Saturday, November 12, 2011

Farewell, My Deer

On a happier note, this is something I wrote a while back after hitting a deer on my way home from school. It was a lousy situation, it cost me a lot of money to repair my car, and I felt terrible about it . . . but I won second place in a writing contest with the poem that it inspired, so I'm happy about that aspect. :D

Farewell, My Deer
The day was long, and I was weary
And the night’s journey home was oh-so-dreary
I knew the risks of the winding terrain
And the lethargic functioning of my sleep-deprived brain
But I got in my car and started to drive
Never thinking that I might not make it alive
As I drove, I reflected on events of the day
Over all the right words I was unable to say
Of the time that I spent, both at work and at school
And the woman I cared for, who made me a fool
She led me and used me and tore me asunder
And though the road worsened, my mind, it did wander
I thought of her face, and I felt like a chump
Then I raised up my eyes, and there was a THUMP!
“Forsooth!” shouted I—my thoughts rattled, unclear
“Either I’m dreaming or I just hit a deer!”
 In the instant that followed, I became quite aware
Of a massive deer carcass, upside-down in the air
With a final pirouette, to the ditch she did tumble
As I swerved to the side, and as I stopped I did mumble,
“Why was it there, in the road standing still?
Was it eating cast-off Fritos, or was it mentally ill?
How could this happen? Why me? Why now?
And look at this dent—I might as well have hit a cow!
My life keeps going south—indeed, yes, it sucks
And now I’ve earned the righteous anger of the area’s bucks.”
I drove on and I pondered o’er this, my brainteaser
Then I remembered at last my near-empty freezer
“This isn’t so bad,” I mused, not accepting defeat
“My car may be damaged, but at least I have meat.”
So I made a U-turn and drove back to make good
Only to see my battered deer strapped to some redneck’s truck hood
“Flying Fig Newtons!” I swore, vigorously shaking my fist
“I was feeling alright, but now I’m just perturbed!”
I turned around yet again, and I started for home
Angry and bitter and feeling alone
My day, it did bite, from beginning to end
And now I’m complaining to you, my old friend
My advice to you now, whether you heed it or not
Is when you’ve had a rough day, definitely do not
Let your feelings distract you from getting home safe
Or you, too, might mangle some poor woodland waif
And it’s not just the guilt, either; in fact, there’s another
It turns out this damage . . . well, my insurance won’t cover
So lest you wish to pay two grand for a non-crumpled hood
Keep your eyes on the road, or life’ll clock you, but good.

To Occupy or Not to Occupy . . . Is There a Question?

As of late, the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has been getting a lot of publicity, gaining a lot of supporters and shaking up America with the sheer scale of its protests. I’m not buying what they’re selling though. Why not? Because I don’t know what their goals are, and apparently, neither do they.

That’s what scares me most about OWS: its members are, essentially, directionless. They don’t know what they’re doing, but by God (if they believe in one), they’re going to protest. What are they protesting? What do they want? I don’t know, it differs depending on who you ask. I’m hearing a lot of complaints about, obviously, Wall Street and big business and how there is such a divide between the 1% who control America’s wealth and the valiant 99% who are standing up to say they’re not going to take it anymore. I’m still confused, though: what, exactly, do they want?

Here’s what I do know: the “redistribution” of wealth will accomplish nothing. Taxing the crap out of the rich, while it may boost the economy in the short term, will drive us even deeper into the proverbial doo-doo in the long run. As Margaret Thatcher once said, sooner or later socialists will run out of other people’s money, and then where will they be? What do these people expect? That Wall Street will bow to the demands of some not-so-happy campers and rain money from the sky upon them? It’s a heartbreaking fantasy that simply will not come to pass, and the OWS movement would be better off doing something to actually help their communities rather than begging for alms like the blind beggars they seem more and more like with every passing day—and blind, they most certainly are. And with people like Roseanne Barr and Michael Moore backing it, I know it's not something I or America should want any part of.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there a lot of people out there who need to be paying their taxes but aren’t. I think that if there must be an income tax, then it should be a flat rate that works for all, and all should be paying it (except for special cases like military servicemen and women, because they’re paying enough as it is, and I am very grateful for it). I don’t think we really need progressive tax brackets if everybody is actually paying their taxes, but even if we did have a progressive scale, I don’t think the wealthy need to take as big a hit as many seem to think they do. Nor do I think big business needs to be “punished.” I agree that our corporations and manufacturers should be doing more to provide jobs for Americans, especially in this economic crisis, but at the same time, I understand why they’re outsourcing jobs; when the demand for goods and services becomes too high, sometimes production costs dictate that you cut corners in order to stay afloat. It sucks, yes, but when you’ve got to choose between paying workers here more or workers there less, sometimes the only logical choice is to pay workers there less. Furthermore, there are some jobs that people here just don’t want to do. That’s still not an excuse, but still . . . just saying. Nevertheless, Exxon needs to be paying taxes just like the rest of us. So does G.E. And I don’t know what the heck is going on with Bank of America . . . still, I agree that those who have been blessed with much by the system should do their part to keep that system afloat. It makes no sense to give them ridiculous tax rebates when the economy is swishing steadily around the bowl, about to take its final plunge.

The biggest problem we face, though, is that American initiative—our drive to overcome our obstacles, to rise above our circumstances and find our niche—has been eroded to the point that we feel we are entitled to something even if we haven’t earned it. With each passing day, with each tent that is pitched outside a city hall, we are trudging another step closer to the dystopic future that Ayn Rand foretold in Atlas Shrugged, wherein the “haves,” no matter how hard they had to work to reach their level of success, are vilified for what they have gained. How many Hank Reardons will we see in the years to come, forced to give up the secret to their success simply because God forbid that one person should do better than anyone else and get away with it? If somebody figures out something good that serves a purpose and people like, why should he or she have to share with the competitors? It makes no sense, but I get the distinct feeling that this is what the deluded end of the liberal left wants, because they don’t like people who do well, unless, of course, it is themselves.

Fact check, kids: how did America become a global superpower in the first place? We did things better! We made things better! Our industry was unparalleled, our ingenuity was unmatched and our tenacity made us the very best. Big business put us on the map, because of geniuses like Ford and people who were just plain lucky like Rockefeller, and for all of the liberal left’s namby-pamby boohooing about the social injustice of capitalism, let’s just think for a moment about how crappy things would be without it. Think of the technological advances, such as the medical breakthroughs, we never would have known about without the resources a free market gave us. We’d be just another third-world country without the benefits of capitalism and industry, and although I apologize in advance for being callous, I don’t want to live in a third-world country. America rose to the top of the food chain on its own steam because we had the drive and our progress was something the rest of the world wanted. We had the American dream—we used capitalism as our model, and we tempered it with kindness. Yeah, kindness! Complain all you want about our heartless American government, but we do quite a bit in terms of humanitarian aid, abroad and on a domestic level. We went into Nazi Germany and helped put Hitler out of the world’s misery. We went to Iraq and took out a dictator that killed his own people for “funsies.” And yet the world hates us for our arrogance, our interference and what we have been blessed with, while incessantly demanding more. Shall we bankrupt ourselves pulling every drowning man out of the maelstrom? It cannot be done.

Now, I’m not saying we should discontinue all humanitarian programs—shoot, no! Frankly, as a Christian and simply as a human being myself, that would be wrong on far too many levels. I’m not saying we should cut off all the foreign countries that have grown to depend on us or all the people here in the United States who need Welfare to survive (we do need to regulate Welfare better, though. I support drug testing). No, what I’m saying is that we here in America need to become less dependent on these things. In the United States, more must be done to secure job opportunities for citizens, but in order for this to work, said citizens must be willing to do their share, without waiting on someone else to step in and make their obstacles just go away in an instant. Some may say that the “bleeding heart” left are the last to admit where they obtain the money that they so generously give away. I say it is quite the contrary: they proudly proclaim that they are taking it back from the deep pockets of the corporate fat cats and the unappreciative wealthy of the nation who don't know the meaning of "paying it forward,” when in fact they are indeed nothing but pickpockets who are unwilling to do anything for themselves and hide behind a Robin Hood-like façade of looking out for the “little guy.”

Here’s the thing: if I were wealthy, I would absolutely be charitable. I would absolutely pay my taxes. I would absolutely attempt to handle my business affairs in an ethical manner. I would absolutely be a fair employer (if I owned my own business), and I would absolutely use what I had been given for the good of humankind (or world domination. Yeah, probably world domination . . . or both, even). Here’s the thing, though: right now, I barely have two pennies to scrape together (okay, that’s an exaggeration. I have plenty of pennies, but nothing on paper or in an account somewhere).

Yep, that’s right: I'm in the 99%. So is my family. My dad is disabled and just barely scraping by on Social Security. He worked almost 20 years at a low-paying job with gosh-awful hours just because it was the only way for him to make ends meet, and then multiple sclerosis forced him into early retirement and worse, early decrepitude. My mom has to take care of him 24/7 so he doesn’t fall down and kill himself, and she cannot afford to hire anyone to help her. I've been on the ragged edge of financial disaster for my entire life. But I don't feel the need to "Occupy" anything. I'm not going to wave signs and scream at people and complain about how life isn't fair. I'm just going to keep working hard and hope that one day it pays off. So far, so good, I think. And there are people who would probably bash me for where I am right now, people who would tell me I don’t deserve to be in college while there are people who are struggling just to find a job. Well, let me tell you, I earned this. I rose up from nothing. I had no money of my own, no rich relatives to ask for a handout—nothing except my own personal drive to succeed. I studied hard so I could get my GED, and then I studied hard to get a 26 on my ACT. I earned academic scholarships through hard work and a determination to prove that I was worth giving a chance to, and thankfully some very generous people chose to grant me that opportunity. Now I’m at the University of Missouri—the best and most prestigious journalism school in the country, if not the world, and I am only here because of the hard work I put forth and the connections I made along the way. I am very thankful for what I have been blessed with, and if some nobody from Couch, Missouri can make it this far, anybody can. I still have less than $1,000 to my name, but I’m still working hard and doing the best I can. And I’m going to continue to persevere, because I have hope. Not the clichéd Obama-poster brand of hope, which is the political equivalent of waiting for Santa Claus to deliver you from the cruel fate of socks for Christmas, but the kind of hope for a better tomorrow that comes from putting your all forward and knowing (or at least praying) that everyone around you is doing the same, and in so doing is helping to improve the world around them. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Some Things on My Mind

Sooooo . . . I've come to realize a few things in the past few weeks.
     First, even though I thought I had come to grips with my role in the social order, that's really not true. I've got a lot of resentment built up that is starting to show itself in ways I didn't intend. I've lashed out at some people who didn't deserve it, and things have been awkward with us ever since, no matter how hard I try to fix things. Some things, once broken, can't be fully mended, and it's taking its toll. Dangit!
     Secondly, I can no longer lie to myself and do things I really don't enjoy doing just because I feel a social obligation to do so. To put it bluntly, I hate going to bars. Like, unless I have somebody to talk to, something to eat or something to do in order to bide the time, I'm going to be pretty bored. It's getting harder and harder to pretend I'm having a good time, and when I slip up, it makes other people feel badly . . . therefore the simple answer is not to go. Why did it take me so long to figure that out? Haha, I'm really not mad about this one, but I feel like an idiot for not drawing that conclusion sooner. Dangit!
     Thirdly, I have let work start to frustrate me, too, and that's no bueno, tambien. It's just a bit maddening when you go out of your way to excel, when you put in as many hours as you can and do your job to the very best of your ability, and . . . well, it's one thing to be ignored entirely, and I think that would almost be better. No, what's really bad is when a computer error makes you look like an opportunistic liar, and it takes a half-hour to prove that you really are doing as well as you say you are. Dangit!
     Lastly, I have come to realize that I have been a bit unfair to some people in my life. I look at them with disdain or laugh at them behind their back because I think they're being dishonest or degrading themselves to get what they want, even though I'm doing the exact same thing. I always prided myself on honesty, and even though there are some things I would never lie about, such as work (if any prospective or current employers are reading this), but I've told enough "white lies" and cut enough corners in my personal life to the point that I can no longer point fingers in good conscience (not that I should to begin with, but I digress). I say I don't like drama, but I'm still an actor. I still pretend when I'm with others, often with the expectation of gaining favor or respect in return, and that's not cool. It sickens me when I see others BS their way through life, and I can't keep doing it myself. As Damon Wayans would say, "Homie don't play dat." Dangit!
     How many times can a good guy screw up, and in how many ways, until he's no longer a good guy? I've been coming close to the edge, but I don't want to fall. Hopefully I won't have to find out . . . Dangit!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

"The Last Thrill"

This is a short story I wrote last year. It's my first real attempt to tell a dark story, and I think I at least succeeded in that respect. You know the drill: By all means--read, enjoy, show it to a friend, but PLEASE don't try to pass it off as your own. That's . . . just uncool. 

2 February 2010
The Last Thrill
C. I. Roll
            “If you came here expecting a quick, merciful death,” the lean, grey-haired man said in an authoritative voice, the shadow of a smile floating ominously on his lips as he spoke, “you will be sorely disappointed. It will be slow. It will be excruciating. And I assure you, it will be worth every penny.”
            A soft round of applause went up throughout the lavishly-decorated auditorium full of affluent and well-to-do citizens, and the man on stage took a modest bow. He straightened out the crinkles in his crisp navy blue suit and allowed his ghost of a smile to become a warm, beaming force of raw charisma. He stretched out his hands to the crowd and continued his presentation.
            “For a surprisingly low price, we can offer the solution to the age-old question: what do you give the man—or woman—who has everything? Simple! You give this person the only thing money ordinarily could never buy: the perfect death. Who among us can completely control the circumstances of their own death? Death lurks behind every corner, in every shadow, and it does not stop to ask you for personal preferences. But we can offer you the death you always wanted—the death you always dreamed of in secret, but could never ensure.”
            This bold statement garnered more applause. But there was one person in the audience who could only look on in a mixture of awe and revulsion.
            “This can’t be for real,” Lauren Bonahan said in quiet disbelief, barely able to touch her finely-catered food. She had come to this dinner party hoping to have an uneventful dinner with a friend, but now her appetite was fading fast. “It has to be some kind of joke.”
            “It’s no joke,” replied Nancy Hale, practically enthralled by the speaker’s words. “I think it’s pretty cool, actually.”
            Lauren turned and stared at her best friend, shocked. “You can’t be serious.”
            “What?” Nancy protested, throwing her hands up defensively. “Think about it, it could be kind of fun.”
            Lauren was about to say exactly how she felt about the matter, but the speaker raised his voice to an almost booming level.
            “Think of it, my friends!” he cried forcefully. “The ultimate thrill—indeed, the Last Thrill. And you can know this thrill, starting at the modest price of ten thousand dollars.”
            The old, dimly-lit opera house was abuzz with chatter and applause, and soon people from every table were pressing forward to talk to the debonair master of ceremonies.
            “Come on,” Nancy called, eagerly grabbing at Lauren’s shoulder. “Let’s go meet him!”
            I have to be dreaming, Lauren thought to herself, feeling like a stranger in her own body as Nancy pulled her numbly to her feet. This can’t be happening.
            As Nancy dragged her through the crowd of unbelievably wealthy socialites, Lauren reflected that it had always been Nancy who got her into messes like this—Nancy who always wanted to play with fire. In private school, where their immense fortunes had brought them together both as best friends and as the objects of resentment and disdain from their peers, it had been Nancy who got them in trouble by sneaking cigarettes into the bathroom. In the expensive college their respective daddies had selected for them, it had been Nancy who brought the boys (usually of questionable moral character) and alcohol to the dorms and nearly got them both thrown out on their squeaky-clean, jewelry-laden ears. And now, three years out of college, it was as Lauren had always feared in the back of her mind but never felt possible until now: Nancy’s going to get us killed. It was always a mostly irrational fear—usually brought on by one of Nancy’s crazy boyfriends or her equally demented driving, but now Lauren felt it in every imaginable form of intuition she had within her, and she was unable to do anything to stop her impulsive friend.
            The man in the perfect blue suit flashed an almost predatory smile, but Lauren couldn’t find the strength to pull away from Nancy’s enthusiastic grip. Soon Nancy began gushing over how amazing the man’s presentation was, and how she would just love to hear more about the services offered by his company; the man in blue was happy to oblige.
            “We offer our standard set of packages, from murder to fire to gangland execution, but we also have customizable add-ons, usually at around a thousand dollars each, depending on the proclivities of the patron,” the man said coolly, as though he were describing the features of an island resort. “Prices are also subject to change if the patron prefers a certain setting for his or her thrill. We also offer a ten-percent discount for the couple’s package—a very good deal if you and someone else have a suicide pact.”
            Get me out of here! Lauren thought desperately, pulling at Nancy’s arm, but Nancy wouldn’t budge.
            “Hey, let’s get the couple’s package!” Nancy squealed enthusiastically, brushing a few errant strands of blonde hair out of her face. “Just imagine what the tabloids would say!”
            Yeah, I’m sure we’d get a big laugh out of it—oh, wait, we wouldn’t, because we’d be DEAD! Lauren wanted to scream, but the words simply wouldn’t come out.
            “I don’t care,” Lauren choked out softly. “Please, let’s just go.”
            “Hold on!” Nancy hissed, annoyed. She turned back to the man in the blue suit. “Go on, I’m listening.”
            “Now, as I was saying, you can add any options you like to your scenario—say, if you want to be shot to death by an armed intruder, we can add sexual assault or even have your body thrown into the deep freeze afterward.” The man’s oily smile was spreading from ear to ear now. “The possibilities really are endless.”
            This has to be a sick joke, Lauren thought, horrified at the repulsive man and his twisted sales pitch. This can’t be real—I have to be dreaming! Why can’t I wake up?
            “Or, if you would rather have something a bit more generic, we do have the standard package. Eustace here can do wonders with a knife,” the man said, gesturing to a short, fresh-faced man in his early thirties who stood by the buffet table, helping himself to some roast beef. As he delicately carved a slice, Eustace smiled and tipped a cordial wave in their direction with the large knife in his hand; the sheer friendliness of this stone-cold killer made Lauren shudder.
            “Come on, Lauren!” Nancy insisted, pulling her mortified friend close in her patented I-really-want-something-and-I-won’t-stop-until-I-get-it embrace. “This could be fun! Think about it—our ‘Last Thrill’!”
            “No!” Lauren cried, finally breaking loose from Nancy’s smothering clutches. “This is sick! Disgusting! I can’t believe you’re actually serious about this!”
            “But—this could be our last chance to do something big together,” Nancy stammered, stunned at her friend’s revulsion. “We’ve done everything together. I don’t know, don’t you think it would be fun to die together, too?”
            GOD, no!” Lauren shouted, not caring how many of Daddy’s friends were staring at her as though she had escaped from a mental institution. “This—no—I’m leaving, Nancy. This isn’t right!”
            As Lauren turned to leave, Nancy reached toward her, but the man in blue stopped her, gently placing a slender hand on her arm.
            “Let her go,” he said soothingly. “We can’t force her to accept the thrill.”
            “I guess not,” Nancy admitted, and as Lauren walked out of the room to the cold, dark city streets outside, she cringed when she heard Nancy’s perky voice pipe up and say, “Well, I’ll take Eustace with the knives for ten thousand, Alex!”
            When she got home late that night, Lauren spent the better part of an hour in a hot shower, trying to rinse away every trace of the horrible feeling she had in the pit of her stomach. It’s only a nightmare, she kept telling herself, hoping she would eventually believe it. I’m going to wake up in the morning and everything will be okay. None of this ever happened.
            At that moment, her cell phone went off. Reaching out of the shower, Lauren grabbed it off the countertop and answered, “Hello?”
            “Oh, Lauren . . . you shouldn’t have run off like that!” Nancy chided, a strange, giddy laughter in her voice. “I was just playing around with you!”
            “Tell me that was all just a bad joke,” Lauren whispered, exasperated but hoping against her feeling of dread that Nancy would tell her the lie she wanted to hear. “You’ve pulled crap like this before—please, just tell me you’re messing with me again.”
            Nancy laughed slightly on the other end, causing an icy chill to run up Lauren’s spine.
            “I really wish you’d reconsider,” she said in a hushed whisper. “This is seriously the coolest thing we could possibly do together. Besides . . . dying alone can’t be any fun.”
            “Nancy, please, just tell me you’re not going to go through with this,” Lauren pleaded.
            “Good night, Lauren,” Nancy sulked. “God—why do you have to be so difficult?”
            Lauren wanted to retort back, but Nancy had already hung up. Lauren looked down at the phone in her hand, considered redialing, and let out a yawn, realizing how completely drained she felt. Barely able to keep her eyes open, she set the phone aside, grabbed a towel, and got ready for bed.
            The remainder of the night was hardly peaceful. Lauren’s dreams were haunted by images of blood—by Nancy’s cocky, smiling, carefree face suddenly cut to pieces by a flashing knife—by Eustace’s pleasant, friendly form hunched over Nancy’s mutilated body, adding a few final touches to his masterwork of gore. I have to stop her, before it’s too late! Lauren thought frantically, tumbling out of bed and grabbing at the clothes that were strewn about the room. She lunged at her door in the dark, and it seemed to melt in front of her. But it is too late, the man in blue’s voice intoned in the back of her mind. Too late for her . . . and too late for you. Lauren awoke violently, pitching herself backward out of bed and landing on the ice-cold floor with a dull thud. With sweat pouring down her face, she staggered into the dark bathroom and felt around for the faucet. Finding it, she splashed her face with cold water.
            It was only a dream, Lauren reasoned with herself. Maybe it all was. But the images in her head were so vivid, so real. In her mind’s eye she saw herself at Nancy’s door, which hung ominously ajar. As she hazily ventured inside, the first thing to seize her attention was the thick, metallic scent of blood—lots of it. The dream was nothing more than a blood-soaked fog, but one which was gnawing away at her very sanity. But it wasn’t real, Lauren reminded herself once again. Still, the harrowing question remained: if it wasn’t real, why could she still smell the blood? Dreading the answer in the deepest recesses of her soul, Lauren reached for the light switch and slowly, reluctantly flipped it on, in much the same spirit as an executioner ultimately dooming the condemned. What she saw on the floor of the shower made her choke back a sob: her clothes from the previous night’s morbid adventure, bunched up and soaking wet with water and Nancy’s blood, precisely where she had left them after staggering back in that night.
            “No,” Lauren wept, picking up the blood-soaked evening dress and holding it to her trembling body. It had been no dream; she had been to Nancy’s penthouse apartment in the night, and found what remained of Eustace’s handiwork. Now her best friend in the world—her sweet, crazy, free-spirited friend—was dead, practically by her own consent, and Lauren had not been able to do a thing to talk her out of it.
            Lauren knelt to the floor for a few excruciating moments, clutching her wet clothes and letting her tears flow freely. But this passed with time. Soon her face hardened and she rose, knowing what needed to be done. There would be no more rest today, not while there was a much more pressing task at hand.
            It was daybreak now, and all was quiet in the quaint office behind the old opera house. The grey-haired man, still wearing his pristine blue suit, sat lazily behind his mahogany desk. The oncoming sunrise sent him into one of his many flights of fancy, which was unfortunately interrupted when suddenly his secretary, a burly man more aptly described as a bouncer, strode forcefully into the luxurious office.
            “Sir, you have a visitor,” the large man said curtly, his perpetual grimace more baleful than normal. “It’s a girl.”
            “Well, send her in,” the man in blue replied offhandedly, still lost in the warming glow of sunrise and wanting the sensation to linger forever.
            “She was carrying this,” the secretary said disgustedly, loosely holding up a .45 pistol the way a horrified babysitter might hold up a badly-soiled diaper.
            “Ahhhh, one of those visitors!” the man in blue declared, sitting up straight in his chair. “Well? Send her in.”
            “Are you certain?” the secretary asked, raising a caterpillar-like eyebrow quizzically.
            “Of course!” insisted the man in blue. “You have her gun—unless she has a machete tucked away somewhere that you missed, I doubt I’m in any further danger.”
            Grumbling somewhat, the secretary lumbered out of the room. Soon he returned, dragging a tall, pretty woman with long brown hair by the elbow. He then forcibly shoved her down into one of the large, cushioned chairs opposite the desk. The woman allowed herself to be treated thusly, but her dark eyes betrayed a seething hatred that would frighten even the coldest of hearts.
            Manners, Aaron!” the man in blue called out, extending a hand toward his disgruntled employee. “This young lady is a guest; treat her as such.”
            Aaron relented and exited then, emitting a low, reluctant growl as he did so. The man in blue, however, seemed to think being left alone with his visitor was a very good idea.
            “So tell me, my dear, what brings you to my establishment?” he asked, smiling with Grinch-like sincerity.
            “You know why,” she snarled furiously. “You killed Nancy Hale.”
            The man paused for a moment, as if trying to recall why the name seemed so familiar, then smiled warmly as recognition flashed.
            “Ahh, yes! The girl from the party!” he exclaimed, snapping his fingers in triumph. “Nice girl. Friend of yours?”
            He glanced at the expression on Lauren’s face and frowned. “I guess so.”
            “You took my gun,” Lauren sighed, “Now are you going to kill me or what?”
            “Kill you?” the man in blue blurted in mock incredulity, “Why would we want to do that? Unless, of course, your check is forthcoming . . . ?”
            “What? No!” Lauren cried, taken aback. “What is wrong with you? Don’t you get it? I came here to kill you! And there is nothing you can say or do that can keep me from going public with this—this sick operation you have here. Do you understand me?”
            “What I understand,” the man in blue replied slowly, “is that you clearly do not understand the wonderful service we provide. What more could the wealthy, the affluent or the completely and utterly bored possibly want out of life other than the right way to end it? Your friend, whether you choose to admit it or not, decided that it was her time. She chose to die the way she wanted to, at the very peak of her existence. Doesn’t it strike you as a better death—a more noble death—than one spent old and infirm in a nursing home, finally finding relief after years of slow, rotting pain?”
            “A better death?” Lauren was astonished at this man’s audacity. “Let’s say you’re right. Maybe there is some measure of warped dignity in being murdered by a sick man with a knife, but that doesn’t make it right. It’s still murder!”
            “Call it what you will,” the man in blue murmured, a serpentine look in his eyes, “but it was she, not I and certainly not dear young Eustace, who chose the circumstances of last night. It was her choice—her blessed, personal choice.”
            “Blessed?” Lauren spat, incredulous. “For someone who finds death so attractive, you certainly don’t seem to want any personal experience with it.”
            “Explain,” the man prodded, leaning across the desk with steepled fingers.
            “You have that gorilla working the front desk to protect you. He took my gun,” Lauren stated matter-of-factly. Her eyes were moist with tears, but they were bitter rather than mournful. “Doesn’t that strike you as a bit hypocritical; the peddler of assisted suicide turns out to be scared of death?”
            “Not at all,” the man replied quickly, leaning back and folding his arms defensively.
            “Really?” Lauren retorted, leaning forward in an identical fashion to the man’s earlier pose. “Explain.”
            “Of course,” the man said coolly, “I am no more hypocritical than the man who declines onions on his hamburger. Some people welcome death, others do not; I fall into the latter category, but stand ready and willing to offer my services to those who do not see life the way I do.”
            “Sounds like you’ve got this all figured out,” Lauren said tersely. “But you can talk all you like; when I walk out that door, the first thing I’m going to do is go to the police.”
            “Go ahead,” the man in blue answered calmly, gesturing toward the door. “This isn’t the first time that somebody hasn’t understood my business. We have an exceptional legal team, as well as some very good friends in very high places, many of whom your family has no doubt known for years, and many of whom you no doubt saw at my gala last night. Believe me when I say we are well above the law. Besides, even if the media got hold of this, the fact remains that any publicity, as they say, is good publicity. And in my line of work, name recognition is a very valuable commodity.”
            “You can’t be serious,” Lauren exclaimed in disbelief, on the verge of jumping out of her chair.
            “Why not?” the man in blue asked innocently. “Look at the tabloids! Controversy sells, and there is nothing the rich and famous are drawn to more than controversy.”
            He leaned closer at this, and dropped his voice to a whisper.
            “The real truth, my child, is that until people start to see death for what it really is—just an ending and nothing more—they will always be drawn to it. That’s what the Last Thrill really is,” he said with a wry smile, “It’s the thrill of the unknown.”
            Lauren wanted to speak—to tell the man in blue exactly what she really thought of him, his business, and where he would be more than welcome to go—to seize the letter opener on the desk and carve Nancy’s name across his scalp—but she could find neither the words nor the motivation. All the hatred, all the rage, and all the venom in her heart had simply drained out, and she was empty inside. She looked at him, neither with contempt nor with any measure of pity, and stood.
            “Well then, I guess we have nothing more to discuss, sir. I’ll see myself out,” she said solemnly, walking away.
            The man in the navy blue suit watched her leave, waiting until she was through the door to call jovially, “Don’t worry—even if you go public with this, we won’t kill you or anything. Unless you pay us, of course!”
            While the man in the office laughed harshly at his own joke, Lauren walked away in silence, maintaining her perfect steely composure throughout the taxi ride home and the plodding transition from elevator to penthouse. Then, when she was finally locked away from the outside world, she exploded. She sobbed, she screamed, she punched an impressive hole through her sheetrock, but nothing could ease her pain. She turned on the television, seeing the same countless news stories of wanton death and destruction in a new and twisted light. How many weren’t random at all? How many . . . ? She tried to calm herself and went into the kitchen, but she couldn’t bring herself to cook anything—how could she? She frantically rifled through her list of contacts, trying to find somebody—anybody—she could trust with this knowledge, but there was no one there—absolutely no one. In many ways, Nancy had been the only friend Lauren could ever have trusted with something this big. Nancy was the wild, enthusiastic one who always had the answers, no matter the crisis, and Lauren was the timid, straight-laced one, the one who never took risks, the one who was afraid to live her life. Nancy was the one who was always there to support her, but Nancy was gone; now Lauren had no one. Her attempt to kill the man responsible for Nancy’s death had failed miserably, and now she was completely, utterly alone. What do I do now? Where do I go from here?
            Lauren sat alone on her couch for a long time; not eating, not sleeping, but only staring at the cell phone that lay on her glass-top coffee table. Amongst the numerous business cards scattered across the table, there were several prominent, respectable journalists, some less scrupulous tabloid hounds, and even some news bloggers. But there was no guarantee that they weren’t privy to the “big secret”—even if they weren’t, it was as the man had told her: any publicity was good publicity. Then, of course, there was trusty old 911—last resort of the desperate soul. But the same problem applied to the police, and if she couldn’t trust them, who could she really trust? Not her high society acquaintances, that much was certain; most of her “friends” had been at the dinner party, and even those who hadn’t been there were too consumed by their general apathy to care about something this important. Not her family, far away from everything on vacation in the tropics—her family, who had never cared where she was or what she did, and certainly weren’t about to break precedent now.
            There was another card in the midst of her pile, one which made her blood run cold and her skin crawl just as much as the man to whom it belonged. Somehow Nancy must have dropped it in her purse the previous night, or had she unconsciously picked it up herself during her confrontation earlier that day? Whatever the case may be, there it was, grinning up at her like a white cardboard demon, ready to devour her soul at a moment’s notice. Lauren was afraid to look at it, but she couldn’t bring herself to get rid of it, either; it was her last remaining link to Nancy, even though it was indirectly responsible for her death. Lauren rested her beautiful, sorrowful face in her hands and thought about the man’s last words to her. This has been a nightmare, she thought, but maybe there is a way to put an end to it. Maybe . . .
            The thought was horrific, but her weary, tortured mind entertained it nevertheless; how could she not consider it? Was not every other option available to her exhausted?
            After this nightmare, don’t I deserve a thrill? Lauren reasoned with herself, laughing and crying simultaneously. I have nothing left. I have nobody else. God help me, he’s right; what else is there for me? What else could I possibly do? What else . . .?
            Suddenly all became clear. Lauren dried her eyes, newfound purpose reigniting her soul. Her smile grew, almost monstrously, and she lorded over her myriad scatter plot of cards like some grandiose puppeteer. Oh, yes, she knew exactly what needed to be done.
            With a final low chuckle, Lauren Bonahan reached across the table and selected a card. She then picked up her phone and started dialing, pressing each button in a giddy, almost crazed motion, almost comical in its deliberate forcefulness. She held her breath as the phone rang, then exhaled deeply when a familiar voice gave reply. Her pounding heart began to slow, and Lauren closed her eyes, a peaceful smile on her lips.
            Maybe I can wake up from this after all.

Friday, September 23, 2011


*Note: I wrote this a really long time ago. I'm just too tired to give ya anything new*

“It’s only words, and words are all I have to take your heart away.”—Robin Gibb

Words, communications—these are the most powerful weapons, the most effective persuaders, and the easiest tools in the world to abuse. Words can exalt, and words can debase. Words can both end wars and start them. Words can bring forth love, and they can also drive it away just as quickly. The mastery of words is something I strive toward constantly, and it is a personal battle well worth waging. With the right words, one could conceivably save the world—or destroy it. This, then, is the question: which shall I do? Shall I fashion myself as the world’s savior, or its destroyer? Shall I let love or bitterness guide me, as either force would motivate me toward equal levels of greatness? Will mine be a legacy of rage or benevolence?

Since early childhood, I developed a keen interest in the written word. Its many quirks and eccentricities thrilled me, and I resolved to learn them well. I devoured reading material with a voracious spirit that stunned my elders and garnered disdain from my less-inclined peers, and before long I knew that my calling lay not merely in reading, but writing as well. I was no speaker—true, I loved to talk, but I lacked the interpersonal skills to be anything more than unsettling when speaking to a crowd. People could see through me, and I found that disconcerting, so naturally my mannerisms would convey the unease I felt to the audience. Worse, those who didn’t find me disturbing simply found me humorous, which was yet another step in the wrong direction; my desired image was shot. So it was that my reputation of being a “creeper” was born, and since nobody would ever want to hear what a “creeper” had to say, I realized that it would be through my first love of print that my ideas would be acknowledged, and indeed, respected.

Those who would debate the undeniable power of words should look no further than the history books. They should look at the political juggernauts of the 1940s, from FDR to Winston Churchill to even the odious Adolf Hitler. What was key in their rise to power? Words. Communications. If Hitler were a sheepish, stammering fool with a soft, quavering voice, it would not have mattered what his ideas were, good or bad; nobody would have listened to him. Hitler knew what to say and how to say it, and before long, he was a force to be reckoned with. Although Hitler was a genocidal fiend, and I would never wish to be anything like him, he does drive home the point that charisma, both in literature and in life, is vital when it comes to getting what one wants in life. I lack charisma in my interpersonal communications, but give me a pen and paper—THEN you’ll see what I can really do. I can and will bend the inner workings of the world to meet my expectations, and all it will take is a long road of toil and a lot of carefully-chosen words.

It is ironic, really; I never wanted to be a leader. I lack the patience for leadership, and I have never before been an assertive individual. But a lot of things have happened in the past year to sway my judgement a bit. I have come to realize that people are indeed a great deal like sheep, and they are all-too-easily led. Once again, Hitler proves that with just the right verbal push, people can be persuaded to go along with anything, no matter how preposterous the idea or action may actually be. As far as I’m concerned, if people are willing to be led by idiots, I might as well become one of those idiots (figuratively speaking, of course). By this, I don’t mean I wish to become a politician—I do have some scruples. Rather, I’d like to try my hand at reshaping the way people go about living their lives. Media has done its fair share to ruin the way society functions, and as such, I feel that media may be just the thing to remedy society as well. It will not be easy to save society, however, as many do not wish to be saved. Deliberate ignorance runs rampant in our society, a by-product of our blind desire to avoid accountability, and like Stephen in the Bible, I run the risk of being stoned to death by the unwashed and uneducated masses who stop up their ears to avoid hearing the truth. This brings me to my ultimate question: is it worth it?

I ask myself every day as I contemplate my future. Is trying to save the world from its own stupidity really worth it, or am I wasting my breath by screaming at a wall? Can one man truly make a difference? Am I the man to do it? Why me? And then, finally, why not? Why can’t I do my part to try and fix the filthy mess our world has become? Why not make an effort to raise public awareness and get people to think? I can be Churchill. I can be Socrates. I can be whoever I want to be and more. I can be the one to make things good again. But that’s where my bravado ends. Even though I know what needs to be done, and that I have the ability to do it, I’m still left with the bitterness of life. I’m still left asking, “So what?” So what if I can change the world? Why do I need to be the good guy all the time? Why don’t I just use my skills, take what’s rightfully mine, and change the rules completely to suit me? Who cares about everyone else? They’re just going to turn on you anyway. “Oh, please, give that knife an extra twist; I think you may have missed that last vertebra.”

Thinking like that is the reason why people are so messed up. As humans, all we ever do is take advantage of each other, and that’s just not going to fly anymore. We should be beyond that by now, not from an “evolutionary” standpoint but from a societal one. We have all the resources we could possibly need to survive, and yet we still live in a world with crime, poverty and starvation. It’s going to have to stop if we’re going to make it much further in existence. As tempting as it may be to just throw all hope out the window and become a destroyer, it all comes back to Spider-Man: with great power comes great responsibility. Power I have, in the form of my writing skills. I am every bit as adept in the use of the English language as a skilled blacksmith is at forging iron, or a renowned chef in blending ingredients to make a divine culinary delicacy, and it is my responsibility to use that power to benefit mankind. Wisdom, which at first seems a curse in the face of ignorance, is truly a gift, one which must be used to illuminate the dark recesses of the world we live in, not a hindrance to be cast aside or ignored. I have made my choice, and that choice is to conquer media and change the world for the better. What will you do?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

"Conflicting Desires"

I'm waiting on a video of me singing karaoke to upload to YouTube. While I wait on that horrific butchering of Alice Cooper to emerge into the vast, virtual world of the Internetz, here's a short story I wrote over a year ago in a creative writing class at Missouri State University-West Plains. Let me tell ya, I wrote my very best work for Dr. Craig Albin. He's an incredible teacher and an incredible person, and I strongly encourage anybody who goes to MSU-WP to take his English classes. Anyway, I'd been going through kind of a difficult time emotionally, and writing was a good way to vent. Here's the first thing I wrote in that class. I don't promise literary excellence, but I promise legit feelings. :)

Chris Roll
ENG 215
19 March 2010
Conflicting Desires
            Eric had spent the past year planning for this moment, and now, at long last, it had arrived. He smiled gently as he gazed at Stacey, the girl sleeping peacefully beside him. She seemed so small and vulnerable there, and yet so perfect, her head nestled in the soft, golden brown locks of her hair, and Eric reflected on how lucky he was to be there with her. Of course, “there” was the middle of a crowded movie theater, and even though Eric was an avid movie buff, the romantic comedy playing on the silver screen was just awful. And despite the fact that Stacey’s presence made the terrible film somewhat more bearable, she had fallen asleep within the first hour, leaving Eric to suffer alone. It would have been so easy to lay an arm across her shoulders, to subtly lean closer, to kiss her . . . but he didn’t. He wasn’t that kind of guy, and besides, he didn’t want to startle her. That would most certainly not be a good way to make an impression on the girl of his dreams.
            Finally the movie ended, and the audience slowly rose to leave. Eric softly prodded Stacey’s shoulder, and she awoke with a sleepy smile.
“I think I dozed off,” she yawned. “What happened?”
“He got the girl,” Eric said playfully. “Then they died. Painfully.”
“Shut up, Eric!” Stacey laughed, punching him in the arm as they moved toward the exit.
The air outside the theater seemed to have grown much colder since the movie began. As they walked across the crowded parking lot, Eric suddenly realized that Stacey was most likely freezing in her light jacket. Propelled into a state of frantic anxiety by the frigid air and the prospect of Stacey’s discomfort, Eric quickly weaved through the parked cars and set to work trying to unlock the passenger side door to his Taurus, dropping his keys twice in the process. Stacey would have giggled at his predicament but for the chattering of her teeth, which rendered speech—even laughter—virtually impossible.
            With a triumphant “I got it!”, Eric flung the dented, salt-coated door open, bowing slightly as Stacey got in. After some crafty maneuvering on the other side, Eric was finally able to get his door open and they were soon underway to Stacey’s apartment building.
            “So,” Eric said softly, his voice trembling a little, “what did you think of the movie? What little you saw of it, that is.”
            “Good,” Stacey choked out, shivering. “Please—turn the heater up!”
            “Huh?” Eric had forgotten to turn the heater on altogether, and he immediately cranked the knobs as hard as he could. “Oh, shoot, I’m sorry!”
            “It’s fine,” Stacey assured him, wringing her hands.
            “Well, I’m glad you liked the movie!” Eric declared, stealing a glance at the attractive girl sitting next to him and nearly regretting it as he narrowly avoided sideswiping a mailbox. “Yep, that was a good time. Good times, noodle salad, as Jack Nicholson might say.”
            Stacey just nodded, a small smile on her full, pink lips.
            “So, I guess I won’t be seeing you for a while,” Eric said casually, although his voice cracked a little. “Winter break in New York—gotta be exciting.”
            “I know, right?” Stacey agreed, eyes lighting up. “I’ve got to finish packing tonight, but it’s going to be amazing! Christmas Eve in Central Park—New Year’s in Times Square—oh my gosh, this is going to be the only good thing to happen to me all year!”
            A bit crestfallen, Eric stared straight ahead, and there were no more furtive glances in Stacey’s direction.
            The drive was short, but in the dark, icy night it seemed to take much longer to reach the apartments. Eric eased the car to a stop in front of the double doors and Stacey rummaged around in the backseat to get her things. Eric sat quietly, fingers wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, staring anxiously ahead. But her perfect body was so close to him now, and the luscious, exotic scent of her perfume was almost intoxicating. She drew closer, and soon she was practically leaning against him.
            “Stacey,” he croaked nervously, his palms sweating and his pulse rising.
            “Yeah?” she replied, feeling around for her textbooks.
            “You know, I only say this because it’s the truth,” Eric mumbled, “not to start anything or make things awkward or anything. You know what I mean?”
            Stacey turned around, raised an eyebrow slightly, and nodded expectantly.
            “That girl at the restaurant was right, you know. You look . . .” How Eric wanted to say it! Beautiful. Amazing. Radiant. Stunning. Perfect. “ . . . awesome tonight.”
            “Thanks, Eric,” she replied, biting her lip slightly as she briefly, uncertainly eyed Eric’s Star Trek shirt and thick, unruly hair. “You look good, too.”
            “Stacey,” Eric said slowly, choosing his words more carefully this time. “I really, really like you.”
            Then, before she could potentially shoot him down, he added, “But if you only want to be friends, that’s fine. I mean, I know I’m never going to be, you know, that guy.”
            His voice trailed off, and he finally made eye contact, awaiting judgement. Stacey looked back at him with a knowing, almost saccharine smile.
            “Eric, you know I’m not looking for a relationship right now,” she said slowly, as if explaining to a small child why the stovetop burnt his little pink hand. “I value you as a friend, but friendship is all I can give you, do you understand?”
            “Yes, of course,” Eric replied quickly, flustered. “I mean, yeah. I didn’t expect—I, uh, yeah. Friendship. Can’t have too many friends, right?”
            “Oh my gosh, I am so glad we understand each other!” Stacey chirped, beaming at Eric. “Aren’t you?”
            “Yeah, definitely,” agreed Eric. He tilted his head slowly toward her with a wry smile. “Y’know, I think I’m going to call it a night.”
            “Ohhh, don’t go yet,” pouted Stacey. “I need somebody to talk to while I pack—for New York! Oh my gosh!”
            “Nahh, you’ll be fine. Really.” Eric insisted. “It’s late. I need some sleep.”
            “Oh, okay.” Stacey frowned, but her chipper smile quickly returned. “Well, don’t be a stranger! Keep in touch while I’m gone, okay? Call me!”
            “Yeah, sure thing.”
             As Stacey collected her things and walked away, Eric pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers and sighed. Stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Then, taking a deep, cleansing breath, he cranked up his Frank Zappa CD and roared off into the night, leaving a spray of muddy slush in his wake.
            December soon gave way to January, and before long school was back in session. Eric returned every bit the unrepentant nerd he always was, but there was something different about him now. He no longer cared how others saw him, and for the first time in his life, he wasn’t afraid anymore. In many ways, getting shot down by Stacey had been just the motivator he needed to actually move forward and live his life. But even though he knew it was over between Stacey and him, her presence made him feel more insecure than ever, and as much as he loathed himself for it, his heart still jumped whenever he heard her say his name.
            Stacey had returned as well, and if there was any awkwardness on her end about being friends with Eric, she didn’t show it. Indeed, for some reason Eric couldn’t quite put his finger on, she seemed to have made him her personal confidant. She still gushed about New York at every possible opportunity, but now she had a different reason. Now the subject of all her conversations, text messages, and Facebook statuses was Brent, the “amazing” guy she met at Central Park, and how she couldn’t live without him. Soon she was telling everyone about their plans for spring break, and how they would be spending their summer touring the east coast. Eric didn’t understand why he was the one she was constantly trying to share this information with. Indeed, being her “friend” was the most excruciating pain he had ever known, and heartache grew inside him like a tumor. He tried to avoid her as best he could, regarding her with a nod or a simple “hi” whenever they met in the hall or in class and quickly retreating, putting forth every possible erg of willpower to act disinterested in her social life. But even though he always could walk faster than her, Stacey’s presence was ultimately impossible to escape—and it was slowly driving him mad.
            One afternoon Eric decided to go to the library to study his notes from Political Science. As he walked into the large, mostly empty room, he nearly jumped when he saw Stacey sitting in a corner, also studying. Already committed to studying in the library, Eric swallowed his insecurity, nodded cordially in Stacey’s direction and sat down at a nearby table, dropping his heavy backpack with a resounding thud. He smiled to himself as he pulled out a few textbooks and turned on his MP3 player, keeping his eyes trained away from Stacey.
            Eric tried his best to concentrate on the homework at hand, but the words on the page quickly started to blur into nothingness. How could he possibly concentrate with her so close? More importantly, could he bring himself to leave, knowing she was there?
            Nearly jumping out of his skin, Eric looked up to see Stacey sitting on the edge of his table, smiling down at him. She looked at him expectantly for a moment before asking, “So, how was the break? Did you have a good time?”
            Eric pulled the headphones away from his ears and made eye contact, mouth hanging slightly ajar. What the heck? Does she really want a straight answer here?
            “I’m doing okay, actually,” Eric said quietly, “I mean, the break really kinda sucked, because I was bored out of my skull . . . but I’m better now.”
            “Good, good,” replied Stacey, swinging her crossed legs off the edge of the table in a rocking motion. “So, what have you been doing lately? Talked to any girls?”
            Eric’s eyebrows shot up. He paused, trying to think of a flippant line from some old movie, then shook his head “no” with a sheepish smile.
            “Hmmm,” murmured Stacey, staring off into space before looking back at him knowingly. “So, I hear there’s this great new club opening up next week, and I was thinking maybe you and I ought to go. Who knows, maybe I can talk somebody into buying us some drinks?”
            Eric’s mouth hung open slightly, and he wasn’t sure whether to be angry or burst out laughing. Nevertheless, he managed to contain himself and spoke slowly.
            “Stacey . . . why are you even talking to me right now?” he asked, his smile now a bit quizzical in nature. “What is it you really want from me? I mean, seriously . . . what?”
            “You’re my friend,” Stacey answered quickly. “I just want to know if you’re okay . . . and how you’ve been doing. I mean, we never talk anymore. It’s like you’re avoiding me.”
            “Stacey,” Eric said carefully, picking his words as though they were his last, “I’ve been giving you exactly what you seemed to want—space. You don’t owe me anything. You don’t have to check up on me to make sure I’m not on suicide watch. I’m a big boy; I’ll live.”
            “Why are you being such a jerk?” Stacey demanded, wiping a moist eye with her fingertip. “I thought you cared about me.”
            Eric allowed himself to chuckle slightly.
            “I will always care about you, but seriously, if you really cared about my feelings, you wouldn’t constantly be going on about this Brent guy,” Eric said as gently as he could. Okay, so maybe there isn’t a gentle way to say this, he thought glumly. “Just tell me: Are you happy with him?”
            “Yes! I love him, okay?” Stacey blurted. “He’s so funny—and strong—and alive! I feel like I can be free when I’m with him—like I can cut loose and have fun.”
            “Ahhh, yeah, I see. As opposed to me,” Eric muttered, his smile taking on a cruel twist. “The straight-laced good guy.”
            “It’s not that,” Stacey protested, crossing her arms.
            “Then what is it? You know, I believed you when you said you weren’t looking for a relationship right now. I guess what you really meant was that you just weren’t interested in a relationship with me.”
            “Hold on, that’s not fair,” Stacey said softly, running a hand across her face. She slid off the table and sat down across from Eric, setting her elbows on the tabletop.
            “No,” Eric replied, suddenly scowling. “I’ll tell you what isn’t fair. What isn’t fair is having to spend what seems like an eternity trying to figure out why I’m not good enough, only to realize that even though I am exactly the kind of guy you need, I’ll never be the kind of guy you want. And you know what? That hurts! That’s why I have trouble just looking at you, and why I smile from ear to ear just to keep from screaming. And after all this time, I thought I just wasn’t good enough, but that’s not quite true, is it?”
            “Stop,” Stacey pleaded, a few mascara-tinted tears rolling down her face.
            “The truth is, I am the good guy,” Eric spat out, a bit more harshly than he had intended. But now the words flowed unbidden and unbridled; he could not stop if he wanted to. “I am good enough. I’m the smartest guy you know. I will always be able to make you laugh. I would always be in your corner, no matter what. I’m stable, I’m honest . . . and I would never hurt you. But that’s not good enough for you, so here we are. And I could obsess over why you don’t want me till the day I die, but that won’t do anybody a darned bit of good. So yeah, little by little I’m trying to move on. And you should, too.”
            Stacey stared at him blankly, as though she were assessing a child’s tantrum before meting out proper punishment. Then her veneer cracked, and anger bubbled forth.
            “I thought you were my friend, Eric,” Stacey snapped, crying freely now; they were well past the point of pretending. “I thought you said you would never hurt me—what do you think you’re doing to me now? Eric, what is wrong with you? You—you’re mean!”
            Eric started to speak, but Stacey raised a hand to stop him.
            “You’re being all self-righteous and acting like I wronged you somehow, as though that entitles you to be cruel and hurt me, but you have no right,” Stacey hissed through tears and clenched teeth. “I love you as a friend, but I am not, never was, and never will be attracted to you. I want you in my life, but not the way you want to be—and I’m sorry for that. But you were right about one thing: we do need to move on.”
            Eric stared at Stacey, unable to find the right words. They sat there for a moment, staring at each other in silence, waiting for the other to make the first move. Finally, Stacey scooped up her things and walked away without a word. Eric remained seated until she was gone, then stood up. Part of him wanted to follow her, to apologize and beg her not to walk out of his life again, but another, deeper part knew she was gone for good this time. He stared at the floor, then closed his eyes and sighed, standing alone in the middle of the library like a prize fighter in an empty ring. The torment, along with the confusion, was gone, replaced by the bitter emptiness of heartache he knew would haunt him far more viciously than anything she could possibly have done to him. Now he was alone, and all he wanted to do was drown in the cold, bitter ocean his life had become.
            Forcing his smile to return, Eric sniffed back a sob and looked to the ceiling, hoping to discern some divine message from the drab tiles. The only thing that sprang to mind, however, was just another meaningless movie quote, and he smirked glumly as he recited it to no one in particular.
            “Hail to the king, baby.”