Hateful is the Heart
Anger is like a water leak. It doesn’t burn or smolder. It doesn’t consume, like wrath or rage. It can be a subtle thing in the beginning, but a lethal one. It seeps inside and leaks into the vulnerable places. It takes the path of least resistance and drips into the chasms and holes, accumulating, and soaking through everything in its path. It spreads on the inside, slowly, but thoroughly. From there, it rots everything it touches. And usually, by the time you notice it, the damage is already done.
The delivery man parked his van at the dusty clearing at the top of the hill where the path snaked down to an old cabin nestled into the hillside and dug through his packages while the soothing sounds of AC/DC thumped in his AirPods.
“Last one, thank fucking christ,” he mumbled to himself.
It was his last delivery of his shift and he was sore from a day in the truck carrying so many boxes of other people’s shit, he just wanted to get home to his couch and a six-pack. He stumbled a little down the steep walk and escorted the package up to the front door. He rested the box between his thigh and the doorframe as he reached over to ring the doorbell. He thought he heard some shouting, and maybe someone dropping something heavy, then quiet.
“Fucking weirdos out here, I’m out of here” he mumbled again. He set the box down and was just about to turn away when the door opened and he found himself facing a manic looking man with an untamed mop of red hair and a crazed look in his eyes. The house smelled terrible and looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for months.
The delivery man was just about to raise the electronic pad for a signature when the man shifted, in a subtle motion at first, then in a blur, and he felt the axe blade slam into his head.
Well he didn’t ACTUALLY feel it. That’s the funny thing about head wounds sometimes. He felt the pressure and he felt himself land on his back on the front porch. He felt the blood start to trickle down his face and tried to wipe it away with his left hand, but his body was already useless. He didn’t feel any pain, though, just shock and fear. The man picked up his feet and began to drag him into the house leaving a trail of blood behind. Through the hallway and wreck of a living room they went, and down the stairs to the basement.
Thump, thump, thump. The delivery man’s head bounced off each step and he was carried to a stop in front of an old well pump. He was grateful then, as grateful as you can be with an axe in your head, that whatever that blade had done had removed his ability to feel pain, because the red-haired man ripped the axe out of his skull and started to go to work. Disassemble the body, make it just a pile of meat. It makes an easier job for the chemicals and it’s easier to look at if it’s not looking back. Easier on the eyes, easier on the soul. He started with the feet and worked his way up.
The last thing the delivery man saw and heard was the red-haired man pausing his gruesome work and looking up, across the basement with wild eyes, and shouting, “BE QUIET! LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO! JUST BE QUIET!”
Then he fell to his knees, gagged, and vomited a thick stream of steaming red liquid on the basement floor. It mixed with the growing pool of blood and seeped into the french drains around the basement. The delivery man’s eyes rolled back into what was left of his head, and the world went dark.
Andrew Dobbs used to have a great life, or at least that’s what he wanted everyone to believe, and what he wanted to believe about himself. He was a writer in New York and lived in Brooklyn. He went to artsy bars and sipped craft cocktails and dated a model. When he went home for visits, his family would love to hear about his latest stories and the gossip from the city. He loved this last part best of all. His parents had always been hard on him, expecting great things, and he relished their impressed smiles when he casually told them about his girlfriend’s modeling gigs, or which celebrity he ran into at the neighborhood bar.
But as those old adages go, “you have to love yourself before others can love you,” and “confidence is king.” Dobbs loved nothing but the image of the lifestyle he was living and how it made others look at him. The problem was that most of it was a lie.
The only things Dobbs had ever successfully published were two poems in the monthly leaflet of a local coffee shop, so if that makes him a writer, he was a bad one, and he never actually made any money doing it. His day job was as a tutor and proctor at a test prep company where he spent his days getting talked down to by rich kids and their obnoxious parents.
He did live in Brooklyn and drink fancy cocktails, but most of the money came from his girlfriend who had a brief but successful modeling career. But she knew that wasn’t a long term position and was now working as a paralegal and was planning to use a chunk of that money for law school. Since she’d left the industry she’d also gained some weight. Not a ton, and she was still beautiful by any stretch, but that’s not what Dobbs had envisioned when he cultivated this story of his life.
Dobbs was a shallow man and cared deeply for that image. But when you scratched the surface of the image, the deep flaws underneath became clear. The problem for Dobbs was that life didn’t just scratch at the surface. Life sawed deep through skin, muscle, and fat, and dug right into the marrow.
At first, he brought it on himself. His dad was a real man’s man, and he was raised to care deeply about what the old misogynist thought of him. His dad loved that his son dated a model and showing off his girl wasn’t the same now that she wasn’t a size 0. He started to push her a little about letting herself go. But unlike Dobbs, she was confident in who she was, and didn’t tolerate that for a second. She dumped him then and there and changed the locks. There went the craft cocktails and the apartment in Brooklyn. He couldn’t afford to live in New York on a tutor’s salary.
Drip, drip, drip.
With her went most of their friends. He had to move across the river into Jersey, and even the friends that weren’t pissed at him were harder to hang out with. He had to commute back to Secaucus at the end of each day while they drank in swanky bars and comedy clubs. At first they took the effort to invite him, knowing he could rarely come, but even that eventually slowed down. They were forgetting all about Dobbs.
Drip, drip, drip.
He stopped going home, it was harder to maintain the charade. All he wanted was to impress his parents, he loved them in his damaged kind of way, and hated them. But he wanted them to love him too. But it was harder to impress them with his new life. He didn’t want to come crawling back until he righted the ship.
That made it hurt all the more when he learned that the colds they’d had were more than colds. The novel virus had sickened them and claimed them both within twelve hours of each other. In his anger and bitterness he hadn’t even gotten to say goodbye.
He looked around at his dingy Secaucus apartment and decided there was nothing more for him here. His parents had left him their cabin and a decent amount of money. And all that was waiting for him in Secaucus and New York was anger and betrayal. So he packed up and moved home, this time alone.
The cabin, nestled into the hillside, was small but well maintained with sweet smelling gardens and mountain views. “I can reinvent myself here,” he thought, but then the nights came, and with them the loneliness. He would spend them drinking and calling his old friends, inevitably venting about his problems and all he had lost. At first they heard him out. Friends would stay on the phone long into the night, but after time they would stop taking his calls, or cut him off short. They got compassion fatigue and didn’t have the time for him that they used to.
He probably should have moved on with building his new life, and left the old wreckage behind. But he just got more and more angry, and more and more resentful. “Nobody cares about Andrew Dobbs”.
His rage built and built, and perhaps not surprisingly, he actually started to do some pretty good writing. He lost weight, and not in a healthy way. He lived off beer and cheese sandwiches and his pen issued wrath and violence onto the page. It didn’t calm him, and he felt ever more the victim. He got tunnel vision, and his world started to blur.
One day he was nursing a bottle of Shiner Bock on the phone with unemployment. He hadn’t applied to jobs, and they informed he was going to lose his unemployment benefits. He still had some money from his parents, but this was a huge loss.
“Fuck!” he screamed as he slammed the phone to the ground. He walked in a couple of loose circles as his head swam with rage. “FUCK!” he scream again as he slammed his fist against the wall of the cabin. It went all the way through up to his elbow. He pulled his hand out in pain and stared in surprise at his bloody knuckles, then at the hole in the wall. Behind the wall was a gap between the sheetrock and the exterior wall, at least 18 inches deep. “Maybe it’s for the pipes, or electric?” he thought.
He reached forward and pulled a piece of drywall off the damaged wall, just enough to be able to fit his head in and get a look around. It was dark inside and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust, but it looked to be just a gap for plumbing and electrical, though larger than he would have expected. He looked to the left and saw nothing, then looked to the right and saw … what? He jerked his head out of the hole, banging it on the drywall on his way out. As he rubbed his head he tried to calm himself. He could have sworn he saw a person inside the wall. A woman, impossibly thin and pale, slinking inside the walls of his house. Her hair thin, black, and stringy. The way she moved was wrong. He had to have imagined it. He felt sick to his stomach.
He noticed then the growing pain in his hand, and the swelling was already starting. He was dripping some blood on the floor. He grabbed his beer and headed off towards the bathroom to clean it, but not without taking one last suspicious look at the wall. He’d fix that hole tomorrow.
The next time he saw something, it was a few days later. He’d been having vicious nightmares and his sleep was troubled. One night he was thrashing in his dreams and rolled out of bed onto the hardwood floor. He jolted awake in pain and as he rolled over he looked under his bed. On the other side, standing up, he saw pale white feet, veiny, with signs of rot and decay. He thought he was still sleeping but the pain in his back and his hand let him know he was awake.
The feet started to walk towards the edge of the bed. He quickly got to all fours and crawled to the end of the bed and looked around just as the feet should be turning the corner, but he saw nothing. The room spun and he felt sick again. He wretched once and threw up on the floor, mostly liquidy water and beer, but mingled with blood. He stood up slowly, looking around his empty room, and wandered off towards the kitchen. That would be enough sleep for tonight,
He saw things more often after that. One morning while sipping his coffee he looked out the windows on his back deck and saw, just for a moment, a pale woman in a white nightgown in the distance hanging by her neck from a tree, at least 60 feet up. He blinked and shook his head. When he looked again she was gone. While showering he washed the soap out of his eyes and opened them, looking through the glass shower door and saw the woman in the nightgown with her stringy black hair standing in the middle of the bathroom, looking at him, blurred out by steam and soap. When he wiped away the accumulation on the door, she was gone.
Dobbs felt alone and scared, but most of all he felt angrier than ever. He was already betrayed and abandoned by everyone he knew, and now he couldn’t even trust his own mind. When would life give him a break?
But it all came to a head about a week later. Dobbs was drinking more and more to bury his feelings, and hide the visions of the pale woman who was always lurking in the corner of his eye. And one night, after a particularly vicious bout with a bottle of Cutty Sark, he called his ex-girlfriend, and for whatever reason, she picked up.
He paused for a moment, dumbfounded. He hadn’t expected to hear her voice. What we wanted to say was “I’m so sorry for how I treated you. I know how I tried to undermine your confidence and how much that must have hurt, I’m just a flawed man, dealing with a lot of trauma, but I always loved you.”
But, the anger…
What he really said was, “How could you fucking do this to me? After all I did for you! Just cast me aside and ruin everything? How fucking could you?!!”
She hung up immediately, and he turned and in a fit of rage threw his phone through the sliding glass door over his deck. Breathing heavily, he turned back around, and there she was, in plain view.
She wore only a ripped white nightgown. Her skin was white and lined with blue veins, stretched tight over her bones except for the areas where it was swollen and darkened with wet gangrene. Her arms were longer than they should have been, stretching to her knees. Her chest rose and fell with wet, rasping breaths. Her mouth was a ruined mess, with a few remaining teeth putrefying in rotting gums. But it was stretched into a vicious smile, wider than should have been possible. She smiled ear to ear, as if she was thrilled by his rage and misfortune. But the worst part was her eyes. They were dead and rotting, but her gaze pierced through him all the same. Those eyes were so full of hate, hate, hate. A deeper hate than he had ever seen.
He stumbled backwards over the coffee table and fell. She inched forward with those wheezing excited breaths. Hate, hate, hate. And relish. He got up and ran to the bathroom where he collapsed over the toilet, vomiting red liquid. When his stomach was empty he looked back up, but there she was, in the doorway of the bathroom, watching him, with hate in her eyes.
She was always there from then on out, and Dobbs’ world crumbled more and more. She whispered to him, though he couldn’t make out her words. His vision was always blurred and he constantly felt the hum of her presence. It used to be that there was blood in his vomit, now he was throwing up pure red at least once a day.
She would follow him around the house. When he tried to call someone on the phone, she would put her face right next to his the entire time, watching him with those hate filled eyes. When he woke up from whatever sleep he managed to drink himself into the night before, she was crouched on his dresser, her legs splay out and her arms hanging between them almost all the way to the floor. Always with that fucking grin. Always with the hate.
The trees and grass around the house withered away to nothing. Everywhere there was a stench, and sickness, and death.
One day, Dobbs couldn’t take it anymore, and he went to the shed to get his father’s axe to put an end to this. He stumbled back into the house with the axe and walked straight to the living room where she was crouching in that horrible pose on the coffee table. He walked right up and swung the axe at her with all his strength.
The axe crashed right through the coffee table as the woman chuckled, now crouched on the back of a rocking chair swaying slowly back and forth.
Dobbs looked down in dismay, then lifted the axe in front of his face and looked directly at the blade. Maybe this wasn’t for her after all. Maybe it was for him the whole time. Could he kill himself with an axe like this? How? He couldn’t swing it at himself, but he could slit his throat.
He started to lift the axe to his neck as the woman wheezed and cackled and watched with those hateful eyes. The pumping of his blood and the laughter was deafening and he felt the bile rising in his throat again, and then everything was interrupted by a loud buzz.
Dobbs stopped and looked at the woman, still smiling, but not laughing. The doorbell? He dropped the head of the axe which hit the ground with a loud thud. And looked back at the hall. Someone was at the door. He walked slowly to the door, dragging the axe behind him. He stood in front of the door and suddenly the woman was to his right, so close her nightgown almost brushed his arm, never taking her eyes off of him.
He ripped the door open and stared at the obviously startled delivery man. There were a few beats of silence as he started to raise his electronic tablet, and Dobbs slammed the axe blade into his head.
There was a streak of blood, and the man twitched and fell flat on his back, spasming as his nerves fired aimless, useless signals.
“Wha … why did I … what did I just do?” Dobbs gasped to himself.
“Yeessssssss, yeeeeesssssss,” wheezed the woman.
“I ... uh … I have to get rid of this.” Dobbs paced the hallway for a few frantic laps and then picked up the delivery man’s feet and dragged him into the house and down into the basement with the axe still protruding from his skull. He had barrels and lye down there. He could make this go away. He dragged the body to the corner, put his foot on the man’s chest, and ripped the axe from his skull.
Too big for the buckets, gotta take it apart. Disassemble the body, easier to dispose of meat.
He went to work with his axe. Then he looked up and she was back in the corner of the basement, her smile wider than ever, her joyous wheezing absolutely deafening.
“BE QUIET!” He yelled. “LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO! JUST BE QUIET!” Then he fell to his knees and felt the familiar retching. He bent over in the growing pool of blood and vomited out a pure stream of liquid hate onto the basement floor. It mingled with the blood and seeped into the french drains. Death spread around the cabin.
Of course, the delivery man’s van had a GPS tracker, and when he didn’t check in, the company reported its location to the police, who arrived to find the cabin a house of horrors. Everything within 50 yards of the cabin, every tree, every blade of grass, was dead. Inside they found the cabin coated in refuse and a red liquid. And down in the basement they found two barrels full of dissolving body parts, and a scrawny red-haired man, who looked more like a wild animal than a person, shivering alone in the corner.
He made no fight as they took him away. He was eager to go. He just looked between them as they dragged him away, where only he could see the woman now clinging to the ceiling, staring back at him, her head twisted around 180 degrees. All he wanted in the world was to be rid of her.
That didn’t happen though. He wished it was the house that was haunted, but that had never been the case. He was obviously incompetent to stand trial, so they committed him to a mental hospital and locked him in a small white room. And the woman was there at the foot of his bed when he awoke and she watched him through the small window in his door as he paced the room. And he hated her. He hated her so much. And at least once a day he vomited pure liquid hate into the drain in the corner of his room.
When he had been in the cabin, the damage had been contained. The cabin was on a septic system. So when the hate leached out from the septic field it could only harm what it could touch. But the hospital was on city water, where it would be cleaned, reclaimed, and reused. Water spreads easily, and so does anger.
Like a water leak, Dobbs’ contagion spread.
A water leak takes the path of least resistance. It seeps into the vulnerable places first, and some places are more receptive than others.
Sophie sits her water glass down on the counter and leans her head over the sink, breathing deeply. Her three kids scream behind her, falling over the sofa and throwing plastic toys. She tries to drown out the cries of “Mommy! Mommy!” but her head is swimming. The kids have been more difficult of late, needier, and she could just use a few moments to herself. Her youngest runs into the doorway with his plastic sword and yells to her and she shouts, “Shut up! Everyone be quiet! Mommy needs a minute!” And there is silence. Her kids stare at her from the living room before running off. She wouldn’t normally shout like that. She doesn’t know why the stress is getting to her this way, but her heart is racing. She shouldn’t yell like that, and she’s embarrassed. She’s a good mom, and she knows they won’t remember. She coughs up a bit of blood into the sink and stares at the glass of Pinot Grigio. Maybe it’s time to cut back.
Dave sits at the neighborhood bar after a rough shift. His arms and legs are burning, he feels like he’ll always have dust in his eyes. He’s glad work is done but he feels like there’s a rage just simmering beneath the surface and he doesn’t know why. He wishes he could just relax, but he watches the blood pump in the veins in his hands. As he raises his beer a man in a soccer jersey bumps into him and he spills it on his shirt. “Sorry mate!” the man shouts, but Dave spins around with rage in his eyes and grabs the man by collar. His friends try to pull him off, but Dave’s muscles are carved like stone after 25 years of hauling rebar and positioning I-beams. He throws the kid down and empties his gums before his friends pull him away. Weeks later he’s coughing up blood into his handkerchief in his lawyer’s office as they settle out of court.
Ronald sits in his car watching the hookers on the street ahead of him, his hands twitch with trepidation and fear. He’s got chloroform, zip ties, and a snub-nosed revolver in the passenger seat and a bone saw and a roll of plastic sheeting in the trunk. He’s not sure he should go through with this, but he can’t stomach his anger anymore. There’s too much profanity and depravity in the world, and those responsible need to suffer. Later, after he’s dumped the plastic wrapped pieces into the swamp, he falls to his knees and vomits up a stream of liquid hate, turning the swamp toxic.
There’s no apocalypse, no mass destruction. Society doesn’t break apart, but it bends, and more and more people are crushed in the bending.
Eventually, politicians and activists will wonder “how did we get here?” They’ll propose campaigns and community engagement, but it’s not that simple. It drips, and drips, and drips.
Dobbs will never be free again. But he sits in his room and he listens to the radio the orderly plays on his desk outside in the hallway. He hears about the violence, the neglect, the rape, and the murder. And he smiles. He smiles so wide he thinks his mouth might tear open. He smiles wider than he should be able to, and he feels the burning hate behind his eyes. Because Dobbs may still be angry, he may be angry forever, but he knows he’s no longer alone.
Eventually Dobbs will be gone, but he will never REALLY be gone. And one of these days you or someone you know might get so angry you feel like your world is ending, and you’ll punch through a wall and you’ll see a face there staring back at you, pale and decayed, with a mop of red hair, a hideous grin, and those eyes full of hate, hate, hate.
Maybe you can turn back at that point. Or maybe not. After all, you’re feeling the drips now, and by the time you see the signs, the damage is already done.