Happyness is

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
When a syndicated writer begins receives a mysterious threatening message, he must find out who his new "fan" is or die trying.

Submitted: October 19, 2008

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Submitted: October 19, 2008

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PROLOGUE

My work brings joy to those having a bad day. It makes people smile when they feel like cursing. When you feel like killing someone, after reading what I write, you reconsider your options. I guess you could say that my column brings light and a little bit of optimism those living in darkness. It puts hope back into those who have become hopeless. I say these things not only because they are true, but also because that’s what the reviewers have told me. I write a column for a Nationally Syndicated News Paper. The column is “Happy-ness Is…”

“Hey don’t you write for the paper?” The overly-cologned man sitting next to me had asked in a drunken slur.

“Ironically,” I told my new smelly friend, who had just bought me a drink, “my wife… ex-wife, gave me the idea. She said that I should write about what makes me happy.”

“Yeah,” the man replied. “I never read your stuff… but I hear it’s pretty good.”

“Yeah, my critics seem to think so.” I told the man.

I usually don’t hang out at bars, but today was a special occasion. The bar I sat in fit my mood perfectly: A dark smelly dive of a saloon filled with nothing but the odor of spilled beer and stale cigarettes. Today I got served the divorce papers. The man who served them looked like he was a late twenty-something wannabe lawyer but was actually a sleazy intern for my ex’s over priced law firm. His slicked back hair looked greasier than the French fries I had for lunch and his suit was something surely bought at a blue light special at Kmart. The papers were written in fancy legal lingo but basically said that we split because of “irreconcilable differences.” What a joke. I thought as I looked over the thick stack of papers, which indicated the need for my signature on several pages. She wanted more than half my stuff and we had only been together for two years. In that time I had acquired quite a bit of success with the column, and with it, a lot of money. Now, she wanted out. The love of my life wanted our life together to be over. My life felt like it was over. I had invested everything I was as an individual in her. I lived to make her happy. Most of the inspiration for the column came from her and now she was gone. My Muse was gone. My father had told me to get a pre-nuptial agreement but I knew we would be together forever. Strike another point for my all-knowing father.

I sipped the now Luke-warm beer that ‘Mr. Cynical’ sitting next to me had been kind enough to purchase an hour ago. The scent of burning cigars and stale beer filled my nose and lungs as I took a deep breath, sighing out loud. My new friend was a tall man in his late thirties. The now quite drunken man smelled of Old Spice that had been applied a little too generously, and wore a denim shirt and overalls stained with grass and oil. Judging from the dark hands, I’d say he worked hard to make a living. Perhaps this is why he had such a cynical tone to his voice. I had no problem with the guy. He didn’t say much, but was nice enough to listen to all the blubbering that even the bartender had walked away from. The bar was as quiet as a graveyard at midnight, which was fine by me. There was no jukebox playing, no people laughing, only Farmer Cynical, his cigar, the bartender and myself pardoning the bar. Quite the lonely trio we made.

Several hours later, I was quite drunk and took a cab home. The ride home was a blur of the cabbie rambling as he tried to make small talk and fished for tips. He drove me to my old empty house, where I paid him and gave him the tip he tried so hard to earn.

With all her things gone, the house was a lonesome reminder of what I had become. I’m single loser with no real life outside of work, and I know she left me because I work too much, but my working is what got her that nice car and her cat and this stupid old house, the stupid bitch, I love her so much, why’d she have to go and leave me, I can’t live like this, prolly cheating on me, I was so loyal, I don’t need her to write my stupid column... My depressed thoughts rambled through my head as I began to pass out, staring at the empty walls that once held pictures of a happier time.

I woke up the next day feeling hung over, but strangely refreshed. I looked around the house and saw what I had done the night before. I had scribbled down some really bad ‘Happy-ness Isms’ but hadn’t even finish most of them. It was just like me to turn to writing to escape real life. The scribbles read like they had been written by a four year old. “Happiness is having your spoiled jerk-face wife leave you prolly for another jerk-face.” And “happiness is getting kicked in the balls by steel toed boots when you’re already down.”

I made a decision that morning that would change my life forever. I decided that never again would I allow another human being to have that kind of effect on my life, and that today would be the day I started fresh. I opened the fridge and realized that I had no food left, save for an empty pizza box with a few slices of month-old stale and moldy pizza. I was half tempted to throw the slices in the microwave, when I realized that she had taken it. Fearing slipping back into depression, I decided I needed to go to work and get my mind off of my life.

Usually I worked from home, which was a luxury that most people who work for a paper don’t have. Today, I start from scratch. I told myself as I grabbed my laptop, took a last look at my barren house, and locked up behind me. I better stop at the market and get some kind of food after work.

The drive through the city was long and uneventful as usual and when I arrived at my office, the staff of the paper greeted me warmly. Usually, they all were too busy to notice that I had arrived. I appreciated the sentiment, however, at about the fifth “how are you holding up?” I was ready to get into my office and shut the outside world out. I was beginning to realize how hard it was to escape that which takes up so much of your life.

I tried calling my friend, Scott, who could always make me laugh, but he didn’t answer. I left him a message, asking that he give me a call when he got a chance, as I could really use his humor today. Knowing Scott, I probably wouldn’t hear from him for a few days.

ONE

A New Day

I decided to start my workday with the letters from fans. Surly these will put me in a good mood, I thought. Every day I got a batch of letters from fans, and I was adamant about trying to read them all. My ex used to tell me that it was a waste of time because there was no way I could get to every last one, but that never stopped me from trying. Can’t think about Ex. I thought as I opened the first letter. It was the usual about how this woman loved my stuff and had a few suggestions. This was not uncommon. Most of the letters I got on a daily basis were suggestions. I rarely used them, and when I did, I would give credit where credit was due. This particular woman gave an all too familiar suggestion of ‘happiness is holding a puppy’. She went on to say that her kids loved puppies and so she thought this was perfect. I whipped up a generic letter of thanks telling her that I would keep the suggestion in mind, although in reality, I had no intention of using it. Many of the other letters ranged from suggestions, to perfume soaked notes of admiration and even some hate mail on rare occasion. The rest of the day’s letters were similar to the first, until I reached my first ‘freak’ letter. I usually received them about three times a week. They were letters from weirdoes that had some sick suggestion. I didn’t know why people wrote them, but began to look forward to them. Some were even funny, like the one I was reading now. It said that my column was popular around college campuses and that the writer suggested that happiness is “kicking a clown in the balls.” I laughed to myself as I read it. I had no intention of responding but printed the letter out, and hung it on my wall next to others that had given me a laugh.

Later in the day I received an envelope via inter-office mail. One of the requirements for inter-office mail is that you state whom you are sending to and where the document is from. This letter broke that rule, as it had no return information. Inside, was a Happy-ness is suggestion on a piece of paper that was too familiar. The paper was from my desk stationary. The note read: “Happy-ness is counting kitten corpses.” A slight chill ran through me as I looked up to see who it had been that had delivered the mail, and realized I had not paid attention. Must be a prank. I thought to myself. Nonetheless after about a half an hour of contemplating, I decided to take the note to my editor. It was not exactly harassment, but enough to freak me out a little. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the letter had come from outside the office, but this had been written on my stationary and my office had been locked before I came to work. The only other person who had a key was the maintenance guy and the editor.

Andre, my editor laughed at the note. He had a sick sense of humor, which I had always thought was the reason we got along. Andre was the kind of guy that could get the job done, no matter what the job was. He was the kind of boss you could call on the weekend to help you build a deck on your house, and he would be there. When it came down to it though, Andre was a keen and savvy businessman who could make any deadline. He deserved to be editor. As for the note, he said he didn’t do it, but he would talk to the maintenance crew to see if they knew anything, if it would make me feel better. I told him that it would.

“Pussy.” He said with a laugh as I left his office.

“I am what I eat,” I joked, then finished the insult back. “Guess that makes you a dick.”

It had been a long day. I had written my next column and got it ready for the next day’s edit before leaving for the day. Overall, it had been a good start to a new life with no wife. Next goal: get a new place; after all, a new life deserved a new place.

When I got to my car, my stomach began to ache and I quickly realized that I was hungry. Food. Groceries! I had almost forgotten that I needed to pick up some food.

The store was busy with the bustle of soccer moms with too many kids, and single dads with not enough hands. While making my way through the labyrinth that was the grocery store, I ran into the man from the bar the night before. Normally I would have avoided him, but he had cleaned up considerably from the night before so I made small conversation and mentioned that I needed a place to stay. Luck seemed to be on my side as he told me that he rented out apartments and happened to have one vacant. I agreed to stop by the apartments and see what I thought. I scrawled down the address on the back of my hand and finished my shopping. As I walked out to my car, pushing the cart as I went, I thought of my next column. The title had been “Happy-ness is a new beginning.” Maybe I should change it to “Happy-ness Is a stroke of good luck when you need it most.”

After paying for my food I headed to the car. A mild but pleasant breeze only offset the hot summer heat. The sky was a deep blue with only a few clouds. Though it was a hot evening, it felt like the perfect day to start life over.

After searching for what seemed like forever, I finally found my car only to gasp at what I saw. The number thirteen was written in, what could only be, blood on the windshield. It was mid-day and there were several cars in the parking spaces around mine. How… why would someone do this? I looked around the parking lot for some one who may have witnessed the vandal’s work, but found no one. When I got to the driver’s side of the car, I could not see through the red stains on the glass. The driver’s side window was covered in more blood. I quickly reached into the grocery sack with cleaning supplies and found the paper towels. I tore open a roll and began to try to wipe away the blood. As hard as I wiped, there was no effect on the window. I lifted the towel only to find that there was no blood on it. Puzzled for a moment, my heart raced as I came to the sudden terrifying realization that the blood was inside the car. That’s a lot of blood. Someone could be dead in there! Looking down, I saw the pool of fresh blood forming under my door from a steady stream pouring out. With my hand shaking so hard I could barely find the keyhole, I cautiously turned the key to unlocked and opened the car door. As the door swung open, heat and a horrible rotting smell assaulted my senses. The smell had an incredible nauseating effect on me as the disgusting cocktail hit my senses. I backed up, my eyes watering shut tightly. I began fighting my gag reflex. When I finally caught my breath I opened my eyes wiping away the tears, I saw a small, unidentifiable, mess of fur, bone and blood on my driver’s seat. I looked closer and came to the conclusion that the poor dead creature as a kitten. Then the words I had read earlier in the day came back to me. “…Counting kitten corpses”.

“Help!” I yelled as I saw the several more kittens in various stages of decomposition in my car. Kitten remains littered the vehicle with a severed cat’s head on the dashboard and entrails on the floor. There were even more kitten parts on the passenger seat and in the back. “Someone call the police!”

I left the car door open as I ran back to the store leaving my groceries beside the car in the lot where I had dropped them.

Once the police came, they interviewed myself and other ‘possible witnesses’ even though no one else saw what happened. I overheard one officer tell another that this was one of the most twisted things he had ever seen, and I had to agree. After about an hour of taking pictures of the crime scene, the same officer informed me that my car would have to be towed back to the station for further investigation and I would not get it back for a while. He asked if I had anyone that could come pick me up and I tried to call Scott. As usual he wasn’t home, so I told the officer that I was pretty much screwed, but could take a cab. He was kind enough to offer me a ride. On the ride home, the officer asked me if I knew anyone who would want to do harm to my property or me. At first I couldn’t think of anyone, but then I thought of my wife as a prime suspect. She may not have had the heart to do it herself, but surly could hire someone to do her dirty work for her. I told the officer of this suspicion and he said he would look into it.

TWO

Home

I was not sure where to have the officer drop me off. I did not want to go home but really had nowhere else to go. I put my hands over my closed eyes and took a deep breath trying to get the images of dead kittens out of my head. In my head I could hear their pitiful meows and screams of pain, even though they had been dead long before I saw them. When I opened my eyes again, I saw the address on my hand. Might as well check out the apartment. I decided to have the officer drop me off there.

Once at the office of the apartment complex, I knocked at the door, and received no answer. At the foot of the door was a post-it that must have fallen from the door. The words vacant apartment in large bold print at the top caught my eye. The note mentioned that the landlord had stepped out but that apartment 1844 was available, vacant and unlocked. I decided to help myself.

The complex itself was a nicely furnished and well-kept building. The grass was mowed and there was no litter to be found. There were no dogs barking and I smiled as I saw a few kids at play on the facility’s playground equipment. Beautiful floral designs painted the lawn like God himself took the liberty of making a masterpiece. I liked the idea of living in a quiet enclosed and peaceful area. This seemed just like the nice, fresh start I was looking for.

When I got to the fifth floor apartment, I knocked at the door, just in case, and let myself in. The apartment was clean and had that new-apartment-smell like a freshly shampooed floor. The apartment was small but used the space well. There was a small kitchen area to the right of the door with an open bar area that overlooked the living room. To the right of the door I found a closet and pantry and a hall that lead to the bathroom, a master and spare bedroom, and another closet. The living room had sliding glass doors, which lead to a small patio. I had to admit that I liked it. It was the perfect size for what little possessions I had left and I could imagine turning the guest bedroom into an office for when I worked from home. I was certain that I had to put down a deposit before anyone else did. On the bar I found a notepad and pen. I quickly wrote down my name, address, and cellular phone number saying I was the guy from the grocery store and I wanted the place. Closing the door behind me, I locked the deadbolt from the inside, and went back to the office. The landlord was still not in, so I slid the note under his door and stole the notice that there was a vacant apartment. I crumpled it up and stuffed it in my pants pocket.

After the two-mile walk to my old abandoned house, my feet were rebelling and my back felt broken. I was ready to relax. It was almost eight in the evening and I was hungry. I smacked my forehead as I realized that I had forgotten the groceries in the parking lot. What a waste of money. I thought. I looked back through the depressingly empty refrigerator, and was pleasantly surprised to find some pop sickles in the freezer. Not much, but it’ll due. I went to my favorite armchair and started to do a crossword puzzle hoping to get my mind of the emotional roller coaster of a day I had.

Just as I was solving my third clue, my home phone rang.

“Hi sir, Officer Andy here from the PD. I gave you a ride today remember? Anyway, how you doing?” The familiar voice asked.

“Well,” I said, pondering weather he really wanted to know that I felt like crap, “Fine I guess. I’m alive.”

“Well, that’s good to hear! I’m calling about your car…”

“Yeah”

“We really couldn’t find any evidence.”

“What do you mean no evidence, what about the dead cats?”

“Well sir, they’re dead cats. There were no unusual fingerprints in the car, other than yours and an unidentified female, and no one saw what happened. We have tons of hair evidence, but that will take time to process, and is more than likely all feline.”

“The prints are probably my wife’s… ex-wife’s. You’re telling me that you have no leads at all?”

“Not right now, Sir, in time we may get more, but as for now… If you don’t feel safe we could send a unit to check on you periodically. We really don’t have the man power to put a uniformed officer outside the house.” He said with hesitation in his voice.

“That won’t be needed. I’ll be fine. Just let me know if you find anything else out. Keep me posted.”

“Will do, Sir. Oh, and Sir, if you hear of anything else, let us know.”

“Yeah.” I said as I hung up the phone.

Figures. How the hell could they not find any evidence? I sighed, wondering when I would get my car back, and realizing that I forgot to ask.

I was startled out of my thoughts by the sound of my cell ringing. It was the landlord from the apartments. He told me that the apartment was mine and I could move in whenever I was ready. I called an old friend to see if I could get some help moving what little I had left. My friend, Scott was finally home and happy to help on the condition that I buy the beers afterwards.

Scott had a great life. In a way I envied him. He had a wife, two kids, and a normal job in marketing. He loved his life, but sometimes need a chance to get out of the house, which is why I think he was eager to help. After a long day, I found it hard to keep my eyes open and I fell asleep in my chair.

The next day I awoke to mail coming through the mail slot in my door. I yawned and wiped the sand out of my eyes as I walked to the door to sort through the pile of bills. It’s funny how she takes everything but the bills. I had to remind myself to stay positive. After sifting through the mess of bills, a different envelope caught my eye. It was bright neon yellow and had the words “Happy-Ness Is…” typed on it. Fan mail? Fans didn’t have my home address. I stared at the envelope for a few minutes before opening it. Inside was a torn piece of notebook paper. I unfolded it, not knowing what to expect. I was vaguely aware of a cold breeze that flowed through my house. I looked to the source of the breeze and realized that a window was open in another part of the house. Although I didn’t remember opening the window, I turned my attention back to the letter. I lit a cigarette and prepared to take a drag as I read the single lined note.

“…Surviving a Silent Killer.”

The words took my breath away. Suddenly I heard it: a hissing sound. Familiar. Close. Then the smell hit me. Gas. I looked down at the lit cigarette in my hand. I felt myself break out in a cold sweet as my heart began to race. I dropped the envelope and cigarette as I ran the few steps to the door, fumbling with the lock. I quickly fumbled with the three locks, as if I had forgotten how to use my hands. The dead bolt would not turn. I lifted the handle as I turned the lock and the dead bolt finally gave way and I dove out the door and ran to the sidewalk, waiting for the explosion.

THREE

Pain

Nothing happened. It had been several minutes of cowering across the street from my house, with my hands over my head on the ground, and nothing had happened. Maybe that open window was just enough for the gas to get out… I stood up and looked at my house. Maybe it wasn’t gas at all. I started walking to my house, and saw the door wide open as I had left it. I took a few quick glances to the left and right, and was relieved to see that there was no one around. I let out a chuckle to myself in embarrassment as I looked back into my house. The cigarette was on the floor next to the envelope. I ascended the steps to my front porch, and a slight a breeze picked up and the cigarette began to roll toward the envelope. Great, I thought, just my luck, my house will burn down because of my paranoia. As I placed my foot onto the porch, the smell of gas was unmistakable. Before I could turn around, the cigarette rolled onto the envelope, and it caught fire and the flame ignited the now powerful gas. I flash was blinding and the heat more intense than anything I had felt before, as the explosion blew me back to the sidewalk. The last thing I saw was my house in flames and then everything faded into darkness.

The pain in my cheeks was beyond extreme. It was a burning sensation as if my flesh were ripping. I woke up screaming. I still had not opened my eyes after being awakened by the aching feeling all over my body. As I slowly opened them, struggling to focus, all I could see was white. I squeezed them tightly and reopened them as wide as I could and finally something came into focus. There was a note suspended above me. The writing was clear and bold.

“Happy-Ness is Fishing on a Sunday.”

I struggled to contemplate it’s meaning, while I still tried to clear my mind and come to grips with where I could be. Still groggy, I was fully aware of the pain in my face and hands. I tried to turn my head to the right and the pain in my left cheek became infinitely worse. I could feel my flesh ripping. I screamed in pain and jerked my face back to the left only to feel worse pain on the right side of my face. I tried to pull my hands to my face to stop the pain but my hands were stopped. They were held back by something tearing through the fat of my hands near my thumbs.

I screamed for help as best I could, only to hear my own voice echoing back at me. I gotta get my hands free. I tried again to pull my left hand free and felt something tearing though the muscles of my hand. The pain! I braced myself and tried again, letting my hand rest next to me, then pulling with all my might. Again, the excruciating pain shot up my hand. I could feel my warm blood pooling in the palm of my hand. I tried to look down to see the source of my pain and the pulling ripped my cheeks again. Tears streamed down my eyes, as I cried out for someone to help me, knowing no one was coming. The note, which had been dangling in front of me, began to sway from my breaths. I saw this and saw something behind it. I blew on the paper and realized that what was behind the paper, attached to the ceiling was a full-length mirror. Horror gripped me as I saw an image worse than any Hollywood special effect. I was lying on a steel table with, what looked like; large metal fish hooks in each of my cheeks attached to something under the table. My hands were hooked in a similar fashion connected to something else under the table. I blew the paper again to try to see past it and see if there was anything else I could see that would be useful. Every time I blew the paper, I was rewarded with a small window of opportunity to see what I needed to see before the paper fell back into place. I was glad that there was daylight filling the room so I could better evaluate my situation with each little glimpse. The paper was being suspended by fishing line, which looked to be tied to polls on each end of the steel table. I need get a hand free. I braced myself for the inevitable pain that I was about to feel. I shut my eyes tightly and pulled with all my might. I felt the hook tearing through my hand and causing pain beyond any thing I ever dreamed I could feel. Every nanosecond that I pulled felt like a lifetime until finally I gave it my hardest pull, ripping my hand free from the hook.

I had to take a few minutes to recover. My hand was finally going numb, probably from loss of blood. I tried to reach across to the other hand to free it from the other hook only to find that my thumb was practically useless. I could not pinch the hook with out the muscles in my free hand aching. I felt for the eye of the hook and when I found it, I pinched it between my index and middle finger. I pulled, and felt the hook dig deeper. I remembered fishing as a kid. Though they were good memories, I made a mental promise to myself that I would never go again. I pulled a little harder and felt it dig even deeper. Fuck it. I thought as I gritted my teeth and ripped my hand away from the hook with all of my strength. The hook tore a chunk of my hand out with it as it fell free to the ground. I screamed as agony as the blood poured from the open wounds in my hands. God kill me. I passed out again from the pain.

Some time later when I came to, I hoped it had all been a nightmare. I tried to sit up, and felt the now too familiar, ripping pain in my cheeks. I reached my weak hands up to my face, only to feel the fishing line that was connected to the hooks on my face, was not fishing line at all. It was metallic. It felt braided, and coarse. Guitar strings? I was not sure what the line was made of, but knew it would not break easily. In fact, I was convinced that breaking the line was not an option at all. I would have to pull the hooks out of my face. My left hand was not as weak as my right so I used it to wiggle and maneuver the hook from my left cheek. Once I got it free the hook fell off and I felt the right side of my face feel released. The line had gone around the metal table and hooked one cheek to the other. The line hung from my face. I sat up and looked around the room. I was in an abandoned warehouse of some kind. The windows were all either boarded up or broken, and it was the middle of the evening. I must have been passed out longer than I thought. The warehouse was lit only by moonlight, which cast eerie shadows over empty boxes. A cool night’s breeze filled the warehouse.

I was beyond hurt and well into pissed off. I didn’t know who had done this to me, or why, but when I found out they would pay. I pulled the other hook from my face and let it fall to the ground, the pain barely fazing me. I found my way to the unlocked door and found a letter attached to it.

“Happy-Ness is overcoming pain.”

I kicked the door open in anger, blood still running from my face and hands as I tried to figure out where I was. Quickly I realized that this warehouse was on the edge of town, and there were no other buildings to be seen. I had a general feel for where I was and knew I had a long and painful walk ahead of me.

Before I could start the walk back to town, I had to address the wounds and slow the bleeding. None of my wounds were enough to be fatal, but the more blood I lost the less energy I had. I knew I would need to conserve my energy. After walking the long grass and gravel road from the warehouse to the highway, I sat on the side of the road. I tore off a piece of my shirt and wrapped my left hand with it. I did the same for my right and quickly realized that there was not much I could do for my face. With my sad attempt at bandaging myself done, I started walking through the glow of town.

Once in town, I debated going back to my house, but decided that since I had no idea just how long I was unconscious, the police and firemen were most likely long gone. I doubted that there was anything of my house left and realized in that moment that I was homeless. I knew I could go to the new apartment. Well, at least now I won’t have anything to move. I thought, sighing out loud. Scott! I knew that I could always go visit my friend. He lived about a mile from where I was, so the walk would be easy.

Once at Scott’s house, his wife offered to more properly dress my wounds and take me to the hospital. I declined and asked that they call the police. Scott was already on it. The police were on their way. I didn’t want her to dress my wounds because I knew the police would probably want to take pictures and I didn’t want to risk losing any evidence this time. She understood, but insisted on dressing the wounds when they were done. I agreed, knowing that some triple antibiotic would feel soothing.

I was not fortunate enough to get the same kind officer this time as I did when I reported the incident with my car. This officer looked at me almost accusingly as if I had done this to myself for attention. I did not know what I had done to him, but he really didn’t seem to like me. The officer was a tall Caucasian man who had shaved his head bald. He never pulled his had off his gun except to take notes. When he was done with the questioning, and taking some pictures, he asked if I could take him back to the warehouse. I told him I could, but suggested he take back up incase the psycho was still there somewhere.

On the drive back to the warehouse, the officer radioed for an extra unit to meet him there, and a C.S.I. unit to help investigate. The drive felt longer than the walk had been mostly due to the dead silence that filled the car. When we turned onto the grass and gravel road that lead to the warehouse, the officer finally spoke.

“So, are you the same guy who writes about what makes people happy in the paper?” He asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, unsure if it was a good thing or bad thing in his eyes. “that’s me. Do you read my stuff?”

“No, but my ex does. She loved your article called ‘Happy-Ness is realizing you can survive in your own.’ Said it liberated her. Changed her life even.”

“I’m glad she liked it. I wrote it after my wife left me.”

“Yeah, your wife and her have a lot in common. They both left their men.”

Silence gripped the cruiser once again as I pondered what to say next. I couldn’t help but notice that the officer’s hand was on his gun once again. Part of me thought he was going to shoot me on the spot. “Wow, sorry to hear about that.”

“Yeah. Sure you are. Do you ever even stop to think about how your articles impact lives? How sometimes they ruin lives?” He said, his voice becoming more and more aggravated.

“Um, I try to. I try to have a positive message to them. Look Officer, I am sorry your wife left you, but maybe you’re better off. Did you read the article?”

“Read it? Ha! I could recite it to you!” He said, his voice now raised.

The car began to feel like its walls were closing in on me. I looked into the eyes of the officer and saw a faint blue and red flash off of the reflection of his head. I turned and was relieved to see the lights of a second cruiser pulling up behind us.

“Just think before you write.” The officer warned.

“I’ll remember that. Thanks.” I told him, not wanting to piss him off any more.

The other cruiser held two officers and behind it was a C.S.I. SUV. They all exited the vehicles at the same time. My window was down and I was surprised to see the C.S.I. Stop to talk to me before going in. The other three officers all went into the warehouse, probably to check for threats.

“How you doin’ sir?” The C.S.I. said.

“I’ve been better.” I told him truthfully.

“My name is Joe and I need to take some pictures of your hands and face. Can you please step out of the car?” He asked in a kind and caring voice.

“Yeah, no problem. I used my shirt to make the bandages…”

“Yes, I see. We’ll need those for evidence. An ambulance should be here shortly to dress the wounds properly.”

I was relieved to hear that. My hands were numb and probably infected.

“Joe! You’re gonna want to check this out…” One of the officers yelled from inside the warehouse.

“I gotta go.” He said after photographing my face and bandaged hands. “On my way!”

“Bring the Luminol.” The officer yelled.

“Like I’d forget.” He told me. I watched him jog to the warehouse.

Luminol. I remembered hearing the word somewhere. After giving it much thought I remembered hearing about it on Court TV. It was a chemical designed to illuminate trace amounts of blood. They shouldn’t need Luminol to see it. My blood should be everywhere. I wondered what was taking so long as the ambulance pulled up.

I walked to them and the paramedic who helped me was a kindly looking woman with the name ‘Connie’ on her nametag. Connie was kind enough to dress my wounds and bag the ‘evidence’ that my torn shirt had become. As we talked about what had happened, I saw my bald headed friendly critic officer walking towards me.

“Sir, come with me.” He said in a judgmental tone. I knew I had not done anything wrong, so I should have nothing to worry about… right?

FOUR

Games

Nothing can prepare you to see nothing where you knew there was something, and now that something is gone. They all thought I was crazy. The three officers, the C.S.I. and even the Paramedic, Connie, thought that perhaps, my wounds were self-inflicted.

The warehouse was empty. There was no metal table, no mirror on the ceiling, and no blood… anywhere. Luminol showed absolutely no traces of anyone’s blood anywhere. Over and over again they kept asking me what really happened and why I would hurt myself like that. I tried to explain what had happened. My story never changed, not a word. The bald officer seemed all too happy to tell me that there was a nice person back at the station that I needed to talk to. I knew that I didn’t need to see a therapist. My house!

“If I did this to myself, then what happened to my house? Do you really think I would burn down the only property I have?” I protested.

“Insurance pays a lot these days. Or heck, maybe a botched suicide attempt, I really don’t know why you did these things sir, but I can assure you that insurance fraud is not a game.” He said, almost mockingly.

“Look, I’m not hurting for money. I didn’t burn down my house and I didn’t do this to myself. And what about the cats in my car?”

“Botched publicity stunt? If what you are saying is true, then what happened to these notes that this person keeps leaving you? You did keep at least one of them, right?”

“I…” I knew that I had not kept any of them. I could have kicked my own ass for the stupidity. “…No.”

“I didn’t think so. Look, I don’t think you are a danger to others, but I am not sure about yourself. We have taken your statement, and pictures. Our C.S.I. will continue to check the scene here for evidence. You are free to go.”

“Go where?”

“Do you have anywhere you can stay?”

“Scott’s. He’s a friend.”

“We’ll take you to the hospital to get the wounds checked out, have your friend meet you there.” He said as if blowing me off.

They made me stay at the hospital overnight until they were sure I would not hurt myself “again”. To be honest, it was the best sleep I’d had in weeks, probably because of the drugs.

The next afternoon, Scott was nice enough to meet me at the hospital, but went one step further. After hearing about what had happened and remembering what I had told him about the new apartment, he decided that the best thing for me would be a fresh start. He had gone to the apartments, spoken with the manager, got the key, and paid my first, last and two extra months rent. He also went so far as move his spare bed into my apartment with a TV and typewriter just so the apartment would not be bare and I could continue to work. I told him he didn’t have to do any of it, but he said it was no big deal and pointed out that I would do the same for him. He was right. I would do anything for this guy. Scott didn’t take me back to his place, instead he stopped at a grocery store and picked up a six-pack of beers and we went back to the apartment. He presented me with the key and I unlocked the door.

I turned on the light only to see a large gray kitten in front of me, or rather a person in a kitten mascot costume. I only saw it for a moment, but long enough to see that parts of the costume were soaked with bloodstains. In one hand he held a gun, aimed at Scott, in the other, a dirty white rag. He ran at me with a rag and held it to my face. The smell of chloroform was overwhelming and soon I felt light headed.

“Happy-Ness is a Good Night’s Sleep,” He said in a voice that reminded me of when I was a kid and had inhaled a helium balloon. “Happy-ness is Killing You.”

It was the last thing I heard before all faded to black. Counting kitten corpses.

My head felt like someone had tried to make my brains into mash potatoes with a Louisville Slugger. Although I was aware that I was awake, I could not open my eyes yet. My back ached with the fire of a thousand burning souls. I was forced to open my eyes when I heard that high-pitched voice once again.

“Happy-Ness is knowing your not dead… yet.” The big cat said. I opened my eyes and tried to speak. I was still dizzy and the room was blurry. My hands were bound behind my back. I immediately began to worry about Scott. This bastard had probably killed him already.

“Where…” I started. A hand silenced me. Though I could not see clearly yet, I could tell that he was holding a small tube of something. Fearing that he would try to poison me, I shut my lips tightly. I could not have known that that is exactly what he wanted. The liquid he put on my mouth was cold. He slowly spread it across my lips. I tried to open them but couldn’t. Superglue.

“Happy-Ness is Golden Silence and Speaking Only When Spoken to.” He said as he left the room, his voice starting to change back. The sound of a large metal door shutting behind him filled the room. I had not heard enough of his voice to identify him, but it was a sound that I would be sure to try to remember.

I blinked my eyes tightly and shook my head to try to clear my vision. When it finally returned, the first thing I saw was myself. Another mirror was in front of me. I looked around the room. Ceiling to floor was covered in mirrors. I could see nothing but myself in every angle. It was like I was trapped in a not-so-fun-house of mirrors. It was like an infinite tunnel of mirrors in every direction. Looking down, I saw that he had left me a piece of paper. “Happy-Ness is Stabbing Yourself in the Back.” I looked to the right at my reflection in the mirror I was wearing only my black boxer briefs and looked like I had climbed from the depths of hell. Written in blood, which I can only assume was mine, was another twisted message. “Happy-Ness is seeing Yourself For What you Really Are!” I looked closer and saw that a sharp piece of steel was pointing at my back in a spike. My hands were chained and locked behind me. What does this bastard want from me? “Hemmmph!” I tried to cry out only to hear the sounds of my screams muffled by my own sealed lips. The pain in my back was sharper than ever. I tried to move away from the metal spike in the wall only to scratch my back on it. Then I felt it catch on something. It felt like there was something sown into my back. Happy-Ness is stabbing your self in the back! The key to the chains is sown to my back! As I came to the gruesome realization I turned slightly to get a look at it and see if I could wiggle the key out without cutting my back. Terror filled my heart as I saw that the key was not sown to my back… but into it.

FIVE

Truth

I was not sure how to use the metal spike to cut the sutures and free the key imprisoned in my back with out cutting too deep and severing my spine. Every move I made was like the Devil himself was scratching my back with his black nails, leaving a trail of fiery pain in their path. I now knew pain on a molecular level. It tore at my atoms and screamed at me with every inch I tried to move. A large part of me wanted to impale myself on the spike and end it now. My death may be the only control I have. I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let this sick bastard kill me.

I had never contemplated death before, but at this point, it was looking like more than a viable option. This was more than physical torture; this was mental pain like nothing I had ever felt. I didn’t want to die, but if I was going to, I wanted to be by my own hands. My captor was surly watching my struggles behind one of the mirrors, which were had to be two-way. If my hands were free I would have flipped him off. I have to try to get free. Since I could not see what I was going, and my back was starting to feel numb, I would have to do this all by sound and feeling.

I moved my upper body downward and felt the first of the several sutures snap. Blood began to run down my back and to my hands, which lie shackled, behind me. The feeling was a mixture of relief and pain all at the same time. I tried for the next one but missed and sliced into my back. I let out another muffled scream in pain before collecting myself enough to try again. On the second attempt, I cut the second suture only to feel more blood rolling down my back. I began to wonder how much blood I could shed and stay alive. Deciding it best not to think about it, I tried for the third one. As I pulled the suture down, the metal key began to fall out of my back. I pushed harder, trying to phase out the pain in my mind. It was easier said than done. Suddenly, I slipped forward on the blood puddle under me and the spike stabbed me in the back. The cut felt deeper than it actually was. It was not enough to hit my spine but enough to make me light headed from the pain. As I leaned forward as far as my chains would let me, the key fell out of my back and onto the mirror panel I was sitting on. I fumbled for it as best as I could, but it was hard to pick up from the puddle. When I finally got it in hand, I used the mirrors to locate the lock, and released myself.

I stood up and tried to take a step, but slipped in the puddle of my crimson blood and smacked my head on the glass mirror below, cracking it. The pain from landing on my back was instant and intense. It ached in a way that would make Gandhi curse life. I rolled over and got on all fours. I looked up and saw the spike inches from my face. I used my weak hands to try to pry my mouth open, put it the glue that held it shut ripped my skin with each pull. I knew I had to use the bloody spike to cut my mouth open. I wiped away as much of the blood from the floor as I could, knowing that if I slipped while cutting my mouth open, it could be the last slip I ever made. I leaned forward, staring at myself in the mirror and seeing the fear in my eyes. I cut my mouth open with little effort then quickly fell to my side and screamed out in pain.

After several minutes of trying to collect myself once again, I finally got up the strength to try to escape my glass hell. The metal door that the cat had exited was now shut. The handle was hard to find, but once I did, the door slid open. I had no idea what to expect next. I stepped into the hall that lie in front of me with a broken piece of glass in hand. Leaving blood footprints behind me, I walked down the dark hall and came to a staircase at the end. I climbed the stairs only to find a switch on the wall. Above the switch was another message painted on the wall. “Happy-Ness is discovering the Truth.” I gripped the mirror shard tightly in my hand and pulled the switch. The wall panel slid to the side and let me into an all too familiar room. It was the den of my friend Scott’s basement. We had spent many hours there watching games and drinking beers. Scott did this to me? I was baffled. My mind swam in confusion, but I knew the answers would come soon enough. Then I saw the cat. He stepped in from another room holding a shotgun aimed at me.

“What? Are you not man enough to face me, face to face? If your gonna kill me you might as well just do it!” I said, daring him to reveal himself. “Come on Scott! Be a man you pussy!”

“I’m not Scott!” he said removing the oversized cathead mask he had been wearing to reveal his face. “The name is Jake.”

Part of me was not surprised to find out who my captor was. I would’ve recognized the baldhead anywhere. It was the officer from before. This had all been some kind of sick revenge for his wife leaving him.

“Listen, Jake, I told you before, I am sorry about your wife. It’s still not my fault.” I tried to reason with the obviously mad man.

“Have you learned nothing about truth and consequences? You are one piece of work. You know, I actually admired you at one point!” he yelled stepping closer to me.

I realized that this all made sense. Who could abduct me in broad daylight? A cop. Who would know how to work around Luminol? A cop. “ Look man, I admire you right now. Look at the way you set this whole thing up. Who could pull this kind of thing off?”

“Don’t fucking patronize me, you prick.” He said with spite in his eyes.

He was standing right in front of me, raising the gun to my forehead. “Please…” I said ready to beg for my life. I wanted to kick him in the nuts and take the gun, but couldn’t risk his itchy trigger finger. I closed my eyes and embraced death. “…do it.”

Then, from the behind Jake came a third familiar voice. “Put the gun down.”

“Scott?” I said, opening my eyes. As the barrel of the shotgun lowered, the wonderful site of my friend holding a pistol to the head of Officer Dickhead came to view.

“Shut the fuck up,” Scott said to my surprise. “You said we both would be here when we did this! What the fuck Jake?”

“Sorry Scott, guess I just got carried away.”

I chimed in with a “What the fuck is going on here?”

Scott was quick to respond, “You’re gonna learn some lessons, that’s what.”

“What are you…”

“I said shut up! You’re gonna listen for once asshole. You ungrateful piece of shit.” Scott said, pointing the gun at me. I was dumb founded. I’d never seen Scott like this before. “We’ve known each other for, what? Fifteen years now? I am always there for you. Good old Scott. A fucking door mat. You use me and use me and use me and now there’s nothing left! I tried to make our friendship work. Frankly I am sick of trying. How many times do I have to invite you to something and get told I am not important enough before I get it? You always put yourself before me you selfish prick! You had everything! A great house, a sweet car and a hot wife, but were they good enough? No! You threw them all away too! Then you call me and whine that your life is falling apart, the whole time lying to your fans and writing about happiness!” He screamed with tears running down his face.

“Wow, Scott…I” I started to apologize before I was interrupted again.

“I’m not done. I won’t tell you to shut your fucking face again. Next time I’ll just blow it off! You think I didn’t know. I know everything! This isn’t about you or your stupid ass fans! Jake here has been watching you for some time now. He has seen everything! Everything! Had some nice pics to back it up too!” Scott said accusingly.

“What are you talking about?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“Don’t play stupid with me Jackass!” Scott yelled, pulling some photographs from his pocket. The pics were worn and looked like he had them for quite some time. He threw them on the floor and said, “Look at them! Look at what you did!”

I looked down and saw a picture that was very familiar to me. It was of me kissing a woman in front of our fireplace. At one time, it was one of my favorite pics. Originally it had been of my wife and I, but I threw it out when she left me. Jake must have taken it and altered it because now it was not my wife I was kissing, but instead, Scott’s wife! “This isn’t what you think!”

“Do you think I am completely fucking stupid or what?” Scott said with hatred in his eyes. “I never told her I knew, because I figured that once I killed your snake ass, she would have no choice but to love me!”

“Scott, did you go to him to find these, or did he come to you?”

“What’s it matter? I found them! I fucking loved you like a brother and you stab me in the back? That’s why your wife left you isn’t it? Isn’t it!”

“They’re fake, Scott!”

“Don’t listen to him Scott. This puke would say anything to save himself. Selfish prick. If he really cared about you he would want you to kill him as an apology!” Jake said, eager to see me dead.

“You’re right. You’re right!” Scott said. “You gotta die!” Scott raised the gun to my face and slowly began to pull the trigger.

I heard the blast before I felt anything. Moments passed like hours as time its self slowed to a crawl. Scott’s eyes were wide with the pain of having to turn a gun on his one time best friend. I looked down and saw blood. Not mine. Scott had a large hole in his side and right next to it was a shotgun, barrels still smoking.

“Pussy. Knew you couldn’t go through with it.” Jake said with hate in his voice.

I watched as my friend fell to his knees as his eyes filled with pain and betrayal. I had never seen anyone die before. His face went pale and blood poured all over the floor beside him rushing to my feet. The shock must have shown on my face because Jake started to laugh.

“You know, one of the things they teach you as a cop is to look for witnesses. No witnesses, no crime! Scott there was a witness. He had to die. Just like his pretty little wife, and yours. I’ll be sure to kill her too…” Jake said with an evil grin on his face.

This son-of-a-bitch! I kicked him in the groin with all I had. He instantly dropped the gun and grabbed at his aching nuts. I swooped up the shotgun and cocked it, ejecting the empty shells. I aimed it at his head… It took everything I had not to kill him. Every single fiber of my being, wanted to pull the trigger. “Fuck it. You’re not worth it. I won’t sink to your level.” I turned the gun around and smashed the butt of the weapon into his face, breaking his nose. I wanted to turn the pain around on him. He fell to the ground then stood back up, dazed. He took a few steps toward the staircase then fell again, out cold. I wanted to tape him up and drill holes in his hands. To make him chew glass or cut his nuts with a rusty razor blade. I wanted to do all of those things, but couldn’t. I was better than him. I ran upstairs and grabbed the phone. I dialed 911 and turned to look at the basement steps. A chill ran down my spine. He was gone.

“911 what is your emergency?” A kind woman’s voice asked.

“There have been some murders.” I said and dropped the phone to the ground. I knew they would trace the call and cops would be here soon, but I had work to do.

I brought the gun to chest level and was ready to blast anything that moved. Jake was not at the bottom of the steps.

“Hey!” I heard him yell from behind me. Turned just in time to catch a 2X4 in the stomach. It knocked the wind out of me and forced me to drop the gun. “I’m a cop. I’m trained to take hits! Is that really all you got?” He punched me in the face hard and solid. I took the hit and came back at him and landed a punch in the gut. He grabbed my wrist and twisted it, throwing me to the ground. I can’t let him beat me. I started crawling toward Scott’s lifeless corpse. “He’s dead dumb ass! He can’t help you!” Jake said kicking me in the side. “Should have killed me when you had the chance!” He said with another kick to my side. My whole body hurt but I continued to try to crawl to Scott’s side. “I’m gonna savor killing you!” he said stomping on my back, where the key had been buried I dropped to Scott’s side, unable to crawl any further. He turned around and picked up the shotgun. Jake returned to me and kicked me in the face. “Say goodnight dickhead!”

“Goodnight Dickhead!” I said rolling over with Scott’s gun in hand. I landed a shot perfectly in his side. “That’s for Scotty,” I said firing another round into his balls. “That’s for his wife!” I took my final shot, and landed it in his temple. “And that is for me.” I watched as he dropped again to the ground, this time lifelessly.

I walked back towards the steps, exhausted. On the way, I found the Cat mascot head. I shot a round into it. “And that’s for the kittens.”

Police came and I was questioned. I told them my whole long story. Joe the C.S.I. showed up and this time believed me. I was taken to the hospital and held for two days then released with a great prescription for painkillers. During my stay, I tried to call my ex. I realized that life was too short, and I had to try to get back with her. I never got a hold of her, but was determined to keep trying.

When I was finally released, I went home to my apartment. It was late and I was still tired so I fell onto my bare mattress. As I rolled over, something shiny caught my eye. A silver tarp had been thrown over a large box in the corner of the room. I sat up suspicious of what it could be and saw something familiar on the top. The paper was a stationary from my office.

“Happy-Ness is Reuniting with old friends.”

I moved the tarp. I literally pissed my pants at the site. A mess of blood, flesh, and brown hair filled a 55-gallon tank. As I backed up in horror as I saw Scott and his wife’s face staring back at me…

…The End?

1


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