!! Content warning: physical violence, vehicular homicide, and profanity !!
Brennan Mallory | May 22nd | 5:49 pm
I cried on the couch, still clutching the phone. Thana’s words reverberated off the inner walls of my brain and mocked my sorrow. “I never want to look at your pathetic face ever again. You disgust me,” she had spit into the phone before hanging up. I imagined she was smiling to herself, thrilled to finally have a reason to leave that didn’t make her feel like an asshole. Nobody blames the woman who walks out on a man for cheating.
What people didn’t know is how she wasn’t hurt by the betrayal. Or at least she didn’t appear to be. Instead, she scoffed at my confession like I was an insect that needed to be squished and thrown away. When I looked into her eyes and admitted what I had done, she laughed and said, “Oh, Brennan, you pathetic little man. Honestly, I’m not surprised. I don’t know why I expected anything more from my own husband than him fucking a blonde blue-eyed slut instead of giving two shits about his wife.” Then, without saying a word, she left, leaving me shivering with a sinking feeling in my chest.
I called her, insisting I was regretful and ashamed at what I had done, and she responded with hateful words. I didn’t blame her though. I wouldn’t forgive me either.
I needed a drink. When I stood up, I cried out in agony as searing pain rushed to my head. Groaning, I put my wallet in my black sweatshirt pocket and walked out the door.
Pink and orange clouds streaked the sky. Streetlamps glowed as dusk crept in and cast shadows on the empty streets. I walked across my front lawn to my truck and started the engine.
Breathing heavily and hands grasping the steering wheel, I tried to focus on the long winding road ahead of me. But all I could see was Katie. Soft golden curls framed her face and she had a small birthmark on her cheek. She loved running her fingers through my hair, saying she always had a thing for redheads. Katie was never one for modesty.
Being with her was my salvation. I felt terrible for admitting it, but I didn’t enjoy anything in my life except her company. I didn’t realize how miserable I was until I met Katie. She showed me what happiness felt like.
What we did was wrong. I would be lying to myself if I said I didn’t know that. But I didn’t know how to live without her. Being with her was a drug; the more time we spent together, the more dependent I became until I felt like I couldn’t live without her.
After a year had gone by, guilt trickled back until it was so intense that I couldn’t think of anything else. I understood that Katie and I were not meant to be. As much as I cherished the hours we spent together, my wife was my priority and would always be my priority. She had to be. We had our issues, but commitment requires patience and sacrifices. I knew I had to tell my wife the truth and let the cards fall where they may.
With my thoughts wandering, I suddenly realized I hadn’t been taking in my surroundings. The road came into focus just in time for me to see a blurred figure crash into the windshield. Screaming, I swerved off the road and slammed on my breaks. The car screeched to a halt and I slammed into the airbag that popped up milliseconds before my head would have split open on the steering wheel.
I couldn’t move. My limbs felt numb and useless. My mind was blank and I lay there stupidly. Several seconds later, the memories rushed back and I jolted upright, gasping from the pain in my head. Though the airbag caught me, I still felt like my brain got sloshed around in my skull.
Then I remembered that I was not alone.
I looked up at my windshield. In the middle, there was a large dent where the glass had cracked into hundreds of little pieces. The intricate patterns looked like spiderwebs or ripples on the surface of a lake. But the damage wasn’t what concerned me. The shards were stained red.
Fighting the pain radiating through my head, I threw open the car door and ran outside. I scanned the ground for what I wanted desperately not to see. I spun around in a panic, seeing only open road and dense forest until a dark mound appeared out of the corner of my eye. It lay at the edge of the road. Shivering uncontrollably, I approached the creature. It had the face of a little girl. She wore a pink dress, now tattered and blood-soaked. Her face was pale. I had never seen anyone lie so still.
I fell to my knees and puked my guts out. Afterward, I just felt worse. I couldn’t think about what I had done; it was too awful. All I could do was act. I would bring her home and decide what to do from there. Maybe there was a chance she was still alive. In any case, I didn’t want to make any rash decisions. I moved very quickly, barely thinking about what I was doing. I took her arms and dragged her across the dirt to the trunk of my car. Grunting a little, I picked her up and placed her inside. I tried not to look at her because I was too afraid of what I might see if I did.
Slamming the trunk, I ran to the driver’s seat and drove back the way I came as fast as I could. My windshield was fragmented, but there was a small section that was not broken that I could see through. I just hoped no one else encountered me like this. If any police officer came along I was screwed. I tried to regulate my breathing and not panic. It’s going to be okay, I told myself. It was an accident. You’re doing what you can. A deeper voice hissed, You coward. You should have called the police right away. You’re only doing this because you’re afraid of what will happen when everyone finds out you’re a murderer.
“No!” I yelled. “No, I am not. I don’t know she is dead. And it was an accident.”
You know she’s dead. And it’s your fault. Even if she wasn’t when you first saw her, she is now.
I screamed, hitting the steering wheel dozens of times until my hand throbbed. The voice couldn’t be right, it couldn’t be. I was not a murderer. I had never hurt anyone in my entire life.
After parking the car, I picked up the girl and threw her over my shoulder, cringing at the smell of blood and dirt. Ignore it and keep going. Now is not the time to get distracted. Then, I gently put her in a trash bag so nobody would be suspicious if they glanced out of their window. She had a small frame, so she fit completely in the bag. My hands were shaking so much I could barely take out my house keys. This required so much effort that I didn’t notice another car parked in the driveway.
I finally got the front door open. It swung forward, revealing the inside of my house as it always had.
I dropped the plastic bag and it hit the floor with a thud. Katie was there waiting for me.
“Katie…?” I whispered. “What are you doing here?” I hoped she couldn’t tell there was a body in the bag, but I was too petrified to do anything but stand, rigid, in the doorway.
She didn’t answer, she just stared at the floor with an unreadable expression on her face.
Somehow she knew what I had done. She had to. I could feel it.
“I…I’m sorry.” Act natural. I stood up straighter and cleared my throat. “I mean…I’m sorry I had to tell my wife about us. I hope you understand. I couldn’t keep it a secret anymore. I care about you very much but it was just the right thing to do. Do you think we could move on from this?”
“I know you must be angry, and I don’t blame you. If you give me a chance, I can explain everything. But right now is not a good time. I need you to go.”
She just gazed at the floor, frowning.
“Damn it, Katie, what are you playing at here? Why are you in my house?”
I walked over to where she was sitting and knelt in front of her, frustrated and confused. Her blue eyes stared into mine, unfeeling. She didn’t blink. I grabbed her shoulders and yelled in her face, rage filling every essence of my being.
I shivered violently and leaped back. She slouched in the chair. Her delicate hands were limp and unmoving.
Her head was bashed in. What was left of her hair was soaked with blood. My hands shook more violently and I dropped the bloody rock I had been clutching. Moaning, I looked down at the rock with confusion and despair. Thana did this to you. She made that girl run in front of the car. She butchered Katie. She’s had it out for you since the beginning and she won’t stop until you’re dead. RUN, YOU FOOL, RUN!
Olivia Martin | May 23rd | 5:32 am
I sipped hot coffee and hummed to the radio as I drove. Normally I would hate being up this early, but I felt surprisingly awake. Then again, how could I not be? Starting a new job is always an adventure. I wanted to feel excited about it, but all I could manage was dread. Maybe it was irrational, but a lot was riding on my performance that day. God knows I needed the money.
Here comes the sunrise, I thought. Dark blue lightened to sapphire and clouds glowed purple and pink. Rolling the windows down, I gulped the fresh air and let the wind rush through my hair. That calmed my nerves a little, but my anxiety wouldn’t let me off that easily. Don’t worry, I told myself. You are qualified and prepared, now all you have to do is dive in and try not to make a fool of yourself.
My efforts to calm myself were having the opposite effect; I began imagining all of the ways I could screw everything up on my first day from accidentally insulting my boss to forgetting crucial information and making myself look incompetent.
A roadway sign appeared ahead, reading “Outlook.” Walking around might help. I turned onto the road and drove to the clearing.
The rising sun illuminated my surroundings with an orange glow. There was a large parking lot and a long fence separating the viewing area from what I presumed was a dropoff.
I parked the car, threw on my favorite pink jacket, and walked over to the border. Looking beyond the fence, my assumptions were confirmed; I stood inches away from the edge of a jagged cliff. At the bottom, far below where I was standing, waves crashed against rocks and formed a foamy white lather. The ocean breeze felt cool against my skin. My breathing slowed down and I smiled. It was so peaceful there.
Then I saw a figure out of the corner of my eye. I started a little, startled. I hadn’t noticed that I wasn’t alone. He wore dark clothing and stared at the view, seemingly oblivious of my presence. Something about him sparked my curiosity, and I slowly walked closer. His ginger hair was disheveled and he wore a blank expression on his face.
I had stopped here to calm myself down and try to forget about the numerous thoughts residing in my head, reminding me of all the reasons I should be worried and never relax. But something told me he was different, unaware of his own suffering. He was here because he was drawn to the fresh air and the beautiful scenery. Whatever demons that haunted his life faded away into the wind until all that was left was a wandering man, ignorant and no longer caring about anything else but the trees and the ocean. I found myself envying his freedom. I had always known life to be a societal ladder that one climbs to find success. That ladder had always been everything to me. I trusted that the harder I clung to its slippery rungs the more victorious I would become. But maybe success can’t be achieved by climbing nor wealth by material gain. Perhaps prosperity is only found by jumping off the ladder.
“Wretched” is my short-story interpretation of “On Being Cautioned Against Walking on an Headland Overlooking the Sea, Because It Was Frequented by a Lunatic,” a poem written by Charlotte Smith. The story ends with the setting of the poem. In this poem, the narrator looks upon a “solitary wretch” and writes that he seems oblivious of his troubles. She writes that she envies his freedom from pain and his cluelessness about reality.
He seems (uncursed with reason) not to know
The depth or the duration of his woe.Lines 13-14, “Sonnet: On Being Cautioned Against Walking on an Headland Overlooking the Sea, Because It Was Frequented by a Lunatic”
I wrote “Wretched” as a creative project with this poem in mind and let my imagination take it from there. Besides being a short story, “Wretched” is also meant to be a bit of a satirical critique of Smith’s poem and its message.
For most of the story, we follow Brennan, a man plagued with voices in his head who cheats on his wife and becomes a murderer when he accidentally runs into a little girl with his car because he wasn’t paying enough attention to the road. Though he is confused and doesn’t seem to remember doing so, he also appears to have murdered Katie; he was the one holding the bloody rock that killed her. I left this and other aspects of his life up to interpretation, though. What is real and what is really just coming from Brennan?
Brennan is overwhelmed by guilt and self-loathing. The more disasters he causes, the more guilt weighs on him to the point that he lives in denial and convinces himself that he isn’t the real person responsible. Brennan puts up shields of deflection to avoid taking responsibility for his actions which he clearly feels guilty about deep down. His brain fictionalizes reality and makes him forget what he can’t handle. In this way, he “seems (uncursed with reason) not to know/The depth or the duration of his woe.”
In moody sadness, on the giddy brink,
I see him more with envy than with fearLines 9-10, “Sonnet: On Being Cautioned Against Walking on an Headland Overlooking the Sea, Because It Was Frequented by a Lunatic”
“Wretched” emphasizes the ridiculousness of the romanticization of the “solitary wretch,” the disturbed man disconnected from society. Olivia is too busy lamenting over the stress she experiences in her life that she doesn’t consider what drove the man to feel the way he does. It is not freedom he has but immense burden and crushing guilt that he buries deep down inside of him. The woman thinks that he is unburdened by intrusive thoughts, but the truth is that intrusive thoughts were what broke him in the first place. Brennan can’t face what he has done so he lives in a state of confusion and denial.
From Olivia’s more privileged point of view, he is an inspiration. She idealizes his state of mind without knowing anything about it or the suffering he had to go through to get to that point. She treats Brennan like an idealized concept, the “noble” idea of “losing your mind” and breaking free from society. She thinks that this would make someone truly free. To her, Brennan is the mysterious “other.” This conclusion is, quite frankly, dehumanizing and disrespectful. Her ignorance shines through in her statements about the man’s state of mind, made without even speaking to him or knowing anything about him. Especially because we as readers have had insight into Brennan’s mind and his perceived life, and I’m sure we could agree that we would prefer Olivia’s. Brennan’s life is ridiculously awful, strongly contrasting with Olivia’s assumption of his freedom. Perhaps in a different circumstance, the conclusions Olivia reaches about life could be wise and insightful, but in this context, they feel like a bad joke.
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One thought on “Wretched”
This was a unique and compelling companion to the poem we read in class. You created a perfect sense of unreliability with your narrator and it kind of felt like I was transported into his mindset where I couldn’t tell what was real or not. Also, the addition of the headings stating the character name/date/time was a good way to make the narrative/transition clearer!
Powerful message at the end. I was taken by your explanation that “The woman thinks that he is unburdened by intrusive thoughts, but the truth is that intrusive thoughts were what broke him in the first place.”