A Pistol and a Hat and a Worn Out Flute
“If you won’t be friends with anyone in town, at least make friends with Christ,” was a message she had conveyed to me on numerous occasions throughout the past couple years. I saw no reason to attend Church. God never cared about me, nor did I care about Him, or anyone for that matter. Still, she was persistent, and soon she got through to me and had convinced me to attend Mass for the first time in my life. She was the first person I ever cared for, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say I loved her, I was damn close to it. And her whistling, it had the power to calm me down even in my most furious of rages. However, her whistling couldn’t save her this time.
As I neared the great wooden doors for the first time, I lost all control. I was nothing but a drunken loner, with no family or friends. Who was I to deserve His love? And who was she, to come into my cabin, into my life, into my heart? I preferred to be alone, that’s how it should be.
So I killed her. Instead of following her into the building, I pulled my blade out of its sheath and stabbed her in the back. Nobody saw and nobody heard, so I threw the cadaver over my shoulder and made the journey home in the early hours of the morning.
I dropped her body on the table and pulled out a needle and thread from the drawer. I sewed her mouth shut with a swift and nimble hand, for skill with a needle and thread was necessary for one to live in total isolation.
I trudged down through the mud and muck, through the woods, into the bottom of a ditch near the riverbed. The ruby red sun pierced through the trees, the colors of the light indistinguishable from the autumn leaves littering the ground. The view was so spectacular. I propped her corpse up in the ditch so her blank, cold eyes would see the brilliance in this fleeting autumn sunset. I could even make out the “Hollywoodland” sign in the distance, illuminated by the bright red of the sun.
Her eyes were once as blue as the summer sky, with a twinkle that never seemed to fade, but no more. Her skin was grey and clammy, and she had matted blonde hair that still managed to shine, and a grotesque mouth, which was completely sewn shut. I paused for a moment, wondering if she could see the sunset, or if she was only seeing the cold grey fog on the Other Side. I looked down at her body one last time, said nothing, and walked home.
The blood on my hands did not go unnoticed, and within the hour he sheriff and his deputy were pounding at my door. I realized I may not have been as inconspicuous as I thought, took another swig from my flask, braced myself for the inevitable, and opened the door.
The sheriff was big and burly, with a mustache so thick I was surprised not to see a bird’s nestled within it. His deputy was young and nervous, and it was clear he had never dealt with a crime so heinous before.
“P-p-put your h-hands wh-wh-where I can see them, you’re under a-a-arrest for m-murder,” the deputy managed to stammer out. I didn’t respond, and stood still as a rock as they handcuffed me. I saw no reason to resist, and would not pretend like I had not killed someone earlier that afternoon. However, I still did not consider myself a murderer. I do not murder people habitually; I just did what I had to do. And I would accept my fate with my head held high.
The blindfold was understandable, but the gag was unnecessary, and being unable to see, speak, or resist, I was hoisted into the paddywagon. The rocky and bumpy ride lasted for what seemed like hours, until all of a sudden it lurched to an abrupt stop. The large sheriff opened the door, yanked me out the back, dragged me down the cement stairs and into my cell. He did not need to tell me there would be no opportunity for bail -- I had just killed a woman for Christ’s sake -- and who would bail me out, anyways? I looked around the gray, empty cell. All I saw was a stained brown cot, surrounded by a cold, bare floor, a cold, bare ceiling, three cold, bare walls, and one wall with thick black iron bars. I noticed a rusted, empty pail in the corner, which would work as a chair for now, but would have to inevitably be used for other business in time. My day was spent merely gazing at the marks on the wall and thinking of her beautiful whistling, as to not get too agitated with my current situation.
As I sat and thought, I found myself wondering whether or not she was right. Maybe there was an Afterlife, and maybe by taking her life I had replaced the Gates of Heaven in my future with the Fires of Hell.
“It’s never too late to start again,” I remember her saying after a particularly nasty fit of rage of mine several months ago. She was always so quick to forgive. It was a trait I admired, yet never quite understood. And I realized I never truly would understand, as the days of forgiveness were now over. It’s an unnerving thought, that nobody knows when their day will come, and I could not help hoping that, if there was indeed an Afterlife, I would be accepted into Heaven. A sudden pang of hunger jolted me out of my ruminations and I realized that I had not eaten all day. My wits back about me, I considered how foolish of a thought the possibility of an Afterlife was. I stood up, flipped the pail right side up, used it for its intended purpose, climbed into the cot, and hoped I would be able to get something close to a decent sleep.
This was my routine for several weeks: eating, sleeping, pissing, and thinking. It came as a shock to me then, one morning before dawn, when the warden came down the stairs with his key ring jangling on his waist.
“Murphy, you’ve been quiet, you’ve been calm, and you’ve been cooperative. I’m letting you go, but get the Hell outta this town,” He said gruffly. He handed me a sack and walked away, leaving me standing in my cell with the door wide open. I dumped the contents of the sack onto the cot to find five dollars, a secondhand suit, a pistol, a hat, and a worn-out flute. Donning the suit and hat, pocketing the pistol and the cash, I held the flute in my hands. What on Earth was I going to do with a flute? It looked just like the one I played as a child, although this one had considerably more dents and rust. I held onto it and walked out into the nighttime. My head still fuzzy with sleep and confused about my sudden release, I paid no attention to where my feet were taking me. I found myself at the bus station, and I pulled the crinkled, stale bill from my breast pocket. Gesturing towards the next departure, I bought a bus ticket destined for Albuquerque.
The bus ride was more comfortable than the confining drive to the police station, yet just as, if not slightly more, bumpy and jostling. For twenty hours, I watched the landscape morph from wooded and dense to dry and dusty, until the bus came to a halt at the Albuquerque bus station.
It may have been the middle of the night, but it still took me no time at all to realize my mistake. I was accustomed to living near the woods, living off what the land provided. I saw no fitting place in sight and had spent all my money on that damn train ticket here. So, quickly and quietly, I walked towards the edge of town, until I saw an unsuspecting stablehand leading a horse to a barn up ahead. Letting the man go about his business, I waited until he had walked far enough away from the barn until I pulled the pistol out of my pocket. It may have been dark, but not dark enough for my trained eyes to miss a shot, and like always, my bullet found its target. I wasted no time in hightailing it away from the crime scene to the stable, and immediately started preparing provisions and a saddle. Riding out into the night, I headed south down the Rio Grande for several miles. It wasn’t far or long enough, however, and not an hour after I set up camp to rest a squad car sped into sight, dust flying and swirling from behind the thick, rubber tires.
The man who exited the vehicle was considerably smaller than the previous sheriff I had been contact with, although He still emanated the same forceful demeanor. “Show me your hands and don’t you dare move!” He bellowed, with a voice surprisingly deep for such a scrawny man.
I put my hands up and he cuffed my wrists as I let him strip and search me. Taking my gun, he reached into my pocket and pulled out the rusty, dented flute. I had genuinely forgotten all about that, and still was unclear as to why the warden had given it to me in the first place.
“What do we got here, you some sort of musician?” He asked, almost mockingly. I stared at him blankly and merely shrugged, which, unknown to the sheriff, was a surprisingly honest answer. “Well then, you wouldn’t mind if I would toss it in the river then, would ya?” He laughed a hollow and humorless laugh. I maintained eye contact, to prove to this Napoleonic man that He would not break me, although now that I had killed two people, I couldn’t help wondering if I was slightly broken already. He chucked the flute downstream until I heard a sploosh and I knew I would never see that bizarre gift again. The sheriff laughed that same sickening laugh, as if he had just defeated a tremendous foe in battle, not merely thrown a restrained man’s flute in the river.
He hoisted me to my feet, and pushed me in the back of his squad. We drove in the sweltering hot car until the sun started to rise and Albuquerque jail loomed into view. With unnecessary force for someone handling someone who wasn’t resisting at all, He shoved me into the jail cell. This cell looked eerily similar to my last home, although here there was the intense heat to add to the discomfort.
“Keep up the good behavior, and maybe we’ll consider letting you out!” He said nastily, although I wasn’t listening to him by this point. I sat in the cell all day, thinking about how I had now killed two people. There was no way my soul was being saved, so why even bother wondering about it anymore? It soon became dark, and suddenly quite cold. I crawled onto my cot, and got a surprisingly untroubled sleep. I was unsure what time it was when I awoke to the sheriff standing outside the bars, and then unlocking the door.
“You shot and killed the simple stablehand, just outside of town.” It was neither a question nor an accusation. As I stood up, I studied the man’s face. He was smiling that same twisted smile, with a strangely passionate look in his eyes. “Not many men have the courage to kill another,” He said, that bizarre look still gleaming in his eyes. “You’re strong. This Earth needs more men like you.” This man unnerved me to no end, but I still stood there, as stolid as a statue. “I’m letting you go. Men like us shouldn’t be imprisoned. But before I release you, I want you to have this,” He said as he handed me a knife. He then started whistling, a tune not unlike the one she used to sing.
I left without a word to the sheriff. I was grateful for him letting me go so soon, but He had a queer aura surrounding him that I wanted to leave far, far behind me. Upon leaving the station, I headed toward the train tracks. I decided on hitching a train away from the deserts of Albuquerque, one heading northwest. I had no idea how long I would be on this train, so I settled on a bail of hay and watched the landscape outside the train. Maybe the sheriff was right. Maybe there is nothing wrong with taking the life of another. I had committed the act twice in the span of a month, and hadn’t faced any real punishment. And besides, there was no turning back now. No God would forgive me for these acts, nobody would listen to any talk of remorse, and maybe, just maybe, killing another did display a morbid sense of bravery.
My thoughts twirled together and became a blur, just like the landscape rushing past my eyes. To pass the time, I tried counting the telegraph poles as they whizzed by, but to no avail. There was nothing left to do but try and sleep, and to try and fight the sickness gurgling in my stomach. I’m not sure if it was from the motion of the train, or from the unsettling thoughts waltzing around my head, but I soon retched outside the moving car. Feeling slightly better, I lay down upon the hay. I realized now would have been an opportune time to play that flute, but that twisted little gnome had to discard of it. Since I had no flute, I started to whistle.
The sun fell and was replaced by the moon, only to be replaced by the sun one more time until the train finally came to a stop. It had been over a day and a half, and I had barely slept at all, my thoughts and dreams invaded by her grotesque mouth, the lifeless body of the stablehand who had not neither seen nor heard his attacker, and the haunting face of the sheriff. I wanted to believe in Heaven, and I wanted to be granted access one day. At the same time, I wanted there not to be an Afterlife to believe in. I wanted to kill someone. I wanted to prove a point to myself: if I could bring myself to kill one more time, then the allure of Heaven would not matter, anyway.
I hopped off the train, careful to make sure the knife in my pocket did not cut the inside of my leg. “OREGON WELCOMES YOU” read a sign in the distance. I had never been to Oregon. But it was already better than the dry desert of New Mexico. I was determined to follow through with my goal. It took less than a minute to find an ideal candidate. The very first man I laid eyes upon was easy enough prey: a plump, round gentleman, no younger than 55 years of age, fishing by a pier just down the road. I clenched the handle of the knife in my hand, but then noticed the jet black, rippling water in the river. That would be easy enough, that black river water was as black as sin itself. I could drown him in there with no problem at all; it would be easy, in fact.
So I did.
I stood there after his final bubbles ceased to surface, and the water became still once more. I looked down to see a corpse floating in the river, and a corpse there was, but it was my lack of reflection in the black water that was the eeriest part. The surface was as smooth as glass, yet my scarred face never stared back at me.
As I tore my face away, a flood of emotion surged through my veins. I had never felt remorse before; it was a wretched feeling that pained me from head to toe. I felt hot, and I was scared. I don’t know what drove me to do it, but it felt right. I jumped into the water, my filthy boots shattering the smooth surface of the river.
And I cried. I cried and screamed and thrashed and wailed. I have no idea how long I stayed afloat, but when the time came where I could scream no more, I collapsed on the shore. I had made peace with God, or whoever there was. I didn’t know if I could truly be forgiven, but I knew I could be one day, if I tried to be.
“It’s never too late to start again,” I heard her say. She was right. She was right the whole damn time. Out of habit, I stood up and walked over to a rock to sit and sharpen my blade. Not two strokes of the blade onto the stone did I realize what I was doing. I was set to change my ways, so I stood up and waded barefoot into the banks and with an almighty ROAR threw the knife into the black river.
Nobody knows when their time here is done. She didn’t. The stablehand and the fisherman sure didn’t. I had to be ready, for one day I would see the Gates of Heaven. One day. And she and I would make peace.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, the black river water flowing beneath me. As I looked up, I glint of light caught my eye in the water near the pier. Intrigued, I waded further into the river to see what object had caught my eye. Thinking my eyes were playing a trick on me, I reached out and grasped the icy cold metal to be sure.
Another flute, no, the same flute had somehow ended up this far north. Dazed, I carefully carried the instrument to the shore, and sat upon the same rock I had used to sharpen my blade. Trying to remember the way to play the flute correctly, it took awhile to produce anything recognizable to a song. I felt a simple calm in playing, and it then dawned on me why she would whistle so much. Smiling, for the first time in years, I tucked my flute into my pants where my knife once was, and felt hopeful.