Are You Evil?, by Patrick Zac

Are You Evil?

Are you evil?
I hear her voice asking me this, every night, in my nightmares. And every night I answer with the same reply.
A lot of other people ask me the same question. Especially lawyers and doctors. They want to know why I did what I did. “Are you evil, Mister Zac?” they ask, but I don’t answer them. I’ve kept my mouth closed. I’ll only answer her. And every night I do, from here, inside this cell.
Yet ...
I’m tired of the nightmares. And I’m tired of the evil. I feel dread, fear, and disgust. Dread because of how others perceive me. Fear because the death penalty no longer exists in this country and I know I’ve got to go on living this horror. Disgust because I know that as long as I’m alive I will love her.
They’ve given me a word processor to write down a confession. It makes a poor substitution for suicide. But perhaps in saying this I can excise at least some of the torments that infect me.
I remember everything.

In July last year I went homeless. No food. No money. No shelter. I’d just got back from the army and the pieces of the world didn’t fit anymore. Wounds still hadn’t healed. Memories trapped my mind. The only possession I had left was the Little Friend I kept under my coat. A friend with a polymer frame. A friend loaded with ten rounds. By itself, it’s a Glock 19; an object, arbitrary, incidental. When I’m with it, though, it becomes a faithful Little Friend.
I walked from New Hamburg, down Line 34, a gruelling twenty kilometres. Cars whooshed past and trucks roared along. I didn’t hitchhike and I doubted anyone would stop for me anyway. Fuck that noise, I could practically hear the drivers think, and maybe they were right for that. I looked haggard and unwell. Just emanating my pain. I didn’t know where I was going. I didn’t care where I’d end up.
It was midnight, I think, when I reached Stratford. I trudged through Upper Queen’s Park on sore feet. A drunk couple passed me. They looked at me, I looked at them, and then they frowned and shuffled away. As they faded into the distance, I watched them shrink and become silhouettes. Then they became two black dots. Then they became nothing, and I wondered what kind of people they were. I wondered where they’d be in twenty years. It reminded me of my parents. It reminded me of my pain. Surely, they’d be better off dead.
I got to Lake Victoria and stood on the harbour. The waters were unoccupied and there were paddleboats docked, unused. I imagined there’d be people riding them later, paddling along on the surface of the lake, blissfully ignorant of their true nature. Unaware that somewhere, in the dark corners of their hearts, the only thing between them and me is one moment. One decision. One tick.
And I’d stand in this very spot and it would be like no one was here at all.
I thought about my Little Friend, about the mercy that it can bring.
And that’s when I saw her.
She appeared on the lake like a ghost. She drifted out of the blue darkness and then entered the orange light of the shore-side lampposts. Immediately she was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Her hair was a steely black and wisps of it drifted out in the wind like smoke from the end of a pistol, just after firing a round. She had sooty eyelashes and eye shadow that reminded me of gunshot residue. Ivory-white skin. Blood-red lips. Her sumptuous body was covered only by a grey matte slip dress.
She came to me and slid her arms around my neck. She leaned in and opened her mouth, and the parting of the moisture on her tongue produced the faintest trigger click. Then she whispered into my ear. What she asked me turned my blood cold and sent a thundering gallop throughout my chest.
Are you evil?
I didn’t say anything.
She disappeared.
From then on, I yearned for her. To feel her body in my hands. She’d still visit me in dreams, and only in dreams I held her again. She’d hold her arms out and fold me into her embrace, and ask me that same maddening question every single time. Over and over and over.
Are you evil?
I knew what it meant if I answered. I resisted as long as I could.
But it seemed more and more like she demanded it, and even my own soul did, and eventually I just couldn’t stand it anymore. One night, in her embrace, I answered. She smiled and held me close.
I then knew what I am.
On the afternoon of July tenth, I returned to Lake Victoria with my Little Friend. I stood at the end of the dock. This time, the lake was occupied. This time, six paddleboats each carrying two human lives glided slowly across sparkling waters. Many of them were smiling. Many of them were talking. They didn’t know their futures. They didn’t know the penalty of living. They didn’t care.
I raised the barrel of my Little Friend and looked down the sights. I picked out a nearby couple. A curly-haired man with glasses. A blondish girl in shorts. I centred the sights on the man’s face.
“Are you evil?” I muttered.
I squeezed the trigger.
The gun kicked. His glasses snapped. There was a spray of red in the warm summer air.
His blood spattered onto the girls face and she instantly recoiled. Then she put her hand to her mouth and shrieked. As her man’s lifeless body slumped off the side of the little boat, she clumsily grasped at him and held on to the collar of his shirt. She was sobbing loud, braying sobs.
I centred the sights on her.
“Are you evil?”
Another pop from my Little Friend. Bad form, sloppy grip. The bullet went wide and two of her fingers sheared away. I repositioned my hold around the gun and realigned. Two more pops and she became as limp as her man.
The other paddlers were screaming now. Some were standing up in their boats, looking at me desperately like frightened deer. Some paddled and swerved away from me, much like roused swans. One of them jumped off their boat and started to swim. No problem. I had training with moving targets.
“You — are you evil?”
Three loud barks from my Little Friend. Three puffs of smoke. One man floating dead, sanguine cascading in water.
Crossfire ricocheted inside me from within an anamnesis. Life was simply a war that never ended.
I caught sight of a woman and a young girl. The woman held the girl’s face into her shoulder, perhaps some attempt to protect her. The woman’s face was strained and ugly. Her eyes begged me, ‘Please no’. Her tears glistened in July sunshine.
Reposition my hold around the gun ... realign ...
“Are you evil, too?”

I took five human lives that day. Many people think that I changed after that. I didn’t. I changed long before. But my love changed. She changed.
Now the dreams are nightmares. Her hair is shrivelled and knotted. Her mascara has melted and drips down her cheeks like black ink. Her eyes are two polished beads of solid onyx. Her jaw unhinges and her mouth is a maw where sharp yellow teeth protrude.
I want to wake up.
She leans in close. She smiles a wide, endless smile.
I want to scream.
She asks me the question. I have an answer.
Are you evil?
I have lived.
Yes I am.

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