This story is by Noel Marzen and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The park ranger’s blue eyes are full of fear, not because he realizes the rocks from the cave-in block our only exit, but because his gun is no longer in the holster by his side. It is now grasped tightly in my hand.
I can tell he is scared. He fears he will never again see his wife of thirty-two years or his three sons. He rambles on about expecting his fourth grandchild in the fall, a first granddaughter. He isn’t even supposed to be out here.
He explained how he was promoted to head of the department three years prior, and usually remained in the office at his desk. Today, though, one of his officers called in sick, so he was inspecting the trails. He saw me enter the cave by myself and followed me, screaming for me to get down when the earth shook beneath us, a small California tremor just big enough to dislodge some of the rocks from the cave ceiling. It was during the commotion that I stole his gun. If he’d only known what was in store for him today, perhaps he wouldn’t have gotten out of bed.
I think I have always been capable of taking a life. It is in my DNA. Shortly after my mother and father were killed, I felt something awaken inside me: a blood-thirsty monster.
The first time I knew something wasn’t right was the day I went back to school after their funeral. My friend Bess threw her arms around me and pulled me close. The sweetness of her body spray caressed my nose like a welcoming breeze, but the contact of her touch sent chills up the back of my neck and onto my scalp. My arms pricked with goose flesh and fear gripped my chest. Hot tears sprang to my eyes as the monster inside tried to take hold of my hands. I wanted to strangle her until the life left her beautiful green eyes.
“Get off me,” I shouted, pushing her away. “I don’t want your pity. And I don’t need you to be my friend.” I spat on the floor at her feet to complete the severing of our friendship. I then stalked off towards the bathroom where I cried most of first period.
“You are lucky I saw you when I did,” Bert says, pulling me back to the present, “otherwise no one would have known you were in here. You would’ve surely died on your own.” A trickle of sweat runs down his dusty forehead.
The only luck I feel is that I noticed he carried a gun. My pocket knife would’ve posed a bigger challenge than I had originally planned. How hard would it be to tear into flesh with a blade that small? How had my father done it? A knife? A gun? Two different methods? I guess at this point the method doesn’t matter. There are only a few hours of air left and I have my weapon in my hands. No point in dwelling on it now. I just hope the world will forgive me for what I am about to do. Hope my grandmother won’t find out.
After the tragedy, I lived with my grandmother until I graduated high school. Six long years with that sweet woman. During the school day my mind would wander to graphic murders. At night the horrors took place in my dreams, with my grandmother as the victim. It was awful. I hated the way I had to treat her, yelling at her when she asked me to help with dinner. There was no way I would allow myself to get near a knife with her around. And when I woke screaming and crying those first few years, she would bang on my locked door, but I shouted at her to go away, only allowing the chill breeze coming through my window to calm me. But slowly my heart hardened to the point I didn’t care how it made me feel any longer. I hurt them all, pushed them away for their safety. But the monster inside was still strong, wanting me to kill.
I wondered for a while if this was normal. If killing ran in families. I did extensive research about it, trying to find a link between my anger and my history. That’s when I found an article about a family in Russia. For seven generations, a member or two would get the itch to take a life. Researchers said it was a genetic mental disorder that caused their longing for bloodletting. Was this what was going on with me? Had anyone besides my father gotten the itch? I tried asking my grandmother, and she threatened to have me committed if I didn’t stop talking like that. I continued, so she might have me locked away. But she never did. After a while, she stopped caring what I talked about, as long as I spoke to her.
The walkie chirps at Bert’s side and then crackles to life, bringing me back to the present, once again.
“Bert, you two still there? We’re outside the cave now, it looks pretty bad,” the man on the other end says. “It’s going to take us a couple hours to get the machinery out here to move these boulders. Sit tight.”
“Hurry, we’re running out of air,” Bert relays roughly to the ranger on the other end. Setting down the walkie, he looks back at me. “You hear that? Help is on the way. Give me the gun.” He stretches his hand out to me.
“Did you know my father killed my mother, then took his own life?” I ask calmly, afraid too much movement will stir the monster inside me.
Bert’s hand starts to shake. “But that doesn’t define you, what he did. I can see it in your eyes, that you want to be redeemed of his crimes.”
“You don’t know anything about me. One of us has to die for the other to live.”
“Please.” His lip quivers, eyes fill with tears. “We can both make it out.”
I feel my cheeks tick up at the edges, knowing he doesn’t believe it himself. What he doesn’t realize is that after battling against killing for twelve excruciatingly difficult years, I have come face to face with the murderous monster that dwells within me. And I’m not sure I can win.
The signs were all there. My teachers saw it, my friends felt it. And my grandmother ignored it. Well, they all ignored it. Because who thinks a child, at twelve, is capable to act on such immoral thoughts and words? But as time passed and I didn’t change for the better, why hadn’t anyone cared enough to help me? I needed someone to save me from myself, but the one person who knew what I was going through, who had gone through this before, was dead and buried. Slumbering in a quiet field of numerous other perpetual sleepers. Together with my mother. Side-by-side. Like he didn’t do what he did to her. Like they were a loving couple, husband and wife, and not the mentally unstable man and too-trusting woman who believed him when he said he was fine. She, too, ignored the signs.
My parents loved me; I know that. My friends loved me, my grandmother did, too. But I think no one felt it was their job to save me. Now I have pushed everyone away and run so far for so long, how could I return and face them with these murderous thoughts still raging in my mind?
I am aware that taking a life is wrong. And I have been fighting against it so long. You don’t know how taking a life is going to affect you afterward. Or the people around you, or the people around the life you take. And maybe that’s why my father took his own life after. Grief. Or regret. Or a sense that he couldn’t come back from that. I guess I’ll never understand how he felt.
“I don’t want to cause you pain, Bert,” I say, “but I have made my choice. I’ve not lived a good life, and this is the only way to release the monster inside me.”
And before he can plead further, I raise the gun and pull the trigger.