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Bad Guy Benevolence

Bad Guy Benevolence

Mark Manner

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he wife was wakin me up, so I woke. Not sure if my eyes were open though. It was dark in the room. The curtains were thick and brown and drawn all the way. And my body was shakin. I was bein shook. The wife had her hands on my shoulders, and she was breathin hot words into my face. Someone’s in the house, she was sayin.

Huh, I said. I was tired. Uh, my guh duh. I can hardly speak when I’m tired.

Wake up! she said, and her whisper was a yell, practically. I hear somethin downstairs. Sounds like someone walkin, or like someone tryin not to be heard walkin. But they’re walkin, Richard. I can hear em. Walkin on their toes, maybe. I’m scared, Richard. You oughtta do somethin.

Rubbin my eyes with the back of my wrists is what I was doin first, still half asleep. Then I tried sittin up. Not sure what time it was, but the wife’s breath smelled like toothpaste still, so I figured it couldn'tve been too long since we’d gone to bed.

Prog dee un’ev duh gids, I said next.

Wha, said the wife.

I looked at the digital clock: 12:23 a.m. I cleared my throat, caught phlegm on the back of my tongue and then swallowed it. It’s probably one of them kids, I repeated, gaggin a little ‘cause I’d swallowed all that phlegm.

The wife was shakin me some more, tellin me to wake my brain up. We ain’t got no kids, she was sayin. C’mon, Richard. Get with it, godammit.

I began searchin for a weapon then, but the room was pitch black, practically. I reached my hands out in front of me, movin em on drawers and dressers, touchin things til I could feel somethin hard on my fingers. Soon I was holdin a steam iron.

The wife was sayin, You be careful now, Richard.

I’ve got an iron, I told her, showin her the iron. But she didn’t see it ‘cause it was so dark in the room.

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I walked into the hallway. It was lighter than the bedroom, blue moonlight droppin through the sunroof and onto the stairs. I was makin my way down to the main floor, barefoot. The steps didn’t creak. My granddaddy had built that house with his own bare hands, nice and sturdy and without creakin. I reached the bottom, stood in the front hall, started movin towards the livin room. I could hear the sound of walkin, unsure if it was my own walkin, or the walkin the wife had been talkin about.

Who’s there? I said.

After that the walkin stopped. I was standin still, and so was he. There was a man dressed in black clothes so all I could see was his face. It looked like a severed head floatin next to the fireplace mantel. The face had a startled look on its face, all slack-jawed, with big eyes beneath the rim of a toque.

What you want? I asked it.

The face didn’t respond. It just stared at me, pale as a ghost.

You’re a ghost, I said.

The ghost smiled. I began believin it might be a friendly ghost.

I ain’t a ghost, said the ghost. I’m here to rob you, you dumb motherfucker.

So it seemed I was dealin with the ghost of a robber, and the robber was holdin a gun. It was the kind John Wayne used to use in them movies Pa was always watchin, the barrel long and pointy like a pelican’s beak. The ghost aimed it at me. Money, gold, jewelry, he demanded. Now, bitch.

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I’d been wrong. He was no friendly ghost.

My legs began shakin, and I could feel tickles on the back of my neck and arms. The ghost took a step forward. I held the iron above my head. I’ve got an iron, I warned.

The ghost nodded. He told me to hand it over.

It’s funny how I did just that. Not sure why, but I set the iron down on the ground and slid it towards him. He caught it beneath his right foot, picked it up and pointed it at me like it was another gun. The ghost had a sense of humor.

I swallowed, tried speakin. Did you die while you was robbin this house? I asked him. Did you know my granddaddy?

The ghost scratched his head with the barrel of the steam iron, archin his eyebrows like he was confused about somethin. He mumbled mean words beneath his breath, shakin his head, pinchin the bridge of his nose. I couldnt tell what it was he was sayin, but it sounded like he might’ve been callin me a dumb motherfucker again, which I wouldn'tve appreciated much.

How do I know that gun’s for real? I asked next. I mean, how am I supposed know you ain’t just usin a ghost-gun on me?

The ghost began laughin in what I thought to be a rather ghostly manner. Really, dude? he was sayin. Really?

What’s really? I said.

He had me walkin up the stairs next, followed behind me by a couple steps, his gun touchin my ass the entire way there, pressin against my butthole. He kept cockin it.

That ain’t the least bit necessary, I tried tellin him.

Then move your ass faster, he said.

We were on the second floor then. He gave me a fanny pack for dumpin all the money and things. I walked into the bedroom, found the wife sleepin. It was difficult to see her, but I could tell she was in deep by the sound of her breathin. I tried my best to keep quiet so she wouldn’t wake, takin baby steps across the floor, tiptoes, started openin drawers I knew contained valuable things.

The ghost waited in the doorway, holdin his gun in one hand, steam iron in the other. Quickly and quietly, he kept tellin me. Quickly and quietly.

I was stuffin cash and jewelry into the fanny pack he’d given me, but it quickly got so full the zipper jammed. I started rattlin the damn thing, tryin to fix it. That’s when the wife began snorin like she does, deep as thunder. I could hear the ghost begin chucklin at her, makin fun of the way she sounded, sayin she snored like one of em Sasquatches. I turned back to look at him then, and I said, Now you ought to show some respect, ghost. That there’s my wife you’re talkin about.

But the ghost didn’t listen to me. He just kept cacklin like the clown he’d turned out to be. He even began pointin the gun at the wife, pretendin he was goin to shoot her like he’d shoot a Sasquatch. That’s when I’d had it.

Richard? said the wife, ‘cause she was awake now. What’s happenin, Richard?

I’d found a knittin needle inside one of em drawers, and so what I was doin was I was runnin across the room with it, holdin it out like it was a dagger. The ghost couldn’t hear me comin ‘cause the floor wasn’t creakin ‘cause my granddaddy had built it so well. Also, he couldnt see me comin, neither. Everything was dark enough to make a man feel blind.

Richard! yelled the wife.

The ghost was a silhouette in the doorway, standin in front of moonlight. I lunged at the shadow of him, dug the needle into its neck, pressed it in deeply.

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He screamed like he was a woman, practically. Blood spurtin everywhere, onto him, and me, and even the wife; that’s how far it shot. Then his hand fired the gun, a single shot that hit nothin but the ceilin. The ghost was walkin backwards now, womanly screams turnin wheezy on him, turnin into silence finally. I watched his body flip backwards over the banister, and fall down to the main floor. It made a sound like the gun did, bones breakin. I leaned over the banister to take a good look at him then. His neck was bent funny, like there was no more bones left inside of it. You’re dead, ghost, I was tellin him. Dead as a ghost.

The wife was makin a racket behind me, yellin and fartin ‘cause that’s what she does when she’s scared. I walked back to the bedroom, picked up the steam iron off the floor. I held it up for the wife to see.

What in the goddamn hell’s happenin, Richard? she was askin me.

The two of us just encountered somethin supernatural, I told her, and I protected you.

There’s so much blood, she said, ‘cause she’d turned on the lamp and seen it all by now. Everything’s completely ruined.

The blood’s just an illusion, I tried tellin her. It’ll disappear.

I left the room, made my way downstairs. It felt colder inside of the house now. My nose hairs felt frozen. I was breathin vapor, practically.

I could hear the sound of the wife upstairs. She was speakin words into the telephone, high-pitched and panicked. Then her voice faded. I was on the main floor, listenin to the jingle-jangle of the fanny-pack on my waist.

I walked over to the ghost, stood next to him, dumped money and jewelry on top of his body. A symbolic gesture, I thought. But nothin much happened. No bright lights or lessons learned or nothin. He just lay there. One of em dollar bills stuck to the wound on his neck.

Richard, said the wife. What in the hell, Richard? She was leanin over the banister now, callin down to me. He dead, Richard?

It’s time for you to go, I was sayin.

Go where? asked the wife, but I didn’t bother answerin her ‘cause I was talkin to the ghost. Standin over him, I could see his face more clearly now. He was just a kid. Eighteen, maybe nineteen or twenty at the most. Yellow hair that was patchy on his chin and cheeks. Dry lips. Nose piercing. Tattoo of a spider crawlin across his throat.

I shut my eyes real tightly, so much so that there were blotchy white specks appearin all around me.

The wife was sayin, Don’t you tell me that’s my goddamn jewelry, Richard! My mother’s necklaces? Richard! You put that on him? Are you kiddin me, Richard?

When I opened my eyes, the kid was still lyin there on the floor. His eyes were open too, and so was his mouth. I bent down and pulled the knittin needle out of his neck. No more blood was comin out the little black hole it left. Then I plugged my ears ‘cause the wife was still carryin on about her jewelry, cursin me out for gettin it bloodstained.

Richard, goddammit!

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I was still standin over the kid. He smelled like sweat and piss. I kept thinkin he might wake eventually, or that I would. But nothin much happened, other than me just standin there, thumbs pressed inside my ears like plugs. The wife yelled louder, so I pressed harder. Everything hummed.

Pretty soon the wife was in the kitchen. She was preparin a platter of sandwiches. For the pigs, she was sayin. I asked her to make me one too. She told me to go wash my hands first. I turned on the tap, held my hands beneath the burnin water. The kid’s blood looked pink and pretty as it spiraled down the drain. It was difficult to remove the red from under my nails though, so I just left it there lookin like chipped polish.

The wife handed me my sandwich on a paper plate. She told me to go wait by the front door, let the pigs in once they arrived. I chose to step over the kid’s body, rather than walk around it. I was standin next to the front door then, only a couple feet away from him. I couldnt believe how young he was, with pimples coverin his face in tiny clusters, especially on his forehead.

I could feel my gut makin noises. I was catchin the smell of mustard and salami in my nostrils, and I was starvin. But I was also feelin sick now, like I was swingin too high, too fast. I rested my sandwich on the ground next to the shoe rack, and then opened the door for some fresh air. There weren’t any stars in the sky, but a couple planes were blinkin yellow dots close to the moon. I walked out onto the porch. Neither of em creaked, not the front door, nor the porch. Like I said, my granddaddy had built that house perfectly silent. Apart from all em faraway sirens, pretty much everything around me was extremely quiet. It was like standin in the middle of nothin, practically.

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Illustrations By Meghan Murphy

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