By Kay Hammond
Chelsea wiped the knife with a rag before sliding it back into her belt. She shoved the rag in her back pocket. “So, I just finished reading A Clockwork Orange—”
“What you say? Talk louder!” Hank shouted over the loud wailing.
“I just finished reading A Clockwork Orange!” she yelled. “Really good book, you should read it—”
“Is that the one where they’re all wearing jock straps over their pants?”
“Well, in the movie yeah.” A rattling humming filled the garage as the furnace shuddered into life. Warm air flowed over them, disturbing the layers of dust that lay on every surface. Tiny storms swirled across the grease stained concrete floor. The rusty metal table groaned as Chelsea leaned on it, sneezing. “God, my allergies are killin’ me in here” She wiped her nose on the sleeve of her sweatshirt. “Anyway, I did a lot of thinking after reading that book, and I’ve come to some conclusions.”
“Okay, lay it on me—oh wait, can you pass me the crowbar?”
Chelsea twisted around, pulling the crowbar off one of the racks behind her, one of many that lined the walls of the garage. She tossed it to Hank.
“Thanks.” He hefted the crowbar in his hands, testing the weight. “Okay so, conclusions?”
“Yeah, so it’s in two parts. First, is that humans run on basic animal instinct. So, the need to have territory and assert dominance and all that stuff.”
The yellow light overhead flickered. It was greasy and filled with dead flies. What light that filtered through cast strange shadows on their faces, and made Hank’s leer gruesome. “And to fuck?”
“Obviously. God, Hank, why is everything about sex with you? Side note though—oh Jesus, hold him still! This is why I should tie the knots, you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing.”
“Sorry, not all of us can be friggin’ boy scouts,” he said. The crowbar clanged onto the oil-stained concrete. Hank pulled a pair of pliers from his back pocket. “You ever play dentist as a kid?” he asked with a smirk.
Chelsea wrinkled her nose. “Not really. My dentist was an old fogey who smelled funny. Not the stuff of daydreams.”
Hank snorted and crouched down, twisting the pliers in his hand. Glancing up at her he asked, “Anyway, you were saying?”
“One minute, I’ll hold the bag open for you.” She held the Ziploc bag for the teeth. Hank dropped them in one at a time—one, two, three. “Okay, what was I saying?” she asked.
“Natural instinct,” he said, “fucking, side note?”
“Oh right, so side note—there are many instances of homosexuality across species, so that’s another natural instinct. Like, dolphins have gay sex all the time.”
“Dolphins also rape people.”
“Let’s not get into that okay? That’s all the molars, I think that’s enough. Hand me the crowbar, I wanna do the knees this time.”
“Thank you, sir.” She gave the crow bar a few testing swings before bringing it down once. Twice. Crack. There was a loud screech.
“Nice.” Hank grunted.
Chelsea grinned, but stayed focused on her point, raising her voice over the new round of screaming. “Okay, so, all the horrible things people have done—imperialism, manifest destiny, even the holocaust and all that shit—that’s all just due to basic instinct.”
Hank looked at her sharply. “Imperialism is not basic instinct, Chelsea. Neither is fucking genocide.”
“Yeah it is!” Chelsea’s jaw jutted out. She stopped swinging the crow bar, panting as she argued. “To gain and control territory is so friggin’ animalistic. And animals in the wild—like lions and shit?”
“They’ll kill any other lions that aren’t in their bloodline, and they even chase off their own male cubs eventually.”
“Mhm.” Hank’s posture relaxed as he thought over her arguments.
Chelsea puffed a strand of hair out of her face. She aimed the crow bar at the back of the body’s head, trying to find a good angle for the killing blow. “The animal world is full of brutal shit! I’m not saying it excuses humans though— ‘cause, see, that’s the second half of my conclusions.”
“You know, that would probably be easier with a hammer,” Hank cut in.
He speculated, “I mean, it’s more precise.”
“Fair enough. I’ll put this away then.” She hung the crow bar back on the wall, then went to the stack of tires where she’d stowed her backpack. Hank ogled her rear as she bent over to rummage through it.
“Need a hammer?” Hank asked.
“Nah, I have one in my bag. It’s got a nice big head.”
“That’s what she said.”
“Shut the hell up. Back to what I was saying. The second part of it is that because humans have higher brain function. They can override basic instinct.”
“Mhm.” Hank watched as she aimed carefully before striking. The body went silent, slumped, no longer fighting against the bungee cords that held it in the chair. Both of them eyed their third body with satisfied expressions.
“Oh, thank God.” Chelsea groaned. “I was getting real sick of talking over him. But, anyway.” She puffed at the hair in her face again, “doing that, overriding instinct, is hard. Democracy and equality go against natural instincts, and that takes a lot of effort.”
“But it can be done.”
“Yeah, but most people are lazy, so they won’t do it. It’s easier to rely on basic instinct.”
“And more fun.”
“Genocide is fun Mr. Goldstein?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
“That’s not what I meant, fuck you. I meant like sex.”
Chelsea gave him a droll stare. She grabbed the rag from her back pocket to wipe off the hammer.
“So basically,” Hank said, “you’re telling me that humans are capable of ignoring basic instinct, but they’re so lazy that they won’t, so they’re gonna keep doing awful things to each other?”
“Yup, and that’s why we’ll never attain utopia.”
“But this is where it really got me. It also means that messing up guys like this one won’t change anything. Just ‘cause we fuck up a few neo-Nazis doesn’t mean the world’s a better place. People are always gonna suck.”
Chelsea waved her arms, indicating the dank garage around them, the body slumped in the chair. “So, what are we doing here? I mean, we’ve been doing this for months, and it doesn’t really mean anything. It doesn’t change anything.”
“I don’t care. It makes me feel better.”
“What the hell, Chelsea? They’re bad people! Doing bad things to bad people feels good! This is not a new idea.”
“Sounds like some animal instinct to me.”
“Never said any different.”
“So, we’re not in this for a higher purpose?” Chelsea asked.
Hank sneered at the swastika tattooed on the body’s neck. “Did you really think we were?”
“I mean, kinda. You made it sound like it was, like, about the principle of the thing.”
“It is. We punch fucking neo-Nazis. Get the bleach, this place needs some clean up.”
“I… ‘kay. Can we do this someplace else next time? This place is starting to stink.”
“If you can find a place that’s as secure as this one, then yes. Otherwise, we’re gonna stick with what works.”
“Fine. Here’s the bleach. I’ll go dump him.” She pushed the body off the chair onto the tarp they’d spread out earlier. She wrapped it up, then started dragging it out to her car.
“Don’t think so much. We’re doing the right thing.”
* * * *
They’d met up for a lunch study session in the university cafeteria. Out of the blue he’d just come right out and asked, “Wanna punch some Nazis?”
“What?” Chelsea stared at her TA as he fiddled with the straw in his drink.
“Punch some Nazis. Like, find some fuckin’ neo-Nazis, and punch them.”
“I have to give you credit,” Chelsea snorted, “this is the most unique way anyone’s ever come on to me.”
Hank’s pale eyes stared directly into hers. “I mean it. I read your last essay. It was … striking.” There was a long, awkward silence as Hank placed the essay on the table in front him. He tapped it lightly with his fingertips, watching her with a small smile. She blushed as he read,“‘Our leaders claim these hate groups are protected by constitutional law. But those who support the policies of fascist dictatorships, those who actively promote the slaying of entire demographics of people simply because of their gender, sexuality, and/or heritage, are not deserving of such protections.’”
Chelsea squirmed in her seat. “Sooo I got an A?”
He shrugged. “B plus. The point is that you think like me.”
The other people in the cafeteria bustled on, clanking plates and dropping glasses. Hank scooted his chair in, bracing his elbows on the table. “These people would strip others of their rights, of their lives. It’s only fair they be stripped of theirs.”
Chelsea nodded her head so hard her curly hair bounced. “Exactly! And so many people have been saying something should be done, there was even that freaking ‘PunchANazi’ hashtag on Twitter for a while. But nothing’s actually changed! No one’s done anything!”
“And something has to be done.”
“Something has to be done!”
“So,” Hank smiled broadly, a manic spark in his eyes. “Wanna do something?”
* * * *
The first body had been shockingly easy to acquire. Hank and Chelsea had found an online chat for radical groups, where people spewed racist rhetoric and supremacist vitriol. Chelsea felt sick as they sat huddled over the computer in her dorm room, staring at the screen.
“God, this is disgusting. How is this even legal?”
Hank shrugged. “Freedom of speech, baby.” He continued scrolling through the chat. “Looks like they’re having a meeting in a couple days, at that dive bar on Fifth.”
“How are we supposed to snag one if they’re in a group?”
“Well…” Hank eyed her, hesitant.
“You could lure a guy out.”
“What?” Chelsea’s eyes narrowed.
“Yeah, just like, pick a guy up in the bar and lure him outside! Then we can nab him in the parking lot—there’s no way they have cameras at that shit-hole.”
“You want me to seduce a neo-Nazi?”
“Uh-huh. Not actually, just pretend.”
“But what if he’s gross?”
“Oh, he’ll be fuckin’ gross.”
“So what if he tries to molest me?”
“You can handle yourself, Chels. You just have to get him out the door. I’ll go into the bar with you, keep an eye out. You’ll be fine.”
“Fine. But I’m bringing my taser.”
* * * *
“I don’t know if I can do this.”
“I’m sorry, I just—”
“Come on, Chelsea, we just went through all that shit.”
“I know, I just—”
“The fucker fuckin’ bit me!” Hank pointed to the red, ragged ring of teeth marks on his forearm.
“I know, but I’ve never done something like this!” Chelsea wrapped her arms around herself. She was blushing, not meeting Hank’s eyes.
“You never hit somebody? Had a fist fight?”
“No. Nothing like that.”
“Wow. Huh. Well, it’s pretty easy once you get into it. It just comes naturally.”
“You sound like you’ve done this before.” her eyebrows scrunched together.
“Well, sure I’ve been in fights. Killed a couple animals. This can’t be all that different. And it’s important. What we’re doing is important. ‘We have to do something’—remember?” He brushed some stray brown curls back from her face. “I know it’s scary.”
She looked at his hand, then his face. “It’s not just scary, it’s terrifying. This is a huge step Hank. Once we do this, it’ll be different.”
“What’ll be different?” Hank turned to the rack on the wall, lifting the crow bar down.
“Everything. Me. The way I see things. The way I see people.”
“A whole new Wonderland.”
“Yeah.” Hank grinned. He handed her the crow bar. “A place where you make the rules. Doing this gives you power, Chelsea. It’s not scary. It’s exciting.” He moved to stand behind her, leaving her to stare at the body tied to the chair.
Its face was red and puffy, shaved head sweaty and shining in the dim light. Shouts were muffled by the thick layers of duct tape over its mouth. It stared at Chelsea, unblinking, eyes wide and blank with fear.
Hank’s chest pressed to her back, as he leaned forward to speak directly into her ear. “He’s afraid of you. A neo-Nazi, who lives to scare people, is now afraid of you. How’s that for Wonderland?”
She gave a shuddering breath. Her hands clenched on the crow bar. His breath pushed at her hair. He smelled of sweat and blood.
“All you have to do is swing, Chels.”
“Can you help me?”
Hank hid a smile in her hair. “Sure.” He wrapped his arms around her, his hands grasping the crow bar on either side of hers. “Angle this way a bit.” They shifted, never separating. Hank guided her to raise the crow bar, like he was showing her how to swing a baseball bat.
They stood frozen for a minute; it was quiet except for the muffled groans of the body. “You ready?” Hank asked.
“Well, down the rabbit hole.” They swung the crow bar as one.
* * * *
They’d found the nest of rabbits in the corner of the old barn. Chelsea had seen a very pregnant rabbit wandering around when she’d scoped the place out last week, but it wasn’t there now. The tiny balls of white fur couldn’t be more than a couple days old. Their eyes were still closed, and one of them easily fit in Hank’s fist.
“You can’t kill a bunny!” Chelsea shrieked. Hank sighed, pausing as he’d been about to stuff it down the unconscious body’s throat. This was their fifth body, and he was starting to get bored with their usual methods. Hank held the squealing thing in his fist tightly. It squirmed and wiggled its pink feet trying to escape, but he only squeezed harder. “You don’t care if we torture a human, but you pitch a fit over a fuckin’ rabbit?”
“Yes!” The moon came in on shafts of light through holes in the rotting roof above them. Everything in the barn—the walls, their faces, the rabbit—everything was soaked in the cold blue glow.
Hank’s face looked like a pale mask as he snarled, “Why? Why is a human life worth less than a dumb animal without any higher brain functions?”
“Because it’s innocent!”
Hank scoffed. Chelsea flinched as he crossed his arms, shoving the squirming bunny into his armpit.
“It’s like we said before,” she insisted, “this guy deserves it ‘cause he ignores his higher brain function! He just relies on his basic animal instincts.”
“Oh, this shit again!”
“Yes, this shit again! That bunny has nothing but basic instinct; it can’t be judged on the same terms as a human! If you kill it, you’re just acting on a basic, animalistic desire to hurt things! You’ll be no better than him!” She wacked the unconscious body upside the head. “People like him have higher brain function, but they choose not to use it. They’re undeserving of what they have, so we have a right to take it away!”
Hank’s nostrils flared as he took deep breaths. “You realize that’s a textbook god complex, right?”
“Aren’t we made in God’s image?” Chelsea snarled at him. Her eyes were opaque, reflecting the dead light that reached through the window. “It seems only natural to me.”
“So, you’re acting on instinct?”
Chelsea’s face flushed deep red. “No. It’s more than that.” She wrenched the bunny from him. It screeched in blind panic.
“If you say so.” Hank spoke to her like she was a child.
“It’s not. It’s not, because morals can go against instinct. And I’m acting on morals.”
“You just contradicted yourself like, twice. You’re so full of shit, Chelsea.”
“I’m not – fuck!” Chelsea shouted as the bunny sank its sharp teeth into her hand. “Fucker!” She shrieked, throwing the bunny away from her. Hank drew in a sharp breath as it hit the wall of the barn, dropping to the floor with a soft thud. It lay there, motionless. Chelsea’s hands flew up to cover her mouth. “Did I—? Is it—?” Hank squatted next to the bunny and poked it.
“Yup. It’s dead.” He looked up at Chelsea. His grin glowed in the moonlight. “Not to be cliché, but you’re hot when you’re mad.”
“Shut up, Hank! Just, just shut up!” Chelsea sat on the dirty floor, she clenched her hands in her hair. “I feel like a hypocrite.”
Hank shrugged, poking at the dead bunny idly. “Don’t worry about it. I mean, in the end, all that stuff about morals doesn’t mean shit. All the philosophies and moral codes are bullshit we make up to justify our actions. It’s Wonderland, right? We make the rules.”
Hank watched her for a minute, before scooping up the dead bunny, moving over to the body. “So, do you care if I choke him with it now?”
Chelsea shrugged. “Whatever.” The moon slid down the walls. Everything was white and blue and cold. She shivered as she watched Hank cram the rabbit down the unconscious body’s throat.