Chapter 29
by Branden Hart

The bastard's body is heavy. Heavier than I thought it would be. But I need to drag it out in the clearing. I want him to be there, to see her, before I ask him the questions. As I clench my fists more to keep hold of the back of his shirt, I notice resistance, and turn around to see him digging his feet in the ground. He isn't awake yet—it's just an instinct. But he will be soon.

I throw him on the ground less than five feet from her, and turn his face so that she's the first thing he will see when he opens his eyes. Already, blood is pooling around her head, mixing black with the dusty dirt. I walk over, dip the toe of my shoes into the viscous liquid, then draw it out, making wide, sweeping lines in the ground that shine in the moonlight.

There's a cough, and I turn to see the bastard slowly waking. He's not bleeding as badly anymore. The legs of his jeans are a sharp crimson color, in some places, almost black. I go to him, kneel down in front of his face, and watch as he pitches and turns. Finally, his eyes flutter open.

“You did this to her,” I say before he has a chance to talk. “I saw you that night. In the warehouse. You pay homeless chicks to let you do god knows what to them. You and your buddy—he's dead, by the way—you treat women like useless mounds of flesh. It's all your fault that this happened,” I say, standing up and pointing the gun toward Melissa's lifeless body.

The look on his face is satisfying in so many ways. A representation of the disgust I've come to associate with him and with what he, and the rest of us, are truly capable of. It encapsulates the horror of death I have lived with for so long, the horror that, in my estimation, drove me to all this in the first place. But there, also, is a look of satisfaction.

He mutters something under his breath that I can't hear, but I can recognize the words as they form on his lips: “What the fuck have I gotten into?”

“Why are you happy she's dead?”

This question breaks his silence. “Happy?!?” he groans, chest rising dramatically as he sucks in air, as if the utterance of the word had stolen the breath from him. “How could I be happy?!? You've killed my best friend, you killed Melissa, and I imagine I'm next.”

“You are.”

“So why the fuck would I be happy?”

I shrug, and turn around to face her. Still talking to him, I say, “I don't know. Maybe it's some kind of absolution of guilt for all the things you've done to her. Taking advantage of her.”

“I never...”

“Just because you didn't get her drunk or slip drugs into her wine so you could get laid doesn't mean you aren't guilty of taking advantage of her. Hell, of anyone. All the girls—underaged girls, I might add—you pay to suck you off, you've taken advantage of them too. I bet you had a track record with your buddy back there too. Maybe a little something more between you two?”

“Fuck you.”

“Lonely night, sitting together, drinking beer, maybe one of you says, 'Have you ever thought about being with another ma...' ”

“Shut the fuck up.”

I turn to face him. He's trying to get up, but his legs won't support him.

“Tell me, when I walked into the bedroom tonight, who was he jerking off to? Melissa, or you?”

He lunges at my legs, unsuccessfully, and comes down hard on his right knee. His face hits the ground with a “splat,” and he doesn't move. I shoot a bullet into the air. No response. Passed out from the pain, I gather.

That's when I hear sirens again. Closer this time. The one I heard earlier was no coincidence. It was for me.

In the city below, streets zigzag across one another under a sea of incandescent lamps. In the clear night, I can see each one individually. People walk here and there, mindless of the world around them. There's a man walking into a restaurant, the one Melissa and I went to the time she convinced me not to use hand sanitizer for four hours. There's the bench where we sat down when, thirty minutes into it, I had a panic attack.

There's the school, where Mr. Granger would arrive the next morning, no doubt having heard the gruesome news. “Mentally disturbed student kills three,” the headline will read.

That's how I'll be remembered, I think with a start. As someone insane, someone so out of touch with the world that he could commit such crimes, such brutal displays of complete disregard for human life. As if I had a choice, as if the things that had happened to me wouldn't have had the same impact on another person.

It's easy to call a person insane, but when it's you that's been driven to that point, it's hard to understand how people could exist any other way.

People fucking each other is pretty much all I've seen for the past year of my life. Aside from Granger, my psychiatrist, maybe a couple of others, there's nothing that has happened that doesn't seem like one person taking another person and bending them over. My foster mother fucked me. My dad fucked me when he left. My foster father didn't give a shit. And somebody gave me something that was eating away at my cock. Even my “friends” at the warehouse, for the most part, needed me for something. Tim needed a drinking buddy. Angie needed a john. Questions flood my mind. Do people ever do anything for others that doesn't help themselves in the long run? Are we doomed to this kind of parasitic relationship with those who come into our lives? Are we human, or are we the ticks on the Earth, the tapeworms of experience, gorging ourselves on the lifeblood of whatever and whoever we can latch on to?

One question seems to rise above them all as more important. How many shots do I have left?

The screaming brings me back, this infectious high pitched laugh of a scream. That's coming from the bastard. I used to know his real name, but it's the one detail I'm happy to forget that evening.

He stamps his leg, screaming over and over about hospitals and tests and IVs and all I had to look forward to after this night. Jail cells, thin cotton sheets on even thinner matresses, we got 'em all. Come on down.

His stamping is stirring up dust. I don't notice this as immediately as I should; damn medicine. I watch the thin spirals burst into the night sky, up and up, riding on the light air at this height (I should have remembered the altitude) thousands of years of rot and decay looking for a place to rest, and more than likely, at least some of it would end up in my nose, in my lungs, a part of me.

I put the gun to my side for a second. I realize that I just thought "at least some of it would" contaminate me. But some of something every day gets into our bodies and roots around. “What good is all of this?” screams a part of myself I had successfully shut up years before, “If you can't even be conscientious of the most important means of preventing infection?”

He's still stirring up dust; I lean over into it. Tendrils of the stuff caress my face, and I breathe in, soft at first, until Rationality says, "Go for it. It won't hurt. Most importantly, it won't kill you."

That last part's the kicker. My psychologist said that half the reason for my disorder stems from an unwarranted fear of mortality that I hadn't dealt with. I told her I'd dealt with death my whole life. She said she wasn't talking about just experiencing it; she was talking about incorporating it into my ideal self, into the person my soul wanted me to be.

The dirt tickles my nose, and I sneeze, and it feels good; I don't sneeze that often. I keep a list of places and situations that can cause sneezing, as well as remedies to arrest the urge, in the "Things to avoid and ways to avoid dealing with them" part of my brain. It's the biggest part of my brain, I think. And I wonder if, after tonight, there's not going to be much use for it.

Damn medicine.

'Who's fault is it?" asks the guy my girlfriend's been sleeping with. "Is it mine? Or hers? Either one right? Either one to make you feel as though you aren't the one to blame. Well you know..."

I put another bullet into his leg to shut him up. The screams multiply. It sounds like there are two voices screaming. I look at him and realize he isn't making a sound. His mouth is open, but nothing comes out.

I turn around. I'm caught between the warring factions of my mind, watching, listenening, as sirens and blue and red lights slowly work their way through the town laid out below us. I have to think, and the screaming in my head doesn't help. I have to think back over what's happened, what led up to all this. Then I can decide whether to kill the bastard.

That is, says one of my minds—I'm not sure which—if you still have any bullets left.

Which I had not thought of when I shot his leg.

I'm breaking apart here, and it's pretty fucked up. But not as fucked up as what I'm doing right now. Melissa, who I shot in the head what seems like moments ago, just coughed.

An Audience of Shadows Archive


I can't believe this is almost over.

You've made me feel like these people really exist. Great job, Branden.


Yeah, really.

I hope he has at least three bullets left.


You've made me feel like these people really exist.

One of the greatest compliments a fiction writer can receive. Thanks Michele.

I hope he has at least three bullets left.

Hahaha! You'll find out next week...


I can't wait until next week!!! omg.. this story is eating me alive. absolutely love it.


Thanks Marissa! It's been a blast to write, and has been stewing for about three years, so it's a relief to get it finished!


What gets to me is that I KNOW these people. I went to high school with some of them. No one ever lost it quite like your protagonist does...but damn, one of them could have.


What gets to me is that I KNOW these people. I went to high school with some of them.

I appreciate it man--I knew these people do. Most of them are straight from folks I knew in high school, some of them just a collection of a lot of people I knew. It's been kind of nostalgic writing this.


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