The Southern Killer

“mis · con · cep · tion

m i s c o n c e p t i o n

a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding”


Avoid the eyes. Don’t look up. They’ll deny you’re right anyway, so why make a stir?

“Thank you, Nina, for that incorrect misspelling of ‘misconception’,” Mr. Willner’s old, dead blue eyes didn’t even bother to acknowledge me as he announced my disqualification. Did he realize that an “incorrect misspelling” means I’m actually right? “Please be seated. Jake, you’re next. ‘Misconception.’ Go.”

“He’s just jealous ‘cause he’s been an English teacher for a million years but can’t spell that fast. Or remember definitions.” Next to me, my friend Quinn was toying with the spokes on her wheelchair. The next kid stood up, spelled it the same way I did, and– shocker!– moved onto the next round. And who said spicks like me can’t spell?

“Are you kidding? Can’t expect someone as old as the alphabet itself to remember what letters are.”

“You’re right. He should practice with his friends sometime. Would he need a Ouija Board to do that, though?” God, I love Quinn. Purple hair, seven earrings, and all. We’re two peas in a pod that look nothing alike: Her pale skin and straight hair contrasted my tan complexion and untamable curls. We passed the rest of class, as we always did, making fun of everyone in town. They talk about us behind our backs, we talk about them behind their backs. And we never get caught, either– after all, who would expect “the spick and the crip” to be so damn witty? Finally, the bell rings and we part ways.

“Oh, and Nina… see you at the rally?”

“See you at the rally.”

~  ~ ~

“Make America safe again! Make racists afraid again! Take the country back!” The crowd’s attention was focused on one person, and one person only: Katherine Jackson, one of the only liberal politicians around who had complete control of the crowd. Even those who only saw her for her dark skin couldn’t turn away. Why ignore her when there was so much for them to hate? That’s the real reason they’d come to the rally, anyway. To troll in person just like they did online.

“Our future means putting an end to these cycles of poverty!” she shouted, “Too long have the people of this country been quieted! It’s time to bring the Trump Administration… to an end!” The crowd roared back at her, either in disgust or in reverence. Then, while her mouth kept moving, no sound reached my spot with Quinn in the back. We were in one of those huge evangelical churches South Carolina is known for, and it was packed to the brim with people. Which unfortunately meant a bunch of weird stares aimed at us, but whatever. Everyone was now getting distracted by whatever had cut off Jackson’s mic to notice us.

“That’ll be enough of that nonsense, don’t you think, everyone?” A new voice took over. The arrogant southern drawl of a boy my age had the hairs of my neck standing up. Quinn, too, seemed to be wondering what the hell was going on. Which was weird, if only for the fact that nothing ever bothered her. Growing up with a disability in a small town of close-minded people tend to do that to a person- it makes you hard, it makes you numb, it makes you “other.” I’d only lived here four months, but it’d already begun to settle in. Not that that was for me to decide, though.

A tall boy with blonde hair appeared seemingly out of nowhere holding a megaphone. I looked closer, and were those “MAGA” letters spray-painted on the side?

“We should get out of here, Quinn.”

“Agreed.” We tried to go, but the exit was too far and too crowded to get to. Some angry old ladies were refusing to move over when the boy spoke up again. I looked at him, and panic shot through me as he held up a gun. But people with guns aren’t a rare sight in the South, so no reason to be worried… right?

“Masks, boys!” he shouted to two guys on his left. “Let’s show ‘em what happens when you fill a holy place with the devil’s lies!” Another boy, dark-haired and but otherwise the same, tossed him a mask– just like the ones cops used during the civil rights movement to avoid tear gas.

Tear gas.

“End the liberals!” he screamed, aiming the gun at a random point in the crowd. One, two, three shots rang out. Then one more: aimed directly at me as his eyes took me in and he mouthed the word “illegal” before pulling on the mask. BANG! The sound of a gunshot rang out once more. I turned my head to the right, and– there. He’d missed. No more than two feet from my head. All hell broke loose as people ran everywhere, screaming for their loved ones, desperate to get out. Then three bombs went flying, gray gas billowing and choking and separating and hurting. People shrieked, and I could’ve sworn someone had filled my eyes with gasoline and lit a match. My chest roared, too, and it became harder to breathe as my mind blacked out on panic and adrenaline. I choked, falling to my knees, barely clinging to consciousness. How the hell could someone do something like this? How could someone be so willing to hurt this many people just because they didn’t have the same opinions? Just because they were different?

Nope, no. No time for philosophy. I had to get out. But where was Quinn? I spun around, trying to spot among the chaos where she’d gone. Nothing, damnit. I’d have to meet her outside. So I followed the wave of people, barely avoiding being swept under the current of the crowd. I reached the courtyard, but either she’d turned invisible or she just wasn’t there. Not responding to calls, either. Okay, then. I’d go back in. Most people were out by now, thank God. Terrified, but out.

Crying democrats. I’m sure those boys were happy now. But I pushed the thought down and braved my way back inside, elbowing past any stragglers.

Where the hell was she? There didn’t seem to be too many places to go. I sprinted back in, turning down every corner of the megachurch, doing my best to avoid the tear gas. It had gotten everywhere, and my eyes burned as my chest screamed at me to go back, go back, go back. But how could I leave her? The only other person who didn’t fit in? There’s solidarity between those who don’t fit the system, right? So I ran down the hallways until, maybe out of selfish need for clean air, I came into a room the tear gas hadn’t touched yet. I collapsed on someone’s desk, my legs shaking, lungs shrieking, and took quick, deep breaths. PASTOR ELDRIDGE, a name tag read. Good, it was good that my eyes were clearing enough for me to read something. And–

“Hello, sweetheart,” someone’s voice wrapped around me, dripping in arrogance and entitlement. One of the boys from earlier was shutting the door, his gas mask and a beer lying on the floor beside him. He had greasy brown hair and rough features, like someone had been too harsh carving a marble statue. A hunting knife was strapped to his leg. “Doing something?”

“Just looking for a friend.” I hated how meek my voice sounded. Hated it.

“Oh, a friend, huh?” His eyes roved me. Up, down, up again as my heart tripped over itself. He took a few steps closer. “You know, I could be your friend. In fact, I’ll treat you better than a friend.” His arm lashed out, grabbing mine and dragging me closer. “Call me Logan,” he whispered in my ear, breath smelling of alcohol. I struggled, making a failed attempt to push him off. My hand collided with his collarbone, but he didn’t balk. “Oh come on, honey. Isn’t this what you Mexican girls like anyway?”

I’m Dominican! I wanted to shout at him, but any sound had lodged in my throat. He grabbed me and threw me against the wall and then shoved himself against me so I couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything but feel his lips on my lips and his tongue in my mouth and his hand in my shirt and his other down my pants and his thing against hip and––

Stop!” I pushed him away, forcing him to stumble back a step. But then he was in front of me again, the hunting knife in hand.

“You see this?” He held it up in the light. Had my heart ever pounded this wildly before? “This means that you’re gonna do what I say, okay? Oh, but don’t worry… I’ll be gentle.” Fear flooded through me. I didn’t want him to be gentle. I wanted him to let me go. Relax, Nina. Breathe. In kissing me, he’d given me a perfect weapon: he was drunk. I could still taste the alcohol on my lips. So I needed to use that, find some way to push it to my advantage. I’d have to trick him.

“You’ll be gentle?” I took a step closer and looked up at him, needing him to see me as a small, doe-eyed girl.

“Of course, baby… wouldn’t want to hurt you, now, would I?” He put the knife back at his side. In an instant, his lips were on mine again. That fast, his knife was in my hands and I shoved him back.

“Leave me the hell alone.” I held it up, but still keeping my distance. Before I could take another step back, he lunged for me, trying to wrestle the knife out of my hands. We fell to the floor, both struggling to take it from the other. He was strong, but I was desperate. He pulled himself on top, straddling me like some prized mare. Panic flared through me like a crashing wave, and I yanked the knife back one more time. But then he pulled it to him, my hands still on it, and– suddenly blood was everywhere.

It started so slowly, and then all at once. The light, the anger, the entitlement behind his eyes was the first thing to go out. Nothing was written on his face, just nothing as his hand released the knife in his chest and his body collapsed on top of mine.

God, no.

Someone started screaming. I didn’t recognize the voice. The sound was strong, everywhere, and inescapable, just like the… No. No, it couldn’t be true, it didn’t happen, this was just a nightmare, and I’d wake up soon, and whoever that was would stop screaming, who was it, because it wasn’t the boy, and oh my god he had a name, what was it, he was a person, he was on top of me, he was dead, but dead people don’t scream so who had just seen me kill–

Harsh hands pulled me up by the shoulders from under him. I fought back, pushing and yelling and still hearing that person’s unearthly shrieking as I was lifted up and thrown over the shoulder of a tall man in a blue uniform. I barely registered him as he ran to the exit, barely registered anything until I glimpsed myself in a window reflection.

Blood was everywhere, dripping from my mouth, coating my shirt, running along my hands, which I hadn’t noticed until now were painfully handcuffed. Maybe I deserved that. I had a wild, crazed look in my eyes, and oh god it was me who was screaming, crying that “I’m sorry” and “I didn’t mean it.” No, that couldn’t be me. I wasn’t insane. I have perfectly normal, perfectly boring eyes, and I never go anywhere in dirty clothes, and my hair is brown, not that god-awful red color. That girl in the reflection… she wasn’t me. She couldn’t be.

It wasn’t long before the man brought me outside, where he threw me in the back of a black-and-white car with flashing lights. I went numb. Someone, not me this time, was waling about a killer. He slammed the door, and I could do nothing as the warm hands of exhaustion and escape dragged me into a deep, deep sleep.

Lexington Daily Newspaper

Three weeks have officially passed since the murder of 17-year-old Logan Kelly, the beloved son of David and Lisa Kelly. Logan, a star student at Washington High School was murdered in cold blood by Nina Martínez, who has been dubbed by many “The Southern Killer.” Her and her family of three had moved to South Carolina no more than four months prior to the killing of Kelly, and many citizens of the small town believe her to be an illegal alien from below the border. She also attended Washington High with her victim, and many teachers have described her as underperforming in their classes. One, Mr. Richard Willner, described her as “a goddamned nuisance who shouldn’t have been allowed in this country in the first place.” Her only apparent school friend, Quinn Walker, could not be reached for comments. Nor could the aggressor’s family.

The judge assigned to Martínez’s case, Judge Thomas Davis, has ruled it a homicide. Martínez, age 15, had been tried as an adult in court and will be serving a life sentence. In an interrogation, she claimed that Logan and two others had launched an attack at a political rally, (which has been confirmed by witnesses, though no one saw the boys inflict lasting harm) and that Kelly had cornered her and attempted to force himself upon her. She also brought up the question of where the boys had gotten tear gas bombs and masks, as only police officers are legally permitted to have them. Police chief Bill Matthews could not be reached for comment.

Lisa Kelly, the devastated mother, has words for the family: “That goddamned little {redacted} will rot in hell for what she’s done! What she’s accusing my baby of doing! My family has been torn apart by the wicked devil in her! … Before all else, I am a mother, and she has ripped from me my sweet, angelic son.”