He Knows Not What it Means

He Knows Not What it Means

Every day at eleven o’clock, he makes the call. If the call is not made at precisely eleven am, then it will be the last time he fails to make it. Martin will cease to exist. He will be erased. This is what they have told him and he believes it, wholeheartedly, and without question.

He has dialed the same number for seventeen years. The only commitments he has are his job and his mother. Anything more would further complicate his life.

Martin lied to his employer about needing a few minutes prior and after eleven each morning for religious reasons.

He tells himself that he isn’t doing anything wrong. What harm can there be in making a telephone call?

Martin is a very good liar.

Why does Martin continue? Not wanting to be dead is part of it, but there is also the monthly check to consider. Fifteen hundred bucks used to be a nice little bump to his income, now, it’s become a necessity. Fifteen hundred dollars allows him to pay for his Mother’s nurses, doctors, and medication. Martin makes the call, cashes the check, and watches his mother wither away month after month. Terminal, nothing they can do except keep her comfortable, and pray the end comes quickly.

It doesn’t.

He thinks about giving her an extra dose of morphine every now and then, has filled the syringe several times, but in the end he never can do it The word coward flashes across his Mother’s face when the pain gets really bad. On those days he wishes she would die. She wishes the same. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, but he won’t learn it. He hopes she will.

How did he get involved in this and what does he do when he calls? Seventeen years ago he was approached about making easy money. He was given a number to call the next morning for further details. The first time he called he got a recording outlining what he was expected to do. The job was simple, call the number every morning at the appointed time, deliver a message, then hang up. When he called the line would be answered but there would be no response from the other end. The message he has delivered for seventeen years is: Alpha Lima Lima Charlie Lima Echo Alpha Romeo. A check is always delivered on the fifteenth day of every month. An increase for cost of living has been added yearly. Failure to make the necessary phone call would result in the termination of the individual. He doesn’t want to think about what would happen to his Mother if this happened. Martin calls, delivers his message, and lives his life.

After seventeen years Martin is going to miss his telephone call.

On a Thursday evening, Martin’s mother passes away. He is all at once grief stricken and relived. The next morning he calls out of work, turns on the television for background noise, and drinks coffee he doesn’t taste. The news reporter speaks of a bombing that is estimated to have killed one-hundred and fifty thousand people. He goes on drinking his coffee, while in another part of the world, everything burns. Morning fades into afternoon, Martin stares at the wall, dozing, until there is a knock on the door.

Martin jumps, almost knocks over what is left of his morning coffee, and bumps his knee against the table beside him. He rubs his knee, puts his hands on the sides of the chair, and pulls himself up. Once he is standing, he shuffles over towards the door, pausing briefly to pull up his pants. As his hand reaches for the door knob he catches a glimpse of the clock above the television. The time is twelve thirty-seven, Martin freezes. He stands in front of the door, hand extended, unsure of what to do. What if it’s them? What if they’ve come to kill him? It’s rather cool in his house, sixty-three degrees, it was kept low on account of his mother, but Martin has begun to sweat. He drops his hand and waits. Martin jumps when the knock comes again. He thinks about sneaking upstairs, he’d be able to see who it is from his office, but he’d been seen going up the stairs. He waits, the television plays the opening music of Judge Judy, signaling that it is now one in the afternoon. The knock comes again. He does not jump this time, he moves closer to the door, wanting to look through the peep hole. He stretches up on his toes, closes his left eye, and peers through the hole with his right. A man dressed in black stands on the stairs, there is a manila envelope in his hand. Seeing the envelope eases Martin’s mind just a little, but not enough to open the door. He waits.

After several minutes, the man sets the envelope against the door, turns, and then walks to a dark blue sedan parked on the street. Martin watches the man get into his car and drive away. As soon as the man is gone, Martin slides down to the floor, taking deep breaths until he no longer feels dizzy. He makes himself wait fifteen minutes before he attempts to stand up. He waits another ten before he opens the door five inches so that he can stick his hand out to grab the envelope. His hands are shaking, he resumes deep breathing until the dark spots in front of his eyes disappear. Martin rips the envelope open, to find a single sheet of paper inside. The paper has been folded neatly in half, Martin opens it. A single word is printed on the paper:

UP.

Confused, Martin looks up. The man that had delivered the envelope earlier stands in front of him, he holds a gun. The gun is slick, polished, and large. “Sorry, man, nothing personal.” The man fires a single shot. Martin is eliminated. The word UP disappears from the sheet of paper Martin’s dead hand still holds. In it’s place a suicide note appears. The man places the gun in the dead man’s hand. He picks up the envelope and leaves the same way he came.

____

Inspired by the song In Bloom by Nirvana

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If She Floats Then She Is Not a Witch like We Had Thought

If She Floats Then She Is Not a Witch like We Had Thought

and if I sink
will you follow
or would you leave me
to sleep in
the last place
you put me down

I will choke,
yes, I will,
and you will stop yourself
from saying

I told you so

tomorrow will be better
when everything is cleansed
by the rain

and I will splash
in the puddles
determined to forgive myself
in the morning.

_____

Title from the song Serve the Servants by Nirvana.

She Said Her Eyes Shone with Courage

She Said Her Eyes Shone with Courage

“The instant I saw it, I knew I had to leave”, she said. She picked up the second to last box and pushed it into the back of her van. Fifteen years of her life shoved into cardboard boxes, then stacked into a van that would probably die somewhere along route 50.

“It happens in the eyes first. It’s a shift, one minute it’s there, the next it isn’t. Of course, they don’t know it’s happened. They may not know it has for weeks, months, maybe even years. Even then, most people can’t be bothered to do anything about it. I imagine there have been some who have died not knowing, or not caring enough about it to change anything. What a sad fucking thing to think about.” She picked up another box, tried to put it into the van, but couldn’t get it to fit. She began removing boxes in order to rearrange them. She’d have to cram what she couldn’t fit in the front seat. It would make the trip uncomfortable for her dog, but at least she was able to take him.

“I saw it that night, that shift, and I wasn’t interested in seeing how long it would take him to figure it out. Fifteen years, finished, just like that. It wasn’t anger or hatred he felt. He didn’t want to hurt me, no, he’d stopped feeling anything for me at all, but he had decided to stay.” She’d rearranged all of the boxes and managed to squeeze the last one in. She picked up her bag and put it on the passenger side floor. Her dog, Charlie, sat on the seat, panting excitedly in the afternoon sun. She turned to me to say goodbye.

“I couldn’t stay. To be honest, it would have been better if he had hit me. At least that would have been something I could have fought against.”

I waved as she drove off. I never saw or heard from her again.