Perhaps you should be. After all, I killed a man yesterday. Granted, he was imaginary, but I showed motive, opportunity and intent, so perhaps I should be in prison.
Particularly since it was not my first offense.
So far this year, I have – willingly and without remorse – killed seven people. Recently, when assembling my short fiction and laying out the spine of a possible collection, I took stock of the crimes that I have committed since first writing fiction on a professional level. In my short fiction, there are twenty-two murders, one suicide, countless maimings, one self-inflicted limb loss, and a death by burning. (Side note – never smoke cigarettes while sitting on a pile of dead, dry leaves. Trust me. It does not end well.)
And, of course, this doesn’t count the victims of war in my high fantasy stories. My god. People are dropping like flies.
Now, granted, it could have been a lot worse. One of the early draft of one story had an entire universe of people being snuffed out without a trace. That, apparently, was too scary for middle grade, (who knew?) so I changed it.
The thing is, in real life, I don’t typically strike people as a particularly dangerous person. I am a thirty-eight year old mother of three. I drive a minivan. I volunteer at school. I bake pie and garden and chat with neighbors. I appear sinister or dangerous or threatening to exactly no one.
Once, last year, I was running along Nine Mile Creek in Bloomington. If you’ve never gone running there, I highly recommend it – soft trails along a rushing creek cut in a deep, steep ravine, full of trees and vines and flowers. There is no road noise, no houses in sight, very few people. You run in a river of green. Anyway, last year, I was running along that path, all alone. I was two miles in, and I hadn’t seen a soul the whole time. It was around eleven a.m. on a Wednesday. The bedroom community surrounding the park had all packed up and gone to work. No one was in the park.
And some man.
I slowed down. He was about a quarter mile in front of me, travelling in the opposite direction. He looked like he was in his late forties, caucasian, scruffy beard, vest and shirt sleeves ripped off. I could see, even from that distance that he was strong. I looked at him, he looked at me, and neither of us altered our direction.
And I thought should I be frightened? I wasn’t, but I wondered if I should be. I was alone. And attacks happen.
And I thought, if something happened to me down here, would anyone hear me call for help? Absolutely not. That much I knew for sure.
And I thought, does he think of me as a threat. Is he frightened of me? Again, absolutely not. Though, he should have been. I know how to kill a man with a set of keys. I know how to use someone else’s momentum to throw them to the ground and then step on their neck. I know a lot of things. I’ve been in three fist fights in my life, and broke two noses (neither of them my own) in the process. I would likely be able to defend myself if need be. Plus, I was faster and stronger. And I have a wicked left hook.
And I though, how strange that, because of my gender and my age, because of my Anglo features and my crows feet and my wedding ring, no one sees me as a threat.
Now, of course, the encounter in the park occurred without incident. We passed, I said hello, he nodded, and that was that. He was nothing to be frightened of. Neither, apparently, was I.
But you know, I wish I was. Sometimes, I wish I was frightening. Sometimes I wish I was dangerous. Sometimes I wish I was sinister or ominous or wicked or menacing. I am not. I am the open-armed mama folding laundry and cooking soup. No one is afraid of me at all.
Real people aren’t, anyway. Characters, on the other hand, are friggin’ terrified.
And really, in my real life, I like being a cookie-baking matron with a swarm of kids in the back yard and a gentle lilt in the voice. I like being the neighbor with the cocoa on the stove and the wine in the pantry and the nine million sleds or bikes or scooters in the garage. I like drawing pictures with kids. I really do. But I also like the idea that I could be dangerous- that I could be a threat, but that I choose not to.
Because the line between good and evil is perilously thin.
And I want to keep the world on its toes.