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Thread: Lucas, in Love and Death (6,263 words short story)

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    Lucas, in Love and Death (6,263 words short story)

    Lucas, in Love and Death

    The shop fan blared behind the counter, its silver streamers billowing in the artificial breeze, its base quaking as it oscillated. I was embarrassingly aware of the dark, wet stains creeping like fetid shadows from under my arms and down the collar of my green BP shirt.

    A dull metallic thud sounded behind me. I swiveled atop my stool and peered through the doorway toward the back of the shop, where the office and roof entrance were. A large adjustable wrench lay on the ground at the foot of the ladder. Rung by rung, a greasy man wearing a white bandanna lowered himself onto the floor, one hand clutching an overfilled tool bag.

    “I’m gonna have to run back to the shop for some things,” Keith declared. His gray jumpsuit matched the dirty backs of his hands. “I can bandage it up for now, but it’s on its last leg. You’ll need a new unit in a few weeks, especially if it stays this hot.” It was the middle of July.

    “Alright, Keith. But you know Jerry’s not going to replace the thing. Not if you can keep fixing it with duct tape. I wish you would just tell him it’s broken for good,” I added.

    “Well if I did that I wouldn’t make as much. Duct tape’s cheap. Labor ain’t.” He laughed and sauntered through the store door to his paint-splattered van, his tool bag and duct tape in tow. The door bell, swinging from its string, clanged its farewell.

    A blue Mazda 3 pulled up at pump four, the one closest to the store. Something struck me about the girl getting out of the car.

    “Melinda?” I said aloud.

    No. It wasn’t her. She was long gone, long gone because of me. The girl got out of her car and walked around to start pumping gas. It must have been her hair that made me think of Melinda. This girl was shorter and thinner than she had been, but her hair was nearly the same. Light brown, shoulder-blade length, and a mix between wavy and straight, as if she, like Melinda, washed and towel-dried it, but didn’t worry with a hair dryer. This girl was less voluptuous, but had a prettier face. The more I looked at her, the less she resembled the girlfriend I killed.

    The next day’s sun was hotter, if that was possible. Charleston was a sweltering wasteland of haze, humidity, and heat distortion. No one went outside if they could help it, preferring to stay indoors in the shade and air conditioning. I sat at my place behind the counter, watching the local news station on the television, and listening to the meteorologist proclaim the day as the hottest on record, breaking the old high of 103 degrees set in July of 1979. At least our AC was working at the moment.

    A few hours drifted languidly by, time scuffling through the hottest part of the day, and only a few cars came to fill up. None of them were the blue Mazda I hoped to see. Of course, it wasn’t likely that she would come by in need of gas on consecutive days, but still the hope was there. Maybe she would drive past, I thought, on her way to wherever she goes or comes from. Maybe she would be in desperate need of, say, a Butterfinger and a Dr. Pepper. Thus, most of my attention that day had been on the passing cars. Once, I thought I saw her car, but as it came closer I realized it was a hatchback, and not the sedan the girl drove.

    Around 7 p.m., near the end of my shift, Jerry stopped by to do some paperwork in the back office.

    “Got some stuff to catch up on,” he said as he came through the door. I smiled a greeting and said okay. I couldn’t be bothered. I had given up on seeing the blue Mazda, and now I was watching the Braves pound the Marlins in Atlanta.

    His paint stained denim shorts made a scratching sound as he shuffled past the counter to the back of the store.

    Several minutes later, it was time to clock out. The Braves game well in hand, I turned the channel back to the local station. The six o’clock news was on, and about halfway over. I logged out of the cash register and gathered my things—car keys, half-full Dr. Pepper. Jerry came out of his office, his face a visage of concern.

    “What’s up? Something wrong?”

    “You hear about those robberies on the news lately? The gas stations around here that have been hit by some group of thugs?” He wrung his dry hands.

    I started to shake my head, but remembered what I heard on the news earlier today, before the weather portion came on. “Yeah, that Circle K a few blocks down got hit last night, right?”

    “That’s right,” he said as he moved past me. “Stay there for a second, will ya?” He didn’t wait for a response, and stepped through the door into the parking lot.

    A moment later he stalked back inside, carrying by its handle a long, black plastic case. I wondered what it might be, an air of foreboding creeping over me. Before I could ask what it was, he had set the case on the counter and opened it. A pump-action shotgun, with two rows of red plastic, bronze-capped shotgun shells, lay in molded black foam.

    “I’m going to keep this in the shop for a while, until the robberies slow down,” he looked at me over the rim of his round glasses, leaving no question to the matter. “I’m gonna keep it under the counter,” he said as he started loading the top row of shells into a slot in the side of the gun, near the pump.

    “You ever shoot a gun before, Lucas?”

    I swallowed hard against my constricted throat. “No. Well, not besides a pellet gun.”

    “Alright, well if you can shoot a pellet gun, you can shoot this. Just kicks a little harder,” he pulled the gun from its foam compartment. He fingered a red and black button on the trigger guard. “This here’s the safety. After you pump the gun to get the shell loaded into the chamber, you push the safety.” He studied my face for a moment. “Damn, boy, don’t look so scared. I don’t think you’ll ever have to use it. Most crooks’ll see this and run off like their asses are on fire. All you gotta do is hold it up and pump it once, to show ‘em you mean business. Don’t even need to point it at ‘em. I don’t want blood all over my store anyway, yours or theirs.”

    I managed a feeble “Yessir” and watched him shove the shotgun underneath the counter. He snapped the case closed and carried it back to his office. I clocked out and walked to my car, my mind full of bloody scenarios and men with pantyhose masks.

    * * *

    She was trying to get gas at pump four again. It was the same girl with the blue Mazda 3 that had been coming here once a week for about a month now. She always paid with a card, and so I had only seen her from thirty yards away, through plate glass windows and the Charleston summer haze. I had never seen a guy with her. Even if I had zero chance with her, the fact that she seemed single gave me a little hope.

    The girl looked back my direction. Her over-plucked eyebrows rose high in annoyance.

    I clicked on the microphone to pump four. “I’m sorry ma’am, but you have to prepay or use a credit card.”

    She replied in a pleasant southern drawl, “You think I’m just going to take off and not pay?”

    “No, ma’am, I don’t think that, but the computer won’t open the pump without you paying first. I’m sorry for any inconvenience.” Stupid. I just pulled the “sorry for any inconvenience” out of the bag. Who was I, the manager?

    “Okay, fine.” She hung up the pump and walked toward me with quick, short steps. She was wearing cheap, black flip-flops, a faded-green spaghetti strap shirt, and short, blue cheerleading shorts. Underneath it all, she was wearing a brown and tan bikini, haltered behind her neck. Her skin was the shade of brown one can only get from going to the lake every weekend for months. I had been tan like that once. So had Melinda.

    She waltzed in and handed me a wrinkled twenty-dollar bill. “Pump four.” I tapped the touch-screen a few times and the register opened. The printer spat out a receipt and I handed it to her, along with a goofy smile I couldn’t prevent.

    “Sorry about that, making you walk in here and all,” I said lamely.

    “It’s alright. At least y’all got your air conditioning fixed.”

    “Yeah, we just got it fixed a few days ago. How’d you know?”

    “I saw your HVAC guy duct taping your old unit a month or so ago and I knew it wouldn’t last. When I pulled up I could see that big new unit on top of the store, so I figured the old one must have finally bit it.”

    “Yeah,” I remembered. “That was a bad day. I don’t think I’ve ever sweated so much.” Real smooth.

    “Gross,” she said through a laugh.

    New subject. “So, you going to the lake?”

    “Yeah, my granddaddy lives up there and has a pontoon boat he lets me take out every weekend.”

    “Oh, you just go out on the lake by yourself?”

    “Usually. Sometimes Granddaddy likes to go out with me and fish, but it’s too hot outside for him right now.”

    “Alright, well be careful out there by yourself. Have a good time.”

    “Thanks.” She turned for the door.

    “Sorry,” I nearly choked out, “I didn’t get your name.”

    She turned back towards me. “Jenn.”

    “Nice to meet you, Jenn. I’m Lucas.”

    “Yeah, I know your name,” my puzzlement must have shown through on my face, “It’s on your name tag.” She smiled as she turned away, and walked back to pump four.

    The rest of the day I thought about Jenn, compared her to Melinda. Now that we had spoken, I figured I had a gauge on her personality. No, it wasn’t fair to compare her to my dead ex, but I did it just the same. I don’t know why. The first thing I thought was that she was much less timid than Melinda had been, more ready to talk to anyone, more confident. But it wasn’t just the way she spoke that made her seem confident. It was the way she carried herself. She had this way about her that said, “I’m here. Say what you will, think what you will, and I’ll do the same.” It was in the way she walked, not too quick, as if in a hurry, but not too languid, as if bored or indifferent. It was just right. It was… graceful. Even in 90-degree weather and flip-flops. It fascinated me, left me wanting to know more.

    A few weeks later, on a Sunday, it was time to do my weekly grocery shopping. I checked around the house for things I needed, and wrote them down on the back of a Chinese take-out menu. Maybe one day I would have Jenn over for Chinese food. It was one of my favorite things, eating fried rice and playing video games until dawn. Of course, if Jenn came over, I would hope I might have better things to occupy my time. I wondered if she was a virgin, then shook the thought from my mind. I barely even knew her. I didn’t even know her last name. I hadn’t dated anyone since Melinda, and there was no reason to think that Jenn would be the one to end that streak.
    And with those delusions pushed aside, I drove to Bi-Lo.

    Milk. Eggs. Bread. Deodorant. I checked off the items on my grocery list. Shampoo and conditioner, soap and one of those floofy things. Lean hamburger meat, not the leanest, but not the fatty stuff, fish sticks, spaghetti and spaghetti sauce. Parmesan cheese. Sliced cheese. Did I have ketchup at the house? Razor blades! I needed razor blades.
    I pushed my buggy back to the hygiene section—aisle eight—past the shampoos, past the condoms and feminine products, past the deodorants and toothpastes, to the right side of the aisle where a brazen assortment of razor blades caught my eye. The display was divided into stereotypical male and female sections. Blacks, grays, silvers, and blues dominated the male side, while pastels and pinks dominated the other. Which razors would Jenn use? Would she use the cheap, plastic, disposable ones? Or would she rather use the ones with the big built-in lathering pad around the blade? Or maybe she likes the weight of a male razor. I decided that whatever she used, it worked. Sometimes the sun would glare off the back of her smooth legs while she pumped gas. A moment passed as I imagined Jenn in the shower, shaving, naked. I swallowed heavily.

    I reached for the silver and black group and grabbed a pack of Schick Quattro blades. Razor blades were expensive, but the cheap ones gave me hideous razor bumps.. What if Jenn came in the gas station again and my face was bumpy and red? Not attractive. Not that I’m particularly attractive anyway.

    I looked again at my crumpled grocery list. Oh. Ramen noodles. Was I tired of beef flavor yet? Should I try Oriental flavor, or maybe shrimp? No, not shrimp. There’s something disturbing about artificial seafood flavoring.
    I started walking back down the aisle and was grabbed by an embarrassing curiosity. I looked back over my shoulder to see if anyone was around. No one. I turned my attention to the condoms.

    The variety was shocking. To my dismay, my face reddened as my eyes swept the collection of latex contraceptives in front of me. Some were flavored, some boasted the ability to glow in the dark, others had textures—ribbed, studded. A pack on the bottom right touted its natural sheepskin construction. I was baffled. I had never worn a condom before. Melinda had been on birth control, and she was the last person I had been intimate with. I wondered which one Jenn would pick out if she were here. And how do I know which size is right? Is there a sizing table on the back of a carton maybe? Is there only regular, huge, and huger? That doesn’t make a bunch of sense.

    I pulled a pack of basic Trojans from the rack, flipped it over. No sizing details. They must be one size fits all. I put the condoms back. Further to the right were the oversized condoms. How big do you have to be to need the Magnums? I guess if I needed them, I would know. I shrugged inwardly. Should I buy some? In case something miraculous happens with Jenn? Maybe I should be ready, just in case. I almost laughed at myself. I was acting like I was in 9th grade.

    “Can’t decide on one?”

    I almost wet myself. I almost did worse when I turned to the right to see Jenn standing there, smiling at me. “I—no, I mean—”

    “Big date tonight?”

    “What? No. I was just—just looking. No date—I’m not buying anything. I—I was just looking.” I backed away from the prophylactics, breaking out in a cold sweat. I had never been so embarrassed in my life.

    “It’s okay,” she laughed. “Sorry I surprised you like that. It’s—well, it’s good that you’re using protection. Very wise of you,” she nodded her head. Her light brown ponytail bobbed with the motion. She was wearing gym clothes. Sports bra, close-fitting tank top, and the same blue cheerleading shorts I had seen her wear before.

    She didn’t appear to have sweated really, but glistened as if she had walked too closely to a yard sprinkler on a windy day. It made the grocery store lighting catch her skin a little differently, made her bronze skin glow.

    I searched for something to say. Too many thoughts were racing through my head at ridiculous rates of speed for me to grab hold of one and articulate it.

    “Well, if it makes you feel any less awkward, I’m here to buy embarrassing things too,” She bent over and picked up a box of Tampax tampons. I tried hard not to look at her butt when she bent over. To my relief, she didn’t linger, and straightened back up, holding the box up and shaking its contents. My virtue—and her dignity—was safe for the moment.

    “That doesn’t make me feel less embarrassed.” My face was still burning. Despite the awkwardness of our chance meeting, I thought about asking her out. Scenes from movies and books screamed maybe it’s meant to be in my head. I wanted the cliché to be true. A few chance meetings always seem to spark a “happily ever after” ending in Hollywood.

    She laughed. “Yeah, I didn’t really think it would.”

    I shrugged.

    “So, you working tonight?” she asked.

    My pulse quickened. Is she just making conversation, trying to get past the awkwardness, or is she asking if I’m available tonight?

    “No, not tonight, actually. I have Mondays and Thursdays off.” There. I gave her my schedule. I realized I was too frightened to just ask her out, so maybe if I let her know what days I’m available, she’d ask me out. No rejection to worry about.

    “Well have fun on your night off, Lucas,” She smiled and flounced around me, back up the aisle toward the front of the store. What was that about? Was she just trying to find a way to end the conversation? She was probably just being nice, trying to be friendly. I stood there for a moment, watching her. I looked at her butt by reflex, watched it move back and forth as her legs worked. There really wasn’t much to look at. That part of her was nearly as thin as her legs. She had nice calf muscles though. Virtue be damned.

    Part of me felt ashamed for looking at her like that, but part of me hoped she would catch me, turn around and confront me about it. That part of me hoped that I would accidentally do something to reveal my interest in her, forcing her to reciprocate that interest. Or not. But I couldn’t just ask her. I couldn’t take the point-blank rejection. I hadn’t asked a girl out since 6th grade. Carrie Dawson. She just laughed at me, along with her group of friends who were in hearing distance of the botched attempt at courtship. If Jenn caught me staring at her and was displeased, I could always just play it off and pretend I wasn’t doing anything. If I asked her out or told her how I felt, I wouldn’t have that façade to hide behind. I would be vulnerable. I would be scared. No, unless I absolutely knew she was interested in me, I couldn’t risk it—not because it would kill me if she said no, but because I just didn’t want that empty feeling in my stomach. I would rather have a little hope, and nothing come of it, than go for broke and face possible rejection, and hopelessness. Plus, how would I tell her about Melinda? That could scare her off.

    I looked back down at my grocery list. I still needed to get ramen noodles. I paused, though, and stole a look around me, swallowed hard against the dryness in my throat. I took a basic, regular-sized pack of Trojans and put them in my cart, hid them underneath the bread, and prayed the self-checkout lines were open.

    The next couple of months went by quickly. The condoms remained in their eternal resting place, my wallet. Jenn would come in to pay with her card sometimes, opting to talk with me for a few minutes before she was off to the lake. Sometimes she would still pay at the pump though, and never even look my way. It was confusing, to say the least. It seemed like every time we started to get to know each other a little better, she would stop coming in for a couple of weeks, letting things between us dwindle back down to nearly nothing. Then she would come inside and talk for fifteen minutes, about how some guy had almost run her off the road earlier, or about how gasoline was so finicky, rising up and down all the time with no change in the price per barrel in the Middle East. I never knew which days I would get to talk with her.

    After two months of this back and forth, I decided to be brave, to take a chance. I would ask her if she wanted to go get something to eat, or go see a movie or something. I would just tell her I was planning on going, and wanted to know if she wanted to tag along. I had read an article online saying that’s how you should ask a woman out, to make it seem more casual, less threatening. Unfortunately, the article also said that it needed to be face-to-face, so I was forced to scrap my initial plan of asking her out over the intercom. So, I decided that the next time she came in to the store to pay, I would ask her out. I was proud of myself, and thought there was a good chance it might work. There was one thing I had to do though. I had to tell Melinda.

    The next morning after I had made my decision, I awoke to Steve Perry’s voice singing “Separate Ways” and flicked off the clock-radio. It was 5 a.m., and the two-year anniversary of Melinda’s death.

    I sat at the edge of my bed and looked outside. Through the lone window in my apartment’s bedroom, the streetlamps on Eve Street illuminated the slowly falling mist, creating an orangey orb for each lamp post. The accompanying fog smudged their edges.

    I showered, dressed, and scooped my keys and wallet off the dresser.

    My car started on the first try for once. The 5:30 a.m. traffic was as one would expect it to be, and I made my way down to McDonald’s and then to Brigman Cemetery in good time. I ate the last bit of my bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit as I shut the car door and walked toward the wrought iron gate. The biscuit did nothing to ease the empty feeling I had in my stomach.

    Beneath the gate, engraved in gray marble, was the name “Walther Brigman,” apparently the cemetery’s namesake. Would it really be an honor to have a cemetery named after you? It could be that this Brigman guy owned this land a long time ago, I supposed, before it was a final resting place for the old and the young, the diseased and the murdered. It wasn’t the mild November weather that gave me goose bumps.

    I pushed the gate, only to realize it was locked firmly in place. I hadn’t noticed the weather-tarnished padlock hanging from the handle. Looking around, I saw that no other cars were in the parking lot.
    I’d never considered that cemeteries might have hours of business, but apparently they did. A metal signpost stood maybe twenty feet away from me, under a willow tree whose cheerless limbs hung over the sidewalk I had traipsed across only moments earlier, and read, “Cemetery Hours: 8 A.M. – Dusk”.

    I couldn’t just wait there for two hours. Melinda’s mother and sister would surely arrive then. I couldn’t forget about it and return later either, I had to be at work at nine, and wouldn’t get off until six, which would be right at the cusp of dusk. And I couldn’t wait for a different day, it wouldn’t mean anything if I didn’t pay my respects today. I had to get in there, somehow, because this was my only chance to do the right thing.

    I walked the iron fence line, and only a few paces away to the left of the gate, behind a massive azalea bush, was a missing iron rod. The black metal lay on the ground under the azalea, almost completely overtaken by fallen leaves and clippings. I had dressed appropriately for the cool November weather and the dreary occasion, button-up gray dress shirt, black slacks and black square-toed shoes. I didn’t own a tie, and wouldn’t know how to tie one if I did. The bush’s many stems and leaves rustled and scraped against the dark fabric as I shuffled between them and the fence toward the gap. I squeezed through the hole with little difficulty and strode to Melinda’s grave.

    Hers was a simple tombstone, a marble monolith that came up to my knee. Melinda Faith Royston read the cold, chiseled serif. Under her name was a short inscription in a flowing font I had read before: Beloved daughter, sister, and friend. Only the good die young. I had forgotten the inscription, or rather I had misplaced it in my mind. The second part of the inscription was also the title of a Billy Joel song, and it sent a torrent of anguish and bitter emotion through my body.

    We had been listening to Billy Joel that night. The Piano Man was one of her favorite musicians, and so we had been listening to that album on repeat in her car since I had bought it for her birthday a month earlier. One of the songs on there was titled “Only the Good Die Young.” It wasn’t playing in the car when we wrecked.

    We had been drinking at the lake, just the two of us. We had taken a battery-powered lantern and a cooler full of Bud Light down to the beach, and sat on a boulder hanging over the water. We started drinking at about seven. By ten, beer cans littered the beach. She drank six of the eighteen pack, I drank the rest, and we talked about nothing and laughed about everything. The moon was full that night, and we could see everything on the lake. Once, someone passed by, night fishing. The scruffy man with a beer belly told us to make sure we got up all our cans. We assured him we would. In our altered state though, we forgot, and left the cans to be swallowed by Lake Moultrie.

    Being faux-responsible, I took the keys from her small hands.

    “You shunnent be drivin’, ‘cuz you are drunk, missy. Your mother would kill me, kill you—mother would kill us.”

    “Yeah, you’re right, Lukee,” she said. She sounded cute saying “Lukee,” so I didn’t mind it. Not watching where she was going, and not the most graceful drunk in the world, she stumbled over a tree root jutting out of the sand, and toppled into me. We hit the sand hard, and burst into laughter.

    Then we got in her car, an older Durango with a big V8 engine. I had been down that country road a hundred times, and knew every turn and stop sign, every place deer liked to cross, but I had never driven drunk out here at night.

    I revved the engine up, letting all its cylinders scream at me, telling me to stop, to slow down. A turn snuck up on me, and I didn’t hit the brakes in time. Melinda screamed as I tried to keep the SUV from flipping, tried to keep it on the road. But I couldn’t stop the momentum. I lost control. The Durango skidded for a split second on two wheels, and then pitched over. The ditch at the side of the road dropped down a few feet, and we plummeted down the slope. The impact shattered all the glass on the passenger’s side, and I saw the shards of glass stick into her face, neck, and arms. I could still hear her scream and see the horrified look on her face as she tried to turn away from the window. The vehicle kept rolling, its weight smashing the roof, breaking the rest of the windows, all but the windshield. Then it rolled onto the driver’s side, and I didn’t remember anything past that, other than the flashing lights of an ambulance, a fireman in his red suit, the decimated car’s headlights staring cockeyed out into the forest.

    I knelt down in front of the gravestone, and broke. After a while, my tears stopped. My throat was too tired to say sorry again.

    A moment passed as I collected myself. I looked up into the sky and wondered if she was watching me break down from heaven. I was sure she had better things to watch. Then an uninvited thought crept into my mind. A blue Mazda; a skinny, free-spirited girl I kept running into. Her drawling accent.

    “What are you doing here, Lucas?” Lost in my thoughts, I never heard Melinda’s mother and sister walk up behind me. I turned to face them, my face ashen. Before I could speak, she continued.

    “I told you before that you aren’t allowed at Melinda’s grave,” her bottom lip quivered with rage and despair. In one hand she held her surviving daughter’s hand. In the other, she held a bouquet of red and white tulips. Tears streamed down her face. “You need to leave now.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” and I walked toward the entrance. Melinda’s little sister, Kate, tugged at her mother’s coat. She was maybe five years old, and spoke quietly.

    “Is that the boy who killed my sister?”

    The question went unanswered except for her mother’s restrained sobs. The sound of her crying mercifully faded away as I neared the parking lot.

    I got in my car and pulled the door to, turned the key, and drove out of the parking lot. The ride home was a blur.

    Who was I kidding? I thought as I rounded the corner onto Eve Street. How could I think of ever having a relationship with Jenn, or anybody? I turned into my designated parking space and staggered up to my apartment. I was sick to my stomach, and felt like falling over on my floor, lying there forever, until I died. I closed the door behind me and shuffled into my bedroom, shutting the blinds and submitting myself to the darkness, hoping the light’s absence would ease the pounding in my temples. Instead of the floor, I stretched out in bed. Maybe I would wake up and the headache would be gone, maybe the pain would be gone. I couldn’t stop the ringing in my head. It chanted. Murderer. Murderer. Murderer…

    I woke up late that night, 11:26. I knew what I had to do. The only thing to do.

    I got in my car and drove to the BP station, opened the door, and stalked in. I didn’t bother turning the lights on. I could see as much as I needed to see. Behind the counter, under a shelf, I found what I needed. The shotgun felt cold in my hands. It only had a couple of shells in it, perhaps more; I didn’t take them out and count. I only needed one.

    I let my gaze go through the weapon, focusing on nothing. Why not? What do I have to look forward to other than fifty more years reliving the past?
    I paced back around the counter, and outside. I locked the double glass doors behind me. I jiggled the key out of the lock and stared at my reflection between the black, metal bars that surrounded the store. My face was washed out by the humming metal halide lights above me, surrounding the gas station and lighting up the otherwise dark alleys and streets surrounding this corner of the block. Yet the circles under my eyes remained dark… gave me the sinister look of the killer I was. Who would want someone like me, a murderer? What chance would I have with Jenn once she found out who I really was?

    There was nothing else left to do.

    I left the store, and started off the opposite direction from my apartment, heading downtown. I walked with the shotgun under my coat. The barrel stuck out from beneath the frayed lip of my jacket, but the conspicuousness didn’t bother me. What could happen if a cop found me? Would he arrest me before I killed myself? Maybe he would shoot me.

    I stayed close to the buildings, looking for a secluded alley in which to dispose of myself. The chanting from the day before still reverberated in my head. Murderer.

    I had missed having a girlfriend. I had missed the companionship. I had imagined that Jenn could maybe pull me out of this, be the one I could anchor myself to. I’d dreamed that she would understand, even, about what had happened with Melinda. There was nothing for Jenn to understand. I knew that now. Melinda was dead because of me. That made me a murderer, a killer. Her mother had said so, her sister had said so. I knew so. Jenn was a selfish delusion, a foolish dream.

    But none of that mattered anymore. It was all going to be over soon. I would take the place in heaven or hell that had been reserved for me two years ago.

    I found my alley. It was narrow, dark, quiet. The three-walled alley had no windows, only a gray metal door on the building to the right. I expected my heart to be racing, or my breathing to become shallow. But my body didn’t panic like I thought it should have. If anything, I was at peace, more than I had been for a long time. I wondered why I felt this serenity. After all, I was about to kill myself. Perhaps it was because I had thought about it so many times before, had imagined dozens of scenarios, outcomes. A shotgun was foolproof at point-blank range. I took comfort in that fact. I had something certain in my life for once, other than misery and depression, something I controlled. My own death.

    I stepped into the alleyway and drew the shotgun out of my jacket before sitting down next to a dumpster. I leaned back against the cold bricks and ran my hand through my coarse hair. My mind was made up—I had taken up enough time as it was.

    I planted the shotgun’s stock against a crack in the concrete and aimed the barrel toward me. I set my chin on the top of the freezing barrel and, with my thumb, found the trigger. I pressed the trigger… but nothing happened. Puzzled, I looked down and found the solution. I clicked the safety off and replaced my head atop the gun. I exhaled. This was it. I squeezed the trigger and the hammer clicked home. Nothing.

    I pulled the trigger over and over again. I pumped the shotgun, clearing a shell. The empty shell rattled across the frozen cement. A moment later, five empty shotgun shells lay scattered around me. I couldn’t believe it. Jerry had loaded the shotgun with empty shells.

    This was supposed to be it. This was supposed to have been my last time wondering what to do next. I stood up. I was dizzy and saw stars from closing my eyes so tightly. My heart raced in my chest, and then I had a thought.

    From the desolate alley to my car parked outside of the gas station, I ran. I shoved the shotgun somewhat back in its place beneath the counter and drove back to the cemetery. I retraced my steps through the wrought iron fence back through the graveyard to where Melinda’s remains were interred.
    “Melinda,” I started. I knelt down beside the red and white tulip bouquet her mother had brought, and placed my hand on the gravestone for support. “I hope you aren’t mad at me anymore. I’m sorry about what happened. You know that after all this time.”

    My gaze fell once more upon the epitaph, Only the good die young. “I’ve learned something from all of this. It took trying to kill myself to figure it out. That’s not what you would have wanted, I don’t think. I don’t want to go on this way forever anymore. If I don’t let go of you, I’ll never be happy. I don’t want to die unhappy. I don’t really want to die at all, not for a long time.”

    I took a deep, calming breath as a cold mist began to land gently around me. The small drops of water beaded and ran down the front of the gravestone. “I’ve found a girl I really like. You would like her. You two have the same hair. What I mean to say is, with your blessing, I think I’m going to ask her out. I’m going to do it the next time I see her, whether she comes inside to pay or not.”

  2. #2
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    LOVE IT!!!!! Good story!

  3. #3
    Registered User VulpesFulva's Avatar
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    Thanks, WTW!

  4. #4
    Registered User glover7's Avatar
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    In terms of structure, I see a clear flow of ideas. The problems arise mostly in the content approaching the end of the story.

    I suppose my main problem with the story lies not with the characters' interactions, which is somewhat engaging, but with the melodrama of the situation itself. I mean, an ex-suicidal guy in love with his dead girlfriend is...cliched. Even if the specifics of the plot indicate a new and individualized story, the story itself will suffer if the plot elements seem trite. I'm not saying that the dead girlfriend/suicide survivor combo is a common occurrence in stories, but the inherent sappiness of it is. Let's face it: Death is the new bathos.

    The only way to fix a cliched element like that is either to have THE BEST character development in the world or to go so deeply with the melodrama of the scenes that you write the next Twilight. Seriously.

    As a side note, dialogue tags beyond "said" and "asked" are generally frowned upon, as are adverbial modifiers to said dialogue tags. Let your characters speak for themselves through nuanced motion rather than through exclaiming, interrogating, declaring, rejoining, and, my personal favorite, ejaculating. It gives the story itself more power when the reader doesn't have to trip over extraneous wordage.

    Hope I helped!

    -Mackie

  5. #5
    Registered User Sampson's Avatar
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    That was awesome! I thought that you developed the Lucas character very well, and the fact that you wrote it in first person works with any clichéd elements of the narrative.

    I read the first half last night and was looking forward to finding out what happened next all day today, seriously!

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