Without further ado.....
The lost souls are always the quieter ones. The wolves are howling so loud within, they can’t hear what’s going on around them. Reality fades out and all you’re left with is a pack of hungry wolves that want you dead. You can spot them after three A.M, when the bouncers flick the switch open and the pub is drowned in that hideous neon light. They are the ones who don’t leave. They barely seem to notice what’s going on. They stay hunched over their drink like shipwreck survivors holding a floating plank.
There was also Raymond. Raymond Kuntar.
He materialized out of thin air one night and challenged everyone in the bar to play Russian roulette with him.
He had kept this old snubnose .38 with a wooden grip tucked in his jeans and walked up to people and raised his shirt. “You up for it? You game? I got nothing to lose, man. I’m a fuckin’ psycho. I don’t give a shit.”
No one would give him the time of day. The only reason anybody knew his name is that he was carded on his first night because he looked like a sixteen years old brat. Turned out he was twenty-two. The staff tolerated him, as long as he didn’t get physical with the actual paying customers. Poor Raymond, he kept playing and playing and he drew the wrong number.
“All right, I’ll play with you.”
Nobody had ever seen that guy in the bar before. Tall, strong and rather good looking if not for the dirty hair and the beard, a strange middle grounds in between a five o’clock shadow and a neglected mess. The guy looked like he spent the last week in the bars, doing blow, fucking sluts and not going to bed.
They sat at an empty table and Raymond placed the gun in between them. “You start, tough guy,” he said.
The remaining customers started to close down on them and Raymond smiled. He loved being the center of attention. Dying in the middle of a captivated crowd was better for him than living secluded in a small apartment, working at a dead end job and being too tired to go out and party at night. Ballers lived fast and died hard.
The stranger offered his hand. “I’m Lowell, by the way. May the best man win.”
“You scared?” said Raymond. “Don’t flake out on me, man. You said you’d do this, we do this”.
Lowell took the gun from the table and opened up the barrel to check inside. He smiled and swung it for a spin. He slammed it shut and put is against his temple. “You’re ready?” he said. Raymond nodded.
Raymond looked at the gun in front of him like he had never seen it before. He put a hand on it. His arm was heavy, filled with lead. He looked in Lowell’s eyes, didn’t blink. Not once. His eyes were like tea saucers, his breath hard and loud.
Gradually, emotion and bravado flowed back to his face, along with the appropriate color. His face twisted in a grimace of pride and relief as he put the gun back on the table. “Hah. Your turn, man. Try not dying on me. I’m just gettin’ warmed up.”
“You forgot to spin the barrel again,” said Lowell.
Silence for a second. The crowed moved in even closer. Many anonymous clients thought of stepping in, but truth was this was a very quiet neighbourhood bar. Nobody had had to deal with firearms before. Nobody knew what to do or what to say, so they just watched.
“Fuck that spinning shit. We play the real thing here. Russian roulette for men, ya dig?”
Lowell picked up the gun again. He slid back on his chair and spread out his legs to get comfortable.
“I want you to look at this, understand?” he said. He looked at Raymond, raising his eyebrows and waiting for a nod. “I want you to watch me die.”
He put the .38 in his mouth and looked at Raymond. The kid hadn’t blinked in about two minutes.
“Seems like the stakes just got higher. Your turn.”
Lowell slid the gun across the table. Raymond looked at it, but both of his arms were pinned to his side. “You now have fifty percent chances to die tonight. C’mon,”
Raymond’s shoulder moved, but his hand never made it to the table. “I…I can’t, man.”
“I thought you were a tough guy. What happened to the Russian Roulette for men, thing?”
“Please man, you have to let me spin the barrel again. I’ll let you spin it too. Please, please, please.”
Lowell chuckled and shook his head. “I’m afraid it’s not possible. I didn’t spin the fucking barrel, you don’t spin it either. That’s how it works. I started, so I call the shots. You need to finish this turn.”
Raymond’s arms were paralysed. He could still feel them, but they wouldn’t answer to his call. Lowell picked up the gun and aimed: “I’ll help you if you need, but we’re gonna finish this game.”
Raymond’s mouth turned into an O shape and the crowd pulled back in anticipation. “Don’t soil your pants, man. Just don’t. If this is your last moment, face it proudly. You wanted this, remember? You wanted to play Russian Roulette like a fucking man?”
“Uh…Uh…yeah. Yeah I mean, no. I mean-”
Click. Raymond moaned and covered his head with his arms. He was hyperventilating.
“Well. I really liked math in high school,” said Lowell. “But math never liked me. Fractions and percentages. They’ve been my downfall since eighth grade.”
Lowell had removed his trench coat and was now walking back and forth. He never looked so alive the whole night. Raymond risked a look at him. He still had the gun in his hand.
“Are you ready to see me die?” Is that what you wanted all along? A corpse?”
“No. NoNoNoNo. It’s not that, man. Lowell. It’s not that. You can call off the game if you want. This went long enough, I don’t care.”
“Why did you do it, then? Why did you start something if you didn’t have the balls to finish?”
You could have heard a fly. Even worse, you could have heard a fly have an heart attack and drop dead. The air was thick and echoed everything.
“I don’t know. I wanted somebody to stop me, I guess. This guy in China threatened to throw himself off a bridge once and this girl came up to him. She showed her the cutting scars on her wrists. She kissed him and gave him her phone number-”
“Wait, you did all that to get poon?
“No, it’s not that, but it was always in the back of my mind-”
“Do I look like a social worker to you? Am I your fucking go-to guy for a hug?”.
Lowell laughed. He would have been that guy, six months ago. Life changes fast and the older you get, the faster it goes. “Goodbye, kid” He placed the gun under his chin and pressed the trigger.
Lowell chuckled again and it grew into a loud and boisterous laughter. He hadn’t laugh like that since college.
“Who would have thought? Did the guy who put that bullet in the ammo box somewhere in Kansas ever dreamed of your ugly mug? Have you ever thought when you put that bullet in your gun, that it would end your own life? Have you?”
“You were supposed to fucking die, motherfucker,” barked Raymond. His pasty white face was now red as a beet. “I put the bullet in the first chamber, so whoever would play with me would have his face blow-off. I wanted to see you die, you fucking piece of shit.”
“Do you think you’re the first guy to ever play Russian Roulette? Cemeteries are full of stupid kids like you. The Grim Reaper’s not only after old people. Motherfucker’s in shape.”
Lowell laughed again. Raymond made a move for the gun, but Lowell slapped him back in place .
“All that time. That bullet was meant, for you. Are you gonna be man enough to accept it?”
Raymond shook his head, frantically. “Can I, can I have one last line, before the trip?”
“No. Fuck this. Will I really have to do this myself?”
“No. I will. I will do it, don’t worry, man.”
Lowell handed the gun to Raymond, who took it and immediately aimed it back at Lowell’s chest. “You predictable little shit. SHOOT. Don’t you get that it’s what I want? I’m laughing because I can’t seem to die. Not because you don’t want to. You’re pitiful. You’re a waste of my time.”
“Shut up. Shut up or I bust a-”
“Do it!” He opened the lapels of his trench coat, making a big, inviting target for Raymond. There was another heavy silence. An eternal one, before Raymond decided to turn heel and run in the other direction. He disappeared into dawn without any trace. The reek of urine invaded the senses of everybody present in the bar. The most sensible noses were covered by hands in seconds.
Lowell turned around and said: “He didn’t even have the courtesy to leave his piece here.” He laughed again. All alone, still. His humor had never been a big hit. The thought of an avoided train wreck was in everybody’s mind, but in Lowell’s the train was still at the horizons and his feet were stuck, welded to the tracks.
In two hours he would have to go to work again. He walked out of the bar and looked around for Raymond Kuntar. Nothing. Nobody ever saw him again after that night. He walked up the street without a destination in mind. He soaked in his thoughts, like he had been doing for the past week or so. What had just happened there? He stopped in front of a women boutique’s display window. As he turned, his trench coat flopped and, for an instant, it looked like a tentacle to him. He laughed to himself and thought those excesses might just do the job afterwards. Under the lamppost’s orange glow, he looked like absolute shit. Dressed in black like an undertaker and yet, pasty-white. His eyes were so bagged, you could see veins under them.
“I look like the grim reaper” he whispered.
The world stopped around him. He held his breath as a long buried memory crawled back. He was thirteen years old and sitting on a church bench with mom, dad and the girls. They had just moved to Atlanta and they didn’t have a church, so they stumbled upon that weird, gospel place that cured people. This old cripple got wheeled in to the front of the church where believers were dancing and spasming altogether. The old gizzard must’ve been eighty, maybe ninety years old? He got up from his chair, started running around the church like a sprinter and yelling in a booming voice: “I AM CURED, PRAISE THE LORD. HALLELUJAH JESUS.”
No proverbial lightning from above, no magical glitter or clouds of dust, like in the movies. It just happened. Like a reminder from God to humanity that he was still there, that they were right to be hopeful. A few weeks later, the old man’s photo was in the local newspaper. He had died while saving his great-granddaughter from house fire.
Lowell nodded at his reflection in the window.
“Grim reaper. Maybe that’s it.”
Benoît Lelièvre is a twenty-nine years old pulp writer from Montreal, Canada. He loves everything dark, from psychological horror to black humor, so his stories reflects that a lot. He's been published in anthologies such as Beat To A Pulp: Hardboiled, Off The Record and The Lost Children and also in magazines such as Needle, Shotgun Honey and The Nautilus Engine. He's working on longer projects now, but he always has time for a short story here and there. Aside from fiction, he has a growing readership on his blog Dead End Follies, where he reviews books, movies and discusses writing and pop culture. He's also on Twitter, so feel free to drop by and say hi.