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?” A loaded question to be sure and one that is often asked by my parents.
It started when I was a child. My parents were always concerned about my mental wellbeing but could never properly discern why or provide an adequate explanation other than to declare a generalized fear most parents have for their children. They did seem at times inordinately concerned for reasons I cannot quite comprehend.
That is not to say I have don’t have a supposition as to why they possessed such concern over my mental health. As ascetic individuals whose chief concerns were of scientific pursuits, they found my interest in the written word to be nothing more than folly. My gravitation toward the macabre works of Poe and Lovecraft, as well as more modern authors such as Clive Barker and Steven King, caused apprehension.
Though they had no formal education with regards to the matters of the brain, save for the few courses taken as undergraduates to fulfill some university requirements, they still fancied themselves to be experts in the psychological realm. My obsession with horror surely held some deeper explanation. Surely they believed that when they solved the enigma that was my mind it would unlock why I was not more interested in scientific matters.
I tried to explain that I merely found those works enjoyable. My baffled parents did their best to understand but fun was not a word in their vocabulary.
Yet I must confess that when I sold my first bestseller, they expressed nothing but joy. Initially, I wished to gloat but the amount of praise they bestowed was overwhelming. Whatever resentment I initially had for them for pushing me away from my desired vocation, having effectively convinced me to work in a more practical field while pursuing writing as some sort of hobby, instantly dissipated with the look of pure elation in their eyes and even went so far to apologize. The few incidents we had during my teenage and young adult years were proverbially water under the bridge.
A master of horror, they’ve called me. Perhaps an embellishment of my talents and it is certainly hyperbolic, but it is not a title that I shy away from, quite the contrary. I embrace it with two 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.
Like all or at least most men I’ve had crushes and a few dates, even a couple of relationships though I suppose most would describe these as ephemeral at best. I cannot quite explain why none of them worked out. Looking back I will admit there were times I may have been a bit overzealous with my affections but I assure you that the rumors you hear about my high school and college years are greatly exaggerated.
Having said all that, it is true that romance has never been my forte, which, as an aside, is one of the biggest criticisms of my work. I suppose that is why my parents continued to ask as they have done a countless amount of times over the years whether I was happy even after I had fulfilled my dream, as I alluded to earlier, of becoming a literary phenomenon.
Success is great and satisfying all on its own, they told me. Sharing it, though, or to share one’s life in general, with someone else, makes such achievements all the more worthwhile, even if an emotion such as love was completely irrational, or at least so they claimed. It was surprising to hear such sentimentality from my parents even if it did come with a caveat.
My romantic life did become far better, though, after I started to gain a following. As I alluded to earlier and not to brag, but 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 to you at any point. The reasons for this will become evident as I continue my tale.
The important thing to remember is though I am famous now, I was once a nobody like you and as such, much like you, and might I add with the heavy insistence of my parents, I pursued a more practical career to survive.
That is where I met my wife, or should I say, my career path led me to her, albeit inadvertently. The spring air still reminds me of her jet black hair cropped just above her shoulders and her voluptuous hips moving side-to-side down the halls. I cannot even see a rose without being reminded of those beautiful crimson lips. The night rains still remind me of her tight dress clinging to her alabaster skin as we shared a soaked, passionate kiss under the moonlight.
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, to continue, she is, in my mind, the perfect woman, or should I say, she was, at least physically. In retrospect, much of what I perceived to be her personality was mostly the concoction of an overactive imagination. It is one of the potential poxes that can inflict one that is engaged in an artistic career.
We worked on the top floor of a massive three-story facility. She sold insurance to the unsuspecting masses while I toiled away as a software engineer right across the hall. We worked in different offices for different companies so it should come as no surprise we didn’t interact often.
The only times we met was when we happened upon each other was when we’d occasionally arrive at our respective offices at the same time in the morning or we happened to bump into each other as we headed for lunch.
We’d smile, exchange a couple of kind words, trivialities about the weather or work, and that was it. It was hardly anything special. Any romantic interest was purely one-sided at that point. In retrospect, as I think about the conversations now I’m reminded that there always seemed to be a twinge of annoyance on her part when we spoke as if she were degrading herself to converse with a man who wore heavy glasses and stared at a screen daily.
A young man often accompanied her. He was tall, muscular if not a bit fat, and wore a scraggly beard which I find detestable but women seem to adore. They appeared close and affectionate. At the time I was unsure whether their relationship was anything more than platonic. I certainly had no idea he’d become the bane of my existence.
Our relationship changed shortly after one of my manuscripts became a critical and more importantly a financial success. 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 Regardless, now that I was starting to hit the news circuits, online and otherwise, I was making enough that my days as a drone were at an end. My office held a farewell celebration in my honor a few days after I announced I was leaving.
They were impressed with my achievement, they were also flummoxed. They had difficulty grasping with the idea that a man in the programming field would even be interested in literature nevertheless possessed talent. That is not to say that the atmosphere was completely positive. I could hear some 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 coworkers. They were greatly embellished, I assure you, though there were still many in the company who believed otherwise. Instead of the party, they believed my sendoff should have been a swift kick in the pants booting me out the door.
Cake has a way of making you forget unfounded and baseless derision from rumor mongers, though, and we were about to pass it around when suddenly, out of nowhere, our front door swung opened with a bang. Making her way through the door like she was a superhero was the woman who would shortly 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. During the tail end of the party, she pulled me gently aside and whispered in my ear, her lips barely touching my skin.
The woman told me she had a crush on me for years but could never muster the courage to talk until now. It was just a coincidence it happened on the same day I had become a sensation she assured me. It seems so obvious now but as loathe as I am to admit, like a fool, I believed her. Our whirlwind romance only blossomed like the spring lilies from there. Within a few months of dating, we were married.
Though the marriage brought me joy, and even my parents ceased to question my level of happiness, something bothered 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 noticed, the only thing I could think of, the only thought that lied in my brain.
Perpetually, even during the time 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 that their relationship was nothing but platonic. For a while, I believed her as naïve it was to do so.
Perhaps I was bewitched with 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 of which I am referring to.
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 was better if I stayed home and worked on my next bestseller as that is what I truly wanted to do, anyway. Why, she was doing me a favor by leaving, if I just thought about it for a moment.
And some of what she said is undeniable.
I am a teetotaler while she and her companion loved the bewitching elixirs 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.”
I loathe crowds which meant concerts were out of the question but 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 “crowd surfing” the two seemed to enjoy so much as evidenced by the myriad of pictures I’d see posted on social media.
Writing is about all I enjoy and it is something I mostly do alone. I’ve 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.
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.
I continued to rid myself of negative thoughts of their relationship 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 had taken a picture of her at a softball tournament and posted it onto her page. My wife 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 was just a friend. The two were hugging and kissing in that photograph in a manner more extreme than the mere sibling love she claimed the two of them possessed.
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 the page. Access was eventually returned but when it was restored, the picture, along with all the comments, were 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.
“For the love of God!”
My heart practically leaped from its chest as I awakened from my stupor. I was so giddy upon hearing those words from behind their brick prison that I ignored what came afterward, the cries of anguish and terror coming from my wife and her lover. 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.”
I left the trowel and the brick and mortar where it lied. It was too much of a hassle to carry them with me and there was little chance anyone would ever find them.
Luring the illicit couple to the underground locale was elementary. I told my wife that I wanted to visit a crypt underneath an old church under the guise that I wanted to conduct research for 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 catacomb’s eternal residents, though, she suddenly changed her mind and was eager to tag along especially when I told her that she should invite her male companion to join us. She was a bit suspicious at first until I explained I knew he shared her love for rare alcoholic beverages and how, over the years, he had become in his own way part of the family.
Smarter women who view their husbands as equals would have been skeptical. Instead, my wife gleefully called her paramour. They even sat in the vehicle’s backseat as I drove to the locale. They were completely oblivious to the nefarious deed I had planned.
We walked deep into the crypt until we reached an abandoned corner. During the trek, we used our cellphones 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.
Near an unassuming corner was a solitary coffin. I searched inside, as I did all coffins, and 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, the wall had been erected. Their effects such as their cellphones were removed. They were stripped of all but the most basic clothing to keep some sort of modesty. Leaving them nude seemed too cruel.
A more observant pair would have noticed that the coffin was new. They would have also noticed that the wine was stored in a modern bottle. It was truly the fine, aged, and expensive wine I purported existed there, though. True, it was purchased at a nearby vineyard and not stored in a cask for several centuries as I claimed, and perhaps I did add a few sleeping pills, but it was the truly delicious I advertised. The pair even told me this before they hit the floor unconscious. I was pleased to hear this. I’m not Satan after all. I have some ethics and standards.
I planted the wine and the coffin over a week prior while they were having one of their many out of state “softball tournaments”. My wife did not even notice that I had ever left during that week.
In modernity, it is rare to discover a town like the one I did. Religion is on the wane. Now, it is often believed to be nothing more than ancient superstitious belief. Finding a town that was not only deeply devout but possessed enough zeal that they would never deign to visit an abandoned church at the edge of town nor its crypt as both were supposedly cursed by Satan himself over a century ago after being invited inside by a corrupt minister? There were better odds of finding a unicorn.
Fortune 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.
If only they read more or at all. 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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