Sunday, September 18, 2005

Start Something, Part VI; or, Conclusion


Part VI. Conclusion.

John Francis steps out onto the chewed-up back lot. He brain registers a noise behind him, in the flash of an instant, but fails to process the noise quickly enough to fire off a signal to his muscles. Too slow, in other words. Two pairs of feet whisk rapidly across the pebbles in pristine sneakers.
He is grabbed from behind, two vice-grip hands seize his biceps forcefully, shove him hard into the side of the cab, facing the Kinko’s, away from his assailant. To his left, a figure has rushed the driver’s side and is thrusting something into the open window like he’s stoking hell’s fires. From underneath a gray hooded sweatshirt, his gritty voice derides the driver and demands money.
Something cold and metal is jammed painfully into the back of John Francis’ head. He bends over, his cheek nearly communing with the roof of the car. His back door is still open. In his right hand he is gripping the all-important CD. The hard metal feels like a jouster’s lance against the base of his skull – and is hurting more by the second. John winces, bends over further, and now his ear is touching the cold surface.
The assailants are clearly young men. John can tell by their voices, one making continuous demands for money from the driver, the other whispering something in the vicinity of his own left ear. He can’t make out the words, the language seems incomprehensible. Hands begin to rifle through his pockets brutally, swiftly; there goes his wallet, never to be seen again. $17. That’s all he’s got.
John Francis can barely comprehend what is going on. He is in utter shock, so much so that there is virtually no fear. Something in the back of head signals that this may come later. He doesn’t notice that his heart has begun to piston crazily inside of his chest, increasing in speed. Thoughts are lining up in his mind very slowly, competing with the deafening static of surprise and confusion. Only about thirty seconds have passed. His own assailant has found everything he could, including John’s room key, and is making disgusted noises. The lance digs deeper into his upper vertebrae.
Suddenly there are scuffling sounds, limbs tangling, an exclamation of some kind, followed by grunts – all to his immediate left. John involuntarily lifts his head towards the driver’s position as much as possible and perceives something he cannot believe. The taxi driver is attempting to forcibly relieve his assailant of his weapon. Through the car window. The hooded man curses.
John is released from his compromised position. He straightens out. The man behind him has moved towards his accomplice, one halting step, too late.
There is a blinding flash. John’s ears immediately erupt into high-pitched screaming. The taxi driver’s shadowy form slumps over, behind the plexiglass window and the car seat.
All of the air leaves John’s body at once – all of it. For a split second, the briefest instant, everything in the world is frozen. This includes John’s blood, his limbs, right down to the electrical impulses spidering up and down his neurological network. John’s eyes, which have become engorged, are fixated on the space in the cab where the driver’s shape used to be. Now there is the steering wheel. The red digital meter, running. Something obscuring the plexiglass, slow movement.
Then his eyes shift a fraction to the left. The first man has rotated his body ninety degrees to the right. Someone shouts something. John begins to raise his foot, take a step, his arms starting to rise, a plea forming in his brain, the language en route to his tongue. But words fail him again, by not arriving. Something hits him, hard, in the upper chest. Not like a fist, but a foot, a huge one, barreling with immense force. He falls backward, twisting slightly. The CD skitters off, plastic scratching on the pavement.
After this, silence. The only exception is heavy breathing, his own, rapid at first, gradually growing slower, and slower still. An indeterminate period of time passes, it could be seconds, it could be minutes. John is on his right side, for the most part, but his legs feel hopelessly tangled. Above him, just inside his line of sight, he sees the red awning, turned on its side, neon lights, but still no people. How is that possible, he wonders.
Then he realizes that his mind is emptying out. Static fades. He is feeling calmer by the moment, or maybe just more drained. Ideas, notions, concepts seem to be floating around just outside of his mental grasp, things he is vaguely aware of that he feels he ought to gather up into his consciousness, but is unable to do so. The CD is lying on the ground; he can see it.
Something wet is expanding slowly underneath his cheek and right ear. Strangely, John thinks of maple syrup. Then another thought begins to coagulate, the fragments assembling, and John knows that it is important – it will inform him of something he needs to know right now. He waits. It is coming, only its progress is impeded. Then halted altogether, drowned out by a single voice, an interruption.
Start something, the voice rasps. Start something.
As the thought evaporates, whatever it was going to be, John’s heart fills with frustration. He draws a breath to respond. If he knew the breath was his last, he would not use it in this manner, but he doesn’t know.

So he simply says, aloud, ‘I can’t.’


1 comment:

Duke Altum said...

John Francis Grimm emerges, in the grim conclusion of this surprising tale, as a 21st-century Mersault, puzzling his way through an absurd universe... only here, unlike in Camus' famous novel, the unfortunate protagonist ends up at the wrong end of the gun... at first I felt the way this story ended left the central question it raised (would JFG "start something" or not?) unresolved, which was unsatisfying to me... and yet, I had an intuition that this ambiguity may have been exactly what Mutt was after, whether he was conscious of it or not. Either way, I thought the execution of the story was great, and I think it needs to be said that this is a very different type of story for Mutt, and therefore I give him a heck of a lot of credit for "starting something" different and pulling it off. Certainly made for an interesting diversion/experience for the many readers of this blog. Great contribution, Mutt!