Editors note: Welcome to The Peepshow! For centuries, the peepshow was a popular form of entertainment presented by traveling showmen. By looking through a small hole into a viewing box, spectators could contemplate magical, bizarre and unusual sights that filled them with wonder, laughter and, sometimes, with fear. The showmen traveling with these boxes would provide patter to go with the pictures, spinning strange tales that sometimes told hard truths.
The Polaroid photographs appearing in this story are the work of American artist Joel B. Feldman. They are not digitally altered in any way. The story you are about to read is a work of fiction. The Peepshow posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Anyone can call themselves a murderer. Its like calling yourself an alcoholic or a dog lover. Sure, you might think you can tell just by looking. But youd be wrong. If a stranger decided to confess to me, Id tell myself theyre making small talk while standing around, waiting for raindrops that will never fall.
I dont think Ive met any murderers, but if I had, how would I know? Theyre not likely to introduce themselves by shaking my hand, looking me straight in the eye, and saying, Pleased to meet you! My name is Mrs. X, and I killed my lying, cheating, no-good husband by poisoning his coffee. The creeps buried beneath the forsythia in the backyard! Id be suspicious of any stranger who said those words to my face, because around here, its rude to chat about real subjects and even worse to speak your mind. But I wouldnt think she was a murderer. Id think she was from out of town.
You can be an alcoholic without alcohol and a dog lover without a dog. But can you be a murderer whos never killed? Is it possible to be one if youve never acted on it? Think about this word: murderer. Roll the r. Feel the vowels sliding over your tongue. How often is this word used in normal conversations? Its not a bad word, though its hardly one of the best. Oligarchy. Quagmire. Hornswoggled. These are much better words, and far more politically incorrect. As for the act itself … well, murder is frowned upon, but its not uncommon, is it? Just as long as other people are doing the killing, I think were OK with it. We live in a very civilized place. We dont kill people, here. Wherefore we dont think about death or dying because that never happens to perfect people. Especially not to perfect children.
And so in my almost-13 years I overheard this word, murderer, said aloud once, just once. Who spoke it I cannot say, and yet it clung to me with soft sticky syllables, an orphan mutt of a word that followed me home me, and not the cowboy who drowned his truck, the newly-married couple waltzing ’til death did them part or the silent man who lies naked in the sun for all the world to see. Youd think this word would choose these neighbors of mine to follow home, wouldnt you, these folks so much more interesting than just another bratty kid with no parental supervision and too much time to kill? Yet this word liked me. It niggled at my feet. The letters stuck to the bottom of my shoes next to the label MADE IN CHINA, and suddenly it defined an absence all around me, an idea missing for so long it had vanished from memory, and so I reached out to grab it with nervous hands but too late it ended up piddling softly away into void of frustration, again and again.
Does the act define you, or is it just something that you are, like being in love? Ive never been in love, but people say that you know it when you are. No words can describe it, they say, and its different for everyone. Why should being a murderer be any different? What if were all murderers but wont admit it?
This is the trouble when youre almost a teenager and have never experienced anything beyond the walls of the box you call home. Youve got no information about how the world works but think you know everything. All kids do. Ignorance makes us powerful in the same way a rabid raccoon is powerful. You cant reason with a rabid raccoon. Or even a regular raccoon. If you try, youre the one who ends up looking like an idiot.
The funny thing was, I did know everything there was to know. I could walk blindfolded and thoughtless through my world, and it would be safe, just as long as I did exactly what Id been told. Keep things clean, stay inside the lines, dont get in the way, and Id never be hungry, never without. That part was true.
Until I met the Man with the Box on his Head. That was the day everything changed.
B.B. Young is the author of the serialized novel The Peepshow, which is published exclusively by TheBlot Magazine on Tuesdays and Thursdays and features images by artist Joel B. Feldman. Read Chapter 1, Part 1, The Boy with the Backpack.