Literary Yard

Search for meaning

By: Steven Grogan

I think I was just too nervous when I let my tongue go rattling off like the machine gun I was holding. Why did I have to say I was going to kill those people if my demands weren’t met? Nothing could have been further from the truth! Unfortunately, the chance to share my message of peace and love was lost once I shouted those words.

I have a few uncles who were in the Vietnam War. They told me that, when they were wounded by gunfire, they never heard the shot that tagged them. Now I can say those reports are true; you don’t know anything is wrong until the pain hits. Once it does, you never forget it. The memory is still as clear as if it were happening right now.

There I was, standing by the window when I suddenly lost all feeling in my right shoulder. My gun felt like it weighed a ton, so I had to let it go. As I looked around the room, I noticed the hostages were grimacing. I saw a neat little hole had been punched through the window, and I thought, “Why are they making faces over the sight of broken glass?” Then I realized what they were really looking at was me.

I looked down to see what the problem was. At first, all I saw was a tear in my shirt. Then I noticed a crimson stain quickly growing in size and spreading across the fabric. I stood there with a confused look on my face, watching my life pour out of my shoulder, my mind stuck in a state of disbelief, unable to accept the fact that I had been shot. Pain short-circuited my thought processes. I couldn’t understand why such a horrible, antisocial thing had been done. My memory was hidden beneath a red haze.

When that fuzzy lens lifted, I remembered everything.

Reading the paper, watching television, hearing the street gossip, sitting on my ass while the world got worse and worse, wishing I could get out there and make a difference but not knowing how, then hitting on my idea (to be discussed soon, I promise), buying the gun (illegally), taking the people hostage, shouting a death threat. It all came back to me: the good as well as the bad, the pain as well as the pleasure.

The most depressing part of the whole scenario was that I hadn’t even gotten around to making my demands. In the entire history of all hostage situations, there has never been one terrorist who wasn’t allowed to tell the authorities what they wanted. This is a travesty! There ought to be a law that gives terrorists the right to say what we want before we get shot and taken away by the law, and…

Wait a second.

Terrorist? Is that what I have become?

No, no! It wasn’t supposed to happen like this! I was the guy with the gun, and I still couldn’t motivate people to do what I wanted? What kind of loser am I?

One of the hostages broke free of his bonds only seconds after I was shot. While I stood there bleeding and confused, he freed the others. Then they all rushed me. As their fists crashed down on me I found myself thinking of

centuries I had never experienced,

ages I hadn’t studied,

eons I would never know, such as

The Paleolithic Era and all the life which sprouted from Earth. Abraham Lincoln and the true story of the creation of the Gettysburg Address. China and its rich history of unity, disunity, opening, and closing, of great cultural beauty and horrifying civil rights violations. Russia and all its ruthless czars. Pre-Columbus America and the wonderment of Native American life. I had been denied all of this, missed all these fascinating events.

I had no time to catch up on it. Not anymore.

Time to give up learning, just like I gave up on life itself years ago.

And what starts someone on the path of hopelessness, you ask? Well, it all begins when you lose faith in God. At first, it scares you when you feel the universe has no divine purpose, but eventually you learn to deal with your emotions and then move on. Once you give up on relying on God or the Church, you shift your trust over to the State. However, it isn’t long before you realize the State is all about one thing: enforcing a system that moves slower than a turtle so that, even when people try to pass laws to change a wrong into a right, it takes several generations before anything goes into effect. (And by that time, what’s right and wrong have changed again, so there has to be another eon-long wait to correct anything). What is your next step when the State fails? You try to put your faith in other people. But people quickly prove themselves to be untrustworthy, selfish things. They do whatever benefits them, no matter who they have to backstab on the way to success. Finally, the only thing left to believe in is you.

Now for the $25,000 question: what happens when you lose faith in yourself?

Well, there are two solutions: suicide or murder.

Supposedly, introverts will choose the former while extroverts pick the latter, but then again you can never be sure. One of the most common traits of human beings is that they are unpredictable. I am living proof of that.

Those hostages were too. They really surprised me. I never thought they would have attacked me. Yet there they were, punching and kicking and clawing at me without even giving me the chance to explain why I took them hostage. When someone finally pulled those maniacs off me, my jaw was broken and I was nearly unconscious, guaranteeing there would be no opportunity to share my plan.

I bet none of them read the news story that I did about how some sick bastard had raped and killed an eleven-year-old girl. Either they didn’t read it or (a scarier alternative) they didn’t care. But I read that story a dozen times. Did I know the victim? No, but for some reason an indescribable pain ripped through my soul when I heard about her. Why did it seem that I was the only one who felt this agony? There must have been thousands of other people who read the same article that morning, but no one else was in tears over it like I was. For some reason I was sensitive to the pain this scumbag had caused not only to the girl, but to her family as well. Where was everyone else’s outrage?

I may never know why I was alone in this misery, but I do know one thing: once the door to pain was opened, it was easy to feel the sting a second time. And a third, and a fourth, and so on into infinity. I came to enjoy feeling anguish in the same way that a junkie enjoys hitting the plunger to blast the latest fix into their veins.

Eventually I reached a point where the daily news couldn’t give me enough pain to satisfy my hunger, so I had to seek out other sources. Sometimes I would go to the library and read up about the histories of different countries, just to see what kind of atrocities humans from across the globe had visited upon each other.

China became a personal favorite. Did you know that having a son was so important to the Chinese that they would kill baby girls? Sweet, innocent, unsuspecting, defenseless little babies were left out in the cold to die alone, and all because of some stupid male chauvinist society that they didn’t ask to be born into.


Sometimes I would share the pain that this research caused me with other people. Some would just listen in disbelief. Others would stop talking to me because I became known as the guy who would unexpectedly start talking about dark subject matter. Then there was a third category of people who would try to ease my pain by saying things like, “Oh, don’t worry, man. Awful things happen every day. It’s nothing new.” That kind of talk never made feel any better. If anything, it made things worse because it exposed how complacent everyone acted toward news as horrible as this!

After a while, anguish was the only thing that kept me alive. When I got my daily fix of mental torment, I actually felt better.

At times like that I could almost smile.


Reporters have visited me in the hospital. They all want to know why I held those people hostage. I told them it was because I had an idea how to bring peace to the world, but no one would listen. The only way to get everyone’s attention was to do something dramatic. Unfortunately, I got taken into custody before I could explain myself.

They tried to pry my secret out of me, but I wouldn’t say another word. If they wouldn’t listen to me when I had a gun, why should I hand the answer over to them now?

Nothing I said was true, but I’ll let the world think it was. Let them all believe I took hostages for peace. I know most people will fall for it because they’re either too stupid or too lazy to find out the real story. You can shove all kinds of unbelievable shit in their faces. As long as the anchorperson who tells them looks respectable, they’ll buy anything, but anyone with a brain could figure out the real reason behind my actions.

When this thing started, I really did want to tell people how I thought we could achieve world peace. After a while, though, my feelings changed. That was a result of all the pain that poisoned my system. One day it dawned on me that the world is a shitty place but, if that bothered anyone, they would take the necessary steps to change the situation. Yet in all my years on this planet, I haven’t seen anything changing.

Actually, I take that back: the world is changing, but not for the better.

This shift in attitude occurred when I stood in that window, realizing I had no faith left in anything, not even myself. Suddenly I didn’t want to tell them my plan for peace anymore. Why bother when it would just fall on deaf ears? They would have forgotten every word by the next day anyway. That was why I threatened to start killing the hostages, but one well-placed bullet made sure I never had the chance.


Now that my wound has healed, I’ve been carted off to prison. I have a cellmate here who talks non-stop about raping me after lights out because the guards on the overnight shift sleep in their offices.

Although I don’t look forward to the intrusion, I’m glad that at least this guy gets it. There is nothing in this world worth putting faith in, so you might as well go wild. Rape someone! Murder a five-year-old! Mug your sister! Who the hell cares?

In the end, none of it makes any difference.


Steve Grogan is from the often-filmed city of Troy, NY. His prose and poetry have been published in several magazines and ezines. His biggest influences are Phillip K. Dick, William S. Burroughs, and Thomas Pynchon.

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