Richard Wilson sat in his hard, inflexible office chair and shook like a leaf, his shoulders quivering and his teeth clenched. He had never been very good at holding in his emotion for very long, so as a countermeasure he’d simply distanced himself from it as much as possible. The other day he’d thought he’d grown accustomed to it, that it really wasn’t so bad. It was like immortality, in a sense.
This time around, Richard Wilson choked on his own sobs and hated, hated, hated himself for it.
Three years ago, Wilson had started working at MercGroup as an entry-level grunt. He didn’t remember much before that, which his coworkers assured him was normal. They’d also said it was perfectly okay to want to know who you were before you were a Merc. Wilson had denied being curious when the subject was raised, and he denied it again after they’d told him what was normal. He’d taken that bait before, and come out humiliated in front of everyone he’d ever cared about.
At least, he thought he’d had that experience. He might have just dreamed it. Wilson remembered dreams and experiences in vivid detail, but facts, dates, names from before – impossible to recall. In those days, he’d sometimes wished it was the other way around, that he could teach history in a quiet little middle school and not remember the look on his buddy’s face when he came back for the first time. The way he’d gasped in one huge, rattling breath that never seemed to end. The terror in his eyes of something more than human being dragged back down, like an angel with ruined wings.
When another coworker quietly admitted to having that very same wish, Wilson had jeered with the rest, and laughed just a little too loudly.
Two years ago and Wilson could tough it out with the best. Sure, it hurt to see your chest erupt into a stringy mess, but it was a temporary pain. Wilson had learned from his buddy that the best thing to do was just shoot yourself in the head when things looked bad. When the superhuman just flung three grenades and blew your encampment to bits, there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell that one Merc with an AK would stop him one on one. Better to just get it over with on your own terms. Headshots barely had time to hurt anyway.
By this time Wilson was just beginning to learn that it didn’t really matter whether you stopped them or not. Some superhumans would get through, some wouldn’t. You got paid just the same. Wilson didn’t know what was going on up there with those tear-jerkers in management, but he sure as shit wasn’t going to complain.
They seemed to act differently every time, anyway. Nobody can defend properly against an unpredictable enemy. The worst ones were the flamethrowers, who enjoyed the screams. If you tried to headshot yourself and they saw, they’d make your death last twice as long, and hurt three times as much. Ideally, if your squad was going to wipe, it would be at the hands of a pistol surgeon, doling out greased-lightning headshots to you and your mates.
It really wasn’t so bad once you left your body. It was like falling asleep, and waking up with all your limbs in the right places. The only real difference was that Wilson never remembered what he dreamed about when he was dead.
One year ago the shakes had started. None of his coworkers said anything, but Wilson could see in the way they glanced at each other what they thought. Wimp. Coward. Quitter. Weak. He said the same things to himself every night before he shot himself. Wilson had tried everything to stop them – electric shocks, hammers, even a steamroller once – but each time, after his buddy had shot him into a brand new body, the shakes stayed with him.
He never found out who’d recommended him for promotion, but when he heard he was being bumped to middle management he wanted to die. To really, actually die. He’d been a Merc once, spitting napalm and shitting lead with the best of them. Now he was the highest of the high, where people talked about their feelings and shuffled papers and saw each other at the big game on Saturday. He saw it all then, his Technicolor future sprawling ahead of him. His beautiful brunette wife and his two precocious children and the family dog named something improbable. His powder-blue sedan and his wife’s silver minivan. His job sending his buddies out to the next mission site, where he should be, fighting against the superhuman. A sweaty jungle, a concrete-laced wasteland, a dusty Middle-Eastern village. He’d pay them all the same.
Most of all, he saw his sympathetic therapist looming impossibly, terrifyingly large over him, asking him how he felt. He knew then that he wouldn’t be able to stop, that the scabs would crack and the infected words would ooze free for the first time he could remember. And his therapist would nod understandingly and tell him that those feelings were perfectly, perfectly, perfectly normal.
Richard Wilson sat in his hard, inflexible office chair and wept at the truth he saw that day, when his entire life had come apart at the seams, and death could no longer repair him. The office wasn’t quite empty – there was a janitor that came by every so often – but Richard didn’t have the strength to stop himself anymore.
He had killed himself two hundred and thirty-nine times in the past year, each time knowing that he’d wake up with a fully-loaded weapon in his hand and pearly-white teeth under his lips. The days when he’d dreamed of teaching history were little more than an unpleasant memory to him now, one which might just have been a dream.
Richard did it again when he got home from work, once before he slept and once after. He dreamed about holding the gun in his mouth outside that little Normandy beach bunker, hearing his buddies scream in agony inside, and quietly pulling the trigger. It was the most beautiful thing he’d dreamed about in years.
So when the elevator doors opened at work the next day, and a stubble-chinned white guy stepped out carrying every weapon known to man, it was the best day of Richard Wilson’s new life. His coworkers screamed, or fled, or hid, but Richard stood up with a pistol in his hand and a smile on his face. He shot the superhuman a few times to get its attention, then spread his arms wide in a beatific embrace, the smoking shell casings tinkling a victory theme at his feet.
“Kill me however you like, you magnificent son of a whore.”
– 2014 Houston Noble