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Home again after a difficult but very rewarding day of convincing people not to give up on the gift of life. Richard Burner often had to deal with pretty stubborn suicidal people, but so far he had always been able to open their eyes to see all the beauty in the world and realize giving it all up was foolish, and the always classic “suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems” was often pretty effective.

No matter the cost, he couldn't let anybody end like his beloved Miranda, he just couldn't...

He sat down in front of his computer and picked up the precious photo of her that he kept on his desk. He just contemplated it for a while. She always looked so beautiful with her long and soft hair, as black as night, and her glasses were a welcome bonus that made her even more adorable. Her melancholy smile was such a lovely view, but knowing its implications was downright haunting.

In Richard's eyes there was a mix of affection and contempt... how could that sweet creature be so selfish and insensitive and take the coward way out? Trying not to let those thoughts overwhelm him, he put down the photograph and turned on his computer, ready to continue his quest even in his free time by going online and encouraging sad people to think positive.

In his recommended videos on YouTube there was one with the interesting title “100 reasons to stay”, he watched it and didn't regret it one bit. It was a video made by the University of Oregon where 100 students showed through signs their personal reasons to hold on to life, some were pretty simple and even kind of humorous, like “shopping”, “friends” or even a funny guy dressed like a pirate with a sign that said, what else, “dressing like a pirate”; others were quite touching, like an always effective “seeing the sun after the rain”.

Richard gave the videos a thumbs up and went to check out the comments, most of them were as uplifting as the video itself, but of course there always had to be a negative killjoy:

This has to be the STUPIDEST thing I've ever seen in my life! Not just the stupidest video, the stupidest THING in general! Seriously, have ANY of these dudes ever been suicidal in their pathetic lives? I don't think so, someone who has experienced true pain and suffering would spit in their faces as soon as they gave their dumbass “reasons to stay”! I mean, “dressing like a pirate”? “Wearing pink”? FUCKING REALLY?! Do I even need to comment on that? If there's someone who should seriously kill himself/herself is every single moron who had a part in this video! Even that guy who tried to be deep by saying “to feel better after feeling sad”! Pff, yeah right, so it's also a good thing that cancer exists, or else we wouldn't have chemotherapy!

Richard grimaced at that horrible comment... he certainly believed the golden rule “don't feed the trolls”, but he truly had to at least try something with that user, to him he didn't sound like someone who did it just for attention, but as someone who genuinely suffered a lot and made the mistake of feeding anger and hatred to his demons. So he began to type his answer:

Now listen up kiddo, instead of simply spouting your edgy emo BS to try to bring people down to your level and ruin a positive feel good video that gives them strength, read the words of someone who has actually went through a lot but still won't give up on life. Because yeah, I am actually one who went through a lot of pain and misery, but yet I'm still there, finding something to cherish in every single day of my life and always looking for happy moments to turn into happy memories.

I've never even met my father, he abandoned me and my mother when I was still a child, leaving my mother all alone, broke and depressed with a son to take care of. Of course that made my childhood an unhappy one, my mother sometimes drowned her sorrows in booze and I was often bullied at school, and as a teenager I turned to alcohol myself, but I fucked up even harder than my mom and became a drug addict.

I only found the strength to give up drinking when my mother got a deadly disease because of her drinking, I held her hand as she was dying, knowing that I was going to be alone in this cruel world...

Things seemed to look brighter when I met the girl who would eventually become my fiance and the love of my life, things looked incredibly bright for me and her and it was the right time to start a family, have children, which in the end is what every human being is supposed to do... but sadly she had some terrible inner demons and she never let me help her with them, and one day I came back home to find out she had hanged herself.

Yep, I've lost someone to suicide, and you have no idea of how horrible that feels, being abandoned by someone who you loved so much but was so ungrateful to prefer giving it all up like a spineless coward!

But in spite of all that, have I EVER even thought of killing myself? NOPE, not even once! Because

Before Richard could finish and publish the comment, his cell phone rang. The number was not memorized... probably some telemarketer, but he answered anyway, he enjoyed toying with them.

“Hello?”

“Hey there, Richard!” The other voice didn't sound like a telemarketer at all, in fact there was something very sinister about it... not only did the guy know his name and sound eerily familiar, but his voice also reminded him of the hiss of a snake that was toying with his prey before eating it.

“Um, who is it?” Richard asked, feeling uneasy already.

“Why, you don't remember your pal Jason? How unfortunate! We had a nice chat a few days ago on that suicide prevention hotline, remember?”

“Oh, Jason, what a surprise! Yeah, I remember you! How did you get my number?”

“That's unimportant, what I really wanted to tell you is that you're full of shit, man. What are you up to right now? Spouting your bullshit on the Internet? As if doing it on the telephone wasn't enough? Oh wait, I know, you are proselytizing your insensitive feel good crap to some poor guy using all the shit in your own life in order to put yourself on a pedestal and sound like a fucking guru! What is it this time? Your missing daddy? Your dead mommy? The substances you took? Your lovely girlfriend who couldn't stand you anymore? Don't answer, it's a rhetorical question, I know you are using all of them!”

Richard was dumbfounded “W-what the Hell are you talking about?! How do you know all this?”

“You'll find out soon.”

Jason hung up. Richard immediately tried to call his number again, but all he got was a voice telling him that the number didn't exist... for what felt like hours, he could only remain as motionless as a statue, wondering if he was only dreaming and feeling question after question cluttering his brain.

Perhaps I'm even more tired that I thought I were, he thought, or... those years as a junkie and a drinker are showing their long-term effects?

With that thought frightening him almost as much as the strange call, Richard stood up to go to the bathroom and wash his face with cold water, and just as he was beginning to walk away from his desk, he noticed that his computer was turning off all by itself.

“Dammit!!” he yelled out loud, greatly annoyed by how all the effort he was putting into that comment had gone totally wasted. Not to mention that he had no clue of what could have caused that to happen, his PC had been working perfectly lately.

But all that was nothing compared to the fact that, for probably a fraction of a second, Richard swore he had seen the face of a woman on the screen soon after it turned off... he had no time to see her well enough, but she appeared to have long black hair...

“Jesus, I really need some fucking cold water!” He dashed towards the bathroom like a marathon runner.

The splash of cool water on Richard's face felt pretty refreshing, just like washing away all the unhealthy tiredness. After drying all the moisture around his eyes, he looked in the mirror expecting to see his perfect clone and check how healthy or unhealthy he looked, and there was indeed another Richard on the other side of the glass, but he was rather... unfamiliar.

The man in the mirror didn't follow Richard's movements, in fact he didn't move at all. The reflection simply stood there, staring at him with a weird, somewhat disapproving look. He tried to make some movements to see if it was just some kind of illusion, but it was really like the mirror had become some kind of picture of an angry and embittered Richard... no, it actually made one kind of movement, his eyes and his head followed Richard if he tried to move away from that chilling stare, the reflection made sure not to break that unbearable eye contact, accusing the poor man of some terrible crime that he couldn't remember having committed.

Richard frantically tried to wash his face again, but nothing changed. Until he began to feel not only terrified but also physically ill, a weird sense of vertigo and dizziness completely overwhelmed him as the glass eyes of the angry mirror kept staring at him; the feeling kept getting stronger and stronger, by now he was almost sure he was going to faint...

“What the hell!?” Richard yelled to no one while running out of the bathroom with his head between his hands.

All the most unpleasant memories of his wasted years assaulted his brain as he hyperventilated and looked at the floor. Allowing dealers to do the most fucked up things to him so he could have a fix, stealing money from a girl he had passionately kissed, kicking an innocent child in the stomach because in his bad trip he looked like a vicious monster...

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

What's done is done, the past is in the past. You wash it away, like dirt on your hands.

But... what if it wasn't a stain that Richard was dealing right now, but a scar? Maybe it was time to see the shrinks again, make sure that his walk towards real sobriety had actually come to an end?

No, he still strongly believed that psychiatry is a dark abyss that will eventually engulf you completely and prevent you to escape, to be yourself, to see the real beauty in our world!

That's it, all he needed was a good rest, loving his work as much as he did was a double edged blade, he didn't always realize how exhausting it could be.

Richard walked to the kitchen to make himself some chamomile, something much more effective than those brain-destroyers that the men with white coats and no heart in their chests used to give him. And as he put the water in the kettle, he made a plan for the following day: no morning jog this time, after those events perhaps it was truly wise not to be so religious about it; and of course, he needed to contact the technical support about what happened to his computer.

When steam began to come out of the kettle, Richard began to pour it in a cup, but despite how carefully and delicately he did that, some of the boiling water still managed to get on his hand.

“Ouch!”

He barely avoided letting the kettle fall down, the pain was surprisingly intense, like most of the hot water had actually gotten on his skin. But the weirdest thing was how he didn't even see the water going the way it wasn't supposed to go.

But trying to question all that was hard, because his mind was being invaded by a raspy female voice yelling something about a dirty shirt... and then he saw himself as a little boy again, he felt some sweet taste of marmalade in his mouth, but its sweetness was being ruined by the fear and guilt that the loud voice induced.

“Can't you be more careful, ya little shit?! Now LOOK at what you've done to your new shirt, it's all full of that fucking marmalade!”

“I'm sorry mom! It was an accident!”

“Sorry? Accident? Yeah, just like this!”

Mom takes a kettle and aggressively pours some really hot water on Richard's arm, causing the child to scream and sob.

“Sorry Richard, it was an accident!” The mocking tone of the sentence adds anger to the mix of emotions...

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale.

What's done is done, the past is in the past. Mom made a lot of mistakes, but she still brought him to life and raised him, and there were also good memories of her, like when she bought him a brand new miniature train after breaking the first one in a fit of rage, or her heartfelt apologies when she knew she was going to die soon...

To err is human, to forgive is divine. And for that reason, Richard felt quite close to deification.

Richard kept his burnt hand under the cold water of the sink for a much longer time than he expected, there was some relief as long as he kept his hand there but it was almost minimal, and every time he tried to move it away the pain came back completely.

It was time to go the bathroom again... hoping the mirror wouldn't pull any strange trick this time.

Nothing, just another Richard Burner on the other side of the glass, his expression just as full of pain. He could hear that clown back in junior high saying “Burner got burnt!” He grimaced at the thought, but whatever, the past is in the past. If only the same thing could be said right now about his aching skin.

He grabbed an unguent and rubbed some of it all over his hand... all in vain. He even tried to put some more unguent, but it made no difference.

The pain was unbearable, the skin was beginning to change its color, it no longer looked like it had just been burnt by hot water, it was almost like a rare skin disease... it was time to swallow all the pride and call the hospital.

Wait, Richard thought before walking out of the bathroom, I hadn't closed the door when I came in, did I? Nah, no Poltergeist bullshit, I would have heard it shutting itself, perhaps I did it automatically...

He tried to open the door.

OK, this is getting fucked up, I sure as Hell didn't lock it!

He tried to look for the key, but it was nowhere to be found. But if it wasn't inside the bathroom, then it could only be outside... this gave him a horrid doubt.

“You ASSHOLE!” Richard yelled while violently hitting the door “Whoever you are, just tell me what the fuck you want and let me out of here!”

He kept beating and kicking the door in a fit of rage and terror, for the first time being actually able to ignore the pain of his burning hand, but whoever sneaked into his house and did that to him didn't give any sign of their presence, and even more strangely the door did not even budge, when normally such strength and fury would have probably broken it down.

When he finally realized the futility of it all, Richard sat down with his back against the door, gritting his teeth at the pain that never diminished one bit. His heart began to beat like it wanted to escape his rib cage, the anxiety getting higher and higher until he had trouble breathing and his eyes getting moister and moister until... until...

“Yeah, cwy ya little shit, cwy cwy!”

Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale, exhale. Inhale...

“Ouch! What the...”

Somehow, Richard fell and bumped his head on the floor, and it didn't feel like the door had somehow opened, it was almost as if it had... run away.

Massaging the back of his head, Richard got up and looked behind him. There was no door. In fact, there was almost nothing, just the white walls extending for a much longer distance than before, and in front of him only darkness, though some source of lighting he couldn't see prevented the place from being pitch black, and when he looked behind he saw exactly the same thing. He became a statue when he saw all that, he couldn't make a sound, he couldn't move, he couldn't even think, he could just remain motionless right where he was.

However, that all changed when the unknown source of light cast a shadow on the floor. It was certainly the shadow of a living being because of how it moved, but yet the movements looked rather unnatural, they made Richard think of someone either having an epileptic seizure or being under the influence of something really bad, or even of a strange glitch in a poorly functioning video game. He tried to look at where the shadow came from, mostly due to the darkness he couldn't make out what it was, but it was also because the little he could see looked just as odd as the shadow; it was coming closer, at first its pace was slow but it kept getting faster and faster, and the closer it got the more Richard felt a strange mix of nausea and utter terror consuming him, all added to his enduring physical pain...

Running like Hell was the only option.

As Richard was running through the eternal corridor, the mysterious figure behind him also began to speak, or at least make some noises with a voice that loosely sounded like a female voice, but he could only make out two words: “...Forgiven meeeeee...” The rest was all a cacophony of bestial inhuman sounds that didn't convey any message, they only caused Richard's stomach to ache... but yet all that felt much more familiar than he wanted to admit.

Just like that, the frantic run was over when Richard tripped over something slimy and squishy on the floor and had another painful fall, this time actually feeling the warmth of blood on his forehead.

He wasn't sure if he had fainted or not, but what he knew for sure was that when he opened his eyes he was once again in his usual bathroom and there was no sign of the strange entity.

Now starting to believe that it had all been some kind of bad dream or hallucination, Richard tried to open the door again... still locked, the key still vanished. He hit the door with an impotent punch, not even able to curse, then repeated the act of resting his back on the door, but this time he didn't sit down, even because something weird on the floor caught his attention.

It kind of looked like a piece of soap, but its shape was way too irregular to be that. Richard walked closer to it... and threw up.

A fetus. It just lay there motionless, stuck in a phase when it still didn't look human enough, even a bit deformed and damaged, probably because of when Richard slipped on it while the bathroom was still “different”.

After he was done expelling all the healthy vegan food from his aching stomach, Richard got taken by a strange hypnotic force that lead him to stare blankly at the fetus even though he just wanted it to disappear, and he only stopped when a pale and skinny hand came out of nowhere and grabbed the little thing abruptly, making him scream until he ran out of breath despite the burning acid taste in his mouth and in his throat.

The hand belonged to an equally pale and skinny woman with long black hair and a white night gown. She showed the fetus in her hand to Richard in a hateful and violent manner, looking at him with her head in a strange position that didn't look comfortable at all, like her neck did not even work in the first place, and her smell... it made Richard gag and nearly vomit once again.

“Disgusting, isn't it?” the woman hissed like she wanted to scratch Richard with her long nails “But yet you wanted this thing to grow inside of me! Because that is every human being's real purpose, right? Producing these abominations so they could proceed the cycle of pain and sorrow that we call 'life'! You wanted to condemn another soul to exist so you could feel proud of yourself and fight your foolish fear of dying through some stupid nonsense like leaving a legacy behind!”

As she spoke, Richard realized how eerily familiar her voice sounded, and after that he began to see her night gown in a different way, it reminded him of that fateful night he realized he had to go on a crusade against the demon of suicide...

“M-M-Miranda?!”

The woman grinned from ear to ear without showing any real joy and grabbed her own hair with her empty hand, putting her head in a more natural position, and as she did so her useless neck made a loud and horrid cracking sound.

“I'm home, honey!” Miranda said maliciously.

Before Richard could say or do anything, Miranda grabbed his head with unexpected strength and speed and shove the dead fetus inside of his gasping mouth, then her abnormally strong hand took his jaw and forced it to bite the little dead creature's head off.

Richard tried to react and spit the fetus' head, but it wasn't only Miranda to be absurdly strong, he was also somehow weakened by her presence alone, so all he could do was feel the slimy little head being forced to go down his throat, spreading a foul taste all over the inside of his mouth and making him gag, but he couldn't even regurgitate that infernal mouthful.

Miranda threw the decapitated body of the unborn baby in the toilet and flushed it down, while Richard kept coughing and gagging without having the catharsis of throwing up.

“You keep calling me selfish for leaving this wretched world behind,” Miranda yelled, “as if it wasn't selfish not only to throw another soul into existence, but also  to want me to keep suffering just so you could keep me in your miserable life! Hope you enjoyed your meal asshole, it was just an appetizer!”

Richard couldn't respond to her tirade, he could only choke up and sob, no longer knowing what part of his body or soul was hurting more.

Miranda looked at his healthier hand massaging the still burning one, then she came closer and said with a mock maternal tone: “Aw, poor baby, looks like you hurt your hand! Hang in there, let me take care of it.”

She gently took the aching hand and brought it closer to her face, then she opened her mouth and stuck out her tongue, about to lick the point where the skin hurt like she wanted to medicate it like an animal would do. But it didn't go like that.

As soon as her dead tongue touched Richard's hand, he screamed.

The tongue was like acid, his skin burned way more intensely as the moist muscles caressed it, he could feel that the surface of his hand was beginning to erode slowly, until it would eventually reveal the bones underneath. As Richard kept screaming much louder than he thought he could ever scream, Miranda began to fade away, cackling with sadistic pride at what she had just done, until her ex fiance was alone again with his excruciating pain.

When the woman was gone, Richard got up and tried once again to use unguent or whatever he could find, but nothing helped.

Oddly enough, now that the pain was particularly intense, Richard found it a bit easier to get used to it, feeling little more than numb by now as he walked to the door again to check if it was still locked, which it was.

“You certainly heard this before, but I'll tell you anyway because of how true it is: suicide is a permanent solution to temporary problems.”

It was Richard's own voice speaking, but it didn't come from his mouth, in fact that sound didn't seem to come from anywhere.

“What?! Who's there now?” he said with his actual voice while looking around himself.

Another voice said: “Yeah, I did hear that before...” It sounded like it came from a telephone, the tone was dejected and hopeless. And it sounded very, very familiar.

“Shane!” Richard exclaimed, now remembering a conversation he had with a severely depressed young man. He never heard from him again after apparently touching him with his favorite encouraging speeches, so he had only hoped for the best until now.

Richard kept looking around trying to see where the dialogue from the past could come from (noticing also that the unbearable stench from when Miranda was there was starting to fill the room again), but he found something quite different when he eventually looked at the bathtub: it was full of water now, a deep red water, and in the water there was a horribly pale naked man, the red coloring the water coming from deep cuts in his wrists, but yet the man didn't show any pain whatsoever, in fact he stared at Richard with a mocking and somewhat satisfied grin.

His whole body was full of scars, tattoos and piercings and his head was completely shaven, as if he had chosen to ruin his body in every possible way in order to make his outside appearance suggest all the pain inside of him.

“Problems may be temporary,” the man in the bathtub said with a voice that Richard recognized as that of Shane, “but they keep coming back again and again! Unless you make them stop, like I did!” He showed off his sliced wrists with the biggest pride, a gesture that lead Richard to find out that he still had the strength to scream.

Both Shane and the red water vanished like they had never been there at all, the only noises in the bathroom now being Richard's panting and whimpering, but soon his own voice from the past spoke again: “With all that my mother did to me, me and her were still at peace when she died, and I miss her with all my heart. And believe it or not, you'll miss your father too. I know that he's making you suffer for an inexcusable reason, but it's still thanks to him that you're alive. You are the maker of your own prison, and forgiveness is the only way out.”

He remembered when he said that, he was talking to Wesley, the son of a preacher, his father had kicked him out of the house after physically assaulting him because his son had confessed his homosexuality. That was also one of Richard's failures, because eventually the news revealed that he had shot himself in the heart after brutally torturing and killing his father with a drill, mercilessly aiming at all the sensitive spots of the tied preacher before drilling into his skull, a scene that still made him sick when he tried to imagine it.

“Fucking really?” Wesley's voice yelled from behind Richard before a strong hand punched him in the back of the head.

When Richard found the strength to look at where the blow came from, he saw Wesley just as he remembered him from when he learned of his fate on the news: a pretty handsome young man with very long and perfectly smooth blond hair, someone who would have actually looked beautiful as a woman; but his skin was so pale it could have been made of snow, there was a bloody hole right where his heart was and he looked at Richard with the most spiteful look that could be possibly imagined.

“Forgiving your cunt mom was not enough for you, you even had to convince anyone else to fuck up in the same way! I bet you acted all sad and mopey but in fact you were feeling patronizing and smug when you heard the news, didn't you?”

Wesley pointed at a large scar he had on his cheek that Richard almost hadn't noticed before due to how blinded by terror he was. “You see this? You think I did it myself to be emo or something? Well that's wrong, my monster dad did it with a kitchen knife after I told him the truth! And you even said it wouldn't feel good in the end to hurt the bastard just as he had hurt me or even more, but guess what, drilling holes all over his ugly body felt wonderful! And if I shot myself it wasn't only because I was already sure they'd catch me, but especially because I would have had to deal with so many idiots trying to convince me that what I had done was wrong when it actually wasn't! No, I wasn't going to take any more bullshit!”

Wesley violently grabbed Richard's neck and brought his face closer to his own. His hand was colder than ice, and that fetid smell was even more overwhelming at such an uncomfortable distance.

“The real prison for me was this fucking world you love so much,” Wesley growled, “and the only way out was death. And it's time for you to stop trying prevent innocent souls from escaping the torment with your horrid ignorance!”

He slammed Richard's head against the wall; the impact hurt so much it nearly made him forget the melting skin of his hand, but yet some kind of miracle (or curse) prevented him from losing consciousness or even dying. The bump still left him rather dizzy and the pain was infernal, both the physical pain and the pain he felt in his heart; he remained right where he was crying like he never did since the death of his mother, wondering how his attempts to help people had ended with him being ostracized and punished like that.

Not even deep breaths could help in that moment. His only hope was trying to remember how many substances he had taken in his life, and cling on the thought that he was only witnessing a massive blurring of the line between reality and hallucinations... but if all that was really a product of his psyche, then his brain was really good at making all the hits and the hurt feel real.

He could barely recognize his own hand by now, what remained of its back was some kind of work of modern art that is meant to disturb and disgust people, a horrible mix of black and red with some white parts that were becoming more visible little by little. If that was just an hallucination, then his own brain was one hell of a messed up artist.

And just when he thought the vengeful souls were at least going to leave him alone, that putrid stench came back and another familiar voice spoke: “You're not so tough and confident now, are you?”

It was the voice of Jason, the same that had messed with his head on the telephone a while ago. Richard looked at where it came from... and soon he wished he hadn't done that.

Very little remained of Jason's head, for the most part it had been blown off like a balloon that just got pinched with a needle, the only part of his face that still looked somewhat human was his mouth, which kept grinning like the Cheshire Cat... if the famous feline really loved to made you feel like you were having a bad fever dream.

“You really thought you could help people by talking down to them, didn't you? Well, now you are reaping the results of your judgmental sowing! Back when we talked before I got help from my real friend the shotgun, I pretended to be touched by your words, probably because something inside me prevented me from hurting the feelings of someone who wanted to help, but now I'm free from all those restraints and not only I can tell you the truth as it really is, but I also finally realize that in the end you did not even want to help anyone to begin with!”

“What do you mean, Jason? I did want to help you, how is trying not to make you choose death not helping?”

“Because you didn't really do it for me or for anyone else! In reality you only did it for yourself, to feel important and wise, to taste the power of being the one patronizing the others and shoving your dumb beliefs down people's throats!”

The voice of another Richard Burner spoke from behind the original one: “He's correct.”

Richard looked at the mirror where the voice came from and saw his rebellious reflection again, still hatefully glaring at him. “You only did it out of pride.”

“Besides,” Jason continued, “you didn't know about me or Shane killing ourselves either way despite your efforts, but you sure knew about Wesley or your girlfriend and many others, but instead of giving up or changing your methods you simply kept going, never learning from your mistakes!”

“But... there were times that it worked, there are also people who thank me for what I did for them...”

“Hah! Just as I expected! You hold on to the smallest cogs that still work in a machine that is utterly broken! So much shit happens in our world, but some things that don't have such a great impact on our lives are beautiful, so our world is wonderful! Humanity keeps showing what a tragic misstep in evolution it is, but there are still some people who said some good words or made some great work of art that didn't stop world hunger or anything, so humanity doesn't suck! A few idiots among those who still killed themselves after hearing your bullshit are now happy go lucky, so your methods must work! Well if that was all true, then we wouldn't have come to visit you, don't you agree?”

Everything except for Jason and Richard disappeared, the whole bathroom got replaced by a black empty void, but little by little that emptiness got filled by all the dead people who had previously come to torture Richard: Miranda, Shane, Wesley... and many other pale and deformed people joined them.

So many methods of suicide could be seen right on those angry souls, one was still wet from drowning himself, one was all crooked as if a train or another fast vehicle hit him, a youth was full of bullet holes after probably enraging some violent cops enough, a woman looked fairly normal but she held a pill container like it was very dear to her...

They all stared at Richard with a look full of hate, pointing their fingers at him and yelling any demeaning word that could possibly be spoken.

“Fake!” “Egotist!” “Ignorant!” “Bastard!” “Fool” “Idiot!” “Parasite!” “Narcissist!” “Burner got burnt!”

It never seemed to end, the humiliations just kept going while Richard's hand and all the points where had been hit kept hurting without any sign of relief, the awful taste of the fetus head invading his mouth again...

No use inhaling, no use exhaling, the past is still here, you don't simply wash it away like the dirt on your hands...

Richard's scream actually covered all the other voices. He grabbed his own hair and looked at the sky while consuming his lungs, and after that he banged his head on the black floor and simply stopped moving, like he had turned into some kind of statue, a statue that the sculptor made in order to represent a feeling of total defeat and helplessness.

Yet the humiliations didn't stop there, only instead of insults there was laughter and nasty jokes.

Without raising his head, Richard managed to say something with a raspy and tired voice: “What is that you want from me?”

Miranda answered his question: “Our deaths ended all of our sufferings... for the most part. Before we can be finally free and let the void take us in its warm embrace, there is still one last thing that we must do, and that is punishing you for your arrogance and shallowness! It's not what you call 'pessimists' that really contribute in keeping the world a horrible place, it's people like you! Deluded morons with such a major Stockholm syndrome for the prison that we have to call 'Earth' or 'life'!”

This time Richard looked her right in the eye, showing his swollen read retinas and the visible tracks of his tears. “Well haven't you punished me enough by now? For how long do you have to keep making me suffer?”

Miranda smirked and paused before she answered. “Until you die.”

A light suddenly appeared in the pitch dark. It showed some kind of altar, and there seemed to be some small object on it... Richard walked closer and realized what it was: his gun.

The gun he had bought a long time ago taking advantage of his rights as an American citizen, so he could feel safer in his house, was now telling him exactly why it was there even though it didn't have a mouth, nor a brain.

“Choice is yours!” Wesley said, “You can do it now, or you can let us stay here and keep you company until you die of starvation or some other much more painful cause!”

Richard picked up the weapon. “The void... so there is no such thing as an afterlife?”

“We don't have to tell you more,” Shane answered, “if you want to find out, just pull the trigger. Or maybe you're so badass that you prefer to keep living regardless what awaits you and endure what we have for you like a punching ball?”

Richard took a long look at the crowd of dead people, deriding him like an audience watching a terrible clown who still entertains them by letting them mistreat him as they please.

He took another long look at the gun in his hand, the tool he used to see as just a defense and refused to call a savior.

He looked again at the dead, seeing all his mistakes and failures pouring salt on his wounds and rubbing it in about how he had no way to make up for what he had done other than just ending it all.

He took another look at the gun, which he kept in his healthy hand, totally unlike the other one that now was not even close to looking like the good strong hand he used to have, the intense pain devouring his whole body, all because of those cruel heartless monsters...

BANG!

The bullet was not directed at Richard itself, it went through the skull of Miranda, but even the last feeble hope was shattered when the hole in her forehead just vanished in thin air and the woman looked just the same as before, still laughing at her ex boyfriend.

But Wesley laughed much louder than everyone else in that moment. “Now you know how it feels to be impotent, to be unable to get revenge, and not just a petty little vengeance, no no, the revenge against who belittles you and makes you feel condemned, the only way to take your dignity and your life back! You said it wasn't worth it and it would make me feel empty, didn't you? Well then, why are you trying to shoot us now instead of yourself? Forgive and forget, right?”

The laughs kept getting louder, and crueler, the impotence and pain kept growing and burning, all that Richard believed he could do with the life that he used to see as a gift crumbled down in front of him like a house of cards, causing another ear-piercing scream to be released from his guts...

BANG!

***

A couple days later, two men were having coffee in their favorite bar, and while they were waiting for their orders, they read on the newspaper that there had been a suicide in town. A man named Richard Burner had been found dead in his bathroom, the cause of death a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

“What a selfish prick!” One of the two said in a spiteful tone.

“Yeah,” the other one agreed, “if only he could have focused on the positive things in life!”



Written by The King of Maggots
Content is available under CC BY-SA