You were just trying to help the kid after all. She’ll understand, right? Wrong. And now you look even worse for trying to defend your ego, instead of running after and apologizing to the guy you actually wronged. She shakes her head and huddles with Seth. You still stand by what you said, but maybe you didn’t take the best approach. You go to the bathroom, look yourself in the mirror, forgive yourself, and rejoin the party.
Eff that shit. Not your problem.
You didn’t expect him to react like this, and you do still have some empathy left after all. You chase him down outside. His tears leave you stunned and speechless. He finally manages to squeak out, “thank you so much for telling me, I thought I was crazy all these years. That nobody else could smell what I smell.” You want to put a hand around his shoulder to comfort him, but you don’t want the stank to rub off on you, so you decide against it. A simple “you’re welcome” will have to suffice. You tell him to take ten minutes and shower in the old school locker room. As you’re walking back inside with him, Xavier passes you by, and motions you to come with him.
1B You don’t want to be rude, it’s been so long since you’ve seen the gang, and they were your closest friends. But holy shit, does that kid smell bad. Because he has a rare form of sweat gland infection known as axeterosis. Had you had the guts to tell him, he would have gone to a doctor. He knows he smells, he’s just been denying his problem because admitting he needs help is hard. But his infection will go undiscovered, and that’s bad for you. Because when he hands you a chicken wing that he’d already taken a bite of, you contract his disease. And you have a weaker blood type. Plus years of cigarette smoking have robbed your immune system of any ammunition. If only someone had just told him he smelled.
You’ve had enough. If this kid hasn’t found a shower in twenty years, somebody has to be the one to tell him to look harder. You want to bring it up delicately, but you’re already irrationally angry (and getting more so with each of Danica’s giggles). You ask “Do you have a disease or something, because you still smell exactly like you did at age 15. I’m trying to enjoy my whiskey but I feel like I’m living on Planet Your Ballsack and it’s been raining piss for three weeks straight.” You’re suddenly yelling. Your fellow former students are hushed and looking at you both. Ian’s face goes flush and he runs out of the room. You look at Danica’s disappointed look of disgust, and your dream of reigniting the old flame starts to extinguish. Do you?
You could use a drink. Being around all these old faces gives you anxiety you haven’t felt since puberty had a fiery grasp on your genitalia. You say goodbye to Xavier and head towards the bar. Seth is making Danica giggle in front of you, and you can’t help but feel jealous. Ian is parsing out the particulars of particle physics while you try to eavesdrop. Danica’s laugh is just infectious as you remember it, Ian’s personality just as grating as his body odor. You all order drinks, the bartender has a heavy hand and pours them strong. Seth still has Danica rolling over in laughter, while you’re having a hard time not telling Ian that he smells like a fire that somebody pissed on. Do you..?
You couldn’t give up if you wanted to, you sick narcissist who’s addicted to yourself. You even kissed your own reflection that one time in the Target bathroom. You justified it by saying the light was good, but you just can’t admit you have a problem. And so you decide to put on a show for your fellow classmates. The jocks, the geeks, the hot ones, and the ugly friend the hot ones keep around; all of them. You’d bet most of them hadn’t heard live instruments since high school, but there’s a Jello-Wrestling Jamboree every Wednesday, and it’s the hottest ticket in town. But they haven’t heard the true artisanship of expressing oneself through the magical medium of music. You can feel Mike Johnston’s “fag” call echo from many years prior. You’ll show them now. You enter the reunion, and find the small theater crew already cliqued out in the corner. There’s Seth, the chubby comic relief who always stole the show on guitar. Danica, your bassist who you always had a crush on, but was always dating someone else. Ian, a shy nerd trying to break out of his shell on drums. He’s brilliant, but somehow not smart enough to shower regularly and use deodorant. And Xavier, the mute light operator, who wears all black whether working or not. Also a few other peripheral characters not worth mentioning. You’re catching up when the gang wants to go grab more drinks, except for Xavier who’s still nursing his first.
You miss the rush of being on stage. The attention. The flashing lights and the red carpet. Why aren’t people looking at you anymore? You go through periods of binge drinking and mixing Chinese food and pizza (Two for Tuesdays). But you find your need for adoration and over-inflated ego gradually decrease to healthy levels. You settle into a career as a high school drama teacher, and eventually, get married and have a family. You make a large impact on your small community, but dreams of making a difference in society as a whole slowly fade with your hairline. But you’ve found peace through meditation, psychedelic mushrooms, and copious amounts of medical marijuana. The weed is for your cancer. You have cancer now. And you just died from it.
A bunch of fags. At least that’s what the football kids used to call you. But nobody else except your band mates understood your eccentricity, and star Quarterback Mike Johnston still works down at the local gas station, while your fellow band mates (at least the ones who grew up to be good looking), are tech giants driving Teslas. The sell outs. Bowing down to the man. You’ll never give up like they did. What do you do?
Steeling your nerves, you meet the youth in combat. As the drums continue thundering, you dodge another lunge from your opponent, inciting the alumni arrayed around you to resume wheeling in a mad Bacchic frenzy. Then, the pivotal moment: the youth lunges again, only this time you catch his arm, and begin struggling over the shiv. He’s strong, but you’ve been polishing off your Tae Kwon Do recently, so when you kick out his legs from under him and find the shiv in your hand, you aren’t too surprised. What shocks you, however, is delivering the killing blow – the youth struggles to push the shiv away, but you keep applying pressure, smothering him, his legs kicking helplessly, until the blade pierces first the skin, then the heart, and the eyes widen, never to close on their own again.
Panting, you collapse beside the body. What have you done? You never thought you were a killer, always considered yourself a sensitive soul, a lover of Legos and Simon and Garfunkel once upon a time, yet now blood is on your hands. You pull the shiv from the dead body, wipe the blood off on your Lucky brand jeans, look around.
Stillness. The faceless alumni have stopped dancing and fallen into child’s poses, each bowing to you. Ajax stands back, tears in his eyes. ‘I knew you could do it, Fava’la,’ he whispers, though you can’t even hear it.
Instead, you are watching Achitophel, who is undressing and approaching you, all lustful smiles. I guess this is what comes next. You’d never looked at her that way – you were only friends, after all – but now it’s hard to look at her otherwise. Are you going to go through with this? You don’t know. You’ve killed someone, and thus become a stranger to yourself. Were these the fantasies of power you harbored, holed up in your nondescript office? Or are you still willing to snap out of it now – to remember civilization, and return to its trappings, albeit with bloodied hands?
You will never know. A gunshot rings through the air. Achitophel, looking down at her breast, sees blood pool from it, and she collapses, dead. You see Ajax turn only to fall, as well. The campus police have arrived, wielding AR-15’s, and the alumni are scrambling, shocked out of their choreographed stupor. Calmly looking down at the shiv in your hand, and the slain youth on the stage, you are overwhelmed with horror at whom you’ve allowed yourself to become – with the body of Achitophel a perhaps even more chilling reminder of how far you could have continued along this route. Evidently you’ve lost touch with your liberal arts required courses since graduation, and this bizarre ritual only brought out the truth of your depravity. Was there any way you could have survived this misadventure not only alive, but also with your sense of self-worth intact? Good question, but it must remain hypothetical.