Sunday, October 25, 2015


(From Karnes, chapter 3.)

WARNINGS: Thriller themes, graphic violence, and strong language.  Readers under 17 strongly cautioned.

Rock 'n' Read

It goes straight to my pissbone when someone doesn’t realize how utterly full of shit people tend to be.  Don’t get me wrong – optimism is a nice idea, in theory.  It’s a warm-fuzzy thing that makes the world a little brighter, to be sure, as long as it’s wielded in a safe environment.  Unfortunately (and don’t tell all the optimists this yet, because I think it would be a real shock to their systems), these days, the world is pretty lacking in safe environments.  In theory, optimism can be beautiful.  In practice, it gets people killed.  “Curiosity killed the cat”?  Of course it didn’t.  Reckless optimism offed that naïve little furball.

You know the “drink responsibly” warnings?  “Optimize responsibly,” that’s what I’d say.  Be careful where you point that faith in humanity, because you might get something else entirely pointed back at you.

Whenever I get especially angry about these kinds of dilemmas, I like to prove to myself that my opinion is right.  I know I’m right, but I get this unresolvable itching to prove it – maybe not even to myself, but to the universe.  I’ve been this way as long as I can remember, which actually isn’t that far back these days.  But more on that later.  As per usual, to prove I was right, I needed the help of a volunteer.  It should be noted here that “volunteer” is a term I use as loosely as I use “journal” to describe this thing I’ve got going.  It’s all about perception, really.

Last night it rained something fierce.  That’s a thing the people around here say – “somethin’ fierce.”  These mountain-country hicks.  The best thing to come out of this part of the country was acoustic blues, with fried pickles as a close second.  Anyway, last night it rained something fierce, which made it all the easier to prey on the soft heart of humanity.  I took the Jeep and rumbled out a ways on a backroad, one of those that’s still a highway but doesn’t look like it ought to be one, with both lanes so narrow you’re constantly in danger of careening into a pine tree or swerving down the mountainside.  The wipers were going full blast, and knowing the reliability of that rattle-bucket I drive, I should be grateful the blades didn’t fly clean off.  The downpour made it trickier to spot the houses that sat farther back from the road, hidden up in the trees at the ends of twisted gravel drives, and so I almost missed the little one whose lights were on.  A farmhouse-style thing with dark green shutters and a handsome glow coming through the windowpanes.  The mailbox at the end of the drive had one of those dollar-store flags under it, one with some pumpkins and a smiley scarecrow and probably a horn of plenty or some other cute festive shit.  It was perfect.

I rolled a ways down the road and pulled over in a ditch, shoving open the door and hopping out in the mud.  The grass was swimming around my boots.  Before hiking my way up the drive, I sloshed to the back of the car and eyed the rear-left corner.  An old dent by the back window made a crinkle of metal siding jut out just a bit on that side.  Easy to miss, but sharp enough to catch a sleeve on.  I sucked in a deliberate breath and rammed the spot with the front of my skull.  After the white spots had cleared and the pounding had ebbed, I lifted a hand, feeling for the damage.  The rain rinsed the blood off my fingers, but not before I saw enough of it to be satisfied.

Judging by the look on the face of the dumpy little woman who opened the door, it must have been a pretty good whack.  Of course, I milked it a little, pushing wet hair off my forehead so the gash was fully visible, blood mixing with the rain and dripping down my face.  The lady in the doorway was whiter than a ceramic mug at a thrift store, her hand over her mouth as she gaped.

“Hi there,” I said with a genuine shiver.  The rain had me soaked through.  “Could I use your phone?”

“Of course!” my new host said after she’d recovered, stepping aside and ushering me in.  The smell of something warm and pumpkin-y hit me.  Probably some kind of baked good.

“You’re not going to ask me why I need it?” I asked her.

She looked taken aback, but apparently not enough to be suspicious of me.  Strike one.  “Have you been in a wreck?  Did you miss a curve?  Bless your heart, anybody’s bound to do it in a squall like this.”  She walked me through a humble front hall and into a mostly green-and-white kitchen, pointing to a wireless phone sitting on a base by the stove.  In the stove was, as I’d suspected, a cakelike thing that look like it could be made of pumpkin.

“Your head looks awful,” she said gently.  She raised a hand towards my gash, and I caught a glimpse of the wedding band on her finger.

I tend to lose my composure at the threat of being touched.  I caught her wrist before she could gasp, gripping tight.

“Don’t touch me.”

Surely she had enough sense to be suspicious of me now.  Tell me to leave, I remember egging her on in my head.  At least call your husband, you dumb cow.

I let her go and smiled.  Nice as could be.  “Are you home alone, lady?”  I even called her lady, which was rude.

She stammered.  She had started to get uneasy.  “Yes,” she answered.  Slowly, like addressing an unpredictable animal.  How appropriate.  But she didn’t tell me to leave.  She simply took the phone from its base and passed it to me.

Strike two.

I dialed my own house number and held the thing to my ear, pretending to wait for an answer.  I smiled again and thanked her.  Second ring.  Third ring.  Then, she committed the mortal sin of optimism, as I’d somehow known she would.  She left me standing with the phone, and turned to watch the pumpkin thing rise in the oven.  She turned her back to the stranger.

Strike three.

She went down easily when I brought the phone down on the back of her skull.  Although not fully unconscious, she was incapacitated enough for me to drag her over to the kitchen table and prop her against its leg.  I always keep a little duct tape in the left-side pocket of my woodsman jacket, although not usually for this purpose.  But it does come in handy when murdering people, and I can’t argue with the convenience, so dual-purpose duct tape it remains.

She’d started crying through the tape over her mouth by the time I had her bound up, which made me angrier.  I told her to shut the hell up, which made her wail more, which made me much angrier, which provoked angrier shouting.

“It’s your fault anyhow, you dumb, domesticated housebitch,” I told her as kindly as I could.  “You were optimistic about me.  You thought I was everything I appeared to be, you know?  You did, and don’t say you didn’t.  Maybe a flicker of doubt when I grabbed you, but you didn’t heed it, and now look where you are.  Duct taped to a kitchen table leg.”

I popped open the oven and sniffed the pumpkin cake.

“This beauty looks done to me.  Where the hell are your toothpicks?”

She shook her head frantically, whimpering at me.  Annoying as hell.

“No?  Fine.  A fork, then.”  I found the silverware drawer and fished through, my eye catching on something metaphoric.  I took it from the drawer and brandished it at her.  The potato peeler.

“You know the chief problem with optimism like yours, honey?  It doesn’t see the whole picture.  Not only that, but it knows it doesn’t see the whole picture.  It chooses to make assumptions about a situation – or a person – based on observations that are, at the end of the day, skin-deep.  It doesn’t know what’s underneath, and it chooses to be all right with it.  All right with the unknown.  All right with the risk of whatever is underneath that skin.”

I crouched on the linoleum in front of her and held the peeler to her nose.

“Now, what kind of ass-over-tit philosophy is that?”

Her calves were bare under her middle-aged-housewife skirt.  So I peeled there first.  She tried her best to kick her taped legs as she shrieked – tried so hard, in fact, that eventually I had to sit on her feet to keep them still, and instead move the peeler up her leg, to the sensitive skin of her inner thigh.  I hadn’t meant to make it a sexual thing, dumpy little woman that she was, but good killers have to adapt to situations.

Once the floor was covered in red strips and puddles of her, I stood up again.  I dropped the peeler in one of the puddles and strode to the sink to wash my hands, then found an oven mitt and took out the pumpkin cake.  I’m never really concerned with being discovered by family members arriving home.  Double and triple-homicides aren’t that tough for someone of my caliber, so any sort of interruption is generally more trouble for the interrupters than for me.  That said, I was planning to take my damn time.  Enjoying myself helps quench the anger.

The cake was actually excellent.  I’m glad the woman stayed alive long enough for me to tell her so, even though she looked woozy and her body had gone into shock from the pain.  I probably ate an entire third of that pumpkin cake.  After complimenting her on her cooking, I slit her throat with a kitchen knife.  Much less inventive than a potato peeler, but effective.  I’d already made my point.

In other news, I scoured the internet for the best-looking pumpkin cake recipes I could find, and I’ve spent this evening testing them out.  I guess you could say I was inspired.  The first two haven’t gone as well as I’d hoped – probably not enough butter or cinnamon, one of those two.  At any rate, the third try is in the oven now.  Will update you on how it comes out.  I’m optimistic.


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