Hello everyone! As part of Short Story Saturday, I have posted another short story, this one entitled Are you Happy? Please enjoy. Also, if you haven’t already checked out my FAQ on my upcoming book, Magic Once Removed, please check that out as well. Thanks again!
“Are you happy?” It’s a question that is often asked by my parents.
They started doing so when I was a child. Always, they were concerned about my mental well-being. Inordinately so, in fact, for reasons I cannot quite comprehend. I’ve theorized that perhaps as ascetic individuals whose chief concerns were scientific pursuits, they find my interest in the written word to be a sign that my brain has been faultily wired. The fact that I gravitated toward macabre works such as those written by Poe and Lovecraft, as well as more modern authors such as Clive Barker and Steven King, likely only exasperated such notions. Surely, they believed, my obsession with horror held some deeper explanation.
They often studied me like a guinea pig as a result. Neither had any formal education in the psychological realm, save for the few courses taken as undergraduates to fulfill some university requirements. That did not prevent them from fancying themselves as experts in the field. Truly, they believed, that if they were just able to solve the enigma that was my mind, surely some underlying issue, it would unlock why I was not more interested in scientific matters.
I’ve tried countless times to explain that I merely find those works enjoyable. I find the macabre entertaining. Each time, my parents to their credit do try to understand. Fun, though, is just not a word in their vocabulary.
Yet, having said this, I must confess that perhaps the lingering embitterment I quite obviously still possess is unwarranted. Indeed, when I sold my first bestseller, my parents expressed nothing but joy. Initially, I wished to gloat. I still resented them for pushing me from my desired pursuit in favor of a more practical field. Writing, they told me, should only be viewed as a hobby. The desire to boast, though, instantly dissipated when I saw pure elation in their eyes. They even went so far as to apologize.
A master of horror, they’ve called me ever since that first best seller. A hyperbolic description of my talents but not one that I shy away from. Quite the contrary, in fact. I embrace it with wide open arms like a meeting with an estranged lover.
I suppose it’s ironic that I use that choice of words all things considered. Loneliness and I have grown accustomed to each other over the years. Perhaps I am simply overly sentimental tonight as I reminisce about my past.
I’ve been in a couple of relationships during my time on Earth. I suppose most would describe them as ephemeral at best if I went to great lengths to discuss them now. It’s difficult for even me, a supposed master wordsmith, to quite say why none of them have worked out. I will admit there were times I may have been a bit overzealous with my affections. However, I assure you that the rumors you hear of my high school and college years are greatly exaggerated.
Still, there’s little doubt romance has never been my forte, which, as an aside, is one of the biggest criticisms of my work. Now that I think about it, I suppose that is why my parents continued to ask whether I was happy into adulthood. It’s likely why they still do so even now though I have finally fulfilled my dream of becoming a literary phenomenon.
Success is great and satisfying all on its own, they’ve told me. Sharing it, though, and sharing one’s life, in general, with someone else, makes it all the more worthwhile. They are always quick to add that this is true even though love is a completely irrational emotion and not real in the scientific sense. Still, it is always surprising to hear such sentimentality from my parents even if it always comes with that caveat.
My romantic life did become far better, though, after I started to gain a following for my literature. As I alluded to earlier and not to brag, I am something of a celebrity. You’ve likely heard of me though I realize you do not know my name nor do I intend to divulge it. The reasons for this will become evident quite soon if you continue listening or reading the account of my tale.
The important thing to remember is though I am famous now, I was once a nobody like you. As such, and partly due to my parents’ insistence, I once worked at an IT firm, a so-called “practical job,” to make ends meet. I remind you of this to tell you that I met my wife during this period of my life.
The night sky still reminds me of her jet-black hair cropped just above her shoulders. A kiss of a gentle spring breeze turns my mind toward the ones she’d plant on my cheeks with her rosy lips. Swaying branches in a windstorm also conjures images of how her voluptuous hips used to move side-to-side whenever she sashayed to and fro.
How was that, eh? That was quite the romantic line if I do say so myself. I’d like to hear the literary critics say I cannot write proper romance after they’ve read that.
Anyway, in my eyes, she has always been the perfect woman. Rather, I should say she always had been. At least, in terms of physicality, I suppose. I must admit that in retrospect much of what I perceived her personality was birthed by my overactive imagination. It is one of the poxes that often inflicts us creative types.
When we first met, we both were working in the same three-story building on the top floor. We were in separate offices that were right across the hall from each other. She sold insurance to the unsuspecting masses while I toiled away as a software engineer.
Now knowing this, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise we initially didn’t converse very often. Only on the occasions where we happened to bump into each other arriving at our respective offices in the morning or times we just happened to be leaving at the same time such as for lunch or at the day.
Even then, most of our interactions were restricted to smiles and the exchange of a couple of kind words, trivialities about the weather or work, and nothing else. Moreover, though she was always kind and cordial, there were times I got the impression that she believed it was degrading to converse with a man wearing heavy glasses whose career consisted of primarily staring at a screen.
Certainly, then, any romantic interest at the time was purely one-sided on my end. It also seemed that my life would forever be unrequited when a young man began accompanying her during her lunch hours and when she went home. He was tall, muscular if not a bit fat, and wore a scraggly beard. As an aside, I find such facial hair detestable. Women, though, seem to adore it, though perhaps my bitterness is causing me to overgeneralize. Regardless, she certainly seemingly had an affinity for them as she and the man seemed close. Granted, there wasn’t quite evidence or proof their relationship was anything more than platonic. I suppose that’s why I let myself be fooled despite deep down knowing better.
Anyway, our relationship changed after my first bestseller. I’ll spare the details of how my novel became a critical and more importantly a financial hit for the sake of this current tale. Nor will I mention the media called me an overnight success mostly because they ignored a multitude of books that I had written that failed to gain any traction whatsoever.
Instead, I’ll just say that my office, in response, held a celebration in my honor, both to say “congratulations” and “goodbye”. After all, I had finally made it and made it big and because of that, there was no reason to stay. My company and coworkers understood. Though they were impressed with my achievement, they were also flummoxed. They had difficulty grasping the idea that a man in the programming field would even be interested in literature and not only that, possessed talent.
That is not to say that the atmosphere was completely positive. I could hear disparaging murmurs in the background as my boss praised my past work and achievements. Many simply could not forget the confrontations I had in the past with my coworkers. They were greatly embellished, I assure you, though there were still many in the company who believed otherwise. Instead of a party, they believed my sendoff should have been a swift kick in the pants as they together booted me out the door.
Cake has a way of making you forget unfounded and baseless derision from rumor-mongers, though. We were about to pass it around when suddenly, out of nowhere, our front door swung open with a bang. Making her way through the door like she was a superhero was the woman who would soon become my wife.
She explained she was a fan who yearned for a signed copy of my new hit book. I gleefully agreed to accommodate her request. Then, during the tail end of the party, she pulled me gently aside and whispered in my ear, her lips barely touching my skin.
The object of my eye told me she had a crush on me for years but could never muster the courage to talk until that moment. It was just a coincidence she found the strength the same day I became an online sensation. As loathe as I am to admit it, I believed her. Foolish, I know. Still, at the time, our whirlwind romance felt as though it only blossomed like the spring lilies from there. Within a few months of dating, we were married.
Though marriage brought me joy and as a bonus, my parents even ceased questioning my level of happiness, something still perturbed me. It was like a little gnat gnawing on the back of my brain. Annoying mostly, often easily dismissed, yet there were times it managed to crawl its way deeper until it was the only thing I could notice, the only thing I could think of, the only thing that could be conjured in my brain.
Indeed, when we were dating, even after we were married, my wife never, and I mean never, distanced herself from the young man she used to work with. She insisted their relationship was nothing but platonic. He was just someone she could have a drink with, someone she could play softball with, someone she could go to those raucous concerts with.
She’d have invited me along but she knew how much I detested alcohol, sports, and loud noises. Besides, it would be better if I stayed home and worked on my next bestseller. That is what I truly wanted to do, anyway. Why, now that she thought about it more, she was doing me a favor by leaving.
For a while, I believed her as naïve it was to do so. Perhaps I was bewitched by her beauty, though if I’m being honest, it was probably the other benefits she provided that left me so entranced. I dare not go into further detail lest I be labeled as a misogynist or cad. I’ve left enough hints that you know to which I am referring. Not to mention, some of what she said is undeniable.
I am a teetotaler and she and her companion loved the bewitching elixir, especially wine. Though I defy anyone to beat me in a contest of general athleticism such as running or lifting, I confess that I am hardly an imposing figure and am relatively short which limited my interest in sports. Besides, I have always found the idea of hitting a ball with a stick detestable. As Scorsese once said, “Anything with a ball, no good.” Not that I could even enjoy being a spectator as I loathed crowds.
Concerts, then, were also out of the question. Even if I could move past my agoraphobic tendencies, my sensitive ears never allowed me to truly enjoy any sort of musical performance. I certainly never would have taken part in any sort of nonsense like crowd surfing. Though the two of them seemed to enjoy such things very much as evidenced by the myriad of pictures I’d see posted on social media.
Writing is about all I find enjoyable and something I do mostly enjoy doing alone. I had made attempts to discuss my work with my wife only to repeatedly have those efforts rebuffed. At some point, those with even the strongest constitutions eventually give up.
Still, for four years I thought nothing of the two of them together. I ignored suspicious behavior such as the overtly amorous hugs, the late-night phone calls, and the clandestine overnight visits. All of it was dismissed mostly because I believed I was making up scenarios in my head.
When you are constantly writing, you tend to look at the world through a different prism, and the most innocuous actions are magnified. I convinced myself that is why I kept coming to the direst conclusions. So instead, I continued to rid myself of negative thoughts about their relationship, and only worked. That is, until the weight of my smidgen of doubt compressed into a boulder. It pressed against my back and caused my knees to buckle. They continued to shake and rattle until a certain post caused them to shatter and left me sprawled against the floor.
While taking a break from my literary endeavors, I took a glance at her social media page. One of my wife’s friends took a picture of her at a softball tournament and posted it on her social media page. She was in the arms of her male companion, the one she used to work with, the one she spent several nights with at concerts and bars, the one she assured me was just a friend.
The two were hugging and kissing in that photograph in a manner more extreme than the mere brotherly love she claimed the two of them possessed. It was not quite amorous or passionate but it was close.
Posts underneath the photograph did little to belie my feelings of betrayal. Several of her friends remarked they were the cutest couple in softball. Many more asked when they’d make their coupling official.
Out of nowhere, I was blocked from her page. When access was returned, the picture, along with all the comments, was expunged. Apparently, the photograph was posted without her permission.
Most would have believed she was unfaithful right then and there and perhaps I should have too. However, if there is at least a mustard seed of doubt in my head, I assume innocence until proven guilty. That is not to say that I would not make every attempt to prove guilt, however. As such, I hired a private investigator to confirm whether my suspicions were justified.
An answer was given in the form of exceedingly graphic photographs which I most appreciated. How he managed to get those shots baffled. I was equally baffled as to how my wife and her paramour were able to contort themselves in such positions. As far as I was concerned, that was the point when the marriage was truly over and the black-haired vixen I had fallen for was no longer my wife. So I did what any man out for revenge would do. I told my wife that I wanted to visit a crypt underneath an old church for research into my next book.
My wife initially encouraged me to go alone for reasons I’m sure you’ve figured out by now. When I mentioned the vineyards and the rare wine said to be buried with one of the deceased, though, she suddenly changed her mind. She was eager to tag along and only became more so when I invited her male companion under the guise I knew he shared her love for rare alcoholic beverages. I also lied that I had grown fond of him over the years.
Smarter women who view their husbands as equals would have been skeptical. Instead, my wife gleefully called her paramour. They even sat in my backseat as I drove to the locale. We walked deep into the crypt using our cell phones for illumination. Though the place gave both of them, and I quote, “the creeps”, the allure of rare wine compelled them forward. I mocked taking notes as we hiked to solidify the ruse until we were at an abandoned corner.
Nearby was a solitary coffin. I searched inside, as I did a few other coffins on the way over. Then, I mocked excitement and astonishment when I pulled a cask of wine. The three of us celebrated momentarily before I offered them both a drink. After a bit of a struggle, I uncorked the bottle and handed it to them. Both greedily passed the tincture back and forth as they took gigantic swigs.
By the time they woke from their Zolpidem-fuelled dreams, a wall had been erected. Their effects such as their cellphones had also been removed and they were stripped of all but the most basic clothing to keep some sort of modesty. I am nothing if not efficient.
A more observant pair would have noticed the fresh dirt, the relatively young age of the coffin, and the valuable wine being stored in a somewhat modern container, at least compared to its supposed age. It was a truly fine, aged, and expensive wine, though. I’m not Satan after all. I have some ethics and standards. Still, intelligent people would have realized I planted the coffin and drugged wine over a week before, during one of their many “softball tournaments”.
In modernity, it is rare to discover a town like the one I did. Religion is on the wane oft chalked as nothing more than superstitious belief. Finding a village, then, that was not only deeply devout but possessed enough zeal that they would never deign to visit the crypt beneath an abandoned church on the edge of town as both were supposedly cursed by Satan in the flesh over a century ago when invited inside by a corrupt minister? There were better odds of locating a unicorn.
“For the love of God!”
My heart practically leaped from its chest upon hearing those words from behind their brick prison, amongst their cries of anguish and terror. I was so giddy that it took me a minute to regain my composure to return to the stern character I portrayed all night. “Yes, for the love of God.”
Fortune indeed smiled upon me. It is not often that one can emulate his favorite literary work. True, it was not the catacombs and I walled in two people who wronged me instead of one, but I am not one to worry about the small details. I then left the trowel and the brick and mortar where it lay. It was too much of a hassle to carry them with me and there was little chance anyone would ever find them. If only they read more. They would have seen my scheme coming from a mile away.
Thus, to answer the question I proposed to open this diatribe, I confess. Yes, yes indeed I am. I am deliriously happy.
Just to give you a peek under the veil once again, I first want to say that this story is not at all autobiographical, just a silly idea that popped into my head one morning that I felt compelled to write. However, I will admit that part of my motivation was that I could potentially use this as part of a plot to a potential sequel to Ghosts are Assholes. The idea would be Vincent would be bothered by the ghosts in this story and would have to confront the murderer, i.e. the protagonist of this tale, at some point. In fact, he would be the private investigator who gave investigated the wife and gave the protagonist the compromising photos. Will it come to fruition? Maybe. I have a lot of projects that I’d like to work on so we shall see.
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