The middle-aged man sat in the black 1972 Chevy Nova and tore the plastic from the overpriced deck of cards he purchased from the closest operating store located in butt-fuck nowhere. He assumed the cards ran for at least half the price in the city but was glad the store carried playing cards rather than having to worry about the lower price of them in a town farther away. He pulled the cards from the cheap cardboard package and shuffled twice before meticulously selecting one from the deck. Traditionally, most people pick a card from the middle. It's a standard and expected norm, but above all, it’s safe. He abandoned his life of traditions and safety for the practices of an outsider—something he knew nothing about but was eager to experience. So, he drew a single card from the bottom of the deck. Not a drop of sweat perched upon his brow from the beating sun, nor did his hands become unsteady in his grip as he held the card. The card that caused his lips to form an upward turn of a smirk as he held the selected card to his bright blue eyes. The smirk turned to a chuckle and the chuckle into a burst of hearty laughter, pleased with the card he drew, the only card that would satisfy him—The Suicide King. With that excitement, he started the engine, and it roared to life—the formidable sound of power filling the silence of the lonely road before him.
As he drove in silence through a series of dirt roads and seemingly abandoned gas stations that appeared to serve as havens to transients, he continued to clear his mind from absolutely everything for the first time in a while. The scenery, although captivating, didn’t detract him from his absent mind. The freedom from the chains which enslaved him was finally unshackled, and he refused to allow nature to intervene with his will any longer. A few miles farther down the empty stretch of road, he came upon a weathered sign that read, "Ashburn—A wholesome community! All are W---come! Population: 337 was drawn in at the bottom of the aged sign. It was vandalized with several colors of spray paint. Figuring he had reached the outskirts of a small town, he decided to follow the signs along the road until he saw further evidence of civilization. It took only a few minutes until he approached the Sheriff's Department building, which stood next to a taller building that read "Communal Hall" in unscathed stone letters.
The man parked and entered the communal hall, which reeked of musk and an odor he thought might belong to a decaying animal. He knew little to nothing about the vacant lands for purchase in the surrounding area, and the representative who greeted him seemed as enthusiastic as a tortoise hosting a pool party. After civilities were discussed, the man provided the necessary proof of funds and documentation to showcase his interest in purchasing property in the small town of Ashburn. Without questioning his motives, the rotund representative pressed his glasses toward his face and smiled widely, almost as if he wanted to laugh. But he refrained and presented a local map from his antiquated desk. The representative showed him all vacant properties for purchase in the area. The man carefully scanned the map for a moment, then spotted pointed to some coordinates on the outskirts of the town. It was the same desolate land where just moments ago he had selected the card that set him on his current path. The card which freed him from the horrors of freewill and transcended him into a comfort of destiny, where he exiled all responsibility from his past and future transgressions. The process of documentation and transactions were completed hastily, as though the representative had a line of people waiting on him in the empty lobby. After the deal was completed, hands shook and a bid for a good day was said as the man grabbed the deed and left the antiquated building.
The middle-aged man plugged the coordinates of his newly acquired purchase into the GPS on his cell phone and plopped a cigarette in his mouth. He lit it with a disposable lighter and coughed upon his first inhale. He had never smoked in his life, but this is a new life with new beginnings and the rare chance to become someone else. He felt relieved as he sped off to the pasture---maybe it was even a green one.
He puffed on the cigarette with the windows rolled down, thinking about lying in a green pasture, leaving everything he knew in the rearview. Forty-five miles later, the tires ground to a gentle halt on the dirt and gravel, as he finally returned to his land. He stepped out of his vehicle, but not before placing the drawn card—The Suicide King—from his shirt pocket onto the rearview mirror. He grinned as the card stared back at him, encouraging him with his confident eyes to continue forward. For the man, the Suicide King was omniscient and omnipotent, undisputed in his ever-present reign. The man regarded the Suicide King with the utmost respect. It was a king who chose to triumph over suicide—the ultimate expression of nihilism and rejection of innate sapience. It was now in Him he trusted to provide his destiny. Any other card chosen would have left the man in an eclipse of self-pity and responsibility for his own actions. It was time for a change, and the Suicide King has always brought him what he needs.
He threw the almost full pack of cigarettes onto the ground and stomped on them with seasoned boots. He had only bought the cigs because he thought it would be a habit he could pick up now that he has chosen to become someone else. But he still held the same disdain for them as he had previously.
Hell, cigarettes should be considered litter before it even hits the ground, but that rat poison remaining in my mouth was still preferable than a musky municipal building, he thought to himself.
The pasture he purchased wasn't exactly the green landscape he hoped for, but it expanded over seven acres. There was a vast amount of exploring to be had, and he was in the mood for discovery. The land wasn't the prettiest, nor was it the ugliest, but it was the one chosen by him…or the Suicide King. But the lack of a choice mattered to him more than taking the time to scope out the perfect piece of property; he was thoroughly exhausted from making his own decisions.
He followed a trail of weeds that was scattered before him—nature’s frowned upon flowers. He peered into one of the crevices in the dirt to see a single flower attempting to bloom through a narrow crack in the dry terrain. He admired the organism’s effort to survive but scoffed because he knew better than to believe in things he used to believe in…such as hope. There was a time in his younger years where the man considered isolation a cruel province for desolation. It was a time before he discovered that weak-minded people would strongly believe in something as long as he believed in it himself. Or pretend to, with uncontested confidence. But his recently deceased daughter has led him to engage in new things. Things that made him feel alive again. But that couldn’t make her less dead.
He opened the trunk of his car and pulled out a spray paint can. He shook it and walked up to the large tree in front of him. He glanced at the can, then back at the tree. He proceeded to spray paint the tree with a slogan: “If only youth knew, age could". He admired his work for a moment before putting the spray paint can back in his car.
He then followed the pasture north, not particularly abiding by any discernible direction. He passed nothing of significance, just dead grass, and the occasional land critter. He couldn’t shut off his mind this time, though. He thought of the Suicide King and what is demanded and expected of him. When he first came across the card in a game of bridge, he found the cartoon king humorous. However, the card began appearing everywhere he went. Thinking he was going insane and being too proud to explain his inane circumstance to a doctor, he visited a fortune-teller. He didn’t believe in clairvoyance or anything of the sort, but he went anyway. The fortune-teller told the man that she had never seen anything like this and demanded he leave immediately. He was scurried out with just enough time to receive a refund. But he never truly understood what the Suicide King meant to him. Not until now.
But he had forgotten about the Suicide King after his daughter died. His days were then full of antidepressants and self-loathing, which blended into weeks, and the weeks turned into months of an insomnia-induced consciousness that was vaguely aware of its existence. The most prominent part of his grieving was the adoption of a special ritual. One that was cathartic and more powerful than any antidepressant or therapy he attempted. His ritual was really quite simple: He tied a rope into a noose that hung from the reinforced steel bar in the garage, then he would step on the chair and put his neck through the noose for a few moments and stopped just before passing out from asphyxiation. He’d then untie the rope and place it under the bed for the next night's ritual. It was the thing he looked forward to the most, hoping one day he wouldn’t be able to kick the chair and let the noose do its intended purpose. The first couple of weeks of this ritual were a flirtation with suicide. The next few weeks were about control, and how he had to have it. He knew how easy it was to transform that flirtation from first base to third base---a simple kick and then nothingness.
His wife of seven years left him soon after she discovered his nightly ritual. He didn’t mind though; his affinity for human connection had been absent in the last eight months when his daughter was taken from him so viciously. And it had been three months since he slept for more than three hours at a time. When sleep finally came, it usually ended in a panic, as most people would do when they see their only daughter die every night. It was worse when she would visit him at night. An icy hand would stroke his unshaved face, and he would awaken to see his dead daughter sitting beside him, smiling, as though she weren't buried eight months ago.
The Texas sun blanketed his newly purchased land without any discernible sign of relent in sight. He felt his trek slowing from his blistering feet, and the taste of tar in his mouth was replaced with cotton. He spotted what appeared to be a cove of dead forestry along the Northeast side of the property. The once living branches were contorted from the years of decay, creating an array of odd shapes. They reminded him of the nooses he was accustomed to. He smiled and grabbed the water canister from his backpack to take a sip, then slumped down onto one of the trees and closed his eyes for the first peaceful rest he's had in quite some time.
When he woke a couple of hours later, it was to the shrilling screams of his daughter. His blood no longer ran cold nor did the hair on the nape of his neck stand erect to the common screams and apparitions. He figured he might as well follow the screams, passing a series of dead shrubbery and branches along the way until he found the source of the disturbance.
His dead daughter was sobbing with her head buried in her palms. She hadn’t aged a bit—still eight years old. He approached, but she disappeared just as his fingers were going to grasp her shoulder. He would’ve cried had he any tears left to shed. He just continued onward, pushing the incident from his mind, and focusing on the trail.
He kept glancing up and down, to ensure he wouldn’t step on anything dangerous. He was right to do so. His next step was almost on a rattlesnake that was shedding its skin, becoming something new. Just like him. He took delight in the fact that another creature shared the same mentality. Even if that creature was a cold-blooded reptile. A snake is only intimidating until it's time to shed its skin, then it is exposed for what it truly is: a pink and thin, flimsy body vulnerable and visibly susceptible to mortality---its rough exterior no longer hiding its secrets. That's the beauty in rough exteriors. They are the most vulnerable of all populations, hiding something painful inside of them and never allowing others to see. Projection is the easiest thing in the world to find if you're looking for it. Some people are completely inept to the unconscious existence around them; it's an open invitation to the average sociopath.
The man swiftly grabbed the head of the snake with a vice-like grip and grabbed a large pocketknife from his back pocket and proceeded to decapitate the snake in one smooth movement. Blood spewed down his hand and onto the ground, as did the head, making a soft plop on the now blood-stained dirt. He scanned the area for any other trespassers. There weren't any, so he continued forward until he found what he was looking for---the open field wasn't exactly a completely dead brown nor was it exactly blooming, either. But it was his. His decaying field open for cultivation. For his harvest.