Autumn Rinaldi

The August Editor's Pick Writer is Autumn Rinaldi

Please feel free to email Autumn at: autumnroseimages@hotmail.com


by Autumn Rinaldi

“Did you see anything out of the ordinary?”

That question was put to me at the start of the trial, and then again when one lawyer stepped down and the other stood up. 

On the stand, I had difficulty following the questions, and they were all about me. So I drifted off a few times and they had to redirect me. This caused more whispering in the audience.

I’d tried to concentrate on the legal rhetoric. Miss Thang presented the evidence to the jury: she had on sky-high heels and a bright, purple sundress, appropriate for our usual scorching Arizona broil. But in the dim courtroom, people coughed and look away. I made up a doozy of a story about her: once nightfall came, she traded in her sundress for leather and rode across the desert on a diamond-studded dune-bike and negotiated with pirates.

The courtroom photo of me in the paper was enough to confirm my need of plastic surgery. I looked as if my chin had seeped into my neck, and I’m not even thirty-five. My photo last year on The Fantasticks marquee last year had been airbrushed, so my smile lines were gone. I sang in that show, only a bit part, but I always look ten years older on stage. My mother always said I examine myself too closely, but that’s what actors do; they look too close, and fake their way out of dangerous situations.

The papers said that’s why I got off scot-free, because I am a celebrity.


Did you see anything out of the ordinary that night?

I had seen something out of the ordinary as I’d entered our apartment the night when everything changed: a stray cat with white and black patches hanging out on the porch, and I had thought of our old cat Milky Way, how she turned up her nose at my mother’s chicken livers but loved those smelly, cheap cans of cat food.

The cat on the porch was out of the ordinary, and so was the package on the doormat, because Mike always got home before I did. He’d have to step over the package to get inside our apartment, or rather, he’d trip over it if he didn’t see it first—his feet could find a hairline fracture on a showroom floor. Mike was the most accident-prone person I’ve ever met, but he had the best luck with cars. He patiently listened to them as if they were talking to him as they clanked or banged.

You could say the cat and the package were unusual, but I didn’t think the jury or the lawyers would be interested in hearing the story about how Milky Way gave birth to nine kittens one spring after a feral cat got to her, and how Mike once sent an entire showroom of glasswear flying when we were buying my Aunt Helen a retirement gift.

I left Arizona for New York as soon as the trial was over, but the papers still buzzed.

When I got to 53rd street, I looked for the man who was supposed to meet me; on the phone he said he was tall and would be wearing a yellow hat. I was reminded of Curious George and the man with the same description of hat who was always bailing that monkey out of trouble, so that’s who I pictured, but when he arrives, the guy’s hat turned out to be a ballcap with a team I didn’t recognize.

“Are you Geri Andrews?”

I always go with ‘Geri’ because it fits better on a marquee than Geraldine.

The guy eyed me. I’d heard New York City was full of suspicious characters, but he probably couldn’t decide if I was going to give him trouble or not. I handed over the month’s deposit, so that meant after he visited the bank, I’d have twelve dollars in my account.

Maybe the guy had eyed me because he remembered a picture from TV or Google News, my smile lines deepening as I told the judge and the jury and the courtroom that I most certainly did not see anything out of the ordinary when I walked into my apartment on that hot, dusty Arizona night that was darker than usual.

The yellow-hat-guy led me up a dark stairwell and I thought about the first audition I ever went to in Los Angeles, in a similar dark hallway, and I’d suddenly had the idea I might not see the light of day again. I remember remembering at that moment the made for TV movie where the young model shows up for a film test only to find out he’s a scuzzo director who makes her strip.

I wasn’t sure the yellow-hat-guy was a director, but I felt he might be a scuzzo just the same, and I gripped my car keys in my hand like makeshift brass knuckles. The-yellow-hat-guy did not react.

The upstairs hallway was a bit brighter, thanks to a shade-less window at the end of the hall, and he let me into the studio flat. For a moment I thought he conned me, but then I looked closer and saw I had my own bathroom after all; the doorway to the bathroom was just small and very low, made for short, circus people who ride around on elephants.

In the first hour in the apartment I killed three roaches. I left their carcasses on the floor to warn other potential invaders that I meant business. I think they got it, because I never saw another one for the two years I lived in that building on 53rd Street.

Except the cat and the package, there was one thing I hadn’t noticed out of the ordinary when I’d gotten home on that night when Mike was killed. I’d put the package on the table, thinking about Milky Way, so I didn’t see the clothes on the floor, clothes and underwear that didn’t belong to me or Mike.

For one thing, they were pink, a color far displaced from my wardrobe and certainly Mike’s. I didn’t see they were pink until the pictures were shown to me in the back room at the police station.

“These don’t belong to you,” the officer said, showing them to me, his question not a question. “For one thing, they belong to a…bigger girl.” He cleared his throat. “We will need you to identify a few other items.”

I did, and then I did again in the courthouse: my watch, the pink clothes, and the brown leather satchel Mike kept his laptop in, only his laptop was never found. A couple prescription bottles on the bedside table that’d spilled out in the violent attack: my birth control and Adderol, Mike’s stomach medication for when he cheats and eats something with milk in it. Sometimes I’d felt bad about cooking something with milk in it, when Mike got sick afterwards. I don’t anymore.

Our old apartment in Arizona had no initial welcoming from roaches like my new one on 53rd Street in New York. I fell asleep to the sounds of car horns and shouts and sirens on the New York streets instead of desert creatures, and debris hitting the West windows from the train’s quavering rails. Occasionally, I swore I heard Mike stumbling over something on his way to or from the bathroom, until I was awake enough to remember that Mike was dead, along with the girl in our bedroom, minus her pink clothes.

During my first week on 53rd Street, I kept getting parking tickets that I couldn’t afford. Also, I found out about Carol.

I met her for the first time in front of our building, or as she said, I ran into her. She was on her way out as I was on my way in, and it happened to be her first time outside in months to soak up some much-needed vitamin D. She screamed as if I’d set a torch to her.

“Are you trying to kill me?” she cried, recoiling.

The first thing I noticed was her gear. She wore it in her flat, too, because she said she couldn’t take the chance in case she tripped and fell, and I thought of Mike: what would have happened if he’d been born with skin like that of a butterfly’s wings that’d blister and rip open if he tripped and fell, or someone touched him, as Carol described to me, contemptibly?

“My epidermolysis bullosa,” she said, then shut her door in my face after I’d helped her pick up and bring up the stairs all the groceries she’d dropped when I “bumped into her.”

Carol’s everyday attire consisted of a soft, scuba-like foam vest that divers use to journey down to the bottom of the sea, and elbow and knee pads that made her look like a boxer who had about three months left to live. She was all bones because she was underweight; she never got enough exercise or sun, even though she was healthy otherwise, people said. Maybe Carol liked to think of herself as a butterfly; such a description of her handicap might’ve made her feel attractive.

As much as I tried to stay away from her, she was always down in the entryway the same time as me. I’d slide along the wall as far away from her as possible, but she’d brush against me and accuse me of trying to break her in half. Even when I was in my own flat with my door locked, I was afraid of hurting her: if I breathed too heavy, she’d feel it all the way up on her own floor and tear her skin off. I’d heard once about the butterfly affect, how the flapping of wings might cause a hurricane somewhere across the world, so I figured it would be my fault if they found Carol dead in her apartment.

When she invited me up to her apartment for dinner one late afternoon, I figured I’d better say yes just in case turning her down would result in some kind of internal wound that’d break her from the inside.

“I know who you are,” she said to me when she set down a platter of fried chicken. “I know what they said you did.”

“I didn’t do it,” I told her. “They just thought it was me.”

“So you didn’t do it? Really didn’t do it? Do you wish you had? When you found him in your own bed, with that skank?”

I told Carol I didn’t have the mind or the means to do two people in at once.

“Yes, you do. Everybody has a point when they’re capable of murder. Do you think the chicken is underdone?”

I told her no; the meat was practically jerky.

“I’m afraid of trichinosis. If your health was as bad as mine, you’d be taking no chances, either.”

Carol was about four feet eleven; she had to stand up on a stepstool to reach a bottle of wine on the top shelf of her cabinet. “I don’t have any room in this place, so that’s why I have to store things up here,” she explained. “But like I said, everybody has a point they reach. I reached mine fifteen years ago. The first time.”

“What happened?” I dared to ask, even though frail Carol didn’t look capable of denting a pillow. But you never know.

“I didn’t kill anyone, if that’s what you’re thinking,” Carol said. Her eyes narrowed and she tilted her head back a bit, as if she could read my thoughts if she could get a good view up through my nostrils. “But I wanted to. Like you probably wanted to.”

“I didn’t,” I told her.

“Well, I didn’t, either, I think. Go through with it. I think every wife flirts with some idea how to do their husbands in at some point. No, my breaking point was different.”

“What happened?” I repeated.

“I don’t remember,” Carol said. “I think I went mad. And I woke up on the floor, naked. My skin didn’t even hurt, can you imagine? The front door was open, and I couldn’t remember a thing from the night before. Think I turned into some kind of ugly, awful monster. Like in that movie where the wolf-man goes on a killing spree, but doesn’t remember it when he wakes up. Maybe I turned into a monster that doesn’t kill, who isn’t ugly. Think there’s such a thing as a monster that’s not ugly?”

That night I thought about Mike and what he would’ve said if he’d been on the stand at the trial for his murder, if the lawyer had asked him why I hadn’t been enough for him, why he’d needed the girl with the pink clothes. I sometimes dreamed about it, too; Mike would explain himself, and in my state of unconsciousness it would make perfect sense. Then my dream would turn into a yellowed ceiling on 53rd street and carpet that had been walked on by a hundred other tenants, and three cockroaches.

After Carol told me about her transformation, I thought about the cat and the pink clothes, and the people who’d asked me if I’d noticed anything out of the ordinary. I took off the shelf of my memory a little bit of dust-covered information that everyone had been hesitant to divulge in court.

Their wounds had been clean; the D.A. had told us it’d been done with very sharp blades, but they couldn’t find the weapon at the crime scene, except that the insides of Mike and the girl he was with didn’t stay in the bedroom—our bedroom—but trailed down the hallway scattered with our dirty laundry (which was why the pink clothes on the floor hadn’t attracted my attention), and out the door to the porch where the cat was hanging around.  

They’d found some blood on my shoes, caked in between the tread. His and hers. They’d called it that in the courtroom, as if they were items you’d receive on your wedding day, his-n-hers towels and bathrobes. But hers was that girl with pink clothes.

In the court, they explained the scene slowly, because even I could see they didn’t want to use the phrase eaten. And claws.

Because who’d win a case like that?

The first time I saw Carol change, I was in the upstairs hallway. I had no business being on her floor at all, and her apartment door was open, which was weird, because she never kept it open even just a crack, maybe to keep her skin from flying off her body from some gust that drifted upstairs to whisk her away like the Grim Reaper.

But from her doorway, I saw that her skin was falling off, or rather, cracking open. The insides of Carol were red, which I figured was the color of everybody’s insides. She wasn’t screaming but grunting, like giving out anything more than a whimper would cause her a great more deal of pain than what was happening to her at that moment.

I heard her mutter words through sticky, white slobber, even though she was turned away from me. “My skiiiin…”

She no longer looked frail. Thick streams of sweat ran from under her arm pits and down the forked ridge of her spine that stuck out like railroad bolts. Carol’s whole body shook as if she’d hooked herself up to a nearby outlet and was getting a good dose of electric shocks. She peeled out of her dead-white skin as well as her clothes of foam and rubber. A sick scent of old chicken carcasses came out to me into the hallway. Carol’s spine seemed to want to grow straight up to the ceiling, but one end was still attacked to her skull, and the other to her hipbones that had grown straight through her flesh.

I stood in the dark hallway on that rainy evening; a stream of light would have come filtering up the stairs if it’d been a bright sunset, but I don’t know that if Carol had seen me, she would’ve done me harm. She crawled past me and down the stairs, huge muscles bulging under ragged patches of hair; I heard her nails slide along the worn wood, every one of them.

The next morning I asked her about it; she stood in her gear with an indignant expression that turned thoughtful after a moment. “Well,” she answered, gently rubbing her bony shoulder. “I do feel a little sore. And I did wake up this morning naked on the floor. Wouldn’t that be something?” She paused. “What did you see? What did I do?”

Like on the stand, when the D.A. and police officers were questioned and they refrained from using claws, I hesitated. “You weren’t yourself,” I told her. “Your skin became different skin.”

“How many times have I wished for that to happen,” Carol said. “How did it change?”

I didn’t know if I should tell Carol that she had turned into a monster that crept down the stairwell of our building like a hunting dog; she felt like a monster all the time anyhow.

When I didn’t answer, Carol glared at me. “It’s happened before,” she said. “And you’re the only one who’s seen it, and you can tell me what changes about me. Did I grow wings?” she asked, her tone becoming hopeful.

“I don’t know,” I answered. How could I tell the depressed, bleached-out skeleton of a woman that she didn’t turn into a butterfly, but an ugly animal with dark, matted hair and protruding shoulder-blades, a huffing tongue dripping thick saliva?

I stayed in that building for two years, and later moved upstate after a company put me under contract for a three-season gig. I said goodbye to Carol in the entryway to our building, where I’d first bumped into her and spilled her groceries.

“I’d hug you, but my skin,” she said needlessly.

“Mine, too,” I said. I’d gotten a sunburn walking around by the Brooklyn Bridge the previous day.

“Stop by and visit sometime,” she said. I never did.


I’m almost closer to forty than thirty, now, and I feel like I’m approaching two-hundred. Mike hadn’t lived to see forty; he’d tripped over each decade with some sort of catastrophe: At ten, he fell into a bloated, freezing lake playing hockey, and they had to fish him out with long poles and a net in the shape of a hook, or else Mike, numb from the neck down, would have been dragged under the foot bridge where he would have gotten stuck underwater. At twenty, he’d skidded his motorbike and almost lost his legs. Thirty treated him to strep throat so bad, he had to spend a month in the hospital.

“I’m destined for greater things,” he had said, and other than making headlines in his murder, Mike didn’t get to see great. Neither have I. I still work in bit commercials, small yet important roles, but The Fantastics was the only marquee I’ve appeared on. I often think about Carol’s doorway, how she changed that night, and how I slip into someone’s skin for those little parts for a few hours and don’t want to take them off.

There are others of Carol’s kind—monsters who have sharp teeth—and they come from all over the place; often when I get back to the city from time to time, I watch people around me to see if I can figure out who they are, if they even know it themselves, because unless you have another pair of eyes looking in from a dark hallway, you might not know it’s you who’s the monster; you’re just sure there’s one in your life that won’t stop destroying things.

The other day, I thought I saw a man on the sidewalk who might’ve been one; he scratched at his skin from time to time, along his hairline, his wrists, and his calves. If I’d followed him to his house, I might’ve seen something later that evening like what I’d seen in the dark hallway on 53rd Street, watching through a doorway I had no business looking into. I also wondered if he’d leave a trail down a hallway and out the door for someone’s treads to walk into. A new case would open and everybody would be careful not to say claws.

We all have them; some of us don’t use them, some don’t morph completely, and some even get blamed for other people’s damage.

“Did I grow wings?” Carol had asked me; her pale eyes had glimmered with hope, and I wish now that I’d lied to her, lied to her pale face.

Yes, you grew wings. You grew wings and flew right up into the sky.

Autumn Rinaldi is a multi-award-winning writer living in St. Louis. She enjoys literary fiction, horror, suspense, and comedy. She's recently won 1st Place in the Missouri Writers Guild First Chapter Contest, Horror Division, 2nd Place in the Gateway Con Storytellers Contest, and 2nd Place in St. Louis Writers Guild Short Fiction Contest. Autumn has been published in The Indianola ReviewBareback Literary Journal, The Rusty Nail, and Weekenders Magazine. She is a member of the St. Louis Writers Guild and the (Un)Stable Writers Group.