Friday, November 13, 2015

Short Fiction: Normalcy of Evil

A person doesn’t just stumble into becoming a serial murderer and mad bomber. On the other hand that’s almost exactly how it happens. These sort of paradoxes are both good and necessary when the issue of complete system failure within civilized human resources is addressed. In some senses there is a dramatic event horizon a person crosses, a moment where the darkness fully embraces the soul and all goodness perishes. On the other hand it’s all so fucking banal. It even starts to become very understandable and its at that point that we have to retreat back to ideas about moral Rubicons and psychotic breaks and all the rest. The banality of evil is hard enough, but the normalcy of evil? It can never be admitted if this thing we call civilization is going to have any chance of getting a second wind.
Nature and nurture, all the forces of the invisible but undeniable structure that supports every silly little thing that seem very important before one looks death square in the face and lets the illusion of sanity drain away. The illusions, the mythologies, they still have power even after this encounter. They creep back in and the false comforts are difficult to resist, especially in light of the alternative. The upshot of all this bullshit is that there is no single moment that defines any given human soul, just slow slides toward a direction that is probably almost completely predetermined, broken up by occasional retreats or halting inertia provided by moments of genuine happiness and connection to the world. They’re fleeting and then the steady drift toward destiny resumes.
He was at a bar, trying his best to both fit in and stand out all at the same time. Not easy. Conflicting bits of advice from websites that taught “game” and polite society that teaches everything but that swirled behind glazed eyes, the eyes of a toad. The half empty scotch-n-soda was held at chest level, almost like a holy cross to ward off the freaks that came out with the night, even in an idealistic suburban bubble. It took tremendous force of will to force the prop back down to waist level, where it would communicate the confidence of the pack leader, according to some half-remembered website. A warm drop of sweat slid down the side of his face. It was late summer, deep in the dog days. The press of warm bodies and the stress of having to “assume the sale” within this meat market was not helping.
Yeah, genetics and conditioning. Add in existing societal structures and expectations and you’ve got your holy trinity. The drink was back up in front of a quivering, moist sternum. Thirty Five years old. Happy fucking birthday. Thinning list of women who even acknowledge your existence, thinning patience, thinning hair, widening midsection, all that shit. It was time to change it. Three second approach, don’t want to be a coward or worse a beta. No turning back now, target acquired. The glass flew back to the beltline with a spastic jerk, spilling water and booze on his cool new shoes. A man sliding toward a happier future might make some crack about the alligators being hungry and giving them a drink, but he was nearly paralyzed by a combination of fear and narrowed purpose.
 “You ready to get out of here?” It came out as a an awkward squawk. The female target turned slightly toward the source of the unpleasant outburst, orange skin crunching itself into exaggerated disapproval. That or a catcher’s mitt with light blue eyes.
 “What did you say?” Just a small hint of carefree mirth peeked through the heavy weight of social rejection and it was enough to encourage that this doomed mission to pound crotch would continue to its inevitable crash and burn.
 “I was thinking we should get out of here.” He felt faint, light and dark and wacky signs and beer ads and bottles of all shapes and colors swirled into a hedonistic blur. Then everything focused in on that unnaturally tinted face, the face of a tanning bed angel.  
She laughed, but the mirth was gone now, replaced by dismissive malice. “Get lost.” A staggered retreat, more unpleasantly joyful braying as the only companion for the promised activity of getting out of there.
You can’t blame it on that one moment, or really any other. The first murder didn’t happen for several days and was a random victim instead of the obvious choice. It was the end of a long and lonesome road, not a sudden deviation caused by failure in love. That’s not to say that the undrained testes don’t play a major role in these sort of crimes, because they certainly do, but let’s not lose all the other complexities to simple myopia. If you want to keep it simple just blame crap nu-metal and the video game boogey man. It’s easy and no one with any real power would ever call you out for it.
Days passed after that failure to fire the love rocket and then there was that encounter with the human road kill, another precious soul in GOD’s image whose own pathetic path toward ruin was cut short by a merger with a tough as all Hell truck. It probably had at least some impact on the decision to start human-hunting, but it’s hard to say. Tuck that shit into a file, stamp “not otherwise specified” on it and forget it, we don’t have much more time to spend on this.
Then the kill. Just a blur, spraying blood, knife reflecting the moonlight, muscles aching from the effort. It might have been a minute, but it passed by in a few seconds. Back to the hole in the wall, over the toilet, the yellow yawn. Insides feeling like they’re being shredded, body shaking, consciousness lost into a vanishing point. The “I’ll never do this again, ever” of a regretful drunk, knowing full well that he inevitably would, that free will was nothing but a cruel joke at this point, that something was broken in the mind. Not even something large, not a universal joint or the like. Just one tiny part. But it was enough to compromise the entire system.
 Then another and another. Bomb making materials. Auto-pilot. Hurt by so few, but everyone has to pay. Humanity lost. Another interesting story for the back page of the paper. We can all shake our heads and cluck and “there but by the grace of god” and all that shit. Yeah, that’s you. 

Aaron Zehner is the author of "The Foolchild Invention" available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.  

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