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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Electrical Man - A Ghostly Halloween Short Story


Life is often just an interim between nightmares.” 
         
        The comment from the young woman named Martha, no older than 20, took Joyce Butler, 32-year old retail office worker, by surprise as only routine small talk about life, in general, had preceded it.  Yes, it being after midnight made it Oct. 31, Halloween, with the office decorated accordingly, but that didn’t mean glumness need be the prevailing mood.  It made work more difficult and that’s why they were in the office at 1:45 AM on Halloween.  They were there for work because it wasn’t 1950 anymore.  It was 1984 and computers were the wave of the future and she, Joyce, being the youngest office worker with any real tenure, was the senior most employee stuck with learning about the damn things.  She normally worked first shift but was appointed the sacrificial lamb stuck in a week-long third shift course learning about the computers so she could teach the other office workers what she’d learned when she resumed her place on first shift.  Martha was a newly hired employee who would be trained more thoroughly.  Computers and young women were apparently both waves of the future.  Joyce had been making small talk with Martha but the perplexing comment threw her enough that she struck an incorrect key on her keyboard. 
          “No, that’s not right,” the young man, also no older than 20, mumbled impatiently.  Her company had hired him to teach the two women the “ins and outs” of creating things like spreadsheets on the computer for better office efficiency.  He appealed to Joyce as a cold, logical type, the kind of technology person she had little use for, the kind of man that ignored the sunshine of the outside world and all its sensory wonders to spend all his time cooped up with computers and television sets.  She didn’t resent or feel superior to such people; they just weren’t her cup of tea. 
                You have to press this key here, see?” he said, blandly, leaning over her shoulder and pointing.  He felt icy, like the smell of the wintergreen gum he was chewing.  Joyce repressed a sarcastic reply and pressed the key as the man went to help the young woman a few seats over.  Joyce looked around the office.  Fake spider webs hung from the ceiling with fake spiders intermixed.  Paper Jack O’Lantern, ghost and witch cut outs adorned the walls.  It reeked to her of corporate commonality. 
          “I can’t wait to go home,” she thought. 
          Suddenly, the lights flickered, came back on fully then dimmed nearly to darkness.  The young man, afraid of losing the progress of the software download, scrambled to Joyce’s computer.  Before he could press a key, the lights went out.  Though they were in an enclosed, familiar space, the darkness combined with the surroundings made Joyce shudder.  The decorations now moved in her mind.  The spiders crept along the cobwebs and the witches and ghosts took flight.  The young man swore and the young girl held her breath.  The only exit was via elevator.  If the power stayed off, what would they do? 
          A minute passed.  Lost in darkness, none of them spoke.  The sound of machinery coming to life was then heard and the lights came back on.  Joyce breathed a sigh of relief.  Martha seemed very afraid, the young man very irritated.  Moving to the young woman’s computer, he grunted in frustration as it rebooted. 
          “What kind of place is this?” he growled.  “What kind of business is this?” 
          “I’ve never seen the power go out here,” Joyce said. 
          “He hates the electricity,” a man’s voice said behind them.  Startled, Joyce swung her head to see a janitor who had come in from the warehouse the office was connected to.  He wore a typical janitor’s uniform and was holding a mop resting in a wheeled bucket full of dirty water.  The young man moved towards him and put his hand out to shake. 
          “Hi,” he said.  “I’m George.” 
          The janitor, a man with a wizened face and awkwardly groomed white hair held up his hands and said, “Oh, no.  Look.  You wouldn’t want to get your hands dirty, would you?” 
          The man felt very odd.  Though she’d never seen him before, Joyce, lost in the moment, laughed to herself. 
          “A man comes out of the dark,” she thought.  “Has a ghost visited us on Halloween?” 
          “I’m sorry if I scared you,” the man said with a chuckle.  “My name is Alfred.  I’ve been here for a time but my shift is almost over.  Well, I guess everything is okay now.” 
          As he turned to reenter the warehouse, the young man called him back.
          “Whoa, whoa there.  What did you mean by ‘He likes to play with the electricity?’  Who does?” 
          “The Electrical Man,” the janitor replied matter-of-factly, as if it were common knowledge.  “Surely you know of him?”
          The three employees all said they hadn’t.  Joyce felt goosebumps.  The young lady, clearly very sensitive, shivered. 
          “His name is William Place.  His physical body left this world decades ago when the building down the street was a prison.  He was the first man electrocuted.  Three tries but he wouldn’t die.  Each time the generator had to recharge.  His skin had melted by the fourth attempt.  The generator exploded and all the lights on the block went out.  Some reports said William Place had disappeared when they came back on.  So, he hates the electricity, you see, and, when he comes back, he makes all the lights go out.” 
          “When he comes back?” the young man asked rhetorically.  “Are you saying the ghost of William Place haunts this building?” 
          Alfred smiled.  “When the lights flicker, I always think, ‘He's come back to visit.'" 
          The air in the room felt leaden.  A small clock on one of the work stations pinged twice. 
          “Ooh, that’s for me,” Alfred said.  “My time is over now.  Goodbye.”  With a smile, he steered the wheeled bucket by the mop handle back into the warehouse.  The office stayed silent for several seconds before the young man spoke. 
          “Like I was saying, ‘What kind of business is this?’  How many weirdos do you have around here?” 
          The question snapped Joyce out of a kind of trance. 
“I’ve never seen that man before,” she replied, her voice trailing.  Her sense of her frightened mood made her angry.  She continued: 
“We don’t have ‘weirdos’ around here, George.  I’ve never seen the man before but I normally don’t work third shift.  He’s just a man that cleans up around here, obviously.” 
“I don’t like people with those kinds of stories,” George said with irritation.  “I don’t like creeps or creep stories.  Life is logical and real.  There aren’t any ghosts in it.” 
          Joyce looked to Martha and saw her trembling. 
          “Did the man scare you, dear?” Joyce asked. 
          “I don’t think I’m supposed to be here,” Martha whispered. 
          “I still wonder what kind of place this is,” George said with contempt. 
          Joyce angrily brushed off his comment, dug some change out of her purse, rose and approached the young woman, who looked up at her with dancing eyes. 
          “Here, sweetheart,” Joyce said.  “Why don’t you go to the cafeteria and get us some sodas.  George, what would you like?”
          “Nothing.  I don’t drink soda,” he said dryly, staring at her computer screen as he pressed buttons on her keyboard. 
          “I’ll take a Coca-Cola,” Joyce said tenderly to the young woman.  “You get whatever you want.” 
          With a disconcerted nod, the girl rose and left the room for the cafeteria. 
          “You could be nice, you know,” Joyce said to George rhetorically.  "The man clearly unnerved her,”
          “I have no time for nonsense,” he said, still looking at her computer screen and pressing keys.  “If she has no nerve, that’s her problem.”
          Joyce had had enough of George the computer expert but she resolved to get along until the shift was over.  The clock read 2:15 AM.  Three hours and forty-five minutes and she would meet the 6 AM morning crew before going home.  It couldn’t come fast enough.  She looked at the fake spiders.  Did one of them just move?  The lights began to flicker again.  
          An ear shattering scream from the cafeteria made her jump.  She looked at George, who had also jumped and seemed very irritated he had.  Joyce ran towards the cafeteria and froze when she saw Martha sprinting towards her, bathed in a sea of lights flickering like an electrical storm.  She barely dodged in time as the girl ran past towards the office and into the warehouse as Joyce followed. 
          “Martha!  Stop!” she shouted uselessly.  The warehouse was between the office and the elevator which is where the girl, who proved too fast for Joyce, was running towards.  She had nearly reached her destination when the lights went out.  Joyce froze again.  Largely unfamiliar with the warehouse’s layout, she quickly convinced herself it was folly to run around with the lights off.  Deep down, she was terrified.  What was happening?  Why had the girl screamed? 
          The lights came back on and Joyce saw she was alone.  She whipped her head around looking for the girl then jogged lightly towards the elevator.  Nothing.  The elevator made a ping sound when opening.  Joyce had heard no sound.  The warehouse was cavernous.  Had Martha gotten confused in the dark?  Was she still in the warehouse?  Joyce walked back to the office and found George still working at her computer. 
          “Did Martha come back in here?” she asked.  He didn’t answer, as if she wasn’t there. 
          “Hey, George!” she said, snapping her fingers impatiently.  “Did Martha come back through here?”
          He turned his attention towards her and said, eyes rolling towards the ceiling, “I think I do know what kind of place this is now.”  He nodded to himself and went back to work.  For the first time, Joyce felt the surreal nature of the situation.  She opened her mouth to speak again but no words formed in her mind.  She felt the need to walk up and touch George but didn’t.  Where was that janitor?  He must have left.  He did say his time was almost up.  His time was almost up…surely, they…she would have heard the elevator ping but she hadn’t. 
          Rousing her courage, she resolved to search the warehouse.  She took care of the easy things first, a quick look behind the cardboard box crusher and a scan of the assembly lines calling "Martha" at various intervals.  Next was the large area with the metal merchandise trees, a dead forest of steel.  In the distance, a small light crackled next to an old, dusty unused storage room.  The size of the place pressed down upon her.  The large swaths of darkness weighed heavily.  She stepped towards the storeroom.  The light flickered almost imperceptibly.  She heard a small rustle. Quickly backpedaling, she fast walked back to the center of the warehouse where the large, industrial lights on the ceiling still shone.  She crossed to the design staff’s office.  Pausing at the entrance way, she saw the white outline of store mannequins.  She tried to call Martha’s name but her throat could only reflexively spasm with no words.  Another rustle.  One mannequin head seemed to turn.  Another smiled.  Another took a step…
          She stumbled back, took a deep breath then committed to searching the last hidden place.  Maybe Martha was hurt and couldn’t speak.  Maybe Joyce just wanted to prove to herself nothing supernatural was happening.  Maybe she should call for Alfred, too...
        Two rows of storage materials, tucked away and dark even when the lights in the rest of the warehouse were on, were last.  Used to the office activity of the day shift, the silence and the darkness seemed a tomb, like she’d reached the end of her life and all that awaited was the grave.  She took small steps down the first row.  Different sizes of merchandise bags stuffed the shelves.  A moldy smell caused her to recoil slightly.  Yet another rustle in the next row made her freeze.  Her heart thudded and her eyes bulged.  Her body leaned slightly forward.  The industrial lights flickered with a heavy buzzing sound then one of the bulbs exploded.  Joyce screamed.  She ran out of the warehouse to the office. 
          Every office light flickered on and off randomly.  On and off, on and off, on and off.  She called for George but got no reply.  The room was empty.  She crept towards the cafeteria and bathroom and searched.  George had vanished.  The horror that she was all alone seized her like a shower of freezing water.  Her stomach plunged.  Alone.  They had all vanished.  The flickering lights seemed demonic, like the end of the world.  She resisted the urge to slump to the ground.  The lights went out again.  Her time had come.  She knew her time had come!  Gripped with energetic terror, she ran as fast as she could through the office into the warehouse then to the elevator room, where the light still shone.  In the distance, she saw the office lights go out.  The flickering warehouse lights went out one by one.  He was coming!   The Electrical Man was coming!  She slammed her hand against the elevator button then pounded on the closed doors. 
          “Help!  Help!” she shrieked.  The light in the room began to flicker, all around nearly pitch black.  The light dimmed to its lowest level…
          Joyce heard the ping sound and the elevator doors opened.  She tumbled in and frantically pushed the button to close the doors.  The light in the room went out; only the light in the elevator stayed on. The darkness seeped into the elevator.  She wailed uncontrollably, pounding and pounding the first floor button. 
          The doors shut and the elevator began it’s descent.  She grabbed her head with both hands as hard as she could and slumped to the ground.  The elevator reached the first floor but the doors didn’t open.  The ping never came.  The light in the elevator flickered…then went out. 
          At 6 AM, two of Joyce’s first shift co-workers, surprised she hadn’t met them at the door as planned, turned off the outside alarm and entered the building.  They turned on the first floor lights, which shone without a glitch.  They walked to the elevator and pressed the button.  The door opened with a ping.  Into the empty elevator they stepped. 

Saturday, August 4, 2018

The Mentally Ill and America

The next step in American legislation needs to be a full battery of psychological tests from different doctors for all American political candidates to identify any mental illnesses or personality disorders in said candidates.

As we with mental illnesses are our own distinct community and often not capable of fulfilling any kind of Democratic or Republican "responsibilities," our health and welfare also needs to be provided for and protected directly in the Constitution.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

So Why is No One Paying Attention to Me? - Thoughts

I'm highly educated, am extremely helpful where I can be and am a talented writer that's now attempting to write stories people enjoy and I can be a funny motherfucker yet I'm a reverse Kardashian.  A lot of brains and substance and zero popularity.  My first instinct is it's because I'm crazy and/or do not have any social standing or money.  Again, reverse Kardashian there.  Then again, I've never been popular even when I was functional and "winning."  I'm a natural Devil's Advocate and that's never popular, though I think it's often admired.  I see so many different sides of an argument that I never get a ball rolling in a popular direction. 

I wonder about this very much from a spiritual perspective, too.  I'm not successful.  Is it because I'm not trying hard enough?  I'm Bipolar I and I've had several breakdowns trying to work a regular job.  Is that my fault?  Am I selling myself short?  Am I just lazy?  There is order in the universe and I'm generally a disordered person.  Is this my fault?  Illnesses are genetic and I know that but am I doing something wrong?  Am I doing too much in one direction and not enough in another?  Is my head in the wrong place?  Are my emotions in the wrong place?  Am I a bad person that's failing because I deserve it?  Do I need to do anything differently?  Has my bipolar made me a coward, afraid to try things I need to try?  Is the world just shallow and people are self-interested to the point where they only care about advancing themselves and their good fortune?  In that case, am I right to be cynical or just dark in general or both?  

Unfortunately, if I want to make it as a writer, my stuff has to become popular in some way.  For me, that's like telling a fish to sprout wings and fly to the moon.  Probably not going to happen.  So where do I go from here in my life?  

Monday, July 9, 2018

"The Roman and the Celtic Woman" - An Erotic Short Story

        In the early days of the Roman Empire, men didn't love women.  They didn't love women during the Republic, either, but, in the chaos that ended that Republic, the Res Publica, and began the Empire, love was as unimportant to Roman men as sex was merely tolerable.  Powerful Romans could play as they wished but the common Roman soldier, the driving force behind the conquests of "barbarian" Celts across Europe, could not.  The grandeur of Rome was established on their military might, their duty, responsibility, fighting spirit, self-discipline and self-denial.  "Roman stoicism" was aptly coined for emotions and lusts, the "passions," were greatly frowned upon by a people that conquered and ruled Europe to the Holy Land by ruthless efficiency.  Roman men were military killers, detesting softness, rejecting affection, and avoiding satisfying their appetites.  They did not love.
        Roman women did not love Romen men.  If they loved at all, they loved their men's commitments to duty, responsibility, self-discipline and self-denial.  Romen women were rigorously taught to subordinate feelings for the cold logic of procreation and domestic cultivation.  They ruled over the home like their men ruled over Europe, producing as many children as possible; hopefully, as many male children as possible to add to future military rolls.  Humility, chastity apart from procreation and disciplined dignity were their stations in life.  Feeling and expressing love weakened Rome's male dominated culture.  Women kept their men strong.  They did not provide pleasure. They did not provide love.  
        In the year 17 BC, the territory of Hispania, modern Spain, had largely been subjugated after bitter fighting by the Romans and native Celts over a 200 year period.  The Celts of Hispania, a collection of different tribal groups, fought long and hard for their freedom against the imperialist aspirations of mighty Rome.  Of all the peoples of Europe, they had the greatest reputation as the fiercest, most vicious fighters with the Cantabrian tribe being considered the best of the best.  A savage, untamable mountain people, they were noted for their guerilla attacks and, more notably, their practice of allowing their women to fight.  The very definition of a swarthy, native people, Cantabrian men made sure their women, like many European Celts, were both admired and feared by the Romans for their tall frames and ability to fight as fiercely as they did.  The Romans considered women fighting men to be a perversion but the strong Celtic women could not, and would not, shirk from defending themselves and their families.  They fought with their emotions and their passions.  A starker contradiction between the sides couldn't be.  The Cantabrians fought so fiercely a rare edict was decreed:  No prisoners were to be taken.  All Cantabrians were to be killed.  
        Aurelius Decimus Crispus, Praefectus Castrorum (Camp Prefect) of Emperor Augustus Caesar's 4th Legion of Macedonica, perfectly fit the Roman definition of a noble, disciplined, self-sacrificing soldier.  A man of ignoble birth but possessing great courage and nerves of steel, he quickly rose through the military ranks from infantryman to Centurion to Praefectus Castrorum by age 35, a tremendous achievement in the Roman military.  A strikingly handsome, "pure blooded" Roman from Alba Longa, the town of Caesar's birth, Aurelius Crispus lived up to the meaning of his surname "Crispus" by having thick, curly, brown hair with an occasional wisp of gray, a lean, rock hard body forged through combat, exercise and dietary restrictions and a potent masculinity that drew the attention and respect of his fellow soldiers and made him a natural leader.  His chiseled face featured a hard though not prominent nose, sharp cheekbones and a strong jawline.  
        A man of great Roman character, Aurelius Crispus eschewed lustful sexuality and displays of passionate emotion.  A Roman commander's job was to be like a respected father to his men, a leader by example, and not one given to the selfish pursuits and satisfactions of one's own appetites.  He had a beautiful wife at home with the perfect Roman female characteristics of humility and dignity and had sired two daughters and a son, all three ideal examples of Roman children.  All were respected.  All was perfect.  
        The set pieces were perfect.  The front was perfect.  The image was perfect.  He had truly attained all a noble Roman could attain, all that he desired except...desire.  Violence had always displaced sexual passion and now violence had been displaced by boredom.  The frontier in Hispana had largely been won and Aurelius's days consisted mostly of reports of routine inspections by his men.  He desperately needed something, anything, to happen.
       A recent spate of attacks on his camp's northern border sparked Aurelius's instincts for the possibility of fresh excitement.  Though completely unnecessary, he'd taken to inspecting the perimeter personally in the hopes of  witnessing another pitiful, easily repulsed assault by the decimated Celts and, even more hopefully, taking part in their further decimation.  Reports from his soldiers of more and more Celtic women fighting in place of their dead male partners made it even more irresistible.  Roman accounts of wild, strong, aggressive barbarian women on the frontiers were infamous throughout the Roman world but Aurelius had never personally witnessed them in battle.  What were they really like?  Did they fight naked like their men often did?  Did the women in Hispania have the long red hair of other northern Celts?  Did they have large breasts unlike most Roman women?  Did they fight with that animal passion that often borders on sexual ecstasy? The possibilities sent pleasurable sensations cascading through his mind and body and he could barely control the enthusiasm his inspections produced.
        His wish was finally granted one day near dusk.  As he routinely walked the long length of the stone wall that fortified the northern portion of the camp, arrows and dozens of rocks from slings came flying over the walls at a section perfectly in between two guard towers.  Aurelius rushed to the point of activity, his short sword called a gladius in hand, as Roman soldiers gathered, their shields mostly blocking the enemy fire with the occasional legionnaire wounded  Crude ladders slammed up against the stonewall in numerous places and several Celtic warriors, through attrition, came over the walls into the Roman camp.  Most were killed almost instantly by Roman spears but some penetrated deeper into the compound.  Aurelius killed two male Celts then noticed with amazement and excitement a small group of Celtic women, indeed fighting naked, attempting to come over the wall at different ladder points, shrieking and screaming like Banshees as they came.  Knowing no chivalry, Roman spears mowed down most of them but one, in particular, caught Aurelius's eye as she scaled down the wall into the camp. A Venus smeared with mud, long, jet black hair evident, large breasts with nipples hard in the excitement, she represented everything he had dreamed of in a barbarian woman: Animal poetry in motion, elegant, strongly definable feminine curves shifting to maintain the balance of the wide hips and supple legs on her powerful body as she moved.  Frozen to the spot, he watched as she approached a fallen Roman soldier stunned by a slinged rock and slashed at him with a dagger she carried, inflicting cuts on the man's arms. legs, head and groin.  Mesmerized, Aurelius couldn't help as the man, probably dead, stopped moving.  Seeing Aurelius and marshalling her courage, the female warrior wailed like a vengeful spirit and charged toward the Roman Prefect who, finally snapping out of his hypnosis, raised his sword to meet her.  A proud, desperate woman with only her life to lose, not caring about her safety, every bit of energy throbbing for survival, she flew upon him, the only acceptable result of their combat being the death of one of them.  Attacking with all her fury, she slashed at him wildly from head to toe.  Blocking her attempts, he let her get as close as was safe, smelling her scent, unable to see his sword as anything other than his penis under the intoxicating assault of this amazing, ravishing creature, her grunts and exertions triggering his hard muscles in a brand new experience: Erotic combat.  As her energy failed, her grunts came closer to whimpers and his heart went out to her, his arms wanting to embrace her, to hold her and comfort her, to ravish her and allow her to ravish him.  Exhausted, she dropped the dagger and went to her knees, gasping heavily.  Unable and unwilling to land a killing blow, Aurelius turned his attention to the rest of the battle.   The sun had fallen swiftly and his men had lit torches to illuminate the night.  Aurelius saw with satisfaction that his soldiers stood in a commanding position, dead male and female Celts littering the compound joined only by the occasional Roman.  A Centurion approached and asked Aurelius if they should pursue the Celts beyond their fortifications, to which Aurelius replied in the negative.  Noticing the Celtic woman now slowly getting to her feet, the soldier raised his sword to strike her down but was met with the sword of Aurelius which stopped him.
        "No! Haec femina captivus est. Igitur placet mihi ut interrogaret de hoc habiturum. Semitam meam veniant." he said in Latin, the translation being: "No! This woman is my prisoner.  I intend to question her about this raid.  Bring her to my quarters."  The Centurion, knowing his Camp Prefect to be fluent in the dialects of the local Celts, thought nothing of it as he took hold of the woman, who began kicking and screaming with renewed energy.  Aurelius smacked her hard in the face, stunning her enough to make the trip to his double sized tent.
        After placing her, still woozy, on a stool next to a rudimentary vanity with mirror used for basic grooming, the Centurion, ordered by Aurelius, left the tent then returned a few minutes later with two large buckets of scalding hot water, which he put near Aurelius's bath, before exiting again and returning with a bucket of dirt and earth which he placed just inside the tent entrance.   Aurelius told the man: "Resumere post te.  Ut non moveretur (Resume your post.  I am not to be disturbed.)"  The Centurion left the tent with a nod, closing the opening on his way out.
        Aurelius Decimus Crispus wanted sex; strong, perhaps even violent sex.  The woman covered her crotch, eyes wide, as he slowly removed his clothes until both were naked.  She stood and began to backpedal as he smoothly approached like a great panther, she a mouse in a trap, her left hand over her crotch, her right hand over her breasts.  He breathed in her animal scent deeply, disregarding the impact of her fear though ever more excited by how it agitated her, her energy drawing his like a magnet.  His penis began to swell as he grabbed her strongly by the shoulders, trying to provoke an aggressive reaction, which succeeded.  Her savage, warrior blood taking over, her fear displaced, she wriggled free of his grip and returned the slap he had given her earlier followed by several more.  Aurelius, near ecstatic with excitement, deflected her blows, backing up to his large bunk bed as she continued her attack, pulling her to him as he flopped back onto the soft cushion, locking her arms to her side with his powerful biceps as she struggled like a wildcat.  She scratched at his sides with her fingernails as he forcefully kissed her on the lips.  She responded by chomping at him with her teeth as he pulled his face back just in time.  He clamped his mouth onto her neck and sucked as hard as he could, his tongue licking her neck in little, quick circles.  Her vagina spasmed reflexively; as she dropped her guard for a moment, he unlocked his grip, still maintaining control, and squeezed her butt with his right hand while moving his left hand to her upper back. rubbing it smoothly and strongly.  Her arms flexed and her hands went stiff as pleasure rocketed up her spine, unable to prevent this powerful man from taking advantage of her.  Realizing this to be what the man wanted and that he would perhaps release her when he got it, she stopped resisting, locking her mouth onto his and finding his tongue with hers as he let her arms free and hugged her back with all his might, her left leg moving up and straddling his upper body as her right leg fully extended.  She inserted his penis into her vagina with her left hand and squeezed down onto it with her inner thighs.  He let her control their movements, relishing the submissiveness he had never known before as she grabbed and fondled his hard chest with both hands while moving her hips in a variety of motions, moving his penis around at her will.  He held himself off as long as he could, completely at the mercy of this physical goddess, his mind engrossed in the idea of the female savage, an animal attacking the gates of the Empire, a defeat he joyfully accepted.  She locked her hips as she stared into his eyes and he ejaculated, sending fluid jetting into her body.  She sucked at his chin and nibbled it, breathing in his intense masculinity while pulling his hair as his rapid breathing began to ebb, smiling as he came down.  Looking deeply into her wide blue eyes, he knew what love was.  How could one not love this ravishing creature, dirt still clinging to parts of her body, every pore oozing female strength, vitality and life?  Now he knew why Roman soldiers were made to eschew sexual pleasure for, in that moment, he would have done anything for her.  Who cared about maintaining an Empire when there were females like this to make love to?
        He'd wanted sex.  Now he needed love, needed it to flesh out his experience fully, to know what romance beyond the sex act truly was.  He motioned to his partner to get off him; she did, standing in suspense, still a filthy mess, both with dirt and now sweat and small amounts of semen from Aurelius's penis.  Rising, he went to the two buckets of still very warm water, picked them up and poured the contents of both into his large bath.  He grabbed a large bottle of olive oil from a table as she again covered up instinctively.  He brushed her hands away with a smile, poured a generous amount of olive oil in both hands and proceeded to rub the oil all over her body, a precursor to cleaning in the Roman world.  He rubbed the oil over her beautiful breasts, quickly bringing her back to an aroused state.  He oiled her vagina, moving across it in gentle, smooth strokes that elicited barely audible moans from her mouth, her lower lip curled deeply under her teeth as pleasurable sensations swirled through her in waves.  He had had his orgasm.  Now he greatly wanted to bring her hers. 
        Once finished, he picked up a cleaning tool called a strigil, a kind of scraper that removed the olive oil and any grime or mud on the body with it.  Taking her by his free hand, he moved her to the bath, laid in it first and gently pulled her on top of him, her back on his stomach, the back of her head on his chest.  Both revelled in the relaxing warm water, their bodies still fully aware of the physical exertion of the day, both in war and sex.  He gripped her left breast with his left hand as he used the strigil to gently scrape off the olive oil on her right side, stopping to wash the strigil in the water after each turn, kissing her on the side of her head and neck as he worked, taking extreme care to remove the olive oil from the right side of her face with the coarse tips of his lingering fingers, allowing her to occasionally suck on them.  She took his left hand in her right, interlocking their fingers, lost in the moment, her fear unimportant as he pleasured her.  After repeating the process on the other side, he dropped the strigil to the ground, reached both hands over her hips and massaged her vagina with both sets of fingers, inserting a finger of his right hand and massaging her inner walls while rubbing her labia and clitoris with the fingertips of his left.  She moaned in increasing intensities, reaching back with her right hand to grab his hair while pressing her left hand over his to increase the motion.  He clenched her vagina with his left hand and put his right hand over her mouth as she orgasmed, taking care that none of the soldiers on duty heard it.  Her body bucked then slowly relaxed as she turned over on top of him.  They kissed passionately, two people, not savage nor civilized, only a man and woman, two human beings in time, one, in desperation, serving the needs of the other who couldn't help feeling intense admiration and affection for her, the physical satisfaction of the moment compensating for a lifetime of staid, emotionless moments in service to his country.
        After several minutes of embrace passed, he motioned for her to leave the bath and followed after she rose.  As she stretched with proud, feminine elation, he looked to his clothes on a nearby stool and at his pugio, a holstered dagger, dangling from his belt.  All Cantabrians were to be killed and Aurelius Decimus Crispus, distinguished officer of Augustus Caesar's peerless 4th Legion of Macedonica, father and husband, noble Roman in every respect, had never had any intention of letting the Celtic woman he'd taken to his bed and bath leave his tent alive.  After he'd had his pleasure, which included the bath, he'd planned on using the bucket of earth to cake on the woman after he'd killed her under the pretense that the filthy barbarian had attacked him under questioning.  All neat and clean and no one would ever know.  He stepped to his clothes, the Celtic woman unaware of his eyes on the thick, sharp pugio.  Inches from taking the weapon in hand, he stopped.  He looked to her, this amazing woman whose people had been all but exterminated by Roman might, his might, yet faced death and fought like a tigress as well as any man, faced him as well as any man on the field of battle, and loved him as well as he imagined any woman could.  She smiled nervously, hoping for a positive next step from Aurelius.  He breathed deeply and frowned, unable to follow through on his plan but uncertain how to smuggle her out of camp. 
        "Nescio quo modo me liberare de castris in zelo meo et immolabo et si necesse fuerit ut (I do not know how to free you from this camp but I, on my honor, will sacrifice myself if need be to make it so)," he said to her.  Near tears, she embraced him and he returned it.  He loved her.  Stupidly, he loved her, a development he could not have envisioned.  Duty fails with love.  Empires fall from love.  Would Aurelius Decimus Crispus fall the same way?  He looked to the bucket of earth.  He would cake the mud on as when she entered, hiding their lovemaking as best he could, then try to find some way to honor her his promise of freedom. 
       

Thank you for reading.  All comments are welcome. 
        

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Part 4 of 4 and Epilogue of "Imbalanced: Intake" - Jason



CHAPTER 4

Jason

December 15

                Her eyes flickering with decreasingly less wattage, Nurse Stewart sat at her desk trying to marshal and focus enough energy to both finish her shift and drive home safely.   As it was 11:53 AM, the former would be easy. The newest intake nurse, a young girl with good education credentials though only a small amount of experience, had replaced Nurse Stewart at noon on Fridays for the last three weeks and had drawn the older woman’s annoyance by cutting her arrivals razor thin, usually almost exactly at noon, a habit of behavior that irked both Nurse Stewart and Nurse Mathis to no end.  Nurse Stewart suffered the most; nearly always exhausted by the end of her long shift, she hadn’t the rested patience to chasten the girl about being late.  She liked the young girl, though she had the annoying habit of calling Sandra Stewart “Sandy,” a shortening she’d always disliked.   Still, the girl exuded pleasant energy and attitude and was, defensibly, very young, probably no older than 22. 
Cutting it close again, she hadn’t shown up yet.  Getting more and more impatient, Nurse Stewart rapidly tapped her left fingers on the desk, thinking of the inevitable adolescent crying fits she’d soon experience.  After a final check of her clean and organized work station, she rose, grabbed her coat and waited for her relief.  Both sleeves freshly into it, Nurse Stewart reacted with disbelief as the double doors slid open and two stern officers came in with another patient. 
                You’ve got to be kidding me, she thought, as she took off her coat and pitched it down onto her chair.  She hadn’t met these two men, either.  She began to wonder if the hospital had committed to accepting patients from different states and the officers that came with them. 
The two officers brought in a handcuffed, agitated and wild eyed 20 or 21 year old powerfully built, muscular male of 185 pounds or so.  His physically dominating presence made her think he’d played football at some point, probably in high school and maybe in college.  A man like that didn’t put muscle on without a purpose.   There was too much of a forceful air about him to think otherwise.   His muscles weren’t cosmetic; they were practical and meant for functioning and she easily understood how, in an agitated, violent state, handcuffs for those muscles would be mandatory to protect all involved.  What appeared to be good looks were slightly obscured by matted hair and what looked like a recently wet shirt and jeans.  As the two officers neared the desk, her nostrils were blown away by an incredibly potent, pungent, acerbic, dizzying stench of alcohol that made her instantly slightly recoil.  The young man was drenched in it…no, he was closer to drowning in it.  His very presence invoked a stiff shot of 100 proof coagulated in a nasal nightmare of who knows what that could only excite the most chronically ill, boozed up people on the planet.    
                “What’s up, guys?” she asked, waving a hand before her face, the international “that really stinks” communication.  Her irritation spilled into frustration over not knowing these two officers.  Jokes aside, the patients that day must have been coming from different parts of the extended area.  She didn’t bother introducing herself to these two men. 
                “Domestic dispute,” one of the officers answered.  “Had a gun and threatened to shoot his father.  The father called in SWAT to disarm him.” 
                “A SWAT team arrested him?” she asked, alarmed.  “Did he shoot his father?  Did he shoot anyone?” 
                “Fortunately, no.  He put the gun down.  If he’d lifted it even a little, he’d be dead right now.” 
                The young man noticeably cringed.  Nurse Stewart couldn’t read whether it was out of fear or anger.  Emotions seemed to be roiling over his face, shooting in and out of his brain.  His eyes showed a powerful combination of agitation and exhaustion, far more intense than her own current, similar sensations.  Though not unusual for patients to appear erratic in such a situation, his mannerisms seemed less situational than aggressively chemical.  A lot depended on what led to the problem to begin with.  More than anything, he seemed stunned, almost in shock. 
                “Has he been talking?” she asked. 
                “No, he hasn’t said anything.”
                “But he smells wonderful,” the second officer wisecracked.  “Reminds me of the department Christmas party two years ago.  Remember?”   
                “Yeah, but not as bad,” the first added with a laugh. 
Not amused and with a fuse shortening by the moment, Nurse Stewart lectured, “That’s not a very compassionate way of looking at it, guys.”  
The first officer smiled.  “No harm intended.   Just trying to keep things lighthearted.  We have a tough job.”
                She understood but still wished the officers hadn’t said anything.   Patients often remembered those kinds of comments and held grudges, sometimes out of anger but more often out of despair.  Being freshly and usually painfully introduced into brutally tough, life altering situations, patients were often greatly hurt being mocked on the way into treatment.  It was hard enough being mocked on the way out.  She had heard several patients relate such moments, innocuous to most, malignant and devastating to the wounded. 
                Nurse Stewart timidly moved close to Jason, doing everything she could to keep him calm.
                “Can you tell me your name?” she asked him gently.   His languid yet intense eyes met hers but he didn’t reply. 
                “His name is Jason Martin.  We got information from the father,” the first officer said. 
                “What did his father say?”
                “Other than ‘Jason’s a bum and a criminal and a violent offender who deserves what he gets’, not much.” 
                She frowned.  “Do you believe any of that?”
                The first officer shrugged.  “I don’t know.  We’re treating it as a domestic dispute and not a violent crime but we’re not going to take any chances.  He’s very revved up.” 
Taking Jason gently by the elbow, she said, “Let’s go,” to the officers and led them all to her nurse’s station.  She felt his powerful biceps on that arm flex.  His body twitched and sagged and twitched again.  Nurse Stewart, feeling sleep the best and safest medicine, gave him an injection of Haldol, which he didn’t resist.  His body relaxed and swayed slightly; he seemed a really big child about to doze off in his mother’s arms.  Realizing him too tired to fill out a checklist, she decided to see him to his room; asking the officers to hang tight, she went to her desk, grabbed a clipboard, attached a checklist and a pen for later and returned. 
                “He’s safe,” she told the officers.  “Now If you would both please walk him onto the unit with me and remove the handcuffs.” 
                “Are you sure?” the first officer asked skeptically.
                “Yes,” she replied with assurance.           
They all walked to the big iron door, Nurse Jones opened it and they entered the unit, Jason staggering, his eyes opening and closing, the officers almost dragging him along.  A different pungent stench greeted her nostrils, the stench of ammonia, and she inferred that someone had thrown up or possibly urinated in their bed.  The whole area reeked.  Shaking it off, she led the threesome down the hall and opened the third door on the right past the two rooms where Christopher Thompson slumbered and Terry Day, popping in and out of sleep, suffered.  Once inside, the first officer removed the handcuffs and asked Nurse Stewart again for her assurance the situation was under control; once more receiving the affirmative, he left the room with his partner.  She moved Jason to one of the beds, wrote his name on the checklist and put the clipboard and the pen on the stand next to the bed, certain he would figure out upon waking that he needed to fill it out.  The Haldol did its work and Jason was out like a light a few seconds after his head his the pillow. 
                Her initial diagnostic guess screamed a Bipolar Disorder mixed episode or possibly psychotic depression.  Agitation mixed with exhaustion, extreme energy concurrent with extreme fatigue, strong symptoms in two different directions.  He would seem scary to many, possibly most.   Maybe he really was scary in his regular life.  Maybe he was sweet but misunderstood.  Maybe he was a victim.  Maybe he was all those things.  Whatever the facts, he was wounded and she could only feel sorry for him.  Moving to the door, she took another look at him on the way out.  What would happen when he woke would be interesting but that was up for Head Tech Pederson and Nurse Mathis to experience.  Making her last march of the day to the Unit A tech office, she informed Sue Pederson of Jason’s situation along with her own personal insights.  She didn’t bother looking at her watch as she left the unit.  It was after noon and she wanted to get the hell out of there in the worst way. 
With a final, large yawn and stretch, she tottered back to the front desk, where the young intake nurse beamed at her work station.
“Hi, Sandy!” she said, brightly, a final irritant in an irritating shift.  The idea of quizzing the girl on whether she’d gotten there before noon or not fled Nurse Stewart’s mind like the proverbial rat leaving the sinking ship.  She just wanted to get home.  Grabbing her purse from behind the desk and her coat from where the girl had lain it on the desk top, she headed for those cursed double doors. 
“Going home?” the young girl asked.  Nurse Stewart repressed making a “No, duh!” face, instead replying: “Yeah.  I’m going to go home and sleep for a year.” 

               

December 14

A bitterly cold 20-degrees, not counting the slight wind chill, reigned at 8:33 that morning.  A hard snow that turned to sleet the night before and lasting into the early morning had left large pockets of snow and dangerously heavy ice over the neighborhoods where Jason Martin, insulated as well as possible with a long sleeve shirt and jeans, began his first day of a new job for an aptly named company called Kilimanjaro Incorporated, lawn and garden, thusly named because the owner had climbed the mountain on a trip to Tanzania once and relished the idea of people forever knowing it.  Attempting his best maneuvering, Jason jostled with an expensive snow blower equipped with an engine powerful enough to make you think, if you decided to sit on it and point it in the right direction, you could drive it to Chicago in a few hours flat.  After several failed jobs and a failed apartment stay, the 20-year old had recently moved back in with his father, who agreed to let Jason stay there provided the young man get a steady job, some consistent income and eventually find an apartment where, unlike his last attempt, he could achieve successful independence.  Jason’s stay at his father’s rented condominium demanded those condition be met.  His mother, who had died when Jason was 6 months old, wasn’t an option. So much on the line had left Jason stressed and edgy.  He hadn’t felt well for several years now.   Jobs came and went, his father infuriated to the breaking point with each failure; hence, the ultimatum.   Succeed now or else.  Fail and sink into the abyss.  Proud, tough and intense, Jason’s experiences had left him shaken, bitter, and angry.   He had always been a winner…until recently.   Now he just couldn’t get it in gear, the gear that used to turn like a perpetual motion machine rusted and stuck more often than not these days and no amount of tapping or rapping or pounding could get it to going again.  The pattern made consistency impossible.  Well, he had another shot and the first step was that morning. 
Kilimanjaro Incorporated boasted long-term contracts with various houses in the area.   In winter, that service primarily meant snow blowing driveways, the labor Jason performed that morning.  The very first driveway he worked on had a slightly uphill gradient with a wicked tilt to the right.  Though he didn’t know it, it would be the hardest driveway he plowed all day, if he lasted that long; bad luck fated it to be his first, and his final.  He met his trainer only an hour before, a skinny, goateed, nervous man around 25 who had already smoked two cigarettes like lightning and downed two Mountain Dews like a fish that morning; barely started, the guy complained in frustration with Jason’s work. 
“No!  I told you to keep the snow off the neighbor’s yard!” the man bellowed, pointing aggressively to the house they were working at. “We’re being paid to snow blow THIS man’s driveway, not to blow snow and ice all over THAT man’s yard.”
The driveway edged the neighbor’s property; the difficult terrain and seemingly limitless power of the snow blower made it practically impossible to be exact and not blow a little snow that way, a mortal sin to the trainer, who evinced the same attitude during summer with grass seeds.  In his defense, the lack of a contract with the neighbor meant potential trouble for the company should the neighbor choose to complain over any overlapping service from next door but who would make a big deal over having a little snow blown on their property, especially because plenty of snow from the last month rested their already?  The trainer, that’s who.  To him, properly coloring in the lines proved vital, like the contracted driveway had red snow and the neighboring green. 
A slide mechanism moved the blower’s discharge chute from left to right depending on which direction the snow was to be blown in.  Only an inch from Jason’s right hand, the touchy mechanism operated with great sensitively, making Jason’s job even more perilous, drawing the trainer’s criticisms at multiple spots.  Several times, small amounts of snow had flown from the discharge chute into the neighbor’s yard though, to Jason, not nearly enough to be a major problem.  My God, who gave a shit if the trainer complained about nothing in a world where jerks complained about everything?  But Jason was stuck in the trap of the employee with the employer; like it or not, his job was on the line and everything else with it. 
Despite the criticism, he literally plowed ahead as best he could, throwing his full weight, a muscular 188 pounds built as a football player in his high school days, behind the heavy machine. The blower hit a hidden icy spot under a thin layer snow and slid a foot to the right.  In trying to steady it, Jason’s right hand hit the slide mechanism; the chute shifted a hard right at a diagonal angle and poured a huge pile of snow in the neighbor’s yard before Jason could shift the chute back to the left.  His trainer seethed. 
“What the hell are you doing?!  I told you I get in big trouble if a neighbor complains about big piles of snow ending up in his yard, right?  Right?  Understand?  Do it again.”  He finished with an aggressive point towards the house they were working on.
Jason hated being there.   He hated this kind of work.   He was doing it all for the money, money he had to have; he hated money, hated what it did to people, hated what it turned people into.  The world of finance wasn’t honorable or moral and their money took no skill or courage to acquire.  His father was all about money, all about making it and all about keeping it.  Considered a pillar of goodness for having wealth, his father wasted no effort in lording it over Jason whenever he wanted to make Jason feel small and useless.  Jason resisted all he resented with as much strength that comes from the power of conviction as he could muster.  Now he was being yelled at by some puny jerk doped to the max on caffeine and nicotine at 9 fucking AM.  A warm flush surged to his cheeks and he defended himself with a low grumble.   
“It’s not all over his yard,” Jason said firmly, doing his best to control his volatile temper.     
                “It’s on his yard enough!” the trainer replied with a raised voice that peaked in a squeal, “so let’s do it right!  Come on.  I’m being as patient as I can with you.” 
                At that point, Jason couldn’t give a rat’s ass about a few extra flakes of snow or a mound or a fucking mountain, no matter where it all ended up, and his growing agitation swelled over the trainer’s obduracy of something that didn’t matter; no, the guy was either too conscientious or flat out crazy.  Was that the way the company worked?  From experience, Jason had trained himself to mentally check out of what he considered stupid.  That meant that morning’s nonsense; no matter how great he risked his father’s wrath, he couldn’t bring himself to care.  However, he also couldn’t bring himself to quit.  Maybe he could get through it all with indifference.  Maybe.  He needed the job.  He had to keep the job.  Simple as that.  Jason agreed with his father’s view that a man should work for everything he attained but he flinched over his father’s seeming obliviousness to his situation, that something had been wrong for some time, turning a young man who had always made his father proud with unbroken successes into a shell of his former self.  Success through high school, whether with sports or grades, had come easily.  Now, he…just couldn’t; couldn’t get his head together, couldn’t progress in life as he needed to. 
                WHY CAN’T I DO THIS ANYMORE?! he’d often scream to himself over his lack of functionality.  It crushed down upon him every day. 
Stiffening his resolve, he finished the far right of the driveway with no problems and turned the machine to the left to go back down.  Unfortunately, in his agitation, he forgot to immediately slide the chute to the right.  It kept left and sprayed snow over the part of the driveway he had just cleared with a little more again going into the neighbor’s yard.  His trainer went berserk.
                “No! No! No!  You not only got…you fucked up the line you just cleared AND you somehow got MORE snow on the neighbor’s lawn.  I just don’t get it.  Are you stupid?  Yeah, you’re stupid.  Only someone really stupid could manage to do all this.”  The trainer turned his back, scratched his fingers over the back of his head and threw both arms in the air in contempt. 
                STUPID?  The word hit like a right cross in Jason’s mind.  Yes, he had heard it right, heard it from a pathetic little worm he didn’t like or respect.  Game over.  His neck stiffened. 
Yeah, you’re stupid, thundered in his mind.  He needed the job, he needed the money but he needed his self-respect more.  Stupid.  Fuck it.  He wasn’t the stupid one.  He clenched his fists, his face etched into a hideous scowl, and moved towards the trainer, who still had his back turned, the occasional insult pertaining to Jason and the trainer’s lot in life muttering out in thick bursts of cold air.  Jason got to within a foot of the trainer, who turned and almost fell over backwards due to the closeness. 
                “That’s all,” Jason said, his voice growing in intensity, his mind racing like a runaway train moving faster and faster, the wheels burning the track hotter and hotter.  The insults were over.  The trainer thought he was quitting. 
                “Done?  You’re quitting?” was the shocked reply. 
                “No one calls me stupid…no,” Jason said, his blood boiling, his rage now uncontrolled. 
                The trainer moved closer.  “How stupid can a person…”
                Vesuvius blew.  Jason’s right hand, quick as lightning, found the man’s throat and grabbed hold of it like a vice.   The two stood in unequal struggle, the muscular Jason throttling his skinny opponent easily, the older man squirming trying to break the iron grip.   In his rage, Jason reveled in his foe’s wide- eyed look of terror as he realized he could kill the man if he felt like it, strangle him or break his neck if he chose.  Jason shoved hard and sent the trainer tumbling, the soft snow and ice on the driveway making it easy to send the man off his balance and down to the ground.  Landing on his left side, stunned both by the impact of his fall and the pressure put on his neck, the trainer lay still for several seconds before slowly coming to his hands and knees.  Jason stood a few feet away, ready to deliver a remorseless kill shot that would break the guy’s face.  Grabbing his throat and coughing, the trainer suddenly snapped back onto his feet and just as quickly slipped down onto his chest.  Rising again, making sure he stayed upright, he minced backwards down the driveway, not daring to take his eyes off Jason. 
                “You’re gone!  You’re gone!” he croaked hysterically, flapping his arms like a hyperactive child or disoriented mallard, pointing wildly in several different directions.  Jason stood in a defensive posture, the short-term impact beginning to give way to the long-term ramifications of what he’d done.  The trainer stomped ludicrously to the company van parked across the street, his skinny body swelling like an emaciated bullfrog, his head turned towards Jason the whole way.   He leapt into the driver’s seat, rolled down the window and, assured of his safety, shouted, 
“Good luck getting home, ass hole!  Fuck you!”
He revved the engine hard and loud and floored the accelerator before shifting the car in gear.  The tires kicked up slush for three feet, spun uselessly until gaining traction, and rocketed forward, sending the van racing through the neighborhood and out at forty miles an hour, the car sliding left and right several times on the way.  Jason stood alone in the driveway.  Defeat set in quickly.  He felt like he’d raped the boss’s wife.  He tried to get angry again but couldn’t.  Black despair seeped in slowly like a crawling tarantula spreading across his face.  The despair grew greater and greater and he felt more and more tired.  He had been tired when he started the morning.  He had been tired the last two years.  Bending forward, his hands met his knees, the freezing cold weather a growing hindrance to his senses.  He couldn’t deflect or overcome the unpleasant feelings anymore, couldn’t fight them anymore, couldn’t survive them anymore.  Overwhelmed, he began to shake with cold and exhaustion, his hands digging into the material of his jeans.  He lived five miles away.  How would he get home?  How was he going to explain this?  His father loomed in his mind like a mighty Titan over a powerless mortal.   He’s going to kill me.  How am I going to explain this? 
                Resignation mixed with fear and turned to dread.  His last chance came and went.  His death was coming.  It was coming now.  Today. 
                I can’t explain this.  He won’t listen.   I’m going to die…

,               No.  He wasn’t going to explain it…not if he could help it; NEVER if he could help it.  He sat down on the edge of the driveway and, with stubbornness cultivated through athletic training, committed to not moving.  He closed his eyes again in meditation, praying, begging, to freeze solid in every pore of his body.  He sat shivering for over ten minutes with no intention of ever moving again, his coatless arms only sporting his long sleeve shirt worn for work purposes providing no succor. 
“Hey!  Get the fuck up!” a guy not much older than himself shouted as a joke from the window of a pickup truck as he drove by.  Quickly flushed with fresh rage over being disturbed, Jason snapped to his feet and ran towards the car fully intending to chase the thing down and have it out with the asshole inside.  The driver tauntingly slowed down just enough to entice the infuriated Jason before mockingly gunning the engine and speeding out of reach without so much as a slide.   Jason roared as he stood helplessly in the middle of the suburb’s now empty, sludge covered street.  He couldn’t just sit and die now.  His masculinity and his pride, two things that had carried him through his world for years, had manifested too prominently, as had his adrenaline from his ridiculous, dog-like attempt to chase down a moving car.   His “blood was up,” as the old expression went.  Six miles lay between he and his father’s condo, an easy car trip being out because his father had driven him to work that morning; he imagined the clean, attractive unit as a filth ridden prison in a filth ridden town in a filth ridden country.  Well, his blood was up so he chose to face his father and, if his father gave him any crap, he’d defend himself with his fists.  Twice before, their relationship had become physical and he would do it again if he had to.  Hopelessness had no place in his heart.  Rage and pride became his motivators.   
                Focused by that aggression, he began to jog in the direction of his father’s house.  Though a haul at six miles, he’d run longer distances, even a half marathon he’d barely trained for with a friend.  Since his teen years, exercise had become his salve, his coping strategy against the inundation of increasingly dark moods and restless energy that increasingly invaded his physical self.  Addicted to effort, unflinching in his self-torture, he’d grown into a powerful workout warrior, a jogger and a weight lifter, a cardio junkie and a pursuer of physical strength in constant competition with himself.  He played football and baseball, excelling in both, an outside linebacker in the former and a first baseman in the latter.  His self-torturing workouts resulted in a strong, lean, fit body to go with his handsome face.  Built for combat and contact, he relished physical endeavors. 
Now, he channeled his inner warrior into completing the six-mile run, his jeans only a slight encumbrance and his long sleeve shirt finally a less bulky benefit.  After slogging through four tough miles in the icy, dirty white and gray sludge that pervaded everywhere, he came to the town’s biggest street, Carlton Ave., and stopped, deciding it way too early to go to his father’s condo.  His father wouldn’t be home for hours but he couldn’t bring himself to sit in that place alone, awaiting his fate, for so long.  His muscles ached and his head throbbed but his energy remained powerful.  Much too powerful.  His mind raced, his moods remaining a bloated, swollen conglomeration of aggressive agitation.  Rest an impossibility, he felt the only place where he would be comfortable, the only place that made sense, was his gym. 
                Breathing deeply, he girded his body and jogged lightly towards his gym, just over two miles down Carlton Ave.  He trudged on the side of the road through the cold and the snow until he reached his destination around forty minutes later.  After showing his membership at the front desk, he went to the men’s room to check himself.  He tolerated his moist jeans and shirt and slicked back his moist hair with a few quick run throughs.  What gave him pause was the dark, furious space where his face usually was; an eclipse seemed wedged in between it and his usual expression.  He felt weak and exhausted yet fiery and determined.   Leaving the men’s room, he mounted a cross training cardio machine and worked it for the next two hours, took a small break to get a drink of water, then did another two.  Shortly after 3 PM, he couldn’t exercise another second.  He looked at the gym clock.  His father would soon be home and awake for several more hours.  Jason chose not to go there.  His father would probably question why his son hadn’t come home from his wonderful new job but Jason didn’t care.  Now where to go?  The local mall in the opposite direction from where he’d come down Carlton Ave., closer to his Dad’s condo, seemed the obvious choice.  He’d have to walk there.  Very slowly. 

He arrived just after 4:30 PM and began to walk around, the two-story structure heavily decorated from top to bottom for the Christmas season.  Hands in his pockets and his head mostly down, he ambled along, mostly oblivious to the stores but not the people.  He heard the laughter and would glance up now and then to see the happy faces, the women with arms interlaced with those of boyfriends and husbands, their free hands carrying bags with Christmas packages that would soon thrill overjoyed children.  Sometimes, those little children would be with their mothers or fathers or both and their parents would play games and employ tricks to deflect the purchases of gifts meant for them, sending them with one parent to buy candy apples or frosty treats or playing hide and seek and telling them to go hide, under the parent’s watchful eye, of course, until the other parent would return with presents safely tucked away.  Older people strolled slowly, mostly with looks of joy, no doubt remembering Christmas’s past.  Not long disgorged from school, teenagers, laughing and doing silly things, populated the mall like salmon coming home to spawn.  Even the employees were bubblier than usual in anticipation of Christmas, more talkative and jovial to not only the customers but to each other in their regular banter and on cigarette breaks.  Jason heard all of them; heard their laughter, felt their happiness and hated them.  Hated all of them.  Happiness all around him and it made him sick with despair; none of that happiness was for him. 
                He walked past the stores on the first floor, took the up escalator to the second, walked past those stores and the food court, took the down escalator back to the first floor and repeated the process dozens of times.  Under a high glass ceiling, an enormous fountain, equipped with three tiers and water spewing high enough to be level with the second floor, dominated the center of the mall surrounded by kiosks of goods that ringed it like frogs on a pond.  The base of the fountain had places for sitting and Jason, eventually tired of moving, sat down.  A television set at one of the kiosks barked something about luxury cars with images of silver and red sports cars rotating on platforms modelled by smiling, attractive yet tastefully dressed young women; Jason couldn’t resist being sucked in, his body in place of the pitchman, smiling and happy, selling cars somewhere, anywhere, something he would never pursue in real life.  He sat mesmerized, like a child, and never wanted to look away, never wanted to leave.  Time passed like the executioner sharpening his axe.  Jason looked up through the glass ceiling and saw the darkness. 
                Near closing, the mall crowd thinned considerably and nearly everyone had gone home.  The teenagers had moved on to some other ridiculous teenage pursuit in some other place.  All the parents with little children had long since gone, the kids no doubt already tucked into bed.  The old people had gone like whispers from lips long faded.  Only a few younger couples, and the occasional wanderer like himself, were left.  The mall had a “last call” kind of atmosphere and a few people were fast walking to hit their favorite stores for one last quick purchase before leaving.  He looked at his watch: 8:45 PM.  Fifteen more minutes and he would have to go home.  His father, an airline pilot by trade, often had an uneven schedule but not lately, altering his work regimen to include only local routes.  He would no doubt be waiting for Jason to get home so they could talk about his first day at his new job, a job certain to ease pain and cure all problems between the two…How could Jason tell him he’d failed?  He had never known his father to be soft hearted or generally understanding.  Perhaps that soft spot had hardened forever when his mother died.  Jason had never asked and his father, being allergic to introspective conversation, had never told him anything.  He only knew his father had no tolerance for anything he considered failure, whether in himself, his son or anyone else.  That was the guy possibly fully awake and waiting on the couch with a hangman’s noose ready to lynch him if he arrived with the bad tidings that were now inevitable. 
The seconds ticked away to his forced homecoming.   He stared at the kiosk with the car commercial, his last connection on earth, the last sane thing in civilization. 

9 PM came and the kiosk worker proceeded to close for the night.  Jason wanted to plead with him to keep his television on, no matter that it kept rattling off the same infomercial so many times that Jason had the entire shtick memorized.  His life hung on that television set, on those women modelling the cars; the woman in the blue dress, moving from left to right, the smile on her face changing from smiling to neutral then smiling again; the woman in the red dress looking back and forth from the car to the camera repeatedly without moving her position, left hand on hip, right arm extended with right hand upturned, mouth open in a toothy, rigid, unmoving smile; the woman in the green dress, moving like the one in the blue dress, a close lipped smile with dancing eyes bewitching Jason as she performed.  The same pitchman for all in his smart gray suit and his slicked back black hair excitedly and hyperactively spouted information about the car’s engines and designs, first the silver, then the black, then the red, and how any one of them would be a wonderful Christmas gift and so on and so on.  Jason felt he knew these performers, now his only friends.  He needed them.  Suddenly, the screen went black and the kiosk worker took the proceeds from his cash register away.  Footsteps approached him.  The deep voice of a mall cop tolled over Jason’s shoulder:
“We’re closing up.  Time to go home.”  He looked up at the man’s smiling face and stood with effort, his mind turning slowly like a rusty wheel.  His bones creaked and his muscles screamed from the insane workout he’d subjected himself to.  He put his hands in his pockets and, head down, shuffled towards the main entrance.  The double doors slid open.  He paused, took a deep breath and stepped outside, a blast of freezing cold air and thick snow smacking him in the face, the surrounding area dark save for the haunting patches produced by the outside lights at the mall’s fringes which illuminated the blizzard that poured down.  He stood just past the door for a half hour, watching everyone leave, then walked across the parking lot and decided to look for a comfortable spot where he could sit down.  He walked to a large dumpster, moved to the side facing away from the mall and sat, facing the wind and snow, at its base, his rear crunching into the mix of snow and ice.  He didn’t know the temperature but it bit hard, a wind chill that must be below freezing.  He curled up with his arms folded around his knees and decided to die.  The wind shredded his face and whistled in his ears as he shivered uncontrollably.  The cold invaded his bones; he opened his mouth for the world to hear his chattering teeth.  He contemplated taking off his shirt to speed the process but, seized by a powerful, confusing force, he reconsidered.  The force, his survival instinct, screamed to find shelter, to deflect the wind, to reach inside his clothes and rub his arms and his legs until he felt warm and safe.  He rejected the impulse for as long as he could until he couldn’t anymore.  Angry and sad and exhausted and defeated, he slowly rose, his numb hands on his numb forehead, rubbed his arms and legs as fast and firmly as he could, cursed himself a coward and began to shuffle in the direction of his father’s condo, occasionally kicking the soft snow in front of him, the powder exploding into tiny, imperceptible grains. 

Moving in the general direction of his father’s place, he wandered for hours, stalling for time, nearly frozen into insensibility as he finally neared the place, isolated in a corner of the neighborhood so remote no would notice it once the sun set if the lights weren’t on.  To Jason’s relief, they weren’t.  Now he only wanted shelter, any shelter.  He crept stealthily towards the front door, opened it with his key and stood in the doorway.  His senses stretched out as far as he could stretch them, checking for the smallest sound as if the slightest creak of the floor would bring his father rushing towards him with a baseball bat threatening to smash his head in.  As his father never turned on the heat no matter how cold, the air felt only slightly less frigid than outside, a tomblike combination of empty freeze and dead quiet.  He stood there for a minute until as assured of his safety as possible then tip toed towards his room.  A slight creak on the wooden floor glued him in place for several seconds; when the roof didn’t cave in, he noiselessly entered his room and shut the door gently.  Uninterested in taking off his clothes, he burrowed into the sheets of his bed.  The noose tightened around his neck as he drifted in and out of a light, terrible sleep.  It stretched all the way from his father’s hand several rooms away. 

Jason woke several times in the night.  Each time, he checked the digital clock on the end table next to the bed.  12:13 AM.  He dozed off and dreamt of being beaten up by someone he’d never met.  1:32 AM.  He stared at the clock for a half hour.  His stomach hurt and he shivered with cold.  2:55 AM.  He sat up in bed and held his aching head.  His mind raced then collapsed into darkness then exhaustion.  Too much energy.  Too little energy.  4:16 AM.  Dread flooded him as he awoke.  Almost time.  5:28 AM.  He would hear his father soon.  6:15 AM.  He heard the stirring in his father’s room.   He counted each second from then.  At 486 seconds, he heard the shower; 973 seconds later, the footsteps approached.  His door opened and his father, 49 years old, six feet two, firmly built though a bit overweight, fully dressed for work in his pilot’s uniform strode purposefully inside.  A faint smell of whiskey drifted to Jason’s nose. 
                “Time to get up and go to work,” his father said.  “I have a couple of short flights and layovers.  I’ll probably be back around 4 PM or so.”  He transitioned.  “You must have got home very late.  How was your first day?” 
                Turning on his side away from his father, eyes facing the pale white of closed closet doors, Jason murmured: “I quit the job.” 
                He spoke too softly to be heard.  “What was that?” his father asked. 
                “I quit the job,” Jason repeated just loudly enough to hear.  “I quit it.  I’m not going back.” 
Under the covers, Jason readied himself.  Few things disgusted his father; people he considered purposefully unemployed muscled close to the top of his list; Jason being unemployed muscled all the way to the top.
                “What do you mean you quit your job?” his father asked with rapid contempt and practiced disgust from conversations about Jason’s other failures.  To his father, the work world was so easy.  You get a job, you dedicate yourself and you do it.  It’s a damn job.  Everybody has one.  Why can’t his own son get it right? 
                Though exhausted from lack of sleep, the lack of rest also made Jason’s agitation quick trigger.  His muscles flexed and his fists clenched.  He continued staring at the closet doors and muttered slowly:
“The trainer insulted me so I left.  I’m not going back.  That’s it.”  
                “What did he say to you?”
                “He called me stupid.”
                “Who cares if he called you stupid?!” his father roared, incredulously, striking Jason with a verbal uppercut.  “Unbelievable.  What did you do?  We’ll correct this right now.  You’re going to go back and beg for your job if that’s what it takes.  Get up.”
                Jason sat up sharply and faced his father.  “I’m not going back to someone who called me stupid!  I’m not stupid!”  Being prepared for a fight became insignificant.  He wanted one.  The “sense of craziness,” as Jason called it, the motivation that fueled his workouts and his athletic career, took over.
                “Well, you’re acting stupid!” his father, now agitated, roared again.  “Get up!  I’m sick of paying your goddamned way!”  He shook his head and looked at his watch.  “I don’t have time to take you back there.  I’ll have to call a God damned taxi to come take you to work.  Tell them you’re sorry and ask for your job back.  Tell them you’ve been fucked up lately or whatever reason you want to give.  They can drive you back when you’re done.”
Jason sneered at his father and rumbled with thunder.
“Fuck you!” he shouted.   He’d just declared war, a war that had been building for a long time.
                “No, fuck you!!” his father shot back, aggressively pointing at his son.  “You’re a fucking bum and I’m fed up with you and your fucking freeloading!”  He waved his hands at Jason.  “The free ride is over.  I’m going to work like a responsible person and you better be out of here by the time I get back or I’ll call the cops to carry you out.”  He stomped out of the room, stomped into the hallway and stomped out the front door, slamming it shut in the process. 
                His inevitable crossroads reached, Jason felt so overwhelmed with emotion he almost passed out. 
I’m so tired, he thought.  Just let me sleep, please.  Just let me sleep.   Moments later, he got his wish.  A hard surge knocked him unconscious. 

                He slept hard, dreaming an altered version of what he’d fitfully dreamt earlier only this time, instead of being beaten up, he authored the punishment.  In his dream, a group of people came, all strangers.  He was with them yet apart from them, the same yet different, though he wasn’t aware of it until he had killed one of them, a smiling man, one of the flock.   Jason bludgeoned him to death.  No blood or terror burst through in the act; he just went too far and it was done.  Once finished, the realization of death, his death, hit hard.  He’d crossed the line.  He spent a short amount of time ruing it, wishing that it wasn’t so, wishing he could go back but he couldn’t.  He tried mixing with the strangers again, trying to smile and laugh, trying to be one of them.  Maybe he could hide it, live the life of a cool “bad guy,” maybe even eventually tell someone he’d killed, the culprit in a murder mystery, the predator in the flock.  Maybe he could live with his guilt.   Did he have to go to jail forever?  Yes.  He knew it.  He’d murdered and his life was over.  The world he now inhabited could only end in prison. That was his path.  He left the group and appeared in the police station an instant later.  He confessed and was led to his cell...
                 
He woke hours later.  Though he hadn’t had a long sleep, it still refreshed him enough to reset his internal clock.  Then his reality came in a flash and, aided by the ever present, unabated cold, withered him to where he seemed a corpse in a morgue though without the painless peace of death.  Fully alert to his situation, he began to panic.  Springing from bed, he instantly crumbled to his knees with a panic attack, his forehead pressing firmly into the carpet, breathing shallowly, his body shivering without the small relief of the flimsy bed covers.  Eyes closed, he gathered himself enough to stand and, far from wavering, shot up erect and firm like a man turned to stone, the corpse in rigor mortis, hard as bone.  What could he do?  He had to get out.  To where?  He had nowhere to go.  Friends and relatives had long since withdrawn support or faded from his life.   He stared into his destiny.  He was going to die.  Now.  That day.  In just a few short hours.  That would be it.  It was the end. 
What…can I do?   Dazed, he left his room and shuffled out into the hallway, needing to feel his way along the wall to keep steady, empathetic to fictional zombies, a fresh member of the living dead. 

                He heard the wind howling and the windows buckling as he entered the kitchen and checked the thermometer set in the kitchen window:  26 degrees, which the howling wind would no doubt drop close to zero.  He looked at the clock:  10:12 AM.   He paced and fidgeted.
I have to leave and I have nowhere to go.  I’m going to freeze to death. 
 Last night, he desperately had wanted to freeze to death but his subconscious survival instinct wouldn’t let him.  After sleeping, his conscious and subconscious minds were in sync.  He wanted to live.  He desperately wanted to live. 
                What were those places?  Homeless shelters.  Homeless shelters like…what’s the name…what’s the name…WHAT’S THE NAME?!   Salvation Army.  That was one of them.  They take people in, right?  He rapidly groped around for the phone book, dug it out of a drawer, and called the number on his father’s home phone.
“Salvation Army, may I help you?” a female representative asked casually.
“Yes.  I need a bed for tonight.  I have nowhere to go,” Jason intoned dully. 
“Okay, we currently have a 35 bed waiting list.  I’m afraid we won’t be able to get you in tonight.” 
“I have nowhere to go!”  Jason croaked, the noose around his neck restricting his throat.
“I’m sorry.  None of the people in front of you have anywhere to go, either,” she replied.
“I am going to FUCKING DIE!  Do you get that?!  Do you understand that?!” 
The line clicked as the woman ended the call.  The full horror of it was becoming surreal.  Every domino in a worse case scenario had fallen.  He laughed then felt stupid for doing so which made him laugh harder.  All he’d had to endure in his life, all the times he’d done as he was supposed to, all the times he’d been the good kid.  Now, he would have to get out and he’d die in the ice and snow and cold…
No.  No!  The end wouldn’t come with him timidly freezing to death.  He committed to taking a stand.  He chose to fight.  Adrenaline began to rush.  Anger began to surge.  Another old memory came up.  He remembered a rare time at home when, as a young child brimming with the curiosities of life internal and external, he’d searched his father’s closet for anything interesting he could play with.  Aside from the usual boring contents of clothes and shoes, the kind of stuff that he had in his closet, one object piqued his interest.  An enormous gun, the type of which he didn’t know, rested upright in a back corner.  He approached it cautiously until within inches of it, the gun almost as tall as he, and contemplated playing with it for a few moments before thinking better of it and leaving.  He’d been told that guns were dangerous and believed it but, if his father had a gun, could they be all bad?  He put it out of his mind and never thought about it until now.  Would his father still have it?  
Checking his father’s room upstairs, Jason found it in the closet, a large, double barreled shotgun.  He felt like a child again, approaching it cautiously, then moved aggressively and snatched it up, the barrel so heavy it dipped almost to the floor, the stock uncomfortable in his hands as he’d never even picked up a gun before.  He remembered what they did in the movies and fiddled with it for a few seconds.  The gun snapped open revealing two pink covered bullets or shells or whatever they were called.  Satisfied that the thing was loaded, he snapped it back into place and carried it slowly downstairs.
A great instinct of uncertainty flared.  He didn’t want to kill his father.  He didn’t want to kill anyone.  He didn’t want to die, either.  What could he do?  Die out in the cold or make a stand.  What else?  He would call his father.  He could do that.  Maybe another option would come.  Maybe a kind of diplomacy could win out.  He propped the gun against a wall, walked slowly to the phone in the kitchen and dialed his father’s number.  The five second wait terrified him. His father’s voice came to his ear hard and impatient.  Clearly, he was having a day.  Jason heard the airport noise in the background. 
“Hello?” his father asked.  Jason could tell he was moving.  Maybe he was late for one of his flights.  Jason paused.  His life could still go another way.  No, it couldn’t. 
“It’s me,” he grumbled lowly.  He pressed the phone hard to his ear until it hurt.
“I didn’t hear you.  Who is this?” his father irritably and distractedly responded. 
“It’s me!” Jason shouted.
“Are you in my house? Where are you?  If you’re in my house, get the hell out now!”
In that moment, Jason committed to blowing his father away.  His father’s anger made it a done deal.  His forceful and concentrated reply came as he bobbed his head excitedly. 
“Yeah, I’m in your house, mother fucker, and I’ll be in your house when you get here because I’m going to blow your fucking head off!  You better call the cops to save your ass or come armed because I am.  I’ve got your gun.” 
The pause on the other end lasted for several seconds, leaving only the airport noise audible.  Jason imagined his father’s shock and surprise over the connection.  He reveled in it.  The phone on the other end clicked off.  Jason felt the overwhelming exhilaration of terror and adrenalin.  The die had finally been cast.  Now it was a matter of going through the final motions. 

He meant everything he said.  it.  It all ended there.  A violent reckoning joyfully marked the end of the misery his life had become.  He envisioned his father’s head exploding with a blast of the shotgun, leaving nothing but a headless, mangled corpse.  No more family, no more future, no more worries.  No more freedom but who cares about freedom in the world when you don’t even have freedom in your own mind?  He just wanted to relax, wanted the pain to go away and stay away.  Just done with it ALL.  That meant he had to do what he had to do to save his life.  If that meant life in prison, so be it.  
 He toted the gun around for a few minutes like a neurotic hunter.  Legally, the term “temporary insanity” described him perfectly.  If a knock came at the door, he’d blow a hole in it without hesitation, whether he thought his father there or not. 
He paced into the kitchen, went to the kitchen sink, and splashed water on his face.  Breathing deeply, he smelled alcohol for the second time that day.  His nose guided his eyes to a glass of dark brown whiskey on the countertop.  The smell of the glass reeked of memories.  Never having known his mother due to her death early in his life, the only parental experience he’d had consisted of fatherly contact and there’d been very little of that as his father frequently moved them around in his job as an airline pilot as Jason grew up, taking different routes that made his father a global traveler; Jason, meanwhile, largely grew up in different daycare centers in different cities all over the country.  In his travels, Jason’s Dad had amassed a large, impressive collection of foreign liquor from all over the globe.  Since he’d been old enough to comprehend such things, Jason had identified his father as a hard drinking man.  As both men got older, Jason’s Dad began to settle down, taking fewer and fewer long distance routes while spending more time around his growing son.  Jason couldn’t remember a time spent with his father when the man didn’t have a drink in his hand, a dark brown substance that smelled of alcohol.  At first, it supplemented what good times they had, times when they were able to laugh and have fun and his father could pat him on the back after some accomplishment at school, whether academic or athletic.  Then, Jason began to feel badly and function badly towards the end of high school.  Then, the laughs turned to subtle, cutting remarks, remarks of disappointment from his father for Jason not getting the job done in whatever fashion, usually academic or social, the latter coming from getting into a few fights at school, fights that landed him in detention for short periods.  His father became angry and Jason became angry.  Whatever harmony existed between the two men faded; Jason’s father increasingly saw him as a loser, someone that had had every advantage and seemed committed to ruining it all; Jason increasingly saw his father as a drunken old abuser, a man that wasn’t there for his upbringing and had no right to challenge or insult him in any matter due to his track record of achievement, much less over matters that occurred when Jason tried at something but couldn’t succeed because he didn’t feel well.   Every time, the cutting remarks and insults came from a man with a glass full of that dark brown fluid in his hand, that damn whiskey that turned decent men into abusive monsters.  Then came the occasional shoving matches.  The dark brown liquid went from hand to table then back to hand when it was over, Jason double teamed by his father and a distiller of poison, a poison he never drank and swore he never would. 
His mind returned to the present.  His father had left but the dark brown liquid, it’s rich color and foul stench Jason had come to associate with everything vile and detestable, remained.  The reflected sun from the kitchen window made it look sublime, its power to destroy the families of men majestic as the golden light made the liquid a gorgeous, deep amber.  Stinking of almost holy success, it whispered the taunts of a million victories. 
With fury, he grabbed it and threw it as hard as he could towards the light, trying to hit and shatter the sun, succeeding only in cracking the window and shattering the whiskey glass into a dozen pieces that flew in every direction, a few of the tiniest hitting him in the face near his eyes, a splash of the stinking, stinging liquid splashing his face and shirt.  Enraged like the liquor was his own blood, he whipped his head towards his father’s immense liquor cabinet which took up most of the wall across from the kitchen in a small dining room.  Moments later, he violently jerked open its two large doors.  Before him were dozens and dozens of bottles of every shape crammed into every crevice in a rainbow of colors, some expensive, others not.  Though his father usually only drank whisky, he collected everything else.  German Lager, Australian Ale, various kinds of Schnapps from Austria and Switzerland, vodka from Sweden and Russia, Mexican Tequila, rum from the Caribbean, Kentucky Bourbon, gin from England and France, Scottish whiskey, rice wine from Japan and China and many others, all picked up from the many years of travel his father had logged as a pilot.  A World War lay in front, enemies from dozens of countries across the globe lined up against him.  Time to strike a blow for his freedom.  
Picking up a bottle of Kentucky bourbon, unaware and uncaring of its cost, he hurled it against the living room wall as hard as he could, the bottle exploding like a detonated hand grenade, the liquor splattering like paint pitched from a brush.  Bottle after bottle followed; most broke on the same wall, some slammed into the ceiling, some of the thicker bottles thudded off and landed unbroken on the sandy, carpeted floor.  A bottle of tequila cracked the living room’s one window.  A very expensive bottle of French Cognac followed and smashed a large hole in the window’s lower right side.  Grabbing a delicate container of Scotch, he set it down gently and put the heel of his shoe right through it, shattering it easily, ignoring the pain of a broken shard that slashed his lower calf.   The carnage continued for the next ten minutes until all the bottles but one, a bottle of Jamaican Rum, were destroyed.  The pulverized walls and ceiling reeked with thousands of dollars of substances while the thick carpet drowned in saturation like the massacre of a defeated army saturates the earth with rivers of blood.
Jason took the bottle of Jamaican Rum and the gun and sat down on the floor, his back propped against the wall facing the front door, the gun in his lap.  He’d never had a drink in his life; not one beer, not one glass of wine.  Now, he didn’t care.  Ripping the cap off, he chugged half the bottle then poured the rest over his head, running it through his hair and over his face, laughing the entire time as the cream oozed down his chin and to the carpet in tiny drops.  He laughed uncontrollably at the absurdity of it then paused and began to cry.  His body bucked and his chest ached as hot tears flooded copiously and made tracks in the fresh cream that thinly caked his face.   Gasping uncontrollably, he lowered his head until it touched the gun’s steel frame.  Absurdity bred humor.  Horror pushed both out.  Horror grew from pain.  He snorted runny snot back into his nose then wiped it and his eyes with his left hand as he cradled the gun in his right. He took several moments to collect himself, breathing deeply, until he became calm. 
The calm only lasted a moment.  His uncontrolled moods flared back into agitation and rage.  He transitioned back to warrior, killer, destroyer.  He became less focused on his last stand and fixated on making it his father’s.  He stood, seized in a fresh ecstasy of terror and bloodlust, his panicked mind incapable of pulling him back from the edge.  His right hand closed hard on the shotgun’s handle.  His left hand closed hard on the barrel.  Focused on the front door, he envisioned the man that would be walking through it, the man he had long ago loved as fully as a devoted son could, the man he looked up to as the god of all things, the man he trusted to guide and support him the whole way.  All gone, never to be again.  Now, only the reckoning remained, all accounts settled with buckshot, death and prison. 
                So be it, he assured himself a final time. 
                The next few minutes passed in one count of time eternal; three knocks then came to the front door. 
                He’s here...
Mad joy came in the moment.  Jason glided to the door, shotgun in his right hand.  He opened the door with his left.  Four men in black body armor and black helmets ringed the driveway in two tiers just beyond the door; all four men pointed assault rifles at Jason’s head.   Four fingers on four triggers readied.
“Put the gun down!” the man nearest him boomed. 
Jason had reached the biggest crossroads of his life. 
Raise it.  Just a little and it’s over…he pleaded with himself. 
The survival instinct struck again.  The warrior failed, defeated, humiliated, captured. 
“Whoa! Whoa!” Jason called reflexively, lowering the gun gently to the floor then raising his hands.  He hadn’t chosen life.  He had chosen to avoid death.   
“Down on your knees, hands on top of your head!” the man nearest shouted as he advanced.  Jason lowered his head and closed his eyes as his hands were twisted behind his back.  An infinite darkness engulfed him.




EPILOGUE

And so, four of our black snowflakes, four of the dreaded few, came home, the home where dying minds burned in Earthly torment, the building a mausoleum, the rooms graves, the beds tombstones.  For some, the journey ends there.  The promises of childhood, the moments of laughter, the hopes of life and love to come, the moments of happiness when life seemed livable, a future possible, dashed forever, lost stories never to be told, lives lost in the annals of time. 
                For others, including our foursome, there was hope, hope that partially came from youth, their brains not given time to progressively deteriorate from unchecked black snow, the filthy levels of mental illness.  With medication, counseling and proper coping skills, they all had chances to breathe, probably not able to live the lives they wanted, the kind of social interactions and victories dreamed of by most, but able to live, nonetheless.  For the most cursed, the place was death.  For those with a chance, the place was hope.