Sunday, June 26, 2011


A Short Story by Kevin Rodgers


Who am I?  Why am I here?

Dale Watson asked himself those questions once a day while he stood in front of a mirror and stared at himself.  Dale turned forty years old two weeks ago.  A receding hairline and a beer belly killed his self esteem.  When he noticed an attractive woman in public, his desire to approach her was always stifled by his lack of self-confidence.  How often had he been turned down by the opposite sex?  He couldn't remember how many times he'd been rejected.  Dale feared he would always be a virgin. 

Dale hated his job.  He worked as a security officer for the local hospital.  His twelve hour shift started at six in the evening and ended at six the next morning.  During that span of time, he restrained combative patients, removed homeless people from the emergency room's waiting area, and tried to interact with his "friendly" co-workers.  He wanted to get along with the other officers and his supervisors.  But he knew the feeling wasn't mutual.  When he tried to talk to them or engage in conversation, they would walk away or ignore him.

"Who am I?  Why am I here?"

Dale asked himself these questions as water flowed into a marble sink.  He looked at himself in the bathroom mirror.  Dark bags hung under his eyes.  A double chin bobbed around his jaw.  Body odor, ripe and strong, throbbed from his skin, white tee-shirt, and boxer shorts.  When was the last time he had done the laundry?  His head pivoted so he could see the clothes hamper.  Dirty clothes pushed the hamper's lid open, allowing towels, blue jeans, and shirts to hang over the edge.

"I hate myself," he said.

As he walked toward the bathroom door, he heard voices.  People were talking outside the bathroom's window.  Why would people be in his back yard?  His throat felt dry and his pulse throbbed in his wrists.  He inched toward the window, flipped the latch into the unlocked position, pushed the vertical blinds to the side, and yanked the window open…


Eight hours earlier, while patrolling the emergency room and adjacent areas, Dale found a door propped open.  The door connected an interior hallway to an outside area, where nurses liked to hide and smoke during their lunch break.  As he pulled the door open and poked his head outside, he found three homeless men sitting on the ground near the edge of a parking lot.  Two shopping carts filled with aluminum cans and old clothes loomed next to them.  Dale kicked away a large rock, which had been used to prop the door open.  Then he reached for his shoulder microphone.

"Unit 303 to base," he said.

"Go ahead, Unit 303," a dispatcher's voice responded.

"I just secured a door in the back E.R. hallway.  Someone propped it open with a rock.  Be advised that there are three suspicious people in the E.R. parking lot.  Can you send some additional units?"

"Control to Unit 304 and Unit 306, can you please back up Unit 303?"

"I'm on my way," a chirpy, feminine voice responded immediately.

About thirty seconds later, a deep male voice said, "10-51 also."

A petite, blonde-haired female walked quickly around the corner.  Her badge sparkled on her narrow chest.  Her shoulder microphone dangled from the fingers of her left hand.  She reattached it to a loop on the left shoulder of her uniform shirt.  She approached Dale and grinned at him.  The stench of cigarette smoke drifted off of her.

"Unit 304 to control, I'm on the scene," she gasped, out of breath.

"You've already got emphysema at such a young age?" Dale quipped.

"It's better than being overweight and on the verge of a heart attack," she responded.

"Listen, Mary, I know you don't like me, but…"

"No one likes you.  You're paranoid and you always reek of body odor!  Don't you ever take a bath?  I can't stand being near you!"

A tall, black male, broad and muscular, lumbered around the corner.  He yawned after he rubbed crust from the corners of his eyes.  He surveyed the homeless men and the shopping carts, then glanced at Dale.  He shook his head and started laughing.

"You woke me up for this?"

"I don't know how you get away with sleeping on the job, Troy.  If I was your supervisor, I would've fired you a long time ago.  You're never on time for your shift, you think you're better than everybody, and your attitude sucks," Dale said.

"I'm going to kick your ass!"  Troy roared.

Mary stepped in front of Troy.  She placed her tiny hands on his wide chest and gently pushed him back.  Troy's nostrils flared and cords stood out on his next.  His hands balled into fists.  When Dale reached for his shoulder microphone, Troy calmed down.

Troy reached for his own shoulder microphone and barked, "Unit 306 to control, I'm also on the scene."

"10-4, control copies," the dispatcher acknowledged.

Who am I?  Why am I here?

"Okay guys, let's send these vagrants on their way," Mary said.

As Dale followed Mary toward where the homeless men were camped out next to the shopping carts, he kept a close eye on TroyTroy bowed his chest out and flexed his arms.  Troy's eyes squinted under arched eyebrows.  Dale knew Troy would not let it rest.  He'd opened a can of worms when he accused Troy of sleeping on the job.

"Get up, guys!  Gather your stuff and move!" Troy barked.

"Don't force us to have you trespassed by the police," Mary added.

The homeless men stared at Dale.  Their eyes probed him.  He felt naked and exposed when they pointed at him and laughed.

"He's still pure," one of them hissed.

"Not yet corrupted," another observed.

"Ah, a virgin!" the other shouted.

Dale felt lightheaded.  Mary, Troy, the parking lot, the shopping carts, and the homeless men faded away.  As he fell to the asphalt, he thought he heard Mary tell Troy to "Catch him before he hits the ground!".  But Troy laughed and let him fall.

And then Dale closed his eyes as the cruel world went dark.


…but no one was in the back yard.  Dale rubbed the back of his head and felt the knot. When he'd collapsed at work eight hours ago, Mary and Troy had called "person down" over the radio.  He'd cracked his skull on the edge of a curb.  Nurses and medical technicians scurried to his location with a stretcher.  After a doctor determined that he didn't have a concussion, the supervisor, Agnes, sent him home early to recuperate. 

Dale knew he'd heard voices talking in the back yard near the bathroom window.  But as he massaged the knot on the back of his skull, he winced in pain.  As he moaned, he succumbed to the idea that he'd been imagining things.  He pulled the window shut, switched the latch back into the locked position, and let the vertical blinds drop back into place.  As he walked toward the door, he realized that the water was still running.  As he approached the sink and turned the faucet off, he gasped.

The laundry hamper was empty.

"What?  How?" he asked himself.

Dale approached the laundry hamper slowly.  It was made of wicker and its top lid hung open like a child's hungry mouth.  He paused next to it and stared down into the dark, empty shaft.  All of the clothes had been removed.  Not even a single, dirty sock remained.  But Dale did not remember taking the dirty clothes to the washing machine.

Who am I?  Why am I here?

A low, rumbling noise echoed near the kitchen.  Dale tiptoed out of the bathroom and walked slowly across the beige carpet of the living room.  He stubbed his toe on the edge of the coffee table.  He bit his tongue to stifle a cry of agony.  Why did he feel the urge to be quiet in his own home?  As he limped into the kitchen, he watched his cat, a tabby named Ike, hiss at something in a hallway near the laundry room.  Ike's tail was bushy and his back was arched and there was a low growl rattling in his ribcage.

As Dale walked toward the hallway, he heard voices talking.  There were people in the laundry room.  But Dale knew he'd locked all of the windows and doors!  How could someone be inside his house if they'd been talking in the back yard only moments ago? As the knot on the back of his head throbbed, he felt a sharp chill radiate through his body.  Ike continued to hiss and growl as Dale stepped into the hallway, entered the laundry room, and…


Five years ago, Dale courted a young lady named Edith Dohring.  He'd known Edith since high school, but he'd never mustered the courage to ask her out on a date until two years after graduation.  They worked together at the local grocery store back then.  She was a cashier and he bagged groceries.  The other cashiers always complained that Dale never helped them.  And they were right!  He was Edith's personal bagger.

One day, an old woman handed Edith a huge stack of coupons after Dale had already bagged her items and placed them in her shopping cart. Dale found the courage to ask Edith out on a date.  While she sifted through the coupons, he popped the question.  The old woman winked at him slyly when he did.  Edith blushed.  And when she'd agreed to meet him after work, he'd been ecstatic.

After Edith counted her till at the end of the shift, she and Dale clocked out for the day.  As they strolled across the grocery store's parking lot, Edith's left hand reached for Dale's right one.  He welcomed the gesture and gently wrapped his fingers around her hand.  When they reached the parking spot where Dale's 1986 Mercury Capri was parked, he craned his neck toward her and she kissed him on the lips.  It was the happiest moment of his life!

Dale unlocked the Capri and fell into the driver's seat.  Edith opened the door on the passenger's side and hopped in.  As Dale guided the Capri out of the parking lot, he inserted a Bon Jovi cassette into the car's tape player.  Whenever Dale tapped the brakes or turned on the air conditioner, the lyrics of Livin' on a Prayer or You Give Love a Bad Name would sound slow and drawn out.  Embarrassed, Dale turned the cassette player off and they listened to a rock station on the radio.

Ten minutes later, Dale parked the Capri in an empty lot near a lake.  The water reflected the image of a full moon.  They rolled down their windows and listened to an owl hoot from the nearby limbs of an oak tree.  They could smell rain on a gust of wind.

When Edith leaned toward Dale and kissed him on the lips, he became aggressive and placed his hands on her buttocks.  Her tongue darted into his mouth, and he pulled her closer to him.  He felt a hard nipple poking through her shirt as it rubbed against the bare skin of his left arm.

But then she suddenly went limp in his arms.

"Edith?  Edith!"

When she did not respond, Dale became alarmed.  As seconds and minutes elapsed, her weight against him seemed to grow heavier.  He rolled her back into the passenger's seat and gasped.  Her wide eyes stared blankly through the windshield at the full moon.

Several hours later, a doctor would reveal that she'd died from a brain aneurysm.

"Oh, no!  Oh, please, no!"  Dale wailed.

Then he heard the strange people talk for the first time.  Their voices suffocated him.  He collapsed into the driver's seat and felt paralyzed.

Five people surrounded the hood of the Capri.  They wore black, hooded cloaks.  In the moonlight, their skin glowed.  Dale wasn't sure if their eyes had rolled into the back of their heads, or if their eyes were solid white.  Two of the people were young women.  Another was a very old man, and he seemed to be their leader.  One of the other men was a middle-aged black man.  His counterpart was a very young Asian boy.

"And so, he remains pure," they said all at once.

"And pure he shall remain," the old man confirmed.

Dale twisted the key in the ignition.  He placed the Capri in reverse and guided it back onto the main road.  Edith's corpse lolled in the passenger's seat.  He sped toward the nearest hospital, a hospital where he would someday work as a security guard.  And as Dale floored the gas pedal and wept uncontrollably, he did not dare to look in his rear view mirror.  He was afraid the strange people would be there, running alongside the speeding vehicle, watching him with their milky, albino eyes.


…found an empty box of detergent on top of the washing machine.  He listened as the washer tossed and turned, allowing water and clothes and soap suds to cleanse and mix. Ike's back remained arched, his tail was still bushy, and the cat continued to growl.  As Dale walked farther into the laundry room, he heard strange people talking again.  Their voices sounded far away, but somehow very close at the same time. 

"Ah, a virgin!" one voice sneered.

"Not yet corrupted!"

"And pure he shall remain!"

When Ike hissed at something in the hallway behind him, Dale whirled on his feet.  He screamed when he saw Edith ebbing and flowing in the air.  A crown, made of thorns, dug into the flesh of her forehead and scalp.  Blood flowed from puncture wounds on her wrists and ankles.  Black and blue bruises covered her breasts, abdomen, legs, and arms.  Blood trickled from the left corner of her mouth and snaked to her chin.

"It's stigmata," he told himself.

Edith spoke, but her lips did not move:  "Do you want to be corrupt?  Do you want to be condemned?"

"N-n-no.  Of course not," he whispered.

Edith, without using her tongue:  "Who are you?  Why are you here?"

"I-I don't know."  He felt like he might faint and hit his head again.

"You're a sacrifice!  You're here to cleanse them of sin!"  Edith pointed behind him.

Dale slowly turned around.  His body seemed to move in slow motion.  As his hips pivoted and his upper torso shifted, his eyes caught a glimpse of them.  His heart thudded rapidly behind his sternum.  He opened his mouth to scream, but he could not.

A young Asian man grinned.  A middle-aged black man laughed.  Two young, Caucasian women smiled.  Their leader, an old Caucasian man, stepped forward.

"We shall feast on your pure flesh so we can be free of our sins!" he yelled.

Who am I?  Why am I here?

As Dale Watson watched the five, hooded people form a circle around him, he finally knew the answers to those questions.  He finally understood why Edith suffered a brain aneurysm before they made love by the lake that night.  He was a sacrifice, and he was here to provide flesh and blood for the condemned.  His purity was their salvation.  He succumbed to his fate, closed his eyes, and prayed to God while they fell upon him. 

2011 Kevin Rodgers

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