In the Land of the Free

(I’d entered this one in a ‘flash-fiction’ contest a while ago. It is hard to tell a story in less than 1000-words, this one does it in less than 750. It didn’t win. This afternoon I fixed it better than what was sent, but I’m not going to try entering it for another contest. I’m giving it to you for free.)

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In the Land of the Free

A nine millimeter diameter is a perfect circle. Perfection’s length is explained in inches, and four of them if measured exactly. The beginning of a perfect plan is incased by blued steel.  At the back-end is a hammer locked into place and ready to strike, but the open end is pressing hard against perspiring flesh, the focal point of what will be the execution of a perfected plan.

With one hand curled around rough rubber grips, Anthony Williams presses the pistol’s barrel against the Pakistani’s sweat-saturated head. One-half of the Pakistani’s smock was colored a dark yellow – a sickly urine-yellow – like the smell creeping up over the counter and assaulting Anthony’s nose. Gripping the other half of the clerk’s smock with his free hand – the light yellow half – just beneath where a badge reads, ‘Shop EZ.’

Anthony bellows into the ear of his captive, “Just gimmie a pack’a Newport’s! I gotta get back!”

Fumbling with the key in the register’s drawer, the clerk mumbles, pleading, begging, “Just don’t kill me, please! Have all of it!” His accent is thick, his English raw.

Anthony yells again, menacingly stabbing into the clerk’s head with his gun, “No punk! I don’t want yer god-damn money!  Gimmie the Newport’s!”   He stares directly into the security camera, spreading his lips with practiced smile. They’d know it was him.

Six months ago, Anthony ‘Tony’ Williams turned twenty-eight in Beau Sterritt State Correctional Facility, the ninth consecutive birthday passed in prison. Ten days later he was released on good behavior. More than a third of his life sheared away for selling someone else’s rock. Back then, peddling crack gave him an edge, made him look tough. He knew the streets were hard, but prison had taught him meaner – rehabilitated is what the system calls it.

Breakfast at seven, lunch at noon, dinner at five, lights out at nine, and then repeat. That was a perfect life; not freedom – just life. Freedom was for people who didn’t need structure. Tony would never admit needing someone to tell him ‘when to’ or ‘what for.’ By the standard measure of success in the land of the free, Anthony proved a complete failure.

It mattered no more. He was going back where he understood. Inside that world, he’d earned his rights, and his respects. He smiled one more time for the camera as the clerk  yanked a pack of menthol cigarettes out of the overhead rack, spilling three more cool-green packs across the counter. Releasing his temporary prisoner, Anthony grabbed another pack of smokes and turned towards the door.

He smiled with glee. When the police see the security film, they will know it was he who robbed this store. Reaching out towards the door before him, his head buzzed euphoric.  By the end of the week he’d be home with his armed guards protecting him from all these confusing liberties.  Life again would have definition, and Anthony would again have order. Everything balances by its own perfection.

Light travels faster than sound. Pushing upon the door to get out, a flash of lightning reflected across the pane of well-polished glass before exploding outward over the sidewalk like diamond cubes.  The pain first spread across his back like a bad sunburn, followed shortly thereafter by the sensation of muscle being torn into meat ribbons. From the waist down he feels nothing – absolutely nothing. Jello could have served a better foundation than his legs. The sound of thunder follows the lightning.

Dropping his cigarettes and gun he attempts to soften his fall. The pistol clatters across the sidewalk, scattering glass-cubes while continuing over the curb and bouncing out into the parking lot.  Falling through the shattered doorway and across the ‘Shop EZ’ welcome mat, blood spurts unchecked from a peppering of leaking holes.

Buckshot – the double-ought size shell – was several steel balls of nine-millimeter perfection delivered swiftly from a 12-guage shotgun.

The world began to wash like waves pulling sand across the beach. Slowly filling the grooves of the welcome mat, blood and safety glass mixed in the trenches.  “Why?” Tony croaked, sensing the clerk standing over him. A coppery flavor coated his tongue as he forced out the words, “My gun was empty.”  A crimson smear tainted the cellophane covering over the tobacco.  He remembered believing the day he was released, “I am free!” The pain fades into nothing, as goes the prison called the free world.

(If you liked this one – remember, my best work is for sale, the links are on the left.)

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