TEARS OF THE DAMNED a counterfactual tale by Andy Nowicki Dylan Klebold was haunted by nightmares that seemed incredibly real. He saw, felt, heard all kinds of carnage. Gunshots, explosions, screams. But the worst thing was the laughter. As loud as everything else was, it still drowned out the rest. It took many forms: chortling, cackling, hooting, and hollering. The person laughing seemed oblivious to the suffering around him; in fact, it was worse than that-- he was openly relishing all of the death and destruction. “This is awesome!” he heard the voice say one time. Then he woke up with a start, realizing that the voice was his own. Dylan ignored the nightmares at first. They only came every once in a while. He put them out of his mind and got on with his life But then, late in April following the third birthday of his daughter Grace, they began hitting with such frequency that they became a severe distraction. His wife, moreover, began to notice odd nocturnal behavior. More than once, she‟d been awakened by the sound of her husband‟s laughter. Her first reaction was annoyance; she figured that Dylan had seen something funny on TV. Like many wives, she was mystified and often appalled by her husband‟s sense of humor. Dylan was probably watching a rerun of “Jackass” or that Japanese show where the contestants in stupid costumes have to run through an elaborate obstacle course and end up tumbling helplessly into the mud, while English-speaking announcers provide goofy, dubbed faux-narration. What was so funny about seeing people hurt themselves? Beatrice Klebold would never understand it. She sighed and went back to sleep. One night, after waking up with familiar irritation to the now-familiar peals of her husband„s guffaws, Beatrice realized that the bedroom television was off. Dylan was laughing in his sleep. She rolled over and looked him over with a sleepy quizzicality. A ghastly jack-o-lantern grin lit up his face. He chuckled again and again, rolling back and forth in a kind of autistic ecstasy. She heard him say things like “Yeah!” “Gotcha!” “Peekaboo-- hello under there!” “Whoa man, nice shot!”-- all interspersed between snorts and giggles. And then, strangely enough: “Do you believe in God?” The last was asked in a mocking, incredulous tone, as if to someone who ought to know better. Then silence. A moment or so later, Dylan shot out of bed and ran to the bathroom. Beatrice approached the door cautiously, and was about to call out and ask if he was okay when to her surprise she heard a series of choked, violent sobs. Dylan was crying. “I am living one dream and dreaming of another,” Dylan wrote in his diary the next morning. “In this other life, something has gone terribly wrong. I don‟t know what it is, but it has made me into a murderer. A killer without remorse. This is not me. And yet it is me. How can this be? Not sure, but I can‟t disregard the dreams any longer.. Too vivid. I need to make them stop.” ********************************************************************************* Dylan Klebold, almost thirty, was a long lanky man with alert eyes and an awkward, slumping posture not uncommon among tall guys who stick out when they would rather go unnoticed. He had long nursed a secret melancholy that bordered at times on suicidal depression. Still, it had been a long time sine he‟d actually contemplated harming himself. In the decade since high school, he‟d managed to smooth things out a bit, to right his ship somewhat. He‟d graduated from Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in 1999, then gone to Arizona State, where he‟d majored in computer science. Though his study habits weren‟t always the best, and he was threatened with academic probation a few times, Dylan was smart enough to buckle down and pull up his grades when he needed to do so. He dated girls, went to parties, and was gradually able to slough off the teenage angst that had afflicted him so severely during his high school years. During his junior year, he began going out with Beatrice, the girl he eventually married. He ended up landing a cushy job, though his father‟s connections had helped in that regard. Now he was one of many cubicle-dwelling white-collar working stiffs, pulling down a decent, if unexorbitant, salary. He was generally dependable, his supervisors felt, though he seemed to lack drive and ambition. At times, Dylan felt dissatisfied, trapped in a boring, bourgeois life. He was a creative person at heart, a writer, though he‟d failed so far to find his artistic focus. Sometimes as he sat in his office in his shirt and tie, staring at the cubicle walls and the screensaver picture of Beatrice and Grace, his thoughts would wander back to the Columbine years. Of course he didn‟t miss those days, not in the least. He‟d been miserable. He‟d hated himself and he‟d hated just about everyone else. He felt picked-on, put-upon, harassed, chewed-up, spat-out. His parents were always nagging him about his grades, and they were always on his case about getting more “involved” in school and elsewhere. They were worried about how much of a loner he was, how insecure he acted, the kind of music he liked. His prissy mom always talked to him like he was still a little kid, telling him to push his chair in at the table and criticizing his tendency not to make eye contact with others. His dad was more aloof, as dads tend to be, but Dylan could still feel his disapproval and concern. He got tired of his older brother, Byron, always ripping on him, and his extended family treating him like he was the runt of the litter, the embarrassment of a rich, successful family. Then there was school. Fucking obnoxious jocks wearing white caps to signify their status, idolized by everyone... He was tired of those creeps calling him a fag because he liked techno music, and slamming him into lockers and elbowing him in the hallway, throwing M and M‟s at him and his friends during lunch. And the girls all loved these jerks, but wouldn‟t give a skinny loser like him the time of day. And all the smug little Christian kids-- “Xians,” as he and his friends mockingly called them-- telling him he‟d burn in Hell unless he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, and looking down on him for the clothes he wore and the supposedly “satanic” bands he sported on his T-shirts. There was a time or two when he thought to himself that he‟d like to show them Hell for real. His whole life was Hell. Yes, it had been a miserable, terrible, horrible time. He was glad those days were over now, even if life still left him unsatisfied, disappointed, strangely sad. He‟d pulled it together, climbed out of his shell, grown up. The daily pain and humiliation of his teen years seemed a century away. Back then, he could barely even talk to a girl. Now, of course, he was a happily-married man. When he saw photographs of his senior picture, he could barely recognize the scrawny, 6‟3 140-pound boy with the mop of long hair as himself. He‟d filled out quite a bit-- he was up to 180 now-- and his hair had thinned considerably. He‟d stopped binge drinking (a nickname he‟d invented for himself back then, he recalled, was “VoDKa,” with the D and K capitalized for his initials). He got along fine with a bunch of guys in his office, many of whom would have aroused his hatred and contempt back in high school. He‟d “mellowed,” yes. But something was still missing. He loved his wife and his daughter, although the latter‟s existence for some reason frightened him a little. He tolerated his job, though his ego didn‟t let him forget that his dad‟s influence had helped him land it. He got along better with his parents now; they were proud of him for his accomplishments, meager though they were, and they didn‟t smother him with their worried disapproval anymore. He was gratified to have them placated, and glad to be a stable working man and a faithful husband and father. Yet something was lacking. There was a void somewhere within him. Sometimes he felt pushed or pulled by something to fill this void, whatever it was-- yet when he felt this push or pull something else within him shuddered. He sensed that it might be best simply to let the void alone, and to just go forward with things. Yet he continued to write in his spare time, and sometimes he would even do so at work, when his boss wasn‟t looking over his shoulder. Dylan‟s writings were weird, abstruse, philosophical. Sometimes he read them over and felt awed by what he had come up with, like some power-- be it for good or ill-- was working through him. Other times-- and frankly more often than not-- he couldn‟t make head or tail of his thoughts. They often seemed gratingly pretentious. Dylan had never relinquished his propensity for caustic self-criticism. He certainly had a long way to go before composing his masterpiece, the Great American Novel, or whatever it was, that would set the world on fire, whose scathing brilliance would burn everything to the ground and leave the whole world shell-shocked. Still, he kept trying. He‟d get there eventually. Maybe. Dylan struggled mightily with impatience, a malady that had long vexed him. ****************************************************************************** When he first dreamed of the massacre, it had been sort of cool. He felt an adrenaline rush unlike anything he‟d ever experienced before. He was a true action hero. His righteous wrath consumed everything and everyone in his path. No one could take this feeling away from him-- no one! This was true power, like he had never felt in his life. After this initial dream, which took place just a few nights after the day Grace was born, Dylan drove to work with a song in his heart. He entered the office with a spring in his step. He‟d even flirted a little with one of the prettier secretaries that day; he was feeling his oats. But the empowering feeling didn‟t last. Night after night, dream after dream slowly initiated him into greater and greater detail. At first, everything was vague except the feeling-- he strutted, he swaggered, people scattered before him. But the dreams became progressively more lucid, until the lucidity got painful. Of course, he was always happy during the dream itself. That was the truly scary part. Dylan gradually became aware that he was doing very bad things. He was throwing bombs, spraying people with bullets, killing them, maiming them, and enjoying it immensely. The moment he woke up, he would begin to feel the horror of it all and would be overwhelmed by a terrible sensation, worse than he had ever felt in the blackest moments of deepest depression. There was no hope whatsoever. The stain left on his soul was permanent; it would never be washed away. He cried and cried, but his tears brought no relief; they were the tears of the damned. After waking up from his dream, which always struck at around the 20 th of the month for some reason, Dylan was in his own private Hell for a long time. He wept in the living room or the bathroom while his wife slept in their bed. It usually took an hour or two for his mental equilibrium to return, for his terrible dream to cease to be reality. When his terror-stricken sense of despair subsided, it was replaced by a weary, listless despondency. He went back to sleep, woke up the next morning, dressed for work, and left without a word to his family. ******************************************************************************** Dylan had seen his share of shrinks as a teenager. In addition to his battles with depression, he‟d also had a few minor brushes with the law, as well as one not so minor brush. Most of the trouble he‟d gotten into had involved his friend Eric Harris. The two of them would often go out on “missions” at night, which usually involved low-grade mischief like egging the houses of certain jocks, shooting rounds from BB guns at their windows, and setting off homemade firework contraptions at a field near their neighborhood. In January of 1998, during junior year, the two of them had found what looked like an abandoned white van on a deserted road. It had all kinds of cool computer equipment inside, so they broke in, took what they wanted, loaded it into Eric‟s car and took off again, little suspecting that a passing cop had come across them at the very moment of their plunder. The cop had trailed them afterwards, then flashed his lights as they stopped to check out their spoils. He got out, flashed a light in their faces, and asked where they got the equipment. At first Eric and Dylan had tried to play innocent, to say they‟d just found the stuff outside, but eventually they had to confess that they had indeed broken into the vehicle and stolen the loot. The boys were arrested and slapped with criminal charges, and were only saved from juvenile detention by their two fathers‟ influence and willingness to pull strings with the local police department. They were assigned to Diversions, a community service program for trouble youth. Part of Eric and Dylan‟s rehabilitation involved seeing a lady counselor whose job was to monitor their progress. In the first few weeks of his enrollment, Eric had succeeded at impressing her with how much he had learned from his mistakes, and how he planned to straighten up and fly right from now on. It was utter bullshit, of course, but Eric could always play the “nice boy” act when he needed to. Dylan admired and envied his friend‟s coolness, his grace under pressure, his ability to smooth things over and throw everyone off the scent, all the while inwardly laughing at how easily they could be manipulated. Dylan had no such skills; his true feelings could always be read; he always cracked under scrutiny. This failing always infuriated Dylan about himself; he hated to feel so exposed, so vulnerable; he hated being laughed at, talked about, smirked over, derided. He wished he possessed Eric‟s cold, calculating demeanor; he wanted to burn with hate on the inside without ever letting the outside world know. Of course, clever as he was, Eric could also be careless, and this was what eventually landed him in even deeper trouble. Eric, like Dylan, treasured the idea of striking back at his enemies; their shared hatred for the outside world was their bond. They dreamed of making all the stuck-up, overprivileged preps at their school pay for the crime of their very existence in some dramatic way. Such was the limited point of their “missions,” although Eric sometimes talked of taking things to “another level.” Dylan didn‟t know what this new “level” would involve, but he felt sure that the two of them together would come up with something good-- really good. Alas, the adventures of “Reb” and “VoDKa”--Eric and Dylan‟s code names for one another-- were fated to come to a screeching halt. Eric was indiscreet. He developed a grudge against a former friend named Brooks Brown, and he nursed this grudge with typical, Eric-like gusto. His rage against Brooks exploded onto the personal web page he maintained, where he not only posted Brooks‟s phone number and home address, but also threatened to kill him several times. At the same site, Eric boasted of having built several pipe bombs, and said he promised to use them soon in a manner he promised would wreak maximum havoc and take out a bunch of his enemies, including Brooks. Smooth a customer as he was, Eric also had a sloppy and imprudent streak. His anger, which fueled his creativity and gave him energy and drive to take on new tasks and pursue ambitious goals also led him to displays of bravado like the one on his web page, which were ultimately counter-productive and could only result in his ambitions being thwarted. Eric‟s site was discovered, Brooks‟s parents were altered, they went to the police, an investigation followed, and a warrant was obtained to search Eric‟s house. In the basement of the Harris residence, cops found Eric‟s arsenal, and even Eric couldn‟t talk his way out of this jam. Eric‟s dad, who had labored so mightily to keep his son out of worse trouble, found that he no longer had any control over the escalating situation. Eric was sent away to a juvenile detention facility, and was expelled from Columbine High School. As a result, Dylan completed the Diversion program without his partner-in-crime. During senior year, Dylan lost contact with his friend. He tried to write him letters, but never heard back. He was never sure if the letters he sent ever reached their intended recipient. After a few attempts, he gave up, dejected. Though he knew other kids at Columbine, Dylan missed Eric terribly. Somehow, in the midst of his sorrow over his friend‟s absence, Dylan felt strangely robbed, cheated, gypped. He deserved, and expected more somehow; he felt that he and Eric had been on their way to greatness before their dynamic duo was tragically torn apart by circumstance. Dylan‟s mom and dad were bewildered and disconcerted to find their son utterly inconsolable over Eric‟s disappearance from his life. Eventually, of course, Dylan rebounded from his brooding doldrums. It took a while, but he got over the loss of Eric. Spring semester, he brought up his grades enough to be accepted at Arizona State. When Dylan walked across the stage to accept his diploma, his normally staid parents cheered loudly. His mother teared up afterwards, and his father‟s smiling face calmly radiated love and pride. It hadn‟t always been easy, but he‟d managed to make it through his high school years alive and in one piece. *************************************************************************** The next time Dylan heard anything about Eric was nearly three years later. In November 2001, a few months into Dylan‟s junior year of college, word came that Pfc. Eric Nathan Harris , age 20, had bravely given his life for his country Eric, it turned out, had joined the Marines in 2000, after obtaining his GED following his incarceration. He had distinguished himself in every way during his rehabilitation process, showing what all observers determined to be true repentance for his previous wrongdoings. The Marines had been impressed by his character, and had taken him in, where he‟d shown true mettle; he had risen rapidly though the ranks, and when his nation called for his service after the shocking events of 9/11, had proved himself more than prepared. Eric‟s unit was one of the first to storm into Afghanistan to take out the Taliban. He died in the heat of battle, having shown great courage and intensity as a soldier, and won a posthumous medal of honor. His fellow troops praised him as a born leader. A story began to spread about the final moments of Pfc. Harris‟s life on the battlefield. It was claimed that while traversing the godforsaken mountainous terrain, Eric‟s unit was surprised by a sudden ambush. He was wounded by a Taliban fighter, who then stood over him, holding a Kalashnikov to his head while his comrades snickered cruelly. The Taliban told Eric that he might let him live, depending on how he answered a question. Then the despicable bearded terrorist leaned close into Eric‟s face and asked, “Do you believe in the United States of America?” Eric, grimacing with pain, still mustered the strength to shout “Yes sir!” before lunging out his right arm, finding his own weapon, and in a flash swinging around to shoot his tormentor‟s smirking face right between the eyes just before perishing in a hale of bullets from the other combatants. It was said that other members of Eric‟s unit were so inspired by his display of defiance that they rushed out from their hiding places and lustily finished off the evil men who had been terrorizing their brother in arms just moments earlier. Eric‟s father Wayne, a retired military man himself, felt moved to write a book about his now famous son, entitled He Said Yes Sir!: The Unlikely Journey of Eric Harris, an American Hero. In the months that followed the book‟s publication, some began to dispute the veracity of the story of Eric‟s death, calling it “impossible” and “preposterous.” Some even claimed that the evidence indicated that Pfc. Harris actually died of friendly fire. Regardless, the legend was born, and once born, grew into a life of its own. The naysayers found that people preferred the stirring legend to the less-glorious facts. He Said Yes Sir! became an inspirational bestseller. Back at Columbine principal Frank DeAngelis gave a tearful speech, in which he called Eric a “fallen hero.” DeAngelis made reference to Eric‟s past troubles, but said he showed true fortitude in pulling his life together before selflessly sacrificing himself for our freedom. “When his country was attacked, Eric Nathan Harris fearlessly put himself in harm‟s way to defend all of us,” DeAngelis said. “His is a shining example to all of us.” Eric never officially graduated from Columbine, yet he was made an honorary graduate, and his parents were presented a certificate during a ceremony that attracted thousands from the local community and across the country. Many a tear was shed when DeAngelis concluded his speech with his voice breaking as he proclaimed, “God bless you, Eric Harris. Columbine High School owes you a debt of gratitude. We will never forget you. Rest in peace, brave soldier.” ******************************************************************************** After the initial shock of the news wore off, Dylan found himself feeling emotions that were harder to comprehend. He felt somehow guilty, like he‟d let his friend down. He felt that he ought to have been by Eric‟s side when he died. And he felt that he too should be dead, but that he‟d gotten off easy. Once again, Dylan couldn‟t help thinking that he‟d been cheated out of something that was rightfully his. He and Eric had belonged together in life, as well as in death. But what could it mean, this bizarre thought? Dylan shook it off. After a period of mourning, he fell back into the intricacies of his collegiate life: the weekday classes, the weekend parties, the daily, weekly, monthly routine. He met Beatrice in a class spring semester and they began dating. Beatrice was quite taken with what she considered Dylan‟s awkward charm. He was smart and sensitive, but at times unpredictably moody. She was, at times, thrown off by his inexplicable tendency to withdraw emotionally, to shut down. His brooding moods were often triggered by the most inexplicable of things. Sometimes he would read a headline or catch a glimpse of a story of murder somewhere in the world-- whether occurring on some dusty street in Iraq littered with roadside bombs, or in the midst of sordid goings-on in some drug-infested semi-celebrity‟s mansion-- and his face would take on an peculiar expression that almost seemed to display wistful regret. Beatrice wasn‟t sure how to read Dylan at moments like this-- was he overly-sensitive to all the pain and suffering of life, or did his odd reactions to tragic and appalling events reveal something else about him, something less seemly? But Dylan was also capable of opening up about himself, when the spirit moved him to do so. He confided in her once that he often thought of most of the human race as “zombies,” and found it hard to relate to anyone. Beatrice was disturbed, yet intrigued. She‟d always liked guys who where a little different, and Dylan was certainly that. As their time together progressed, he eventually told her many things about his past. He was, he stated plainly, a criminal. She was startled when he told her this, but relieved when his “crimes” turned out mainly to be what struck her as harmless teenage pranks. Dylan, however, seemed oddly insistent that his criminal status was a serious matter. Beatrice at length found herself wondering if he‟d really told her everything he had done. She even at one time during senior year,-- though it pained her to remember this-- had ordered a criminal background check on Dylan from an online source. This was at around the eight month point of their relationship, when it seemed that things might be getting serious. When she received the results, she felt deeply ashamed: Dylan indeed had nothing more on his record aside from the van break-in incident, an act he‟d committed while still a minor. She confessed soon after what she had done, and Dylan got upset-- very upset. He yelled at her, cursed her out, told her he thought she was different, but she was really just the same as everyone else. The rage in his voice was startling; she‟d never heard him like this. Beatrice felt horrible, and felt like she may have totally blown it, that she was going to lose him. She told Dylan she loved him, shaking and sobbing all the while, and begging for his forgiveness. He didn‟t speak for a long moment. Then he asked her why she did it, and she said she wasn‟t sure. She‟d been put off by him pronouncing himself a criminal. She had dated boys in the past who seemed a bit edgy, and on more than one occasion they‟d turned out to be bad news. A couple had even been abusive-- one had given her a black eye, and she‟d had to call the police. Dylan listened to her tearful explanation with a listless air. In time he nodded, and indicated that he understood. Chastened by this talk, Beatrice resolved to be more trusting from then on. She really liked Dylan and wanted him to continue to be in her life. For all of his weird and offputting behavior, he was mostly very kind to her. He also had an endearingly goofy sense of humor-- he would burst out laughing during odd moments during a movie, and could mug endlessly, imitating a pompous professor or an arrogant police officer or a hypocritical televangelist charlatan, and would go on and on until she couldn‟t help but be tickled by his manic, over-the-top shtick. The night he proposed to her, he first told Beatrice a few things about himself that he‟d never admitted before. She had known about his acquaintance with Eric Harris, but Dylan dropped a true bombshell that night. It was he, Dylan, who‟d been responsible for Eric‟s second arrest, the one that had gotten him expelled and sent away. He, Dylan, had told Brooks Brown about Eric‟s website. Why had he done it? It had all been an awkward attempt to make peace, he explained. Eric was his friend, and Brooks was his friend, and though he‟d often listened to Eric‟s rants against “that lazy two-faced asshole, Brooks Brown,” without objections, secretly Dylan wanted them all to get along. He was dismayed at the fact that Eric was making death threats against Brooks on his website, and wanted to broker reconciliation between his two friends, yet he felt that trying to do so by direct suggestion would be futile. But he hadn‟t thought it through-- he‟d gone about it all haphazardly, which was a common problem for Dylan. Eric would have known how to achieve this mission in an orderly way; he took a colder, more logical mindset when he was determined to get something done. Dylan‟s choice to tell Brooks about Eric‟s site backfired badly; instead of inspiring Brooks to confront Eric and work out their problems, the news instead spurred him to tell his parents, who then told the police, who then found Eric‟s website and pipe bombs. In short, Dylan‟s act had sealed his friend Eric‟s doom. Beatrice reached out and touched Dylan‟s hand as he finished relating this account. Dylan just sat there. She didn‟t know how to read his face. He was telling her things that must have been painful to relate, but without betraying any obvious emotion. His voice was flat, neutered of all sentiment. She softly told him that he shouldn‟t feel responsible for Eric‟s death, that Eric had chosen the Marines of his own free will, knowing the risks. Dylan looked a bit annoyed. He knew that, he said. He didn‟t feel like that was his fault. He just felt like he shouldn‟t have made Eric go away; he wanted to be with Eric, not apart from him. It was very hard to explain, he said. He and Eric had had a bond, one that he hadn‟t felt with many people. “What about me?” Beatrice dared to ask. Dylan smiled. She adored his smile-- it was so boyish, so mischievous. For a moment, all of the darkness in his soul just vanished. He seemed to her to be touched by her question, but instead of answering he said, “Marry me.” Beatrice couldn‟t breathe for a moment; then she recovered her wits and insisted that he ask that question properly. He broke out in raucous laughter, then fell to his knees and repeated the request. If one were to have asked her at that moment if she believed in God, Beatrice, an agnostic, would have said yes. If her questioner had approached her with a gun and threatened to kill her if she answered incorrectly, she would still have said yes. In answer to Dylan‟s question, Beatrice, tears clouding her eyes, said yes. ******************************************************************************* Dylan and Beatrice were married just after they graduated college in 2003. Soon after, Dylan landed his job in Denver, just a stone‟s throw from Littleton, and the two bought a house not far from where Dylan‟s parents lived. For the next six years, things were stable, for the most part. Beatrice taught elementary school for three years, then quit to be a stay-at-home mom when their daughter was born. It had been Beatrice who insisted on naming her Grace; it was a family name that she‟d always just found compelling, for some reason. Dylan had thought it sounded ridiculously old-fashioned, like the name of somebody‟s great-grandmother; he had mocked her mercilessly for her allegiance to it. Yet after the baby was born on April 20, 2006, the joshing ceased. Things were different now. Grace was upon them. Dylan had a hard time adjusting to fatherhood. Beatrice knew it was a difficult transition, and she tried to be sympathetic, but it bothered her how her husband never seemed comfortable around the baby. It wasn‟t just that he didn‟t like to hold her; this she could attribute to fear (not-uncommon among first-time fathers) that he may drop her. No, Dylan‟s reticence seemed more extreme; it often took the form of wariness, bordering on panic, that seemed to overtake him when he saw her. Beatrice‟s girlfriends were quick to reassure her that it was no big deal-- he was probably just overwhelmed with the sudden responsibility of being a dad. Beatrice pretended to agree when they said things like this-- she felt a little guilty talking about her husband behind his back, as if she couldn‟t trust him-- but secretly her apprehensions deepened. At times she felt her heart keenly stabbed by a hot blade of…. what? Something like fear, or more accurately, dread. But why, and for what reason? She didn‟t know, but tried to distract herself by turning her attention to her beloved little one. *********************************************************************************** Dylan‟s first dark dream took place just after the birth of Grace. It recurred monthly, always at around the 20th. As time wore on, and Grace grew from an infant to a toddler, from a roller to a crawler to a walker, the dreams grew more horribly lucid, until finally they were practically life-like, their events impossible to distinguish from those of Dylan‟s waking existence. The barrage hit just after Grace‟s third birthday in 2009. For the first time, Dylan‟s nightmare of hilarity, mayhem, murder, and destruction began to recur nightly, instead of monthly. After a week of withstanding this nightly psychic assault, Dylan feared he was losing his mind. He couldn‟t eat or work; he felt sick and drained, as if possessed by a parasitic demon that was sucking him dry. For the first time since his teenage years, he found himself seriously contemplating suicide. The one thing that brought relief was the thought of a noose around his neck, a knife‟s blade kissing his wrists, a gun against his head. And suddenly that too started happening in his dreams. He saw himself putting a rifle‟s end to his mouth and pulling the trigger. In the dream, as dream-Dylan, he felt a profound sense of pride and accomplishment as the blast rattled into his skull. He felt fiercely vindicated, sated, pleasured in a way he had never know in his actual life. Then he woke up and wept again. The most horrible thing this time was that he almost yearned for that sensation to return. While he cried, he wasn‟t sure if his tears were remorseful, the result of sorrowing over his murderous acts, or if the true cause of his sadness was the fact that his dream wasn‟t real. Did he, could he actually, wish that he‟d done these things, that he‟d found a path that had led to such an end? What did he really want to be doing-- living this dream that was his life, or dreaming of this other life, this other death? Where did he belong? And there was something else. In his dream, his friend Eric was there. Eric didn‟t die alone on a battlefield in some remote desert on the other side of the world. Instead, Eric and Dylan died together, side by side, in the presence of their enemies at Columbine High School. ************************************************************************************** So Dylan went to see a shrink. He did so largely as an act of desperation, not because he believed it would do him any good. Maybe, just maybe, the psychiatrist would be able to prescribe him drugs that would make the nightmares stop. The shrink, picked pretty much at random from the Psychiatry section of the Yellow Pages, turned out to be an elegantly attired man in his late fifties. He somewhat resembled Dylan‟s mental picture of a priest, with his black shirt, grey hair, and somber demeanor. Dylan didn‟t really feel like telling the guy much, but he knew that only someone of his ilk could give Dylan access to medicine that might restore his mental equilibrium. In order for that to happen, Dylan had to talk about his dreams. He couldn‟t bullshit the man; he was never any good at that. It was rough, having to spill his guts to a stranger, but it had to be done, so when the doctor asked what his “issues” were, Dylan talked. He spoke of his high school years, and about Eric. He and Eric had done some bad things, and finally they‟d gotten caught. Yet Dylan had the feeling that, somehow, what they‟d do later would make everything that came before look like child‟s play. The momentum was building to some horrible, glorious act that would make the world stand up and take notice, that would fascinate and harrow the American public, a revolutionary gesture of such ferocity and terror as to make the demons tremble in the depths of Hell. So Dylan felt at the time. He felt a kinship with Eric that he‟d never felt before with anyone. They were two pissed-off hombres, destined for stardom, or infamy, or both. But for some reason, this never came to be. Dylan had messed it all up, inadvertently, putting an end to their still-developing plans. Dylan paused. That was the story, and the story had reached its conclusion. And yet, there was more to the story. He closed his eyes, then opened them again. The shrink just sat there, said nothing. That silent act shrinks pull, when they want to get you to say something more about something. Dylan knew it well. What more could be said? Nothing. And yet, there was more to the story. Well, did he want those drugs or not? Did he want those dreams to cease, or did he want those images and sounds to keep tearing into his psyche, until his insides were in pieces, shredded beyond repair? How could he carry on at work, carry on as a husband and father, while haunted and hounded in this way? He had no choice. He had to touch that void within him, that void his better nature had always instructed him to leave untouched, whose very existence was best left unacknowledged. He couldn‟t avoid it, couldn‟t repress it any longer. He spoke. “The dreams I‟ve been having are not like dreams I‟ve ever had before. They‟re visceral. I see, hear, feel everything. Like I‟m really there. Like I‟m doing those things.” He paused again, then spoke again, as the shrink stared, legs crossed, writing pad in lap: “Every time, it‟s the same. It‟s my high school. Eric and I try to set off a bunch of bombs, but it doesn‟t work, so we just go to plan B: we run in with guns blazing. We shoot as many kids as we can. We‟re loving it, having a blast. It feels real good to dish it out, with a vengeance, instead of just taking it, like we did for so many years. We taunt those stupid fuckers as they‟re begging for mercy. They cringe before us. We decide who lives and who dies. It‟s up to us.” Dylan noticed that his voice had become almost a snarl. He hardly recognized it anymore as his own, like in his dreams. Was he really himself when he talked this way, said these things? These words, this behavior, didn‟t register to himself as belonging to himself. Yet if he were honest, he would have to admit that it was truly him. He was being himself when he spoke this way just as much as he was himself the rest of the time. It was all a part of him-- the waking-Dylan and the dream-Dylan were the same person. The shrink‟s eyes had widened. Dylan‟s outburst had shocked the doctor as much as it had amazed himself. For a moment, Dylan felt embarrassed, as if he were sitting there naked. Then he knew he couldn‟t stop; he had to plow through, right into the dark heart of the void within. “What if I did it?” he muttered. “It could have happened. It would have happened. It‟s not like I chose not to do it. I never had a chance to, is all. Me and Eric were gonna do something; we both knew that. We felt it in our bones. Say things had happened differently. I mean, say that the police never followed up on the complaint Brooks‟s parents made. Say they never searched Eric‟s house, never found those pipe bombs, never sent him away. Say we‟re both seniors together at Columbine High School. In a low voice, almost a whisper, Dylan said, “We would have done it. I would have become a mass murderer. I‟d be dead right now, instead of talking to you. I‟d be dead, and I‟d be burning in Hell, forever.” ********************************************************************************* Dylan and the shrink sat together in silence. This time, Dylan could tell that the man wasn‟t prompting him to say more. Instead, he was trying to recover his wits. Dylan smirked a little, and part of him was tempted to shout: “What‟s wrong „doctor‟? You worthless piece of shit! Cat got your tongue? Not so clever and superior now, are you?” He pictured the man clutching at his chest, suffering a heart attack before his eyes, and he pictured himself getting right in his formerly-smug little face, screaming with laughter. He pictured a bullet piercing the man‟s skull, his blood and brains scattering all over the carpets of the nice, antiseptic office. He saw the man‟s hands and feet riven by spikes, his chest pierced as he screamed in agony and Dylan mocking his screams as he reached into the wound and pulled out his heart, gushing with blood and still pounding grotesquely in his hands. As these fantasies pulsated in Dylan‟s fevered mind, the shrink‟s eyes were lowered-- in shame or fear, it wasn‟t clear which. Then with an effort of will, he raised them again and looked Dylan square in the face, with the expression of a man grimly determined to expel a demon in his midst. “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” he said. “And there, but for the grace of God, go you.” ********************************************************************************* That night, Dylan walked into his daughter‟s room. There lay Grace in her crib, dozing peacefully, sleeping the sleep of the just. There lay Grace. He knew the state of her soul-- she rested comfortably in the cradle of grace. But where was Dylan‟s soul? Was it truly grace that had saved him, or merely happenstance? Given that he would have blackened his soul beyond recognition had things gone differently, was he really any better than the Dylan of his dreams? In no way had he chosen to be a better man. Fate had merely intervened. Given these truths, was Dylan really in a state of grace? “If this is grace,” he muttered through clenched teeth, “then why does it feel like Hell?” For a moment, everything in the room was transformed before his eyes. His daughter‟s room became a vast, fiery cavern of infinite proportions. Dylan‟s body was licked by flames that burnt beyond any pain he ever knew or could imagine, yet left him unconsumed. He should have been instantly turned to ash, yet continued somehow to remain whole, as the fire of fires continued to scorch him without mercy. At the same time, he saw his daughter metamorphose into something both ghastly and familiar; he could swear that she jumped up, pointed, and laughed a screeching, taunting, terrible laugh. The next morning, Beatrice found her husband‟s crumpled body at the foot of their daughter‟s crib, an expression of indescribable agony on his face. Grace was sleeping soundly, utterly impervious, thumb jammed in mouth.
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