Chapter 30 - The End
by Branden Hart
This marks the final chapter of Audience of Shadows. We would like to thank Branden for giving us the opportunity to showcase his talents. Next week we will reprint the novel in its entirety.
He'll be starting a new novel here soon.
"I didn't ask for this," I told my psychiatrist one day.
"That's the biggest complaint people have about life. They didn't ask for it. They didn't ask for what comes along with it, all the pain. They say that if they were given the choice, they wouldn't have taken it."
I nodded in agreement.
"And I tell them they do have a choice. Anybody has the ability to end his or her own life. But the fact that they are still here, talking to me, shows me that at least one part of them—no matter how small it is—sees how important it is to continue living, to strive on through that pain."
Right now, there isn't any pain. There's nothing. Nothing but me, the dead bastard, and Melissa, struggling to hold on to her life.
"Why are you doing it?" I ask her.
"What?" she gurgles.
"Holding on. You should be dead by now. Why are you clinging to life?"
She manages to plant her elbows into the ground and, grimacing, pushes her torso up so she can look directly into my eyes.
"Because I don't want to die."
"So you just want to continue living so you can keep doing the things you do? So you can keep fucking whoever you want? Leading guys along, letting them fall in love with you, then leaving them just because they have some fucking issues? Leaving them for some scumbag who doesn't give a shit about you or who you are, as long as you have a warm wet hole for him to put his dick in? Christ Melissa, you let that guy watch you. Some guy was watching you get fucked by his friend, jerking off in the corner of the room. That isn't normal."
"Neither is shooting people in the face," she mumbles, falling back onto the blood-soaked earth.
"What was I supposed to do?"
"Get on with your life? Deal with it rationally? Hell, I don't know, you taking a shit in my locker would have been better than this."
"Shit doesn't last. It doesn't stick. I could ignore you, I could leave you, I could let all this slide and go about my life. But that isn't the way it works. Letting you off the hook, it isn't permanent. Not like death."
She starts to have a coughing fit and manages to roll over on her side before choking on the blood. A mat of hair falls around her face. I reach down and touch it—warm, dark, shiny, wet. I move it out of her way, and when she finishes coughing, she says, "Thanks."
"My dad left me," I say. "When I didn't have anyone else in the world, he took off, because he couldn't handle what I was. Someone with problems. Not that it mattered—he couldn't handle his own problems, much less mine. But at least he was there. And he's still here. On this planet somewhere. Drinking too much in some shitty bar, fucking some woman he shouldn't be fucking, but he's doing it without having to worry about me."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that if my dad would have just killed himself, none of this would have happened. If he was just gone, gone forever, it would be different. I'm going to make sure that kind of thing never happens to me again, Melissa. I'm sorry that you decided to leave me. But I can't live in a world where the two of us exist, where I'll always know you're out there with some other guy, sharing with him what you shared with me. Something I thought was love."
The sirens ring in the air. Far down the path we drove, I see shadows moving. The cars are getting closer.
"You don't understand..." she starts.
"That's just the thing Melissa—I don't understand. Nobody explained it to me. I had to learn it all myself. No friends, no father, no mother. It was just me. And that's a shitty way to learn any lesson, much less how to live in this world."
"This doesn't have to be the end..."
"Yeah, it does. One way or another, it does."
She lets out a groan and starts coughing again.
A new wind comes in from the west, carrying a familiar smell. As I watch the shadows on the path changing, bouncing up and down as the sirens close in, a light rain begins to fall, but no clouds block the moon. The gentle raindrops sparkle as they land on the dirt, on our clothes, on their blood, winking at each other a thousand at a time.
My mind jumps to the life I have to look forward to. The cops might shoot me. I might die up here, tonight. Maybe I'd get arrested, roughed up a bit, taken downtown. Thrown in a cell, quick trial, then off to the pen, where I'd probably end up playing catcher to some three-hundred pound gorilla who calls himself Debbie. Maybe I'd just go in there and end up so crazy that I don't even know what's going on. That's what I've wanted all along, I realize. I just don't want to be aware.
Suddenly, I remember how many bullets I have left.
I fired two into the air.
I fired one into Johnny's head. Three.
Two I used on the bastard at the apartment. One more to his head at the hill. Six.
One fired into the ground. One fired into Melissa. Eight.
The clip was full. I know I had nine in there. There's one more bullet left.
The sirens fill the air, and I'm blinded for a moment by the headlights shining from the opening of the path. The first car swerves to avoid hitting us head on, the second follows, stirring up clouds of dust that coat my face, and the ambulance following them stops at the entrance to the clearing. Seconds later, doors slam shut and the loudspeaker addresses me.
"Drop the weapon and put your hands on your head!"
Melissa is still on the ground, too weak to get up, but cranes her head back to look into the lights.
"This is the second time I'm going to warn you! Drop the weapon and put your hands on your head!"
"I didn't ask for any of this," I say to Melissa.
She turns to look at me. "Neither did I."
"Yeah," I say. "I know. But you want it, whether you asked for it or not."
I reach in my pocket.
"Hands in the air—NOW!"
Quickly, I uncap my hand sanitizer and pour some on the barrel of the gun.
"DROP THAT WEAPON!"
It's still warm. It's almost pleasant as I place my lips around it. I taste it with my tongue.
"Son, NO! STOP!"
The last experiences I have are the smell of gunpowder, intense heat throughout my body, and a complete obsession with each.
Tim lazily rolled his head so he could look at Angie.
"How much is left?" he asked, his speech slurring, as if he couldn't gather the energy to speak.
"A gram. At least."
Tim slowly shook his head. "No, no. The money."
Angie moved in what could only be approximated as a shrug. "Three, four thousand?"
"Four thousand?" sighed Tim, feigning disbelief. "How could we spend so much in three days?"
"You tell me," said Angie, lighting her Zippo underneath a sterling silver spoon.
"We could do something with this money. Get ourselves on the right track."
"You said that yesterday."
"We could move into a nice apartment, get some jobs."
"You said that yesterday too."
Angie handed Tim the syringe she'd finished preparing. He regarded it with curiosity for a moment, then made a noise, as if indicating he had just that second understood what it was for.
"We can do it tomorrow," Angie said.
"Aren't we getting more tomorrow?" Tim answered.
"Oh yeah. The next day then."
"Yeah," said Tim, sucking in his words as the needle pierced his skin. "The next day."
* * *
I try, but I can't look her in the eyes.
"So, tell me about yourself."
I want to answer. I really do. But I can't speak. Something inside me—the something I hope I can get rid of here—just won't let me.
"Mr. Granger told me about everything that happened. I understand that things must be extremely difficult for you now. I want you to know that I'm here to listen and guide you through the rough emotions you're experiencing."
I can't talk, and it isn't because my jaw is wired shut. My hand shakes, making it hard to hold the pen, let alone use it to form a coherent sentence writing in the notepad on my lap.
"Melissa, please. Tell me why you won't talk. Take your time."
It's all I can do to make straight lines. Slowly, with her watching my hands the whole time, I make my uncertain marks on the page. When I put down the pen, she walks over to look at what I've written. When she sees, she goes and sits back down across from me.
"Melissa, I know you're scared. It's normal. What I want you to do is relax. I'm going to try and teach you a relaxation procedure. The first thing I want you to do is to breathe in deep. Then exhale slowly."
I do it.
"Now, I want you to keep doing that, but I want you to count to ten between each breath. Can you do that?"
I grasp the pen and scribble, more confident now. I hand the pad to her.
"Yes, you can divide up your counting any way you'd like. It doesn't even need to be multiples of ten. Whatever it takes to help you relax—that's the goal."
Knowing that, I'm sure I can do this. Especially if she's letting me count the way I want.
I breathe in. The pain is still there in my chest, where the tube was for so long. There's pain everywhere, but it's the chest that hurts the most. They've told me it will go away.
I breathe out. My entire face pulses, the bones reconstructing themselves, making me into another version of my past self.
Everything is a variant of something it isn't.
I start to count the only way that makes me relax.
One two three.
One two three.
One two three.
An Audience of Shadows Archive
I'll make this quick. I thank my parents, who guided me through my battle with OCD in a way that our poor narrator needed so much. I thank the people who have read this and offered the words of encouragement that kept me writing. Lastly, I thank Michele and Turtle, who so kindly offered me the venue that made this happen. Thanks to you both, for publishing this little novella. You will never know what it means to me.