The struggle is my favorite part of the cycle. The wiggling of limbs and fingers as they try to escape makes the nights effort a success. So as I slide a knife into John Gilbertson’s kneecap, I don’t think twice about what kind of pain I am causing him. Only the struggle fills my mind. My ears drown out him yelling, both mentally and physically. Slamming a sock into his mouth should stop the screams. Knife unreleased from his knee, time to start working on his torso. Up and down, up and down, and slowly the room becomes warmer, wetter, and redder. John’s screams and yells become softer and less, and his bite on the sock is not as strong. The struggle ends. John Gilbertson is dead by my hand and blade. I stare down at his now mutilated corpse, and reflect. I am a hit-man named James Darwin. Today’s kill was requested by an average middle-class worker, who insisted on remained anonymous. No worries though, I will find the client’s name later. John Gilbertson is a businessman who was found having an affair with my client’s wife. Being paid over two-thousand dollars for the kill, I accepted it. I feel no sorrow for the client, no remorse for taking John’s life, no guilt after the crime. It is an occupation for which I have decided upon myself. I do what I do best, and that’s that. As I pull out a pad of paper from my pocket, I exhale strong and hard, again and again. In and out, the carbon monoxide leaves my body, along with any negative feelings of sadness or guilt. They all leave my body, every last one. Next I close my eyes and swallow, feeling strength trickle down my throat. Open my eyes.
Now it is time to move quickly. Sheathing my knife, I remove the blue latex gloves I am wearing, the ski mask I have covering my face, and the coat that hides my array of weapons. Before leaving, I glance back at John’s body.
The unpleasant downward spiral of the city has become an unbearable boiling pot of ignorance and greed. My job is not very nice, yet I adore the occupation, the struggle, the feeling, the un-easiness; pure enjoyment.
My greatest fantasy and biggest insecurity.
Release the taboo with a deep breath. Feel the feelings of regret, remorse, and guilt flow outward and diffuse into the atmosphere. Live.
Upon returning home, I grab my favorite bottle of vodka and a glass quite a lot larger than your average shot glass. Pouring more than enough liquor into the glass, I relax. Breathe in, breathe out.
I have just killed a man. I have taken the life of a fellow member of society for profit. I have taken a life in exchange for a paycheck. I look into a mirror in the bathroom, seeing my reflection. My brown hair just reaches my eyebrows, and a short stocky mustache is beginning to grow on my upper lip. My brow is beginning to bush up, and the pupils in my eyes adjust to the bright lighting. Touching the man I see in front of me, I shiver. I have just killed a man.
I have just killed a man, and I feel no shame. I live. I breathe.
I sit. The cushion on my couch melts as I drink my night away. Glass after glass of hard alcohol drowns my stomach in a fermented mash of booze. Eyelids grow heavy. Walking becomes a task. Speech is slurred. My face makes hard contact with the ground.
“Rowley….what do you make of this?”
A police investigation was taking place at the home of John Gilbertson. James Darwin was not clean enough.
“Jimmy that’s hair, look even I have it.”
“Cut the s***, Rowley. Put this in a bag and an evidence bin. I think this is the same guy.”
Detectives Jim Plats and Rowley England were not stupid. When something as obvious as hair follicles appear on a victim’s corpse, they are bound to notice.
“The name of this guy? His parents must not have been the brightest of the bunch…”
“Mocking the dead won’t get us anywhere, Rowley. Keep looking around…and put that cigarette down.”
Top of their class each, Rowley and Jim were a team to be reckoned with. Like something straight out of a good-cop, bad-cop movie. Rowley was a heavy smoker, though. It was something that Jim could not deal with.
“I don’t really see an issue. What do you want me to do? Quit cold turkey? Ha! The withdrawals would kill me.”
“Oh, that’s going to kill you? As if the cancer won’t, dipshit.”
“Whatever you say, Jim.”
Rowley lights a cigarette and begins to smoke.
My hangover was intense and painful. Every movement caused a wave of nausea to blast upwards towards my head. The kitchen sink was full of festering vomit, and my knowledge of the past night was a blur. In my mailbox was an envelope with no return address. Inside was a note that reads “Thanks again” and two thousand dollars in cash. My client did not disappoint, would have been a shame if he did, as he would have to end up as my next kill.
My fridge was stocked with Miller beer, the perfect way to start a morning.
This morning was already bad. Hot flashes, headaches, and migraines were non-stop. All that brandy and vodka last night must have really done me in. Sitting down at my laptop, I open email. The “click” sound of incoming messages was a sure sign of a good day. Sure enough, at least five more people desire my services.
I drag my finger towards the first one, when suddenly I am struck with the oddest sensation. A loud ringing in my ears begins to hurt me, and it sounds like a train is driving through my wall. My vision begins to shake, as I fall to the floor. I slap at my head, and claw at my forehead, but nothing stops the sensations. The noise escalates and rises louder and louder, and my ear drums pop like a balloon. I close my eyes, and it becomes quiet. My hands are cuffed over my ears, I breathe heavily. I open my eyes to find myself gone from my house and what seems to be earth. All that remains is a pure white nothingness. The floor is hard like a rock, and all four sides of me are the same pure white color. What?
I do not understand. I turn to my right, and see something unbelievable. Sitting in front of me is the largest tree I have ever seen. Approaching it, I touch the bark, and immediately pull my hand away. It seems to be breathing. The tree is breathing. I put my ear against the bark this time, and realize the tree breathes at the same time I do. I back away.
Where the hell am I, and what am I doing here?
Turning to the left sits a shower not much bigger than the average refrigerator.
A shower, a tree, and what appears to be an axe sit around me. Two seconds ago I was sitting in my living room checking email. Now, I sit around tools and objects inside of a pure white prison, a place that seems to go on forever in every direction. The tree begins to breathe at a faster rate, and I notice I am also. Where do I go from here? I try pounding the floor with my fists until they bleed, then I pick up the axe and swim downward. Sparks shoot up, and a horrible noise is made. The floor will not be broken. I pant and sweat. Breathing in and out, I try to get rid of any feelings of anger and confusion, but I cannot focus. The tree moves and breathes at my same rate. I become increasingly agitated with it.
“Stop moving, damn it!” I scream. The axe head makes contact with the gigantic tree, and a loud noise echoes throughout the whiteness. My breathing slows, as does the trees. I stare at the mark I have made on the wood. Seeping through the bark and guts of the timber leaks a dull maroon liquid, much like…blood. The tree bleeds. I hit again and again, and the axe head carries the blood with it. It shoots in every direction, splashes my face and hits the pure white floor. The bark is covered in the crimson, as is the axe. I drop the axe and stare at the swing marks on the tree. On the bottom of the indent lie the words “break me”.
The police know. They know of James Darwin’s murderous intents, they know his home, they know his victims, they have evidence. They know what to do. Detectives Jim Plats and Rowley England accompany a team of officers as they approach James’ home.
“Alright I want you all staying safe. James Darwin is an experienced killer and knows how to defend himself. Use the upmost caution” says Rowley on the way to the house.
The team was nervous. Two armed officers stack on Darwin’s door and two more take a battering ram to its center. One, two, three, down. The door caves in, and officers diffuse inside of the house. Guns in hand, and ready to fire at any second, one finally finds James Darwin, but not like he had expected. James is found lying on his living room floor unconscious. His eyes are standing wide open, and saliva leaks from his mouth, covering the carpet. An officer is heard yelling “I need a medic!”
James is loaded onto an ambulance where tests are taken. An unusual amount of activity is found in his brain, and it puzzles medical staff.
What they don’t know is that James Darwin has become locked inside his mind.
I touch the cool metal of the mysterious shower that sits inside of the white prison. I need a break. The tree that sits in front of this shower is taking a toll on me like no other. I watch its bark move back and forth as the wood inside moves with air. What is this place I am living in? The blood from the tree stains my pale skin.
I turn on the shower and step inside. The red runs off of my hands and face, arms and chest, legs and feet. It swishes around the drain and leaves my sight. I think of my family. They had torn apart from me at a young age. My mother and father split. I never saw them again. With nobody to turn to, I was put up for adoption. I would watch as my friends were stolen from me by adults one by one, until all that remained was me. At the age of twelve I ran away. I lived on my own with nobody else, until I was taken in by a rough group of kids. They taught me to fight and fend for myself, but I was blind to see the awful truth about them. One of the group members picked on me so much for being “softer” than everyone else, so one day I cracked. Me and that asshole fought for over ten minutes, until I accidentally killed him with a rock. The first blood I ever drew from a human being was on that day. The worst part? I felt no guilt for it. My blood ran colder than most.
I became a hit man. A contract killer. Nothing more than a pathetic excuse for a man. I enjoy the hunt and the struggle, and it has become a part of everyday life for me.
No guilt. No feelings. No remorse.
Simply enjoyment and payment.
I am a monster.
As I stood there in the drape of warm, soothing water staring at the Tree, I realized what the purpose of my being in this place was. This place of sheer white and emptiness, with nothing but an old axe, a shower, and the Tree. The place that was wholly myself and nobody else. I was here because of the sins I had committed and the lives I had ruined and taken. As the warm shower water dripped and flooded into my hair, I fall to my knees and weep.
Rowley takes a long drag on his cigarette, as Jim examines James Darwin’s body.
“What’s this guy’s story? He’s not in organized crime or any gangs, yet he’s going about being a contract killer.”
Jim walks back and forth in the observation area. James Darwin, a seemingly normal man, is a hit man responsible for over twenty-two deaths. He was found in his house unconscious, with an immense amount of booze in his system. Yet, if he had passed out from that, it would have worn off by now. It has been three days.
“Rowley, do you have any information on his family?”
Rowley takes in the last bit of smoke from his cigarette. “No, I don’t know s*** about this guy. He’s a real John Doe, other than what you already know about him.”
The case was surprisingly difficult to track. And James still won’t wake…
This thing is the culmination of all my grief and guilt. I need to break this tree, watch it fall, and then I can break free.
I have learned. I am changed.
The blood drips from the Tree, and by now it covers the majority of this endless surface. The white jail cell is filled with blood, and it reaches my ankles.
I cut at the Tree for hours every day, and then I reflect.
It has become a routine for me, for however many days I have been in this place. More than half of the Tree is gone, and I am reaching the end. True redemption.
Swing after swing after swing after swing, and finally, just finally, the Tree falls down with a thump. I have reached the end of this journey. I blink my eyes, and drop the axe. Blood has risen to my knees by now. Breathe in, exhale. In and out, back and forth. I close my eyes, and melt.
I open my eyelids to see two men standing over me. They are wearing police badges and one is holding a flashlight, the other a lit cigarette.
“Jim he’s awake” says one of them.
“Good job Rowley, you can use at least one of your senses” says the other.
Now the one with the flashlight speaks to me. “Anything to say, pretty boy?”
I respond simply.
“Yes...fragile is the heart.”
I close my eyes, breathe in, and exhale.
It’s going to be a glorious day.