Please vote for the piece you feel is most deserving:

Poll closed Oct 22, 2008.
  1. Scattercat - In Spite of Himself

    5 vote(s)
  2. DragonGrim - Vengeance Consuming

    4 vote(s)
  3. Honeybun - Far From Safety

    3 vote(s)
  4. Scarlett_156 - Unexpected Hero Story

    1 vote(s)
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  1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England

    Voting Short Story Contest (30): An Unexpected Hero

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Oct 15, 2008.

    Voting Short Story Contest (30) Theme: An Unexpected Hero

    Thank you for all your entries. The winner will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned.

    Voting will end 22nd October 2008 to give you all a chance to read the entries.

    It is possible to vote for yourself, but I would hope in the name of good sportsmanship that you would only do so if you have read all the other stories and given them your honest evaluation. You gain nothing if you base your vote solely on how you feel about the author or whether you have personally invested time and effort in the story. In the end, your conscience is your only judge.

    Any entries under the suggested word limit will be flagged as such - they are still entered in to the contest. It is for you to decide whether they are still worthy of your vote.

    Any entry not strictly in accordance with the theme will be dealt with on a case by case basis to determine eligibility. Consider how the author has responded to the theme in making your decision.

    Good luck to everyone.
  2. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Scattercat - In Spite of Himself

    You don't think I'll do it?"

    The gun barrel trembled, inches away from old Clive's snow-white hair. Trent's own hands shook as he met Clive's terrified gaze, tears trembling in his faded blue eyes. The young guard lowered his gun, head hanging in shame.

    "That's it. Put it on the floor. Slowly!" The skinny man with the botched buzz-cut gestured sharply with his free hand, also holding a pistol, while he kept his other gun trained on Clive.

    Trent set his service weapon on the floor, resentment and fear warring on his face.

    "Kick it over here."

    Trent complied.

    "Okay, I want all the cash in the drawers. Put it in the paper bags. You!" he pointed a gun at a blonde in a blue miniskirt. "Come get the bags and fill them! Now!" he screamed as she hesitated. "Do it now or I'll kill you! See if I don't!"

    The woman whimpered as she darted forward and snatched up the pair of shopping bags. She cringed from the skinny man, who seemed to take great delight in her fear.

    "That's right!" he crowed. "You'd better do what I say. I've got the power! I've got-"

    His words cut off abruptly as the floor opened up beneath him. A gaping hole appeared, the tiles and cement collapsing with a rumble, forming a ramp and a tunnel and kicking up a cloud of dust; the robber disappeared into the darkness. There was a brief sound of voices and a thud. A figure strode up into the light, clad in a brightly-colored suit with a long, flowing cape. A mask and hood concealed his features, and he dragged the would-be robber behind him, limp and unconscious.

    "I am Alkahest!" he cried out, dropping the robber's collar and allowing the beaten criminal to slump to the floor. "And I am here to-"

    "A superhero!" cried a small child.

    "We're saved!" came another anonymous voice from the crowd.

    "What?" said Alkahest. "Hold on, I want-"

    "Is it Captain Courage?"

    "No, I think it's the Muskrat's new costume..."

    "Now look here!" Alkahest shouted testily. He reached into a satchel he had slung at his side. "I have a powerful explosive which I have perfected in my laboratory, and-"

    "Oh, thank you, sir!" cried Clive, lurching unsteadily to his feet and grasping Alkahest's gloved hand, pumping it energetically. "If it weren't for you, the bank would have been robbed and people might have been hurt!"

    "He did collapse the floor," Trent put in dubiously, retrieving his gun.

    "Small price to pay for the safety of our customers," Clive asserted firmly. He turned to Alkahest and whispered conspiratorially, "He's young. Don't you worry, sir, I'll teach him proper respect for superheroes."

    Alkahest's lips curled down sourly. "I'm sure you will," he said. "Excuse me, please." He turned and, with a dramatic flourish of his red-trimmed black cloak, stalked outside. That had not gone terribly well for a first attempt. At least he didn't have a reputation to besmirch yet; he could always change his costume and try again. Maybe something subtler next time; just sneak in and steal the cash, maybe leave an understated calling card instead of the flash and excitement of an active robbery.

    It would be a shame to waste the day, though; the zeppelin was still hovering over the city, ready to be called down in a moment's notice, and his satchel was still full of all his weapons and gadgets. Perhaps something more attention-grabbing than a simple robbery. A hostage? Alkahest consulted his wrist-mounted computer; a senator was giving a speech on the other side of the city. A perfect opportunity!

    Alkahest activated his hoverboots and, defying gravity, leapt lightly into the air. Mere minutes later, he descended onto the stage, gratified to hear the gasps and camera flashes from the press below. He'd taken the time to prepare his Omega Rifle while in-flight; it was a particularly impressive piece of equipment, very menacing. He was rather proud of it.

    "I am Alkahest!" he cried, leveling his weapon at the senator, who blubbered and held up his hands. "Now, scum, you will-"

    "I admit it!" cried the senator. "Please, I can't hold the guilt in any longer! I've stolen millions from the funds that were meant to feed the homeless, and I feel awful about it! I don't want to go to prison!" He gazed at Alkahest pleadingly and misinterpreted his beetling brows and grinding teeth. "Look, I'll sell my house and give the money back; if I can take from the homeless, then I deserve to be homeless myself!" The crowd gasped at this revelation.

    "Senator Durvin!" cried a reporter. "Was there anyone else involved in your crimes?"

    "Yes! I promise I will fully cooperate with any investigators. I'm turning myself in immediately. Someone, please, call a police officer who can take me into custody!" Senator Durvin cast a fearful glance at Alkahest.

    "Mister Alkahest!" shouted another reporter. "It's been some time since a new hero has made such an impressive public appearance. Are you affiliated with the Champions of Order? Can you tell us how you found out about Senator Durvin's crimes?"

    "No comment," growled Alkahest. He punched a code into his computer and took off without another word, the cameras continuing to flash below him. This day was getting worse and worse; he'd have to come up with a new name, too, now that the media had gotten ahold of it.

    He touched down a few blocks away, his boots nearly drained of energy; they'd been meant for short-burst flight only, an emergency escape route if the zeppelin was too slow. He called up a holographic map of the city and considered where he could at least try and salvage something of the day. His exo-armor was still fully charged; he'd have a lot of physical oomph in a good old-fashioned fight. Run faster than a car, punch through walls, that sort of thing. Were there any heroes active in the city today? Someone small-time, preferably; best to try and keep things under control for his first foray into meta-crime.

    The computer beeped and displayed three possible matches. Perfect! Sideswipe, some low-end speedster who liked to headbutt things, was involved in a mess over on Brewster, just four blocks away. He'd be easy enough to subdue; speedsters were nothing once you'd immobilized them with nets or glue, of which Alkahest had more than enough. Chemicals were, after all, his specialty. He activated his armor and sped away, moving so fast he was just a red-and-black blur.

    Over on Brewster, the street was a mess. Several streetlamps were dented, bent over at dangerous angles, and a broken hydrant sprayed water into the air. Alkahest spotted a burly man wearing a thick, cylindrical helmet and iron-shod boots. He was leaning against a brick wall, struggling for breath and obviously exhausted. Alkahest didn't see the villain he must have been fighting, but he knew an opportunity when he spotted one. He reached over and grasped a nearby car, servos humming as his armor increased his strength a hundredfold. The metal crumpled in his gauntleted hands as he heaved the vehicle overhead and hurled it at the panting metahuman. The man had just enough time to grunt in surprise before two tons of metal slammed into him, knocking him backwards into the wall, which tumbled down on top of him, burying him beneath the rubble.

    "Ha! Witness the power of Alkahest!" cried Alkahest, pumping a fist in the air. That ought to score him some infamy!

    "Hey," said a shaky voice behind him. "Thanks for the assist..."

    A slim man in a blue-and-silver bodysuit shoved aside a pile of garbage cans and tottered upright. His chest bore a stylized "S" and his head was encased in a futuristic-looking helmet, complete with goggles and sleek fins, which also adorned the bracers on his arms. "That guy was totally stealing my schtick," the slim man went on. "'Hammerhead', pah! Sideswipe is the only ramming-based super in this town!"

    "Hammerhead?" Alkahest stammered weakly. "Sideswipe?" He glanced back at the pile of rubble. A single brick fell from overhead with a sad clink-clink-clink.

    "That's me!" the blue-suited man stuck out a hand. "Sideswipe, super speedster. And you're Alkahest, right?" He shook Alkahest's unresisting gauntlet. "Hey, I heard you foiled a bank robbery barely an hour ago. You're just a busy beaver, aren't you? Ha! Leave some for the rest of us, okay?" And with that, he adjusted his helmet, turned, and took off, leaving a cloud of dust and a small sonic boom in his wake.

    Alkahest stood for a moment, staring at his hand. He clenched it into a fist and stormed off down the street. Around the corner, he spotted a woman in an expensive-looking coat emerging from a department store. Angered beyond reason, he reached out and snatched away her bulging purse, snapping the strands and knocking her down.

    Her hat fell off, as did her long brown wig. A moment later, a security guard burst out of the door. "Where did she- Aha!" he sprang over. "You've been caught, you dirty thief!" he berated the fallen woman. He turned to Alkahest. "This one's been using different disguises to sneak in here for months, loading up on small, pricey objects. That purse has nearly a thousand dollars of shoplifted goods in it! Thank you so much for stopping her. You've got amazing instincts, to recognize her as a thief like that!"

    To the guard's surprise, Alkahest raised his hands to his face and burst into tears.
  3. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    DragonGrim - Vengeance Consuming

    Andrus brooded on his throne. His skin was lumpy, and the light spread across the gross topography of scars. A malformed mouth hissed quietly.

    “Much we share: a dream…that Gar will see its enemies gone. We share a moment…agony and despair. You lost your arm, and I lost my appearance and health. We share the hate that burns like the day the fire took me, blistering and consuming.”

    Hages was kneeling by Andrus. “Revenge is ever on my mind. Though, I confess, fear has put me in fetters. I don’t know if I can face it again.”

    “I do not lay blame on you for that. I, too, have receded. The wind burns, the sun burns, I hide myself from the world. I am in darkness, and it has entered into my soul through an open doorway. But I smile today, which I have not done since the day I saw that green streak in the sky coming nearer. I remember that monster, sliding through the air, shining like gems in the sunlight; the fire spilt over me. I screamed and screamed. It looked like hot wax, the skin running. Melted.”

    A moment of silence passed before Hages spoke. “I struck the dragon in your aid, but the jaws were quicker than my sword. I fell next to you on the scorched earth with only one arm. If not for the bravery of your guardsmen, death would have soon found me.”

    “I do not forget that you risked your life for me. I can now repay you. We leave tomorrow for the Plains of Eskon. Gunther has captured the dragon, and is holding it so that you and I can watch it suffer and die.”

    Hages was at first startled, but as the meaning of Andrus’ words caused resentment and joyful vengeance to fill his cold heart, he smiled into Andrus face. “News has never sounded so sweet in my ear.”

    O O O

    Clare rushed into her room, closing the door and beginning to tear. Her husband came like a storm, bearing down the middle of the hallway after her.

    She leaned against the wall as Hages threw the door open and slammed it closed behind him. He stepped into room and looked; his eyes stabbed her like daggers of anger.

    “You don’t think I saw you! I did! Who was he? Your lover?” Hages slapped her. The palm of his hand sent her into the wall.

    “He spoke to me in the hallway. That’s all. I don’t know him,” She touched her lip. Her fingertips came back red.

    “Ever since I lost my arm, you whore around. I can’t leave you out of my sight.” He grabbed her face and turned it so she had to look at him. “Pack your things. We’re leaving for Eskon.”

    He let go and she sunk to the floor, sobbing. He washed the blood from her face before it got on her dress. A bruise already darkened one side of her face.

    O O O

    Andrus sat in a litter, covered by thick red cloth that protected him from the sun. The fifty-mile trip was over, and they entered a village that huddled below the dreadful mountain that housed the lair. Deep forest barred the east. The inhabitants were curious and frightened as Andrus and his forces entered the village square.

    “Gunther, where is this beast,” whispered Andrus from the litter.

    Gunther had pulled the cloth back, but his eyes shied to one side, away from the awful visage. “It is in a pit. I will have it brought out.”

    “Why so somber?” Hages asked. “Is this not exciting?”

    “I just do my duty.”

    “And you do it well,” Andrus added from behind the red hangings.

    O O O

    Hages took over a house in the village, throwing the people out himself. Later, Clare was alone with him. He awaited the return of Gunther, who would return with the monster. “No matter how miserable you try to make me, this is my day. The dragon that took my arm will be destroyed.”

    “No!” Clare tried to push him away.

    “Now you resist me! Your own husband,” he took a handful of hair and his knee into her stomach. “If you can’t learn, maybe I have to find a new way to teach you.” He took a firm hold of a finger on her delicate hand. A snap sounded as the finger bent in the wrong direction.

    She screamed.

    O O O

    A team of beasts and men dragged a shape that was tangled in nets into the square. A furrow was left in the earth, stretching down the road.

    Gunther brought his men to a halt, and he said, “Here is your dragon, Andrus.”

    “There is something,” Andrus coughed. “I need you to announce to the village, Gunther. Come closer.” Andrus whispered to Gunther, a mangled hand laid on the warriors shoulder.

    Gunther looked about at the crowd that had gathered like vultures. He looked sadly upon them, and spoke so that all could hear. “The scales of a dragon are valuable. King Andrus has been kind to you. You may have all the scales that you can cut away.”

    Many of the villagers had lived in fear of the monster. Their parents, and their grandparents, had told them stories of the dragon. Though the dragon had never done anything to them or their ancestors, they fell upon it with greed and hate.

    Knifes cut down into the flesh around the green scales, and with a thread of skin the scale pulled free, one after another. The beast trumpeted pained sounds that vibrated in the chest.

    Some beat the animal with whatever was available. Some spat on and cursed it. “Filthy thing,” some said. The form jerked with the pain that burst along its body.

    Hages laughed, flooded with feeling of satisfaction and cruelty. Andrus watched intently and silently, savoring every moment.

    Great patches were now missing from the dragon armor of scales. Blood oozed out of the punctures in its side, and bubbled out of the holes in its belly.

    “Filthy creature!”

    Hages stepped forward and drove the point of his sword deep into the shoulder of the beast, ripping and tearing the flesh and bones until the arm detached. He cut the net just enough to get the severed arm out. He held it aloft.

    “The head comes off,” said Andrus. “The head comes off. I will have it on my wall.”

    With that, an axe cleaved into the long neck. Another blow sent a stream of blood arching through the air.

    Hages caught sight of a woman in the throng; it was Clare, with a dagger, cutting away the rope. He rushed forward as fast as he could move. Driving into her with he’s shoulder; he knocked her to the ground, and began to stomp on her.

    What he didn’t realize right away was that the crowd was dispersing, moving away from him and the dragon. For, slowly, very slowly, a giant shape rose up out of the netting. It rose up and up, and a shadow fell on Hages and Clare.

    The tail made an arch that cut down a score of villagers. The dragon used a claw to cut away the rope that bound its muzzle. With the mouth free, a stream of flame burned Andrus to ash, and the fire whirled about over the houses, setting all alight. Men and women ran screaming, burning, and dying.

    The yellow, slit eyes fell on the two below that were captured in the ring of fire. Hages pushed Clare forward, “Take her, demon,” he said, turning around and looking for a hole in the wall of hot flame.

    Clare stumbled and fell. The dragon lifted a massive foot and stepped over her, crushing half of Hages. Hages was alive, the weight of the dragon held in his innards. When the leg lifted, Hages spilt over the dirt.

    Clare backed away from the monster. Her eyes darted, looking for a route of escape. She walked, the heat lifted her hair. There were still a few screams from unseen victims.

    The dragon reached down and grabbed Clare. Its wings spread out wide, though they were full of ragged holes, and beat, fanning the flames until the creature and Clare were over the village. The dragon took her beyond the sight of the surviving villagers.
  4. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Honeybun - Far From Safety

    “I thought I would never see you again!” Helen whispered into Don’s shoulder, tears trickling down her cheeks.

    Don embraced her tightly. He could feel the warmth of her tears on his shirt. He ran his hand over her dark hair soothingly, “I know. I never arranged to come back, never even thought of it”

    She sniffed and backed away from him, blaming herself for faltering, blessing the darkness of the street for not showing the flush on her face. He had been away for almost nine years, and there he was, still that handsome guy she loved. She pretended to dry her eyes, and scanned his face from beneath her lashes; from the dim light of the lamppost, she noticed faint circles under his eyes, his face was thinner and there were slight hollows under his cheekbones.

    Don put his hands in his pockets, watching Helen dry her eyes, his lips quirked into a lazy smile. He remembered how sensitive she was, always soft and tearful. He examined her face, much thinner than usual, yet still pretty; her beautiful eyes, once happy, now saddened by her wretched life.

    “So, what brings you here,” she asked, looking around her, remembering where she was and what brought her there in the first place.

    Don sensed her tension. He casually looked at his watch; it was past midnight. “Oh, I was driving to an old friend’s place, and my car broke down.” He thumbed in the direction where his car was, but Helen was looking over her shoulder again. “What about you?” he quietly asked.

    Helen turned her head to him, a perplexed expression on her face, her brow quivered, “I was... I couldn’t go to sleep, so I thought... I thought I’d go for a short stroll...” she rubbed the back of her neck with her hand, still shaky from the phone call she received; the one that she had come out here to call back.

    “I see,” Don looked at her feet, “barefoot?”

    Helen let out a shaky laugh, “Oh, yeah. I left without putting my shoes on, I know. How silly is that!”

    His eyes softened, “Absent minded I would say. Luckily, the weather is fine,” he looked up to the sky then beckoned with his head, “shall we stroll on then?”

    She clasped her fingers, not knowing what to do or how to back out, but he was already turning around. With one last look over her shoulder, they walked towards the other end of the street. It was dead silent; the neighbourhood was asleep. High hedges surrounded the houses, muffling the sound of the street for those within.

    “I heard you got married,” Don said.

    Helen almost jumped when he spoke. Don noticed that she automatically grabbed hold of her left arm. She could not look him in the eye, and ask who had told him that. She steadied her gaze on the path, not noticing a snail she had stepped on. She nodded slowly, and said, “That’s true,” she hugged her arms, as if sheltering herself from what was to come.

    Don looked at her left hand; there was no ring on her finger. He cleared his throat, and walked closer to her. He wanted Helen to feel safe, as she always had when they were together. They would have married had there not been a twist in fate, which led them apart, and similarly, seemed to join them once again.

    Helen looked up at the lamppost marking the end of the street, and quickly turned around, looking back at where she and Don had met a while ago. Her heart missed a beat. She should have called back by now! Reaching to the back pockets of her jeans, she felt her cell phone. How could she do it when Don was there beside her? She took in short breaths, and stopped in her place. Don knitted his brows.

    “Helen, are you all right?” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder.

    Helen touched her forehead, and felt a strong urge to cry. She jumped when her cell phone rang. Don instantly lowered his hand. She started to shake and took out her phone. The ringing stopped abruptly. They had wanted her to call back. Helen’s eyes filled with tears, she could not take it anymore. “I’m just...tired.” she managed to say, tired of being afraid all the time, tired of her life, of how her husband treated her, how he was doing nothing to get their three months old son back.

    Don put his hands on her shoulders; “Is there anything I can do?” he looked down into her face, tears glistening in the faint light as she looked up at him.

    “You... have no idea,” her lips quivered. She needed help, and she needed it badly, but she was not certain that Don was the right person. Would he assist her in such a dangerous case? Would he be willing to get involved in a matter that meant dealing with a mob? She ran nervous fingers through her hair, making him lower his hands, and she looked around. Trying to steady herself, she said, “I need... I need to... make a phone call,”

    Don looked at her inquiringly, getting worried by the minute, not sure whether he can deal with this, not even sure whether he was the right person in the right place. He wanted to know what was going on, what made her so frantic that she left her house bare foot. “Here,” he said, motioning to the street around the corner, “my car is parked just around the corner, perhaps you’d like to sit and make your call.”

    The look on her face suggested that she had a million things going on in her head, and she nodded more than was necessary. He walked ahead of her to where his car was; she followed, wanting to cover her ears, not wanting to hear the pounding of her heart. The silence of the street was pressing on her; it was so tense she could scream.

    When Don reached his car, he looked back to see if she were behind him; for some reason he thought she might turn away and vanish. He opened the driver’s seat door for her. She held her cell phone with both hands, and got into the car. Don backed away and busied himself with examining the rear tyres.

    Helen propped her arms on the steering wheel as she attempted to dial. She must calm herself, for her son’s sake. She had to call them and know their demands.

    Don leaned on the car trunk and crossed his arms and legs, contemplating the solitude. The quietness of their surrounding was quite ominous to him. He looked up at the starry sky, in time to witness a shooting star. What was it one should do? Make a wish? He thought over it, and actually wished he could help Helen out of her distress. He was told that her husband had mistreated her, and that was completely unbearable. He heard a sob and immediately turned around. It was Helen. Don quickly went towards the passenger’s seat and got in the car, she was holding her head between her hands and bending over the wheel.

    “Helen?” Don said, trying to lift her head, “Helen, talk to me.” He demanded, as her sobs grew louder.

    Helen lifted her head a little and whispered, “They won’t answer me, they just...” she choked, another sob escaping her lips.

    “Who do you mean by ‘they’?” he asked, trying to sound at ease to calm her down.

    She sat back and closed her eyes tightly, tears bursting out in streams down her face. Her phone fell into her lap and slid down between her feet. Helen opened her eyes, wanting to let it all out, wanting help. Her mouth opened and closed, her chest rising and falling as unsteady gasps escaped her lips.

    “Who are they?” Don demanded persistently this time. He watched her as she suddenly raised a shaky hand and pointed at something in front of her. Don looked out the windshield. At the beginning of the street, he saw a tall plump man standing, looking their direction. Don looked back at Helen who started wringing her hands.

    “Don, help!” she pleaded.

    Without thinking, Don took out his car key from his pocket. He jammed it into its socket, “Please Tell me you know how to drive.”

    Helen took hold of the steering without breaking her eyesight from the tall man, who was coolly smoking a cigar, standing gingerly. Don twisted the ignition key and Helen stomped on the gas. The wheels peeled rubber as the car shot forward. The man stood upright, reached for the insides of his vest, and revealed a gun.

    Helen gasped and added speed, barely missing a garbage can on the pavement. They swerved past the man who was now aiming at them. Don reached for the steering wheel and stirred to the left, making the car squeal and turn sharply to the street opposite the one where he had met Helen. The car jumped from a thud at the back, and started to run lopsided.

    “Damn, he shot a tyre!” Don said between gritted teeth.

    Helen pursued her speed, putting more distance between her and the man, glad that the car was automatic. After a few metres, there was a crossroad, Don grabbed the wheel once again, and the car skidded to the left. “There,” he said, pointing towards a house at the end of the road, “go in there.”

    Helen stepped on the gas; shortly, they came to an abrupt halt in the house’s wide-open garage. Helen ran her shaky fingers through her hair, and looked sideways at Don. “Are you ok?” he asked.

    After she gave an uncertain nod, he got out of the car and hurriedly closed the garage; Helen managed to get out of the car, she was shaking all over.

    Don was at her side and assisted her towards a door in front of the car that led inside the house. As they entered, they found themselves face to face with another man, who had descended from a staircase. Helen gasped, but Don calmed her and said, “Helen, this is Jeffrey, a friend of mine.” Helen looked from one to other with horrified eyes, finding it difficult to think straight and confide in anybody.

    Jeffrey was topless and wore a pair of jeans. “I was about to take a shower when I heard your car drive in,” he buttoned his jeans, “He’s fine,” he said to Helen, who blinked back at him, “umm...we better go upstairs.”

    Don gave Helen a reassuring look and they followed Jeffrey upstairs. Helen’s mouth fell open when they entered a room at the end of the landing; it was spacious and contained a row of screens and devices. She approached a couple of screens that viewed familiar places to her. Her heart sank. It was her living room! She quickly shifted to another screen. That was her kitchen, and there was her backyard... “Wh...what’s going on here?” she started backing away.

    Don held her from her shoulders, “Helen, Jeffrey will explain to you.” He led her to a chair next to where Jeffrey sat behind one of the screens shrugging into a T-shirt.

    “After Don left, many years ago,” Jeffrey said, holding his hands together, “He asked me to look after you for him...”

    Helen looked up at Don with disbelief. Don nodded and looked back at Jeffrey, who continued, “He wanted know what’s new about you, that you were all right, and I agreed. He only wanted what’s best for you. Years after that, you married this guy, Stanley Richards, for god-knows-what reason,” he paused and looked apologetically at Helen, “Helen, your husband is a mobster, and he’s the one behind your son’s kidnapping. The ones calling you are assigned by him to terrify you.”

    Helen’s face got paler, tears stung in her eyes as she looked at both men with disbelief. “I know he’s your husband,” Jeffrey said, sensing the onset of her tears, “it’s natural if you don’t believe it, but...”

    “I believe it,” she said, her face pale as cloud.

    Don and Jeffrey exchanged looks. Helen’s tears fell, as she lifted the sleeve, revealing her left arm. Don fell to his knees next to her, staring at her arm with disbelief, it was terribly bruised that one could not make out her natural skin from the dark marks. “I’m not surprised that he has a weapon, I’m sure he has tons,” she wiped her eyes, “he’s always wanted me to give him my grandma’s necklace. This is how he wants to get it, asking to use it as ransom,” Don held her hand tightly, “all I care about now is to get my baby back,” she started sobbing again.

    Jeffrey turned to the screen in front of him and pushed a key on the keyboard, and another room appeared, it was not furnished but seemed to undergo renovation. “That’s the pool house,” Helen sniffed. Jeffrey pushed another key twice and the view zoomed in. Helen moved closer and her leapt, “Oh my God!” she whispered. There on the screen was a small bundle in a baby’s stroller.

    She got up and headed to the door. Don reached her in time and grabbed her arm before she left, “Helen what do you think you’re doing?” and before she uttered a word, he said, “that guy’s still out there, and he’s got a gun.”
    Jeffrey got up, headed cautiously towards the window, and slowly pushed away the curtain and peered out. “I’m sure he followed you here.”

    Helen found herself grasping Don’s shirt. Don took liberty in putting his arm around her shoulder.

    Jeffrey turned his head to them, “He’ll follow the marks your car made on the road...” suddenly, Jeffrey bent sideways, moaning. He fell to his knees and slowly straightened up, his hand on his right shoulder. He cursed. Blood was now filling his T-shirt from his shoulder. Don instantly pulled Helen to the floor and crouched towards Jeffrey.

    Helen moaned as Jeffrey gritted his teeth in pain. “Oh my God, he’s here!” she cried. Don took off his shirt and pressed it against Jeffrey’s wound. Helen noticed a pistol pocket under Don’s arm and felt her blood freeze. He turned to her, “Helen I need you to hold this and press it hard to stop the bleeding,”

    Helen pushed herself to Jeffrey’s side, and put her hand over Don’s Light-blue shirt, which had turned into dark purple. Don backed away and headed to the door. “Don! What...where are you going!” she gasped.

    Don motioned with the gun he pulled out for her to lower her voice. They heard a door creek somewhere downstairs. “Don, Stanley’s a mad man,” she pleaded in a low hiss, her heart racing wildly against her ribs.
    There was no other way, Don thought, he was not going to wait for Stanley to come up here and finish them. With one last look at Jeffrey’s pale face, and Helen’s terrified figure, he left the room and quietly shut the door behind him.

    Helen turned to Jeffrey, her lips quivering; he was getting paler every minute. Tears found her eyes again, she turned to look at the screen viewing her son; he was fast asleep. “Oh, Don, why did you have to come back and... and be a part of all this?” she moaned.

    Jeffrey groaned and looked at her through half open eyes, “Don w-wanted to see you.”

    More tears fell as she nodded. “He told me his c-car broke down,” she smiled awkwardly, “that he was here t-to see a friend.”

    Jeffrey tightened his eyes with pain, “When I s-started working for him,” he said between quick breaths, “he made me move to this house. He wanted to live here with you before, but...” suddenly, a loud thud came from downstairs, followed by a series of crashing sounds.

    Helen stopped breathing, feeling utterly senseless. Jeffrey’s head fell back, and all was silent. Helen reached to check his pulse, grateful to find him still alive. Her heart was pounding in her ears; it was hard for her to hear anything.

    The door unexpectedly flung open and Helen shrieked. There stood Stanley holding out his gun. He grinned and lowered it, when he saw her on the floor with Jeffrey.

    “How lovely,” he smirked, “running away from home, coming to play here, and with whom? Don?” he said, making a sad face, “Poor Don,” he examined his gun, then looked at Helen and shrugged.

    Helen felt a heavy weight pressing on her chest. Stanley had shot Don, and the sounds indicated that Don had fallen over something downstairs. “Why? WHY?” she collapsed, dropping the shirt and banging the floor with her fists, her face downwards.

    Stanley shrugged again; casually walking into the room, “You know pretty well...” his eyes fell on the screens. He approached them suavely. “Well, well. What have we got here?”

    He came to the screen where his son was visible, still sleeping. He grinned nastily, “They think they’re smart, eh?”

    “Smarter than you,” And a bang echoed in the silent night.

    Helen’s ears went deaf for a few moments. When she was able to lift her head, her nose almost touched the nose of a gun. The room smelled of powder. Looking sideways, she saw Jeffrey’s outstretched arm, holding the gun. He had shot Stanley right into the head.

    She heard movement at the door and saw Don supporting himself against the doorframe, his face, and his left leg was bleeding. He looked at Stanley’s body on the floor, and then at Jeffrey, who winked at him and fell unconscious again.

    “Well, Helen,” Don grinned, motioning with his head at Jeffrey, “There’s our hero.”
  5. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Scarlett_156 - Unexpected Hero Story

    Xerxes Boudreaux could hear his wife, Karlita, going to work. This morning, as on every morning except for Tuesdays and Saturdays over the past ten years, he had paused his movies at exactly eight, lumbered up the creaking basement stairs, made a lunch for Karlita to take to her job, carefully counted out her doses of psych, kidney, diabetes, heart, and God-knew-what-else medications, and then just as carefully placed the pills with his pudgy fingers into the slender plastic pillbox—and then headed back downstairs. Now it was nine-thirty and the floor overhead squealed under his wife's bulk as she made ready to leave the house. Even though his movie was at a particularly good part, he paused it and waited the obligatory few minutes for the basement door to rasp open.

    "Xerxes, honey—I'm gone ta work now."

    "You have yoreself a good day, baby," he replied. "They's some o' that leftover pizza in yore lunchbox."

    "Thank you, Xerxes. I'll be home a little after midnight."

    The basement door was left open after this exchange, and Karlita went out to make her deliberate, ponderous way to the bus stop.

    Once he had heard the kitchen door click shut behind her, Xerxes un-paused his DVD and rewound a bit. For a couple of minutes he sat watching in placid blankness, scratching his enormous, pale, hairy stomach; then a large and salacious grin split his features. Fumbling at his trouser buttons, he whispered (not too loudly so as to drown out the more subtle sounds of his movie, which he loved):

    "That's it, gal… you git it. You GIT it. Git it al-ll dirty now… go on, git it dirty… that's it…"


    He woke, back aching a bit, still sprawled on the sagging couch. The DVD, set to loop, continued to play, but it no longer interested him and he switched it off. He had been asleep for quite some time, and saw by the color of the light that crept in around the shade on the west-facing window that it was close to sundown. He was getting hungry.

    Then he realized: It was a smell that had awakened him, a foxy, sharp odor laced with cigarette fumes that easily overrode the familiar musty rankness of his basement lair.

    A boy was sitting near the top of the stairs. Xerxes was not overly alarmed, as that peculiar smell had already announced Jachin Deszcheine's presence. He wasn't alarmed, though a penetrating dismay now seized him, and with a fierce laugh shook him mercilessly.

    As though reading the thoughts that raced through Xerxes' mind Jachin grinned gleefully as he sat, his skinny knees sticking up in front of his chest, puffing on a Marlboro, and Xerxes shuddered faintly to see the boy's eyes aglow in the dim stairwell.

    "Didn't mean ta wake ya up whilst you was a'gettin yore beauty sleep, ole boy," Jachin said, sniggering faintly. His voice had apparently just changed, and cracked about every other word. Xerxes remembered with a pang of strange emotion that last summer it had been flutelike, melodic, in spite of the streetwise rasp the boy and all his friends tried to affect.

    Jachin unwound himself and stretched in one languorous, unhurried, catlike movement, and jumped lightly from the top of the stairs, landing on the balls of his booted feet with scarcely any sound, raising a puff of dust from the dirty carpet. He had grown taller, too, since the last time Xerxes had seen him; if he wasn't over six feet now he was pretty damned close to it. Long, thin, extremely pale, with shaggy black hair almost but not quite to his shoulders, a white guinea tee clinging to his bony torso, his lanky legs encased in black Tripps with the requisite thousands of pockets and zippers. Another shudder ran through Xerxes before he could control himself. What was I thinking? he wondered, then: What the sam hill did I EVER think?

    He tried to remember a prayer; Karlita was always telling him to pray and go to church, and he had heard her say her prayers before bedtime so many times during their thirty years of marriage, but like the proverbial cop, a prayer never seemed to be around when he really needed one.

    "Hee, hee!" the boy giggled, smoke from his Marlboro wreathing his feral features.

    Xerxes didn't have to ask why Jachin was there; he knew. His heart sank. Oh, yes: He knew. Mustering as much dignity as he could, and not taking his eyes off Jachin Deszcheine for one hot second, he began to button up, first his pants and then his shirt.

    "Where's Nate, Jachin?" he finally asked, striving to keep a normal tone.

    Flicking ashes casually on the carpet, the boy shrugged. "Don't know. Off with some gal, I s'pose." Then he grinned again. The tired light from the waning sun now only illuminated the floor immediately beneath the window, and Jachin's face was a sickly blur in the gathering gloom, his cigarette ember a spark of red-orange that reflected as a pinkish glow in his black, slanting eyes.

    "I aint got no beer, Jach," Xerxes said, despising the plaintive note in his voice.

    "You need to go down to the liquor store, then, I reckon." There was a pause during which they both stared at one another. Jachin, his expression suddenly bored and somewhat angry, said, "I know you got you a bottle o' somethin stashed. I'll just drink that while yore goin to the lick." His cigarette was smoked almost all the way down. Not dropping his surly gaze from Xerxes' disconsolate one, he fished in the right hip pocket of his Tripps and brought out a hard pack of Marlboros; extracting one with a spidery white finger, he chained it to the first, took a final drag off the spent cigarette, and flipped the smoldering butt up onto the concrete stairs.

    With a sigh, Xerxes Boudreaux went to get the bottle of vodka that he kept under the old couch. He didn't really HAVE to hide anything down here—it had been years since Karlita had actually come into the basement. But (though he couldn't say what made him think of this right at this moment) he was ashamed of his habits—his drinking, his movies, and…

    Laboriously kneeling to get the bottle out of the cobwebbed, filthy space, he glanced despairingly up at Jachin, who grinned toothily back.


    Much later, and on his way to being good and drunk, Xerxes Boudreaux sat in the dining room of his home with the lights turned off, elbows propped on the heavy carved oak table that was never used, head in hands, crying. Light from the street outside streamed in through the lace curtains, making delicate patterns on the floor; warm humid air and the noise of an urban neighborhood filtered in through the screen.

    I always knew, he thought, the misery of knowledge twisting in his chest and causing fresh tears to course down his flabby cheeks, I knew he would be the one. A loud, womanish sob shook him and he let his head drop onto the table.

    I always knew he'd be the one that would break me...

    After a few minutes, however, with that abrupt shift of purpose peculiar to drunks, he stopped weeping, and sat up straight, his face working. He took a deep breath, and then another. It aint right, he thought. I aint dead yet. That little old pissant boy thinks he's got me in a corner, don't he? His lip curled, and he felt himself smiling.

    With hands that only shook a little, Xerxes Boudreaux picked up the bottle. Observing his hand as closely as though it was someone else's, he poured out a drink of vodka into the glass that sat before him, but he didn't drink right away. Setting the bottle down carefully, like it contained a sleeping baby bird, he stood.

    With a purposeful stride he went into the upstairs bathroom—which always made it seem to him like he was in someone else's house, it was so clean and dainty—and washed his tear-splotched face, flattened down his sparse hair. A blown old pervert in a flimsy Hawaii shirt and stained chinos gazed back at him. His lip curled again, but this time in a snarl.

    He went back to the table and downed the drink he'd poured. His sandals were by the front door where he'd left them after returning from his liquor store run. Sliding his feet into them, he opened the door, and stood for a moment with the warm mimosa-scented air bathing his face. Checking his pockets for keys, wallet, and phone, he shut the door behind him with a crisp, definitive click, and headed down the steps onto the sidewalk, out into the night.


    It took Xerxes only a short time to find the boy. It was about ten o'clock, and the streets were still busy. Every time the wind shifted he could smell the river. His buzz wearing off, he tried to keep his mind off what it was exactly that he was about. He knew he didn't look like a man who belonged outdoors, and every so often a passerby would turn and stare; one lady even giggled. He tried to stay calm and keep his nerve, and to think, act, and glance around like someone out trolling for a prostitute.

    Damn that friggin kid. Damn him to hell. I'll show his ass.

    The child, about ten years old, a slender pale boy with a tousled mop of blonde curls, wearing cargo shorts and a Slayer tee shirt, sat waiting on a cracked retaining wall outside a run-down apartment complex, idly spinning a battered skateboard on its end. Xerxes, with the instinct of long habit, felt the kid almost before he saw him, and paused in the deep shadow of a hedge, watching.

    The boy kept glancing up the street, then looking down at the sidewalk in a disappointed manner; then after a minute he would look up the street again. People passed and the kid didn't even glance at anyone; after five full minutes of watching, Xerxes did not see him brighten with recognition once.

    It's him, said the little voice in his brain. With quiet care, he removed his cell phone from its holster and checked the time. Just a little after ten.

    He knew this kid, too—these were after all apartment buildings that he owned and sometimes took a part in managing. He had seen this boy around the neighborhood and had of course learned where he lived; he had an older sister, a tramp, who ran around a lot, and his mother worked two jobs and was almost never at home during the day. The kid was one of those who pretty much did whatever he wanted, and was fairly wary and streetwise, though still with a portion of innocence that made him all the more attractive.

    He knew beyond knowing that this was the kid.

    Before he put his cell phone back in its holster, he flipped it open and sent a text. He remained in the shadows for another minute or so, until he felt confident that his face and bearing now exuded as much benignity and grandfatherly warmth as he could muster. Then he started forward toward the little boy.


    It wasn't easy, but he had not supposed that it would be. The boy was suspicious, and determined not to leave his spot. But the fact that he did recognize his landlord and clearly considered him no threat, combined with Xerxes' practiced spiel, finally served to pry him away from his perch on the wall next to the busy sidewalk. Several times Xerxes repeated the story that he had heard of a gang shooting in the neighborhood, and expressed concern about this youngster being out so late and in such an exposed area. His suggestion that they walk down to the fish shack at the corner to get a Coke was finally accepted, and with many a longing backward look the boy allowed himself to be guided down the block. Xerxes made sure to maintain a distance and not to touch the boy in any way, here where people could see.

    Of course, it was so hot inside the fish shack that there was no way they could sit comfortably inside. Xerxes' gentle suggestion was that they go and sit in the park across the street. "You'll be able to see the whole street from there," he said. "But it don't look to me like anybody's showin up." At that moment he heard the church clock chime the half hour. It made the hair stand up on his arms.

    "Is yore mama at home tonight, boy?" he asked as they crossed the busy street, passing the clothing store and the bus stop, then entering the park with its lush growth of cedars and magnolia, mimosa and crepe myrtle, where there was heavy shade and the sounds from the street were muffled.

    His lips busy around the straw on a giant-sized soft drink, his skateboard bumping and scraping the ground as he sauntered along, the child nodded. Then he took his mouth away from the drink and said, "But she busy. She got her a boyfriend over, and tole me I could stay out until twelve."

    "Well, that's good that yore mama trusts you like that." Xerxes didn't waste any grandfatherly looks on the youth here—it was much too dark for the kid to see the expression on his face. "But this is a bad part of town. You want to sit here?"

    "Oh, I guess," the kid said distractedly. They could see the wall where he'd been sitting down the block from here, and his eyes remained fixed on that spot. He wasn't even thinking about where he was, who he was with, or anything like. He was a million miles away, this kid.

    Xerxes' mind was at present a welter of haste and indecision. The boy's mom was up in their place, wanting privacy, so going there was out.

    I could take him to the house, he thought. But how do I…

    "Well, looky here!"

    Jumping up, his heart ready to burst through his chest, Xerxes saw Jachin Deszcheine emerge from the midst of a planting of forsythia about ten feet down the path. It was as black as the ace of spades in this place, but there was no mistaking who it was.

    "Jachin!" the boy cried, and started forward. Without thought, Xerxes' hand shot out and grabbed the tail of the kid's tee shirt.

    The boy spun, his eyes wide and white in the dark; his drink fell from his hand and the top flew off as it struck the ground, ice and cola splashing everywhere.

    Jachin, cigarette clenched in his teeth, his eyes alight with fey amusement, laughed as he advanced on them. "You up to yore old tricks tonight, I see, Zerk," he observed.

    In clanging confusion Xerxes held onto the boy's shirt and simply stood, trying to think of something to say. Anger filled his being. "Get the hell away from here, Jachin!" he rasped.

    The boy looked from one to the other, trying to understand.

    And so the three of them stood: Jachin Deszcheine and Xerxes Boudreaux staring each other down, Jachin's expression changing by slow degrees from a grin to a snarl, and Xerxes' mouth opening and closing, opening and closing—and the boy in the Slayer tee shirt looking from one to the other in frozen astonishment, his breathing shallow, quick, and loud in the humid dark.

    A screeching of tires made Xerxes look toward the street; a taxi was pulling up outside the fish shack. The vehicle groaned audibly on its springs as a passenger of enormous weight got out.

    "Karlita! Karlita honey!" Xerxes called in a voice faint with terror. "Over here!"

    He saw her casting about in the air, and then she looked straight at them. With remarkable quickness for a person of her size she advanced on them, eyes blazing, her pudgy fingers crooked into claws. Not bothering to take the path, with the smashing sounds of a stampeding water buffalo she cut straight through the bushes toward them.

    Sneering words of triumph forming on his lips, Xerxes turned back to face Jachin Deszcheine…

    But Jachin was gone.


    Xerxes Boudreaux got out of the shower, and toweled and powdered himself with care. In the bedroom his wife was at her praying. She had seen the empty vodka bottle and glass on the dining room table, of course, and though she had said nothing, her distressed look had filled him with shame.

    Wearing clean pajama bottoms Xerxes went hesitantly into the bedroom. Karlita, in her long white nightgown, was in the process of taking her nighttime doses of medication—psych meds, diabetes meds, kidney meds, and God-only-knew-what else. She gave him another look on seeing that he intended to get in bed with her, but again said nothing.

    With a tiny sip of water to wash down her pills she composed herself for sleep, pulling the covers up under her armpits. Hesitantly, Xerxes got in next to her. She didn't look at him or say anything. Even more hesitantly, he put one arm over her. After about a minute, she turned her face toward him and smiled, ever so slightly.

    "Aint you going to stay up and watch your movies, honey?" she asked in a gentle tone.

    "Not tonight, baby," he said. The relief that flooded him made him want to cry again, but he clamped down on that. "I'm just tired."

    "Yes, I know what you mean. I'm tired too." She patted his arm that lay across her chest, then reached up and turned out the light.
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