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,
"I'm going to kick your ass!"
Mary stepped in front of
"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
"Get up, guys! Gather your stuff and move!"
"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,
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
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
Ten minutes later, Dale parked the
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.
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
"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
…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
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
My science-fiction/fantasy novel, "Cardiac Arrest", will be the first book of a planned trilogy. The final chapters of the novel will introduce several plot twists, which will carry over to the second book in the series. The working title of the second book is "The Mask of Beelzebub". I plan to finish the rough draft of "Cardiac Arrest" by the middle of September.
Monday, June 13, 2011
By Kevin Rodgers
As he approached the help desk of his favorite bookstore, Trey Barnard noticed a coffee shop near the nonfiction section. Three girls sat at a table and sipped their cappuccinos. They paused when they noticed him. Trey grinned when he realized they were smiling at him and whispering to each other. One of the girls, a redhead who wore a pink dress and matching high heels, motioned for him to approach the table. Her friends, two anorexic blondes who looked like twin sisters, talked about him behind their hands. Trey waved at them before he approached the help desk.
Trey frowned when he realized that no one was working at the desk. A sign, attached to the steel façade by magnets, informed: Sorry We Missed You! We'll Be Back in Ten Minutes! Trey exhaled a sigh of disgust and glanced at a black, solar-powered Casio G-Shock on his wrist. It was ten 'til . He imagined that the bookstore employee was sitting at a table in the food court, stuffing his or her face with fast food. Instead of waiting at the help desk for the clerk to return, Trey decided to kill some time in the coffee shop and talk to the girls.
He felt dampness form in the underarms of his beige, Ralph Lauren dress shirt as beads of sweat formed on his forehead. As he approached the table, he felt his throat go dry while he grinded his teeth. He'd always been shy when approaching girls for the first time, but he'd never felt this nervous. As he crossed the threshold between the bookstore and the coffee shop, he smiled and tried to relax.
"I knew you'd come over to say hello," the red-headed girl said.
The blonde twins whispered to each other and giggled.
"I'm Trey Barnard. It's nice to meet you."
"Likewise," purred the blonde to his immediate left.
"Nice haircut," her twin complimented.
Trey was an Army veteran who'd experienced multiple deployments to
"My name is Blythe Parsons. This is my friend Phoebe…" The redhead pointed to the blonde to his immediate left. "…and this is her sister, Candice."
"Hi, guys. Maybe I'll get a latte and chat for a moment," Trey said.
"So what brings you to the bookstore?" Blythe asked.
"I wanted to pre-order the new book by Stephen King, but the desk is closed until . I guess the clerk stepped out for lunch." His voice expressed disappointment.
Blythe's hand reached for something that should've been hanging around her neck. When she realized it wasn't there, her eyes widened and she gasped. Her tan face became pale and she chewed her polished fingernails. When Blythe leaned over and scanned the coffee shop's floor, Trey knew she'd lost something important. He bent at the waist, looked under the table, and checked the area also, even though he didn't know what he was looking for. He assumed it was a necklace or a pendant.
"Phoebe! Candice! Have you seen my watch?" Blythe's voice reflected panic.
The blonde twins gasped. Phoebe rose from her chair and dropped to her hands and knees. Candice pushed her chair away from the table and examined the floor near her feet. After searching for the missing watch for fifteen minutes, they relaxed and sipped their cappuccinos again. Blythe lost her temper, balled her left hand into a fist, and hit the top of the table. Candice and Phoebe whispered "she's pissed" and "we'll never find it" while they shielded their lips with their hands.
"I can't believe this happened! It's a family heirloom!" Blythe said.
"You're so dead. Your mom is going to kill you," Phoebe chided.
"What's the big deal? It doesn't even keep time," Candice said.
Blythe spilled her cappuccino when she reached for her Liz Claiborne purse. She unzipped it and peered inside. As the rest of her cappuccino dripped from the edge of the table to the floor, she rifled through her belongings. She tossed her car keys, her billfold, a tube of lipstick, a hairbrush, and her cell phone on the table. After she picked through old receipts and loose change, she bit her lip and stifled a scream in the back of her throat. Then she snared her cell phone, scrolled through her list of friends and family, highlighted her mother's phone number, and placed her call. She stared at Trey, Candice, and Phoebe while she listened to the cordless phone at home ring over and over again.
Finally, a feminine, static voice said, "Hello?"
"Mom! I have a big, big problem! I lost Grandma's watch!"
Her mother, hysterical: "Find it right now! Don't leave until you do!"
"I'll trace my steps and check all the stores," Blythe promised.
Loud, yet distant: "I'm on my way to the mall to help you look for it!"
"Okay! Call me when you get here!"
Blythe tossed her belongings, cell phone included, back into the pit of her purse. She glanced at Trey and realized that she wanted to see him again. She thought he was handsome, of course, but his cordial and shy personality intrigued her also. She glanced into her purse again and found an ink pen and a torn piece of notebook paper. When Trey realized that she was writing down her phone number, he grinned. His heart thudded under his sternum when she reached across the table and offered the piece of paper to him.
"I hate to cut this short, but I really need to find my watch," she said.
"It's completely understandable. It must mean a lot to you," Trey said. He took the piece of paper, folded it neatly, and tucked it into his wallet.
"It's an antique
"It's more than a hundred years old," Candice added.
"Call me later tonight, Trey. We're going to backtrack and see if we can find it. And if you find it first, please call me!" she said.
"Sure thing," he promised.
"While you backtrack, I'll check the lost and found desk. Maybe someone already found it and turned it in," Phoebe said.
Blythe felt optimistic for the first time. "That's a great idea! Let me know if it's there!"
After he watched the girls depart, Trey glanced at his watch and realized that fifteen minutes had elapsed since he introduced himself to them. Eager to preorder the new Stephen King book, he strolled through the coffee shop and walked into the bookstore. As he approached the help desk, he realized that the clerk hadn't returned from lunch yet. The magnetic sign remained attached to the steel façade. When he glanced at his watch again, he realized that the clerk was ten minutes late. On a display case next to the help desk, Trey spied the latest offering by John Grisham. He picked up one of the hardcover books, admired the front cover, and read the synopsis.
From the corner of his left eye, something metallic glimmered next to a computer on the desk. Trey placed the novel on the countertop and focused his attention on the object. A gold, circular watch glowed in the light of the overhead, fluorescent bulbs. A matching, gold chain coiled around it like a protective snake.
"It's Blythe's watch," he said.
Trey leaned over the counter. He realized how easy it would be to snatch the watch and chain without anyone seeing him. He succumbed to temptation and snatched it off of the desk. Before he shoved it into the pocket of his blue jeans, he paused and stared at it. He felt himself becoming hypnotized by its gold shell and glass window. The clock's hands weren't whirling as they should. The minute and hour hands were both frozen at the position. An idea popped into his mind and he grinned.
Candice's statement rattled in his skull: What's the big deal? It doesn't even keep time.
"I bet Blythe would be happy if I fixed the watch for her," he said.
It wouldn't take much effort to get the watch repaired. It'd only take him five minutes to stroll from the bookstore to the nearest watch vendor. He'd been to the store on several occasions in the past. His dog, a Silky Terrier named Taz, liked to gnaw on the Casio's leather band while Trey was asleep. Trey had become good friends with the owner of the watch shop, a gray-haired, dark-skinned Italian named Giuseppe Cardellini. Giuseppe always smiled and laughed when Trey placed the mangled wristband on the display case next to the cash register. Giuseppe thought it was funny that Trey forgot to take off his watch before he fell asleep. He often asked why Trey didn't wake up while Taz chewed the wristband, and Trey told him he couldn't even hear the alarm clock go off while he was asleep.
"I wonder if Giuseppe could fix it," he said.
Trey glanced over his shoulder. He expected to see a security officer or a bookstore employee standing behind him, ready for an explanation as to why he'd stolen the watch from the help desk. When he realized he was still alone, he shoved the watch and chain into the front, left pocket of his blue jeans. Adrenaline surged through his veins and his heart raced. He'd just committed his first crime. He felt dirty and exhilarated at the same time. Unknown to him, the theft was captured on a security camera, which was embedded in the ceiling high above the help desk.
Trey stepped away from the bookstore and inched toward the coffee shop. Beads of sweat dripped from his brow as he stepped out of the coffee shop and walked through the mall. Advertisements in the window of a video game store tried to lure him inside, but he resisted the temptation to purchase games for his Xbox 360. He quickened his stride toward the watch vendor, which was sandwiched between Sears and a sports memorabilia store. The
He watched them explain their dilemma to a mall security guard. His skin, ripe with acne, glistened with sweat. His curly hair was greasy and uncombed. A beer belly bulged under his white uniform shirt. A black, leather rig sagged around his waistline, and his firearm looked like it was about to fall out of its holster. A shiny badge, slightly askew just above his heart, glinted in the mall's dim light. When Candice and Blythe caught a glimpse of Trey, they paused and waved at him. He smiled, waved at them, and walked faster toward Sears. He didn't want them to know he'd found the watch until after Giuseppe repaired it.
As Trey approached the sports memorabilia store, he paused to admire a Boston Red Sox jersey in the front window. On the back, the name ORTIZ and the number 34 loomed. David Ortiz was one of Trey's favorite players. He felt tempted to purchase the jersey, but decided to make a decision after Giuseppe tried to fix Blythe's watch.
A teen-aged boy told Trey to get out of his way and stamped on his toes. Pain radiated across the top of his left foot. Before Trey could scold him, the boy's mother apologized and yanked him away from the sports shop. Trey cursed under his breath and limped toward Giuseppe's shop.
As he crossed the threshold of the watch shop, bells chimed overhead. Trey approached the cash register and reached into the pocket of his jeans. His fingers found the gold chain and tugged on it. It slid into view with the
"Hello, my friend!" Giuseppe greeted.
Giuseppe strolled toward the cash register, smiled at Trey, and extended a frail hand with longer fingers. He wore khaki dress slacks, a white button-down shirt, and a gray Bill Blass tie. The potent aroma of cologne throbbed from his skin. Trey's left hand shook Giuseppe's right one firmly. For his age, Giuseppe's grip was still very strong.
"What's this? No demolished wrist band?" Giuseppe exhaled a deep laugh.
"Not this time! Now I take the watch off before I sleep. But what do you make of this?"
Trey lifted the gold chain with the fingers of his left hand. After the chain rose above the glass countertop, the
"Where did you find this, my friend? It's an antique!" Giuseppe praised.
"It belongs to a girl I met earlier today. It's broken and I was wondering if you could fix it. I'll pay whatever it costs to repair it."
"Give me a few minutes. It won't take long," Giuseppe promised.
After Giuseppe took the watch into the back of the store, Trey unfolded the torn piece of notebook paper. Blythe had written her cell phone number in huge, feminine script. Beneath the number, she'd drawn a big heart with "Call me!" next to it. Trey reached for the cordless phone, punched the TALK button, and dialed Blythe's number. Her voice, high-pitched and on the verge of panic, greeted him moments later.
"Mom? Is that you?" she asked.
"No, it's Trey. I found your watch!"
"Awesome! Where are you?"
"There's a watch store over here next to Sears. My friend, Giuseppe, is trying to fix it for you right now."
"Stop him! Don't let him fix it!" Blythe yelled at him through the phone.
"What? Why?" Trey was stunned.
"Tell him to stop right now! Tell him not to fix it!"
"Giuseppe! Giuseppe, can you hear me?"
There was no response. An uncomfortable silence lingered in the store. Trey listened to the gentle tick, tock of the watches and clocks. When Trey yelled Giuseppe's name and there still was no response, he felt compelled to leap over the counter and search the back of the store. A lump formed in the back of his throat and a tear slipped from the corner of his eye when he realized something must've happened to his friend. He'd caused his best friend to die in
The clocks and watches whispered to him: tick, tock.
The rhythm was shattered by approaching footfalls. Bells chimed overhead when Blythe and Candice sprinted across the threshold of Giuseppe's store. When Blythe's fingernails dug into the flesh of Trey's left forearm, he turned around to face her. All of the color was gone from her face. Her lips trembled while she grinded her teeth.
"What've you done?" she gasped.
"I wanted to surprise you. I thought you'd be happy," he said.
"It's probably too late! You should've called me right when you found it!"
Candice was alarmed. She said: "What's wrong? What's happening?"
Something shuffled in the back of the store. A low, painful moan interrupted the tick, tock of the watches and clocks. Giuseppe appeared in the doorway and approached the cash register. The gold chain and
When Giuseppe collapsed against the countertop, Blythe leaned forward and analyzed the
Blythe slapped Trey across the face. As a red handprint formed on his skin, he stared at Giuseppe and watched his friend age rapidly. Giuseppe's hair and fingernails grew quickly while Trey dialed 911 on the cordless phone. While Trey described the situation to a dispatcher, Giuseppe's teeth dropped out of his mouth and his legs buckled.
"Everything was fine until you repaired the watch! You should've left it alone!" Blythe scolded.
Candice became hypnotized by the watch. She reached for it and tried to take it away from Giuseppe. Her eyes ogled the cursed timepiece with fascination. Before she could touch it, Blythe grabbed her by the shoulders and yanked her away. Candice screamed, writhed, and turned feral as Blythe guided her toward the door.
"No one can touch it now! If you do, you'll be cursed!" Blythe warned.
Tick, tock, the watches and clocks whispered. As the seconds and minutes elapsed, Giuseppe wailed in agony. He continued to wither away while he clutched the
Copyright 2011 by Kevin Rodgers