My friend is dead, or at least that’s what they tell me. Yet, I don’t care as much now as I did at first. The initial shock of this news left me angry and with cause, but now I can only shake my head and move on. The morbid details of his passing seem trivial now as I walk the long sidewalk to meet with old friends of ours. Uninspired cracked sidewalks run parallel to rugged pale streets littered with crater sized potholes, the likes of which could make the moon jealous. As I walk further away from my crappy apartment I think about moving to a better neighborhood within a community that isn’t littered with the constant traffic of random people lingering around every corner without any apparent purpose. Strangers filled with dead eyes and cold words pass by as if a sunny disposition would dangerously shatter the world they are so accustomed to. I talk to no one and don’t want to, as I walk alone to Herzon’s place. Brisk winds howl into the darkening sky as storm clouds combine, becoming inseparable from one another.

I see night approaching as I make my way through the neighborhood and I ask myself why I even bother with these friends that are more his than mine. Shattered bottles and broken windows leave shards of glass everywhere as I play connect the dots with them in my head. Trying to make constellations out of these worthless gems becomes daunting as I continue to pound the celestial pavement. Look, now that is pathetic. Why would anyone dumpster dive? Then I notice it’s a group of children and feel that I’ve judged too harshly.

The children play in the dumpster as if they are cleaning out an old fort used only temporarily for the storage garbage. Moving forward, I laugh at a woman who catches me ogling her chest while walking by. It is not that I wanted to look at her boobs, but rather her face looked conked out and vacant from a violent strike she probably took recently. The hit left its mark by swelling up the left side of her face which accented the woman’s tired eyes with deep sorrow. A tear strikes my eye as we make eye contact for the briefest second, and I take comfort knowing that neither one of us wants to say anything about my look or her face. She exclaims, “Hallelujah!” reacting to the sadness picked up in my eye. This catches me off guard and I double-take a quick cough to look back without actually looking back. Then turning back around I see a dog wrapped around the back corner of some shabby convenience store. At first the dog barks at me, and then motions for me to look behind the store once catching my stare. I don’t care about the concerns of some dog, but that’s when I see its owner’s head laying face down on some cardboard makeshift mattress. The homeless man had a good grip in his sleep while I pulled the dog’s leash away from him to give it some slack. This is when I notice the man is dead. Lying there behind this low-rent convenience store a homeless man’s corpse has remained undiscovered until now. I let the dog off the leash and continue to Herzon’s place. Taking pride in my ghetto intellect, I knew not to report the body because the first person to do so is likely the first suspect when the autopsy indicates foul play.

It starts to rain. I knew I should have drove, but I figured walking would use up some of the time I would have had to spend with those people. If I’m lucky my arrival will be at the same time of everyone else’s departure and Herzon will be looking to be by himself. I notice this was not the case as I walked his street filled with familiar cars. His house was still decorated for Halloween and I’m jealous of the Porsche in the driveway. Lights are on in the second floor and when I ring the door bell confusion sets motion to the people inside. My nerves tremble and my throat drops down into my stomach. I turn around as if hoping to be rejected by the door no one will answer, but I am disappointed.

Herzon opens the door to his apartment and greets me warmly. His profession in computer networking affords him all the things in life I don’t dare to desire. However, now I am forced to see how great his new apartment is compared to how old and outdated everything of mine feels. I get offered a glass of wine, but refuse as Herzon shows me the way up to the others on the second floor. He notices my despair and treads lightly as he asks me about my day. “Well, my day was going fine until it started raining,” I say as I make my way in through the front door and up the stairs to join the others. Herzon looks at me with a blank stare at the top of the stairs knowing it was a fool’s errand to walk here. “Wait up a sec, let me get you a towel, or better yet a fresh set of clothes.” Herzon says as he goes to his room to get both. I wait in this hallway stairwell dripping all over the hardwood until Herzon comes back and I change. He welcomes me into his study on the second floor acting as if I had just gotten there and in his clothes. No one is playing along as I doubt they would, having known of my presence since the doorbell rang and the lag time between then and now.

Looking around his study I notice leather couches, a big bookcase, a telescope by the centerpiece window, and six of our miserable friends watching out the window as if it took the place of a television. There was Lawrence, my old college friend, and his fiancée Marge sitting next to the bookcase. Luke and Jacob sit on barstools at the bar in the back of the room with the farthest view of the window and I join them. Ashley and Grace are huddled together crying on the other side of the room and I already feel like I’ve made a mistake in coming here. They looked so intimately attached to each other. Their hugging embrace while crying next to the centerpiece window seemingly creates the despair which filled the window’s perspective of the outside world. The now pitch black sky was filled with flashes of lightning striking the distant landscape. Winds spewing rain and leaves in every which direction sound muffled while brushing along the house in the hiss of the wind and brief whistle of it changing directions. “For a while we thought you weren’t going to make it,” Herzon says to me as I lean up against the bar. Looking at him I feel guilty and ashamed. Lawrence blurts out a comment along the same lines and I tell them both I just felt like walking. By trying to change the subject I saying ever so tactfully, “So I can’t believe Patrick is dead.” Yet, all I wanted to do was fill the void occupying this depressing room; which would have made strangers go bury their heads in sand.

This was not what anybody in the room wanted to hear as they now glare at me. Grace screams out wildly and cries into a little ball she’s made of herself in the corner of the room, detaching herself from Ashley. “Wow, you really know how to console a grieving widow,” Luke turns and says to me, and I think about punching him in the face. “Well I’m sorry, I thought that was why we are all here?” I say. Herzon goes to comfort Grace taking a seat next to Ashley on the floor. “Don’t be too hard on him Luke he just got here, let him settle in,” Herzon says glancing back and coming to my defense. Then getting Grace up he leads her to the couch next to them, perpendicular to where we sit at the bar. Now I’m relieved as Ashley addresses the room announcing in a subtle way, “Anyways, we were just remembering some fond memories we had with Patrick. Do you have any you would like to share?” Now I feel even worse like that was what I was supposed to be thinking about my entire walk over here. “A few memories come to mind, but none that seem to matter much,” I tell Ashley as she rolls her eyes at me. “All we really have in this life is one another,” Marge peeps out to break the awkward situation I seem to have been creating. Ashley turns to the rest of the group and asks if they have any memories of Patrick they wanted to share. Jacob says, “I’ve got one but I don’t think it is very polite in mixed company.”

“Then keep it to yourself,” Lawrence says while firmly holding his wife by the waist with one arm while she leans up against him perched on his lap. The lovebirds are on a cozy loveseat couch facing a longer one Herzon, Ashley and Grace sit moved to.

Ashley counters, “Come on guys, loosen up. I’m sure he has a funny story and is just shy about telling it. Jacob, please continue.”

Jacob with his white trash facial hair and shaggy mullet starts his story and I tune it out as soon as he opens his mouth again leading with, “The day was hot and muggy…” I give him a nod and walk over to stand looking out over the street through the centerpiece window. Looking out I see sleek black streets glossed over and wet illuminating back the stale glow of the bright streetlights. Leaves are stuck everywhere like they’re extra adhesive in the gloom and dew of this horrible night. Fog is on the horizon and makes its way toward me as I hear the wind come to an eerie standstill. The rain, at a steady drizzle now, would be just annoying enough to cause me to ask for a ride home. Then I snap back into the room and see myself in the reflection of the dark window.

Everyone is laughing; I guess Jacob had a good story after all. Luke punches him in the shoulder to razz him, a thing siblings do growing up. Lawrence stands up and puts on his coat as he gestures for his wife to do the same. “Leaving so soon?” Herzon asks as he walks the soon to be married couple to the stairwell. Lawrence says, “Yeah, thanks for putting this together. It was nice to be with you guys instead of the family tonight, Patrick was always my favorite of y’all.” Marge and him leave, abandoning me with this rag tag team of mourners. I think to myself that the next person who leaves I’m going to ask for a ride, but I forget to as Luke and Jacob take their leave once Grace was feeling better. Damn it Lawrence, I thought we were somewhat friends and though he wouldn’t ask me how I’m doing or anything he could have still offered me a ride home. Then again, who would want to extend these shared awkward moments? Let’s all continue to not acknowledge the fact that we are all still sitting in death’s waiting room until our number is called and we find out what life was really worth.

We managed to get Grace into the bathroom where Ashley washes off the smeared make up on Grace’s face. In the meantime, Herzon goes on talking about his job as he so often does finding some elaborate way to make it relate to something Patrick told him once. While I nod and pretend to listen without getting jealous I ask myself, why did he put all this together? What was the point of sharing your misery with other people when mourning the death of another person? The more welcoming people were when asking me to talk about Patrick the more I felt like I had nothing in common with him or these people. Other than simply making their acquaintances, I didn’t really do anything with them. “Louis, you can’t be so quiet and reserved, talk to me man. We’re friends right?” Herzon asks while wrapping his arm around my shoulder, I look away from him and out the window muttering, “I guess.” I look at his feet; shrug my shoulders, and push his arm off me. I don’t looking up because I don’t want to show them the pooling tears in my eyes. I was actually hoping this might put him off, and he might look to start asking people to leave his house. Herzon replies, “You guess, you be certain of that! Louis, I remember all those nights we spent at the club hitting on girls together. Or those nights you helped me stay up late as we pulled all-nighters studying for finals. Hell, you were even there to help me move into this place. We’re friends, so you should feel comfortable and free to talk to me about anything.”

I look into myself before speaking again,

“I just can’t believe the way he died. I mean why didn’t Patrick just give up his wallet and get away from the guy? Why did he try to fight the scumbag?”

“He did what he thought was right, to protect others.”

“Yeah, I remember one day Patrick told us he wished someone would try to mug him. He said that would be the last person a mugger could ever mug because then there would be no mugger left,” I’m looking down and yet my eyes are still watery and they burn hard as my sinuses clear and I stop trying to hold them back. I see the drops falling into my hands and I wipe my eyes as they stop burning.

Herzon then said, “Who knew there would be no Patrick left?”

I seemed to keep diving deeper into myself losing what little ego I had to hold back the tears. Changing the subject to cheer me up Herzon asked, “Didn’t you and Patrick stop a convenient store from getting robbed once?”

“Yeah,” I told him, “but that was way back in college and Patrick had the nerve to snatch that idiot’s gun right away from him.”

“Still it was pretty crafty how Patrick held that robber up at the store until the police arrived,” Herzon said. “Ha, you should have seen the robber’s face once he made a bunch of threats to kill everyone in the store, only to see his gun in Patrick’s hand, and its barrel pointed straight back at his face,” I said. We reminisced for a good minute or so and I was starting to feel better. That is when I decided it was time I tried to talk to Grace and Ashley. Herzon followed me into the bathroom.

She had been crying less now and she only seemed to shutter every once in a while as her breathing started to slow down. She now sat alongside Herzon’s tub. I sat next to her, took her hand, and I told her that I miss Patrick too. She gave me a long hug, and the look on her face was almost angelic as she started to lighten up.

Getting up Grace asks, “You know I was there when it all happened, right?”

“I know that must be really hard for you,” I said trying to console her, but it sounded scripted and hollow.

“It wasn’t that he got shot or that the mugger disappeared as fast as he first appeared. It was those last moments with him that really messes with my head. I wish I had run away, now that I’m looking back on it, then I wouldn’t have seen him in that state. As his breathing stopped with his mouth hung open, all I could do was scream again and again, louder. The sound left me along with my voice when the medics arrived thereafter. Everything else that is currently happening comes on without me noticing as much anymore and life feels like the volume’s turned down. I feel like I’m stuck in a spinning nightmarish blur steadily reoccurring, getting more or less dramatic over time, as it repeats in my head.”

“I’m sorry, that happened to you.” Herzon says trying awkwardly to comfort her. “Why yes, yeah absolutely. Everybody is sorry and I’m probably sorry the most,” she said while a small trickle of tears comes down her cheeks.

“What do you mean?” I asked her, getting serious.

“If only I had done something, if only that mugger had to take aim at two targets maybe he would have missed, or he could have at least shot us both. I’ m sorry I didn’t die with him,” she said and started to sob again reaching out to her best friend, and Ashley welcoming the advance. Grace was once again crying into Ashley’s bosom. I kind of felt like we all could have hugged for a second, but I didn’t act on this urge.

I felt little warmth in these last moments spent with them. It didn’t matter what we had to say, and at a point there was nothing anyone could have left to say. That is the thing about death, it’s so final. Starting to head out, on my way into the foggy night I tell Herzon that I will get his clothes back to him. After thanking him for being so cool I start my way down the hills he lives on. I spent all that time reflecting, and I still couldn’t remember any good memories I had with Patrick. Instead I can only imagine what it would’ve looked like in those moments of suffering before Patrick gave away to death, and let it settle in his eyes. What could I have said that would have meant anything to Patrick then as opposed to right now? What will I say tomorrow at the funeral? These are the thoughts trickling through my head as I walk alone in the dead autumn rain. I could have called a cab, I could have asked Herzon for a ride home, but tonight it felt appropriate to mope for the dead in this wretched weather.

The wet leaves falling off trees would sometimes be picked up by the wind and smack me in the face as I watch forceful gusts scatter them everywhere. I’m about to start running home. That is when the unexpected happened. A homeless man in three oversized coats and soaked sweat pants approaches me from around the corner to my back, “Spare some change, sir? I just need fifty six cents to make an even dollar and buy myself dinner.” I wanted to tell him to get lost, but the way he turned the corner on me I knew he was waiting to catch me off guard. Standing there in the rain, wet and dirty, this bum shakes his cup at me, and I wholeheartedly regret turning around to look at him. I look in his eyes seeing a hint of desperation I don’t see in most of the people that hit me up for money on the street. This guy is also different because I can usually see panhandlers approaching me. Usually I shoot down their requests by rolling my eyes before they can even speak a word to me.

Looking at the hand holding the cup I see an emanating red ruby in a gold outlining, resting on the homeless man’s index finger. At the sight of it my vision goes wavy and I grab the wrist of the hand that it’s attached to. “Yo man, get off me!” yells the bum, but I hold his wrist firmly. I am perplexed by the ring. This gold ring with my college logo on it, I remember seeing all the time. Why? As I look deeper into the ruby my memory becomes clearer as my vision blurs, eyes water, and my heart starts pounding. Choking on the aspect of me wanting to cry ,it feels like the back of my throat boiling. This was Patrick’s graduation ring, now I recognize it. There must be some embroidering on it that I can link it back to him as proof of his ownership. No way had this guy gone to my college or any college for that matter. My vision clears along with my eyes, and this moment of seconds actually feels longer as the red emanating from the ruby itself now highlights my periphery and begins to spread consuming my whole vision. The color pushes toward itself to meet and skew the middle of my sight which is fixed on the ring, as I hold the man firmly by his wrist.

Seeing red, that is when time speeds back up and the homeless man swings at my face with his free hand. I lean back to avoid his punch and with my other hand I get a firmer grip of his wrist and yank on it as hard as I can. The man falls over himself trying to run away, and I start to think I had ripped his arm out of its socket. At this point he is on the ground kicking those legs of his everywhere, starting to lose his soaked sweatpants. His cup goes somewhere and change spills all over the hard wet cement jingling as I go for his neck. I get my hands around it and squeeze as hard as I can. The face of the man goes dark as his struggling continues. In slight pain I bear down on him with all my weight and my vision starts clearing up. In the homeless man’s last seconds of life I think of nothing more than question how much longer this will take. After that moment I get up off of the cold wet ground.

I felt great now that I let my anger out, but by God what have I done? What is my problem and how am I going to shake this one off? I just killed a man and regardless of whether other people cared about him, the police certainly will. I get the ring off his finger and dash down alleyways and side streets, taking the most roundabout way back to my house. I walk in the door and take all Herzon’s wet clothes off so I’m down to my underwear, and go to wash up. In the mirror I notice scratches on my face that must have come from the homeless man during the fight. The lights are out and my pillow feels so dry and comfortable after a nice warm shower.

The next thing I remember is the whack to side of my face I receive as policemen shove me into the back of a squad car. I’m laughing because usually on television the police always say “watch your head” as they slowly lower the handcuffed perpetrator into the backseat. I figure there is no such concern with murderers. No one mourns the wicked. “What did I do?” I ask of the boys in blue before they shut the car door in my face.

In the hard solid plastic of the car’s backseat it is nearly impossible to get comfortable. I try anyway by lying on my side but that is when the police come at me again. I guess they figured I was trying to kick out their window. The policeman whose car it was straps me in, and we both hate how up close and personal this task is for him to perform. For a second I smirk, remembering all the times my dad use to strap me in as a small child.

“There is nothing to smile about,” Officer Floyd tells me as I notice his name tag.

“What did I do?” I ask him for a second time.

To which he responds after stepping out of the car, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have a right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you. Do you understand the rights that I have just told you?” I don’t say anything and he laughs in an antagonizing sort of way.

He looks up and away nonchalantly and says, “Yeah, I wouldn’t be too happy if this was the way I woke up either. Then again, I’m not the one out at night strangling homeless folk.” To which I respond, “What are you talking about?” His glare looks right through me and he closes the door again.

The straps are tight to prevent fidgeting but I can still move my head around. Looking out the window of the police car hurts my eyes because it is so bright out. My nose starts to feel runny but I can’t wipe it. I try to breath but my lungs feel just as constricted as the rest of my body. I wonder if I hold my breath long enough could I suffocate myself in the backseat of this car. I give up before I pass out and start coming to terms with all that is happening to me. Patrick’s alleged ring is in the pocket of Herzon’s wet pants thrown carelessly on the floor. I don’t have any good excuses to get me out of this one, so I sit back and prepare to face the music. In the back of my mind a thought echoes over and over again getting louder with each bounce of the echo, “As if I had a choice.” I wanted to scream it. Scream it as loud as I imagined Grace screaming with Patrick dying in her arms. However I don’t, as the echo in my head rings loudest, muffles down, and stops.

The city jail is a few block away from the cemetery Patrick is being buried at today. We drive past it and I make an attempt to follow it through the window the best I could. That is when a bump puts the car up off the ground for a second and Floyd says the first thing he’s said since getting me strapped into the car, “Stupid dogs, that one was trying to get run over.”

“I know how it feels,” I say to him.

To which Floyd turns to look at his partner and makes a gesture to the effect of “can you believe this guy”. I think back to the dog I let off its leash on the way to Herzon’s last night and picture the push and pull of the universe balancing itself out in my tragedy. The grudge is now my corpse to bear, and I had no business tethering myself down to it for the rest of my life. A new silent kind of peace washes over me as I let whatever emotional attachment I have left to my pointless life seep out, go numb, and dissipate. At the end of our last day we all become bumps in the ground buried by freshly dug soil. Then the rain comes and packs it down on top of us as the falling leaves cover up the scar of the once opened earth beneath.

DAR

From the Author:

This was my attempt to create a gothic short story. I tried to incorporate multiple themes, alongside symbolism, to create something gloomy and dark. I was not trying to set any classist undertones, but I did want to end the tale in tragedy. Most of the audience might not empathize with Louis, but I was trying to depict a grieving cynic. Take what you want from this story’s meaning and thank you for your time.

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