The orange glow of the parking lot lights played with the streaks left behind by his windshield wipers. And so Paul leaned in closer to the windshield and rested his chin on his steering wheel, squinting his eyes to block out everything but the lights beyond the glass. As a result, the lights turned into tiny north stars of Bethlehem that floated in suspension above the trees.
He laughed and rubbed his eyes, leaning back to let the lights and the trees outside of Building D in the apartment complex all come back into focus.
He was exhausted. Of that much he was certain. But how he'd arrived here, sitting with his car shifted into park and staring at some lone window in an apartment complex he'd never been to before, he couldn't quite figure and could in no way contribute to any kind of exhaustion.
This was simply the end of a timeline that had placed him there, naturally and not as a result of any conscious decisions he'd made. After all, Paul thought, animals that hunt are instinctively drawn to their prey. And in the silence of his car there he began to wonder what exactly goes through an animal's mind at the moment that they find themselves gone suddenly from their resting position to being quite literally on top of some prey.
He wondered if in the time between the animal's triggered instinct and the inevitable end result, which always left the animal panting and with a bloodied mouth, if there was any real memory of the hunt itself at all?
Or was it comparable to something like a blackout, Paul thought, similar to the way in which humans enter a room and then not remember why they'd gone in there in the first place? He began to think of their family cat, who was far away in another neighborhood across town, and of how the cat locks onto birds fluttering outside of his living room window before jumping and leaving scratches in his lap as the animal stops to stand frozen in the window like a work of taxidermy. He wondered if, as with those birds, was it possible that the slightest of movements could trigger the lunge of any natural predator?
Paul found his way back out from the wilderness of his thoughts, back to his immediate surroundings, there inside of his car in that strange parking lot as he stared up at Building D.
His last clear memory was of being at his local drug store about thirty-five minutes ago, standing in line two places behind the man that would trigger this strange hunt. All at once, scattered memories began to connect like links on a chain, and he recalled now how he had taken the hard turns in this unfamiliar neighborhood, how he'd memorized every street sign. He remembered how he'd kept a safe distance behind the car as not to spoil his reveal.
But like now, he also remembered asking himself what in the hell he was doing, if what he wanted to do was just to make this person aware that he was being followed. Yes, he had wanted to teach this man that sometimes bad behavior could trigger a response from a completely uninvolved, total stranger. He wanted to elicit fear, and this was precisely why he had yet to shift his car out of park, why he hadn't even considered leaving the parking lot in favor of keeping an eye on the movements up in that third-floor window.
The shadow of the man moved back and forth up there, and Paul could only figure that the man was placing down the Coronas that he purchased at the drug store, the same Coronas that he watched this man carry up those three flights of steps to the balcony near his front door.
Paul leaned forward again in the driver's seat, and he began to imagine what possible furniture configurations existed up there, what obstacles might be in his path once he decided to enter that apartment to do whatever it was he was that his instinct had led him there to do next.
And there was that word again: instinct. He leaned back, and again he thought of the animal in the midst of its hunt, wondering if in the throws of instinctive behavior do animals even know that they're acting on instinct? It was all so very interesting to him what it was he was obviously becoming, and he liked the idea that if anything were to come of this sudden fit of stalking, it would be a better understanding of the animal kingdom of which he tells his son often that they are both very much a part.
Yes, a first-hand, predatory experience would be the perfect topic of conversation to have with his young son tonight. And he knew that the boy would be interested because at some point the discussion would turn to talk of guns. The boy loved the feel of the weapon that Paul had purchased and shown him, an extension of himself as he pulled the trigger and made the empty cylinder turn and hammer to snap down on the empty chamber.
Paul reminded himself again to always keep that cylinder empty, to make sure that the bullets were removed from the gun and placed out of reach before his ex-wife would arrive to deliver their son to him tonight.
And he had so many other surprises for his boy tonight, such as the big bag of chocolates and hard candies that he'd purchased from the drug store when it was his turn in line, just moments before he would get back into his car and start driving far out of his way to sit in this parking lot. He had planned to share the chocolate with his son, and then use the individually wrapped hard candies as poker chips. He was going to teach his boy all about the thrill of winning, even if it meant a small series of winning poker hands.
He wanted to explain, however, how through violence one could remove an opponent altogether.
But who was he to explain such a thing without ever having done it himself?
Because instinct didn't require any skill, Paul concluded. Skill was not relevant in a situation like that. And he began to wonder again if the man in the apartment upstairs knew that he was being watched.
But what was he really doing there? How did he actually plan to end this natural timeline without finishing it, if for no other reason than not to have wasted all of this time and effort? Did he remember even having a plan before taking that thirty-five minute drive out of his way to follow this man to his home?
Well, Paul thought, that man upstairs was a bully. And in the end, all that mattered was that he hated bullies. The bully's behavior in the store tonight was all it took to do it to himself, to place himself in such a dangerous position, like the last fatal movements of an animal's prey.
Paul had chosen this bully, and the only plan from here on out needed to be to bring and end to this stalk, which would ultimately mean the end of this bully. And he was simply going to walk up those steps and let himself inside of that apartment to do it. Once inside, he'd navigate his way around that furniture to get at the bully quickly and not allow him the time to defend himself.
And one of those Corona bottles would do the trick, Paul thought, would be perfect to break into a shard and shove deep into the bully's neck.
He wondered what it was going to feel like at the moment that the bottle punctured flesh.
And Paul was going to do it without uttering a single word, with only the satisfaction of being recognized as the anonymous man who was standing two persons behind the bully at the checkout line. Paul was the man that scoffed loudly when the bully had finished demeaning the cashier, the one who caught the bully's attention and made him turn around. Paul was the random person with whom the bully had made eye contact, meant to intimidate, and it was Paul's icy return stare that had come all too naturally.
But then the bully had dismissed their exchange altogether, instead turning back to the cashier and insisting that it was their credit card reader that was malfunctioning and not his card. He explained that he had gone in their every night this week and purchased the very same longnecks with that very same credit card. And he'd never been hassled like this before now.
The cashier had then insisted again, albeit bashfully, that it was the credit card.
The bully then pushed back, only this time, he'd called the cashier a name.
There, Paul thought, that was the point where his instincts had been triggered. That was the fatal final movements of his prey. The bully had decided that the cashier's dignity was his to take, regardless of the fact that this cashier no doubt had a timeline of his own, had a day of challenges and frustrations and perhaps even the smallest of pleasures.
That cashier didn't need to experience such pain tonight.
Still, everyone looked on without getting involved.
"Let me talk to your manager," the bully had said, and Paul noted that it wasn't the manager but was rather your manager.
"I'll get my manager," the cashier replied, "but don't disrespect me like that."
"It's you that's disrespecting me!" the bully returned.
A random blue-collar worker, who had occupied the first place in line behind the bully and who Paul would've thought shared in the frustration, instead turned around to comment. "This fucking kid better get his manager," he said to Paul. "Or else this guy's gonna kick his ass!"
Well, Paul had thought just then, … was he now?
He was back to Building D now. The bully was right up there in Building D, and from what Paul remembered he was by all standards a stereotype, a stocky man in his early forties in a tank top and shorts and with a sun visor that sat the wrong way on his head. And the bully no doubt had a timeline of his own, had a day of challenges and frustrations and perhaps even the smallest of pleasures.
His beer, for instance, was all that the bully wanted out of life tonight.
But the bully was in for so much more!
Only Paul was no longer even in the parking lot.
He'd gone and done it again, had pounced elsewhere like the predator that he'd become without his knowing. He was already back home and in his driveway. And again he tried to harness what little memory he could of his latest time lapse, remembering now that he'd indeed run a few stop signs in his neighborhood, and that at some point he'd reached over to the glove compartment to make sure that the gun was still in there and loaded.
Paul reached up and adjusted his rearview mirror there in his driveway, and he had a timeline of his own, had a day of challenges and frustrations and perhaps even the smallest of pleasures.
But he wasn't quite sure why it was he was now sitting and waiting in his driveway, why he was staring intently at the reflection of the curb in his rearview mirror, or why he was now holding the gun with the hammer pulled back.
He wasn't fully aware yet of what it was he was there to do next, but he knew that at some point his ex-wife would arrive at that curb to deliver their son to him tonight.