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Papers hissed and tore as they were devoured by the monolithic shredder in the corner. There wasn't really any reason to keep it running, but Dill was bored at work and always had an overabundance of paper. And when no-one was coming into his office, what harm was there in just watching things shred?

Idly, he liked to pretend that maybe the papers were important documents - fantasize that amongst them, a single customer had included a document from an actual noble from a far-off land. And Dill - being sharpeyed and quick of reflexes - would dash over to pluck it from the shredder, returning it to its grateful owner and being lavished with money and affection in return.

He looked to the left and to the right, as if anyone could see him, and as if anyone cared - and toyed with the idea that if such a stroke of good fortune came his way, maybe he wouldn't return the letter at all...

"Mr. Cartwright?"

Dill's soft brown eyes tore themselves from the spectacle of hundreds of rejected forms being turned into so much mulch, defogging as his brain struggled to return to full activity. The sun was almost setting in the sky, and his day was almost over. Couldn't they have a part-time teller handle this one..? But as his room faded back into view, cramped and mostly spartan save for the framed office participation awards and complimentary plastic plant, his expression quickly turned pleasant.

Ms. Karalis was a well-preserved woman, perhaps in her fifties or sixties - Dill made a point of recognizing her well-preservedness the moment she stepped in the door. She'd recently had a battle with breast cancer, or so Dill assumed - he made a point to redirect customers whenever they brought up difficult topics or personal information - Dill didn't particularly like to think about anything too long, or too sad. He figured it was her business, regardless of his thoughts - and though he hated to think about anything uncomfortable, he certainly did his best to make her feel like she was at a second home when she came to the bank.

"Hanna, always a pleasure. Take a seat - what's all this about? Any more instances of fraud you want us to investigate? You know we'll stay open a little extra to take care of it, so you can get home and relax with some good shows."

That was Dill's preferred method of relaxation - he'd read at some point, and played a few sports, though none really gripped him. But he didn't have to reflect on anything much while at home, and reflections were like customers - always bringing up unwanted topics, and unwanted memories. He just assumed those around him were the same, though since Ms. Karalis was fidgeting with her purse, it looked like she had something else in mind.

"No, Mr. Cartwright. I was actually wondering if you were free this evening - just personally."

"Can't say that I am - the office usually keeps me late, and like we always say - getting work done now means less work later!" Dill beamed, made a point of scratching his chin even though he was completely clean-shaven, and with a slight bob of her head that indicated she had expected as much, Hanna Karalis rose to her feet.

"Oh. Very well then - I'll be seeing you."

Dill smiled, and continued to smile until long since making sure Hanna had left the building. Then, still having a few hours to kill - and not having to worry about any more distractions, he turned his brain off and continued to watch the papers tear...

There was no real reason behind it, no method or interest. Perhaps it was power, he mused - the fact that he, who had little power of his own, could completely dominate the sheets of white paper. Sure, they were inanimate objects - but they were *his* and that felt satisfying in a way he didn't feel he had to vocalize or justify. For one thing, it would've been an uncomfortable topic. For another... For another, he just liked watching them squirm.

His reverie was interrupted by another rap on the door - this one a little sharper. He went to answer it, and was surprised to find Ms. Karalis behind it once more. There was something a little different about her, though what it was exactly, he could not say.

"Hanna!"

Smiling even more widely then before, he ushered her to the same seat, still warm from where she could not have sat less then thirty minutes prior. Hanna smiled, her teeth pure and white - like paper, Dill idly mused.

"What brings you back? Oh, don't tell me! Forgot your card while you were rummaging around in that big old bag of yours? Let me tell you, I do it all the time!"

Dill never lost anything of his, and privately just assumed that it was something that someone like Ms. Karalis would do. But Hanna shook her head, staring at him intently before speaking.

"I was just wondering, Mr. Cartwright, if you noticed anything different."

He did, but try as hard as he might he couldn't tell what it was - millions of pre-packaged compliments danced throguh his mind, and he tried to find one that worked. Your hair looks great! What product did you use? Is that coat new? Woah, what a great necklace! It brings out the grey in your eyes! But try as he might, nothing was different about her in the patent way he'd been taught to recognize.

Finally, Dill shrugged, giving a little half-hearted smile that he hoped indicated sheepish - but suavely responsible - failure. "Caught me, Ms. I'm drawing a complete blank here - any chance you'll help me out?"

But to his surprise, Ms. Karalis rose to her feet without saying a word, her fingers tapping her bag. She said nothing as she left, though she did give Dill one last look before leaving - it was enigmatic, and for some reason Dill felt deeply uncomfortable - only managing half as wide a smile as his usual as she left. Sitting back down, he couldn't even bring himself to play with the shredder before deciding he'd walk home early.

He was halfway out the door when he realized he'd seen the tapping of four fingers, not five.

The sun was hot and heavy in the sky as Dill walked, not sure of how he felt, and angry at the uncertainty. He'd obviously been tired, and bored - the two things most likely to play tricks on you regardless of where you work, right? So maybe it'd been some trick of the light, or trick of his mind, or just... Just a trick. Like a party trick she'd done, because... Why?

Smoke drifted from a distant - and controlled, or so the television had assured him last evening - forest fire as his car made an aching rumble and refused to come to life. A rap on the window - sharp, demanding of his attention - caused Dill to nearly jump out of his seat.

"Mister Cartwright,"

Hanna spoke, slurring the word and drawing it out as if it were especially exotic.

"You seem to have gotten yourself into a bit of a bind. Car problems? You've been so nice to me - Would you like me to drive you home?"

Dill nodded and was out the door despite his best attempts to think of an excuse otherwise, his eyes constantly looking at Ms. Karalis' back as she walked towards an ancient, squat little vehicle that had long since lost its paint. She's a woman ten years your senior at least, for chrissakes!  A voice in the back of his head yelled angrily. He silenced it by thinking of how nice it'd be to get home and put this day to an end - as he looked back and notice the strange, spherical red stain on the window of his car.

But he scarcely had time to wonder as his feet seemed to keep moving of their own volition, and he found himself in a seat that smelled of pressed paper, and regret. It was a quiet drive down empty country streets, and though he wasn't much for silences, Dill found himself appreciating them all the more. His host would occasionally look at him, smiling, but saying very little.

He wasn't sure when he realized he was nowhere near his house.

Shaking and barely making an attempt to hide his discomfort, Dill spoke firmly and with as much confidence as he could muster. He wanted his voice to sound calm, authoritive, dismissive. He was aware as he spoke that instead, his sentances trembled.

"Ms... Hanna, where are you taking me?"

"Just home! I had some documents I wanted to show you. You said you'd be free for the evening, after all."

Dill nodded slowly, comfortably. Yes, he'd said exactly that - hadn't he?

The car roared into the muddy driveway of the ramshackle farmhouse Hanna Karalis must call her residence. A million scenarios of heroism played through Dill's mind - scenarios him tackling the older woman to the ground, gunning her down, being declared a hero for - for - for...

He followed her numbly into the house, needl e-point shoes ruined with mud. Ms. Karalis smiled and raised a hand to her lips, hiding laughter that never quite left her eyes. Then she slowly, confidently shook her head, voice quiet.

"Just let me... I'll be right back."

And Dill waited - some part of him was unable to wait, mesmorized. She didn't take long, walking back with a slight wince. When she sat back at the garishly white table, she was completely silent, her eyes glimmering with mischief.

Finally, Dill could take the silence and the teasing and the waiting no longer, and nearly cried out -

"What is WRONG with you? What is going on, and why are you doing this?"

He felt relieved, relieved that he'd said it in such a calm and professional matter, even if it was an uncomfortable question to ask. But then the relief wavered and drifted away as Hanna continued to remain silent - finally sliding him a piece of stationary he recognized with a heavy heart as being from the office.

I'm sorry but I cannot speak right now.

The ink was dark, almost brown, and he didn't like how freshly it had been pressed to the paper.

Another note arrived, Hanna staring at him with a strangely enraptured smile.

What do you think?

She rested her hand, or the stump of her left hand on the table.

You kept staring me, and finally I thought maybe your kindness transcended the little office pleasantries.

A flurry of notes, each more sloppily written then the last. Dill ignored them, refusing to look, instead speaking himself. "You shouldn't... Stop - I'll - get help - I'll.."

I'm not in any pain.

I'm better then I've ever been.

You can't take your eyes off me this way.

It started when I removed them.

You noticed, didn't you?

What else have I removed, Dill?

Shaking Dill closed his eyes, and pointed at random. He occasionally heard the shuffling of fabric, the shake of Hanna's shoulders when he was wrong - a little pat on the head when he was right. He didn't open his eyes, he couldn't open his eyes. So, after so long...

"Hghghhhhhhey..." "Hgghhehey... Dghilll..." I already finished, she said. In his mind, he didn't have to listen to the flapping of her lips as she tried, took pleasure in the strange sounds that sounded so little like the words she said. I became perfect.

But 'you want it too don't you?

Even now, you can feel it?... Don't worry. I've always liked you. It'll be between you and I. It'll be our little secret...

Shaking and not trying to hide the sweat, mixing with tears and snot, Dill nodded. He would be good, wouldn't tell a soul - but Hanna Karalis had long since stopped speaking. He finally forced himself to open his eyes - look at her, reclining on the ground and reaching up to the ceiling as if it might open up into the sky - brown-red stains surrounding her like so many pairs of wings.

He could not say how long she had been dead.

In her good hand, a pair of scissors.

You don't actually want those, do you?

Dill's fingers shook as he took one step out of his chair, then one towards her. Then another, and another. His fingers trembled as he threaded them through the loop, marvelling at the comforting sheen of the plastic as opposed to the harsh and yet familiar metal blades. The dual knives made a gentle and inviting click as they opened and shuttered like a marionette with pulled strings...

He could see the reflection of his eyes, dilating and shaking as he brought them closer - closer....

The next day at work, Dill felt calmer - more content with everything - than he ever had been. A true state of calm, not bogged down by meaningless distractions. Everything was more certain, more clear - and beneath his clothes, he too was more pure, more perfect. Though no one else could see just yet, he would watch, and wait - and he would find someone else eventually;

And through the hissing and tearing, they too would find purpouse. They too would become more whole.


Written by Stormlilly

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