Mr Ruth

April 20, 2010

Were it not for the silence that held the house, the soft rapping upon the door would have been unheard. It was fortunate then for the visitor that their gentle knocks were free to echo through the stately home to the ears of Mrs Dubante. She rose from her stoic vigil by the phone and drifted to the door. A thin layer of dust was brushed off the bannisters as she descended the stairs.

To each of the participants, the opening of the door was a shock. Mrs Dubante found herself greeted by a tall, thin man in casual clothes, carrying a travel bag. He smiled openly and bowed slightly before taking her hand in a weak handshake.

‘I’m assuming you are Mrs Dubante? A pleasure.’

For the guest, he did not see the Mrs Dubante the newspapers showed. Where once there was an elegant, beautiful woman there was now a half starved shell, bags under the eyes and a dirty dress. She looked at him with confusion, a great sadness radiating from her.

‘Wh… who are you, sir?’ Her voice strained.
‘I’m not from the press. My name is Maxwell Ruth, I’m… an investigator, of a kind.’
‘I fear you are too l-late in that regard Mr Ruth. The trial is next week and the sentence is almost guaranteed.’ She made to close the door, but Mr Ruth raised his hand.
‘What if I were to say I believed your husband was innocent, Mrs Dubante?’ He placed the travel bag on the ground. ‘And if I were to say I believed some of your other stories?’
‘I would say you are as full of fancy as I, Mr Ruth, though I thank you for your sympathy. There is nothing you can do however, the police have combed the place from top to bottom in their investigations.’
‘Mrs Dubante I have seen the evidence, and there-‘
‘How?’ she interrupted.
‘I’m sorry?’
‘How have you seen the evidence? I was taken to understand there were no reports allowed until after the trial.’
Mr Ruth smiled again. ‘I could explain further. May I come in?’

She looked at the man once more. There was something more to him, she could feel it. Something genuine, something pure. She stepped to the side, opening the door further and allowing him through. He grabbed the bag and entered, smiling still.

The front hall was tall; the ceiling seemed miles above him and the walls were lined with paintings, all of which was covered in a fine layer of dust and grime. In the upper corners, he could spy a couple cobwebs of spiders left undisturbed. Mrs Dubante took point and led him up the stairs to a drawing room. A breeze drifted through the open window as she took a seat beside the telephone. He looked across the truly vast garden behind them, the grass was overgrown and the flowers looked to be wilting.

‘Mr Ruth, would you please explain yourself now?’
‘I have a friend in the police department. In return for some favours, he sends information my way.’
‘You are a private investigator, like the protagonists in…’ She paused, eyeing him with scrutiny.

‘I am no rabid fan, Mrs Dubante.’ He smiled again. ‘Personally I’ve never much liked private detective novels. When you’ve worked in the field you understand it receives a certain amount of glamour that real life cannot match. ”Though you are a detective?’ She pursed her fingers.

‘In a manner. A specialist detective. But that’s besides the point for now. I have seen the evidence held against your husband, and it’s frankly ludicrous to consider that he could have ever done it.’
‘How so?’
‘For one matter, by your testimony he was not even in the country. And you were awake right up until the incident, so unless he managed to enter the house the moment you fell asleep and then work incredibly fast he could not have done it. Secondly, the… method that he used would have been incredibly loud, waking you.’

Her voice grew very quiet. ‘The police said it was a drug in my water.’
‘That conveniently cannot be tested for and the remaining packet of which cannot be found? This is still operating under the assumption he was hiding around the house, despite you leaving him on a plane, waiting for his moment to drug you and then strike. Just because they cannot find witnesses overseas who will vouch for him being away that weekend, they therefore assume it was a poorly constructed alibi.’
‘You’ve thought this through Mr Ruth.’
‘No, the police have thought this through via you, Mrs Dubante. Dealing with a murder mystery writer has glamoured their minds, assuming this was some carefully preplanned scheme to claim your fortune somehow in a divorce.’
‘A d-d-divorce?’
‘Yes. He filed for divorce, just before leaving. The papers were in his pockets when he was arrested. I already know the police told you of this, Mrs Dubante.’

Suddenly she leaped to her feet. ‘Mr Ruth I have been very gracious with you thus far but you are touching on delicate matters that are none of your business. Furthermore you have given me little reason to assume you know anything useful.’
He sighed deeply, the smile wiped from his face. ‘I’m terribly sorry, I truly am. But I need to work fast and there’s a lot I need to cover. If I did this the way I wanted I would’ve sat here with a box of tissues and helped you through the grieving in as comforting a manner as I can muster. But I do not. Have. Time.’
On the final word he threw his arm out across the air in some angry gesture which in turn threw several necklaces out from the confines of his T-shirt. Small lumps of crystal, a crucifix and a Jewish star hung around his neck. Now too, she noticed the charm bracelet that jingled across his wrist. He stowed the necklaces back down his shirt and continued.

‘I have my own theory Mrs Dubante. He was overseas with another lover and I am deeply sorry but I believe this fully. This other lover was so shocked and ashamed when she heard of his death that she has not come forward, racked with guilt about the whole affair. He told her of his plan to divorce you when he returned home, which is why he had the papers upon his person when he returned. He has made no confession of this affair to save her from being drawn in as a suspect and to save face for you.’ A deep breath. ‘But I can prove none of this.’

A moment of silence between the two as Mr Ruth caught his breath and Mrs Dubante struggled to take it all in. Finally, she spoke first.
‘Then what are you here for, Mr Ruth?’
He knelt before her, taking her hands in his.
‘I have read the diary excerpts the police took as evidence, the short stories you posted online, the odd reports about your home life in the backs of newspapers nobody believes and I believe that you may be in terrible danger.’
‘You-you believe me?’
‘Yes Mrs Dubante, yes, I believe you. I believe everything you have written about this house because I have read it all before from other parts of the world. Yours is not the only story like this, but yours is different because I can change it. I can save you, unlike the rest of them.’
‘The res-rest of who? Mr Ruth you are scaring me now.’ She tried to retract her hand but he gripped it tight.
‘The other people who have lived in houses like this. The Taiwanese woman, the couple in Minnesota, the old Scottish woman, the Lord and Lady who last lived in this house before you and now your son that the world believes was murdered by your husband. But I don’t.’

‘Mr Ruth?’

‘There is a very dark side of the world, very dark indeed. Most people can’t see it, because they don’t look for it. That’s why my job is. I told you I’m a specialist detective and I am. A paranormal detective. And you have one very pissed off and powerful poltergeist in this house.’

Advertisements

The Desk: Part 1

March 17, 2010

John stared at the desk. It was roughly three foot high and 4 foot across. He didn’t know if this was normal for a desk. He had never taken the time to measure out a variety of desks until he could come to an educated opinion as the ‘norm’ for desks. It was made of some high quality wood, as he had been assured by the salesman that this ensured that this desk was a truly superior desk to anything their competitors could offer and it could quite easily serve him well until the end of his days. Truly, this desk was some sort of ubermensch of desks, an uberdesk if you will, that John should frankly consider privileged to own. John wasn’t entirely aware what any of this meant. He just needed something to keep nick nacks and papers on. The surface was awfully smooth though, John thought, and he ascribed this to the aforementioned properties of the desk. Or maybe all desks were like this. He wasn’t sure. The idea of running tests on a variety of desks to make a fair comparison seemed like an interesting prospect but he ultimately dismissed it as a waste of time.

It resided just under his window in his small flat so John could look across the city while he worked. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to be working on but it was his understanding that that is what one did with desks. You worked with them. At the very least the television was just to his left when he sat at the desk so he could at least watch something while he worked on his mystery projects. The desk looked good here, he thought, very Fung Shway. He pretended he understood this and decided he had some skill with interior decorating and briefly considered going to some sort of art festival to find some sort of abstract art or amateur portrait to hang upon his walls to make himself seem more cultured. It was a very specific consideration as he decided that it would have to be some sort of landscape comprised of nothing but asymmetrical shapes of a variety of colours but none of them particularly bright or a smudged and very poorly defined watercolour portrait of a middle aged man who clearly did not pose for the picture but instead provided a photograph to work from. Or maybe a painting of a cat. Again, he dismissed this and sat at the desk.

It struck him again how very smooth it was. If he opened the window, he might trip over, fall onto the desk and the smoothness would make him just slide straight off and out of the window plummeting to his death from this seventh floor window. Mayhap this level of smoothness was in fact dangerous. Maybe he should return the desk and trade it for one that was not so smooth and was in fact just a regular desk. And then he could get a new bookshelf. Maybe he could find a new, cheaper desk after trading this dangerous uberdesk in and use the left over funds to buy a new bookshelf. He was caring a lot about his furniture. He wasn’t sure why.

Finally John decided that no, trading in this uberdesk would be a difficult procedure that would require a lot of slow carefully explained speeches to people who would not listen, a careful read over of shop policies on returning goods until he could find some sort of loophole or clear rule that specifically allowed him to return uberdesks for their original value which would require him to photocopy the receipt several times, post some of these copies to people high in the chain of desk command and use the rest of the copies to accost the customer service people until they submitted to his demands and let him return the uberdesk. He slapped himself mentally for referring to it as the uberdesk. He was buying into the salesman’s jargon. There was nothing special about this desk and he could not let the salesman get to him like that.

It had been a long day and he had to work the next day. John stood up, stared at the desk and retreated to his bedroom. He was too tired to bathe or prepare accordingly and instead just fell onto the springy mattress, drifting off shortly afterwards.The clock blinked that it was just past three in the morning. John stared at it, hoping in some way his hatred for both this time and the clock could somehow combine to send him straight back to sleep, destroy the clock and forever eliminate this time of the day from existence so that no one would ever have to know the misery of being awake at this time. He had given up on these late nights after leaving university. He did not have the time or energy to be awake at this time. He did not like being awake at this time. The clock blinked still.

Try as he might though, John could not go back to sleep. It was not the clock or the memories of university or the looming worry of work in the morning that bothered him. It was the desk. For some reason it was there in his mind, burrowing deeper into his thoughts. He couldn’t stop thinking about it. The straight legs, the mysterious wood, the ever so smooth surface. It haunted him and here, late at night when a thousand other worries should be taking precedence, it scared him more than anything in the world.

He sat up, a single bead of sweat trickling down his forehead. The room was dark but his eyes had adjusted. He stared at his door, suddenly aware it was all that separated him from the living room, from the TV near the window and from the desk. What could a desk do to him? It was an inanimate object made of wood and probably nails. He was worrying too much. He didn’t need to worry about it at all really. He could just lie down, go to sleep, and not worry about it at all. He had to go to work tomorrow and he needed his sleep. Yes. That is what he would do. He would go to sleep and then go to work and he would realise the desk would just slip from his mind.

Yes. That is what he would do.

John flicked the light switch on in the living room and sat down in his desk chair. The rigid, horribly broken back only made him more awake as he became painfully aware of all the places on his back he ignored until the chair brought them straight to the front of his mind. Here was the desk, straight in front of him. Outside the window was the orange glow of the city at night. Out there were thousands of people who could sleep. There were also probably thousands of people who weren’t asleep. John missed university sometimes.

He wiped his hand across the surface of the desk. It was still just as smooth as a few hours ago. He wasn’t sure what he expected really, that it would transform during the night into some kind of horrible monster that would devour him while he slept. Ah. Now he really wasn’t going to sleep. The desk would keep him awake until that precious hour he had to get ready for work, he knew it. Then he would fall asleep, oversleep, go to work in a horrible rush, get fired for being late, lose all his money, get tossed out on the street and the desk would still be here, mocking him. He had been told he needed to stop being this negative about everything, but John could not control his mind so easily.

He looked at the clock that hung lonely on the wall. Fifteen minutes more. He couldn’t afford to lose this much sleep. He needed sleep to get through the day, it was a vital part of his well-being much like food and water. He had read too many stories of people going insane from a lack of sleep and he couldn’t help but feel that he was already halfway there. Fifteen more minutes, he thought, and I will well and truly be mad. He wondered how he would go insane; would he start hearing voices, believe he was Jesus, go on a mad bloody rampage? Then he’d never get to work on time. He wanted to scream but he couldn’t wake the neighbours. The desk was silent.

‘John. John. Wake up.’

John’s eyes jumped awake. Oh that’s not good. If you’re in a situation where your eyes opening can be described as jumping that’s very not good. John quickly made a check of his surroundings. Cardboard boxes. Shelves. Stacks of books. Shirt that revealed just enough cleavage while still conforming to the uniform. Lingering just a little too long there.

‘John, get up.’
He was still resting his head on its side. Felt like wood beneath his cheek. Not very smooth wood, very grating. No John no, he thought, we have to get up, lift our head up and focus on the day’s tasks. We have things to do to make our wage so we can purchase the essentials of life and not starve.

‘John?’
A face lowered to his eye level now. Thick raven hair flopped over and she pushed it aside. John smiled unconsciously. Or was it consciously? Was he awake? Was he referring to himself in the third person? He wasn’t sure.
No, wait.
‘Oh Christ!’ This time it was John who spoke.
He shot upright, eyes wide and panic bubbling upwards from the bottom of his stomach. What time was it, where was he again, what did he have to do and oh good God on high did he drool while he slept?
‘Calm down, calm down. Bad night?’

This was Rachel. She was 24 and had worked here for three years now after finishing studying for a degree in sociology. John ran through this information in his head. Two years younger than him, worked here for a year less than him, no current boyfriend, enjoyed horror movies and musicals. His name was John, he liked card games and the theatre and his last girlfriend may have been an android.

‘John… John?’ Rachel said.
Yes, response. Prepare a response. Explain why you’re tired, again, and why you are actually doing whatever you’re meant to be doing and your plans to once again commence with whatever you’re meant to be doing.
‘I didn’t drool did I?’ Smooth John. Smooth.
‘No, don’t worry.’ She smiles. That’s good.
‘Okay. Okay. What was I doing?’
‘Sorting. Bad night?’ Interest seems honest, safe to proceed.
‘Yeah. Yeah. Never can sleep right. Always something.’
‘I think this is the fiftieth time I’ve woken you up in here.’ Another smile, good, good. ‘Want some help? It’s slow outside.’
‘Uh, yeah, thanks.’

They both set about taking a book out of one of the boxes and then putting on a shelf alphabetically. This is what they did every day, save for weekends when John had time off and Wednesday and Thursday when Rachel didn’t work. Occasionally, they would be asked to man a till and serve customers. This consisted of taking a book, scanning the barcode, typing the income and giving the customer the change the till told them they should give. John worried sometimes that if they ever made sentient tills they might cut his hours.

6:00 pm.
‘Hey, closing time. We all done here?’
‘For today for you, for the weekend for me.’
‘You can spend it sleeping.’ She winked.
A nervous laugh. ‘That’s what I do.’
‘It’s the weekend for me too.’
‘Oh really?’
‘Yeah. Susan and me are switching shifts now her husband can watch the kids at the weekend. Working same hours as you now.’
Phew, John thought. Susan was 39 and showing it yet still felt she was attractive and used a metric ton of make up to reinforce this. This meant two less days of her and two more days of Rachel. He could live with this.
‘So, any plans?’
‘Returning a desk.’

A Poem

March 9, 2010

All the sky was white as land and sea,
Cloud and ice and snow cloaked the world,
The air was cold and the metal colder
As I stood upon the brow of that vessel,
The Nautilus.

Through porthole eyes the crew saw land,
A sight long missing from their half-lives,
No animal or man was there to greet them
Just as there were no stars to guide us.

It was strange for her to be thus grounded,
The treacherous ice having ensnared us
In the night during our haunted sleep,
Dreams and memories of monsters past.

I remember the silent terror in us all,
Fears of a cold tomb and silent grave,
But nothing could freeze our hearts
Like Nemo’s ascension to the deck.

Eyes blazed
Heart raged
His voice thundered
And he ordered

“Never shall my lady be dominated
By laws of Man or weapons of Nature,
Do not fear the elements, if you must fear,
Instead fear Nemo and Nemo’s wrath!
Free the Nautilus!”

Men sweat and bled for Nemo,
Men worked and died for Nemo,
Three days toil it took
And three sleepless nights,

We struck at ice with pick and shovel,
We thawed the world with kerosene,
The Gods sought to trap us for our hubris
But nothing could freeze the flame of Nemo.

We escaped and sailed once more
Across and beneath the ocean’s surface,
Each man here would gladly die
In the name of Nemo and his lady,
The Nautilus.

Runner

March 3, 2010

You’re a journalist, aren’t you? It’s the notepad, typing away in a place like this. No Captain does his dealings that open. Eyes on me girl, eyes on me. Don’t look around. Nobody looks around here. Listen to me and you get to buy me a drink and leave here with all your blood. Elysium Rum, I drink it in pints.
Don’t know what I am do you? Eye piece not a tip? Alright, I’ll humour you. Unlike the Captains and the crew in here I’m used to dealing with you Uppers. I’m a bit more polite when I’m on the higher levels, granted, but I’ll put on a fairer disposition if you’re going to supply me with liquor. First though, what is an Upper doing at the landing stations?
Oh really. You’re not the first to come down here looking for that exposition on the shadier side of the stars. You’re young though girl, very young. Unless those youth treatments got better than I last heard. I’m teasing, just fun. Fresh out of university, got yourself a job your father paid for and you’re feeling like you want to write yourself a nail biting story of crime and blood and drama. I weren’t around you’d be meat by now.
Don’t worry, I’m known here. Got me a reputation. Nobody will mess with me and my associates. I usually go to the upper levels to do my business, but occasionally we meet down here. Escort them from the elevator to the bar and back again. Always with my hand on my knife. Nine inch blade, serrated, many a kill behind it.
Heh, I was wondering when you’d ask. I’m a Runner, girl. I take information, drugs, weapons, letters, gold, fuel, people, anything, from one place to another. Level to level, city to city, planet to planet. Once did a run from one side of the galaxy to the next, a bomb that could level a whole colony stowed in my bag. People pay me to move things that they can’t through legal methods, and they pay me well.
Oh I’ve got no ship. No, I’m not a Captain, Captains are the folk who do regular smuggling. Things planet officials look over and confiscate should they find it. I move stuff police shoot on sight for, soldiers close off entire cities to obtain, There’s this whole little economy of Runners and Hunters, folk who get paid to obtain what Runners get paid to move.
See this, the little eye thing. Runner Eye. One of the smartest communication devices in all the known universe. Gives me all kinds of info from the client in case there is change of plans, special information, bonuses to be earned. Only way to send stuff to it is via a unique little notepad like yours. Inconspicuous, yet very useful. Also worms its way into all local uninet connections so I can look up anything I need. Wired direct into the brain. Twenty years of training and body mods to do this job.
Here, tell you what. I’m in a good mood and between jobs. I’ll drain this one, we’ll go somewhere more reputable and I’ll give you a couple stories. That ought to buy you a bucket load of respect. Good one to start with, my trip across Mars…

So my muse appeared and I wrote what I needed to. Then I sent it to a trusted colleague, and writer himself. And he said that I should persevere. Right now it is only the first third of a short story. There are two more thirds to come. And come they will. But in time. Hopefully in the relatively not too distant future.

So watch this space. A polished and whole, short story is on its way.

Peace out.

Genesis

December 10, 2009

An… eh time ago in a generally incomprehensible time.

First, there was the universe. Down the hall and to the left there was the universe’s kitchen. Opposite is the bathroom, in case you need to go. This is going to be one long story. I’ll wait.

So, the kitchen. This kitchen is vast and incomprehensible. Get used to that word it will be coming up a lot. The dimensions of the room mean if you detached it from the hall and covered it in fur it would look like a mouse. The kitchen already had a tail. It didn’t squeak but if it did it wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Do not assume it was a mouse however. It was only like unto a mouse without actually being a mouse.

The layout of room is similarly incomprehensible. It is eternally shifting, no two set ups ever being the same which is considering it’s a kitchen and there’s only so many variations on your basic kitchen appliances. It probably helps that the appliances don’t comply with basic geometry. Or that they aren’t basic kitchen appliances. These are the tools with which one creates creation. Though not creation as a whole, the universe and what not. No, that’s rented. Rented incomprehensibly.

At the risk of pulling a Tolkein and over describing this kitchen, a handy illustration of the room has been provided. You may care to note it is done as a paint by numbers. In the future, the present’s future, not the future’s future as the future already does, and who am I to predict what will happen in the future’s future, but in the future this is the universal standard for illustrations. It encourages creativity and keeps the human mind active. There are some failings with the system as all the numbers are the same colour, ‘anything you want’, and it leaves a lot of people quite stumped.

What is important to take away is this is no ordinary human kitchen like your own. You may find an oven, and a grill, a sink, a fridge, a toilet, a freezer, a draw of cutlery, plates and cups but none of these are for the purposes you would use them. The fridge may contain frozen stars, the oven may be used to bake nebula, the cutlery could be used to carve out minds from the infinite cosmos. The cups may contain water to drink while you work.

Just to remind you, the kitchen isn’t a mouse.

In this kitchen work the four Old Chefs. These are the minders of everything, building and cooking whatever comes to them and giving life and order to all. The pay is all right and they enjoy their work even if the hours are somewhat long. They get along with one another and sometimes go for drinks after work. The problem here is that time does not apply to them and their work hours are all eternity, and thus like a physician’s cat they are both working and not at all times forever and never at once.

The first of the Old Chefs is Azerothy, The Fulcrum Of The Kitchen is the boss. He is an endless mass of eyes squeezed into a white jacket, reaching out with fingers of pupils to grip his tools between retinas and irises. He observes over all and shouts his orders through his tear ducts. Never once does he blink, for if he did the recipe could be ruined in the time it takes for his eternal ocular organs to blink once. Passionate for his work, yet uninterested in the results, all he cares about is the process.

The second is Yog-Shuvoff, The Really Big Guy. His form occupies all conceivable space and many inconceivable ones, existing everywhere at once. He assists as the second in charge, being where Azerothy can only see and working on all projects at the same time. Things resembling muscles move the things resembling flesh to sieve comets and oceans as all life passes through his immaterial yet very real shape. He spoke loud through his infinite mouths as he hurried to finish before the never coming deadline.

Then the third was Shub’Niftyhat, That Guy With The Hat We Liked. A creature resembling an amoeba with too many legs, he ran through the kitchen in a never ending rush, always working on his latest brilliant idea with plans ever forming in his mind. Resting upon what could be called a head was what would later be known as a top hat, a source of contention between him and Azerothy who demanded strict dress code rules.

Last was Nyaralohtapdance, The Mad Saxophonist. What first appeared as an ordinary human male opened his jacket to reveal a tunnel through his chest that went on forever and no skin across his stomach. Watching through sunglasses fused to the bone of his skin he flipped solar systems in his pan and whistled through teeth made of rainbows as he worked. At weekends he played in a small jazz band at a club just down the road. He hated and loved with the same breath.

So the Old Chefs worked to create everything. But they were not the only ones in the kitchen, for long ago and much later they took upon them two Trainees, to whom they taught they secrets and techniques and who in turn helped them prepare their dishes of existence and make life. Not even they knew how they arrived there, but these two Trainees knew dark things and plotted great schemes.

The first Trainee was Cat’Thilli, The Dude Who Doth Say Eyyy. Huge and scaled he bore the shape of some great ape, with mighty wings like unto bats sprouting from his back and his face resembled that of a squid, tentacles covering what may be a mouth as he surveyed through two yellow snake eyes and heard through his adorable furry cat ears. In place of the uniform he wore a leather jacket made from one of every creature. It was his job to bake Life.

The other Trainee was Righton, That Fish Guy. Great unblinking eyes and a giant gaping maw through which he gasped laboured breaths made what passed for a face, and his sleek lizard body gave way to a writhing mass of tentacles and fins. He was in charge of clean up, throwing away failed creation though secretly he drank what liquids he could. Dutifully he followed Cat’Thilli whom he hated more than his lowly position and dreamed of breaking free. He also made tuna.

And then there was the great flaw of the kitchen, the very first thing made by the Old Chefs and that which the Trainees looked upon with jealousy every day. Them Elder Rubber Plant Thingies With The Eyes That Sand In A Man’s Voice But All Had Girl’s Name And Ate That Guy Carl. We Liked Carl. He Was Cool. Had A Beard…. Damn Rubber Plant Thingies. They were placed upon a shelf to watch over the kitchen as a reminder to all of the Sin of Consciousness. They were mindless and hateful, and destroyed whatever they could from their immobile platform and they sang of their spite at all that could hear them.

Now that the scene is set, there is one specific time that matters most to us now. One split instance of all time that would come to seen as the most important moment ever by a small group of beings for whom life was a mistake.

It was the day Cat’Thilli baked the Cat-Muffins…

The Killer

December 9, 2009

‘So, you kill people for sport.’

The sound of gun fire came from far below them. Bullets whipped through the air as guards mercilessly cut down woman and child alike. It was a beautiful, calm day.

‘Not sport.’ he said. His voice was gruff and strained. ‘Sport implies rules, players, points.’

‘So what do you do?’

From here you could see across what was left of the city. Crumbling tower blocks, dilapitated shops and fragments of road as far as the eye could see. To a man as sophisticated as Emerald Jones, there was a distinct beauty to the land he surveyed. It resembled in many ways Dorian Gray’s portrait, a dark reflection of what was always there.

Jones had come to this office complex after rumours of a working phone signal could be gotten on the roof. He had shot the man who told him that, but did not doubt the fellow at all. You didn’t lie about things like phone signal. Information like that was incredibly valuable, worth even your life.

Not to Emerald Jones.

‘Kill.’

‘That’s it? Kill?’ Jones eyed the man up and down. ‘You’re… blunt. I appreciate that.’

The stranger nodded and looked at the view. He was an odd fellow, wearing several different kinds of goggles around his neck such as scientific and protective goggles, with some riding goggles afixed to his hat. The large overcoat disguised his figure completely. It was only the beard that told Jones this was a man at all.

There was an uneasy yet civil air between the two at this moment. Jones had killed all the people hiding here as he climbed to the roof, only to be confronted by a solitary man and blood smeared across a table. The man was obviously well aware of what was going on below, the guns being loud and clear even up here. In a city this silent the slightest sound carried.

Jones had recruited the men from a football stadium a few months ago. Another group of looters, but the muscle let Jones get what he wanted with little argument and maximum bloodshed. They were a tight nit group of lack lustre minds, but accepting enough of Jones and they believed his promises of power and women readily. The idea was they were heading north to Manchester where apparently they had working electricity, whereupon they would establish control and become rulers of whatever dregs were there.

The real plan was to go further North to Scotland and gather up the various tribes and rural communities there. Jones would form his own small nation, and lead them to conquest over the bordor until he was in posession of all the resources. Jones was a charismatic man and he knew it, it would be incredibly easy once they had made the journey.

‘What did the people do?’

This surprised Jones. ‘Whatever do you mean?’

‘The people here. What did they do.’

‘…no point in lying to another murderer. They were in the way.’ Neither man gave a hint of expression or emotion.

‘You want the phone signal.’

‘I’ve an ally in Nottingham who controls the phone signal there. I wanted to tell him I was coming.’

‘Wasn’t necessary.’ The man looked at him. Through the goggles Jones stared into unblinking eyes. ‘They weren’t hurting nobody.’

Jones suddenly felt very vulnerable. In that moment of eye contact, he felt more exposed than he ever had before. This man seemed to look at some other quality of him. This man who he now realised was actually taller than him, and possibly bigger from the size of the coat. ‘I kill who I like. Take the water, take the food. You wish to pass judgement on that?’

‘Is it sport to you?’

Jones was quiet. ‘It’s fun.’

‘No points?’

‘No rules.’

‘No players.’

‘Just killing.’

The man shifted his hat and swung round suddenly. The overcoat splayed out behind him and the goggles round his neck clattered against each other. Once again he looked at Jones in that strange manner.

‘You kill as… as well.’ Jones stammered.

‘Yes.’ Still strained, still gruff.

‘You have a problem with how I conduct my business?’

Emerald Jones stood his ground. He distanced his feet to get a steady stance, rested a hand on his gun and pulled a knife from his belt which he toyed with. He tried to return the stare.

‘You are a gangster. Killing with poorly defined reason and enjoying it.’

He’s not so big, Jones thought.

‘You think this world is now yours for the taking. That strong people like you now get to flex your views on morality and assert yourselves as examples of what men should be.’

He can’t hit me before I shoot, Jones thought.

‘You wish to head north, control resources then take what you want.’

He thinks he’s smart, Jones thought.

‘You leave bodies with signs so people know you. You beat up the Walkers so that your name is spread. You want to make a Legacy. Your ally is just someone you may have to kill later, your men are disposable muscle, and the people you want to rule are just compensating for the infeiroity complex you felt as a child because your father used to defend the village you were raised in.’

He’s… he’s not so smart, Jones thought.

‘You don’t understand that you’re not the first with these plans. Manchester, the city you lied to your men about, was ruled by just such a man before the Children of the Law took the city back. It’s productive, well maintained and well on its way to rebuilding what was lost because the community feels safe and motivated, not the fear you would use to rule them.’

I’m smarter, Jones thought.

‘Soon as you get on one of the motorways, your men will be identified for what they are and killed by the army and their working vehicles. You will be captured, interrogated and killed for what you’ve done here, killing an entire military safe zone.’

Oh no, Jones thought.

‘You didn’t know that, but now you do. And now that you’ve left your name they’ll know you’re bad news. They’ll radio to everyone to shoot on sight. You’ll have to take the country roads and face the Rovers and country folk. You don’t have a chance.’

Oh God no, Jones thought.

‘I might rape you.’

Jones dropped his knife and his legs gave way.

‘Emerald is a stupid name.’

‘How do you…’ Jones began.

‘The gem around your neck. I’ve never eaten black man before.’

Jones slowly crawled backwards now. Everything was wrong with this man, everything. He killed for fun, he took and he murdered and he enjoyed it. This was nothing to this man.

‘Wha… who are you?’ he asked, feeling a wall behind his back.

‘The man who was on the table was called Henry. He has, I mean had, a child downstairs. She was fourteen years old. I removed his kidney and made him choke on it until he died of asphixiation. I removed the limbs and tossed them over each corner of this building. The head is in a supply room on the fifth floor. His genitals in the men’s toilets on the sixth. The torso I threw over the edge.’

‘Why!?’

The man slowly advanced on him. Still he bore a blank face, still he stared at something entirely else about Emerald Jones and still his voice was gruff.

‘The scar across my neck came from a general who stabbed me with his fork over dinner. The scar down my chest from a woman with a pair of scissors who wanted her baby back. The scar on my leg from a dog who I forced to penetrate his owner. The healing wound on my shoulder came from a Rover I dragged into this city by his hair. He cut me with a blade from some hedge clippers.’

Why me, Jones though. Why me!? There are worse people in the world, and he was facing one now. He prayed for forgiveness, for help, for anything. He swore to never do wrong again, to never kill or take or breath if it would let him live today.

‘You don’t curse. That’s all that seperates you from the other people I’ve killed.’

‘WHO ARE YOU!?’ Jones screamed, the man now standing above him, looking down.

‘John. The Killer.’

He unbuttoned his coat and drew a long blade from an inner pocket. He balanced it in his hand, shifting his grip, testing the edge.

‘I’m sorry’ Jones whispered.

The Killer washed his hands in a sink in the women’s toilets on the sixth floor. He had dragged one of the women Jones killed and placed her upon a toilet so she stared into the mirror across the wall. Happy with the state of his hands, he used the woman’s skirt to dry them and left. Out here were the results of Jones and his men. Written across the wall was “Emerald”, in what the Killer presumed to be whiteboard pen. It was a disgusting tribute to the man’s ego.

Descending by stairs, he found his rucksack of food hidden underneath a body and stepped outside. He took a deep breath in and marvelled at how warm it was for September. Removing his overcoat he hung it over his shoulder and strode down what was left of the road. Far above him, steadily increasing in volume was Jones’ voice screaming in terror.

One second… two second…

Jones hit the floor as every bone in his body broke in the impact. He gave one last gurgled scream as blood gushed from his mouth before he died.

The Killer kept walking.

Fallout 3: The Supermarket.

November 29, 2009

Music hauntingly blared from the device strapped to Jibar’s wrist as he crawled inside. He clutched his shoulder with his free hand, keeping his rifle at a firing height. The place smelt of blood and rust.

Creeping up, he took a look around but could see no one. With a sigh of relief he sat down with his back against the wall and let out a long groan of pain. A few taps on the screen and the music stopped, letting him listen to the sound of the supermarket. Far off, somewhere towards the back of the store he could hear scrapes of metal on metal: raiders.

From a pouch he drew some straps of fabric and bound the wound on his shoulder, a fortunate yet bloody graze from a bullet that almost hit his head. From another pouch he pulled out a small box. Inside were a few crumbled biscuits, tinted slightly green. He tentatively placed one in his mouth and bit down. It tasted like dust, but was filling in its own way.

He stood up, running a hand down the wooden stock of his rifle. He had ten bullets left and hoped he wouldn’t have to use them. Preferably he’d be knifing the sons of bitches hiding amongst the shelves.

First row, clear. A few ageing cans.

Second row, clear. He was crouching at the end of each, turning quickly with gun raised.

Third row, clear. Planks of wood crossed over the top as a walkway.

Fourth row, clear. More planks in criss crossing patterns.

Fifth row, clear. An empty bottle of soda in the middle of the aisle. Someone was here.

As soon as he turned into the sixth row he quickly turned back. On a plank above stood a muscular man, leather and spikes strapped to him wherever they could fit with a sledgehammer slung across his back. The man couched frequently, wiping his nose with a gloved hand.

Jibar crept forward, step by step, rifle pointing straight at the man’s head. He close enough to hear the man’s breath as he held his own, closing an eye and staring down the gun.

WABANG.

Blood was thrown everywhere as the raider’s head went spinning through the air while his body slumped down onto the aisle. Jibar quickly pulled the sledgehammer from his back and slid it under an aisle before going through the pouches across the belt. Eighteen bottle caps and a bunch of ammo. Not too bad a haul, he thought.

BOOM BOOM.

Now he threw himself backwards as chunks of the body were thrown upwards from the force of the bullets. Scrambling to his feet he slid behind a counter, a hand keeping his hat upon his head. He peeked over the side just long enough to see the raider raise her shotgun once again before dropping prone. Pieces of the counter fell upon him. On his belly he crawled backwards before jumping to his feet and sprinting towards his foe. Vaulting the counter between them as she reloaded he raised his gun and planted three bullets in her face.

Again he looted the corpse, this time finding just ammo. An intercom scratched into life beside him. “Alright, we’re back. We got some more food. Where are you?” A moment silence as Jibar thought how to reply. “Something’s wrong. Check the pharmacy.” With a sigh he looked at the sign above this counter: Pharmacy.

A plan formed in his mind as he looked down a corridor. At the end was a door to the main store, meant to be used to access the back rooms. One entrance. And he had a special surprise saved for this kind of occasion.

Neither raider knew what happened when they swung open their hideout’s door and found their legs ripped from their bodies by an explosion. The mine tore them to pieces and they were dead before they hit the floor. Jibar listened to the satisfying boom as he searched the metal boxes in the storeroom.

Not a bad haul at all, he thought.