Friday, April 17, 2009

Short Fiction Friday: Wasted

The sun was still low in the sky. The morning was crisp.

He arrived early to the townhouse at Number 3, Hasker St. in London. Earlier than anyone who was expecting him expected. Earlier than anyone who was supposed to keep track of these things expected. He carried no possessions on him, no luggage and no sacks. Just himself, dressed in khakis and brown loafers with a red and yellow argyle sweater on his tall, overweight frame.

A frail looking old man stood on the steps in front of the door. His back was hunched over and his skin sat comfortably on his bony frame. A green cardigan over a white shirt kept him warm enough in the sunny weather. His nose was too big for his face and so were his glasses.
His hair was thin. He had an inviting, friendly look, like a grandfather who's always about to meet his grandkids. When he smiled he scrunched his nose which pushed his glasses up too far, making him readjust them every time. As the newcomer approached, the old man squinted to get a better look at him.

"Oh dear. This isn't good. I'm sorry, but we've got our shipment for today." he said to the stranger.

"Isn't this where I'm supposed to go?" said the man, his voice was deep, but wavering and uncertain. "There was only one way to go and that brought me here. I followed the light just like everyone talks about."

"Well yes," said the old man. Quickly scanning the list in his hand he added, "but you're not on the list for today. Our bunch has already arrived." He smiled, then corrected his glasses. "And you were supposed to follow the light, just not today's light."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Everyone's name appears on my list at some point or another. Each day I get a new list and each day I get new arrivals. When the names match up to the people who arrive, they're are admitted without issue. When they don't match up--when I get arrivals who aren't on the list or a list and no arrivals--we have problems."

"You're saying I'm not supposed to be here?" said the man, noticeably confused and taken back.

"In a sense. See, there's a plan for everyone. If people follow that plan then they'll arrive when we expect them and we admit them. If people don't follow the plan, they arrive at the wrong time and then we can't accept them. You're name isn't on this list; I can't let you in."

"So what happens now? I just have to wander around until my name appears on the list one day?"

"Uhm, no. If you arrive and your name isn't on the list, that's it. You don't get in."

The man was shocked. He didn't know what to do. It had happened unexpectedly, yes, but after that it was basically like he imagined. Until now. He tried to figure out why he wasn't on the list; what he could have done wrong. The accident was sudden--the suburban had come out of nowhere, he thought--but lots of people die in accidents and they can't turn away everyone who dies like that. Sitting on the curb, he looked up at the old man, tears forming in his eyes, "What do you mean I don't get in?"

"I'm sorry, but you didn't follow the plan that was set for you. It sounds harsh but we do give some leeway, usually about a month. You'd be surprised how many people end up here exactly when they're supposed to, though. Most people figure out their purpose and make us quite proud."

"But I didn't do anything wrong. I wasn't a bad guy."

"I never said you were."

"Then what did I do wrong?"

"It's not what you did wrong, it's what you didn't do right."

"What didn't I do?"

The old man sighed. "Wait here," he said, "though it's not like you really have a choice, is it?" He turned, opened the door that he was guarding, and then went inside.

Hours passed. The man felt the day pass by. He reflected on his life. He had been married, but the marriage didn't last long. His wife wanted to go out to eat all the time and go on vacations and he couldn't afford that while managing the small electronics store. He thought about his friends, how he used to go out with them to the bar after work to watch the European Cup. He thought about the caterpillar he found as a child on the tree in the park, how he had put things in front of it to see it crawl over them, and then how he eventually burned it with a magnifying glass.

The door opened. The sun was low again. The old man came out first, followed by a tall, very handsome, man in his mid-twenties. The young man was well built, hair about shoulder length, dark eyes and a hard jawline.

"This is the guy you wanted me to review?" said the young man.

"Yes." said the old man as he smiled and then corrected his glasses.

The young man laughed, "Look, Pete, there is no way this guy is getting in here. I watched him for his entire life, or at least as long as I could before I just got bored and switched over to American Idol. This guy did nothing with his life."

The man stood up abruptly, "Now that's not fair! I did lots with my life!"

"Like what?"

"I got married."

"And quickly divorced because you spent more time at the bar with your buddies watching football than with her."

"I kept profits up for the store."

"You sold people mediocre electronics at an inflated price and then cut salaries of your employees in order to raise the numbers."

"I made my friends happy!"

"You're friends made you happy. They were made happy by their wives, their kids, their jobs. They liked spending time with you but you didn't make them happy. I watched everything you did for your entire life; you did almost nothing interesting. You didn't do anything--good or bad--that could even be considered interesting. Aside from general selfishness ruining your marriage you didn't even have any conflict in your life. You were boring. You don't deserve to be in here, you wasted your life." As the young man said this he turned to go back inside.

"But I can change!" he pleaded.

"You wasted your life. Why wouldn't you waste your afterlife?" and with that the young man went inside and shut the door.

"I'm sorry," said Peter, "if he doesn't support your entry, you don't get in. His job is to watch people when they don't follow their path and see who still deserves to get in. If he says no, then the answer is no."

"So I'm left here for eternity?"

"Well, not here," and he gesturing to a No Loitering sign on the wall, "but somewhere around here. Don't worry, there are a lot of people who don't make it in, I'm sure you'll find someone to spend eternity with. Now, it's getting dark, I should go inside." and he turned and opened the door again.

The sun was setting. Realizing night was fast approaching, the man quickly asked, "Is it safe here?"

The old man looked back with a surprised look on his face. "Safe? Of course not. If it were safe then it wouldn't matter if you were here or inside, would it? Eventually you'll find your place though, if you live through the night."

"Aren't I already dead?"

"You are. That doesn't mean you can't die again. Someone or something will get you eventually. When it happens you'll wake up in another city. Of course, you won't be on their list--how could you? you're one of ours--and you'll probably spend your days arguing with their Gate Keeper trying to let you in. He won't, but you'll still try each and every day. And then after each and every day, someone or something will kill you again. That is, unless you learn where you belong and how to survive in this world. If you ever figure that out, you might even be happy. Farewell and goodnight." With that the old man smiled, corrected his glasses, went inside and closed the door. The locked latched behind him.

It was dark now. He tried desperately to open the door but it wouldn't budge. The handle was solid and the latch secured. Giving up, he started to walk down the road to look for a place to sleep. He walked for miles, passing empty building after empty building. He began to wonder if this was a ghost town, if perhaps the old man who said it wasn't safe here was lying. It might be lonely, but he didn't see anything that seemed dangerous.

As soon as the thought was in his head, he heard an inhuman scream, louder than any he'd ever heard a creature make. It hit notes at the edge of his hearing, giving him a headache and causing him to grab his head. Looking up for the source, he saw a creature crawling down the building wall. It was thin and it was long, with visible bones protruding from it's back and joints. It had a human head with no jaw, long and unwashed hair, no eyes in its sockets and six uncomfortably long limbs that ended with what appeared to be a combination of feet and hands. While he looked up at it he saw another crawl over the roof and start down the building wall. As it screeched again he understood; it wasn't scaring him, it was calling to let others know what it found.

"You just going to stand there and wait for that manohex to come and tear you pieces?" said a woman's voice from behind him.

Turning around to see the source he found himself looking down the barrel of a shotgun.

"If you don't duck I will go through you," said the woman. He fell over, unable to make his legs respond fast enough. He heard the boom of the shotgun overhead and another shriek from the manohex. Looking up he saw it scurry up the wall leaving a black streak behind it. The second one seemed to have retreated, too.


"Welcome to London." said the woman, extending her hand.

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