Modus Operandi

With this one, I plunge into the dark again. I wanted to call it a ‘slice of life’ story, but not everyone would get the pun. Feel free to shout out if you recognize the setting…

A gray cat wends a figure eight around his legs. As the unnoticed feline scampers off, it fades into obscurity.

He sits on a bench facing the marina, the docks, and the boats. A voice, distant and indiscernible, sounds familiar to him. He turns toward the voice casually and seeing no one there, scans the area for the source in a more aware and frantic way. His eyes—falling on no one—feel tired and bloodshot and he worries they may not tell the truth.

When he turns back in frustration, an ethereal woman is standing some ten feet in front of him. He thinks it is number two.

They always find him now. He squeezes his eyes shut and counts to three adding one-thousand before each number. She laughs as he opens his eyes again, but she is gone. The laugh fades to an echo, reverberant in the canyons of his mind.

He claps his hands over his ears and hunches so his elbows are on his thighs. He stands suddenly, hands tight fisted at his sides and he yells.

“Gaaagh, fuck off!”

Alone with his fears and his guilt, he came out to the waterfront for the air to clear his head. “Nothing helps,” he murmurs as an exhalation.

He marches west, back to Brewster Gardens—back the way he came. The voices whisper, a plotting fraternity of his own creation. He can’t tell what they say, exactly, in their sharp frenzied tones. But he knows they’ve found each other somehow.

He wonders what they want. Exposure? Revenge? He feels like an animal being tracked, hunted for sport. He hates it as much as he hates himself and he turns to walk backward for a few steps. Focus slow, he feels he might have missed a lurker darting for cover. Under the overpass for Main Street, he stops and waits to see if anyone is following.

He doesn’t see them, all shot through with moon glow, walking slowly at the top of the grassy hill and looking down at him.

He hates this. All those people. He wishes there wasn’t a first, doesn’t have to close his eyes to see her. She banged her head on the doorframe with the first thrust. The mirror finish of steel tainted red with gore; when he held it up he could see himself reflected back. He buried that reflection again and again hitting something different each time; bone, meat, muscle. His mind raced through the possibilities with each thrust as if tallying some weirdly wicked dart match. He remembered panting like an athlete, breathing spatter and cold air.

Past the Grist Mill and into the parking lot, clouds opened up to let the moon shine down, spotlighting the only vehicle there at this time of night—really early morning. It is an old Ford Econoline with cancerous fenders and a magnetic sign telling other motorists he is Plymouth Pool Services.

As he runs toward it he thinks he is running from the voices, but their volume never dims. The frustration of it turns to anger as he fumbles for the door key. He throws himself into the driver’s seat and closes the door at the same time. He slaps the door lock and feels instant relief—insulated from the outside. There is no dome light to time out; he removed that long ago. He sits in the darkness, eyes darting about and afraid to move. He is trembling with a fear noted in his breathing.

He has always known fear. His father instilled that emotion in him long ago and he wears it like a long coat. It occurs to him that maybe he should have passed that fear around instead of keeping it for himself. He could have dealt in fear instead of death. The idea relaxes him for a moment as if it is a revelatory bit of therapy.

Motion in his rearview mirror has him spinning around to see. Eyes pierce the darkness, staring in at him. He realizes he cannot run anymore, he cannot hide. They always find him, just like he found himself in the reflection of his favorite kitchen knife. He found temporary comfort in the neat certainty of stainless steel.

How can he run from the ones he has already slaughtered? They hunt, they plot and he hates them. Most of all, he hates himself.

He knows he is a vile murderous creature. He knows.

Killing all those people never assuaged his fears. They still come for him and he can only kill them once.

His eyebrows rise in realization of the final answer. If he kills himself…they’ll have no one to hunt.

“Ha haaah,” he mutters, and then thoughtfully rakes his upper teeth across his lower lip. “I know how to end this you fucks.”

But the idea of plunging his favorite knife into himself is, at once, repulsive. Leaving it dirty and discarded, while he bleeds out in pain is not an option he can live with. The irony of that thought process eludes him.

Another plan jumps to the head of the line and he acts on it. He uses a bungee cord to hold the rear door of the van closed on a hose running from the exhaust pipe. The drone of the engine lulls him, its exhaust slowly asphyxiates.

All of them, solemn as funeral attendees, surround the van. There are several dogs and cats in the group. One ferret chases another down the windshield.

The somewhat pink luminosity of the distant eastern sky hints at a morning he is glad he will never see.

As he flickers out of consciousness he feels he has won—feels they can never catch him now.

It occurs to him that he has changed his modus operandi and he smiles. He feels hands grabbing at him and it gives him a start.

Eyes open and outside looking in, he releases a scream that may never end.

 That’s it and thanks for hanging on to the end. I hope you enjoyed it.

Did you recognize the setting? Did the story make you skin crawl at all? Let me know what you think and please—do tell your friends about FlashTold.


14 thoughts on “Modus Operandi

  1. peggy

    The atmosphere and desperation are at a perfect pitch. I had a feeling his escape wouldn’t work, but I still enjoyed getting to the end.

    I’m sorry, I don’t recognize the setting, but it feels familiar. Will you tell us?

    1. donaldconrad Post author

      Thanks for reading Peggy. As for the setting, it is the footpath leading from Brewster Gardens to the Jenny Grist Mill in Plymouth, MA. I should get a shot of the Main Street overpass

  2. mazzz in Leeds

    A very sharp slice of life! Out of the frying pan and into the fire.
    The addition of the dogs, cats and ferret made it all the more eerie.

    Having not even beeen to the Plymouth in the UK, I didn’t recognise the setting 🙂

  3. David G Shrock

    The delivery pulling the reader into mind makes this shine. The paragraph about wearing fear like a coat and wishing to have shared it really puts the entire piece in place giving us the psyche of this “vile creature” and how he ended up in this position. The ferret running on the windshield is a nice touch.

    Nice atmosphere. No, didn’t make my skin crawl, but I live next to a wooded graveyard where things howl in the night.

  4. J. Dane Tyler

    I like it. I didn’t recognize the setting (haven’t been to MA yet), but I loved the setting description.

    I knew the escape plan wouldn’t work, but I had no problem being drawn along to the natural conclusion anyway. It was a great read and well done.

    Nice stuff. 🙂

  5. Jason Coggins

    It may be a tried and tested trope but there is nothing more satisfying than a bad guy getting poetic justice served up to him … in spades! A very tight flash, cheers.

  6. ganymeder

    He didn’t really think that one through; did he? Not that I have any sympathy for him. What a bastard!

    Slice of life (pun and all) wonderfully written.


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