The Things We Don't

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
Courage isn't always the things we do; sometimes, it's the things we don't.

It wasn't an extempore decision. Perhaps, if it had been, the incident wouldn't haunt him as much as it does. He can remember it, even now, forty years later, with perfect clarity: the feeling of the smooth, rounded bat beneath his trembling palm, the taste of fresh bile building in the back of his throat. He could still feel the shadow of the terror that once encompassed his very soul, and the almost tangible fear that the sound of his pounding heartbeat would give him away. He could still smell the fresh paint tickling his nose from a neighboring building; when the world fell silent for long enough, he could even hear the sharp wind threatening to rip straight through him.
Recalling those memories, as he can’t help but do, he obeyed that tug in the corner of his mind that ordered him to glance at his right hand. The extremity, a sickly shade of white that had once been tanned and heavily calloused, now lay limp on his lap. This was the hand that had almost murdered a murder. It felt like a block of concrete against his thigh.
Forty years ago, it was that hand that clutched the thirty-or-so ounce bat crafted perfectly for crushing bone. The wood of the weapon had been a deadly sort of beautiful- a mismatch of dark and light browns that separated then converged in random places. It was fitting, he had mused in the shop he had bought it from, considering for whom it was intended.
The monster’s name had been Evelyn Knight. She was thirty years old at the time, nine years his senior, but the woman had looked several decades older than she truly was. Her face had been all harsh lines and wrinkles with thin lips pulled into a permanent scowl. She insisted on wearing tight, dark clothing that accentuated her corpulent body. He thought she looked better in prison uniform.
If Knight was the jailed, then Clementine was the jailer. Clementine had been dead, of course, when the repulsive woman had been arrested, but Knight would have still been destroying lives if it hadn’t been for his love. It was for Clementine that he had spent months pouring over chemistry texts, and for Clementine that he had spent nearly $3000 in illegal ways to find Knight’s location. It was also for Clementine that he didn’t become a killer himself.
He remembered the intense fury that nearly consumed his entire being when he had pulled up in front of Knight’s home. His entire face had contorted with unadulterated rage, and he hardly remembered to park his truck before he tumbled out. The bat that had been seated between his legs while driving had shifted to a white-knuckled palm. Stalking forward, he charged wildly towards her doorstep.
He was going to kill her. He was going to slam that bat over and over again against her door before it caved, unable to take the brute of his wrath. He was going to charge her home, and let out an anguished, animal-like cry when he spotted her trembling form in the corner of the kitchen. He was going to tower above her, raise the bat high, and slam it down with a sharp crack against her shoulder. He wasn’t going to give her the chance to moan in pain before the bat would descend again. He was going to kick her, then slam her crushed skull against the tainted wall behind her. Finally, he was going to release the disgusting woman from his stained hand, and gaze at her unmoving form, content.
When he had reached her doorstep, however, unlike in his dreams, he had paused. Instead of thinking of the killer, he had instead pictured the killed. He had recalled her gentle smile and soothing voice, and her joy when he had presented her with a bouquet of mismatched daffodils and hyacinths for their anniversary. He remembered her tears when he had stepped on a spider in front of her, and how she didn’t forgive him for killing the creature until he had sworn never to commit such an act again.
The bat clattered against her doorstep, his hand seemingly incapable of fully supporting the weight of the weapon. He remembered falling to his knees, a choked sob escaping from his throat. He had risen with great struggle, and, with equal effort, had lifted the wooden bat with his right hand. He had inhaled, resisted the urge to cough and splutter at the acrid aroma of fresh paint that suddenly hit him, gone unnoticed at first because of his fury.
It was almost as if that paint had unclouded his mind. With the strength of a thousand men, he walked away.