Day of Rage
"With his debut collection of mad scientists and classic monsters, childhood wonders twisted into nightmares, and Twilight Zone-style morality plays, Pete Mesling reminds us what's fun about horror—and adds serious chills along the way."—Norman Prentiss, Bram Stoker Award-winner, author of Invisible Fences
He awoke to the cool dampness of nightmare sweat on the bedsheet, breathing heavily with the knowledge that something had pursued him through fens and hollows while his eyes darted back and forth behind closed lids. He kicked off the covers in anger, then flung his legs over the edge of the bed to sit and stew. Finally he stomped to the kitchen and downed two tall glasses of tap water in quick succession. Even his swallows were angry.
Halfway through a breakfast of instant oatmeal and leftover pizza he began thinking about free will, a favorite debate item from his college days. He stood staunchly on the side of the determinists, unable to comprehend the true nature of choice. What was it if not an uncaused event, since we can’t be held accountable for a caused event? His brain simply could not make choice plausible. As far as he was concerned, if one event was caused, then all events were caused.
He could trace his philosophical curiosity to a single childhood incident. A neighborhood bully had been pulling him too fast in a Radio Flyer wagon, and when one of the front wheels struck the edge of an uplifted section of sidewalk, he’d tumbled into the street and scraped his palms bloody. He hadn’t cried but stared at his raw hands thinking that surely if he’d woken up thirty seconds earlier that morning, he never would have fallen out of the wagon. Might never have crawled into it to begin with.
Blake was no stranger to the free will debate, in other words. But never before had he taken it into his head to set out to prove that he was right. His day of rage was the perfect goad.
His experiments started out small. He rented a Buick, despite owning a perfectly good Hyundai, and drove almost fifty miles to have lunch in a small town he’d never been to before. He was surprised to make it that far with his trials, but it proved nothing. Surely he’d come up against a wall soon, over which no amount of so-called choice could catapult him.
Dinner would be Chinese, he decided. He hated Chinese. Loathed every morsel he’d ever tasted. But there he sat at the Five Star Dragon’s smallest table, in its darkest corner, full to bursting with sweet-and-sour shrimp, egg rolls, and green tea.
“Your fortune cookie, sir,” the overly polite waiter said, presenting the most boring of all desserts on a small plate with the check.
Movement out the window caught his eye. A homeless man was picking his nose and peering into a refuse bin. Anger surged through the veins of Blake’s neck, up into his temples and forehead. Who did this guy think he was that he could just stand around on a public sidewalk picking his nose while people were trying to eat inside?
His fist came down inadvertently on the fortune cookie. The noise of the plate as it clattered in little circles startled a family in a nearby booth. It also fueled his rage. Tearing his gaze from the man outside he noticed something odd. There was no fortune amid the cookie rubble before him. His fate was in his own hands, it appeared.
“What do I care?” he shouted, to the chagrin of everyone in the restaurant.
He tossed a couple of bills on the table and made for the front door.
“Asshole,” he heard someone say as he pushed open the door.
“Go fuck yourself,” he called back over his shoulder.
And then he was outside with the bum. He studied him for a moment in the violet-tinged twilight before making his presence known.
“Hey! You got a fuckin’ problem?”
The man, older than Blake had figured from inside, stood to full height and turned to face his questioner. He was gaunt and wizened. Used up. Worthless.
“I asked you a goddamn question. You deaf?”
“Don’t want no trouble. Just looking for something to eat…” The voice was low and guttural, the obvious by-product of years of excessive whiskey drinking.
“Oh, you’re hungry! I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. Here, why don’t you have some Chinese.”
He stepped up to the man and pushed two fingers deep down inside his own throat. His gag reflex came on quick. Two fruitless retches. Three. Then gold. Up came dinner in a veritable Yangtze of noodles, egg, shrimp and tea. All of it sprayed onto the homeless man with the sound of a paper bag being wadded up.
“I didn’t do nothin’ to you,” the man said, maddeningly unfazed, except for the slow, incredulous shaking of his head.
A black Cadillac Escalade barreled through the nearest intersection.
“No? Well I’m sure as shit going to do something to you.”
He cocked both arms and launched his open palms into the stranger’s chest, heaving him off the curb and into the path of the onrushing Cadillac.
“Don’t!” the man yelled, but he was powerless to stop the work of gravity and inertia. Only the passenger-side mirror made contact, but it was the man’s head that took the force of the blow, and the vehicle was moving so fast. A crimson gout flared from the bum’s temple as he whirled around and slammed into a parked car before slumping to the pavement. The Cadillac didn’t even slow.
Blake took the scene in for a moment before walking away in a daze, knowing that if the man wasn’t already dead he soon would be. He’d never killed anything more significant than a cockroach. He was a quick study, he guessed.
His walk became a run as he headed down Jefferson Way, which would lead him to the highest bridge in town. His day was nearly over.
Was it free will or causation that had pointed his feet toward the bridge? He couldn’t decide for sure, but he stayed on course to the bitter end.