Illustration by Dominic De Venuta

THERE ARE CURES for being a terrible person. And I was a terrible person.

One could psychoanalyze the "whys" all day—but the long and the short of it is that I loved terrorizing people. The feeling was more electric than sex. Sex sated animal urges, but scaring people fed my intellect and ego. Humans so rarely lose control—that moment when the brain can't process what's happening, so it shuts down, flicking the switch over to primal function. And when someone—me—can cause that to happen... when I can actually change another person's motor functions right before my eyes? That's some god-like behavior right there, my friend. And when it's accompanied by a blood-curdling scream?

Magic.

I was terrible. I snuck into your house and waited, hiding behind the door with an axe. I lured you into a deserted elementary school, chasing you through the building with hedge clippers. I waited underneath your bed for 30 minutes... until you were allllmost asleep... and then quickly reached up, clamping down hard on your arms. All of this required intense preparation, and yielded pleasing and (to my mind) hilarious results. But my favorite trick was "The Trunk"—mostly because of its simplicity.

You are a creature of habit. You generally go to the grocery store on the same day, at the same time. Some of you go at night. Many of you transport groceries in the trunk of your car, taking two bags at a time into the house. You leave the trunk open between trips, because... who needs the hassle, right?

I hear a slight "whuff" as you lift two bags from the trunk and then the "crunch, crunch" of your steps moving toward your front door. The car issues a small moan as I climb in and nestle myself among the remaining bags.

I love the moment before you return. Staring up past the lid of the trunk at the starry sky, the slight discomfort of a tire iron sticking in my back, and the excitement of what's to come pressing hard on my bladder. (I always forget to pee first.)

Then, the "crunch, crunch" of your feet. I hold my breath. The shape of your body moves into view, blocking a section of stars. It's so dark in the trunk, isn't it? Your eyes still haven't adjusted from the kitchen's bright light.

Your hand reaches in... and grabs my leg. I don't move—I want to enjoy that moment of you, processing. Your breath catches—not out of fear, not yet. Your brain is too busy with other things, trying to solve the Rubik's Cube of what your fingers are touching. It's just for a second, really—but I wait. I wait for the moment you let go and touch another part of my leg. That's when your brain realizes it's not imagining things, the microsecond it knows something is not right. That's when I scream.

Though it doesn't necessarily have to be a scream. Sometimes I prefer a loud, deep-sucking inhale—it's practically unrecognizable as a human sound, sending your brain into an even deeper spiral of confusion. It depends on you, though. If I think you have a hearty constitution, the noise will be much louder than if I suspect you have a history of heart problems.

It's so important to trust one's instinct here. The sound and type of the scream; the way my body rises from the trunk (stiffly, unnaturally, letting my head snap into place after my shoulders); the quick grab of your arms (applying extra pressure with the middle fingers for no other reason than to further stimulate your already over-stimulated cerebral cortex). Do I hold you there? My deep, retching scream exploding in your face? Or do I yank you forward, pulling you into the trunk with me? Depends. And it doesn't matter. These are just minor flourishes to be remembered fondly at a later date. What matters is the most magical moment of this entire experience: Watching your face as your brain goes... snap!

The switch flips, and a signal is sent. First to the deepest region of your brain, the amygdala, which instantly decides whether you should "freeze," "fight," or "flee." Seven times out of 10 you freeze (at which point I hug you tightly and whisper in your ear, "Did you remember to get the milk?"). Two times out of 10 you flee (at which point—if unrecognized—I climb calmly out of the trunk, walk home, and never speak of what happened here again).

Unfortunately, there is also the "one time out of 10."

That's the time you slammed the trunk down hard on my skull, ignoring my screams of pain, and my plaintive cries of, "It was just a joke." You left me in there for three hours—never mind the frozen pizzas slowly spoiling underneath my nose. Never mind that I had my own fears to contend with—primarily claustrophobia—that squeezed tight against my lungs in the darkness, convincing me the percentage of oxygen in that tiny space was dropping by the second; that my muscles began to spasm from lack of movement because I can't move, I can't move, oh god I can't move; and every moment I remained in that skintight blackness, it wrapped itself tighter and tighter around my throat, unsuccessfully choking down my panic and constant screams for help; while all I heard from outside my vacuum-packed prison was a single word:

"No."

Being terrible does have a cure. And the cure was you.