In Eight Movements
By Christopher Daniel Zeischegg
I tilt my head slightly to the right, posing, and lift my arm in the air. My camera phone makes a sharp sound like a shutter closing, and I turn the piece of plastic around to see my own pixilated form. The image is blurred enough to cover up my acne, but I feel it still captures a piece of me.
So I try again, this time standing directly below the light bulb so that shadows jut out around my face, cover my eyes and make me look hardened and soulless—but with great cheekbones.
Perhaps if I wear eyeliner, Sara will think I look even better, more like a rock star. Or she might misinterpret it as a sign of homosexuality. I heard her call Jared Leto a fag for wearing too much eyeliner. I heard her say that she'd fuck him anyways. Maybe she'd do the same for me.
My thoughts drift to this fantastic scenario and I start masturbating, furiously. I take a picture of my swollen member, and in the midst of self-induced passion, send it to Sara along with the snapshot of my face. I try not to come until she responds, but the second my phone vibrates on the counter-top, I cover the device with several spurts of fresh ejaculate.
Worried that I've ruined my cell phone, I spring for a roll of toilet paper and begin violently wiping the spunk from my display screen. It's in the moment I accomplish this that I wish I was dead.
Sara's texted me: Uh. Whoa. LOL. Is this a joke? And then: Y do u have my #?
I break open a package of my brother's unused razor blades and start dragging them across my wrist. Beads of thick crimson pour out on to my skin and I take several pictures, sending them all to Sara.
She texts me again: Haha. Ur so weird, Patrick.
My response: I love u.
I'm punching myself in the head before I can hit send. My wrist aches for another slice but I'm so flustered by the superficial quality of my previous wounds that I can't manage the energy to cut deeper.
The next message blips across the screen: Im a lesbian.
I type: What about Jret Leno. I follow this up with: !!?!?>
Sara: What about Jay Leno?
Someone's pounding on the bathroom door and he sounds like my older brother. “I have to take a shit. Patrick, what are you doing in there? I'm going to poop in your bed.”
“Just a minute.”
“On your pillow, Patrick. Diarrhea all over your fucking pillow.”
I rinse both my wrist and penis with cold water to slow the blood flow. Then I unlock the door, which opens immediately, smashing into my face.
My brother, Dennis, tells me to watch where I'm going and then asks, “What were you doing with my razors?” I walk to my room without saying a word, but I figure my brother must have spotted the blood on his Schick Quattro because he yells, “Mom, Patrick's cutting himself again!”
The matriarch looms over my bed moments later, demanding, “What did you do? Show me. Show me!” She pulls my arms out in front of my face and points her eyes at the crusted lines that paint my skin. “And what are these, young man?”
“Cat scratches,” I say, defending myself.
“We don't have a cat.”
“There's a cat... at school,” I counter back.
She doesn't believe me. “No internet this week. In fact, no computer whatsoever.”
“But I have a raid tonight at nine,” I complain.
“What does that even mean, Patrick?”
“World of Warcraft, mom. My friends are expecting me.”
“Well,” she says with sheer malice, “maybe the rest of the world will start to realize how disappointing you can be.”
Sara's sitting two desks in front me during American History. She's whispering to one of her friends and looking back at me occasionally to laugh in what I can only perceive to be a condescending manner.
I lean forward and try to whisper across the divide. “It was a joke, Sara. That wasn't even my, uh, cock.”
Her friend gasps and mouths the letters OMG.
“Sara,” I plead. “I have to know. Are you really a lesbian?”
The teacher, Mrs. Sprucedale, has taken notice of my strained position, my worried face. “Mr. Stuart?” That's my last name. My parents actually named me Patrick Stuart. “Do you have something to share with the class?”
I look to the front of the room, to Mrs. Sprucedale's podium and the chalkboard behind it. I'm scanning her incomprehensible writing and reading aloud what I perceive it to mean. “The Constitution is...December?”
“What are you saying?”
“Nothing,” I stammer, slumping back into my plastic chair.
“When was the United States Constitution drafted, Mr. Stuart?” She's slapping a ruler in her hand, toying with the act of corporal punishment.
Squinting, I read from the chalkboard once more. “December second.”
“December second is today's date, Mr. Stuart, which is why I've written it in the same space I always write the date.” The classroom laughs, giggles, mocks me in every possible way.
I try to save myself. “I misunderstood the question.”
Mrs. Sprucedale's eyes bulge and her face begins to twitch uncontrollably. I almost expect her to burst and so I cover my face as to protect it from her scholarly shrapnel. But she does not explode. Rather, she bites her lip and mumbles vulgarities before returning to her lecture.
I pretend to be taking notes, but instead I write lyrics for the synth-pop band I will start once I graduate high school and live with Sara in a trendy city loft. I figure if we're living in such close proximity to each other she'll have no choice but to collaborate on the project. Plus, she'll be my girlfriend and want to support everything I do. Unfortunately, I only have two years left to convince her of this life decision. But lyrics are always a great place to start:
Fuck them. Then Sara will scream, You fuckers!
They don't understand us, they planned us to be on our hands and knees and sucking off
The American Dream.
The Constitution wasn't built in December
I remember 'cause you were there telling us we need to
Secede from this nation.
Baby, I'm in love with you. (Sara and I will both say this line.)
Let's start our own country on the moon where we can
Drop bombs on world history and
Make love, not war.
I'm grinning madly at my own genius, my grasp on the woes of contemporary society, and my sensational insight: how we all just need to love each other, get along. Everyone who can't comprehend this message should just fuck off and die.
I look up from my piece of paper and stare at the back of Sara's head. Somehow, I feel that we're sharing this moment together, moving forward on our journey. It won't be long until we're staying up all night, making sick beats and fucking our way across every inch of our trendy loft.
I follow Sara when the bell rings for lunch, sure to stay out of sight, at least twenty yards behind her. She's heading the opposite direction of everyone else, and so I imagine this will be the perfect opportunity for us to have a real conversation—get to know each other. But when she turns the corner of the science building, I almost lose her.
Searching frantically, I finally spot her huddled under a stoop, making out with Eric Masters. I watch wide-eyed; perplexed, hurt, and then angry. I've caught Sara in her own lie. My first inclination is to shout out at her, accusatorily, to rub the fraudulence in her face. But I don't want to lose this precious opportunity. This man, this senior, this head of Mountain Ridge High community television; he embodies something that Sara desires, lusts after. I just have to figure out what. If it's his age, I simply cannot compete. But if it's something else...
I hide behind an amateur piece of topiary and study Eric Master’s every move. My mouth churns in the same fashion, my tongue projecting out to lap at the surrounding leaves. I even put my fingers to my cheeks, making sure they ebb and flow at his exact rate. My form is immaculate, but the lesson is not through.
When the beast is done feasting at my beloved Sara's lips; he fishes a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket. He removes one, places the slender stick delicately into her mouth, and sets it aflame. The whole act is like one smooth motion, a dance even. I start scratching at my wrist, loosening the scabs I created last night, and drawing pitiful amounts of blood. The bastard nuzzles Sara's neck and she laughs playfully, batting him away, then pulling back for erotic embrace. My vision begins to blur and I can only guess that I'm crying, losing composure, failing the lesson I've set out to learn.
The school bell rings, and like one of Pavlov's wretched creatures, my glands respond instantly to the sound. My eyes dry up and I stare with crystal clarity at the spot Sara once occupied. The only evidence she was ever there rests in a shriveled cigarette butt smoking on the concrete.
I crawl on hands and knees towards this piece of treasure and cradle it between my fingertips. Beneath the nicotine, I can almost make out her scent. I even place the little thing to my lips and suck deeply, imagining the surface it graced only moments ago. My ecstasy is immediate and overflowing.
“Don't you move a muscle, young man.”
Her voice is deafening and fills me with terror. I jump to my feet and try to run, but I'm held back by a tremendous force that grips me by the ear and drags me away.
“Smoking, Mr. Stuart? I'd like to say I expected more from a boy like you, but really, I'm not surprised.”
Mrs. Sprucedale is overseeing detention this afternoon. She's also running to the bathroom every five minutes because Marco Rodriguez slipped a laxative into her mug of herbal tea.
When we're without supervision, I turn to my best friend, Thomas, and ask him what he's doing here. “I didn't even see you at school today.”
“I didn't see you on WoW last night. You know we had a raid, right?”
I gulp and tell him, “My mom took away my computer.”
“Jesus, Patrick. What did you do?”
“What did you do?” I say, trying to change the subject.
“We were playing till one, maybe two in the morning. So I didn't go to bed until three. Didn't wake up until school was almost over, which means I was late, which means I'm here. In detention. With you.”
Marco, the only other boy in the room, turns on the television. It blares the local news. Frustrated, Marco keeps cranking the dial, smashing the buttons on the remote control. The volume rises and falls, the reception worsens, but the channel never changes.
“What about you?” questions Thomas. “Detention's never been your style.”
“I was smoking,” I say with a hint of pride.
“Patrick...” A shockingly sincere and worried look washes across his face. “You could get cancer. You could...die.”
Mrs. Sprucedale's footsteps can be heard racing down the hallway, nearing the classroom door. I can only imagine it's because of this that Marco increases the level on the television to an obnoxious roar. Just to spite her.
Before I am completely drowned out, I turn to Thomas. “I want to die.”
Suddenly, the door swings open and Mrs. Sprucedale screams, “You hoodlums! What have you done this time?” She lunges for the television but it's propped up on the wall, just high enough that she can’t reach. “Where's the remote?”
Marco's hidden it somewhere, probably in the trash can. So Mrs. Sprucedale has to stand on a stool to reach the TV. But before she can turn it off, something catches her eye.
“Hmm?” She lowers the volume significantly. Her head now blocks the screen and she appears to stare, transfixed, at whatever action streams across it. “Oh my,” she says out loud. When she steps down from the stool, we finally see what all her fuss is about.
A live broadcast features our small town's one and only news correspondent, Mitchell Spinelli, standing before a group of squad cars. The officers are crouched, hiding behind car doors with their firearms out and aimed towards the county bank. Spinelli says something about a robbery in progress.
“What's this world coming to?” comments Mrs. Sprucedale. Then to us, “See where you'll end up if you don't get your acts together.”
“What's so bad about your life, Patrick, that you want to die?” Thomas is trying to intervene, but he's only digging deeper at my wound.
“Everything,” I tell him. “I mean, really...How could it possibly be worse?”
“You could be starving, for one.” Thomas is using his fingers to count off the examples, so it seems he has at least five to come up with. “Uh, uh...you could be a victim of genocide.” That's two. “You could be raped.”
“You think I don't want to be raped?” I exclaim, now walking away from him, away from the bus stop.
“By a man, Patrick. Raped by a man.”
“That's not what you meant the first time.”
Thomas ignores this and asks instead, “Where are you going?”
“Home,” I say, as if it should end the conversation. But Thomas tags along, keeps up right beside me.
“Anyways, Patrick, don't you have plans, you know, for the future?”
“Of course,” I say to Thomas. “I'm going to be in a band. And I'm going to move out of this shit-hole town.”
“Why don't you start the band now?”
“Because I don't play any instruments,” I nearly yell. “You know this, Thomas. You are my best friend.”
“Just trying to help,” he says. “Sorry.” And then, “I've already caught you in a contradiction, though. You can't want a future and want to be dead. One cancels out the other.”
“Right now, Thomas,” I'm seething, “I want to die. I mean, look at this.” I flash him my cell phone; shove it right in his stupid face.
“Read it,” I say. “Out loud.”
Thomas squints and mumbles, “I saw you spying on us. Creep.”
“From Sara,” I tell him.
“What were you doing?” he interrogates me.
“That's beside the point, Thomas. She hates me, thinks I'm scum. Maybe worse.”
“So you're going to kill yourself?” he adds, mocking.
“Yes,” I say, my voice firm, my mind made up, my feet guiding me out into the middle of the road.
“Stop it, Patrick. You're acting like a little bitch.”
“Really?” I say, half taunting him, half doing what I set out to. My knees drop to the asphalt right near the yellow lines, and I spread my arms, welcoming the next speeding behemoth that tears down this highway.
And then I hear the wails.
The earth shakes beneath me and I watch as a white, battered van races towards me, followed by a brigade of police cars flashing red and blue lights.
“Get out of the fucking road, Patrick!”
Thomas' voice disappears into the dark void that now embodies my existence. My life plays out its final act, and I plead with my brain for the rest to flash before my eyes. I wait for something glorious but this is all I can remember: sitting in front of the computer, masturbating. Lying in bed, thinking of Sara, and masturbating. Waking up before school, and masturbating. Oh my God. My life is so meaningless that all I amount to in its final moments is memories of jerking off.
Either instinct or cowardice takes over and I try to scramble off the road, run for my life, pray that I succeed at something slightly more substantial before this ever happens again. But I'm too slow and I can now feel the heat of the approaching engine bate at my neck.
Except it's not all over. The van swerves, misses, ends up in a ditch, cradled against a tree. Perhaps cradled is too gentle a word. The van will never drive again.
Brakes squeal as cop cars spin out around me. One actually flips through the air, and by some miracle, I'm spared. I shout out for Thomas and sprint towards where I saw him last. But it's a war zone and there's a good chance I'm completely turned around.
Suddenly, a door to the white van barrels open and I'm grabbed by the scruff of my neck. The muzzle of some ferocious weapon smacks my head and I'm ushered backwards by this strange new presence. Fierce and panting, its voice says, “Listen up if you want to get out of here alive.”
An officer is approaching now, pointing his pistol directly at me and whoever is holding on to my shirt. “Drop your weapon!” shouts the authority.
“Drop yours,” counters the voice behind me. “Or the kid gets it.”
I realize that I'm the kid he's talking about and I start to panic. But one minor attempt to flee lands me a brutal smack to the back of my skull. My demeanor shifts to that of a docile pup.
“Easy,” says the cop. “Let's talk this through.”
From behind me, “You fucking move, I shoot the kid. You follow us, I shoot the kid. Got it?”
The officer seems to be thinking this over.
“Bonnie?” The man behind me—I feel it's now safe to assume he's a man—calls out.
A loud cough emits from inside the van, and a woman says, “Yeah. I'm okay.”
“Well, would you get on out here,” yells the man. “And be careful.”
The bloodied woman falls from the van, clutching a shotgun in her arms. She fires a warning blast towards the police, and we start moving forward. Threats to my safety are repeated over and over, and by the time I'm shoved into the back of a squad car, I'm sobbing.
Before we take off, I peer through the window at a panorama of destruction. My eyes dart around until they find what they're looking for: my friend, Thomas, pinned between the van and tree, his insides spilling out onto twisted metal and splintered oak.
“Cover his eyes!” shouts the man behind the wheel.
The woman, Bonnie, grabs my face and blinds me with her palms. For the rest of the ride, I curl up like an aborted fetus, mourning like its mother.
My shirt is wrapped tightly around my face as I'm escorted towards a cold structure in what I can only imagine is the middle of nowhere. Inside, I'm allowed to look around, take a seat on a gutted couch, and relax—if such a thing is even possible.
The kidnappers stand in the back of the room, holding on to each other like lovers. The man wipes blood from the woman's face, brushes back her hair, and whispers into her ear. “We did it,” she says in response, just loud enough for me to hear.
Eventually, they stop groping each other and acknowledge that I'm still waiting, frightened, grasping loosely at what little future I have left. The man approaches and asks me my name.
I stammer, try to find my voice, still unsure if I should even use it. But all the man has to do is glance at his pistol and I'm out with it. “Patrick...Patrick Stuart.”
He folds his brow and it seems as though he's about to laugh. “Fine. If that's what you want to be called.”
“It's on my student ID,” I insist.
“Sure,” he responds coldly. “Well, you can call me Clyde. And my wife over there...her name's Bonnie.”
“Isn't that from a movie, or something?” I bite my tongue, hoping I haven't crossed the line.
He smiles. “You're the one named Patrick Stuart.”
“Look kid, it doesn't matter. I'm not gonna send you a postcard or nothin'. We're just having a conversation.”
“You're not gonna kill me?” I squeak out.
“Well, that depends.”
“Oh, stop scaring him,” says the woman, Bonnie. She walks over to stand by his side. “We're not bad people,” she explains.
“I didn't think you were,” I lie. “So if we can put all this behind us, maybe I can just go and...”
“You're a ballsy little shit, aren't you?” says Clyde. “I had a gun pointed to your head and you're asking me for favors.”
My head shakes side to side. “Not at all.”
“Well, what should we do with him, Clyde?” asks the woman.
“Not sure yet, Bonnie. Still feeling him out.” Then, scratching his head, as if something just occurred to him. “What were you doing in the middle of the road? You almost got us killed.”
“Oh,” I say, reminded of the boy I was not so long ago. “I think I was just going through a phase.”
“A phase? That wasn't thirty minutes ago.”
“A lot has changed since then,” I say, quite proud of myself for this realization.
But Clyde seems confused. “What changed?”
I feel like I'm being given a real opportunity to reach this man (criminal), to illicit a transformation by drawing on my own harrowing past. “Have you ever been in love?” I ask from high upon my soap box.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” says Clyde. His wife, too, looks as if she doesn't understand.
“We're married,” she says, as if I need a reminder.
“So maybe it's hard for you to relate,” I respond. “The girl I love...she hates me. Plus I got detention and...” I try to summarize. “Let's just say things haven't been going my way.”
“Patrick.” The man says my name like he's trying to make a point. “How old are you?”
“Listen,” I continue, not allowing him to change the subject. “I'm trying to tell you that I was really depressed. I actually wanted to kill myself. My best friend, Thomas, even tried to change my mind. Didn't make a bit of difference.”
“You were sitting in the road because...” Clyde's piecing this together. “You wanted to die?”
“Precisely. But then you came driving along and my life flashed before my eyes. And you know what I realized?”
“What's that?” asks Bonnie.
“I haven't actually lived.” I let my words hang in the air so that we can all meditate on the profound nature of the statement. Then I begin to tear up. I'm choking when I say, “Thomas was sacrificed so that I could realize the value of my own life.”
Clyde turns away. It seems he's too emotionally affected by my testimony. But Bonnie has more resilience. She asks, plainly, “What happened to Thomas?”
“Didn't you see?” I cry. “Your van crashed into him. He's dead!”
“I'm sorry,” she says. “I didn't realize.” I'm astounded by the lack of remorse in her voice, but I let it go. After all, I'm a changed man. Positivity is my new motto.
Clyde looks back to me. If he was crying before, he's very good at covering it up. Perhaps he's pondering his own existence. Perhaps I've really made a breakthrough with this man. Or perhaps not. When Clyde speaks, it sounds more like a bark. “Listen kid. I don't know what you're trying to pull here, but...”
“Just trying to help,” I say. “Honest.”
“But...” he continues, in the same rash tone. “You put me and my wife here in one hell of a situation.”
Bonnie tries to sedate her husband. Her words are soft and soothing. “Clyde, he's just a boy.”
Since I have the woman on my side, I make a leap of faith and carry on. “But Clyde, what got you there in the first place? Come on. I saw you on television. I know you two robbed a bank. The question is why? What could make someone break the law?”
Clyde is pacing now, his face bright red. “Oh my God, oh my God,” he mutters under his breath. I've obviously struck a nerve.
Bonnie seems to actually work with me on this, delve into her criminal psyche. “Patrick,” she says, taking a knee. “When you grow up, you might understand how someone can get pushed to the edge. We're not bad people. We've just lost everything...this was a last resort.”
I let her finish before adding, “But I do understand. Just this morning, I smoked a cigarette, Bonnie.” I lean in for effect. “I'm fifteen. I'm sure I don't have to tell you that's a misdemeanor. And you know why I did it?”
The woman actually rolls her eyes at me, but I'm patient and wait for her to respond. “Why?” she asks, finally.
“Because of love,” I tell her. “Because of heartache.”
“Alright,” says Clyde. “Enough.” And then once more to assure me he's in charge. “Enough! Just let me think for a minute.”
But he doesn't have time to think. Another distraction buzzes into our ears, our surroundings. Clyde rushes to a window and looks up to confirm my suspicions. A helicopter is circling the building. Funny, I think to myself. I didn't know our town even had a helicopter.
Clyde rushes towards another room in the back. “Grab the boy,” he says to Bonnie.
“Anything I can do to help,” I add. “We're in this together.”
A loudspeaker screams from somewhere outside and echoes through the concrete walls. “The building is surrounded. Come out with your hands up.”
Bonnie is fitting me with a vest and sniffling to her husband, “We're not murderers.”
“I know.” I try to console her, but she doesn't seem to be listening. “Thomas was an accident. He's a victim of circumstance.”
“There was always the possibility this was going to happen,” says Clyde. “You know that, Bonnie.”
“But it was just gonna be us,” she says, pleading. “Together till the end.”
Clyde stares at the wall, his eyes cold and dead.
“I don't mean to be rude,” I chime in. “But if I'm going to help out, I think I have a right to know the plan.”
Clyde walks over to a table and starts to scrawl out words on a large piece of cardboard. Bonnie stuffs what look like bricks of clay into the pockets of my vest. Then she rigs them with wires that wrap around me, attach to something in the back.
“Hello?” I say, trying to get their attention. “Like what are these, for example?” I pull the wires out of the clay, which really seems to piss off Clyde.
He swings towards me and shoves a pistol in my face. “Don't fucking touch that,” he demands.
“Sorry,” I say, keeping my hands up in front of my face. Touchy, touchy, runs through my head, but I don't say it aloud. He wouldn't appreciate the humor.
“Listen,” says Clyde. “You're gonna walk out there, holding this.” He shoves the piece of cardboard into my arms. “And you're gonna head towards the largest group of cops you can see.”
“What should I tell them?” I ask, intrigued by the mystery of the situation. “I mean, won't they be suspicious?”
“You're a smart young man,” he says in a condescending manner. But I take it as a compliment. “I'm sure you'll think of something.”
“Thanks,” I say, hoping it will cheer him up. “But come on you guys, what's with the vest? I'm wired, right? I mean obviously.” I'm pointing to the blue and green strands running from my pockets. “You're going to be listening to everything I say? Don't worry about it. I won't let you down.”
They're both wide-eyed, staring. Are they so surprised I figured it out?
“Um, yeah,” says Clyde, glancing over to his wife. “You're wired.”
Bonnie begins to cry.
“I'm trusting you,” I tell them as I walk towards the door. “I know you got my back.” And then speaking into the vest, “Testing, testing.”
I'm overwhelmed the moment I step outside. A show of sirens and spotlights wash over the exterior walls of the small warehouse. An amplified voice commands someone to put his hands on his head. The reporter, Mitchell Spinelli, is even here with a cameraman, narrating the events from behind a police barricade.
To calm myself, I focus on something immediate and tangible: the cardboard sign I have yet to read. When I turn it around, the letters burn in my retina, a hopeful fire to light my way out of this mess. But they mean nothing. All Clyde's scribbled in his minuscule handwriting is: If you can read this, it's already too late...
It's not the message I want to give to the world. I can't even understand the significance of it. So I bleed myself once more, use my teeth to rip the flesh from my arm. I am a martyr for my cause, using my own life force to spread the message of peace.
“I'm sorry about the plan,” I say into my vest, so that Bonnie and Clyde can hear. “I've just got to go with my heart.”
I raise the piece of cardboard, which is now brazened with bold strokes of my blood, and march towards Spinelli's camera. The policemen's shouts grow louder, but I drown them out, replace them with my own soundtrack. I'm reminded of a song by one of my favorite bands, White Lies.
I leave my memoirs in blood on the floor of my fears with the nurse on the steps.
I never knew what that line meant, and I still don't. It seems fitting for the moment though. Except for that part about the nurse. Still, I want to keep the song playing in my head so I can get to the chorus, the lines I want to sing out loud.
“I hope you... remember me. I hope yoooouuuu never forget about me!” I'm waving the cardboard sign as I wail these words at the top of my lungs. I can hear the instruments swell around me, the drums crashing, the synths harmonizing perfectly with double-stacked guitar chords. I feel like a rock star, broadcast live to the entire population of Mountain Ridge.
Somewhere out there sits the woman I love, flipping through the channels on her television set, and coming across a little boy from her American History class proclaiming his undying love. She's gushing with excitement now. And if someone named Eric Masters happens to be nearby, she's punching him in the face, perhaps even breaking his teeth with a hammer.
But back here, in the parking lot of some old warehouse, I'm chasing Mitchell Spinelli and his camera crew, dodging bullets, and feeling (for the first time) alive. My blood spells out: I love you Sara. I know that next time my life flashes before my eyes, this moment will play on repeat.
There's a sudden burst of light and I'm enveloped in warmth. Some might even call it a fire.