this is complicated, and that’s okay

What you are about to read is a bit messy and, at over 1,100 words, rather long.  I’d say it is worth the read, but I think that’s really up to you whether or not it is actually worth it.  A story of life and death and choices and perspective… there is a section in the middle where you can choose one of two options, but the result is the same, and then I think you might be surprised by the ending…

Anyway, happy reading, if you choose to do so, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on it in the comments after you have finished.

………………..

“Tell me what happened.”

“Am I dead?”

“Your story should answer most of your questions.”

“My story?”

“Yes, we all have a story, and yours must be told before you can continue.  Take a moment, there is plenty of time.  Collect your thoughts and then tell me what happened.”

“…

We killed them all.

It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  The terrorists were causing such a mess, blowing themselves up, and innocents with them, their psychological toll on the rest of the world was devastating.  But we couldn’t catch those responsible.  They were too good at hiding behind other innocents.  Eventually the world grew tired of their tactics and, unanimously, decided to completely suppress that region.

https://i0.wp.com/img1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20120512131914/hitlerrantsparodies/images/2/2f/Hitler%27s_pencil_of_mass_destruction_II.png
Image Credit: Unknown (click on the picture to view the page I found it)

 

Blown away.  All of it.

I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised how quickly the resultant period of peace was replaced for further conflict.  Once that nuclear option had been visited, countries were more and more willing to use it to quell other disturbances and disagreements.

With nations decimating each other globally, local issues also escalated quickly: North against South, Red against Blue, and neighbor against neighbor.  Fathers turned against the sons they didn’t understand.  The youngest generations pleaded for peace even as they were placed with their backs against a wall.  The oldest generations cackled with madness and slipped away as they were forgotten.  Everyone else fought, and bled, and died.

Except for me…

Somehow I went unnoticed through the bulk of the strife.  I didn’t spew politics on street corners.  I didn’t judge those different from me.  I kept my mouth shut and my head down.  When things got really bad I hid until the shooting stopped.  I think I was lucky to be missed by the wandering rogues and mobs that swept through the cities.  It wasn’t skill or cunning.  I was curled into a ball in the closet, sobbing in fear.

When things got quiet, I eventually found the bravery to leave the house and go look for other survivors, others who had hidden away while society imploded.  I traveled the Earth for two years before giving up and returning home, alone, the last of the humans.

I did the best I could to take care of myself.  I found clean water.  I grew healthy food.  I had a good shelter.  I thrived.  I thrived until…”

….. (option 1) …..

“I thrived until I got lonely. 

Humans are, were, social creatures and my mind split, shattered, so I could fill that void.  Even that wasn’t enough.  The split personalities, the delusions, the hallucinations, couldn’t replace actual interaction. 

And, once I realized how little joy I had left there was only one thing left to do.”

….. (option 2) …..

“I thrived until I got sick.

 I’m not sure if the water wasn’t actually as clean as I’d thought, or if I hadn’t grown healthy food, or if I just wasn’t equipped and knowledgeable enough to combat the diseases that doctors and nurses used to hold in check. 

It doesn’t matter what the culprit was, the end result was the same.”

…..

“Thank you for sharing your story, and now…  If you would please…

I’m sorry for the break in protocol, but stay with me for a moment.  Normally I would place you in the boat and send you on your way to find whatever waits for you next, but, I’ve been told this is the last story I will ever collect and I’m feeling an emotion that is foreign to me.  I think it was you would call sadness.  And perhaps a touch of fear as I’m uncertain what will happen to me next.”

“You don’t know what happens next?”

“My role has ever been the final scribe.  I take down the stories and send the tellers on their way once they are done.  I don’t know where the boat takes them.  I think the destination is different for all of them, but I do not know that for sure.  The currents of the river swirl chaotically at times.  The boat disappears at different points in the gloom…

I’m sorry.  I’m rambling.  I’m not used to talking this much.

To answer your question, no, I don’t know what happens next.”

“What are you going to do when I get in the boat and fade away like all the others?”

“I’ll wait and see if the boat comes back for me.  If it does, I will get in and see where I end up.  If it doesn’t, then I will wait here until I’m told to start collecting stories again or the boat does return.”

http://www.conceptart.org/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=1196923&stc=1&d=1300928809
Image Credit: RAMBOZO

“This is disappointing.”

“What?”

“Death.  I hoped there would be more structure, that it would make more sense than living.  This all seems just as muddled as my time on Earth.  Nothing is certain.”

“Who said this was death?”

“… I assumed, based on my exit from the world…”

“Death is a word that humans made up to describe the specific change that marks the end of their life on Earth.  That’s all it is, just a word.  Why would you expect anything that came after to provide more worth to who you are?”

“I.., I don’t have an answer to that.”

“Good, you aren’t supposed to.”

“What?”

“It’s okay to not know everything, to not have an answer to every question, to exist and react to new situations based solely on your feelings and your hopes.  As you said in the beginning of your story, you did what you thought was best at the time.  That’s all that was ever expected of you.”

“And now I’m expected to get in the boat?”

“Everyone who came before you did.”

“But, that doesn’t mean that I have to… right?  If I feel like staying here and continuing to talk with you, what will happen then?”

“I have no idea.”

“I think I’ll stay for awhile, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.”

“Are there pages left in your book?”

“Yes.”

“And your pen still has ink in it?”

“It has never run out.”

https://i1.wp.com/www.mednetstudy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/OldBookQuilPen-Medium.jpg
Image Credit: Unknown (click on the picture to view the page I found it)

“Then, perhaps we could write some stories together?”

“Go ahead and talk.  I’ll write down your words.  That is what I have always done.”

“Where should I start?  Oh…  I know.  Are you ready? 

Okay. 

In the beginning…”

………………..

… out of the void a world was formed.  It was a masterpiece of beauty and a shining beacon of hope in the darkness.  It was created from the collective desires and joy of all who had come before it, and all who would one day walk its surface.  It was violent and peaceful.  It was complicated and simple.  It was perfect because of all its imperfections.

 photo earthfromspace344_zps08c16996.jpg
Image Credit: kemochron

………………..

“This is going to be a good story.  I can feel it.”

“Shall I continue?”

Rickity Roller

Detective Carl Graff’s phone chimed, that damn tune his Captain had set as a joke and he was too technologically stupid to remove, and he answered before the first verse of “Wrecking Ball” finished.  If nothing else, the song had trained him to answer his Captain’s calls quickly.

“Yo,” he snarled into his phone.

“Carl, we need you to head over to the Rickity Roller.”

“Kids getting in trouble again?”

“No,” his Captain sighed, “there’s been an incident.  You’ll be doing more than keeping the peace, more than just strength in numbers.”

“On my way,” he clicked off, shoved the phone back into his pocket and headed for his car.  It was a department issued, unmarked, hunk of junk, but it hadn’t failed on him yet and he always felt better about heading towards a crime scene knowing he had his full arsenal of tricks and treats in the trunk.

…..

Carl honked his horn and flashed his high beams to get the throng of gawkers to move out of his way.  Amid some cursing and rude gestures, he managed to pull up to the entrance, which had been crisscrossed with yellow crime scene tape.  He flashed his badge to the uniform who stepped up to his window, and then surveyed the rest of The Boardwalk amusement park, or Rickity Roller as it was lovingly referred to not just in his department but throughout the town.

The locals hardly ever went, once they passed their teenage years and had grown tired of groping their significant others in the dark corners of the Clown’s Fun House and necking on the Seaward Ferris Wheel.  It was a tourist trap and a hub for unruly kids to blow off some steam.  Occasionally the youth gathered in greater numbers than the tiny park was equipped to handle and the police were called in to help keep the peace.

Carl hated those calls.  They always came on the hottest nights of summer, and he usually ended up having some punk kid throw a soda at him, or key his car, or worse.  Then he’d have to cuff them and haul them to the station for processing and a call to their parents for the lucky ones or a night in jail for the unlucky ones, stay late to complete the paperwork and generally rue the day the Rickity Roller was approved by the town council as a way to bolster the coffers.  Or whatever asinine excuse they had used at the time.

The only bonus, usually, was he got to see George Rawlings, his old partner when they both wore uniforms to work, before they had both made Detective, and probably the best friend he had.  But, Carl hadn’t seen George in over a week and, aside from being annoyed that he wouldn’t get to bum around with him for the next couple hours as they mopped up whatever the mess was, he was starting to worry.

Continuing his assessment of the scene, Carl began counting cars.  He noticed at least two other Detective junkers near the entrance, and a whole slew of black and whites.  That number of officers in one place was quite the party, which meant it was also quite the mess.  When his Captain’s car pulled up behind his a minute later, he started to worry more.

…..

“What brings you out of your dungeon?”  Carl met Captain Rickards between their  two vehicles, pulled out his pack of Reds and lit a fresh one.  The warm pull warded off the chill of the approaching evening and eased the nerves that had popped up when the car had pulled up behind his.

“I don’t want to be here anymore than you want me here, but I’m needed on this one.  It’s one of ours in there, in the Fun House.”  Captain Rickards flicked his gaze over the fence towards the glare of spinning lights fighting desperately to beat back the coming darkness.

Carl frowned, “Shit.”

“Exactly.  I don’t know who it is yet, but we do this one right the first time.  No slips.  No missteps.  No errors.  We owe it to them.  You got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good, now let’s get in there.”

Carl took the last drag from his cigarette, dropped the spent butt to the dirt parking lot and stamped it out with his heel.  He knew he could get in trouble for littering like that, especially right in front of his Captain, but in that moment there were much bigger concerns.  A cop was down.  That took precedent over everything else.

…..

Later the autopsy would confirm what they all knew at the scene, cause of death was cardiac arrest and loss of blood from the single bullet that entered the officer’s back between his lower ribs, tore his insides to shit, and exited just above his sternum.  Detective George Rawlings hadn’t been wearing a vest at the time of the incident, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The gunshot residue on his clothes, along with the singed fibers, indicated his assailant had been standing too close for the kevlar to be effective.

After seeing his friend, outlined in blood, Carl lost the the contents of his stomach, a lovely pasta dish from Romero’s that he had finished moments before getting the call from his Captain, but had the training and scene presence to remove himself before he hurled on anything that could be remotely considered as evidence.  It was the first time he had ever lost it at a scene, but he took it in stride.  Sooner or later it happens to every cop.  He spat out as much of the flavor as he could and then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

He looked up from his mess when a shadow passed over him to see Captain Rickards standing next to him.

“I’m sorry, Carl.  If I had known I wouldn’t have called you in.”

Carl waved him off, then spat and wiped his mouth again.

“Get out of here.  Go home.  I’ll put in so you get a couple days off on the Department’s dime.  Pack up and go fishing or something.”

Carl scowled.  That was the last thing he wanted to do.  He need to know what happened.  He needed to know what the investigation turned up.

He started to shake his head, but Captain Rickards firm tone stopped the rebuttal he had been forming. “You will not be working this case.  You will be taking some time off.”

“Fine,” he forced the word through his clenched teeth, fought back a second round of returning dinner, rose to his feet and marched back to his car.  The carnival speakers had been silenced, thank God, once the detectives arrived but their work lamps did little to diminish the incessant spiraling, twinkling, flashing lights that bounced through the dank alleys between the park’s buildings.

When he reached the comfort of his car, he slammed the door, lit a new cigarette and closed his eyes against the pain of the lights.  Even the sight of his dead friend that greeted his closed lids was a mercy compared to the brightness of the park.  But, only for a few seconds, then his stomach started rumbling again and he opened his eyes, fired his engine and peeled out of the parking lot.

Enough of the crowd had dispersed to allow such a maneuver, but he wasn’t sure he would have been able to calm his exit even if they hadn’t.  There was a bottle at home calling him and he couldn’t keep it waiting.

…..

The knock on his door came halfway through the bottle.  He wasn’t sloppy drunk yet, but he had moved well beyond where he should be trusted to do more than channel surf.  He ignored the door.  After the scene he had left, it could only be more bad news.  He wasn’t in the mood.  He didn’t want it.  He was on vacation and whatever it was could wait until he was allowed back on duty.

When the knock came again, Carl dragged himself off the couch and swayed to the door, cursing the whole way.  His right hand stayed close to his Glock which was tucked into the back of his jeans, as he opened the door with his left hand.  He was drunk, but he wasn’t stupid enough to answer the door unarmed.  He knew who might be out there, closing up loose ends.

He was more than a bit surprised to see Captain Rickards standing there, flanked by a couple of uniformed officers he didn’t recognize immediately.  “Yo, what brings you out to interrupt my vacation?”  His words slurred, and he tried to exaggerate his excessive body movement to make them think he was drunker than he was.  His gaze passed over the papers in the Captain’s hands to peer between the stoic expressions of the uniformed officers.  He knew then they were there to make sure he went peacefully.  They were enforcers.  The men called upon to back the issuing of a warrant for his arrest in the hopes that just by his presence, they wouldn’t be needed.

In that instant, Carl considered going for his gun.  He liked his chances.  They wouldn’t expect it of him.  They probably still held out some hope that he was innocent of whatever they were accusing him.  But, he was too curious how they had found him out, since he truly hadn’t had anything to do with George’s death.  He needed to know how his friend’s demise had led them to his door.  He stepped back and motioned them in from the dark hallway outside his apartment.

“We’ve got a warrant here,” Captain Rickards started but Carl cut him off before he could finish.

“I can see that,” he fired back.  “What are you looking for?  How on God’s blue marble can you think I had anything to do with George?  Okay, okay, I’ll let you finish,” he said seeing the mixture of sadness and anger in his Captain’s eyes.  “What’s the warrant for?”

“Warrants, actually.  One to search your apartment,” he deadpanned, “and one for your arrest.”

Carl licked his lips.  The liquor had given him a bad case of cotton mouth and his nerves were begging for a cigarette.  He would have lit one up to soothe them but he wanted to keep his hands free.  His palms were slick with sweat but his face was flushed with embarrassment and anger.

Captain Rickards cocked an eyebrow at his Detective, “Did you know that George had been tailing you for a couple weeks.  We’ve got you on video.”

“Damn,” tumbled from Carl’s mouth.  His lips loosened by the same liquor that had assuaged the grief in his heart.  His best friend had betrayed him.  As he went for his gun, he wished he had only had a quarter of the bottle instead of half of it.

…..

The nationwide man hunt for Carl Graff started the next day.  At first his fellow officers were loathe to believe the rumors being spread about him, but as the video and wire taps become general knowledge they quickly switched gears and started saying they had always suspected him of being a dirty cop, there was something that wasn’t quite right about him.

As the days turned into weeks turned into months, they assumed that he had used his drug running connections to find safe passage out of the country.  Internal Affairs and the FBI got involved and issued formal statements that the rest of the department had been reviewed and was found to be clean, restoring the public’s faith in their men and women in blue.  The official results of the investigation were, of course, classified, but John and Susie Public rarely concern themselves with such details.

A cellphone, placed under a chair, playing the “Wrecking Ball” ringtone at the Captain’s funeral, while considered a massive lead at the time, never amounted to anything.  The man hunt continues…

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Word Count: 2,000

The Who: Dirty Cop (4)
The Where: Amusement Park (2)
The Uh-Oh: Betrayal by best friend! (1)

I used the =randbetween excel function to come up with which prompt words to use.  Have no idea what I’m talking about?  That’s because I haven’t shown you the prompt yet!  This is another Flash Fiction Challange:

Anyway, this week, we’re back with another randomized challenge –
And, this week, I’m letting you have 2000 words instead of 1000.
The way forward is simple: pick (randomly or by hand) one element from each column below (Who, Where, Uh-oh) and smoosh those three together to concoct a single story. For bonus points, you can actually randomize the Who column twice — either to make a combination protagonist (PSYCHIC CELEBRITY! ASSASSIN ACCOUNTANT!) or to choose a second character to go into your tale, either as a supporting character or as an antagonist.
Post this story at your online space.
Link back here.
Due by Friday, the 24th, noon EST.
And the categories are…
The Who (Protagonist)
1. Detective
2. Ghost
3. Bartender
4. Dirty Cop
5. Psychic
6. Assassin
7. Accountant
8. Celebrity
9. Android
10. Waiter/Waitress
The Where (Setting)
1. Nuclear Wasteland
2. Amusement Park
3. Chinatown
4. Far-Flung Space Station
5. Mad Botanist’s Greenhouse
6. Virtual Reality
7. The Underworld
8. Trailer Park
9. Pirate Ship
10. Casino
The Uh-Oh (Problem)
1. Betrayal by best friend!
2. Left for dead, out for revenge!
3. Encounter with a nemesis!
4. Trapped!
5. Something precious, stolen!
6. Lovers, separated!
7. Warring against nature!
8. An unsolved murder!
9. A conspiracy, revealed!
10. Besieged by supernatural enemies!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

I think this may have been my first attempt at writing a crime thriller, and while there isn’t much crime in it, and it probably isn’t that much of a thriller.  I’m pretty pleased with how much I crammed into 2,000 words.  What do you think?  Did you enjoy it?  What would you have done differently?

Or, better yet, roll the dice (pick a prompt word from each category) and play along.  Write it, link it, post it.