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Hey, Mr. Angry!: (A Short Story)
Lars Crowley did not know when it had happened, but it had happened. He did not know when the 'worm had turned,' so to speak, but that slimy, crawly thing sure enough had done. He could not pinpoint the precise moment he had snapped; that is, something in him had snapped and he knew not when it was.
He did not visibly lose control. He didn't go uncontrollably 'postal,' as it were. Not even a little bit, well below the threshold of concern for public safety. That was part of his problem. Lars Crowley tended not to show his feelings until it was too late. He did not believe in talking things out. What good would that do? His inner workings were too deep for most people to fathom.
Anyway, his job had triggered it again. Someone would say something, or do something, or make some kind of small imposition upon him. Nothing that would strain the patience of a rational person functioning in a rational mode. But for Lars, it is as if someone had flipped a switch, and he was never the same again. He could not get happy again, though this is when he smiled the most.
His displeasure inevitably reached such a pitch that a sour expression became the permanent cast of his face. He looked like he was constipated. Indeed, when asked he gave as his reason one of the following: constipation or indigestion; a migraine; an earache; allergies; his dog died; his cousin, Gino, was getting in trouble at school again; the apartment in the building where he lived was supposed to be rent controlled, but his landlord was raising the rent for the third time in four years; his favorite NFL football team, the Jets, had not only lost again, but yet again, in a comically humiliating fashion.
His negativity was palpable. You could feel it when he entered a room, even if you didn't see him. It reached out and throttled you, so that the awareness was captured by the fact that A PROFOUNDLY DREADFUL SOUL HAS DESCENDED AMONG US!
Lars wore the grim shroud always, except when he was sleeping. When he was sleeping he was dreaming that he was someone else. Someone who had made different choices than he had done. Someone daring enough to choose what was behind "Mystery door number 3, Bob!" instead of the sure thing that was on offer, grubby as it was.
If only he had done that just once: Taken a chance on his painting;... On studying his craft in Europe;... On taking an artist studio apartment in Milan;... On being with the love of his life he had met there a long, long time ago;... who had wanted him to come with her...
But Lars didn't do any of that. He never chose "Mystery door number 3;" never spun the wheel again; never went for broke; never played double or nothing; never did anything like that.
No, Lars Crowley had stayed in the United States, settled down to a sensible job, and had married sensible Betty... then it had been sensible Mary... and one more time he had married and divorcd sensible Carol. The only relief had been the fact that in all three occasions, they had sensibly not had any children.
In addition to his unrealized passion for painting, Lars had wanted to be a novelist.
Close enough: He became a sports writer.
He never told anybody this, but he was certain that sports were more important than they appeared to be on the surface --- he of a mythological imagination! Why else would athletes put themselves through the pain? Why else was America so invested in it? Unless it was a nation of fools?
Was a princess rescued? Was a kingdom saved? Were the golden fleece recovered? Was Medusa backfiringly turned into stone?
Lars liked to think so. He wrote of courage, loyalty, a true heart, and a seeking spirit much more so than other sports writers. This was easily noticed, and, surprisingly, appreciated. You can never fully submerge who you are, no matter how hard you try.
He was the host of his own radio sports talk show now, heavy call-in format.
He had known the bad time was coming again. Awareness of it visited his soul abruptly, as he was talking to a caller. Suddenly his mind had been invaded by a sense of irritated inquisitiveness, as to the motive of the caller for even calling.
The caller hadn't been saying anything particulary stupid. His remarks were reasonably cogent. He wasn't embarassing himself by conventional standards. He was articulate, pleasant, got right to the point.
Its just that Lars got the wind knocked out of him. He was bodyslammed with the notion of the futility of it all.
What the hell are you calling for? Lars thought but did not say.
You like hearing yourself talk? You think you're gonna be famous? You trying to prove to your friends and family what a sports wizard you are by trading names, positions, statistics, and bad referee calls with me?
Why don't you just watch the game and shut up?
Lars managed to get through the call and the rest of the show with a strained politeness, creeping over him. He went home and took a valium. He stood in the bathroom, staring at himself in the mirrored medicine cabinet. He repeated the affirmation over and over again, "I love my audience. I love my audience."
But it was no good. It was all downhill from there.
"We found four bodies in Cincinnati," Sergeant Peterson said. "That sound right?"
"Seven," Lars said.
"Five in Chicago."
"Only three," Lars said.
"Eight in New Orleans," Sergeant Peterson said.
"More like twelve," Lars said.
"Ten in Seattle."
"That's right," Lars said.
"Something was done to the bodies," Sergeant Peterson said.
"I cut their tongues out," Lars said.
Sergeant Peterson nodded. "That's right. How many in all, son?"
Lars shrugged and shook his head. "I guess between fifty and sixty. The bad time would come and I'd have to move on."
"They were all killed in their residences," Sergeant Peterson said, "houses or apartments. Someone wrote 'Wake up!' on the walls, in blood. Did you do that?"
"It was only red marker," Lars said. "And I wrote 'Shut Up!' on the walls. I wrote 'Shut Up!' three times: 'Shut Up!' 'Shut Up!' 'Shut Up!'"
Sergeant Peterson nodded and slid some papers in front of Lars.
Lars read and signed his statement. "You know something, Sergeant? You were right."
"Talking about it did make me feel better."