époque press
pronounced: /epƏk/
definition: /time/era/period

His twin sister hadn’t made it out of the womb in as good a shape as he had. She died following a few short days on life support, with his/their parents huddled over her, as if a vigil could keep a weak heart beating. Those first few hours and days are vital in a child’s development and Marc spent them more or less on his own, an orphan for all he knew, until his parents finally came round to taking him home, a consolation prize, a half bundle of joy, not to mention the insinuation of foul play on his newborn behalf, which was always there in the background, lurking somewhere behind his mother’s eyes as she pored over mediocre grades, or his father’s, during his many frustrated attempts to teach his son sports.

     His earliest memories were of playing in empty rooms, shouting his garbled infant machinations at the walls, anthropomorphising toys and other inanimate objects in an attempt to make sense of his environment. His mother rescued him from time to time, removed objects from his mouth, chided him, then took him in her arms and held him afterwards for just as long as it took to soothe him, before setting him down in his cot or crib once more and leaving.

     There were pictures of his sister on the mantelpiece of the sitting room where he played, a tiny raisin-faced creature wrapped in a pink muslin. He must have been two or three when he began to notice them, mistaking them for pictures of himself at first, confused as to why his parents had wrapped him up in that colour rather than the race-car blue he’d become so accustomed to. As soon as he could find the words, he pointed to the picture and shouted to his mum: ‘ME!’ She yanked him up and shouted back: ‘NO! ALICE!’ Then she slapped him, with tears in her eyes brought on by the tasteless egotism of her two-year-old boy. 

     So that was who Alice was, and from then on whenever Marc talked to himself or hypothesised things in his imagination, he imagined it was her, trapped inside of him like a stowaway soul, with whom he conversed with. 

     Where do people on the TV come from?

     They come from homes like this one. We’re all our own TV shows.

     Who is Santa, really?

     Mammy and Daddy.

     At school, Marc didn’t like the games. He knew better games, ones he played with Alice, but no one listened to him. Miss Keane wanted to talk all the time and never let Marc say what he thought. They called his parents in and told them that Marc interrupted too much, but Marc had to interrupt or else he wouldn’t get to say anything at all. Eventually he learnt to stay quiet and just ignore Miss Keane or Miss Clark or Mr Stone or Miss Prunty or whatever teacher he’d been assigned that year. He didn’t need to add anything now, because he wasn’t listening and preferred to draw pictures – Miss Keane with an Indian tomahawk in her forehead, the crack in her skull depicted by a crooked red line etched in red pen; Miss Clark and her severed head lying in a dark pool of red pen; Mr Stone clutching at his crotch into which a spear had been thrust, his eyes bulging out of their sockets; Miss Prunty’s pale-green face with maggots and insects crawling all over it, gnawing at her rancid flesh; and Alice all the while giggling in the background, suggesting little details and embellishments – a maggot here, a splatter of blood there.

     In secondary school, he sometimes did his drawings on his computer and hid them in his school locker so his parents would never find them. He played videogames like Worms and Duke Nukem. He created characters and gave them the names of teachers and students at school and let all kinds of horrible things happen to them. He begged his parents to get the internet but they steadfastly refused, until Alice suggested another tactic. 

     He spent the next few days in the living room with his parents. He chatted to them about his day at school, his teachers and his homework as they tried to watch TV. He made friendly inquiries about his mother’s day at the bank and his father’s day in the detergent factory. He referenced names he’d heard them say in the past as if to imply he’d been paying attention all along. For days he did this until finally his parents gave in and had broadband installed. Marc thanked his parents profusely and promised them that their investment would pay dividends on his next report card.

     Now he played videogames with people online, people in Korea with bad English, people in Brazil with slightly better English, and people in Sweden with English vastly superior to his own. When he beat them, he called them retards and faggots and hoped they died of AIDS. Alice helped him with the insults, told him things to say about their families, too. You had to go the extra mile online.

     At school he sometimes tried to talk to girls. When he could, he let them copy in exams or offered to do their homework. The pretty ones looked at him with contempt and the shy nerdy ones regarded him with trepidation. Once, the girl who sat next to him in chemistry class caught a glimpse of a drawing he’d done of a dragon having relations with a unicorn and started to cry. She told the teacher and the teacher moved him to the back of the class. He hated her and soon redesigned the picture so that she replaced the unicorn.

     Some older boys found out about his artwork. They ripped open his locker and threw all his drawings out onto the corridor. Years of his work, his inner most imaginings, were strewn across the floor for all to see and mock. The boys marched around the school with his drawings, inviting everyone who passed to share in the laughter and derision. When he tried to retrieve his drawings from them, they held him down and made him eat them. A teacher came and broke it up. Marc got up, his face pink with rage, and swung his useless videogame muscles at their athletic physiques until the teacher successfully restrained him. He coughed and spat the paper out. Some girls in the corridor giggled at him as he choked and spluttered. 

     Why do all the girls hate me, Alice?

     Because they are all stupid, all of them. The pretty ones are so stupid they choose the stupidest boys to like, the airhead sports players who walk around school grunting like pigs. And the nerdy ones are worse because they secretly pine after the same pigfuck sports guys even though they really should know better.

     He went online that night with his heart set on rampage. He tore through the comment sections of YouTube like a tornado of tastelessness, wishing rape on all women and death on all men. He wrote detailed descriptions on 4Chan of what he would like to see happen to people in his school and posted them anonymously all across the land of social media, fates involving dragons and gargoyles and minotaurs and all kinds of lust-infested creatures giving women their just deserts. He doctored photos of his tormentors, superimposed their images onto images he found of corpses, naked corpses, with penises small, shrivelled and bloodless in the cold air of slaughter. 

     He bought a gun. It wasn’t hard. He made his plans. Teach them a lesson, Alice told him. This is school, after all. They were trying to humiliate him, trying to force him into a corner to weep and beg their mercy. But he wasn’t to be humiliated. He was as strong and fierce as the creatures he drew in his notebook. He would show them the lashing-out to end all lashings-out. He would punish their society like an Old Testament God. 

     The gun was sleek and black and just like the Glocks they used on Grand Theft Auto. He drank and smoked his father’s cigarettes in his bedroom until the walls, curtains and bedclothes faded into the blue-grey fumes. He listened to Strange Attractor by Alphaville. He removed his shirt in front of the mirror and tensed as hard as he could until the muscles of his abdomen appeared. He felt like Tyler Durden, Patrick Bateman and Heath Ledger all wrapped into one. 

     He walked across the school yard that morning with his head held high in the air, as if he was on his way to reject a rival general’s pleas for clemency. The chattering, giggles and laughter of students was eerily humdrum. Marc dropped his schoolbag on the ground and looked around him. Do it! Alice told him. Gun every last pigfuck one of them down!

     He took out his Glock, held it in the air for all to see. Faces became unrecognisable as horror transformed their expressions into something fetid and grotesque. He saw the girl who’d laughed at him. What a hideous thing to do, to laugh at someone’s pain and humiliation. He lifted the Glock and pointed it at the space between her eyes so he could see into her soul and watch as he taught her a lesson in empathy. She screamed and made to run. He shot her twice in the head. 

     People continued running even though they’d yet to hear a sound. He shot her twice more on the arms and she screamed again, but in surprise irritation, not pain. She touched her forehead and examined her fingers, they were clean. He shot her again, this time in the neck.

     ‘Ow!’ she cried. Now she looked at him with fury, the sting of the plastic pellets maddening her. He shot her three or four more times as she advanced on him. Soon others realised the true nature of the threat and they advanced on him, too. The girl took her shoe off and struck him hard across the cheek with its heel. He fell to the floor and felt dizzy. More blows followed, at first they stung but then they felt dull and thudding and had no sting at all, felt as innocuous as being shaken in his sleep. 

     His mouth was full with blood; it tasted sweet and thick and almost pleasant. There were dozens of them there kicking and slapping and spitting at his head, but he hardly noticed the pain. He was only half conscious now, like Alice had been half born. He felt as though he was dying but lacked the cognizance to truly reckon with this. One shouldn’t feel relief, he knew, but as the blows rained down, that was how it seemed to him, knowing all the ways he would never have to feel again.

Patrick Doherty
Short Story // Red Pen

Paddy Doherty is an Irish writer who emigrated to Andalucía a decade ago. His short stories have appeared in the Irish Independent, the South Circular Literary Journal, the Bohemyth Magazine and have been Broadcast on RTE Radio (Ireland's national broadcaster). 

 

Of this piece Patrick says:

 

‘Red Pen is about a young teenage boy’s descent into insanity. We used to live in small communities but now we live in a global one. We interact with a planet and a planet interacts with us. We crave individual value but face frenetic indifference.  In small communities there is room for everyone’s ego but in one this size there is not. There are people out there who are unloved, and worse, unlovable. How we deal with our unlovables is the dilemma of this story.’