Methodical Madness by Wilbert Stanton

His Facebook status read “saving the world”: that’s how I kept tabs on him. Our friendship had been reduced to cyberstalking.

I always felt guilty whenever he called. It was shameful really; seeing his name on my caller ID and ignoring it, once again. I loved him, really I did. He would stop the world from turning if he thought such a colossal act would make me smile. He was everything to me and I him… or at one point, we had been.

We grew up together, had experienced life together. I always felt safe knowing that no matter what, he would be there for me to fall back on and there were times I'd selfishly jump backwards into his protective embrace. That's what hurt the most; I knew without a doubt that he would always be there for me. But could he say the same of me?

Truth was, as we grew older, we found the world a harsh place, overflowing with pain and abandoned love. We let ourselves become jaded by let downs and disillusionment. Our naive world of untouchable friendship was chipped away by mistrust and failure. I trudged on through life wearing a permanent, wondrous smile like a last-minute Halloween mask. I watched coldly, fearfully, as he sunk beneath the surface, drowning in the chaos, his gasps for my help I ignored; reaching out to him would only pull me in.

He was a heartbreak I couldn't afford; not if I intended to maintain my perfect facade. But the guilt had a way of creeping in. That's why I finally answered. The phone rang. And I answered. My heart raced with anticipation as I listened to the silence after saying hello, expecting to hear his voice overcome with rage and hatred, condemning me, finally, for turning away from him.

“Hey Abby” he said.

“Jeff, how are you feeling?” I asked, already knowing the answer but burdened with the notion that I had to quickly fill any potential silence.

“Feeling like you owe me”, he said.

“Owe you?” I asked uncomfortably, “Owe you for what?”

“Losing someone to death, it's hard. It hurts like hell, I know. Missing and longing for the person who died, the realization that you will never ever see that person again, no matter what. It hurts. But somehow it's reassuring. You know where you stand, you know it wasn't your fault and it couldn't be helped.”

The pit of my stomach began to turn, I could feel my lip begin to quiver and my throat tighten. “Why are you saying all this?”

“Because, you know what sucks more than losing someone to death? Losing someone to LIFE. When you grow up with someone, spend all your time with them, you adapt to each other. Then "life" happens. You grow older and everyone has their own thing, their own lives. Boyfriends, girlfriends, families, jobs. Those childhood bonds, friendships that you thought would last a lifetime seem so frail when faced with life.

One day you turn around to find that person you thought would always be there for you is gone. At least in death, you know the reason, you know it was unstoppable and no one was to blame. But when you lose someone to life, you question every move you made that might have caused the rift, you assign fault, try to fill the emptiness with hate, and in the end you suffer alone, blaming yourself. To make matters worse, you know that person is still out there, but in the end they might as well be on another planet.”

“I don't know what to say.”

”Say 'Yes' to what I'm about to ask.”


“No, YES!”

“Um... okay...”

“No. You say yes. And maybe I'll not make you feel guilty about forgetting about me.”

“Too late...”

“Oh there's more where that came from…”

He waited to hear me say the word. He didn't budge. Inside, I let out a deep sigh.

“Fine, YES!”

* * * * * * *

I waited in the parking lot like he asked, my dad’s old Chevy humming its swan song. He wouldn’t miss it; he didn’t miss much unless it had over fourteen percent of alcohol in it, even that was asking for much. I held the steering wheel white knuckled at ten and two, trying to see through the cancerous condensation that spread across the windshield. The world beyond seemed empty, like a movie theater long after the last movie has played.

I glanced at the clock; it was nine forty. I just kept on that steering wheel, holding tight to keep from floating away into oblivion.

At exactly nine fifty-five I saw him. A pea coat buttoned up tight around his slender form, concealing his hospital gown, the wind toying with the bottom blowing it about like a dress. He almost looked comical in combat boots, hospital dress and coat, as he squinted against a mist of rain. He ran his hand over the hood of the car as he made his way to the door.

One, two, three, four, five. I knew he counted as he tried the handle five times before he actually opened the door. He threw himself in, sinking deep into the upholstered leather. He closed the door, looked at me, sighed and held his breath opening the door and closing it again. He did this five times before he finally exhaled and smiled at me.

“Wouldn’t want it opening during our trip”, he said.

“Are you allowed out?”

“No, not really. But seeing as I’m scheduled to die soon, it’s not like I can get in much trouble, right?”

“Don’t say that.” I looked away from him. I wished the world would start act two already. Sitting alone in this quiet was getting to be too much; a shiver ran through me. 'What am I doing', I thought.

“Don’t say what? That I’m dying? Sorry, I meant I’m scheduled for a long, fulfilling life of enjoyment. My girlfriend isn’t cheating on me with my best friend… actually we're getting married, having kids too. The whole nine. Interested in being a god parent?”
“Shut up, okay! Where are we going?”

He sat there in silence unbuttoning his top button and buttoning it again. Each time he undid it he seemed uncertain, then reassured when it was buttoned again, only to have that uncertainty slowly sneak in again.

“Have you been taking your meds?”


“Why aren't you answering me?”

“You told me to shut up.” He laughed at my obvious trepidation, and took my hand in his; I pulled back at the cold lifeless touch, irrationally scared my life force would be sucked away, like a vampire feeding on some poor child. He just smiled and put his seat belt on.

“I have to make some stops, save the world, you know, the usual. Don’t worry it shouldn’t take up too much of your time.”

“Take up much of my time? What makes you think I'm worried about you wasting my time?”

“I don’t know: you cut me off, haven’t spoken to me in ages. Figured you’d have better things to do than go on a road trip with me fighting off the monstrous claws of oppressive death. I was surprised you showed up. Not that I'm complaining or anything. Guess it all comes full circle.

No one else would humor me. No one understands the magnitude of my responsibilities. They'd rather me lay there in that god forsaken bed and rot away mindlessly as the last minutes of my life fade into obscurity. You, on the other hand, have no other choice then to go along with my cockamamie plans, do you? What is it…guilt? The world has a way of correcting things.”

“Of course I want to be here with you…”

I turned on the engine and began to drive.

“My parents should still be out. I asked Dad to take Mom to get something to eat, and then to make doubly sure, I told my mom I was worried Dad wasn’t eating. So that should buy us some time. We need to swing by my house, but let’s try to get there as fast as possible; I don’t know how long they will be. Unpredictability isn’t safe right now.”

“Why are we going to your house?”

“I told you: I have to save the world real quick.”

* * * * * * *

The drive to his house was made in uncomfortable silence. I stared at the road with blank eyes, white line drunkenness threatening to reawaken the high I had earlier. I found my head jerking to the side as my eyes grew heavy. He sat a like a fixture in his seat, only making slight movements to rearrange his clothes or seatbelt.

At one red light I thought to open up the doors of communication, but stopped when I realized his lips were moving, as if he were counting the seconds between red and green lights.

He saw imaginary patterns in everything. His world was made up of routines and rituals, excuses really, for him to obsess over things. There were a number of these kinds of habits he had (that I knew of); he had a strange affinity for the number five; he liked things to be in fives, or primes of five.

It extended from the number of times he had to touch something, turn off switches, open and close doors, to not getting out of bed until the time was an increment of five. Sequences of numbers always stuck too; if he saw a commercial with a phone number or heard a social security number; he’d be forced to repeat the sequence over and over again in his head until “it felt right.” He also had a habit of counting seconds between every pause or lack of movement. Like he was doing now. As far as I could tell the point was to make sure his life didn’t continue on a “bad number.” Order and symmetry were very important to him.

We made it to his apartment within twenty five minutes. He seemed pleased with the timing and thus didn’t feel the need to try the door handle five times before letting himself out.

We made our way up the stairs, of his five story brownstone. With him in front, taking the stairs in twos.

“Have you been taking your meds?”

This was the second time I asked him that tonight night, only just realizing that he ignored the question the first time. He merely silenced me with a finger to his lips. He didn’t like speaking in the hallway. It was never a good idea to talk until safely locked inside his apartment.

He took his keys out of his left jacket pocket, and unlocked the topmost lock first, then the bottom. This too I recognized as one of his obsessive rituals. Keys always on the left, lighter and cigarettes on the right; if there was an extra accessory such as phone or iPod, that in turn would reside in the left hand coat pocket and the keys would be moved to the left pants pocket.

Money, bills only—he refused to carry coins—was designated to the front right pants along with Metro Card, if he had one.
We went quietly in, taking a moment to be sure that his parents weren't there. I smiled at the familiar situation; his parents were always out, more importantly during school hours. Countless days we spent secretly at his house instead of school.

We made our way straight to his room. A flash of a memory as I reached the doorway: that hallway in front of his locked door, fumbling with the lock, where I had my first kiss.

It only lasted five seconds, hardly anything, just the conception of a life time of confusion and fear.

* * * * * * *

His room was a junk yard: the air thick and unpleasant. I wondered if the "Abandon All Hope" sign was lost somewhere amongst the clutter; clothes were piled in a chair, on his bed, and on the recliner that faced a TV, buried under video games and DVDs.

There were piles of DVDs everywhere actually, stacked up waist high at different corners of his room. His desk was covered with neat, individual piles of mail: bills, catalogs, and pre-approved credit cards. Upon entering one would see sheer slobbery; but upon closer inspection one would soon realize that everything was arranged in some unusual categoric way.

Once I had foolishly picked up a video game, without taking the proper precautions, causing him to break into hysteria, attempting to restore order to his personal universe by counting and replacing everything in the pile in his usual, fashion. I knew now to stand by the door, until informed where it was safe to sit.

“We're not staying; I just have to correct the life lines.”

“What do you mean?”

“It's too late for me really, but if everything's in the right place, if I can offset the time frame by just a bit, I can buy myself a little more time. I don't need a lot, just enough.”

“Enough for what?”

“For the THIRD time, so I can save the world... and then there's...” He looked up at me contemplatively, wondering if he should continue or not. I suppose he decided against it, as he went back to shuffling through his piles of stuff. Shifting through papers, opening and closing drawers, turning over books, and searching his closet. He made three circuits, began to sit on his bed, and then searched two more times. Five times was enough to be sure.

Unused footwear lay by his bed. He dropped down to his knees, lying close to them, inspecting them like a curious scientist. His eyes suddenly grew wide: he arranged his shoes in a new order. Black boots, high top black converse, black dress shoes, brown converse, black and white converse. From left to right. He sat up pleased; he looked up at me and nodded approval. “Okay, that should give me a couple of hours! Let me get some decent clothes and we can get out of here.”

We continued our strange odyssey into the night, the slow drizzle becoming a heavy rain, as if Mother Nature herself were weeping for us. I asked him where we were going and he told me just to drive, that he'd know where and when the time was right. Having no idea how to argue with his determination, I circled around the neighborhood for a bit before deciding to head downtown, to the Lower East Side, where we normally hung out. My sudden change of direction didn't disturb his contemplation, so I took that for approval. Foot to pedal, I felt somewhat reassured that I had a destination in mind.

“Hey remember the time Larry got wasted and wanted to have a tickle party?” he asked, attempting to break the silence.

“Oh god. Don't remind me! Ugh, what a gross old man… I can still see my reflection in his gold tooth! Remember that time you won the life-sized Spider-Man and we had to carry it home, and we got mugged!”

“Yeah! And you chased them down for five whole blocks and I just went home. Hey, remember when I used to be sick from school, you'd collect all my homework and bring it to me, and you'd tell the teachers you were bringing it to me, so I had no excuse not to do it?”


“What a bitch!”

“Hey! Remember the time you were a fucking jerk!?”

“Too many times! Remember the time you dated an asshole?”

“Ha-ha! Too many times! Remember that time you dated that bitch, the whore, and/or a combination of both with a sprinkle of bipolar bat shit insanity?”

“I don't actually remember a time when that was not the case… remember that time, you were with that bastard that hit you? And how I fucked up his world?”

“Remember that time you paid Richard to beat up that bastard that hit me? And pretended you did it?”

He looked at me and smiled, I smiled back and we began laughing. He put his hand on the back of my neck, slowly, with the delicacy of a florist, trying not to be to rough, or make me uncomfortable with his icy touch. He gently rubbed at the knots sending waves of relaxation through my body as each one was rubbed out of existence.

“Hey, what can I say, I'm your knight in shining armor. I would protect you from anything. Even if genetics would have it otherwise."

He meant it, I knew it, or I thought I knew it. I was overcome with confusion, his words and touch clouding my mind. Intoxicating, tequila with a splash of lemon, yet it went down hard. My throat closed up in protest. I pulled away from his hand. Overcome by irrational rage.

“Remember the time said you'd take me...” Tears threatened to show their shameful face; I stopped before I reached the point of no return. 'Focus on the road', I thought, 'just drive'.

“Take you where?”

I shook my head no; 'Leave it alone', I thought.

“To Disney world?”

“Away from here you fucking bastard! Remember? Do you? As soon as I get my shit together…!”

I looked at him, my face full of fury and pain. He looked away. I punched him in the arm. “Is this it? A midnight road trip before you leave me?”

He didn't look at me, just stared at his hands and whispered. “Remember the time you forgot about me?”

I said nothing, he said nothing. We drove, the sound of tires running on rain soaked pavement the only noise breaking the silence.

* * * * * * *

The Union Square diner was perfectly situated between the movie theater, the park, and a couple of neighborhood bars. It was a rare bridge between the adolescent, the teenager, and the adult. As children we would visit the diner after spending the day skating in the park. As our curfews were extended, we would talk or laugh over a movie we just seen, over a burger and soda. Later as we reached the cusp of adulthood and discovered our destinies reflected at bottom of empty mugs, we would stumble into our usual booths, watching daylight peek its ugly head over the more welcoming night.

The last time we spoke was at that diner, a particularly drunken night in which I spent half the night crying over someone who disregarded monogamy just as flippantly as safe sex. The fear of STDs and the shame of drunk-texts and -dials had me in such a state that I refused to eat my burger. He sat across from me, half falling out his chair, one by one picking off my fries, rubbing at his nose, inhaling the phantom lingering of powder we finished off hours before.

He said a lot to me that night. Trying to foolishly pull me out of my state, trying to rescue what was left of my dignity. Nothing stuck; rarely did anything stick those nights we spent out, drunken odysseys of blacked-out exploration. Nothing he said seemed to matter. Nothing seemed significant enough to merit thoughts of hope. Until he said:

“I’ll take you away from all this. As soon as I get my shit together, I'll come for you, and we'll run away to some far off place. Live happily ever after.”

Without a second thought, as if such a proclamation were as important as mentioning the passing weather, he went about eating the rest of my fries. When those were done, he bit at his nails and tinkered with the arrangement of plate and silverware. He didn’t notice, but I had stopped crying.

I stared at him carefully, wishing for him to say more, not caring whether it were a confirmation of his declaration or a closing statement of levity. I couldn’t bear to dream of that illusive happiness only to have it crushed by his aloofness. So I cut him out of my life. You try sitting idly by as someone you care about, no, someone you love, slowly fails in health; both mentally and physically. Could you sit by and watch the person you could spend the rest of your life with crumble before your eyes?

That was then, and here we were five years later in the same booth. We hadn't seemed to age.

He turned his cup of water around on its axis, staring with a sign of concentration I hadn’t seen on anyone in years. After finding the right angle to tilt his cup, he moved on to his plate, moving it over half and inch and turning it for a fraction of that.

He inspected the silverware closely, wiping the knife on his pants, returning it to the table, but not without first arranging them in a new order; Knife, fork, spoon, tea spoon.

“Watch carefully,” he said, “everything has to be in perfect order. I ignored it for a while; I ignored the order of things and that backfired. It was stupid of me to think I could just abandon such a responsibility, as if the fragments of reality could just one day up and say ‘fuck it, today we go out for a pint’ and not expect existence to turn into a pile of shit. Stupid, huh?”

He looked up at me, wearing a mischievous smile and delighted eyes. “What are you talking about? What responsibilities?”

“Saving the world! Keeping balance, it’s all about order. Everything has its place and every place has its thing. Everything has a purpose, but if it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time, then it all turns to shit. See this? This doesn’t feel right, can’t you feel it? It radiates wrongness, its offensive to the eye… it's making my skin crawl!”

He took the water pitcher and poured more into his cup; he stopped, inspected it, and then began to pour again. Around the rim of the cup there was an indentation that circled the circumference, he poured until the water level reached this. He stopped and seemed pleased. “Better. That feels right.”

“How long have you been off your meds?”

“Ever since I went into the hospital; they would interfere with treatment, so I had to leave them behind.”

“How long has that been?”

“Isn’t that sad? Best friends you and I, best friends indeed… don’t even know how long I was rotting in that hospital…”

Before I could protest, the waiter came and took our order. He ordered a bacon cheeseburger, well done, no tomato, and a Sprite; I ordered a rum and coke: three quarters rum one quarter coke to be exact. After the waiter took away the menus we'd never even bothered to look at we were left in an awkward silence; we stared at each other in a battle of sheer will. We were both blaming each other for unreasonable things; we were both scared to admit things. He was the first to break.

“The world is made up of order, God's grand design, like a watch; gears, screws, springs, and shit. All perfectly put together under a microscope by the keen guidance of the megalomaniac’s precise eye. Everything has a purpose, big or small, it all fits. If you think about the grandness of things… think how big the universe is and how tiny that makes us… just tiny unseen bits of a huge working machine, made up of order. Order powered by routines; routines, symmetry, quantities, qualities… uhh…”

He scratched his head looking confused, squinting hard, trying to pry loose a thought that insisted on hiding within his crumbling mind.

"What does any of that have to—"

“Do with us? With me? We—not you and I, but people in general—our purpose is to reproduce. The female genitals have over a thousand nerve endings. The tip of my penis, just as many. We are hardwired to want to have sex. Positive reinforcement, conditioning, whatever. We are meant to reproduce. However, some people are tasked with bigger responsibilities. I don’t know if it’s because we are born anomalies, if we live outside natural order, or if it's punishment for a previous life’s sin. But we are the ones cursed with the painfully challenging, minute task of preserving order.

Imagine if you thought the wrong thought, if you thought it too hard, it comes true. Now imagine you knew this, so you had to spend all of your life constantly trying not to think anything bad, because if you did it would happen. You know the deal with trying not to think of something—don’t think about my penis, okay?”

“Wait, what?”

A memory sprinted through my mind of the time when he dived into the swimming pool, and his shorts flew clean off. I was underwater and attacked by a full frontal flash of his manhood.

“See, you’re thinking about it, aren’t you? How come we've never slept together? You would think we would have had one of those best- friends-who-got-nothing-better-to-do-so-I-guess-we'll-sleep-together type of nights. Well whatever, it’s a constant battle not thinking of bad things, and unfortunately, it happens. Just as sure as your still thinking about my penis.

“Luckily usually when that happens a fail safe pops up. Mom will die… if I don’t hold my breath for fifteen seconds. I’ll fail this test… if I don’t repeat this mantra X number of times. It starts building up, different rituals to counteract different thoughts. It becomes routine, till the thought is erased and secure.

But the funny things are the bigger thoughts. They aren’t things I would normally think: why would I randomly concern myself with the political unrest in Egypt, or the earthquakes in Chile? These are thoughts I wouldn’t normally have, but I find them invading my mind… if I don’t arrange this or that in a certain order, Haiti will floor. Why would I think that? I’ve never thought of Haiti once before!

These are tasks, jobs, assigned by the higher power, The Warden. Everyone like me, given random tasks, jobs, punishments, to guard and protect the world using order and routine. I’m getting ahead of myself; or am I? I don’t know. I used to care… I followed the rules. Then it became too much for me, and, well, I was alone. I had no one. I gave up and the world began to crumble. Read a newspaper, go online, this past year alone you can see all my failures. The world is on the brink of extinction. All because of me.”

“You can't really—”

Our food came, his food and my drink; I ordered another before the waiter left. He turned his plate so his hamburger was on the left and fries on the right. He moved the bacon from the bottom of the burger and replaced it on the top over the cheese. He counted out five packs of ketchup and squeezed out a circle and filled it on the bottom of the patty rubbing it in with the bottom bun.

“Can't really what? Believe I was responsible for it all? Yeah that’s what I thought, so I continued to ignore it. So more and more thoughts started popping up, more routines that I had to do, there were constant voices in my head. Endless, uncountable voices, command after command.

Think of it like an unresponsive computer, one day you’re online trying to find last night’s episode of 'The Real World', but the computer freezes up, so you start clicking random things. You start hitting random buttons, first one, then two, then a couple. You get so frustrated you start hitting everything, growling with anger because you're missing the best part. But what you don’t realize is your computer would have started responding had you left it alone, now you’ve hit it with so many commands, it’s over loading and significantly slowed down. That’s like my brain; The Warden started hitting me with so many commands that I overloaded. I got sick; first the really bad headaches, then the nose bleeds, then the black outs. My brain is fried because I ignored my responsibilities.”

I chugged down my first glass.

“I still didn’t care, I welcomed it. Death wasn’t, isn’t, something I’m afraid of. Not when it means escape, when it means freedom. Until last night… I had a dream last night. It wasn’t just a thought, it was a vision of what would happen if I didn’t carry out my last task.”

“What was it of?”

“The end of the world. There were fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, it all came together in a magnificent painting of pure unrelenting destruction. So many people dead, countless. Everyone was dead, every single living thing. It all burned down, burned to nothing. Lost to the black matter that no one can figure out. It wasn’t just the end of the world-it was the end of the end.

A complete cessation of existence. This scared me more than anything. Do you know that lack of existence before you were born? That is what we all would face. Unless I save the world.”

We went to a bar: finally he offered me the semblance of normality; this was what we used to do every Friday night, the occasional Saturday, pretty much any day of the week we could squeeze it into. We'd shove over our last dime to the hungry hands of the Bacchus Lounge. Would it be silly if I said it made me feel safe?

A rude bouncer checked our IDs and I missed the bouncers of old; the friend, the confidant, the pillar of safety, and emergency blow contact. He ushered us in, making sure to rest his heavy hand on my waist for two seconds too long.

We made our way to our usual corner; from where we stood we had immediate access to the bathrooms, and were an equal distance between the air hockey tables and picnic benches. We had played all the time, hours and hundreds of dollars lost to the table; we'd nest the benches and hungrily stalk unsuspecting victims, gauging their skill and technique. And when we were drunk enough, we would pounce.

But now we stood strangers on an island. He sat nervously beside me, looking to and fro, not finding a perch to rest his manic thoughts. I balanced two beers and two shots in my hands trying to get his attention.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“There’s no order here. How did I spend so much time here?”

“Drunk, I guess? You always felt most comfortable here, remember?”

I finished the first beer, which was no easy task; I placed the empty mug onto a nearby table and now comfortably nursed the one that remained.

“Everything is wrong here, the air hockey table is at an incredibly uncomfortable angle. The lights! Look at them! Only three are on. That number is no good. Lights in threes, lights in threes, it could mean anything, maybe an end of light? And they're only seven people on the picnic bench! Four on the left, three on the right. That's not good, that's not good... they invite chaos. It's them, it's them, the four horsemen! The harbingers of death!”

He grabbed my hand, unsteadily, depending on me for support. “Calm down, its okay. Just have a drink and try to relax,” I said.

Journey’s “Don't Stop Believin'” began to play on the jukebox. And I literally saw his world crumble. He took my shot and chugged it down, followed by my second shot, and then grabbed my beer. He took two long strides over to the four men that sat on the left of the picnic bench. The one closest to him looked up, questioning why there was a crotch in his face.

“Oh sorry… hey, your girl? She gave me an STD... just thought I'd give her a chance to say I'm sorry.”

With that he poured all of my beer on the head of someone a lot bigger than himself, then turned to me and smiled. He had enough time to hold up three fingers before the guy grabbed him and threw him on the floor, straddled him and started punching away. I barely took any time to react, jumping through the air, landing on the guy's back, punching and clawing like a wild beast. He swung his elbow back, cracking my nose. I felt warmth run down my lips and the flat, metallic taste of blood; lights started flashing, and there was a distant sound of glass cracking, muffled by a gut retching beep.

Time slowed as my vision coalesced between digital and oil painting. I wanted to retch but under me, the guy still hit Tony. But he smiled up at me, blood splattering his face. He began to laugh, his wild laugh, the one usually reserved for puking. Whenever we reached our peaks and hobbled to the street corner, throwing up a night’s work, he'd laugh wildly, unable to contain the joy of the night.

This set something lose in my being: I was overcome with rage, pity, anguish, and sorrowfor him or for me, I couldn't tell you. But I unleashed it all, in a fit of passion. I attacked with renewed vigor, dominating my opponent with a surprising lust. Each hit, each scratch, each bite, seemed to fill the emptiness that I hadn't realized existed. I had been little more than a vessel wading through life for so long, not realizing that the distance I put between us had only destroyed my soul. Now here I was an unrelenting beast, irrationally trying to get all that I had lost back by beating the living shit out of someone that hurt him. I couldn't stop death from taking him, but I sure as hell would put up a fight.

I woke up sitting in my car, knuckles bleeding, face sore, nails broken; he lay back in his seat, bloodied tissues jammed up his nose, head turned to the window staring out at the night. I wondered what he was thinking; was he really not scared to die? Did he see the face of Death himself reflected in my rain soaked windows? Was he frozen with fear?

As if to answer my never spoken question he began to laugh. He looked at me, and smiled: his tooth was missing. This broke my heart, and made me break down in laughter, and we both laughed 'til our ribs hurt. Well, it was the laughter, and also from fact of them possibly being broken.

“Why'd you do that?” I asked.

“I had to distract them to give us time to stop the world from crumbling.”

“What did they do?”

“Couldn't you see? The four horsemen? They were planning their next move. Now they're all disorganized and confused. We have time now.”

“How did you

KNOW they were who they were? The SIGNS. Couldn't you tell? There were three lights on, yet there were five lights in all. Everyone knows five is safe; why leave on only three when three is such an offensive number. The air hockey table, didn't you notice the angle? It pointed to three o'clock when you faced north. And there were three opposite the four. Three sets of three and one set of four. It was a sign: threes are bad, but three sets of three are order, the four disrupted the three. The Warden was warning me: 'distract them from their strategizing.' We did it, now we just have to finish what we started.”

“I... I... okay, you know what, let's just keep going. Where to?”

“Remember when we first met?”


“No seriously, do you?”

“Yes of course... I mean, I don't know... we were kids. I don't know exactly how, can anyone remember something like that? It was like fifteen years ago.”

“We were in central park, I was digging a hole. You were skating and tripped over it. After screaming at me. You asked what the hell I was doing, I said

“You were looking for the end of the world...”

“Ah you do remember?”

“I remember thinking you were a weirdo.”

“Our destination awaits.”

I parked a couple of blocks from the park; we hobbled over arm in arm. My face screamed in pain; I was immensely glad there were no mirrors around or anything that would reflect. I was scared to see the hideous beast I had no doubt turned into.

He walked, hunched over, bloodied tissues still up his nose, watching the ground carefully, making sure to avoid stepping on cracks in the pavement. Had he stepped on any, he would have had to take two steps back and start again. This was apparently the only way to preserve order.

The area where we'd met as children wasn't much, just a small grass field off of a jogging path. It seemed more of a pit stop for runners. There was a water fountain and a solitary picnic table. Some feet away was a double swing set. I made my way to the swings and hopped on, jarring my face which throbbed in protest. He sat down heavily across from me on the bench. I began rocking back and forth, coaxing the swing into a slow rhythm, careful not to take my eyes off him. He leaned back, laying his head on the table.

“My head is killing me”, he said.

“That guy got some good licks in, I imagine.”

“Nah, it's not that.”

“What then?”

“Death's bony knuckles knocking at my door. It's the most irritating sound… the moon have you noticed it?”

I looked up to a beautiful sky, with only faint signs of cloud, lit up brightly by all the stars spread far and wide. The moon was full and proud, seemingly at the center of it all. It shone bright and true, making the whole world beautiful. I don't know, I couldn't explain the feeling, it just seemed that with all the crazy shit going on, there was still a much a bigger picture. Something that could span galaxies; it made me, HIM, our problems seem so tiny and insignificant: like there was an order to things.

“Always remember,” he began. “When the moon's at it's fullest, that's when things happen. On average the full moon can always been seen on the 14th or 15th; of course it goes without saying that a full moon on the 14th is the worst thing that can possibly ever happen. We have to be wary of full moons on the 14th: these are the nights werewolves are born, when children vanish into the night, when the earth's gravitational pull is weakened. Full moons on the 15th however, are perfectly fine, a rejuvenation of life...”

I looked at my watch: it was the 14th.

“We have to make sure to keep order until the 15th. Then everything will be fine.”

“It’s eleven forty-eight.”

“We have to wait 'til the time is right.”

He came over and sat in the empty swing alongside mine; he began to swing back and fourth. He reached his hand out to mine; I took it, and with a little effort we managed to match swings. Going back and forth in synchronized time. We looked at each other and smiled; I had loved him long ago. I knew that, I always did. Now here we were, all this time later and I was completely sure I still did. He smiled and I smiled back, as if our minds as well as our swings were in sync with each other.

Once our swings reached the highest forward points, we pushed off, launching into the air. We held hands tightly as if we were going to fly off into the night, into a place where there was perfect order and the safety of naiveté. Instead we landed some feet away stumbling onto our hands and knees.

“Perfect", he said, "what time is it?”

I glanced at my watch, now sitting on the grass beside him. “Eleven fifty-five.”

He nodded and began digging wildly like a young puppy.

“What are you doing?”

“I have to make sure everyone is safe.” He found three small rocks; seemingly satisfied he ran off searching the ground and I followed.

“Nothing is going to happen, what do you think

“Order, everything has to be in order, you don't understand. Back in the day, people would slash the necks of goats on God's altar, throw a virgin off of a cliff, light fires, burn incense, pray every Sunday... it goes on and on. Why is it you think what I do is so strange? Everything is order. Even sacrifices, worshiping. To please Gods of order, we must show some sort of orderly gift.”

He picked up two twigs, breaking them until they were the same in length. He ran over to the picnic table, wiped away some trash with his hand.

“Just listen, can you hear it?” he asked.

“Hear what?”

“They are restless, they're tired of this world. They want to end it all. If you listen closely you can hear them moving about. Frowning upon mankind, growing bored and restless, shaking the earth under our feet. Our home, our livelihood. To them it's nothing but a game!” He placed the three rocks on the middle of the table, forming a triangle, each rock at an angle. “Listen for it, listen closely, the whispers, it's what I hear all the time: all the fucking time! They want order, they love order. It's their way of opposing chaos. Listen! Listen! Just listen!”

I did; something told me to humor his madness for just a second. I listened; I listened to the silence of the park; to the distant passing of cars, the sound of my heart beating, the cracking of the bench under our weight. I listened to my thoughts, over and over again: 'Grab him, kiss him, or run away, and turn your back on him once again. Just be done with this crazy night'.

He placed one twig inside the triangle, carefully, horizontally. Then there were whispers. So soft, barely at the tip of perception. They weren't my thoughts I knew that instantly; they were an alien sensation, something I had never experienced. Whisper, whisper, whether it was English, I couldn't tell you. It wasn't a language, I don't think. Language was always something man made; we took sounds and converted them to languageso we could give meaning and perception to our thoughts. But the whispers that pressed into my mind, a presence so infinite and so minimal, were the rawest form of something… else.

They increased in speed, running circles around my crumbling reality, heightening in pitch. I wanted them to stop, I didn't like this foreign thing bouncing around in my brain. Before I had time to claw at my ears and scream, he placed the last twig vertically over the first, forming something like a plus sign in the middle of the triangle. The whispers stopped and the world went silent. It was twelve o'clock.

“Now what?” I asked.

“That's it. We saved the world,”, he said with a smile.

“That was a bit anticlimactic, don't you think?”

“It happens.” He hunched over grabbing at his head, grimacing. I made to put my arm around him, but he brushed me off.

“Come on, I gotta get home.”

“Shouldn't we get back to the hospital?”

“'Hospital' is for the sick and dying.”

“What's that make you?”


* * * * * * *

We sat outside his house, the slow hum of the old motor vibrating beneath us. We were silent; I could only imagine what he was thinking. I wondered if I should apologize, tell him how sorry I was for turning my back on him. Tell him how much I wanted us to be together, but that I was scared of getting hurt; tell him that he was the greatest person I've ever met. Or not... it was stupid; how would that make him feel, that I'm only doing it at the expense of his health, or worse: thanks a lotfive years of our lives wasted because you were chicken shit.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“The last thing I have to do...”

“What is it?”

“I can't say.”

“Is it hard, scary?”

“The most frightening thing in the world.”

“You’re being so brave given the state of your current condition. I can't believe you'd be scared to do anything.”

“Well, this is something I've been putting off for a while, out of sheer fear.”

“Are you gonna tell me what it is?”

“No, not yet.”

“Are you scared to die?”

“Not really. All I've been through, all I've seen, all my suffering, I believe it's for a reason. There's so much order to the world for any one life to just end. It would be pointless, and that just contradicts the perfection of this existence. There's something else beyond this physical flesh, there has to be.”

“What if there isn't?”

“Well then. It's like a lotto ticket really. There's a really good chance you're not gonna win. But for that couple of minutes before they call the numbers, you start thinking of a better life and all the things you'd be able to do: bills paid; places to visit; even the selfless acts of donating to charity and giving money to friends and family members.

For that fraction of a time, you’re living on top of the world, rejuvenated with endless possibilities. But more often than not, you lose, and you're brought back down to earth, and you go about your normal life. Except, in this case, I can't bear to live in here any more." He taps his head. "So anything would be better, even a cessation of existence. I'm not frightened, I'm happy for what might possibly be. But I'm also content with what will most likely happen.”

“We've been spending far to much time with contentment, listen... II'm sorry…”

He shook his head and held my hand, he squeezed it once, looking ahead.

“I have to go now, text me when you get home okay?”


He got out of the car, didn't have to count or do a ritual, just opened the door and walked out onto the street. I watched him make his way around the front of my car. He looked at me and smiled. I waved goodbye. He started to head for his house, then stopped. As if injected with life he spun around, his face animated with hope as he walked towards my door. He opened it, taking my hand and forcing me out. Before I could question, he held my face between his cold hands. He leaned in and kissed me. His lips were cold at first, but as we exchanged body heat and saliva, they warmed up against mine.

His tongue met mine at some midway point. His hands moved down to rest on the small of my back in a tight embrace. I held him too, as fragile as his body was, I applied careful pressure, just enough to feel as one, to feel whole. We had kissed before, as curious children, wondering what it was like. Now here we were once again, this time a kiss fueled by passion, love, hate and longing.

It electrified me and made my body ache all at once. As quickly as it began it stopped. He pulled away, moving to hold my hand.

“That was the last thing I had to do. I'll talk to you later.”

He kissed me once again, softly, adding "I love you" almost under his breath as he walked off to his house. Why I didn't say it back, I don't know, and I'll always regret. Some part of me was convinced I could tell him later. I would have another chance. But I never saw him again.

* * * * * * * *

Whenever the full moon falls on the 14th or 15th of the month I go to the park. I scout around looking for perfect pebbles and evenly measured twigs. I wait until eleven fifty-five and place them in the right order on the picnic bench the way he showed me. Why? I ask myself the same question every time.

The rational part of me says I do it in memory of him, as a way to honor and never forget our friendship. But there is a part of me, and it shames me to say it, that does it out of fear. An overwhelming fear that if I don't, I'll hear those whispers again, the horrible intrusive whispers. What scares me the most, though, is thinking I might actually think I'll hear them. Because if I happen to think I might hear them, that's acknowledging that they are real, and inviting them back. So when I find myself about to think of them, about to think that I might think they were real, I count to five, sometimes fifteen to be doubly sure.

By night Wilbert Stanton is a New York City writer. By day he sleeps in his office. His favorite color is blue...