my brother I love him, and he can have dibs on all my electronics. Sorry to stick you with all my student debt, but I have a feeling by next week it won’t be my problem anymore.
I love you, I love you, I love you.
After the elimination last week, Diana and I went to one of the blind closets to write our goodbye letters. We didn’t know if Bruce and Monica would take them, and we just wanted the privacy to say what was really on our minds before the potentially final week of our lives began.
I sealed the envelope and passed it to Diana. She passed me her own before sniffling and wiping her eyes. “Just make sure you get that to my dad? I’m… I’m all he has left. Well, had,” She said.
“I promise. But if it’s me,” I gestured to the letter she was now holding, “Get it to my mom, tell her to call my dad so they can read it together. I’m… If it means anything, I hope it’s not you who’s eliminated.” The words felt hollow, but it was all I could think of to say.
Diana laughed and shook her head, tears reforming at the corner of her eyes. “I don’t want it to be you either. You have a book to write.”
“And I wanted you to read it,” My voice cracked before I pulled her into a tight hug. I probably nearly cracked her ribs, but she squished the air out of my lungs with how she gripped me back.
“I hoped… I hoped to really find someone to understand me this week. I didn’t expect it to be you. I wish we could be friends forever,” Diana whispered into my ear.
A sob took the place of my words as I buried my face in her shoulder. The door opened and I heard Monica tut her tongue. “Out, you two. We have cameras to rig in here,” She said in that snippy tone.
Diana got to her feet and I swear it was a complete 180, how her expression changed. From mournful and sincere to cold as ice. “If I’m going out, I promise- you’re going with me,” She hissed before she shoved Monica out of the way and stormed away. Monica slammed into the opposing wall, her head knocking into the corner hard enough to leave a blood smear on the paint as she slunk to the ground. For a brief moment of panic I thought Diana had accidentally killed her, but Monica stumbled back to her feet and weaved her way down the hall, asking for some ice.
I felt numb this week. Donovan took his time to have conversations with us, but each one I could barely get excited about. I was a walking dead woman and I felt it in my bones.
Wednesday night was when Donovan finally confronted me about it.
Diana was in the work out room that night, we were out of Trazodone and she couldn’t sleep. I was staring at the ceiling and wondering how many things I would do if I had a chance to get out of here when I heard tapping on the window.
Note- we’re on the third floor. Tapping on the window is not exactly an option.
Unless, of course, you’re a bizarre scorpion man who was hanging down from the roof and looking in at me.
I rolled out of bed so fast I ended up slamming into the floor. I heard Donovan laugh quietly as I stumbled up, untangling myself from the blankets and hurrying over to the window. “Donovan, what the actual hell?!” I hissed.
“There’s the Paige I know. Come on, we’re going to the roof.” He managed to push the window open and offered me his hand.
I hesitated. “I was trying to sleep,” I lied.
“Bull. Come on. We need to talk, and there’s only one place without cameras left.”
I took his hand and he yanked me up like I weighed not much more than a feather. He helped me clamber across the slanted roof up near the tippy top. Together we sat, watching the snowflakes lazily drift down and the moon high in the sky.
I shivered and Donovan responded by wrapping his arm around me. He was feverish to the touch, so warm it was almost suffocating. “You only get to touch me because it’s so damn cold and I’m in my pajamas,” I said.
Donovan laughed again, his breath like smoke on the cold air. “Sorry. I just wanted time alone with you. Real alone time. Even where there’s not a camera man there’s some sort of hidden camera and mic, ready to pick up any drama.”
“So what did you want to talk about?” I asked.
“… Do you really not mind what I look like?”
I didn’t even notice until then that he wasn’t bothering to hide his real appearance. All of his eyes were zeroed in on me, each one filled with a hope and unasked question.
And I answered honestly.
“You’re frightening, yes, but this,” I gestured to my own face, “It’s not so bad. I can- no, I have gotten used to it. What is bad is… just, god, how can you be so heartless when it comes to the other eliminations? Justice? Taylor?”
“Coping mechanism. If I cared about every person that died so I could live, I’d lose my fucking mind,” Donovan sighed. “I had to become heartless when it comes to my prey.”
“And this Friday that could be me.”
My breath caught as the end of Donovan’s tail rested right in the center of my chest. I could feel the sharp tip just barely scraping my skin. I couldn’t breathe. My heart was hammering in my ears so hard it was painful.
Then the tail pulled away and I gasped in gulps of frosty winter air.
“… It won’t be.”
Donovan pulled me in for a kiss, one I barely had a chance to reciprocate, before pulling away and saying, “I couldn’t consider you prey more than I could consider jumping off this roof right now. No way. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Unafraid of you seeing who Donovan Vath really is.”
The second kiss was much sweeter, much easier to be lost in.
I wasn’t going to die. I was going to live past Friday.
The kiss broke and a lump rose in my throat. “What about Diana?” I asked.
“I signed a contract just like you.” Donovan rested his forehead against mine. “She’s a good person, and if it wasn’t you, then I’d choose her. But I can only save one. And Paige, it has to be you.”
I cried. Tears rolled down my cheeks and landed on the roof, sobs wracking my chest until I couldn’t breathe again. “She’s… she’s my friend,” I said between hiccups.
“I know. It’ll get better, once you get used to it.”
This time I kissed him, but the wheels in my mind were turning.
I was going to win, but I wasn’t going to let Diana die.
I didn’t let her know the outcome. I just threw myself into hanging out with Donovan. We even had a really cute dance in the ballroom, just the two of us. Of course Diana did too, survival trumps all other instincts, and when the cameras were focused on them I was planning.
Tonight was the final elimination. I was ready. I had a little something up my sleeve for this.
No Monica reading the elimination this week, it was going to be Donovan himself telling us who he picked. Monica and Bruce were standing off to the side.
Donovan took a deep breath and looked at us both. “… First, let me say, I think you’re both amazing women. Diana, you’re the most empathetic person I know, you really care about people and it’s inspiring to me. Paige, you’re so creative, you always say what’s on your mind and you’re so honest it’s almost painful, but in a good way. But, only one of you is my Mrs. Right… and that is Paige.”
Diana shuddered but looked so relieved at the same time. She turned to me and smiled so strongly. “I’m glad it wasn’t you,” She said.
I pulled her into a goodbye hug. “I wish you didn’t have to die,” I said as I held her hand. I’d worn a baggy sweater for a reason, and it was to hide the sharpened butterknife I’d stolen the week before. It slid out of my sleeve and into her fingers. I heard her soft sound of confusion, and I squeezed her one last time before whispering, “Run. Run, right now.”
Diana took a step back and immediately bolted for the door. I saw the flick of Donovan’s tail and made what was possibly the stupidest move of my entire life.
I tackled him to the ground.
With a shout, I slammed my body into Donovan, causing us both to tumble to the wooden floor. I recovered first, getting to my feet as Donovan laid stunned on the ground. Without a moment’s hesitation I brought my high heel down right on Donovan’s tail.
The crack was like when you step on a beetle, except a dozen times louder. Donovan howled in pain, his tail was now bent in a painful direction and bleeding a black ooze. I stumbled back, still exhilarated that I’d managed to get the drop on Donovan when my hair was grabbed from behind.
Monica’s face was twisted in an animalistic rage as she dragged me away from the groaning Donovan. “How fucking dare you!” She screeched.
Luckily I probably weight more than thirty pounds than Monica and was quite a bit taller, so I managed to shove her off and bolted through the house. I heard Monica order Bruce to go chase after Diana and take care of her, I could only pray that Diana had enough of a head start.
I made it to the kitchen before I felt something tear through my shoulder and rake past my shoulder blade. I screamed and slammed into a counter, turning around to see Donovan.
He was using his tail like a whip, gripping onto the base and flailing it around, but that attack on me was clearly all he could pull off. He crumpled in pain against the wall and groaned. “Paige… why?” He asked.
I glanced to the hallway, where I saw a cameraman roll up. Right on schedule. Ignoring the burning pain from my back, I stood straight. “Because she’s my friend. And my choice for my maid of honor, when I marry you,” I said.
“You broke my tail, you really think I still want to marry you?” Donovan growled, his dark expression contorting his face in such a violent expression I nearly lost my courage.
But I swallowed and walked forward, right in striking range. “Then why did you just scratch me? Bruce has a gun, just take it and shoot me if you can’t kill me with your tail,” I said. My hand brushed past the bulb at the tip of the scorpion appendage. “Consider us even, I saw five girls die these past few weeks because of you. And if Diana’s dead, I’m going to spend the rest of mine either trying to get the fuck away from you or killing you. But if she lives, and if she’s my maid of honor,” I took his hand in mine, “Then I will spend the rest of my life always by your side. We will live happily ever after. I’ll love you. Monster parts and all.”
The darkness left his face and Donovan was left standing there in shock. I could see Monica by the camera, her hair a mess but her expression alight with excitement. I’d done what I’d needed to to make this finale more exciting than if Donovan had just killed Diana.
I heard gun fire in the far corners of the mansion and I winced. “Make up your mind fast so you can call Bruce off,” I said, praying that one of those bullets didn’t meet their mark.
Donovan glanced at the camera, then Monica, then back to me. His smile was pained, but I could see it all click in his head. “You’re more clever than I thought, Paige.” He nodded slowly. “I think we can make that work. Monica, call Bruce off.”
Monica pulled her phone from her pocket and began dialing. As it rung, she tapped her foot anxiously. “Come on, where are you you-”
This time when the gun fired, it was so close that my ears popped. I screamed as I instinctively ducked, but that bullet wasn’t meant for me. I glanced up to see Monica staring down at her chest, the front of her white blouse turning red.
With a helpless gurgle, she slunk to the ground. Behind her was Diana, her hair a mess, her shirt torn, her arm bleeding from a scrape, but alive and gasping for breath. “Get away from her, Donovan,” Diana said, her voice not even sounding human.
Donovan glanced down at the now dead Monica. “What happened to Bruce?” He asked.
“… well, he’s got a few more holes in him now. I feel really bad for your maid, or clean up crew, he’s a mess.” Diana walked into the kitchen, pointing her gun right at Donovan’s forehead. “You heard me, now move your ass.”
Donovan snarled, Diana returning the expression with just as much fire. “She wants to stay with me,” He said.
“Only if it means I’m safe.” Diana cocked an eyebrow. “What, do you think this will really be a happily ever after?! There’s no happily ever when the marriage certificate is covered in blood. The only way you had a shot at that is if you chose the other monster in the room.”
It was so funny, how it seemed so obvious in retrospect that Diana wasn’t quite what she appeared to be. Her appearance flickered, brown skin turning a pale blue-gray, hair turning into sheets of crystal and more formations jutting out of her body.
Donovan’s jaw dropped, he was just as shocked as me. “You… I… I don’t…”
“You don’t think the stories don’t exist?” Diana laughed, shaking her head. “That you weren’t all you appeared to be, that your father was something Unknown? My mother was the same. I thought, just maybe, this was a chance to finally find my happily ever after. But instead I find an apathetic murderer who willingly murdered girls on camera just for a bite to eat. I hoped I’d be able to make it work anyway, but… not if it means I lost Paige.” Her crystalline eyeballs looked at me and she smiled. “I think I’d rather spend the rest of my life forever alone if it meant she was okay.”
I inched towards Diana, glancing back at Donovan, who looked at me pleadingly. “Paige, please don’t go. I think I’m a bit outclassed here, but… please. Don’t go. I love you,” He said.
For a second, I was tempted. Stay here, live happily ever after, have everything I could want and more, with a man that wasn’t perfect but was good to me.
Then I thought of Justice, smiling until she wasn’t, her heart ripped out and she was dead before she even had a clue was going one. Jade, who might’ve been cruel, but she was just as desperate to live as the rest of us. Shannon, who killed herself to spare herself a worse fate. Taylor, who was just here as a laugh and was excited to go back to her friends in England when it was over. Tara, competitive, strong, unshakable, went to her death with her head held high and unafraid of the Reaper. Most of these women I would’ve been friends with until we were old.
And then I thought of Diana. Diana, right now, who Donovan was going to kill even though he knew how much I cared about her. Diana, standing there, bloody and battle worn, holding Mr. Right at gunpoint and who came back to save me.
I walked to Diana, looping my arm in with hers. Where Donovan was unbearably hot, Diana felt cool as stone. I gave him one last pitying look before the two of us walked out of the mansion. No one stopped us. No one wanted to fuck with Diana.
We walked wordlessly down the dirt road, the mansion’s lights slowly vanishing behind the curtain of trees.
“Were you ever going to tell me?” I asked after the silence became too much.
Diana shook her head. “I’ve never told anyone. Not friends, not boyfriends, only me and my dad know.” She was back to looking like her, the Diana I’d gotten to know and befriend. “But I wasn’t going to leave you back there. Not after you risked it all for me.”
I squeezed her hand, almost feeling the crystals beneath the surface of her skin. “… Thank you, Diana,” I said.
“And thank you.”
I’m flying back home tonight. Diana is… gone. I don’t know where she went. She just dropped me off at the airport before walking away. I think she’s going to make sure that whatever went down at the Vath mansion will never be shown to anyone. I don’t know if it’s because she wants to honor the memory of those we lost, or because she really doesn’t want anyone to know what she really is. I still have Diana’s letter tucked into my suitcase. I don’t know if I should read it. One thought keeps turning over and over again in my head:
How many people have I met that aren’t human? How many pass for human so effortlessly I’ve never given it another thought?