James was finished. The meeting was not. He tried to sit still, he tried to ignore the droning and arrogant voice of the motivational speaker, but it continued to penetrate his skull with the intensity of a jack hammer. He bit his tongue, hoping the self-inflicted pain would drown out that inflicted by this pack of jackals by whom he was surrounded. The pain felt good, the blood he drew tasted good, but the jack hammer continued hammering away at his skull.
He had to get out of here, or something bad was going to happen.
He eyed the pathway to the door. Too many people were crammed in too small of a conference room to slip unobtrusively to the door. He would have to squeeze between several different people before he made it to the front of the room, and even then he would have to cross directly in front of the speaker. That arrogant prick had already castigated another person in the room for a ringing cell phone. What penalty would he exact of James for walking out in the middle of his utterly irrelevant and hackneyed presentation?
James gingerly placed his head in his hands and closed his eyes.
He was rapidly losing control of his train of thought. Images of blood spatter and severed limbs flashed through his mind, and he quickly stifled them. They scared him with their offer of comfort and satisfaction. Terrified him actually, how much he was aroused by them. It wasn't normal to think about things like that. People who allowed thoughts like that to linger on the stage of their mind eventually acted them out, didn't they? Especially if such thoughts brought even a small measure of comfort and ... dare he admit it? Pleasure?
Normal people didn't even ponder such things. Did they?
James had no idea what normal was. His was the only mind he could read, and little enough of that. As a child, he read any book he could get his hands on. Retreating into the world of someone else's thoughts was a welcome respite from the whirlwind going on in his own. The only problem was that the thoughts and actions of the characters in the books were as impossible to direct and control as his own. They went about their lives for his entertainment, but they frustrated and confused him as over and over again they acted completely contrary to his predictions. James began to understand that his mind worked differently than the rest of the universe.
Did differently mean wrong? Was his mind broken?
In young adulthood, James slipped out of the ultra-conservative mode in which he had been raised and quickly developed addictions to several different mind-altering substances. Chiefly alcohol, though he was not averse to anything offered to him. After being arrested for possessing alcohol one month before his twenty-first birthday, a judge sentenced him to substance abuse counseling. The counselor was shocked to discover how quickly James had descended to a clinical diagnosis of alcoholism. She gave him two or three different evaluations, and even called in a colleague to administer the tests to be sure. Except for the amount of time he had been drinking, James had developed all of the personality traits of a lifelong addict. When asked if he could picture a life without alcohol, James felt a fist of panic deep in his gut that told him he could not. He tried to hedge his answer by shrugging noncommittally, but Sarah the counselor was having none of that. As she dug deeper, James felt rage boiling even hotter but he kept his face clear of the anger and frustration. Or so he thought. Sarah was so disturbed by what she read in his face, that she recommended in-patient treatment for James.
Unfortunately, the judge who sentenced him disagreed. Having passed six month's worth of drug tests, she released James from probation and counseling. Sarah sincerely considered filing a report about what she had seen in him, but other patients and the everyday hassles of life soon buried that idea in her mind and it was forgotten. Until that day.
Until the news reporters began calling and asking about it, that is.
James lifted his head and opened his eyes enough to check the clock on the wall. The minute hand had not moved. He bit his tongue again, reopening the nick he had made a few minutes ago. The fresh flow of blood tasted good, but the small spark of pain was almost completely unnoticeable. He needed to get out of here. Now.
With no announcement, James stood up. The speaker missed a single beat, then continued speaking as if nothing had happened. But he gave James a venomous look that clearly portrayed his annoyance. James began pushing his way past the chairs crammed into the room. Annoyed looks and whispered disapproval grew louder as he approached the front of the room. Finally he stepped out into the narrow space between the chairs and the front of the room. The only obstacle between James and freedom was the blow-dried positive thinking guru, who had finally stopped talking and was looking at James with undisguised anger.
James returned his look, and smiled.
The man instinctively returned the smile, before remembering that he was perturbed that his presentation had been interrupted, and just as he was about to slay them with the one about the farmboy and his chickens. His smile was replaced by a look of concern as he realized that the man who was standing there grinning at him did not look in the least bit friendly, or happy. He took a step back, his arrogance still screaming at him to punish the man for daring to interrupt, but his survival instinct screaming that a few well-placed insults would be no good in this encounter.
James stepped forward.
The presenter stepped aside, self-preservation winning out over ego, at least for now. James brushed past him and stepped quickly to the door. He pulled it open and stepped through it without looking back, and the room silently watched it pull itself closed. The presenter straightened his tie and ran a hand through his carefully styled hair. He quickly pulled himself together, and pasted his presentation smile back on. Facing the audience, he made a crack about the urgency of nature's call, and did his best to pick up where he left off. His shaking hands and quavery voice gave evidence to his failure to do so.
James returned to his desk.
He sat down heavily in his chair and leaned back with his eyes closed. He clasped his hands behind his head and took several deep breaths. He was trying, without much success, to push the anger away. He knew it was unreasonable, he knew it was dangerous, but it boiled up out of his gut anyway. He needed a drink, and badly. Problem was, he didn't drink anymore. Gave up smoking too. All of his vices, one by one had fallen by the wayside. With each one, his ability to deal with reality seemed to weaken. Now he found himself here, in a dead-end cubicle farm job waiting to be cursed out by a weaselly manager half his age for skipping out on the positive thinking seminar.
The answer was in the bottom drawer of his desk.
James told himself it would solve nothing, but his mind kept returning to it like an obsessed child. He had brought it to work when the daily confrontations with that muscle-bound freak Lyle from marketing had peaked and he was terrified to leave the office at night. Luckily for Lyle he had gotten himself arrested for DUI and thrown in jail before he could taunt James again. James had several times decided that it was time to take it home, but he always seemed to forget until he was already out in the parking lot. So there it sat.
Model 27 Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum.
Six rounds in the cylinder, and three speed loaders all loaded with hollow-points. A full box of cartridges as well. James knew he would never be able to live on the run. He was too paranoid and prone to panic to hide his identity for long. If he opened that drawer, his life was over. He would save the last cartridge for himself. No prison for James, no life as a fugitive. No life, whatever.
James reached down and opened the drawer.
Finally reaching some sort of equilibrium, Marlon had reached the climax of his presentation. The quaver in his voice was all but gone and he was just about to tell the surprise ending to the story about the boy with no legs when James stepped back into the conference room. Frustration welled up in him at the interruption and he turned towards the door with a vicious insult for James.
James smiled again.