Saturday, April 9, 2011

Reckoning (Final)


All through the fall I took care of Julie. The bleeding came back a few times, and I made her stay in bed while I got her homework from Victor Hall. I asked her about whether she should go to the doctor to check up on her nosebleeds, but she wouldn’t talk about it. She went out with Tom (by then, I couldn’t pretend not to know his name), and she broke up with him a few times, seeing Brent in between. But she always got back with Tom, even though he never took care of her and watched out for Mike. Then again he didn’t have to. And while I was doing this, I was always waiting for it to get worse. I was always waiting for Julie to go away and die. The winter was bad for her – she had terrible pains one Saturday right before a big exam of mine. I was trying to study for it and walk her back and forth to the clinic. I remember rushing around all day, getting her medicine, making her take it – she was delirious – and then running to make my study class. I had to go to the bathroom so badly, and when I got out of study class I stopped at Victor to pick up her papers, but first I ran in to piss in the restroom they had down in the bottom – some rundown hole they never fixed up. It was freezing down there, and I couldn’t care less. I was pissing into a urinal three times as old as I was, and I was overjoyed and relieved and right then I realized I was happy taking care of Julie. Even if she never loved me. Because I was doing a good job of things, and she was in serious trouble, and she needed someone decent, and even if I didn’t have any friends at school I was decent, and I did something that needed to be done. While thinking these thoughts and letting loose a stream that would have filled a bucket I suddenly focused on the mortar between the tiles right at eye level. Written down there in pencil in the coldest part of the building on the coldest day of the year: “It’s not the heat that gets you. It’s the humility.” I started laughing so hard I pissed all over my shoes. I still don’t know why it struck me so funny, but I was smiling all the way back to where Julie lay sleeping. I kissed her on the forehead, and on my way out of her room, I passed Tom coming in and we nodded to each other, and I was gone.
---
It has to be at least a year later so no one connects it, and it should be about a year and a half so it’s not an anniversary of the date, because they might figure that out too. I pick a date in the winter at random, only maybe it isn’t that random. (It’s not the heat that gets you.) But I don’t know. I have a gun from Virginia – I was planning on a Glock, a small lightweight gun with a lot of plastic parts and a good rate of fire. But the kickback is supposedly bad with light guns, and I don’t want to chance it. I get a .45 automatic. It’s a Smith and Wesson, big and clunky and heavy as a brick. I fire it at a couple of ranges in the city, and it’s really very good. At work, my boss is talking about a promotion. I seem to have gotten my focus back. He gives me my jobs each morning, and now I listen to every word he says.
---
The winter passed. We all went on Christmas break. I didn’t expect Julie to come back, but she did. She seemed better. She was graduating in the spring. She was happier now, and the headaches were receding, and she and Tom seemed to be going out more seriously. I didn’t come by as much, and she didn’t ask after me. I found out that Mike had graduated a semester early – he was the one who left on Christmas break and didn’t come back.
---
I think about doing a test run, but that doesn’t make sense. Just one more chance for them to spot me. I think about getting more information, but that doesn’t make sense either – none of that matters now that I’ve decided to go ahead with it. In fact the only reason I want to come back is because I want to see them. This is dangerous, and it doesn’t make me think of it any less. The key part of my plan was to come back to my old life as if nothing had happened, and stay there. And that’s what I don’t know if I could do. That smell, and her hair, and the way she wears those dresses – I already had to walk away once, and why do I always have to be the one who walks away?
---

A few months after Julie graduated, in the fall of my final year, I called her and tried to invite myself over. But she was doing something. She seemed to want to get off the phone, but we talked awhile anyway, her making noises like she was just about to end things, and I couldn’t, so I found other things to talk about to fend off the hang-up. Until I asked her about her health, and she said she was fine, no nosebleeds, no headaches. Then I mentioned the tumor. “No,” she said, “I didn’t have one. You knew that.” “No,” I said, “I didn’t know that.” She explained that the first time she went to the hospital – once she decided that she was already running the risk with her folks – she went ahead and got a CAT scan. Even billed it to her father’s health plan. But the results came up negative. The doctors said the bleeding and headaches were stress-related. Maybe it was Mike. “You never told me,” I said. She acted like she thought she had told me. But she knew she hadn’t. She was lying about it. I still think about what her reasons were for never telling me, and that’s why I never checked her name out on the Internet along with everyone else.

---

And one bright cold Wednesday morning, I’m waiting in my rental down the street from Mike and Marie’s house. They’ve had it sided recently – I don’t really like it, but I suppose there’s nothing I can do. I have only one piece of equipment: the .45. It’s loaded with hollow points. One tap to the head, and it’s over. I’ve tested them out on targets of my own in the woods – a melon, a couple of bricks, and a piece of wood. I blew them all to shit. It felt really, really good to fire that gun and think about what I was going to do. I wish I could say that I didn’t want to hurt anyone unless I was doing a good deed, a secret favor to someone in distress. But maybe that’s not important to me anymore. The door opens, and Mike is out on the steps, followed by Marie, who holds the baby. Mike kisses them both in turn, pops the door of his car open (I slide down so he won’t see me as his car drives up), and gets in. He pulls out and drives towards me (and I reach over and heft the gun, feeling its weight). He drives up slowly, unconcerned, close enough that he could easily recognize me if he’d ever seen me around, which even now I don’t know, because I only remember Julie and her other boyfriends, and the stories of her father (and that might not even be true, right?) and all the other things she told me or held back. His car drives past. I let him go. I can’t do it this way. Take him out with one quick shot while he’s cheerfully driving to work, after he’s changed his life. I want to hit him like he’s never been hit before. I want to let him know how it feels. And there’s only one way to do that. I drive up to his house. I pop the action on the .45 to chamber a bullet, check all around to make sure no one is looking. Then I go up to Mike’s door. I hear the baby cry inside – is there anything as beautiful as a baby? – and Marie makes soothing noises to calm him. To let him know everything’s going to be all right. I ring the bell and wait.

The Truth About The Easter Bunny


Hey, guy. Your mom wanted me to come in here and talk to you before you fell asleep. She said that at school a boy named Porter told you some things that made you cry. It was about the Easter Bunny, wasn't it? No, don't be like that. I think we should talk about it.


There is no Easter Bunny. Porter's right. He was being mean about it, but unfortunately there isn't really a giant magical rabbit who sneaks into your house at night and leaves candy. Moms and dads do it. I go down to the Rite-Aid every year, and I buy huge bags of peeps and chocolate and that weird plastic grass, and then I hide it in the closet until the night before Easter.


Also -- let's just get all this out of the way -- there's no Tooth Fairy either. Yes. When you lose a tooth, it isn't a beautiful winged lady that comes into your room with a five dollar bill. It's usually me. And sometimes I forget, and your mom wakes me up in the middle of the night, and I have to get out of bed, and I am grumpy. You know that time you got a twenty? It wasn't because you were extra-special good. It's just that we forgot, and I had to run down to the ATM, and they don't give out anything less than $20, and I wasn't going to drive all the way to the 7-11 just to be consistent. Your mom and I got into a fight that night, and daddy almost slept on the couch. I was being a jerk, I admit it.


You probably already guessed where I'm going with Santa, right? That's good. Actually there are some people who say Santa did exist a long time ago in ancient Greece, and that he saved some young girls who were going to be forced to do terrible things, because they didn't have any money. So people made him a saint for little children. But he's been dead for hundreds of years. And he never had any elves. That always seemed kinda tacked on.


I think most of this stuff we tell you comes from religions that people used to believe a long time ago, before they changed their religion and started believing in Jesus. They just kept some of their old beliefs, because it made them feel better. That's why we pretended all those things with you: to make your childhood feel warm and cozy and special. Because we love you. And when you become an adult, you realize that life can be pretty awful and hard, so it's nice to have a good childhood to start you off.


You see, even the things we say we believe in when we go to church might not be true. There might not really be a God or a heaven that Uncle Ted went to after the accident. Or for Tuffy when she got hit by the car.


No, Tuffy got hit by a car and died. It was three months ago, when you were visiting Nana. We knew you'd be really upset, so we sent her body away to be burned up, and then went to a store where we got a dog who looked just like her. I didn't think we could do it, to tell you the truth. But remember when Tuffy bit you? That's why. The dog had never met you. But you can call her Tuffy, because the rest of us do.


Anyway, there's no evidence that any of the things we believe in are real. For all we know we might just have been born by accident, and there might be nobody up there watching us and making sure we are good. And that means that when you die, you don't go anywhere. You just stay in a box like the one they put Uncle Ted in. Yes, you stay there. It is very dark -- you're right. But you don't mind, because you're not thinking about that, or anything at all. It's like you're asleep for forever and ever, and you don't wake up, no matter what happens.


I know, honey. It is pretty bad. It's the worst. And the only thing that makes it better is that by the time you're my age so many bad things have happened to you, you just... you just don't mind so much. And by the time you're an old person, you might even look forward to going to sleep forever and ever.


I know. I know. Yes, you can still say prayers if you want. Some people do, and it makes them feel better. And maybe I'm wrong! But I don't think so. No.


But I know this will make you happy. Tomorrow at school you can tell Porter everything I just told you. That ought to teach the little bastard a lesson.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Why The Hell Are You Still Videoing This?

I just don't understand, Todd. Before we figure out how to unlock this portal and get out of the mineshaft... I want you to come clean about why you insist on recording all this.

I could see why you'd want to make a documentary about this place for your class. I was curious too. Hell, I wanted to learn the truth behind the legend of the burning footsteps, and whether they were connected to the '86 cave-in. I was half-hoping we'd see one of those red caps you kept talking about. It even made sense you'd bring a top of the line audio set and two different cameras, although that grainy black and white footage you keep taking seems more like a dramatic film than a documentary.


But that's not the point. The point is that two people are now dead, and you keep shooting this stuff. Why the hell are you doing that? What's wrong with you? Why would any normal person want to record the deaths of his loved ones?


We know what we're up against, Todd. Or at least we have a good idea, from the sound of that weird screaming and the legends we read back at camp. If we're going to fight it together I'll need to trust you. But right now, it's like I don't even know you, man. Who would keep two cameras and an audio system rolling while their girlfriend of two years and their high school buddy were devoured by some kind of glowing thing that sprang from a crack in a wall? Seriously, how could a human being do that?


I'm ashamed to say I ducked behind a rock for cover when the bloodletting started, and that burning smell filled the air. I abandoned my friends. But you... the way you wept like a child... but still somehow had the presence of mind to adjust the filter so you could capture the slightly glowing eyes of the predator while it swallowed the rest of Janet... You don't seem to be afraid, the way people are when their lives are threatened, or when their friends are killed. It's strange to say, but you're not acting like a real person, Todd.


You say you want to leave behind a record of what happened here in case we die. But why? I've already written this note for the police and left it in my backpack. It contains the annotated map of the mine complex. There's no reason they'd need actual footage of all of us being eaten. No goddamn reason. What purpose would that serve? You think they'd show something like this to people? What kind of sick bastard would show a movie like this, and what kind of freaks would watch it?


Well, we're not going to settle this now. And it's sad to say, but if we actually get past those things and make it to the surface I don't think we can be friends anymore. Anyway, right now we need to do our best to just survive the next few minutes. So you MUST put that camera down.


Fine, Todd. Fine. Whatever. Just rest the camera on that rock, pointing in our direction. We'll just keep it running, while we try to make our escape. I'll turn on the audio too. Yes. Just, just... don't talk to me anymore.


Unbelievable. You're completely unbelievable.


(Photo by Simon Challands found here.)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Emergency Broadcast

This is a test. This is only a test. In the event of an actual emergency people in authority would be lying to you right now. They would be giving you incomplete, inconsistent, probably useless, and possibly dangerous instructions. They would be telling you to wait for aid that isn't coming. They'd claim to know the proper escape routes, the path of the hurricane, flood, or fire; or the next move of the terrorist organization which has so far eluded them. They'd claim to be prepared. Above all they would be telling you to trust your survival to the very people responsible for this life-threatening situation. If this had been an actual emergency you would see infrastructure collapsing and teams of first responders with inadequate equipment and ineffective training die in an effort to save you. They would be supplemented by mediocre bureaucrats, incompetent political appointees, and contractors who delivered the lowest bid. Extreme chaos and a string of needless tragedies would be guaranteed. Disasters would feed on each other -- the attack causing the blackout causing the accidents which cause the looting which leads to more accidents, deaths and injuries. Any large, complicated system which has not been the subject of at least one scathing documentary or congressional hearing would disintegrate as soon as you relied upon it. You could count on discovering new and exciting -- very exciting -- flaws in our nation's streets, electrical grid, building codes, and emergency procedures. If this had been an actual emergency you would probably not survive. Your death would cause very few people to lose their jobs or to be otherwise inconvenienced. Those who did would then acquire book deals and appear on talk shows, where they would shamelessly pretend to be blameless, or even more shamelessly pretend to feel crushed with guilt and responsibility. Journalists, politicians, and government contractors would receive promotions, bonuses, and lucrative projects because of your death. They would then help modify the system which failed to prevent or outright caused the terrible calamity which ended your life. This new system would then guarantee the next disaster, a larger disaster, which would expand opportunities for them and their kind even more. No one ever gets a book deal or a promotion or an invitation to a talk show for preventing the preventable, but there are innumerable chances for advancement for someone who made a great speech or shot a gripping bit of video afterwards. If this had been an actual emergency you yourself might have felt some kind of guilty excitement as it started. That would be the product of seeing too many movies and TV shows where people survived terribly dramatic ordeals. And of course this phenomenon might be both cause and effect of a system that obviously feeds on disaster itself. But even you, soon to be dead in the center of all of this, wouldn’t ever learn.
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