The World Below Damocles I

There were living people who remembered the Doomsday Clock like it was yesteryear.

He sprinted across the street and through the revolving door to his office high-rise.

The Doomsday Clock became an afterthought the day the asteroid scientists call Damocles appeared, and suspended itself in the atmosphere. That was when all the nuclear powers unplugged the Doomsday Clock and aimed their arsenals –away from each other– and towards the more powerful threat.

He checked his watch.

Ten minutes before his grace period would elapse.

Ten minutes to midnight…

Traffic was madness. Not that his supervisor cared. Late was late. The clock on his Supervisor’s desk was his own personal Doomsday Clock. There could be a great flood or an erupting volcano in the middle of the freeway and his Supervisor would still write him up for tardiness.

His grandfather would talk about a time where there was only one fiery ember in the sky during the daytime, as opposed to two. The sun would set and then there would be complete darkness. The other fireball on the horizon never set, and burned nearly 24 hours a day, leaving much of the earth with near constant daylight.

He put his cell phone and keys in his bookbag’s front pocket before walking through the full body scanner.

The security guard smirked at him as she sipped her tea.

He smirked back.

She was cute. He liked her. And he guessed she liked him. He thought of asking her out one day. He needed to think about it before he did.

He was alive too, but too young to remember the Doomsday Clock or a time where countries were at odds with each other. Too young to remember the time when the possibility of nuclear annihilation or mutually assured nuclear destruction was more a potentiality than a science fiction trope.

He picked up his bookbag from the conveyor before flashing his ID to the half-asleep security guard near the elevator.

He heard something about Damocles on the morning news but couldn’t remember what. If he had time, he planned to scroll through a few articles while he sipped his coffee. If he had time.

The cubicle farm looked busy.

He still wasn’t used to seeing so many people so early. Since his supervisor changed everyone’s hours to work at the same time– for lord knows what reason.

He powered his computer before taking a seat at his desk.

What was that thing I heard about Damocles….

He couldn’t remember that news report about Damocles for the life of him. It was probably something unimportant and irrelevant to his day no more relevant than a cloudy day or high pollen count.

Partly cloudy with a chance of rain. Also, Damocles is reported to have moved two centimeters.

Whether Damocles had moved forward or backward was irrelevant. People stopped caring. Even the government had slowed their efforts to safely destroy it or propel away from the atmosphere or even try to study it. The government had diverted their funds elsewhere– he believed into defense. Damocles was beginning to cost too many tax dollars.

The boss was cooking curry in the microwave for breakfast again. It burned his nostrils and made his eyes water.

Another reason he needed a transfer to another division. He couldn’t stand sitting so close to the microwave, and he believed his education was being wasted where they placed him.

He walked to the window to look at Damocles.

He remembered listening to a radio program the past where the hosts argued whether Damocles had grown bigger since it appeared in the sky and that bigger just meant it was growing closer. Of course, there was no way to substantiate or verify that claim. Scientists were baffled by Damocles existence or the nature of it and any time they tried to get close enough to study it their instruments would fall out of the sky or melt.

“Hey pal.” His older co-worker slapped him on the back.

He nodded. “Morning.”

“How was your weekend?” His older co-worker asked.

“Didn’t do much,” He replied. “Yours?”

“Can’t complain,” Older co-worker answered. “Went fishing.”

He tilted his head. “Didn’t you do that last weekend?”

The old co-worker looked taken aback by his question, as if he expected a more vague, less probing response. “Yeah… I guess I did.”

“Don’t you want to try something different?” He questioned. “Like… gardening. Or traveling.”

“Traveling?”

“Yeah, somewhere other than the same pond you always go to…”

His old-coworker stroked the matted white bush on his chin. “No… fishing at the pond’s fine.”

“Cool,” He said. “Catch you later.”

“Lunch?” Older-coworker asked. “I got fish.”

“Maybe tomorrow,” He said before heading back to his cubicle.

He’d had enough of his old co-worker’s fried fish to last him a lifetime. Plus, he was tired of the smell.

“Suit yourself,” Old co-worker said.

“Thanks though,” He said. “Appreciate it.”

His co-worker moved on and he returned to his desk.

He looked over to Evan, his cubicle neighbor, who was playing with his phone.

Evan would normally greet him first, since he was always in the office before him. But lately, Even always seemed distracted by things other than work. That time it was his phone.

“What?” Evan said without looking away from his game.

“The boss will be making his rounds soon,” He said.

“So,” Evan answered. “My magic meter’s about to fill. Monster’s about to get a dark matter charged foot up his ass.”

His heart skipped a beat as his supervisor turned the corner and looked in his direction.

“Hey, put that away,” He warned.

“Almost there.” Evan waved him off.

Their supervisor skipped over several rows of cubicles to head straight for theirs.

His supervisor had a serious but relaxed face and reeked of day old coffee and was sipping more coffee from a mug nearly as big as his orange face. .

“Good morning,” Supervisor said to him.

“Morning,” He greeted.

“Great job on the reports.” Supervisor was speaking to him but had his eye on Evan.

“Thanks,” He replied.

“Evan,” Supervisor called.

Evan grunted.

“Have a report for me?” Supervisor took a sip of his mug.

“Sure thing,” Evan replied.

“Well, can I have it?” Supervisor moved closer to Evan.

“Can you….” Evan put down his video game. “You nearly made me lose the battle, dude.”

Supervisor rested the mug on his desk.

He hated when Supervisor would rest the mug on his desk. He knew it was a territory, alpha male thing to show dominance over the space, which is why he hated it.

Supervisor leaned over Evan’s railing. “I think your reports are more-“

“Shh,” Evan interrupted.

Supervisor stood up as if he was literally taken aback by Evan shushing him.

“F*ck.” Evan slammed his phone on his desk. :”See what you made me do?”

“I’m going to have to write you up, pal,” Supervisor said to Evan as he retrieved his mug.

Evan looked up at Supervisor. “Do what you feel is right.”

The Supervisor took a sip and shot Evan an angry glance before stepping away.

“The f*ck Evan,” He said. “You trying to get fired?”

“I don’t think that matters,” Evan answered.

“What matters?” He asked.

“Getting fired,” Evan answered again.

“I guess you’re not worried about food and bills,” He said. “You must have a lot of money I don’t know about.”

“Is everyone insane but me?” Evan massaged his temples.

He used one of his McDonalds napkins to scrub away the sticky coffee ring left by his supervisor’s mug.

“There’s a ten mile wide fiery freaky rock suspended above our planet,” Evan said.

He balled up the tissue and tossed it in the recycling bin. “Yeah… I’m aware of that.”

“You sure?” Evan said.

“Of course,” He answered. “See it every day.”

It wasn’t like it rose or set like the sun. The fiery ball in the sky was ever-present. It was a flaming, permanent fixture, frozen in time

His old coworker rolled a cart to his desk to drop off several packages.

“Thanks,” He said to his cold coworker.

“Screw this.” Stood pocketed his phone and stood from his desk.

“Where are you going?” He asked Evan.

The old coworker looked just as puzzled.

“To empty my bank account and travel,” Evan answered. “The world could end tomorrow… Hell, today.”

Evan walked over to his desk and put a hand on his shoulder.

“Don’t get caught by Damocles doing something…. boring,” Evan said.

Evan withdrew his hand, entered the break broom and emerged with the microwave before disappearing into the elevator.

The old coworker shrugged and moved his cart to the next aisle.

He leaned back in his chair.

Leaning back in his chair allowed him a partially obstructed view –now that Evan had abandoned his cubicle– of Damocles fixed in the sky as a lone cloud passed over it.

He stood and walked to the window.

He rarely thought about what Damocles would do to the world if it suddenly propelled towards earth, or even away from earth. He rarely thought about what his life would, should, or could be like if he considered the possibility that there was a hidden countdown somewhere, and time was ticking away and would one day reach zero and all life would be wiped away within minutes.

“Hey,” His supervisor tapped him on the shoulder. “We’re all heading downstairs for coffee. You should come with.”

“Okay,” He said.

“Now that what’s his name has resigned there’s an opportunity for you,” His supervisor shielded a smirk behind his enormous coffee mug. “An opportunity of a lifetime.”

“Yeah.” He gave Damocles one last glance before facing his supervisor. “A lifetime…”

But how long was a lifetime?

The world could end at any second.

The Docks I

He tossed his cigarette over the edge of the pier.

Smoking was his nastiest habit, but he couldn’t help himself. It’s what he’d always done after a tough job. Especially after killing someone.

The nicotine was starting to ease the jitters in his jagged, broken hands.

“You should get that checked out.” His partner approached with his rifle on the ready.

“I’ll be fine,” He answered as he looked over his shoulder to his partner.

He checked his hands. The blood had soaked through the wrapping on his hands.

“You’ll turn into one of them junkies.” His partner slung the rifle over his shoulder and drew a pistol.

“Been there, done that,” He turned from the peer and walked past his partner. “You found the brother?”

His partner shook his head. “You?”

“Nope,” He said. “I can barely tell these junkies apart.”

“Suprised you found the girl.”

“Me too.”

“Boy can’t be far behind.”

“Nope.

He had to take out a dozen of the junkies to get to the girl. For drugged up and malnourished people, junkies had ungodly strength and endurance beyond logic. His mark nearly gnawed off his hand before he was able to subdue her.

“These bastards bite hard,” His partner said.

“Yeah,” He grabbed the potato sack holding the unconscious woman and slung it over his shoulder before walking the body to his car and popping the trunk. “And they’re strong.”

“We should check another nest,” His partner suggested.

He popped the trunk and dumped the body in. “No.”

“Why not?” His partner asked. “We don’t, another suiter will.”

“Don’t care.” He slammed the trunk closed. “Bad idea.”

“I need that bonus,” His partner said. “Ain’t leaving without the brother.”

“Shit,” He muttered.

His partner would do it with or without him.

“They’re only two of us,” He said.

“Those ghosts are more interested in the next high than us,” His partner said. “Just help me look through one of their nests.”

He watched the charcoal colored smog overtaking the river.

“Just one?” He said.

“Just one,” His partner answered.

He sighed. “Just one.”

The smog reminded him of something he couldn’t quite remember, but he could feel it gnawing at his subconscious mind.

He checked his ammunition before following His partner to the hangars just beyond the docks.

All the hangars were opened and abandoned. No traces of ever being used. Except one.

“Got your bolt cutters?” His partner asked.

He drew the cutters from his belt. “Yep.”

The fog had grown thicker over the years.

It bothered him. He didn’t know why it bothered him. He couldn’t let it bother hi-

“Hey?” His partner snapped a finger in front of his face. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” He answered.

“You keep looking out there,” His partner said.

“Ever thought of just catching a boat out of here?” He asked.

“I mean, I could,” His partner replied. “But never thought about it.”

“Why not?”

“Just never did.”

“Not curious?”

“Not one bit.”

He drew his pistol.

“You’d be sailing to another shithole place,” His partner answered.

“You sure about that?” He asked.

“The whole planet is a shithole.” His partner said. “Why not remain in the shithole you’re familiar with.”

“How do you know?” He asked.

“Should probably just sail out there.” His partner said. “Since you’re so curious.”

“Perhaps I will,” He answered.

“Could use the bonus to buy a boat,” His partner said.

“And I’ll sail to the edge of the goddam world,” He said. “And you’ll ride out too.”

“Count me out,” His partner said. “I’m fine an dandy in my shithole.”

“Know anybody who’s sailed out of town?” He asked.

“What do you mean?” His partner questioned in reply.

“Have you ever seen boats sail out?” He inquired.

“All the people I know are businessmen,” His partner answered. “They’re too busy making money to go sailing.”

They walked along the docks and approached the biggest building on the pier.

“These businessmen have yachts?” He asked.

“Of course,” His partner answered. “Several.”

“Any of those yachts leave port?” He questioned.

His partner looked off to the smoggy sky. “Probably. Will have to ask next time.”

He couldn’t think of a time when he’d ever left Rose City, or whether he knew anybody who had left Rose City.

His lip quivered.

“You got a smoke,” He asked his partner.

His partner shook his head.

“Shit,” He muttered.

His overthinking would always get the best of him when he didn’t smoke. The last drag was all he had left until he got back to town.

“C’mon, let’s clear this place out,” His partner said. “The wife’s expecting me home early.”

“Alright, I’m good to go,” He clipped the chains on the door.

His partner nodded as he pulled the hammer back on his pistol.

He opened the door.

A gathering of glowing white eyes stared out to them from the darkness.

“Alright…” His partner lowered his pistol and drew a picture of their target along with a glowing white vial. “Free drugs for the first junky who leads us to this kid.”

Fleeting Tale Vol. 7

He is clumsy. His footwork is ineffective.

He moves in and instantly eats a jab from the amateur boxer– his much taller opponent.

Five years of training for a fight and all he could accomplish was walking chin first into basic jab-cross combinations.

He can’t move without being hit.

No place to go.

Hands are getting heavy. Guard dropping and chin rising every time he presses forward to strike.

Pop!

The lanky boxer snaps his head back again.

He never sees them coming. He justs tastes and smells the rubber of tall boxer’s glove every time he moves in to throw an off-balanced punch or kick.

He’s hit with another jab.

He wants to blame the art he’s been training for the last five years, but that would be unfair to blame an art for his lack of spatial awareness, balance, fight IQ, or overall skill. None of that has anything to do with the art.

Smack! He takes another light jab to the nose.

Ding Ding.

Jab to his eye.

The bell sounded and ended his vicious pummeling, saving him from further embarrassment.

How could he blame the art. It wasn’t the arts fault he hasn’t picked up any real, effective skill in five years of training. .

As he walks to the sideline and removed his gloves and headgear, he thought about all the awesome practitioners who came before him his Sifu would brag about daily. People he will probably never reach. He thought about taking an art that would be more effective against bigger opponents specifically.

He took a seat on the ground and tool a guzzle of water from his bag.

The tall boxer was holding back the whole time. He knows tall boxer would have made quick work of him if he wen’t at even half his power.

He rotates his wrist.

He believes he jammed his wrist trying to punch through tall guy’s cross guard.

He can’t rely on speed, and what was the point of ox-like strength when he couldn’t even get close to opponents without getting clipped.

He removes his shin pads to massage his sore legs.

Tall guy checked one of his clumsy kick and he felt the impact through his pads.

He didn’t know his body. He blames the art. It wasn’t for him. It wasn’t for taller, more skilled opponents.

He watches as tall guy obliterates another one of his training brothers on the mat with the same jab-cross combinations he was hit with.

Tall guy’s combinations look so smooth and effortless. They are much slower when he watches other people on the receiving end of tall guy’s gloves, but the combinations were blinding when he was the one getting hit with them.

He put his water aside.

All of a sudden he doesn’t feel so thirsty. He doesn’t feel like he deserves water for his poor effort in sparring.

He watches at tall-guy dances around his opponent.

Tall guy moved like a tall guy. Tall guy knew his reach and he knew to stay out of range.

Why couldn’t he move his stocky body around without crossing his feet.

He removed his gloves and completely removed his shin pads.

He is done… for now. No sense in sparring, or learning anything new if he didn’t understand how to best utilize it for his body. If he didn’t know how to attack and move without getting his jaw clipped by simple jab-cross combinations from tall, long armed boxers.

He grabs his Gym-bag and bowed before leaving the Gym.

It will be the last time they see him for years. When he returns, he will be a better fighter.

Fleeting Tale Vol. 6

He finishes his room temperature coffee– store brand and brewed at home.

He longs for the days of old when a bank account was something he checked when his debit card was declined. The gruff, knotty white hairs shedding from his chin and cheeks were making him fiscally responsible. And boring. His adventurous-self retired the moment he resigned to being the (fiscally) responsible adult– spouse, co-worker, business owner, etc.

He rinses his reusable Starbucks cup before refilling it with fountain water.

He craves more coffee. There was a Starbucks on the ground floor, but was too responsible to buy coffee when he had plenty at home.

The hallway is quiet, but he isn’t alone since he has several surveillance cameras to keep him company.

He salutes the cameras.

He’s always tempted to wave at the camera, but that will just reinforce the idea that he was a strange and awkward fellow. It was true, he was the strangest, most awkward fellow in the (commercial) building, but he believes they didn’t need to know that about him.

He returns to his office and takes a quick sip of his cold, coffee-flavored tap water.

Responsible him no longer buys sugary drinks, nor does he drink them. He misses Snapple and the Arizona Half and Halfs– the one with the old golfer on the can, but his calories were now a thing to him and to his wife. She didn’t want him to get diabetes because diabetes were a thing to (fiscally) responsible adults.

He checks his phone.

55%… (Charging)… Spam likely called twice an hour earlier.

He turns off the Do Not Disturb on his phone and puts his phone on the Vibrate setting.

His phone needs to be on in case his wife calls. She wants to leave work on time so she can work from home for another five hours.

He spins his chair towards the door and reclines.

Its the week before a holiday weekend so he expected the office to be quiet.

He watches his door, waiting for Calliope, or one of her fine sisters, to twirl into his office and sprinkle magic dust on his eyes, or even his typing fingers.

It has been months since he’s written or snapped or played anything good or updated his resume or added anything to his website. He wonders whether he’s forgotten his muse in the Colorado mountains. Or whether his muse decided to remain behind, refusing to accompany or empower a person who periodically checks his bank account and refuses to buy coffee or ingest sugary drinks.

What’s happened to me?

He logs off of his computer, yanks his phone from the charger, grabs his jacket and prepares to promptly exit his office.

If his old muse won’t return, he’ll walk to the pier for his lunch hour and snap pictures of wandering pigeons and quirky restaurant signs until another muse takes notice. Or… so he hopes.

His phone rings.

Its his boss.

He removes his jacket, returns to his desk and returns his phone to the charger before answering the phone.

“Hello,” He says.

His new muse will have to wait. Or, send him an Outlook calendar request like everybody else.

Rockstar’s Rent II

Part I : https://darrionjwrites.com/2019/02/13/rockstars-rent-i/

Do you know who the fuck I am?

He side-eyed the trashy, piss-coated alley.

He thought of trying the alley again but didn’t have the energy or the patience to tussle with the diseased cats and Thick-neck bouncers who antagonized him with their lies, claiming they didn’t know who the fuck he was.

My goddamn name should be in lights. My guitar and I made this goddamn club.

He made that Goddam city. The Rose ain’t shit without him.

A black limo crossed the corner of his eye and drove past the block.

The same limo, fueled by the pain and oppression of Landlord’s tenants, which drove past three times before.

He examined the cracks in his guitar.

The neck of this guitar was one drop away from irreparable.

The fire escape did more damage to him than he first thought. He wanted justice. Payback.

He fought back tears as he dropped his guitar to his side.

A very special woman gave him that guitar. Taught him how to play.

Sister Nanci.

The guitar was one of a kind. She was one of a kind. Its why he named his guitar after her. Landlord was going to pay for the guitar with his money and with his blood.

Screw this.

He shoved his way to the front of the long line and dared everyone with his eyes to say something.

Half the spot was his. He should not have to wait on a line to place which was mostly his. The son of a bitch owner, Bird-Killer., owed him big time, and he was there to collect the debt.

“Wait,” Bouncer ordered.

“What?” He said.

Thick-neck bouncer waved in half a dozen whores in front of me.

He bit his tongue.

Allowing whores before him.

He took a deep, calming breath.

He wasn’t in the mood for static. Perhaps he’d deal with thick-neck bouncers after his sit-down with the owner. Until then, he’d exercise restraint and patience, like one of the delusional peaceniks with the drum circles he liked spitting on.

“What do you want?” Thick-neck asked.

“Entry,” He answered.

“No can do.” Thick-neck looked him up and down. “No shirt no service.”

He could kick himself for not grabbing a button-down and loafers before leaping from his from his second story window to escape If he’d have just stayed an extra minute, dug through his closet for some decent clothes and in turn allowed Landlord the proper time to cave in his skull with a shotgun cane, he’d be headless, but at least his body would be appropriately dressed to enter Bird-killer’s crappy establishment– which he partially owned.

He smirked. “Look buddy-“

“I’m not your buddy,” Thick-neck snapped.

“I’m here to see Bird-killer.” He replied through his teeth.

“And who are you?” Thick-neck said.

“He knows.” He pointed to the second floor window.

Bird-killer was watching their interaction. That creep loved to watch.

The black limo pulled up to the end of the block.

Shit.

Landlord and his limo was stalking him. Waiting for him to leave Bird-killer’s block.

“Your boss knows me,” He pleaded.

“Pretty sure he doesn’t,” Thick-neck said.

He attempted to step around Thick-neck to enter the club.

“Back of the line.” Thick-neck shoved him hard.

He tripped on the curb and lost grip of his guitar.

His night couldn’t possibly get any worse. The dark clouds were thickening.

Nanci hit the street and shattered into three parts.

No!

He fell to his knees.

He lost Sister Nanci twice. The pain felt like he did.

He stood to face Thick-neck.

Thick-neck cracked his knuckles like he was go for a scrap. “Try that again and I’ll-”

Thick-neck didn’t see him coming.

He cracked Thick-neck across his jaw with a leaping elbow. A hundred and fifty pounds of force across Thick-neck’s obese melon before chopping him across his buffalo shins.

Thick-neck staggered back and bulldozed a trio of whores who were politicking with a couple of simps at the door.

He didn’t want to kill Thick-neck, he just wanted the guy to know he meant business. Give him something to think about the next time he put hands on him.

Thick massaged his face before wiping the blood from his lips.

“You done fucked up,” Thick-neck said.

No sir, you fucked up when you finished my guitar.

I took a high-guard fighting stance.

The elbow shot should had dropped Thick-neck like a sack of oranges, but the bouncer was clearly juiced and thick like a coconut. He was prepared to chop Thick-neck down like a tree– he had nothing better to do.

Two more buffalo-built bouncers stepped outside the club.

Aw fuck.

Thick-neck and his two behemoth buddies were on top of him in a blink, beating his ribs and twisting him like a pretzel in the streets.

A whistle.

Thick-neck and his two bouncers immediately hopped off of him and returned to the door.

He spotted the silhouette of a man wearing a feathered fedora in the upstairs window.

He wiped the blood from his nose as he staggered to his feet. “You better talk to me.”

He looked down the street.

The window was cracked in the limo.

“You owe me bitch,” He screamed at Bird-killer in the window. “How quickly we forget, partner.”

Landlord was watching. Waiting. Landlord wouldn’t dare make a move on Bird-killer’s block. Honor among demons.

He turned his attention back to the window. “I built this place!”

Bird-killer stepped away from the window and closed the blinds.

Seconds later a young lady stepped outside to speak with Thick-neck.

That ungrateful…

He helped build that club. Bird-killer would be a drugged up nobody if he didn’t bring him into his circle. The fedora wearing fairy was a subpar drummer who lacked the talent to make it in that city without him, which is why he resorted to pimping and weapons-dealing.

Ungrateful bastard.

Thick-neck approached him again.

He raised one hand to a half-guard with the other holding his ribs together.

He was going to lose the fight but took satisfaction in the idea that he was about to be beaten to death and Landlord was never going to get his rent.

“Bird-killer will see you,” Thick-neck said.

He lowered his guard. “That’s what I thought.”

He snatched the pieces of his shattered guitar from the ground and followed Thick-neck into the alley to the VIP entrance at the side of the club.

The hall was dark and he could feel the rumbling of the shitty music in his bones.

Bird-killer had done renovations since he’d last been to the spot. The VIP entrance was completely separate from the club.

He followed Thick-neck through the dark hallway and up the stairs and into the office.

Bird-killer was behind his desk.

Behind him was a view of the club floor and to his side was a view of the street.

The limo was no longer there.

“Stain,” Bird-Killer pointed to a seat. “Please.”

He took a seat.

Bird-killer poured him a drink. Vintage bottle. Expensive looking.

That’s more like it.

He took the drink and downed it in a single gulp.

It was like cold medicine going down but set fire to his chest.

He wanted another.

“You here for me?” Bird-killer asked in his effeminate voice.

“I’m here to collect,” He replied.

“Oh.” Bird-killer poured and slid him another drink. “Not here to pay off your debt.”

My debt?” He gulped another drink.

“You owe me a lot of money sweetie.” Bird-killer poured and slid him another drink.

“Owe you?” He drank another. “Bullshit.”

You owe me, Bird. The world owes me.

Bird-killer took a seat, crossed his legs to the side and rested his chin on his clasped hands. “No matter….”

The room started to spin.

“I’m happy,” Bird-Killer said. “You’re here to pay either way.”

His fingers froze..

Crash!

He lost his glass and nearly melted out of his chair.

“I promise you it’ll be painless,” Bird-killer said. “I owe you that much, partner.”

Pain…less?

The drinks. Bird-killer slipped him something heavy.

“You backstabbing piece of… …” He slurred.

The room went black. Couldn’t move. Couldn’t see shit. But he could hear.

“Prep him for surgery,” Bird-Killer said.

“Yes boss,” Thick-neck replied.

Shit.

Fleeting Tale Vol. 5

Who’s more deserving, you or your Copy?

He’d never heard of impostor syndrome.

He sat forward in his office chair. Slowly sipped his coffee and Kahlua cocktail.

Lukewarm coffee. More Kahlua than coffee. 

Not terrible.

In his sci-fi saturated brain, impostor syndrome was a sentient extraterrestrial virus. Virus xeroxes DNA before leaking from nostrils. Leakage hardens into a cocoon. Cocoon births a pristine copy of Original. Copy swiftly snorts Original up its nostril like cocaine infused Jello. Copy overtakes life– marriage, job, etc. Copy’s superior to Original.

He dumped coffee in trash and clicked send on resignation email before exiting office. 

Copy’s already succeeding where he’s failed.

The Sleepless Sleuth

Seven days.

He propped his leg on the chipped windowsill as he emptied what was left of the pill bottle past his lips.

Clouds in the sky. Gray clouds.

Looked like rain.

He hoped it wasn’t rain. The integrity of the roof in that dilapidated building couldn’t take another washout.

Cracks in the ceiling were spreading. The leaks were decaying the walls.

Thank goodness he didn’t keep too many of his important files there.

Time for a new office.

He reached past the powder vial in his breast pocket to draw his stuffed envelope.

A faded picture fell out of his pocket and onto his lap.

He picked up the picture and stared at it a while before placing it in his pocket, closest to his heartbeat, once again.

Rest easy, Sister Nanci.

He stared at the wrinkled envelope.

It’s an envelope he’d been carrying around for weeks. An envelope some street fiend would have gutted him to get their hands on. An envelope he should have used to repair the moldy roof, or a lease on an entirely new office on the North Side of town. An envelope he thought of gifting to someone far more deserving than he was instead of pissing it away on another commercial space.

She can do so better than this dump.

He stuffed it in his pocket before washing down the pills with a mix of two day old cup of rancid coffee, melted ice with a splash of vodka.

Breakfast.

His vacation was imminent. It was seven days away and no amount of old joe, case files or expensive street pharmaceuticals were going to keep him in the city past seven days. It wasn’t his reservation to cancel. The vacation was happening whether he wanted it to or not. And, something told him that it would be a trip from which he would never return.

“Your desk is full,” My assistant said from the doorway behind a cart with a single file.

“Sorry.” He turned to face her and nearly kicked a tower of files from his desk. “I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Into the office?” She asked.

“Into work,” He replied.

“I’ve been here since morning, Malone.”

“That so?”

He was buried so deep in his thoughts, so focused on his works, that a marching band could have set off a fireworks display in his waiting room and he wouldn’t have noticed.

“Have something for me?” He asked.

“Work.” She handed him a file.

“I was hoping for coffee.” He stared into his empty cup.

“You’re out of coffee,” She said.

He placed the empty mug on his desk. “I figured… If you have time.”

He hadn’t left the office in a few days. Maybe weeks. He couldn’t recall the last t..ime he hit the market for food.

“I’ll buy coffee,” His assistant offered.

“That’s kind of you,” He said.

“It’s nothing,” She took his mug.

He hadn’t eaten in days. He’d been so distracted in his mad rush to solve cases before his vacation that he kept forgetting to eat.

He felt normal. He felt no pain. No weakness. His stomach was unusually silent for someone who is starving themselves to death.

“Anything else?” His assistant gestured for the empty pill bottle he was squeezing.

He was gripping the bottle so tight it had left his fingernail dents in the empty white label.

“No thanks.” He pocketed the empty bottle. “Just coffee.”

She cleared old cigarette butts from his desk and ashtray. “There’s a client.”

No time for any new cases.

“Uh huh.” He flipped through the new file. “Where?”

“The waiting room…”

“No kidding…”

“Will you meet with him?”

“When?”

“Now?”

“Unlikely.”

“Right…”

He had more important things to do than to take on a new case. Also, it wasn’t like he needed the money. He had more money than he needed to take care of himself and to pay for a new faucet for the bathroom and paint to cover up the green fuzz growing on the walls.

He felt her staring at him. “Yes?”

Her posture was like one of those billboards in Time Central. Blaring, bright and boisterously advertising her innermost thoughts. All she needed was a cigarette and an over the top pose.

“Ask me anything, alright?” He faced her.

She huffed. “Are you leaving again?”

“Yes.” He returned his attention to the file. “Soon.”

“How long this time?” She asked.

Wish I had answers for you.

“Last time it was weeks.” His assistant cleared all the solved case files from his desk. “How long this time?”

“A few days, hopefully,” He answered.

“That’s what you said last time,” She answered.

“Sorry,” He replied.

Silence.

“Need someone… to water your plants?” She asked.

He shut his file and clasped his eyes. “Yes…. Please. That would be appreciated.”

He loved his plants. His plants were colorful and too beautiful for that world. He would hate to return from his vacations to see his beloved plants dried up.

His assistant perched her lips. “Okay.”

“Slip this into a red folder.” He drew a pen and wrote a few notes in the file before placing the file on top of the pile. “File it under solved.”

“I just handed you that file,” His assistant opened the file.

“I know.” He replied. “It’s connected to the big arson case we just solved.”

He remembered the Arson case being an open and shut one. The Police Chief wanted to give him credit and the keys to the city for that one. He refused. He neither wanted nor needed anymore accolades from the city.

“I’ll have the courier collect it,” She placed the file evenly atop the tower of solved cases in her cart. “And I’ll tell the client in the waiting room you solved his case.”

“Thanks,” He said.

“How much should I charge him?”

“Nothing… Tell him it’s on the house.”

“Will do…” The little lady shuffled quietly out of his office before he could reply to her insistence on seeing the client in the waiting room.

He faced the window again but didn’t bother reclining.

He thought about his cases were getting easier to solve, and how there was no need to leave his office anymore to solve them. Much like he never needed to see a chess board for more than a second to beat the pants off of a park hustler. He learned early in his career that people in that city were walking-talking game pieces– at most, wind up toys. Everybody’s movements. Everybody just played their positions from sunrise to sundown. Wake to sleep. Birth to death. People in the city were like flesh-carved chess pieces, and Rose city was the overcrowded, noisey, polluted game board, tearing at folds in the center and barely being held together with flimsy tape; and all he needed to see was a first move. One move and then he could step away from the table, and call in checkmate from a pay phone from the South Side of town.

Sad.

He grabbed his scarf, hat and pistol.

He once considered himself lucky for his omniscience. He once considered himself God’s favorite– if a God existed. It took him six vacations to realize the truth.

He yawned.

Truth was, he was cursed. He was being force-fed things his tired mind and deteriorating body could barely handle.

He needed some air.

The one case he couldn’t solve was his own– what’s happening to him. The human brain wasn’t built for what he was being forced to carry. There was no way to stop it. His next vacation was going to kill him.

He needed a cold shower and a hot meal.

He threw on his hat, holstered his pistol in his pocket and wrapped his scarf around his neck before leaving his office.

He waved to his Assistant as he walked past her and some other guy in the waiting room. “Take the rest of the week.”

“Malone…” His assistant chased him into the hallway. “Are you leaving now?”

“Just heading out for some air,” He paused allowing her to catch up.

“And you’re coming back, right?” His assistant questioned. “For your coffee.”

He peeked back into my office and noticed a small, jittery looking man slouched over in our rickety waiting room chair.

“Maybe tomorrow,” He said.

“I won’t make it until then.” She painted a smirk across her face. “The coffee.”

“Thanks.” He pulled the fat envelope from my pocket and handed it to her. “Take the kid out for a steak.”

The contents of the envelope would allow her to buy steak dinners three times a week for the next month. Knowing her, she would use forego the luxury and spend it on something more responsible rent and groceries for the next six (months).

She took the envelope. “He doesn’t eat steak.”

“Pie then,” He said. “Get pie.”

She nodded while examining the envelope.

The envelope he handed her could be severance pay. He hadn’t decided yet. It may not be his decision after all after he goes on his forced vacation.

“Thank you,” She said.

His assistant didn’t even check the envelope. She just held it in her hand like an empty pack of cigarettes.

He called the elevator.

He didn’t deserve her. Not only was his assistant the lifeblood of their agency, she was the most honorable, warm-hearted person he’d ever meet. She was a partner, a friend; the closest thing to a wife and family he’d ever have in his waking life.

“I’ll buy fresh coffee.” She tapped him on the chest with the envelope. “And some new chairs for the waiting room.”

“That would be nice,” He replied.

Ping

The elevator arrived.

He stepped into the elevator.

She waved at him as the door closed and the elevator descended.

He stuffed his hands in his pocket instead of waving back.

He was never good at goodbyes.

The elevator rumbled down to the first floor. He saluted the door man before leaving my building for the darkness and the drizzle.

His car was parked out front.

Fuck driving.

He tightened his top button started his way up the damp street in the opposite direction from his apartment.

The Stockton’s had a monopoly on refueling stations. On all energy in the city. He’d sooner walk in the rain and catch pneumonia than to give those gluttonous bastards another cent of his cash.

“Sir,” A sheepish voice called from his flank.

If he had to guess based on his voice, his stalker was an unimposing man. The nail-biter from the waiting room must have been following him for a good mile.

“Mr. Malone, I was hoping you’d take this case,” nail biter said.

“It’s closed,” He replied. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

He wasn’t even in the mood to humor nail-biter.

“It’s not,” nail biter insisted.

Arson. A hospice ward full of coma patients incinerated by a lone wolf lunatic. It was an open and shut case. One of the easier cases to solve.

“Mr. Malone, you’re the only one who can solve this case.” The stout little guy positioned himself in front of him.

“Nothing left to solved,” He said. “The arsonist is getting the chair in a week.”

Executions were speedy in that city. Trials were quick and efficient. To save space in the overflowing jails. Soulless but practical.

“No…” Waiting room man blocked his path. “You locked up the wrong guy.”

“What’s your name?” He asked.

“Cyrus,” Waiting room man replied.

“Okay Cyrus,” He jabbed his finger into Cyrus’s chest. “I caught the right guy.”

“Not this time,” Cyrus said.

That Cyrus fellow was really trying his patience.

“Get home safely.” He stepped around Cyrus and started walking.

“You’ve got seven days right?” Cyrus said. “Your sleep cycle. Seven days until you go on your vacation.”

He paused. “What did you say?”

“I know what happens when you sleep, Mr. Malone,” He said. “Where you go….”

He drew his pistol grabbed Cyrus with his free hand and slammed the portly man against a store gate.

“I have visions too!” Cyrus pleaded as he gasped for air. “You and I are the same!”

He pressed his pistol against Cyrus’s temple. “Choose your next few words carefully.”

There was only one person in the city who about his vacations and she’d died months ago.

Rest easy, Sister Nanci.

He nearly Cyrus’s front teeth shoving his pistol in his mouth. “Say something useful.”

If the man know about his… then he’d know about how to fix it. If Cyrus didn’t know how to fix him, then he would have to immediately remove Cyrus from the equation.

“The arsons… my visions… your Insomnia…” Cyrus coughed. “Where you disappear to twice a year…Its all connected.”

He removed the pistol from Cyrus’s mouth and took a step back. “Connected how.”

Cyrus hunched over, trying to recapture his breath.

“Connected how?” He asked again. “Answer now.”

Cyrus stood tall and handed him an envelope. “You’re the only one capable enough to find out.”

He opened the envelope.

On the inside was a tape labeled Sister Nanci, and it was dated on the label as recorded seven days ago.

“First, we listen,” Cyrus said. “Then we bring her back from the dead.”