Hey, I forget to hit post last night. How about that.
Earlier this week I posted a poll to help me focus my efforts for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Last Lines First. Indecision clearly plagues my followers as well (plus those were some good last lines!), because there was a three-way tie! I ended up going with “And then, being mindful not to spill my tea, I eased into the tartan embrace of Endolyn Muirden’s least offensive armchair, and settled back to watch him die.” After thinking about it a few days, this was the one that really stayed with me. I’m glad it was one of the finalists, and I enjoyed playing around with some different elements in this piece.
Enjoy! Feedback always appreciated.
And then, being mindful not to spill my tea, I eased into the tartan embrace of Endolyn Muirden’s least offensive armchair, and settled back to watch him die.
“It doesn’t have to be this way, Deirdre.” He said, his chin quivering.
“But it does, Endolyn. I won’t be robbed of vengeance.” I replied. The wound on his chest looked more antiseptic than I thought it would. I anticipated rough edges and vibrant blood. Then again, I also expected remorse and found none.
“This is what you care about? Some past slight?” Endolyn said. There was an angry glint in his eye, and I decided to remind him why I came to witness his death.
“Not the past, Endolyn. Not for me. Not for us.” I patted the little swell with condescending pride. I had what he did not: a future. “You took Karl. There are so many things his child will not have. I at least want to offer this peace. Your murder was the best consolation prize I could think of.”
“You could help me.” Endolyn pleaded.
“We both know I can’t. And we both know that even if I could help you, I wouldn’t.” I smiled and took a long sip of strong black tea. It was perfect, with just a hint of lavender. I inhaled deeply, drowning out the smell of death in the room. “I wish I could make you my personal Prometheus, so I would know that you would suffer in agony every single day for COBRA.”
He looked sad for a moment, and I’m not quite sure if it was his eyes that grew misty or mine. COBRA: Collections of Briefly Reviewed Applicants. It wasn’t some secret government project. It wasn’t a financial scheme. It was just good old fashioned inhumanity.
“People hung their lives on you and you took advantage. You’re gods whether you recognize it or not. You shine light onto futures.” I swallowed another sip of tea. “And you cast shadows with your ridicule.”
“It was just a bit of harmless fun.” Endolyn said. I could hear the doubt in his voice. “It’s a stressful job. Being a god, Deirdre, makes a bloody hard life.”
“He understood how callous your little ad-hoc committee was? He accepted that?” I asked. They took application essays and videos from real candidates and mocked them. They drank, laughed, and found it funny people would think they had a shot.
“We want to believe the best in people, but it isn’t always the case. Sometimes we are confronted with the limitations of kindness and courtesy. We have to recognize that we can’t make everyone happy. We can’t let everyone in.” Endolyn replied. His voice was rough. I heard a darkness creeping in, overtaking him.
Death would arrive soon.
I remembered how Karl came home, wept in my arms, and told me about COBRA. That’s when I had realized the real problem: his sister. She had applied somewhere years ago and not gotten in, and to this day attributed her distraction to the sadness of the rejection letter. She had stepped into the road with tears in her eyes, and when she had woken up she was paralyzed.
“None of them knew. It’s not like we transcribed COBRA comments into the rejection letters.” Endolyn continued. “What is so wrong with blowing off steam?”
“Because you’re judging them on whether they deserve admittance to your precious institution, and then you’re judging everything about them. You are judging things that would never matter because you can’t like everyone, so you might as well hate some people.”
I saw tears roll down his cheeks. He nodded slowly, and I felt like he was giving me permission to continue.
“What you did to people, what you said about people – that damage is immeasurable. You deserve the ultimate sentence.” I said. “In just an instant, lives change. That’s what you do. Before they open that email or letter, they don’t know. Then they read that opening line, and the jury has returned with a verdict.”
Karl felt conflicted. He risked speaking out and alienating his colleagues or staying quiet and hating himself. He became increasingly distracted, unaware of his surroundings. The last day he came home catatonic. That’s when I found the wound, when it was almost too late for me and for our baby.
Maybe I was being too hard on Endolyn. Maybe I was taking my pain and loss out on him. COBRA was the brainchild of frat boys turned academic bureaucrats.
I wanted to hold someone responsible since God wasn’t home at the moment. When things start going to hell, you’d rather be damning instead of be damned.
“Deirdre, it’s going to be okay. It’s all going to be okay.” Endolyn’s voice creaked. I didn’t think he was talking about Karl or our baby. I didn’t know if it was an apology, but it was the closest I was going to get to what I wanted.
His head slumped and I noticed the blood coagulated. I threw the teacup on the floor. I didn’t care if it shattered. I didn’t care if tea stained the carpet. These outcomes were a mundane likelihood. There will be broken things. There will be stains.
The gun felt heavy in my hand, but I didn’t have a choice. I came to watch Endolyn die, and that meant something. It entailed a certain level of accountability. It was the same accountability I had to Karl when I found the bite mark. It was the same accountability I had to the putrid corpse I’d lured into Endolyn’s mansion. Killing has humanized me, and resurrection has become an equalizing force. Too bad those who are affected by parity will never know it.
There was a low, guttural moan. I aimed the barrel dead-center at Endolyn’s ginger unibrow. His body twitched. I let my finger rest on the trigger.
I waited for Endolyn Muirden to finish reanimating so I could kill him one more time.