ZANE TOUCHED THE GUN for the fourth time in the fifteen minutes since leaving the apartment.

It sat at the bottom of a deep pocket in his coat, cradled between a crisp, white handkerchief, and an old paperback copy of Moby Dick, neither of which had any significance in relation to the gun. The handkerchief he carried with him everywhere so that he wouldn’t have to touch other people’s things with his bare hands. He’s tried wearing gloves, but they made his hands sweat, which he found nearly unbearable. The book he had found last night on a bus stop bench. The gun, a revolver, he had inherited from his father, the only useful thing the man had ever given him.

The metal of the revolver felt as cold as the snow that fell – fat and lazy – from the dark morning sky to land on the bare skin of his freshly-shaved scalp. He found comfort in the gun’s chill surface and lost himself as he stood at the bus stop, stroking the butt of the revolver with his long, delicate fingers.

He’d discovered the gun, an old Smith and Wesson Model 36, four months ago. He’d been cleaning his father’s house following the old man’s death. His father had died suddenly, something he had secretly felt to be a bit unfair. He’d often fantasized of sitting at his father’s bedside as the old man writhed in pain for weeks, crawling toward an agonizing death. But it was not to be. The man who called himself Zane’s father had gotten off lucky.

He continued to caress the gun, eyes closed, wondering for a moment what it would be like to fire the thing at something other than the paper targets at the shooting range. His father had been a member, so it only made sense for Zane to join as well.

He had often found himself holding the gun at the most inappropriate of times. It had become increasingly difficult for him to keep his hands off of the thing lately. He would need to be more careful, otherwise someone was bound to notice, and he couldn’t have that. If someone were to discover what he carried with him in his coat pocket, he’d have to take it out and show it to them, and he wasn’t quite ready for that. Besides, the gun was for protection only.

Zane pulled his hand from the pocket and checked his watch. The bus was late. Of course, it was always late. The buses had never run on time for as far back as he could remember. He’d have to continue to wait, as usual. Unfortunately, he was not alone. Others stood with him at the bus stop, infesting and polluting his personal space, stealing the contentment he only felt when he was alone.

He tried to ignore them all by watching the traffic as it trundled along through the ever deepening snow, but it proved to be impossible. Soon he began to notice the stares and the whispering.

People were always staring at Zane. It began slowly at first. He’d catch people looking his way now and again as he’d walk the hallway at work, or he’d notice the odd head turning in his direction from drivers as they would pass him by. Soon after he found coworkers eyeing him over their cubicle walls, or pedestrians looking his way as he passed by them on the bus. It wasn’t all too often, not back then anyway. Recently however, the number of watchers had grown exponentially.

There were days when he felt that he was being watched all the time, wherever he went. It didn’t matter if he was at work, at the movies, or walking in a public park; people would stare. But more than that, now they’ve started to point and whisper, and he’s often felt that lately those stares have been full of hate.

He wasn’t sure what he might have done to cause such anger to be directed toward him. He’d always thought of himself as a good man, despite the feelings he’d held toward his father. He’d never raised his voice to anyone, had always made it a point to stay out of the way, and would never let anyone know the way he really felt about them, which, as far as he was concerned, was what being polite was all about. His mother had always told him that if he didn’t have anything nice to say, then he shouldn’t say anything at all. He’d loved his mother, and though his time with her had been brief, had always managed to hang on to each of her lessons. And so he strived every day to stay quiet rather than tell people what he truly thought of them.

It wasn’t easy either. It was a daily struggle. Most people were selfish, unclean, and rude. They had no time for anyone but themselves. They talked loudly on cell phones, having inappropriate conversations for all the world to hear. They stood in the aisle at the store in such a way that did not allow room for anyone to pass. They were impatient and demanding. People, in general, were a horrible stain on the world. Despite all of this, however, he said not a word. Yet still, the stares continued.

Of course, the stares have only gotten worse since the day he’d begun taking the gun with him. It was as if everyone knew that he had the power to end a life riding in his coat pocket. He silently watched the people in line around him and flinched at each one who made eye contact. They knew. They could sense what he had in his pocket. He felt the need to escape, to just step out of line and run off into the snow before the others could pull him to the ground and take from him that which made him whole.

But he didn’t run. Instead he put his hand back into his pocket and took hold of the gun. The anxiety he’d felt just moments before melted away.

“The bus is running late,” a voice said, kicking him out of his state of peace.

Zane opened his eyes. The woman in line ahead of him had turned around and was looking at him.

“Excuse me?” he said.

“The bus,” she said. “It must be running late again.”

“Yeah,” was all he could manage. He tried a smile, but it felt awkward on his face.

The woman did not respond. Instead she just looked confused and turned away to face the street. But for a moment, as she had moved, Zane noticed that her expression had changed from confusion to rage. It had all transpired so quickly that he wasn’t even sure it had actually happened.

Then, as he watched, the woman stretched up to whisper into the ear of a man who stood next to her. He turned slowly and gave Zane a look, and like the woman, he too smiled. The man however, added a little nod.

Zane nodded back.

With that, the man turned completely around, not just his head and shoulders, his entire body, and faced Zane. He stood that way for a moment or two, staring into Zane’s eyes. Zane tried to look away, but couldn’t.

The man continued to smile when suddenly, his eyes glazed over and blood began to roll slowly from the corners of his mouth.

To be continued . . .

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