The Death of John Witmer

Finally got off my ass and finished this up.

Honestly, this story hits… a little too close to home for me?

Like, a lot.

But whatever. I thought it would make a good story, so I wrote it down.

Music this time is Care by Temporex. Free download on his Bandcamp, by the way, it’s some great stuff.

(update: I edited this story for submission in a few magazines, and updated it here with the edited version.)

~

His fingers cramped, his bloodshot eyes bulged, and sweat lightly dampened his forehead. His hands felt like a bundle of old, snapped rubber bands, now floppy and useless, refusing to follow his commands. The light from the computer created a perpetual stinging in his eyes, but he was used to it by now. It had combined with the vague ache of eyes that hadn’t blinked in far too long into a blurring dulled pain.

John Witmer had finished it. The final chapter of the final book of the Gillopher series. It was completed. There was a brief moment of elation, which was swiftly replaced by the void of soul and life. He had felt it time and time again, but now this was the deepest pit his mind had been plunged into. And with good reason. This was it, this was the end. There was nothing left.

Sure, he had other ideas of things to write, but his project was finally completed. The project was finally completed. The project that kept him alive.

And now, just as he had been becoming accustomed to the level that was continually present, a fresh wave, a typhoon of the perpetual hopelessness and exhaustion washed over him, brought on by the completion of his task.

Just… Just a little something to relax. He grasped the pill bottle in his fist and flicked off the cap with his thumb, shaking two pills into the palm of his hand. Dry swallow as he procured his pipe and what was left of his eighth. Crumble, light, hold. Exhale and feel that licorice sensation. The cannabis controlled his fall into the opioid puddle.

Just something to relax. Just something to celebrate. That’s what people would do. That’s what John emulated, thinking that he could fake it till he made it, all the while knowing that was utter bullshit.

He had finished the book forty-five minutes ago. By now he was melted into a self-reflectory pool. It lubricated his mind. It let him consider things he wouldn’t usually.

It also let him consider things he would usually, just deeper. Comparing the likelihood of success and the pain required. A balance was necessary. He couldn’t otherwise.

On second thought, he could. That really didn’t make much of a difference to him. He was beyond pain. Once you’re at the point of only feeling comfortable when unconscious, every waking moment a screw of torture being twisted into your mind, pain doesn’t matter any more. All that mattered was reliability.

That, and availability. Jumping off a high bridge wasn’t an option. He’d have to travel a distance, and he knew his pussy self would talk him out of it by then. He needed to get past that weakling emotion, he would beat it down till it was quiet.

That was the pathetic, cowardly side of him. The powerful side was logic. Logic would always win. Logic didn’t back down from a challenge. Logic was the only way to go.

He ignored that voice of logic that told him he was being irrational, that this wasn’t what was best for him. Stay on logic’s side, claim to be rational, but ignore what it tells you. It had worked well enough for John.

His eyes slid across his desk, halting on the bottle he had opened earlier. “Hydromorphone”. Another bottle, “Diazepam”. Another, bigger, bottle, “100 proof”.

His face completely flat, the corners of his mouth drooping and his emotions and mind following suit, he glanced back at the completed manuscript. Still looking at it, checking for any errors, he took one of the bottles and popped it open as before. He dumped its contents onto the table and repeated the process with the other bottle.

Ctrl-S, three times to be safe. An email to a few people who would use it. He picked up six pills and downed them with a shot. He took a deep breath as he realized what he was doing, then another six pills and shot.

No hesitation now. Six pills and a shot. It was too late to turn back. He finished it off with ten pills and a larger shot.

He waited, his insides quivering – partially from nervousness, partially from the amount of liquor and drugs that had just hit his stomach. Then, slowly, it began fading in.

He turned on Cigarettes After Sex’s first EP, raising the volume of his headphones higher than usual. It was almost enough to drown out his thoughts. But he didn’t need to worry about those for much longer, would he? He smiled, took solace in that simple thought. He wouldn’t need to worry about that any more. He wouldn’t be able to worry about that any more.

The EP finished and he started the second just as the corners of his vision began blurring to black. A heavy blanket had been lowered over his mind and body alike, his brain suddenly warm and floaty, his body soft, edgeless, morphing into the chair below him. But at the same time, he was so cold, so unbearably cold.

Some tea. He’d drink some tea. It would keep him warm until it was over, and make things even nicer. He stood up from the chair and the room took a nasty twist and he was on the floor. His brain sizzled, his vision obscured, blurred and marred with static, a screaming in his ears like an engine had been pressed up against them.

Then it faded. It all faded. He didn’t know if his eyes were open or not any more, he couldn’t see. He couldn’t feel.

He couldn’t breathe.

One last release, his body finally letting go of those cords keeping his spirit tied down, and he was gone. A postmortem release of neurotransmitters caused a flash of sparks and patterns to his unconscious mind, but he was gone. Utterly gone.

Almost utterly gone. A cry from above him, pressure on his chest and the touch of another’s lips on his own, his lungs forced to fill and empty, and he was brought back. He coughed, his vision blinded by the light of the room, and consciousness slowly returned to him. But not all of it.

Catherine was crying above him.

There would be no full return. The universe was not so forgiving.

Cather…

It would not be allowed.

Who…

No matter if it had been against his will, he would not be allowed a full pardon.

A woman was crying. Tears dropped onto his face.

“Oh my god, John,” she said, “What were you trying to do?”

“I…”

“We had talked about this. I though you understood. I thought you understood how much it would hurt me. You promised.”

The final words were cut off with a sob.

“Let’s get you to a hospital,” she said once she had wiped the tears away and tried to steady her voice. “And then after that, a therapist. For both of us.”

John remained quiet until they were in the car. Then, breaking that awful silence that hung over them like a cloud of poisonous gas, he spoke.

“Who are you?”

~~~~~

He was cured.

He had been completely and utterly cured.

But the universe had always been fair to John. Cruelly, unforgivably fair. His cure came at a price, a heavy one, whether or not he was able to comprehend it.

Catherine knocked at the door. “Who is it?” came from inside.

“Me,” she replied.

A moment later John let her inside. But not the real John. Not the old John. He smiled at her sight, welcomed her inside and offered her some tea.

“I’ve just been getting into all these kinds of tea recently, you know,” he said from the kitchen while she sat in his living room. “I get them on eBay. This seller in China has all sorts of organic fancy tea for great prices.”

“Huh,” she said, internally uncomfortable and almost feeling dirty in her reinforcement of his lie of a life. But if he didn’t know it was a lie, did it count?

He came back into the room a minute later with a teapot and two mugs. While they were sipping the “Dongting Lake Biluochun” he was excited about, she decided to ask the question she already knew the answer to.

“What are you up to?”

He set down his mug and looked around, thinking. “Not much. Have you seen Mr. Robot? It’s this show. Amazon has it. I’ve watched a lot of that. And I’m rewatching Adventure Time. Oh, and I got that new Nintendo console. Been playing a lot of Zelda. Then again, that’s one of the few games they actually have on it now, haha…”

He continued talking but Catherine had already zoned out. It was always the same. Consumerism. Lethargy. Procrastination. Procrastinating what? She couldn’t say. His life, maybe. But now, ironically, his life was almost worthless. Before, sure, he had been miserable, but he had done something with it. Created something out of that misery that entertained others.

It was a trade, of course. She had never seen him smile as much in his entire life than he had in the past month. She had never seen him think life worth living. Before, it had all been killing time. Always killing time. Trying to escape from reality enough to pass time until the next thing he could escape with, all chaining together to kill time until he was dead.

She still couldn’t quite make up her mind on it.

Maybe it was his life? Maybe that was what had created the misery and resulting creativity? He had lost that all, after the overdose. Complete retrograde amnesia. He could speak and function, but couldn’t remember his past, anyone he had known, or much else.

Catherine sent the manuscript of the final Gillopher book to John’s publisher. He had plenty of money beforehand, but now he was set for quite some time. Maybe that’s what began it? Perhaps knowing that he didn’t need to do anything had led him to simply do nothing?

She had tried to get him to write. She and others had filled him in on some of his past. Nothing bad, just the important stuff. But maybe the bad stuff was, for the old John, the important stuff. Maybe without that… he was simply someone else.

He hadn’t been able to write. Not at all. She had given him a writing prompt but the result was something like what would come from a fourth-grade English assignment. He lacked variety of vocabulary, he lacked a rhythm of prose, it was just… nothing. Empty, emotionless writing with no style. She had tried several times, thinking he may just need to get over a hurdle with it, but it was always the same. He had lost it.

John had died that day. The John who was in continual pain. The John whose only reason to live was his writing, and once that was finished… That John died. Maybe it hadn’t even been from the overdose. Maybe it was simply from his completion of the series.

But, at the same time, this was still John. He looked like John, he spoke like John, he sounded like John. And she knew that as long as he was here, she wouldn’t be able to abandon him. Even if he lacked that spark that the true John had, she knew she’d never be able to bring herself to leave.

He had continued talking about inane subjects while she thought. Food, drink, games, movies. Sure, they’re all fine on their own, but when that’s all you survive on… It was an empty life.

But he was happy.

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