The Laughing God, Pt.4

I took the sculpture into my house, set it atop the bookshelf it had squatted on during the party. “Well!” I said aloud, trying to sound as normal as possible. There’s something funny about putting on a show for yourself like that. “Well! You’re ugly as sin, but it would be damned rude of me to throw out little Joseph Kerr’s dying gift to me, wouldn’t it? Yes, very rude, very rude indeed.” I grinned, trying to match the sculpture’s expression, to exceed it. “At least, it would be rude to throw you away so soon after his death. Maybe in a week or two, I’ll put you in a box and bury you in the closet. You can sit there for a few months, at the bottom of a cardboard box I’ll fill with old clothes and shoes, and then I’ll take you to a second-hand store and be done with you. Won’t that be nice?”

It seems so pathetic now, so pathetic it’s laughable. There I was, talking to an inanimate object. At best, I was trying to calm myself, to project a facade of normalcy that I could hide behind and believe in. At worst, I was trying to threaten and intimidate the lifeless avatar of a diseased and disturbed 18-year-old brain.

Such madness. Such arrogance. No wonder it punished me for my behavior. Its expression never wavered, here a genteel father chuckling at a child’s foolishness, there a ravening maniac giggling at the squirming of an insect being actively dismembered. I stood there, crossed my arms, snorted, and went to bed. As if it were some kind of victory. How absurd.

* * *

The weekend passed uneventfully. So much so, in fact, that I almost forgot the feeling of dread I had when I’d first seen the the sculpture sitting idly in the lobby of my apartment building. It’s presence in my living room didn’t seem foreboding, seemed to carry no more weight than any other decoration I might have put up for display and then promptly forgot about. I worked on my book some, feeling intellectually invigorated for the first time in half a month. I spent time with Sheila. I made efforts to reconnect with my colleagues and peers and graduate students after the disastrous party some weeks back. My life was going normally, and everything was as it should have been, and I was even looking forward to Monday’s staff meeting in a way, to the familiarity of being bored out of my mind while the department head talked about our goals for the upcoming academic year, changes in university policy, et cetera, et cetera.

Monday morning, my car wouldn’t start. It had been fine the day before. I was late to the meeting, as I attempted to take public transit (the university being not especially far from my home, although inconvenient to bus to and unbearable to walk to under the broiling summer sun) and found myself missing every bus by a matter of mere seconds. In the end, I resorted to a cab, only to find myself paying an astronomical fare due to sitting helpless in traffic caused by an accident. A trip that should have taken me fifteen minutes took an hour and a half, all told. Thankfully I had planned on being on campus well in advance of the meeting, and so was only late rather than missing it completely, but that did not prevent the department head from chastising me in front of the other faculty.

I sat in the faculty room for some time after everyone else had left, fuming at my terrible luck. Sheila came in after some time and asked why I had been late. I related the whole string of events to her, and she comforted me in her playful, teasing way. “Wow. Well, hey, you should feel special. It’s nice to know God has it out for you, no?”

She laughed softly at her joke, but my breath caught in her throat as I remembered the statue sitting, awaiting my return.

We had difficulty finding Sheila’s keys the morning of the party. A minor annoyance, one that only wasted our time. The party had escalated out of control. That was more troubling, inviting trouble from a humorless colleague or a police officer called by an irritated neighbor. Still nothing major, but with larger consequences than a mere wasted afternoon.

And then Kara sliced her finger off.

I hadn’t been able to look any of my colleagues except for Sheila in the face since. I had been unable to bring myself to prepare any kind of a meal on the cutting board where it had happened. I threw out the knife she used. The statue presiding over it all, looking down on us, laughing, laughing.

And now this ruined day. Was this just the beginning of something larger? Who else was going to get hurt?

I was suddenly, painfully aware that my mouth was dry. I turned to Sheila, smiled weakly. “Some luck, hm?”

She rubbed my back, mussed my hair. “Do you need a ride home?”

Images of a car smashing into Sheila’s, reducing us to paste. Her staying over after dropping me off, having one too many drinks with me over dinner, crashing into a telephone pole. A thousand things going wrong, all of them ending in death and destruction and cackling echoing into the dead of night.

“No. No, thank you,” I said, that fake smile affixed so firmly to my face. “I think I’ll walk.”

She blinked. That wasn’t the answer she had been expecting. It wasn’t an answer that made any sense. “It’s no trouble, really. I don’t mind. Maybe we could make dinner together. Watch a movie or something.”

I shook my head, still smiling. “No, not tonight. I… I have work I need to do. In fact, I should go to my office. Get cracking. Books don’t publish themselves, you know.”

I stood up, effectively ending the conversation. She said nothing as I all but ran from the room and locked myself in my tiny office, so much like the cell of a monk, where I sat for the next three hours, staring blankly at the wall.

* * *

The walk back was uneventful. On another night, it might almost have been pleasant, the oppressive heat of the day mellowing into a pervasive warmth at night. But my mind was elsewhere, watching every car, standing well back from the curbs at stoplights, recoiling from every stranger I passed. Halfway along the walk, a thought occurred to me; why should I expect harm to befall me? After all, it had been Kara who had suffered at the party, not I. Suppose that I would see something horrible happen to a stranger on the street. Would that not be traumatizing in its own right? To see a man taken down by an errant car on the other side of the road and know that that could have been me, perhaps should have been me? I began walking faster. The sooner I was in my own apartment, the more certain I could be of my safety, of the safety of those around me.

But being in my apartment brought me no peace. I opened the front door and turned on the light in the hallway, only to immediately regret my decision. What had I accomplished other than announce my presence to the thing?

I shook my head. A little paranoia that the universe was out to get me was, perhaps, inevitable. An unfortunate side-effect of sentience. To believe that a statue created by a suicidal ex-student of mine was actively plotting against me was inexcusably insane. I took a deep breath. I strode into the living room. I walked right up the statue. I told myself that it’s eyes were not more shut, more of its mouths closed than before, as if it were regarding me with complete confidence. I told myself that my reason for opting not to throw it away was because doing so would be giving into irrational fear, not because I was afraid it would reenter my life all the more eager to amuse itself at my expense.

* * *

The next morning brought further injury. The mechanical failure in my car would be expensive to fix and would likely take a few days while the shop awaited the parts, leaving me without a vehicle for the first week of school. I locked myself out of my apartment, necessitating calling a locksmith and spending still more money. But the next day was fine, and the one after that. I was almost ready to attribute Monday’s misfortune to sheer bad luck.

And then, I was mugged.

It happened on the walk home. The bus ride to the university that morning was fine, if a bit crowded. The first day of classes passed by uneventfully, my sessions filled mainly with terrified freshmen and a handful of sophomores. I spent some time in my office going over my syllabi and socializing with those professors and graduate students that I had not spoken to over the summer. At seven o’clock, I left campus and begin the walk back to my apartment. By seven-fifteen, a man in dirty clothes with a ski mask pulled over his face and a gun in his hand was demanding my wallet. I complied, having no way to defend myself.

I walked home in a sort of fugue state. I don’t remember much of anything else from that night. I woke up in the middle of the night on the floor in my living room, still dressed in the clothes I had worn that day. A kitchen knife, grabbed in self defense, I believe, clutched in my hand, a few shallow scratches from the blade on my arms and my hands. The statue above me, its eyes little more than slits, its lips curled up in impish delight.

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