And Break Things

John Randolph Bennett


We are left with records of lives, not the lives themselves.

We are left with words on a page, figments on a screen.

We are left with mere husks and semblances.

Video evidence, available from a Ring doorbell and two professional-grade security systems, showed that the deliveries were made by a burly, red-haired, yellow-clad delivery man, probably thirty-five or forty years old, who never smiled. Conversations were protracted, though content of what was said is unrecoverable, the audio track corrupted, language reduced to the burbling and gurgling of a glottal creek. But no tempers flared. No gestures were bold, sudden, or aggressive. In each case, a large cardboard box was delivered and opened, and a vintage computer unpacked. A few more remarks were made, and then the delivery man left. Nothing in that footage could immediately explain how so many people could suddenly disappear; why heartfelt, even lurid confessions had come to be written on those technologically “ancient” devices; and what could cause a previously healthy and contented teenager to fall into catatonic shock.

To trust the record is to disbelieve conjuration. To deny witchcraft. To rule out the possibility of an aging witch, nearly seventy, clad in the garb of an old hippie, wielding forces belied by her twitching mouth, her thinning, windblown gray hair, the blear look in her pale eyes, the unraveling hem of her tie-dyed dress, her horny toenails, her dun Birkenstocks worn almost to the point of dissolution.

As for the truth:

Nate Burghardt opened his front door. A jittery man, he sometimes absentmindedly bounced on the balls of his feet. He did that a few times now.

He wondered how the old woman had got there. She wasn’t the yellow-shirted delivery guy he had buzzed in. She had her arms wrapped around a large cardboard box that looked like it had been opened and resealed many times.

 “Are you Nate Burghardt?” she said. “I think you are. I recognize your photo. All those companies and news stories. Very impressive.”

He peered over her shoulder. “Yeah, that’s me. Can I help you? I was expecting a delivery. Or at least I saw a delivery man on the camera. He buzzed.”

“I have the box you’re looking for. I was just coming up the path. I said I take it for him, and he said OK. So I took it.”

“The delivery guy gave it to you? Really? Who are you?”

“A friend, really,” she said. “At least, a friend of someone you knew. I’m going to set this down if you don’t mind. It’s heavy enough, and I’m not as hale as I used to be.”

She stooped, grunting, and placed the box on the doormat, just a few inches from Nate Burghardt’s house slippers.

He didn’t see a packing label.

“Is there something I need to sign for? What friend are you talking about?”

“Bryan Mulligan. Do you remember Bryan Mulligan?”

He snorted. “Bryan Mulligan! Oh my God, Bryan. That’s a funny name to bring up. Are you some kind of friend of his?”

“A friend of some five or six years, yes. You know, Bryan, he never made the big time in the Valley. Not like you. After he left that company where you two worked together all those years ago, he got a series of engineering jobs, but he never had a chance to hit the jackpot again. You might know that. I’m pretty sure you do know all that. He applied for work in some of your companies over the years. But you never hired him.”

Nate Burghardt frowned. “I don’t have any openings now. And this is damn odd way of asking—”

She lifted a pacifying hand. “Bryan has no need of a job now. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about a year ago. And sad to say, it progressed pretty quickly. Doctors have all that advanced medicine and fancy machines, but they’ve basically given up hope.”

She shook her head mournfully.

“Oh,” said Nate. “Oh. That’s horrible. I’m sorry to hear that.”

She pointed to the box. “But he remembered you. Bryan did. And he wanted to you to have this. Special delivery. Bryan ended up running a little computer repair shop in in Santa Cruz. A little out of the way place, but people came to trust him. He could fix anything. So he came across all kinds of things. Isn’t this what you used to have as your first computer? A 1984 Macintosh?”

The box had been only flimsily taped closed, and with her nimble hands and sharp nails she easily pried it open. He gasped at what he saw: a small beige original Macintosh, its keyboard and power cord, and a little shrink-wrapped box of floppy disks.

 “For real?” he said. “I haven’t seen one of these in years. I foolishly traded mine away years ago. What are you saying? This is for me?”

“It’s yours, all yours,” she said, making a grand gesture with her outstretched hands. “Take it. But first, a question. I know that at that first company, the one where you and Bryan worked, there were four of you who were close. And there was a vote that Bryan did not participate in, a secret vote, and as a result of that vote the three of you decided not to treat him as a founder. And after that, you denied him a founder’s share of stock even though he had done a lot of the original work for the company. Someone told Bryan that that vote had been two to one, that one of you dissented and wanted to keep him a founder. Was that you? Were you the dissenting vote?”

“Go!” said Nate Burghardt, his face darkening. “Get out of here! I’m not going to discuss ancient history. Bryan was treated fairly by all of us. Get off my property. Now, or I’ll call the police! I’m not kidding. I have no time for this nonsense. Scram!”

She was already shuffling down the path to the wooden gate he had buzzed open for the delivery man.

“Wait!” he called out.

She stopped by a large Japanese maple. She was a small woman whose frame was nearly lost in her baggy tie-dye dress. She appeared especially slight beside the tree’s glinting, changeable cloud of burgundy leaves.

“That vote,” he said. “That vote you’re talking about involved three founders. One of them was Hank Goetchen. His boat was just found anchored in Half Moon Bay, and—and Hank wasn’t onboard. But there was a computer onboard the boat. Police found it in the cabin. An old TRS-80. Did you give that computer to Hank?”

She cocked her head and dropped her hand into a pocket on her dress, where she seemed to be caressing something. She shuffled about and faced Nate Burghardt.

“Hank’s first computer was a TRS-80, wasn’t it?” she said.

“It might have been,” said Nate Burghardt.

“Then yes. I gave it to him.”

“And—and the disks. Did you give him floppy disks, too?”

“I did give him floppy disks, on behalf of Bryan. As a gift. From both of us, really.”

“And the disks,” said Nate Burghardt, shifting on his feet and folding his arms as though he were cold, “when you gave them to him, were they blank? Or—or were they filled with all kinds of crazy writing?”

Her tone was almost coy. “What kind of crazy writing do you mean?”

Nate Burghardt’s eyes were bulging. “Just crazy writing, going on and on.”

“Like a confession?”

“Yes! Something like that. A crazy confession. Or lots of confessions. To all kinds of things. Crimes. Financial improprieties. Affairs. Drug use. The police haven’t shown me very much. The investigation is continuing. Have they—have the police talked to you? Have they? ‘Cause it sounds like you should talk to them. You should!”

She splayed her hands. “I have nothing to do with what a man writes on the computer he receives. Nothing. Each of us carries our own secrets and truths. By the way, you should put that Macintosh in a special place. You must have a private office in this large, rambling house. Put it there. Right away. If you live with anyone, keep them away from it. It’s almost an antique.”

“I live with my wife and kids. They’ll want to see it. It’s an amazing find. Original Macs are pretty rare these days, as you must know if you’re working with Bryan.”

Were his wife and kids home now, the old woman asked?

They weren’t. It was Saturday afternoon. They were out.


His son Logan had a Lacrosse match. His wife had driven him there and would stay to watch the game. His daughter was out shopping with friends at Santana Row.

“But I’ve got to show this to them,” he said. “They’ve seen an original Macintosh in the Computer Museum downtown, but that’s different from typing on one.”

The old woman insisted. “I would keep it to yourself. At least for a day or so. I must go now.”

“Wait. Who are you? If I talk to the police, who should I say you are?”

“People call me Gwen, if you must know. I’m a friend of Bryan’s. That’s the important thing. Though you’ll scarcely remember any of this.”

She shuffled out the gate. She seemed to be waving something in the air. Then she was gone.

Nate Burghardt looked down at the box. He hoisted out the Macintosh. It appeared to be in good shape for its age. He lowered it gently into the box and carried the box inside. As soon as he crossed the threshold, he smelled something burning. He set the box on the dining room table and dashed into the kitchen. A frying pan was smoking on the stove. He turned off the burner and scowled at the blackened garlic and kale he had been cooking for lunch.

His cell phone rang. Ryan, his co-founder, had just heard from their lawyers in New York. They had new opinions about the acquisition deal he and Nate had been working on.

Nate went to office to retrieve some papers. He flipped open a manila folder and jiggled the mouse to wake up his iMac. Ryan patched in one of lawyers from New York and then a patent attorney from Denver. One phone call led to another. PDFs were emailed back and forth. Spreadsheets were updated. Hours later, long after the sun had gone down, his wife came in, smiling, and delivered a plate of Chinese food and a glass of white wine. He mouthed the words, “Thank you,” and waved good-bye. She pulled the door closed behind her, and he stayed on the phone.


From the winding back roads of Saratoga to downtown Los Gatos was a short drive.

Bob Bookman opened the front door of his 1920’s bungalow, expecting to see the burly delivery man he had glimpsed through the peephole, but instead he found a little, gray-haired woman in a faded tie-dye dress standing on his porch, peering at him curiously.

She asked who he was, and when he answered, she told him she had a delivery.

He stroked his chin. “A delivery? Well, lucky me. Are you working for TaskRabbit or something?”

He was about eighty pounds heavier than the young engineer in the old, blurry Polaroid photo Bryan kept tacked above his workbench, but she recognized the face and something about his eyes in particular.

She had opened the cardboard box.

“Wait!” he said. “Holy cow! Is that what I think it is? A PC, Jr.? Really? I haven’t seen one of those in decades. A piece of crap computer, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. I can’t believe it. Where did you find this?”

She told him about Bryan and his computer repair shop.

“Oh, Bryan, Bryan Mulligan. What a sweet guy. I hope he’s doing well.”

She told him about the cancer. Bryan had only weeks or maybe days to live.

“Oh!” said Bob Bookman, lifting a hand to his brow and pacing on his little porch. “That’s terrible. So terrible. Is he still conscious? Can I do anything for him? To tell the truth, I’ve always felt awful about the way things went back in ninety-one. We had this lousy vote that we should never had had. I voted to keep Bryan as a founder. But the other guys didn’t, and they didn’t want any crack in the façade, so we had to pretend it was unanimous and keep the decision secret. I’ve always felt terrible about that. He lost out on so much stock and money and fame. It’s all perfectly legal, but sometimes it still just doesn’t feel right, know what I mean? Is there anything I can do for him?”

“You just have,” said the old woman, brightening. “And now I’m going to do something for you. I’m going to take back this box.”

“Wait, you’re going to take away the computer? The PC, jr? Why?”

She was waving a black feather at him. It looked like a crow’s feather with some small silver figures or charms tied to its quill. She mumbled something and broke out into a little song.

Bob Bookman stood blinking. He thought he had seen a delivery truck. Maybe it had been double-parked. It was gone now. But he didn’t remember it pulling away. Usually you hear a delivery truck, he thought. An old hippie woman loading a box into the back seat of her vintage cream-colored VW bug across the street, but he didn’t know her. What was he doing here on his porch?

He turned back inside. “Hey, honey, did you hear the doorbell just ring?”


Nate Burghardt emerged from his office around 10:15 pm. He had worked nonstop since Ryan had called him in the afternoon, but as a result of all those phone calls and emails, they now had a much better case for asking for a higher valuation. He knew that both legal teams would be working on Sunday to prepare new paperwork for their Monday morning calls. He wanted a drink, and he was still a little hungry. That Chinese food had worn off hours ago.

First, though, he thought he’d say hi to his family. He called up the stairs. No answer.

His daughter Melissa had texted him around 7:30, saying that she was staying over with the Kendricks for dinner. She had their old Volvo and would drive herself home before 11, so he wasn’t surprised that she didn’t answer when he called her name. But where were Carla and Logan? He had been calling their names in room after room with no answer.

He found the duffel bag with Logan’s lacrosse gear by the door to the garage. Logan was always dumping stuff there. Plastic boxes from the Chinese take-out were still on the dining room table, along with dirty plates at each of their places. In the kitchen, he froze.

An old Macintosh had been set up at the bar on the kitchen island. There was a small box of floppy discs on the bar. Its plastic had been torn off, and the box was open. A floppy disk lay on the floor at the base of the bar stool closest to the keyboard. There was another disk visible in the floppy drive of the computer itself. The computer’s screen was bright, showing a MacWrite file.

Nate read: “Agha and I gave Molly to Melinda Daniels two hours before she drove off the road on Highway 17. We stole weed from Chen and left the empty baggy in front of his locker. I filmed a girl I didn’t know being held down—”

He closed the file and dragged it to the trash. The computer ejected the disk. He picked up the disk from the floor and popped it in. There was a single file on the disc: Carla. He opened it.

“I’ve cheated on Nate twice in the past five years, once with Ryan and once with a guy I met on that business trip to Vegas. I stole three hundred dollars from my roommate in college. I’ve smoked a lot—”

He ejected the disc and tossed it aside. He felt a strange compulsion overtake him, something driving him like a desperate thirst. He took a new floppy from the box, inserted, created a file named “Nate,” and began to type: “I’m taking illegal steroids. I get erotic massages from a friend of Larry’s once a month. I convinced my business partners to cheat Bryan Mulligan out of his founder’s share of a company, increasing my own wealth. Sometimes I hate Logan. I once punched a man in a bar I didn’t know. I just felt like it. I—”

“Dad? Dad, what are you doing?”

He didn’t hear Melissa. He heard only his fingers frantic banging on the keys. “Last year, we inflated the sales numbers from the Eastern region to please the board. I paid Simon $500 in cash to go along with the deal. I bribed—”

Melissa had never seen her father like this: chalk pale, manic, and haggard, typing furiously on the rickety keyboard of a tiny, old computer. Was he on drugs? A few weeks earlier, using her parents’ bathroom, she had noticed a suspicious looking bottle of pills in his dopp kit.

“Can you hear me, Dad?” she shouted. She touched his shoulder. He snarled like a beast. His fingers pounded the keys, words spilling across the screen.

She walked around the kitchen bar and faced him. “Dad! Dad, I’m right here! It’s me, your daughter! Melissa! Remember me?!”

He grunted and typed even more frantically.

“Well, to hell with this,” she said. She reached out, grabbed the computer’s power cable, and yanked it from the outlet.

Once a girl running next to her on a soccer field had collided with two other players, and the running girl’s left knee was forced backwards against the joint, making a bright wet cracking that was unlike anything Melissa had heard before or since—until now, when the sound of that sloppy splintering magnified into a convulsive wallop that wrenched the entire house, twisting beams, bloating floorboards, making walls and ceilings to shudder and heave. Melissa was nearly knocked to the floor. She gasped and grabbed the counter. The crackling squelch sound died away.

She stared at the power cord on the counter. When she looked up, her father was gone. “Dad?” she said.

She raced around the bar. He wasn’t there. She looked here and there: in the dining room, through the little doorway to the dark laundry room, in the kitchen nook. There was no sign of him.

She listened and noticed a faint but steady percussion: a tapping. Something was dripping.

It wasn’t the faucet; the tall, crook-necked faucet was shut off.

She followed the sound. A dark puddle on her father’s bar stool released slow drops onto the pale teak floor. She stepped closer and scowled at a sudden stench: rotten meat, some kind of intestinal char. She spun away, but stopped then and steeled herself. She took a deep breath, held it in her lungs as though diving, turned back, and approached the bar stool. Trembling now, she reached out a hand until finally with outstretched fingertips she touched the dark puddle.

It scalded her. She grabbed her hand and stared at her shaking fingers. She flicked away steaming blood.

Her gorge came roiling up.


The computer repair shop was a dusty, cluttered space with a narrow door that opened onto an alley and high windows that never seemed to admit enough light. Even on sunny days, the main room with its bulky vitrines remained sunk in a kind of perpetual dusk, brightened only by occasional flashes from oblong crystals dangling from the ceiling on short strands of fishing line.

The shop was usually quiet on Mondays.

Dressed in a faded floral shift, the old woman stood by a rotating display rack, pulling shrink-wrapped cell phone covers out of a cardboard box and hanging them on hooks.

An electric bell sounded. She turned around.

The burly red-haired delivery man shouldered the door open and strolled in, pushing a dolly loaded with boxes.

“You’re back!” she said. “I saw you on television last night. Out of uniform, but I could tell it was you. You’re famous now. That’s two times this month, isn’t it?”

He blushed. “I’m not really supposed to talk about religious stuff on the job, but yeah, that was me. I was glad they covered us and didn’t make us look like freaks. The interview was pretty fair. There were about twenty of us out there last night, including kids, and they probably interviewed five adults. Can’t ask for more than that.”

“And you really think you can get libraries and public schools to get rid of Harry Potter books?” she said. “They seem so popular.”

He rested his arms on the dolly. “It’s not just Harry Potter, though that’s probably the worst. It’s any book or movie that promotes witchcraft to young children. As a Christian parent, I shouldn’t have to have my children subjected to these influences.”

“I understand,” she said. “That’s why you’re being so persistent.”

“That’s it. You have to be persistent if you’re building a movement. I do think we’re making progress, though.”

“And how was your vacation? Or your staycation, as you were calling it?”

It was great. He had redone two bathrooms, put in tiles for a new splash back in the kitchen, which his wife has wanted since forever, and converted his old junk room to a baby room with a fresh coat of paint. “We’re expecting our fourth,” he said, beaming.

“Congratulations! And what do you have for us today?” He handed over the boxes, scanning them with a handheld computer as he did so. She took each one and placed it behind the counter.

“Tell me,” she said, “on your route, do ever go over the mountains? Do you ever go to, say, Los Gatos or Saratoga?”

He didn’t. In his eight years working for the company, his route had always been around Santa Cruz, Capitola, or Gilroy. Once he had filled in for a guy who had a route in Monterey, but that was an exception, and a pain, really, because even with GPS it takes a while to get to know a route.

He must have enjoyed having two weeks off without making any deliveries, she said. He did.

“Oh, I should tell you,” she said. “We’ve had some news ourselves here. We’ve had a burglary. Those two of those old computers I showed you a few weeks ago were stolen.”

He was sorry to hear that. The old Macintosh was so cool.

He asked how the burglars got in, and she said something about a back door having been left unlocked. They had a new college student working there. Perhaps he was responsible, which would be a shame, since he seemed like a nice kid. She was going to file a police report later that day.

He decided to ask some questions of his own. How was Bryan, the store owner? He knew Bryan had been sick. How was he doing? He had been praying for him.

The old woman sighed. Bryan, unfortunately, was in his final days. A hospice nurse was tending to him at the moment. The old woman herself would go home and take over as the college student they hired for the afternoon shift arrived. He was very weak now. They had him pumped full of drugs, but probably her own teas were doing as much good as those chemicals the scientists came up with.

“I take it he wasn’t religious,” said the delivery man.

“Religious, but not your kind. I know you’ve seen my stand at the farmer’s market, so I’m grateful, in a way, that we can have such friendly conversations. Anyway, that’s how Bryan met me. He was interested in all kinds of things, not just technology. He bought some of my dream catchers and herb mixtures, then I taught him about astrology, and he read so many books—well, you could see why he had been such a good programmer. He was really studious. Then he bought a tarot deck, and bought books on that, and ended up teaching me a few things even I didn’t know. And then I taught him some things, some very old things, things that very few people talk about anymore. He knew not to pry. He really had a fine mind. You’re scowling. People have different interests, I can tell you, though I suspect you know that. I learned so much from Bryan in so many ways. And I learned about his life and how he had been wronged time and time again. I’ve tried to fix a few things before the end.”

The delivery man seemed restless. He tilted his dolly, rolled it, and returned it to a standing position. “What do you mean, ‘fix things?”

“What do I mean myself? It’s a good question. Of course, it doesn’t really matter what I say, though, since you won’t remember any this conversation.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I have a pretty good memory. Try me.”

She touched a finger to her lips and considered for a moment.

“You know,” she said, “in the spiritual realm, I think we either age into grace, or we age into rancor. You’ve probably seen the same thing in your faith. Well, I started out with rancor. When I was fifteen on a church retreat, a priest molested me, so I had plenty of reason for rancor. Plenty. I was too ashamed to tell anyone, so I didn’t. I kept things to myself. But then I learned more about the ways of the world, and I met some interesting women, and they shared their teachings with me, and for several decades there, I really did try the path of grace. Grace is a beautiful thing. I’m sure you know that. Helping people. Healing people. Being out in nature.” She sighed. “But look at the world we’re living in now, the world that creeps in closer on us every day. Just awful.”

He nodded. “It’s terrible. I can’t believe it sometimes.”

“It is absolutely terrible,” she said. “We’re in total agreement there. Wars and suffering and poverty and the people in charge get away with it all. They’re lauded. They’re re-elected. They become rich while the rest of us suffer. And look at all these business people, these titans of tech with their lavish estates. They write software that spreads all kinds of hate, just so they can make money. We all see the harm that’s being done. You can’t miss it. Well, I’m older now. Much older, as you can see. And I’ve finally given up—not on fighting, I’m still fighting—but fighting in the old way, bowing my head to it and trying to find some meek way forward with grace.  What is it they say over the hill? ‘It’s not enough for me to succeed; all others must fail.’ Isn’t that what they say? And we consider them crass and vicious for saying it, but are those of us so-called spiritual people any better? We do the same things sometimes, don’t we, if we’re being honest with ourselves? You want to do away with witches. Well, witches might want to do away with you. In the end, there’s no real absolute justice, is there? It’s just bullying and power on both sides, and by all means, extract a confession from the other side, if you can, so that history will think the worse of them. Leave something horrible about them behind for posterity’s sake. On the other side of the hill, the losers end up with a bankruptcy or an acquisition. On this side, where our business concerns other matters, who knows? Maybe something else.”

He started to speak, but she lifted a finger as though making a request. “Look at me now. Give me a minute. Please.”

She peered at him, studied his face, while he stared back at her, his mind working, something intense building inside him. She had gotten the heft of him about right, and the shape of the face, too, and orange color of his short, spiky hair. Ah, he did have a thin gold chain with a tiny crucifix around his neck. She had overlooked that, but then she would overlook it, wouldn’t she? In the end, that omission wouldn’t matter; it was too small a detail to show up in the evidence against him. Working old spells, she had projected his image into the video security systems at the dock for Goetchen’s boat and in the front yard of Burghardt’s house. Eventually someone would recognize the corporate uniform of the delivery man, and the company’s management would be asked to identify the individual who had carried those boxes. Managers would check their records and find that no deliveries were scheduled to those addresses. Perhaps an imposter or a rogue employee was making these stops, then. Eventually, though, someone in the company would recognize the man standing before her in the little computer repair shop—might even recognize him from his appearances on TV protesting society’s intrusions on his rights as a Christian. They would ask about his whereabouts and discover that he had been on vacation on the days in question and had scarcely left his house. Only his family could vouch for him. Oh, and his fingerprints would be found on the two computers he had been seen delivering, computers that had lost their magic within a few hours and now seemed to be merely curious antiques, but antiques, it turns out, that had been stolen from a computer repair shop on his longstanding weekday route. He had no motive, and you couldn’t prove murder. But it would create a complication in his life, a mighty, unresolvable complication. It would create strain and trouble, and incur massive legal expenses, and lead to sleepless nights. He would be under unbearable stress. Well, she had needed a messenger, a tool, a diversion to deflect guilt from herself, and he had presented himself to her attention, and the coincidence of his vacation was simply to delicious to pass by. She was using him like those titans in Silicon Valley used people—employees, journalists, lovers, whoever—simply as a means to an end. Accomplish something, and if people get crushed in the process, so be it. Big companies crushed millions of people every day. Kept them poor, weak, and in debt. Stripped them of their privacy, their dignity, and their paltry savings. And were cheered and admired for doing so. One bunch had cost her cousin in New York his livelihood as a taxi driver. Others had moved into the Mission District, leading to two of her friends being evicted from their apartments. Still others had converted another friend’s thirty-two-year-old art gallery on 17th Street in the city to an office space for start-ups, which had failed one after another. The space was vacant now. And others had fired her friend Robert from his job as a cafeteria cook, depriving him of health insurance two weeks before his cancer was diagnosed. And then Bryan had received his own diagnosis. A few months later, lying on the worn blue couch in the living room of his shabby duplex, despairing about his foreshortened future and lamenting the past, he had told her about the incredible, life-changing stock deal he had missed out on.

“I’ll stop them.” She blurted these words with such fury that she surprised even herself.

He turned his sallow face to where she was sitting with her tea. “Whatever do you mean, Gwen?” he asked. “I don’t understand. What did you say?”

“Never mind,” she said. “Just tell me their names.”

Tech stocks skyrocketed, more people were evicted from their homes and apartments, absurd commutes stretched longer, revered restaurants and bookstores closed, neighborhoods became warrens of short-term rentals, rag-tag camps of tents and improvised housing appeared in parks and under freeways, and tech executives traveled to Washington, D.C. to dodge questions and deliver anodyne speeches, ensuring that nothing in federal laws or agency policies would ever derail their personal financial successes which in turn depended on the derailing of the successes and even the survival of so many others.

Abandoning grace, succumbing to rancor, she joined in. Once she had devised her plan, she had difficulty sleeping for a several nights, and her daytime thoughts were interrupted by doubts and counterarguments. Then one afternoon, watching Bryan continue to weaken, his consciousness perpetually succumbing to slumber, his yellow hands slowly closing around air, as though he had lost an object and continually sought to retrieve it, her resolve hardened into something as obdurate and immovable as the boulders flanking Cowell Beach, and a fury kindled her heart and burned there for days, and her motions as she went about her preparations became quick and birdlike. She turned to her books and spells. She researched names and addresses. She consulted maps and 10-K filings. And time itself seemed to accelerate like a rock hurled at a window.

There would be casualties. Some of them might be bystanders. So be it. She accepted those losses; she wrote them off in the ledger of her philosophy.

So now, in the dim computer repair shop, she thought nothing of crushing the man before her. Nothing at all. The delivery man didn’t like witches; he protested those silly Harry Potter books. That was enough. She had revenged her friend Bryan for the way he had been swindled out of hundreds of millions of dollars, and while doing so, she had taken the opportunity to destroy someone who merely bothered her. How businesslike was that? It was very businesslike, very calculating and callous. It was the way of the world, really—the vaunted way, studied and championed in business schools and think tanks, newspapers and television shows. It was spiritual warfare, too, of course. Or maybe the spiritual aspect was incidental. Maybe everything  just came down to business these days. Make, take, and crush.

“There’s something I’ve got to tell you,” the delivery man said, exaltation ringing in his voice and color rising in his cheeks. “I’ve been praying for you since you began staring at me. I’ve been asking Our Lord Savior Jesus Christ to intercede—”

 She scoffed.

She practically laughed.

“It doesn’t matter,” she told him. “It just doesn’t. I’ve already taken all that into account. You really have no idea. Here.”

She reached into her pocket, extracted the black feather, and shook it at him. She mumbled a few words.

“Go now,” she said. “Get.”

He wished her a good day and went blundering out the door.

After five minutes or so, her temper had cooled, and she returned to stocking displays.



John Randolph Bennett is a freelance writer living in southern New Hampshire. His essay “Revising for Reasonableness: Robert Graves as Critic and Poet” appears in the collection New Perspectives on Robert Graves.