Thursday, August 4, 2011

Sleep At Night

Jack was viciously cold in the therapy room. The air conditioner seemed like one of the old, wheezing models that made a living wall of noise over the whisper of air in the vents. The therapist seemed unruffled, though Jack suspected that was thanks to the heavy lab coat. The look was complemented by thick, bottlecap frames and goggled lenses. It gave the therapist an alien look, and Jack couldn't shake the feeling he was being judged. The therapist either didn't care or didn't notice, and was content to scratch hasty and unannounced notes on his clipboard. "So what brings you in today, Mr... Ah, Smith?"
Jack smiled. He tried for disarming. "John, please."
"How can I help you?"
"I'm sitting on a lot of guilt," Jack said honestly. "I haven't been feeling my best lately."
"Guilt?" The therapist asked mildly, making another note. "Why would you be feeling guilty?"
"Thirty seven murders," Jack said honestly. "It's been a really long month for me, and I'm having difficulty sleeping at night."

If the therapist was alarmed, he didn't show it to Jack. "Well, John, you do understand I must call the police with this information, right?"
"Yes. I understand that, but can't it wait until the end of the session?"
"I suppose," the therapist said mildly, rising. "But I cannot let you leave the office until we are through."

The therapist locked the interior door to his office, with a key. The doors were heavy, and wooden. Jack looked distantly at the doors for a moment, then turned back to the doctor. The doctor had put the key in a desk drawer, locking it with another key from his own keyring, and sat back down. "So," the therapist said finally, "let's talk about your guilt."
"Fair enough," Jack said, and began his story from the beginning.

All offices are cut from the same cloth. Sacrifice creativity for productivity, comforts for economy, and space for value. That meant well-built hamster cages, shoving workers into their cubicles to look at carpeted dividers and computer screens. The end result was unsurprising, and lead to a lot of cold, lonely, and depressed people. Living life in the cages was living in the most technical sense, but not really alive. I had felt that way once, but I was determined to get out from underfoot, for better or worse.

You work hard, you get promotions. That's the core of business. But no matter how well you do on the workhorse, the fact of the matter is you're playing a losing game of statistics. There are thirty people on the floor, and only 3 are even as high as middle-management. That means that you are 1 in 27 likely to get a promotion if one of them leaves. That's a pretty low percentage, especially when the people who do the promoting see little more than passing numbers and figures. Performance speaks for itself, in some places, but rarely in offices.

My unraveling began whenever I was desperate for that damned promotion. I was beginning to think of that promotion as the basis for life. I woke up, ate a healthy, brain-building breakfast, went to work, and did all of my work plus some. Showed up early, stayed late, and worked hardest between. I did that for two months, getting employee of the month both times, and realized that as long as my boss was still around, I wasn't getting promoted. Worst still, this was the boss that would give me extra work on top of the work I was already over-doing. It was grunge work, useless filing and record-keeping for his own clients and workload, mostly.

I did it without complaint, like a good little hamster.

After another month, another commendation from the senior management that came with a plastic trophy painted gold, I couldn't help but resent my boss for making me do his work and he gets a pay-raise while I got some plastic. A few months of little sleep don't make a man's mind stable, and mine was wobbling more than a hooker at a dockworker's convention. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was getting angry just seeing my boss, hearing his voice, anything. His name was Richard, but I called him Dick. Dick wasn't a bad boss, but I wasn't a sane guy.

One day, Dick was going to be promoted to a brand new position. His staff had managed highest productivity for the quarter-year, and senior management rewards productivity like that in the best way senior management knows how. They split our section into other sections, and fed us workers from others. That way everyone gets a boost. Dick got a promotion, too. Shiny new office upstairs.

They sent down people from HR to do evals, figure out who was going to be the next big-wig of floor three. Turns out it was a waste of energy, as the asshole hired his nephew fresh out of business school to get the position. The nephew was an asshole, and an idiot, and wasted all of our teams and resources in synergy meetings and rebranding. I hated Dick, but Dick was likable compared to this guy.

Dick was unfortunate enough to be on the phone in the stairwell the next day. When he hung up his call, I called him out on his BS. Stairwells are quiet, empty places. Good places for phone calls, by Dick's logic. Good places for murder, too. I threw him down the stairs. He screamed maybe twice, look of betrayal and fear snapping away with the sound of his spine coming apart. Poor guy. I feel the worst about Dick, as he wasn't a bad guy.

Mostly, anyway. We're all bad.

After the commotion had died down, and Dick's horrible accident had been reported to the police, I followed that nephew-boss-bastard Tom back to his apartment. If Dick had done me so wrong, Tom had done me worse. I was going to fix Tom, just like I had fixed Dick. They were going to learn that lives are worth more than $12.25 an hour. Dick had been an object lesson. I expect Tom was going to learn a harder lesson.

Tom's apartment was a small, quiet little room that resembled nothing more than a dorm. It had a bathroom wedged against a far wall, and the rest of it was all brickwork and cheap tile. Or fake tile. I could never tell the difference.

When it got to be about midnight, I kicked down the door to his apartment. It was flimsy. Particleboard shit that cheap landlords use whenever they want their tenants' homes to get broken into and robbed. I was already wearing gloves, a ski-mask, my black fatigues and boots. The door gave with a half-assed cracking noise, and I charged into the living room. I burst into the living room, and blanched in seeing that Tom had a girlfriend. She was young-looking, maybe legal, maybe not, and was skinny, unnaturally blond, and naked. She screamed when she saw me, probably from being caught screwing, and probably because I looked like the sort of person who would murder her.

She was right, though. I stepped into the room, and started piling into her. I'm a big guy, and I learned a lot of nasty things in ROTC from marine enthusiasts and servicemen-in-training. She was little, and clearly didn't do much working out. When she ran, I caught her arm, and broke it in at least two places. She howled in pain, so I threw her to the ground. She hit the cheap flooring, and choked on a gasp. I slammed my knee into her back, which made her scream more. Stupid whore. I grabbed her head, slamming it into the floor. Blood stained the floor, bright and red. But she still screamed. I'd've let her go had she shut her whore mouth. "Shut up, bitch!" I yelled, and slammed her again. She still screamed. I kept slamming her nose into the floor until she stopped screaming.

Tom wasn't a big guy, or a particularly anything guy, but he apparently collected knives. I saw him lift a big steel monster, and scream at me, blade-tip down. I threw myself out of the way, and he slashed the knife by his girlfriend, missing her and me. I picked myself up, and turned to him. He shook, visibly, and clearly didn't know how to fight with a knife. I relaxed my stance, just like I was taught, and waited. He came out wailing, arm flailing with the knife. I rolled with one slash, juking left and dipping right. The knife caught me twice, but I got an arm around Tom's. That was it, his shoulder made a nasty pop as it was wrenched out of socket.

Poor kid.

He dropped the knife, and I broke his wrist too, for good measure. He collapsed to the ground when I let him go, and I recovered his knife. It looked like someone with a hard-on for Bowie and some Lord of the Rings elf had made a love child with spines. The thing was big, though, at least as long as a machete. I poked my finger to test the blade, sharp as hell, and drove it through Tom's back. He screamed for a minute, and I stomped the handle with a boot. The blade sank into Tom, and I heard the blade wrench into the floor. I stomped it twice more, and kicked Tom in the teeth. He either collapsed or died, I couldn't tell. Blood was everywhere, soaking my pants and shirt, mask and gloves. I looked at Tom's whore, bleeding out on the cheap tile. She was already dead, her face an ugly mess of skin and scab. I kicked her ribs in rage. Goddamned whore should've shut up, but damn it if women aren't just that goddamned stupid.

I took Tom's wallet, hers too, and checked the bedroom for jewels. There were some, so I pocketed those, and one of Tom's pocket knives and lit out of there. I didn't know how long that whole thing had taken, but I didn't want to get busted with that much carnage. I threw away the brass and wallets. Botched robbery was good enough a cover for me, and Tom had learned a damned valuable lesson, as far as I was concerned.

The therapist interrupted Jack, "I'm guessing you weren't arrested for these?"
"Nope, but I still wasn't quite right in the head. I managed to sleep for a few nights, probably more exhaustion than rest. I got worse whenever I stopped being able to sleep a few days later. I was more screwed up from the killings than the lack of sleep."
"You mentioned, what, forty murders? How did the others happen?"
"After hours," Jack began, "about a week later, when I got angry at senior management..."

It's amazing what a lack of sleep, and the guilt of three murders does to the mind. I started seeing ghosts where I walked, hearing screams of terror in my sleep, or when I'm alone in the office. It kept getting louder and louder. Most people would've sought help, but I wasn't sane enough to do that. I was convinced that the bosses at my office were to blame. Those bastards were what drove me to this. So if I killed them, I'd be free of the terrors. I just knew that it was their fault. They'd pay for this... They'd all pay for this.

So I looked up things I never thought I'd look up. I already knew how to make napalm and mustard gas from my time with the ROTC recruits, so I went to work making a fertilizer bomb. Then when I was reasonably sure I had enough ordinance to blow up my office, I made more mustard gas to make sure any son of a bitch that survived the blast wasn't going to make it through round two.

Then I rented a truck and leveled my office. Parked in the underground lot, got out of my truck, and went really far away. I got as far as the city limit when I felt the bomb go off. The truck I'd rented rocked, swerving off the road in surprise. I straighted out, and kept driving.

By the time I'd gotten out of town, and into a motel, the haunting voices were worse. I kept driving, sleeping, and driving, not sure where I was going and what I was doing. A newspaper I had picked up said I had killed 33 people in that bombing. Senior management was among them, and my job was done. Didn't help me any, though, the voices and ghosts had gotten worse...

The therapist wasn't incredibly rattled, but enough to show through the calm sterility of the poker face he put on. Jack wasn't the type to think too hard about things, so he just looked in the middle distance, as if haunted by the silence. The therapist frowned, consulted his notes, and made one final comment before he resolved to call the police. "You mentioned Richard, Tom, and his girlfriend. Plus thirty-three deaths in the bombing. That's thirty-six. You're still short one."

Jack stood up, reaching into his back pocket. Tom's little knife was a switch-blade, and made a quiet clicking noise as the blade locked into place. Jack walked toward the doctor, smile unsettling. "I was just about to get to that."

By the time he was finished, blood was everywhere. On the ceiling, on the walls, on the desk. Family pictures had toppled over, leaving long cracks in glass and covering nice, warm family photos with hot, dripping blood. The whole place was a mess. Jack picked up a the doctor's phone, and threw it into the big window at the front of the office. It shattered, exposing huge bands of light across the cold, bloody room.

The air conditioner clicked off with an audible sigh, and the room felt stiflingly warm with the open window and the AC's absence. A small voice haunted the back of Jack's mind, and rasped nightmares in Jack's mind. Jack ran from the office, to his rental car, and drove away, still unable to sleep at night.

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