From Short Story to Short Film: HEAT
This is the short story that Mythraeum is adapting into a short film!
NOTE: ADULT themes and language!
A girl was raped in the alley behind our apartment building.
I tried to imagine how it happened. The gravel in the side of her face. Broken glass under the small of her bare back, where her shirt was pushed out of the way and her pants were pulled down. Or maybe her skirt hiked up, thighs pale in the alley at night. Slammed into the brick wall by the dumpsters.
Or maybe cornered and threatened. Watching her fingers unbutton her jeans the way he told her to. Mind blank at the betrayal. Her own fingers.
That summer in Chicago was hot and wet. Your hair stuck to the back of your neck. The skin between your breasts was always slick. Your face was always flushed. You didn’t want to wear clothes, but it wasn’t the way music videos made it look—ice cubes running down skin, parted lips and closed eyes, girls with arched necks sitting on top of cars or gushing fire hydrants lubing up the streets.
The music video people must have filmed those things in air conditioned studios. There was nothing sexy about that heat. No one wanted to dance. No one wanted to touch. No one wanted to move.
The first one had happened three weeks ago, to a waitress behind a restaurant. He got her when she went to take out the trash. The next week, it was a girl in a park two blocks from our building. She’d been jogging. Then a girl in the basement of her apartment complex, on the concrete floor next to the laundry machines.
I tried to imagine it.
Either my brain was sluggish with the heat, or I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it.
My detachment surprised me. The little frown between my brows not deep enough. A silence and sigh of concern. But what could I do?
Constant check-ins with my roommate.
Just got off the train. Home in 10.
Okay, I’ll watch for you from the window.
If she wasn’t home in ten minutes, my chest would get tight. God forbid she stop for a drink. We didn’t really think the rapist would hit our building twice. He was moving around the neighborhood. But then again, what was predictable about rape?
A stranger walked me home from the coffee shop. He said his name was Radian. He had dark skin that looked salty, and he talked with the kind of confidence that assumed he was more interesting than silence.
He jabbered about nothing and walked quickly, maybe trying to put me at ease, maybe trying to do something else, and maybe not trying anything—maybe he just talked like that all the time. I moved quickly to keep up, my heart pounding. I didn’t know him.
Was this how it happened?
It was this, or walk alone.
I said, “This is my building.”
Radian stood back and watched my fingers fumble with my keys. I wasn’t sure if they should put the key in the lock, but they did.
“Thanks,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Okay,” he said. He stood there for a few seconds, his expression open, chattering like a bird—like that one bird that won’t stop swooping around and singing, even though the sky is dark and a storm is coming and all the other birds have taken shelter. Then he turned and walked away as I opened the door. He went back the way we came.
I never saw him again.
After I had the door closed and locked behind me, I felt sad that I had been too wary, too unfriendly, too something. I should have been something else.
You never trust them at first. You try. You look for clues saying they’re okay, and you reassure yourself about your intuition. But you’re never one hundred percent sure.
Probability is in your favor. You’ve heard only one out of every six girls gets sexually assaulted.
We lived on the top floor of an old factory that had been converted into an apartment complex. The ad had called it a loft, but it was more like a big square bake house that froze in winter and cooked in summer.
Our bake house apartment collected heat throughout the day. It was hard to tell whether it was worse inside or outside.
Nights brought the occasional cool breeze, which sometimes wafted in through our one window—high up near the ceiling. The huge fan that sat on the floor, running day and night, mostly served to move the hot air around. The best way to get cool was to hang out on the stoop of the building outside.
Not a good idea. Even with the cop cars on patrol.
But the heat made my insomnia act up. I didn’t sleep three nights in a row. I lay naked on top of my sheets, the sweat pooling in the hollows of my body, my muscles exhausted, until I couldn’t take it anymore.
I listened to the sounds drifting in through the window, hoping to hear the guys who lived downstairs go out on the stoop. I didn’t know them very well, but I was familiar with the cadence of their voices and the smell of their cigarettes, both of which drifted in through our one window at this hour every night. Almost as soothing as the breeze.
If you’re familiar with them at all, they’re a little safer. You know that acquaintance rape is a thing—more common than getting attacked by a stranger—but even so. You know where he lives, you know he smokes menthols, you know he wears high-top sneakers, and that makes him seem more familiar. Safer.
Safe enough to sit with on the front stoop, at least. But you’re still aware of all the shifts and minor movements of his body.
Was this how it happened?
I couldn’t imagine this was how it happened. But then, I hadn’t slept in days. My mind was sluggish. When I went back upstairs and lay down, my sheets were damp in the shape of my body.
When my roommate couldn’t sleep, she played a made-for-TV movie at high volume. The same one every time, and it had to be at high volume. She had to be sure it was the only thing she could hear.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway, so I put up with it.
But the guys downstairs sometimes couldn’t put up with it. They often came up to tell her to turn it down.
The guys were not talking and smoking outside. I wasn’t surprised when one of them knocked.
I got out of bed, wrapped on a robe, and opened the door, an apology on my lips. But it wasn’t our neighbor.
It was a man covered in fresh blood. White t-shirt like a splattered canvas. Deep purple-red slicking his hair down flat on his head. Dripping off his fingers to dot the hardwood of the hallway.
“Can I make a phone call?” he asked.
“No,” I said. That was the right answer, right?
“Just a quick call.” He was panting.
“No. I think you’d better leave.”
He called me a cunt and ran down the hallway and disappeared into the stairwell. I shut the door and locked it, pressing my hands against it as hard as I could.
Was this how it happened?
Had I been lucky just now?
My roommate had woken up and turned down the volume on her stupid TV movie. “Did you tell them I’m sorry?” she asked from her bedroom.
I couldn’t find my voice.
It was supposed to be the neighbor on the other side of the door.
The cops showed up and questioned me, although they didn’t ask to come in. They stood right where the bloody man had stood. They had thick Chicago accents and swaggered a little when they were standing still. One was tall, and had a little notepad and a pencil. He wrote things down when I answered his questions.
The other was chubby. He hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and didn’t say anything.
When I said that the bloody man had gone down the stairwell, the chubby one went to take a look down the stairwell.
“Whoa!” he said, jarred out of silence.
The one with the pencil stopped writing and turned his head. “What is it?”
“Look at this!”
“What is it?” the tall one asked again.
“It’s a huge painting of Marilyn Monroe!”
The tall one snorted. His attention went back to the notepad.
“It’s like, huge,” said the chubby one.
“Whatever. Hey, didn’t you wanna be a cop when you grew up? Get over here.”
The chubby one came back. “Hey, did you paint that?” he asked me, cocking a thumb over his shoulder at the stairwell.
“No,” I said.
“Huh. Who did?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s huge. It’s like Godzilla Monroe or something.”
“Yeah,” I said.
“Ma’am,” said Nick, who was finished writing, “don’t worry about this guy. We’ve had a few calls about him tonight. We’ve got several cars out looking for him. We’ll pick him up.”
“Okay,” I said.
“You ever seen The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman?” the chubby cop asked.
“No,” I said.
“That movie’s great!”
I wondered if I could get my roommate to watch The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman every night instead of her made-for-TV movie.
The cops caught up with the bloody man and took him in.
It was supposed to be safe to walk home again without texting your roommate or walking with a friendly stranger.
You tell yourself you believe them. You tell yourself it’s okay now, and you walk alone, listening to your footsteps and trying to pretend you’re not listening for footsteps behind you, trying not to peer into shadows. You try not to think about the first girl who was attacked behind the restaurant.
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