Without Conscience

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
How well does he know his friend?

Submitted: October 29, 2018

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Submitted: October 29, 2018

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Light of the morning sun filtered through the window blinds, entering into a gloomy space which was my room, and landing onto a neatly covered mattress which was my bed, whereon I lay motionless, awake yet without conscious thoughts. An eternity seemed to have passed; but whether I had slept or been awake the entire time, I couldn't be certain. My whole being was only capable of a weary, blank stare. I couldn’t avert my eyes from a single point, nor could I force my body to move. Some unknown force had disarmed me both physically and mentally, as if I was under a spell.

Nevertheless my will fought and forced its way, eventually dragging me up into a sitting position.

The hidden strains now surfaced. My young athletic body felt like an old man’s—heavy, rigid, and still yearning for rest. Meanwhile my unprocessed thoughts only added more throbbing to my head. I found it best to remain seated upon the edge of the bed, as my mind sorted its system. The sun, like me, was still in its early stage of consciousness, meek with light but gradually rising into prime. Its rays caressed me with a delicate touch of warmth, and its growing brightness continued to disperse or at least weaken the shadows around. In half-awareness, I perceived the animation slowly rising over my surroundings. Colors spread and ghostly birds sang.

Light had fully occupied the gloom when all senses discovered their proper places. The day was Friday; in other words, school day.

As I headed toward the kitchen, passing by the small living room which had always been a daily sight and comfort for eighteen years, the atmosphere suddenly took hold of me—it felt unfamiliar. Is this really my home? Has it always been like this? I stood there asking myself.

Either I had never noticed before or because my mood gave such depressing influence, but it appeared as though the whole apartment had undergone a change, had become lonesome and intolerable. The stillness, the silence, absolute to the point it was oppressive, as if time stood still. It seemed like ages since someone had set foot in this very apartment, even my own presence seemed that of an outsider’s. I figured the room needed noise, so I turned on the TV for company.

Randomly flipping through the stations, my eyes caught something. It was the local news. On the screen was a middle-aged woman, her background showing a stone-bridge and a dozen or so bystanders around the premise. When I recognized the place, the events of last night came to me like a gust of wind that stirs one’s body.

“…on how this person met his fate,” the reporter was saying.

 

Out of nowhere a quick laugh passed over me, so quick that it was immediately forgotten, almost like a dream. I was instantly brought back to that incident.

 

*****

 

It was late at night. As Rael and I were on our way to the train station, walking along a secluded park, still clad in our school uniform, rain suddenly came pouring down like waterfall. The threatening clouds above had apparently slipped our notice. Only seconds later before the drops intensified to its fullest.

Nearby we spotted a stone bridge, under which was an archway tunnel, and in here we ran for shelter.

"Damn rain," I muttered as we settled ourselves inside, slightly wet. "Our weatherman never mentioned anything like this."

I saw that my friend's eyes were transfixed toward the rain outside, seemingly oblivious to anything else. Before long I also found myself doing the same. Heavy raindrops consumed other sounds, rattling like machine guns as they hit the ground. The air wasn't too breezy or cold, just perfect to suit the skin. Despite my earlier complaint, I have to admit that the weather had a very soothing effect on me. So I stood there with Rael, content and free from all thoughts, gazing in perfect tranquility.

A few minutes might have elapsed when we became aware of another presence within our shelter. The silence was broken by a violent fit of coughing, followed by a deep grumbling voice. At the farther part of this tunnel, beyond the reach of the street lamp outside, among the shadows, I could make out a man's silhouette lying at a corner. This stranger appeared to have been there all the while, completely went unnoticed upon our arrival. I stepped closer and strained my eyes to have a better look at him.

"I know this guy. Isn't that the bum who plays the flute?"

"I think so," replied Rael. As he spoke, I noticed a peculiar look pass over his placid face; it disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. "Let's find out."

"Hey," Rael called out to him, "come here!"

The bum stirred but made no apparent movement to rise.

"It really doesn't matter. We should just leave him alone."

Yet Rael pursued on. "Are you awake?" 

His question hung in the air.

"Do you hear me, I'm talking to you."

Still left unanswered.

"Do you want money?"

Money was the magic word, for it right away drew a response from the darkness, although nothing more than a mumble of incoherent words. I could sense the man's frustration over this weakness, of being slave to money, yet he had no choice but to subject himself, and soon enough we were laying our eyes upon him. Hard to tell whether that monstrous frame consisted of muscle or fat, because his thick, worn-out clothes covered him a little too excessively. What stood out about him was his head—it was small, almost disproportionate to the size of his body, and the face had a bitter expression that suggested defiance. Traces of pride still lingered upon his bearing; nevertheless, his whole exterior was quite evident with hardships, from the tattered shoes up to the overgrown hair.

As the poor man presented himself, Rael said to him, "If I'm not mistaken, you play the flute? We'd like to hear a tune, if you don't mind."

"You got coins on you?" asked he, with a voice as coarse and sullen as his appearance.

For response, Rael presented him a paper bill, which roused his eyes.

"Well, alright." Almost instantly the flute was pulled out and positioned to his mouth. He was an odd sight when paired with his instrument, because he didn't appear to be the musical kind at all. With that ominous look, a shotgun or an axe would have been a more suitable object for him to carry, instead of a little bamboo flute which was made smaller still by his enormous hands.

"Play something to suit the weather," suggested Rael.

Presently a slow, dramatic tune began to soothe my ears. For some reason I felt nostalgic by the sound, as if I've heard it numerous times before. The tone rose and fell in such smooth and steady fashion I could trace every change of notes. Although the player was sloppy at certain parts, overall it was a decent performance worthy of applause.

When the music ended I couldn't help but ask him for the title.

"Moon River."

"By Frank Sinatra," I added, remembering.

"Not Sinatra." The bum seemed offended. "Henry Mancini, he's the original. So are we done?"

A quick, discreet glance shot toward Rael's hand. There was something desperate about that glance. I would have given the money to him right then, but to my surprise Rael began ripping the bill apart, with a slow, deliberate movement adding for effect. He continued to do so until all that's left were pieces of paper falling on the ground.

The man was aghast. “What’d you do that for?”

Rael shrugged. "Simply because I didn't like what you played."

"Didn't like what I played!"

"You heard me."

I had known Rael for quite some time and witnessed many peculiarities in his character, but this one was new to me. He usually spoke in a low, indifferent tone and seldom showed any expression. The small smirk, the glimmer in his dark eyes, and the condescending way he carried himself, turned him into a different person altogether.

Seeing the bum flustered, I tried to pacify his pulsating emotions. I fished my pockets for a peace offering. "Ah, nevermind my friend. Here, I got some change for you. Go on, take it.

He didn't mind me at first, but simply frowned at Rael in a manner almost hostile. My friend had the audacity to reciprocate his stare with a smile, as if challenging him. Naturally I was intimidated by the man's size, anxious that upon further provocation it would trample our smaller bodies. I did my best in subduing him, until finally he took the money from my hands.

"I guess this will do."

"You can do better," interrupted Rael. "How about I offer—"

"Ahh save it, kid. Go screw somebody else." He was already returning to his former spot, muttering to himself, when Real halted his tracks by saying:

"A hundred bucks."

"A hundred bucks?" I echoed.

"A hundred bucks," Rael repeated toward the bum, who, upon hearing the amount, had faced us once again. "Play and I'll pay."

With that he produced another bill from his pocket, a crisp one-hundred indeed, playfully, provokingly waving it up the air like a bait, all the while grinning.

I stared in disbelief. "You can't be serious."

"Now listen," said the bum, his voice put on a grave tone, "don't push it, alright? I'm in no mood to play along with your games. I might hurt you, you know. You're smiling. You think I'm joking? I'd smack that smirk off your face."

"Please settle down a bit," I said. "You'll have to excuse him, he's got issues. He--"

"I don't care about his goddamn issues. I got my own issues."

"I mean he has mental issues. The poor guy is still undergoing therapy, so don't be too harsh on him."

"Stop the nonsense, Charles. It's fine," Rael said to me. I shrugged at him. "As I was saying—a hundred bucks. Play something to my liking and it's yours."

The man stepped closer and said threatingly, "See here, let me warn you now, if you try and pull my leg again, there'd be hell to pay." He raised the dollar I had given him. "This here saved you from getting smacked the first time round. It won't a second time, I promise you."

"Whatever you say. Now play."

"I just hope we have an understanding. What do you wanna hear?"

"Something to suit the weather."

The man shook his head before taking out his flute, and then once again played another familiar tune that brought memories of my father. This time there was a certain passion to his playing. He had his eyes closed and had surrendered himself completely to the music. It was a bittersweet melody that blended well with the ongoing rain, which had abated by now into a steady, gentle rhythm of sound.

"Smile by Nat King Cole," I remarked when he finished.

He grunted. "Charlie Chaplin."

"Chaplin? You mean the lousy comedian?"

But he was paying little attention to me. Already he had his gaze locked on Rael. "Well?" he said.

"Well, what can I say?" Rael uttered a laugh. "You are as dumb as you look."

I felt a tension in my bone as I watch how the crazy fool ripped the coveted money with apparent delight. "The hell man, what's gotten into you? Seriously." I turned to the bum, "Ah, mister, I'm really sorry about all this. Apparently he really is crazy. Don't mind him too much. If it helps, you can have this twenty." I tried to hand him the last of my money. "You were really good with the flute, by the way."

I knew my attempt was futile this time. As if to emphasis the man's anger, a flash of lightning briefly lit up our surroundings, followed shortly by a grumbling thunder.Another downpour began.

To my unsettlement, Rael maintained the amusement on his face, seemingly undeterred by the big looming threat before him. "Calm down, you big oaf. I'll give you another chance—"

The big oaf's jaw tensed, his eyes glared, and then finally, aggravated beyond control, like a wild tiger unleashed, he sprang for Rael's neck with what appeared to have murderous intent. With that sudden movement he managed to do so, locking it between those incredibly large hands that could have belonged to a gorilla.

I was at the point of action when, in retaliation to this attack, instantly as though an automatic response, Rael seized him by the head and, without the slightest hesitation, savagely, mercilessly, plunged both his thumbs into the brute’s eye sockets, a blatant move which produced a sharp cry.

All at once the aggressor was forced to retreat, hands cupping his face. I could already see blood dripping down across his cheeks. Before I had time to say anything, what happened next was him receiving a punch from Rael, right on the solar plexus, which momentarily shifted his hands from face to abdomen and made him stumble to his knees.

Once he was reduced to his knees, Rael took the opportunity to deliver yet another blow to his head, a solid shot that sent the man reeling to the ground.

"My eyes, I can't open my eyes... Goddamn you..."

He was restless. One moment ago I was ready to brawl with the man, now I stood there stunned, pitying him instead. The sight of him crawling and groping around the dark would have softened anyone's heart, but not my friend's. Rael, still unsatisfied, mounted him then proceeded to launch a fury of punches. The man tried protecting himself, but in that position, and with the pain occupying his eyes, it was a helpless struggle.

To this day my mind could paint a distinct picture of what transpired during that rainy night. I remember those arms of Rael, how they worked like a monotonous machine, constantly swinging back and forth in a never-ending rhythm. He kept pounding using both fist, with such fiery passion as if his life depended on it, even after his victim lost all consciousness and was completely limp. I remember how the man screamed and begged for a mercy that never existed. And the blood, how could I forget the blood? That disfigured piece of meat which had once been a face will forever be imprinted in my mind. Yet the most shocking thing of all, the one I keep coming back to, is that I just stood there, breathless, unable to move, as I watched the savagery of the scene. A mysterious sensation began to swell inside me, something was taking shape from within. I couldn't explain then, and still couldn't now.

The raindrops were heavy, and yet the only apparent sound was from the impact his fists made upon each contact with the man's flesh. They echoed so distinctly within the tunnel—echoes that could have been repeated over a hundred times.

"Hey,” I cried out at last, recovering from my daze. "That's enough!"

It seemed my voice shook him out of his own trance-like state. The sound of punches ceased and was replaced by his heavy breathing. Steadily he stood up, surveyed his victim, and without emotion said, "I think he's dead."

I frowned and shook my head at him. "I wouldn't be surprised if he is. What the hell were you thinking?"

Without a word, he grabbed the body by the legs and started dragging it. However, he stopped and winced.

"What are you doing?"

"Can you help me? He's quite heavy."

"I said what are you doing?"

I sensed no threat from him as he approached me, his calm demeanor gave no such impression; I was on my guard nonetheless. He held up his hands, showing injuries. Indeed, after the countless punches they've thrown, it's no wonder for them to be bloodied and bruised, although some of that blood were surely not his own.

"They might trace my DNA or something," he said. By 'they' of course he meant the police. "We'll let the rain wash any evidence on the body. Help me."

I knew that if I were to help him it would make me an accessory to crime, but at that point, for some reason, I already felt guilty of being one.

"Grab him by one leg, I'll take the other," I offered.

Together, with a bit of difficulty—for the bum probably weighed more than 200 pounds—we dragged the lifeless body outside our shelter and placed it into the pouring rain. We could only be thankful for the bad weather, for it had emptied the streets for any possible witness. I glanced around the park once more before retreating back under the bridge.

Using the light from his phone, Rael started picking up remnants of the paper bills he had shredded. "Fingerprints," he explained simply then threw them out the tunnel.  "Charles, could you check around if we happen to have dropped anything else?" He was now holding up a handkerchief at the mouth of the tunnel, letting it soaked by the rain.

"No, none." I grabbed my school bag. "Come on, what are you doing, we should leave."

The whole weight of the matter still left me shaken. I was eager to make our getaway, but he appeared at ease and in no hurry, as he nursed and wiped the blood from his hands. He made a quick scan of the area until finally, taking his own bag, said in a nonchalant manner:

"Let's go."

We made our exit through the other side of the tunnel. At this point, getting drenched was the least of our concern. Before plunging into the rain, I glanced behind at the lone silhouette of the man lying there, dimly illuminated by a street lamp nearby, and felt nothing for him. The thought crossed my mind that he could very well be still alive, that leaving him there, without medical help, would be the fatal cause of his death. But my only worry was to runaway, and runaway I did, through the rain with Rael, my heart pumping, almost bursting out of my chest.

I know it's not right for me say, but after everything had been said and done, and I was already in the comfort of my bed deliberating the day’s event, there sprang within me a mixture of fear, pride, and delight, all combined together to form an excitement I had never experienced. I had always longed for something new in life, to think it would be presented this way.

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Sidney Karton. All rights reserved.

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