The World Before This One

by Jon Chopan Read author interview December 15, 2008

He is out there and he is coming. They will, well after you’re dead, call him the Genesee River Killer. All serial killers get names.

It is 1988 and I am sleeping at my best friend’s house. I am eight years old. You are not coming home. They will not catch this man, this killer, not until two years later. Everyone in my grade school finds out. At ten, I am reminded of your body found in the river. Every night I see you floating and moving in the current, a piece of driftwood, eaten away by the river teeth.

This is not some childhood nightmare about monsters, is not residue from a scary movie. I am not trying to sleep in your room tonight. I am writing from the future, writing with the voice of my classmates in my head, who knew, who whispered it in the hallways and on the playground. “Murdered.” I have reread the headlines and you are still there. He comes at night. March 3rd, 1988. It is cold and the streets are dusted with snow. He brings you to the river, drags you through the woods and muddy banks. He is a fisherman. He knows the places to hide and knows where to go so he can take his time. He will have his way with you, cut you like something pulled from the water, like some piece of prey on the end of a line.

Erase every misstep that leads you to the water or puts you in harm’s way. Don’t work at night when the traffic is heavy and the “John’s” come more willingly. Don’t think arming yourself will save you. Don’t think the police are going to stop this. They have refused to hear me, have turned away my letters of warning.

Warn the girls you work with. Because, you are first. He is going to kill eleven of them, including you. And do this for me: go back to school. Move in with friends. Visit the art gallery. Go to the zoo. Get caught stealing from the public market and spend a night, this one night in 1988, in jail. Grow a garden and spend your time tending it. Buy a big house in a suburb. Paint it blue or pink to piss off the neighbors. Marry for money. Have affairs. Buy lottery tickets. Show up in my class when I am ten. Show everyone that you are alive.

I cannot stop him. I am only here to warn you: he is coming like a thunderstorm that does not announce itself, soaks all the clothes hanging on the line, traps people out walking their dogs, fills our shoes, yours and mine, so full of water that we are forever wet to the bone.

About the Author:

Jon Chopan is from Rochester, New York. His work has appeared and is forthcoming in The Disability Studies Quarterly, Monkeybicylce, Redivider, Sub-Lit, Swink, and Word Riot. Jon is currently working on a collection of short stories set in Rochester.

About the Artist:

Robinson Accola creates artwork for SmokeLong Quarterly as needed.