Previously: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10
There are questions that we inevitably ask ourselves.
How far are we willing to go and for what?
Are there lines we aren’t willing to cross?
Can we change?
Put the barrel of a revolver in the mouth of a hungover frat boy and maybe there’s a tinge of regret. Whatever service he was going to be for…whatever it was I was working against…had to be minimal. It had to be, right?
The old lady…that was one of those moments where the line moved. One of those moments where, had you asked me those three questions above, I would found that I had sorely misjudged myself. I was willing to go further. I was willing to cross that line. I was a coward, and that wasn’t going to change.
Ms. Kurtzman was a barrage of begging. A storm of tears and snot. A scene drowned out by the serpent sound in my skull that danced to a symphony of blooming sadism.
Part of me wondered how many words I even had left. Wondered where they’d gone. Wondered how I’d look when I was the one falling to pieces while Winston pulled his proverbial trigger.
And what had I done with the words I’d been given?
They’d been doled out in four-letter increments. The sounds of profanity when things went sideways…because things always went sideways. Just enough to make me think that it was never just dumb luck – it was the game, and it was rigged.
But that was the deal. They want you to win the battle, but they make sure you can’t win the war.
My hundred words – however many I’d used – was, if transcribed, something that would have looked like a dictation of an angry, teenage child playing an online shooter.
I took a moment while Ms. Kurzman wept, her voice so clogged with sadness that she choked on her words. While the serpent sang its merry song of a downward spiral that felt too much like a needle on a record that’s been playing too long.
I looked at Alice. There in her mother’s arms. Composed. Quiet. Center of the fucking storm.
I threw up. Right there. Doubled over and puked my brains out while the serpent laughed and Ms. Kurtzman cried. And then I ran.
Part of me wanted to just start screaming. Burn my words. Fuck em all. Take my medicine.
I knew. I knew there’d be repercussions.
I ran down the road and let my gun fall to the pavement. I cried like a man who forgot how to do it correctly. I wanted to speak, but for all that time, words seemed elusive – held hostage to some unknown time of disuse and fear.
“I can’t,” I said in a voice that I didn’t even recognize. “I can’t…I can’t…”
I kept running. When I heard the sirens I just ran faster. I don’t even know why I cared. Like a man falling off a cliff and flapping his arms. I have no idea what I thought was left for me. Redemption was done. Game over.
I ducked down an alley and I heard cars squeal to a stop. I heard doors open and feet moving. I heard a gun fire and felt a spray of concrete from where the bullet hit.
I ran into the open and kept going. I saw it – a cluster of old housing with the kind of yards that look like they’re on the verge of an accidental rummage sale.
“Freeze!” I heard someone yell.
I made it to the broken fence of someone’s dead, white picket fence dream and felt the sting of a bullet while I tried to get over it.
“Fuck!” I said. “Fuck…fuck…”
I felt my chest growing heavy. I heard the sound of the storm in my head. I felt the world going dark and darker still.
“I don’t…” I said.
That was it.
Those were my articulate last words. I didn’t get to look at Winston and tell him to go fuck himself. I didn’t get to stop and have some heartfelt confession with a priest. I didn’t get to tell anyone that I loved them.
I never got to say I was sorry.
While the world was going dim, I saw the man approaching, gun still in hand while he said something over his radio with that little walkie they always have clipped to their chest nowadays.
I didn’t hear the sound of eternity rushing forward. I didn’t see a bright light. I didn’t hear the roar of an engine, but I heard the impact when the car hit the officer.
I watched while the car sped away.
I watched while another man approached his body.
I didn’t need to hear to know that, when he knelt down to the wreck of a body left on the pavement, he was saying, “Do you want to live?”
“So why am I telling you this?”
She’s looking at me with those vacant eyes, her mouth starts to open, and I give her that look that says, “Really?”
“I’m telling you this because no one told me. I’m telling you this because you’re fucked. Sure as I was. You don’t win this game. You don’t find a way out. You just suffer…”
I take the last drag of my cigarette and I snuff it out in her ashtray.
“…and then you die.”
I let it sink in. I’m wondering how many times Winston tried to give people a head’s up. I’m wondering how many times he saw the same idiots do the same shit before he realized that it all rolls downhill – direction irrelevant. I’m wondering how many it’ll take before I become the same way.
“Someone once told me, and I’m going to tell you – everyone thinks it’s about the big fish, but it isn’t.” I point to the envelope that, until a moment ago, wasn’t there. “You’ll be getting those from time to time. You’re going to fuck up. Nothing I say is going to make that make sense. Sometimes we have to shoot ourselves in the foot a few times before we appreciate our ability to walk.”
I stand and walked to the door. I stop and look back at her – that look of confusion as thick as the indifference on my own.
“By the way,” I say. Then I sigh, “You know what? You’ll figure it out.”