Friday, October 14, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: What the Holidays Mean

The holidays meant more to him than most. They have ever since Gustav got off the ship one soggy November morning. His soles sunk into the soft earth of America. Fealty filled his lungs with his next breath. He pledged allegiance shortly after. He shook the judge’s hand, and thanked him profusely. He began thanking everyone.

Holding a door?

“Thank you, madame.”

Offering another cup of coffee?

“On the house? You’re too sweet.”

Discounting the security deposit for an apartment?

“I’ll never forget you, sir.”

He thanked them through the fourth Thursday of the month, when snow fell and his charity deepened. He spent Saturdays at homeless shelters, dropped his change into every bucket he saw, and gave blood. Too much blood. He found himself going to different precincts and lying about when he’d last given to give more.

It began a cycle. Now every autumn Gustav thanks the giving, and every winter he is filled with good will towards all men. It lasts unto a drunken explosion on the 31st of December, when his eyes are all glitter. It’s the only night he ever gets laid. Whether by luck or an unchecked alcoholic libido, he doesn’t know.

The weather warms and he hits more hospitals. He gives up booze for forty days and allocates that money toward some nurse’s education, even if he really needs it for himself. It’s a bribe to get him inside birthing rooms, where his chubby hands are sterilized and assist delivering babies. Ten months a year he can’t stand them, but for two, he spanks breath into them and jockeys to hand them to Moms. Sometimes he leaves Cadbury crème eggs behind.

The weather overheats, and hospitals lose appeal. He meanders. He has less to do until about the beginning of July, when he falls in love with his country all over again. He weeps, buys everyone at the bar another of whatever they drink, and will drive a hundred miles to see a bigger fireworks display. Last year he didn’t even realize it was the 4th until he was stuck in traffic, heading for the riverside show.

These months are slow and sweaty. He tries to occupy himself at the church or hospital. It doesn’t last. Those addictions are dormant. They don’t work in the summer, but he needs something to take his mind off what is coming. It kills him that nobody wants to talk about fireworks on July 6th.

Gustav needs that distraction, doesn’t get it, and every year this happens. Days climb longer, apex, then dwindle into autumn. As night comes sooner, he trails women home. Hopefully one invites him, but if none do, he’ll find a stray girl on her way back from work. He will go to the sidewalk outside their house. He will go up to the door, and beg his fingers not to push for the bell. By October 1st, he’ll break in after them. He wishes he could stop stalking, but it’s out of his power. Halloween is nigh, and so few people have Jack O’Lanterns to ward him away.

Blessed November 1st. After a long shower, he can thank everyone again.

Authorities think it’s an annual serial killer. They can’t catch him, because they don’t think to look for a serial thanker in November, or a serial patriot in the summer. They don’t know what holidays mean. Only he does.


  1. Reminds me a bit of your Origins of Him series.

    Maybe you have an Origins of Serial Killers series in you?

  2. Wow, that's one enthusiastic immigrant! OK, he skips St. Patrick's Day for Lent, but what does he do for Labor Day?

  3. Now thaere's a man who knows how to celebrate the true spirit of the holidays!

  4. This fellow certainly is a bit different, and you can't fault his dedication. :-)

  5. Um. Well, just um. lol! Loved the line about so few jackolanterns. So sad, so true, people are losing thier passion for holidays.

  6. He knows how to celebrate the holidays in style! LOL Maybe someone will catch him at it. One day.

  7. Gustav is a strange fellow indeed, but there's something oddly appealing about the way he does things.

    "Sometimes he leaves Cadbury crème eggs behind."

    Nice touch. They are yummy!

  8. So... he carries death with his handshakes?

  9. This is a cool idea, John. The cycle of the moon? The inherent cycle of a family disease? The pendulum swing of PTSD or someone with bipolar? Those are reasons why someone who simply follows a cycle of holidays will never be caught. As a society that tries too hard to focus on the other usual suspects, we never take the time to consider...

    Well okay, apparently one of us has.

    A good story.

  10. Eerie and enthusiastic. Love it!

  11. Gustav is a peculiar man! All the same, I enjoyed reading about his ways. :)

  12. Tim, funny thing - I wrote this about eight months ago and shelved it for October. I've never had another idea for poor Gustav. He just exists in this cycle. I can definitely see how one might reinterpret his existence. I'll think on that. Thanks for the suggestion, Tim.

    Mr. FAR, naturally, he labors.

    Bev, Sonia and Steve, are you three endorsing that interpretation of Halloween? If so, he'd like your addresses.

    Tammy, the jack o'lanterns bit is probably my favorite. I love the notion of cultural totems and icons, or at least their resonant applications.

    Craig, what appeals to you? I guess most of his year is a pretty positive way of being, whether or not it's by choice.

    Al and Cassie, glad you enjoyed it! Did anything particularly strike you?

    Tony, if you shake hands after you answer the door, very likely.

    Stephen, and now two of us have, given your dissertation. Let's stay together. He's likely to strike dudes in crowds.

    Tiyana, were any of his ways particularly interesting for you?

  13. Hi John,

    Gustav's gusto is well rendered. And yes, the jack-o-lanterns added a nice touch. I just might carve a few for the doorstep this month.



  14. Oh, everything! How he goes from giving some blood to giving too much of it, how he can only stand handling babies for two months out of the year, his habit of stalking...and the Cadbury creme eggs.

    He just seems really quirky, is all, which I like in a character.

  15. I can imagine one day some detective after years of gathering clues might come to learn that pattern. Maybe your killer wants to get caught and has to leave him clues because it's taking too long? Seems it could very easily make a whole novel.

  16. I rather like that Gustav! :)

    Very well written!

  17. Honestly? One of your best. I love how the last paragraph sums his whole philosophy up.

  18. He starts out tingly with that sense of someone just a little strange, but as the seasons change and his peculiar outlook changes with them he grows creepier.

  19. Danni and John, glad you dug it!

    Douglas, they are supposed to protect us. Not typically from serial killing immigrants, but it can't hurt.

    Tiyana, thanks for coming back and clarifying! It's useful to know which details stuck out for you. He is definitely a man of unending quirks.

    Madison, certainly in October he'd like to be discovered. Gustav might fit in as part of a novel some day.

    Catherine, really? And you've read a lot of them, so I weigh your opinion pretty heavily. What puts this up there as one of the best for you?

    Aidan, I wanted it to build up, but was honestly afraid too much word real-estate belonged to the non-creepy material. I'm relieved you caught on early.

  20. Ah, the mark of a master writer is someone who can evoke empathy for a character who should not deserve it. Quite *like* your Gustav, a quirky kind of killer. Peace...

  21. Well that's someone who fully gets into the spirit of the holidays! Spooky guy!

  22. Note to self. Do not be alone for the holidays. Clever serial killer.

  23. John ~

    Gustav the immigrant who finds new ways 'home' is complex in his simplicity. Wiswell the writer paints detailed strokes that beg wonder ~

    Does Gustav consciously 'know' that he patterns? Is there a comfort he huddles his masses of repetitive takings and givings in? Will the circle be unbroken?

    See? You have opened this reader to sense and wonder deeper into a Gustav. Likewise, I now know Doc Stephen is damn good for an analysis.

    Bravo sir.
    ~ Absolutely*Kate

  24. Is this what happens when society turns annual festivals into commercial theme park rides? Everyone has to mark them in some way? It seems Gustav has taken this to a new level. Great story John.

  25. Oh my, this is a tale and a half. Loved it. Where do you get your ideas from?

  26. Linda, maybe my trick wasn't so masterful. I did give you the positives before the negatives. Frontloading like that might even be cheating. What do you think?

    Helen and Lara, the holidays are always better with company anyway. Especially Halloween.

    Kate, if he was going to see anyone, I'd probably send him to Dr. Loomis.

    Scribbler, maybe people have always marked those festivals in certain ways, at least insofar as they were festivals. You don't think Gustav is harboring everybody's unused enthusiasm, do you?

    Virginia, I get ideas from all over. I try to remain as open to them as I can. In this case, I was mowing the lawn and remembering the Halloween series of films. Thought it would be funny if somebody was affected like that by all the holidays. Before I was finished mowing, I was orally composing Gustav's existence.

  27. This is terrific. Original, engaging, readable. It takes a fine mind to come up with such a unique story. Good, good job!

  28. How appropriate the monologue takes place in a bathroom...


  29. Super creepy. I'm really glad I read this in the middle of the day.

    Also, isn't it interesting how human it is to become entranced with crime and deviant behavior? I find myself absolutely intrigued by it -- and gosh, you got it here.

    Thanks for linking up with Madison.

    -The Lime

  30. This was very very well done. Bravo


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