I'm being haunted by one of my victims, or maybe it's just me...
I crept forward on my belly until I reached the edge of the tree line. The branches hung down to the ground, providing excellent cover. I snuggled up to my rifle and peered through the scope at the gas station. It was about a quarter of a mile away, but the scope brought everything in nice and close.
“Looks like a lot of people down there,” Ed observed. “Kids, too.”
“Shut up, Ed,” I muttered. “Pretend like you’re dead.” I scanned the parking lot, making sure there were no cops around.
“I am dead,” he said. “You killed me, remember?”
“Then fucking act like it,” I snarled. Ed was my first victim, and he always showed up to bother me when I was looking for another one. I couldn’t see any cops, so I started watching the customers. One of them was bound to do something that would justify a bullet in the head. It was just a matter of time.
“Have I ever told you how bad it hurts to get shot?” Ed asked, knowing full well that he’d told me at least ten times. “It hurts like hell. I wish someone would shoot you in the head.”
“Ed, I wish I could shoot you again. I’d like to shoot you every day for the rest of my life, you annoying bastard. Why won’t you shut up?” He was really starting to get on my nerves.
I tried to ignore him while I looked for number six. There was a fat guy in a Hawaiian shirt coming out the door with a bag of chips in one hand and a soda in the other. I was mildly bothered by his appearance, but I decided to wait to see who else came along. This gas station was the only thing at this exit on I-95, but it stayed fairly busy. I looked over at Ed, who was pouting.
“You know, I shot you because you were an overbearing prick. Now you’ve turned into a whiny little bitch. I almost prefer you the other way,” I said. “I hope I piss you off as bad as you piss me off.”
“You just make me sad,” he sighed. “Every time you do this, you ruin countless lives, you know. Why do you keep doing it? What do you hope to accomplish?”
I thought about that for a minute. I didn’t really have a plan, but I wasn’t about to tell Ed that. He’d never leave me alone about it.
“I am ridding the world of people who annoy me,” I finally announced. “When I get done, there will be no one to get on my nerves, thus making the world a better, happier place.” I paused. “Then I will find a way to get rid of your ass,” I added.
A horn began honking, drawing my attention back to the parking lot. I adjusted the focus on the scope. Horn honkers always piss me off, so this could have been who I was looking for. As the face came into focus, I realized it was a little boy. Shit! I didn’t want to kill a kid, right? Before I could continue the thought, Ed interrupted me again.
“You’re not going to shoot that little kid, are you?”
“Maybe I am,” I replied. “What difference does it make?”
“It makes a big difference,” he moaned. “He’s so young; he’s got his whole life ahead of him!”
“But if he’s already a horn honker, then he’s probably just going to grow up learning more annoying habits,” I reasoned. “If I let him go today, I’ll just end up taking him out later on anyway. Why waste time and opportunity?”
“Cause… cause he’s just a kid,” Ed protested weakly. “It’s just wrong.”
“Wrong is a matter of perception and opinion, Ed,” I said. “Just because it’s wrong in your mind doesn’t mean it’s wrong in my mind. Who says your opinion is right?”
“Society says it’s wrong. Everyone says so.” He was starting to sound a little more confident now, perhaps thinking that he might win the argument after all.
“What if everyone’s wrong?” I countered. “It’s happened before.”
“There was a time when everyone knew the world was flat, Ed.” He didn’t respond to that one. What could he say?
I looked at the kid again. He might have been five or six. He was standing in the driver’s seat, pounding on the steering wheel. His bright blond hair stuck up in a cowlick in the back, which drew a smile to my lips. I used to have one of those when I was a kid. I almost shot him on impulse when the horn honked again. There’s just something about that sound that drives me nuts.
“What if he was meant to cure cancer when he grows up?” Ed asked suddenly. “You wouldn’t want to be responsible for preventing that, would you?”
“Hhmm, you’ve got a point,” I agreed. “That would be a fucked up thing to do. Hell, I might get cancer someday.” Ed breathed a sigh of relief as I finally took the crosshairs off the kid.
Ed droned on about the moral implications of my actions, but I tuned him out. There was a woman getting out of a gray Mercedes at the gas pump closest to me that looked stuck up. Her black business suit and her immaculate bun hair style just screamed to me that she was a snob, and I can’t stand snobs. I watched her use a paper towel from the dispenser to grab the hose without getting her hand dirty. That was all I needed. I let out a breath and squeezed the trigger. Ed jumped.
I allowed myself a few seconds of satisfaction as I watched her head explode into a red mist. Ed started sobbing and moaning, and I fervently hoped he’d just stay there as I crawled back into the woods. When I couldn’t see the gas station through the trees anymore, I got up and began jogging. It was almost five miles to the dirt road where my car was parked, and I didn’t want to be anywhere around when the cops showed up.
I didn’t see Ed again until I got home. He was sitting on the couch watching the news coverage of Ms. Uppity Bitch and her untimely death. I ignored his accusing stare as I headed towards the shower. I was feeling quite good about how things had gone, and the last thing I needed was another one of his speeches to ruin my mood. He was really turning into a depressing son of a bitch.
The next weekend I hit the road, looking for a good place to find number seven. I didn’t have to go near as far as I expected. The Wal-Mart was right off I-95, and was flanked on two sides by an endless sea of trees. Ten minutes later I had my approach and escape routes and alternates plotted on the map, and left the parking lot. As usual, Ed sat in the passenger seat staring morosely out the window.
“I wish I could warn those poor souls,” he lamented. “They don’t even know how vulnerable they are.”
“Oh, come on, Ed. Don’t start this shit already.” I turned onto a dirt road, glancing at the map. “Look at the bright side.”
“What bright side?” he asked. “I don’t think there is one.”
“Well, make one up,” I said. “I’m too busy to do it for you right now.”
Within an hour I was in position. It was a good spot, across the street from the store and up a little higher. I had a good shot anywhere in the parking lot and even inside the front doors. I couldn’t help but chuckle, picturing the scene from inside the store when somebody’s head just mysteriously exploded while they were standing in line at the checkout.
“What’s so funny?” Ed asked. He was sitting beside me, leaning against a tree with his back to the store. “I can’t bear to look.”
“Nothing you’d appreciate,” I replied, “unless you’ve given yourself an attitude adjustment recently.” I scanned the first row of parked cars.
“Nancy Grace thinks you ought to get the death penalty,” he said. “I thought that was funny.”
“Fuck Nancy Grace,” I retorted. “She’s another arrogant bitch that pisses me off. If I could get her and Katie Couric coming out of this store right now, I’d shoot them both full of holes.” The thought brought a new idea to mind. “Hey, maybe I ought to take this show on the road,” I mused.
“Maybe you could just shoot yourself full of holes and put me out of my misery,” he countered. “That would make everybody happy.”
I ignored the comment and thought about all the celebrities that piss me off. John Walsh was probably top on my list, followed by Katie Couric, then all the Hollywood activists like Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon. I shook myself out of the daydream and continued scanning the parking lot. Wal-Mart always has a plethora of annoying people streaming in and out. It only took ten minutes to find number seven.
Number seven was a young black guy. His red Chicago Bulls jersey hung down to his knees, where his pants started. I tried to imagine how hard it must be to walk with your pants around your ankles. He was yelling across the parking lot at some woman, oblivious to the traffic piling up around him as he slowly shuffled towards the entrance. I waited until he was right in the doorway before putting a round in his skull. I was about to crawl back into the woods when number eight surprised me.
The unexpected number eight was a security guard, or perhaps a policeman, I couldn’t tell. He must have weighed over four hundred pounds. Distaste filled my mouth at the sight of him, and I barely realized what I was doing as I put two bullets in his fat face in rapid succession. He was waddling towards number seven, the giant sweat stains under his armpits sticking out to me even as his head disappeared in a spray of blood.
“Two? Did you just take two lives?” Ed asked haltingly. I winked at him as I slid back into the woods. He grimaced.
We were almost back at the house when Ed spoke again. Up until this point it had been a very nice ride.
“I’ve told them, you know,” he stated.
“Told who?” I asked, bewildered. “Told who, what?”
“The police, I told them all about you.” Ed released a small smile, which was a rarity for him.
I relaxed, spotting the lie. “Oh, sure you did,” I replied, sending back a small smile of my own. “And just when and where did you do this?”
“This morning, right before we left the house. I called them on your phone, told them everything from me getting killed all the way up to today.” His smile got bigger. “They asked how I could prove what I was telling them, so I told them that the next one would be within a few hours, and voila! You gave them the proof yourself!” Ed leaned back in his seat with a smug grin. “They’re probably waiting at your house right now.”
My hands tightened on the steering wheel. Was it possible? I wasn’t sure, but it couldn’t hurt to be careful. When we got to my neighborhood, I drove around the block before pulling into my driveway, just to be sure there weren’t any suspicious cars anywhere. Everything looked normal. Just as I opened the car door, however, I heard several motors roaring down the street. I jumped back in and started the car. I could see flashing lights up the street, so I drove the other way. Ed sat in the passenger seat laughing at me.
“You really think you’re going to get away?” he asked, shaking his head. “No chance. Where are you going to go?”
“I’m not working on a destination yet, Ed,” I panted. I glanced in the mirrors, not seeing any lights. I figured that at best, I had a two block lead on them, provided that they had made all the same turns I did. Hopefully they had missed one, which would give me a little more time. “You really turned me in, didn’t you?”
“You almost got caught in your driveway,” he responded. “Maybe next time you’ll believe me.”
“But why?” I asked. “What in the hell did you do that for? And from my own phone! Fuck!” I pounded the steering wheel in frustration.
After about ten minutes of furious driving, I decided that I was away from the immediate danger. I slowed my speed to the posted limit and headed for the edge of town. If I could make it to the Interstate, I’d be home free. I glared at Ed, but didn’t speak to him. Twenty minutes later we got on I-95 and headed south.
An hour had passed when a ringing chime brought my attention away from the mirrors and the highway. I glanced at the dash to confirm the chime. Sure enough, the gas gauge was in the yellow. I pulled off at the next exit and stopped at the first gas station. To my surprise, Ed saved me from a fatal error.
“Are you really stupid enough to use your credit card in that pump?” he asked. I jerked my hand away, breaking the card in the reader. Please swipe card again. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and berated myself for a moment over the close call. What was I thinking? I extracted the other half of my credit card from the machine and put the pieces back in my wallet.
“Thanks Ed,” I managed. “That doesn’t make up for you turning me in, but it’s a good start." I pressed the ‘Pay Inside’ button and filled the tank.
When I went inside to pay, the smell of hot dogs and coffee overpowered me, reminding me that I hadn’t eaten all day. I decided to risk a few minutes and grab some food while I was there. I stood in line at the counter, cursing the clerk who was operating in slow motion, when I spotted Ed outside at the payphone. I struggled with the decision. Do I leave now, without paying, and hope to stop Ed from reporting our position, but guarantee that the clerk will report me, or do I stand in line and pay, and pray that we can be gone before the cops arrive? I had no way of knowing how long Ed had been on the phone, or what he had told them, or if he was even talking to anyone at all. After all, he could be messing with my head, right? He did stop me from using my credit card. I decided I couldn’t risk losing any more time, and raced for the door.
“Hey, stop that guy!” the clerk screamed. The silly bitch couldn’t make change in less than five minutes, but she started screaming before I had gone three steps. Two young guys were coming in the door as I was trying to go out, and somehow I ended up on the floor. I struggled to get up, but they seemed to be listening to the clerk and held me down. Christ, but they were strong! A crowd was forming around us, and some of the other customers were helping hold me. I glimpsed Ed standing at the edge of the crowd.
“Ed!” I screamed. “Ed, help me! Get these fuckers off me; we’ve got to go. Ed!” Ed just looked at me. “Ed? What have you done?”
“You’ve got mustard on your face. You’re going to look great on the news,” Ed said. I struggled harder, and someone hit me in the head. I blacked out, hearing only Ed’s laugh and the approaching sirens.