In Praise of Psychopaths?

Several years ago, while researching psychopathy for my book MURDER IN THE FAMILY, I wrote a short story called GIVING SHELTER — a simple morality tale told from the perspective of a psychopath. Having sold my three previous short stories with no difficulty, I sent it off with joyous anticipation of soon seeing it in print. Nope. The rejection letters were terse and to the point: "…too disturbing" and "…glorifies psychotic behavior."  I didn’t submit any further after those first two rebuffs. I recently found it on a floppy disc and decided to share it with you. I have not revised it, nor improved it — although I am probably better at the craft today than seven years ago. So, here it is in all its rejected glory. Word of warning — this story contains adult themes, content, language, and psychotic behavior.

Giving Shelter

Know why we need shelters for battered women?
Because they just won’t listen, and don’t know when to shut up.

Know what they named the shelter for lightly battered women?

Tempura House.

But seriously folks, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate women: I love women. My Mother is a woman, so is my wife, and I have two darling daughters.

In all the years we’ve been married, I’ve never lifted a hand against my wife. I’ve never slapped her, hit her, cut her, or none of that.

Why not?

I never had to.
She never made me.

As for the ones that did make me, the ones that asked for it, I’ll never be caught because no one is even looking for me. The ones I let live won’t say a word, and the dead ones remain significantly silent.

Unlike serial killers and women-haters, I don’t enjoy killing or hurting anyone. I always preferred graciously and generously pulling them back from what they perceived as certain death.

Women, being more sensitive than men, are tremendously appreciative if you don’t kill them. And believe you me, once they’ve been through a near-death experience for being a bitch, they are never-ever bitchy to anyone ever again.

And here’s something else to think about: every woman I’ve let live has thanked me.


They’ve thanked me over and over again for letting them see just how dangerous it can be to be rude. They never tell anyone about our little "counseling session," and I know for a fact that they immediately alter their behavior. I mean, somewhere out there are guys happily married to wonderful women who might otherwise be dead. You see, some men not as nice as me would gladly kill them.

What I’m into is saving these women. You give me ten minutes alone with a bitch, and with few terminal exceptions, she’ll change – trust me.
I’m a nice guy.

Think of me as a public servant, a humanitarian, Mother Theresa with a knife.

Let me tell you about the first woman that I put the fear of God into, okay? You’ll love this.

I was in a nightclub, and I noticed this real good-looking young woman. She’s got perfect teeth, great legs, and big hair. She has a few drinks, a few laughs, and starts dancing with various guys.

Well, there’s this one guy sitting off to the side who looks a little out of place. Good looking, he’s dressed a bit nicer, hair combed neater, and I get the vibes that he’s not one-hundred-percent comfortable.
He must be new in town, or recently out of a dismal relationship.

Anyway, he pulls himself up and walks over to this girl – and he even sort of bows in a gentlemanly way. I hear him shyly ask:
"Pardon me, miss, may I please have this dance?"
Now, get this.

Her eyes go over him like he’s gravel and she’s a monster truck.
"No," she says coldly, and turns away.

The poor guy just stands there staring at her. I guess where he comes from, courtesy is more common. Easy to tell that she made him feel like he was nothin’.

He sorta takes a few steps backward in retreat from her. As he does, some other jerk that’s half gassed, red faced, and paunchy, asks her to dance.

She says "yes," and right in front of the other guy, she gets up and goes onto the dance floor.

What a bitch. A real first class stuck-up bitch who, if she isn’t retrained, could wind up dead.
He turns and heads back to his table, and if he weren’t a man, he’d cry right there in public.
It was then and there that I was called to a mission – like Boston Blackie or the Phantom. At that instant, I knew.

The truth is, every guy, one time or another, has been treated like that. Some get over it. Some never do. The question is, "what do you do about it?"

I knew what I used to do – nothing. I felt ugly and stupid, realizing that all the things my Mom taught me about manners and being polite didn’t mean shit.

A bitch is like a shark – courtesy is meaningless. They just as soon eat your soul as bump into you at a bar. If you order ’em a drink first, it just means they delay the kill ’till you’ve paid the bill.

Even in Junior High the hallways were swimming with bitches looking down their snooty noses and turning away their perky tits ’cause I was all skinny arms and legs and big ears. They giggled behind my back, thinking I couldn’t hear, or they didn’t care if I did.

No matter how polite, how clean, how perfect my diction or polished my delivery, they returned poison for honey, meanness for manners. Mistaking kindness for weakness, the predator-bitch nature surfaced.

There had to be a reason why I went through that pain. Then, that night, I knew. It wasn’t about me, it was about advancing the spiritual process of personal transformation. That’s when I realized that I could be a force for good in the world, that I could actually save lives.

You know, make a difference.

I waited, and sure enough, after a while, she slips outside and goes to her car. Maybe for a pack of smokes; maybe for a blast of coke. It doesn’t matter.

I followed her out, and I was quiet about it.
She never saw me coming, she never saw my face, but she heard every word I said.

It’s still clear in my mind – there she was, on her knees in the gravel, kneeling penitent between a Honda Civic and a Plymouth Duster, begging me not to hurt her.

Pressing the knifepoint dangerously close to her life vein, I placed my other hand over her heart. The damn thing raced like it was gonna burst out of her chest like Alien.

Well, the point of the story is that I told her what a bitch she was, that she’s lucky that I don’t slash her throat, disfigure her face, break both her sexy legs, or poke out her eyes.

She agreed with me. You usually only have to explain it once. I tell her that she damn well better go back in and apologize to that guy, and that I know who she is, where she lives, and if she ever acts like a stuck-up bitch again, I’ll slice her so deep and so often that she’ll beg me to let her die just to stop the pain.

Then I told her to thank me for saving her life, that some day she would be a wife and a mother and late at night in bed she would remember this night and thank me for letting her live, for giving her a future.

You know what? She thanked me, and when I let her go she was one grateful lady. Sure enough, she stumbled back into the bar, found that poor jerk and fell all over herself sobbing and crying and begging him to forgive her.

She left immediately, and never returned to that bar again. I know that for a fact. I kept tabs on her just to make sure the lesson took.

See, I’m a good guy. I didn’t hurt her; I helped her. I changed her life like Touched by an Angel, it’s just that sometimes the touch needs a sharp point.

I stayed on that mission for years, helping one woman after another. Sure, there were a few times the cure didn’t take, but I learned from my mistakes and made sure they were well buried.

Oh, I didn’t do it as often once I was married, but I rescued my fair share of women, I can assure you of that. Out there, somewhere, if they knew, men would thank me, too.

Last week my wife and I celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. Over two decades ago, I introduced myself to her at Church one Sunday, and asked her out to lunch.

Within the year we tied the knot. Her kindness, compassion, sensitivity, and concern for others are an example to women everywhere.

Time flies, kids grow, but our bond remains true and constant. Last night, snuggling together after making love, I slid my hand around her chest, placing it between her breasts.

She scooted even closer, her hand pressing mine tight against her heart.

"I love you, honey," I said.

"I love you too," she replied softly.

"Thankful?" I asked, whispering in her ear.

She didn’t say a word, but a slight chill slid across her soft skin — a long-ago memory’s fading impression, like when you first stand after kneeling on gravel.


copyright 1999 by Burl Barer, all rights reserved

5 Responses to “In Praise of Psychopaths?”

  1. Anea

    I really like this story, it is creepy as hell though because of the whole first person narative and you being my dad thing 😉

  2. dave zarkin

    I like the new photo; very business like. But you do strike a resemblance to Anthony Perkins and I may have walked where he was when I was at KCET, formerly the home of Allied Artists where he made his first big movie, Friendly Persuasion. Best Quaker movie ever made and Pat Boone had hit title recording.

  3. Laura Argiri

    That’s good. The only part I question is the narrator’s empathy for other men whom he perceives as mistreated by women. Complacency or cruel amusement or thinking the mistreated party is a wuss and deserves contempt would ring true, though offering less narrative potential.
    I am writing a novel with a (female) sociopathic character and have yet to get her right. These people are really hard to portray.


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