This is a short story I wrote this morning within the fits of an emotional torrent. It may not be the most interesting story ever written, it may not even be very interesting to someone else. But, this story affected me in the telling, so much that if I never hear back from anyone that I’ve submitted it to, I’m still a happy guy.
Such a brilliant day for a funeral, don’t you think? I didn’t. The pale gray sky, dotted with breaks in the cloud cover offered me no consolation. Not that I needed any, I just would have liked for things to have been a bit easier for me. That’s all. No big deal. Just a TAD easier.
But as usual, life has a way of throwing you a curve ball and then taking your bat away, so that even if you are inclined to take a swing, the only thing left to do is step into the pitch. On a related note, I hate baseball metaphors. Now, two hours after the body was lowered into the muddy ground, I’m sitting here at the bar, wondering just what the fuck I am to do with my life now. I have nothing. Even my nothing is thinking of leaving, that’s how little I have. But enough about me.
My wife had just walked out. I was fine with this, because let’s face it, she was a bitch. She was probably spreading her legs for everyone but me, so in the final analysis, I felt liberated. I was rid of a useless mouth that I didn’t have to feed anymore. One less person to remind me for the thousandth time that my t-shirt and jeans don’t really match. I didn’t have any proof, but fuck it. I knew the signs. The lack of interest, sexual or otherwise. That bitch didn’t even so much as look at me for a month straight. She just started taking pills and being distant.
That’s when I began to notice a guy following me. I didn’t think at first he was actually following me. I just thought that the fact I was drinking so much was finally starting to catch up with me, and that maybe I was seeing someone’s face that wasn’t really the same, but was generic enough to fool my alcohol addled brain.
But, then I saw him while I was completely sober. I was rounding the corner of the liquor store and there he was. Just an ordinary guy. It was shocking how ordinary he was. We were about fifty feet away from each other across the street, and it was as if he was standing right next to me. He turned his head slightly and locked eyes with me deliberately, as if he sensed that I was there and wanted me to know he sensed me. Then the crosstown bus went and stopped between us at the stop light. When the light turned green and the bus sped away, he was no longer there. I stared at the space he had occupied, I suppose trying to will him back into existence.
I walked over to where he was standing and there was no trace of him. When I was satisfied that he was nowhere to be found, I went to walk away and looked down at the ground. There, lying on the ground was a picture of me and my wife, burned at the edges. I bent down to pick it up and realized that my eyes were scratched out on the picture. I don’t know why, but at that moment I felt eyes on me. I looked all around me. On the semi-busy street there were fruit peddlers and other signs of metropolitan life, including an apartment building right across from me. I scanned everything I could, standing in the same place that he had stood not 2 minutes before. When I looked at the apartment building, I saw eyes staring at me from the window of an apartment on the 7th floor. I immediately ran across the street when a taxi hit into me, although not too hard.
The taxi knocked me about 20 feet towards the other side of the road and when I stood up, I started yelling at the Indian driver. Yes, I realized I should have looked where I was going. It didn’t matter anyway, the crazy bastard kept going.
I went through the lobby of the apartment building, and the attendant at the desk didn’t even look up at me. So much for security. Upon going to the 7th floor I noticed that the door to the apartment I was looking for was slightly open. I crept up to the door and slowly peered in. The apartment was empty, as if someone had hastily left it in a hurry and left nothing but errant pieces of garbage and detritus. I looked in the adjoining rooms, but they all were the same. Empty, lifeless and containing little pieces of someone’s life. I went to the window that faced where the ordinary man was standing.
What the actual fuck?!?!?! HE WAS FUCKING THERE! He was standing in the exact spot! I smiled a bit. This guy had balls. This was probably my wife’s boyfriend. Smug little fucker. I looked around on the floor of the apartment for anything I could use. I was going to go down and beat the absolute shit out of this asshole. Searching the apartment I couldn’t find anything suitable for a weapon. It would have to be with my fists. Fine. It’s been a few years since I struck something in anger, but fuck it. If it had to be hand to hand, I was fine with that.
I took another look out the window to make sure he was there, and sure enough, he was. He smiled at me. That smug little mother fucker…
I stormed downstairs and thrust open the glass doors and made my way to cross the street when I realized that there was an accident in front of me. Looks like someone got clipped by a car. No one seemed to take notice of me when I crossed the street. The ordinary man had vanished again. I turned around and realized he was standing right next to a cop near the accident. I slowly and with deliberate malice walked over to him, fury in my face until I was 10 feet from him.
I almost didn’t notice when he pointed down onto the street. A body lie on the ground by the yellow curb, covered with a white sheet, all except for the head.
The head, which had my face.
I stood transfixed at my face, awash in blood staring back at me. I remembered the pain. I remembered the impact of the taxi.
I screamed and ran.
I ran, not seeing, not feeling, and not hearing anything but the blood in my head and the heart beating furiously in my chest. But, the heart wasn’t really beating was it? I couldn’t be.. It just didn’t make any fucking sense!
When I finally stopped running, I realized I had ran about fourteen or fifteen blocks. I came to a little park that my wife and I used to come to when we were dating. On the far end of the park was a bench next to a pond where we used to feed the geese that would migrate there every summer. I sat down on the bench, alone, with not a single soul in the park. I put my head in my hands and cried. When my sobbing had finally gotten down to manageable levels, I slowly lifted my head out of my hands. That’s when I realized that the ordinary man was sitting right beside me.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Who do you think I am?” he replied.
I regarded him. I had no clue what the hell he was, or who. His appearance was so generic as to be laughable. He had a face that appeared both young and old, as if the principle of age didn’t apply to him.
“Are you God?” I whispered.
He smiled at me, very amused and shook his head.
“Are you the devil?” I asked.
“I’ve been called that.” He giggled.
He turned towards me, putting his arm on the back of the bench with his hand behind me, putting one of his legs under the other and leaned back comfortably.
“But, I’m not here to talk about me. I’m here to talk about you.” His voice carried not the slightest hint of malice or judgment.
“So it’s to be Hell then…” I said. I looked forward. He said nothing. “Fine, let’s go.”
“We’ve got time. Relax, let’s talk.”
“With the devil? No thanks, there’s not a thing you could say that I would believe.” I said.
He seemed amused. “Oh? And why is that?”
“The devil doesn’t exactly rank right up there with the most trustworthy souls.” I said, flippantly.
“Neither do you.” he quipped.
“Well, it doesn’t really matter, because I don’t believe in you anyway.” I said.
“Yet, here I am.” It seemed he presented this idea merely for intellectual debate as if he was interested in my response. Like he seriously wanted to debate his own existence.
“So, you exist.” I said.
“Not for everyone, most have no need for me.” the devil mused.
“I don’t understand.” I said.
“Well, in any event it’s not really that important right now. Let’s go to your funeral.”
In a flash, we were in the cemetery across from my house. The plot of land I had bought when our daughter went to college was about five hundred feet away from us. The ordinary man, excuse me, the Devil, stood right by me. He looked at me and smiled with compassion, then nodded his head in the direction of the plot, and started walking. I followed him.
When we got to the plot, we saw that a rather large number of people were gathered. The casket was closed. I guess I was a mess. The priest said his words, and to be honest, I didn’t really hear them. I stared at my wife who was sitting on a chair crying. I had only seen her cry about three times in my life out of grief. Once was when she realized that she couldn’t have kids after our daughter was born. The second was when her father had died, and even then they were perfunctory tears, expected of a family member. Not real tears. These were bursting up from some deep emotional well that she had kept untapped. Then I realized why.
“How could she have kept that from me?”, I asked the Devil.
“She didn’t want to be a burden to you. She would have rather you thought she was cheating, rather than dying.” he replied.
“But, how could she keep this from me?” I repeated.
The Devil looked at me. “Why didn’t you ask?” he said softly.
I burst into tears. He was right. Throughout the entirety of everything we went through, the lack of interest, the ignorance, I never asked her what was wrong. Not once. I never even thought of looking at the pill bottles. I didn’t even notice when everyone had said their goodbyes and left the plot. After the body had been buried, I leaned against the stone and faced the Devil.
“So, it’s Hell, huh?”I asked.
“Not exactly.” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“There is no Heaven or Hell. We make our Heaven and Hell while we live. When we die we only extend to Heaven and Hell in our thoughts. Heaven and Hell are only abstractions. Constructs in your mind. They don’t exist except as a state of being. I’m not even here.” Then, he disappeared.
I looked around, and there was not a single living thing. No birds, no people. Nothing. I have the world to wander, which exists only as a semblance of matter, in which I’m a prisoner. Maybe if I had loved more, I would have had someone to share this new world with. Funny, how right now I have the entire world to explore, but I have no one to tell about it. Not even the Devil because in reality, he never existed. He was only my subconscious guide to realizing what my body already knew and once I knew it, he vanished. Along with everyone else in the world, who had never been there anyway.
Hell is not being tortured for eternity. Hell is the absence of everyone. Hell is the knowledge that you are completely, and totally alone in your universe. I realize now that I created this. I ignored everyone in the world, and now what I wouldn’t give to have just one person here. Someone else.
But, no one else exists.
So here I am. Sitting at a bar at eleven in the morning, drinking bourbon off the shelf.
Alone. Forever. And I can’t even drink myself to death.