The Kestron Lenses
by Jonathan M. Sweet
Several days passed before Harry felt the call of the dark glass again. As it happened, several different instructors had scheduled their tests for the same Thursday afternoon, and some of the guys on Harry’s floor decided to gather in the room just down the hall for a “study party” on the ninth, two nights before.
Harry hadn’t been sleeping well since he first got his glasses. He almost turned down the invitation when the knock came on his door, saying he just wanted to sleep... but he never liked to be rude. On his way out he paused to get his glasses and his history textbook. Even through their case the glasses felt icy to his fingertips.
Over the din of a portable TV running pro wrestling and a stereo booming music, books and papers were passed and shuffled about while undergrads shouted questions and answers to one another. Harry severely doubted much studying was getting done in this communal bull session, and that anyone in attendance would be lucky enough to garner enough knowledge to pull a C+ on his paper, but what the heck, it was great fun.
In addition to Harry and seven other guys he had a nodding acquaintance with (he knew three of them, the ones assigned to the room and one other, by name, but the other four he only recalled by seeing their faces on the quad numerous times), there was a young woman in attendance. No one knew her real name; they all just called her “B.J.” She didn’t seem to be anyone’s steady girlfriend, but Harry got the feeling she was passed around between several of the men in attendance. She was a small, surly, dark-haired girl of 20 who was compulsively alcoholic and promiscuous. There were a lot of stories about her floating around.
B.J. was sitting in the corner lazily drinking from a two-liter bottle of vodka and red cream soda, which she’d been doing for some time. The more she drank the angrier and more foul-mouthed she became, and the bottle was more than half-empty. “The frig you looking at?” she had demanded of Harry several minutes ago. Immediately he pretended to be looking at a sheaf of notes about the French Revolution.
She’s a waste of a girl, his mind whispered. Worthless. You’d do the world a favor by killing her.
This isn’t me, a second voice, a much smaller one, protested below it. His glasses felt like ice on the bridge of his nose. I’m planning a girl’s murder here.
Sacrifices must be made for the sake of my future, a third voice spoke up like a sober judge, and instantly all qualms were overridden.
“Hey, B.J.,” called Mike Limpick, “Wanna have some fun?”
“I wouldn’t go to bed with you if you were full of Vitamin C and cured cancer, Limp-noodle,” B.J. retorted in a cracked, intoxicated tone. Several guys erupted in gales of laughter.
Harry was both repulsed and amazed at the rude, trashy girl. He watched her seated by the window, a book spread across her bare knees, from time to time swilling from the bottle, then lolling her head down to her chest as if nodding off. If one of the guys said something to her, even genially, she responded with a vicious insult. She was a profane goddess of sorts, both an object of worship and ridicule.
As the party wound down, the crowd thinned, and the TV and stereo fell silent. B.J. stepped down from her windowsill perch, lurched a bit, and grabbed her bottle, which had only a swallow down in the bottom. One of the guys made to palm her crotch, and another licked her cheek. She fluttered her hands impatiently and cursed at them, picking through the clutter on the floor and emerging in the hall. She tripped and stumbled, falling face-first on the floor. She lay there for several moments as a couple of guys snickered. Two other girls, presumably her friends, were standing against either wall, and they helped her to her feet. B.J. made her way unsteadily down the hall as the two girls stayed behind her at some distance. In all her degradation B.J. somehow exuded an air of proud haughtiness that told everyone she needed no one to hold her hand and she was no man’s mistress but her own.
Harry watched B.J. make her way to the bathroom, and her attendants head for the stairs. After a minute or two, he followed her. On the way he reached into his pocket and slid a grey sock over each hand.
He heard B.J. retching loudly in the stall nearest the door and slowly approached. He pushed the stall door open, felt it thump meatily against B.J.’s ass, and heard her slurred voice squawk, “Bugger off. Can’t you see it’s ocupado, moron?”
Harry saw his hands act independently of conscious thought. They took a fist-sized wad of the drunken girl’s hair and pushed her down. Her forehead cracked against the rim of the bowl twice, and her neck muscles loosened.
Harry’s hand slid over her face, mopping up the errant blood, and applied it to his glasses. The dead girl’s image swam, blurred and disappeared into
a man’s face lit by the moon standing in a barren cotton field at night digging a grave for a child her name is miercoles delgada and she’s 7 years old she was looking for her kitten mr. winkie when a car came over the hill on blancamont street the driver didn’t see her wander into the road and struck her head on and killed her instantly he had been at a faculty party and was slightly drunk plus the child was just out of his field of vision near the crest of the hill he got out of the car cursing the girl’s parents for their irresponsibility in not watching their daughter closely half-plastered and in a panic he decided to cover up his mistake rather than admit to it because he didn’t want to go up before the review board so he put the child in his trunk and drove back to his house and got a shovel and a garbage bag from the shed then drove to a spot fifteen miles from campus put the body in the bag and lugged it out to the middle of nowhere and buried his mistake praying all the while no one ever caught wind of this and that the girl’s parents would chalk up the dead girl to a drifter or a junkie or even a fratboy prank gone bad
Harry felt himself awaken as if hypnotized. He saw B.J. face-up on the floor. Her forehead was gashed, and blood leaked down either side of the bridge of her nose. Her blank eyes stared accusatorially at him. Her arms lay bonelessly at her sides, the left straight out into the next stall over, the right against the wall. Her back was arched in a position that would be murderously painful if she was still alive.
He was aware that the bridge of his glasses felt hot on his nose. He cast a glance into the toilet bowl and noted B.J.’s ruby-colored vomit and the sickly-sweet stench it left hanging in the air. Some dotted the floor and the rim of the bowl... or was that her blood?
Harry disposed of the socks, burying them in a wastebasket and burying them under paper towels. He then took the plastic bag and headed down the back stairs (he wouldn’t chance the elevator) and disposed of it in a dumpster halfway across campus, behind the College of Business.
He then found a bench a short distance away and sat there for some time gathering his thoughts before he felt comfortable enough to cross the quad and return to his room.
Surprisingly, his sleep came quick and was dreamless.
Harry prepared his story Wednesday night around ten (though the actual events weren’t due to transpire, he knew, until around five till three) and filed it at eight A.M. Thursday. He felt miserable. He’d had hangovers before, but this was a hundred times worse. The man in his vision was Dr. Edwin Wayne. He’d had Dr. Wayne the semester before in Intro to Fiction and liked him, for the love of all that was holy, and here he was signing the man’s death warrant.
Wayne was a tall, somewhat skeletal-looking man with sparse white hair and a face and hands as brown and spotted as an old banana. At 57, he still stuck to the habits he had learned as a beat reporter on the Natchez Democrat — he owned only three pairs of pants, two suit coats, a couple of ties, and three or four dress shirts (Wayne always told his students that a man should never own more clothes than he can toss in a duffle bag at a moment’s notice, because one never knew whether the next story will take him two or two thousand miles from home, and lived stringently by that credo), and most of his meals came from cheap roadside diners... or from a bottle. Wayne left the paper in 1968 after being offered a teaching position at Fulkes. Thirty-three years of teaching would go into the toilet because his drinking finally caught up with him.
Have I any right? Harry asked. As a reporter — as a human — do I have the right to do this?
Journalistic ethics were cold and hard things to dispute. A reporter must be impersonal in all his dealings. If your brother commits a crime, you are honor-bound to tell the public. Wayne had committed a crime — vehicular manslaughter, and attempt to cover up the same.
Harry realized he was mourning a dead child he’d never met far more than the girl whose brains he had bashed out two nights ago. His skin went chilly and grey. Excusing himself from the office (his head had begun to pound), he returned to his room and lay down, not even bothering to undress. He slept through his eleven o’clock class. He didn’t care.
The phone rang about half-past three, jarring him to consciousness. It was Leon, sounding angry. Without even waiting for a sleepy, mumbled hello, he spat, “Harry, are you out of your ever-loving mind?”
“Beg your pardon?”
“You know what. I mean. This story about Ed Wayne getting smashed at the faculty orientation dinner last night and hitting a kid with his car — then burying her out in a cornfield?”
“I’m bawling you out, and you’re hitting me with buggardly semantics! I have to know how the hell you got this information. It’s my ass on the line if this goes to press Sunday night and Wayne decides to sue us for libel. There’s a lot of detail here that could only have been gotten by an eyewitness — like exactly where the girl’s body is.”
“If you don’t believe me, call the UPD. Go check it out. Head out to the intersection of I-110 and Highway 90 and go up it about seven-and-a-half miles. The highway department tore up and rerouted part of the interstate back in ’94. Put a damn curve in it, God knows why. Take the left road — not the new section, but the old one, the one that goes straight till it dead-ends after a couple hundred yards. There’s naught but swampland and farms out that way. Then go northeast on foot for, oh, I’ll say six, seven hundred yards at most. You’ll find a mound of fresh dirt there. Shan’t be hard to spot; it’s wet clay and the weather’s been dry last couple weeks. That’s where Miercoles is buried.”
Harry placed the phone on its hook and crawled into bed. His headache, which had quieted, resurged and redoubled. He skipped his five P.M. class and dinner as well, and in fact didn’t awake again until just after ten Friday morning.
An article titled “Female student found dead in Faulkner Hall bathroom“ appeared that day. It was about B.J. (whose real name was Josephine Fagala), whose body had been discovered Wednesday morning by a cleaning woman. Her blood alcohol levels were high and her skull fractured. The coroner believed her to have slipped on a wet spot on the floor while intoxicated and vomiting, struck her head on the commode, and been knocked into oblivion.
Harry’s thoughts, however, were spent on Dr. Wayne all weekend. I knew about him killing Miercoles 24 hours before he did it, he told himself. I could have prevented it. I saw him in the hall on my way to the office two morning ago. He greeted me and I only nodded. Suppose I had stopped him and said, Tonight’s not a good idea to go out, sir. Don’t drive anywhere and stay away from Blancamonte. I can’t explain, but please honor my wishes. Skip the party and watch TV. Read a book. Make love to Mrs. Wayne. Whatever. Just don’t leave the damn house.
Is history immutable? If I can see the future can I keep it from coming to pass? Would Miercoles be living today, or would she have just been hit and killed by some other asshole and buried? Or shoved in a waste can? Or kidnapped and strangled by some drunk fratboy? There are a thousand possibilities.
One thing is for sure. I’m profiting off misery. And I’m being allowed a glimpse into the dark side of mankind, the shit people want to hide. I only see ugly futures, no hopeful and pretty ones. Trouble is I’m not a passive participant. I’m murdering people for their blood. I’m feeding my hell.
Monday morning Harry awoke minutes before seven, but instead of heading for the shower or turning on the radio, he sat with his elbows on his knees, his hands folded before him. It was almost nine before he finally rose, washed up in front of the sink with a soapy wet washroom, and dressed. He picked up his glasses from the desk on the way out; again he felt their slick iciness ebbing through the case and into his palm.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Jonathan M. Sweet