Chapter 20
by Branden Hart

In the dark, in my foster father's house. Not a light on in the place.

The week before, after I left Melissa in that parking lot, Mr. Granger says there's something different about me.

"You look like something's on your mind."

"There is. I know my purpose now."

He starts writing. I'm tempted to ask him how many pens he goes through in a week. I remain silent.

"Your 'purpose,' well that's good. What is it?"

"Making things right."

"You mean, like a police officer?"

"Yeah," I say, almost a whisper. "Something like that."

He smiles. "That's a noble profession. You know what? There are personality traits that all obsessive compulsive people have that aren't negative. The more you learn how to control those, well, they may be very helpful in a line of work like that."

"How so?"

"Say you're a police officer approaching a house where a crime has taken place. Someone without obsessive personality traits might not think about everything involved—maybe he would just bust in the front door without asking himself questions you would. 'Is there someone inside? Is it the time of day that person might be asleep, and if so, how long do I have to take him by surprise?' That kind of thing."


I stare at the air conditioning vent. Momentarily, it turns on and emits a low, steady buzz. I feel the cool air caress my face, my hair—too long now—barely touching my forehead.

"Are you sure there isn't anything wrong right now?"

He's looking at me. Maybe he can see through it. Maybe he knows there's something else underneath it all. But maybe he's just a hack—just a guy with a specialized degree and a little knowledge of how to get information out of people. Maybe this is just part of a script.

"Well, I am missing Algebra."

He looks at his watch. "Oh crap, I'm sorry. We've gone over. I'll write you a note."

"We've gone over." The phrase repeats as I sit in the darkness, the nondescript bottle by my side, a soft cotton hand towel in my lap.

The day after Granger, I see my psychiatrist.

"You look different somehow," she says as I sit down.

"Been hearing that a lot lately."

"Why are you so vengeful?"

So, Granger was a hack. This woman immediately sees in me the emotion that I tried so hard to hide from the world.

"Don't ask," she says, writing. "It's something I've seen a lot. I've experienced it myself. I can tell. That's all you need to know."

"I just want to right what's wrong," I say in what I hope is a confident voice.

"And what makes you the authority on right and wrong?"

I think for a second. "How do I know how you exist?"

"Many scientists place a good bit of confidence in empirical evidence. You see me, therefore, I exist."

"But what if my senses are wrong? You see things all the time that don't exist. Mirages, shadowy figures in the corner of your eyes. Who's to say that you aren't the same?"

"Who's to say you aren't a brain in a vat?" she asks.


"You aren't the first person in the world to ask these questions. Descartes, the French philosopher, said 'I think, therefore I am.' Otherwise, he doesn't think there's anything else he should believe is a reality."

"Sounds like a smart guy."

She shrugs. "It's debatable. He bent to the Roman Catholic Church and changed his conclusions in what he touted as a proof that God exists. Pretty pathetic if you ask me."

She continues to look at me. It's the longest I've ever seen her go without writing things down.

"Anyway, it's the first argument that's interesting. How are we to know that anything exists besides us? And if we can't make that assumption, why have any regard for the things that our mind leads us to believe exist?"

I nod my head in agreement.

"That's an extremely dangerous attitude to foster," she continues.

I stare at the leather on the chair. It is defined by its wrinkles.

"When you disregard the value of others, their rights, their very existence, you're left with a way of dealing with them that can lead to consequences which, if your theory proves to be false, have terrifying consequences."

The carpet is worn by the thousands of feet that have trampled it.

"This is what Kant called a necessary postulate. Whether or not you believe what you're saying is true, you can't practically act as if what you're saying is true."

Her chair is perfect. It is new. It's newer than the one she had last week. Which is newer than the one she had when I first began seeing her.

"You're subscribing to a point of view that, if you allow it to infiltrate your life, will produce actions that you may regret one day."

With these three things, I can see…

(One two three…)

"I think I need to see you later on this week…"
That she cares more about her than me…

(One to three…)

"Please schedule an appointment. I'm not sure I'm comfortable with where you are now."

Where I am now is in the living room of my foster father's house. There's a steady wind blowing through the large oaks in the front yard. I hear his car pulling into the cul-de-sac where the house sits. I hear him pull into the driveway. I hear him wait. He does this every night. He'll come in stinking of booze. He'll stumble through the doorway, and will probably fall down. If I look outside, I'll see on his car the damage done from the dozen or so curbs he's run up against this week. But I won't look outside. There isn't anything for me out there.

He sits out there for an eerie amount of time.

Forty-seven seconds.

Inside, he stumbles as expected. His senses are dull. He doesn't notice me approach him from behind. He doesn't notice anything at all…

…until he wakes up in the attic. In my room.

There's a mirror on the wall in front of him—the mirror my foster mother used to dress herself in front of. A mirror where he can see all of himself. It's covering the hole where he used to put his eyes.

He's naked, and tied to a chair. There is a handkerchief in his mouth, gagging him. He begins to struggle. And I'm standing behind him.

"So," I say, running the edge of my knife against my palm. I make a small knick in the fleshy part under my thumb, but the pain seems enjoyable.

"So," I repeat. "You like to watch?"

He starts struggling more, and I let him. The rope is already tearing his flesh—I can see the rawness begin to develop on his neck. He fights and fights—an animal caught in a trap. Though he knows it's useless, he continues to fight.

"So," I say finally, "You like to watch?"

He begins to cry.

"Well, watch this," I say calmly as I stab the knife into his sternum one, two, three times…

[Ed note: The staff of FTTW would like to congratulate Branden on his engagement]

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