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New Fiction,
By Amanda Meredith

               You probably consider me a bit eccentric, I imagine. Many people do. Now, don't contradict me, young man; I know that I'm considered a bit — off — by society. "That guy is nuts," they say, "He's really lost his marbles, got a few screws loose, over the hill."

          But I have a good reason for it all. If any one else has reason to fear for their life, I am one of them. I have every reason to be afraid. No, not afraid in the sense you think — there now, I'm not exactly cowering, am I? Certainly not — why, I think I've faced it all braver than some. Do I look afraid to you?

          Yes, I admit that my decorating scheme doesn't exactly work — never have been good at such things. But even a fool would notice the measures I've taken to protect myself. Bars, such ugly things! Here, look how strong they are — look! Try to pry it, bend it, its damn strong stuff! There's no doubting, this steel is top quality (though it is expensive!), and will keep out . . . unwanted visitors. Nope, no one's coming in unless I want them to!

          I've taken extreme measures to ensure my security too. You might not notice it, unless you have a good eye for this type of thing, but I have cameras in places of my house. Yep — hidden in places, watching everyone that comes down the hallways. Metal detectors that show what you have when you come in — of course they're useful, that way it shows exactly what each person has with them, so that they can't carry a concealed weapon — or something — when they come in. Pretty nifty, eh? Cost like hell though.

          And surely you've noticed my bodyguards I have all over the place, meant just to protect my life! When I do go outside, it's normally to the courtyard, for about an hour or so each day. I never leave my estate. Even with a bodyguard, one doesn't always feel safe. Even if it all costs like hell, well, I can afford it.

          Now that I've shown you the extent to which I've protected myself, let me tell you the reason why; I've not told the story to many and you're quite honored.

          I was a young man, around twenty-five and in my prime. Ah, we all miss our younger days, don't we friend? I was so vibrant, wealthy — handsome even — with a lust for life. I wasn't so careful then, no sir — which led me to this trouble in the first place.

          I was playing cards at my usual joint — I forget the name of the bar, but you know the type, smoke filled, with pictures of naked women on the walls, a television in the corner, and buxom waitresses with orders of booze. Ah, good times, good times.

          Me and a few guys were sitting in the corner, playing our traditonal game of cards, and man oh man the stakes were high! We had all bet in over our heads, but pride was keeping us from backing down! We all were way in, betting things we couldn't afford to lose.

          Yours truly was winning — I always was a great one at cards. Yep, it was damn righteous also, a pure way of doing things! It was a lucky night, that's all! Just good fortune, letting me ride the way of opportunity, and any man who says different is a liar.

          His name was Sullivan Hudd, a grimy, bristle-faced man with a serious underbite and putrid odor. He was a brute of a man, that strongly resembled a deformed bulldog. He was the quiet type — but in a menacing way. Low class, he had no reason to be among us high-class gentlemen.

          Well, there we were playing a heated game, and I was holding a good hand. It was my best hand in a long time. My face though was a mask, no way you could've seen through to my good fortune. Ah, I was a genius! The other men though, I could read them so clearly — they were sinking, and fast, sweat was running down some of their faces, they were chewing on their lips. Oh, how I savored it all as one by one they folded.

          Then finally it came down to Sullivan Hudd and me. He was way over his head, had bet it all on this game. A large pile of cash sat in the middle of the table. To a rich man like me it was a pretty good sum. To Sullivan, it was a fortune; something that would take him a year to earn.

          One more round of betting. Only a fool would've stood up against me: Sullivan. There was tension boiling up behind his bloodshot eyes, and tension pulsing through that large vein on his neck. He was proud — oh proud stupid beast that refuses its fate.

          He was shaking as he laid his cards on the table; a fairly good hand, but nothing compared to what I had! In contrast to his nervousness, I cooly laid down mine — Royal Flush.

          Oh, the look on his face, it was almost to be pitied, but I couldn't help myself and let out a small sportmanlike laugh. It drove him over the edge, like a madman.

          He jumped up and cursed, and flipped over the table. Cards and money went flying everywhere. I sprung up also from my seat and moved away, backing up against the wall.

          Sweet Jesus Christ, I still tremble as I think of it. You should have seen his eyes! (The fear I still feel now, see how I still tremble when I try to speak of it? It is almost painful, I can't bear to go on.) He walked towards me and grabbed a great handful of my shirt, and yanked me up to his height, and with his sour breath he whispered to me, in a voice thick with menace —

          "You cheater," he breathed, with his sour breath. I felt weak all over as he talked. I was dizzy with fear, sick with a primal nausea. I wanted to run, but he just gripped my shirt tighter. "You cheater. You was cheatin'." I was unable to answer, so paralyzed with fear — how incredibly demonic his expression was, it made my heart freeze.

          "I didn't cheat," I managed to squeak.

          "Yes you did. Little liar." And then he whispered, "I'm going to hunt you down and kill you. I'm going to rip apart your limbs."

          He threatened me! I hear his words perfectly now, even after all these years. That's right — not only was I completely innocent of his accusation, but now he was threatening me!

          To this day I live in fear of Sullivan Hudd, who's still out there today, waiting with his knife to kill me. He plots it, he plans it. In fact, I am sure he has a whole league of men waiting to get me when the time comes. I have nightmares of those beady eyes, and a voice that sings over and over "I'm going to hunt you down."

          That's why I have taken so many measures to keep me safe. The guards, the cameras, the bars on my windows. I gotta be secure. Cause he's out there.

         *    *    *    *      *

         Smith stepped out of the door shaking his head. He felt a mixture of disgust, confusion, and pity.

          The guard gave him a sympathetic smile. "How's he doing, Doc?

          Smith paused, and picked up his briefcase. "He hasn't improved at all. Such a pity. He still thinks that Sullivan Hudd is out to get him — but he killed Hudd thirty years ago! Paranoia, delusions . . . a bad case."

          The guard nodded, punching in the code for the gate. "Yeah, that's how these things are. Be back next month?"

          Smith nodded and walked out of the barbed wire gates.

          The prison guard took a bite of his donut and waved good-bye to Doctor Smith.

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