James Cuthbert was not evil. He wasn’t angry or hateful, not usually, just… frustrated.
Almost eight years since law school and all he had to show for it were three failed bar attempts and a massive student loan debt. Eight years working at the law firm of Lobo, Lamb and Love as a paralegal, watching others that were younger than him, better looking than him or just plain luckier than him move up, get the things he’d been cheated out of… It didn’t make him angry.
He hadn’t been top of his class, sure, but he hadn’t been at the bottom either. Maybe he hadn’t taken things seriously enough as an undergrad. It was his first time out of his parents’ house, first time to drink when he wanted, set his own schedule, first time he’d ever… well, a lot of firsts. He’d been a little distracted, and he’d had to change majors to graduate almost on time, and maybe some of the bad habits he’d picked up then had been carried into law school. That wasn’t his fault, lots of people went through that.
When he finally finished schooling his parents had offered to let him move back in while he’d looked for a job and studied up for the bar. James didn’t like that idea so he’d gotten a simple job at a major law firm, a foot in the door he’d thought. His pay hadn’t been anything great but it let him pay the rent. He didn’t need to start paying his loans for a bit. That was a lot of stress, something he’d never learned to really deal with, so some of that pay went to a few nights at clubs or bars. Maybe that was time that should have been spent studying but it was an understandable decision, right?
Then his loans came due. He went from just making it to not nearly making enough. James turned to his parents and they lent him some money, just to let him get by until things came together. But they wouldn’t keep that up long enough. They stopped after the second bar failure. He knew he shouldn’t have stayed up drinking the night before but he’d never done well on tests. It made sense to try and relax, right? You couldn’t spend all your time studying and getting ready for stuff like that or you’d go crazy.
After his parents abandoned him, he turned to his girlfriend. Rather, girlfriends. They never stuck around long, never seemed to really appreciate him, but he got good at talking them into helping out while they were there. This time he saw it coming, didn’t waste time on the bar. He just turned all his efforts to finding a way out.
He transferred to a Border city. The relocation assistance, the lower cost of living, the monthly stipend… it should’ve been enough. For a little while, it was. He caught up on his payments, even got a little ahead of them. So obviously, after all that, he deserved to have a little fun. James had learned his lesson, knew that partying wasn’t a smart call. This time, he took up hobbies. Eating out, a new car, decorating his house, he even took up dirt biking for a few weeks. He was so optimistic, he took another shot at the bar.
He gave up after that. Ignored the letters, the negative reviews at work, just kept going, enduring. It wasn’t that bad, James could deal. It wasn’t his fault; he’d just had a run of bad luck.
4 DAYS AGO
James swore when he opened the e-mail, pounded the steering wheel while he was waiting for the light to change. His new wrist-com was top of the line, maybe a little too expensive, but he’d needed something to cheer him up. Of course, it had literally never given him good news, just unpleasant work emails, notifications of traffic ahead and now this.
A costume party.
He hated parties, especially work ones. They’d stopped being fun when he stopped drinking at them. And Halloween was weeks away, why the hell did he have to put together a costume, drive back to work and then be bored out of his mind for a few hours before he could finally slip away? A tiny voice in the back of his mind answered, because at this point any bad will from his boss could lead to him having to find a new employer. Mr. Angeles loved the stupid things.
The old man had even chosen a theme. Everyone was supposed to go as some kind of demon, vampire, witch or some other supernatural-make-believe-piece-of-shit. He should have picked up something to wear a week ago. Now he didn’t have the time to do it right and showing up with just a pair of plastic fangs and some fake blood wouldn’t cut it. James thought about what he had in his closet, tried to figure out if he could improvise something scary or-
He had a great idea. All he had to do was stop on the way home and buy a plastic knife.
A couple hours later, costume in place, he was on his way back to work when he decided, on an impulse, to stop for a corner store hotdog. Old, greasy, terrible for you, whatever. Those things were delicious. He pulled over to park by the next store he saw and got out. He hit his head getting out. Rather than get pissed off about it, he chuckled and reached back in for his motorcycle helmet, put it on.
He walked through the automatic doors, enjoying the sound of his outfit creaking and the feel of his heavy boots. It made him feel… something, something good. James went straight to the hotdog corner, ignoring the weird thump behind him. Sounded like someone ran straight into the door, hit it before it had time to fully open, maybe it was a shoplifter? Eh, not his problem.
James got his dog, added a little nacho cheese to it, and headed for the counter. When he got there, his hand automatically went for his wallet, bumped the handle of the plastic knife strapped to his side.
“Please don’t.” Practically a whisper, it was the clerk’s fear filled voice that made him realize what had happened. “I- I won’t tell anyone.” James looked up at the little curved mirror above the kid’s head, examined himself. “Please, just don’t hurt me.”
Without saying anything, James turned and left the store. Later, helmet removed and sitting in his car, he laughed while he ate his hotdog. He’d just walked in, dressed in a cheap motorcycle outfit with a black plastic helmet and a two dollar costume knife, and they’d bought it. That hadn’t been a shoplifter. Someone had panicked at the sight of him and made a run for it as soon as he got away from the door. The clerk had freaked out and just stood there, would’ve let him take anything he wanted.
For the first time in longer than he wanted to think about, James didn’t feel like a failure. Screw it. If he felt this good after stealing a hotdog in a cheap knock off costume, what would playing Monster for real be like?