Hate and Imagination

He wore a long brown trench coat that fluttered open in the wind. Alex didn’t see where he came from, the man just there, reaching behind his back. He had on a white, button up shirt and a pair of nice, black pants. Even though the temperature easily topped eighty on that windy day, he didn’t seem to sweat as he pulled the shotgun out from within his coat.

Light stubble lined his jaw, a cigarette in his mouth, black hair slicked back. The double-barreled shotgun swung out. Alex stood in the middle of a busy campus filled with people frozen along with Alex when the gun rose into the air aimed at two people sitting on a bench.

The guy had his arm around the girl’s shoulder, and just a few seconds beforehand they had been kissing. Now they only stared down those twin metal cylinders. Fire erupted from both barrels in quick succession. Suddenly neither of them had a face. They flew from the bench, two corpses strewn on the grass, one with his arm around the other.

As soon as the shots fired the man was already turning to run, but for just the briefest second Alex saw the man glance over in his direction, and wink. Within seconds the man was around the corner of a building. Some people followed him, while others screamed and ran. Alex didn’t move, stared at the two corpses, and the grisly remains of their faces.

He left behind the carnage and the dead. He saw the face of a killer as he winked and offered Alex the smallest of salutes while running. But most of all, Alex saw a figment of his imagination burst suddenly into violent reality.

The news hadn’t reached his dorm when he walked into the lobby. Alex glanced at the people as they talked, but didn’t bother to join in. He walked up the stairs to his floor, down the long hall filled with open doors, blaring music, and loud laughter.

He didn’t have a roommate. His roommate had dropped out just three weeks into the semester. Alex hadn’t particularly cared for the guy anyway, and in the end enjoyed the solitude, even though he had had just a little too much of it recently.

Alex stopped in front of his desk and stared down at the half finished drawing from the night before. He stared at a character he’d created over five years ago. Rick Stellowin wore his standard brown trench coat in this recent drawing, his button up white shirt on underneath, along with his black slacks. Rick held a handgun with both hands, and fired at nothing in particular. Rick even had his five o’clock shadow and cigarette in his mouth.

The man he’d seen was a flesh and blood person. A character in his head hadn’t taken a shotgun and killed those people. Others had seen it. Still, Alex turned on the TV and waited for the news. They covered the incident, described in detail by the many eyewitnesses, and then they showed a sketch of the killer. Alex stared at the picture they had drawn, and then at the one on his desk. They hadn’t drawn the eyes close enough together.

Alex turned off the TV, aware of what he was already beginning to think, and scolded himself for even considering it. Rick wasn’t real.

Outside his room Alex heard some of his fellow residents talking and laughing and it made him cringe. They started up their stereo so loud Alex felt the vibrations. He didn’t even consider going out there to tell them to turn it down. Complaining would only get him pegged as their enemy. Still, he scowled at his closed door and the pounding music, and then got to work on finishing his drawing.

Headphones helped block out the blare of the stereo. Drawing had become Alex’s escape from the world, and he enjoyed it. There was homework to be done, he knew, but the day had troubled him, and understandably. Alex shared no love for his fellow students, but he could’ve done without the sight of their passing.

Over an hour passed before the scream found its way to Alex’s ear through his music. He pulled off the headphones, noting first the lack of stereo in the room next to him, and next the screams and shouts from outside. Halfway to his door to find out what was happening, Alex heard the gunshots in rapid succession, and immediately stopped.

Careful to avoid the door in case someone decided to fire into it, Alex knelt down next to his desk. When the gunfire ended, he heard footsteps pound down the hall, but didn’t they pause first? Alex thought they did, right outside his door, before they continued on and he heard a door open and close. For a while he didn’t hear anything but the faint sound of his music still pouring out of his discarded headphones.

Finally someone cried for help. He heard the sound of sirens in the distance. Hesitantly, Alex rose from his crouch and walked up to his closed door. He cracked it open to stare at the blood splattered on the wall across from him.

Few people dared venture out of their rooms as Alex did. Most watched him through slits in their doors, still fearful that the killer might come back, but Alex didn’t think so. He knew, in fact, that the killer wasn’t going to come back, because he knew the killer hadn’t been killing at random.

The room next to his had been hit along with the room across the hall from it. One body was in the hall, his chest torn apart with bullet holes.

He didn’t want to see anymore.

The day had been eventful. Something about that struck Alex as funny, and once out of sight with his door closed, he put his hand over his mouth and began to laugh. Looks like he wouldn’t have to put up with loud stereos from them anymore.

Over two weeks of calm passed while classes were suspended. Everyone in Alex’s dorm was temporarily moved into another building as the questioning and searching failed to turn up any leads as to who the killer was or where he had gone.

Eventually the students were allowed to trickle back onto the campus, and then back into the classrooms.

Alex sat back in one of his classrooms roughly two and a half weeks after the slaughter and stared at the teacher. Nearly two hundred other students accompanied him in the massive auditorium. Alex glanced over at a few of them as they talked and giggled to each other. He listened to them tell each other what they’d done the night before; how drunk they got, what girl they had screwed, what house party was good.

Alex sat in the back corner right next to the door. A few other people joined him in the back of the classroom, but none of them sat very close. He felt the same sense of hate for all of them that he always felt.

The door next to Alex opened and in he walked. Alex stared as the man took up a seat next to him, his attire the same as it had been weeks before. He kicked his feet up on the chair in front of him and leaned back in his seat. A few people glanced over, but apparently none of them recognized him.

At first Alex stared straight ahead, as if ignoring the man might make him go away, but after a few minutes passed in silence, the man leaned his head closer, and said, “It’s a lot, but I can handle it. Won’t get them all. I’ll get enough.”

Alex met the man’s gaze. He stared at a face he’d seen so many times before, just never in the flesh. He stared at Rick. Then the words sank in.

“What?” Alex asked.

“The people,” Rick said, and kept his voice low, a voice Alex had heard in his head over and over again. “I don’t think I could get them all, not at once anyway. I’d get them eventually; you could count on that, but not at once. There’s just too many.”

“What are you talking about?” But in truth, Alex did know what he was talking about. And before Rick could answer Alex’s eyes swept over the crowd of people. “I don’t want you to kill them,” Alex said.

Rick smiled and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He lit one up with a familiar lighter Alex had drawn for him. “I’m afraid it’s a little late to get cold feet.”

“How are you here?”

“You remember being born? The exact moment you were born? Hell, remember the first few years of your life? Well, I don’t remember mine. You made me. You tell me how I got here.” Rick took a long drag on his cigarette and blew out smoke into the classroom. Alex saw a guy near the end of the row look over and scowl at the sight of the smoke.

“I don’t want you to kill anyone.”

Rick sat up in his seat and turned to face Alex. He jabbed his finger into Alex’s chest as he spoke, and said, “That’s the biggest load of bullshit. I don’t know how I got here, but I sure as shit know why I’m here. You want those assholes to pay, you don’t have the guts to do it, but I do.” The guy at the end of the row stood up and started to walk closer to them. Alex watched him approach, while Rick continued. “Every time you start to get pissed off at someone, I hear it, and I take care of it.”

Alex leaned his face closer and whispered, “If you’re killing these people for me, well, I’m telling you to stop.”

“Sorry, but the thing of it is, I’m not restricted to what you think.”

“Excuse me.” The guy had reached them, tapped Rick on the shoulder. “You’re not allowed to smoke in here.”

“Like this guy,” Rick said, and as he spoke he pulled the gun out from his coat. The guy saw the gun only a few seconds before it fired and sent a bullet through his chin and up into his head. The back of his skull exploded outward in a spray of wet, chunky red. “I kill him, not because he pissed you off,” Rick continued, his eyes still focused on Alex, “but because I wanted to. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have your enemies to take care of.”

By that point people had already begun to scream and run out of the room. The teacher yelled something, but Alex couldn’t hear what it was over the boom of gunfire. Another handgun appeared from Rick’s coat, a gun in both hands as he fired into the crowd of people. Alex stared at Rick’s face as he fired. No emotion touched him. The act of killing was nothing but business to attend to.

When one gun emptied Rick ejected the clip and loaded up another. Alex stared down at the clip discarded on the floor and ignored the screams of panic and pain. He ignored Rick, who had moved out into the aisle for more mobility. What he held in his hand wasn’t a figment of his imagination. He held onto a real clip, whose bullets had killed his classmates.

Alex ran from the room. The gunshots had ended, as had the screams. Alex didn’t know if Rick was still there, or if he’d already made his own retreat to wherever it was he went.

The main hall to the building was empty. He stepped out into a surging crowd of people right outside, some of them covered in blood. They were the survivors. The campus police were running up. The flashing lights from their cars filled the day, along with the constant murmur of the crowd as they talked about the horror of it all. Alex pushed through them and fled.

 

****

 

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Alex said to his mom. He heard the tension in her voice, and listened as she told his father that he was fine. On the desk in front of him Alex stared at the picture he had nearly finished the night before.

“Where have you been? I’ve been trying to reach you all day.”

“I was walking home from class.”

Alex wanted to end the conversation. He understood his mom’s concerns, but he was the safest person on campus. Right now he needed to think about what he was going to do. He wished he hadn’t bothered to pick up the phone. In truth, he had been expecting it to be Rick.

 “Have they caught him yet? Do you know anything about it?”

“I don’t know anything.”

“I think you should come home for awhile.”

“I’m not coming home.” Alex’s finger began to tap harder and harder as he listened to his mom. He didn’t have time for this right now. “I have to go.”

“I was just calling to see if you were okay. You should at least consider coming home for a while. Who knows what kind of affect this has had on you.” Her tone hardened, and it became clear that she had already made up her mind on the best course of action. While she talked as if she was merely trying to convince him, should he continue to refuse, her words would turn into demands.

His ex-neighbors weren’t the only people who played loud stereos, and Alex listened as some people in a room down the hall started up theirs. The music shook his room while his mom kept telling him to come home. Alex closed his eyes, and saw a couple, arm in arm, thrown off of a bench as a shotgun blew their faces off.

“I’m not coming home,” he screamed into the phone, and slammed it down in the cradle. For a few seconds he sat in his chair, hands clenched into fists, face tinted just a little red from the anger. He stared at the wall and thought about the people playing that music. He almost wanted Rick to come and shut them up. He wanted some peace and quiet.

And then, right as the smile began to touch his face at the thought of it, Alex understood his mistake. Rick might come for those people and kill them, but probably not first. No, Alex had given Rick two other targets first. No part of Alex denied the truth of this statement.

The drive took him two hours. By the time he pulled into the driveway at his parents’ house, the sun had already set. He didn’t see any lights on in the house.

Alex got out of his car and slowly walked into the garage. The door to the kitchen was unlocked, and a dark, empty kitchen and dining room greeted him. He called out to his parents, but he didn’t get a response. He knew what had happened, but still, his mind tried to come up with excuses to explain away the situation.

He descended deeper into the house. He turned on the lights as he went, and found nothing in each room, until he opened the basement door. A light glowed in the far end of the basement. Alex slowly walked up to the couch along the wall where his parents sat. They stared at a blank TV, but then, neither of them really saw it. They had their heads tilted back from when a bullet blew through their foreheads.

No red marked the wall behind them, which meant they hadn’t been killed down here. Rick had moved them here, positioned them to be together. It even looked like the blood had been cleaned up around the back of their heads.

Alex collapsed to his knees as he stared at them. His eyes burned, but he didn’t cry. From behind him he heard soft footsteps on the carpet. Rick stopped right beside him, and stared at his handiwork. He held a gun in his right hand, perhaps the weapon he’d used to kill them.

For a long while they just stayed that way. Alex remained on his knees, slumped down, hollow inside, and Rick stood next to him.

“When are you going to go away?”

“I’m not.”

“Since I made you, I want to unmake you.”

“You can’t unmake a child. You have to kill it.”

Alex lowered his head and stared at the ground. “Then I’ll kill you.”

Rick chuckled, and pulled out a cigarette from his pack. He moved over to the wall and leaned against it as he lit up. “You think you can, do you?”

“After what you’ve done?” Alex met Rick’s gaze.

“I’m not questioning the conviction, I’m questioning whether you’re physically capable of doing the deed. You think I won’t defend myself? I’ve got the skills, you don’t.”

“Then I’ll kill myself.” And Alex meant it.

“Think that’ll get rid of me? Maybe it will, and when you die I’m gone too, or maybe it’ll just sever the ties between us and I’ll go my own way. I don’t know.”

They lapsed into silence as Alex thought about it, and Rick smoked his cigarette. “If you’re just going to sit around like that, I’ll leave you alone. I have a few stragglers I need to finish off from earlier today, and take care of those people living next door to you.” Rick started to walk to the stairs. “Don’t blame any of this shit on me. You’re the one who made me. I didn’t ask to be born, or whatever the hell I was.” He opened his mouth to say something else, but only shook his head and walked up the stairs.

Alex stood up and walked over to the couch. He sat down next to his parents. The blank TV screen drew his eye, so he stared at the reflection in it. Maybe, if he thought about it really hard, he could hate himself enough to make Rick kill him. Alex didn’t know exactly how the system worked. He knew Rick could kill whomever he wanted to, but could he choose not to kill someone Alex hated? Perhaps he should put that to the test.

Every horrible thing Alex had ever done floated to the surface. Every angry thought, selfish desire, and a sense of self-disgust over took him. He needed only look to the right and see his parents to help it along. He blocked out all else. Maybe it really would set Rick free, and let something like that roam the world. Alex didn’t particularly care. The world wasn’t his concern anymore.

Three hours later, he heard the front door open. He heard Rick walk down the stairs and through the living room. Alex hated himself. He wished someone would just kill him, and he listened to Rick approach.

 By Philip Roberts

www.philipmroberts.com

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