The sounds of a school bus – along with the random chatter of the children clamoring back and forth about what pokemon was best – rushed through a half-cracked window on the third floor of a three-level apartment building as it halted for the railroad crossing. Most people wouldn’t come to notice these types of everyday noises unless they might be looking for a reason to venture from the delusions they create in their minds. Take Andrew Wilkins for example. He has lived in the same one-bedroom apartment, slept on the same mattress, ate at the same table, and watched the same television set for the last fifteen years. Every morning he woke up at six a.m. and stared at a crack in his ceiling for roughly five silent minutes, trying desperately to avoid any irrational, or possibly rational thoughts on reality and all its flawed notions. Once he lassoed the wild thoughts of “maybe” back into their metaphorical cages, he’d climb out of bed and into his work clothes. Normally Andrew would shower after slugging off his bronze and copper stained mattress (mostly coffee and cheap tea spills) and continued his uphill battle for sanity, but some of the “other” employees he worked with continuously tried to involve him in their conversations, unknowingly putting more difficult thoughts for him to wrangle inside his already untrusted mind. So He figured having a little musk would keep them in their halves of reality, and maybe even keep him from harmful thoughts as well.
By the time his coffee maker, the most expensive thing he had ever purchased, chimed a little four pattern of an upbeat rhythm, Andrew was mentally exhausted and hated the fact that he still had fourteen hours before he could shut down his tempered brain. although Andrew enjoyed his sleep and never had a hard time getting to sleep, for reasons he never understood, Andrew never dreamed. well maybe not never, but the one thing he could say for certain: “if I had dreamed, I do not remember in the slightest.”
He just figured since his brain blatantly fought for control minute after a minute during awake hours, it could not handle the third act without blowing a fuse. The only real-time he could shelf the habitual thought arguments was when he sipped his heavily creamed coffee and watched the ripples bounce off the walls of his cup.
How easy it must be for the ripples to follow orders? Andrew often thought to himself. How easy was it for the world to follow suit by just being itself, without releasing a tsunami of destruction designed to wash away what remains of itself? The norm (as Andrew liked to call them) moved through time and space as if both never existed. Laughing and talking then laughing again in regards to a joke about a cheerio and banana, but the joke never seemed to make any sense; At least not to Andrew or the few people he had repeated it too. Maybe it’s because he most likely butchered the joke Like so many others he had in his thirty-two years of life. After all the time spent watching “I Love Lucy” and his favorite show “Little House On The Prairie”, the jokes he had found funny joltingly offended the recipient, so now Andrew keeps to himself as much as possible, whilst keeping a formidable glamour to allow some term of relevance in reality. The last drop of coffee dripped onto Andrew’s extended tongue he swallowed it down hard and placed the solid black mug back into the double deep well sink, rinsed it with the hottest water his pipes would allow, grabbed his black Columbia fall jacket, and headed for the door.
a voice whispered. Andrew turned to look around the apartment as if considering the possibility there might have been someone other than himself, even though no other person had ever set foot In his home since he moved in, A small part of him hoped to see a person standing in his living room, but No one to be seen. Just a three-cushioned couch, a wooden rocking chair he found outside his apartment building, and his TV with a free digital antenna that received six channels; Not that he needed any more than one station, it just helped him adjust to the changing days ahead by rooting himself to not float off into endangering thoughts, He waited in case the remote chance someone might walk out from the hall that led to his bathroom and bedroom, till he felt the wait was long enough and shut the door to his only safe but an unsafe place.
Walking down the three flights of stairs just outside his apartment door, was as easy as any stepped incline or decline could be. The stairs were carpeted with flat matted bluish grey fibers and a thick black metal hand tail that was mounted to the wall. Living on the third floor was never a chore taking the stairs, It was just the annoying possibility that one of his neighbors, had also been climbing the steps at that very particular time Andrew was. The thought of having small talk with a random person, to whom he had lived next for the past decade, gave him this uneased feeling of unpreparedness for what he might do if he let one wild thought slip free. He hated the fact he couldn’t just tell them off and live a solitary life from That point on, but because the thought of having someone think negatively about him in return, made his anxiety higher than just talking to them.
Mrs. Nuunan of 22A, third floor, first door on the right was walking up the last set of stairs and her face lit up when seeing Andrew heading her way. Her short snow-white hair was plumped up in directions held in place by half a can of hair spray Andrew assumed, and her pink thick-rimmed and thick-lensed glasses slowly drooped down as she looked to each step before moving upward. She could hardly wait for him to start treading down the flight of stairs before pointless information spewed from her mouth.
“oh Andrew, good afternoon,” she said tilting her wrinkled face to her left with no time frame for him to answer.
“Did you hear about my granddaughter and her new husband?” Again not giving him space to take a breath.
“They just moved into their new house, just down the road from that restaurant you work at.”
Andrew had lost count of the number of times he had corrected her about his employment. He worked at a supermarket and never met her granddaughter or her “new” husband. So now he just nods and smiles as Mrs. Nuunan droned.
“You really should go and visit them again Andrew. they would appreciate it. They still need a microwave and a toaster, so that could be your housewarming gift.”
She smiled at him as if to let him know she was joking but Andrew caught that seriously though gesture she formed after the smile dissipated. Andrew forced a hefty and fake smile and said
“I’ll see what I can do. Off to work for that money, I’ll need to buy those gifts.”
Mrs. Nuunan laughed but didn’t understand his joke and continued up the stairs after their goodbyes. As he was walking out of the building, Andrew noticed his car was tilted slightly to the left. And as the distance between him and his vehicle shortened, Andrew could see the back left tire was completely flat.
A man standing next to his red BMW with a sympathetic smile on his tan and wrinkled face yelled out.
“Do you have a spare?”
Andrew knew he had a spare in the trunk of his car, the car he purchased from his last remaining family member, aunt Maggie. Aunt Maggie was a very sweet and wonderful woman with a southern accent, who could pour grape soda without it fizzing, no matter how fresh the bottle, and could tell you a story so captivating, that you’d forget your world was existing.
The spare tire was under the trunk bedding and carpet, bolted down with a hand crank to hold it in place. Andrew knew how to change a tire. Andrew considered himself almost an expert on the tire changing process, just as long as he was alone. In this case, he was not alone. Mike, the neighbor from down the hall and owner of the red BMW, tended to linger in the parking lot with the hopes to convey his knowledge and experience of military life, or at least Andrew strongly believed that’s why he loitered so often. Andrew had the spare tire, the proper tools, and the time to replace the flat but having Mike, who was now slowly walking in his direction, brought out the clumsy, loose, and somewhat weak hands Andrew always had in front of authoritative figures.
“The tire went flat huh?”
“Stating the obvious!?” Andrew screamed in Mike’s summer stale-tan face, then shoved his tire iron into Mike’s aged and rounded belly. When Mike brought Andrew back to reality and away from those dangerous thoughts when he repeated his question a little clearer.
“He heard you.”
The voice from earlier whispered again. This stressed Andrew out which in turn caused Andrew to feel pressured, which in turn caused Andrew to feel pushed into a corner. Mike could see Andrew was now flustered and felt the need to inform him he too had issues with this sort of thing. Mike gestured towards Andrew’s car and began a series of tire-related mishaps he had while serving as a Marine. Andrew again searched the area in hopes to see another person standing there, waiting to reveal the end of a big joke at Andrew’s expense, and Again there was no one but endless breath Mike.
Twenty-three minutes later, Andrew turned the tire iron on the final nut tight as he could, and quickly picked up the flat tire and tools, before placing them in his trunk so he could get to work. By that time, mike was already standing with his hands on Andrew’s car STILL talking about his life’s journey. The moment Mike left a large enough gap in his long-winded narrative, Andrew placed his now steady hands on Mike’s arm, and pulled it down into the open car door, slamming the door shut and breaking his forearm. Andrew quickly smacked that horrible thought of harming Mike right out of his head, then assertively announced he was late for work.
Mike never faltered in his chatting as Andrew climbed into his car, slowly shut his door, placed the key in the ignition, and began backing out of his parking spot. Only when Mike saw another person walking in his direction, did he say his goodbyes and allowed Andrew to be on his way.
“Was that real?” Andrew asked out loud. Was it divine intervention that flattened his tire and set up an unavoidable face-to-face with Mike? A sort of karma because of his negative thoughts about Mrs. Nuunan, or any person for that matter. For reasons unknown to Andrew, mainly because he struggles with his inner perception, something kept him from enjoying his time whether or not time be a fabrication… things happened. Things like the voice that seemingly appeared out of nowhere but from everywhere, or how he wished on high wishes he didn’t have to see anyone from his front door to his car but was intercepted by two of the gabbiest people of the apartment complex, and how the crack in his bedroom ceiling was getting smaller or bigger depending on how long he stared. The mind can either grant meaning, or lock the word away under the pillars of thought.
“You’ll need to wake up.”
The voice pierced his eardrums like needles pulled from smoldering ash, burning the air with a hiss, and was gone just as quick. Andrew jolted stiff and almost swerved into oncoming traffic. luckily there were no cars to be seen down the long stretch of a country road, but the fear of running head-on into another car was very real. Andrew corrected his position back into the correct lane and looked in all directions to find the owner of the voice, and for a fraction of a second, he saw a silhouette of a woman in his rearview mirror. Soon after he also thought he saw a dog, walking itself while wearing a sweater vest. He might have been seeing these things due to stress and now adrenaline coursing through his body, but the feeling of someone in the car was far too real. Incoherently Andrew had driven six blocks on his way to work in the wrong direction and ran one stop sign in the process from constantly looking at the rearview mirror, he turned his car around at the following intersection and was heading in the right direction to work. Andrew was coming up to a four-way stop just a block from his employment when Suddenly A blaring horn of a semi-truck rattled Andrew to his core. He had passed through the four-way stop, causing a motorcyclist and a double-load Peterbilt to come to a halt. Andrew, of course, couldn’t stop and out of instinct, he kept his wheels spinning onward.
“Karma. That is what it was!” he said aloud.
“You needn’t fret about them, Andrew.” the voice calmly spoke.
Andrew sank into his seat but kept his eyes on the road, trying his best NOT to look around for someone this time. He might have been fighting his mind like a cage full of MMA fighters, but Andrew could see the pattern developing. The first time he heard the voice, it was a slight whisper with nothing in sight. The second and third a distant yell with a silhouette of what could have been a female. This time, after the four-way stop, the voice was loud, and everywhere at once, he realized the voice was in his head. The urge to drive his vehicle right into Dr. Morris’s office and jump into his cheaply made lounge, and beg for the good doctor to fix his broken brain, was almost as overwhelming as the urge to speak to the voice. Although both ideas simultaneously erupted within his skull, Andrew came to the conclusion it was best to go to work, skip his pre-work snack and pick up a few bottles of aspirin. The expensive kind.
The parking lot belonging to the supermarket Andrew worked was everything but full. Only three cars could be seen parked randomly yet seemingly well placed with two of them being employee-owned. A bit unusual for this time of year with all the rallies, and fairs rolling down the calendar days, but The lack of customers assured him he would be able to go straight to the locker room, walk right past the coat rack and vending machines, and head directly into the bathrooms. This way he might be able to get hold of the voice situation and bury it so deep, that the thought of its whisper would be muffled to obscurity. He pushed the door leading to the men’s room hard enough to graze the wall behind it but still managed to close fast enough to where Andrew, had to pull his right shoulder tight to his chest, subconsciously trying to avoid getting hit by the doors recoiling. By the time he got to the stall furthest from entry/exit and past the sinks, panic settled in and it settled fast.
The janitor or custodian on average cleaned these stalls rather well, and on average, studies revealed a count of bacterial cells to reach 500,000 per square inch in most restrooms, though a high percentage of the cells perished rather quickly and had a rare chance to cause any infection, Andrew still had a phobia of placing his “tushy” clothed or not where someone else’s bare butt had been. He swallowed his fear whole and sat down on the toilet seat, still doing his best to remain calm. For a while, he waited for the voice to speak up but the buzz sound of the dull blue lights overhead annoyingly probed at him After a few minutes, Andrew felt his body start to relax and the thought that it might all be his imagination began to wash over him.
“You need to wake up, Andrew.”
Andrew launched to his feet and began smacking his head and punching his chest and stomach, in an attempt to rid him of the vocal intruders, and prevent a possible psychotic break. The feeling of losing what’s left of reality, was as deep and as powerful as a black hole in space, devouring everything within its reach. He wouldn’t have wished it on his worst enemy and pushed back to the point of exhaustion so he would never tip over the edge. Well, the edge had decided it was time to give way, plunging Andrew kicking and screaming down into the void.
Andrew’s forehead began to throb where he had struck himself with a left uppercut and a small stream of blood, trickled down to his right ear caused by his fingernail slicing into his temple. The world had given him the short end of the stick his whole life, even beating him on occasion, but still allowed for a small ray of sunshine to pierce the veil. Not today.
“Andrew, we are real.” A deeper voice spoke.
“We are here to help you.” The feminine one continued.
Ignoring them, he pushed the stall door open and rushed past the urinals, the sinks, and hand driers, pulling the door to exit the bathroom so hard, that the handle was torn loose from the screws. The moment he dashed through the doorway he was confronted by Susan, the customer service manager who loves butting in on every bit of gossip and was hoping she could get in on his current situation. All aspects of Andrews’s personality were passive with sorted fears and worries that someone (anyone) might cause a stir of confrontation. Throughout his life, he has gone out of his way to ensure people spent no more than a few seconds thinking of him. This past and possibly future contingency will take hold of the wheel, but the moment Susan blocked his path to his escape, was the moment the fear of confrontation was left in the trunk. A split second after she had asked him what was his hurry, Andrew grabbed her by her right shoulder with both hands and shoved her halfway across the break room. If things might have turned out differently than they did, Andrew would have considered himself lucky it was just the two of them. He has done such a grand job at keeping people at bay, always making sure to say, “ma’am”, “sir”, “not a problem”, and any other form of manners he thought necessary. Who would believe quiet and polite Andrew could do such a thing? Besides, others know and think (he would hope) that Susan exaggerates or embellish a rumor and would not believe her.
He only thought of the consequences of physically assaulting Susan for less than twelve steps before the throbbing in his head reminded him of the larger operation he is currently under. The voices were louder, clearer, and more pressing on the issue of him waking up. Andrew could see from the corners of his eyes the stares and gawks he was collecting as he jogged through and out the front of the store and climbed into his car. At first, he hesitated to cram his key into the ignition, not because of fear or worry, but because he hadn’t the faintest idea or notion as to where he should drive. The feeling of dread and the pressure in his stomach was drastically increasing and he decided to just leave the state he grew up in. The car started right up as usual and Andrew threw it into drive, hitting third gear before reaching the street. Well earlier in his absent-mindedness, he failed to stop at the intersection and this caused the few involved in the incident to notify the local authorities. Unconsciously or maybe incoherently, Andrew was now heading their way.
“We apologize for this Andrew, but the only way for you to wake up is for us to scare you awake.” The female voice announced.
Andrew screamed “leave me alone!” with all the force his lungs could bellow out, turning his steering wheel with squealing tires reverberating off the walls of the local drug store, and gaining the local’s attention along with the police officer that arrived at the scene. Andrew whooshed past the police cruiser, almost deciding to stop to beg for their help, but Andrew caught a glimpse of the officer’s car door closing over and over, making him feel even more like running. The road he was on was as straight and narrow as a stretch of highway, but smoother due to its frequent vacancy. Andrew held the gas pedal to the floor, listening to his 2009 chevy impala hit RPMs he’s never heard it hit.
“Run an audio test”
Soon after the female voice requested the test, a series of beeps and gongs, set in a pattern that reminded him of his coffee maker, grew in volume and speed. They sounded for a few moments then stopped suddenly before a very loud and very high-pitched beep blared in his head. Andrew closed his eyes in pain as the beep increased in frequency to point of supersonic, then returned down to a dull tone. Andrew opened his eyes to see a red BMW pulling out of the gas station right into Andrews’s path. Of course, the BMW would have had plenty of time to pull out and get up to speed, if not for Andrew speeding well past the posted speed limit of 25 mph. Out of gut reaction, Andrew swerved his vehicle to the right, bouncing over the curb of the gas station parking lot, which created the sound of metal scraping and tires smashing into wheel wells.
“Increase the threat levels to severe”. the male voice said, but this time Andrew could hear a type of background chatter, A chatter like that of an office or a busy classroom. At the speed Andrew was going, onlookers were sure an accident was about to occur but even in his state of shock, Andrew was able to smooth out and even managed to return to the road once he cleared an abandoned car lot to an old rental office.
Clunk clunk clunk clunk…
With every full rotation of his right front tire, a thumping noise grew louder and louder, until a popping sound of metal and air erupted. The sight of rubber and little bits of metal shavings could be seen exploding outward from the front right side of his car. This caused the vehicle to pull hard to the right, and sparks began to shower onto the pavement as the car veered into the curb yet again. The plastic cover over his bumper and part of the grill splintered and cracked as it smashed into a cement guard pole, jolting the car to a violent stop. Andrew had horrifyingly realized he had just totaled his vehicle in the first car accident of his life, and once he visually noticed the gaggle of bystanders gathering around and taking pictures as they walked towards his car, Andrew could only react and, react he did. Andrew pushed his car door open and tried to get out as soon as the door was fully jarred, but he forgot to undo his seat belt, and the force he created caused the belt to cut his neck and shoulder.
“Seat belt Andrew”. the female voice annoyingly commented.
“Sir, Are you OK?” One of the onlookers asked but Andrew never saw which.
“Sir?” Another asked.
Andrew smashed the button to release the belt from its firm grasp around his torso and bolted towards a liquor store directly across the street from him. Some onlookers called out for him to stop, others simply watched as Andrew dashed at full speed, without worrying if any cars might be zooming by. When he reached the store’s front door, the voices started arguing with one another. Arguing the subject of HOW to wake him up. Andrew is the subject of “him” of course. The doors swung open with ease and chimed a four-prong tone that resembled his coffee maker as well, startling Andrew to the bone.
“Andrew, You should push through to the back of the store, and get to your apartment until we figure out how to wake you.” “No no no!” the female voice argued. “He needs to symbolically end his life… Dream” she corrected herself.
“He has to settle his mind before he tips the scale and wakes up half brain dead.”
The voices droned on in argument while Andrew made his way through the store, passing the owner to whom just watched a man covered in white powder from a deployed airbag, trickle of blood beading from a few cuts on his hands, and black matted hair with a few cowlicks walk right through the employee door and out the back exit. Andrew could feel his hip begin to pop and the feeling of electricity shot up and down his left leg with each stride. He placed his palm on his hip when a limp developed, hoping the applied pressure would reduce the pain but Andrew always had a saying about hoping:
“If hoping were peanuts, I’d probably be allergic.”
The voices were now a throb pumping in both temples of whispers on how to wake him. Luckily the pain in his hip, a grinding sharp pain, drowned them out for the most part. “Lucky,” he thought. Another word that had no meaning, but still represented the opposite word of what he possessed. If worst came to worst, Andrew would have been screwed. His father’s voice made an appearance for a brief moment. Karma was out for him and hated every fiber of his being. lagging on some days but made up for the lost time on others. Why the repercussion of his past doings reverberated tenfold will always be a mystery to Andrews’s conscientious mind, but subconsciously…he knew what he had done. Gradually Andrew went from a faint limp to a staggering hobble as he walked downtown until he came to a window of a pawn shop displaying two silver and black pistols in the window. This made him stop dead in his tracks and stared at the pawnshop logo which read “you owned it so Own it again”. The logo covered most of the shops inside view yet The pistols, however, sat comfortably in a custom cherry red case, snuggled in cut-outs made of foam and velvet cloth in perfect viewing. Both point in different directions with each butt of the gun facing toward the others. Andrew looked up and all around him and back down to the guns, before deciding to walk inside. The bell hooked to a spiraling ribbon of steel, swayed and slammed its little bronzed tongue to the rim of the mouth.
“If he thinks we will stand by…”
The woman’s voice discontinued.
The voice straightened Andrew’s spine and forced him to walk a tad faster. Once he reached the glass display counter of jewelry and timepieces, the clerk, a balding low-life Andrew had the pleasure of working with at his old factory job, stood bent over staring at a nude woman on his smartphone.
“Now maybe you’ll believe us, Andrew. Can you believe this to be the salt of the earth?”
The woman’s voice carried revolt in her tone, a tone Andrew grew up hearing from his mother. The tone is built on jealousy, rage, and feeling cheated out of attention. Or at least that’s what Andrew felt was the tone due to the fact: it only appeared when a beautiful woman, nude or provocatively dressed, drew in the Male species’ attention.
“Oh my God! does she think she can pull that bikini off? You can see her implant scar and her fake ass tan line! You know they photoshopped her to look that thin.” His mother would say after looking at a model in a famous magazine. Andrew hated how some women acted towards men and their wants. The majority of straight men, desire a woman, or multiples, to be irresistibly attracted to them Including Andrew. Although he was much more Invert about his desires than most, he would lie his tush off when asked if he found a coworker attractive. Andrew had a beating heart, a functioning penis, and a desire to lay with the opposite sex, but to be frowned upon by the women at his workplace for a simple glance made him recoil into denial. Andrew was now at the counter, placing both hands on the glass top above cheaply crafted engagement rings, some probably still warm from the previous owner, and waited for Rob to look up.
“What are you doing Andrew?” The Male voice asked as if expecting an answer.
“He is doing a fantastic job at ignoring us, I will give him that.” The female voice said.
Andrew was ignoring them. and he was going to continue ignoring them until he found a way to expel them from his mind. He continued to stare at Rob for a couple more moments before clearing his throat. Rob looked up and smiled sarcastically, but still kept the nudes in plain sight. He had a mustache that covered his upper lip and continued down each side of his mouth and past his chin.
“Hi, Rob”. Andrew said enthusiastically.
“You probably don’t remember me but…”
“Yer the asshole who got me fired,” Rob interjected.
“He won’t help you Andrew” the Male voice blurted out.
“He’s a pervert anyways Andrew. Just leave.” The female voice added.
“What do you want asshole?” Rob asked while glancing at his phone.
Andrew pointed over his shoulder towards the pistols display, then back to Rob and asked about the price.
“The guns in the window, didn’t have a price tag on them, and I was wondering how much they cost?”
Andrew truly was curious about the price. Being a pawn shop, he assumed they would be at least a thousand or more, money Andrew had and then some. He had been saving three hundred dollars a week out from each paycheck, hoping to retire earlier than scheduled. Rob glanced at the case display and then back to the nudes.
“Five thousand without ammunition,” Rob said.
Andrew could barely keep his jaw from falling off. Though he allowed it to drop just enough to show his shock. “Five thousand?! How much with ammunition, ten thousand?!” Andrew laid down the thickest sheet of sarcasm he could muster, receiving no reaction from the highway robbing perve.
“Fifty-five-hundred with ammunition smart ass.” Rob corrected.
The thought of the voices not blabbering in his head’s ear, ran straight in and out of Andrew’s mind. They spoke freely and un-announced, and gave no caution to his wants or demands that they stop; So why now does the deafening silence break through the void he previously demanded bother him? With his mind beginning to rebuild the cage and broken walls, another thought entered his brain abruptly. Turn yourself in now and maybe you’ll be able to get the help you need. Buying these guns will only exacerbate the situation.
“Are you just going to stand there smartass?” Rob slid his porn-filtered phone to the side and was staring Andrew dead in the eyes, then pointed sternly at the store’s entrance. “Because if you haven’t noticed by now, I’ve got customers waiting with cold green cash in hand.”
Andrew spun halfway around expecting a line of random people, waiting for him to get to buy or to get to leave, but Nobody was there. Not a single person outside the perve and Andrew could be seen in or out of the store.
“We are doing this to you, Andrew.” The female voice was so erupting and unexpected, that Andrew jumped halfway to the moon and back. which in turn startled Rob. Rob stood straight up and nearly reached for his Glock 9mm hidden under the register counter.
“What the hell is your deal guy?” Rob strongly asked.
“Go ahead Andrew, ask if there are others present. Better yet, ask how many there are. We will make him say “three” just to prove to you we are real, go ahead and ask.” The male voice was deeper than before and slightly more aggressive as if to drive his point home. Andrew chuckled nervously, then did his best to assure Rob he was fine and might just need to take a nap or two.
“Well?” Rob asked. “What’s it going to be sleepy?”
“How much for just the one? I’ve never owned a gun and I think two would be…”
Rob balled his hand into a fist, pulling it to his mouth, and gently bit the knuckle of his index finger, cutting off Andrew mid-sentence. Andrew could see the frustration come to a boiling point on rob’s face, a look Andrew became accustomed to as he grew through his teenage years. He was short, hairy, and pudgy with clothes that were cheap and ran through. He had delayed puberty which caused a nasally and whiny voice to change into a slightly deeper whine. He had a hard time with confidence, and confrontation, and was always confused with his surroundings, but the moment he saw a low life like Rob getting frustrated at a nice and decent customer, it opened a cage in Andrew’s head.
“Fuck it!” Andrew said with a large smile.
“Give me both and the correct ammunition and can you put a big fucking bow on it?”
“Excuse me?” Rob answered.
“He heard that one Andrew.” The woman’s voice announced.
“Wait. I’m mean… I was just meaning…”
Rob cut Andrew off again by holding his hand up palm facing out. He wanted to know how Andrew was going to pay for them, and his whole demeanor changed when Andrew pulled out a Visa debit card and offered to pay a little extra for causing any confusion. Rob, of course, made sure the money went through before even considering the purchase, and once he saw an “accepted” flash of neon green across his computer screen, you could have confused him about being Andrew’s best friend. The guns, the clips for the bullets, and the case was wrapped up in brown cardboard paper, with a large green bow tied to one corner. Andrew grabbed the box and went to turn but decided to ask the question the voices told him to ask.
“How many people are waiting?”
Rob looked confused as if the question pertained to an elaborate equation. He asked Andrew what he meant and Andrew explained how Rob pushed him to buy or get out, relieving rob of eyebrow tension.
“Oh,” rob chuckled. “Uh, there were three. Online orders but….”
Andrew’s gut dropped to his loins and his heart thumped up into his throat.
“Three Andrew. We made him say it. Three.” The man’s voice gently said in Andrew’s mind. Andrew walked outside without saying a word. His vision was a haze and an onset of feeling his body was artificial and reality distant became noticeable. Every once in and while, Andrew would notice a hollow feeling building when he focused on not focusing, staring at someone as they spoke, and realizing that they are not there. He could hear them, see them, smell their breath, but they just weren’t there. He was having that feeling now only amplified tenfold. The buildings around him, the people walking and talking about his car accident, and then a flash of dull light washed over his sight, and the image of tubes and wires came and went. He focused his eyes on the package in his hands and it slowly came together like a jigsaw puzzle. He tore open the package and opened the case, looking around to see if anyone was watching him.
“No one is watching Andrew, we will take care of that.” The woman’s voice assured him.
Two pistols, .45’s if Andrew heard Rob correctly, reflected in the sunlight and begged to be held. Andrew knelt to the ground and placed the case on the cement, picked up the left pistol along with the “mag” or whatever rob called it, and stared. He had no idea what they called these things, how to shoot properly, or how it works mechanically, let alone how to load the damn thing. Then the voices spoke again. This time with instructions. Step by step they explained where the bullets pushed in, where the magazine slid in the butt of the gun, and how to chamber a round. The guns were now loaded and the extra rounds went into his right pant pocket. He placed the pistols in both the right and left pockets of his jacket and turned to see rob, who was talking on his phone and glaring at Andrew again.
“He’s calling the cops, isn’t he?” Andrew asked the voices directly, now trusting them to answer honestly.
“Yes.” The woman’s voice answered.
“Though it hardly matters now buddy.” The man’s voice spoke.
“What now?” Andrew asked and as if they predicted this question, a bus pulled right around the corner, and they told him to board it at the bus stop. Andrew was the first onto the bus and rushed to the back, followed by a mother and her young son who sat in the middle, an elderly couple that sat up front, and a large man that waddled to the seat between the mom and elderly couple. The bus jerked forward and they slowly went down the road towards Andrew’s apartment.
“Thank you,” Andrew whispered to the voices. “Whether or not you are real, you helped me get through all this, Even when I tried expelling you, you still helped.”
“We are not here to save you as you might think Andrew.” The man’s voice spoke calmly.
“We are just trying to wake you.” The woman’s voice continued.
“Wake me? Wake me from what? Am I asleep? Is this a dream? Did I crash into that biker and semi and I’m now in a coma at the hospital? Does this have anything to do with my mind slipping lately, or are you just in my head?” Andrew’s whisper grew to a chatty tone, causing the little boy to turn around in curiosity. The voices one by one explained they couldn’t explain it in detail due to the power shortage it would create. They could only speak to him in bursts and pushing for longer chit-chats would cause Andrew’s brain to seize. The best thing to do to help was to create enough brain activity on his end, by producing large quantities of adrenaline, glucose, and cortisone. This would ensure a more powerful connection and they could wake him much faster. This made Andrew realize, that the whole day was a setup. Mrs. Nuunan, long-winded mike, flat tire, and so on. They were creating moments that would allow them to talk to him. “How can I do… what you need to be done?” Andrew asked while the bus tires and engine droned on but The voices went quiet, and Andrew knew why. He was calm. So he did the only thing he could think of and screamed as hard and as long as he could, doing his best to work up as much embarrassment as possible. The large man, the mother, the couple, and the bus driver, all jumped and turned to see who was screaming. The driver yelled for Andrew to “cool it” and Andrew silenced himself and sank into the leather seat. He could feel the rush of blood in his face and neck, as well as the instant feeling of regret. Though he wished he hadn’t done that in the first place, it worked. He could feel the connection getting stronger, and he could see the world becoming distant. The tubes and wires were almost visible so he asked again if they were still there.
“Of course, we are.” both said in unison.
“What was that all about Andrew?” The man’s voice asked. Andrew explained his theory as to why they didn’t answer him, then the flood of embarrassment swept him away when they announced they hadn’t lost connection, they were merely quiet because they were simply eating their lunch, and he yelled on a bus for no reason what so ever.
Suddenly the bus screeched to a halt and Andrew looked out the window to the view of a silver impala, smashed against a pole in an emptied parking lot. The bus driver placed the bus in park and unbuckled his seat belt, and asked for the passengers to remain seated. He opened the bus doors and allowed an officer to climb aboard. Andrew immediately dropped to his seat and did his best to lay low. He could see the officer’s shiny black shoes through the slit of the seats, watching and hoping he got right back off.
“Get rid of him!” Andrew commanded the voices. “This is your chance, Andrew. Grab your guns and spike out those glands!” The female voice yelled.
“What if he shoots me?”
“He won’t. we will make sure of that.” The man’s voice spoke.
Andrew smashed his face into the seat cushion, something he would have never considered doing just a few hours ago out of fear of germs, and begged them to just make the officer leave.
“We cannot influence on such a large scale. The man’s voice announced. We maxed out after evading wondering eyes while you load your guns.” The woman’s voice spoke. “Now grab them and do what needs to be done.”
Part of Andrew wanted to believe they were real. So far, they had been correct about everything they said was going to happen but the other part, the fight or flight part, told him they were just a sickness wanting to get him killed. He decided to ignore both feelings and remained hidden in the hopes the officer walks off the bus, and Andrew could be on his merry way. The voices went quiet, the passengers went quiet, and Andrew had forgotten how to breathe. The large man finally broke the silence by asking the officer what had happened. The officer responded by asking the man if he had seen the driver of that vehicle. Andrew could only assume, though he knew, what vehicle he (the officer) referred to; It was his once-beloved chevy impala that he nearly demolished while running from his thoughts. The police and emergency response team surrounded his car while A news crew filmed and questioned bystanders who might have witnessed the accident. That’s when the image of a red BMW and the tan-faced driver zapped into Andrew’s head. Blabbermouth and next-door neighbor mike saw Andrew and knew his car. Surely mike would tell the police the driver’s name, address, and a detailed description seeing as he is a veteran. Normally Andrew would enjoy the fact that someone was still good and honest, but now the goody two shoes were about to rat him out without knowing the whole story, and It didn’t seem fair.
“He’s coming to you Andrew, grab your guns now!” Both voices blared in his head causing Andrew to jump and instinctively reach into his pockets. He pulled out both guns and stood straight up pointing both towards the officer, but it wasn’t the cop, the little boy who was sitting with his mother gave her the slip and was now stunned with fear. The officer pulled his gun from his holster and began demanding, commanding, and ordering Andrew to “drop his weapons and lay face down.”
“This is it!” The woman’s voice shouted. “His heart rate is through the roof, his adrenaline is spiked, and his connection is stronger than ever!”
“Keep it up, Andrew!” The man’s voice shouted. “Just a few more minutes and we will have you back with us.” The officer was now screaming for Andrew to lay down his weapons, or he will be forced to put him down. Andrew’s instinct was to obey and comply, do nothing that would disrupt the nonconfrontational glamor he once had. He ONCE had. He reached out and grabbed the little boy, spun him around, and placed the barrel of his gun on the boy’s right cheek. His mother screamed in horror and begged for Andrew to let him go, though nothing at this point could stop what was going to happen. Then, Andrew could feel his body disconnecting, unplugging from this reality and getting ready for the jump to the real reality, even getting glimpses of tubes and wires again. The voices were assuring him it won’t take much time as long as the connection stayed strong, so Andrew had to keep it strong, and what better way than to continue what he had already started? The boy was calm as a cucumber during this whole process, even when Andrew did some yelling and demanding of his own. The officer slowly inched towards the back of the bus whilst disguising divergence with innocent questioning. Andrew had watched the same two tv shows every day his entire adult life. He had eaten at the same spot, slept in the same position and dreamt almost nothing, drunk his coffee the same way, and cleaned the cup every time it was used. The same old same old and nothing could have changed it he thought, and why should it? It has worked for him his whole life, or so it seemed. Not today, not at this moment will it work for him. Closer and closer the officer came, and closer and closer Andrew’s pistol pressed against the boy’s face.
“This is your last warning sir!” Andrew said “sir” out of reflex which gave the officer the idea to try and reason with him. He stopped dead in his tracks and holstered his gun, doing his best not to move too rapidly. After he snapped the strap over the butt of his gun, he slowly raised his hands above his shoulders with his palms out, to show he had no other weapons. Pressure builds in Andrew’s lungs filling them until they feel like bursting into flames. His mind was racing against time and at the moment, he felt he was driving on flats. The conscious mind knows what it saw but your natural defenses won’t allow a reaction. That’s when the fight or flight response takes place. It determines who you are in these types of situations, and this particular situation, everyone had their passports ready and Andrew was their pilot.
“People listen when you stand out from the crowd.” The woman’s voice spoke nonchalantly.
“Maybe it’s the pistols he is holding, or where they are pointing.” The man’s voice replied.
Andrew could hear a faint screeching of tires attached to a vehicle coming around a turn a bit too fast, and he could only guess to whom the driver was. The officer, still with his hands in the air, could also hear his buddies of justice and began explaining how they knew to come. Andrew looked right at the officer’s collar after the officer, showed him a quarter-inch camera with a live video feed being broadcasted. It begins streaming and recording the moment the officer is on duty. Andrew’s face, name, and even the fact that he talks to himself were now being stored in the cloud and mass shared to almost every precinct in their area. Andrew’s lungs were now burning from the inside out, and out of fear and worry, he pressed the barrel of the pistol harder into the boy’s cheek. The mother screamed in protest as if she KNEW what would happen next, but Andrew could never hurt a child and even released the unintentional pressure a tad.
The female’s voice demanded Andrew to “Do it” followed by the man’s voice explaining how his adrenaline level was dropping as well as his connection to them. Andrew now knew exactly what they were going to say and damn them for even thinking it. Real or not real, Andrew didn’t think he had it in him to murder a child. This is when the questions of disbelief, what-ifs, and the worst of them all, am I wrong sprouted roots. Suddenly Andrew felt a surge flow through him of immense power, a feeling like his body being charged with static electricity, and eventually lost control of his motor skills. His next few moments were not of his doing and his actions came from someone else. Andrew looked down at his hands, which were now moving on their own, and he watched his right thumb cock back the hammer followed by a loud pop. A red velvet mist cluttered the air in front of Andrew and slowly drifted downward. The little boy dropped to the floor while his mother screamed in horror and scooped him up into her arms. Fake or not Andrew thought, he never would have guessed he would destroy himself on such a beautiful day, but like he always said: “Life’s a curveball sometimes… Swing and a miss.” Andrew looked up at the ceiling of the bus and noticed red and blue lights flash in all directions. He could still hear the mother whimpering as she held her son tight to her chest. The voices were silent and the feeling of someone controlling his body had come and gone, leaving a painful and expanding feeling in the center of his chest. Andrew took a deep breath only to choke and gasp for air as the pain grew throughout his abdomen. He looked down at the beads of blood falling to the floor and he could have sworn, he heard a sizzle as they splashed. Andrew fell to his knees and dropped both guns to his sides. To his surprise, the sound they made was nothing like in the action movies he occasionally watched. Struggling to breathe, Andrew asked the voices what was happening, but he would never hear from them again – though he patiently waited for a response. While he waited, Andrew noticed the little boy covered in blood, turned his head, and looked Andrew straight in the eyes, giving Andrew a sense of calm knowing the boy was alright.
A bullet fired from a police sniper rifle, had entered and passed through Andrew’s sternum, missing his spine but nicked his aortic arch and almost severed his right lung from his trachea. The bullet had done its job as well as doing something it was never meant to do, it cleared Andrew’s mind and showed him the truth. The truth his mind had lied about. Andrew fell to his back and could feel streams of fire run down his ribs, so he closed his eyes and fell in love with a feeling he had never felt before. The feeling he could only imagine a child feels…free.
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