Hall of Hell
It was the Internet that reacquainted Calvin with his death obsession. He thought that was a chapter left behind in his oblivious days of teenage confusion, but there it was again, silently waiting for him like some dormant plague buried for years, festering amongst the remains of its last carriers.
It began with a video clip that was having its fifteen minutes: two cage fighters in a match. One of them kicked the other and broke his leg quite grotesquely. There were plenty of similar clips on YouTube of other such limbs snapping in unimaginable ways, but this particular clip was the current buzz on the national news outlets and social media sites. Something light in the wake of terrorist attacks and sickos molesting children.
Calvin laughed at Ronnie’s repulsion of the video. It wasn’t a mean sort of laugh, or at least he didn’t think so. She grimaced as the cage fighter took a step back on his newly broken leg only to have it bend ninety degrees, dropping him to the mat. The break was just below the knee, his lower leg lying there in an unnatural angle like an unfilled sock. The tight clenching of his teeth said more than his pained screams, which were muffled under the gasps of the crowd.
“Oh god!” Ronnie said. “That’s awful.” She shrank away and clutched her arms as if trying to comfort herself, like a child who’d been crushed by some ugly life reality.
“Let’s see it again.” Calvin hit the replay button and the nine seconds of visual torture played out quick and wrenching.
“That’s it, Cal. I’ve seen enough. Can you imagine the pain he must have felt?”
Calvin shrugged off her repulsion, ran his hand through his hair, which always got a bit sweaty in his stuffy apartment. “His body went into some sort of shock, maybe numbed the break. I don’t think there’s enough numbing to
Calvin chuckled like it was funny, but Ronnie was clearly perturbed. She shuffled into the kitchen. It was either that or go into the bedroom. They weren’t living together, so she wasn’t comfortable escaping to his bedroom. Not yet at least. Calvin’s bedroom was a bachelor’s bedroom with plain white walls and clothes littering the corners like afterthoughts. When he finally asked her to move in (or, who knows, asked for her hand in marriage), she would give the room a woman’s touch.
The tinny roar of the crowd broke the silence, and then the “OHHHH” after the fighter’s leg snapped.
“You’re watching that again.” Ronnie’s voice echoed from the kitchen with a sickened tinge as if Calvin was watching a stag film.
“It’s only nine seconds. It’s not like the guy died or anything. Besides, it looks like there are other videos like this. It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened.”
“You know, I don’t think the news should make such a big story about a video clip like that. All it does is draw people to that site to view it, and really, I think that’s just morbid.”
The sound of the clip issued from the living room once again, all nine seconds of it. Ronnie sighed.
“It’s has over three-hundred thousand hits,” Calvin said as Ronnie re-entered the living room, his voice thick with glee.
“Not really.” Calvin crossed his arms and leaned back in the chair at his computer desk. He had a smirk on his face that Ronnie may have once found charming. Once. Now it was condescending, although that was certainly not Calvin’s intention. “People slow down at a car wreck. Everybody. And what for? To see a dead body or an injury, that’s what. It’s a reminder of our mortality to see this kind of stuff. That’s why it’s so popular.”
“The only reason I slow down at an accident is because I have to, because traffic slows down.” Ronnie grimaced. “I don’t want to see a dead person.”
“I’m sure you have, though, at one time or another. On TV or the Internet or something.”
“In the movies.” Ronnie fingered a piece of long blonde hair behind her ear. Her eyes had softened into something like worry. “I’ve never seen a dead person before and I don’t want to.”
A light flickered in Calvin’s mind, something remembered from those curious days when he had been so fascinated with the very concept of death and mortality. He couldn’t believe Ronnie had never even seen a picture of a dead body. Hadn’t everybody? It wasn’t that taboo, was it? Not in this day and age. Not in the Internet age.
Calvin sat upright. His fingers went the speed of light as he used Internet search engines to look for something. Ronnie would hate him for it, but he felt obligated. They had been together almost a year, and though they weren’t living together she would stay the night at his apartment from time to time. With the baby on the way he felt a lot of pressure to pop the question, but they both believed in partnership and personal bond. Marriage was just a certificate. He knew a lot about Ronnie, but knew, as well, how oblivious he was to much of her very fabric, and this fear of death was something he pitied. It wasn’t healthy to fear death. At least he didn’t think so.
Quickly searching for a website he used to browse many years ago, Calvin wondered if Ronnie was even aware of her mortality. He had found that by viewing death and researching it, he had a newfound vigilance and value for his fragile life. He’d seen the results of an eighty-mile an hour car crash, seen what happens when people don’t escape a burning building, seen the victims of crime, what one bullet can do to stifle an existence, how bodies stiffen in odd positions beneath an avalanche.
“You mean to tell me you never saw any of those
“I opted out during that lesson. C’mon, seeing that kind of violence doesn’t make people better drivers.”
“I don’t think I would call it violence, but more a reaction, something that could happen to any one of us at any time. I think it probably makes people more cautious.”
She sighed. “Do you think we could talk about something else? And what are you looking for anyway?”
“Got it, or something like it. It’ll work anyhow. Take a gander at this.”
Calvin pivoted his laptop so Ronnie could see the screen. He crossed his arms and sat back, a smirk on his face like he was going to somehow win her over with some digital act of chivalry.
Ronnie gasped. “My god, Cal.” She turned her head. “Don’t ever do that to me again. I don’t need to see that kind of stuff.”
“Oh c’mon, you really should see some of this. This guy was gunned down by a gang member. He was in the middle of a crossfire. Completely innocent. In the wrong place at the wrong time and bam, that’s it, lights out.”
Ronnie dashed across the room, gathered up her purse, tears filling her eyes. “I’ve got to go.” She made for the front door without even looking at her bemused boyfriend sitting before his little computer desk, mouth hanging open like a wet chasm.
Calvin leapt out of the chair. “Wait, where are you going? What’s wrong?”
Ronnie stopped with the door open, tears in her eyes. She looked as if some ugly reality had set in, one she wasn’t prepared for. “What do you think? I just need some time. I’ll call you later.”
She closed the door. Calvin had offended her when all he was trying to do was help her see just how precious life was. He neglected to realize that everybody sees life in their own light. He could appreciate life’s delicacy by viewing death scenes with the understanding that he could be next. Ronnie, she could live a happy existence without understanding the fragility of her being. And Calvin pitied her optimism.
Some forgotten old lyric sprouted in Calvin’s mind.
He clicked the touch pad, bringing forth another picture of death, this one of a suicide. The body was wasted away, having not been discovered for over a week in the heat of a Texas summer. He clicked the touch pad again, revealing the next picture. They were pretty gruesome. It was almost hard to believe that there was a time when he and his best friend would scour the Internet looking for this stuff. Back in those infantile days of the World Wide Web it was all about rotten.com, and they had spent a lot of time staring at these kinds of pictures with stupid grins on their faces, priding themselves that they had the intestinal fortitude to eat lunch and look at this stuff. They had even joked once that a particularly gangrenous wound looked kind of like meatball marinara, and damn that made them hungry for a sub sandwich.
Calvin understood why Ronnie left, but was a bit confused as to why she fled so quickly. He wasn’t trying to be cruel or gross her out. He just wanted to calm what he saw to be an irrational fear. It hadn’t occurred to him that maybe the pregnancy had something to do with her response.
He clicked the next grisly photo: a half a body found floating in the ocean, likely the victim of a shark attack or perhaps the guy was sleepin’ wit da fishes.
Ronnie couldn’t be far up Madison Avenue, but Calvin wanted to call her. She may not hear her cell phone ring, but would she answer anyway? He thought not. Ronnie was the type of girl who would call when she was damn well ready to talk. She’d always been that way. She might not have bee ...