Monday, August 9, 2010

Silent Killer, Part I

Michael woke he looked over at his wife. Sleeping. Present. Breathing. Warm. He gently stroked her golden brown hair in an effort not to wake her, and wondered how she would look when it was over, if it would soon be over. He wondered if he would be able to look at all, and if she would look beautiful to him if the worst of what the doctors had said were to come true.

His cousin, a beautiful girl of sixteen, had been killed in a car accident. Her fair features were bloated, somehow set awry in death. Her familiar warm colors had been changed to something startling, like a black-and-white photo with painted-in accent colors. There had been no beauty there any more, only a husk that had once been a person’s body.

He had no tears for Gennie yet: only a wild fear that ran through his blood and made it beat faster. He felt himself go cold, a pale feeling crawling up from the tips of his toes, up the back of his calf, then creeping up his spine like a leak in icy water bed.

He wanted to hold her tight, as though it might save her, but did not want to wake her. He rose, knowing that there was work to be done for the day. An early start, things to do, things to put in order.

Gennie’s mother’s visit brought with it boxloads of junk from their old place, and it had sat like unfamiliar furniture across three Saturdays in which neither of them had had the time to tackle it.

Michael found the folder in among Gennie’s old school papers she had insisted on keeping all these years. He had already dispensed with all of his long ago, or so he thought. Whatever he hadn’t thrown away he thought for sure had been forgotten in his dad’s attic in the decades since he moved out.

He had told himself that he wouldn’t open it--the yellowing manila folder with decayed, photocopies of hand-written pages of college ruled loose leaf. He feared making a mess far bigger than he had the strength or will to clean up before the weekend expired and forced him back to work.

He knew he had some of his old stories in the folder. These had been his means of escape in the hell of junior high school and had, in a way, become a career.

He had to escape now, but this was not a conscious decision on his part--only a whim that he felt he couldn’t resist, and which he never gave himself the time to challenge.

The vaguely familiar handwriting grabbed his curiosity. A few words in, and Michael was hooked.

“Silent Killer” was the title scrawled in precise-yet-awkward cursive letters, and the name of his old friend Omar Jiles.

The name brought up a face which he hadn’t seen since their third year of high school: the year when Michael and his dad had moved away.

This copy had been one of six passed around the room during a session of a weekly writer’s club meeting held after school. Michael had almost been too embarrassed to hear Omar read the story out loud in front of everyone else. He felt that he was being watched--a paranoia that had been shared by all his classmates, he was now sure, but which had been acutely intensified by the fact that this particular story of Omar’s had him, Michael, as the central character.

The story was not long, only a ten to twelve hand-written pages. Omar had been changed, unimaginatively, from Michael to Mike.

The wording was awkward in most places. The characters felt a little bit flat and ordinary. Some of the spelling was horrendous.

What kept Michaelf frozen in place as he sat alone on the living room floor, awash in a sea of cardboard, old paper, and bits of junk, was not the story’s quality, but it’s content.

Michael, in a fit of narcissistic boredom, had asked Omar to write a sci-fi story about him: a story that would take place in the future. “Silent Killer” was the result of that challenge. Parts of it had riveted his attention: the details about his wife in particular. Michael had searched in vain among the girls at school who might fit the name and description of his future wife in the slightest way.

But over all, Michael had been disappointed by the result. It hadn’t described the adolescent fantasies of his future quite the way he had hoped, and now he knew why.

It had accurately described his life in the present day with chilling accuracy: an argument he had had with his editor only yesterday, the color of his wife’s hair, and the heartbreaking news concerning Gennie’s health. He had gotten her name wrong, however, spelling it “Jenny.”

Numbly, Michael read it to the end. Omar had not really finished it--a work in progress, he had said. Michael remembered that he had asked Omar to get on with it, wanting to know what happened next. Omar had said he had lost interest and was working on something new.

When Gennie came home from therapy she found Michael sitting still, holding the story in his hands, a tear staining his face.

She came over and immediately embraced him. She had been crying herself, and had no more tears left. She held her husband as he sobbed silently. Soon his breath slowed and he held her close to him. He whispered into her ear.

“Hey honey.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“That old boyfriend of yours--do you happen to know if he’s still a private investigator?”

To Be Continued

1 comment:

  1. Intriguing Tom! The reader starts asking him/herslef questions about the story from the first paragraph.