Saturday, August 13, 2011

LIFE HAS A WAY - my new short story

This is the first ten pages or so of what is now my seventh completed short story. LIFE HAS A WAY is a dark tale set in a Las Vegas hotel room. Among other things, the story gets inside the mind of/empathizes with a man who has decided to become a murderer. Overall, it's a response to America's ominous economic times circa the year 2011. There is strong language, some violence and intense content. You can read it if it sounds like something you would be interested in, but I won't twist your arm or anything.


by Matt Burns

“OK. I’ll see her then. Thank you.” Click.

He sat on the edge of the bed’s swanky comforter and dropped the vintage rotary phone back into its lime-green receiver. He was still wearing the same Italian suit he had driven into town with three days ago, but now - of course - it was more wrinkled and also stained from the three-dozen or so White Russians he had consumed over the past few days. Or maybe it was more than a few days. It was easy to lose all sense of time in the dark, windowless casinos of fabulous Las Vegas.

To say he looked “together” would have been a statement that could’ve turned the most stoic poker-face into a Pinocchio. Marty looked like he was - at one time - the all-American man, but at some point got dragged through a (figurative) swamp. His face was pale and powdery-looking and he had Walnut-sized bags supporting his bloodshot eyes. The upper two thirds of his hair was still a healthy-looking brown, but the lower third was a dry gray. Like rings in a tree trunk, the gray hair was an indicator of time, the amount of time in which Marty hadn’t given a shit about how he looked (now around a couple months or so). At a certain point, hygiene and overall appearances stopped mattering to him. It had probably been days since he showered and he wasn’t even sure if he had washed his hands, or applied deodorant or even pissed. The truth was that he had lost all respect for himself and basically life in general. He didn’t give a fuck about anything anymore. What was the point when his life was in the state it was right now?

Marty took a look around the hotel room and realized that he was sitting amidst the last remnant of luxury he was going to experience for perhaps the rest of his life. And he didn’t even earn it in a respectable way! The room was a gift the casino gave him downstairs for gambling so fucking much, a “comp” as they called it. They also gave him a baseball cap, some key chains, and a free breakfast voucher he could use at whatever time he wanted to call “morning” (for most gamblers, it was around four o’clock in the afternoon). Perhaps the casino felt guilty about getting him drunk and taking all his money. At any bar or club, Marty would have been cut off very long ago. But not in Vegas. As long as nobody was causing a scene, gamblers were encouraged to get as shit-faced as possible.

But, yes, the room was nice, especially compared to the smoky carnival atmosphere downstairs. There was a mini-bar, widescreen TV and also a marble Jacuzzi near a window that had a beautiful view of the Strip. Overall, the interior design was very swanky, a tribute to Old Vegas, like around the time when the Rat Pack was doing their thing. Lots of loud patterns on the curtains and furry rugs...foam, cylinder-like pillows on the beds...square lampshades on lamps...martini glasses and large mirrors by the bar - that sort of thing. If it wasn’t for the occasional “Made in China” stickers plastered onto all of the pine furniture, Marty would have felt as though he had been transported to a better time. Or at least a time better than his present reality. That was kind of the point, though. Nobody in Vegas wanted to be in touch with reality. They were there to escape from it.

Marty popped a couple aspirin into his cotton-dry mouth and tried to shake off the sounds of the casino that were echoing in his head, mostly the tacky merry-go-round-type-sounds from the slot machines. He reached down to his leather, Brooks Brothers suitcase and pulled out a freshly-polished Glock that he’d owned for a number of years now. It was one of the very few possessions that hadn’t been repossessed by the credit card companies, or by his fucking wife...or ex-wife was probably the more technical way to put it. That traitorous bitch took everything from him, the kids included, even though she didn’t give a fuck about the kids. She just took them to piss Marty off, like they were another materialistic possession she needed in order to fill the void in her soul. And it’s not like she didn’t have another sugar-daddy lined up for herself, another guy to leech off of for the rest of her life…or at least as long as the guy was making enough money to make her girlfriends envious. If Marty were a congressman, he would be adamant about making gold-digging illegal, especially in the current post-feminist society he found himself living in. Stupid women. They totally fucked up the country. If they had just stayed in the kitchen where they belonged, the economy wouldn’t have grown so fucking big that it had no choice but to explode.

But, alas, his mind was wandering again.

Marty brandished the Glock in his palm for a couple of minutes and thought about the prospect of doing himself in. But it didn’t really seem like a satisfying thing to do. It’s true that he was depressed, but - more than anything else - he was really angry. And it wasn’t normal anger. It was a hatred, not necessarily directed towards anything specific. Just a general hatred towards all things. An appetite for destruction. And although he didn’t really like that he was feeling this way, it was undoubtedly what he felt. And he’d be lying if he said he felt otherwise.

Back when he was happier, Marty used to watch the news and hear about all these bizarre murders and he’d wonder how it was that any man could have the desire to kill, especially in the case of the random murders. But now he could empathize with this kind of man, mainly because he was there...he was actually in that state of mind. It was a hunger for destruction that he never had the capacity to fathom. But now he was drowning in it. He never thought a man like himself could be degraded to the point of feeling this way. But it happened. Amazing.

Marty stood from his bed and took a moment to fight off a head-rush. The aspirin was seeping into his bloodstream now and the echoes of the slot machines began to diminish a bit. Feeling more energy in his muscles, he stumbled his way into the bathroom, flicked on the light-switch, planted his hands into the granite vanity and took a long stare into the vanity mirror.

Looking deep into his eyes, Marty remembered how he’d always prided himself to be a man of good instincts. He’d tell people that he had a sixth sense, that he was able to take one look at a person and - within seconds - know whether that individual could be trusted. This “gift” came in especially handy when it came to making deals in the corporate world, or drawing up contracts with clients, or interviewing prospective employees. The President and CEO of his firm considered him an invaluable asset to the company, a so-called “rising star”. He made the company lots and lots of money with his good instincts...well, with the exception of that one time. He lost them a little money, an amount insignificant in the long run but looked bad on the quarterly statement. The shareholders were pissed and the CEO needed a fall-guy. So Marty got dumped. It was as simple as that. Wasn’t a man entitled to make a mistake here and there? No, not in the corporate world, apparently. The CEO seemed sad about the termination, but he reminded Marty that he had a responsibility to the shareholders. Besides, a man operating from a business mindset didn’t care about the life of one person. An employee was just a mechanism in a machine that could be easily replaced like a broken part. Yes, Marty got dumped like a colon-full of rancid Chinese food. It was gross. Corporate America could go fuck itself.

But, again, his mind was wandering. Where was he? Oh, yes, the sixth sense.

With the help of his sixth sense, Marty could sniff out something rotten like he was a bloodhound. And this is exactly what was worrying him at the given moment. Because now he could sense something unsettling in his own eyes. There was something staring back at him in the vanity mirror and it hadn’t always been there. It seemed like something foreign to his person, but maybe it wasn’t so foreign after all. Maybe this was just who he was now. After all, people can change over time - a man born with good intentions does not always have good intentions. Life had the power to change a man like himself, from something good to something not-so-good. So maybe this was his identity now. In other words, he wasn’t possessed by a demon or other entity making him angry; he WAS angry. Nothing was influencing him to hate. He WAS hate. No schizophrenic or psychotic split-schizoid phenomenon wanted him to destroy. HE WANTED TO DESTROY. And there was nothing more to it than that.

Looking back on it, Marty wasn’t exactly sure when it was his eyes had changed. He was pretty sure that it was a gradual process, not necessarily something that happened at one definitive point in time. Maybe it happened around the time he lost his job. Or when he missed a few loan payments. Or when the collection agencies started harassing him...and his family...and his wife’s family. Those bastards even started calling his neighbors, just to humiliate him, basically rubbing in the fact that he’d lost the competition with the Jones’. They figured once he was one-hundred-percent humiliated he would somehow come up with the money. Of course, he never did. He simply didn’t have the money. And no amount of humiliation was going to make it magically appear.

But maybe Marty’s eyes changed a little bit later, like when the bank took away his house. Or when his wife left him without hesitation, like he was merely a damaged commodity to be replaced. Or when he increased his daily consumption of alcohol from one beer to about six, sometimes with a little hard stuff thrown on top of it all. He started with the Bacardi, and then worked his way up to the 190-proof Everclear.

Or maybe his eyes changed when - with his wife gone - he developed a raging porn addiction, basically looking at anything with a pussy, some even interracial, barely-legal and outright twisted. He didn’t really give a fuck. It was all the alcohol, combined with everything else, turning him into something monstrous, not to mention belligerent. He’d start swearing at his children a lot more often, especially when they were always “taking mom’s side”. One time he even hit his eight-year-old son in the head with a remote control. Then he’d go out to a bar, get even more wasted, fuck anything that would spread its legs. That kind of thing.

Whenever it was, one thing was for sure: his eyes were very different from what they used to be. There was something evil inside of him now. And while part of him longed for his lost innocence, another part of him liked what he felt inside. It was a very powerful, destructive force. It made him feel stronger than he’d ever felt before. In control. A fearless force of change...

Marty stood there in the bathroom mirror and studied the look in his eyes for what-seemed-like ten more minutes. Then he turned the bathroom light off and returned to the bedroom. He opened the drawer to a pine night-stand and took out a Gideon Bible that looked brand-spanking new, or at least like it hadn’t been touched by any human hands for as long as it had been in the drawer.

He sat back on the bed’s comforter and paged through the super-thin pages of the Old Testament. The Book of Job eventually made its presence known and Marty tried refreshing his memory of the story. Everything was taken away from that Job guy, but he still kept his faith in God. How admirable. What a saint. Round of a applause and pats on the back to you, good fellow! But, really, how realistic was that story, anyway? The story of Job was...well, just a story, nothing more. It was a story that didn’t have any relevance to reality, especially the current reality that was the early 21st century. Job was merely a fictional character written by some man who didn’t really know what the world was going to turn into circa 2011. There was much more at stake these days. Worse economy. Harder to get a good job. A lot more pressure to keep up with the Jones’. Yes, if Job were living in the world today, he would never hang in there and hold onto his faith. No way. No-how. And even if he did, he’d be a sucker. OK, he’d keep his faith and then what? Happily ever after in heaven? Horse shit! Anybody who believed that was a sucker!!!

Marty slammed the Bible shut and tossed the book across the room.

“Hello, God,” he uttered aloud with a hint of aggravation in his voice. “I don’t really get it. Life, I mean. I never had anything but the best of intentions. But the life you created here has a way of pulling us in directions that we never wanted to go in. I wanted to keep working and stay married and maintain a stable family. But everything got fucked up, through no fault of my own. I was forced to go in a certain direction. I never wanted it. It just happened. And now look at me: here I am about to kill some girl I’ve never met before in my life. But this is what I wanna do. What else can I say?”

He rubbed his hand along the barrel of the Glock, like almost masturbating it, feeling his appetite for destruction grow even stronger inside of him. He got some sort of sadistic pleasure out of stroking that tool of destruction, the destroyer of God’s creations. Yes, the gun - the anti-creator - would be his new god now, the only thing in life worth putting his faith into.

“I was born a good person...really, I was. If I had died when I was eight...or even when I was thirteen...heck, maybe even when I was twenty-two, I would have gone to heaven. There’s no doubt about that. Then again, anybody who died at that age would have gone to heaven. It’s not really fair, is it? Only the good die young, they say. Well, of course only the good die young. Because they haven’t lived long enough to become bad. The longer you live, the more time there is to be corrupted by life. Life and time and reality has a way of corrupting us. But, alas, I digress.”

“It wasn’t like I made some bad moral choice. Did I? No, I don’t think so. I never stood face-to-face with the devil and gave into his temptation. At least not that I can see. I WANTED to be good. I set out to be good. But I guess life has a way. It has a way of pulling you in a direction you never wanted to go in.”

“I mean, I went to school, God, and worked hard and got good grades. I had dreams. Positive ones. Dreams of actually bringing some good into the world instead of something bad. But, like I said, life (that you created) has a way. You created a life that has a way with people like me. You did this to me. You brought me to this point. I don’t know why, but here I am, and you could have intervened and done something better. But, no, here I am.”

For a moment, Marty felt his eyes burn and he thought he was going to cry. But he managed to hold back the tears. The Marty who would have cried over shit like this was dead now. The new Marty didn’t feel emotions.

“So let’s get down to brass tacks. I’m not really well in the head, God, if you haven’t noticed. I feel something sinister in my bones and see it in my eyes. Why am I telling you this? I’m not so sure. Maybe I still have some piece of soul left over. Maybe I’m warning keep people who deserve to live away from me. Or maybe I’m just explaining to you why I’m going to kill people. Maybe I’m speaking for all the murderers out there. I don’t know. Whatever it is, I want you to hear me and hear me well: it’s no longer a possibility that I’m going to kill somebody, it’s a fact. I WANT TO KILL AND DESTROY. It’s simply what I feel like doing right now. Whoever this fucking hooker is, God, I am going to kill her and, hell, I’m going to enjoy it. So either you throw a lightning bolt my way and kill me or...well...this girl deserves to die by my hand and that is her fate. I didn’t want it to be like this, God. But life has a way. You led me to this point.”

Marty’s prayer was suddenly interrupted by a light knock on the room’s door. He gave his Glock one last stroke and then hid the weapon under the bed’s pillow.

“God, I hope you have heard my words.” And with that final warning, he closed the prayer.

“Who is it?!” he shouted as he stood from the bed and crept his way towards the door.

“It’s Chyna,” said a muffled voice from behind the door, loud enough for Marty to hear, but quiet enough so that nobody else could.

Read the rest of this story here: