Friday, 31 August 2012

A scattering of words

New story for Mr. Wendig's challenge.

At work, typing fast! Will explain later.

The Story:


Hendricks was tied securely to the old, worn out motel chair as we sat looking at each other in the dingy room, the smell of air freshener and dust thick on the nose. He was dribbling around the thick wad of oily rag I had found to use as a gag and I was impressed that he hadn't vomited; I was further away and the scent of the rag was making my nose itch.

I was sat on the edge of the bed, just watching him as he looked back at me, grey-faced and wild-eyed. His fear was palpable, but then again, it had reason to be. On the bedside table were his wallet, my gloves and my gun. There was a choice to be made.

Still, I took my time and reached into my takeaway bag, pulling out a slowly cooling burger and a small cup of drink that had leaked a thin, sticky film down the side of the cup. Fishing some rogue fries from the bottom of the bag, I popped them in my mouth and began working at the wrapper of the hamburger as I sat and chewed.

Hendricks had gone still, the same way a lot of my marks had done over the months and years, and I saw his gaze flick to my gun, his body stiffening as he got ready to do something stupid. With a foot, I rocked his chair backwards until he was resting precariously on the back legs of it, even as I took a bite out of the burger. The awful thing tasted limp and unpleasant; it must have shown in my expression, because he broke out into a cold sweat.

It might have been that I just had that kind of face: slightly more comfortable sneering than smiling. I guess I had grown into it over the years.


Idly I took another unsatisfying bite of the burger and picked up his wallet, opening it up and laying it across my thigh as I rooted through it one-handed. Cards, a few crisp notes and a couple of photos showing what looked like brothers, close in age, growing up through the years. The most recent one was of the pair as teenagers... they both looked a lot like their father.

I stood up and went to the window, holding the picture and tweaking the heavy curtain aside with a pinky to look across the windswept cape, glad for a moment that my car was the only one left in the lot, it's solid, black lines sturdy and unremarkable as the drizzle misted the air.

I swallowed my mouthful and cleared my throat as I slowly let the curtain close, my back to Hendricks. “These your boys?” I asked, somewhat rhetorically.

There were some positive, if muffled grunts behind me as I looked at the photo in the gloom.

I felt old then; Hendricks must have been three years younger than me, but I didn't have any of this. There was no family to leave behind, no roots even, no particular place to go back to. I probably stayed at this motel just as often as I stayed at my apartment, bringing my marks here for their last rites, or just banging one of those desperate country girls who dreamed of the city and worked in that burger joint just down the interstate.

I was a hole in society, a sink into which men's lives flowed and nothing was given back. I wasn't looking after my guys any more, not watching their backs as we busted our way through city life; I was just an executioner now, working for punks who just killed everything they couldn't buy.

This had never been a nice job, and I had never been a nice guy, but this was just killing by numbers. I grinned darkly and took another bite of the burger.

Maybe I was just as desperate as those haunted looking country girls, spreading their legs or flipping burgers or even just hitch-hiking to get to somewhere where they could feel alive.

Hendricks must have seen me smile, because he was looking worried when I turned to face him. I could sympathise as a small, sensible part of me was worried too.

“It's your lucky day Hendricks... you get to choose your poison.”

The guy didn't look as if he felt particularly lucky.


I turned and scrunched up the burger wrapper, throwing it somewhere near the motel room trash can. In the mood I was in, it just tasted like ashes; I could almost taste the clean soap and stale oil smell of the bored dead-end girl who had prepared the snack.

Leaning forward, I pulled the gloves on, the old calf-leather sliding on comfortably as I let my hands rest on his wallet and my gun. I met his eye and made sure that he was listening closely.

"You have two young sons and the mob after you Hendricks; they'll go after your boys if they don't get you." He started moaning and struggling against his bonds, but it seemed like a formality. He knew the deal.

"Shut up. SHUT UP!" I roared, slapping him across the face as the tears came. I was pretty shook up myself, but I'd made my decision.

"I'm not going to go after them; I don't do that kind of dark shit any more," I breathed in raggedly and he quietened down, sobbing, "I'm retiring Hendricks, just in time to give you a fucking chance."

I opened the wallet and took out a few notes, leaving about fifty bucks; I took a folded piece of paper out of my wallet and tucked it behind a faded credit card, idly wiping clean and replacing the photo as I did so. I placed the wallet by my gun and took a breath.

"So, here are your choices: you either take my gun and blow your brains out, which is easy and quick and keeps your kids safe, or you go to the address I just put in your wallet and kill everyone in that office, everyone who wants you dead."

I sighed and ran my hand across my mouth, wiping away the sour taste.

"Your choice, Hendricks. You're the gambler here. You feel like you want to gamble with the lives of your kids?"


I stood up in the quiet and took a folding knife from my pocket, cutting a couple of the twists that held his wrist down. He'd be able to work himself free in a few minutes, but he was still for now, just looking at me, blotchy faced and haggard, breathing hard.

It wasn't enough. I had only given him another route into Hell, but it would have to do. It would have to.

I pocketed the money I had taken from him, just enough to fill the tank on my car and opened the door. I didn't look back as it shut behind me and I made my way down the stairs to my car. I was glad for the gloves then, as I hunched into the wind and rain, ducking behind the car as I opened the door and got in.

I started the engine and let it rumble for a few seconds as I sat looking out of the windshield. I realised I was waiting for some kind of sign, some kind of decision from the man I had spared. My guts clenched and I swore as I admitted to myself that I just didn't want to know.

Shifting the car into gear, I slowly rolled out of the lot, torn between whether I wanted to hear the gunshot or not. My good deed for the day.

I needed a burger; maybe I'd be able to pick up one of those girls and take her to a city far away.

I didn't know whether or not my soul could take two good deeds in one day.



  1. Ooh, nice. I didn't see that coming.

    I liked the way that everything in the story was stale - the chair, the fries, Hendrick's gray face, the burger, etc. Lent nicely to the mood and the need for a change in the protagonist.

    You mentioned this was written quickly. If you're planning future drafts, here's my main critical thought. If you're not, then good show and write on, ignore the next paragraph :).

    I'm wondering if there was enough of a catalyst to his change; surely he'd had this experience and these thoughts before, re: black holedom etc. Surely he'd considered family and kids. So the question "why now?" came to mind.

    But it was a weak, struggling question, because the situation and the writing in general did carry me along for quite the nice ride. Good work!

    1. Thanks for the thumbs up JD, much appreciated.

      I think you're absolutely right about the things you picked up on. I'd like to do maybe three or four more drafts because the prose feels a bit flabby in places and if I ever have the time to post a revised version, it would probably also be a little bit longer.

      I'm just trying to keep up with the weekly challenges though! :) I'm already two behind and catching up is hard work, so I'm glad I was at least able to put something out there that was interesting.

      Thanks again for taking time to leave a comment JD, there's still a little bit of thinking for me to do on this one.

    2. My pleasure, James!

      I've been reading Chuck's site for a while now, but mostly back-pages, writing discussions and such. Only recently started the feed, and started noticing the challenges. I've done the last couple. They've been useful. I've never worked much in flash before, so it's been kind of cool to play along. I've tried to keep up with everyone else's posts, too, just to see who's doing what and what I can learn from 'em...

  2. Nice story. I liked his change of heart at the end, and that he still could flip back. Or might be forced to, depending on the choice made. I like the dinginess, the feeling of just being fed up with it all.
    Pretty good for a fast job - sometimes those are the best for me.

    1. I think that writing this all in one go was the best thing I could do really; it's rough but has the flavour I was thinking of when I typed in the first few words, right to the end.

      Thanks for the feedback Ravens, see you below the line at Terribleminds next Friday!


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