By Cynthia Larsen

He studies the girl: the way she rests one hand in the pocket of her jeans while the other grasps the metal pole, the way her body gives with the swing and screech of the subway cars, the way her cream-colored tote pulls on the shoulder of her red sweatshirt. Always the red sweatshirt with the hood loose over her head. Always the cream-colored tote.

She’d made the mistake of talking to him. He’d leaned in one time and said, “Smells good. Watcha got in there?” He’d been neatly dressed, as always, as if he were returning from an office job, his thin leather coat brushing gently against her. She’d looked warily at him and said, “Dinner for my grandmother.” He’d put on a concerned look and asked the girl if her grandmother was sick. Then the girl had smiled and said, “Always,” before turning away. Her teeth were tiny and slightly crooked, and there was a mole above her lip that at that moment he knew he would have to touch.

He watches the girl as she looks around; she’s obviously been trained, knows the dangers of the city and makes sure no one gets too close. She lets go of the pole long enough to push her bangs from her eyes. Her skin is pale, a startling contrast to her black hair and the bright red hood. He’s anxious to feel her skin up close, the soft creamy white that slopes from behind her ear and down the ridge of her jaw. He thinks her skin will taste of freshly baked bread and her blood of cinnamon.

The girl inches the sleeve of the sweatshirt down over her wrist. He wonders why the red; doesn’t she know red attracts attention? That it’s the color of whores? It was easy to choose her; she’d taken the train instead of the bus and she’d spoken to him. She’d shown him her teeth, offered up the mole.

He’d followed her to the grandmother’s house many times, of course. The watching and planning are some of the best parts, and he prides himself at his stealth. His instincts are flawless and he’ll know exactly the moment to put his plan into action. He’ll go to the grandmother’s house, though he’ll regret missing the girl’s last train ride. He’ll take care of the grandmother first, then he’ll get into her bed and pull the covers over his head. He’ll be still. So still that when the girl comes in she’ll be worried that the grandmother is dead. She’ll pull back her red hood and walk hesitantly toward the bed. “Grandma?” she’ll say through her tiny teeth, and the scent of cinnamon will fill the room.

Cynthia Larsen lives in southern Vermont with her husband and three daughters. She won the WOW flash fiction contest and was recently chosen as a finalist for the Glass Woman Prize. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Monkeybicycle, Prick of the Spindle, the Legendary, Liquid Imagination, and the Binnacle.