Thursday, June 4, 2009

bad, bad, bad short story

This is a response to
The Ultra, the Fabulous, the only, Miss P!
Who is running a competition with lovely prizes... (follow the link!)
What follows probably won't dazzle you, but tough bananas- I can't write short stories.

It Was Just a Job
Mark hadn’t had time to go through the list this morning. Last night had bled over into the early hours- although time no longer ordered his thoughts. It had been sometime between dropping the car keys on the floor next to the bedside table, and colliding with the medicine cabinet that he’d forgotten to set the clock.

It was the cat that woke him, looking over her shoulder as she kneaded his chest, pumping him out of a dream-landscape of fumbled handshakes and unbuttoned coats. He pulled on his clothes, and searched the chaos on the floor for the folder. It was there, next to a pile of loose change which had slid out of his pocket last week.

Manilla. A printed label on the corner. So small it could be almost concealed by a pair of socks, yet pregnant enough with information to send him kicking and screaming into a brave new world. Distracted by the decision not to attempt a tie, he snatched a look in the mirror, ignored the face looking back, and left the room, patting his pockets for the familiar sounds of the accessories he’d need.

The meeting had been arranged for him at a health food café across town. He arrived early, this being his habit, despite the late start, and selected the stool in the corner, facing the street. Twice, he stood to measure his line of vision, and twice he sank to the chair. The folder rested beneath the menu, as innocuous as a file of paperwork on employees, or a financial report.

The messenger arrived on time. Unremarkable, but obviously attached to the Agency. He had the look: worn-out civil servant with eyes full of resignation, but as lethal as an inactive laser. He sat down. Placed his gloves on the table and leaned over the menu.
Hello, Mark. You ready for this?
Mark, his eyes dipping to the folder, knew it was time.
Yes. The arrangement still stands?
The messenger sat back, finally taking in Mark’s appearance. Mark followed his gaze as it slid to his hand, which shook, fluttered.
What’s wrong? You seem nervous. Don’t worry, we have your package all resolved.
The messenger leaned over, shot Mark three times. As the contents of his head slid down a poster of a blueberry muffin, Mark’s face did not alter expression. He looked like the cracked bust of a Roman general.

The messenger sensed that there was movement behind him, turned, tilted a table and left the café.

As he sat on the bus, heading home, he opened the folder. On the top was an unexpected envelope. Looking around the bus once more, he lifted the unglued flap, and slid out an unaddressed letter.

You know who I am. You know who I have been, and what I’ve done. Guess you could say that I know where the bodies are buried. I’ve long since gargled that mouthful of crap and spat it down the sink. Truth is, I’ve never felt guilt, always managed to do the job without letting any stress show on my face. I’ve sat impassively as people have begged for forgiveness, a reprieve, and then killed them. For you. I’ve always kept my emotions in check. Seen it as a job, something necessary to be done, checklists and money transfers. It’s funny: my impassivity and perceived lack of emotion came through years of training myself. It’s a fact- killing people has always made me want to laugh at how pointless it all is. Death. Life. So I’ve put this mask on every day for twenty years, choosing to smile behind the taut stretched skin, allowing my flatness to be scorched into fading retinas. Hilarious, actually- another name for a target is 'the mark'.

It's ironic. The mask has been my undoing. They say the symptoms vary, but Parkinson’s Disease has turned my face into a mask. I can no longer smile, or wince. The shaking has taken away my effectiveness as a killer. I may just as easily put a hole through a light fitting as a targets’ brain pan, and that, in this game, is where you have to check out. I’ve spent my adult life pulling those masks off carnival celebrants. Masks are like onions, the more you peel them away, the more your eyes water.

Guess this is the final exposure. I know you have a job to do, and that the rumours about my ineffectiveness have spread. I don’t mind too much. Rather this way than doing a Muhammed Ali shuffle around Windy Pines Retirement Village. I’m ready. In this business you have to make a mess to clean one up. I’m glad it worked out.

The messenger looked up, out of the window at the street below. He wasn’t lost in thought, but wondered how he would take it, when his time came. He considered the café, the poster, the lurid muffin dripping with matter, and decided that he preferred steaks, second chances. And plastic surgery in Bolivia. He pulled out his cellphone. Booked a full physical. He had to do these things immediately these days.
He’d started to forget things.


  1. @SMP: Me not so sure. In fact, I'm positive that the contents of my hankie would be more fascinating.

  2. I don't know. Let's see it, and then we can decide ... ? And hankies are soooooooo unhygienic by the way. Why would you POSSIBLY want to blow your nose and then put that in your pocket? They invented the tissue for a good reason, ask Kleenex ...

  3. I HATE when I miss stuff like this!


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