By Erin Cole
Pam lived a sheltered life, like most of us, ferrets in the cage of a civilized society. She thought life was about work, about the mundane responsibilities of buying milk, taking her car to the repair shop, and recycling. It was about trying to lose weight and lower her cholesterol, about watching Walking Dead, babysitting her niece, and trying to get that promotion that kept falling through her hands like wet noodles. But seven seconds can change just about everything, especially when they are occurring at the speed of fucking terror.
For Pam, one second proved to be the difference between normalcy and hell. It intruded into her mundane world much like a stick in the ribs when her ex-coworker, Stan, the one who was fired last week, the one who was rude to customers and surfed porn on his computer, walked into the office with a semi-automatic gun.
Though it seemed obvious to say, Pam didn’t realize then that life was actually about staying alive. It was about keeping your guts inside your skin, ducking your brain matter from the drill of zipping bullets, and biting down on your screams when a friend split open in front of you. Life, as Pam would soon learn, was sometimes, simply, about not dying.
The First Second
The blast from Stan’s gun cut into Pam’s ears as though it were actually shards of glass. She had heard gunfire on the television, in the theater, even music, but never in real life, never standing just ten coffee-break paces away.
Deafening didn’t describe it. She likened it to the arms of a giant, snatching her by the shoulders and shaking her person from its bones. It reached a hand into her throat and pulled out a voice she didn’t recognize—that of a cowering, sniffling child she thought she had lost long ago.
The Second Second
Pam didn’t dive to the floor, that instinct to escape danger. Instead, fear raped her of muscle and shoved her down on her knees, kicked her in the gut, and spat on her head. That is how she would describe it later—fear, the goddamn bully that rammed her face in the Berber carpet and made fun of her undies showing, the thin, faded stained ones she didn’t want anyone to see.
Fear had reduced her to a crawling thing, a blubbering shell of pathetic weakness. In complete mercy to a prick who knew of no mercy. A prick who walked out last week shouting, “Fuck you!” He had pointed at her and others, “And fuck you! And you! And you! Fuck you all!” He slammed through the front doors—Thank God he’s gone, everyone had agreed.
But Stan wasn’t gone…not in that sense. Stan was just getting started. He bought more bullets, listened to Eminem, Tool, and Ozzy Osborne, dressed himself in ammo and black leather, and made promises to people he hated in the mirror. Stan was gelling a new mold for himself, birthing the monster he always knew he was. But this didn’t occur out of coercion; it came forth willingly, almost pleadingly, and he petted it.
You are going to die! Pam’s thoughts bawled. She cranked her head to the side as a body flew past her. Not one running or diving to the floor. This one, his name was Tim Reynolds (he was their accountant), soared through midair with a shower of bright, red, chunky blood spraying from the back of his head. Blood that looked more like pureed mushroom marinara. He landed with limbs splayed limp, as though asleep. Slumped by the deformities of death. He’s dead! Stan killed Tim! Tim is dead! More bawling thoughts, all crammed into her head like bees in a hive.
Shock is a rapid occurrence in susceptible minds, those who are already vulnerable to the voices of the dark, those who don’t carefully plan for the future or analyze the past, but for someone like Pam, it just didn’t happen. It belonged in Wall Street executives, parents of twins, church-goers learning of born-again atheists, and dim-witted sluts in horror movies—not in Pam, not when she was at work, going about her day filing monthly reports.
But, shock did break Pam, broke her into several unrecognizable parts: there was Scared Pam, I’m So Fucking Stupid I Didn’t See This Coming Pam, Still Single Pam, I’m Going to Key Stan’s Fucking Car Pam, and Tormented Frail Pam. These parts of her self were strangers, and she hated them all. Angry Pam would have been her next self had she not seen a sharp shadow descend over her. The shadow of Bad Stan, with his big, fancy, black automatic gun. Stan who liked plump tits and asses to go with them, Stan who always parked crooked, stole food from the fridge, never returned customer phone calls, and hoarded all the office supplies. Yeah, that Stan—Piece of Fucking Shit Stan with a Loaded Fucking Gun Stan.
Stan’s shadow might as well have been the devil. He towered over Pam with searing hate in his eyes. She realized then that she didn’t really know Stan and never had. But he didn’t know her either; otherwise, he wouldn’t be pointing his devil-gun at her. People made fun of her too—still, she wasn’t about to go out and purchase a pawn shop gun and shoot their brains out for it. She wanted to tell him that, shove it down his throat until he gagged for pity. People are mean and that’s just a part of life. But here she was, living that fucking part of life. The last of the ink to her story: Homely Woman Shot Dead Before She Could Make Something of Herself.
At that moment, Pam wanted to be evil like Stan. His gaze had infected her, and she spat at him with the fiery, nasty hate of a demon child.
Stan smiled—maybe he liked her now, now that she had proved to him that she could be vile too. But no, of course not. Life was never effortless like that; it was a merciless, cutthroat motherfucker like Stan, Selfish Stan, The Only Evil Allowed in the World Stan, and he raised his gun and pointed it at her face, his finger curling over the trigger.
Pam’s body flinched under the pressure of impending death. A blast cracked through the air, further puncturing the tender drums of her ears with invisible splinters of glass. She anticipated the burn of a bullet nailing her to the floor in a pool of ache. But what she realized next melted over her—gooey, chocolate icing on warm brownies or the heat of stepping into a hot tub with a cute guy. It was Stan, sinking to the floor with a blood-soaked hole in the middle of his forehead. Evil Stan, Selfish Stan, Perverted Piece of Shit Stan with his Big Fancy Black Gun Stan. Dead Stan.
Pam stood, dumbfounded beneath the yellowing corkboard ceiling of the Metroplex Plaza, and took in the architectural revulsion around her: the moaning survivors aghast with horror, the unlucky chosen stilled by the unthinkable, and the lunatic who had orchestrated it all, his expression softer in death than it had ever been in life. There was only one Pam now, I Am Alive Pam.
One Hour A.S. (After. Stan.)
There were many questions, several police, lots of spinning, red, white lights, most of it just a robotic blur of ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ ‘I don’t know,’ ‘maybe.’ After a long, draining hour, I’m Still Alive Pam walked out of the . A cruel, white-cold sun tucked itself behind the pines. She spotted more police surrounding Dead Stan’s car, which had been parked directly in front of her rental. They stepped away carrying boxes of his things. Probably more ammunition and some pathetic note about how sorry or how not sorry he was and blah, blah, blah.
A ring hummed in her purse. She pulled out her phone (the repair shop) and answered.
“Hello?” It still wasn’t her voice.
“It’s Strifer’s Auto Shop, just letting you know that your car is ready.”
He paused on the line, maybe thinking she had simply forgotten about her car, which she had, but it wasn’t for simple reasons. It was because she had blood speckled over her hands and face, blood that didn’t belong to her, dark, red evil blood that shriveled up dry against her skin. It was because she had images, fresh, hot memories and feelings that squirmed in her head and gut in a slimy, scaly life of its own.
“We’ll be open until 9 p.m.”
“’Kay.” She hung up.
Life was mundane again. Mundane and tinted with fuckedupness.
The police were still sifting through Dead Stan’s things. Pam had to walk by his car to get to hers. Gripping the long rental key in her fingers, she ran the tip down the length of Dead Stan’s car as she passed by, starting at the gas tank and stopping at the hood. It grated under her fingers and screeched a quiet bird’s tune in her ear. Her numbness ebbed slightly. Revengeful, Devious Pam smiled to herself, thinking how pissed Alive Stan would have been.
Erin Cole is a dark fiction writer, often lured by the curling fingers of crime and horror, though she manages to ‘blend in.’ She has work published and forthcoming in publications such as, Shotgun Honey, MicroHorror, Pulp Metal Magazine, and Every Day Fiction. She is the author of the mystery novel, Grave Echoes, and the horror anthology collection, Of the Night. www.erincolewrites.com