In our fiction we allow our characters to trust their gut instincts. But in the real world, do we always listen to our gut? Or do we make excuses? Thus, making it easy for psychopaths to lure us into their deadly web.
Imagine, if you will, that you find yourself single after ten years of marriage. You’ve got a good job, are self-assured, and your peers consider you to be of above-average intelligence. You’re not really into the bar scene, but your girlfriends convince you that it’ll be good for you.
Reluctantly, you agree.
The night air is gorgeous tonight, around sixty degrees, low humidity, a full moon spreading its glow over the main entrance to Peter’s Bar and Grill. Seems like a decent place with upstanding citizens.
Halfway into the night, a man approaches your table. Clean cut, short hair, none of those bad boy tattoos your mother warned you about. He offers to buy you a drink. At first, you hesitate. Do you want to accept a drink from a stranger?
The man extends his hand. “I’m Greg. It’s lovely to meet you.”
Aww, he seems sweet.
He drags over a chair. Now you’re obligated to chit-chat because he bought the drink that you’re enjoying. Without warning, your friends storm the dance floor to give you two space to get to know each other. Your gut is warning you, “This isn’t right. You should leave.” But he’s so charming. It seems everything out of this man’s mouth is exactly what you’d longed to hear in your dead-end marriage.
He buys you another drink, and then another, and then another. Each cocktail goes down smoother than last. You’re giggling like a schoolgirl at her first co-ed dance. From your peripheral vision, you catch a glimpse of your friends at a table by the door. For a moment, a tiny voice inside you says, “You should join them.” But Greg is so attentive and complimentary. You give him your full attention.
You laugh at all his jokes, flirt a bit. The way he makes you feel…his laugh sends flutters to your belly, his smile warms your heart. After all you’ve been through, you deserve to be happy.
The bartender announces, “Last call.”
Is it really that late? Geesh, you haven’t been out this late in years. The notion tickles you. Being naughty is fun.
With his seductive eyes and thick lashes, Greg convinces you to have one more round. What the hell? You only live once.
The house lights brighten the bar. Everyone’s skin looks shockingly-white, their pupils dilated from the fluorescents.
God, your makeup must be a mess. “Will you excuse me for a minute, Greg?” He pulls out your chair and you bustle into the bathroom to freshen up, praying to all that is holy that you’re not swaying in your heels.
In front of the vanity you stare at your reflection in the mirror. What are you doing? You’re not a kid anymore.
Knuckles rap on the door.
A shot of panic strikes your core, and you call out, “Someone’s in here.”
Footfalls fade into the background noise.
You shrug off the paranoia and comb your hair, fix your bangs, and reapply your makeup, check your teeth for lipstick, and out the door you stroll with your head held high. On the way to the table you’re careful in your heels. One slip in the wrong direction and the night could catapult into one of the most embarrassing of your life. Sailing across the room and landing face-down in the hardwood with your skirt hiked up around your waist is not how you yearn to end your evening.
At the table, you lower to your chair and steeple your hands over crossed legs, your foot playfully swinging one heel. Greg has his cell phone to his ear, and you can’t help but overhear his conversation. “I told you, I’d deal with her later. Why are you always all over my shit?” With an erect finger he punches the off button, clearly pissed off about something.
When his gaze meets yours, his facial muscles ease. A warm smile toys with the corners of his lips. “So,” he says, breaking the awkward silence, “you ready to get outta here?”
“I meant, I could give you a lift home. Nothing more.”
You scan the room for your friends, who are nowhere. “Well, uh, sure. I think my friends deserted me anyway.” You lean forward and lower your voice. “Say, you’re not—” a nervous giggle escapes from deep inside— “a mass murderer or anything, right?”
Greg waves a dismissive hand. “Be serious.”
Even though that tiny voice inside notices he never answered the question, you accompany him to his vehicle, a newer model Mercedes with tinted windows.
Hmm…he must have a good job. See? You had nothing to worry about. He really is perfect.
A few miles down the road you instruct him to, “Take a right at the lights.”
Gas pedal floored, he blows through the lights.
You swivel in your seat and peer out the back windshield as the road sign gets farther and farther away. “You missed my turn.”
“Did I? Don’t worry. I know a shortcut.”
You take one last glance through the back windshield, every bone in your body screaming to jump from the speeding car. Perhaps you’re overthinking this. He missed one turn. No big deal.
You face front because you don’t want to accuse the man that has offered to drive you home. You’re probably being paranoid again. Damn broken marriage. You’ve lost your drive for adventure, your ability to live free, wild, let loose and have a good time.
When the Mercedes veers onto a dirt road through the woods, panic drums at your ears, blood sluices through your veins. Still convincing yourself that this is all in your head, you manage a confident front. “Where’re we going, Greg?”
Slam. He backhands you in the face and shatters your nose. Whoosh. The entire world spins on its axis. Cupped hands over your nose, warm blood pours through your fingers. Over and over you tug the door handle.
With a closed fist you pound on the passenger window.
Greg grabs handfuls of hair and yanks your head backward. Eerily calm, he looms over your face like storm clouds over an unmerciful sea. “You aren’t goin’ anywhere, bitch.” He lets go, and you freeze. You can’t speak, scream, or cry for help.
Why are you just sitting there? Run. Now.
The headlights shut down. Robotically he slides the shifter into park and rotates toward you. He smirks—snide and cold—and your heart skids to a stop. A gazillion things race through your mind in the course of a few seconds. Why you? You’ve been good your whole life. How did you let this happen? Oh, no! What’s he gonna do next?
The final question only lingers until the moonlight bounces off the sharp blade that Greg levels at your throat. Silent and swift, he draws the knife across your jugular.
As your lifeblood spurts on the glass, all doubt washes away like watercolors left outside in the rain. This moment—right here and now—is your last.
Let’s test your gut. At which point did you seal your own fate?