Last week’s piece of flash fiction received a pretty good reception, so let’s try another short, short story this week.
MURDER… OR MAYHEM?
What will it be today, murder or mayhem? As a fiction writer, I dealt in both. That is… I wrote about both. But there was nothing deadly or chaotic in my life. Pedantic was more like it. Wake up, get up, clean up, eat up, and sit at the computer to write before leaving for my day job. Or of late… try to write. My creative juices ran dry some time ago. Sitting before the computer and conjuring another plot, another murder, another disaster that did not strongly resemble the one just before it was now pure, agonizing labor. My desktop developed a memory of its own and insisted on ambling down the same lane over and over again.
Was it time to chuck it all? I no longer made a decent living at it. Be honest—at least with myself—I never made a living at writing. At best, I augmented my slender salary as a clerk in the accounting department of a local department store. The occasional $100 check or even the rare $500 payment for a story allowed me to accumulate a small savings account, but that was all.
This morning, I sat before the blank, blue-gray screen and tried to analyze the situation. I could not continue the way I was going. It was killing me inside. I needed to shake things up. Find out what the real problem was, and take steps to correct it.
As I sat there, a line fed me in a creative writing course many years ago coursed through my brain. Write what you know. What did I know about murder? Nothing more than what I’d read… other than suppressing the urge to kill my pesky little brother a thousand times when we were kids.
I do not believe I left my apartment for work with murder on my mind, but as I drove down Hampstead Street, a bag lady shoved her purloined shopping cart into the street from behind a parked car. My reaction time was slow; before I put foot to brake pedal, the grill of my fifteen-year-old Buick Century plowed into her, sending the woman flopping onto my hood, practically staring me in the face before sliding off into the street. Oh, Lord! Had she or the big Kroger’s shopping cart damaged my grill?
I had the presence of mind to ascertain I could render no aid to the middle-aged woman before dialing 911, only to find someone had already reported the accident. I’d like to say I was shaken by the incident, but in all honesty, I felt euphoric… and not a little disgusted when other homeless individuals descended upon the overturned cart to snatch away the unfortunate victim’s worldly possessions.
An ambulance and police cruiser arrived almost simultaneously, but the victim was left lying in the street until the medical investigator’s people arrived to declare her officially dead.
The police officer, who wore a nametag reading Crown, questioned me thoroughly before a sergeant arrived on scene. I was fortunate that other people had witnessed the incident and described it as an unavoidable accident. I kept my lips glued together to keep from proclaiming them wrong. I had deliberately run down the woman to savor the reality… the experience of actual murder. The sergeant called in the crime scene investigators before inviting me downtown to an interrogation room while trained criminalists swarmed my vehicle abandoned in the 4900 block of Hampstead.
The cost of the entire escapade was likely the loss of a day’s work and a $250 insurance deductible for repair of my Century. I wouldn’t even have to engage a lawyer. Accident, the official report read. The conclusion was prompted by the dead woman’s known history of challenging moving traffic by belligerently shoving her cart in front of numerous other cars. The accident merely achieved the inevitable, the police declared. But I knew better. I recalled how slowly my foot moved to the brake pedal and how feebly I applied pressure.
After sympathetic telephone calls from my boss and a few others at work—who knew they cared enough to pick up a telephone?—and a casserole from the upstairs neighbor widow woman, I lay back in a Lazy-Boy recliner almost as old as my car and gloried in the moment. I committed murder and got away with it. Now I had experienced the actual emotions a killing evoked, so I could write such things convincingly. The stories… no, the novel that followed would be my best work ever. A masterpiece to put me on the New York Times bestseller list. It would brim with hard-boiled authenticity, legitimacy.
I must have dozed because I woke with sweat beading my brow. The sweat of indecision. Had I really committed murder? Was that beat of time between recognition and reaction deliberate? I relived the moment with sinking heart, hovering between the opposite poles of conviction. I had delayed braking the car deliberately. But only for a fraction of a second before instinct took over. Thereafter, I reacted as quickly as possible. Had that slight hesitation signaled murder… or merely mayhem?
My mouth went dry as I realized the true answer. My breath caught in my throat, and my skin prickled. Disappointment—like fear—carried its own odor, something akin to a stuffy old tool shed. This had been mayhem—chaos, havoc, disaster—not murder. I struggled to a sitting position, weighed down by the knowledge I still had murder to do. Who? Where? How?
Well, there was still my nasty little brother living a mere half-mile down the road. And as a rabid NRA member, his house was filled with guns.
Hey, all you writers out there, you can write about things you haven't lived but are able to imagine. Let's not all run out and start doing all sorts of forbidden things in the name of the craft!
Keep on reading. Keep on writing. And keep on submitting. If you feel like it, drop me a line. My personal links are:
Facebook: Don Travis
Here are some buy links to City of Rocks, my most recent book.
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-city-of-rocks-don-travis/1126419974
See you next week.
New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.