Murder, Martyr, Maybe
By Shannon Fay
You can always spot the moment someone recognizes you. It’s like seeing a train change track in their brain, all their attention now barrelling towards you, the wide whites of their eyes shining like headlights.
It has happened again right now, mid job interview. The interviewer, Irene, stares at you with a mix of wonder and fear.
“Weren’t you on that telly program…”
“Simon Locke’s ‘Mind Trapped.’ Yes, I was.” You could deny it but a simple Google search would prove you wrong. Maybe it doesn’t matter- you’re already known as a killer, why not add ‘bald-faced liar’ to the list? But even if you don’t have much you still have your pride.
Irene shudders. “I would never go on that show. The things he makes people do…”
Locke’s ‘immersive reality TV/social experiments’ are all the rage with their pop-psychology and dark take on human nature. Last year when you heard they were looking for participants you thought it might be fun, but the show’s producers told you that you hadn’t made the cut and wouldn’t be in the show.
That was a lie. The cameras were rolling on you from the moment you signed the release forms.
Your episode had been about how easy it is to kill someone.
“You must have known it was all a set-up,” Irene says, almost pleadingly. “You must have known that it was just a bunch of sets and actors.”
“No. I really believed my only choice was to throw that old lady onto the train tracks.” The words come with the easy grace of a thousand repetitions.
Irene starts gathering up her papers.
“Well, thank you for your time. We’ll let you know.”
“How did you get my home number?” He sounds exactly like he does on TV, if perhaps a bit tetchy.
“I need a job, or some money so I can start over in another country. No one here will ever hire me. They only see a killer.”
“You didn’t actually kill anyone-“
“You ruined my life!” you shout. “How can you just… dismantle people, and… never see how bad things get… never…”
You find yourself unable to draw air into your lungs. Simon calls your name over the line. As you sink to the floor he walks you through something he calls ‘box breathing.’ You feel like it might be just something he pulled out of his ass, but it works. You graduate from airless gasping to clutching your phone tightly as you sob on the floor.
“I’ve given you a gift. Use it.” He hangs up.
This time the interviewer is a guy named Bret. It’s early on when he gives you ‘the look.’
“You were on ‘Mind Trapped,’, right?”
“That’s right.” Mentally you are already gathering your things. Bret just grins.
“Awesome!” He wheels his chair out from behind his desk to sit closer. “How did it feel when you killed her?”
“Sure, you didn’t actually knock-off the old bag, but you thought you did, right?” Bret shakes his head. “I’ve always wondered how it must feel. I’d never do it, of course. I’d be risking all this!” He gestures to his corner office before bringing his attention back to you. “But you’ve already crossed that Rubicon, right? Hey, how much?”
“How much what?”
“How much for you to kill my fucking idiot brother-in-law?”
You stare at him, feeling something ice over in your bones. You realize that no matter how hard you try, no matter now good you are, you will never get your life back.
“Oh my God, the look on your face! You thought I was serious!” He chuckles and meets your gaze. “But seriously, how much?”
His smile is wide but his eyes are hard.
You wait on Simon’s back patio. When he opens the door to let his pug out you are there, gun in hand. Fear and disbelief flash across his face: ‘Am I really about to die while my dog takes a shit in the garden?’
“Hello Simon. Can I come in?”
You step past him and he slides the door shut.
“You were right,” you say. “You did give me a gift. How can I ever repay you?”
Simon sits down at his kitchen table. “This isn’t what I meant.”
“Really? You showed me that I was capable of murder. So, yeah, thanks for teaching me that about myself.” You raise the gun.
“I showed you that you are stronger than that,” Simon says. “That the next time you were faced with a no-win situation, you’d know you had the power to chose something else.”
You take a deep breath (four counts in through the nose, hold for four, four counts out through the mouth).
“You’re not a killer. You haven’t killed anyone,” Simon continues. “It was all pretend. But if you kill me, then I will have turned you into something you’re not, and do you really want to give me that satisfaction?”
He smiles but it’s overshadowed by the fear in his eyes.
The gun is still in your hand, trained on Simon. His pug paces at the door.
If you pull the trigger, you can have your revenge on the man who has ruined your life. The cops might talk to you but you’re far from the only one with a grudge against Simon Locke. You’ll have a new job, killing for rich bastards who are too cowardly and lazy to do it themselves. You will become the murderer everyone already believes you to be.
If you put the gun away and walk out, Simon might call the cops but somehow you don’t think he will. You’ll continue to be buffeted along in life, side-eyed by people who tell themselves that they would never sink to your level. You will only have your belief in yourself, the slim knowledge that you aren’t a murderer, to keep you afloat.
Simon sits, waiting. You make your decision.