Chapter 25
by Branden Hart

The next morning, I wake up and look around. Besides the tweakers, everyone is still asleep. There's a distinct taste in my mouth that seems to stem from the back of my nose. My tongue is dry, and as I wipe my mouth, flakes of something brown fly off at an alarming rate. Then I remember.

My stomach reels and I run to the nearest trash can, which is still smoldering from the fire the night before, sparks flying up into the air and disappearing into the cold of the warehouse. I vomit as the thought finds conscious expression--against all of my sober instincts, not even thinking about the consequences, I had done something the night before I can't even imagine now that the alcohol has had time to run its course through my veins.

Did we use a rubber? I seem to remember Angie putting one on me. But I can't be sure. Even then, rubbers don't always protect against STDs.

I stumble out into the courtyard to take a piss, trembling as I anticipate what I believe is the inevitable stinging sensation. Sure enough, there it is, but the moment I feel it, I remember—I already know I have the clap or something like that.

My stomach reels again. That means that, the night before, I had actually put someone else's life at risk. I had endangered them.

The spiral begins—a neverending coil of rationalization that I'm so familiar with. And it really, really pisses me off.

But I had learned something the night before. There was one thing that could keep me from falling through that spiral. Well, maybe two.

Tim is awake by the time I get back inside. "Eye opener?" he asks, holding up the half-empty bottle of whiskey we'd worked on the night before.

"Thought you'd never ask," I say, smiling.

We finish the bottle before either of us says anything.

"Plans today?" Tim asks.

"Errand. I'll be back soon." The warmth in my belly is starting to spread through the rest of my body, and my brain has ceased ranting and raving.

"Well I'll be here man. Someone's got to keep this place in line."

I haven’t been to a shooting range in ages. I don’t tell Tim I’m going because I don’t want questions. Just practice.

Right now I’m squeezing shots off into thin paper targets about forty yards away. One two three. One two three. One two three. Boom boom boom. Recoil recoil recoil. Reload.

The target is shaped like a man’s head. I wish it was an entire body. I don’t intend to shoot at any heads at first. When I finally do, it won’t matter whether I hit or miss. I’ll have plenty of time to try again.

One two three. One two three. One two three. Boom boom boom. Recoil recoil recoil. Reload.

Once the target is decimated, I push a button on the wall next to me and it whizzes back up the zip line. I take it off and replace it. Grouping isn’t bad. Not as good as I used to be, when my dad would take me out every Sunday and teach me the finer arts of target practice. But still good enough. I put another target on the clip, push the button again, and watch as Silhouette Man flees my merciless guns.

One two three. One two three. One two three. Boom boom boom. Recoil recoil CLICK.



I look at the gun curiously. Had I lost count? How many had I fired? I check—there are no bullets left. Had I not loaded a full round?

“Doesn’t matter,” I say to Silhouette Man, out fluttering in the breeze like the shaking coward he is. I begin to reload. “Won’t matter for you in the end how many bullets I have left. Won’t matter for me either. It’s all going to end the same.”

I take aim for his head.

One two three. One two three. One two three. Boom boom boom. Recoil recoil recoil. Reload.

I want to take off my earmuffs. As if blasting my eardrums with all these decibels will keep Irrationality at bay. As if it will drown him out.

One two three. One two three. One two three. Boom boom boom. Recoil recoil CLICK.

How many bullets had I loaded?

It's after that I understand what's happening.

"Prozac is a very safe drug," my psychiatrist told me as she was writing out the prescription weeks ago. "But, like all drugs, it has side effects. Some of them are mild. You may have the sensation that you need to urinate when you don't need to. Might have some hot flashes or cold spells here and there. If you start to get dizzy, call me, and if you can't find me, go to the emergency room."

"Why the emergency room?"

:"Just because they will keep you stabilized until the spell passes. Really, it's just so you don't fall down and hit your head on the concrete.

"There are some other more serious side effects—most of them mental. If the dose is too high, it's possible you'll swing too far one way into a manic state, where there's nothing that bothers you. That isn't good, because it isn't natural to be like that, and some people do dangerous things—such as gambling and drugs—when they are in such states. Another is memory loss."

The goddamned drugs.

"Prozac has been known to lead to short term memory loss. What this means is that your brain will take in information to the short term memory—or your memory that lasts about ten seconds—and won't transfer things to long term, which lasts a lifetime. You won't notice at first. But then, traditionally, you'll be doing simple tasks—counting out cups of water for a recipe, for example—and then in the middle of it you'll forget what number you're on. This happens to everyone occasionally, but if it starts happening at any regular intervals, you need to let me know. We'll have to take you off of it, and because of the nature of the medicine, the effects will stay with you awhile."

The fucking goddamned medication.

"At any rate, I don't think any of these things will pose problems. Just watch out for yourself, ok?"

An experiment, I think as I stare at Silhouette Man, who is now moving less with the wind, what with all the holes.

I pick up a handful of bullets and begin loading them into the gun, counting them one by one. I stop when my hand is empty. Seven.

Then, I go inside and get a coke from the vending machine. The owner is still at the cash register, chatting up a couple of trashy looking girls, showing them his new t-shirt with Chalrton Heston on the front holding up a semi-automatic and giving the thumbs up with an American flag rippling behind him. Had it not been for the girls, I probably never would have gotten past the guy, but as it was, he'd just asked for the money for the range time and let me go on my way.

As I walk back to my spot on the range, I think about how I'll never understand the rabid gun nuts out there. But everyone has to concentrate their lives on something.

Which is what I wasn't doing. Seconds later, I'm holding the gun, wondering how many shots I loaded. There is nothing I can do to remember. I remember loading them—the way they felt in my hand, the sound of them plunking down into the clip. But that's it.

"Time's up, 15," says the voice from the intercom.

How many do I have? I raise the gun and point it at Silhouette Man's head.

One two three. One two three.

And then I remember. Six shots. I loaded six. Smiling, I absent-mindedly pull the trigger one more time, shocked to find it fires once more.

"Fifteen? No more shooting—time to pack up."

As I walk outside, bag in hand, gun in bag, an uncomfortable feeling creeps over me. I threw away the medicine to regain control. But now, the medicine has ripped that control away yet again. And this time, there seems to be shit-all I can do to get it back.

Shit-all except get so loaded that it doesn't make a difference to me.

Which is exactly what I decide to do.

As I walk back to the warehouse, thinking about whether I should try someone other than Angie tonight, I see her across the street, talking to a guy in a car. She's still beautiful, even though I know she's been used more than a community towel at the YMCA. I stare a little longer than I mean too, lost in her hair in the breeze, bits of it looking like they are stretching to get away from her. When she sees me, she leans over to the guy, kisses him, and starts running across the street to meet me.

"Hey," Melissa says when she arrives, out of breath.

"What are you doing Friday night?"

I'm sure there's a part of my brain that understands why I say it, but that part doesn't communicate with any other part at all.

"I've…got plans. But I would like to see you. Things shouldn't have ended the way they did."

I chuckle. "I've got a feeling things aren't quite over yet."

She looks at me curiously, then smiles. "I was kind of thinking the same thing."

A car horn next to us startles her. I don't break my gaze.

"Can you come over tomorrow night?" she asks.

I shrug. "Sure. What time."

"Between seven and eight? Will that work?"

I nod. "Need me to bring anything?"

"Nope," and she draws in close to me, and she smells so wonderful, but then she shrinks away. "You smell awful."

She doesn't say it with surprise, distaste. She says it with sympathy.

"It's been a rough day. See you tomorrow."

I start to walk away and she yells for me to wait. "Here," she says as she runs to meet me. "I have a meeting for Student Council right after school, so in case it runs a little late, take this and let yourself in."

She hands me the key to her apartment.

"It's a spare," she says. "Just make sure not to lose it."

I smile and nod, grasp the key firmly. "I'll see you tomorrow," I say, and I lean down, kissing her exactly like she did the guy in the car.

I'm sure there's a part of my brain that formulates the plan, but that part is completely silent. All I know is that before I turn to walk away, I understand what I need to do and how I'm going to do it. As I begin to smile, at peace for once in my whole life, Irrationality attempts to ambush my positive emotions. "B-b-b-but last night!" it whines, losing its foothold.

"Fuck last night," I say out loud, walking faster. "Last night's not shit compared to today, and both of them add up to nothing in light of what's going to happen Friday."

As it turns out, I had never spoken truer words in my life.

An Audience of Shadows Archive


Wow. I really like the way you did this. I can't wait for the next chapter.


Yeah, good chapter, it has a different feel to it. It's like he's getting deeper into a hole but getting more focus at the same time. He must be loving the

one two three
one two three


Yeah too bad for him the clip didn't hold nine rounds, he'd have been happier.

Is that something about incompleteness maybe, or am I reading too much into it? He can't count to three 3 times with the gun?


Yeah too bad for him the clip didn't hold nine rounds, he'd have been happier.

Is that something about incompleteness maybe, or am I reading too much into it? He can't count to three 3 times with the gun?

No, what you are reading is my complete incompetence when it comes to guns AND executing my plans. You see, I had every intention of prefacing this chapter with "I don't know anything about guns--please tell me everything that's wrong with this."

So please let me know what's unrealistic about what's happening. Basically, I want a situation where he could forget how many bullets he loaded in the gun. Is that even possible? If not, I've got a problem...

(Thanks for the comment man--this is exactly the type of stuff I need.)


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