Watching little things die was Dell’s secret hobby.
Her family was comfortably wealthy. They weren’t rich, but they didn’t have to check the bank account before buying anything, so they lived where all their counterparts lived, in a quiet, bushland suburb where none of the mums had to work, or clean, or even raise their own children. Not when they could pay others to do it for them.
This gave Dell a lot of free time, and at 15, a lot of independence.
Her school grades were above average, and her parents were too interested in their own lives to push hers too hard, as long as she wore the right clothes, showed off at all the right parties, and stayed out of all the wrong trouble, they really paid her no mind at all.
Dell was perfectly happy with the arrangement, keeping to herself and her books, playing her violin, and keeping fit with her constant bike rides to hike in the bushland that bordered the town.
She wasn’t an excitable teenager, like the TV girls, or the real life ones that paraded around at school with their lip gloss and their shortened uniforms. Dell was naturally pretty, and naturally smart, and naturally slipped under everyone’s radar.
She wasn’t popular, she just wasn’t disliked.
School was easy for her, with no real unhappiness to speak of. People just didn’t do anything for Dell. She could smile and pretend she cared about their weekend, or their party, or their newest boyfriend who they haven’t kissed yet, but his friend’s cousin told her friend’s sister that he wanted to, so they’re going to do it tomorrow at lunch time.
Dell just didn’t feel anything about it.
The only time she ever felt much of anything was when she was in the bush, wandering, searching her traps for signs of rabbits or possums, or feral cats.
She hadn’t always trapped them. She began by watching a fox tear into a rabbit one very early, misty morning, but watching was only okay, for awhile. The next time she witnessed it, she threw sticks and rocks at the fox, hoping to make it drop the squirming, fluffy, red thing.
Instead, the fox tore away with it, leaving Dell feeling anger, and frustration, and this unsatiated sense of hunger.
On her third encounter, she managed to hit the fox in the head, and it dropped its quarry and ran. Dell ran, too, scooping the squealing hare into her hands.
She sat down, crossing her legs, and laid its twitching body before her. She ran her fingertips across its fur, just brushing it, like a soft breath snuffing out a candle. Its eyes stared widely into hers, sporadic twitches giving the semblance of a fight to its slow, painful death.
Dell watched, transfixed, for an hour and a half, as the hare’s life ebbed away. She had never felt closer to any living being before this.
The next time Dell caught a fox with its kill, she won it once more, only this time, the fox had sufficiently broken its neck, and the rabbit was dead.
It was still warm, but it was dead, and boring, and gone.
She left it there, and walked home.
Two weeks later, she had made and placed her own snare. It was for a class project, her parents were told, when she asked them if they could help her make it. Of course, neither of them could, but they were sure the local hunting club would have something they could provide.
Why learn things when you can pay someone else to do them?
Dell convinced her parents to help her get the materials, and she would make it herself, from the plans provided by school. And by “school”, she meant “the internet”. They were impressed by her determination to do it properly, and eagerly complied.
Her parents were proud of her, and when Dell returned, hours after placing her snare, to find a rabbit exhausted by its attempt to escape, Dell was also proud of herself.
When the rabbit was squirming in her hands, and its tiny little heart beating hard and fast against her palm, Dell smiled, a genuine smile of feeling. Real happiness, excitement and that sense of connection simmered inside her, warming her blood.
She tightened her hands around its neck, let it hang in front of her, kicking wildly. She smiled at it before twisting her hands, breaking its neck. She didn’t break it fully, and it let out a painful wail.
Oh, that moment. That snapping, cracking, vibrating moment where her body felt the destruction of its body, where the frenzied kicking became death-throe twitching, as severed nerves sent confused and broken messages to almost-lifeless limbs.
Dell never forgot that moment.
By the time she was 18, she had become a proficient hunter, a silent killer with no requirement for the meat. Her hunger was sated by the kill itself.
By now, however, others had begun to hunger for her.
She still carried herself through school a present but unreachable girl whose eyes were always staring, through you, past you, but never at you. Her disinterest in any one person of either gender, probably because of her plain, but pretty countenance, rather than alienate her, caused them all to want her, want something from her.
She spoke, and laughed, she smiled and even instigated conversations, but she did this with everyone. There were no groups or cliques she belonged to, she just existed, and one at a time, people would go to her, for a small conversation, a chance to be the first person who could get close to her.
The popular girls tried, the quiet girls tried, the football players tried, and the bad boys tried. They all got close, but no one person got closer than another.
By the time school went back at the end of her 17th Summer, things had changed.
People began to hate her and her constant, unconscious rejection of them. They began to make life difficult for her. She couldn’t understand why, and didn’t think to ask, but over time, the taunts of the boys and the jealousy of the girls formed the picture for her, and showed her what she needed to do.
Though she hadn’t developed the ability to equate human contact with feelings of her own, she could see that others equated her every move with some kind of feeling attached to them.
In the same way she stalked her animals, to find new places for her traps, she observed her schoolmates, taking note of their reactions to her words, or her actions. When she pretended to be interested in their verbal autobiographies, their eyes lit up, like her animals, but not in the same terrified way.
Theirs lit up in an excited way, and she could see in the boys, that sometimes their eyes would go heavy and glazed, the way hers felt when she anticipated her next kill. So did a couple of the girls’.
She understood. They wanted to feel close to her.
She began to listen more to the girls, to spend time with them outside the school. They went shopping for hours. As a thing for fun – an uncomfortably foreign concept for Dell, whose mother simply brought clothes home for her. They talked about boys, and the places they had put their hands, their mouths, their cocks.
Dell knew about cocks. She had the internet. And SBS.
She just hadn’t really considered them very much. Like the rest of a human being, it didn’t seem important to her.
Apparently it was supposed to be important to girls, so she listened, and she learned. Mostly via the internet.
By the end of that first term, Dell had plans to go camping with the popular group – the footballers and the short skirts, and one of the footballers in particular had been the most insistent that she go.
Dell didn’t know if he was attractive. He was just the one she enjoyed looking at the most. He hadn’t had many girlfriends, even though he was a footballer, so Dell assumed that he mustn’t be the best of them. That didn’t bother her, she just needed to do what girls should be doing, or people would start to look too closely, start to ask questions.
In the time between the end of school and the date of the camping trip, Dell received daily visits from the boy. She didn’t dislike them, but she couldn’t see what the fuss was all about. She didn’t like that everyone else felt something that was invisible to her.
If she tried to feel things, maybe she would.
When he arrived in his car, to take her to the campsite, he told her not to worry about bringing her tent. He said there were plenty out there already, and he’d hoped she’d share his.
She smiled, hoping that was what he wanted. He smiled back, and told her to get in.
As the sun disappeared and the stars came out, Dell began to relax. She was in the bush. She knew this place. Her traps were scattered all around here, probably filled with animals, some of them already dead of shock or exhaustion.
Alcohol was flowing through her body, warming her blood and confusing her brain. Everything felt soft, and light, and… happy.
More smiles than usual lit Dell’s face, and the boy spent the night with at least one part of his body against hers at all times. His smile beamed at the night, at his friends, at the girls, at the world, because he had won that most coveted of prizes: that competition to get the girl.
He kissed her, and smiled, they drank and they laughed, and when he left Dell’s side to refill their cups, down came the flock of painted faces, babbling incoherently about Dell and the boy being “soooooo cute” and “about time”. Dell giggled and smiled with them, and soon found herself wrapped in the arms and confidences of the popular girls.
One of them. What a privelege.
When the boy asked if she’d like to go for a walk, alone, Dell knew what he intended. She knew she didn’t care either way, and she put her hand in his, and followed.
He leaned her against a tree and kissed her, and whispered words she didn’t even listen to. After a time, she discovered they were both on the ground, kissing and writhing and leaves and dirt. She really didn’t care about where his hands were going, or what they were doing.
Her body was responding, and doing the things it did when she was alone. She enjoyed that feeling, so she let him continue, kissing him when prompted, moaning as he moaned, but still not finding a connection to him.
She rolled her head to the other side to escape the small twig that had been lodged there since it began. As her eyes grazed the view beside her, they lit upon a snare, empty, and live.
Her blood began to sing with anticipation, and her eyes to glaze with feeling.
She stared at the boy, who stared back, awe widening his eyes as he witnessed present-moment life flicker in hers. She considered snapping his neck, but Dell knew how that would end. You aren’t allowed to kill rabbits in jail, so jail wasn’t the place for her.
Dell grew up, and into her body. She used it with anyone she felt like, but she didn’t use it often, preferring to be out there, holding her animals and sharing the most profound moments of their lives, so when she arrived at her trapsite to discover a man stealing one of her kills, she reacted as wildly as the thrashing animal he held.
Terror filled his eyes at the sight of the enraged woman racing toward him. He dropped the rabbit and turned to run, but she had flung herself upon his back, her fist beating against him.
He stumbled, and crashed into a tree, falling to the ground with her beneath him. He scrambled to get up, to detangle his legs from hers, but she bit him, hard in the neck.
“What are you doing you crazy bitch!?” he roared, slamming his body against hers, and hers into the tree. The breath was knocked from her lungs, and he rolled off her, panting.
She lay on the ground, clutching her chest, each breath causing her pain.
“I’m sorry lady, I just.. what the fuck, you’re fucking crazy!” he screamed, getting to his feet.
“My kill”, she panted. “You took my kill!”
“You set that trap?” he asked with a confused, shocked expression.
“I’ve been trapping here since I was 15. That was my kill and you stole it”, she said, eyes hard, her breathing harder.
“I know. I shouldn’t have. I just wanted a look at the trap. I bought this land a month ago. It’s private property. I wanted to know who was trapping, and, it’s a good trap. You really set this?” he asked again, fear replaced with curiosity.
“I made it”, Dell answered, climbing to her feet.
“Look, I don’t want any trouble with you”, the man sighed.
“I came out here because I like hunting, and I didn’t get much opportunity to do it in the suburbs. I don’t care if you hunt here, but I’d like to come with you sometime. I don’t like hunting with guns. I prefer to do it like this.”
Dell didn’t respond. She stared at him, weighing her options, and seeing a familiar gleam in his eye.
“Maybe” was all she replied, before heading back home with a new feeling inside her.