Everyone loves the idea of something for nothing, right?
But everyone is suspicious, too.
I mean, come on, if it’s free there’s got to be a catch. Because no one gives away stuff. Especially valuable stuff.
Well, I’m here to prove you wrong. Because i’m offering you something right now, absolutely free of charge, and I’m not asking for a single thing in return.
I’m not going to ask you to review it, or share it, or sign up to a newsletter to access it.
A free short story.
Oh! I her you groan. A free short story! I thought you said it was valuable!
Let me tell you, friend, short stories are valuable.
Like a kiss, or a whispered secret, a short story can change your life. Like a car crash, or a word spoken in hasty anger that you can never take back, a short story can haunt you for the rest of your days. A short story can put into words a feeling you have had all your life, but never been able to express. Or it can show you the way when you thought you were hopelessly lost.
A short story can change you.
And here is my short story, a gift to you.
It might not change your life, it might not haunt you or show you the way, but I hope that at the very least it entertains you.
This particular story is called, The Man Who Murdered Himself.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about it, but that might spoil it for you. I think it’s best if I just let you read it.
THE MAN WHO MURDERED HIMSELF
Cable Nash paused outside the glass frontage of the Tyrell Building to finish his cigarette. He was old enough to remember when smoking was still allowed inside public buildings, although he had been too young to smoke. Whenever Wendy started nagging him to quit, what about the cancer, think about her and the kids if he didn’t care about himself, he’d remind her of all the movies he’d sat through with his dad, watching the film through a fog of cigarette smoke caught in the projector beam, wondering if the kids sat in the non-smoking section of the cinema could see any better, or had the smoking side’s pollution filled the whole auditorium, and their lungs, too?
After a while, Wendy quit asking Nash to give up on the cigarettes. She could see it was annoying him, and when Nash got annoyed, that’s when the other guy would show up. And that other guy was one nasty, fucked up son of a bitch.
Besides, Wendy never understood what he was talking about, never got the point. Nash’s mother and father had both been chain smokers, back in the days when a person had the right to light up anywhere they wanted. And young Cable Nash had been their constant companion, an only child, subject not only to their second hand cigarette smoke, but their incessant arguing, and violence too.
Good old Mom and Pop, they were the real problem, not the cigarettes. They’d both been dead many years, but the damage they had done in Cable Nash’s childhood lived on.
That was what Dr Egelman had told him, on his first visit to the clinic.
“They gave you cancer, son,” he had said, pointing a long finger at him from behind his desk, a shock of white hair falling over his forehead. “And I’m not talking about the kind of cancer that you’ll get from smoking all those cigarettes, either.”
Sure, he didn’t have any tumours, Egelman had continued, and a blood test wouldn’t show anything abnormal, but he had cancer all right. A cancer of the soul, of his psyche. As Egelman continued talking, Nash felt that he had finally found someone who understood him, realised the torment he had suffered all these years, even had empathy for him. Nash’s own doctor had diagnosed him as depressed. He’d prescribed anti-depressants, and Nash had seen countless psychiatrists. But no amount of psychobabble, or energy sapping drugs, did anything to release his head from the white static that filled it, or the lump of grey despair that sat in his chest.
“And this cancer,” Egelman had said, “has been allowed to grow and evolve over the years. It has become another side to your personality. The aggressive side, the bully, the abuser. That’s why you feel like you are two people, sometimes, why your own head can argue with itself, be bullied by itself.”
Oh yeah, Nash could identify with that, all right. All those nights he’d lain awake in bed, that voice in his head, telling him, You’re a fucking waste of space! Why don’t you do everybody a favour, and check out, buddy? Nobody’d miss you, in fact they’ll all be better off without you.
Nash would give anything to be free of that voice.
Nash flicked the cigarette butt onto the sidewalk and ground it out under his shoe. After a quick check to see if anyone had noticed, (the NYPD were like fucking Nazis these days, pick you up for anything) he checked his watch. He still had ten minutes before his appointment.
He lit up another cigarette.
It had taken years of failed relationships, and a continual build-up of anger, the kind he could only vent with his fists, before he had begun to think that something might be wrong. His second wife, that slut Janelle, (and what the fuck had he ever seen in her?) she had told him he was a psychopath. That was in the middle of a blazing row, while she was hurling kitchen knives at him.
You stupid bitch! he’d wanted to shout back. You’re the one throwing the knives at me!
But he had been too busy ducking and dodging, trying to stay alive, to say anything.
Nash had spent the next few years in and out of jail, on assault charges. No matter how hard he tried to hold onto it, to control the darkness within, he inevitably found himself in another bar, drunk and bitter, and ready to destroy something, or someone.
He got married again, had a kid, a sickly, skinny little thing, who didn’t survive its first winter. Cops had got involved on that one, seemed to think there might be a case against the parents for neglect, or something like that. But nothing came of it, and Nash got divorced again, and then he met Wendy.
Wendy was the first woman he met who wasn’t like him, or those skanks he’d been married to before. What she saw him in he didn’t know, and really, she should have stayed clear, she’d had her own bad relationships over the years, too many that wound up her being a punching bag. She told him, when they first started getting serious, she said, you lay a finger on me, and I’m gone, baby.
Nash took one last drag on his cigarette and flicked the butt away. As soon as his treatment was complete, and he was better, Nash had promised himself, and Wendy, that he was going to give up the filthy habit.
The Tyrell building was one of those exclusive places, where you had to be buzzed in by a security guard, and then they looked you up on the monitor on the desk, and then made a phone call, until finally you got to ride in the elevator to your appointment. There were several businesses occupying the Tyrell building, none of which Nash had ever heard of. Just like Egelman’s clinic.
A friend of a cousin to a friend of Wendy’s sister, was how Nash got to hear about Egelman.
“You been tellin everyone about our private business?” Nash had yelled, the anger bubbling up with frightening ease.
“No, of course not,” Wendy had said. “But this woman, this friend, her partner was abusive, he was angry and depressed all the time. I think he was in Iraq, maybe suffering with, you know, post-traumatic stress.”
“And what, he went to see this quack, and he’s cured now?”
“Yeah, that’s what Sandrine says.”
“Probably gave him a fucking lobotomy. Betcha he sits around the house all day, watching reruns of Mork and Mindy, while his girlfriend feeds him baby food, and wipes his ass for him.”
After that, Wendy went into a sulk. Nash thought that was the end of it, but a couple of days later she started in on him again, and before he knew it, she’d worn him down, and Nash was looking this guy up, and making himself an appointment.
Nash got buzzed in, and soon he was exiting the elevator on the 32nd floor, and walking down the wide, carpeted corridor towards a door, with a brass plaque, reading, ‘The Egelman Clinic’.
A petite blonde was sitting behind the desk, tapping on a keyboard, and she looked up as Nash entered and gave him a dazzling smile.
As usual, his stomach did a tiny little flip, and he got that tingle, that tightening, down in his balls, and he thought to himself, I sure would love to have some of that fucking ass of yours.
And then he thought of sweet, sweet Wendy, and he felt small and mean.
“How are you today, Mr Nash?”
“Oh, I’m fine, thank you,” Nash said, giving her his best smile.
Chantelle glanced at her computer. “I see it’s your last appointment with Dr Egelman.”
Nash’s smile faltered a little. “That’s right, although, I’m not sure it should be my last. I feel like I need more.”
“Don’t worry, everyone feels that way, I promise you. But today’s the day all your other sessions have been preparing you for. You’ll walk back out here a changed man.”
Nash leaned his hands on the desk. “Are you sure? Because, you know, I still feel just as shit as when we started. Uh, sorry about that.”
Chantelle laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ve heard worse. And yes, I promise you, you come out here a different man, and leave all your problems behind, in the treatment room. I’ve seen it happen lots.”
“Okay, if you say so.”
“I say so,” Chantelle said, and smiled. “Take a seat, Dr Egelman will be with you in a moment.”
Nash sat down in one of the comfortable waiting room chairs. The craving for another cigarette hit him, and he had to resist the urge to bolt for the elevator and outside. Nerves, that’s all. Today was the big day, the one all the others had been leading up to. As far as Nash was concerned, he was in the last chance saloon, and this was it.
And he was pretty sure Wendy felt the same, too.
“You’re like two different people,” she’d said to him once. “There’s sweet, lovely, caring Cable, the guy I met and fell in love with, who’d stop the car to rescue an injured cat by the side of the road, or run through gorse briar to save a kid’s balloon that got snatched from him by the wind. And then there’s that other guy.”
They were in bed, Nash lying on his back, Wendy cuddled up to him, her head on his chest, a hand on his stomach. Nash hadn’t replied to that.
He knew all about the other guy.
“I see him mainly when you get drunk,” Wendy had continued, after a pause. “But sometimes I catch flashes of him even when you’re sober. He’s a nasty, psychotic bastard, and part of me wants to cry to think of what you went through as a kid, for that side of you to have been created.”
“And the other part?”
Wendy had lifted her head off his chest and looked him in the eye. “The other part of me wants to run away and hide.”
“Cable, how nice to see you! Come on in, come on in.”
Nash stood up and shook hands with Dr Egelman, and followed him into his office.
Egelman was tall and lean, looked to be in his late sixties, but in a handsome, craggy movie star way. He always wore expensive shirts and ties, a different one each visit.
Nash headed for his usual chair, the one where he had sat and cried when he spilled out some of the stuff he had done, and some of that other stuff. The things that had been done to him.
“No, don’t sit down. Today’s different, Cable. Follow me through into the treatment room. Today’s the day we cure you.”
The treatment room looked like a private hospital room, except there wasn’t one bed, but two. There was no window, and Nash couldn’t help but notice that there had been a lock on the outside of the room’s door, but there was no lock on the inside.
“In a moment, I’m going to leave you to get changed into a gown, and then I will return with a nurse and we can start the treatment. Before that, though, I do need to offer you one last opportunity for you to reconsider. As I explained in our first session together, the process is a radical one. If you have any qualms about the treatment, any questions I haven’t answered yet, anything at all, this is your last chance. We’ve already been through the paperwork, and you’ve signed your consent, but you can still refuse the treatment if you so wish.”
Nash glanced at the door, at that blank plate where the lock should have been. Thought about asking why that was, but decided, no, fuck it, he’d come this far, they obviously had their reasons.
“I’m good to go, Doc, let’s get on with it.”
Egelman clapped him on the shoulder. “Good man!”
The doctor left him alone, closing that door with a quiet click, and Nash got undressed and into the hospital gown. He folded his clothes up and placed them in the holdall that Egelman had left for him, and then sat on the bed and waited.
He didn’t have to wait long before Egelman returned with a nurse and an orderly. The orderly gave him an itemised form to sign for his possessions and then took the holdall away. Egelman asked Nash to lie down on one of the beds. The nurse took his arm and swabbed the inside of his elbow.
Egelman held up a syringe, the needle tip glinting in the room’s soft light.
“This is a light, short acting sedative. It’s simply to put you out for a few minutes while we perform the procedure, and then you will quickly come around again.”
“And then I’ll be better?”
Egelman smiled. “Remember, Cable, that’s up to you. You have to be strong, and think on how you can beat this. Don’t be weak, don’t give in, no matter how hopeless it might seem to be in the next hour or two.” Egelman placed his hand on Nash’s shoulder and squeezed. “Fight the good fight, Cable, and you will walk out of here a changed man. A better man.”
Nash nodded. His mouth was dry, and he wanted a cigarette, and he kept thinking about the door with the blank plate where the lock should have been.
Egelman gave him the sedative.
Nash leaned his head back into the soft pillow, and closed his eyes.
Egelman had said the sedative was a light one, but it seemed to Nash that no sooner had he closed his eyes than he was being sucked into a pit of cloying darkness. At the last moment, he wanted to scream, No! I can’t do this, let me out!
But the darkness swallowed him, and although Nash was scared that he would suffocate in its embrace, the darkness suddenly spit him back out again, to consciousness.
Nash lay on the bed trembling, his heart pounding, his hospital gown and the bed sheets damp and cold with his sweat.
“Hey, buddy, welcome back. I thought you were never gonna wake up.”
When Nash turned his head to look at the man who had spoken, he thought he had gone insane. His identical double was standing only a few feet from his bed, leaning against the wall, his arms folded across his chest.
And he was completely naked.
Nash pushed himself up in the bed, his hospital gown sticking to his back, its clammy touch making him shiver. “Who are you?”
The man chuckled and straightened up, scratching absently at his hairy chest. “Do you really need to ask that? I’m you, you fucking dummy. I’m that part of you that you’ve been trying to bury all these years, that side of yourself you always tried to hide from everybody else, the part of you that you came here to kill.”
Nash swung his legs off the edge of the bed. He noticed the other bed’s sheet was rumpled, and had damp patches, as though someone had been sleeping on it, and sweating.
“No. This is some kind of sick joke. Or it’s a part of the therapy, isn’t it? You’re an actor, playing the part, that’s right, isn’t it?”
“Like I said, you’re a fucking dummy. A loser, a fucking waste of space. I don’t know how he did it, but that creep Egelman separated us. Must have been something in that screwy injection he gave us, or maybe he’s been fucking with our minds all along, you know, getting us ready to be separated.”
Nash looked at the door again. At the blank plate where the lock should have been.
“Yeah, I noticed that, too,” Nash’s twin said. “And since I woke up, lying on that bed as naked as the day I was born, I’ve been thinking on it.”
Nash had been thinking about it too, since he woke up, and found his doppelganger waiting for him. And he didn’t like the conclusion he had arrived at.
“Yeah, you got it,” Nash’s double said, cracking his knuckles. “There’s only one of us meant to get out of this room alive, right? Egelman said that himself, didn’t he? We’ve got to fight the good fight, that’s what he said. And then one of us will walk out of here a better man.”
“No, he said I’ve got to fight, that I would walk out of here a better man. Not you.”
Nash’s double grinned. “There you go again, being a dummy. Who the fuck do you think I am? I’m you, and you’re me. Egelman was talking to me, just the same he was talking to you. You think he cares which one of us walks out of here?”
“That’s right. So who’s it gonna be buddy? Think you got what it takes to finish me off? I get the feeling there’s a camera hidden away in this room somewhere, and nobody’s gonna be opening that door until one of us is dead.”
“I guess so,” Nash said, tensing.
“Yeah, you guess so,” his double said, and lunged for him.
* * *
Chantelle looked up as Egelman’s office door opened.
“Wow, that’s some radical therapy you got going there, Doc,” Nash said, as he shook hands with Egelman.
“But highly effective, yes?” the doctor said, pumping Nash’s hand enthusiastically.
“Oh yeah, yeah, just the best.”
“Now remember, you signed a confidentiality agreement, I can’t have details of this leaking out. And remember, the check’s due by the end of the week.”
“No problem, buddy,” Nash said.
Chantelle gave Nash her best smile as he approached the desk.
“You just need to sign out, and then you’re all done,” she said.
“Thanks.” Nash scribbled his name in the visitors’ book. “Have you got a waste bin behind that desk of yours?”
“Sure,” Chantelle said.
Nash reached into his pocket and pulled out a crumpled packet of cigarettes. “Would you mind throwing these into it? I’ve decided I’m giving up, right this instant.”
Chantelle laughed, and took the packet from him, dropped it in the bin. “Good for you. So, was I right? Did you leave your problems behind in the treatment room? Do you feel like a changed man?”
Nash closed the visitors’ book and winked at Chantelle.
“Honey, I’ve never felt better.”
I hope you enjoyed your story. If you want to read more like that, I have a collection of them called Population:DEAD! and other weird tales of horror and suspense. You can have the entire book for free, plus my novel Joe Coffin, Season One if you sign up to my newsletter. (Now come on, I just gave you something for free, and now I’m offering you even more stuff for free. I’m allowed to do a little bit of sales patter, aren’t I?)
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