A couple of dozen lines, that’s all she was. I’d stared across the desk at Muriel Trent when she drew the image, gasping in awe at the sheer artistic talent. And at the fact that she, like me, was a slightly overweight, slightly underdressed, slightly nerdy nobody. I’d wanted to ask her out, but never could work up the courage. If I could be said to have one great regret in life, that was it.
That was thirty years ago. The only change is that I had the picture laminated when the corners started to fray. She watches me at the computer when I play video games; when I get a high score, which isn’t very often, I turn the screen to show her. When I have to scrap another abortive attempt at a novel, I cry to her.
It was my birthday. The rest of my family was on a cruise in the Caribbean; they said we’d get together when they get home. My friends, both of them, were busy: Carl was in Muncie Indiana for some work thing and Andy was at his sister’s wedding reception. It was a quiet night, like so many before it.
I looked up at the drawing; I’d never named her, since that would tie down her personality to a real life. A part of me said if I named her she would find someone and leave me. I know it’s stupid, but when was the last time your mind played fair?
I stared for a moment and my wistful expression turned to confusion. I know that drawing intimately: every line, every contour, even the tiny point of blood in the corner from when I sneezed at her after the operation. But something was different. Her eyes, barely a shadow on the paper, were looking at me.
I stared, gaping. The image was changing, shifting images like some art nouveau animated ad on the TV. Her mouth, normally a tiny slit, was opening. When the voice came it was barely audible, more the memory of a voice than real speech.
“Daniel, help me.”
I hyperventilated, trying but failing to gasp out a response. A few disjointed syllables were all I could manage before she spoke again.
“The Montrose, Apartment 3C.”
I’d heard of the place; it was a run-down four-storey walk-up about ten blocks away. I was sure I was hallucinating, but that tiny black inverted comma on the drawing’s cheek was all it took to put me in motion. I was out the door in less than two minutes.
I rushed down the street at a fast walk, which was about as energetic as I could get with one foot half-gone. The Montrose stood at the corner of eighth and fifteenth, where it had for as far back as I could remember. I stepped over the place where somebody had vomited on the sidewalk and tugged on the ‘security’ door. It opened.
I’m not too horribly out of shape, but the three half-flights of stairs up to the third floor nearly killed me. I’ve never been good with stairs. When I reached the landing I looked down the hall in both directions. There were three closed doors with black letters on bilious green frames: A, B, and D. The empty doorway must be apartment C.
I walked into an apartment that could have been mine. The furniture was aging and worn, a few old science magazines begged to be thrown out. There was a dirty glass on the kitchen counter and one of the knives was missing from the rack.
I heard a rasping gasp from the bedroom. I hobbled there at maximum speed and stared in.
It was Muriel; even after all those years I knew her. What I couldn’t get my mind around was seeing her with her jeans around her ankles and blouse hiked up, her hands tied to the bedpost and a knife sticking out of her chest. The blank stare in her eyes told me she was dead.
Her faint gasp told me I was an idiot. I snapped several pictures with my phone (no, I’m not sick like that – it was evidence), then called 911. I found a blanket and put it over her, then tried to wake her.
It must have been a slow night because the paramedics were there in less than five minutes. The police were only seconds behind. When I told the police my story I got an all-expense paid ride to the station and some nice chrome bracelets.
It took several hours to sort everything out, especially when they saw the pictures on my phone. At the time I didn’t know why they finally let me go, but later I found out it was because Muriel had woken up and given them a partial description of her attacker. For once I was glad not to be a muscular man in my mid-twenties.
The police actually took me to the hospital where she was staying, mostly because she’d asked to see me. By name, even. An officer stood in the room as I went in to see her.
Her voice was deeper and a bit hoarser than I remembered, though that could just have been the rejuvenating effect of a bad memory. “Daniel? Is it really you?”
“Yeah, most of me. Are you okay?”
“Not really. I was stabbed and...”
“I know. You don’t have to say it. I was the one who called 911.”
“That’s what they said. What caused you to be there?”
I thought of giving some flip line about being in the neighbourhood but decided to do better. I told her the truth, all the way back to the talking picture. She made me repeat that part two or three times.
That’s really the end of the story. They never caught the bastard that attacked her, but I was there to help her through recovery and counselling. The drawing hasn’t done anything else weird ever since. Not even when Muriel moved in.