VII: The Philosophy of Animals
"It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend." William Blake
The sun was rising gently behind him as he drove. Charlie had been at the wheel all night while Amber slept. Unaware in her slumber, Charlie had been weaving in and out of his lane, dodging invisible enemies that blocked his path. Going without his proper dosage of lithium for nearly 9 hours now had taken its toll. He was slowly, gently losing it.
Amber was curled up in the passenger seat, and for a distinct second when Charlie looked over, he could swear she looked exactly like Becky did back home. Then the sudden wave of nausea hit, and he swerved, trying to simultaneously drive and roll down the window. Amber must have slept like a rock, as Charlie soon found himself vomiting out the window at 55 mph. As the last bit of bile hit his throat, he leaned back into the car and set his eyes on the road again.
As he expected, there were a number of lizards crossing the street. He sighed, having been prepared for this. He didn't swerve this time. He plowed through, and the lizards vanished as the car rolled over them. There was nothing physical. Nothing real.
But what is real, he realized, is that he was in some godforsaken southern county with a cute girl in the passenger seat, and was slowly losing his mind. This wasn't a normal psychosis. His doctor said it was unlike anything he had ever encountered. Sure, lithium curbed the hallucinations, but what about the physical symptoms? And what about the dreams?
Charlie peered over nervously at Amber, whose eyes flickered open for an instant, then closed. He looked back to the road.
What about the dreams in which he dies?
The sand was blinding as they ran. Hank still felt the blood on his face. It had stopped flowing a few minutes earlier, but that didn't stop Hank from running. It was all a matter of pace. If John could distract the cops for ten minutes, then they had probably fifteen minutes to hide, get away, or whatever Hank could think of to save his own skin. But they had been running for a few hours now. And it was at that moment he looked over at the young Hispanic boy and the attractive blonde running beside him. Wait, he thought. Why are they still running with me?
Erika suddenly tripped, sending a storm of sand up in the air as she ate a face-full of sand. Porfirio stopped immediately and ran back the few feet to help her up. Hank hesitated for a moment, stopping several feet ahead of them and staring back with a bewildered gaze. Erika coughed out a mouthful of sand and sediment, then snarled at Hank.
"You evil bastard!" she cried, teeth clenching.
"Hey, now." Replied Hank, holding his hands up innocently. "They only wanted me for questioning. No proof I killed your mom."
The sun was rising. They hadn't said a word to each other since they started running. Erika sobbed gently as Porfirio grasped her shoulder comfortingly.
"Youyou said you would fix me!" Erika continued, stuttering a bit. "But I should have known! You created the problems! You broke me in the first place!"
"Ah, but that's the point, Erika." Hank announced, taking on a more elegant pose in the gleam of the rising sun. His face disappeared in a blanket of shadow, as if to hide his true intentions. He folded his arms behind his back, revealing to his companions that he was as innocent as a newborn.
"Losing all hope is freedom." Hank whispered into the wind.
"You keep saying that!" Erika cried, looking to Porfirio. "Godd*mmit! What does he mean?"
"I think I understand." Porfirio answered, taking a step toward Hank, who stood his ground. "In order to reach our highest point"
"Your potential." Hank interrupted, sounding a bit wise.
"Our potential" Porfirio continued. "We must first be broken."
"And sewn back together." Hank concluded, bowing. "Ah, you finally figured it out. A beautiful philosophy, no?"
"Beautiful?" Erika laughed in terror. "It's not beautiful! It's the ugliest thing I've ever heard! You're telling me you killed my mother to make me a better person?!"
Hank smirked, taking a step back and flourishing his dress shirt in the morning wind.
"I said nothing about making you a better person. If anything, you're a much worse person. Human beings are fragile, as I've learned, and by all means, we should be. But that's the thing. If we break ourselves physically, it's game over for our lives. But mentally?"
Hank tapped his forehead knowingly.
"We unlock the energy we didn't know we had. The unseen potential. When we have nothing left to lose, only then do we do the unthinkable. Only then do we become immortal to society."
There was a silence for several moments. Hank stood in strength, looking down from his slight elevation onto his two students, who blinked in wonder. Porfirio suddenly stepped forward, and in a move Hank hadn't expected, extended a hand in friendship. Hank smiled, shaking Porfirio's hand. But then he looked in doubt at Erika, who then wiped the few tears remaining in her eyes and stood, eyes constantly locked with Hank.
"Okay." She said.
And she didn't say anything else. Hank simply smiled, turned on his heel, and walked up the incline and onto the road stretching through the desert.
And was promptly hit by a car.
The fire licked behind him as he strolled nonchalantly into the desert. John was all too calm now. A small explosion rocked the ground beneath him, but he didn't flinch. It was all expected. An evil grin spread across his face, he walked across the sands, blasted by the rays of the morning sun. Dear god, he thought. What a battle.
As he reached the top of the small hill, he looked back at the burning building. The flames licked at the sky, chasing away the last of the night's darkness. It was the beacon of the dawn. John took a deep breath. His creation fluttered gently in the winds.
From his vantage point, John could see the front wall of the building crumble away, revealing the black words etched in the wall behind it: "Perdere ogni speranza la libert." John had no idea what it meant, but in that moment, he became one with his primal instincts. He had become the animal he always knew he had been. He snickered.
In the moment, he felt invincible. All the drugs he had taken mere days ago had fled his system. He was clean, but at the same time, filthy in his own blood, and the blood of others. His shirt was now stained, probably permanently. Stains are like memories: they can fade, but they will not disappear forever.
John turned, walking further into the shimmering sands. In some insane universe, John ruled supreme. He was truly the god of his own domain. In his head, a primal roar rang out.
John looked down at the underside of his wrist and grinned. The two tally mark tattoos smiled back at him. Gently, with one finger, he traced out six more tallies. They were just a few more inkings on the history of life. His life.
"Jesus sh*t!" Hank cried, suddenly finding himself on the ground several feet away from the bumper of the car that had just mowed him down. He twisted in agony, reaching for his ankle, which he was sure had shattered. He seethed and rolled onto his side, catching Porfirio's gaze.
"Omigodomigodomigod!" Erika cried, frozen in shock, her hands clenched tightly over her mouth. He looked as if she was screaming, but no real noise aside from her teenage girl shock and awe emerged.
Porfirio ran over to Hank, stopping just before to smack the hood of the car and curse in Spanish at the couple inside. He kneeled over Hank and muttered something Hank couldn't hear.
The car door opened and a boy about Hank's age emerged, flabbergasted at what had just occurred. He waved his arms incoherently as he approached the fallen Hank.
"Oh, dear god I'm sorry I couldn't focus and I didn't see you wal"
He stopped mid-sentence. His face curled into a mixture of confusion and realization, then finally, relief.
Hank rolled over onto his back and stared up at the man who had hit him.
"Holy sh*t, that sounded awesome!" Ed yelped, taking another hit off the joint. He blew the smoke into the thick cloud already enveloping the room. He had lost sight of Dave long, long ago. But what he did know what that Dave had rocked the last bass take.
"As if you expected otherwise." Dave wheezed from across the room. He placed his Ibanez onto a stand and stood. In a daze, he wandered over to the mini-fridge in the corner of the basement and began shuffling through it.
"Looking for anything in particular?" Ed asked, sounding entranced.
"Nah. Just hungry."
"I imagine." Ed snorted.
As he went to take another hit, the back door to the room slid open and Tony walked in, coughing already.
"Jeez, dude." Tony wheezed. "You already started without me?"
He sauntered in, sliding the door closed behind him. In one flashy move, he tossed his guitar onto the bed and removed his pea coat. He tossed it next to his gig bag and walked over behind Dave, staring longingly into the fridge.
"Nothing?" he asked."
"Nothing." Dave confirmed, closing the fridge door and wandering back to the barstool on the opposite side of the room. Blazed, he stared out into space, traveling some unknown frequency.
"Any word on your bro?" Ed asked, tweaking some levels on the mixer in front of him. He always asked that same question every band practice. And always, Tony had the same answer:
"Anson will come back when he comes back."
"Riiiiight." Ed sneered, biting in sarcasm.
"Come on, man." Tony sighed, removing his Les Paul Studio from his bag. "He's out there somewhere. He's just been dealt a sh*tty hand."
"As sh*tty as yours?" Ed shot back. But this one hit deep. Tony cringed. His mum had taken to heavy drinking to forget the fact all her children were growing up and leaving. Tony would be out of Harmony Hill and onto college in less than four years now.
Freshman year started off awkwardly. Tony came into school as the pariah; the brother of the kid who bailed. There were rumours as to why Anson had run off: drugs, a girl, etc. But Tony knew he hadn't run away for anything that stupid. Anson was smarter than that. He was
"Dude!" Ed snapped his fingers in front of Tony's face.
"Gah, sorry." Tony apologized, coming back from his nowhere-trance. "Secondhand inhalation. I'm bugging."
"Get your head in the game, dude." Ed said calmly, looking back at the mixer. "You like the levels?"
Tony didn't even look at the board. His mind was kept firmly on his family, but his hands moved like clockwork, picking up the jack and plugging in his guitar.
"Yeah, whatever. What song we working on?"
"Candles in the Wax!" screamed Dave from the dark corner of the room.
"That is very much not the name of the song." Ed replied calmly, then turned to Tony. "We're working on Candlestick."
"Okay, cool. Set me up. That's the one with the A minor riff into the C chords, right?"
"You got it." Ed nodded and pressed the record button. "You're on."
"Charlie? What the f*ck are you doing out here?" Anson asked from the ground, staring in wonder.
He heard another car door slam, then the sound of approaching footsteps. Then came the voice he knew from his memories.
Though he couldn't get up to see her, Anson knew it was Amber. Dear god, he thought, it's been how long? She sounded just as she always had: lighthearted, whimsical, but with the slightest tinge of worry in everything she said. Straight out of a memory.
"Amber." He muttered from the ground. "How're things?"
This caught her slightly off-guard, and she looked to Charlie for guidance, who just shrugged and looked back at Anson.
"Wait, anyone mind telling me what's going on? Who are these people? And who's Anson?" Erika implored, lowering her hands to her waist, but still maintaining the shocked look.
"Wellthis isn't exactly how I planned." Anson sighed, looking up at Charlie with a grin.
"What had you planned?" Porfirio asked suspiciously, cocking an eyebrow in question. Anson laughed warmly.
"Well, may as well start with the basics." He said calmly, still smiling. "For starters, my name isn't Hank. It's Anson."
"The hell kind of name is Hank?" Charlie asked, cradling Anson's head so that he could look over at Amber and Erika, now standing relatively next to each other.
"It was an anagram of Anson, Becker, and Chagrin." Anson sighed, then looked to Erika. "Becker was a friend of ours from back in New Jersey. He was uha good guy. And Chagrin."
"That was the name of our band." Charlie finished, smirking. "Sorry, this is just too weird of a meeting."
"Yeah, never expected this."
"Okay, what the hell?" Erika blurted out. "All this time, you've been lying about your name itself?"
"Bingo, blondie." Anson muttered, seemingly transitioning from the dark persona of Hank back into his wise-acre old self. He felt it internally, as well. The turmoil embittered in his soul was seeping out his head. His words were weakening. The cynical energy driving his persona was fading. He was suddenly very tired.
"Is there anything about you that's actually genuine?" Erika yelped.
Anson chuckled weakly and took one last look at her.
"My charm." He said, just before losing consciousness.
The walk home was always Tony's least favorite part of the day. Ed's house was on the outskirts of Harmony Hill, and as far as Tony could tell, out of reach of the dreary, seemingly permanent cloud hanging over the town. As he walked on the gray, lifeless sidewalk, he looked over at the horizon. There was no sun.
He stopped for a moment, switching his gig bag from one shoulder over to the other. Things just weren't the same. Something had gone. And it came to Tony at that moment that things had gone downhill since Anson had started that band with Becker. Naturally, it was that moment.
He had seen the face of madness, albeit behind a mask. The night Becker died, Darryl had drugged Tony in his bedroom before dragging him to the fateful house. And in that house, Tony had seen the Shredder. Although the identity of the Shredder was unknown to him, Tony saw him move almost mechanically through the hallway, then stop and stare into the bathroom where Tony leaned awkwardly against the wall, one arm handcuffed to the shower rod.
And the black-masked figure approached him, walking with an inhuman lurch. The demon sauntered close, and it was at the very second that Tony looked into the Shredder's eyes. And then came the jubilant, utterly evil sentence.
"Becker goes too far to help people, doesn't he?"
Tony hadn't moved an inch. He didn't blink. The Shredder moved away and down the hall, but Tony was left with the moment he had seen the true person in the eyes.
He had stared into the eyes of madness.