Just some doodles in my sketchbook… Phineas & Ferb! Do I love that cartoon? Yes. Yes, I do. And the other drawing is of Lady Mechanika, an awesome steampunk inspired comic book character created by artist Joe Benitez. Still working on my own comic book Havoc Force, really pushing for a fall 2013 release date! Wish me luck!
This story will be concluded in our Louisville Cartoonist’s Society’s children’s anthology book “Little Tales” coming out this summer! I truly believe it’s going to be our best book yet!
For me, this story is about a child’s imagination running wild into the dark. The main character Allie hears noises in the night, she is scared, so she imagines herself as a powerful princess, and her 3 stuffed animals as her royal guards to protect her. But really they are just the different voices of fear insider her head, telling her to be afraid. I wanted this story to be about facing our fears, and how a lot of times the things we fear turn out to be much smaller than we imagine them to be.
Personally, the past 2 months have been incredibly stressful, exhausting, and not much fun at all. But while I was going through everything, I was also trying to write a children’s story because I was really excited about the idea of us doing a full-color book for kids, and I knew I didn’t want to miss out on being a part of it no matter what. I struggled with a few other story ideas, but the whole time I had this character Allie in the back of my mind… And in the end, she was the one character who refused to leave so I wrote a story around her. I think writing a kid’s story helped me a little because it kinda forced me to be in a positive frame of mind, at least while I was working, so I was grateful for that.
I will admit that after drawing princesses, unicorns, pink rabbits, and giant stuffed animals, I could use a shot of testosterone for my next project lol! Which is good because my next story is about wanton destruction and wrecking stuff! Stay tuned!
28th AND BROADWAY
Copyright © 2010 Bruce Thomas
It was 8:16 a.m. and Matt Miniego was standing in line at a coffee shop, just two blocks away from his office building downtown. “C’mon, c’mon people,” Matt shouted impatiently, “I got places to be!”
A few minutes later he made his way to the over-worked cashier. “Mocha frappachino and a chocolate chip muffin,” Matt ordered, “And try not to have it take eleven minutes this time, okay?!”
Matt tossed the money at the young girl working the register, and she handed him his drink. Everyday he was dismissive to her and treated her with no respect, but still she smiled at Matt, and politely said, “Thank you, have a nice day, sir.”
Matt rolled his eyes and looked at the jar on the counter that read: TIPS. “Pfff,” he scoffed as he turned around and walked out of the coffee shop, “Yeah right.”
* * * *
When he finally strolled into his office building, Matt was forty-five minutes late. “I’m the boss, I can be late,” he spouted defensively, as he strutted past his team of associates and their questioning eyes.
Matt had just been promoted from senior sales representative to project supervisor for Tomasi Mobile Integration, one of the most promising start-up companies in the city. He currently held the fourth highest position in the company, and to Matt, currently only meant temporarily. He was quite confident he’d get promoted to Vice President after he closes a very lucrative deal with BlueFire Technologies.
On the way to his office, Matt stopped by the desk of Jessica Whatley, a pretty new intern the company had just hired. He winked at her and grinned. “Hey, how ya doin’?” Matt asked, “Everything goin’ okay so far?”
“Yeah, it’s going very well, thank you,” Jessica responded with a pleasant smile, brushing back a lock of her red-orange hair, “I think I’m really gonna like it here.”
“Well, if there’s anything I can do for you, just let me know,” Matt replied, “Don’t bother with the rest of the losers around this place, seriously. Between you and me, they’re all a bunch of zeros. If there is anything you need, you come to me. I’m your man.”
“Thank you, Mr. Miniego,” Jessica said still smiling, but a little less.
Yeah, I bet I’ll be tappin’ that ass by the end of the week, Matt thought.
* * * *
After work, Matt decided to check out the entertainment district of the downtown area. He had a few Red Bull and Vodkas, while he sat at the bar of a trendy club called The Desiderata. House music pulsed through the atmosphere, as a predominately female crowd on the dance floor moved their bodies to the beat. Matt checked out several young ladies in very short skirts while he sipped his drink. I could tag any one of these chicks in here tonight, he thought to himself.
Around midnight Matt got up from his barstool and headed out of the club alone, stumbling a little.
* * * *
His apartment wasn’t far from the entertainment district so he decided to hike it. The sky was navy blue and starlit. On the way home he saw a grey-faced man selling pencils on the corner. “Hey man, you need any pencils?” the grey-faced man pleaded desperately, “I’ll give you a ten for ten deal!”
“No thanks,” Matt said, waving the man off, “I’m all set on pencils.”
Get a job, you fucking bum, he thought as he strolled past.
At the corner of 28th and Broadway, Matt met another person.
This time it was a woman.
* * * *
When Matt saw her, his first instinct was to look away, but he couldn’t. He was mesmerized. He tried not to stare, but somehow he felt deeply drawn to her. She was tall, maybe even an inch or two taller than he was, with dark skin and dark hair that was cropped short, with a rocket red streak of color added for flair. Matt thought she looked like the type of girl who didn’t give a fuck what you preferred. She had attitude and she rocked it. She had on a dangerously short red dress, boots, a light-weight black leather jacket and large hoop earrings that glinted under street lights. She was sexy, he had to give her that much.
She noticed him notice her.
“Hey, playa,” the woman said taunting him, “You lookin’ for a date?”
“No thanks lady,” Matt said, hiding his insecurities behind the usual smugness, “Unlike the rest of the losers in this city, I don’t have to pay for my women.”
“Aww that’s too bad,” she said with a wicked grin as he walked past her, “Cuz I’m the best there is.”
Matt slowed his steps to a halt and turned around. “The best, huh? That’s funny,” Matt bemused, “Everyone says the same thing about me.”
“I’m Confidence,” the woman said.
“Confidence?” Matt questioned sarcastically, “Ha! Nice hooker name, you must think highly of yourself. You as good as your name implies?”
“Three hundred dollars,” Confidence stated, “and you can learn all about it.”
“Hmmm,” Matt wondered aloud, feeling the buzz from the alcohol and thoughts of sex swirling in his mind, “Well, I got a place a few blocks from here…”
Confidence smiled. “Sounds like we got ourselves a date.”
* * * *
When Matt woke up the next morning, Confidence was gone. She left no note, no belongings, no signs or traces of her left in his apartment.
In the shower, he tried to remember the details of the night before. But his memories of Confidence became distorted and blurry, until all he was left with was a vague conception of her.
Matt shrugged it all off as he tied his tie and bounded out the door for work.
But inside of him, something felt different.
* * * *
Outside it was a grey and cloudy morning. As always, Matt stopped at the coffee shop before work. He stood at the back of the line rolling his eyes impatiently and tapping his foot.
When he finally got his turn, he barked his order, tossed the money on the counter like he owned the place, and added, “Let’s try not to make this an all day event like last time, I got places to be.”
When the young girl brought him his mocha frappachino, Matt noticed it didn’t have any chocolate syrup drizzled on top of the whipped cream the way he liked. “Hey, I didn’t get any chocolately drizzle on my drink,” he said, his temper beginning to flare.
The teenage cashier looked at him straight in the eyes, and with all the confidence of an adult woman said, “Sorry sir, all out of chocolatey drizzle today. Now if you could please move along so I can help the next customer that would be perfect. As you said, you’ve got places to be anyway.”
The cashier began to ring up the next person’s order, the line moved forward and Matt was pushed aside. He was stunned at the dismissive, disrespectful way he was handled by the young girl.
Bitch, he thought but did not say aloud, then stormed out of the coffee shop.
* * * *
On the way to his office he again stopped at the desk of Jessica Whatley. He flashed her some teeth and she forced a smile back.
“Hellooooo Jessica,” he said playfully, “how’s it goin’ today?”
“Not bad,” Jessica responded, as she pretended to sort through some papers.
“Hey listen,” Matt said, as he half sat, half leaned on the corner of her desk, “I’m gonna head to The Desiderata after work tonight for a few drinks, you interested?”
“No thank you, I’ve got a lot of stuff I’ve got to do tonight,” Jessica explained, “Maybe some other time though.”
“Yeah,” Matt said with a dissipating smile, “Maybe some other time.”
* * * *
That night Matt hit up the entertainment district downtown again.
He sat at the bar of The Desiderata, and sipped his Vodka Red Bull drink. The ice clinked and clanked inside, as he scoped out the scene from behind his glass. The crowd seemed a bit rougher tonight, somehow more intimidating, he thought, but he didn’t exactly know why. There were a lot of women about, but they all seemed unapproachable.
There was a hot female bartender pouring drinks behind fluorescent lighted bar. She had long, blonde hair and wore The Desiderata’s uniform (which was little more than a black bra and hot pants) quite well. She seemed to call every guy who approached “Baby.”
It was “How are you doin’ tonight, baby?” or “What can I get you to drink, baby?”
Matt tried to order a second drink from her throughout the night and she ignored him.
* * * *
As he walked home down Broadway at one o’clock in the morning, Matt began to think of Confidence.
“That bitch fucked my head up,” Matt muttered to himself, “Just gotta get my stride back is all…”
When Matt got to 28th and Broadway, he saw that Confidence had been replaced by a new working girl. This woman looked very different than Confidence and a bit older than her as well. She reminded Matt a little of the bartender at the Desiderata.
“Hey, playa,” the woman said teasingly, “You lookin’ for a date?”
“Nah, actually I’m looking for a woman named Confidence,” Matt said, “You happen to know where I could find her?”
“I can’t help you there, playboy,” the hooker said, “But if you wanna hear my name, I’ll be glad to tell you.”
Matt looked wantingly for a moment at her hips…her legs…her body…then rested on her face. She had wild blonde hair and fiery blue eyes. She looked almost crazy, but she was sexy as well. “Sure,” he said after a moment.
“Destiny,” the woman said with a powerful smile.
“Destiny, huh?” Matt questioned aloud. “Can you tell me about my destiny?”
“Three hundred dollars, baby,” she said, “And I can tell you all about it.”
Matt smiled and led the way to his apartment.
* * * *
The next day Matt walked into the office over an hour late, sipping his mocha frappachino. Mike Tomasi, the President of Tomasi Mobile Integration, was waiting for him by his office door.
“Hello, Matt,” Mr. Tomasi said calmly, “I have something I need to discuss with you in private. Let’s talk in your office, shall we?”
“Absolutely, sir,” Matt said with a wide grin.
Here it is, Matt thought as he followed Mr. Tomasi behind the closing door, my moment of triumph has come! He just knew that when he walked out of this office, he would be the new Vice President of the company.
It was his destiny.
“Mr. Miniego,” Mr. Tomasi started, “I’ve been hearing reports that you have a bit of trouble managing to get to work on time.”
“Uh, well,” Matt stuttered a bit and cleared his throat, “As project supervisor—”
“As project supervisor,” Mr. Tomasi interrupted, “You should be setting an example for the rest of your team. You have people that depend on you for leadership. Instead you come strolling in here almost an hour late every single day.”
“Well sir,” Matt started to explain, “I just feel—”
“I’m not finished yet, son,” Mr. Tomasi said with a tone that wiped the shit-eating grin off of Matt’s face, “I’m afraid I have other unfortunate business to discuss with you. Derrick McAtee over at BlueFire Technologies called me this morning…apparently they no longer want to invest in our company.”
Matt suddenly found himself in a state of total confusion. What he thought was solid earth under his feet had jumped up and spread out to the north and south and everywhere else like tectonic plates.
“Whaaat? That’s impossible!” Matt proclaimed, “It was a sure thing! I thought I had dazzled the money right outta McAtee’s wallet…”
“Actually, he said you were over-confident and under-informed,” Mr. Tomasi said, “The only thing you managed to dazzle was our name on a blacklist of one of the biggest potential investors in this company’s history! No matter how you look at it, you didn’t do the work when it came to the numbers, you came under-prepared, and you scared them away. I can’t have that. Eighty percent of all start-up companies fail within the first two years, and I just can’t put my faith in your hands, Matt. I’m sorry but we’re gonna have to let you go.”
And with that, everything Matt thought was tied had come straight undone.
* * * *
That night the sky was starless and black, and rain fell down from it in heavy sheets. Matt bought a bottle of Jagermeister and drank half of it on his walk to the corner of 28th and Broadway.
Neither Confidence nor Destiny were there when he arrived. He worried that he may never see either of them again.
He stood silently, soaking wet and the world in his head spinning. Or maybe it was the world outside his head that was spinning around him? He wasn’t sure and was in no shape to learn. He mopped his heavy, wet bangs off of his forehead with his free hand and raised the bottle to his lips.
It’s fine, he thought to himself, everything is fine. I’ve still got this world locked down, bound and gagged. I’m gonna be just fine. I’ll be back on top before they know what hit them.
“Hey playa,” came a voice from behind him, smooth as honey, “You lookin’ for a date?”
Matt smirked. “Maybe so,” he responded without turning around to face her, “What’s your name?”
“My name is Deception,” the woman said, and Matt loved the way she sounded. Sexy and alluring, and it tasted like champagne in his mind. He didn’t even care what she looked like, he only wanted so desperately to cling to who ever that voice belonged to.
“Deception, huh?” Matt wondered aloud as he closed his eyes and shook his head, taking another big swig of Jager from the bottle, “So why do you call yourself that, or do I even want to know?”
“Honey, believe me, you want to know anything that I tell you,” she said, in a way that he could not refuse.
Matt turned to her for the first time. She was standing under a red umbrella, her face partially hidden. He stepped closer to her, and under the light of the streetlamp he saw that her face was covered in thick layers of make-up. Matt could tell that she had taken great pains to look younger than she really was. He was afraid to see what she looked like in the morning, but he had a feeling he wouldn’t have to.
Besides, her skirt was short and she looked damn good at the moment, and that was all that mattered to him.
“So, you gonna take me home tonight or not?” She asked, her voice seducing him further.
“Yeah,” Matt said, “I’m game.”
* * * *
The next morning Matt woke up alone in his bed.
There was an empty bottle of Jagermeister on the other side of his pillow. His mouth tasted of black licorice. Deception was gone, of course. As he knew she would be. He knew he could only have her for a limited time and could not hide behind her forever. It was a cold comfort, but a comfort nonetheless, even if only for a night.
He got out of bed and made his way to the bathroom. In the mirror he caught his reflection. He saw the truth in his image. That he was just an overweight, thirty-four year old who told lies to everyone he met, and even to himself. He felt scared and he wished he had someone to call and talk to but he knew better. He didn’t have a true friend in the world because he treated everyone like garbage. He missed his Confidence and Destiny, even Deception, but they had all taken something from him that had left him broken open and exposed.
* * * *
Matt collapsed his body onto a bench at the corner of 28th and Broadway.
It was six o’clock in the evening. The sky was a swirling mixture of pink, orange and lime green as the sun settled that reminded Matt of rainbow sorbet, and his childhood. And all at once he let his face fall into his hands and he began to sob. He may have cried for an hour, or maybe only a few minutes, he did not know.
“No matter how bad things get, there is one thing I’ve learned in this life,” said a dangerous voice next to him, as it approached the bench and sat down beside him, “With every passing moment, comes a chance to turn it all around.”
Matt did not look up at her face, but he stopped sobbing. The woman sitting next to him crossed her legs that were sheathed in fishnet stockings, and lit a cigarette. “That is a nice sentiment, miss,” Matt said with a strengthless, washed-out feeling in his voice, “but I’m afraid it may be far too late for me.”
“It’s never too late if you have a little faith,” the woman said, “even in our darkest hour, we still have the power to re-make ourselves.”
“You really believe that?” Matt questioned her.
“Yes,” the woman answered.
She inhaled a lungful of smoke from her cigarette, and looked out into the streets. “These other bitches out here,” she continued, “They will eat you alive. Stick with me, honey, and I’ll keep goin’ even when you think you got nothin’ left.”
Matt looked up at her with wide, sad eyes. She was a very beautiful woman. Her eyes were promising, and looked as though they had seen a lot of troubling situations in life…and just barely made it out alive. She looked strong, even unbreakable to him.
“Tell me your name?” Matt asked her.
“Hope,” she replied.
The main character of this story was not based on any one specific person I know, but a combination of several people I have met in my life. When I sat down to write this story I thought, it be great to embody all the negative, ugly things that people can be into one character, and then rake him over the coals and just totally destroy this guy. Matt is a typical bully, who treats people like dirt because he thinks he is better than everyone. I really wanted him to really suffer.
So I had this idea of these prostitutes who would infiltrate Matt’s life, and strip away bit by bit everything in this world he thought he was entitled to, to the point where he didn’t know who he was anymore. But I didn’t want to end it that way, i wanted to leave a little Hope there
My interpretation of all the female characters in this story was that they are both good and bad, and neither all at the same time. I thought of them as angels in this dark fairy tale. They are not there to necessarily help, or hurt, but only to teach. Whether or not Matt actually learned something from this journey, and in the wake of everything that he had gone through saw an opportunity to re-make himself…or if in the end he chose to hold on to his old ways, giving in to the darker and more selfish aspects of his nature, until waking up one morning literally with nothing, not even hope to cling to, I’ll leave that up to the reader to decide…
THE RESURRECTION MACHINE
Copyright © 2010 Bruce Thomas
Four years ago…
He looked back at her and winked after giving the vendor the money. A few seconds later the vendor handed him a big, fluffy hand-spun spool of cotton candy. Amber’s eyes widened and she grinned like a child when he handed it to her. She pulled off a clump of baby blue cotton candy from the spool and girlishly put it in her mouth. Her face expressed pure delight. Mark just looked at her smile, and recognized how beautiful she was at that moment. He thought of how the blue of the candy matched her eyes. She noticed him staring at her and tore a big piece of pink fluff from the other side and shoved it in his mouth. “You big softy,” she said teasingly.
There was a blush of neon blooming as the sun settled into the early peace of the evening. They continued traveling the fair, their noses tempted with all the scents that were drifting through the air…barbeque chicken and grilled onions, fried potatoes and fresh squeezed lemonade. They held each other’s hand as they entered the art and photography exhibition, and chatted lightly over the different drawings and pictures presented by local artists. Amber more fascinated with the photographs, he more into the drawings. A short time later, without even realizing it, Amber had led Mark into the amusement park area.
And he knew exactly what she wanted next.
“Thanks for the cotton candy,” Amber said.
“Anytime,” Mark replied. “I was hoping it would get me out of riding the Ferris wheel tonight.”
“It was a good try, but you are getting on that Ferris wheel with me Mark Roberts, whether you like it or not,” she proclaimed.
“You’re not gonna make me face my fear of heights just so you can ride that stupid ride, are you?” he asked, only half jokingly.
“I’ll protect you,” she said as she hugged his arm tightly and smiled warmly at him.
There was no use debating any further. His will melted away like cotton candy on her tongue.
“Alright,” he said with a sigh, “Let’s do this.”
* * * *
The Ferris wheel climbed to a height well above the tallest tents, granting them a view of the entire fair. The night air was warm, but there was a cool breeze that caressed their faces as the big wheel turned. Amber looked up at the stars in the black ocean above, while Mark looked down in horror, gripping the safety bar until his knuckles turned almost white. Amber saw what Mark was enduring on her behalf, and she kissed his cheek. He could smell the jasmine in her hair when she brushed up against him. She was beautiful and warm and brightened every square inch of his soul.
And in that moment, he forgot to be scared.
On the last spin, Mark noticed Amber looked a bit pale. “You okay, Butterfly?” He asked with a touch of concern.
“Yeah, I’m fine, just a little nauseous,” she replied with a forced smile, “Must’ve been all that cotton candy.”
“Well, it looks like the ride is coming to an end, so maybe it’s time to go home,” Mark suggested.
“Yeah, I suppose I’ve tortured you enough for now,” Amber said playfully, “My work here is done.”
Mark laughed. Despite his fears, he was grateful for that ride with her.
It was the last night that he ever felt alive.
* * * *
When he woke the next morning, Mark found Amber dead, lying next to him in their bed. Her right eye solid red from a busted blood vessel.
The doctor later told him that it was a brain aneurism.
The next two years Mark felt only pain.
After that, he didn’t feel anything at all.
* * * *
Mark carried on despite his grief, going through the motions of day to day life as best he could, but made little effort to do anything else. And even the minimum did not come without difficulty. He abused alcohol regularly to cope with his lost love, and things continued this way for a while until one night when Mark heard something on TV that changed everything. It was the President of the United States disrupting regular scheduled programming to address the nation.
“…the technology is absolute. The system that the government will soon be implementing is infallible. It has been blessed by the Supreme Court of the United States and has been voted on in a national referendum by the people of this country. As of this day forth, we now have the power to challenge our greatest enemy, death, with a new weapon. A new hope. With the Resurrection Machine, we now have the capability to bring back our loved ones that we have lost…all of those good men, women and children of this country that were taken from us too soon. Beyond any doubt, this is the single most important thing in American history. We must embrace change and prepare for the future. Ladies and gentlemen…the dead will rise.”
* * * *
It was early evening, and Mark sat at his empty dining room table listening for the door.
KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK!
Mark jumped up to answer. A man in a grey suit and holding a shiny black suitcase stood at his doorstep. “Mr. Roberts?”
“Yes,” Mark responded.
“I’m Agent Carver,” the man with the suitcase said, as he flashed a badge, “We spoke earlier on the phone…sorry to disturb you during the dinner hour, but thank you for meeting with me in person.”
“Sure, no problem,” Mark replied, “Anything to help the process along, I’m anxious to bring Amber back.”
“Oh, of course,” Agent Carver continued, “This will only take a few minutes, I assure you.”
“Come in,” Mark politely invited.
Agent Carver followed Mark back to the dining table. “Please, have a seat,” Mark requested, “Can I get you anything to drink?”
“No thanks,” Agent Carver said, setting the black suitcase on the table, “I’m actually meeting my wife for dinner at that new Italian place over on Hurst Bourne Lane…have you been there?”
“No,” Mark replied, “But then…I really don’t go out to eat much anymore.”
“Ah well, you’re probably better off,” Agent Carver said as he patted his rather large belly.
Mark gave a courtesy laugh and sat down in a chair, inviting Agent Carver to do the same.
Agent Carver unbuttoned his sport coat and took a seat, “So let’s get started, shall we?”
“Of course,” Mark said.
“Yes, well, as you already know, your application to resurrect Amber Williams has been approved,” Carver stated as he pulled out a file folder from the black suitcase, “and now all we need from you is a few autographs on some forms here, then I can give you your assignment and be on my merry.”
“Yes, um, I wanted to ask you a question about this assignment,” Mark nervously began, “I was wondering if there was any possible way around it? Perhaps some kind of social work I could do instead? Or maybe even a financial donation?”
“I’m afraid not, Mr. Roberts,” Agent Carver said apologetically, “Our rules and regulations are stated very clearly. In these overcrowded times, you have to fill out an application with the government to get a friend or relative brought back from the dead. And conversely, the government does not want the population to rise out of control, so, if your application is approved, you are assigned someone to kill. That’s just the way the system works.”
“I’d do anything to have Amber back, I just wish there was another way…”
“Listen, the government isn’t callous to these requirements. It’s only natural for you to be sensitive about killing a random stranger, but let me assure you these targets will not suffer,” Agent Carver said as he opened the black suitcase on the table to reveal an odd shaped silvery rifle, “This is a government issued rifle designed by top U.S. military weapon engineers that we will be giving you to complete the kill assignment. It fires a special bullet that will administer a toxin into the victim’s bloodstream killing him quickly and painlessly. It’s based on the same chemicals used for lethal injections in death penalty cases.”
“And if you still have any further qualms about the job,” Agent Carver continued, “Perhaps you should take a closer look at your kill assignment…”
Agent Carver took a photo out of a file folder and tossed across the table towards Mark. The picture was of a white male in his early thirties, with long brown hair pulled back in a pony-tail. “His name is Edward Rayzor,” Agent Carver said, “He is a long time drug offender, alcoholic, and a detriment to society. He contributes nothing great to the community and rest assured he will not be missed by anyone.”
“Look, I realize that a person’s death doesn’t exactly mean everything that it used to,” Mark said shakily, his eyes unable to meet Agent Carver’s, “And I understand this Edward Rayzor may not be a model citizen, but I’m just not sure I can go through with this.”
Agent Carver sat back in the chair and gave Mark time to think. A few quiet moments passed and he turned his head and noticed something in the corner of the room. “Well, I’ll be damned, is that an old-fashioned cotton candy machine? I haven’t seen one of those since I was a kid! Does it work?”
“Yes it does,” Mark replied distantly, “I bought it after Amber died. She loved that stuff…I don’t know, maybe it’s kind of weird, but I just wanted something to remember her by.”
Agent Carver looked intently upon Mark, “Listen Mr. Roberts, if you want my advice… take the kill assignment. Then we can bring your girlfriend back, you can move on with your lives together, and put all of this behind you. Think about it.”
Mark’s eyes moved from Agent Carver to the contract in front of him, holding the pen in between both hands. A memory of Amber flashed through his mind. He missed her dearly. Her smile, the blue of her eyes, the warmth in her touch. “She was my best friend,” Mark said, as his eyes began to well up with tears, “God I want her back.”
Mark wasted no more thoughts, and signed the contract. He handed it over to Agent Carver, who looked it over very briefly then put it back in the file folder. “Very good,” He said, “You have twenty-four hours to complete the kill assignment, and after everything gets processed, Amber Williams will be resurrected sometime within the next three business days. You’re making the right decision, Mr. Roberts.”
They shook hands and Mark walked Agent Carver to the door. “I wish the very best for you and your girlfriend,” Agent Carver said, “Good luck in the future.”
“And you also,” Mark said with a wave goodbye.
Mark closed the door and after a moment he returned to the dining room. On the table sat the black suitcase. He opened it and stared silently at the odd shaped silvery rifle for almost an hour. Then with a sudden and unstoppable sense of urgency, Mark snapped the suitcase shut, grabbed his coat and headed out the door.
* * * *
The cold wind chilled Mark to the bone as he walked down the street.
He pulled up the collar on his coat and carried on into the darkness with his black suitcase. It was late in the year so the color of night arrived earlier in the evening, shadowing Mark and his dark purpose. The directions were in the file Agent Carver had given him. Edward’s house was the last on the left. Red door. Mark scanned the area and the neighboring houses to make sure no one was watching. He sneaked up the driveway and got close to the house. His heart was hammering underneath his ribcage. There was a light on inside, coming from what looked to be the dining room. Standing in the shadows, Mark stared into the window. A few moments later Edward Rayzor walked into the room carrying two dinner plates. He must have a guest over, Mark thought. An unfortunate event, but he had come all this way and would not stop now. Mark crept behind some bushes and opened the suitcase. He pulled out the odd shaped silvery rifle and got it ready. Mark returned his sights to the window, and gasped in horror when he saw a glimpse of the other person at the table. It was a little girl. Damn, he thought. Carver never said anything about Rayzor having a kid. This man is a father for Christ’s sake! Mark felt a sudden intense wave of anger. This was not fair. None of this was fair! He shook his head defiantly and raised the rifle to the window, aiming it at Edward Rayzor. “I will not stop now,” he whispered in determination.
Through the scope of the rifle, Mark had Edward in his sights. His finger resting on the trigger, and one eye squinted shut. He held in position, watching the father and daughter enjoy what would be their last meal together. And for the first time in his life, Mark felt the fires of Hell closing in on him. If he pulled the trigger, he knew he would be damned. A tear welled up in his eye as he realized in that moment, the real truth of the situation.
He was never going to see Amber again in this life.
He fell to his knees. He could not take this man’s life, no matter the gain. “I’m so sorry Amber,” Mark said with one hand covering his face. “I thought I could do anything to bring you back…but I can’t do this.”
Just then he felt something cold and hard press up against the side of his head. He stopped crying and looked up slowly. “Mark Roberts,” a voice said behind the barrel of a gun, “They told me you’d be here.”
Mark could not see the face of the man clearly, but he recognized the silvery government issued rifle. He was holding one just like it.
“What’s going on here?” Mark asked with heavy confusion.
“Its nothing personal, dude,” the man said, “I just want my brother back. And they say the only way that can happen is if I put a bullet in you.”
Mark smiled just a tiny fraction at the situation. Did they view him as a detriment to society as well? Mark wondered. He took one last glance at Edward Rayzor and his daughter through the warm lit window, and suddenly felt a sense of relief that they might live on, even after he was gone.
“I’m sorry man, it’s just the way it’s gotta be,” the man said, “They promised me it would be quick and painless.”
“So be it,” Mark said as he closed his eyes. He thought he could smell cotton candy somewhere in the distance, and then he saw an image of Amber appear. She was waiting for him by the Ferris wheel.
Mark smiled. “I’m coming, Amber,” he whispered, “I’ll see you real soon…”
Out of all the short stories I’ve written, I think “The Resurrection Machine” would make the coolest comic book. One day I plan on making it one, and I want to have it end with Amber being resurrected. Maybe follow her journey in a second issue or something. I also think this story would make a pretty cool movie, eh? (I’m pointing to you, Stephen Speilberg.) Anyway, the whole idea that the government would issue “kill assignments” as a form of population control seems outrageous, but set in a world where death no longer carried the same finality, and all that stood in the way of bringing back someone you loved from the dead was a little red tape and paperwork, it wouldn’t seem all that unfathomable.
Copyright © 2010 Bruce Thomas
My name is Matthew Astin. I’ll give you my card. You may not need it now, but hold on to it. One day you never know…
You won’t see an advertisement for my services on a billboard. You won’t hear about me on a radio commercial or find my number in any phonebook. But I have no trouble finding business, let me assure you. The Armani suit that I’m wearing, the platinum watch on my wrist, the sleek and evocative car I’m driving…it was all paid for in cash. Believe me, I always find work. There are plenty of broken lives out there that need to be fixed. And I have a knack for detecting when something tragic has happened to someone and left them broken, even when they try their best to mask it. It’s a weight they carry.
So let me ask you, have you ever made a wrong decision in your life and paid for it ever since? Ever wonder what your life would be like now if you had made a different choice?
I don’t have to wonder. I know. It’s what I do. When something goes wrong in people’s lives, and I mean really wrong, I tell them to give me a call. I can fix it for them. My fee is fifty thousand. No equivocations. Don’t waste your time trying to bargain with me, I have no patience for that.
And don’t lose that card I gave you either. It is your only chance of seeing me again. Consider it your GET OUT OF JAIL FREE card.
This morning I got a call from a man named Dale Edgecomb. He’s a postal worker in southern Indiana. I met him in a grocery store just a few days ago, and we got to talking. He was a pleasant guy but I could tell he carried a great sadness with him. So I gave him my card. I don’t know how he did it, but somehow he managed to scrape together fifty grand. And that was all I needed to know.
I was already on the road in my Lotus Evora before our phone conversation had even ended.
* * * *
Four years ago, Dale had considered his life blessed. He had a beautiful wife, two great kids, a nice home and a brand new Chevrolet. But then something tragic happened in Dale’s life. There was a winter storm that hit southern Indiana hard, icing everything over inches thick. Trees sagged and collapsed under the weight of the ice that formed on the branches. Power lines dipped with heavy icicles. Over a hundred thousand people were left in the cold without electricity.
On the day the lights had finally come back on in Dale’s house, he decided to take a trip to the grocery store to re-stock the ‘fridge. He couldn’t stomach another peanut butter and jelly sandwich that he and his family had been living off of since the power went out. He just wanted a hearty and hot breakfast and there wasn’t a damn thing wrong with that. But on his way out to his car, Dale’s nine year old son called out to him: Daddy wait! I want to come with you!
Dale recounted every detail of that morning with brilliant and pain-filled clarity. I could hear the tears coming through in his voice as he struggled on. “As soon as little Tom had stepped out onto that icy driveway he…he slipped and went flailing into the air…landing on the hard ice…I remember hearing a strange click-click-click noise…it was his back breaking.”
Poor old Dale had such bright hopes for his son, who loved to play basketball with his dad every chance he could get. One late afternoon, while shooting hoops in their driveway together, Tom had shared with Dale his dream of being a basketball star when he grew up. And it warmed Dale’s heart to hear, for he had that very same dream himself.
But now that dream, and every other dream of Tom and Dale’s had been shattered.
And they lay broken on ice.
Turns out little Tom would never walk again. And over the next four years, Dale’s life almost entirely consisted of caring for and rehabilitation for his son. His marriage to his wife suffered and crumbled, his daughter felt alienated from her father, medical bills piled up and depression covered Dale like a wet, black blanket. If only he hadn’t set out of the house that day. If only he had opted to stay in and eat peanut butter and jelly for just one more day.
Tragic, right? Oh, but don’t worry. There’s a happy ending for our Dale and his son in this story.
This is where I come in.
* * * *
First, you have to understand that there are billions of Dales and Toms out there. And no, I don’t mean there are billions of people like Dale and Tom either. I’m talking about the billions of Dales and Toms that exist in parallel dimensions. Alternate realities, if you prefer. There are billions of alternate lives of Dale and Tom, existing in a parallel universe that they don’t even know about. No-one does. Except for me. I can see and travel these parallel dimensions. It’s my gift. I can’t see the future, and I can’t travel back in time. But for fifty grand I can take you to just about any possible reality that you wish.
Somewhere out there is an alternate version of Dale that decided NOT to go to the grocery store that fateful morning four years ago, living an alternate life where little Tom did not slip on the ice and break his back. He is just a happy, healthy thirteen-year-old now, starting his freshman year and playing for his high school basketball team. This reality is a much happier place for the Edgecomb family. And that’s exactly where I’m taking our Dale today.
As soon as I get his money, of course.
* * * *
We agreed to meet at noon, at a café close to Dale’s home. It was raining hard by the time I pulled into the parking lot. The sky was dark and the heavy clouds threatened to ruin my brand new Armani suit. I didn’t linger outside once I stepped out of the car, and I targeted Dale as soon as I stepped into the café. He was sitting alone in a booth towards the back. He gave a polite wave and I walked up to his table and sat down across from him. He watched me silently for a minute and then said, “I brought your money, Mr. Astin.”
Dale slid a check written out to me for fifty thousand dollars across the table. “Never doubted you would, Mr. Edgecomb,” I said, looking into his desperate eyes. I could see this was a man who had gotten far too used to disappointment in his life.
I stared at the check for a moment and thought about everything it meant that I had to do if I accepted it. It would be an even trade. A deed completely equal in good and evil. Nothing more, nothing less. I picked it up and nodded at Dale. I folded the check and put it inside my Italian leather wallet. I stuffed it into my back pocket, shifting in my seat as I did so. Then I returned my gaze to Dale. “So,” he said apprehensively, “Now what?”
I smiled to him and said, “Now we go fix your mess of a life, Dale.”
* * * *
Dale’s house was only a little further than two miles distance from the café, and he said that he had walked there to meet me. I guess he needed some time to think. I offered him a ride home on account of the rain, and on the way the clouds broke in the sky and the sun began to shine through. Dale was mostly quiet, the disorientation settling in. He wasn’t even aware that we crossed over into an alternate reality.
I pulled into his driveway and we both sat still for a moment. The sun was shining brightly now and it had turned out to be a beautiful afternoon. “Well, here we are Dale,” I said, “I’d better be going, I’ve got some other business to take care of now.”
Dale opened the door and stepped out of my car a little confused, as if he was coming out of anesthesia. He leaned down to talk to me in the car and said, “Ummm…weren’t you here to fix somethin’ mister?”
“It’s already taken care of Dale,” I said assuredly, “Nothin’ but blue skies for you now buddy.”
Dale turned to his home dazed and then he saw his son running and shooting hoops in their driveway. Tom was wearing his purple and gold high school basketball jersey, the number thirteen on the back. The same number Dale had played with when he was in high school.
Dale’s wife was standing at the door. “Come on Dale, dinner is ready!” she exclaimed, “We gotta hurry up and eat, we don’t wanna be late for Tom’s first game tonight!”
Dale smiled. All the pain and mental suffering he had endured over the past four years washed away in the sunshine of the late afternoon. New memories of this reality will almost instantly fill Dale’s head just as clear as if he had experienced them all himself. He will never remember the other reality. And if he does, it will only come to him in a bad dream, and he will wake instantly comforted by the realization that it was only a fading nightmare.
And after this day, Dale will never think of me again either.
Tom stopped shooting and walked over to his father. “I thought you went out for a walk up to the café, Dad,” Tom stated quizzically, with his grimy basketball tucked underneath his arm, “Who’s that guy?”
“I…I don’t know son,” Dale replied in puzzlement.
Tom eyed my shiny car up and down, its candy-paint job shimmering in the sunlight. “Cool car, man.”
“Thanks dude,” I said, “You guys take care.”
I smiled and waved, as I reversed my car out of their driveway and headed off. They waved back and in the rear-view mirror I could see a happy father hugging his son and ruffling his hair. Best fifty grand you ever spent, Dale. I checked the time on my watch. Now for the part of the job that isn’t so nice. I gotta be quick. Having two versions of a person in the same reality is never a good thing. Sometimes it can get dangerous.
I pushed my foot down a little harder on the gas pedal.
* * * *
The tires screeched a bit as I bumped and halted into the parking lot. I got out quickly and went in to find the other Dale sitting in the front of the café, toiling alone with the Sudoku puzzle in the newspaper and sipping a cup of coffee.
You still with me here?
Ok, let me break it down for you. This Dale has lived in this happy little reality for the past four years. This is the Dale who never set out for the grocery store that day and his Tom never slipped on the ice. This is his reality. Well, not anymore.
There has to be a trade.
I’m gonna try to do this as quickly as possible. It’s better that way.
“Hello, Mister Edgecomb,” I said as I slid into the seat across from him.
“Excuse me,” he said, looking up from his paper startled, “Who are—”
“No time to explain, you have to come with me right now. It’s concerning your son.” A lie, of course. But it’s the only way I can lure him out of this happy little reality.
“My son?!” Dale said alarmed, “Is he in some kind of trouble?”
“Just come with me, Dale,” I said, trying hard not to sound impatient.
He followed me out of the café and into the parking lot, asking questions left and right about who I was and what this had to do with his son. I didn’t respond. I just kept him reeling to buy some time. “Just get in my car and I’ll explain everything along the way,” I said to him.
He reluctantly got in and closed the door. As we drove off, the sky darkened above us and heavy clouds began to blot out the sun.
We were crossing over.
Rain pelted lightly against the windshield as I drove fast down the slickened, dirty streets. Damn. I just shined the rims on the Lotus this morning.
“Boy this rain really came out of nowhere,” Dale observed, “It’s turning out to be quite an unfriendly day.”
You have no idea how right you are, Dale. For you, it is going to be a lifetime of unfriendly days now.
“Look mister, will you please tell me what this is all about,” Dale pleaded impatiently, “My son has his first basketball game tonight and I—”
“No, he doesn’t,” I stated flatly.
“What are you…” Dale trailed off. There was a faint sign of recognition that flickered in his eyes, as if something resonated deep inside his mind that he knew to be true, but didn’t want to believe.
“Your son doesn’t play basketball anymore. There was an accident. He slipped on some ice in your driveway four years ago and now he can’t walk. I’m sorry, Dale.”
And then he remembers. I give him a moment of silence to grieve. I feel a pang of guilt for taking this version of Dale from his own beautiful reality and dropping him off into this hellish one. But I just try to focus my thoughts on the cool fifty grand in my wallet and concentrate on finishing the job.
By the time we pulled into his driveway any memory of his sunny reality has all but faded away. The new reality solidifies in Dale’s mind when he sees the handicap ramp he built up to his front door. Dale closes his eyes for a moment and faintly sighs, and all of the happiness that he had once known abandoned him forever in a final exhale of breath.
Then he opens the door and steps out of the Lotus.
“Thanks for the ride, mister,” he says, “I better be goin’ in and checking on my son…wasn’t there somethin’ concerning him you wanted to talk to me about?”
“It’s already been taken care of,” I replied, “Good-bye, Dale.”
He closed the car door and walked up to his home. There was a depressing sag in his shoulders as he walked. I turned away from him and pondered for a second. Before he opened his front door, I pressed the button to roll down the window and shouted, “Hey Dale!”
“Let me give you my card.”
* * * *
In all my searching, in all the many different realities that I have seen, I have never found an alternate reality for myself. Maybe I never will. Seems I’m singular and destined to do this forever. It’s the price I pay for this gift, and the punishment for what I do with it.
But hey, a man has gotta make a living, right?
Somewhere out there are billions of alternate versions of you too, branching out from every little decision that you have ever made. So, if things haven’t worked out for you, and you have fifty grand, you should give me a call. You got my card. Somewhere out there is a version of you relaxing on a beach sipping pina coladas right now.
They won’t even see me coming…
Oh man, did this story hurt ever hurt my brain! It was very difficult to write, and unlike “Don’t Judge A Book…” and “The Playhouse” (both of which I wrote almost entirely in one sitting) took several drafts and revisions and re-working over a long period of time before I was ever happy with it.
My concept of evil is that while it seems attractive and alluring on the surface, eventually you find out that it’s not very creative and sort of self-replicating underneath. So in a sense, evil is like the serpent that eats its own tail. Matthew Astin is not the devil, but he is a man who continually submits to the temptation of evil. He profits off of others’ pain.
The particularity of the car was always an important detail of the story for me. I chose the Lotus Evora for two reasons. One, it’s a really cool, expensive car. And two, because the definition of the word ‘lotus’ has kind of a hidden meaning and connection to the story. It’s a fruit held in Greek legend to cause dreamy contentment and forgetfulness. I wanted it to be clear that while the actual car in the story is not what allows Matthew Astin to travel to an alternate reality, it is the method he chooses to transport his passengers to other realities. So, much like the definition of lotus, traveling in the Lotus Evora in this story needed to cause dreamy contentment and forgetfulness. Thanks for reading!