As promised, these are the closing moments in my first encounter with Sandy Asbury.
November 19th, 9:00AM
I had been staring at a rapidly expanding pile of encircling cigarette butts for countless hours before Rebecca caught my attention by rapping on the windowpane. She motioned for me to come inside. My muscles were stiff from sitting in the cold for so long, so I stood up slowly and carefully, fearing that I might shatter if I moved too quickly, and shuffled inside. I dropped a smoldering cigarette on the concrete before stepping through the door.
“Is it my turn to cuss you for sitting out in the cold?” asked Rebecca.
“No,” I said.
“Alright,” she said. “Did your date go well?”
“You said you would be out late, so I assumed you had a date. Was he cute?”
“Now is not the time, Rebecca.”
“Oh, are you embarrassed? Did you put out on the first night? I heard that makes you a slut, somewh—”
“Fuck off, Rebecca! I’m not in the fucking mood!”
She was visibly shocked at my snap, but she finally stammered out a response.
“Fine, ass.” She said. “You don’t have to be a little bitch about it.”
I went upstairs and put on a jacket immediately after that. I needed a change of scenery as soon as possible. When I came down stairs Rebecca was on the phone.
“Yeah?” she asked. “How long?”
I heard the voice on the other end respond, but I couldn’t understand the words.
“Hold on, let me ask the friend I’m staying with. Hey, M?”
She caught me as I was walking out the door.
“Can you come here for a minute?”
I closed the door and approached her, and she held the phone out to me.
“This is my friend Daniella. She wants to ask you something.”
“Rebecca, is this important? I really need to get out.”
“Yeah! I swear!” she said.
I held the phone up to my face and said hello. A fast talking female voice with a faint Hispanic accent spit out an unintelligible paragraph immediately.
“I’m sorry, can you repeat that?” I said.
“Oh, yes. Sorry, Mr. Saffron. I’m Rebecca’s friend—“
“Right, Daniella. She told me about you. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I was talking to her about coming to visit me in Texas, but she said she didn’t have a ride. I was wondering if you would be willing to drop her off at the train station for me. I will pay for the ticket; she just needs a ride there. Would that be okay?”
With the phone still held against my face, I pressed my wrist to my forehead and sighed. Rebecca tottered on her toes, waiting for a response.
“Yeah, sure,” I said.
Rebecca jumped towards me and wrapped her arms around my neck; the hand that held the phone was still raised to my ear, and it pressed tightly against my face.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you, M!” Rebecca said.
“Yes, thank you very much,” said Daniella.
Their collective happiness pulled me out of my damnable sorrow.
“You’re welcome,” I said, handing the phone back to Rebecca. I started to walk towards the door again, but she stopped me.
“Wait, M! I need to leave soon! Are you going to be gone long?”
“I was planning on it. I guess I’ll wait for you.”
I fell back onto the couch and nuzzled my cheek into the warm, white cloth, listening as Rebecca went on, talking to Daniella.
“9:45? Am or pm?”
“M, where’s the nearest train station?”
I watched her pace around the floor and throw her things into a small pile.
“Can I borrow a suitcase?”
The warmth of the sofa cushioned my cold, tired bones.
“What name is the ticket under?”
“M, can we leave soon? Yes, Daniella.”
“I’ll ask. M, could you loan me a few dollars so I can buy something to eat on the way? What about that suitcase?”
My eye lids were closing and opening with rapidly lessening frequency.
“M?” Rebecca repeated, finally catching my attention.
I sprung up from the couch and forced my eyes to open.
“Did you hear anything I said?”
“Yeah, yeah. Sorry. We can leave as soon as you’re ready. I’ll find a suitcase you can borrow.”
November 19th, 9:30AM
“Yes ma’am, my friend Daniella called and purchased a ticket that should be under the name Rebecca Randy.”
The train station was empty, except for Rebecca and me. I stood next to her, in front of the ticket desk, and traced the cream grout between the small, brown floor tiles with my eyes. I stared up at the fluorescent light, which was covered up with a flat, dimpled plastic. Bug corpses were scattered across the opaque, plastic covering, like an exhibit for an insect battle-ground. The foam tiles in the suspended ceiling were yellowed with smoke, as were the large, cream colored bricks that made up the four walls of the station. The plastic shield between the woman at the desk and Rebecca and I was covered in fingerprints.
“Rebecca Randy’s the name,” she said to the woman behind the office.
She was an older, black woman in a grey golf-shirt with an askew, cream colored name-tag with a simple, black railroad car on it. Her name—Lizbeth—was printed in boxy, red letters.
Lizbeth handed Rebecca the ticket and we walked away from the desk.
The bench where Rebecca would wait for her train was directly in front of a smudged window that had an ash tray below it. I walked to the bench across from Rebecca’s, lit a cigarette, and analyzed her delicate, relaxed pose.
“What?” she asked.
“Hmm? Oh, nothing. I was just sitting here, wondering if I’d ever see you again.”
“I can’t make any promises, but I’d like to come back and see you. It’ll all depend on my financial situation. I might go see my dad—he’d probably give me money.”
“You should,” I said. “I’m sure he misses you.”
Rebecca fixed her eyes on the floor and let out a melancholy sigh.
“So, you will be coming back?” I repeated.
“Don’t try to force an answer out of me, M. Like I said, I’d like to see you again, but I don’t know.”
“Maybe I can help you decide,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
I went outside to fetch three books I had laying in my back seat and ran inside to give them to her. I hurried back inside, with a stack of books pulled close to my chest; I was breathing heavily, and feeling extremely lugubrious, as I hovered over her and began passing out each one.
“This one,” I said, handing her the first book—two short stories by J.D. Salinger (“Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction”)—“is for the trip there. I’ve never read it, so you’ll have to come back and tell me about it. This one,” I said, handing her a copy of “Metamorphosis”, by Franz Kafka, “is for the trip to see your dad. It’s my favorite book and I’d like to see it again. This one,” I said, handing her a copy of “Fantastic Voyage”, by Isaac Asimov, “is for the trip back here. Don’t bother thanking me. Just tell me how much you like them when you get back.”
She smiled at me and repeated, “I can’t make any promises.”
“Well, I’ll take back ‘Fantastic Voyage’, then.”
I held out my hand, but she pulled the book close and said, “Alright, I’ll come back, but only because I want to read it.” Then she smiled and winked at me.
“Weren’t you going to find a change of scenery?” she asked.
Immediately, the guilt of Luke and Annie’s death weighed down on me, and I knew I needed to find some fresh air.
“You’re right. Goodbye, Rebecca,” I said.
“See you later!” she said to me as I walked to the door.
November 19th, 11:30AM
I threw a cigarette butt into the snow and stared at the mound of dirt over Luke’s body, then Annie’s. The crushing of Luke’s windpipe—the way his body convulsed more and more violently up to that moment, until he gave up, defeated and dead; the shocked, stupid look that flashed onto Annie’s face before her head violently spun away from mine; the sound the knife made as it sunk into their skulls; the depressing decrescendo of a .357 bullet; the blood, billowing and misting out of the dying bodies; I cringed as a vivid memory of each invaded my thought. I still chose not to say anything for them; it would seem insincere, I thought, to eulogize friends whom I had killed, while in their house, on their invitation; the fact that I was acting under Sandy’s command made no difference. I had done it. I am a murderer. I am the bad guy. I repeated the thought in my head, while the memories roared on in the background:
“I am the bad guy. I am the bad guy. I am the bad guy. I am the bad guy.”
My eyes flashed to my sunken, snowy feet when my eyes lighted on something else—a mound of fresh snow, a few inches from where I stood. I walked towards it and pushed my hands into the snow. I followed the frozen metal barrel over the cylinder and the body, down to the plastic handle and raised it out of the white grave. Newt’s gun twinkled. I put the gun into my glove compartment and left Luke, Annie, and Rump behind me forever.
“I couldn’t help it,” I reminded myself.
November 19th, PM
I don’t know when I finally made it home, but I had been sitting on the porch smoking cigarettes for what felt like an hour. I had taken of my jacket before stepping outside, so the winter wind was stinging my bare skin. I had no desire to allay my guilt with creature comforts, so I stayed sober and let the biting cold keep me awake. A thick bed of snow covered my back yard.
There is a feeling that creeps over you when things become so quiet that the silence deafens you. It’s a roaring quiet, which inhales your feelings and thoughts with it. You would interrupt it with shouts or cries, but it paralyzes you where you are; it is your master. That same quiet struck me as the snow silently began falling.
My hand, which held my cigarette, hovered far enough from my face that the smoke didn’t sting my eyes. My body didn’t move, but my eyes followed the snowflakes’ diagonal drift towards the earth. A dog began barking, in stark defiance of the silence I had deified. As soon as it stopped, Rump’s last words ran through my head.
“You’re more villain than victim.”
Then, my reminder:
“I couldn’t help it.”
I took a drag from my cigarette and shivered in the cold.
“I’m sorry we had to meet this way,” Sandy said, out of nowhere.
“Fuck off,” I said.
“I will be leaving soon, M Boy, but I was wondering if there was anything you had to ask me.”
Before I could ask the most pressing question, he interrupted my train of thought.
“Luke and Annie’s death was an unnecessary accident,” he said. “I needed to see if you would listen to me when it counted. You didn’t even like them.”
“They weren’t perfect, but I did like them. They cared enough about me to make sure that everything was alright when Rump and Rebecca were dropped into my lap—“
“They weren’t dropped, M. Rump was insane—you could have kicked him out, and he wouldn’t have done anything to stop you. And, you invited Rebecca in.”
“I didn’t know she was—“
“Spare me the excuses, Miles. I refuse to cushion your crushing morality. That is part of your problem, M boy, and I am here to help you. Enabling your delusion would defeat the purpose.”
I thought of pressing but innocuous questions and went on.
“is one of us. You can ask her; she will tell you. She speaks with poisonous lips, M boy, and she loves to kill. Why on earth would she drink out of Ed’s mug, eh? She gets off on killing. That’s why she stays around you. There seems to be a sort of challenge with you that she cannot resist.”
His answer was a hurtful attack on my feelings towards her. I did my best to hide them, but he interrupted my thoughts.
“I know—you find her very lovely. It’s not an accident. That is what makes her so effective in her games of death. Is there anything else you want to ask me?”
“—is dead. He and I were together for a very long time, but he could never have told you that. I am afraid that his mind was my earliest playground. We were together for 5 years—his 35th birthday was not long ago. Is there anything else?”
“Why do you keep asking? You’re just going to interrupt me.”
“True. Well, in that case, I told him to find you—forced him, as you would say. It was not difficult to convince him that our actions were just and good. I merely told him that you were ‘a lost soul’. He took the bait immediately. His love for your struggles’ banality was unparalleled. I think it must be a result of his insanity.”
Sandy appeared now, in the night. He stepped to the edge of the concrete and stared out of his dark sunglasses into the twinkling night sky. He cleared his throat before he continued.
“Rump’s insanity is something that even I was sorry for. When we first met, his mind was average and uninteresting. He was lonely, much like you, Miles; but, the severity to which he judged himself was refined and passionate—something which you would do well to imitate. His immediate response, when I first infiltrated his mind, was that he was going crazy. To his own fault, he believed I was a hallucination. I made it very difficult for him to consider any other possibility.”
Sandy removed the black leather glove from his left hand and scraped the wooden pillar closest to where he stood. He interrupted his own distraction and continued.
“I tortured him, and for that I am sorry. By the end of it all, I believe he saw that the things I did were for his own good, which is something that you will learn in time.”
At that moment, he walked out into the snow. His footprints didn’t follow him. Before I could ask, he turned to me.
“It’s a nice trick, isn’t it, M Boy?” he asked. Then, he vanished.
After his disappearing act, I walked over to Luke and Annie’s house. I grabbed a painting from their wall and walked back, carefully keeping my eyes peeled for any neighbors. After I arrived home, I began driving a nail into a stud over my bookshelf.