An Even Existence

By James Harris


James Harris hails from West Sussex in the UK. He has loved horror and mystery ever since he witnessed the death of King Kong (aged four) and has been watching and reading the macabre and grim since. He has been published in the likes of Underground Voices, Thieves Jargon, Notes From A Barstool, Demon Minds, Twisted Tongue magazine and many more.


Len McVoy sat in his flat, contemplating the old service revolver sitting ominously in the centre of his coffee table. He had a problem; Len was stumped, bamboozled, and not for the first time in the frustratingly repetitive oddity his physiatrist called life.

He retrieved six bullets from his shirt pocket and lined them up parallel to the edge of the table.

Counting them in twos: two… four… six he decided everything was okay for the moment, although there was something niggling him, something hidden he couldn’t put a finger on. He kept thinking. The last time he was in this situation he’d messed up and just added to the eternal problems he suffered.

These problems became apparent at the age of six when he realised his obsession with counting numbers. If Len was in a room made up from tiles, he would count along one line then multiply it by the opposite, eventually working out the total number used to complete the room. He wouldn’t let himself leave until this mathematical task was completed.

As the years passed the obsession progressed into a belief that counting in even numbers helped maintain a balanced life, where odd numbers were likely to have the opposite effect: Accidents, health problems, something terrible happening to his parents.

By the time Len hit his teens, he’d discovered the need to fold his clothes a certain way. Jeans were to be folded twice then laid out parallel to the bed. Shirts, sweaters and T-shirts had to be checked for unsightly fluff. If there was any it would have to be picked off before the garment could be put away. This was one of the most time consuming routines he had to complete.

The oddities didn’t stop there either. The preliminary stages of Agoraphobia set in when he started college. Corridors were his nightmare, the packed common room at lunch enough to make him throw up. If Len let his attention slip and someone were to brush past him accidentally, he had to touch them back, as though he were passing back some disease that was transferred to him on initial contact.

It got to the point that his own home turned on him. Leaving a room meant suffering the ordeal of tapping the inside of the door twice, passing through it without touching the frame, then tapping the outside twice. If this wasn’t done successfully it had to be repeated twice to even out the mistake. Watching T.V or listening to music meant the volume had to be set on an even number. If he were to wake up and discover he’d awoken on an odd minute, he would cross himself four times.

Whilst living with his parents, kitchen cupboards were checked every day for any items that his mother may have placed in there upside down. Shoes placed on the tiled kitchen floor (there were 156 tiles) had to be inside a tile and not sitting on any gaps. Because gaps, upside down items, fluff and incorrectly folded clothing led to chaos, a force outside of his control that could simply click its fingers and destroy his life and family.

Len’s physiatrist had called it “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” and had tried everything to locate the origins of the problem. Nothing was gained from this process. Even being put under the Hypnotist’s spell hadn’t evoked anything that was connected to the disorder.

Len had managed to hide these peculiarities from his family quite well. His mother noticed his obsession with the contents of the kitchen cupboard and his father had always reassured that it was down to Len’s tidy and well organised nature, especially with the folding of his clothes.

Having decided the six bullets he’d lined up were perfectly parallel to nearest side of the table, he began to pick them up two at a time before sliding them into the revolver’s chamber. This was all going as planned. Not like the last time he’d sat like this after buying a pistol, after he’d empted nine bullets from the magazine onto the coffee table. How could he possibly use a gun that held an odd number of rounds? He had tried returning it to the Jamaican guy he’d bought it from, but no such luck. What kind of dumb fuck buys back a gun that might’ve been used in a crime? Len binned it and managed to get hold of the worn service revolver from an old military store. Bullets for it were hard to come by so he returned to the Jamaican guy, who reluctantly managed to obtain some that would be compatible; enough to do the job anyway.

All six rounds were loaded and Len snapped the chamber shut before spinning it, just like he’d seen the tough guys do in the movies. He took a moment to look around his room, taking in all the objects that were laid out in lines and set parallel to the four walls, the sheer lunacies that were a testament to his madness, the many justifications for buying the gun and the even amount of bullets.

His obsessions had lost him his job and his girlfriend of four years, Amy. He couldn’t possibly work in an office where the people there didn’t care about parallel lines. He’d tried warehouse work but couldn’t tolerate the huge shelves that were stacked up in threes. The routines he now had to endure kept him home for at least an hour and a half before he could leave; even longer if he messed up a counting routine.

Amy was well aware of his problems but she usually bit her tongue; ignored the idiotic tasks he’d performed. In the beginning he had managed to hide his quirks from her, well trained from doing so when he’d lived with his parents. In the end Len had became tiresome to her, boring because of his problems with being around other people.

Their relationship had come to boiling point when they’d visited a National Trust castle, her idea to gently introduce him back into society and slowly infiltrate his agoraphobic tendencies. After joining a group of people for the tour, Len had started to sweat profusely, the group getting too close for comfort. Their guide eventually began the tour and all started okay; he thought he could just about get through it without Amy being any the wiser. Three quarters into the tour and they’d passed through a giant stone doorway. An obese man of about twenty-five stone tripped and, Len already more than aware of this fat man’s presence behind him, lunged forward through the door way, catching his arm on the side as he dodged the looming monster. After realising his predicament (he now needed to pass back through the doorway and repeat his counting routine twice to make even), the group had all passed into the final room of the tour. He spat an offensive remark at the obese guy, attempted to retrace his steps, but the guide forbid it; the tour was one way only; the following group were due close behind.

Of course Len had caused a scene. The guide had shouted for security, and in seconds Len (much to his disgust) was grabbed by a guard and escorted from the castle. That was not only the end of Len’s tour but the end of his relationship too.

What made the whole ordeal even more idiotic was instead of trying everything he could to woo Amy back, Len couldn’t stop thinking about the stone doorway and the guard that had touched him: There were now consequences to pay; he and his parents were now in danger; things had to be evened out.

Three weeks after the whole ordeal, after cutting his hair and growing a goatee beard, Len returned to the castle incognito. He joined a group for the tour and eventually accomplished his counting task when passing through the giant stone doorway for a second time. After the tour had finished he approached the guard that had previously escorted him out, offered his hand and complimented how wonderful the castle was and how the whole tour was extremely well run. The bemused guard had reciprocated, unknowingly now the new recipient of the disease he had apparently transferred to Len three weeks previous.

With the gun now loaded and ready to go, Len peered into the end of the barrel. The old revolver smelt of worn copper and oil; he had a momentary flash back to his Grandfather’s old tool shed.

This had to be done now or he’d have to endure more routines until the time came when he’d have enough bottle do it again.

In his peripheral vision, he noticed a pair of jeans that weren’t quite parallel to his bed. Grinning, he got up to straighten them. Of course it didn’t really matter; not now anyway. He was thinking of his parent’s destiny, not his own. It would be better for him and safer for them if he was gone.

With everything now in order, Len raised the gun to his head and…

… suddenly realised the problem that niggled him. He was now faced with another problem: How could he shoot himself, end his dismal existence with a solitary bullet? Solitary meaning single, single meaning one: The king of odd numbers. Leaving an odd amount of rounds in the chamber was also out of the question. No, he would have to use two bullets.

He mused over where he would place the first round.

The frustration of being faced with yet another set back because of his condition just added to his determination to finish it, to get the job done.

After much deliberation, Len decided he’d shoot himself in the stomach, then immediately put the second round in his head. Of course he would have to aim to the side slightly to avoid hitting his spine, thus paralysing himself and not being able to fire the second shot.

Len put the barrel to his stomach and squeezed the trigger.

The gun exploded, throwing Len across the room before he eventually landed sprawled out across two pairs of folded jeans. He had underestimated the amount of kickback the gun would create and the revolver violently jerked free, landing a good three yards away. Now writhing on the floor in agony, his stomach slowly dispersing its toxic acids around his body, Len started to crawl for the gun, to end the God awful pain pulsing in his stomach.

After gaining about half distance to the revolver, Len noticed a pair of jeans he’d been dragging across the floor. He wailed in despair; he now had another problem, a real catch 22: He couldn’t end it now everything wasn’t perfect: There would be consequences. Going for the gun meant ending his horrendous pain but leaving the jeans messed up, which would inadvertently jeopardise his parent’s future. Returning the jeans, folding and lining them up correctly would give his parents a reprieve from whatever ominous eventuality awaited them, but he then ran the risk of dying in agony before he could go back for the revolver.

Blood continued to spill down his stomach and the stinging pain had now resided to a dull ache. White specks flitted in his vision.

He had a choice to make; he only had a short amount of time to decide which option to choose.

After deciding there really was only one option, Len began to gather the jeans from under him.

The jeans now free, he held them up to begin folding; thousands of the tiny white spots were now dancing before him; he now viewed everything through the screen of a metaphorical television with bad reception.

His eyes widened in horror.

Fluff! Fucking thousands of specks of white fluff on the jeans!

Confused and now dangerously faint, he started to pick desperately at the non-existent fluff before realising his attempts were futile: there were just far too many white specks.

He collapsed onto his chest and wept in frustration.

Now aware he’d have to go for option one, and not entirely sure if he could even make that, Len McVoy started crawling for the revolver…

James Harris ©2006


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