by Chuck Wendig
On my way to work I drive down past Ashbrook Lane. I go past that little yellow real estate office with the guy out front dressed like a dollar sign. I pass by the party supply store and the Pet Palace.
Somewhere along the way, every day, I see this guy. Something isn’t right with this guy. He’s maybe sick or got some other problem. He wears a pair of jeans all torn up and fringy at the bottom. Even now, with that October cold coming in, he wears a flannel shirt, unbuttoned, a gray-belly paunch sticking out.
Every day, I catch him before he makes it to the China Skillet, that little fast-foody, can’t-sit-down joint with the greasy Tso’s chicken. I wait in the alley between China Skillet and the Kinko’s clone. The guy passes by me, and I drag him into the alleyway, and I beat him with a tire iron. Sometimes, I stab him with a kitchen knife.
I do this every day.
I think it’s starting to affect me.
It was two Tuesdays ago that Mary asked me if I was doing okay. I told her I was.
“You don’t look so good,” she said.
“I feel fine.”
“I had to wash your pants again.” She sounded a little annoyed. Sometimes, when I destroy the guy, he gets stuff on me. Yellow stuff. Kind of like butterscotch pudding, but with veins of red in it.
“I know. I tried to wipe it off, but…”
“And it’s just mud?”
“Just mud,” I said. “The parking lot at work is falling apart, and they won’t pay to fix it. It’s muddy. I step in mud.”
And she left it at that, but I caught her looking at me strange a few times before bed.
It’s maybe like that movie with Bill Murray and the groundhog. Not the golf one. The other one.
He’s out there again.
I catch him at the mouth of the alley and drag him in. The dumpster smells like rotten garlic and ginger.
“Guh!” he says to me. He can’t talk. He opens his fishy mouth and clacks those moldy chompers at me.
I kick him in the knee and the cap pops like rotten wood. The leg folds backward and he topples. I hit him in the head with the tire iron. It’s easier than squashing a pumpkin.
I watch TV every night – Wheel of Fortune, Jeopardy, and the news. I always wait for the news to say something about this guy. But nobody ever does. I don’t think people can even see what I’m doing. He passes them by and they don’t look at him. They walk right by the alley as I beat him or cut him into pieces and leave him there. The first few times, I moved the parts. But that was too messy. Plus, they’re usually gone by the next day anyway.
“What’s this?” Mary asks.
I look up and find her holding a sandwich baggy. In it is a sandwich. My sandwich.
“Oh,” I say.
“You didn’t eat it?”
“It’s ham and swiss. Why didn’t you eat it?”
I wonder if the guy would eat the sandwich. I consider trying to feed it to him the next day, but I just end up cutting his head off with a camper hatchet.
I decide not to drag him into the alley. Instead, I beat him into a paste right out on the sidewalk. I step on his hand, and it doesn’t crunch as hard as it should. Bones should crunch. This just feels like Styrofoam peanuts in a sock full of jelly.
People move around us, like we’re doing construction work or something.
“You missed work,” Mary says.
“No, I went,” I say. I can’t really remember going. But I know I went. It was part of my routine. Work was part of me.
“They called looking for you. Where’d you go today?”
“I don’t know.” Shit. This wasn’t good.
“This isn’t good,” she says, echoing my brain.
“I’ll go tomorrow.”
I don’t go to work the next day.
It’s weird. I do my business with the guy. I just use my hands this time and it’s not really that effective. It works, but it’s too much trouble to pull him apart like that. He just keeps wanting to move away from me, even when I’m grabbing handfuls of gut flesh and just pulling it away from him like it was moist pot roast.
And then I stay in the alley.
I don’t go to my car.
I don’t go to work.
An hour later, the guy shows up again. He looks the same. Purpled tongue jutting from gray lips. Sores all over. Same drunken stagger, same throat-buried grunts and groans.
And I slam his head in the dumpster. It pops off and lands on a bed of rancid bok choy.
Mary cries when I get home. The sun is coming up. She’s weeping and beating my chest, then she’s hugging me and asking me where I’ve been. I just move past her and get out the set of golf clubs from the bedroom closet.
She says something about me being gone for days, but I know that’s not possible. Mary is maybe a little crazy sometimes.
I sit in the driver’s side, and I think about the guy for a little while. Who is he? Why does he do this every day? He’s fallen into such an awful routine. How did he get this way? How does he keep coming back?
For a little while, I think maybe about asking him these questions. It’s rare that I give him any chance to say anything at all. Maybe I should, I think. Maybe I need to give him the opportunity to explain himself. I look over at the passenger side and see several baggies of sandwiches sitting there. On half of them, the bread is green. Could be the guy is hungry. I itch a sore on my hand and lick it. It tastes funky, but it isn’t the worst. Mary’s right. I don’t look so good.
This time, I decide I’m going to ask him what’s up. I’m going to talk to this guy, find out everything I need to know. And I’m going to give him a sandwich.
As I think this, I go to my trunk and get out a nine-iron. I leave the sandwiches behind.