An Example of a Sad Story

Author's Note: My dark, sad story, an odd take on the latest Nine Word Prompt, came out of "Nowhere". That is nothing new for me since that is where my muse lives. I sit down at the keyboard and it is as if the story is dictated to me, in some amalgam of experience and imagination. But (and this is the essential writerly part) then I walk through the story, sentence by sentence, tightening and rearranging with more careful and specific word selection and understanding of my plot, until I am pleased enough to say, "Done!" So, "Done."

Breathless

by Kathy Coogan

As he ran, the only sound he heard had been his own breath, changing from a pant to a wheeze to a rattle. It was as if his ears were capable of hearing only one sound at a time, that one sound that was keeping him alive. But when he fell, all the background noises turned on and he heard the whistle, too: the one kids playing cops would blow on and which later, women carried on their keychains, wishful-thinking to deter assailants.

Then he heard the insistent barking of a dog and he wondered which came first, the alarmed whistle-blower or the alarming barking dog. Not that it mattered now. He had read in a pamphlet at some mission or other, that all things on earth are made apparent in the next life but doubted as he fell that he would be one of the enlightened ones.

He opened his eyes and looked up into the sky at the waxing moon and remembered his father’s voice, spoken over the lip of his steaming coffee mug, “Red sun at morning, sailors take warning.” Had he even noticed the sun as he had trudged along the highway this morning, so far, both in time and distance, from his father’s counsel and the sea?

He felt overcome with a deep tiredness, as if energy was a measurable liquid draining from him. His body felt heavy as a fallen tree and he wondered if anyone had heard it fall, and if not, did he exist? Had he been able to, he would have smiled at that resurrected out-of-nowhere fragment of Philosophy 101. Who said his education had been wasted?

Wasted, that’s what he had been. But it seems that the cure for his craving had been simple all along. Not that he’d recommend it. His muddled plan had worked so many times before. Would he now call that luck? Lucky, that’s me, he thought with that absent smile again. Decisions made on the tail-end of a fix can be a bitch to carry out.

This one had been damned from the beginning. The last driver who had picked him up had paraphrased bible verses for fifty miles. The power of the man’s droning Charlton Heston voice had been diminished somewhat by his missing front tooth, but his doomsday exhortations should have been a forewarning. The guy’s proclamations about “The Archangel Michael to smite his flaming sword of justice” had changed him no more than all those admonitions from his childhood pastor that ye reap what ye sow.

All he’d wanted to do was to get out of that car, the fumes drifting up from the busted exhaust pipe sedating him in a headachy swoon that did nothing to alleviate his need for a drink or a numbing high. It seemed a god-given blessing that the guy let him off here in this neighborhood where tenements were transformed into urban-chic condominiums just down the street from crack houses not yet so reformed. The damn fools sipping Australian merlot inside those newly-decorated rooms were sure that their IKEA would protect them.

He could barely put his actions, as he had taken them, in order. But it seemed essential--this last task. Choosing the first darkened row-house. His luck and his skill and his need gaining him entry. His surprise at seeing the woman sitting, smoking, in the quiet, darkened, not empty room. The red tip of her cigarette paralyzing him with premonition as it fell to the floor, when she saw him and screamed. Hearing not the gun firing but the curses of the man, “You fucker, don’t move.” Moving, reflexively, moving. Making it to the sidewalk, running slower and slower. The screaming, the breathing, the whistle, the barking.

He had been heavy but now felt light. He was sinking and rising. Now his ears, no longer able to hear his breath, picked up all the clamoring voices, “Stay back folks. It’s all under control. Just what he deserved. Good thing you had a pistol, mister, he mighta killed you. God-damned junkies.” These words were as unrelated to him as the others, “Hold on son, the ambulance is on the way, what’s your name?”

He wondered before he drifted off, would Archangel Michael know his name?

Another Sad, Short Tale

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