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The Final Cut

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Even when she was too little to really remember, Dyna had always loved the movies. Her uncle had been the one to take her for her first time, his way of babysitting his sister’s kid when he had a searing headache from a hangover he insisted was most definitely not a hangover. He was coming down with the flu, just like he always was every Saturday when she was dropped off before her mother went to the office. She wasn’t stupid or naïve, not even at nine, and despite the gaps of memory from so long ago, Dyna could still feel the sticky kiss he planted on her cheek when he greeted her, his breath putridly stale.

The memory was lackluster, half dream rather than recollection. But whatever it was they’d seen she knew it had been glorious. All she could discern was that it had not been a cartoon, and that her uncle had snorted every few moments during his otherwise uninterrupted sleep. The lights from the screen flashing across her face and the music wrapping her up in a swelling embrace had enthralled her, she’d made sure to tell her uncle so in hopes that he’d take her again. He did, but she knew that it wasn’t because of anything she’d said; after all, what better way to babysit than stick the kid in front of a screen and catch some Z’s.

It didn’t really matter though, because she got what she’d wanted: A movie every week to which she could lose herself, to escape the mundane slice-of-life childhood of a little girl whose mother was too preoccupied with ambition and a father who’d long since found that such a woman was difficult to be around…or not be around, all things considered. He’d left when she was seven. With no siblings and a particularly shy nature, Dyna often found herself in the company of frog princes and virtuous maidens, sometimes dragons if they were in need of being slain. She lived much of her early life in crumbling castles and wild forests, until she discovered where movies could take her.

That was why she’d asked for a camera not long after, why she’d established the film club in high school and claimed its presidency until her senior year, and why she ultimately pursued film studies when she made it to college. From these experiences she garnered quite a bit of knowledge, and she had expected it would take her far enough into the business until she too could build a phantasmal world of her own.

But thinking about that was…

Sometimes Dyna imagined her life as a movie, it wasn’t an overly difficult concept. When she dragged herself from bed earlier that morning she probably would have thrown her lot in with the romantic-comedy genre considering how things had been running lately. She was the protagonist, obviously, and the scene had been a small college dorm half drowned with term papers, the walls a motely array of movie posters and Korean idols, the latter compliments of her often absent roommate. There’d been parched potted ferns, a corkboard with too many delivery numbers, and unmade beds with the lingering scent of stale perfume.

And then there was the male protagonist, a role nearly every romance was handicapped without. His name was Alex, and his courtship was still in the early phases of maturity, relying on pretty dyed flowers and watching streamed movies over cups of Ramen. They were in college, after all. He took tea over coffee, understood the conundrum that were women mostly from the experience of growing up alongside four older sisters, and had a secret penchant for animated movies.

He had once told her that he used to have five sisters.

Her name had been Sarah, and she had been only a few years older than him. He said she’d smelled like cinnamon because she often carried candies in her pocket, and if he was good she would give him one while she walked him home from school. She was fun, even if she was a girl, and he liked it when she held his hand and told him jokes so horrible that they just had to be funny.

She’d been killed, his sister…one day while they’d been walking home. He’d been too small to do anything, was told he’d been lucky to be alive. But he hadn’t felt lucky…not at all. Alex had told Dyna that it was because of his sister’s murder that he’d bulked up not long afterwards, so he could protect his family should something ever happen again. He’d smiled at her after that, and even for someone like Dyna, who couldn’t have possibly understood the reality of such a horror, felt the depth of his affection he still held for his dead sister. She thought that it would have made a great movie; she could even place a little dedication at the end before the credits.

So it was Dyna, the heroine, and Alex, the male lead, in a movie about romance and sitcom; perhaps with a bit of tragedy on the side. Only, now that she considered it, it wasn’t going to be like that at all.

“Oh, you’re awake.”

Dyna winced, an uncontrollable shiver raking down her spine as she squinted into the light. It was hard to see clearly still, her vision like viewing the world in runny watercolors on bloated glass. It didn’t help any that there was only one lamp in the room, and that it barely illuminated the area around it with piss-colored light. The binding was too tight, she’d previously surmised this when she’d first awoken, so she couldn’t even rub her eyes a little in an attempt to look around.

The ground was dusty, a thin layer of soot and fine sand cushioned her from the frigid cement beneath. She must be underground, right? Cellars were usually cold like this, and how else was there no natural light filtering in from the outside? Before she could think more on it, a calloused hand took firm grip of her jaw, pulling her face away from the floor and towards the wan light, leaving only his jeans and boots for her to see. Her stomach took a dip as a piercing wave of nausea overcame her.

Maybe she would vomit on his boots?

“Looks like you’re still a little groggy, hm? I might’ve given you a little too much, but it doesn’t really matter.” His voice sort of reminded her of a summer afternoon, or a chocolate cake. It was rich, and if it weren’t for her current situation she would have loved to have him narrate something for her. But as it was, she would rather vomit on his shoes…and then maybe shove a pike through his skull.

She mumbled into the gag, warm spittle coating her lips as it soaked through the rank handkerchief. Her heart stuttered when he dropped her, her entire body shaking in exhausting fits not just from the cold and whatever it was he spiked her with, but also from the scene she now regarded. She was incredibly tired, an empty kind of tired that made you wish for sleep so bad it ached. The man, still embraced by the shadows hugging the brief glow, stood at an aluminum table. Although she could not see what was on it, she understood the possibilities when he brandished a straight razor.

She cursed, her words tumbling out like stones from her tongue, all of them slurred and embarrassingly weak. Though her mind seemed to be working well enough, her body was most certainly not. It was all she could do to wriggle in small spasms of rebellion, only to end up gasping and then choking on the bile that seemed intent on making its way up her dry throat. It hurt like a b****, and it wasn’t getting her anywhere…but what else could she do?

She heard a melodic tune and it took her a few moments to realize that the man was humming. And just who the hell was this guy anyway? She tried remembering before she was knocked out, but recalling the night only made her throbbing headache sear into her brain before clawing right back behind her eyes. She’d been doing something with her co-director, Teresa, but it had gotten canceled and she’d decided to walk back to her dorm. Something for their film project, and-what did it matter? Nothing mattered, not even the man a few paces away from her. All that mattered was the knife, and how she knew, she knew what was going to happen. But it couldn’t happen, right?

“You shouldn’t look like that,” he said sweetly. Oh yes, he would have made a great narrator; only, she nearly gagged on just how honeyed his voice was. It drowned her, filled her ears and muted everything but the sound of her own breathing and heavy heart. She tried another scream, but it came out more as a cough and died into a whimper. “Here let me get that out of your way,” he murmured and slid the gag from her bite.

“Screw you!” She spat, but sagged onto her side as wisps of her energy seemed to wither away. His fingers brushed along her jaw, their soft pads eerily comforting despite her position. When they trailed too close to her lips, she threw her head forward in an attempt to bite whatever she could.

“How uncouth, especially for a lady,” he chuckled lowly, evading her mouth easily. She noticed he had just a hint of a southern drawl, nearly indistinguishable if not for the lilt near the end of his sentences. “I know we don’t know each other very well, but I intend to fix that.” He took an appreciative glance at the blade in his hand before rubbing his thumb along its edge. “Would you like me to tell you how?”

“You can shove it.”

“I reckon maybe we should work on that mouth of yours first, hm?”

She blinked away the tears flooding her eyes, her nose clogged with snot and the sour stench of puke. With everything she had left, she belted the loudest scream she could muster; however, the man only seemed to laugh at her with that damn smile of his and those big blue eyes. His face was welcoming, unnervingly so, even to the point of maybe calling him handsome. The stubble only made him more charming, a perfect trap…a perfect disguise. She faintly noted the beginning of stairs behind him, just beyond the brick walls that sang her name.

An ephemeral moment of hope slipped past her heart and into her lungs, stealing her breath. She was still the protagonist, so she couldn’t die. Any moment now a hero would clamber down the steps and slide a sword through the man’s gut. A cop would burst in and demand the man freeze, whereas an ensuing action sequence or car chase might take place. The cop might even be shot, but he would live after Dyna regained her senses and slid out of the ropes, or maybe she would cut them when the man dropped his knife during the tussle. She would stab the man, slice somewhere relatively vital, and then everything would be okay.

Her life was a movie with awkward embraces and horrible puns. It was not a Noir, not a psychological thriller, and not like something out of Fangoria.

“You look deep in thought, dar’lin. Care to tell me before we get started? You might not be able to talk much later.”

“Why?” She coughed, shying away from his fingers as he brushed away a strand of aquamarine hair. She thought of her mother and her uncle. She thought a little of Alex, and if she could she would have laughed at the irony. But how could she laugh when she couldn’t even breathe?

Something inside her seemed to crack, shattering whatever resolve she had previously mustered.

“Why me? Just what do you want from me?” But Dyna wasn’t stupid or naïve. She’d watched enough movies, read enough scripts, listened to plenty of lectures.

She knew exactly what he wanted.

“They always ask the same questions, but I’d think it’d be plain simple,” he sighed. “I’m the murderer and you’re the victim. I kill, you die. We each got our part to play, and yours was just a bad hand thanks to some unlucky business.” He slid his hand along her neck.

“Now let’s make this a nice, clean cut.”





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