Chapter 27
by Branden Hart

I don't know what time it is when the lid to the dumpster is lifted and a bag full of bottles is thrown inside haphazardly, reigning down a thunderous “Good morning” on my head. Where had common decency gone?

Upon waiting several seconds and then opening the lid myself, I see the sun already high in the sky, its heat augmenting the putrid stench that cloaks me.

The night in the dumpster had passed without any incident. Despite what I drank, I feel refreshed today. Perhaps that is due to the sense of purpose weighing on my mind. Regardless, the fact of the matter is that I don't have any time for a hangover. There are things to do before the real fun begins.

I can't help smiling as I shoulder my backpack and head up to Melissa's apartment. I'll have the place to myself all day. Just because her mother has a night job doesn't mean she'll be home.

“Most days, she doesn't come home at all,” Melissa told me once after we'd fucked on her mother's bed during lunch one day. “We don't have anything to worry about.”

“I thought you said you ate dinner together every night?”

“I said I make dinner for her. Doesn't mean she's here to eat it.”

“Where is she?”

Melissa shrugged. “Hell if I know. Some bar. Or some guy's house. Probably a guy she met at the bar.”

Inside, it smells like Melissa smells when she has her clothes on. That and fish. But the fish is definitely from me. Slowly, my brain comes around and realizes what filth I'd exposed myself to in my drunken binge. My heart begins to race, my chest tightens, and for a second, I'm worried that if I have a heart attack, I'll forget the number for 911. Desperate to silence everything, I plunge my hands into my bag and retrieve the bottle of whiskey I had been saving for tonight. No matter—I know Melissa's mother has some more stashed away that will get me through this whole ordeal.

My clothes I throw in a garbage bag and leave outside the door. Then I go into the bathroom, stand in front of the mirror. My skin has an eerie glow—greasy, slippery. I run my finger down my chest; a viscous liquid collects underneath the uncut nail.

After drinking more of the whiskey, I get in the shower, more to relax myself than to get clean. With the whiskey, I don't need to be clean. I just need to be. It's something the medicine never gave me. It helps me maintain a focus on the now, to forget about then, or tomorrow, or all the what ifs that have been following me around like iron filings to a magnet since before I can remember.

I always loved the smell of her hair, I think as I rub her shampoo into mine. It always smelled so good, so clean.

“Why are you talking about her in the past tense?” asks Rationality.

I only smile.

“Have you thought this through?” he asks again.

“No. Maybe that's why it's such a good idea.”

“Listen, there are ways around this. You don't have to...”

Rationality, that bastard, talks when he shouldn't, never there when I need him. Fuck him. “Fuck you,” I say, under my breath. “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.”

I reach out of the shower, grab that whiskey bottle sitting a foot away on the back of the toilet, and take a long, hard pull.

“Fuck all of it. The whole fucking world. Me, them, everything. What does it amount to? Jack shit. All I have are these fucking piece of shit voices in my brain. Voices...”

I come to some time later, sitting on the floor of the tub. The water's still running, still warm. Had I sat down? Fainted? Just zoned out?

More whiskey.

In her room, I search Melissa's drawers and eventually find shorts and a t-shirt I can wear. After putting them on, I go outside, careful to lock the door behind me. Now I'm feeling tipsy, and I stumble a bit going down the stairs. It's more funny than anything, but reminds me that, to do what I'm going to do, I can't be shitfaced. Or at least, I really, really shouldn't be.

“What are you going to do?” asks the man behind the register at the hardware store.

Even though I know what I need, I take my time wandering up and down the aisles of the hardware store. Rat poison—aisle 11. Plant food—aisle 9. Garden supplies—aisle 3 3 3.

Some habits are hard to break, no matter how much liquor is pulsing through your veins.

“What are you going to do?” repeats the cashier.

“Even things out.”

“Ah,” he says knowingly. “I have a chair I've been meaning to do that with for quite some time.”

“No, I mean, I'm going to set things right.”

“But, you know, somehow, you never find the time you need.”

He isn't listening.

“So, I just sit there, wobbling, my kids laughing at their dad...”

“What did you say?”

He puts down the duct tape he was trying to scan. “I said, I just sit there...”

“No, before that.”

“What—there isn't enough time?”

It's fucking hilarious. I laugh until I think my gut's about to explode. “Time?” I ask. “Time?!? Not enough? Fuck man, that's all there is! That's what all this shit is about!” I yell, motioning around me, other patrons of the store turning from what they are doing to watch. “You ever sleep in a dumpster? Fuck a chick with herpes? Man, you don't know what time is. You don't know how it works—but I DO. And you need to worry about doing more with it than leveling the legs on some fucking chair.”

He looks at me like I'm a leper and scans the duct tape. “That'll be twenty-seven fifty-two.”

“Fucking money—money marks time, you know?” I say, handing him thirty bucks. “And you can keep that fucking change—use it to fix your chair.”

I walk out with my bags. Security is following me through the parking lot, so I start to run. Running feels good. I feel the whiskey sloshing around in my belly, but I continue to run. As fast as I can I concentrate on pounding the pavement, driving gravel through my shoes, up to my feet, letting it pierce my skin, enveloping it, making it a part of me. Integration. Assimilation. Annihilation. It's all the fucking same. Become me, I say to the earth. Be my soul.

I look around and I'm standing in Melissa's kitchen. I don't remember getting to her apartment, let alone going into her apartment. The whiskey bottle hangs loosely in my hand. I regard it for some time before taking a long pull.

The bag I carried home from the hardware store is at my feet. The duct tape has rolled across the kitchen floor. There are already three lengths of rope cut and placed very carefully next to each other. Each looks about one inch longer than the one adjacent.

I look around the apartment. Some other things have changed. Things I've done I don't remember doing.

Melissa and her mother were never ones to keep a clean house. It wasn't so dirty that I had panic attacks there, but dirty enough that I would often hold my piss for hours just to avoid going in their bathroom. Even that morning, I noticed (though I didn't care) how much the place could use a good, hard scrubbing. But what I'm looking at now is spotless.

I walk to the trashcan. Empty. Completely. As if the trash has just been taken out.

Into the bathroom. Nothing different. Nothing different in Melissa's room either. Nothing different in the hall. Except a missing clock. There was one that hung there—right over the picture of Melissa in the second grade. It was an old wooden clock—antique.

I look down the hall. The door to Melissa's mother's room is open a slit. Faded light leaks onto the carpet outside. The door easily swings open, my hand barely brushing it.

Sitting on the pillow of the bed, propped up like a hospital patient, facing the door, is the clock from the hall. A knife is sticking out of the face, the rest of the wooden surface stained with glass blood. Gathered around its base are at least six or seven other clocks—old fashioned alarm clocks, digital clocks, and there, a watch or two—all in states of complete destruction. As I draw closer, I notice the knife is stabbed through a piece of paper. It says, “Counting divides time. And vice versa.”

Something makes me chuckle. More of a feeling in the stomach than anything. It's so funny I decide to down the rest of the whiskey bottle. I laugh to myself as I check the bathroom...

No clocks.

Melissa's room?

No clocks.

I laugh the hardest when I'm back in the kitchen. Every fucking clock in the house—destroyed. Killed Wasted time.

More whiskey. Gotta have more. I'm a little dizzy as I stretch to reach the top of the shelf where Melissa's mom “hides” her booze. I come up with a half-full bottle of Crown Royal.

Bottle in hand, I go back through the house, turning out the lights, leaving it the way it was when I walked in earlier today. Still grinning, chuckling, I go into the kitchen, grab my backpack, and sit down on the floor in front of the rope.

I imagine my teeth, white, shining through the darkness, my kinfe-cut grin their window to the world.

I load the gun carefully, counting the bullets. One two three two two three three two three...

There's the sound of a car pulling up. Doors opening. Doors closing. People laughing. Three people. Two guys. A girl. The floor reverberates with their pounding steps. Space bends around this place as they approach. The sound of metal on metal—her key in the lock. I realize I have an erection, and wonder why for a split second.

The door opens.

I don't remember anything else...

An Audience of Shadows Archive


Holy shit my hands are sweating. Great job, this thing really builds up the suspense.


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