Evil Inside You

She’s nine years old, but she looks even younger. Brown doe eyes; perfect, ringlet curls. Rosy cheeks and an impish smile.

She could be anyone’s daughter.

But there’s more to this girl than just an angelic cuteness and implied sweetness: She’s also a serial killer.

“Can you tell me how many people you’ve killed?” the straight-faced newswoman asks. It’s a horrible question to ask anyone, but especially a nine-year-old—though it makes for a great soundbite.

She looks down at her lap with a playfully guilty smile, like she’s just been caught doing something adorable. Her legs swing back and forth. “Four,” she says. A pause. “Wait, no—five.”

“Why did you say four?”

“I forgot one,” she says, in a that-should-be-obvious tone of voice. She’s sassy. She’s a typical nine-year-old.

Except for the fact that she took her dad’s gun and, over the course of a month, somehow managed to shoot four—no, five—people.

Five people. Five.

The number flashes through your head. Five corpses in a row; five fingers on each of their hands; five little monkeys jumping on a bed.

You swallow. It’s making you nauseous just thinking about it, and yet you can’t change the channel. You’re transfixed. How can you not be? Salacious entertainment at its finest. The gun-toting little girl who made headlines, now in her first sit-down interview. The ratings would be big; her parents’ heartbreak would be bigger. That wasn’t so tragic, though. After all, they’d find the bright side. They’d use it to their advantage. They’d each write a book about her upbringing, about the aftermath. The cover would be them posing dramatically, heroically, with just a touch of spirited defiance. The title would be something like, Mothering a Monster. Or Raising Evil. Or maybe, The Ones Left Behind. Something eye-catching; maybe a double-entendre or a pun. The greedy publishers would profit, the parents would profit, the TV network airing this godawful special would profit, and all would gladly exploit the exploits of this one murderous child. At least until her relevance faded and the next tawdry tragedy took over the headlines.

“How did you feel, when you killed those people?”

“How did I feel?” She stares off into space a moment, then shrugs. “I felt okay. Well actually, I felt good, really good.”

“You did?”

She nods. “Uh-huh. Like . . . I dunno, it was like playing a really fun video game.”

“But you knew this was real-life, didn’t you? That these were really people, with real lives?”

“I’m not stupid.” She makes a face, wrinkling her freckled nose with dismay. “Of course I knew that. But I didn’t—well, I didn’t really care about any of that.” Another shrug.

“Looking back on it now, how do you feel about what you did? Do you feel regretful, or sad for the people who lost their lives?”

She smiles. She fucking smiles. Then she says, with crystalline clarity, “I’m sad I got caught. But I don’t feel sad for the people, and I don’t regret killing them. It was fun.”

A chill runs up your spine.

Even the interviewer—who has, thus far, behaved with remarkable distance and indifference—looks taken aback.

You stare at the little girl on the screen, scrutinizing her, trying to make sense of what she is. Well, at least I’m not that bad, you think. Is it wrong that relief is flooding through you? That you’re so, so grateful to not be in the same category as this girl?

Some people would say you are, of course. Some people wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the two of you. They’d label you both monsters and lock you up for good. Maybe they’d even have more sympathy for this girl—at least she’s young. At least she has that as an excuse. What’s yours?

But you know you’re not like her. You know you’re different. You’re not as heinous. You’re not that evil.

Or at least that’s what you tell yourself.


The grocery store is overly bright and oddly cheerful. Elevator music plays as you stroll through the aisles, keeping your head low and your eyes focused on the racks of food. You absently put some cans of soup in your cart. Your arms are coated in a layer of sweat, the little hairs standing at attention. You swallow the lump in your throat and try to solider on.

But everywhere, there’s people. They’re staring. You know they’re staring, and judging, and it’s crazy, but you could swear they know exactly what you’ve done. You could swear they know about the skeletons in your closet (literal skeletons, though figurative closet). They know, and they’re wordlessly scolding you for it. Their eyes scorch with judgement, burning and branding your back. We know.

You swallow again. A conspicuous, guilty swallow. Your eyes flit back and forth, trying to keep tabs on the people around you as they’re surely keeping tabs on you—aren’t they?

You never used to be paranoid. Of course, back then, you had nothing to hide . . .

You think of the girl again, the nine-year-old, the serial killer. Blond curls and evil eyes. Sick smiles. I don’t regret killing them, she said. That’s what makes you different from her. Only no one knows that. If someone were to find out what you’d done, you’d make the papers; judgement would be passed down and your name would forever be ruined.

But you regret it. That’s the thing.

How can they judge you, hate you, tear you apart, when you regret it? It’s not right. It’s not fair.

You start down another aisle. Footsteps follow you; they’re heavy and reverberate in your ears. Who is that? You don’t want to risk turning around—it’ll look too incriminating. Still, the question lurks in your mind, haunting you. The person’s shadow—for a brief moment—appears ahead of you and you almost jump. Go away, you silently urge them.

The paranoid thoughts take over:

I’m being followed.

It’s a cop.

They know, they all know.

They’re here for blood.

They’re full of judgment.

They all fucking know.

You turn toward a rack of spices, your back facing the person, your cart at your side. You try to breathe as quietly as possible, to keep your cool. You try to wait them out.

“Excuse me?”

The voice seizes you. It’s deep and throaty and hurts your head. You don’t turn around—you can’t. You’re gripped with fear. You wish you had a weapon. The problem would be solved if you had a weapon. See, that’s the thing: Some problems can only be solved with violence; with weapons; with death. You don’t want to, and you never feel good about it. You always regret it. But that doesn’t change the fact that those problems exist, and God, it’s just so much easier to take care of them that way.

“Excuse me?” The voice again. You can barely speak, the fear’s so strong.

But your voice comes around. It’s whispery, shaky, but you manage to get out the word, “Yes?”

“Could you move your cart? It’s just sorta . . . in my way.”

Relief seeps through you. You oblige hastily, still refusing to look at the person. You pretend to be too fascinated with the paprika to acknowledge their thanks, and don’t move an inch until you’re certain they’ve walked away.

Then you rush through the rest of the store, grab your groceries and pay.


You jiggle your foot as you sit in the waiting room. A fish tank nearby keeps you company, along with some outdated magazines. Otherwise, it’s empty, and that’s good—that’s great. People are always your downfall.

The nine-year-old girl’s on your mind. Her words; her smile. The interview. Her victims. All of it. She’s on your mind all the time lately; she’ll pop into your head at the weirdest times, like when you’re brushing your teeth or driving, and then she won’t leave. She’s malevolent and frightening, and at times you worry she’s far, far too much like you.

Suddenly your name is called. You go inside.

Your psychiatrist greets you. It’s pleasant but stiff, nice though formal. You sit down, and so does she, and it’s quiet for a moment. She asks how things have been going, and you say “well” even though they haven’t been well for a long, long time.

She doesn’t know, of course. About what you do—what you did, past-tense. You don’t do it anymore. You haven’t for three months, fourteen days. And that’s something, isn’t it? Yeah, that’s something.

You’d like to tell her, but you can’t. You can’t tell anyone. You’re a coward, that’s the thing. As much as you’d love to get it off your chest, to scream the words and let the burdensome secret out of your grip, you know the repercussions are too great. And it’s not that you think you’re too good for prison: You know you deserve to spend time in jail. But you’re terrified, and who wouldn’t be? Who wouldn’t want to avoid prison when possible?

So the secret remains, tucked away in the farthest, darkest corners of your mind, along with that nine-year-old’s smile and glib admission of no remorse.

I’m not like her.

“Is everything all right?” the psychiatrist asks. “It seems like you’re holding back. Like you’re not telling me something.”

You let out a breath, fighting with the words. “Have you ever . . . had something to do—something really, really hard to do—and you knew it was the right thing, but you didn’t want to do it because it was so incredibly hard, so you did the wrong thing instead?” The question is strange and poorly-worded; it comes out a rush, a jumble for her to detangle, and you can’t meet her eyes as you say it.

There’s a pause. It’s agonizing.

Then: “Well, I think we’ve all wrestled with that sort of dilemma. The right thing to do is often the hard thing to do—that’s why so many of us make poor choices and do bad things, I suppose.” She smiles. It’s soothing and kind and makes you feel better.

“So what should I do?” you ask.

“Well, could you be a bit more specific and tell me what, exactly, you’re wrestling with?”

“I’d really prefer not to.”

“You sure?”

You nod.

Thankfully, she doesn’t press it. “Then my general advice for your general problem would be that, if this is a dilemma with a clear, obvious right thing to do and wrong thing to do, as you say it is, then it’s really not a dilemma. You know the answer, and doing what’s right—no matter how difficult it may be—is the best thing in the long run. Just take a deep breath and put your mind to making that choice.”

You stare at the floor. Your eyes shift around, hazy and clouded, and you nod again. “Thanks,” you tell her. “I’ll do that.”

But you know you won’t.


There’s a place you go to clear your head. It’s a beach of sorts, only smaller and shabbier, with rough, jagged rocks leading to only the smallest scrap of smooth, warm, golden sand and water. Because it’s small and unimpressive, and almost impossible to reach, few people know about it and even fewer ever use it.

You, however, go often.

It’s a place of contemplation and quiet, a place where you can be alone with your thoughts. You go there after your visit to the psychiatrist, and you dip your feet in the water. A breeze drifts over you. You close your eyes and inhale the salty air.

Three people. Not so dreadful, really. Not as bad as five. The girl killed five, within one month. You killed three within a year.


That word makes it dreadful. Three people doesn’t sound so bad; killed three people sounds reprehensible. You can already imagine the judgment, the scorn, the trial. You wonder distantly if your state has the death penalty . . .

Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Even terrible serial killers get girlfriends and book deals and groupies. Not the right kinds of groupies, granted, but groupies nonetheless. It’d be nice to have fans—even nihilistic, unhinged fans. Right?

You’d get letters. You’d get rubbernecks paying you visits. Sure, you’d have no family or real friends, but it’s not like you have either of those things right now. Would your life be that much worse if you confessed? At least then you wouldn’t have to live with the guilt, the fear, the paranoia. That would certainly be an improvement.

Still, prison. Prison’s bad. Spending your entire life in prison is worse.

And there’s no beach in prison. There’s no water rushing over your toes, no salty air, no warm, golden sand. There’s no hope.

And it was only three people. Not five.


Your drive to the cemetery is long and winding. It’s not very scenic and you feel vaguely carsick the whole time, but that’s the price you must pay, and anyway, it feels oddly good to feel terrible—like you’re getting what you deserve, even if just some small fraction.

When you get there, you step out and walk over to the grassy place full of headstones and the looming feel of death hanging in the air. You walk along a pebble-riddled pathway, passing weeping willows and weeping families dressed in black. You’re holding a bouquet of flowers and your heart’s beating faster than normal.

You get to her grave and the world is still for a moment. Tranquil and solemn, stoic and respectful. You bow your head as you stand over the headstone, your grip on the flowers tightening.

Her name was Sandra. She was the first. You swore, at the time, she’d be the only one, that it would never happen again—but then one thing led to another, and . . . and that was that.

But Sandra was a lovely girl. She had a sweet smile and long hair and a butterfly tattoo. She wore a lot of jewelry. She liked purple eyeshadow, even though it looked terrible on her. She had a loud laugh. She was funny and insightful and smart. She liked books. She spoke Italian.

Sandra was a person. She existed, and would still exist if it wasn’t for you.

You two were close. You liked her. You thought she was fun, although you also thought she could be a bitch sometimes, sure—but isn’t everyone? People have bad days. No one deserves to die for it.

Sandra did, though.

You lay the flowers at her grave and suddenly it seems too small and meager, too meaningless a gesture. Sorry I killed you, but at least I got you a nice bouquet! It’s cringeworthy and tasteless, and if there’s a heaven, Sandra would probably be looking down and shaking her head. And if there isn’t . . . well, that would be even worse.

You find yourself crying. Tears pour down your cheeks like an unstoppable flood, and you hate yourself for crying when you know you have no fucking right, but are also so, so glad that you still care. That being at her grave still tortures you, that you still regret her death with every fiber of your being.

You hear the crunch of gravel as someone walks up the path, and dart away from her grave quickly, heading over to a nearby willow tree. You lean against the trunk and stare out into the field of graves, holding back your tears.

The person walks over and comes to stand right at her grave, where you’d been moments before. You don’t want to turn and look, though your curiosity is immense.

When the person speaks, you recognize the voice: “Hey, Sandy.” It’s her fiancé. Her former fiancé, a friend of yours, someone you used to hang out with. Someone you lied to. “Looks like you got some flowers. That’s nice.” His voice is sad and pitiful, different than it had been. You remember seeing him in the days after her death, the heavy circles around his eyes, the sadness, the weight of his burden and misery. “I never got to say goodbye,” he’d confided in you.

And you’d said nothing.

“I still think about you every day,” he tells her grave, speaking softer now, aware of your presence—though not aware of who you are—and not wanting to embarrass himself. “I can’t possibly tell you how much I miss you, but . . . I really, really do. All the time, too.” He sniffles. He’s crying, and he can barely speak, but he keeps going. “I’ll find out who did this someday, I promise you. I’m so sorry, Sandy. I’m so sorry this happened.” He starts sobbing, and you can’t listen to it anymore so you walk away, hurrying from the scene before he realizes who you are.

It’s not until you get to your car that you fully and freely let yourself cry.


There’s a sea of words swirling around your brain, and none of them are yours.

There’s the words of Sandra’s fiancé, quiet and devastated. There’s the words of the psychiatrist. There’s the words of the nine-year-old serial killer during her interview.

“How did you feel when the truth came out? When people realized what you’d done?” the interview had asked her.

She’d looked around, calm and collected, vaguely bored by the whole thing. “I mean, I was mad,” she started, then paused, reconsidering. “I was really sad, too. But mostly I was angry. I was upset. I didn’t want to be caught, I mean, I didn’t . . .” She trailed off. Her eyes drifted away, staring into space.

The interviewer had to prod her to keep going: “So you really did not want to be caught.”

Of course I didn’t.”

“And had you not been caught, you don’t think you ever would’ve confessed? There was no part of you that felt guilty or wanted to tell the truth about who had done these crimes?”

She wrinkled her nose and shook her head with all the strength and certainty a girl her age could muster. “Definitely not,” she said. “Never. Never, never ever.”

She didn’t feel guilt. She didn’t feel regret, or remorse. She never would’ve turned herself in.

And that’s what makes you different.

You take a deep breath and get out the car, her words and Sandra’s fiancé’s words floating around your head. Sandra’s face, and the other victims’ faces. Each of them, gone, dead, taken away by you.

You walk into the police station. Your shoulders are sagging with guilt and grief, but you feel, for the first time, hopeful. You feel, for the first time, that redemption might be just within reach.

It only takes one confession.