Wagner Holbrook

Arrogance and Self-consciousness

Wagner Holbrook deserves to die, and nobody knows it but me. Why me? Well, let’s just say I know him well.

He grew up privileged with everything he could need, but he still filled wants and desires at the emotional expense of everyone he met. He lived his early life like no one could touch him, grabbing everything that he saw. One grandfather was a war hero. The other was quiet and worked as hard as his body would let. But the qualities he inherited were the greed and alcoholism of his father. He developed a crookedness and easily adapted to the lifestyle of the bar clown. His desktop was cluttered with work he knew he would never finish, and, as he obsessed, his fiancé suffered.

Then, he was hospitalized. Some surgeon sliced his large intestine open during an appendectomy. I thought maybe that surgeon was the devil. And I thought maybe he had come to force Wagner to atone for the way he’s treated the one who loved him the most. But those who don’t know him as well as I do came to him like flies to a corpse. His fiancé—an angel—sat by his side for three months in agony with the parasite. And he deceived her. He made her believe that her love could be reciprocated.

Wagner Holbrook cannot love. He is a demon. He is here to pull life—to terminate happiness—from those who are conduits of joy. To Wagner, joy is a star and its distant light never reached him. So, he destroyed that star; he ripped out the heart of an angel.

Wagner Holbrook deserves to die, and I know because I am Wagner Holbrook.

(The preceding note was found on desk of Wagner Holbrook on July 5, 2016.)

July 5, 2026

A lonely man sat on the roof of a farmhouse, typing, speaking aloud in a sarcastic voice, as if he already knew he wouldn’t keep any of his words.

The captain’s boots sank into the unfamiliar ground, and he breathed in the foreign air. He knew it may take years to adapt to this environment, but he stared across the red planes—eager.

His finger found the delete key as quickly as the period. He was used to these feelings: sitting in front of a computer for thirty hours, not producing a page—emptiness, inadequacy. He had never published anything noteworthy and lived alone in a small house on a big farm with no crops or cattle and every thing he could ever think to want. And he never had to work for any of it. He was thirty-seven.

He saw a woman in a yellow dress hovering over a mountain in the distance. Her heart was glowing. Then, he woke up and started to cry lying in his sleep chamber.

He stood up and let the computer fall from his lap, down the angled roof and into a pile of computers on the ground. He went through a door in the roof, down creaking stairs and into a small kitchen. Into a pot: tomato sauce, herbs, garlic, an egg. Then, he heard something outside. After about half a minute of listening, he determined it was an old single-engine airplane. He turned off the stove and walked outside. Over the mountains, he saw the plane coming toward him. This was rare because he had bought so much land around his farm that no one had any reason to come anywhere near him. His property went on for miles. The plane landed imperfectly on the lonely man’s unused land.

“I told you I’d get my license!” the pilot said laughing as he stepped out of the plane.

He was laughing loudly, almost uncontrollably. The lonely man was no longer alone, but he was confused.

“Wagner!” the pilot laughed louder. “You don’t recognize me? Damn, boy! How long has it been? Ten years?”

Wagner hadn’t heard his name spoken in ten years. But now he recognized the pilot. It was the way he said “Wagner.” It was specific and stuck out like a splinter.

His voice cracked when he responded to the pilot. “Ezekiel.”

“Well, yeah! How long have you been living out here?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Damn!” He continued to laugh. “I can’t believe this shit! This is where you live?” He shook his head.

Wagner stared. It was the first person he had seen in ten years, and he wasn’t offended by Ezekiel. Ezekiel Graves was Wagner Holbrook’s friend, and he remembered him that way.

Laughing, Ezekiel said, “show me around, Brose!”

Wagner’s middle name was Ambrose. Ezekiel was the only one who ever called Wagner “Brose,” but he always had.

“I can’t believe you’ve been out here this whole time. I know we used to talk about doing something like this, but damn. I mean, there ain’t shit out here. Do you even have a car?”

Wagner looked around, then at Ezekiel.

“Damn, Brose. What do you do out here?” Ezekiel’s tone turned less playful as he stared at the minuscule house standing alone in the colossal field.

“I read. I write. I cook. Eat. Wait on drones to bring me the things I need to do those things.” Wagner tried to remember if he had any other hobbies. “That’s about it.”

“Damn it. Get in.” Ezekiel climbed back into the plane as Wagner stood wavering in the endless grass.

“Come on!”

Wagner walked around the front of the old blue airplane. It had an image of a Jack-O-Lantern on the front of it, in the hub of the propeller.

“Still the same ol’ Pumpkin Boy, I guess?” Wagner said as he climbed into the plane. He was surprised by how effortlessly the words came out.

Ezekiel wasn’t surprised. He sounded like the Wagner that Ezekiel remembered. “Yes, sir! Only, now, Pumpkin Boy is more than a musician.” He smiled.

“What do you mean?”

“I’m sort of a fugitive, Brose.” He started laughing.

Wagner started laughing, too. “And you’re not joking, I take it.”

Ezekiel laughed louder as he started the engine. “Not at all.” His laughter finally quietened so he could explain, “I kept writing those songs and… we all knew I’d get some attention soon. I started seeing this one guy. He looked exactly how you’d expect an FBI agent to look. He looked like an actor playing an FBI agent.”

He flipped some switches and the plane started rolling forward through the unnecessarily vast grassland. “Anyways, I saw him everywhere. Outside my house, behind me in traffic, at my shows, at the bar. You remember Erelah?”

“Yep.”

“I think he did something to Erelah.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Well, the first night I saw the dude in the suit, I was playing a show with Erelah in New York. She seemed like she got drunk way too fast. Like, maybe someone drugged her. I don’t know. I saw her stumble outta the bar, and, when I went outside to find her, I saw the guy. He was getting into a car with a government plate. And I haven’t seen Erelah since. It’s been a month.”

“No one’s seen her?”

“Not that I know of, man. I announced a show in Huntsville to let people know she was missing, and someone ran me off the road on the way to the show. I was arrested for DUI and while I was in the tank, someone unlocked the door. I walked out and no one was around. I didn’t see a single cop, clerk—nothing. So, I left. I stole a guitar, busked for money, and bought a ride to Muscle Shoals. I picked up my plane, and—hell—here I am.”

“So, after ten years, you choose to come see me when you have the Illuminati after you?” Wagner asked with an unconcerned smile. “I’m surprised the pope wasn’t waiting for you at that little airport.”

“You know it, brother! I didn’t know where the hell you were until about a month ago.”

“How’d you find me?”

“I paid someone to hack your Amazon account.”

“What the hell, Zeek? Who?”

“Don’t worry, bro. You know I wouldn’t do business with someone I don’t trust.”

“Well, if some government agent threatens that hacker and he gives up my location, we’re both stuck.”

“You know how I know I can trust him?”

“He’s dead?”

“Yep!”

“And you killed him?”

“I sure did, Brose, my boy. I did it for you. And me. And him!”

“I always knew you were a nihilist but I didn’t think you were a murderer.”

Ezekiel burst into a loud, annoying laughter. “You thought—“ Ezekiel was interrupted by his second burst of laughter. “I just have a friend who works for Amazon,” he said, laughter softening. “If you could have anything in the world, what would you want?”

Wagner sat thinking over the sounds of the engine and propeller. After a minute had passed he said, “I’m glad you came, Zeek. Out there on that farm—It’s numbing. I haven’t seen another person in ten years.”

“I didn’t tell anyone what you did. I kept it to myself. You know that was hard for me; knowing you were out there while everyone mourned.” Ezekiel took his hand from the yoke and onto Wagner’s knee. It’s good to see you. You’ve just been out here alone?” He stared at Wagner. Wagner stared out the window. “I know what you want,” Ezekiel said, bringing his hand back to the control lever.

“Oh, really?” Wagner was skeptical. Ezekiel was his best friend, but he hadn’t seen him in ten years.

“Yep. I think I know exactly what you want.”

“And what is that?”

“You want her to be happy. And to know she’s happy.”

Wagner stared out the window for a few more seconds before turning to face Ezekiel with a half smile. “Well how the hell am I supposed to accomplish that goal, Zeek?” Wagner laughed a bit under his breath, returning his gaze to the horizon.

“You wanna go see her now?”

“You know where she is?” This was the most enthusiastic Wagner had become—in ten years.

Ezekiel laughed and said, “no, Brose. But I can find out.”

“It wouldn’t make her happy anyhow. I just disappeared. She could have forgiven me—eventually. But she could never forgive me for leaving like that.” Wagner turned his stare from the window to the floor of the plane. “Will you find out if she’s okay—if she’s happy?”

“Sure thing, Brose. Hell, I might even carry you with me to see her.”

“I don’t think—“

Ezekiel interrupted him. “Have you been writing any music? Grab my guitar back there and let me hear something new. I still listen to 'The Devil is my Drug Dealer.' When’d you write that? ‘07?”

Wagner laughed. “Sure. Here’s one I’ve been working on.” He picked up the old acoustic guitar from the back seat of the plane. “I can’t believe you still have this.” And he started to play.

Wagner Holbrook deserves to die,
and nobody knows it but me.
Who’ll be the one to take his life?
Should it be me? Yes, it should be.
He lied and said he tried his best
while everyone comforted him.
Ripped the heart from an angel’s chest,
and then he was gone with the wind.
Wagner Holbrook deserves to die.
It took twenty-six years to see.
I’ll be the one who takes his life,
because Wagner Holbrook is me.

When the music stopped there was a long silence except for the sounds of the airplane before Ezekiel spoke. “A little different than the old protest songs you used to write with me. Still got that folky sound, though.”

“Yep. You wanna stay at my house tonight? I’ve still got that old Taylor. We can jam—talk about the old days. I’ll cook some Eggs in Purgatory.”

“I don’t know what the hell that is, Brose, but, sure.”

July 6, 2026

Wagner woke up in a small bed with white sheets and white blankets in a room with white walls and a white door. “Zeek?” He called out. And he called out his name again, looking around. The white door opened and into the white room walked a woman in yellow scrubs displaying a logo: a glowing heart surrounded by the words “Hopeful Heart Psychiatric Hospital.”

“Where’s Zeek? We’re going to see Colista.”

“Honey, you’ve been waking up every day for the past ten years talking about Zeek and Colista.” The nurse sat down beside him and placed her hand on Wagner’s knee and sighed, as if this were routine for her—one that has taken its toll. “Colista died ten years ago. That’s when we admitted you here.”

Wagner stared out the window.

“And why do you always stare out that window? What are you looking for?”

“He who, when torrid summer’s sickly glare

shines, performing intricate art on dwindling creeks,

lays pondering a monolithic past

dictates for himself an imperious future.

He who, when harsh rain beats down on shingle

roofs, demanding attention to violent cadence,

sits only by familiar windows will

ignorantly accept a frequent, well-known mind.

He who, when free-spirited youth is now set free

and frivolous earnings seem frivolous,

looks out familiar windows at familiar trees

must write about the things he never sees.”

“Okay, Mr. Holbrook. You let me know if you need anything, all right?”

Outside his room, two nurses talked in the hall. “Such a sad story. He cheated on his fiancé the week before the wedding. She just couldn’t live with it. She hung herself in their house, and he found her the day before his birthday, July 5th.”

“Oh, my—“

“He couldn’t handle the guilt. It drove him schizophrenic. Now, all he does is look out that window. And when he wakes up, he asks for Zeek. He says they’re going to see Colista. That was his fiancé. Sometimes, I tell him. Sometimes, I don’t. It doesn’t matter. I just wish I knew what he sees out that window.”

The nurses walked down the hall to the room with the vending machines.

“Payday?”

“Eh, I’ll take a Sky Bar.”

That night, after he had taken his prescribed doses, he laid his head down to dream again of his pleasantly miniature house and limitless estate, his startling visit and his soaring adventure with his longed-for companion.

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Wagner Holbrook