Tag Archives: short story

“The Nice Guy”

“Can you help me with my bike?”

He was white, balding underneath his Cincinnati Reds cap. Tall, taller than me, and pretty big. Doughy, but under that muscular, strong, the build and mannerisms of someone who worked for a living. His smile, glasses, the bib overalls, his easy manner all made me think I could be shaking hands with someone who was asked to play Santa every year at a church party or the local volunteer fire department Christmas celebration.

“Sure. Give me a minute.”

“No rush.”

After finishing the post-breakfast, camping rituals, I ambled over to his site. He was alone, sleeping in small, white-sided camper pulled by a half-ton, red Chevy truck. The Kawasaki was strapped down in the bed of the pickup. Everything was immaculate, no stains, no grease, no accumulated dust. With little trouble, we unloaded the cycle. He smiled again.

The smile doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Thanks.”

It’s like when you’re talking to someone, and there’s a … tic, a tell, something that exposes him as a liar. He’s not right.

“No problem.”

Or not. Whatever.

Later in the day, I saw our neighbor leaving. I was digging through the car for a towel when he rode off on his motorcycle. The bib overalls had been replaced with a deep blue jumpsuit, like you might see on an industrial worker or the pest control guy. He also wore his helmet, big brown boots, a backpack and black motorcycle gloves.

He looks like a serial killer.

I laughed to myself and returned to the search. I didn’t think again about my little joke until evening when our neighbor returned, looking just as spotless as when he left. As he cut the engine and parked, he gave me a wave. I waved back.

Maybe he really is a serial killer.

I waited, knowing sanity would soon overtake me. Yet …

He’s got a trusting face. Not that all serial killers have that. I mean, Gacey, Bundy, they had personality, that trustworthy vibe.

He took off his helmet, hanging it from one of the grips. Then he disappeared into the camper.

Everything’s so clean. Too clean. It’s weird. It’s a dirtbike with no dirt on it. A camper that doesn’t look like it’s been camping. A truck that’s six, seven years old, and it looks like it’s showroom quality. No dirt, no tar, no grass stains … no DNA, no fingerprints, no evidence.

A light flashes on in the camper.

The jumpsuit pretty much covers him head to toe. I wonder what was in the backpack? Lunch? First aid kit? Ropes and duct tape? I guess it’s not unusual to wear gloves to drive, especially on a cycle. But he had them on when we unloaded …

A campground light glints off one of the Kawasaki’s mirrors.

My prints are the only ones on the bike! Oh my God! I’ll be the suspect once the police find the body …

Crickets. The campfire pops and crackles a few feet away.

Ridiculous. It’s just a dude camping. You’re drunk. Go to bed.

In the morning, he approached me again, asking for help to get the bike into the truck. I agreed, and walked together to the pickup.

He’s wearing gloves. Going to accuse him of being Ed Gein?

We pushed the bike quietly and gently up the homemade ramp into the bed of the truck. I held it still as he strapped it down. He carefully stepped off the bed on to the blacktop of the short driveway, and reached out a hand, smiling.

“Thanks.”

Really? This is the guy you’re obsessing over.

“Yeah. You’re welcome.”

I reached out and shook his hand. He gripped it firmly, matching my gaze. I saw something, something that really did scare me. The look of the triumphant predator, a deep, burning hunger sated, a clean getaway.

My next visit was to the bathroom, to wash my hands.

Because only because you can’t really scrub your soul.

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“The End and The Beginning”

Writer’s note: My parents brought this to me a few weeks ago, a story I wrote as a 17-year-old high school senior that earned me an “Excellent story 98” from my senior composition teacher. I submit this to you with no edits. Another note at the end will address a few other things.

“The End and the Beginning”

Darkness. The sun rises in the early morning mist. A shadow approaches. Shades of gray. The shadow forms a man. Breath appears in the chilly air. Thudding of feet on the tarmac. The man is close. Details can be seen. Dark hair and dark eyes show a face that has grown old before its time. A young man who has seen more than many men two times his age. Dressed in blue denim and black hightops, the clothes are dusty and worn from much walking. Many road and many days make a man hard and old.

Isaiah. The name given to him years ago. A last name he cannot remember, and does not want to. In the real world, names do not matter. Only faces. Deeds. The deeds he has performed are known to many, and feared by more. Relationships are a casualty in this line of work. Besides, who will trust him if they know his craft?

On an Arizona road to another job. Usual payoff, usual risk. He carries his equipment on his back, the equipment of a man who knows death. Up ahead is a sign. “Calhalda-1300” it reads. He has arrived.

A small town. Here to fill the gas tanks for passing travelers in the desert. Small mines outside of town. The bread and butter of a western community. There, the place he was looking for.

He entered the store. Musty. Dark. The community gossip center, also known as the general store. From condiments to condoms. Isaiah smiled grimly.

“Can I help you stranger?” There was an unfriendliness and suspicion in the voice that only years in an isolated community can foster.

“I’m looking for a Mr. Jonathan Roberts,” replied Isaiah. “Would you know his place of residence?”

“Well, I would probably know because I am Johnny. Who are you?” replied the proprietor.

“I am Isaiah. You sent for me,” he answered.

Johnny’s face went white. “I didn’t expect you quite so soon. I guess it’s for the better. She needs you. Come with me.”

Johnny led Isaiah through the back of the store. Isaiah noticed the large array of goods. With only a sixty watt bulb to light the way, he had to be careful of the supplies in the aisle.

They reached the back and began to ascend some stairs. As they reached the top, Isaiah noticed how dark the apartment appeared to be, not only in terms of lighting, but also in terms of decoration. The walls were all painted a dark blue, possibly black. There were also many crucifiction scenes adorning the loft. Those were not the typical christian (writer’s note: I didn’t capitalize Christian, thus the 98 instead of a 100 from Ms. Spencer) scenes, but seemingly more graphic.

At the top of the stairs, the turned right and entered a small bedroom. In the bedroom, darkness again. The smell of death. And there, on the bed, lie the woman.

She was probably in her early sixties. Not that it mattered. Cancer had eaten away at her body and soul. Now she was just an empty shell of a formerly vibrant woman. Now she wanted to die. That’s why Isaiah was here.

“Hello, my dear, ” a week voices asked from the bed. “Who did you bring with you?”

“It is him, love,” squeaked Johnny.

“Then let us get it over with so that I may meet my maker,” she said. “I have been waiting many days, you know.”

“I’m sure you have, ma’am,” replied Isaiah. “Shall I begin?”

The woman nodded. Isaiah set his pack on the floor and opened it. The sound of the zipper penetrated the room, bringing a grimace to Isaiah’s face. He withdrew a small pack and opened it. He took out a syringe and inserted the small dose of cyanide.

Isaiah then walked to the bedside. “My dear woman, if you have anything to say, you should say it now.”

“Johnny, come here,” the frail woman commanded. As Johnny knelt by her side, she said, “You know this is for the best, don’t you.” Johnny nodded as she continued, “We will see each other again on the other side, my love. Now kiss me and leave.”

Johnny gently kissed her cheek as tears streamed down his face. He gripped her hand for the last time, stood up, and head bowed, left the room.

“Don’t worry, ma’am, there won’t be any pain,” Isaiah said as he inserted the needle.

“Son, after the pain I’ve been through, it wouldn’t matter anyway,” replied the old woman.

Isaiah injected the poison, and sat for five minutes as her breathing slowed and finally stopped altogether. He then threw his pack over his should and went down stairs.

*****************

Euthanasia. Mercy killing. Whatever the name, not matter how grim the job, he would be there. The silhouette of the stranger began to disappear in the distance. No one liked the job, but it relieved the pain of many a person and brought peace to a soul which had not known peace in a long, long time. The shadow of the man was now gone, but the man himself would never, ever be forgotten.

Writer’s note: I re-wrote this piece a year later for my freshman composition class in college. The stranger then rode a motorcycle, went a to a private home and not a store, and I think I spent more time describing the condition of the home and the old woman. And yes, I I’m reasonably certain received an A on it as well, but I don’t have a copy of that revised piece.

As for what was going on with my 17-year-old self that prompted this dark short story, I have no idea. Probably the two issues I felt strongest about at the time were freedom of speech (I did my senior composition research paper on Broward County’s (Fla.) attempt to censor the 2 Live Crew) and homosexuality, when I was a much more Christian, much less enlightened, gay-hating individual (grew up and got over it). So I’m not at all sure where this statement on euthanasia came from.

All in all, I think, for 17, not bad. I cringe at some of the dialogue choices, now I would have added a bit more suspense to the stranger and his purpose, and I don’t think I would have added that last paragraph, but that’s a much older, somewhat wiser writer’s opinion.

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Short-story showdown: Poe vs. Dick

OK, so it isn’t much of a showdown. It’s hard to compare the two. Edgar Allan Poe was a borderline unemployable alcoholic and the father of the American Gothic literary tradition. Philip K. Dick may be the greatest sci-fi writer of all time, unappreciated for most of his life because his ideas were so visionary that it was near impossible for his potential audience to grasp what he was trying to get at.

The reason I link them is I recently polished off a collection of Poe short stories, then headed right into a Dick collection. The contrast was stark, to say the least, and I found myself appreciating them for entirely different reasons. Poe finds a universal theme and dives in neck-deep, such as the guilt and paranoia of The Tell-Tale Heart or how revenge can pervert even the most proper of people in The Cask of Amontillado. Dick, on the other hand, gets some way-out “what if?”, and then races from start to finish, often creating an action film on paper in less than 10 pages. What if a spacecraft filled with paranoid schizophrenics crash on an uninhabited planet (Shell Game)? What if the world is taken over by Luddite anarchists, and the only civilization is led by a robot (The Last of the Masters)? What happens when a guy thinks with his penis, only the object of his affection isn’t a human, but an alien (Strange Eden)?

With Poe, I did find myself disappointed on occasion. The Tell-Tale Heart is entirely too short, much shorter than I remember it being when I first read it as a kid. The kind of guilt and fear that plagues the main character needs a little time to develop, and whether it was Poe’s own limitations (alcohol and poverty), the technological limitations (no typewriter or iPad) or the word count imposed by print publications of the time, that doesn’t happen. The protagonist kills, buries the body under the house, the police show up, and he confesses, pretty much that quickly. It lasts as long as the pre-opening credit intro of a Law and Order episode. With The Balloon-Hoax, I was completely flummoxed. Yes, it was a bigger world then, and the idea of traveling across the Atlantic in a hot-air balloon was new and exciting to people of the time. But it’s not a novel (Around the World in 80 Days) or exciting story. A group of guys go to take a balloon trip in Europe, decide to try a cross-Atlantic trip and it works. There’s no suspense, no real problems to overcome, nothing of that sort. Hoax is almost the anti-Poe when it comes to suspense. Don’t get me started on Poe’s overlong and completely unnecessary whist aside in The Murders in the Rue Morgue. But my biggest disappointment may be The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym,¬†Poe’s only novel. It really left me wanting for more long-form work from him. Pym is Heart of Darkness on acid, the only chance we get to see Poe’s imagination play out in a fairly epic manner.

When it came to Dick, my only disappointment is that he didn’t write more novels. I’d have loved to see stories like Last of the Masters, To Serve the Master, etc., fleshed out. There’s a reason so many of Dick’s shorts – We’ll Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall), Second Variety (Screamers), The Minority Report (movie of the same name) – have ended up as films. In the short form, Dick has to sacrifice some detail and development, although rarely with detriment to the story itself. On screen, filmmakers have been given the opportunity to flesh out Dick’s bare-bones tales, showing that there is plenty there to work with.

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