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Strange Sense of Joy

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Old 09-13-2006, 12:18 PM
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Strange Sense of Joy


Know what it’s like to have such guilt weighing upon your shoulders that you dream of drowning in a filthy lake every single night? Know what it’s like to wake up in the morning and swear you have blood on your hands before you blink away the blur of sleep? And know what it feels like when you want to say something, but your mouth feels glued shut?

Jared stared at Rebecca sprawled beside him in her babydolls, silky blond hair fanned out over the time-flattened pillow. Her breath made her body rise and fall beneath the palm-tree printed flat sheet. He lied on his stomach beside her, listening to her breathe. It should’ve calmed him, should’ve made him feel less like a devil-possessed dirtbag. He turned his face away from her to stare into a moon that sent him back a few years in time.

He remembered how he and Rebecca weren’t exactly supposed to be together in the first place. Call it a Romeo and Juliet situation, or something right out of Appalachian lore. He knew this piece of forbidden fruit had been ripe for the picking and tastier than any other in the cluster when the time came. She was his and nobody else’s. Her family was a bunch of drunks, lowlifes, and hicks anyway. She did good to go with him and Leonard to California after the Deed.

He figured the anger boiling between his wealthy family and her bundle of trash she called family was what made her more attractive. Still, it didn’t stop him from waking up with blood staining his calloused hands.

She didn’t stir when Jared slid out of bed and padded barefoot into the living room. There was the pungent odor of cigarettes laced into the air. A breeze fluttered the curtains. He could hear a cat rooting through the dumpster outside the window, followed by a hiss as something disturbed its foraging. Those were nights that reminded Jared of that night six years back…back in Wisconsin…back where the Deed took place.



* * *



“Where are we going?” Jared popped open a bottle of Pabst, watching Uncle Frederic pilot the car with precision down Melrose Drive. The older man leaned over the wheel, face set in determination. An old Miles Davis tune played on the radio. Cousin Leonard sat in the backseat, drumming his hands upon his thighs.

“You wanted to do this,” Uncle Frederic said.

“What?” A smile crept across his face. “What did I wanna do?”

“Teach the goddamn Joys that they can’t just beat on you, Leonard, or any others. And that they can’t get away with attempted murder,” he said, referring to Whatley Joy’s attempted stabbing of Jared’s older cousin, Jason after church two Sundays prior.

“How so?” Leonard dipped forward. He dropped his hands onto the seatbacks.
Jared glanced at him in the rearview mirror and smiled. His cousin was going to work on his nose with his pinky as he waited for a response.

“Beat the hell outta one of them,” he said.

“No.” Frederic shook his head. “I’ve got a better idea.” He tightened his hands on the steering wheel. “Let’s kidnap one of them and teach them a damned good lesson about fucking with us. They’re nothing but a bunch of white trash sons of bitches and we’re going to show that whole clan that they aren’t going to pick fights with us anymore…and that they can’t get away with taking what was once mine.” His face went dark.

Ever since Jared could remember, his uncle constantly talked about the Joys having taken something from him. The patriarch of the Joy clan, Stanley, in particular was to blame. What he stole, though, the young man didn’t know. Frederic could be pretty close-mouthed about his past.

“Got anybody in particular?” he asked.

The older man twisted his lips. “Whichever one I come upon. The Joy family is huge. We’re bound to find one or two lurking hereabouts.”

“You’re not going to hurt a girl, are you?” He thought of Rebecca. Nobody in his family knew he was affiliating with her. He’d take her to Sheboygan sometimes, for a drink or to simply make out at the passion pit. Whatever suited their purpose for the day.

“Doesn’t matter who it is. They need to be taught a lesson.” Frederic gave his nephew’s shoulder a squeeze. “Keep a look out for one of them, Jared.”
It didn’t take long. It was only eight at night, a June evening, and certainly people enjoyed this sort of seventy degree weather. The men waited for the single stop-and-go light to turn green before they slithered past, toward the more rural area of the town.

There, traipsing along the rocky shoulder, was a tall, slender man. His hands were jammed into the pockets of his jeans. From behind, Jared couldn’t exactly see who it was with that cowboy hat upon his head. The man had the appearance of a quintessential hick with his plaid shirt and lace-up boots. Grease stained his shirt. Jared tugged at the hem of his University of Madison t-shirt, wondering how the fuck someone could wander through this town looking like scum.

“There’s one.” He pointed. “Who the hell else looks like that?” he asked as Frederic slowed the Buick.

He shut off the radio as the vehicle crawled past the pedestrian. The young man got a glimpse of the “cowboy” in the rearview mirror. Yes, it was Thatcher Joy, Rebecca’s twenty-seven year old brother, walking along the road like he owned the joint. He caught a glimpse of a face that was almost a masculine version of ‘his’ girl save for the dark eyes and unstylish brown crew cut. Stubble covered the lower half of his face. Whenever Jared sidled past him in town, the Joy boy was nothing more than a stink cocktail of horses and Jack Daniels. How Iris Barton, Jared’s old girlfriend, could stand to be married to the son of a bitch would even be beyond Socrates’ ability of understanding.

“Pull over,” he ordered. “It’s that scumbag, Thatcher Joy.”

The name was enough to make Frederic slam the brakes.

“Got the supplies?” the Carraway patriarch threw back at Leonard.

“What supplies?”

“Tape, rope, and other things I brought along.”

Leonard’s face brightened. Of course it would, Jared thought with a roll of his blue eyes. He remembered watching his cousin practice the art of abuse and torture on animals and insects. He used to catch bass just so he could watch them flop on the grass, suffocating in the Wisconsin heat. He’d steal pins from his mother’s pincushion and impale the giant spiders roosting in the eaves of his dad’s hunting cabin. Sitting there, watching them slowly die, would practically give the ex-army boy a boner. That was before he went off to fight in Vietnam. He accidentally shot himself in the leg and was promptly sent back over there. Although he walked with a gimp leg, he would be a good soldier for the Deed.

Frederic flew out of the car first. Jared followed suit. Leonard only half-emerged from the car lest Thatcher see what they had in store for him ahead of time.
The Joy boy had stopped walking and watched the trio warily. He clenched his hands as his mouth hung slack.

“Hello, there,” Frederic said conversationally as he took a step toward Thatcher.

“Good night for walking, heh?”

“What do you want?” the Joy boy asked. His back was stiff, as always when he prepared himself for a fight. There were three to one, though. No way would he win. And he wasn’t the type to avoid a fight. A former wrestler in his high school days, he wouldn’t run when cornered.

“The three of us have been doing a lot of planning, a lot of talking as of late.” Frederic steepled his hands in front of him. “And I reflected upon how bad this feud had gotten out of hand, do you know what I mean? After the incident at the church, I realized how wrong I’ve been about your family.” He dropped his hands. “And I would like to be a better neighbor to you people…to apologize.”

Thatcher didn’t speak.

“We need to call a truce. I’ll need you to speak to your father, of course, after I have a long talk with you, being you’re the most…ahh…level-headed of the Joys.”

“You wanna call a truce?”

“Why not?” The man’s smile couldn’t have been more genial. “We’re neighbors, Thatcher, and we need to act like it, don’t you agree? Say you agree with me.” He spread his hands, holding them out like Jesus Christ after the resurrection.

“Fuck you.” The Joy boy pointed his chin at the older man.

The patriarch took another step toward him, still smiling. “How would you like me to get you a drink? Binky’s Tavern has some good cocktails, and it would make our talk easier.”

Thatcher’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed. “I don’t want to have a drink with you, Frederic. I want you to get away from me before there’s trouble.” Even as he said this, he reached into his back pocket, probably to withdraw his switchblade. His eyes widened, announcing to the trio that he didn’t have his tool of the trade.

“Now, now.” Frederic held up his hands. “Come on, Thatcher. We need to get along…make a truce…”

Now the man backed away. He continued to swallow repeatedly. Gravel crunched beneath the thick soles of his boots.

“A truce…” the man held up his hand to his opponent. When the Joy boy made no move to show he trusted Frederic, Jared’s uncle removed his wallet from the back pocket of his dress pants and peeled a one hundred dollar bill from the stack. “Come on. If I didn’t want to call a treaty, I wouldn’t be giving you this, would I? Come on.”
The Joys were dirt-poor, and Jared knew Thatcher would just love to take that and spend it on his wife and three-year-old daughter. Temptation glowed in those muddy eyes as he drifted forward. The trap was set. Leonard leaned forward, one hand behind him as he held the supplies.

“A hundred dollars to help out your wife and pretty little girl,” Frederic continued, his voice a smooth drawl. “You’ll need this, you will…”

“I guess so.” He approached Frederic. Who would reject one hundred dollars when in need? The Joys certainly had to struggle and save just to get by. Jared remembered Rebecca’s Uncle Artie stealing apples out of the Carraway orchard just to make pies to sell at a fair a few years ago.

Once he had his hand on the bill, Frederic’s fist shot out and caught Thatcher in the throat. Dirty hands flew to the base of his neck as he bent forward, bullfrog noises jerking out of his gaping mouth as his shoulders convulsed. Jared slammed his clenched hand upon the back of the man’s neck. The Joy boy stumbled and would have fallen if he hadn’t caught a grasp of Frederic’s jacket. Although the patriarch clutched the bill in hand, it didn’t stop him from pummeling the man’s neck, his upper
back, and shoulders.

Thatcher struggled to fight, despite the pain that must have been shooting every which way in his body. Jared withdrew his switchblade. He pressed a button, popping the blade out of its “nest”. He held it against the prisoner’s throat.

“Don’t you move another bit, or I’ll slice you like a fucking hog,” Jared growled, pressing the blade harder against the stubbled neck skin.

He drew a sharp breath. Leonard jerked his arms behind his back and bound them, even as Jared kept the knife trained on him. Frederic taped his mouth shut, then wrapped a longer strip around the ankles.

When he was properly trussed, Jared closed his knife and stuck it in the back pocket of his corduroy pants. The Joy boy grunted as Frederic and Leonard loaded him into the Buick’s trunk. Rebecca would be so furious to know her boyfriend helped kidnap her brother. Not like she’d ever find out, though. When the Joys got notice that their enemies had their damned son, most likely they’d surrender the premises and all would be hunky dory. After all, didn’t the Carraway patriarch want to expand his orchard? Didn’t he want to use some of that Joy land to build his nephew a house on that land? Yessirree…he did.

Jared noticed Thatcher’s cowboy hat on the ground. He crushed it with the heel of his show, grinding into the summer dust. Call that part of the ransom note…

“Get in the car, Jared. We’ve got a bastard to beat,” Frederic said from the drivers’ seat. He’d turned the radio to full blast to cover up the sounds of bound feet striking the lid. Jared smiled, slightly lulled by “Don’t be Cruel.”

Well, fuck you, Elvis, the young man thought as he slumped into the seat beside Frederic. Thatcher Joy was going to be the tool to teach those damned hicks a lesson.
He remembered how, a few months ago, that man beat his butt at Branson’s Drug Store. All he’d done was flirt with the man’s little sister. She’d gotten a root beer float, and Jared copied her, just to show they were like-minded people. Just like Rebecca and him.

“C’mon, Sweetheart. Don’t you want a real man?” he’d asked as his hand slid down her back, where it rested upon her ass. She wore a skirt, he remembered that, a prudish skirt that reached mid-calf. That frumpy attire shouldn’t turn him on, but on her eighteen-year-old frame, it did. He couldn’t help it anymore than he could help joining in the kidnapping of her beloved older brother.

He’d stormed into the drugstore just then, rage coloring his face the hue of Frederic’s apples. Jared remembered him being freshly-shaven, and for once not smelling like a horse barn. That was before he kicked his ass.

And then there was that incident after church, where that other damned, shrimpy Joy boy, Whatley, sunk a knife into Cousin Jason’s leg. Thatcher had sat atop Jared’s pelvis, pounding him with a fist made strong from farm labor. And it was for nothing! Really, it was! All the young man did was whisper to Joy’s employer that the farmboy had communist tendencies, thus getting his sorry ass canned. And that wasn’t even a big deal! How hard was it to get a job snyway?

So Jared reveled in the knowledge that they had that son of a bitch bound and gagged in the trunk, where he awaited a fate worse than what he would have had he not been such a jerk.

Frederic drove to his mansion on Garnet Road. There was a little shed a ways from the house where they could do whatever they wanted without worry of his wife or children catching sight of the trio. They drove down the little road leading to the shanty.

When the patriarch opened the trunk, the first thing he was greeted to was a kick in the face. He stumbled backwards, his eyes looking ready to pop out of his skull from pain. Jared was reminded of those old cartoons. Had his uncle been in one, stars and birds would have been flying around his head.

The young man retrieved his knife and immediately pressed it against Thatcher’s throat before he could hurt anybody else. He wouldn’t get away with this any more than he got away with all his bullshit thus far.

The trio dragged him into the shed, where they immediately lashed him, standing, to one of the support posts. Jared’s own sense of joy swirled through his body as he watched terror grasp the man. Whenever he trekked through town, he always appeared so brave, so strong, and there was nobody, really, who could whip his butt. But now he was shaking. His dark eyes appeared ready to squirt tears.

So long as Rebecca didn’t find out about this…

“You and your family aren’t going to be thorns in our sides anymore,” Frederic started as he glided close to Thatcher. Now he withdrew a knife, which he held against the man’s face. “Your family is going to learn to get the hell out of dodge or suffer the consequences. I’ve put up with too much from you all – your stealing, filthy, obnoxious drunks of family members. And I’ve had it!” With that, he drew his blade sharply across the guy’s cheek. Blood trickled out of the wound as the man shouted.
“Shut the fuck up!” The older man slugged the prisoner in the gut. “I’m sick and fucking tired of you!” He turned to his minions, then. “Have at it, boys. Give Mr. Joy a bit of accommodation, why don’t you? Show him what trash he really is.”

Jared smiled broadly before stomping on the prisoner’s feet. Leonard backhanded him across the face with a clenched fist. And boy, was it music to their ears to hear those bones crunch, to see the man’s face wrenched in pain. It felt even better when Leonard undid the buckle of his braided leather belt and pulled it from the loops of his jeans. Jared’s mouth jerked in the corners as he struggled to not grin.

“Enjoy this,” Leonard growled as he swung the belt upwards. It whistled through the stinking air before coming in contact with flesh thinly protected with second-hand clothes. The pain was enough to drive Thatcher forward, to make him groan and nearly cry. This was how Jared imagined Jesus’ beating to be when he read of it in Sunday school. At first he smiled. Then he started to wince each time the Joy boy was struck. The force of the leather shredded his clothes.

What felt good was being able to lace into the man who’d prevented Jared and Rebecca from being together all these years. To punch him across the face was divine. To hear him scream when the sizzling ends of cigarette butts touched his bare arms was heavenly. Jared even got kicks when Leonard whizzed all over the prisoner. Rebecca would surely kill him if she knew how badly he’d helped torture her precious brother. And Frederic…he stood idly by and watched with amusement as the two boys worked out their anger on the half-dead man.

That was when Leonard removed a pistol from his back pocket. He aimed it directly at the Joy boy. Thatcher was already so beaten, so sore, that he could barely moan when he caught sight of the gun. One not-so-swollen eye took in the metal apparatus as though he welcomed it. He bowed his head. There was a sharp intake of breath.
“Maybe we’d better stop,” Jared said. “Leonard…don’t even think about pulling that trigger. The fucking Joys didn’t kill any of our men.”

“Yet,” Frederic added. “Jason’s in the hospital, just waiting to die. So kill this fucker to show these sacks of trash that they can’t just get away with their bullshit anymore.”

“I thought we were going to ransom him off, though.”

The Joy boy moaned from behind the tape, looking as though he wished they’d just get it over with. But how would Iris feel when her husband turned up dead? What would his little girl do without a dad to bring income to feed her? Would Iris remarry?
Jared couldn’t answer those questions. But he knew one thing for sure: he wanted to throw up.

He sprung toward the door, pressing one hand over his mouth and using the other to shove open the flimsy door. He crashed into the darkness. Immediately, he was surrounded by the stench of dewy grass and his own sharp perspiration stink rising from his body like radiation waves. He heard the trigger being pulled.

He collapsed on the ground and heaved.

We killed a guy. We just fucking killed the guy! I’d broken his feet, pounded his face, and pressed the burning ends of lit cigarettes against his skin. And what did I do to prevent his execution? Not a damn thing?

What the fuck did I just do?

Rebecca would kill him when she learned he’d done this. And there was a twin brother to contend with – a very nasty son of a bitch when angered – and when Jared saw the Thatcher-clone strolling the streets, he’d either be seeing a ghost or the twin. Seeing him would bring back memories of what he’d done to Thatcher.

Good Lord…

“Hey, Jared! Come here!” Leonard cried when Jared lifted his face. He shook, vomit covering the lower half of his face like a beard. “Jared!”

“Fuck off!” He wiped the puke from his face with the back of his hand.

“We need your help!” Frederic shouted.

“What the fuck are you all thinking anyway? We just killed a man! We KILLED him! What are you going to do about it?” he screamed.

“Leonard and me?” Frederic struck his head out the door and half-laughed. “You’re going to help us hide the body, is what you’re going to do. Now come on or I might just pin the blame on you.”

He wouldn’t do that, would he? Jared picked himself up off the ground and stumbled into the shed, covering his eyes so he wouldn’t have to look into the deadened eyes of the Joy boy. Thank goodness Leonard was already busy wrapping him in a Mickey Mouse-printed sheet. He supposed it once had belonged to one of Frederic’s children, but it was so stained that it now was perfect for wrapping a dead body. Blood seeped through the fabric where the guy’s face was.

“Where are we going to stick him?” Jared asked.

“In the woods,” Frederic told me. “Don’t worry about it. Nobody will suspect us. Our family practically founded this town. And who’d investigate the death of a hillbilly?”
Rebecca, probably.

They buried Thatcher in the woods near to where they found him. After he was firmly packed into the earth, Jared went home that night, sickened to his stomach. Sure, he’d simply acted out of revenge against the man who’d blocked him from his girl. And sure, he was only doing what was natural considering the Carraways battled with those hicks since before the day he was born. So it was just expected and right.

Still, that wasn’t comforting. He still heard Thatcher’s muffled pleading, saw the hurt in his eyes, and remembered his screams when he was beaten.

But his eyes…God…Jared wouldn’t forget those damned eyes…



* * *



“Jared?” Those eyes looked into Jared’s, but they weren’t brown like Thatcher’s. They were Rebecca’s blue eyes boring into his as he set the emptied milk carton on the counter. He wiped his mouth. She didn’t suspect he killed her brother. When she’d learned of his death, he shrugged it away, said he didn’t know a damn thing where the murder was concerned.

So now he just stared at her, silent and with his arms folded tightly around his body like a blanket. He didn’t want to let go just yet.

“You doing okay?” she persisted when he said nothing.

He shook his head. “Just a little sick, that’s all.”

She touched his forehead. “Something’s bothering you, I can tell.”

He averted his eyes toward where their daughter’s room was. She was only a little older now than Thatcher’s daughter had been when he’d died. If Jared died, how would the little girl cope? Or most importantly, what would happen to her if he went to prison?

It was time to tell the truth, wasn’t it? He took Rebecca’s hands into his, readying himself for a slap and being put under arrest, prison, jail food, and whatever went on behind bars.

“I have something to tell you,” he said.

“What’s that?” She frowned.

He drew in a deep breath. “Well…”

I helped Frederic and Leonard kidnap your brother, you know that? We bound and gagged him, then beat the shit out of him. Leonard blew his brains out. And we were the ones to wrap him in sheets and bury him in the woods. Did you know that?

“Well, what?” She gave his hands a squeeze. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

Jared flattened his mouth. He could tell the truth and go to jail, guilt being lifted from his shoulders as he chomped down prison food for the remainder of his life. Or he could keep quiet, keep Rebecca and his daughter, and forever feel terrible.

He opened his mouth, trying to remember every detail of his wife’s face just in case he never saw her again after this.

“Jared?”

“I…I love you too much, that’s what I have to tell you.” Then he kissed her.

She was his. And forever she’d be his. His hands moved to tighten on her arms, clasping the skin he’d bruised only days before…


Last edited by ILoveKitties03; 09-15-2006 at 06:31 PM..
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Old 09-15-2006, 06:39 AM
gary_wagner
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You would do yourself and the readers here a favor if you would put blank lines between the paragraphs. I know this forum gets rid of the indents when you copy and paste here from Word. The way I handle that is to do a replace (control-H) and change all "^p" to "^p^p". That changes all paragraph marks to double paragraph marks and will then give you the blank lines when you copy and paste it in here.
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Old 09-17-2006, 08:13 AM
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Just read through your piece and I have to say I'm amazed - I couldn't find anything wrong with it. The writing is damn good, loved the narrative 'voice' especially. Lots of great lines throughout and the characters meshed well with the storyline. You clearly know what you're doing. As far as I'm concerned this is publishable material.

Great job! I look forward to reading more of your work -
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Old 09-17-2006, 08:23 PM
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Thanks, Onceuponatime. I'm probably getting this workshopped in my fiction workshop at school - they are very brutal, in my opinion. One guy said that he hated the prose of this one story. Ahhh...how is that going to help the writer? I need as much (constructive) criticism as possible.
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Old 09-20-2006, 04:57 PM
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Couple of too many 'know what' (s) at the beginning, most likely you could delete at least two of them and still get your meaning across.

Very dark sort of piece,

You did a good job of almost making me feel sorry for Jarred, but I've had run in's with over possesive types in the past -

scary fellow

Love the cryptic title btw
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Old 09-21-2006, 09:22 PM
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I'm thinking of getting rid of the 'know what's' now that I had three days straight of fiction workshops (none of which included my stuff yet), and realized the tense changes. It goes from speaking directly to the reader to third person, and I don't think it works...now that I look back upon it.

Thanks, Lethe!
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Old 09-22-2006, 12:23 PM
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Okay, now this is my kind of stuff right here. Your writing immediately catches the reader's attention and evokes emotion, which hold's their attention. My only gripe was that I felt the first and second paragraphs should have been swtched; starting off with questions interferes with the general flow of the peice. But overall, my favorite line in particular was:

"He knew this piece of forbidden fruit had been ripe for the picking and tastier than any other in the cluster when the time came"

Your use of description and sentence structure was great. Good job!

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Old 09-27-2006, 11:03 PM
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Ahh...I just got the critique in my class today.

Ouch. They were pretty harsh. I didn't realize just how much work needed to be done on this. The teacher had to ask if there was anything good about it, being it was getting to brutalized. Some of the criticism is helpful, though. Jared, if he was so glad about Thatcher's death, probably wouldn't feel too much remorse about beating him. I guess he was unbelievable and the storyline needed some beefing up.

Funny. Someone wrote a story that didn't make any sense whatsoever and they were referred to as talented. Their story had no structure. My story...well, the teacher just said that he can tell I enjoy writing, which I translated as I enjoy doing it, but I should probably not consider publishing for a loooonnnnngggg time. Of course it could just be my PMS kicking in and I'm being too sensitive. I'm probably reading too much into it and my ego is getting too big.

I'm not saying I'm Hemingway or anything, but sheesh...I didn't think it was that bad. Well, I enjoyed writing it. I had fun writing it. I guess that's all that counts.

What makes me madder is that 95% of the people didn't give me any feedback, whatsoever. And they expect to get feedback...
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Old 09-29-2006, 11:52 PM
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I actually take exception to this statement:
... Jared, if he was so glad about Thatcher's death, probably wouldn't feel too much remorse about beating him.
That is not necessarily true; emotions can be tricky - I often find that a persons life experience will color how they view things -

Personally I think you nailed it at the beginning when you refered to his remorse with regard to 'confessing the Deed' I never got the feeling you were describing his 'remorse' for 'doing'. But then I also find people who say things like what's quoted above are more likely to have beaten someone and not regretted it.

could just be me though.
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