“Joshua Lane is a good man. He always come in for the same coffee, always made the same way. Medium dark roast, sometimes with two sugars. He’ll take any moment out of his day to have a conversation with you if you ask him to, because that’s the kind of man that he is. He’s a good man. He’s kind hearted and he’s always got the purest of intentions to him. It’d be an injustice to the world to put that kind of good hearted, rarely seen good soul behind bars.” - Lou Benson, entrepreneur.
“He’s got a heart of gold. Nothing you could ever do would piss him off, he always tries to understand where someone is coming from. I can’t even begin to tell you how often he’s helped me get home from the bar safely. I remember one time I called him the morning after I got wasted and I found his shirt on my bedroom floor. I called him and asked him if everything was alright, and he told me that he gave me his shirt after I threw up on mine in the taxi home. It was the middle of winter, and he went home shirtless. He literally gave me the shirt off my back. There’s no way in hell that he’d ever get himself into this kind of trouble. You can’t charge him of a crime that he not only couldn’t have done, but a crime that most privileged people have done worse than and still paid their way out of trouble for. That’s just not right.” - Jennifer Catherine, former Secretary for VeroSoft Industries.
“Josh stopped at my cart one day before one of shows and talked to me about not having much joy early in life. I told him about my hopes to carry on my fathers legacy, trying to do the things he never got the chance to do and make him proud, and Josh sympathized with me. He even left a massive tip. Just being around my cart brought other people in. There wasn’t another slow moment for the rest of the day! He didn’t have to stop, he didn’t need to talk to me. Plenty of others don’t. Most people don’t try to be good, or even make an effort to seem like they are. The people that do are genuine, and Josh is one of the people that do. I’m thankful to have had that encounter with him, I’m grateful for it every day.” - Fred Zimbre, entrepreneur.
*Crack crack crack*
“Time for deliberation is over. May I ask the jury to rise” The judge calls from the head of the courtroom, Josh and his lawyer in a suit and tie awaiting the verdict.
“How does the jury find the defendant, Mr. Joshua Lane on count one of murder in the first degree?” The judge asks, prompting Josh’s eyes to pan over to bench.
“We the jury find the defendant, Mr. Joshua Lane not guilty on count one of murder in the first degree.”
Both subtle cheering and sighing of relief emanate from around the courtroom, including from Josh himself as the remaining verdicts are announced.
Every count regarding Warren Duane and all other minor infractions against Joshua Lane are wiped clean, and the saga of Josh and the prior months of his life are finally put to bed.
Walking from the courtroom, Josh and his lawyer embrace and shake hands as people swarm out of the cramped hot box like a flood through broken levees.
The past eight months have been a whirlwind of emotions. House arrest hasn’t been fun, especially not in the cramped luxuries of a New York style apartment. But the most important thing is that I’ve exorcised my demons and laid them to rest. I’m innocent. I have my well-hidden truths, yes, but in the public’s eye, I haven’t done anything wrong.
And I know that, too. Deep down, I know that whatever I’m guilty of, I was right in doing so. Bad people need to be stopped, and the law won’t allow them to be the stopped as long as power outweighs what’s morally right. The best hope I or anyone can have is that there will always be people like me, willing to do what’s necessary, to make sure justice is truly served the weigh it was meant to.
“Joshua Lane?” A voice calls out from across the courtroom, the young and well-dressed man turns to greet it. “Yes, that would be me” Josh responds, all smiles and relief.
“You must be relieved” the woman states, dark tinted sunglasses covering her eyes. “You have no idea. I’m just glad what’s done is done and there’s a chance to continue doing the work I’ve found success in for this long.”
“I bet” the woman says, her expression growing cold and frigid. Taking notice of the woman’s demeanor, Josh’s smile fades as his eyes narrow. “Are you okay, ma’am?” Josh asks, the woman, smirking through the corner of her mouth responds. “I will be.”
After a pause, Josh takes concern with the woman. “Is everything okay?” Josh asks, stepping towards the woman.
*Pop Pop Pop*
Three shots ring through the air, bouncing off of the stone and concrete pillars surrounding the courthouse, dropping Josh to the ground in a heap as the woman rushes off further into the courtroom and Josh’s lawyers tend to his body, losing blood over the green and white tiles of the courthouse floor as guards and medical responders tend to the wounded man.
There are moments where you’re glad that hospitals are as clean and pristine as they look on TV. Everything’s sparkling white from the floors to the blinds covering the windows.
Waking up for your 7am breakfast delivery is not one of those times.
“Good morning Mr. Lane. Here you are” The hospital nurse says, laying a tray of food out over the desk tucked over the sore and aching Josh.
“Thank you, Becca. I appreciate it” Josh responds, trying desperately to power himself up into a seated position, grunting along with the shooting pain of the hole in his abdomen until his arms refuse to bare the load, dropping him back into his bed as a result.
“Let me help, Mr. Lane.” Walking along his bedside, Becca holds her arms out, propelling Josh forward through the pain below. “Thank you” Josh responds through breaths, being met with a smile from the nurse, walking towards the door before being halted in her tracks.
“Do you like what you do?” Josh asks from across the room, prompting Becca to take notice and turn back into his direction. Standing beside his question, “I mean… Do you enjoy coming to work? Is there something about it that… Makes you want it… Or not?”
Slowly inching her way back into the room, the young woman moves around the clutter in her mind to find an adequate response. “I love helping people. I love being able to make someone’s life better… And making sure they can go back to doing what they love.”
Pausing for a moment, catching his breath and looking her in the eyes, “What if they’re bad people? If they’ve done bad things?” Josh asks. Walking towards him, Becca takes a seat in the chair at his bedside. “Just because people do bad things, doesn’t make them a bad person. At least not to me. There’s a reason they have for doing things that we don’t all understand. Whether that’s a good reason or not is up for debate. But they’re a human being just as the rest of us are. And human beings need help sometimes. All of them. Even the ones that do bad things.”
Suddenly, the pager on Becca’s hip begins going off, alerting her of her presence being needed. “We’ll talk more later if you’d like. Eat your breakfast and don’t try any funny business anymore, alright?” Heading off towards the door, Becca disappears into the crowded hallway, leaving Josh to his vices and his pancakes.
“Good morning. We open this morning with new information regarding the attempted assassination of Joshua Lane, the former CEO of VeroSoft who was shot by an unnamed female outside of a Manhattan courtroom immediately after being found not guilty in the murder of former VeroSoft chairman Warren Duane. Police say the suspect has finally been identified as 24 year old Julianna Hoffman, a real estate agent in the greater New York area. It is suggested that she may be driving a white 2010 Nissan Altima with the license plate “OEP-324. If you have any information regarding Julianna or that vehicle, you’re urged to contact the FBI hotline or the New York Police Department.”
The past nine months have been long, and they have been hard.
No contact with the outside world other than a little bit of light grocery shopping. No way to get in touch with anyone I’ve trusted, even discreetly. Isolation was fun in the beginning… It felt fresh and needed. Now it just hurts.
But it was necessary. It was necessary for myself to find it within me to accept the good and the bad of each side of the story. It took some time… I won’t lie.
It was hard to look at the news and not want to cry uncontrollably. The only person I could look at, knowing all of his flaws and all of his strengths… And still be completely enamored by. A man that I knew had some good in him… And a man that I knew also had a lot of bad.
I didn’t know what to feel. What to think. It was all a blur. Late night after late night trying to figure out whether or not Joshua Lane was a man or a monster. Whether Lieutenant Eric Devine was a man or a monster. Whether this Julianna Hoffman chick was a sinner or a saint. Whether Warren Duane deserved what he got or not.
Everything I had believed in was thrown in a salad tosser and spun until it hurt. Shattered and glued back together. I didn’t know what to think.
Am I the woman I was a little under a year ago? Nope. Not at all. I share some similarities, but I’m farther gone than even I realize. I’m not the girl draped in some silly dress outside of a company party all hell-bent on kissing the ass of the murderous-CEO. The true anti-hero the world needs an example of every few months or so.
I’m not the woman trying to get to the bottom of things, piecing them together and giving out the book to the people willing to take down the problems with New York that joshua was aiming to take out. I’m not the woman ready to cover a soft interior with a hard, bulletproof shell. Am I intoxicating? Yeah, of course the fuck I am. That girl was likable. Even if she was a bitch, there was something to see in her. There was a smile or so tucked away that people would have rooted for her to show every once in a while. There was something to like. There’s not anymore.
What sense would that make?
Out of the blue, all in what felt like a matter of a few minutes, the man you were about to throw up attempting to ask on a date is revealed to be a murderous psychopath by a corrupt cop that broke into your house and killed a woman in your kitchen all in the process of telling you to fuck off and never come back. Why would that be okay? Why would I be okay?
I shouldn’t be. And I’m not.
Why is that not okay?
… Because I won’t let it be.
Storming through the front door of her neck-of-the-woods cabin, Eliza scurries down the dirt path to the front gates and hurls it open, sending it back with a resounding thud, the kind of metal clashing against a mirror image of itself dancing through the trees as an echo in the woods. Turning back, Eliza salutes the cabin and places a chain around the gates, locking it together and walking out to her car.
Placing down a backpack in the passenger seat, Eliza injects the keys into the ignition like heroine into a vein before powering the car on and backing out of the lot, heading down the pathway to the nearest backroads whilst leaving behind a sign on the front lawn of the gates.
“Closed for the Summer. Will be back in the fall. Beware. Dangerous bitch inside.”
“Mr. Lane?” A voice calls from beyond the door to his hospital room, waking Josh from his sleep.
“There’s a visitor here to see you” The woman says, backing away from the archway to allow the visitor through.
You fucking cocksucker.
“Joshua Lane. It’s good to finally talk with you. Glad to see your recovery coming along.” The voice, gravely in nature comes walking through in the hospital room, taking a seat in the chair beside Josh.
“Devine. I swear to god. I’ll fucking kill you.”
Laughing as he removes his jacket from his off-duty casual streetwear, Devine leans back in the seat and kicks his feet up onto Josh’s leg, placing his hands behind his back. “How’s the rehab been, sport?”
Silent, Josh refuses to respond as Devine remains seated there, smug and vile. “Silent game, Lane? You sure you don’t have any questions for me? Anything I can clear up, something like, updates on the whole assasination investigation?”
Biting his lip and placing his head back on the pillow, Josh continues to refuse any acknowledgment of Devine’s presence.
“Have you given up, Josh? I mean… You’ve already been exonerated. You could admit to killing Warren in cold blood right now and have no consequences. But… you’re not doing that. You’re sitting there and refusing to acknowledge the truth…” Before he can go on any further, Josh turns his head to the side and cuts him off.
“And what truth is that?” Leaning forward and smiling, Devine answers. “The truth that you’re the villain trying to play the hero and it’s just not working out for you. At least not as you expected.”
“Really?” Josh shouts, “Because as far as I’m aware, the only people that I have a problem with are bad, sick, vile burdens to society… And it appears that a jury would agree with me.”
“Is that a confession?” Devine asks, with Josh cutting back, harshly screaming in Devine’s face. “You bet the FUCK it is! I killed Warren, a sick, gross piece of shit… The same way that you killed Alec Cerine for being a turncoat! I’m not the villain here, Devine! It’s impossible to be the villain when you’re surrounded by someone far more fitting for the role than yourself you fucking bitch!”
Standing from his seat and pacing around the room, looking under desks and drawers, Devine takes a moment before getting in Josh’s face, whispering in response. “You bet your goddamn ass I was going to get rid of Cerine. There wasn’t a thing about him I didn’t know… At least there isn’t now that I’ve seen what he’s been hiding up north…”
Directly in Josh’s face, Devine leans over the bed as Josh’s head rests completely in the pillow, Devine continues. “It’s just like I’m going to get rid of you, Josh. You know too much about what’s going on here. And now that you’re some folk hero to the public… A shining beacon of hope that good always prevails… Your death will become a tragic learning moment.”
After a moment of silence, Devine concludes. “I may not have gotten in done in Buffalo… I might have gotten a little sloppy in the courtroom, even if it wasn’t my hand that gun was being aimed with… But it won’t happen again. And there’s not a thing you can do to stop the inevitable.”
Removing himself from Josh’s face, Devine sinks back in the chair and kicks his feet up back onto the bedside. “You’re a bad person doing good things in hopes that it’ll redeem his past demons. You thought killing Warren Duane discreetly wouldn’t raise suspicions, and yet you’re now tied up with the mob and a controversy-machine for a Tuesday night on CNN. I don’t hate you, Josh… I just want to see you be convicted of your crimes the way you deserve to be... You thought you could help people, yet you ruined Eliza’s life, and Jennifer’s life, and anyone else you ever come in contact with again. You’ll never get a chance to make up for it, and they all hate you now because of it.”
Expression taking a turn from anger to confusion as he remains staring at the ceiling above, Josh slowly turns to Devine, still proudly seated in his chair. “Eliza hates me? I ruined her life?”
Smirking before placing a toothpick in his mouth, Devine responds. “Of course. You used her to get whatever you wanted, you think she’d let that slide?”
Smiling, breaking out into a maniacal laugh, Josh stares Devine in the eyes before leaning on his right arm. “How would she let, or not let, anything slide when she’s dead, Devine?”
Immediately, the smile fades from Devine’s face, and the toothpick being maneuvered around grows still on his lip. Finally after a moment, Devine closes his lips and grunts.
Laughing loud enough for it to echo around the room, Josh slowly inches his way into a seated position at his bedside before looking directly at Devine, dying down the laughter.
“I don’t kill good people, Eric. I kill the bad ones. I kill the people that should be killed, but aren’t.”
Using both hands to prop himself up at his bedside, Josh leans forward. “I… I killed Warren Duane…”
Devine, feet planted firmly on the ground, having been shoved off of Josh’s lap like an unwanted puppy, stares on as the man’s expression grows cold, and a sadistic smile reaches from ear to ear. Cupping his hands together, Josh leans closer to Devine at the edge of the bedside with the same smile draped across his face.
“... The same way I killed Jeremiah Duane…”
Devine’s face grows cold, smile completely wiped from his face as his hands begin trembling. Despite his body trembling with anger, Devine stands to his feet and meets Josh at his bedside, now standing, still with his hands cupped together as the two grow within eaches of the other on the cold hospital floor.
“... The same way… I killed… Your father…”
Shocked. Horrified. Mistified. Devine turns to stone, hairs on his arms standing on edge, his face shaking from the amount of anger boiling over the edge, Devine loses his temper, throwing a punch at Josh, only for the seemingly wounded man to duck the strike with quickness, planting his arm at the off-duty officer’s throat before forcing him across the room and up against the wall. Completely surprised at the possum-like game played by the unexpectedly-healthy Joshua Lane, Devine is frozen to the wall with a tongue on a frozen stop sign pole as the man still draped in his hospital gown uses his free hand to slowly remove the toothpick from his mouth.
Snapping the pick in half with no effort, Josh keeps his eye planted on it as it drops from his hand and falls to the ground, slowly lifting it back to eye-level with Devine before letting the smile engulf his face once more.
“... The same way… I’m going to kill… You.”
Furious, Devine is forced to accept his position, defenseless and outmatched. Now growing animated, Josh’s sadistic moment of presenting pageantry in the further deserving moment from it shines like a gem in the midnight sky.
“So sport… If you didn’t hate me before…”
Leaning into Devine, Josh keeps his eyes locked onto the officer’s pupils as he takes his turn to close the distance between the two, getting in Devine’s face far too close for comfort.
“... Get used to loathing me now, bitch.”
With force, Josh grabs Devine by the neck and hurls him to the ground, sliding up to the hardwood door to the hospital room as he makes his point heard well and clear.
In a moment of retreat, Devine pulls himself back to his feet before reaching for the doorknob. “This ends when you’re dead” Devine says, pulling the door open before disappearing out of it, leaving Josh stood at the end of the room, whispering to himself beneath his own breath.
I’ve climbed this hill thousands of times. I’ve seen what lies over the ridge, the ridge that lets the sun inch overhead each morning at the crack of dawn, more times than I have cared to count, but enjoyed nonetheless. It’s a different feeling when you’re expecting the sight on the other end to feel like more of a prison than home, even if it’s what you called home for so long.
And yet… Here we are. Just as isolation was to clear my head…
Returning home was necessary to get it in order.
Pulling up to her former home, garage doors taken off and replaced with hardwood boards, same applying to the front door, Eliza hops out of the driver’s seat of her vehicle before making the trek up the long gravel driveway, brushing off the “Private Property. Stay Out” signs lining the property like a spine to a hardcover book.
Creeping up the stairs, planting one foot after another, climbing the stairs in such soft fashion that the rocks beneath her boots don’t crumble into bits, Eliza approaches the front door, taking a moment to survey the area before kicking in the hardwood, taking down the border between herself and home before entering.
Once inside, Eliza can feel like the warmth in the air. The hot summer sun rains down a heat below noticeable even with air conditioning, but unbearable without it. The stuffy, cramped and muggy air overwhelms anything else within the house, forcing Eliza to turn on a flashlight just to get around.
With light finally available enough to bring the remainder of the home out of darkness, Eliza gets to see the devastation left in the wake of the post-investigation. Torn furniture, broken furniture, belongings strewn about or missing. Everything within an eye’s view completely destroyed, ravaged or left completely unrecognizable from how it was left in the very least.
Home, much like a prison, is stuffy and cramped, a shell of what home is meant to be. Foreign to what it was used to being. Unrecognizable from the luxuries home provides.
This… Is fate.
Nothing in this house says Eliza Bradburry. Nothing in this home is well. Everything Eliza Bradburry ever was had been symbolized in this home. The paintings are more filth than art. The furniture is more pain than pleasure. Everything that screams Eliza Bradburry is dead.
Fitting, ain’t it?
I guess Eliza Bradburry truly is dead.
Walking from the middle of the living room, the space in which she finds herself awestruck at her surroundings, Eliza collapses onto the one cushion of her old couch still semi-intact, launching dust into the air as she simply sits, staring off at the remainder of her strewn-about home.
Life… Starts now.
“Here are you accessories, Mr. Lane. Your bill has bent sent to your legal advisors, if you need any information regarding it, please speak with one of them, or file a request at our service desk.”
“Thank you, I appreciate it” Josh responds to the lady at the head of the hospital, taking from her a bag of Josh’s belongings, including a phone, his wallet and some keys. Turning to the exit of the hospital, Josh begins walking in its direction before hearing someone call out his name from behind.
“Josh!” The voice calls, prompting the man to turn back, noticing Becca walking towards him with a smile on his face. “From being weak enough to need help sitting up to signing yourself out on fairly strong legs, I’d say you made quite the recovery.”
Smiling to himself, Josh responds, “Maybe I was just smart enough to figure out a good enough excuse for you to hold my hand...” Smiling and nodding through puckered lips, opting to play along with his game. “And to think we never got to finish that chat of ours before you so quickly tried to hurry away. Such a shame!”
Tilting his head before locking his eyes with hers, Josh responds. “Who says we can’t continue that talk away from the hospital beds?”
Smiling through a noticeable attempt to hide her blushing, “What exactly did you have in mind?” Becca asks, forcing Josh into a shit-eating grin as he conjures over what to say next.
“Dinner? Preferably one that doesn’t come in a sealed container… Or originate from a hospital cafeteria? Or just one that doesn’t involve a hospital at all?”
Crossing her arms loosely, Becca smiles. “So nothing involving a hospital… What about a bed?”
Erm… This is… Going… Somewhere… I think…
“I, uh… Ye-.... Uhm, Well I-” Josh stumbles to say, being cut off at the perfect moment by Becca, fixing the hair falling in her face.
“LaMirage off Sunset at 9” Becca says, handing Josh her phone for obvious reasons, “I’ll text you if I can’t make it.”
Inserting his number, Josh hands the phone back to Becca. “I’ll see you at 9, Josh Lane.”
Turning back to return to her duties, Josh watches as the young brunette walks confidently further into the hospital before disappearing beyond the crowd.
That girl. She’s definitely something else.
But for as taken by this moment as I am, there’s something else that I need to do. Something I need to figure out myself. Something I need to see in order to put things to rest.
Or at least in order to open doors I never knew needed to be shut in the first place.
“Lieutenant Devine. In my office, right now.”
Attention caught by the sudden request, Devine stays frozen in his seat for a moment before taking a stand and making his way to the Sergeant’s office, closing the door behind him as he enters.
“Please, sit” The sergeant requests, holding his hand out to Devine in the direction of the chair at the head of his desk. “Is there a problem, sergeant?” Devine asks, slowly taking a seat.
“Lieutenant, I didn’t think I’d have to be having this talk with you. I know you’re still grieving at your father’s death, I don’t care if it’s been two years or two decades, a father once is a father forever. I don’t condemn you for that. What I do condemn you for is taking your practice as anything other than your first priority. I don’t care what your father’s death has to play in your current inability to stay on course, but your job is to make sure you catch and bring to justice people responsible for the crimes you’re tasked with solving.”
“Sergeant, I understand that. But this case is-” Devine attempts to start, only to be cut off at the sergeant’s hand being held in the air, not a singular word having to be uttered before the point has come across. Silence overwhelms the room as the sergeant lowers his hand, Devine still silent.
“You let one of New York’s highest profile murders and potential convicts fall through your hands. We had the knife on Joshua Lane directly. There was no rumor and nothing speculated, the knife was straight up on Joshua Lane. Warren’s blood coated it and everything. We had Joshua Lane red handed in the most literal fashion, and now we have let a high profile, highly-powerful and highly-wealthy, not to mention highly-intelligent murderer back out onto the streets. That mess, and perhaps another string of murders if this man gets confident will all be your fault. Do you know the gravity of the mess you have just allowed to sweep the streets, Lieutenant Devine?”
“I… I screwed up.” Devine responds, residing to the fact that he let this one get away from him.
“I screwed up. Unbelievable” the sergeant responds, throwing his hands in the air having quiet on the excuse.
“I can make it up. I can prove he was involved in other murders. I promise!” Devine pleads, only for the sergeant to cut him off, face caked in disbelief. “You what?” the sergeant responds.
“He confessed to me that he’s been behind Jeremiah Duane’s death this whole time” Devine says, stammering along like a madman in hopes of saving face, only for the sergeant to continue falling further down the rabbit hole of shock.
“He confessed that he murdered Jeremiah Duane?” The sergeant says, only for Devine to respond, “Jeremiah Duane, and my father. He told me this. Straight up.”
“Really?” The sergeant asks, “And when the hell did he tell you this?”
“In his hospital room earlier today!” Devine says, louder than anything else. “You went to the man’s hospital room!?” The sergeant responds, “Yes! Off duty!” Devine responds, as if that made it any better.
“Are you fucking crazy? Do you know how many legal implications that puts us in? Have you lost your goddamn mind!?”
Silenced, Devine shakes his head, dropping his jaw before hopelessly saying, “I can prove it. Please.”
Shocked into silence, the sergeant stands from his seat, pointing at the door as Devine pleads once more.
“OUT!” The sergeant shouts, his voice thundering over any noise in the entire building, reaching far enough to be heard on multiple levels.
“YOU’RE HEREBY SUSPENDED INDEFINITELY. GET OUT OF THIS BUILDING!” The sergeant screams, Devine now trembling in horror as his worst nightmares all come to life at once. “OUT!’ the sergeant says once more, with Devine slowly walking out of the door and through the station lobby.
One foot in front of the other like a baby learning how to walk, Devine inches his way out of the building and to the parking lot. Pulling open the handle of his car door and swinging it open, Devine has a moment of fury as he runs himself directly into the door, repeating the process over and over again until the large hunk of metal flies from the car and into a bush plot on the side of the building.
Fuming in the parking lot, looking at the damage to the car he created, Devine collapses into his drivers seat, legs still firmly planted on the ground beside the car as the man’s head drops into his hands.
After moments of nothing but Devine seated in his chair, he slowly lifts his head from the palms of his hands, shaking uncontrollably with a look of pure distilled hatred. Finally, Devine pulls his legs from the ground and into the car, starting it up before pulling out from his parking spot with such little care that he takes a stop sign out in the process.
Shifting gears into drive, Devine floors the car out of the parking lot and into the New York roadway, disappearing into the city life like a bag in the wind.
*buzz buzz buzz*
Without looking, Josh grabs his phone out of his pocket and slides his finger across the screen, lifting it to his ear with a smile.
“I was starting to miss you puppet master. How’ve you been?” Josh says gleefully, smile dancing across his face like a mime with too much lipstick. “Not as well as you have been apparently. Quite the ballsy move with Devine earlier, wouldn’t you say?”
“Look, you reap what you sow. No one should be safe from that” Josh says, turning onto an offramp heading for the backroads of New York.
“Listen. You know Devine isn’t going to take this lightly. The second he puts literally anything about his dad’s murder on a table and connects it with you, that’ll be enough for him to take action. He’s going to go off like a bomb and he’s going to make sure you’re at the epicenter of the explosion.”
“I know” Josh says, smile disappearing but still keeping a content expression. “I won’t have to worry about it for too long, though. We both know that.”
“Do we, Josh? Are you trying, at all, to make any logical sense right now? Think about why I’m giving you these calls. Think about why these blackouts keep happening. Do you not see any problems with uncovering the dark past you’ve spent tireless nights trying to seal up forever?”
Brushing off the notion, Josh attempts to respond before being cut off by the man on the opposite line. “Why bring up those grimey truths of yours if you want them gone?”
Finally, putting Josh into a position where he is left without anything to say, the guardian angel leans into his phone and concludes. “Do you truly want them gone, Josh?”
Sitting there in silence, keeping his eyes on the road despite the question at hand being enough for anyone to go mad thinking about, Josh stares on at each road sign along his path, all reading “Stop Running.”
“I do. I just… I just don’t know how to move on.”
On the other line, the man leans up against his glass countertop, flinging a dart from his hand and towards a dart board at the opposite end of the room, the voice asks, “Do you think you’re able to bury your demons, Josh?”
Still remaining in silence, feeling like his mind is breaking apart with each lingering moment the question still looms, Josh attempts to reply before once more being cut off by the man on the other line. “Do you want to put your demons away, Josh?”
It’s hard to understand exactly what it is that I want out of life. For years I’ve just been surrounded with this ability to do whatever it was that I wanted to do because of my name and my title. Anything I wanted was something that I could have in the blink of an eye without ever having to break a sweat.
Anything that I didn’t want was another task in general. The complete opposite of the spectrum. If I wanted something gone, I could just make it go away. I wouldn’t have to worry about any repercussions because, in case you weren’t paying attention to my court case, no one would convict me of my crimes.
I never had to worry about a thing, so when I had demons that I needed off of my back, I got overwhelmed. I never needed to worry and yet I always had this lingering issue. All it ever took was a knife and some rope.
I think I’m beginning to see where the problem in that sentence lays.
“I just want to be happy” Josh says, trying to keep himself from crying despite shaking his leg like a panic attack is about to creep in.
But do I deserve to be?
I look at my work as something good. Getting rid of the bad people that deserve to be off the streets… And off this plane of existence for that matter…
Maybe it’s not.
“Well, Josh… If you want to be happy, you need to put to bed the things that make you anything other than that. Focus on putting the dark side in the past... Quashing your demons once and for all.”
The air feels so hostile… I guess I sort of have that effect… But the puppet master is somehow cutting through that hostility and bringing something calm to the table.
He’s like the part of me I wish I’d listen to. Wise and ahead of the curve, and yet I keep listening to the irrational part of me. The part of me that doesn’t think about the consequences to the action… Only the action itself.
Maybe I should start taking his suggestions into consideration more frequently.
“I will” Josh says, nodding to himself as a light chuckle comes from the phone line. “Good” The guardian angel replies, “You should.”
After another brief moment of silence only broken by the sound of Josh’s puppet master downing the remainder of his fine malt, “We’ll talk again soon, Josh. Goodbye for now.”
Without responding, Josh hears the line go dead and lowers his phone to his lap. Pulling over to the side of the road, Josh puts the car in park and sits in the driver’s seat, waiting for something more to occur.
“What are you waiting for, Josh?” A voice calls out from the passenger’s seat, looking straight ahead at Josh, refusing to look. “Joshua?” The voice calls once more.
“I know what you’re looking to do, Nora. I’m not paying you any mind for it” Josh relies, saddening the figment of his imagination enough for a smile to cross his face momentarily. “Why not?” Nora asks, using a tone of disappointment still being ignored by the man in the driver’s seat. “Because I need to put my demons to rest, Nora. I can’t move on if I keep looking back.”
“Why am I a demon, Josh?” Nora asks, placing her hand on Josh’s arm, forcing the hairs to stand as they usually do. “What is it about me that haunts you?” Nora asks, using her free hand to brush Josh’s neck.
“You’re trying to consume me. Fill me with fear that I just can’t take. And I won’t, Nora. I need you to go away.”
Placing her hand on Josh’s shoulder, Nora whispers into Josh’s ear, the man still forcing his head to remain turned away from her. “Why am I a demon to you, Josh?”
After a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the woman’s presence, Josh mutters under his breath in a similar tone to Nora’s whisper. “Go away.”
Surprised by the response, Nora’s eyes widen and the deep blue, ocean-from-afar like eyes grow hesitant. “But… Joshua-” Nora says, only to be met with the same response once more. “Go away.”
Without response, Nora leans in to the man, smiling as tears stream down his face before attempting to whisper into his air, only for Josh to finally turn to face the woman, locking eyes with her, no fear in his heart, responding with the same two words once more in the direction of the heartbroken lovebird.
“Go away, Nora.”
The frown on her face turning into a subtle, sadness-filled grin of acceptance, Nora lets her hand fall from Josh’s arm,gliding down his skin like a teardrop down a cheek before finally removing itself completely, lowering the hairs on Josh’s arm before the woman vanishes completely, leaving Josh alone in the parked car on the side of the road, wiping a tear away from his eye before nodding in acceptance and taking a sigh of relief.
Everything is a beautifully broken mess. It’s fitting for this mess that I’ve gotten myself into. I sit here, alone in my torn-apart living room watching the dust continue to woft around the room like smoke from a cigar, wondering exactly what happens next.
If Eliza Bradburry is dead, what does the person have left?
I don’t feel like Eliza. She had a simplicity to her that I’m far too gone to remember the feeling of. I’m fueled by hatred and loathing for the person I once considered the closest thing I had to a friend.
I don’t want to be Eliza anymore. Eliza is broken, and I don’t have the time available to myself to pick up all the pieces and glue them back together.
So how do I move on? How do I look at this house and feel alright never needing to see it again? How do I look at myself in the mirror and be alright with being alive? No sign is going to walk through that door and usher me along the path towards that answer, so if there’s going to be a time that I man up and figure it out, it’s right now.
Dropping her leg, crossed over her other to the ground, Eliza takes a final look around the room before standing from her seat at the torn couch and making her way to the bedroom at the end of the home. Walking inside, she notices something different about the air. It feels cold and there’s a draft present, changing the feeling from the moist, swamp-like living room.
Surveying the room, Eliza finally heads in the direction of one of the drawers in the corner, opening it to reveal a small box. Opening the lid, Eliza finds a necklace that Josh gave her well before everything began going down. A cheesy, fifteen-dollar necklace laying in a pristine case masking the sheer lack of wealth contained inside of it.
Smiling to herself slightly, Eliza picks the necklace out of the box and holds it into the air, watching it dangle in spite of one of the bent links to the chain, chuckling to herself at the picture of the two at the bottom, high fiving with two glasses of champagne.
Back in the box lies a note, now on fairly less-than-pearly-white note paper reading, “I know you don’t celebrate your birthday. I don’t care. Happy birthday. - Josh.”
Still caught up in laughter, Eliza lowers the box, the note and the necklace in her hands to her side, smiling as she looks around the room for the first time since she walked into the remnants of what used to be her house. For a moment, everything feels okay and the obvious example of her old life being gone surrounding her at every corner seems unimportant, as the moment of joy she had been stripped from feeling for so long finally reared its head around again.
I miss this. I miss you, Josh.
Just because I look at you as a very different kind of… Being… Doesn’t mean I don’t miss the memory of what I used to look at you as. You’re just as broken as the rest of us are, and you’ve said it yourself, everyone is hiding something down below… That grimey truth you take so much pleasure in saying at parties.
Anyone that couldn’t see this kind of thing coming is an idiot… We’ve both been saying it since the beginning… Everyone is hiding something… Covering the dark secrets inside with masks of wealth and luxury.
We’re just two of the people that don’t care too much to try.
The sad thing is that I know that, and yet I still can’t stop thinking of you as a monster. I can’t stop seeing Warren, as sick and disgusting as he was, gasping for the air leaving his body in droves as you smile at his suffering.
Yes… he should suffer… Living in the confines of a prison cell departed from his lavish comfort. But he shouldn’t have been left to die in the middle of the alleys in this city’s bowels like a dog, wounded and hungry.
It’s this moral dilemma burning within me like an inferno that I just can’t shake. You’re a monster with a kind heart and good intentions. You’re someone I should hate but somehow love. You bring the worst out in me yet inspire the good.
I just miss you. I miss me, too.
I just want that back.
A faint thud against the wood back in the living room of her home proceeds a larger and much more noticeable thud right after, prompting Eliza into action, taking a blade from her boot and marching down the hallway from her room and back to where her journey within these confined walls began.
Turning the corner, Eliza watches a final kick at the hardwood of her backdoor patio entrance flies into the home, and emerging from the gap within it is the last person she would have expected to see.
Frozen, still holding the knife in her hand, a shadow blocks the sunlight from her direction as a man standing opposite her stands just as still.
Finally climbing down from the mountain of rubble beneath his feet and to the surface of the kitchen floor, Josh comes face to face with Eliza once more, stunning both into silence as the gravity of the moment lingers like a blister.
Without hesitation and with a crack in his voice, Josh musters up the courage remaining still as stone to utter one word, calling out everything he sees before him.