I first read The Great Gatsby when I was nine years old, but I was fourteen before I understood it and almost twenty before I realised it contained the secret of life. Namely, that the past is irrelevant, reality is what we present it as and reinvention is the key. It's like quantum mechanics -- on the subatomic level matter is both a wave and a particle at the same time, until someone looks at it. Only then does it choose. We make what we see. I am Schrodinger's cat: alive, dead and all stages in between, until someone lifts the lid of my box.
He was a clever fucker, that Fitzgerald.
The trick they missed, though, Gatsby and old F. Scott both, is that you have to keep it moving. Wave, particle, wave. Stay in one shape too long, get fixed, and you get caught in other people's stories. The cuckolded widower thinks that this is his story, and that you're the bad guy. Then you lose control. What you need is to make sure you're always the hero, the protagonist, the centre. And you have to keep an eye on the genre -- you don't want to end up in a tragedy if you can help it, or a Kafka. Waves and particles are one thing, cockroaches are quite another.
I've considered Gatsby himself, obviously, but it'd be too much like hard work. The money and all the stuff would be nice, but I just couldn't hack all the parties. The bigger the deal, the more eyes it takes to witness. He might have hated them all (apart from Nick, of course. You ask me, that was the real love story) but he couldn't show it. I haven't got that kind of tolerance. And Daisy was a waste of space, as well. Frankly, I wouldn't lower myself.
So no, Gatsby works as inspiration but not so well as actual model. Not yet, anyway. Maybe at the end, when I'm done, that's how I'll go out. It would have a nice kind of symmetry.
For now, though, for right this minute, I'm thinking about early Elizabeth Swann. (What? That was a great film, and cultural snobbery is never attractive). I need the wide-eyed, harmless exterior so easy to underestimate, with the soul -- and skills -- of a pirate underneath.
Because one thing pirates are good at is stealing -- especially jewels, treasure and fine young ladies. Especially from other pirates. And Elizabeth, being a fine young lady herself, is ideally placed to undertake such a mission. The lighthearted vibe is important too, because this keeps trying to turn into one of those dark, gritty urban crime thrillers, and I'm not having it. I've done the exploring-the-darker-side-of-
Including the baby tough guys we've got here. They might be impressing the shit out of themselves, but not me. We're not exactly talking the Corleones or Tony Montana, after all. I'm not even convinced we're talking Nasty Nick Cotton. Buried under all the detritus -- this party has clearly been raging for a long time -- this is a house that's had some money spent on it. The furniture is minimal but tasteful, the gadgetry high-quality and expensive. It isn't the lair of a gangster, it's the bachelor pad of a well-paid City boy with an excess of alcohol, coke and bravado but a sad lack of imagination.
(I haven't seen a single book in the entire place, and despite the top-level audiovisual gear the meagre DVD collection is mostly porn. If it hadn't already been abundantly clear that these lads are splashing in the shallow end of the evolutionary pool, that would cinch it).
The really annoying part of all this is that this was supposed to be my night off. A nice, free evening to spend getting to know someone I liked the look of. There's going to be a party, she said. Docklands, friend of a friend. Come with me, it'll be fun.
It still could have been fixed, but they didn't want to negotiate. They didn't want to pay. Not so much because they can't afford it -- like I said, there's no shortage of money here -- but because the lizard brain takes greater control with every slurp and snort, and starts howling that they're the kings of the universe. Kings of the universe take what they want -- whether to eat, fight or fuck it. At this point, they're not looking for a professional. They're looking for a victim.
Sarah starts to cry. It's the wrong move; submissive but implicitly judgemental. They don't like it. They want her to shut up.
The one who's house this is, I think his name is Alistair, explains that. He punctuates the speech with a few slaps, and she starts screaming. Alistair likes that even less, and decides to deal with the situation by demonstrating his conflict resolution skills.
He's short but strong; she hits the wall with considerable force. Her head snaps back and she makes a huffing kind of sound before crumpling in an ungainly heap on the carpet. Alistair and I watch her lip swell and split in slow motion like time-lapse photography. It's quite beautiful.
First blood. It's powerful, primal. It changes things. Changes people. Alistair takes a step forward, the other leg drawn back. That booted foot connects hard, and more blood flies. The other two soon catch the lust and join in.
To be fair, she was probably dead when her head hit the wall. The intent was to assault, but not to murder. If it had stopped there, maybe things could have worked out differently. But this... by the time they stop, panting and dazed, there's no way to sell this as an accident.
So now we all have a problem: one dead body, one live witness.
The youngest of the boys, a wiry blond, drops to his knees and vomits on the polished oak flooring. Alistair doesn't look at him. One more puddle of puke is the least of his worries right now. Alistair just looks at me.
Forget Elizabeth Swann. Cunning and charm aren't going to cut it, now. There are decisions to be made and I can see in Alistair's face that they're not going to go in my favour. Once a line that wide has been crossed, it's easier to just keep going in the same direction.
I think about fighting skills. I tried Inigo Montoya recently and it was kind of amusing, but honestly? I don't care who killed my father. Vengeance is a great theme, but it takes a kind of single-mindedness. Which isn't really my strong point, if you see what I mean. And this isn't exactly a swordfighting kind of scenario.
Maybe law enforcement is more what I need. Classics like good old Sherlock Holmes have served me well in the past, as have more varied and modern types like Dana Scully and Clarice Starling (and there's a film as good as the book, which is something you don't often find. Just don't bother with the sequel. I've got a stronger stomach than most, but that scene where Anthony Hopkins eats Ray Liotta's brain? Seriously.)
Puke Boy is still on his knees and the other one, dark haired and slightly older, is whispering to himself over and over. It sounds a lot like "oh, shit." He fumbles a mobile out of his pocket and stares at it stupidly for a while, but Alistair knocks it out of his hand. It goes skittering through the remains of Puke Boy's last pizza slice and cracks against the wall. Jerry looks at it mournfully.
Alistair hauls Puke Boy to his feet and gives him a focussing slap. Shape up, lad, there's work to be done.
All three of them turn to face me.
Okay then. It's not the law, the good guys, that I need here. I decided a long time ago that Patrick Bateman was only for really special occasions, because -- and yes, I know the clue was kind of in the title -- that fucker really is crazy. It can be hard to come back from there.
But three on one, with the still-bleeding corpse of my girlfriend at my feet, I think qualifies as special enough.
It takes a while, and I have to get inventive with some household equipment, but eventually the odds even up. It's just me and Alistair now. Nearly done.
Alistair, of course, thinks the same. He thinks the odds are still on his side.
Admittedly he has good reason, since in normal circumstances you'd be forgiven for expecting the carving knife in my chest to be a game-winning move. Other people have thought similarly before, started celebrating just that bit too early.
Honestly, haven't they ever seen a horror film? Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, Freddy Kruger -- they don't die, not for good, whatever happens to them. Not when they've got more killing to do.
Alistair crouches down beside me. He puts a shaking, gore-covered hand to my neck, feeling for a pulse. He stays like that for a long while, then lets his head sag and his eyes close.
Now he can call the police, ask for help, tell the story of desperate self-defence against a homicidal lunatic without fear of contradiction. He thinks he's won. He thinks it's over.
He stands up, his knees cracking in the silence, and turns his back on me.
Someone needs to remind him that it doesn't work that way, that the story's never-ending. I get to my feet, as quietly as I can. He doesn't hear, doesn't look back. Good.
I am legion, for we are many, and I think that someone should be us.
Michelle King is 43 and works in the insurance claims industry, which provides plenty of inspiration for murderous stories. Her work has previously been published online at MicroHorror, Six Sentences, The New Flesh and Flashes in the Dark. Links can be found at her website: https://sites.google.com/site/