Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Story of the Runner by Joshua Lucht

I want to tell you a story about a man who wanted nothing more than to be the fastest person in the world. Wouldn't you know it, when this man was a child, god himself came down and offered to become his personal trainer. And, as you'd expect from somebody who killed his own son, god was a merciless taskmaster. The work was grueling and went on for years. Through rain, snow, sleet, even a hurricane one time, god had his protégé running, molding him into just what he always wanted to be: the fastest person in the world.
Time passed and the child grew into a man with no friends, no education, no interests and no connection with even his family because god had him running so long and so hard that the man had no time for any of these things.
And then, the big day was upon him. It was the moment of glory. The entire world would be watching on their television sets to watch the race that would determine who the fastest person in the world really was.
He took his place at the starting line when he saw god, his own personal trainer approaching. The man, thinking that he was about to receive some sort of mini pep-talk or some words of encouragement turned to hear what his lord and trainer had to say. That's when god pulled out a .45 Magnum and blew the man's kneecaps right off. Then god unzipped himself, pissed on the man's face and walked away.
The end.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Safe Bet by Joshua Lucht

Bill Finch had a doting wife, not to mention two kids and three grandchildren, all of whom adored him. He had more money than he could ever hope to spend. He had the gratitude of his government. And he had less than fifteen hours before the Machine was going to take him from his house, hold a parade in his honor and then shoot him in the head in front of a cheering crowd.
The town had made its preparations. The local bar had even created a new drink and called it the ‘Bill Finch.’ Three parts rum, one part amaretto, a squirt of chocolate syrup and a couple drops of Tabasco to give it a kick. It was disgusting.
He was twenty-two when the Machine approached him. Fifty years old was an eternity away.

When the country handed the reigns over to the Machine, they meant well. They were in a crisis. It just kept happening, sometimes every day for weeks and weeks. Someone had to bail the people out.
And more than hate or lust or greed, fear can make people do some very bad things.
The Machine promised peace and order and they were better than their word. They hunted down those responsible and for the first time in years, there was something that passed for justice. Everyone gathered for the hangings and they were wonderful.

They did the first batch on a Saturday afternoon, lined up neatly on a steel gallows. It was built for ten, and it glistened in the sun. Ten arms with metal wire instead of rope nooses stretched out over ten steel swinging trap doors.
Bill had good reason to be there that day, even more than most. He was the only surviving member of his family. He’d lost his mother, his father, his sister and his fiancé, each in separate incidents. TV was not going to cut it for Bill. He needed to be there, live and up close, so he could taste it.
But revenge was not the real reason Bill had come. He was curious. Just like everyone who had bought plane tickets to the city and filled the hotels so they could be there, just like everyone all over the country, glued to their television sets; he was curious. Bill had seen people die before, but this was different. This was justified. This was righteous. He had permission to enjoy it.
What struck Bill about those first ten was how young and handsome all of them were. Obviously, the Machine had chosen the most photogenic to start the executions off with.
The Machine had not put black pillow cases over their heads. You could see their eyes bugging out with effort and surprise as they swung. They saw the blood spill down the front of the condemned’s shirts as the metal wire sliced through their throats. The smallest of them, a skinny kid, no more than sixteen, maybe seventeen, actually lost his head. When it popped off, everybody cheered.
Bill stood there, glued to the spot, for hours, watching them scrub the gallows clean, long after the crowd had dispersed.
“You enjoy the show?” asked a husky voice behind Bill, making him jump.
Bill turned to see a thick man, in his sixties, wearing a Machine uniform.
“I’m not sure,” Bill answered.
“Gruesome business. Hard to watch.”
“The boy on the end, the one whose head came off, he helped plan the one that killed my boy.”
“I’m Major Croft.”
“Bill Finch.”
“You had lunch yet, Bill?”

“Are you a gambling man?” asked Major Croft, swallowing his mouthful of cheeseburger and smiling.
“Not really.”
“Do you think you could be?”
“I guess that would depend on what the bet was,” Bill said slowly.
“That’s a smart boy!” said the Major with a guffaw. “General First is a gambler. A smart gambler like you.”
“I’ve never really…”
“But you already know the secret, choose your bets well. That’s all you need to know.”
“I guess.”
“Ten years ago, before it all started, do you know what the average life expectancy in this country was?” asked Major Croft.
“Seventy something, I think,” Bill said.
“Seventy-six. And now that the Machine is in control, General First wants to lay down a bet that we’ll start seeing people dying of old age again.”
“The General wants to make a bet?”
“We’ve turned a corner in this country. It won’t be long until everyone is a patriot. But what then?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Do you think you’ll live to be seventy-six, Bill?” asked Major Croft.
“Hell no.”
Major Croft leaned in and smiled. “You wanna bet?”
Bill frowned.
“Seventy-six is the number General First wants to use,” said Major Croft. “So, here’s the bet, if you want to take it. We give you five hundred thousand dollars…”
Bill dropped his fork into his plate.
“…and on your seventy-fifth birthday, one of our soldiers will take you from your house and execute you.” The Major lit a cigarette before adding with a wink, “If you live that long.”
“And if the Machine is still in power,” said Bill, realizing that he had probably just said something that could get himself hurt.
But the Major smiled. “That’s right,” he said. “There are lots of reasons why you might not have to pay up. A smart gambler would jump on this.”
“How many years can I sell?”
The Major’s smile spread to a maniacal grin. “As many as you can spare.”

Bill had four million dollars that he hadn’t spent yet. Eight more years.

He had been working on the noose for weeks, sharpening the steel rope until it was like a razor. His head would come off entirely. He stood there, on the chair, feeling proud and rebellious. But then he kicked the chair out from under himself and the only two things he truly was were stupid and dead.

Kimball's Demise by Joshua Lucht

It found me three hours ago and I don’t have too long before it eats me alive. It’s sloppy and predictable and it was just biding its time. I never knew what it was before now. I did not believe in it, but somehow, I knew that it would get me.
And now I’m finding out that there are some things that man was never supposed to know.
Like the Tree of Good and Evil.
I’m crouched on the floor in the corner of my bedroom. My bed, a mattress on the floor with no frame looks inviting, but I just can’t lie down. When it finally ends, I want to be awake.
I thought it was harmless.
All I can do now is sit here, chewing what’s left of my fingernails, down to the bones and smoking the rest of my cigarettes. There are eleven left in the pack. I hope they last longer than I do; smoking has always been my security blanket and I can’t deal with a craving in my last moments.
That was my first stop this afternoon. I went into the gas station and bought three packs of cigarettes. I live just around the corner and they carry these cigarettes special for me, French ones that you would never find in a gas station. I buy three packs every day.
He was standing next to a bicycle in a white shirt and a black tie and he was very, very handsome. I was walking quickly; I don’t like to be bothered and the man, smiling, handed me one of those gospel tracts. “’How much do I love you?’ Christ asked. ‘This much.’ Then he spread his arms and died for me.”
I think it got in through my hand. The only reason I say that is because my index fingernail fell off first.
Against my better judgment, I took the gospel tract. Sometimes, it’s just easier not to put up a fight. I did not even think about it again until just now; I shoved it into the front pocket of my jeans along with my loose change and keys and walked away.
It’s taken one hand entirely, withered it until it crumbled and fell away like ash off a cigarette and it has moved through my chest into both of my legs. And now it’s bubbling under my skin, turning it dark and blistering.
It’s only been a few minutes since I tried to lift one of my legs only to have it dissolve and fall onto the floor, like God was tapping a cigarette.
It’s almost over now, but there’s one small mercy: it’s left my right hand alone so I can still smoke.
I’ll light my last cigarette now; it’s almost over.
I only have seconds left.
With the scant flaps of flesh under my nose and over my chin, I can manage to suck on my cigarette.
She was beautiful and I had no idea that she was in league with the two men on their bicycles. She caught up to me and I thought she wanted me.
She touched my hand and told me that I was loved and then she turned and walked away to add another notch in her crucifix.
But God, she was gorgeous. If my lips were still on my face, I’d be smiling beautifully.
All that’s left now, aside from half a cigarette and my stink is memories. I’m not so sure I want all of them.
Like my baptism; I panicked.
The preacher dipped me under the water, and I felt an unbearable fear. I’d never even imagined that kind of fear. Even in my nightmares, I hadn’t guessed that anyone could be this afraid.
I’m looking at the walls of my bedroom and I realize just how sharp the corners are and suddenly, I’m afraid of the ceiling.
Suddenly it occurred to me, when Brother Jim held me under with his chubby hand, what I was preparing for.
I was going to die. That was the first time I really understood that. I guess for some reason, maybe childishness, maybe believing in the second coming of Christ, I’d always thought I would be exempt.
But when my head went under and the water crept over me, I knew that I was not special. I was going to die just like everyone and that’s why it was so important for me to go through this; I had to prepare myself to go to Heaven. And I couldn’t breathe.
The light is here now, just like when the preacher brought me up from the water and I gulped the sweet air as hard as I could.
I stare up at the corner of my room, where the top of two walls meet the ceiling and it’s sharp enough to cut, so I cower on the floor.
After my Baptism, I gave up the faith. Surely, God would not take a child and send him to hell. If I was not a believer, I knew there was no way I could die. God would just not do that.
But I’m older now.
I can see it and it’s gorgeous; it’s a white light, just like everyone said it would be.
It’s enveloping me and my last cigarette is only ash now.
Across the room, I can see the corner of the floor and it’s just as jagged. If I could, I’d scoot to the middle of the room; I know this corner is going to cut me.
My good hand has given out now and it’s all I can do to keep the cigarette in my mouth. And now it’s gone. I don’t know if He has given me peace or if I have just lost that part of my mind, but suddenly, I’m not afraid anymore. All I can think is how breathtaking Heaven will be if I make it.
I’m going out like a candle.