John Michael Samuels the third woke, and the day was glorious indeed. Golden sunshine cascaded through crisp, white, Venetian blinds, and onto his catalog-perfect Ikea bedroom. Malm high bed frame, Eket wall cabinets set in as bedside tables, tasteful Stoense low-profile rug on the wooden floors beneath. He couldn’t pronounce a word of it. Not one. But John Michael Samuels the third was wholly unconcerned with that. It was perfect, and this perfection was the sole concern of John Michael Samuels the third. A perfect recreation of the Instagram post Paul Alan liked forty-seven days ago. He could vividly recall every sensation he had felt as he made his fateful discovery, as if it had happened only moments ago. True, overwhelming ecstasy as he had never felt it before. His hands shook and his knees trembled at the power of it. Victory was upon him, surely, and this victory would be a true and final one, for the loathsome Paul Alan never liked anything on Instagram. John knew this, for a certainty, because he had learned. He knew everything about Paul Alan, for nothing was more important to John Michael Samuels the third than the complete undoing of him. He lived him, he breathed him. He was him, and for every moment he spent analyzing him another fire was lit at the very center of his being, joining all the others that burned already, uniting, licking, raging in furious harmony.
John Michael Samuels the third loved his bedroom, oh he loved it, not for what it was, but for how it crushed Paul Alan, like the insect he was, when he saw it forty-six days ago. He smiled to himself as he remembered how surely and suddenly Paul Alan’s heart sank on that day, down to the blackest depths of despair. It was subtle, but he saw. He always saw. The slow dropping of the shoulders, the relaxing of the jaw, the deadening of the flesh around the eyes. And the stare, that ambrosial stare. John Michael Samuels the third praised all the gods above, below, and amongst us all, all those that ever were or will, for the deliciousness of that stare. Blank, barren, desolate. He had supped on it every morning, noon, and night since, savoring the sweetness of it, the tang, the texture. And so he smiled.
John Michael Samuels the third cast off his finely knit cashmere blanket with a graceful swing of his conqueror's hand, rising like the golden god he was from the fine linen sheets beneath to greet the glorious day that lay ahead, and he did so with a smile so bright and beaming he was certain his own searing radiance would travel forth all ninety-three million miles of desolate, unstylish space to blind the very sun itself. And then he went.
There were no prior John Michael Samuels, of course; he styled himself so in business school, many years ago, and every day since he carried himself with the confidence of a man built upon a tradition, a lineage, a legacy, of all the excellent John Michael Samuels that preceded him. His handshake was just as formidable. Strong. Not the kind of strength a single John Michael Samuels could ever hope to muster. The strength of three, of the one, and of the all, of every John Michael Samuels that had ever blessed this terra firma. And he relished the moment the veil was shattered, and the spectral grips of John Michael Samuels Sr. and Jr. joined his, unleashing the fury of three generations upon all who dared deem themselves worthy to meet his hand. He could feel it now. The sudden structural failure of the wrist, the crunching of the finger bones, the shudder. He could see it. The widening eyes, the reddening face, the small blue veins popping at the temple. And he could smell it. The fear. The same fear he smelled on that disgusting Paul Alan forty-six days ago. John Michael Samuels the third licked his lips, for it was delicious indeed.
He adopted his suit, his armor, his jacket and pants of stark black Italian wool, his clean white shirt of purest silk, and set forth upon the day. He charged through his front door with all of the force of the mighty lion, and smiled again to himself as his eyes met his crisp, green, succulent grass. Two point five inches in height, exactly, a meticulous blend of Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass, matched perfectly to Pantone 14-0156. Summer Green. It came in, it rose, not two days after he crushed the spirit of the heinous Paul Alan, for he knew of one other way to smite that cursed demon of a man, and that way was through the timeless elegance of a perfectly constructed lawn. Oh, how he had watched the repugnant Paul Alan toil over his own tract of dusty, fallow earth. Oh, how he had witnessed his fruitless toil, his resigned despair, his endless suffering. And then, as he lay withering from his crushing defeat, John Michael Samuels the third succeeded. And he forced his head in his hands, turned his gaze forward, and made him bear witness once again. And so John Michael Samuels the third closed his eyes and breathed it all in, deep and slow, all the aromas of his flourishing greenery and of his own lucent majesty.
"That’s it," he nodded quietly to himself before taking it in once more. "Victory." And then he sighed, the sigh of a man experiencing the very pinnacle of human achievement. Then, he turned to his right and waved to his neighbor, the detestable Paul Alan.
“Good morning, Paul!”
Paul turned to him and smiled right back, a warm and neighborly smile.
“Good morning, John!”
Paul Alan waved right back, and as he did so he beamed. Inside, John Michael Samuels the third snarled. What impudence! Insolence! Where had gone the sorrow of yesterday? The despair? The misery?! It was a false confidence! It must have been! His desiccated body must have clawed its way to a therapist! Ketamine! Vicodin! John Michael Samuels the third steeled himself. He smiled, reciprocated the very same. Enhanced. He beamed. He shone! Where Paul would feign friendliness, John would return the transcendent love of a brother, by blood or bloodshed. He smiled, he radiated, and he waved.
“Excellent weather, Paul!”
Paul considered it for only a moment before he laughed. A kingly laugh it was, and truly did it rock John Michael Samuels the third to the marrow within his bones. Shock washed over him, and he was powerless to stop it. And Paul Alan saw, and he smiled. Then, he cast his eyes up at the clear, blue skies above and regarded all this weather that his neighbor had so praised. “She sure is smiling today, isn’t she?” And he closed his eyes and sighed.
John Michael Samuels the third screamed for him to open his eyes, to fix them upon the sun. He called upon every power of earth, heaven, and hell to force his gaze until his eyes smoked and melted in their sockets. But he did not. He just stood there and held, like a statue of marble, serene and magnificent. John Michael Samuels the third could feel them all, those frenzied torches within. They roared all at once as one, a singular inferno raging unbounded. But he turned upon them all with a halting hand, and alongside him the hands of John Michael Samuels Sr. and Jr. joined in, and so it was contained.
He beamed back at Paul, nodding furious agreement. “Perfect weather for a cookout, am I right, Paul?”
He could see it in his mind’s eye: Paul set upon the spit, turning slowly above the flame, his flesh crackling, his fat rendering to ooze before his eyes. But Paul again laughed, nodding furiously back at him. And then John saw it. His jaw dropped. His hands shook. His eyes widened. He beheld it, all of its inspired beauty. Paul stopped, too, and he turned. He turned slowly, methodically. He knew John was not looking at him anymore, but he knew still that his eyes would see, and he would remember. He would forever remember this day. Paul took one last glance at him, his face, his eyes, his form, and he committed it. Carved upon stone this memory would be. He set the workers in motion without a sound, and a hundred and more carvers set chisel down and struck hammers upon them. And he turned, to look where John looked. He looked to his lawn.
Pantone 16-6340. Classic Green. Three inches. It was lush. It was vibrant. It was extraordinary. John wanted to throw off his shoes right then, to feel it between his toes. He wanted to lay in it, to close his eyes, to consider it with every square millimeter of his skin. He wanted to be as a child in it, to lay upon it all day and look up at the clouds. He wanted to live it, breathe it, become it. His eyes twitched. His fist clenched. He burned the furious anger of ten thousand torches, each one just as ravenous as the other for a lick of Paul Alan’s insolent flesh. And Paul turned back to him with a smile.
“Do you like it, John?” Paul stared at him. He looked him straight into his cold, dead eyes, and he held. He reached down and unsheathed his sword, his glimmering blade, and thrust it into John Michael Samuel the third’s accursed heart, and he could feel it explode, to burst forth all the blood that rotten beast had ever had. And then he laughed, that hearty, kingly laugh. “Just came in!” he roared. “It’s like I always say, isn’t it?” And he turned to John Michael Samuels the third with a shrug. “Just takes a little hard work and patience!” And he looked to John Michael Samuels the third and he laughed again, but not the same booming laugh as before. No, this was a quiet laughter. It came not from the mouth, not conveyed through sound, by waves upon the air. It was the eyes. They laughed at John, they bellowed, and they cackled. The opsins, the melanins, the whites. Every one. And he smiled.
It struck John and he recoiled in horror. He could smell it waft to him on the wind, the soft smell of almonds, for it was a smile of pure cyanide. He could feel the burning blade plunging into his chest. It came and went, straight through his spine and out into the cool, morning air, and forth erupted all the confidence he had ever built in himself. It spurted, this grievous wound, and then it erupted, and out drained everything he ever was, everything he ever thought he could be. He tried to steel himself again, but he could not. Even though they came upon him from the ether, the hands of every John Michael Samuels that walked this world before, he could not. Tightly they gripped, but he could not feel. “Steady,” they whispered to him, but he could not hear. He did not fall to his knees, for he already had. And then deeper he fell, into a pit that had no bottom, into a shaft that never knew light, nor warmth, nor comfort. He fell, and he fell, and as he did so he did nothing but stand there and gape back at Paul Alan and his poison smirk.
John Michael Samuels the third was powerless to stop Paul Alan when he turned, without a single word, and strode to his open garage. He could not raise one hand to halt him, he could not cover his ears to shield himself from the primal rumbling that erupted after, for the chariot Paul Alan returned upon. He was a mere husk of a man, that John Michael Samuels the third, not even a shadow of the man he had been mere moments ago. He tried still, oh, he tried. He tried with everything he had left to will his atoms to remain bound to one another in the image of a man. Yet he was reduced further when Paul Alan returned, astride the Vincent Black Shadow. And so John Michael Samuels the third scattered as dust upon the wind, and so floated on and out all that remained, a hundred-million flecks of ash, each one paralyzed with wonder as they were carried off into the distance.
If he had had the strength in him still, John Michael Samuels the third might have asked how. Not one how, but many. How did it come to him, this reverential antiquity? How had he spirited it here so, under the cover of his own all-seeing radars? But more than anything else, John Michael Samuels the third wondered how he knew. He had always lusted after this bike, once the fastest ever made. It had always been with him, in his dreams. He had always reached for it, stretched out and grasped. He had saved himself for it, chaste was he from the temptations of every other lesser bike. But he had never caught it, only the fleeting glimpse of it as it rumbled away out of sight.
Paul Alan stood there and smiled back at him, astride the most coveted piece of motorcycling history ever to exist. It meant nothing to him, and all at once it meant everything to him. He loved that motorcycle, but not for what it was. Nothing, but at the same time everything. He stood there and he smiled. He said all he meant to say, and he said nothing. And then he left.
John Michael Samuels the third could recall nothing of the hours that followed. He remembered vaguely shambling to his car, turning over the engine, and leaving. He could only just recall, as a dream looked back upon after a great slumber, stumbling into his office, lurching past his secretary, and locking the door behind him. But he could feel still the first feeling to return to him, that first urge, that genesis spark. John Michael Samuels woke in his once-coveted bedroom the very next day, and already it burned within him: the fires of vengeance. Spark turned to flame, and then it grew, and grew, and grew. A bed of ashes he had slept in, a bed of defeat, but now he blazed anew and rose, a brilliant burning phoenix rising and rising up on high. He never thought to abandon such things, not even for a fraction of a second. It was as if this was all he had, all he was ever meant to be. That John Michael Samuels rose, and up he looked into the ethereal nothing, and back stared the otherworldly visages of all the other John Michael Samuels that ever were, and ever would be. And down at him they nodded. And so he rose, that John Michael Samuels, with the fire of a million suns, and on he went on that auspicious morn.
“I will have that Paul Alan, oh, I will have him, if it is the last thing I ever do.”