I don’t know how to begin except to say that I have a confession to make. I am the one the local news calls “The Valley Vandal”. I am responsible for damage to over two dozen homes, more than twice what the local police believe I have done. The truth is even worse, as I am responsible for the death of someone. But you need not worry about justice finding me, what’s waiting for me is far worse.
This started back when I was in middle school. I had after school detention, and I had to walk a couple of miles to get home. At first, I was going to walk the same route my bus took, but I realized I could get home faster by cutting through the neighborhoods the bus skirted around.
As I walked, I was struck by how nice, how large and expensive, the houses were. Every thing was clean and new and… perfect, quite the contrast to the trailer park where I live. It was jealousy, pure and simple, that made me hate these people before anything even happened. Maybe the people knew that I hated them, somehow, or maybe they just judged the book by the cover. But they watched me suspiciously as I moved along, as if they expected me to do something.
Being judged like that, being condemned, being dehumanized, got to me. I knew this problem would never go away, that it would haunt and spoil my chances for an ordinary life. The thought just sort of made me give up. I remember thinking that if they saw a villain when they looked at me, then I shouldn’t disappoint them. It was an exciting idea, to give myself over to the “dark side”. I suppose that the world needs villains. The so-called heroes certainly do, as they’re not really anything without us. And it seemed clear what kind of villain I should be. Smashing up their perfect little world was something I very much wanted to do.
I think I was pretty clever in how I went about it. With the way I normally dressed, I stood out, so I took up jogging and wore sweats so that I could blend in better. It worked. The same people who clenched their phones, ready to call the police, didn’t bat an eye when I bounded past them. People are stupid in that way, it’s just a fact.
It took time to figure out which houses were good targets. If you think about it, though, you can make a list of problems, security systems, cameras, dogs, etc. and a list of encouragements (as I call them) such as being set back from the road or surrounded by trees, places where the people are seldom home, and so on. Getting in and getting out unseen is the key, so avenues of approach are as important as the properties themselves.
I don’t think it will serve any purpose to go into great detail of what I did or to make a list of all the times I did it. What’s important was the thrill I got. It was like a rush or buzz, I felt great. It stayed with me for days. To smash and destroy things, and the pricy things are best, gave me a sense of power over the world that expected me or even wanted me to fail. I felt like a force of justice, real justice, the kind that laws cannot provide.
I had some close calls. One time, I had just walked out of a house and a cop car rolled up right in front of me. In my mind, I wondered if I could outrun him, if I could maybe surprise and fight him. Could I get his gun away from him? Could I kill him if I had to, to get away? I just didn’t see myself giving up, and I knew that fighting would more likely see me dead than him. I expected to die and I prepared myself. All of this happened in a heartbeat. The car rolled on without a pause and the cop didn’t even glance my way.
Maybe some people would have taken that as a sign to quit, I couldn’t. The rush was too addictive, my contempt too strong. I did take a break during this time, but that had more to do with personal matters elsewhere. I reexamined my techniques during the quiet period, finding and correcting mistakes. By the time I started the second cycle, I was on a level far above where I had been before. It’s all too easy when you know the simple rules. But those are my secrets, and I’ll keep them for myself. Besides, I wouldn’t want to encourage any bad behavior.
Well, I suppose I must mention at least one of the rules, but I think that will be okay since it’s the most obvious one. It’s also the one that’s my only and greatest mistake, the one I broke. But I hardly have room to complain about what it cost me, as it cost someone else their life. That rule is, of course, “There must be no one home.”
The place wasn’t a palace, I don’t know why I chose it. I guess it was because it was perfect, it had all the encouragements I needed. It was a small house by the edge of a forest with a tall privacy fence. The yard was like a little wonderland, charming is what most people might say. It was manicured and decorated with bird feeders and statuaries. I had watched the place for a few days and I thought the owner must have been on vacation or something since there was no sign of anyone home.
I scaled the fence and jumped down into the yard. There was a handy piece of pipe which I used to smash the plaster objects around me. One of them was this garden gnome, the ugliest damn thing I’ve ever seen, and I teed off on it, golf-style, knocking the body out from under the head with a marvelous explosion of shards. The head rolled a little and came to rest with its eyes looking up. The expression it wore was sort of amused and slyly wise. It actually made me ashamed, staring up accusingly. There was no time to think about it, though.
“Stop!” came a weak and breathy voice from behind me. I wheeled and saw an ancient old man who looked about like death warmed over. His wrinkled skin, liver-spotted, hung from his bones like a blanket thrown over a chair. His face was angry, his eyes full of tears.
“Who the hell are you? Why are you doing this?” he demanded as he hobbled toward me, “I’ll call the police!”
Then it happened. He tried to say something, his toothless mouth hanging open wide. All that came out was a kind of huff and his face contorted in pain. He clutched at his chest and winced, his complexion changed from an angry red to a sickening purple. When his eyes opened again, there was almost a pleading in them, but there was also hatred, a hatred that was completely justified. It was a kind of hate very unlike my own.
He staggered a bit and fell to his knees. He was gasping as he slumped to the ground. I stood over him and watched him die. It was neither quick nor easy. I had never seen anything like it, it was so awful that it held me in a kind of trance. When he was still and dead, I snapped out of it.
All I wanted was to get the hell out of there, but I looked at his face one last time. The anger and hatred were gone, and he wore a mask of horror. It was the horror, I think, that all living things must know when they die. I’m not ashamed to admit that the thought of death now terrifies me. Perhaps that is fitting.
I just left him there. I didn’t call the cops or an ambulance, how could I? I’m a villain, remember? And I wasn’t about to try to explain things to anyone. I’m sorry for that, but sorry really doesn’t mean anything does it?
There followed another quiet period. During this time, I had trouble sleeping and nightmares about the old man. I’d just see the whole thing over again, but without my armor of hate, it was horrible. In these dreams I’d try to help him. In tears, I’d beg him not to die and wail when he faded away. I’d wake up sobbing, drenched in sweat and there was nothing I could do to make it stop. But a desperate idea came to me and I was determined to come back for a third cycle.
I took my time choosing my next target. I found a place that was perfect. I tried a dry run and everything went smooth. Then I committed to the assault.
It never happened. As soon as I got to the yard, I froze. There was no one home, but right at my feet, as though placed to meet me, was the ugliest damn garden gnome I’ve ever seen. It just broke my nerve, took the man right out of me. I know that it probably almost seems funny, but it frightened me. Though I would laugh about it later, it dawned on me how out of place the gnome had been. It didn’t fit the uppity and elitist home in the least. I can’t imagine those people putting such an eyesore in their precious yard.
Perhaps to convince myself that this was all silly, I went out searching for another target. And again, when I committed to the attack, I saw a gnome standing right by the porch. It was hideous and mocking, its hand raised in a friendly wave.
I know it sounds crazy, but it gets worse. You see, I was at home preparing for another prowl when I noticed something in my yard. It was there.
I’ve never seen it move, but it does. It always seems to be somewhere I can see it. Sometimes it just stands in the yard, sometimes it peeks out playfully from behind a tree… I’ve tried to take pictures, but it just doesn’t show up in the image.
I’ve smashed it a dozen times. I locked it in the shed. Somehow it got out and waited patiently for me to find it standing right by my front porch.
Last night, I had the dream. I watched the old man die and wiped tears from my eyes. But when I looked down, his face had changed. It was the gnome’s face looking up at me. It was smiling, and in that smile was a promise that needed no words. It promised me that I would know the horror of death soon enough. When I woke up, it was standing by my bed.
The stress is getting to me and I’m starting to have pains in my arm and chest. I think I need to go to the hospital because the
story by Joe Stanley