Chapter the Eighth: Nagging Doubts
Jared chewed some Peanut butter Crunch slowly. Marcus, domestic as ever, was cooking eggs and sausages. They both glanced occasionally to where Trent lay. Finally, Marcus broke the silence. “Well, what do you think it is?”
“What’s happening. Isn’t this too crazy?”
“I don’t really want to think about it. Or what happened at the hospital.”
Marcus slid two eggs (sunny side up) onto his plate and sat down opposite Jared. He took a bite, chewed thoughtfully, and then said, “I’ve been thinking about the guy that shot Trent.”
“What do you mean?” said Jared through a full mouth.
“I mean, what you said about everyone’s morals breaking down at some point. It got me thinking about the nature of evil… who is innocent and who is evil and all that.”
“Okay.” Jared made an inviting gesture. “What do you think evil is?”
“Well, I think it may be that evil is just a form of insanity.”
“I’ve kind of wondered about that too. I mean, from a cultural-anthropology standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be any good reason to be evil. It’s just bad business for the species.”
Mark thought a second, and then responded, “But it would be good for competition sake.”
Jared nodded. “Point. If you were truly underhanded, you could fight your way to the top.”
“Okay, but back to the question at hand. What is evil?”
“Well, it’s doing something bad to someone else.”
“But what if you are insane?” asked Marcus.
“Uh, isn’t evil still evil even if you are crazy?”
“I don’t think so. Take for instance a serial killer. A hypothetical serial killer may kill because the voices tell him to, but ultimately, he often just a pitiable creature that has lost all sense of reality.”
Jared responded, “Okay. So what’s the difference between evilness and insanity?”
“Perhaps… it has to do with the ability to recognize what you are doing.”
Jared brightened. “Oh! Oh! I got it! If you cannot recognize someone else’s humanity, you must be insane, because a human that has no empathy must be a crazy; he might as well just be doing anything, as far as his brain is concerned, but in reality he is doing things that happen to be horrible.”
“Okay, so if a crazy person doesn’t recognize the humanity of others, then a sane, evil person would…?”
Jared drank the milk remaining in the bowl, and then put it down. “A sane, evil person would logically hurt people while being fully aware of the pain he was causing. That is what evil is, recognizing someone else’s humanity and hurting that person regardless.” Jared folded his arms and smiled at this epiphany.
“Or,” continued Marcus, “The evil person in question could choose to disregard the humanity of those he hurts. Pretend it does not exist. That way he doesn’t have to deal with the guilt of doing a bad thing. Look at what Hitler did. He and his followers didn’t think the Jews were human, and that’s how they justified their actions, by disregarding others’ humanity.”
“The ironic thing about it all is that if you consider others to be inhuman, you become inhuman yourself, through your actions. You become a monster.”
Marcus put down his fork. “No. That flies in the face of what the point I just made. We have to accept that everyone is human. Always. No deeds or actions make you lose your humanity. Otherwise, we are just rationalizing any bad actions we perform concerning those we judge to be ‘bad’.”
Jared‘s brow furled with anger. “But aren’t there monsters out there? Wasn’t the guy that attacked Trent a monster!?”
“But Jared, what about what you said the other day, at the hospital. Everyone’s morals break down at some point, right? This guy, much as I hate to say it, isn’t a monster. He’s just some poor guy that got so desperate he temporarily forgot the humanity of--”
“He’s a monster.” Neither Jared nor Marcus uttered this phrase; they turned around to see that Trent was sitting up from where he had lain. “He’s a monster. Scum. A social disease. The earth would be well rid of him.” Marcus and Jared stared silently, and then jumped a little when Trent shouted with sudden fury, “He tried to kill me!”
Trent stood up. “I can’t ever forget that. I can’t ever forgive it. And if I ever find him…” Trent didn’t continue the unspoken implications, but instead walked into the bathroom and slammed the door. After a minute, Jared and Marcus heard the shower start.
This is not happening. A sane, reassuring thought. Trent was sure that if he just tried to go about normal life in his usual way, things had to fall into order. You gotta hold it together. But how can one hold it together; how can one live normal when nothing is normal?
Look at them. Trent surveyed the mass of humanity that shared the lecture hall with him. Professor, Utegu, an immigrant from Kenya, was lecturing on the subject. They can’t imagine what’s happened to me. What’s still happen--stop it! There is nothing happening to you.
A girl glanced quickly in Trent’s direction, and then looked away. Trent could feel her curiosity, as if it were a tangible thing. With a little concentration, he realized he could feel it from every direction. People were curious about him. They were wondering why he was here. And why not in a hospital bed. They have good reason. People don’t just get shot and walk around a few days later.
Trent realized he could feel other things as well. He could smell the scents of the people around him, as if they were right under his nose. The after-shave of the guy two seats back. The soft scent of the girl to his right. The bad breath of the guy to his front. It was almost overwhelming. Just breathe. Ignore the smell and breath. You have to keep breathing. It’s what humans do.
“Some believe that the diseases are nature’s way of fighting back against the incursions of man.” Said the professor in a thick accent. Much as he loved the concepts behind the professor’s class, Trent was usually lulled to sleep by the professor’s nigh--impenetrable and monotone accent. Today was, of coarse, different. “It may be silly to think of nature as a maleficent force, but ecologists are foreseeing more along these lines if the population of Brazil keeps increasing along these lines. What is to become of the humans who cannot find work in the cities?”
The old African continued on, but Trent’s focus was on the sensations that were slowly and oppressively overwhelming him. Now he was sure that he was hearing things he shouldn’t be able to. The hiss of the speakers between the words of the professor. The slow and steady breathing of the girl that had looked at him a minute ago. Remember to breath! And the heart beat of the portly man to his left. Oh that was transfixing. Why? Why do I hear this? Why do I enjoy hearing this? Trent sensed the girl glance at him again. Heard her heartbeat increase when he looked at her with a hungry expression. You better be scared. You better be meek and scared and avert your eyes, because I’m something you cannot fathom. I am--”
“Mr. Roswell, what do you think?” Heads darted in Trent’s direction. Trent, in his hyper-sensory state, had missed the subject now under discussion.
“Uh…” Trent cleared his throat. “Sorry? Could you repeat that?” Does everyone have to gawk like that?
“We were discussing the situation in Brazil. What do you think can be done about the overpopulation and environmental impact of--”
“Overpopulation? Well, it seems to me that the tree-sap collecting people, or whoever they are, living in the forested areas need to wage a campaign against the interlopers?”
Utegu’s jaw dropped. “Are you suggesting warfare as the solution to their problems?”
“Oh, nothing so overt. Industrial sabotage should do the job. But if worse comes to worse, yes, I think warfare should be considered. Could be a definite solution to the overpopulation problem.” Almost the entire class was starting intently at Trent. Oddly enough, though Trent had said these words in a fit of pique and uncharacteristic disregard for the people he was considering, yet some in the class seemed to be nodding in agreement. The girl that had previously been glancing at him seemed enraptured. With sudden force, Trent yelled out, ‘What’s the matter? Have you never seen someone that got shot before?”
Stunned silence. After a few seconds, Trent exhaled deeply and began to gather his things. The professor was still trying to muster a response as the door closed behind Trent’s back. Trent was long gone.
The day was what passed for a winter one in Atlanta, with a melancholy, muted tone to everything, colored by the overcast sky. Storms were coming. Trent halted in his progress on the well-walked path, and without turning, said, “Why are you following me?”
Unabashed, Will, the very same puckish exchange student from the night before, stated simply, “Just a little curious about you.”
Trent now turned, an enraged expression on his face. “Are you stalking me? How did you find me, anyhow?”
“Wasn’t hard. You’re not the only unique entity in the world, believe it or not. I have a bit of a knack for tracking your lot; though I must admit that I am perplexed by one thing. I still don’t know what you are.”
“I don’t have time for this.” Trent turned back and started to briskly walk away.
Undaunted, Will simply fell into line besides Trent. “Listen, mate, I’m grave serious about something here. Whatever kind of revenant you’ve become, your troubles have just begun.”
“What are you talking about?” said Trent incredulously. “Nothing’s changing. I just have to live my life like anyone else and avoid weirdoes like you.”
“Now that wounds me to the quick!”
“Besides,” Trent added grimly, “What do I have to worry about? Not even a bullet can stop me apparently.”
“This is actually a problem, my spooky friend you see--”
“Ahem. You see… well, how can I put it best?” Will lit a fag, heedless of Trent‘s glare, which was something Will was used to from these politically-correct American types. Ah, I got it! You know the American comic Spiderman?”
“Well, if the creator of Spider-man, one Stan Lee, left a single important message to the world via that vehicle, it was this, ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’”
Trent stopped. “Let me get this straight. I’m going through the most terrifyingly confusing period of change in my life short of a puberty undergone while under the parentage of a single-hippy mother, and you’re quoting a comic book to me to help me realize the gravity of the situation?”
Quietly, Will responded. “Well, it’s a really good line.”
Trent rolled his eyes and started again. “I can’t stand the smell of those things. Especially recently. Why don’t mind your own business, William?”
“Will put his hands into the pockets of his trench coat and swung it back and forth casually. “You use a little levity, and what happens?” As Trent walked off, Will shouted, “Hoy! How’s the blinking? How about your pulse?”
The single-fingered gesture that Trent gave in response let Will know that they were most likely doing as he had suspected.