I was once told by a girlfriend that I
was an “experience junkie, willing to try anything new because of the
adrenaline rush I got from it.” I admit there’s truth to that. “You’re an
addict to thrills,” she told me.
My drug-of-choice wasn’t anything like
the heroin I’d shot into my veins or the coke I snorted up my nose. I never had
the fortitude, or the patience, it takes to be addicted to substances. That
takes more time and effort than I was willing to put into any experience. Most
of my thrills – but not all of them – were obtained in the same way others got
theirs, parachuting from a plane, jumping from a bridge with bungee cords tied
to my ankles, swimming in shark-infested water. Those sorts of things.
Up until my encounter with Gail
Hunnington, any crime I committed didn’t involve doing something that involved
violence toward another person. It had never been a thrill I sought out. When I
saw her standing at the curb, waiting for the light to change so that she could
cross the street, I didn’t know who she was. She was just a little old lady
with a purse hanging from her arm. My response to seeing how vulnerable she
looked was impulsive and immediate. How was I supposed to know she had enough
strength in her scrawny arms to hold onto the purse all the while being swung
around by me as I tried to snatch it? When the straps on the purse snapped free
sending her flying into the lamp post headfirst, she looked as surprised as I
was. I hadn’t anticipated bloodshed as part of the thrill of theft. I tucked
her purse under my shirt and ran off, leaving her crumpled body lying on the
curb. I ran down the subway stairs taking three of them at a time. It’s a
golden rule that the trains always run the slowest when you most want them to
run ahead of schedule. I leapt into the first train that came along, not even certain
where it was going. When I plopped down on a seat, my heart was nearly pounding
out of my chest. I clutched Gail Hunnington’s purse against my body. Was I
thinking about her at that moment? No. I didn’t even know who she was. Did I
feel more alive than I had ever felt in my entire life? Yes.
It wasn’t until a couple of hours later
and transferring to different trains several times that I arrived at the
station near my apartment building. It was the same station where I once stood
on the tracks deep inside the tunnel and waited until a train was only yards
from where I stood before I jumped out of the way. The whoosh of the train as
it sped by and the echoing of its whistle were exciting, but anticlimactic. It
left me wanting to experience actually being hit by the train. Did I have a
death wish? There’s no thrill in being dead.
When I got to my apartment, I tossed
Gail Hunnington’s purse onto the sofa, stripped off my clothes and got in the
shower. It took nearly half an hour of standing in the spray of nearly scalding
hot water that I felt I had washed the stench of sweat and fear from my body.
Have I forgotten to mention that fear was essential in order to feel what I
experienced was real? Fear is an intoxicant and I could get drunk from it. The
smell of it clinging to my skin was both real and imagined. It was nearly dark
and I could see the purples, reds and blues of twilight spreading out across
the sky; a bruise expanding to the horizon. I sat down on the sofa and opened
the purse and took out a wallet. It was then, when looking at her social
security card, I discovered her name. Gail Hunnington. There was nineteen
dollars in the wallet and a small change purse that contained ninety-five
cents. Also in the wallet was her subway pass card, an identification card with
her address and a photo of her face on it, a debit card, and pictures of
children and several photographs of a large cat. The purse also contained a
package of Kleenex, keys on a ring, and a prescription bottle of tablets.
Lasix. The only thing of interest to me were her keys that I jingled in front
of my face. I had her address.
And her keys.
They burned a hole in my pocket. Those
keys. I carried them around for a week, going to and from my place of work at a
travel agency, when I went out with friends, or just walked about at night in
the darkest and most dangerous parts of the city, tempting the fates, looking
for an adrenaline rush. When I was a kid I would spread my arms and jump from
top of the garage, waiting for that moment when I would suddenly begin to fly.
Each time I hit the pavement, usually injuring myself in one way or another, it
wasn’t the danger of the jump that I remembered, it was the excitement that at
any moment I would rise into the air. The anticipation of flying.
On those streets at night, while
carrying Gail Hunnington’s keys, could I escape a mugger or worse? Could I fly
A few times I took the subway to the
part of town where she lived and walked up and down her street, past her
apartment building, checked her name on the mailboxes, and gazed up at what I
thought were her windows. They were always dark. There was nothing to prevent
me from walking up the steps and going into the building. That would have been
too easy, though. There was no excitement to just opening the door to her
apartment with her keys.
I once went to the zoo and climbed over
a fence, landing in the rhinoceros paddock, but I made certain I did it while
there were others watching me. The rhinos ignored me and I got out before the
zoo security guards showed up, but like a man who exposes himself on a crowded
street, I had gotten my addict’s fix.
I had decided if I was going to enter
Gail Huntington’s apartment, it had to have that same feel. It needed to be
risky and border on the dangerous.
On the night just before my twenty-sixth
birthday I stood on the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street from her
building. It was still early, around 7 PM, and there were people walking past
me, returning from work or going out for the evening. The air was balmy. That
sensation – an electric current that surged through my body before I would feed
my addiction – had not begun, but I knew it was coming. I only needed the right
opportunity, some moment of serendipity, to present itself. The excitement
about illegally entering Gail Hunnington’s apartment, wasn’t just about being
seen doing it, but going in, getting out, and getting away. In the back of my
mind, whatever happened with this minor crime might very well determine the
course of the rest of my life.
When a yellow Taxi pulled up to the curb
in front of Gail Hunnington’s building I didn’t realize its significance until
two people got out of the back. As it pulled away, standing on the sidewalk
were none other Gail Hunnington herself, looking frail and leaning on a cane,
and a young woman in a blue nurse’s aide uniform. It took no longer than a few
seconds for the adrenaline to pump through my entire system. I ran across the
street, stopped briefly in front of the two women, so that the old woman, in
particular, would see who it was dangling her keys in front of her face. She
only smiled, a smile so full of knowing and awareness that I wanted to slug
her. What did she know that I didn’t? What gave her the right to look at me
with such pity? I turned and dashed up
the steps, into her building, bypassed the elevator, and ran up the stairs to
the third floor where she lived.
Nearly delirious with excitement I
unlocked her door, stood still for a moment as the aromas of dust, age and the
unmistakable scent of old books wafted out, and then went in. It was like a
small library. Every wall in the living room was lined with shelves overflowing
with books. In her bedroom a twin bed sat in the middle of the floor surrounded
by stacks of books.
At the sound of police sirens my
excitement reached a feverish pitch. I quickly looked about, but saw nothing of
value to take. To leave empty-handed would have dampened the thrill. From a
stack of books in her bedroom I hastily grabbed a book without looking at its
I ran from her apartment, down the back
stairs, and into the alley. Getting home from there only required me to take
one step after another.
The book I had taken from Gail
Hunnington was a dog-eared copy of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
The book jacket was ripped, and the pages were yellow with age. On the inside
cover was a stamp that said the book was the property of the city’s library. A
goddamn library book! It was worthless. Worse yet, she seemed like the type who
would never keep a library book without good reason or forget to return it. She
had probably bought it at a charity sale to raise money for the library. Her
name wasn’t on or in it anywhere. In all likelihood, with as many books as she
had, she’d never notice the one I took was gone. I flung it out my apartment
window as I cursed Gail Hunnington’s name. I had been robbed of my fix. I
opened a new travel brochure that I had gotten at the office. It offered a tour
of a live volcano that could erupt at any time, a chance to walk in the crater
with molten, boiling lava only a short distance below. By the time I went to
bed at midnight I had decided to book my tickets to the volcano the next
morning as soon as I got into the office.
That night I dreamt of Gail Hunnington’s
face, the subtle mockery in her expression.
A goddamned useless book of all things!
The feeling of need for revenge, I
discovered, was as powerful as the shock from having live electrical wires
attached to my balls. At work I forgot all about the volcano and went through
the day as if in a fog that I couldn’t see through or make sense of. The
after-effect of an unsatisfactory thrill was, like always, to feel as if
the earth dropped out from under me. This time I had fallen all the way to
China. I had uppers in my desk drawer, and gave thought to standing on the
ledge of the roof above the twenty-first floor and seeing how far I could lean
out, as I always did when I needed a quick pick-me-up, but the idea of taking
pills or the thought of placing myself in danger did nothing to elevate my
mood. As much as I tried to suppress the thought, the only thing I wanted was
for Gail Hunnington to pay the price for killing my buzz.
I left work early and slowly meandered
across the city, arriving at the spot I had stood less than twenty-four hours
earlier, across the street from Gail Hunnington’s apartment building. I stood
there waiting for the juice to kick in, for the surge of excitement to begin to
rise from deep inside me, for the hunger for a fix that would eat at my insides.
Nothing came. I was empty, except for the revenge. I looked up at her windows
and shoved aside the thoughts that my feelings about the old woman were
irrational. What fault was it of hers
that I had chosen to steal her purse and then break into her apartment?
When I was a boy, I heard lots of “no.”
“No! You’re being a bad boy. Don’t touch
the stove. You’ll burn your hand.”
“No! You’re being a bad boy. Don’t play
ball in the street. You’ll get hit by a car.”
“No! You’re being a bad boy. Don’t pull
the dog’s tail. He’ll bite you.”
Childhood, as I remember it, was a long
period of being held back from doing the things I wanted to do the most. If
Gail Hunnington hadn’t tried to keep me from taking her purse, she wouldn’t
have gotten hurt. When she looked at me as I dangled her keys in front of her
face, just before I entered her apartment, I saw that look also. She was
telling me “no.” No to what? She had just gotten out of the hospital and was in
no physical condition to stop me from doing anything.
Standing there, I showed her an answer
to her “no.” I picked up a rock and busted out one of her windows with it. It
didn’t give me the adrenaline jolt I was hoping for, but it was something.
During the next week I walked across a
wire strung fifty feet above the ground between two buildings, wrestled an
alligator in an illegal wildlife wrestling event held in a warehouse on the
docks, allowed myself to be forcibly raped by two gang members, and on Friday
night I entered Gail Hunnington’s apartment and strangled her with my own two
# # #
Before I get a lethal injection, I,
Jacob Beetlemeyer, offer my life as a cautionary tale. I’m not being given the
opportunity to sit in the electric chair and have a final thrill, the ultimate
in being jolted with electricity. Other than feeling the mild responses to the
drugs they give me that will ultimately put me to sleep for good, I’m being
robbed of a last exaltation. It is the final “no.”
“The Beetlemeyer Exaltation”
originally appeared in the
2020 Issue of Weird Mask.
from Richmond, Virginia, has had
over 600 short stories— new and reprints— published internationally in print
and online magazines, literary journals, reviews and anthologies since June
2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories published. A Map of
Humanity, his eighth collection, published by Hear Our Voice LLC
Publishers, came out in January 2022. His paranormal/horror novel Redbird
was released in November 2019. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize
paintings and collages have appeared in shows
at various venues in Manhattan, including the Back Fence in Greenwich Village, the Producer’s
Club, the Black Door Gallery on W. 26th St., and one other place she can’t
remember, but it was in a basement, and she was well received.