I contributed to a book of short stories a few years ago.
After a bit of an epiphany last night, I’m going to share my 2 contributions here. Maybe I did before and I don’t remember but it feels like time to do it again.
Here are ‘Justice’ and ‘The Emperor’.
It’s dark. The pavement is cold and damp beneath me. I wonder briefly if it rained earlier or the dampness is my own blood.
I hope I’m found soon, it’s getting colder.
My mind is starting to wander. I imagine the reactions of my family when they have to identify my body. I am not exactly decently dressed.
I wish I could see the time but my watch is at home. It spoils the look of my outfit, the Homer Simpson watch face clashes with my cape.
My son gave me that watch for my last birthday, he’s only 6 years old but he swears he picked it out himself.
Suddenly I feel selfish; if I die here my son will lose his father. I knew the risk but the reality never hit me. Typically it is too late now. Even if I live I don’t think I can hide this from my family anymore.
A raindrop falls softly on my face, small splashes hit my eye. I hope it’s a passing shower.
I try to move again but my limbs are twisted and useless, the blade between my ribs reminds me of its red hot presence as it shifts.
I hear sirens in the distance. I’m torn between hoping for an ambulance for me and a police car for the scum that left me here.
The wind is picking up, the tatters of my costume stir slightly and I’m cold again. Lycra does not keep a man warm.
I feel sure that my wife will understand when they tell her what I am, what I’ve done. The few newspaper pieces about me have been complimentary and she’s mentioned more than once how she admires what I’m doing. How could she be anything but proud when she finds out it was me all along?
I lost count some time ago of how many people I’ve helped and I’ve never truly hurt anyone. I made sure I knew the law before I started. Every definition of reasonable force and what could be considered a weapon. Every case I’ve been involved in has resulted in a conviction. I’ve always been very careful with evidence and witnesses.
I hope this is something my son can be proud of.
I heard some people in the town wanted to put up a statue of me. That idea made me laugh, especially when I saw some of the proposal sketches. People have no idea what I look like.
Fear stabs my stomach and feels more real than the knife. What if they find me and think I’m just a copycat? There have been several fairly convincing one over the years.
I’ve been so careful with my trail. Would anyone believe it’s been me behind the mask these last 12 years?
The siren is getting closer and louder, all I can think is that it must be too early in the morning for them to be using a siren. Residents could complain. I laugh out loud that these could be amongst my last thoughts, the movement hurts like hell and I can barely breathe for a few moments.
The rain is heavier now and I’m soaked. I want to turn my head to shield my face but I can’t. I’m not worried; I can feel my arms and legs although I almost wish I couldn’t. I’m glad I can’t see them. I get sick at the sight of my own bones. A lesson I learnt the hard way.
How far does a man have to fall to die? I fell 2 storeys with a knife in my side and I’m still alive. I don’t know how long I’ll stay like that but my head feels whole.
At least I know the girl got away. I’m glad about that. I’d hate for my last night to end in failure.
I realise now that no matter what the outcome, whether I live or die, I’m giving up. My son, my wife. They both deserve better. A man who will protect and care for them, like I’ve done for this community for so many years.
You don’t get a statue for being a great father though. Maybe you should.
A cat walks into my field of vision and I realise that the rain has stopped. The cat looks at me and rubs its face against mine. I worry it will walk over me and do more damage but it seems to know this is a bad idea and lays down very gingerly next to me. I appreciate the company.
The papers use the word ‘superhero’ to describe what I’ve done but I never claimed any super powers. That stuff is for comic books and fairy tales. All I ever had was an overactive imagination and a strong sense of justice. Turns out sometimes that’s all you need to make a difference.
Did I really make a difference? Did I make the world a better place? Did I even make it safer in my own little town? There’ll probably never be any statistical evidence but I know I did what was right.
The siren is long gone now. It could be hours before anyone finds me. My fingers are stating to go numb and my head feels light. I must have lost a lot of blood by now. The cat doesn’t seem to mind. It’s purring softly now, vibrating against my chest. That sound is the only one I hear.
A sense of poetry fills me. How fitting to have the towns hero found stabbed and mangled by a fall comforted only by a cat. Who is there for the protector in his own hour of need? I love this cat very much now. I think I will die if it leaves me.
The rain clouds are clearing and I can see the stars. I’ve never seen them look so beautiful before. I could stare at them forever.
I hear footsteps now, high heels clicking on the paving slabs. She stops out of sight and I can hear her sharp intake of breath. She bends down and I can smell her perfume. It is the girl from earlier, the reason I’m here.
‘I need an ambulance’ I hear her say and I could cry with relief. ‘I’ve found The Vigilante and he needs help’.
At 8.59am Robert is standing at the door to the shop, his left hand rests on the key in the lock and the fingers of his right hand gently brush the sign hanging on the glass pane of the door. His eyes are fixed on the large white clock above his desk and he waits for the second hand to complete its journey to the top.
This has been his morning routine for nearly 30 years and his evenings have barely changed either. Only the gradual electronic advances in his till system and the recent purchase of a laptop computer have affected the way he operates his small bookshop.
Robert unlocks the door and flips the sign to ‘Open’ simultaneously as the clock strikes nine. The chimes of the town’s clock tower seem to exist only to agree with his time keeping.
He knows he probably won’t see any customers for at least the first half hour so he takes the opportunity to dust and polish the bookshelves, Robert is not a young man anymore and it is difficult for him to reach the bottom shelves by hand. He no longer displays books down there and uses weights to keep the bookcases stable. He slips off a shoe and drops the duster onto his socked foot and, swaying slightly, he runs the duster around the bottom shelves of every bookcase with his toes.
Now, with his morning housekeeping completed, Robert sits at his desk between the till and computer and picks up his latest book. He’s currently reading a murder mystery by a local author and it occupies him until the first customers of the day arrive.
The bookshop has a healthy number of regulars as well as attracting many of the visiting holiday makers during the summer months. It is early in the season now but the day is bright and warm and the small, seaside town will normally draw a hundred or so people on a day trip on weekends like these. Some of them may be in want of a book to read in the park or on the beach and Robert will be happy to help them find what they need.
Almost half a lifetime spent in the bookshop has given Robert an uncanny sense for which book will suit a particular reader. His regulars respect his opinion and often buy books on his recommendation alone, newcomers and strangers are often amazed at his skill and even a little dubious but his open charm and easy nature will usually sway them into making the purchase.
Robert has a drawer full of letters from people thanking him for introducing them to a new genre or little known author.
The post arrives a little after ten in the morning and Robert exchanges a few friendly words with the postman. He’s a new face today and Robert likes to make the new ones feel welcome in the town. There’s not been a regular postman on this route since Stanley retired 5 months ago and the changes every few weeks make Robert a little uneasy.
The post contains nothing out of the ordinary; an electric bill, a catalogue for a publishing house, a letter offering him a pre-approved credit card and a letter from the council that everyone on the high street had already received several times over.
Robert spends an hour flicking through the catalogue with a mug of tea growing cold beside him, there is nothing that jumped out at him and it is probably for the best. Not least because Robert’s first love was always second hand books and although he usually kept a good stock of new releases and popular titles he always felt like his heart was with the older, dog-eared volumes.
A young odd looking couple come into the shop and take deep breaths. They speak in loud whispers about the smell of old books and the soullessness of large chains. She has a full sleeve of tattoos and he wears glasses with no lenses. Robert know their type, they’ll walk around pointing at books they claim to love but have probably never read and leave without buying anything, complaining the whole time about the death of independent businesses.
Robert smiles kindly at them and explains that the smell of old books is due to lignin which forms the cell walls of wood being similar in structure to vanillin. He shows them some books he knows they’d love if they ever read them and watches as they leave empty handed.
Just before lunch time the numbers pick up, Robert struggles to greet everyone coming through the door and maintain his high level of service with every customer, he honestly can’t remember having been this busy in several years and the feeling of satisfaction as every customer leaves happy gives Robert a swell of pride in his chest.
The day wears on and Robert is growing tired of being on his feet. In the middle of the afternoon he makes another mug of tea and sits behind his desk, surveying his small kingdom as the flow of customers slows to a trickle and eventually stops. The families visiting the town for the day pack up their cars and drive home, Young couples head indoors to get ready for the Saturday night ahead and the older folk finish up their shopping and start thinking about their dinners.
A few stragglers pop in before closing time to search for a quick bargain and some of Robert’s friends come to wish him well.
There aren’t many books left now, Robert has let the stock dwindle over the past month. He had hoped that they would all be gone by the end of the day and it makes him unbearably sad to box up the remaining volumes. In a separate box he places his last few possessions; everything else he owns is either in storage or already at his niece’s house. Her guest bedroom would be his home for a month or so until the retirement apartment he had bought is ready.
His niece’s car is on the street outside the shop and a man from the council hovers anxiously in the doorway. Robert lifts the box containing his belongings and walks to the door; he switches off the light for the last time and turns to look into the shop.
‘Grant me strength to accept the things I can not change.’ He whispers.
The council worker gives Robert a sideways glance and holds his hand out. Robert locks the door and puts the key in the man’s open palm.
As Robert’s niece drives them away he looks back sadly. He held out longer than any other shop on his block but he is an old man now and hasn’t the strength to fight anymore.
Always interested to know what people think, good or bad.
The whole thing be purchased from the kindle store here