“The Back Alley Reaper.”
Bold capitalized letters – Times New Roman, 14pt – stamped into the papers, above the article that detailed my first streak of work just four years ago. Izz Aimini binti Asyraf was the name printed under. A brave journalist who has since followed the trail of red leading to my work each time.
The Back Alley Reaper.
It was a name birthed by her pen, and one that has stayed in my heart for the four years following. Unlike other gossiping columnists driven by shallow sensationalism, Izz wrote with an educated undertone on ethics, motive, modus operandi. She recognized my artistic values to the extent that a human’s shared morality allowed.
A limit imposed on birth, wasting her true potential as a writer.
It is true, I hold a soft spot for Izz. Just as I believe she does for me.
It came without surprise that she was the sole journalist who wrote of the appearance of a Reaper Copycat when all other outlets sang blindly of the Reaper’s premature return. With today’s papers in hand, I traced each letter of her name with an unattached level of fondness.
I shut my eyes, leaning back into the sunlit corner of this musty apartment room. I inhaled deeply, allowing the particles traced with stale iron to enter deeper into my lungs. My eyes moved rapidly below my eyelids, darting through an exact replica of the back-alley lanes five blocks away. This was my domain. And I would never touch a Stray within ten blocks of my domain.
I began to profile the so-called Reaper Copycat. An amateur attempt at my MO. The jagged cuts severing the left index finger; nervous and ill-equipped. The punctured blood vessels around the right eye, and the eyeball misplaced from its home inside the Stray’s mouth; carelessly rushed, or perhaps lacking in attention to details. The tongue untouched, still well intact; it was reasonable deduction to say that perhaps they were close to being caught and fled hurriedly without concluding their work. It was clear, nonetheless, from the clean, anodized screw to the temple, that they had followed both mine and Izz’ works closely. Was it admiration? Or more likely a cowardly excuse to avoid ownership and its consequences?
I nod my head out of the sunlight, blinking away the red and blue speckles from my vision. The papers straighten in my grip as I skim again through the article. The victim. Abdul Amir bin Zuhaiman, a law school graduate working in administrations at a large consultancy firm. Recently accused of sexual harassment at a volunteer event, but acquitted of all charges due to lack of evidence and an excellent track record in volunteering, as testified by previous employers. Probably bought off.
I smirk. Not bad, Copycat.
Abdul Amir would’ve undoubtedly qualified for my list of Strays. I admit, it was negligent of me to have missed him.
Dissatisfaction. The Copycat’s justification –
Three taps on the door. Quiet enough to not draw any attention but for its intended listener. Me.
I stalk to the door with a self-trained lightness, cracking it open enough to peer out timidly, as one who lived vulnerably alone would do.
An amused thrill shivered through my body, from my eyebrows down to the balls of my feet. But I couldn’t let it show. Not to the lady stood at my door with a poised calmness.
“Hi Miss, is there anything I could help you with?” I spoke with practiced genteel softness through the crack of the door.
“Chen Dai Yu.” My name danced from her lips, as if she could hear each beat pulsing from my heart. She parted her lips again to punctuate my name with “The Back Alley Ripper.”
I swung the door open, no longer able to contain the joy, beating at me from inside my chest and stomach. “Izz Aimini,” my eyes widened as far as my lips had stretched, “my darling amanuensis!”
Her brows furrow but she does not flinch nor recede. A brave front, perhaps. Or a woman who simply recognizes a threat when it is present; and here, it isn’t. And she, of all people, would know.
“I am a journalist. I write for the people, not for you, Reaper.”
I glance down the apartment hallway, a fondness still pulling at the corners of my lips.
“I admire your use of pet names from the get go, but I’d also appreciate a sense of discretion.” I wink back at Izz. “Now do tell, how did you find yourself at my humble abode?” I step away from the door, leading Izz back into my dingy, empty apartment room. No attachments.
“There aren’t many subscribed to The Readers Bulletin.” I was certain there was some breach of privacy there, though I suppose Izz would be justified to say that the human’s shared morality did not apply to The Back Alley Reaper. I chuckled to myself with no-one to share this humor.
“The Copycat.” Izz had barely moved, though I noted that she was now on my side of the doorway.
“Interested?” I sat back at the sunny corner of the room, hand on the papers opened on the article underlined with her name.
“Will you do something about him?” Now that came as a surprise. Izz, Izz, Izz. My darling journalist.
“I take from your writings, you’re unimpressed by their work? Don’t get offended on my behalf, now!” I stretch my neck, tilting my head to the thrum of my fingers on the windowsill. My eyes never leave Izz’ unreadable expression. Did she not realize her own words? Was it intentional? “Alright, dear Izz. You’ve set the bait, so I guess I shall give it a taste.” I stand theatrically pushing my palms from my knees. “Give me the victim’s name.”
“Abdul Amir bin –”
“Tsk, tsk Izz. You know that’s not who I meant.” There were only so many games I could play along to.
“Irene Anak Yanul.” She strides forward with a plastic sleeve protecting a single A4 paper, decorated by handwritten notes. I skim through. Games.
“I’ll think about it,” I toss the paper on top of her article. Both written with the same educated analysis; both hiding enough information in her own favor. Only Izz knew her end goal. Only I could play her games.
She knew this when she came tapping on my door. What would she gain from revealing that she knew my identity? Plenty, of course.
Her lips parted once more, as if uncertain from my response. A passing thought. Of course, Izz would know better of me.
The door shut soundlessly, the iron scented particles erasing the scent of her. The only trace left behind was the blue ink steered by her handwriting into the words, “Irene Anak Yanul, Volunteer.”
The metal frame holding my bare mattress creaked softly under my weight. My forearm rested heavily on my eyelids as I revisited the back-alley lanes, a grin forming as I reach my destination. “Our pitiful little Copycat,” I whispered to myself as the moon made its unhurried appearance.
It wasn’t until midnight that I arrived at the blue tinted alley I had envisioned earlier. I took in the scenery, updating my replica with more vividity; the neglected mossy bricks, the tangled wires snaking across the narrow space between rooftops to block out the stars, the dim blinking yard light clearly misplaced in this engulfing darkness. A morbidly familiar scent drew me to my destination, even without Izz’ neatly drawn map in the bottom corner of her handwritten profile – a juxtaposition to the rugged reality of my back-alley domain.
The windows at my destination were blacked-out, covered by garbage bags taped flat inside the house. Not strange, considering all the ground-floor windows down the alley had been covered one way or the other. The black was a chic choice, as expected of my Copycat.
I knock on the door, heavier than Izz’ tapping had been this afternoon. The neighbors here wouldn’t mind; not a single rustle or peek of curiosity. Everyone’s business was their own around here.
Contrary to the ill-fitting door creaking away from my knuckle, a young man in a black collared shirt and perfectly cropped trousers presented himself one head and a half above me. His hair framed his forehead neatly, falling gently down the sides of his gazing eyes. The single blemish to this perfectly painted image were his puffing eyebags that told me he was not as happy as I was to be meeting at this time of night.
“How may I help you?”
“Going out?” I ask, gesturing his untimely ensemble. He stayed silent, waiting for an answer. I glance through the gaps in the doorway he occupied, humming in an almost-tune. “I could put together a little story – something like some complaints about a smell from your house – but it seems only our kind would recognize such a faint trace, don’t you think?”
I let my amusement show as a look of recognition struck his face, just as his elbow almost struck mine. Almost.
Wedging my arm into the door as it swung shut – almost shut – I followed after him, past the flat mattress-topper in the middle of the living room, skipping over a duffel bag like a hurdle racer, slamming into a door, rebounding off my shoulder. I gasp with adrenaline, matching the heavy breaths on the other side of the door. A chase shorter than my usual strays give, but with more excitement than I’ve felt in months. I titter at a thought pulling in my mind.
“I thought you’d be at least excited to meet your muse, my dear Copycat.” I frisk away from the door, tracking back.
“What do you want from me?” He had caught his breath, sounding almost formidable. Certainly more self-assured than my strays.
“Well, if you know I mean no harm, I’d appreciate a little welcome; maybe some snacks and a bottle of ethanol.” The door flew open in an instant, his lips pressed in a tight line as his vision catches on the eyeball rolling playfully between my fingers.
I bring it to my face, inhaling deeply. “That’s the stuff.”
His eyes meet mine, more determined than fearful; a clear give away to the lunge that followed. I couldn’t help but laugh ecstatically as I met his forearm with the front of my foot. Not many have defended themselves from my roundhouse kick. Not many expect it in the middle of their own offensive strike.
He counters the spin from my kick with a wild shove in an alarmed attempt to rebalance. Amateur, but I contentedly acknowledge that not many recover from the despair that follows a failed ambush either.
The thought from before dances in my mind, flourishing into the bigger picture I had been waiting for tonight.
In a swift, trained move, I rode the momentum of his arm as it pushed me away, using my other leg to hook his neck to the ground as I fell. With experience greatly overpowering his disorientation, I landed my right elbow to his left temple. Just enough force not to fracture his skull. Most definitely enough force for him to feel it in the morning.
I chuckle, pleased with tonight’s work as I make myself comfortable on his mattress topper. A built man like him would be fine on the floor as he is.
“Will you do something about him?”
I hadn’t realized how long I had been mulling over Izz’ words until some movement drew my attention back into the room. Judging from the muted sunlight fighting through the plastic covered windows, the whole night must’ve passed by.
I stay in bed as the man in front of me grunts, rubbing at his head. Last night’s exhilaration rushed through me, flushing away my concerns about Izz’ intentions. “Erin Anak Yanul.”
His head shot up with a consequential grimace that made my lips curl.
“I’m really hoping your clumsy attempt at being Reaper was not a one-time whim.” I smirk from his makeshift bed, just a meter away from him.
“You-” His words caught in his throat.
“How about I make you my protégé? Great for you! You’d be the first.”
“But…you’re just a girl.”
I laugh, “And you’re just a Copycat!”
Lynn is an emerging writer, having completed her undergraduate in Professional Writing and Film at Bangor University, UK.
She can be found on Instagram @_lemonin, exploring jungles and chasing waterfalls around Borneo Island.
Instagram - @_lemonin