Latest Update: February 18th (part 1 has also been updated)
Lenny didn’t sleep well. He was now recalling the memories of the last two days with ominous twists, producing an anxious anticipation for the meeting with Director Tischbald. Horrific scenarios played out in the dreams, which, coupled with Lenny’s fever symptoms, seemed too real to reject. He would acknowledge the falsity of these projections, try like hell to remember that he was just trying to sleep, but ultimately fail—grabbing his head in both hands and curling into a ball. Three images constantly resurfaced, two of which were fully fabricated: the old wrinkled face of his earlier dream, an image of Director Tischbald, and a mind’s creation of the infamous Rourke.
Thursday morning brought back the silence of Tuesday morning. The analog clock read 8:52. Lenny lay paralyzed in his bed, not quite sure if he should attempt anything before his meeting with Director Tischbald at noon. He still needed to buy the items on his ‘Home makeover necessities’ list, he still needed to clean a bit more, and he still needed to eat since he had forgotten about dinner the night before. None of these duties were enough to persuade Lenny out of bed, but a sudden rush of nausea did the trick.
After a considerable amount of vomiting, Lenny wandered around the tiny condo space in search of inspiration. Inevitably this brought him to the kitchen, where he stared into his cabinets at the small amount of food he had, eventually decided he didn’t want any of it, and then repeated the experience bent over at the refrigerator. More hopeless wandering preceded another check of the clock, which now read 9:32.
Lenny settled on the idea of ‘getting some fresh air’ which seemed so popular for people with nausea or helpless indirection. He showered, cleaned up, got dressed in another casual button-up shirt, and checked the clock once more. 9:57. As he left, he noticed an officially stamped envelope that had been slipped under his door. The enveloped was marked with large letters ‘Welcome, Newcomer!” and another letter, with a similar stamp, hid underneath. This second, smaller letter had a mark of ‘URGENT’. He saw the date marked as yesterday and realized he must have missed them with the last night’s events. He continued, now, to ignore them both.
It was another warm day with the sun shooting right into Lenny’s eyes as he walked outside. He wasn’t quite sure where he should venture off to, and shortly found himself at Maryann’s door softly knocking. As she didn’t answer, Lenny figured she must have left for work. He opted to just begin walking, smartly in the direction of his appointment location at 1412 Main Street. He would find something to occupy his time in the vicinity.
He reached Main Street quickly. It was the first time Lenny had seen a place in the town bustling with the sounds, smells, and sights of automobiles. Cars, vans, busses and trucks all passed by on a 4-laned street. They zoomed by as Lenny cautiously stayed clear of the road.
He walked a bit longer and began peering at mailboxes and buildings for address numbers. He found ‘964’ followed by ‘968’ and confirmed that he was walking in the right direction. It was around address ‘1150’ (Lenny had made of game of finding as many address markers as he could) that he ran into a familiar face: Mr. Gately.
“Morning, Mr. Elliot!” Mr. Gately exclaimed.
“Good morning sir,” he let out, assuming this was another pass-and-greet, but Mr. Gately stopped him by slyly stepping into his path. Gately looked like a real man of law in his uniform.
“Lenny, if you don’t mind me being informal, I was wondering if you had a bit of spare time. I’m off duty in about,” he checked his watch “six minutes, roughly. I’ve heard that you have been going around trying to get to know people. I want you to know that, even though I am an officer, I’m also a human being, Lenny. I’d like to buy you a cup of coffee, or tea, or whatever you might drink.”
Lenny smiled at the offer and nodded acceptingly.
The officer cleared his throat, “Good! Glad to hear it. There’s a nice place a couple places down from her, it’s called ‘Flora’s’. There’s a giant blue sign on the top, you can’t miss it. Can I meet you there in about 15 minutes?”
“Of course, Mr. Gately. I’ll be there,” he offered his hand, and they shook.
Lenny did find ‘Flora’s’ with ease. The address was 1306, very close now to Director Tischbald. He walked in and indicated to a despondent waitress that he was expecting one more. He sat himself down and rapidly located a clock. 10:49. “Just some tea, please,” he requested. His leg tapped rapidly up and down while he hunched forward with his elbows on the table. When Mr. Gately finally arrived, at 11:08 according to the clock, Lenny was noticeably trembling as he sipped his tea.
Mr. Gately sat down at the opposite chair after indicating to the waitress that he would much enjoy a cup of coffee. “Lenny, how are you?”
“Good…Great! Thanks for asking. And yourself? How has ‘patrolling the streets’ been for you?” He was trying to remain polite while also giving off the friendly tone that the officer expected.
“Good, good! I love my job Lenny. Really, and I’m not supposed to talk about the ins and outs of police duty, but I’m able to do some great things in my job. Helping people, keeping justice in the town, keeping the bad guys out. It’s an honorable service.” Lenny nodded in agreement multiple times throughout the speech. It was a little tiresome to listen to such a classic spew of morality. He caught himself in this thought, contemplating on how this impatience wasn’t normal in his own thought patterns. “And what about you, Lenny? What are your plans for employment here?”
“Honestly, haven’t really thought about it yet. Just trying to get settled in.” The hatless officer did his own bit of nodding, slowly with squinted eyes.
“You really should find something, Lenny, as soon as possible. A man needs some sort of duty.”
“Yes, yes I know” he held back his impatience. The waitress brought over the coffee, and Mr. Gately sipped at it. No cream or sugar added.
“I’m serious Lenny. My job, my life, really…is defined by my obligation to keep the peace. I have to keep the peace here, Lenny. Priority number one. You understand?” Lenny nodded once again. He preferred the chubby, ‘formal’ Mr. Gately in his silly attire and cut-off jeans that he had met 2 days ago. They both took sips of their drinks.
“So then, you understand that my job comes before anything. It comes before my entertainment. Before my hunger. Before I can even eat or drink, Lenny. Think about how important something must be to put off eating. It comes before sleep. Before any lasting or potential friendships. Before any professional or…respectful relationships.”
Lenny was now a bit confused at how long this had been dragged out, “…right, of course….absolutely.”
“So tell me about yourself, Lenny. Where are you from?”
At this question, Lenny froze. Even his trembling stopped. He stared at his tea, wondering what he should say. He did like Mr. Gately, but he wasn’t prepared to give away any real personal information. He wasn’t even ready to let himself think about any of it. He just stared at his tea, for an awkwardly long time. Then he was saved by the officer’s radio, which requested Mr. Gately by name.
“Have to get back to duty then. Good day, Lenny,” he threw down some money. “There’s enough there for you to grab something to eat. Try some soup, or something. You don’t look well, Lenny,” and he left, leaving half a cup of coffee behind.
Lenny glanced at the clock. 11:18. He tried the soup, a spinach and chicken combination. It had an okay smell, but Lenny couldn’t force himself to eat much of it at all. Instead he moved the spoon in circles, whirl-pooling the chicken while the spinach caught to the silver spoon. When the clock read 11:38, Lenny finished off his second cup of tea and got himself ready to leave. Before darting out of Flora’s, he gulped down the remains of Mr. Gately’s coffee. The cold black bitterness slid down his throat sluggishly and sent shivers through his body.
It only took a few minutes to arrive at 1412 Main Street. It was a thin two story-building wedged between two others. Dark brown trim outlined a light brown stucco wall. The Black number ‘1412’ protruded from an otherwise plain wall front. There was no sign for ‘Director Tischbald’ or anything formal as Lenny was expecting. There was nothing special about it at all. It was excruciatingly ordinary and curiously banal.
The front door wiggled open numerous times. Lenny stared perplexed at the opening and closing until he finally realized that someone was having a difficult time opening the door. He grabbed the handle and swung it open. A blue-suited man met his gaze. “Ah, thank you.” The man had said, though Lenny vacantly stared into the man’s eyes, catching in his peripherals a bald head and shaggy red beard.
Lenny caught himself staring and offered his hand as a polite gesture. “Lenny Elliot,” he stated plainly.
The man did not return the hand shake, “John. John Rourke.” It sent shivers through Lenny’s spine, his eyes and mouth froze. “Excuse me for not shaking your hand, but my right arm is currently incapable. Good day, Lenny.” He stared as the man casually walked away.
The image of the red beard stuck with him. It was the scruff of a man with no time to shave, and no time to groom. Neck hairs reached as far as chin hairs, and there lacked a clear hairline. It was Rourke he just opened the door for; the man of his fever dreams, who did not match the vague and forgotten image of Lenny’s mind, who had supposedly snapped just last week.
It took Lenny a long time to stop dwelling on these confusing coincidence and return to the task at hand; the meeting with Tischbald. He knew perfectly well that he was early but entered anyway. A woman stared back at him, expressionless. “Hello, Lenard Elliot. I’m here--“
She interrupted “You’re early. You’ll have to wait outside.” Her voice was the epitome of monotone. She sat perfectly upright in a gray blouse. Lenny obeyed and closed the door behind him. He sat with his back against the building beside the door trying to count out the minutes it had taken him to get here so that he could then count down the minutes he had left. He settled on hitting his knee in even repetition, though he couldn’t be sure these were exact intervals. He felt sick again.
Soon, though it did not feel like ‘soon’ to Lenny, the expressionless woman at the desk stuck half of her body out of the door and glared at him. She didn’t say anything, and so he took this to mean that it was time for his appointment. Inside, there was only the lady, her desk, and a staircase. The room was glowing white with occasional flowers painted on various parts of the walls. They varied in colors and types and really pulled the room together beautifully.
As Lenny walked up the stairs, trying to make sure each step was done with evenly timed intervals, these beautifully flowery bright walls began to disintegrate until eventually the walls were bare bone—or bare wood. He reached the top, made a small round-about turn with the support of a railing, and found the only door there was. Should he knock, or just walk in? Lenny knocked lightly, and was returned with a muffled “Come in!”
When Lenny first took sight of Director Tischbald (who was sitting at an old-fashioned wooden desk on a non-cushioned wooden chair and had put 1 finger in the air to indicate that Lenny wait) a fake smile fell off Lenny’s face and his sparse remaining enthusiasm drained out completely; shoulders and knees slumping down. Director Tischbald was dressed with pretentious formality: A silver shirt complete with unnecessary gold shoulder supports, the collar from his black undershirt starkly standing at his neck and folding over so that it could be clipped with golden fasteners onto the collar of his over shirt. He wore small glasses that rested at the tip of a narrow nose; his hairline swooped from high up on the left to the right, with his brown-blonde hair waving accordingly, and his chin dominantly thrusting outwards, pulling his skin tight over his convex cheeks.
Lenny saw the man as an incredible force. The sight of his face: dignified and professional, horrifically calm and ominously focused. He commanded a frightening vibe; a leech that immediately attached to Lenny and sucked him dry. Took his self-defense mechanisms and smashed them on the ground. Obliterated his control. Everything that Lenny had worked to suppress over the last few days now began leaking out while Director Tischbald rolled up his sleeves.
Tischbald stretched his right arm across his body. A picture of Lenny’s ex-fiancé popped into Lenny’s mind; smiling at him, hugging him, waving to him. He loved her, and she loved him. Tischbald’s arm cracked. Tischbald brought the left arm over, rotating as he stretched. She was laughing with Lenny in the car, holding her gut, as was he, and he made a left turn. They were at the peak of romance, doubling with the wondrous connectivity of a married couple and the excitement of youth. The arm cracked.
Tischbald pulled up his right knee to his chest. Lenny’s turn was a little too sharp. The wheels slipped on the wet asphalt, and the car spun. He panicked. He yelled, “Shit!” The tires squealed. He heard a crack. Tischbald grabbed the left leg, lunged it up. She screamed as the back end of the car slammed into the curve. Lenny had now last complete control. The wheel jolted his hands off, his head swinging wildly and almost smashing his darling. Tears were filling his eyes. His knee cracked.
Tischbald took his own head in both hands, rolling it to the right. Lenny’s mind blurred with screams matched with loud smashes and broken glass. Another crack. Tischbald rolled his neck left. The chaotic noise settled. The car had been flipped, but Lenny felt undamaged. He scrambled out of the wreckage, ran around the car, tried to find her. His neck cracked. Tischbald brought both elbows back, chest out. She was hurt, and trapped. A drowning silence filled his ears as she didn’t make a sound. Lenny searched for his cell phone to call in the emergency. No luck. A thunderous crack.
A man ran up to Lenny, asked him if he was okay. Lenny was dizzy, tried to respond…but could not. He saw the blood begin to pour from her head. He knew it then. She was dead. It was his fault. It hit his knees first. He fell to the ground, sobbing; his shirt ripped at the center, but no abrasions. No bruises. But pain, lots and lots of pain. His love in his vision, barred by metal and destruction, bits of glass, blood. He heard fingers crack. Crack, crack, crack, crack.
“Mr. Elliot! Please, have a seat!” Lenny remembered how awful the next few days were. Answering questions, having his own health wastefully analyzed, being told to recount as much as he could from the accident.
He sat down.
“Let me introduce myself, Director Kenneth Tischbald.”
The worst was trying to come to terms with being responsible for his fiancé’s death, for killing the love of his life.
“Let me also get this computer out of the way,” he took a laptop sitting on the edge of the table, closed it, and placed it gently on the floor. “We’re human; let’s have a real human interaction, that’s what we’re here for, Mr. Elliot.”
It wasn’t hard to make the decision to run. His finances were freed with the spoiling of the glorious wedding. It was when he went to buy a new cell phone, a new connection to the world, that Lenny realized he just wanted to disconnect.
“Now, I bet you’re wondering why I asked you here…”
And so he made the proper arrangements, told nobody of his plans, and got the hell away from it all, physically and mentally. But, now it came back.
“Of course, this would all work a lot smoother if you were to PAY ATTENTION, Mr. Elliot.” Tischbald’s yell snapped Lenny out of his trance. Lenny now became aware of a third person in the room. Mr. Gately stood in the corner, hands behind his back, back tightened straight, and staring off to the far wall. He seemed to be doing his best chameleon imitation, blending in and not moving a single muscle.
“Please, Director Tischbald. Now, I assume that you’re wondering why you are here…”
Lenny said nothing.
“You’re new here, Mr. Elliot. You’re welcome in to the community open-armed. We accept you. We want to get to know you. We sent you, as we do for all newcomers, a very nicely letter of welcome. In this same envelope, there was a list of our expectations for you, as a society. Did you by chance, Mr. Elliot, bother to read this letter or that list?”
Lenny didn’t answer verbally, but rather just frowned and looked over at Mr. Gately, hoping for some sort of reaction. He received none.
Tischbald sighed. “Just as I thought. Mr. Elliot, I brought Officer Gately here today as a special request. I don’t normally require another person to sit-in, but you’ve proven to be a special case. Do you have any idea why I would think this?”
“…No, I don’t believe I do.”
“Mr. Elliot…” Tischbald smirked. “I’ve received multiple complaints about you in the past 24 hours. Complaints that put your character into question, that prove you to be uncooperative, a possible issue for me. Mr. Gately is here as my…insurance policy. Insurance that you will act with the upmost respect and dignity as we conduct our business here. Do you understand?”
“…Complaints? About me?”
“Fine, it’s specifics you want,” he cleared his throat. “One Mrs. Anne Thompson reported that you were insatiably rude. She said you forced your way into her home, without properly introducing yourself, and without even asking for her name. She said you suspiciously surveyed her home, made exactly zero attempt at polite conversation, and left. This isn’t behavior we expect of our people, Mr. Elliot.”
Lenny was speechless. Even attempting to argue this just seemed futile, and besides, he just had no fight left.
“Another, more concrete example comes from Lindsay Burns. She says you strangely dragged her around town, manipulated her into showing you her home, and then proceeded to attempt a harassing sexual advance. She says you tried to rape her, Mr. Eliot.”
“What...Me? Rape? Is this a joke?” Lenny cried.
“That’s not a very good defense, you realize—carrying on like that. There is also another piece of information brought to me, from a source that wishes to remain anonymous; who just said simply that you seemed the type to ‘ruin the fabric of our civilization.’
“I…this is all—“
“Please, spare your breath. It’s not important to try and defend yourself now. I’m merely trying to explain to you the cause of Mr. Gately’s presence. I suspect that this will run smoothly enough, and that we will reach our required results. Everything will be well after that, Mr. Elliot. Just make sure you read the letter we sent, and make sure to give your full immediate attention to any officially stamped documents in the future. We’re very serious on keeping the community properly informed.”
Lenny’s bottom lip hung loosely from his jaw as he nodded.
“Excellent. Now, back to business. As I was saying, we’re a very welcoming community. Operations run as they should and people have very little to fuss about. I think that you’ll find that it’s a very nice place to live.”
Lenny thought of Maryann and her cheerful smile.
“Of course civilization itself was built on the principle of happiness through cooperation. A society works as it does because of the people in it. They live their lives, and also live the role of the community member. Do you agree with this basic principle?”
“However, Mr. Elliot, few people realize that there is a necessary element to bind these people together. An end cap to hold together the spokes. A glue to hold it in place. Without this, civilizations crumble. Everything falls off the table. Things shatter. Lives are ruined. A society fails. Do you follow?”
“I think I do, yes.”
“Mr. Elliot, my title says ‘Director’ for a very good reason. I’m the one that ensures the roles are carried out. I’m not solely this necessary element I’m speaking of, but surely things would tear themselves apart without my guidance. People need to be directed. They need to learn to play the role. I make it possible to allow them to play the role, here. Doesn’t matter who you are. Doesn’t matter what your past is, your credentials, and your qualifications. It’s not employment that I do. It’s casting. And sure enough, everyone is casted into the same role: a dignified member of society.”
“We do a very thorough background check on anyone that comes to live here.”
Lenny continued to stare.
“For everyone. Mr. Gately had a background check, as did Lindsay Burns, the Thompsons.”
Lenny shifted in his seat.
“As did you, Mr. Elliot.”
“To business.” Tischbald smacked a stapled packet of paper onto the table. As he began flipping through it, Lenny observed the fine print. Occasional blocks of text were indented, some bolded, some underlined. It was a legal document; that much he could recognize. Tischbald found the sought-after page, and folded the rest behind, creased at the staple. “What we have here is a standard and necessary document for people with, well, not so pleasant information found in their background check. I put a great deal of detail into this document. Everything is prepared, Lenny. With your small amount of cooperation, this ordeal can be finalized.”
“Yes. You need to be ushered into your role, Mr. Elliot. This is the way it happens.” He pushed the paper across the desk, and turned it to face Lenny.
Blank lines stared into his eyes.
“Those blank lines are for the admittance of your past mistakes. Your signature there signifies that you understand that these mistakes occurred, and that you are agreeing to the content of the document.”
“…And what, Mr. Tischbald, is the content of the document?”
He smirked, “Well, I, Director Tischbald, have prepared all the arrangements. This is the end of those mistakes, Mr. Elliot. This is how we clean your slate. But first, we need you, in your personal vernacular, to write down that which will be erased. And then sign your name. Lenard B. Elliot.”
“Erased? How could a past just be erased?”
“Do not worry yourself over the specifics. We have a very tidy filing system. I can make any necessary changes at ease. Think of this as simply pulling out a number in a sequence. An especially rotten number, one that really doesn’t need to be included in your history, and then keeping it out.”
“You just erase mistakes. And crimes? You erase the proof of crimes from your records...you allow criminals to run free?”
Tischbald giggled. “Is that not what you have sought to do? Are you trying to tell me that you didn’t come here to escape? Think back on your last few days, Mr. Elliot. I think you’ll see that I am merely trying to help you.”
“I suppose I just don’t understand the point, of writing that which will be erased.”
“We can’t keep information out of our files if we don’t know what to reject, Mr. Elliot.”
Lenny was doing everything he could to prolong returning to the scene of his fiancé’s death, “Why not just delete the file?”
Tischbald frowned in response. “We want people with a clean history, not people without any history at all. The information you write on this sheet…Mr. Elliot I am very skilled in my job. That content, through one way or another, will truly disappear. Think about that for a moment.”
“I see there is also a price tag…”
“My services are not free, Mr. Elliot.”
Lenny took the moment to think on the subject as Tischbald had requested. The whole thing was truly crazy to him, and he did not fully understand. He didn’t want to think about the haunting death of his lover, and this man was asking him to write it all down. To describe the scene. To sign his name to it. “I’m beginning to feel that you’re not being full with me, Mr. Tischbald.”
He growled, “Director Tischbald, but please, explain.”
“I don’t think that your background check is as successful as you say, or else, why would I need to write it out here?”
“Let me remind you that this is a requirement, not a request, Mr. Elliot. I have officer Gately standing by if necessary.”
“But Mr. Tischbald, I could write anything here. You wouldn’t know the difference…”
“Why would one want to erase a fictional guilt? Mr. Eliot, yes you’ve read me well. I do not know exactly what it is you have done. The manner in which you have rushed here is very much one of someone running away. You’re escaping, Mr. Elliot, and that’s clear to all of us. Now I do not understand how you stand here to my face, to the face of a man trying to help you, to the face of DIRECTOR Tischbald, and play these games! Our society is run on clean backgrounds Mr. Elliot. On the fundamental principle that we must ACT as the community we strive to be, so that we can BECOME it. Anything you write there, whether it be murder, avoided parking tickets, or that you maybe didn’t cry as much as expected at your mother’s funeral, will be eliminated. So please, for your sake and the sake of the society both, fill out the paperwork. The arrangements are already in the works, we just need the details.”
Silence followed the echoes of Tischbald’s yelling. Lenny thought a moment. “I’ll comply, Director Tischbald. But, this is a messy thing you’re doing here. Your signature and stamp are already here, I see. I could just as easily write in an intended crime, commit it, and be fully clear.” Lenny felt terrible about the whole thing. This was both morally and logically faulty, to run a society where crimes were just forgotten, erased. At the same time, the idea of now being free for a true attempt at dispensing with the haunted images of his mind was enticing, and since this was a requirement to live here, it was entirely necessary. He would just have to flesh out his memories once more. He remembered the phrase ‘things get worse before they get better.’ This was his due punishment, to live with himself: the man that had paid and signed away his guilt and taken on a new role. Surely, others around him had done the same thing. He was living with madmen. He was a madman.
“Don’t worry about the technicalities, Mr. Elliot. I have control of this. Please, just fill it out.”
Lenny did fill it out, in full honest detail. His eyes grew red with each sentence and his arm slowly lost its strength. His wrist froze up when trying to explain that he had survived unscathed even though his beautiful love had come to such a vicious end. He finished, signed, and flung the paper across the table. He fell to the floor, drained and unable to move. His entire body was weak and sweaty. He had painfully stamped down onto that paper the entirety of what he wished to conceal.
Lenny lay vacant-minded on the floor for a long time. Tischbald’s voice crept into his ears, “Ah, the emotional breakdown. It was quite obvious you would be the type.” The sound of typing filtered in next. “Yes Mr. Elliot, it’s a normal feeling. Let it pour out now. It’s both a curse and a blessing that you must face this now.” More typing. “A curse because of how awful you must feel. I’m seeing it here, what a disaster that must have been.” The slam of the computer shutting echoed. “A blessing because it’s now coming to an end, that weight you’re carrying. I’ve removed it for you Lenny, you will see. And now you can really become the good citizen. You can really prosper here.”
Lenny heard only Tischbald’s words, but not their meaning. He took in his surroundings with his senses, but none of it was processed. He looked across a dusty floor, felt its cold touch. He heard the shuffling of papers, a short smack. He heard what he thought to be a beautiful wind-chime. He heard the growl of a tyrannous beast. He saw the scrunched face of a battling titan, parallel with his and facing him with clenched eyelids.
This was the face of Tischbald, Lenny finally noticed, and his head jolted from the floor. He watched as Tischbald and Gately swung around, arms locked, growling. “What the hell are you doing?” Tischbald yelled as Gately slipped his arms under Tischbalds’s, and pulled them up. He had him locked. Tischbald struggled to break free from his grasp; his convex cheeks sucking in even more and his wavy hair bouncing as they danced around the room.
“What’s happening?” Lenny asked, but his words went unheard under the grunts and stomps of the two men of uniform. Gately had been silent the entire time and Lenny had even forget about his presence. He could only watch through tearful blurry eyes as Tischbald’s gold fasteners were ripped off and Gately’s fists clamped Tischbald’s neck. He wasn’t quite choking him, but did have complete control.
“Lenny, the knife!” Gately screamed. Lenny looked around, he noticed a sharp blade shinning in the corner of them room. “Use it.” But Lenny wasn’t quick to react, still processing information at an alarmingly slow rate. He instead stood entirely still, trying to figure out why Gately had attacked Tischbald.
Lenny hesitantly obeyed, slowly lifting himself up and walking towards the knife. He picked it up and held it close to his face. The knife had the faint smell of leather, obviously accustomed to being stored away in its pouch unused. Lenny hadn’t ever seen an officer use a knife, and he’d only heard of officer’s using guns. He heard the yells “Hurry!” and “Now!” and rushed over.
“Now? You want me to kill him?” At this point, the fight had been driven into the floor. Gately still had the upper hand with his near-strangle hold, but Tischbald had forced his body on top of Gately’s, finding every opportunity to strike sharp elbows into his sides.
The decision came down to simple judgment for Lenny. Mr. Gately was a loyal officer. He was professional, courteous, and a strong ally of justice. Tischbald was only professional, and still a strange and powerful enigmatic force. But still, taking a man’s life wasn’t an easy decision to reach, even for a madman.
The blade slid right into his stomach. A grueling scream was held down by Gately’s chubby hand. Red began seeping out of the location of the wound. Gately let off, let the body fall to the floor. Lenny’s hand remained on the handle of the knife. Tischbald cried out, “What the hell is this supposed to accomplish?” Neither man had an answer. Lenny thought that maybe there was no answer, but he still wasn’t even sure what he was doing. Only Tischbald’s groans poked through a returning wall of silence.
Lenny took a firmer grip of the knife, and began shaking his wrist. The knife carved Tischbald’s insides and blood poured out. Shortly after, Tischbald stopped breathing, his eyes remained open, and Lenny let go. Tischbald lay dead on the floor, and Lenny turned to Gately.
“What…what…” Lenny tried to speak.
Gately grabbed hold of Lenny’s shoulders, “Lenny, stay calm and listen.” Lenny obeyed, although his ‘calm’ was entirely external. Internally Lenny was a mess of regret, guilt, grief, aggression, confusion, anxiety, and nausea. “I reacted, Lenny. I’m sorry I had to bring you into it, but he caught me and knocked the knife away.”
Gately continued to explain everything to Lenny, who, after deciding that he couldn’t currently manage both holding up his own body and trying to comprehend the previous series of events, sat down in his familiar chair. Gately couldn’t deal with the nature of Tischbald’s duty. He wasn’t lying when he had told Lenny days ago that he knew nothing about Tischbald or the meetings. And now that he had found out, now that Gately knew that criminals came in here to dispose of their crimes, “it hit right at the heart of my entire life’s purpose, Lenny.”
But he was sincerely sorry for forcing Lenny to not only witness, but be involved with the “nasty side of justice.” He couldn’t use his gun since it would be such a loud noise, but more importantly, it didn’t fit the plan…
Lenny didn’t speak.
“You saw him, Rourke, when you walked out…right? The man that attacked me, stole my car…he murdered someone, Lenny. Cold blood murder in his own home. I saw the evidence with my own eyes.”
“And he walks free Lenny, he walks free? Listen, I was there. I saw him run out of that house. I saw the eyes of a sadistic killed. I shot him with my own gun. Today, I walked in and saw his face in the office, Lenny, and I knew that something was wrong.”
Lenny still didn’t understand. He just wanted to leave as soon as he possibly could. He suddenly longed for another one of Tischbald’s forms so that he could sign off the whole event, pocket it into a memory, and then discard it all entirely.
“We need to act quickly. I need you, after you leave, to act normal. Return to your normal life.”
Lenny stared, because he didn’t understand how this could possibly be done.
“Lenny, Rourke’s papers from his own meeting with Tischbald…they’re still there.”
“It was your idea, Lenny.”
“To write off a future crime. That’s what Rourke did, understand?”
“I Don’t think I do.”
“Lenny, this crime, this murder. It’s on Rourke. Not you. I’m going to write it on Rourke’s form.”
“And then I’ll take care of it personally. But this…this ignorance of crime. Lenny, this can’t go on.”
“So now, Lenny. Go downstairs, tell the lady there’s an emergency. I’ll handle the rest.”
Lenny considered it all and realized: He had been up here for quite some time. How could he not be suspected of being involved? How could he not be persecuted for not phoning the emergency? “But the lady, she’ll know.”
“Lenny, that lady down there…she’s of the same breed as this bastard here, of that Rourke bastard. You’ll be alright, trust me.” And Lenny did trust him. He recounted all of his experience with Gately, the day he met him in his silly attire, his courteous greetings in passing, the generosity of paying for him at Flora’s, and ultimately the fact that Mr. Gately had not once had to visit Mr. Tischbald. Not once in his four years of duty. So he listened, alerted the lady at the desk, who absorbed the information mechanically and made no expression. He left and took a deep breath. ‘Return to life as normal’ he thought.
He ventured to a nearby hardware store. He tried avoiding the eyes of everyone that came by, including the cashier, who rang up his paint and gardening supplies while laughing obnoxiously at the antics of a co-worker. He carried it all home, a long trip back. His arms were already weak, and the extra weight finished them off. Maryann was outside, yet again watering the bushes between their walkways. She smiled at Lenny, who did not return the favor.
“Maryann,” he said somberly. And then he lost the will to continue speaking, and dropped his eyes to the ground. He could not look at Maryann, he wasn’t even sure who this stranger was.
“Lenny, maybe I’m wrong,” she said, matching his somberness in full. “Maybe not quite everything is right where you would expect.” When Lenny closed his front door behind him, he dropped his supplies, fell to his knees, fell to the ground, face down, and passed out.
Lenny woke up two hours later, bones aching. In front of his eyes were the two envelopes he had ignored earlier. He grabbed them, stood up, and stared at the official stamps. He ripped open the first one, the larger one.
It contained a general message of welcome. It was very similar to the speech he received from Tischbald about civilization. The ‘list’ that Tischbald had referred to was also in the envelope, on a separate sheet of paper. The list mostly contained typical ideas of treating others with respect, obeying the law, trying to be a good citizen, etc. The last entry hit Lenny’s nerves as if they were the chords of an un-tuned guitar; his body trembled and the pressure in his head created a terrible noise. The entry read:
“Citizens are expected to behave as closely to the ideal as possible. We will act as saints, heroes, and always cheerful neighbors. Nobody is unworthy of reaching for this ideal, and if everyone does their part accordingly, we will have quite the glorious show.”
He walked into the kitchen while re-reading this entry. It made him sick, and so he threw the entire envelope, contents included, into the trash. He opened the second envelope. It was a letter, addressed to ‘The Community as a Whole.’
This letter is to inform everyone and to clear up some misconceptions. There have been nasty rumors circulating about one of the society’s distinguished members: Mr. John Rourke. These rumors are entirely false. They were constructed with false information and should be ignored completely. We are currently looking into the situation, because there certainly was an occurrence at Mr. Rourke’s residence, but stress that you should be assured Mr. Rourke was not involved and is unharmed. As you all know, we like to keep everyone informed; please expect a follow-up letter in the coming days, explaining everything.
-Director Kenneth Tischbald
The irony of Tischbald previously defending Rourke, the man who would be revealed as Tischbald’s assassin, set Lenny into a hilarious fit of laughter. This followed with a near nervous breakdown; Lenny grabbing his hair and almost pulling it out, grunting, and then letting out a yell. He calmed down and opted for a shower. The steam felt good on his aching bones, revitalized his complexion, and Lenny allowed the hot water to wash clean his heavy mind. He decided here and now to put this all behind him. He decided, again, it would be a fresh start.
A fresh start required a homey living space, and so Lenny took to his walls. Painting and painting, white over the dull and rotting yellow. He made vertical slash after vertical slash, touched up around the windows and doors. It took hours, of course, but it felt good.
Then came the knock at the door; loud and violent. Lenny almost panicked, but regained control, put on the face of a man with full composure, and answered the door. It was dark out, and there didn’t appear to be anyone there. Then he looked down, and saw the familiar bald, wrinkly head. The grotesque, wrinkly old man of his dream.
He cackled and coughed into Lenny’s chest, forcing him to back up and peer into his dark sunken eyes. “Well, have you learned nothing? Won’t you be POLITE and invite me inside!?” His raspy voice stung Lenny’s ear drums. Lenny stepped aside, allowing a small passage into his home. The old man pushed him with his shoulders as he walked past.
The man looked around at the walls and the ceiling, “Hah, painting! You’ve been painting! Covering up those old, nasty walls eh?” Lenny did not respond, but simply stared, trying to figure out if he was in a dream, and who this man was. With an impatient shrug of shoulders, the old man belted out, “Well! Aren’t you going to offer me a refreshment?!”
Once again, speechless, Lenny obeyed. He fetched a glass of water, and the old man took 3 heavy gulps. “So kid,” he started. “Have you heard the news?”
“The news?” Lenny’s mind forced down the memories.
“Yes yes, do you not hear me? The news! It’s all over today. Director Tischbald, he’s been murdered, BLOODY MURDER!” The shout made Lenny wince. “And they say they know who did it! John Rourke! Murdered Director Tischbald! What a twist, eh?!”
Lenny kept staring, still trying to decipher if he was dreaming…trying not to believe his own conscience was attacking him in sleep.
“They say that officer Gately has already arrested the man. They say he walked in and saw the knife in Rourke’s hand! Imagine this now, Tischbald, DEAD!”
“That’s….wow,” Lenny replied.
The old man glared into his eyes, the sunken pupils falling even deeper into their sockets. His face momentarily pulled itself together, ironing out the wrinkles. He broke into laughter. “It doesn’t fool me, though.”
“Fool you? What do you mean?”
“You know, I once told you that you and Rourke had the same look, do you remember? It wasn’t long ago, your memory can’t be worse than mine.”
Lenny’s lips hovered, trying to produce a sound. They could not.
“Well, I was maybe only partially right,” his coarse laugh echoed on the walls. “You’re both trouble bringers, that’s for sure. I knew that Tischbald would have a hard time with the both of you.”
“Have you lost your mind, old man?”
“Have I lost my mind? Hahahaha. Kid, you lose your mind as soon as you’re conscious of having one!” The old man’s laughs were suffocating. “But back to what I was saying. I just knew it. But I didn’t think you would be the more dangerous of the two! Surely that was a SHOCK!”
“I think I’d like you to leave now,” Lenny asserted, opening the front door.
“Hah! Sure thing kid. It’s funny though, isn’t it? That Mr. Gately thinks he’s got it figured out…that he can serve for justice! With Tischbald gone! Hah! Wait until he realizes he’s serving criminals. Wait until he realizes he’s protecting the madmen!”
“You’re crazy, old man.”
“Crazy? They say Tischbald was crazy. That’s what they’re all saying! Tischbald was crazy!”
“Seriously, leave. Get out. Don’t come back. GET OUT!” Lenny yelled. It just made the old man laugh more, and therefore Lenny even angrier. But the man did step into the doorway.
As the old man took his step outside, he turned his head towards Lenny and said, “That thing Tischbald always said, that we must ‘live on the principle that we must act as we strive for, so that we can become it…’” He laughed, and laughed, and laughed. “You have to give the man credit, what’s this place without him?”
Lenny slammed the door shut. He shook his head furiously, irrationally believing all the unwanted thoughts would fling out like the water from a wet dog. He stormed into his kitchen, took out all the food he could possibly find: Fruit that had lost its freshness, leftover ham, a full bag of potato chips, and another piece of chocolate cake. He sat down at his floating countertop and began eating. He crunched, chewed, spit out seeds, let the chip crumbs slide into his open mouth, clinked the metal of the cake filled fork against his teeth, and slammed the garbage into the trash. He then went to his bedroom, ripped off the plastic covering of the bed, and went to sleep.
When Lenny woke up the next morning, another bright sunny day, he planned for it to be gloriously productive. “First,” he said aloud. “I’ll work on that backyard. And then! Off to find a job!” He rubbed his hands together rapidly in delight and excitement.
He gathered the gardening supplies and began to dig outside. The dirt was unusually light and dried out, doubtless from an extended amount of time without rainfall. He dug and dug, creating a wondrous hole in which to plant his garden. He spoke to himself briefly of what the official letter that was sure to follow: “Would Mr. Gately write it? Would it be addressed to “The Community as a Whole”? What would it say? Ah, it’s not important. It was just the past, anyway.” What mattered now was the future. What mattered now was his garden. He did a marvelous job, it was sure to become a beautiful nesting ground of flowers and vines and pretty vibrant colors. Pride shot itself through his body, producing a much needed and large smile, his teeth shining bright in the glisten of the sun. He walked inside and took of his gloves. His hands were dirty, somehow. It had penetrated through thick gardening gloves. “No worries,” he said, and began to rinse them off. But it was difficult, and so he took to his remaining cleaning products. Nothing would work. His hands were not coming clean. He kept scrubbing. Little by little, he saw less and less dirt. He scrubbed and scrubbed. But the dirt never came off, it was just scrubbed into his skin. He kept going until no dirt was visible. He had successfully forced all of it deep into his skin; deep into his hands.