I killed him, finally.
The nerve to do so had emerged inside me and I promptly took advantage of it: I raised the pistol and squeezed the trigger just like he taught me. Samson smiled mightily, let out a sputtering moan and fell to the ground of the bunker. I was surprised there wasn’t more blood. In the movies there is always blood, abundant amounts of it spilled everywhere, a menace of red. I killed him and he lay there with that particular face, the one he always brandished, the “what the hell are you looking at?” face.
I knelt beside Samson and did thing that priests do with eyes. But his eyes wouldn’t stay closed. I raised the pistol again and blew his face off. This time there was blood. This time it was just like in the movies only more so.
The portable TV was looping footage of the conflict again, the outside world on the verge, chaos teasing its way into the periphery. Then a quick cut to a newscaster—oily-faced and running-mouthed—analyzed the footage, which now looped in the background. He was joined by three other commentators in various locales, all appearing in boxes of different sizes on the screen. The reception was becoming poor, words dropping out, faces falling into static.
In here it was just me and Samson, and what was left of him. The bunker was stocked with an abundance of provisions: cans of food, TV dinners, dirty magazines, gallons of water, and boxes of ammo. This was how Hitler spent his final days, he and Eva Braun, holed up inside some underground fortress awaiting the end; perhaps watching home movies, playing cards, eating tea cakes. I tried to imagine Hitler eating tea cakes and watching home movies. I tried to imagine what kind of home movies I would have if any actually existed. Summers at the lake. Holidays. Birthdays. Those things belonged to other people. They even belonged to people like Hitler. But not me. And not Samson.
We had a pact, Samson and I.
He was to go first and then it would be my turn.
I began to perform the various Breathing Procedures that I had learned from the manual. There were many, several pages long, all of which had to be done in order for maximize effect—pages 23-30 of the Manual to be specific. We didn’t have a copy of the manual in the bunker, so I had to pull from memory. I inhaled and exhaled: various, subtle ways breathing, conducted over and over again. I sat near Samson’s corpse, cradling the pistol in my hands as if it were a small animal, working my jaw wordlessly as the air came and went. I was modeling myself after fig.3a on page 24.
My turn to use the pistol on myself.
That was the deal which had been struck. The world falling apart outside, we decided to carry out The Plan, the one Samson had proposed to me in Salty’s Bar three months ago, after the AA meeting which was down the street from the bar. Samson was a blunt force of a man, forged of character that went out of fashion in 60s. He used to have momentum; it propelled his sturdy body through the world. Once, he had been a teacher of Russian literature; Dostoevsky was his favorite. That was before the allegations of sex with a student, the assault on a fellow professor, before the all-night drinking binges consumed him in vast quantities.
Now he bent forward in constant pain; now he shuffled along; now he forgot things. He no longer quoted Dostoevsky. He could barely remember what he had for dinner the previous night. Momentum had escaped him, it had canceled him out. How long had I known him, really? Even I had forgotten.
There was The Plan.
He had whispered it to me through whiskey-stained breath while we were bent over the bar at Salty’s.
My response: Was there a manual?
Did The Plan have a manual?
Everything these days came with a manual. Samson simply smiled and punched me in the mouth.
Too many questions, Samson said.
My instinct was to punch him back, harder, to break his neck perhaps. But what was the point? Samson was beyond reason, he moved through the world masking his true motives, allowing only what was necessary to be revealed. The plan was certainly one of those motives. Who was I to question him? Samson patted me on the back, like a child that had done his best but had come up short. He bought me another beer. I massaged my jaw and drained my third beer from the glass. Later that night, at his trailer, he showed me the pistol that he kept under his pillow.
I’ll show you how to use it. It’ll come naturally, you’ll see. It’s easy, he said.
Easy?, I said, as if any of this would be easy.
In my mind I was on page 26 of the Breathing Techniques section, and I was feeling calmer, even though I was attempting to acquiesce the best way of killing myself: I put the gun to my temple, aimed it straight at my forehead, I shoved it in my mouth. I was shaking a bit and my palms were slick so I removed all of the bullets from the chamber and tried various gun positions again. There was no sense in accidently shooting myself. It really should be done on purpose.
The fluorescent lights in the bunker flickered erratically.
I was mentally on page 29 of the manual.
I reloaded the pistol but was still having trouble fulfilling my end of the deal. Did Samson not realize, when it came down to it, brass tax and all of that, I was really a coward? I hauled myself up from the floor and paced around as I finished the Breathing Procedures section of the manual. Someone on the TV was screaming, although it was hard to discern who as the reception had dissolved into a constant charge of static.
I lingered for awhile in the sallow light of the bunker trying to ascertain why Samson had chosen me for the pact when he could have chosen anyone else. I had forged a pathetic life for myself and yet he wanted me for his partner in death.
The TV went dead.
Then the lights in the bunker cut out.
I heard screaming, but this time it was from outside, a din shriller, more immediate than anything the TV could produce. In the blackness I wasn’t sure that Samson’s corpse was scuttling its way across the floor towards me. Ready to burrow into my neck. To relieve my entrails of their housing.
My breathing was shallow. My throat constricted.
I had strayed from the manual. I stuffed the pistol in my trouser’s belt and in the darkness felt my way along the wall to the ladder, knocking over cans and pots and pans. I closed my eyes, even though there was nothing to see. I climbed up the metal ladder to the hatch of the bunker. Everything was Technicolor in my head: deep and lurid colors that held aggression and violence and death. I had killed Samson and that was enough for now.
I unlocked and lifted the hatch, wondering what was next. I looked up into the sky expecting an answer of sorts.
There was nothing but smeared, deadened blue.
I leaned out and listened for an ending.