Not For the Faint-hearted

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Green note: this one’s a throwaway. There was no time to create the space this turned out to need to come to fruition, i.e. I bit off more than I could chew. And I’m not one to mess with something after I’ve typed “Fin” at the end of it. So I left it like it is and I’m posting it anyway because…I guess it has something to do with ritual purification…

Tim Iddings was a scared rabbit of a man in whom a great war of contradictions raged: the worm wanted to eat the warrior. He was born to the wrong parents at the wrong time in the wrong geographical location, and so it was that the worm—being a creature of such wretched and dank realms—had a manifestly unfair advantage. Every day of his forty-six helpless years, Tim had waited for the gift of personal victory to be dropped into his lap, until this day, which started out as usual and ended inconceivably…

On a beautiful North Texas morning in April, Tim pulled his old Ford pickup into a parking space at work. He sat with his hands on the wheel, staring up at the massive, mirrored building, getting up the gumption to go inside and begin another workday. When he could put it off no longer, he yanked on the door handle and slid off the bench seat.

He strode long and slow to the door, flashed his badge at the desk and took the elevator to the seventh floor. He stepped out and scuffed down the carpeted hall to the break room, poured himself a cup of coffee.

As he was fixing it up with sugar and powdered creamer, a muscly colleague blustered in, black hair slicked back. “Yo, Tim! Come to the pistol club with me after work, we’ll fire off a few rounds, then hit Sherlock’s for a burger and a couple of beers, what do you say?”

“I dunno, Wyatt…this is my only free night this week… I was planning to do a bit of reading.”

“Oh yeah? Some mystery? Sci Fi?

“I’m afraid not… No… No time for pleasure reading, sadly… It’s Eckhart Tolle’s latest.”

Wyatt snorted. “Hippy shit! Come on, we’ll hit the road at 5:10, be at the range at 5:30…” He looked toward the ceiling, calculating, lips moving, then back to Tim. “We’ll be out of Sherlock’s by 7:30 and you’ll be home by 8.”

“Ah…well, no, actually,” Tim said. “I’d have to swing by the apartment first to get my gun, so why don’t we—”

“No worries, man, I’ve got a couple of 9 mils with me today. One of them’s that CZ 75 you like. C’mon.”

“Well, I dunno, I suppose I could, it does sound good, but I’d rath—”

“Great, man, I’ll swing round your cube at 5:05, see you then!” Wyatt grinned and slapped Tim’s shoulder, headed out with his coffee.

Tim groaned and dragged his heels on down the hall and into a sea of cubes. He made his way to his workstation, hung up his jacket, and sat scowling and sipping coffee while his computer booted up.

He clicked on the docket icon, entered the system and checked his call list. “Alrighty then,” he said aloud then took a series of quick breaths, flexed his hands, picked up the phone, dialed, and cleared his throat.

“Mrs. Hackett, this is Tim Iddings with Ace Debt Recovery, you never called me back. … What did you say?. … Ma’am, you owe a Federal debt. Do you really think that we’re going to stop calling you? … Really? Is that what you think? … You pay your bills and we’ll stop calling you. Because I can guarantee you, unless you do that, the phone calls are going to continue. … Ma’am, you owe twenty thousand nine hundred and fifty dollars. That’s not chump change. … I don’t care. Make it easy on yourself: decide what you can pay per month, call me with that information, I’ll draw up the contract for you to sign, and you make your payments on time every single month. Because if you don’t, you will have hell to pay. Got it? … I don’t care. You call me tomorrow at this time.”

Tim hung up, blew out air and fell back into his chair, stared straight ahead.

“Morning, Tim.”

Tim started, looked toward the soft voice of Mark, a peach-fuzzed kid with Zen-ward inclinations.

“Can I talk to you a minute?” Mark said.

“I dunno, man… I’m kind of… Yeah, sure, why not?”

Mark entered Tim’s cube like a cat and sat down carefully in Tim’s guest chair. He leaned toward Tim, lowered his voice to a whisper and said, “I can’t take this job much longer.”

“I know how you feel, man… But we’re in the middle of an economic downturn, you know? So I figure we’re lucky to even have a job… I dunno…”

“Well, I’m going down to the Career Center on University Drive after work to register. Come with me, man.”

“Oh wow, good idea… But… I dunno… I sure would like to, Mark, but I told Wyatt I’d go to the shooting range with him tonight.”

“Wyatt? That asshole? Blow him off, man. This is life or death!”

“I know, I know…boy, do I know…”

“Then do something about it, Tim!”

Tim’s phone rang. He looked back and forth between Mark and the phone. “I dunno, let me think about it… I’ll give you a call or come by your cube after I finish this call.”

“Alright, man,” Mark said, and he hurried off.

Tim readied himself, picked up the phone. “Ace Debt Recovery, Tim Iddings, here. … Hello, Mr. Bingham. … You went to the Community Credit Union, OK, did you get the money? … You only discussed options? … You already know what your options are, Mr. Bingham: pay your debt or we will take you to court, garnish your wages, seize and sell your property, serve bankruptcy papers, whatever it takes to get out of you that thirty-five thousand dollars you owe. … No, we can’t give you any more time. … No, you listen, Mr. Bingham, the fact that you can’t manage your finances is not our problem. I’m going to take the initiative, Mr. Bingham, and make ready to have you served with bankruptcy papers tomorrow at 3pm, unless you call me with your first payment before 10am tomorrow morning. Have a nice day.”

Tim hung up. He stared at the screen, felt for his coffee cup and brought it to his lips, tilted it back. Nothing. He looked into it. Empty. The phone rang. He didn’t answer it, just got up and headed for the break room for coffee.

Mary, from the admin pool, was in there fiercely rinsing burnt-on coffee from a couple of the pots. She detected a presence, didn’t care who it was, just unloaded. “Can’t you slobs manage your coffee pots any better than this?” she said. Then she saw it was Tim. “Oh hi, Tim… Are you alright?”

Wyatt burst in. “Whoo! You wouldn’t believe the moron I just got off the phone with! This woman’s had over forty thousand dollars-worth of education but she don’t know her ass from a hole in the ground!”

“Don’t say ‘Hi’, Wyatt,” Mary said.

“Whatever,” Wyatt said.

Tim mumbled, “I don’t know if I can do this job much longer…”

“Oh sure you can, Tim,” Wyatt said. “It’s easy money, ruining some loser’s day.”

Mary put her hand on Tim’s shoulder. “Tim,” she said, “how long have you been working here?”

“Ah…six…maybe seven months… I dunno…”

“Well if this job is doing you in, you should look for another job that suits you better.”

“Why don’t you mind your own business, Mary,” Wyatt said.

“Get stuffed,” Mary said, and stalked off.

“I… Ah…she’s right, Wyatt…” Tim took a deep breath. “In fact, I was going to ask you if you minded if I took a rain check on the shooting range tonight… I… I’d like to go to the Career Center tonight to register.”

“Well yeah I mind, bud, I’m really looking forward to hanging out.”

Wyatt looked so hurt, Tim couldn’t take it. “Why don’t you come with us?” Tim said.

“’Us’?” Wyatt said. “Who’s ‘us’?”

“Oh…ah…you know, just Mark and me.”

“Mark? He’s a puss! Tell him to go suck his thumb by himself. We’re gonna go blow off some steam and relax with some good food and drink.”

“Well, I—”

“This is just a job, Tim, something you’re doing until the economy shapes up and you move on. You know how many schmoes are out there competing for even the shittiest jobs as we speak? At this point in time, there’s no sense in going down to the Career Center.”

“I dunno… I suppose you have a point…”

“Of course I do, bud!” Wyatt gave Tim another grin and pat on the shoulder and said, “See you at 5:05!”

Tim’s shoulders dropped, he walked slowly back to his cube stirring his coffee round and round, contemplating. He sat and sipped and stared at his monitor. The phone rang, jarred him. He glanced over. Inside call. He picked it up. “Tim here.”

“Hey Tim what happened?”

“Oh shit, sorry Mark, I’ll be right over.”

Tim went to Mark’s cube, plopped down in his guest chair. “He won’t let me out of it.”

“What do you mean by that? Are you a man or a mouse?”

“I dunno, man, that doesn’t sound fair, because I told you I’d already made plans with Wyatt and—”

“OK, OK, I’ll give you that. But let me ask you this, and I want you to give me a straight answer. Which would you rather do: register at the Career Center—which can’t hurt and might just prove fruitful—or waste money blasting a bunch of holes in paper silhouettes of a man?”

“Well…I’d like get out of this job but I said I’d—”

“Never mind, bud, I know how hard it must be for you.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re a reed in the wind, my friend,” Mark said. And with that he stood up, said, “Gonna get some coffee. I’ll see you around.”

“Ah… Well… OK…” Tim watched Mark leave, sat bobbing his head, “Yeah, yeah, I know…” and looking into his half empty coffee cup for the answer.

# # # # #

Tim stood before the door to his apartment fumbling with his keys, mumbling under his breath, “Why did I let him do it? Why did I let him do it? Why did I…” He found the key, wiggled it in the lock and burst into the foyer.

Instead of hanging up his keys and coat, he made a beeline for the kitchen, looked at the clock on the stove. 11:13pm. His usual bedtime was 10pm. Everything was askew. He paced before the stove, tipsy. “I tried to leave, I tried to leave, I tried to, I did…” He stopped, grabbed the teapot off the stove, filled it, turned on the burner.

He got a tea bag and cup out and sat down, elbows on the dinette table, one knee jiggling. “Damn that Wyatt,” he whispered. “Just one more beer, just one more beer, always this pushy convincing, manhandling, he never lets up, just like the job, he’s made for it…and I am the worm…that feeds on the reed…that bends to the will of others…”

And then something—perhaps the need to empty himself of burden, of guilt, not of offenses to others, but to himself—made him empty the pockets of his coat.

He pulled each thing out, and as he fingered it, he pondered the meaning of it, then set it down on the table before him:

The Silvana pocket watch passed down from his grandfather to his father and then to him. Great men, both. He could feel their love and weight.

A couple of Mexican pesos from a long ago drunken trip there with a girl he’d just met at a hole in the wall bar in Texas, just a forty-five minute drive to Mexico.

And the Figaro chain he bought the girl at a shack of a shop in Mexico…and she gave it back when he dropped her off back in Texas…and he tried to recall her name. “Mina…Myra…Maybelle… Mirabelle, that was it. Oh, what a rough-hewn beauty…”

A handkerchief of his mother’s.

And his tiny Moleskin notebook where he records any thought that might lead him somewhere. He read some of the entries and shook his head. “’Tis sad,” he said aloud.

And even as the teapot was screaming on the stovetop, Tim stood and walked out of the kitchen, trancelike, to his bedroom. He sat on the edge of the bed and pulled open the nightstand drawer. He took out his SIG P210, just to feel its familiar weight in his hand, as if to inspire courage within himself, to bring out the warrior. But instead, only dark thoughts came.

“I am the trampled runt, the scourge, the fifth wheel of the world,” Tim thought. “It is too much work to live successfully, I am too weak.” With his thumb, he disengaged the safety and thought, “What if I were to just…”

But then the worm awoke and said to him, “But Tim, what if your aim is off?”

Tim put the gun in his mouth, aimed it straight up and back a tiny bit. “This is the way I’ve heard it’s done,” he thought.

The worm said, “But what about your anticipation of the recoil in a situation as intense as this?”

Tim withdrew the gun. “Oh for Christ’s sake!” he shouted aloud. “Is there no peace? Is there no singular, true thought? No constant beam of truth? Oh why have I not been gifted with a purpose?”

He could feel the worm within him shaking with laughter and he wanted with his entire being to cut it out, to see the hole, as easy as he has seen it in the skin of an apple and to slice the apple just there, to cut the worm in two, wound it mortally, watch it writhe for a time, and then to blast it with a blow torch until it became black nothingness.

But he didn’t know where within him it existed, hence the desire to kill its host. He took the gun up again, repositioned it again, tried to ignore the worm taunting him with its brutally realistic suggestions.

“What if you pull the trigger and the job’s not done and you are still alive,” the worm said. “What if you’re lying there thinking that if you are thinking, then that means you’re still alive, and if you were still alive that would mean having to take stock of what you may have brought upon yourself, to do a mental scan from tip to toe regarding the level of damage, and oh horrors, what might you find?”

Tim held the gun steady. Straight up and back a tiny bit.

“What if all or part of a limb or one organ or more has been blown off or out, something gruesome yet not deadly, something ghastly you would have to live with,” the worm said. “And yet, if you found the damage was grave enough to cause great blood-letting, I suppose you could just lie there until your blood drained away and life left your body at last—”

A deafening report filled the apartment to bursting, shook the windows.

Oh dear God it has happened,” Tim thought. “I don’t remember pulling the trigger and yet the blast, it rang through my head like an exploding bullet.”

He waited, wondered if he should do the mental scan, his eyes closed tight, putting it off. He could be dead now, his soul perhaps passed from his body, hovering just over it in a state of confusion, and certainly it will all be settled quickly once his soul sees it must go on without the body… And so he did nothing, as nothing was natural to do.

# # # # #

The chirping of birds wakened Tim, on the edge of his bed, askew as he was, his clothes on from the day before, his body cross-ways, the upper half of it on the bed, his left leg hanging off it, the right heel pushed into the floor. He was careful to lie still, not move, let only his eyes rove. And they saw diamonds shimmering in the rays of light coming through the shutter slats. He contemplated them and the chirping, both equal, diamond-like in their sound and their light, and although it made no sense, it seemed right, normal.

Perhaps this was Heaven and not his bedroom. Curiosity drove him to dare to stir, first wiggling toes and fingers, then lifting his head, looking about. The furniture, within each piece, the molecules, the atoms even, were lovely, perfect. Everything in the room was different, new to him, and their newness caused him to want to walk among these things, and so he dared unfold.

He walked to the bathroom, looked at his face in the mirror, strange but pleasing. He splashed water on it, it was cool, gave him vigor. He was aware of hunger and by bodily habit, moved to the kitchen.

And there he saw an exploded teapot. It lay in half on the floor, like an apple cut in half, and he saw a blackened squiggle, which, upon closer examination, turned out to be the apocalypse he’d been waiting for.


Click here for more on prompt “SS2 #4 – waiting for a gift” from other Sunday Scribblings participants

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The last two parts of this story, the apartment entry and wakeup scenes, were fueled by much wine with my amazing new Muse. I hear bits of the illustrious Freddy Mercury in Matthew Bellamy’s voice. Most delicious.

“Apocalypse Please” by Muse

Declare this an emergency
Come on and spread a sense of urgency
And pull us through
And pull us through

And this is the end
This is the end
Of the world

And it’s time we saw a miracle
Come on, it’s time for something biblical
To pull us through
And pull us through

And this is the end
This is the end
Of the world

Proclaim eternal victory
Come on and change the cause of history
And pull us through
And pull us through

And this is the end
This is the end
Of the world

6 responses to “Not For the Faint-hearted

  1. The sadness and weakness of being swayed from your intent. Of the three characters in the story it was only the perceived weakling Mark who was going to the job center that was the strong one. Despite your protestations in your introduction I thought the story read well and kept this reader (at least) engaged all the way through.

    • Oh thank you, Old Egg, I value your opinion. It was just 180 degrees from last week’s story-telling experience in which all the steps that led to the finished product felt right. This one hounded me with wrongness all the way (“Here’s your sign!” as Bill Engvall says), and I realized it’d take a lot more work to get that feeling gone. I certainly did learn a thing or two from it!

  2. I am glad worm was there..and his shot was off..maybe he will haul arse to the career centre..I understand stuck..your words didn’t feel that way..and there is a glimmer of light at the end..always good..I agree with old egg this read like a well thought out and composed piece..

    • Thank you, Jae, supreme rat mom, or if you prefer, owner of Rattus Maximus, not to be confused with Rattus Rattus, for to name anything thusly would signify dire circumstances, of which this/these, none of it, is/are not. And like the red-eyed white rabbit, I’m late! Put the kettle on, will you dear Jae? I know it’s late, but I thought I’d float by…

  3. I had my first read of this story last week – liked the story – but didn’t have adequate time or mental acuity to comment, and life took over again.
    But I didn’t delete the email notification. I planned to come back. Something told me to take another look. You caught Tim very well. I have Tim days. I’ve been considering, waiting, wondering. The light went on.
    Timing is everything.

    • I know what you mean, Ms Words. The only reason I’m posting anything at all, on top of Life happening, is due to Vivarin, and,now that Life has bestowed upon me some sort of virus, it’s due to Advil Cold & Sinus. Both of these are some of the biggest kicks in the pants a person could hope to get, legally. That, and the light coming on, and in that regard, I’m poised for you next post : )

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