Today is dreary and rainy, much like the day I first heard the news. But that day I didn’t realize it immediately.
Driving to the local diner for my normal Sunday morning breakfast/writing session, I noticed a sign stapled to a telephone pole. Through the rain running down the windshield and the swish, swish, swish of the wiper blades I could barely see it hanging there, a black sheet of paper, top right corner flapping in the wind. Large white letters, four of them each a different size, tried to tell me the news, but I was too busy trying not to forget the story idea that had jumped into my brain, too busy rushing so the rumbling in my stomach would cease, a rumbling that was the result of two days without food, two days of writing, writing, writing.
And that’s why the stark white letters on black paper, barely seen through the rain, failed to really register in my brain. The letters? WKAP.
Sitting in my local diner that day, in a booth by the window, watching the rain fall, barely any traffic to speak of, I wrote. I wrote of people who didn’t exist, places where these people interacted with one another, worked jobs, listened to music, watched movies and television, all for my pleasure. Sometimes they were nice and sweet stories. Other times they were sick and twisted. But it wasn’t real.
What was real was the young girl walking down the sidewalk, walking toward the diner. Normally I probably wouldn’t have noticed, but this girl had no umbrella, was dressed all in black, rain running down her face, her pale face streaked not only with brain but also black, black makeup of some kind. At least I assumed. What I noticed most was her shirt, and the same four letters in stark white on black. WKAP.
This girl, a girl who seemed like an apparition or simply some fictional character from one of my stories, then did the unexpected. She turned abruptly and came straight toward the diner’s front window, straight toward me. She was in no hurry, and she appeared to have no purpose. She stood right outside the window, hands to her side, long hair hanging around her face. She just stared at me.
I tried to ignore her, tried to concentrate on the fake people living their fake lives in my notebook. I even turned away from the window as best I could, but I sensed her. A chill moved up my spine, and as it reached my neck… BOOM!
The sound shook me to my core but the other patrons in the diner, and the staff, didn’t seem to notice. I turned around and saw the girl leaning against the window, hands flat on the glass, forehead pressed, as well. The rain came down harder then, but the girl didn’t care. She just stood there, just stood looking at me.
The truly bizarre thing was that the black of her shirt was running across those stark white letters. Then I looked at her face, her sad, pale face. Despair lived in her eyes, and I saw that I had been mistaken. Her face wasn’t streaked with black makeup ruined by the rain. The girl was crying black tears.
Her eyes met mine and I couldn’t look away. She never blinked, but only stared as the black tears streamed down her face, dripping from her chin, becoming one with her shirt. After what seemed an eternity, the girl closed her eyes and stepped away from the glass. Only then did I notice that her shirt was now white, the letters black. She looked at me again. Taking another step back and another and another, she made her way into the street. She never broke her gaze, her chilling stare.
I stood finally, making my way outside. The girl never moved and I said nothing. I didn’t know what to say, although I longed to know the meaning of those letters, those four simple letters. I approached her slowly, unaware of my rain-soaked clothes or the rain now streaming down my face.
We stood facing each other. The world around us slowed to a near stand still, even the rain hanging motionless in the air. Or that all could have been a figment of my imagination. But we stood there. She closed her eyes again and raised her arms to the side. I found my voice then and said, “What does this all mean?”
Instead of answering, the girl seemed to vanish. I could see through her shirt, her arms, her face. She then vanished completely as a car drove through the space she had just occupied.
I blinked and found myself back in the diner, sitting in the booth looking out the window. The girl was nowhere to be seen, and there was no indication that I had even been outside in the rain. What the hell just happened? I thought as I looked around the diner where the other patrons and the staff went about their normal business. I looked out the window again. The rain continued to fall, and on the fogged-up glass I could see the letters. WKAP.
The drive home was almost as surreal. The wiper blades were beating a path across the windshield, slinging water left and right, hardly able to keep up with the downpour. With each swipe a girl, and now even boys, would appear on the sidewalk, each different than the one before. They all wore the same black shirt with the same white letters. Then with the swipe in the opposite direction, the blade would erase the one and bring another. Then just as quickly it would wipe her (or him) away and bring another. Yet, when I looked in my rearview mirror, trying to see through the water streaming down the back window, I thought I saw the sidewalks crowded with the girls and boys, all soaked, all wearing the same shirts.
The radio was no comfort. Stations that normally played music 24/7 were all static. I hit the search button but the radio did not stop on any station. I switched to AM and got the same result. Frustrated, I hit the power button. Fitting in with the rest of my morning but making no more sense than anything else that had happened, the radio came to life.
“…Are unsure of the circumstances surrounding her death. We will keep you posted as we learn more. Right here on WKAP.”
No, the station’s call letters were not lost on me. The chill that ran up my spine, for the second time that morning, directed my right arm to reach up and hit the search button again. This time it quickly landed on a clear frequency. And thankfully, it was music.
“And is it getting harder to pretend/That life goes on with you in the wake/And can you see the means without the end/In the random frantic action that we take.”
The music and the singer’s voice were mesmerizing. I didn’t recognize the tune but felt that I had heard her before. And though I wanted to listen to more, my finger pushed the search button again. A new station.
“Mary have mercy now look what I’ve done/But don’t blame me because I can’t tell where I come from/And running is something that we’ve always done/Well and mostly I can’t even tell what I’m running from.”
Is that the same person? I thought. It certainly seemed like it was and I remember thinking how weird that was. I pressed the button again.
“As I wake up - two o’clock - the fire burned the block but ironically/Stopped at my apartment and my housemates are all sleeping soundly/And nobody deserves to die, but you were awful adamant/That if I didn’t love you then you had just one alternative.”
I was entranced then. I had stopped driving, stopped in the middle of the street, rain pouring down, girls and boys walking by in droves, many walking up to my car, just standing there. All the while, the radio stations were changing on their own, and the same voice kept singing.
“But who needs love when there’s Law & Order/And who needs love when there’s Southern Comfort/And who needs love at all.”
“And Blake’s been having trouble with his head again/He takes his pills but never takes his medicine.”
“It is so simple/The way they fall/No bang or whimper/No sound at all.”
“So what’s the use of going outside?/It’s so depressing when people die in real life.”
“I suffer mornings most of all/I feel so powerless and small.”
“Common sense may tell you/That the ending will be sad.”
“I’ve had better days but I don’t care.”
“But it’s better to waste your day watching the scenery change at a comatose rate.”
“Can’t we just wait together?/You bring the smokes, I’ll bring the beer.”
And a different voice, a reporter.
“…Are unsure of the circumstances surrounding her death. We will keep you posted as we learn more. Right here on WKAP.”
I blinked then and looked up to see the girls and boys surrounding my car. They weren’t threatening, just standing so I could read their shirts, which were all the same.
Another blink of my eyes had me standing outside my apartment door. Unsure of how that happened, I looked around the hallway. The quiet was unusual. No crying baby from the Walker’s apartment down the hall. No slamming door from John leaving Jane for the 100th time. No Mrs. Anderson peeking out her door and asking me to watch television with her because she’s been so lonely since Mr. Anderson died.
More unusual was that every door, with the exception of my own, was now painted black. Adorning each door, with the exception of my own, was a wreath, each draped in a ribbon, each ribbon bearing the letters WKAP.
Luckily, my apartment was normal. Well, at least it appeared that way. No girls and boys were roaming around, appearing and disappearing. No strange radio transmissions, with vague news reports or songs from the same woman.
I tried to forget my weird morning. I turned on the lights, kicked off my shoes, plopped down on the sofa and hit the power button on the television remote. Nothing. I hit it again and the apartment lights flickered. Again. Flicker. Again. Flickered out.
As the lights went out, the TV came on. Snow. I changed the channel. Snow. Changed. Snow. Again, again, again. Snow every time.
I hit the power button in disgust knowing there was no way I could get anyone to check the cable on a Sunday. Only then, instead of switching off, the channel tuned in. It was a newscast, but instead of the typical-looking anchors, one of the black-haired, black-shirted girls sat behind the desk.
“The body was found in a dumpster behind the Dairy Mart, but authorities are unsure of the time or cause of death,” the girl said. “If anyone has any information, please call WKAP immediately.”
On screen next to the girl was the photo of a young woman, beaten and bloody and barely clothed.
I hit the power button again. The channel changed. Now it was a different girl, wearing the same black shirt, with a different photo.
“The body was found on a bench in Woodland Park, but authorities are unsure…”
What? I thought. That’s the same woman, but how could she be found in two different places?
I hit the power button again. The channel changed again. This time the anchor was a boy in the black shirt. He was talking about the dead woman. This time she had been found hanging from a lamppost in the town square.
Found in the restroom of a local gas station.
Found in the pond at the old Johnson place.
Found in the gutter at the intersection of Main and Elm.
“What the hell is going on?”
I stood, continuously punching the power button on the remote, the channel continuously changing to another report of the same woman being found dead, each instance in a different place.
The channel changing stopped on a live report. The reporter was on the scene of the discovery. She wore a black trench coat and was standing in the pouring rain, with no other protection from the elements. Her long black hair was hanging around her face. Behind her the same (or seemingly the same) girls and boys in black shirts with the letters WKAP walked up and down, back and forth.
“The body was found here, on the steps of 123 Lexington Avenue, but authorities are unsure of the time or cause of death.”
I dropped the remote, and the TV clicked off.
They found the body here? I thought. What the hell is going on?
I went to the front window. The rain was coming down hard, but I could see the reporter on the opposite side of the street, facing…well, facing nothing, no camera, no satellite truck, nothing. I could make out on the back of her coat the same letters, WKAP. And walking around her were the hundreds of girls and boys in black shirts.
A bang on the door.
I turned, but couldn’t move.
I found some nerve and walked slowly to the door. I leaned forward, listening.
I jumped back. The rain continued to pound on the windows. I leaned in again. This time, nothing.
I slowly moved to look through the peep hole. The hall was filled with the girls and boys. I watched them, transfixed by the black shirts, until they became a blur.
I was startled out of my trance.
It was coming from inside the apartment. I turned and listened.
I walked to the bedroom.
I stood there listening. Just rain.
“I’m losing my mind.”
I walked slowly, pushed open the door and saw…
I walked to the sink and looked in the mirror.
Why are my eyes bloodshot? Why is my skin so ashen?
I turned the water on, leaned over and rinsed my face. As I leaned back up…
I turned to the shower where the curtain was pulled closed.
“My darling,” came a woman’s voice from behind the curtain.
I reached over, grabbed the vinyl and pulled. Lying in the bottom was the same young woman from the news reports. Dead.
I leaned over to get a closer look. The shower was full of leaves and the woman wore a summer dress. Her skin was the color of the dead.
My legs gave out and I collapsed to the floor. I was crying.
The girls and boys, wearing the black shirts, flooded into the bathroom.
The young woman opened her eyes, and through my tears I saw her stand.
“My darling,” she said.
I closed my eyes, and then…
I opened them and was back at the diner, sitting in my normal booth by the window, notebook and pen on the table. The day was sunny, and the patrons and staff were following their normal routine.
I looked around, wondering if it had all been a dream. Did I fall asleep here?
It seemed possible, but how long had I been out? There was rain before, but sun now. It could have been hours.
What the hell happened?
“Are you okay?” the young waitress asked. “Can I get you anything else?”
“What?” I turned to look at her. “Oh, no. Thank you. I’m fine.”
She set the check on the table, smiled and walked away.
I looked out the window again. There she was, the girl with the black shirt emblazoned with the letters WKAP. She looked right at me. The TV overhead spouted the news.
“It’s been two months since the gruesome discovery,” the reporter said. “But the world’s question remains. Who killed Amanda Palmer?”
And the girl smiled.
Song lyrics contained in this story are copyright Amanda Palmer. For more information on Amanda Palmer and her album "Who Killed Amanda Palmer?", visit www.amandapalmer.net or www.whokilledamandapalmer.com.