Noah first met her at the shimmery outdoor pool in his apartment complex. Karri had dark hair and a mysterious smile and went to a different high school. Her voice was like strawberry sherbet. Noah was there with a few buddies, Karri with a group of girls. It was a scorching day, a few weeks into summer vacation. Everyone stood talking on the hot concrete; they had all been swimming and were sopping wet. When her friends went back to their deck chairs to towel off, Karri remained, motioning toward the clubhouse.
“Wanna go sit in the sauna with me to dry off?” she asked him.
The sauna heat was jungle-thick. They riffed on it. Noah imitated a chimp, Karri made toucan sounds. They poured water on the rocks to make it even junglier. Finally, they kissed. In the days after, in his bedroom, they made out like crazy. Karri tasted like sweet mist. It was glorious. Except she clearly had more experience than him; her hands groped knowingly. This, somehow, was less glorious. Intimidation gripped him. He was fifteen but felt twelve. He still had stuffed animals and read illustrated books. Karri had books with strange symbols on the covers but no titles. Were they kinky sex manuals? He was all for kinky sex, but had thought he’d start with regular sex and build up to kinky. He joked about her having a trampy past. She took it in stride, sighing, rolling her eyes, annoyed but not hurt, but still, he felt cruel. His buddies told him to make up his mind, to either break up with Karri or be nicer to her. Noah winced. He knew what he had to do.
“I’m sorry, Karri,” he texted her one morning. “I shouldn’t have made comments about your past experiences. You have nothing to explain or apologize for. You’re so pretty. I love looking at you. Your voice is like strawberries. I could listen to it forever.”
She didn’t reply right away. Noah was crazed. His parents said, Go for a walk. His buddies said, Come get drunk. But he didn’t leave his room. He clutched his plush eagle and raged at himself. So stupid! Such a dork move. It was like that time in grade school when he did magic tricks during share time and the class snickered. Late that night, Karri finally texted. Could he meet her in the woods? He casually replied okay, then sprinted there like a maniac. Wearing a hooded cloak, and red lipstick, Karri hugged him, saying that she loved his text and now felt safe enough to tell him everything.
He felt an uneasy tingle. “What do you mean? Tell me what?”
She led him to a dark shed. Inside, on the wooden floor, was a chalk-drawn pentagram. Karri nervously tugged her feathery dark hair. People misunderstand Satanism, she said. No one ever gets hurt. She bit her lip. Except rabbits, she said. Rabbits get hurt sometimes. Noah was freaked out but tried to roll with it. Every night in the shed, after they made out, she would draw up her hood and light candles and perform her rituals. The sex books turned out to be demon books. One night she cut open a live rabbit and drank its blood. Her mysterious smile turned enticingly deranged. The blood dribbled sexily down her chin and neck. Evil enhanced her. But Noah felt queasy. When he arrived one night to find her joyously holding out a rabbit to him, and a razor blade, he turned around and ran like hell. Later, when she called his cell, he let it go to voicemail.
“Well, it was fun while it lasted,” the message began, her voice defeated, like melted sherbet. “Too bad it didn’t last longer. I overdid it, sorry. Let me know if you ever want to try again. Without rituals, of course. Think about it, okay? You just—you made me feel so special. I thought my first time would be with you. Anyway. If this is really the end, just know that I’ll remember you forever. But I hope we can try again.”
They never did. Noah was too freaked. Life went on, tamely. After high school, he went to college and studied accounting. He lost his virginity to a grumpy psych major who soon ghosted him. After college, he got a job as a comptroller. He was best man at several weddings. He felt like a stranger at his own wedding. His parents beamed. He and his wife bought a house on the lake. Their lives were drenched in beautiful, boring sunlight. After work, he drank gin and cuddled a plush gorilla. His wife sighed but said nothing. Karri haunted him. He searched for her online but never found her. Awake in bed one night, he envisioned adult Karri as a supremely classy human rights lawyer, but still a secretly practicing Satanist, forever beautiful and darkly unknowable. Her husband was a scrawny chump. Their children wore cool devil-print pajamas. Noah scowled. His own wife was an open, dull book. His own kids wore lame fireman pj’s. Sometimes he forgot their names. Had Karri forgotten his name? Did she ever think of him? Slaving at the office one day, he flashed back to his grade school self, anticipating a magic-filled, sextastic future. He had had that in his grasp, in his actual palm, but he’d let it slip away. Stupid dork! On weekends, Noah wore a black cloak and red devil horns. Mwhaha! He was forty-five but felt eternal. His wife frowned. Time raced, life curdled. One fall day, raking leaves in his cloak and horns, he tumbled to the grass and started sobbing. Please, God, please! He would kill a dozen rabbits to get her back. He would kill a person.
Mark Benedict is a graduate of the MFA Writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. He has previously published in Columbia Journal, Hobart Online, Menacing Hedge, Rue Morgue, and Tor.com. His publications include short stories, author interviews, and book and movie reviews.