Serialized short story: On the Way to My Grave – Conclusion

Hi there! Here’s the conclusion of a longish short story I wrote about 5 or 6 years ago called On the Way to My Grave.

Part 5 is here.

Part 4 is here.

Part 3 is here.

Part 2 is here.

Part 1 is here.

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Ten long seconds passed, my pulse drumming in my ears. At last he said, “You get out of my house right now or I’ll call the cops. The cops in this town will do anything for me. Get it? Any. Damn. Thing.”

“Go ahead and call ‘em. And when they get here, we’ll see what they do for a rapist.” I had him! I had the bastard and he knew it.

Coach crossed his arms and stuck out his chin. “Prove it.”

I pointed toward the wall behind him. “We can start by seeing what’s in that safe. You keep videos and photos in there? Your real trophies? Or maybe they’re in your desk. On your laptop. If you got nothing to hide…”

A victorious grin appeared. “You want to see what’s in the safe? Fine.”

He turned and began punching the number code. “You think I got all this from coaching high-school football? No sir. I have connections. I’ll take your job. I’ll take your house.” The safe popped open. “I’ll take your life. You were born to lose, Bright.”

This is the absolute truth: I entered Coach Van Der Bruggens’s house to confront him about lavishing gifts on easily manipulated boys. About taking advantage of a kid who’d lost his dad. About Paul. I came to make Coach admit the real reason those three men killed themselves was the shame he’d burdened them with all those years ago.

I did not enter this man’s house to do what I did. It’s just that I got sick of being called a loser. No more crying and smashing guitars on imaginary heads. No more being treated like a misbehaving teenager by haughty co-workers and arrogant judges and condescending assholes who used to be my friends. Or by mindless brutes like Coach. No more.

I’m not a loser.

Gripping the bronze statuette, I circled the desk and brought it down on the back of his head. He fell forward, thundering into the wall, and then whirled, his legs wobbling. I swung again, striking his forehead. He raised his hands, dazed and slow, and I hammered down. He slumped to the floor, and I struck once more. I doubt I looked much like an avenger while shouting gibberish and spitting as I rained blows. I looked like a madman, I’m sure, and I stopped striking only when his flesh became pulp and the bone no longer resisted.

Gasping yet exhilarated, I dropped the bludgeon. I pivoted. No one watching. No blood on my hands. Twisting back, I gandered at the dead man on the floor, unrecognizable with his face crushed in.

The blood streak he left on the wall led to the open safe. I reached in and stole five hundred dollars along with the loaded Smith and Wesson .44 Coach intended to kill me with.

No pictures or videotapes, but they’d turn up. Cops would have to search the place.

I stuffed the trophy in his office garbage can, along with my blood-speckled shirt, tied off the bag, and removed it. With the cash in my pocket and that hand cannon tucked under my belt, I marched outside, pausing to rub my fingerprints off the doorbell.

I tossed the bag into the Nevasha River two hours and a hundred and fifty miles later. It sank like an ugly bronze statuette. I watched it go down while wearing a sweatshirt I’d bought at the rest stop 115 miles back where also I filled my tank. If they had asked why I walked in wearing a t-shirt in forty-five-degree weather, I’d have said it’s rock and roll, man.

~ ~ ~

Yesterday morning, Thursday, I went to work without sleeping. Nadine said, “Tony, why are you here?” I told her I needed to do a couple of things. With everyone outside buying bagels and coffee from the snack truck, I shredded Brett Denson’s letter and left.

When I woke up early this morning, I started writing this. Which seems counterproductive, having shredded the letter. But I’ve been thinking about the police coming after me and how to handle it, and telling this story has helped elucidate things.

I always liked that word. Elucidate. I’m elucidating things for you: I’m not a cold-blooded murderer.

Regarding Coach’s guilt: I did what I had to. He’ll never be able to hurt another kid now. I did ask myself, but what if you’re wrong? Then I imagined Hayden Campbell saying, “Kill that negativity, Bright. You can’t change the past,” and I felt ok.

About five minutes ago, I decided that this feeling–knowing I helped somebody—is what matters, not some dumb rock song I wrote. I finally matter. Not that the authorities will understand, so I’ve also decided what to do when they show up. See, I’ve got Coach’s .44 loaded and lying on the table.

And look here. Two police cruisers just pulled up outside. I’m about to be famous for one more day.

Bang Bang. Hey.

 

Reproduced below: One of the first reports of the incident to appear on the news wire.

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Strangle Taffy Singer, Two Police Officers Killed in Hail of Gunfire

WEST BRANFORD – Tony Bright, former lead singer and guitarist of the now-defunct pop-rock band Strangle Taffy, gunned down two police officers outside his West Branford home just hours ago before being shot to death by an investigating detective, according to police and an eyewitness. The names of the two dead officers have not been made public, pending notification of family.

 

Sources inside the West Branford Police Department say Bright was wanted for questioning in connection with an out-of-state crime, though that information could not be officially confirmed. When reached by phone early this morning about a possible motive for the shooting, Police commissioner Ji Hung Kim would only say, “We are deeply saddened by this tragic event, and our hearts and prayers go out to the families of the slain officers.”

 

A press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. today, and a department spokesperson promised an official statement at that time.

 

West Branford resident Akmal Ahmadi, who lives across the street from Bright’s rented house, said he witnessed the shooting.

 

“[Bright] just walked out onto his porch like nothing happened, then, bam, he pulls out a gun and starts shooting point blank,” claimed Ahmadi. “I heard cracks and saw bodies dropping and then it was done. The whole thing was over in about five seconds.”

 

Ahmadi said he was unaware of his neighbor’s former celebrity. “I guess maybe he’ll get famous again,” he added.

 

Bright, 31, had had several brushes with the law in recent years, mostly for drug-related offenses. Strangle Taffy disbanded following the release of their third album, 5 Dolls for an August Moon, in 2008.

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31 responses to “Serialized short story: On the Way to My Grave – Conclusion

  • nrhatch

    I don’t mind that he killed the coach ~ I see the societal benefit. I do mind that he killed 2 police officers rather than just turning the gun on himself.

    • ericjbaker

      Ah, but do we know that the coach is guilty? Or only that Tony thought he was guilty? When Tony wrote that he could tell the coach needed to feel important, he failed to see that quality in himself. Like you so wisely remind us on your blog from time to time, letting Ego drive our actions often has very negative consequences. So much so for Tony that he was willing to kill–and die–for one more shot at “glory.”

      Thanks for reading, Nancy!

      • nrhatch

        You’re right. In the “real world” I would not know that the coach was guilty. But this is fiction, so I decided he was. 😕

        Also, I don’t think that Tony’s desire to feel important created the same degree of all-consuming narcissism in him as it did in the coach.

        Here’s one example of why I perceived Tony’s actions as misguided altruism rather than an all consuming desire to be in the spotlight:

        How’s this for real: Three men dead, three families ruined, and a town full of parents terrified their child is next. I wrote the theme song!

        With eight bucks left, I finished my drink and teetered to the men’s room. So much for alcohol poisoning. Two more wouldn’t get it done.

        When I returned to my table, I noticed a brawny fellow with white hair and bushy eyebrows staring me down from the bar. He marched over and took the opposite chair. “You have a lot of balls showing your face in my town.”

        • ericjbaker

          The moral of the story (co-discovered with you): Get over yourselves!

          I don’t know what it was with me and the self-absorbed characters I wrote back then. I’m nothing like any of them (I hope).

        • nrhatch

          I agree with that moral.

          Humans do tend toward the ego-centric whether they are claiming the role of Hero, Villain, or Victim.

      • nrhatch

        Another example of his lack of desire for one more shot of glory:

        I twirled my finger, trying to bait him into throwing me through a window and finishing me off. But he sat there, stone faced.

        “You think you’re some hot shot?” he said.

        I laughed. If only he knew.

        This thought was pivotal to me:

        Maybe a high-school football championship isn’t a multi-platinum album, but it means something to people and makes heroes of guys like Coach Van Der Bruggen. People need heroes, not indulgent, mediocre rock musicians.

        At this point, Tony did not view himself as important. And he saw that the coach was a “hero” . . . in a town that didn’t know the hero was wearing a mask hiding a very bad guy.

      • nrhatch

        Last but not least . . .

        If Tony’s over-riding goal was for one last shot of glory, if he wanted to be viewed as a “hero” for killing the coach, he should have surrendered, gone to trial, and taken the stand to boast about what he did and why he did it.

        That way he could have enjoyed reading all about his new found notoriety in the papers. :mrgreen:

        • ericjbaker

          People might have rewatched his old videos on YouTube, too. I could see him checking daily click counts.

          Ah well, if he showed good judgment, he probably would not have done half this stuff in the first place.

        • nrhatch

          Agreed! And I do believe that it was his untamed Ego that caused him to “lose it” when called a “loser” by coach.

          If Tony had mindfully stepped back (while sneaking forward), he could had waited until coach had the gun in hand and then smashed him with “Maxwell’s silver hammer to make sure that he was dead.”

          That would have been self defense.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    I agree with Nancy. With that said, it was a good story that held my interest, Eric…and that’s not always easy to do. 🙂

  • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt

    If you want to do something with it, as there is good stuff in there (as well as impeccable mechanics, not that common), I’d suggest thinking of changes to the beginning and end which, in retrospect, make bookends – SOME bit of something at the end that ties to the beginning, and makes the reader feel closure.

    If you’re not a fan of closure, don’t bother.

    Me, I’m a purist. I want the reader to understand MY version of events – and preferably agree with me. I choose endings and beginnings with the plan to make a case.

    It is common to have short stories that don’t really have endings – but it’s not my preference. YMMV

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for the insights. Interestingly enough, Tony gets away with the murder in the first draft, and one of my closest beta readers (this is going back to when the story was new several years ago) suggested it needed a harder, darker ending, so I added the news report and turned it into a found document. Early drafts also had Tony being more caring, but his actions make a lot more sense when he is self-serving.

      I’m OK with short fiction being open ended, but I prefer novels to resolve more definitively (such as the story allows), so I’m mostly with you on that. As far as readers agreeing with me, that is an interesting thought. I kind of like generating debate (so long as it’s not of the “You suck” variety) about the choices made by the characters.

      In my view, Tony had a death wish, and Coach was probably innocent. I think Tony felt powerful when he committed the murder. When he got back home, he realized his life is never going to get any better and he’d rather taste that power one more time than be chased down and arrested and go to prison. He may not have wanted to face the possibility of discovering Coach had not perpetrated that atrocity also. This way he never has to find out.

      That’s just my take and I’m open to others seeing it differently.

      Thanks for the compliment on my writing mechanics. It means a lot to me.

  • uju

    I think what Tony really wanted was another taste of fame. It’s the reason he decided to keep himself alive to start with. Then he goes to town and discovers there isn’t just one kid, but three. Now that’s some deep shit going on. So he’s probably thinking to himself, “I really do suck at everything.”
    But then he discovers something else might really be going on underneath the surface, and even though his intentions might have been good–saving those boys and all–the manner at which he executed it was so stupid.
    So he’s a narcissist, who doesn’t think he’s got much to live for anyway, why not make a show of leaving?
    He took the .44 because a part of his brain would have known Tony’s brother would tell the cops they’d met.

    Tony kills the coach, and for a moment feels really powerful and ‘important’. Even though it’s just in his own head. If all he’d thought to do was help, then he could just as well have turned the gun on himself. But no. Killing yourself can only garner so much publicity. Killing a cop….two cops?? That’s bound to have some come up in one of those 100 Weird Crimes thingy on Sony Max, chronicling the actions of a momentary American psycho. Now that’s fame.

    • ericjbaker

      Great! That’s how I see it too. When he killed Coach, it was the first time in a decade he felt the blood surging through his veins. He probably got “lucky” when he walked outside and started firing. At that point he was just a person of interest as far as the authorities are concerned, and he’s squeezing the trigger before anyone knows what is happening.

  • skywalkerstoryteller

    Well, Eric, I’m one of those readers who just likes a good story and seldom try to analyze – although the above discussion was reading – I did read all of the comments. I was a bit surprised when he totally lost it. But, being a viewer of way too many crime shows, once the taste of blood happens, nothing is surprising. And like you say, we’ll never know the answers to any of the questions raised. And for me, that’s what makes this a good story.

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for reading it. I am most appreciative that you and others kept returning for further installments. I also recognize that the ultimate outcome is pretty dark and perhaps unsettling. I went with it because I think Tony wanted to die, and he wanted attention again, and at that point the two elements of his character could not be separated.

  • livelytwist

    Well well, I certainly didn’t see this coming. Somehow I hoped for redemption. In response to one of my comments, you said Tony was narcissistic, now, sociopath comes to mind.

    You carried me along, I wanted to know where the story was going and how it would end. Kudos, that takes skill. Also, it was an easy read, again, skill.

    Now, I wonder about my neighbours . . . . 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      Thanks for reading! Just play it safe and assume your neighbors are dangerous lunatics. That’s what I do, and no one bothers me. Unless they’re making the same assumption about me.

  • Yolanda M.

    Great story Eric 🙂 it certainly raised a lot of questions which of course remain unanswered. (I prefer my stories like that – nothing in life is clear cut) I for one am not sure the coach was guilty of abuse and clearly Tony Bright has some underlying issues of his own – serious issues since he is so quick to murder. You are a master of psychological suspense. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving 🙂

  • Roy McCarthy

    Excellent Eric – as with your last serialisation you lay many false trails only to swing us down another road. Seven deaths was it 🙂

  • Eric Tonningsen

    I’d prefer some definitive closure. Was there a trial, a jury, was he found guilty? Likely but I’d still like to know if what he thought about the coach was ever proven. Sequel?

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