This story is by Michael Munson and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My name is Max McLaughlin, and it’s been six years since I killed my mother. Since I watched her take her last breath and saw her face contort deliciously in pain. My mother was my first kill. Her death was my first symphony — the first in a string of sonatas. It was my 16th birthday. A gift to myself.
She died with a smile on her face, which still pisses me off today. That anger fueled my thirst and desire for more kills and more murderous melodies. Killing her was too easy considering she’d been lying in a hospital bed unable to move since a bullet snapped her spine. All I had to do was unplug the machines that were keeping her alive. I listened to the staccato of the heart rate monitor and soon the glorious sound of her throaty gurgles and gasps for air. Her final melody. My new hobby.
She wasn’t aware that I’d been following her for years. Watching her “work” as a decorated NY homicide detective and talented serial killer. She exceeded in the “art” of murder and I thought it was a shame that her skills and years of dedication to her craft should go unnoticed or at least perfected. I thought it only fitting that I continued her legacy. Why waste all those inherited genes of sweet inner-rage, human manipulation, and total lack of empathy? It’s obvious that the taste for murder runs in the family. I inherited her “ear” for the classical sounds of death.
I’ve often wondered how far back the reverberation of violence echoed into our family lineage. How deep do the roots of hate and blood run through the family tree?
Unlike my mother, who kept a death-journal, a record of her kills and musical accomplishments, hidden in her gun safe, I’ve stored them in my mind. Each kill is a scene, with a script and soundtrack all its own. All I had to do was close my eyes. My private cinema anytime I wanted. I have always had a photographic memory. A trait I received from my father, who disappeared years ago. I suspect he met a gruesome fate. Serves him right for cheating on my mother. Neither of my parents would win any awards for parenting. Both have been absent throughout much of my life. I hated them both.
Why do I kill? Honestly, I feel it’s my destiny. It’s the only thing that quiets the rage. Murder makes me feel connected to my victims. To the world. If only temporarily.
I pride myself on my cinematic skills. I handpick the actors, the locations, and I write the beginning and end of every scene. Like my mother, I chose NYU to perfect my craft, but I picked a career in directing, screenwriting, and musical composition. At 22 I’m graduating from college with honors and already have an extensive resume of films, and award-winning soundtracks under my belt. Unfortunately, no one will get to see or hear them and the leading stars have all since retired. Permanently. A Star Is Born. A star is dead.
To make life interesting, a worldwide pandemic has forced most nations to shut down their economies and home-based quarantines are in place. The illness targets the old and the weak. Less sophisticated killers would see this as easy pickings, but I want my actors to be lively and fresh for the kill. Mandatory wearing of face-masks when in public has just added drama and mystery to each scene. The only downside of the masks is that they often muffle the sounds of screams and disturb the integrity of the last scene. But the show must go on.
I’ve taken a few chapters from my mother’s murder books. Why not learn from the expert? Although she liked to kill criminals, I like to pick my characters with more finesse. She taught me the importance of research. To familiarize yourself with every location before each scene and know your victims and actors intimately. I had plenty to choose from at NYU before they canceled classes. In homage to the world’s greatest screen actors and writers, I reenacted many of their deaths.
To honor the great stuntman Dar Robinson, my annoying neighbor lost his life to a freak motorcycle accident. Although I wasn’t there to shoot the last take, someone posted the video as he went off a cliff somewhere on Long Island. A group of tourists filming nearby caught it on tape and posted it on YouTube. Unfortunately, it was eventually removed for being too graphic. Mr. Lee, my Dry Cleaner, died from a gunshot wound to the face after his gun exploded during target practice. Serves him right for over-starching my shirts. I would like to think Brandon Lee would have been proud. He died on set much the same way.
I often nicknamed my victims after famous actors. My first of my nickname-murders was Grace Kelly, whose name was really Grace Adams and a total snob from my scriptwriting class. She died after I pushed her down the rocky stairs in Central Park. That last step was a doozie. Brad Pitt was another favorite kill of mine, with a wonderful last act. He was a theater actor at school. Poor guy died when his large wall unit entertainment system at home collapsed on his head. Too much TV is terrible for your health. My crotchety old building super died of a heart attack the other day. I guess he didn’t like it when I jumped out of the shadows while doing laundry in the basement. Switching out his meds for sugar pills was easy. This was a nod to the great Tyrone Power.
One of my favorite scenes involved my Advanced Screenwriting professor, Mrs. Cabot. She called me out in front of the class by suggesting my writing was redundant and my murder scenes were all just cliches. Never piss off a psychopath. I gave her a front-row seat to one of my best pieces. A short film I call “The Path of Most Resistance”.
Knowing she was an avid runner and used a particular wooded route in Central Park, I created an effective snare using two Birch trees. I hid in the shadows and as planned, her body hit one tree with a hard thump, temporarily rendering her unconscious. Earlier, I blocked the one path entrance with some large branches and while she dangled I ran to the other and added a “path closed “sign. This gave me time to enjoy myself. I used a cattle prod to awaken her and then used her tiny frame as a human pinata. I let her insides spill onto the ground like treats for the maggots and crows.
Unfortunately, I’ve gotten sloppy lately. I’ve been off my game. One day I had a coughing fit just as I was sneaking up on my Sharon Tate look alike. I found the exact knife used in her slaying.
It was the perfect script. Down to the last detail. This actress was also pregnant. She spun around and saw the knife, screamed, and ran. My loss, their gain. My first and last mistake. A few days later while running for the bus, I became so dizzy I went down. I awoke later to muted voices and the smell of antiseptic and then I was out like a light.
And so now here I lay like my mother before me. In a hospital bed, in intensive care, on a respirator. The same hospital where she took her last breath. Many of my favorite kill scenes took place in this very hospital. Dressed in scrubs, with a face mask. Just another orderly, killing those in isolation. The vulnerable. Just for kicks. They tell me I have the virus that’s already killed millions, and now I lay quarantined. Alone with my thoughts and unable to breathe without pain. I suddenly feel like a bait on a hook. I fall in and out of consciousness. Delirious with fever.
I don’t know how many days I have been here. At one point I awake and sense someone standing next to me. Along with a surgical gown, I notice they were wearing the same shoes my mother and I bought my dad for his birthday years ago. They also wore the same awful cologne. In one hand he was holding the tube to my respirator, in the other was a syringe. Even with the mask on, I could tell he was grinning. A blank and cold look in his eyes. I had a moment of recognition and then I heard my voice as if it weren’t my own. “Hey, dad”. “Hey Maxie”, the voice said.
Cut! My last scene.