“Take it easy, take it easy.” Glenn Frey’s voice sang.
When the torture began, I felt my mind pull me away from reality and into a comforting and reminiscent space that resembled a radio station which only played the songs that relaxed me the most. The sickening reminder that my imagination would not dull my senses struck me first in the throat, which sealed in simulacra of anaphylaxis. An anemic sensation possessed the rest of my body. My shotgun fell from my limp fingers, hitting the ground with a cold, sharp sound. I began to struggle under the feeling of suffocation. Breathless, it seemed, was holding nothing back as he held me accountable for my attempted murder. I felt the oxygen in my lungs being replaced with what seemed to be microscopic razorblades that were soaked in isopropyl alcohol. He stood with the same empty eyes, watching blankly as I twisted in agony. His gaping mouth opened to reveal a black, never ending throat which opened to the vacuum-like abyss of his lungs. After I collapsed in agony, my tear filled eyes met his, cold and unblinking as he watched his spectacle of agony roll around the floor in a fit of tears and spasms.
“Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy.”
My muscles tightened. My fingers dug into the palm of my left hand, drawing enough blood to pool beside me. My right hand held onto my chest, displaying my desperation and helplessness to my captor, who was, no doubt, entertained.
Right before I fainted, Breathless closed his mouth and vanished upstairs leaving me to regain my breath. Newt was leaned up, lifeless, against the island leading into my kitchen. The pool of his blood had been enough to cover an amorphous, spherical shape roughly half an inch deep and 1 meter in diameter. His ribcage was exposed. Raw skin and muscle filled with buckshot and pieces of his green plaid shirt were draped around his lifeless body, scattered just outside of his island of blood, or painted on my walls and counter top. His irises had relaxed. He now had the black, unresponsive pupils of a corpse. His jeans were soaked in urine. His mouth was gaping open in shock, mocking me—a murderer—with his silence. I felt my heart start racing in my chest. My head began swimming for a second, but I pulled myself together and started running upstairs, shouting.
“I’ll fucking kill you, you murdering fuck! I swear to God, I’m going to sew your fucking mouth shut in your sleep and drown you! I’ll light your goddamn face on fire! I’ll melt you and poor your liquefied remains down the fucking sink, you subhuman garbage!”
I ran after him, shouting these meaningless threats at the top of my lungs, but as I reached the top of the stairs, I found him waiting in my door frame showing the only hint of emotion I’d seen in him since we met. Arrogant as he was purposeful, he began to disassemble what little I knew about him in the simplest way possible: he smiled. Without a sound, he spoke loud and clear. His message was that I had lost the first of many battles with him. Had he spoke, he would have said, “You don’t know a fucking thing.” His furrowed brow mocked me as his clenched teeth shined at me, proving that he was in control; relieving me of any curiosity I might have had about his humanity.
I began to spiral out of control by freezing in front of him while my eyes became unwillingly affixed on his eyes, which stole my soul; and his smile, which turned the remaining shell rancid. I managed to look away and relax myself, only to immediately drift back into my mind. Thoughts began to rush in my brain like someone was pouring them into my head.
“Handle it. Handle this situation.”
The thought crept into my mind in my voice, but without my permission.
In a moment of clarity, I knew I needed to clean up the mess, immediately. I knew I needed to make sure that I was careful, meticulous, and neat. Barefooted, I went down the stairs toward the garage. Newt’s wet blood stuck to my bare feet, which sent shivers up my spine each time they touched the ground. The floor croaked up a peeling noise every time I pulled them from the sanguineous lake that covered it. I went to the garage to fetch bleach, along with anything else I could find that would help me dispose of my friend’s body, liters of blood, loosely scattered flesh, and the other concomitants of a recently committed murder.
“Calm down. Calm down.” I said. “My mind is clear,” I reminded myself.
My garage’s light-switch wasn’t working, so I went upstairs to grab a flashlight, putting on a pair of slippers to prevent me from trailing Newt’s blood any farther through the house.
On the way upstairs, my mind began a fearful journey, weighing out my action’s consequences and morals—questioning the level of my own selfishness and despising my answer.
“Nothing will ever get done by waiting around and worrying about the outcome,” I thought, calming myself. “I can fix it. I can fix it…” I repeated aloud.
“No one ever had any fun running from the police. I feel no remorse. I feel justified. I was helping him. I can convince myself. It was self-defense. It was a fucking misunderstanding! No one ever went to jail if they did a good job cleaning up their mess. If you’re meticulous and wear gloves and keep your mouth shut, the world never finds out.”
Thoughts broke in and demanded my full attention until finally my racing mind finally came to an abrupt halt. I was convinced. In the short journey up the stairs a marriage formed between my guilt and my ingenuity. A vile cunning developed, which was a new and terrifying part of my personality. Feeling guilt for my selfish outlook on Newt’s death is what finally pulled me out of my own mind, though only for a moment.
The fear of what was to come of my conscience pulled me back, immediately. I began to drift into the dark labyrinth of my thoughts as the very real threat of losing my emotional connection with the world weighed down on me. I played out as many different variations of each set of possible consequences as I could. I drifted, thinking of the many possible outcomes of my capture. I would be sent to jail, in the best case. I might be killed for an action I have no control over—it could be in a quibble with an inmate about whether he could have my lunch, or a heart attack from the fear that plagued every minute aspect of my existence. For a moment, I forced myself to entertain the terrifying possibility that I could develop a taste for murder. I could, after the right amount of morals had left, go on a spree, cleaning up with whichever method I see most useful and safe. After a short while, I became lost in the many possibilities of my own demise, each one more unsettling than the last. Finally, I began to feel as though time had moved to a crawl. I could see my silhouetted body floating lifelessly into darkness as the music began playing again.
“Take it easy.”
That calming line would become the theme of my waking nightmares as well as my resting ones.
Time slowly returned to me, or I to it, and my goal began to resurface. I intended to take all necessary measures to cover my own ass.
At the top of the stairs, waiting for me, Breathless stood in my door frame, still grinning. As I approached him he moved out of my way. In my room, I found more inoperative lights. I fumbled in the dark for a minute, finally finding the flash-light. When I looked up, my eyes met with his silhouette. His teeth still glowed and grinned.
“His voice must be as paralyzing as his gaze,” I thought. “His mind must be the worst of all.”
I turned on the flashlight and shined it in his face. He turned away and blinked. Chuckling, I made my way back down the stairs, kicking off my slippers when I reached the bottom floor.
I felt my heart rate speed up again as my eyes met with Newt’s mutilated body. I inhaled, counted to three, and exhaled, repeating that calming rite over and over. After I had relaxed, I started to move toward the garage door, feebly trying to avoid my friend’s bodily fluids, which were virtually everywhere, but especially concentrated in my path to the door. I froze in my steps as I grew closer to the opened garage. Coming out of the dark cavern, I could hear a faint, familiar whistling.
“All the birds are leaving, Miles” said a voice from inside. He continued to whistle the haunting melody, erratically interrupting himself.
“That was definitely screwed up, those things you were thinking earlier.” He would say, returning to his tune.
Then, like a long lost relative he would yell, “My, you’ve gotten smarter than I thought you would.” The voice spoke with a captivating baritone lilt. I inched closer to the siren song. His enchanting Irish voice erupted from the door in a crescendo.
“Your fickle friend is leaving. It’s time for him to go. But I shall still be here. I have no thought of leaving you.”
With every opaque and mantic line he pulled me closer, simultaneously with my will and against it—bending my desires to match his—until, finally, I saw his tall, familiar figure standing in the dim light of the door. I remembered the melody as he said it.
“Ah, M boy! Who knows where the time goes? Not you, that’s for sure! You probably didn’t even notice that an hour has passed since you went upstairs to look for a simple flashlight.”
He was right. I tried to think of the most reasonable explanation, but he heard me and retaliated before I could finish my thought—
“You can’t always blame some fuckin’ intrusive imagination, especially since you-know-who came to visit you that fateful night not so long ago. You and I both know what that’s done to your diaphanous grasp on reality. Alright, I’m lying—I distracted you with one of my little tricks.”
I moved out of the way in a trance as he left my garage, finally taking notice of Newt’s corpse.
“Oh, looky here! You’ve gone and got yourself a new roommate, haven’t you? Well, I warn you—you might want to turn the AC down or he’s going to start to stink up the place. And you should probably tell him to steer clear of your couch. Wait a second. Never mind, it’s already covered in blood! Hahahahahahaha. Ah, well I’ve had my laugh.”
He pretended to want my attention, while having a one-sided conversation with me.
“Now, M boy, you’re awfully quiet. Tell me you remember your ol’ pal Sandy, won’t you?”
I hadn’t forgotten. He had visited me a week before. He forced a thought into my head—one that I’m sure of, maybe countless others.
“How wonderful. So, you know exactly why I’m here.” He said, following my train of thought perfectly. “Since I’m such a sweet and reliable soul, I’m going to do my absolute best to help you clean up this mess you’ve got yourself into. And since you are such a good listener, in a manner of speaking, it should be very easy for me to show you what to do without going too far out of your moral pathway or whatever pretentious name you’ve given to the driving force behind your actions—one of which, if I’m not mistaken, was killing this poor bloke. Still, we wouldn’t want to do any more damage to your wee, frail conscience now, would we, M boy?”
(Reader, I have made every effort to follow my story in order of importance. It is for this reason that the description I gave of Sandy’s visage was not explicitly tailored to this exact moment, but I will share with you what I wrote the week before this happened, when Sandy first visited me:
Sandy Asbury was a mountain of a man, standing at an astonishing 7 feet tall. His muscular physique commanded respect without gaudily bulging from his brown-wool suit, round collared white shirt, and gold colored bow tie. His hands were always covered with black leather gloves and he wore a black pork pie hat and sunglasses with round lenses which he never took off. I’ve seen him on many different occasions and he has always worn the same exact wardrobe for each one. I’ve come to think of it as a calling card of his.
Allow me, reader, to briefly draw you the clearest dichotomy between my two intruders as I can. You surely know by now that my captor Breathless, the psychopath, is and was in complete control of his ability. He could speak to me any time, but he chose not to. He would rather torment me day and night with silence and suffocation than anything else. Sandy’s form of torment was much different. He had an artistic flair to his personality and, I shudder to say this, but in his insanity he still managed to defy my expectations by maintaining the simulacra of nobility and gentlemanliness about his every syllable and step. Still, one cannot forget that he is soulless and psychotic; adept in his macabre art.)
Fully aware that nothing was secret to him, I reminded myself that his reason for being here today was the same reason he was here last week: he had forced me to do something against my will and he intended to do it again, and as often as he felt he could get away with it. He is yet another demon sent to torture me, I thought.
I wasted an unknown amount of time dwelling on my fear of Sandy. I knew he would permanently damage my conscience with whatever thought he chose to plant in my mind.
Finally, he spoke up: “You were right, you know?”
“What you were saying—sorry—what you were thinking earlier! That all you have to do is clean up your mess. Be really careful, you know. It’s true! A real genius can get himself out of anything. Now, I’d love to help you, but I don’t want to get my suit all dirty.”
“Stop it, Sandy, please. I’m begging you. I can do this on my own. He was my friend. I don’t want to do whatever it is you’re thinking. Please.”
“I know! I know you can do it on your own! I’m just going to make it easy for you!”
“You’re not going to do anything! Get the fuck out of my head. Please, Sandy.” I had fallen on my knees, begging him to leave.
“Now, M boy, I know this drunkard was a friend of yours, and I respect that, but I’m your friend too and I hate to see you compromise your safety by screwing up your cleanup simply because you haven’t the foison to make him thoroughly disappear. Now listen very carefully—I’m about to give you tonight’s brilliant entertainment for the evening, written and directed by me, starring you. Won’t it be fun? Now, gather your strength, because the first act of our little show requires that you debone him entirely.”
“Fuck you!” I started weeping violently.
“Now listen, M boy, before you get your knickers in a twist, just hear me out—it’s not like you have a choice in the matter anyway! Ah, where was I? Oh, right—I’m doing this for your own good, just like you were to your friend Newt here, see?”
“This isn’t good for me, Sandy. It’s not good for Newt either. He’s fucking dead. I killed him. I would’ve killed Breathless but he moved and now my friend is dead.”
“Now, listen here, I heard you sayin’ earlier that you did it for his own good. Is that not true? Don’t even answer. It’s rhetorical. We both know the answer already—you thought it best for him. Let’s not tip-toe through the tulips—you’re a damn fool for killing him. By all means, feel horrible! But, I can’t have you losing your mind or getting arrested. So, for both of us, can you just do exactly as I say?”
“Do I have a choice in the matter, Lucky the Leprechaun?”
“Ah, you see? Diffusing the situation with humor is the first step towards making this fiasco into a fun task! Moving on—do you happen to have an industrial size food processor, or maybe a lawn mower and a kiddy pool?”
“I have a regular size blender, Van Morrison.”
“I’m proud that you’re trying to laugh through this, really. The blender will do. After you debone him, you’ll need to separate his body and blend him to a fine soup. And, before you think of something heroic again, don’t bother—I’m afraid I’ve told your lips to shut, and they just don’t want to open! Anyway, after you get his pieces fully emulsified you’ll pour him into various ziplock bags and very carefully dispose of his remains across the city.”
“What do I do with his bones, Highlander?”
“Use your imagination! As a matter of fact, here’s what I’ll give you—you can do whatever you like with his head and bones. Now get a kitchen knife and take the poor saps skeleton out. Oh, and Highlander was Scottish, you twit.”
I worked into the night, forcefully and carefully carrying out my orders. I cut the bones from his chest and legs and removed what I think was the pelvis. All that was left were his arms (I never learned arm bones either) and his skull. I used a kitchen knife to make a large incision down Newt’s left arm when Sandy interrupted me.
“You know that top bone there?” he said pointing to it, “It’s called the humerus! If that’s not a fuckin’ riot I don’t know what is.”
After I had removed his humerus and the rest of his god-forsaken skeleton, it came time to dispose of the head. Sandy said it was my decision what to do with my friend’s head, but suggested that now would be the best—really the only opportunity I would have to ensure that he had a proper burial. He choked down a laugh when he said proper.
Wanting to do right by my friend, I severed his head and carried it to my back yard. It was 1:45 AM at this point and all my neighbors were asleep, so I need not worry about being sighted. I dug a hole, three feet deep, five paces away from the left side of my porch, and placed Newt’s head inside. Heavy hearted, I tried to find something to say for him until I fumbled through a short eulogy.
“Newt was a fool with no self-control whose lack of attention to detail ended up screwing him out of a good job. I murdered him, and for that I’m sorry. Rest in peace, Newt.”
I went inside and proceeded to place his bones in a baking pan and smash them with a hammer. After this long and arduous process I began the emulsification of his remains. I spent a few minutes searching for zip-lock bags, finally found them, and began pouring his soup inside. After this seemingly eternal process, I put the bags into an ice chest and started a trip around town with the intent of leaving them in various dumpsters all over the city, making sure I was not noticed with each deposit. My tormentors did not accompany on my covert operations, so I had plenty of time to think. After hours of searching for the perfect dumpster and disposing of each portion of Newt—finally disposing of the last bag in a dumpster behind a Chinese restaurant—I scattered Newt’s bone powder in a state park underneath a bridge and began the drive home.
While my Pinto’s radio played Pink Moon, I felt something change in me, like a switch in my brain being pulled. What hit me like a bullet shortly after was so far from anything I had ever felt. It was an absence; all emotion left my body in a non-feeling. Like a dried up lake, I could see rusting debris on the murky floor of my soul. The stench of something long dead rose from the crater inside me. I could glance down into this slough of despondency and see my sins arranged pyramidically, founded in my white lies and petty-thefts, climbing through my addictions and my hatred, plateauing at my murders and plans for murder, and flattening, unfinished—a constant reminder that there was worse to come (the truth in this never ceases to shock me, on the rare occasion when I do feel that old familiar shock, reader). I struggled with this thought, vying with myself for any emotion, my damaged conscience battling against the pharaoh of my calloused and devolving heart. After fruitless internal conflict I gave up. Surprisingly, my will to fight and my heart both yielded at the same time and my conscience pressed me. I allowed the weight of that night’s events to press in on me. I opened myself as the thoughts flooded my mind with the dream that it would coax some feeling out of me.
The closest thing I got to a feeling was enlightenment to the reality that I, like my world around me, was hopeless and empty. Defiantly, I made a resolution to act in a way to avenge my friend Newt. As sure I was of the fear that plagued every minute action since Breathless entered the melancholy scene of my existence, I felt an earth-shattering need to ensure that his death was not meaningless. The right thing, in this situation, seemed as unreachable as the surface of Venus by now, but the villains in my story would not go unpunished. Though they still held complete control over my life, I would be damned if they held it for a second longer. I started making my plans to kill Breathless and Sandy before the sun set. This, unforeseeable as it was improbable, drowned out my own emptiness as I flew into the night.
On the way home, I stopped at the local superstore, whose sign had been recently defaced and substituted for a banner that said “Capitalism Rules,” with the last word spelled R-U-L-Z. I walked to the back of the store and found the restroom. After washing my hands and face thoroughly, I made my way to the hardware section of the store and picked out the heaviest axe I could find—settling, instead, for a 12 lb splitting maul. When I reached the counter I asked the cashier if she would get me a pack of Newports. When she returned I stumbled through small-talk, trying to distract from the fact that I was buying a splitting maul at 3 in the morning.
“Where else can you buy a splitting maul and a pack of cigarettes in the same place, am I right?”
“Are you trying to say capitalism rules?” she said, making quotation marks in the air and exaggerating the “z” sound.
“I was honestly just trying to make conversation.”
“Well, your material was weak. Have a nice night.” She said, handing me my receipt.
Confused, I grunted, walked out of the store and climbed in my car, placing my newly purchased maul in my back seat and lighting a cigarette. I drove slowly, taking in the scenery of my city. Snow had begun falling when I entered the store, and now the streets were covered in a thickening blanket of white. Capitalism Rulz disappeared in my rearview. Ahead of me, the shops and restaurants of my city grew and disappeared until I finally reached my street. I pulled up to my house and parked by the curb, feebly planning what would happen next. I had already finished four cigarettes on the drive home, but decided the nicotine would help calm my nerves and smoked another two before I made my way in. Sandy and Breathless were sitting on my couch, facing away from me, each reading something—I don’t know what.
I didn’t think, as I approached. I just acted, and swung my maul, aiming for Sandy’s head. Time slowed as the marriage of gravity and effort pulled the maul’s red blade closer to the top of his pork-pie hat until, finally, I watched in amazement as my maul passed through him, my couch, my floor and my fingers.
“I should’ve warned you, M boy—I can be a tricky bastard. I caught you at the door, mate. If you check behind you, you’ll notice your divisive instrument lodged in what was a really nice section of flooring. Now you just stand there for a minute while I describe to you what is going to happen. It’s fairly simple—you’re going to stand perfectly still while I cut your throat. You will bleed and, for a moment, you will feel hell. Then, M boy, you will die.”
Sandy drew a switchblade from his pocket, pressing a button to engage the mechanism that brought the blade to life.
“Before we do this, I should tell you—this one thinks you’re a pussy.” He said, pointing to Breathless.
“He would’ve told you himself, but it would’ve killed you. Before you start to wondering, let me just go ahead and tell you—yes, that was a pun. I can be entertaining! To me anyway. For example—“
He placed his gloved hands against my face, wet with sweat, and inched the knife closer and closer to my throat. With Breathless grinning beside him, Sandy drug the cold metal across my neck over and over again until it was completely open, allowing the blood to flow into my exposed throat. The sharp tingling sensation of my own blood pouring into my trachea and filling up my lungs repeated in my mind in the last moments before I made my scheduled stop in hell. Pins dug deep into every pore and crawled up my legs and spine. My head screamed in pain. For an instant, I began to think my soul had finished traveling to hell, until my eyes opened for one last look at the world. Watching as I reeled on the floor, sucking helplessly for air and felt my body convulse and my eyes roll backwards, Breathless stood, hovering over me with his unbroken grin. Panicking, I began to worry. “This is it. This is the end.” I thought, until I breathed my last, and then breathed again.
“Sorry, M boy, but this is not the end. It’s just another trick up my sleeve. You were out for a while! Who knows where the time goes, am I right? Well, you’re not too bright, so let me spell it out—I put a thought into your head (I’m getting quite good at that). But, rather than forcing you to debone your friends or—well, I know how you hate talking about the other thing—I just made you experience death, to the best of my inexperienced ability. I’d ask you if you were convinced, but you did shit your pants. Mind if I bum a fag?”
I put my packet of cigarettes into his hand and watched him walk out onto my porch, Breathless following him.
Convulsing and confused, my mind took me back to the same reminiscent fortress of solitude to which I fled after I had killed my friend. I began playing through my memories, singing familiar songs to calm myself.
“Take it easy, take it easy.”
Pulling me from the recess, I heard the calming tune replaced by Sandy, saying “We’ve only just begun to live, M boy.”