Atonement

            The man gripped the axe tighter in his moistening hands, a mixture of sweat and blood oozing through the crevices of his palms.  He drew it up once again, flexing the muscles in his arms as he did.  He glanced down at the target with a blank expression before hammering the weapon deep into it.  A few minutes ago a muffled grunt would have answered him, but now all he heard was the splattering of blood.  He panted slightly, then released the grip on the axe.  The stained weapon clattered to the floor noisily.  He felt a strange sensation of burning and freezing; beads of sweat trickled down his forehead, but a strange chill rippled through his body.  He stepped backwards, thumping into the wall, and then fumbling for the light switch. 

The light illuminated the dark room, bringing reality into what had seemed so surreal.  What had been a light green room was now dark red with pools of blood.  The colors crashed in a horrifying painting.  Undisturbed, the man moved forward to survey his centerpiece.  It was a bloodied mass of flesh, stained so red that it was unidentifiable.  He pored over the image as if it were a puzzle, trying to spot out the various limbs of the corpse.  His eyes caught sight of a mass of blackish hair, darkened with thick blood.  So this was her head.  He rested his palm against what he imagined to be a skull, ignoring the crimson liquid seeping out.

ÒIÕm sorry,Ó he whispered.  But he knew no matter how many times he repeated it, it never did any good.  It would always come back again and again.  The hunger for the sound of squishing flesh as a sharp blade edged between bones.  That sweet feeling of warm blood coating his skin, embracing him with the life of stranger he had killed.  With every blow of his blade he could feel their life seeping out of their shattered bodies and entering him.  It enlivened him, giving him a temporary sense of comfort.  And then the guilt would come afterwards.

He imagined the girlÕs mother and father frantic, looking for her now.  The friends she had in school; how would they react when they realized she had gone missing?  What kind of person had she been?  Did she have many friends, or was she a bully?  Or was she possibly the child that always sat alone?  She had looked about thirteen when he found her.  She was obviously lost, too anxious to notice the man trailing behind her for several minutes.  He had found out she had run off after having a fight with her father, but now regretted it.  He then promised her heÕd help her find her way back.

And thinking about all this did nothing.  He felt nothing.  He knew he should feel sorry, almost consumed by guilt.  He knew the girl shouldnÕt have died, and felt sorry for taking her life.  He was aware of the pain he had caused, but he couldnÕt feel it.  His heart was still beating, and he felt fine.  He kept waiting for something to happen; for some god to strike him down, for all the pain he had caused come back to him tenfold.  And yet the world was still moving on as if that one life had meant nothing.  And if no one would stop him, he would simply continue on.

It took hours to clear up the room.  He rubbed at the walls until the reddish stain only faintly remained, scrubbed the floor clean, and packaged any solid parts of the body he could still find.  The brown-haired girl wasnÕt his first victim.  He was experienced in cleaning up his messes.  Burying the remains in his backyard was a quick and effortless solution, but would easily point evidence to him if he were ever accused.  Hiding the parts in a construction site or in a river was possible, but one of the first places the police would search.

The sun had come up hours before he had a chance to sleep.  He debated whether or not to go to bed; he was thoroughly exhausted, but he doubted that he would sleep peacefully.  Remembering he was close to running out of food, he figured he'd put sleep to another time.  He opened the front door, bracing, as if expecting something to happen.  Only the warm beams of sunlight hit him.  He blinked, shielding his eyes from the radiant light.

He heard a thud and realized he wasnÕt alone.  He turned to see who had come to take him down.  A cheery-looking man in his mid-forties was just heading down the porch, swinging a pair of car keys.  A little ID on his chest spelled the name "John Doe".  He had startlingly red cheeks and a bushel of brown-blonde hair.  ÒMorning, Rob!Ó he smiled, waving at the older man.

The man looked startled, then faintly smiled back.  He had forgotten.  He wasnÕt always the killer running away from the evil that would one day come back for him.  He was also known as Robert Johnson, the kind, retired neighbor recognized as the reclusive grandfather of the community.  No one really knew where he came from, whether he had family, or what he had done with his life.  But no one pried into his details.  They accepted him as the wealthy, retired man in the large house at the corner of the street.

Mr. Johnson watched absentmindedly from the doorstep as his neighbor leaped into his car energetically.  He started the ignition, creating a roar that vibrated through the still air.  As he pulled out, he waved a goodbye in the direction of the bedroom window, where Mr. Johnson assumed his wife was standing.  In another hour, she would get into the second car to drive their two kids to school.

            He figured he couldnÕt stand there forever, watching the family go through their morning routines.  He eventually stepped back into his house.  He considered cooking something for breakfast.  Perhaps more sausages, eggs, and bacon.

            But as soon as he stepped into the kitchen, he saw the letter he had avoided opening.  It was his medical report from almost several months ago.  Of course, he had noticed how tight his pants had been getting recently.  Or how most of his shirts barely fit anymore.  He was getting old.  And he could feel his own life slipping from his hands graudually.

           

            He thought about the medical records once again.  The last paper in the medical sheets he had been given would be included as part of his will.  It included organ donations and the possibility of donating his body to research.  So far he had left the slot blank, but the idea was beginning to appeal to him.  Ever since he began to see himself dying, something in him felt different.  Was it guilt?  The desire for atonement before he finally died?

            For years he had defiled the bodies of others.  He had ripped them apart and treated them with apathy.  He had stolen their lives, and erased their futures.  Donating his body would be a fit punishment.  He didnÕt think it would make up for all the pain he had caused, but he could see himself as the only worthy specimen.  He wanted to be ripped up, treated like a non-human object.  The students would cut through him as if he were some sort of specimen – not as Robert Johnson.  It would probably be the only good he would do in this world.

            He signed the form, then mailed it out.  Now all he had to do was wait for death to come.

 

© Divya Subramanian