01 Thomas Year 0 Day 0
The Daily Examiner
Last night there was a double murder during a possible robbery at a gas station on Melor Avenue. Two male victims were fatally shot. The clerk of the establishment was missing upon the arrival of law enforcement. The police claim to have a lead on the possible killer.
Buzzing sounds filled the air. Thomas rolled over in his queen-sized bed, flinging his hand in the process. His palm slammed down on the alarm clock, silencing his room for the next few minutes thanks to the snooze button. In the back of his head, he knew he had to get up, but it was no use. Responsibility was not going to win out over comfort. Instead, he snuggled his head against his time-flattened pillow. If it were not for the garbage truck slamming his apartment’s dumpster into the ground, Thomas may not have got up at all that day. Instead, he started on a path that would change the world.
The loud bang of the dumpster caused Thomas to eject himself from his comfortable cuddle to a stiff, upright position. The shock left him out of breath and slightly nervous in his own darkened bedroom. He got to his knees so he could crawl out of bed. His dark hair hung in his face, leaving a partially obscured view.
He scuttled off the plush mattress to a standing position on the floor. The dirt ingrained in his typical apartment brown carpet pressed against his feet, reminding him of just how high class he was not. Thomas reached down and swiped his work shirt and black denim pants from the sullied floor while forcing his mind to come to grips with the fact that he was going to have to go to work.
He peeked around the corner into the bathroom. A shower should have been necessary, but he kept walking. His refusal to bathe was not driven by the mold on the walls, the lack of soap, or the already-dripping faucet. It was pure laziness of not wanting to shower.
Thomas pulled his shirt over his head as he walked into the kitchen. The roaches scattered as the cabinet opened and he blindly reached in for his puffed rice cereal. The bright white refrigerator stood out in the kitchen. It was the only thing in the room that did not look like it had been blasted with dirt. His former fridge had gone out months ago and the landlord had finally replaced it last week.
He pulled open the door of the new white machine and yanked out the milk. With a quick glance, he noticed it was two weeks past the expiration and tossed the whole carton into the sink. The slime in the unclean bowl caused the milk carton to slide around as if it were a basketball rolling around the edge of the hoop.
Thomas reached his hand into the cereal box and pulled out his breakfast. With his free hand, he maneuvered his pants up his legs, unfortunately, dropping some rice puffs on the floor, adding to the filth of the apartment. The bare walls watched as Thomas slipped his shoes on, finished his handful of cereal, and headed toward the door to walk to work. As his hand grasped the cold brass doorknob, a buzzing suddenly came from his bedroom.
Thomas sprinted the six feet back into his room to turn off his alarm clock. As he slid the switch to the left, a small shimmer from the barrel of his pistol caught his eye. The gun was quickly tucked into his waistband. Almost forgot my bodyguard, he thought. It was the only attention he paid the weapon at the time, even though it would change his day … and his life. He patted his pockets to make sure he did not forget anything else: keys, gum, money, wallet. Everything was ready.
The late-afternoon sun nearly blinded Thomas as he walked out of his cave of a dwelling. Working nights led him to believe blacking out all his windows was a necessity, but in reality, it did nothing more than help him sleep through his alarm. He walked out of the parking lot of his complex and onto the sidewalk. The familiar scent of exhaust wafted by Thomas as he robotically began to make his two-mile walk to work.
As usual, he passed by a couple of bums, a lot of graffiti, and a few morally questionable activities, but these images did not even catch his eye. His mind skipped over the decay of the city because his daily routine of walking to work was a time to reminisce. He was otherwise rarely self-reflective, but there was something about walking around town by himself that just forced his mind to wander to the familiar.
He was ten years out of high school and this was not where he had pictured himself. Back then, it was nothing but ideas of success. He thought he might even own a business one day, getting up day after day, drumming up clients like his father. This type of dream would have required a lot of work on his part over the previous decade and he was not that dedicated.
He only lasted one semester in junior college. The temptations were too much. How could he force himself to go off to class every day when he did not have to? If he could have seen his punctuality issues in awaking for his current job, he would have known the foregone conclusion. He often wondered if he should return to higher education, but he always shot the thought down before it got too far. It was not that he did not want a better life. It was that he was a lazy man who was afraid of failure.
“Don’t walk” sign. Thomas leaned up against the traffic light, still squinting from the now-fading sunlight. Why can’t it always be midnight? Thomas thought as the walk sign flickered. He checked to see if any cars were coming, as that side of town had a tendency to not adhere to traffic laws. He clicked his heels on the uneven asphalt that covered the road as he journeyed toward his place of employment.
Upon his return to the sidewalk, he passed by a woman dragging her small son. The boy was taking wobbling steps while his mother held his hand straight above his head, barely allowing him to reach the litter-covered ground with each short stride.
He wondered if there had ever been a time when his parents helped him along in such a way. The only memories he had of his parents were when he dropped out of college, there was a lot of disappointment, shouting, and ultimatums. He understood it was his own fault and he needed to “grow up,” as they say, but he was holding a grudge he could not let go. He felt there was an indoctrination of his mind from a small age. He construed his parents’ constant encouragement as a forced destiny to attend a university and earn a degree. This morbid view of the love and support he received was just the beginning of his twisted self-image as the black sheep of the family.
In reality, his parents, just like all parents, were proud of him. They wished he had finished his schooling, but there was no chance that they would ever be ashamed of their son. They truly felt that he was lost. That they somehow misguided him, but they loved him, of that there was no doubt. They made mistakes.
The day he told them he was no longer attending school, there were comparisons to his brothers, there was some shouting, and worst of all, there was an empty threat. Unfortunately, Thomas misread that threat and he left. It was the end of that relationship. The lack of the nurturing environment needed to help him grow into the logical mind-set was a fatal blow to their family unit.
Thomas walked by the topless club that he frequented. The neon lights buzzed slightly as he walked past, breaking his concentration on his parents. As he passed by the establishment, he wondered if he would ever think of his parents if it were not for the daily walks to work.
He looked back over his shoulder to get a last look at the club. The closest people in his life over the last couple of years were his regular dancers. Other than them, his television was the only other thing that had any glimpse into Thomas’s life. His lack of friends and lack of female companionship made the topless club an ideal hangout for the young man. That was his first reason for going.
The obsession eventually grew into Thomas’s habits, as did everything he fixated his mind on. There was an odd addiction mentality that flowed through the young man, every activity he enjoyed would become a recurring endeavor. Just hammer the same thing until he eventually lost interest. It had been this way from his life as a small child, collecting baseball cards, playing video games, watching TV. It, of course, hardened into a more devastating habit as he aged, allowing him to be exploited by strippers, alcohol, and the casino’s when he came into a state that housed some.
Over halfway to work, he thought about some of the dancers he had met there over the years. Desire, Chastity, Pleasure, Peach … He was sure they were all on to bigger and better things by now. Would they even remember him at this point? He shook the thought from his head. He did not want to deal with the reality that he was nothing more than a paycheck to those girls. At least he was not losing his money to that wannabe bordello any more.
There was a loud echoing bang that came from behind Thomas. Fearing it was a gunshot he turned back while ducking behind a mailbox. He had his hand under his shirt, gripping the handle of his pistol, ready to draw the weapon if need be. His respiratory rate had begun to quicken, and his eyes were darting back and forth looking for the life-altering event. There was no sign of anything. The left side of the street was completely empty and the right side consisted of a couple of squirrels playing with the garbage debris, the typical infestation of the sidewalks.
Assuming it was a car backfire, he resumed his walk to work. These types of reaction were par for the area he lived in. Although it was a concern he dealt with on a normal occasion and he should have been used to it, he could not keep the possibility of a gunshot out of his head. The security policy in waistband always helped him feel safe, but the fact that it was illegal for him to possess always left him on edge. But, living on the bad side of town made owning the gun a better bet than not.
Thomas always said, “It’s better to be alive in prison than dead and law-abiding.” Of course, he could have bought it legally and registered himself with the authorities, but spending that kind of cash would have bankrupted him for months and caused him more work than he cared to contend with.
He rounded the final corner of his journey. The sun now setting created a bright haze over the gas station where Thomas worked. The gas pumps painted with graffiti and clad in cracked glass appeared to wave in the heat, looking as though they were part of a dying sauna. The location of the store always perplexed Thomas. It was on a minor street hidden by two large buildings on either side of it. It was set far enough back from the street itself that you had to know it was there or you would always pass it on the first go.
He went inside and exchanged pleasantries with the outgoing employee, switching the cash drawers and speaking about the issues of the day. Once the other employee was gone, Thomas removed his gun from his waistband and placed it under the counter where he had access to it at all times.
His shift was to consist of checking people out, cleaning the store, and helping customers in any way they needed. For the most part, Thomas only operated the cash register. He was not concerned with customer satisfaction or the cleanliness of the store itself. In fact, he was constantly playing two games in his head.
The first was a counting game where he would see how many times a customer would ask for help before they decided he was either deaf or rude. This game commonly caused many people to walk out without buying anything, but that never weighed on Thomas’s decision to play.
The second was a guessing game that centered on trying to see how much dust and dirt could collect around each customer. He had a person at one point that literally had a dust bunny that covered his entire shoe. This game almost felt like watching art.
Each person would walk into the store, causing a disruption in the dirt colony on the floor. A little tornado of grime would circle their feet as they moved to a shelf to look for their specific item. As they would pick up different products, dust would fall off them and onto the floor, intermingling with the muck already there.
Seeing these little drops fall into a bigger ocean of dirt was very serene and always left Thomas pondering the bigger picture. It was almost a metaphor for his life and how each disturbing issue would build, creating who he was, his own ocean of filth.
This is how he spent his night, hour after hour of painful, slow monotony until two o’clock in the morning. It had been over ten minutes since Thomas had a customer come in the store. He was lost in nonthought staring, gazing aimlessly at the Styrofoam-tiled drop ceiling. Just when he was about to start counting the miniature holes in each tile, a couple of men cautiously sauntered into the store.