The sweltering heat from the sun fumed down on Benjamin’s back. Sweat drenched his shirt, it clung to his chest, bringing a brief cooling relief against the humid air. His flesh, once light in pigment, now seared red to the touch like burning coals. Perspiration seeped out his pores and ran off him to the earth below; the ground swallowed it up eagerly, quenching its thirst for sheer seconds before it became parched once more. His stomach churned and twisted from hunger, triggering painful spasms and bouts of nausea. He stood for a long time, his feet ached and pricked at his arches; his arms grew heavy from holding a cardboard sign all day.
Please help! Homeless and hungry, the sign read in bold black letters. It followed up with a familiar saying from the good book; Love your neighbor as you love yourself. His pocket rattled with change as he walked up and down the exit ramp on Interstate 80. Today had been particularly hard, traffic was unsympathetic to him – it was like that sometimes. On better days, he would make enough to eat and have enough left over for a snack, or the occasional beer he enjoyed if the mood was right. But today, he appeared to be invisible to the fast-paced way of life.
A maroon colored Toyota Corolla was at the front of the line, waiting for the red light to turn green. Benjamin stood next to it, leaving him only minutes to work with. He approached the drivers-side window and tapped on it gently with a knuckle. A young woman in her twenties, eyes veiled behind designer shades, did her best to avoid the drifter. Another tap followed, he waved at her, making sure she noticed him. She observed his hands; filth invaded every crevice and fold, dirt clung under every fingernail. She recoiled at the thought of having her hand meeting his. She felt sick to her stomach, fixing her eyes on the knuckle impression left on the glass. She said nothing, shaking her head at him, rejecting his inquiry.
“Change?” he asked. The woman gestured no with her head, hoping that would be enough to disassociate herself from him. She ran her fingers awkwardly through her hair.
“Mam?” he pressed on. “Please mam, I’m awfully hungry. Anything you could spare would help me greatly!” He stared up at the light – still red – he hoped there would be enough time. After giving him the silent treatment, he knocked on the glass with more urgency. She grew irritated, glancing up at the red light, cursing it for not turning quick enough.
“Mam?” he continued. The whirring of the motor dislodged the window from its frame, allowing the scorching heat to rush in and clash against the coolness of the A/C that blew inside.
“You don’t take NO for an answer, do you?” she said, impatiently. “If I wanted to give you something, anything, I would give it to you. If you’re in such need of money, why don’t you do what we all must do – get off your ass and get a job, you bum!” She pressed the lever on the door handle, the window began to rise again, cutting off the odor his body gave off. Before Benjamin could say anything, the light flashed green, and the tires of the Corolla jerked with excitement, thrusting itself forward, gaining acceleration and speeding off.
She disappeared. Benjamin couldn’t understand what he said or had done to deserve such hostility towards him. It wasn’t surprising, he’d heard it all before, but couldn’t help feeling hurt from it every single time. It was so disheartening, it felt like someone had ripped out the last bit of dignity he possessed. Being homeless was bad enough, being reminded of it by someone who had no idea of his suffering made it ten times worse.
A job? All that he could attain one. He had attempted it several times early on as a homeless person, but he soon found out no one would hire him. One time, three years back, he had inquired at a gas station about a position, pleading and explaining his situation to the store manager. It was met with negativity at the mere sight of him. Every attempt he made ended in similar fashion.
He smelled, and no matter how hard he tried to keep his hygiene in-tact, without a home or clean clothes, without running water or the necessities needed to be accepted in ‘society,’ he soon gave up on it altogether. Hunger mattered more than someone’s approval. The world was a cruel place to those who survived on the streets. What the majority did not understand, was that not all homeless were lazy and waited around for a handout. Some were the victims of hard economic times. He used to have a normal life at one time, a family and kids with a home and a good job. But bad financial decisions hit him hard, causing him to lose everything. His marriage had fallen apart when things did not pan out, which eventually caused his wife to leave, taking the children with her.
This part of his life he chose to forget. It was the only thing he could not cope with; life on the streets was unforgiving to all that succumb to it. It weakened and crept into him, made him sick and crippled. Thoughts of suicide would rush through his mind under those conditions, and life is something he still cherished, regardless of his situation. It was easier being labeled a bum as the woman had referred to him. That he could manage, it was the lowest any insult could go – his demise could go no deeper. The light blinked red again, a new vehicle pulled up, an older man this time in a green pick-up. He lifted his sign and walked over to it, still feeling the sting.
The tattered burlap sack lifted violently off his head, revealing a face so battered and bruised, that Clive was hardly recognizable to anyone who knew him. The overhead lamp, hanging from a chain suspended from the ceiling, swayed back and forth, in a circular motion. The light cast a spotlight across the concrete floor and up the stone walls. Countless dust particles, displaying their own universe of suspended vitality, came alive when encountering the light. It took Clive several minutes to make out his environment.
“Make sure to double-up on the wrists,” Tony stated. “He’s a big one, we wouldn’t want the bastard running off on us before Rob gets here, now would we?”
“He don’t scare me none,” Kim scoffed, as he stretched out the duct tape, winding it around Clive’s wrists – he flinched as the tape clamped on tight and cut off the circulation in his hands.
“Alright,” Tony said. “I’m going to do you a solid, big man. You’re going to tell me where that rat-bastard brother of yours is hiding, and I’ll spare you any further beating Rob will want to unleash on you when he gets here.” Clive’s head slumped forward, the swelling around his face seemed to add weight to it, pulling it down. His breathing was labored as his chest rose and fell. Kim landed an open palm to the side of his face when there was no answer.
“Answer the man!” he demanded. He dug his thumb into the massive lump under his right eye. Clive pulled away in pain, but Kim chased it with bad intentions.
“That’s enough,” Tony said. “He’s half-dead already from the work you did on him earlier.” He walked over to him and lifted his head, grasping a handful of hair. “Where is the rat? We’re going to find him one way or the other, save yourself the punishment. He doesn’t seem to care all that much that his baby brother is getting the living daylights kicked out of him, why should you care about keeping him safe? Brothers my ass!”
Clive swallowed. “You won’t find him,” he said, struggling to speak. “I’m the only one who knows where he is, and I’m willing to die three times over for him, you coward piece of shit!” He managed to give off a smirk from the corner of his mouth, though it was barely visible from the swelling.
Tony joined in on his amusement. “Well, we might just have to do that then, won’t we?” He turned to Kim, gesturing him to get the duffle bag from the trunk of the car outside the warehouse. Kim smiled with delight and ran off to retrieve it.
“Let’s just see how much of that brotherly love is inside that big frame of yours, shall we?” He removed his leather coat and placed it on top of some wooden crates. He rolled up his sleeves halfway up his forearms. “I ain’t no monster, I’ll have you know. People say that I’m a good egg, so if you want to reconsider, I’ll tell Kimmy there to put his toys back where he got them, and we’ll play nice. What do you say?” No answer came from Clive. Only his breathing grew, preparing himself for whatever was coming. “Suit yourself, sweet brother. Suit yourself!”
Kim returned with a bag in hand, rattling with heavy metal objects inside. “Can I do it?” he said, setting the bag on a metal table. The bag made a loud clunk. He unzipped it and rummaged through the contents hidden inside.
“Why not,” Tony said. “I’d like to see you break this one. Let’s start with something simple,” he pondered, rasping his whiskers under his chin. “I know, start with the toes.”
Kim raised his finger with excitement. “Excellent idea Tony!” He rummaged some more, then pulled out a pair of rusty bow cutters. He exercised their handles, loosening up its rusty movements into manageable strokes. “Right!” Kim continued. “Let’s get started.”
Clive’s sneakers came off, followed by his socks. He squirmed in his seat, trying to pull his ankles away from Kim’s hands trying to take hold of them. The duct tape that bound to his legs was serving its purpose, limiting his movements.
“Easy now,” Kim protested. “Take it easy, it will only hurt for a minute or two.” He belted out a sinister laugh. He grasped the handles in each hand and positioned the blades between his small toe. Clive attempted to wiggle it free, but Kim clamped the blades together, locking the toe in place. He looked up at him, smiling and displaying his discolored teeth. “Here we go, big boy!”
The bow cutters began to close, the small toe rose and straightened as the blades cut into it. Clive grunted, then followed up with a painful yell. Kim stopped momentarily and allowed the pain to pass to normal levels, before squeezing the handles again. Clive jerked and convulsed the deeper the blades sliced through his flesh. When it was over, the small toe flew off and bounced off into the darkness. Kim yelped a yee-haw and went scrambling for the severed toe. Tears ran down the sides of Clive’s face, burning his open wounds.
“The rat, where is he?” Tony said. “Well do this all night if we have to. Tell us, and well make this quick.” Clive took deep, long breaths. His fingers digging into the wooden chair handles that he was strapped into. He didn’t say a word. Tony observed him and was taken back by his willingness to not give his brother up. “You got to be kidding me?” he continued. “Fine, have it your way.” He gestured to Kim to proceed. He approached Clive with the cutters in one hand, the small toe in the other, dangling it between his thumb and forefinger. He laughed, enjoying the whole process.
The next three toes came off with excruciating pain, and each time, Clive refused to give them what they wanted. But the pain was too much to bear, and he began to fade in and out of consciousness. Tony instructed Kim to stop.
“Stubborn bastard!” he said, lighting up a cigarette. “Anyone else would have spilled it by now, it appears we underestimated our brawny friend.”
“He’ll talk!” Kim said, unconvinced of Clive’s willingness to remain silent. “A couple more toes, and he’ll squeal like a pig! You’ll see.”
“No,” Tony said, taking a long drag off the cigarette. “We need to step it up, grab the hammer, let’s smash every bone in his pretty little hands.”
“That works too!” He turned and walked over to the bag to locate the hammer.
Tony kneeled by Clive and examined the damage done to his face. “You’re really gonna make me smash every bone in your hands?” He took another drag, slowly blowing the smoke in his face. “You are, aren’t you? Shit, you should have joined our crew, you would have fit right in with the pair of cojones you’re carrying!” He extinguished the cigarette on the floor by his severed toes, then rose to his feet. “Go on, get it over with.” Kim approached Clive, the hammer gripped in his hand.
The flat face of the hammer came down hard, landing on top of the back of Clive’s hand. The sound of bones shattering through the skin sounded, Clive screamed in agony, shifting back and forth in the chair as if there was an electric current running through it.
“Again,” Tony instructed him. And again, the hammer came down, crushing bone even further. It continued for a while, each time with brutal force. Clive’s tolerance finally gave way, blacking out from the blows. Streaks of sweat rolled down Kim’s forehead.
“Alright, stop it!” Tony said. “What the hell is wrong with this guy? What is it going to take for him to talk?”
“Son of a bitch is tougher than I thought,” Kim finally admitted. “We need to switch this up,” his mind began searching for a solution. “I know, lets pop one of his eyes out! I bet he’ll talk then.”
“Are you insane?” Tony replied. “He’ll be in pieces by the time Rob gets he if we start dismembering him, they’ll be nothing left of him! And if we can’t get him to talk, Rob will have our eyes plucked out.”
“You have a better idea? Because…?” Tony recognized what he was getting at. Whatever methods he was using wasn’t getting the job done, and Rob was expecting an answer when he arrived.
“Dammit!” he said, finally. “get the clamp!” He pulled out another cigarette from his breast pocket and popped it in his mouth. He lit it and allowed the toxins to do their job.
“He’ll talk, you’ll see,” Kim said, his tone full of confidence.
“Hey!” Tony said, kicking the side of the chair. “Wake up!” he slapped him gently on the cheek. “Do you understand what’s about to happen? Were gonna pop your fucking eyeball out of your face, do you understand? You ready for that?”
There were very few movements coming from Clive. Tony slapped him harder.
“Answer me!” he said. Clive lifted his head slowly, forcing his swollen eye open.
“You’re going to have to kill me,” he said. He breathed in heavily. His relentless boldness angered Tony, turning his ears into a red rage. He grabbed a handful of his hair, a mix of sweat and blood splattered on his face as he yanked back on it.
“Then that’s exactly what I’ll do!” he released his hold on him with a hard jerk. “Kim, do it slowly, let him squirm in his hollow pride!”
“You got it boss, nice and slow.” Kim grabbed him by the hair, pulling his head back. With his other hand, he held a metal clamp, his fingers inserted and gripped tight. He positioned each end on the corners of his bruised and bulging eye. Clive winced at the touch of the steel against his skin. He pressed the metal deep into his eye socket, causing him to shake his head violently. The clamp pressed deeper and deeper, leaving very little room for both the clamps and the eyeball. Slowly, the eye began to rise from its base, like yeast in a hot oven. Clive screamed and groaned in agony. Tony called out to Kim to stop.
“Talk!” Tony said. When nothing but moans came out of him, he gestured to Kim to proceed. The thrashing continued for a while. When the pain got to be too much, he blacked out, only to be brought back from the twisting of the metal clamp digging into his flesh.
“Talk damn you!” Tony continued. Kim twisted and squeezed. Clive’s eye suddenly popped out of its frame and dangled from its ligaments against his bruised face. His convulsions made Tony’s stomach churn, but he kept it from showing.
“Stop!” Clive finally said. “Stop, I’ll talk! I’ll talk, just stop!”
The redness dissipated from Tony’s ears, relief rushed through him like living streams. He tapped Kim on the shoulder, waving him to back off. He stood over him, observing how the eyeball rolled back and forth, dangling from the dark hole where it used to be lodged in place.
“Alright,” Tony said. “Start talking.”
Clive’s words struggled to come out, he felt faint, his head swayed from side to side. Tony grabbed him by the throat and squeezed.
“Talk!” he said, frustrated.
“…Deli…..Maloney….Maloney’s Deli,” he said. The words seemed to drag out forever.
“The Deli?” Tony said. “He’s at the Deli?” Maloney’s Deli was no more than a couple blocks away from the warehouse. All the intel they had gathered led them to believe that the person they were looking for had fled to another state. California perhaps, maybe Arizona. But the Deli? They would have never guessed it in a million years.
“Call the boys,” he said to Kim. “Tell them to bring me that piece of shit alive immediately! The boss will be here at any moment, he’s gonna expect us to have some good news.” He tightened his hand around his throat again. “He better be there,” he said. “Or you’re not going to like what body part comes out next!”
Twenty-five minutes later, Tony’s cell rang. He answered impatiently. “Tell me something?” he said. The silence on the other end felt long and torturous.
“We got him,” a voice came through. “He fought, but we have him, were on our way to you now.” The phone hung up. Total and absolute relief spread throughout the dim room.
“They got him?” Kim asked.
“They got him,” Tony confirmed. “They’re on their way.” He walked over to Clive and patted him on the head. “You see, was that so hard? Now you got an eye hanging out of your face, and for what? I told you, we were going to get him no matter what, you big dumb bastard.”
Suddenly lights beamed through the windows, a car approached, the tires rolled over dirt and gravel, coming to a stop in front of the entrance gates.
“Is that them?” Tony said. “Go check.” Kim approached the window, squinting from the bright light against his eyes.
“No,” he said. “It’s the boss.”
“Shit,” Tony said. “Alright, watch your words, who knows what type of mood he might be in.”
The sheet metal door rattled open, and Rob walked through the doorway. Two men were with him, he instructed them to remain outside and keep watch. He approached the two men calmly – They both couldn’t tell if it was a good or bad sign.
“I don’t see a rat in front of me, Tony,” he said, his tone was like ice. “I assume you have a location or that he’s in one of these rooms. Which is it?”
“We have him, the boys are on their way now.”
Rob looked over at Clive’s battered body. “By the looks of that eye, I’m assuming he was determined not to talk?”
“It took some experimenting, but its nothing we couldn’t handle,” Tony said, trying to make it sound easier than it really was. Kim looked at him, watching him squirm uncomfortably within himself.
Rob walked over to Clive and stared at him momentarily.
“Your brother is a rat,” he said. “I don’t know who protects a rat? Brother or not.” He leaned in on him. “Maybe you’re a rat too? Rats are known to stick together. What do you think Tony?”
Tony knew Clive did what he did out of love for his brother. He was his blood, and no matter what, Blood was thicker than water. But in this business, with these types of people, that way of life didn’t exist. He said the only thing he knew to say. “Once a rat, always a rat, boss.”
“Damn right he is!” He reached behind his back and pulled out a pistol from his waistband. He aimed and emptied the clip into Clive’s chest. His body burst open with every shot, leaving him limp after the gunfire ceased its chaos. Rob spit on him, turning away from him with disgust in his expression. Tony and Kim looked at their boss who didn’t hesitate to take the man’s life. Tony wondered what his reaction would of been towards them if they failed to deliver the man they sought. Rob stared them both down, his eyes reaffirming who it was they should fear. He exercised his jaw, like a boxer about to trade gloves. He bit his lips, leaving a temporary white impression before they regained their color once more.
“One rat down,” he said. “One more to go.”
Carl stood in the bathroom gazing at himself in the mirror. He turned his head to one side, then to the other. He appeared older, he noticed wrinkles and grey hairs where there was none before. He took a deep breath and exhaled in disappointment. Shit, he mumbled under his breath, stretching the newly discovered wrinkles out with his fingers. He had his fortieth birthday two days before, and like many aging men, he began to reaccess his life and where it was going. When he was younger, he’d always envisioned himself better off than he now found himself. He pictured himself financially secure with a better position at his job. Perhaps by now, he’d be a foreman, leading his own crew and making a hell of a lot more money. Instead, he found himself severely in debt and holding the same position he had five years ago. Newer and younger men had come in and passed him up in rank, regardless of how unqualified they were. He felt hopeless; the aging thing didn’t make it any better.
“You alright hon?” Beth said, peering into the door from the hallway.
“Yeah,” Carl said. “Just have a lot on my mind, that’s all.” He did his best to hide what he truly felt.
“Come to bed, a good night’s rest will do you tons of good.”
“I will,” he said. “I’ll be right in, I’m just gonna brush my teeth.” She smiled at him and walked away.
He stood there for a long time, looking at himself, almost expecting for the image in the mirror to rescue him by giving him some secret remedy. But his reflection looked almost more confused than his actual self. Thanks for nothing, he told himself, reaching for the toothpaste. He brushed hard, the bristles cutting deep into his gums. Blood splattered on the sink as he rinsed, the stinging between his teeth lingering for a long time. He gave himself one more glance before switching the light off and retiring to bed.
He laid on his back, staring up at the speckled ceiling, Beth was deep in her sleep. A grown man shouldn’t cry, at least that’s what his father used to say to him. But Carl couldn’t help but feel the tears rising and settling on the edges of his eyelids. He had never felt like such a failure as he did that night. Eventually, his eyes grew heavy, and he drifted off to sleep.
“Carl!” Beth cried out. “Carl, wake up!” He felt her nudging him firmly on his arm.
Carl attempted to speak, but nothing came out. He tried opening his eyes, then attempted to sit up, but he couldn’t move. Beth! He cried out within himself, I can’t move, Beth, help me!
He heard Beth begin to cry, then the sound of the phone dialing. “Please,” she cried out. “I need an ambulance, my husband is unresponsive, and I can’t wake him up!”
I’m right here Beth, right here! What’s going on, please help me!
“twenty-five seventy-three Cleveland Road,” she continued. “Please hurry, I don’t know what to do.” The phone hung up, and she nudged him some more. He didn’t budge.
Carl tried to move with all his might, groaning and yelling within himself but was unable to break out of his paralysis. A fear unlike any other he had ever felt in his life set in and began to plead and beg for deliverance.
“Don’t be afraid,” a voice called out from the darkness. Carl went silent trying to pinpoint and identify the source of where the voice came from.
“Who is that?” Carl said. “Please, help me, I can’t move!”
“You can’t move because you’re doing all wrong!” the voice said. “You’re trying to move with your body, you can’t move your body no more. Don’t feel bad, we all get it wrong the first time.”
“Please, I’m so scared, help me up, I beg you!”
The voice laughed out loud. “Friend, all you have to do is open your eyes!”
“I’m trying, but I can’t!”
“No!” the voice corrected him. “Not your physical eyes, open your eyes!”
Carl remained silent for a moment, then almost instinctively, opened his eyes. The room was no longer dark, but bright with a haze to it. He observed Beth looking out the window, anticipating the ambulance to turn the corner. He felt his body finally give way and begin to move. Immediately he sat up and called out to her.
“Beth, sweetheart, I’m right here! I’m okay now.”
Beth ignored him, her full focus remained out the window.
“Beth?” he said. “I’m okay now, come to me.”
“She can’t hear you,” the voice said. Carl turned towards its direction. A man dressed in a black suit sat on a chair against the wall, arms crossed, a smirk on his face. They locked eyes with one another.
“Surprise, you’re dead!”
Carl jumped up and away from the bed, his back was now against the wall, opposite the stranger. He looked over at Beth and called out to her, attempting to grab her by the arm, but his grasp went right through her.
“Weird isn’t it?” the voice said. “I know, you’ll get used to it.”
“Who are you?” Carl said. “What are you doing here?”
The voice let out another chuckle. “I’m supposed to be here Carl, I’ve been waiting for you a couple of days now.” He rose and walked around the bed over to him. “You’ll need some time to realize what exactly is going on, so please, do what you have to do. I’ll be out in the living room when you’re ready.”
The man exited the room into the hallway whistling a tune. Carl watched as he disappeared into the living room. His attention went back to Beth, she was leaning over the bed comforting Carl’s lifeless body spread out on the mattress. Carl Stood there befuddled. He approached her slowly, the view of himself laying on the bed came into sight. He rested his hand on her shoulder, but it went right through her. He pulled it back quickly.
“Please wake up, baby,” she whispered to him. “Don’t you leave me here all alone!” She broke down and sobbed, her head resting on his chest.
“I’m here Beth!” he told her. “I won’t leave you, I promise.”
She rose and walked over to the window looking for any sign of an ambulance – she saw none. Carl made his way into the hallway and into the living room, where the man said he would be. He found him sitting on the couch, his feet up on the coffee table, popping peanuts into his mouth from a bowl he had left out earlier. Carl did not understand any of it.
“What’s going on?” he said. The man turned around and gave him his attention.
“You’re dead,” the man replied, popping another peanut into his mouth.
“You’re eating,” Carl said. “Are you dead as well?”
“As a doorknob,” he said. “Oh, this?” He gestured at the handful of peanuts in his hand. “Just a cool trick one learns after a while of doing what he does. Don’t worry, I’m not actually eating them, in fact, they aren’t the real thing. Existence on this side is boggling even to those who have been here a while.”
“I don’t feel dead.”
“Trust me, Carlton, you are very dead.” He rose from the couch and walked over to him. Carl retreated as he approached. “Come now,” he said. “I don’t bite! Besides, you best to get used to me, we’re gonna be attached to each other for a while.”
“No!” Carl said. “I don’t want you near me. Just tell me how to wake up and be on your way.”
“Sorry Carl,” the man said. “I’m afraid you ain’t got a choice in the matter. None of us do.” He tossed the last of the peanuts in his mouth and dusted his hands of their residue. Carl observed him as he did it. “Come, sit.” He gestured Carl over to the couch. “I’ll lay it out for you as best I can.”
They sat staring at one another, silent and awkward.
“If your dead,” Carl finally said. “How are you sitting and eating?”
“What? Were you expecting a ghost?” He wiggled his fingers, mocking ghostly sounds at him. “I ain’t no ghost pal, well, not in the sense humans think.”
“Then what are you?”
“Spirit, just like you.” He sat up on the edge of his seat. “See, you see a body on me, and you’d be correct, that exactly what it is. Only it’s not made of flesh and bone. Those are fake bodies, you just haven’t realized it yet. Our real bodies are, well, spirit.” Carl looked at him even more confused.
“Look, dude,” The man continued. “When we were humans, we had a small glimpse of what the afterlife was like, but we didn’t know the half of it. Humans are a selfish, greedy, deceitful bunch. Making their own truth up as they go along. They refuse to believe in the unexplained, and always will because it’s just how they are. I can’t blame them, however, ain’t nobody ever crossed over to see for themselves, so I guess assumptions is all they have.”
“So now what?” Carl said, impatiently. “What happens now?”
“You mean heaven? Hell?” He smirked and let out a laugh.
“What’s so funny? Are those things not real or something?”
“Oh, they’re real,” the man said. “But we’ll cross that line when we get to it. For now, its best to process this whole life and death thing, get it out of your system before we head out.”
“Head out? I told you, I’m not going anywhere.” He stood up defensively.
“Carl,” The man said. “You can hang out here for a thousand years, you won’t be able to crawl back into that body. Trust me, what’s done is done, there’s no going back. Besides, you’re missing the point, life on that side has nothing on this side. You just can’t see it, it’s understandable.
“I don’t care how life is on this side, I don’t want it, you understand me?” He walked over to the hallway. “I want that life!” He pointed down towards the bedroom where Beth was. “And I ain’t leaving her, not for you, not for anyone or anything!”
“You don’t know what you’re saying, your body is still in shock.” He stood and tried to usher him back towards his seat.
Carl jerked away from him. “Don’t touch me! You stay away from me, you hear me?”
The man sighed. “Are we really doing this? You are dead – get that through that soul of yours! There’s something better waiting for you down at the end of the tunnel, there’s a happy ending, after all, get it? Now please, go in there, say your goodbyes, and let’s go. We have a long trip ahead of us.”
“No!” Carl stood his ground. “I’m not going anywhere with you. You can’t make me, I won’t let you!”
The man’s patience started to wear thin. He threw his hands up, walking away from him. “You’re right, I can’t make you. No one can. If you really wish to stay here, that’s the way it’s gonna be. Those are the rules, and they can’t be broken. But I warn you, it might seem like the reasonable and logical thing to do now, but I promise you it gets old quick. And once I’m gone, I’m gone! There ain’t no calling me back.”
“Good!” Carl said. “I heard what you said, and I choose to stay, so please, leave us alone!”
“I’m trying to help you, Carl, come and see what I have to show you. You won’t regret it.”
“Leave us alone!” He turned and stormed down the hall into the room. The man stood and watched him disappear. A knock sounded on the door, EMT’s called out to Beth. She ran out of the room and towards the door, opening it and letting them in.
“Quick!” she said. “In the room, hurry please!” She led them into where Carl’s body was.
Inside the room, EMT’s where trying to revive Carl, performing mouth to mouth resuscitation as one of them charged the defibrillator. Carl stood amongst them, watching it all unfold.
“Last chance Carl,” The man said, standing next to him. Carl stood still and silent for a long time.
“Go. Leave us alone.” He walked over to where Beth was and placed his hand on top of hers.
The man sighed from all his failed attempts. He turned and exited the room, never to return.
Carl looked over towards the doorway and observed his absence. He turned his focus back to the scene in front of him, uncertain of what lay before him.
I gaze up at the sky in all of its vastness. Clear and blue, smeared in white clouds drifting with purpose. I envy the birds, because it is up there where they soar across it without limits. They navigate any direction they choose, unbothered by the chaos created below. Man tarnishes its beauty, pumping smog, hiding it from view. But today it remains untouched – like a beautiful painting. How I desire to dwell within it, to be suspended and far from this world! But here I sit, in a concrete cell staring out at it, unable to feel its breeze.
“King me, Morty old boy!” Wally said, mockingly rubbing his hands together. Mortimer, or Morty, as he was known in the wing, pressed his lips together, annoyed. The black and red checker board now flooded with Wally’s red chips. Morty’s black army had dwindled down to the last remaining few. It was the third game they played, the two before that, Wally also won – each time with the same bullying attitude. It gave him pleasure watching Morty squirm in his seat, unable to get an upper hand on him.
“Whats the matter Morty? Checkers not your game?” He broke out in a loud chuckle.
“Game ain’t over yet!” Morty said. He knew it wasn’t true, but he had to say something. Sure, the game was still technically in play, but he knew he was toast – it was just a matter of time.
Wally knew it too. It was one of his highlights of game night. Without much to look forward to on most days, game night was something Wally lost himself in. Especially at Morty’s expense. He humiliated him each time they played, because each time, Morty would loose to him. He had yet to beat Wally, always vowing that the next game would be different, but the end result would be the same – a loss.
“Maybe checkers ain’t your thing?” Wally continued, smiling. “Tell you what, next time lets have us a game of go fish, maybe then you’ll have a fighting chance!”
“You’re such an asshole, Wally, you know that?”
“Whoa!” he lifted his hands, like someone caught red handed. “Easy now Morty, easy! I didn’t know you were such a sensitive old codger? If I’d known, I would of asked Mrs. Harris to play instead!” He giggled under his breath.
“Kiss my ass!” Morty said. He rose from his seat, jolting the table as he did, shifting the checker pieces off their squares. “Find yourself another person to play with.” He paused. “Oh, that’s right, last time I checked, nobody likes you! Arrogant prick..”
He stormed off to his quarters cursing at the air.
Wally called out to him, pointing and laughing, making sure everyone in the room noticed. He reveled in it.
The wheelchair was stationed in front of the window overlooking the grounds of the Dixie Valley Retirement Home. Wally sat motionless, only his eyes scanned back and forth. Down below, staff members walked arm in arm with their patients across the green landscape – it was time for their daily walk. The sky was cloudy and gray, the trees swayed back and forth. Their leaves rustled with the wind, making a showering sound across the property. Wally would of been on one of those walks, strolling around the grounds with Claudette, his caretaker. Claudette was a large black woman, who was always jolly and in good spirits. They got along splendidly and Wally looked forward to flirting and complimenting her. He enjoyed it in his old age, and Claudette welcomed his flirtatious ways. She was as large as a house, barely fitting into her hospital scrubs. She was in her mid-forties and her looks had run away from her years ago – pounds ago. But she was a real sweetheart, and kept Wally going. He hadn’t had someone give him any kind of affection since Martha divorced him over twenty years ago. He would take it were he could get it – even if it was role playing with a larger than life caretaker.
A sparrow flew overhead, spreading his wings wide and descended on a swaying branch of a willow tree. It zig-zagged the outstretched branch, disappearing into a hollow opening in the bark. Wally wondered if it had hatch lings inside that hole, all of them stretching their necks out like a whack-a-mole game, mouths open from hunger. He grinned with pleasure from the corner of his mouth. Pleasure was something he didn’t experience much these days – not since the stoke.
He had been on one of his daily walks when it happened. Claudette walked beside him, laughing at his wacky sense of humor. Wally asked her why the gods would send someone as beautiful as her into his life – that always put a smile on her face. He proposed his love playfully to her, and in return, she told him to stop before he got what he’d been asking for. They both laughed.
Then it happened.
Suddenly and quickly. One minute they exchanged a flirtatious smile – the next, he was face down on the hot asphalt. The doctor said he was lucky to be alive, but he was going to have a long road to recovery. His entire left side was paralyzed, his left eyelid drooped down as if he was drowsy. His lips hung down on one side like a sac with too much water in it. It drooled constantly.
It occurred in April, and he’d been bedridden for five months at Dixie County General Hospital. This was his second week back at the retirement home. He returned a shell of who he used to be. Once a witty and obnoxious seventy-five year old, now, he lay immobilized and dependent on twenty-four hour care. His friends would visit, staring not at Wally, but at something hardly alive. Something that laid there – helpless and a burden. His wit turned to self-loathing. His obnoxious probes became mute. His flirtatious ways became non-existent. He existed, but now, he merely took up precious oxygen.
His Children thought it best to have Claudette stay on as his caretaker during his recovery. Their father had spiraled into a deep depression, isolating himself, not wanting to talk to anyone. He stopped responding to them – to everyone. He turned into a mute log, staring off blindly into nothingness, wishing the stroke had done away with him. Claudette happily agreed to stay on and help in his recovery. But when she saw Wally laying in his bed, her heart broke. He was different person, non-responsive and downcast. She caressed his head with her hand, and smiled at her favorite patient.
He did not acknowledge her.
It seemed to him the world had forgotten him. He existed, he had a beating heart, flesh and bled like everyone one else. Yet he felt dead, buried six-feet deep, like those poor bastards in the cemetery down the road. If it wasn’t for a staff and Claudette collecting a paycheck every two weeks, he began to doubt any of them would ever bother coming in to feed him or sit him in his chair.
The sparrow reappeared from its dwelling place, zigged-zagged up the same branch, and took flight once again. His eyes followed it attentively until it vanished from his sight.
The door opened, Claudette walked in wearing red scrubs, pushing a wooden cart with his lunch on it. Under the plastic plate cover, a boneless piece of fish sat in its own juices. A side of vegetables and a cup of lemon flavored jello beside it. A small carton of cranberry juice, with a bendable straw poking out of it shook as The cart rolled. One of its wheels was defective causing everything to rattle uncontrollably.
“Lunch time, Mr. Harper”, she said, placing the cart by his bed. She walked over to him, grabbed the handles on the wheel chair and pulled him away from the window to his bed for feeding.
His body swayed with the motion of the chair, but he remained motionless. His eyes were the only thing that moved, his gaze holding onto the view outside until it was no longer visible. His depression had grown worse than he had experienced when he returned from Vietnam in in 1972. Post traumatic stress is what they called it nowadays. But back then, for a thirty year old soldier who had spent ten years in a war where he witnessed things an average man would never see in their lifetime, it was a condition no one could comprehend. He came back scared, not physically – mentally. He had a hard time adapting to normal life, constant nightmares plagued him terribly for years. But he eventually overcame it, not completely, but enough to function on a daily basis. But now he was a seventy-five, not nearly as old as some of the others that lived at the home. Not nearly as young either – some were in there eighties, some in their sixties. But they all weren’t dead weight like he was.
“Let’s have some of this delicious fish, shall we?” she said. “Then well take a stroll outside, how does that sound?”
He remained silent.
“Oh come now,” she insisted. “How longer are we going to be a grumpy little thing? You are alive and recovering Mr. Harper! You’ll see, you will be up and showing those checker playing fools what for in no time!”
Drool rimmed the edge of his hanging, paralyzed lip. She reached for a napkin tucked in her breast pocket, and gently wiped it before it had a chance to run-off.
“Sandy is visiting this afternoon. Isn’t that good news?”
He supposed he should be happy. Sandy was the only one out of his three children that visited him frequently. The other two, Wally Jr and Gregory, would visit once a month. Sometimes none at all. But he had lost the will to want to see anybody. He did not expect anything positive or hopeful. Things had been this was for some time. No matter what how much Dr. Darwi tried to instill hopefulness in him, his mind no longer registered it. He expected nothing but bad things to happen from this point on. But still, deep down inside, deep where no shrink could ever dig into, was this small part that desired it. Hope that one day he’ll begin to get the feeling back in his left side, or that he would accept the obvious and make the best of things, enjoying whatever life he had left for him. He wanted to enjoy his kids, to embrace them fully once again. He hoped to play checkers just one more time – heck – he’ll even let old Morty win one. He hoped to make Claudette blush and not look at him the way she did now – with burdened eyes. No, he couldn’t. he was too far gone in his despair. Life, god, karma seemed to hate him, and he began to feel the same way towards every single one of them.
“Okay now,” Claudette continued. “Lets get some of this deliciousness in you!” He watched her as she carefully sliced through one corner of the fish with the plastic fork, scooping a chunk onto it.
“Open up now”, she said.
His lips did not move, but they didn’t resist being fed. She snickered at him, pushing the fork gently in his mouth. The juices, mostly water, ran to the back of his throat and descended down his esophagus. The fish was soaked and fell apart as he slowly chewed it. If it tasted like anything, he could not enjoy it. Even that had been ripped from him, the ability to taste and savor something as simple as lunch.
“Is that good? How is that?”
She exhaled, a slight frustration on her expression. She leaned in and fixed her eyes on his.
“Life isn’t over yet Mr. Harper. I know its very hard to see it, but it isn’t.” Her sympathy for him broke through, but his hardness quickly chased it away. She scooped up some vegetables and fed them to him.
“I’m gonna make you talk yet, if its the last thing I do”, she said. “I wish you would believe your favorite girl. I still am your favorite girl, right Mr. Harper?”
She smiled. “You will regain function again, things take time Mr. Harper. Your not the only one who’s had this unfortunate thing happen to them. Take Mr. Livingston, from the east wing, he had a stroke about five years ago – just like you. And look at him now, up and about like it never happened! In time, you’ll come to realize that your body knows what its doing.”
She was right. But depression is a hell of a thing. One tells himself they can control it. That they can turn it off like a light switch. After all, isn’t everything mind over matter? Perhaps in the beginning it might of been, when one could sense it coming on. Maybe then, something could be done about it. Claudette wiped his mouth, and continued to feed him without further conversation. She understood how things had to be sometimes. She had been through it before, and patience, along with time healed all wounds. For now, broad strokes would have to do. She would throw out the occasional dabs of hope, knowing not every word would sink in, but maybe one would linger in his mind when he was laid still in the darkness of night.
“Okay, done.” She said, placing the napkin on the empty plate. “Well head outside for your stroll as soon as your food has time to digest. Sound good?” When he did not reply, she sighed again. Not with frustration, but with empathy. “Would you like to go back to your window?” She didn’t expect him to answer, she just couldn’t help it.
His eyes lifted off from the emptiness, and slowly fixed on hers. It was something he hadn’t done before. Claudette was surprised, but held her emotions from being exposed. She took it as progress – confirmation that her encouragement was paying off. It wasn’t major by any means, but it was something that finally indicated change. She smiled, finding no need for him to say anything – she understood. She pushed the wheel chair towards the window, turning him, so he had the best view of the outside.
“Ill be back soon.” She tapped him on the shoulder gently, and exited the room.
His eyes watered, one of them finding its way over the rim of his eyelid, running down the side of his face. He raised his right hand, it felt like years since he had moved it. He wiped it, removing any trace of it ever being there. He looked at his hand, it looked strange and foreign to him. It moved – untouched by the horror that plagued his entire left side. Hope, he thought. There is still life in him yet. Maybe Claudette was right, maybe he just had to real-
He looked at his dead left hand resting on his lap.
He tried moving it, forgetting for a moment that anything was wrong with it – but it didn’t budge. He took in a deep, silent breath. His exhale was just as silent. Reality tried to escape him, tried to convince him that some of the things Claudette had said, had real weight to them. But the lifeless hand that laid on his lap (his entire left side for that matter) brought things crashing down again. But for whatever it was worth, he appreciated feeling hopeful again – even if it was just for a moment.
A tapping sound came from the window. Wally looked – it was the sparrow. It hopped along the window sill, back and forth, peering inside. His head tilted and jerked with curiosity, pecking on the glass randomly. He looked at it, captivated. It was as if they knew each other. He had been watching it for weeks, ascending and descending like clockwork each time. Maybe birds were smarter than humans made them out to be. It fixed his gaze on him, remaining still for a long time. Wally looked back at it just the same.
“Do you have baby birds back in your hole?” he said softly. “Are they waiting for you to feed them?”
The sparrow cocked his head sideways, as if understanding what he said.
“Well go on, fly to them! They need you more than I do.”
The sparrow looked on for a moment, then turned with one hop and flew away. He watched it as it made its way down to his branch, landing and leaping into its hole. He smiled as he watched him disappear, imagining his hatch lings springing their heads up eagerly for her.
He looked at their tree for a long time, then lowered his right hand on his lap. His smile returned to a mute position, slumping slightly, shrouded with melancholy.
He sat on the floor against the wall, the 9 mm Colt lay next to him, magazine fully loaded, ready to fire. A beaming light broke through the drapes, lighting the dark room’s interior. A voice on a megaphone, in the streets below, ordered him to surrender. The end neared, they would burst through the door and attempt to take him alive. He would not let that happen .
This is the story of Sam Trent.
The morning of their anniversary, Stacy surprised him with new golf clubs, a set of Callaway’s, the same ones he’d been eyeballing for months. He gifted her a beautiful violet amethyst pendant, with four rounded diamond accents, elegantly hanging on a gold chain. It had been forty-five years of marriage, time they spent dedicated to their careers and traveling the world. Their professions never allowed for children, but they never cared to have any, having each others company was enough.
They spent the day together at Mallis Pier, walking and holding hands, watching the crowds ride the Ferris wheel. They had dinner reservations later that evening, the Lighthouse Ridge was located at the end of the pier, overlooking the ocean.
After dinner, they walked along the path under the moonlight, the ocean breeze tracing against their faces. Stacy wrapped his jacket around her, leaning on him as they walked. The Texas Jack Annual Music Festival was taking place on the other side, a tradition they both kept on their special day for years. The jazz band played in the distance, the string of lights hung over the stage in a variety of colors. They were in the mood for dancing, and that night, was the perfect occasion.
“Did I tell you how beautiful you look tonight, sweetheart?” Sam said.
“Yes, but tell me again, I don’t mind.” She kissed him gently on the neck, hooking his arm around hers.
A hooded figure appeared a close distance away, his dark clothing made him almost invisible in the night. He approached them, brushing gently against Stacy’s shoulder, passing her.
“I’m so sorry, excuse me.” she said. The man said nothing , walking away from them.
“Interesting fella?” Sam said, grinning. She smiled.
“Quite dear, quite.”
They walked and maneuvered curves and rocky slopes, the path was empty, a rarity on other nights. The festival was a big deal that time a year, and all the crowds were in attendance to witness the event.
“Excuse me?” A mans voice said.
They turned, the hooded figure stood in front of them, holding a large knife in his hand. They both drew back, Sam getting in front of Stacy.
“Your wallet old man, give it here!” he said. He grabbed him by the collar, placing the sharp knife against his throat. “Do it!”
“Okay! okay, young man, please just calm down.” Sam began reaching into his back pocket, pulling out the wallet.
“You!” the man said. “Hand the necklace over, lets go!”
“Please, don’t hurt her, well give you whatever you wa-.”
“Shut up!” He snatched the wallet out of his hand, pushing him back. He turned to Stacy, grabbing her by the hair, waving the knife in her face. “Take it off, don’t be stupid lady!”
She winced from her head being pulled back, struggling to unlock the pendant free. Sam stepped forward, placed his hands over hers, attempting to help her. The man struck him in the head with the butt of the knife, sending him crashing to the floor. Sam’s head bounced hard against the concrete, leaving him dazed and unable to regain his senses. He tried getting to his feet, but his equilibrium sent him crashing back down. He heard Stacy scream and struggle against the hooded man, then go silent moments later. Sam continued to call out to her, but no answer ever came back to him.
Stacy was dead.
Blood flowed onto the concrete, seeping into the cracks. The blood appeared purple from the moonlight above, her body quickly turning cold. She’d been stabbed in the abdomen several times, the perpetrator running off into darkness, the pendant ripped from her neck. Sam cried out, his voice wailed immensely, being carried off with the breeze. His cries echoed through the trees, the branches snapped and rocked above them. He held her tight, her in his arms, sobbing, his face against hers. He told he loved her over and over again, squeezing her tighter against him.
I’m sorry sweetheart! Baby please forgive me, I’m so sorry!
That instant, Sam’s life was changed forever. All the happiness he had ever felt, all the kindness he had shown, that gentle soul inside of him, died with Stacy that night. His former self sank beneath the crevices, digging deep into the grave below the path he sat on – he would never know the Sam of old again.
He heard the helicopter overhead, the blades chopping as it approached then faded as it circled back around. The walls showcased a colorful display of reds and blues from the sirens outside. He followed them as they swirled about, listening to the onlookers inaudible voices. The streets were busy and full of action, the man behind the megaphone stopped announcing demands – he now demanded them outside his apartment door, banging on it, shouting for him to respond to his requests. He picked up the gun, gripping it around the textured handle, turning it side to side, watching as the lights reflect off the steel frame. He looked through the hallway, expecting them at any minute.
The verdict was in. All charges against Marvin Wesson, the alleged man accused of murdering Stacy Trent, were dropped. The jury found insufficient evidence against him, no murder weapon, no DNA linking him to the crime scene and no witnesses other than Sam’s testimony. Twenty-two year old Wesson, a native from Cedar, about twenty miles from the crime scene, was picked up two blocks from where the murder took place. He matched the description Sam gave to the detectives; A tall, thin man in a dark hooded sweater, pants shredded at the knees. He was approached by police wearing a white basketball jersey, his skin heavy with perspiration. He claimed he was at a friends (which was later confirmed) and was running to the bus stop to catch the last bus to Cedar. His right hand was cut at the knuckles, giving a reason to suspect he was involved in the incident. They later concluded, the cuts did not match the timeline, and dismissed them all together. At the time of the investigation, detectives assumed Wesson dumped the black hoodie along the way. No article of clothing was ever found – something Wesson denied ever wearing. A full year had gone before Wesson found himself in front of a judge, awaiting his fate.
He walked out of the courthouse a free man, nearly a year of Stacy’s murder. Sam was distraught. He was the murderer – the one who took his beloved. He made up his mind outside the courthouse that afternoon, sitting in his vehicle, grinding his palms on the steering wheel. His life was stripped from justice again – he would not let there be a third. He would avenge his wife’s death, even if he had to take matters into his own hands.
6 Months Later
Sam spotted him amongst the crowd. It was December, and people were gathered to witness the lighting of the huge Christmas tree centered in Plaza Square. Around the tree, vendors sold holiday items and warm food, colorful banners hung around the stage. Marvin Wesson stood a couple feet from the tree, a young woman, clinging to his arm. They were awaiting the countdown, merry and worry free. He met the woman during his stay in prison, developing into a relationship over the course of the trial. All Marvin Wesson wanted now, was to move on and forget what he had gone through.
The handgun was tucked away in his right pocket, his shirt covered its shape from being exposed by passersby. Sam’s eyes were red with exhaustion, he hadn’t slept in days and his diet consisted of a steady flow of alcohol. He replayed the scenario continuously in his head – now he stood, several feet away from the man he wanted dead.
People walked and talked, shopped and gazed at the festivities, unaware of the madman standing in their midst’s. He was determined to go through with it, his breath grew heavier and his heart began to pound out of his chest. He began to sweat, his right hand rubbing against his pants pocket.
The countdown began, a woman stood on stage, holding papers in her hand, announcing the news. Silence spread throughout the crowd as her voice sent out an unpleasing feedback from the microphone. She began;
The lights lit up Plaza Square, the crowd cheered and threw their hands up into the air. Wesson’s girlfriend cheered and leaped into his arms, giving him a kiss on the lips. He hugged her, lifting her off her feet slightly, sharing a smile between one another, kissing again.
That visual lit a fire under Sam. He thought about Stacy, and how she used to kiss him in a similar fashion. He remembered the last time she kissed him, the night of her murder, the very last he would ever receive. His eyes welled up, rage built up in him – he wanted him dead. Dead as any person could ever be!
The crowds movements blocked them partially from his view. Fearing losing them, he reached into his pocket, drawing the handgun, letting it hang loosely at his side. He began walking, stumbling towards them, maneuvering around the crowd. He spotted him, he rested his finger cautiously on the trigger. He was close now, just a few more steps.
He has a gun!
A woman’s voice screeched. She was adjusting her toddlers jacket when she noticed him as he passed her. She pointed at him, calling attention to the weapon. Becoming aware, the crowd began scattering in every direction, screaming and chaos ensued. Wesson turned, making direct eye contact with him. This was no coincidence, he was there to take his life, and he sensed it immediately. Grabbing the woman’s hand, he started running away from him. In a blinding rage, Sam raised the gun and fired.
Fathers and mothers searched desperately for their children, others shielding them with their bodies. Children cried out, lost amongst the human stampede. Shots rang out, one after another, it seemed to go on for a long time – It only took seconds.
Wesson laid face down, lifeless on the concrete slab. The girl lay next to him, a bullet hole in her neck. She kicked and trembled, her life escaping her fast. A man caught in the crossfire, slumped on a bench motionless. A young boy, no more than twelve years old, grabbed his leg and cried out in pain from a bullet wound.
Slowly, Sam’s senses returned. His rage blinded him, putting innocent people in harms way. He observed them, they feared him, like Stacy feared her attacker. He looked down at his hand, the weapon glistened and smoked.
What did I do? I got to get out of here!
He made his exit, waving and pointing the gun to anyone who tried to approach him. No one did. He ran and disappeared through a nearby alley, hopping into a cab the first chance he got on the other end. He sat silent the entire way back to his apartment.
He couldn’t change what had happened – it was done. The murderer was dead, and justice for Stacy was served. But he took other lives as well, innocent lives, who had nothing to do with Stacy. He didn’t mean to take their lives, he was blinded and lost all his senses. He felt torn between feeling justified and guilt-ridden for what he had done. But he didn’t allow the guilt to eat him up, when it tried to creep into his mind, he diverted the feelings elsewhere. It didn’t matter, he didn’t need to let it overtake him – they’d be coming for him soon – he accepted it.
He showered when he got to his apartment, sitting motionless for what seemed to be hours, staring as the spray from the nozzle rippling against the tubs surface. Afterward, he sat at the dinner table, a bottle of scotch in one hand, a picture of Stacy in the other.
I did it sweetheart. I got him! I killed others in the process, but I had to do it. You understand why don’t you? Please tell me you understand.
He took a drink and reached for the television remote. He flipped through channels, looking for the news. He came across channel 8 – it was about him:
…at this time, there is no suspect in custody for this violent act of cowardice, but what we do know, is three lives were taken before their time. One of them, I’m being told by sources, is Marvin Wesson, the man who was recently acquitted for Stacy Trent’s murder six months ago. I am also being told, that in relation to Mr. Wesson, a man who remains un-identified, has turned himself in, confessing to the murder just hours ago….
The remote dropped from his hands.
Did he hear the news report correctly? A man turned himself in for Stacy’s murder? What about Wesson? Was he innocent in all this after all?
What have I done?
He sat looking in front of him, outside his door, they barked out demands to him. He held the Colt, the finger on the trigger. He looked at Stacy’s picture, she smiled at him, at least he made himself think she was. He smiled back at her, resting the back of his head against the wall. The front door crashed open with a loud bang, heavy footsteps rushing through it. Shadows appeared in the hallway, they got bigger as they made their way to him. He raised the pistol.
I’m sorry sweetheart. I’m sorry.
I have never been a ladies man, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about being in a relationship. It’s been that way my entire life. I don’t know what it feels like to be loved or cared for by a woman. To hold their hand or run my fingers through their hair. I don’t know what it’s like to daydream about one during a client meeting, or fall asleep thinking of one. I’ve never felt those butterflies everyone talks about.
I’m a failure when it comes to women.
I don’t know what it is, but they’ve never been interested in me. Maybe I’m a coward, and it shows, turning them away instantly. Perhaps, I’m more unappealing than the notion residing in my mind? Maybe its my ways, not being like the rest, disrespectful and only after one thing – I’ll let you figure out what that means on your own. Maybe the idea of treating a woman the way she deserves is something that died off with our parents generation? Maybe the generation before theirs? I don’t know, that’s the most depressing part, not knowing.
I pretend it doesn’t bother me around others, I say things like ‘ who needs a girl ‘ or ‘ why would I want to be tied down ‘, but within myself it is the very thing I desire. But that’s the funny thing about this life of mine, the thing I desire most is the only thing I can’t seem to gain. It’s so unfair.
I’m not a young man anymore, and the older I get, the less chance I’ll have to find true love in this world. I am terrified of that possibility. I’m ashamed that I cry at night sometimes, the loneliness gets the best of me. I stopped hoping, no longer expecting the right one to cross my path unexpectedly. I used to look everywhere, in line at the store, or at a stop light, hoping she’ll pull up beside me, or be the one standing in front of me waiting to pay. That was a long time ago, I’m glad I stopped searching because she never came. I’m so alone.
But then I met you, Emily Rose. What a lovely name!
I have never seen such a beautiful woman in all of my existence. You are perfect in body and mind. You didn’t turn me aside, but you smiled at me. Not forced, the way one forces himself to entertain another, out of courtesy. Yours was sincere. I don’t remember meeting you, where it was or how it happened. You were just there, willing to love me unconditionally. When I told you a terrible joke, you weren’t awkward, you laughed with love in your eyes. You looked passed my appearance, beyond the stereotypes, and embraced me without hesitation.
I fell in love with you the moment I saw you.
But then, you were gone. Your image beginning to fade like the way the tides give the shore all they possessed, then make way for others to take their place. Even now, I struggle to keep your face fresh in my memory, and although I manage to do so, it tends to escape from time to time. I try not to forget your smile, your smell and how happy you made me feel. I attempt to go back there, to cling to you, digging deep into your essence. Sadly, no matter how hard I try, I’m not able to do so. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I miss you already Emily Rose. I do, however, remember the last words you said to me:
Don’t stop looking for me, I’m here. I’ll always be here.
Now I must wait for this day to end. I will walk around and function, but my mind will be solely with you. I long toss and turn, struggling to drift off into that place once again. To see you in front of me, just as you never left. I fear not finding you, but your words comfort me, making me confident that will not be the case. I will search for you, from one end to the other, I promise I will!
My Emily Rose, who only in my dreams can such a beautiful thing exist.