A short story about the choices we make for ourselves.
A short story by William Rein
(no more chapters to come)
A bead of sweat built itself on Thomas’s eyebrow. The beanie he wore was too hot for this weather—but necessary. After all, it helped to conceal his identity. He brushed away the bead impatiently. Cunning, dexterous, his fingers found the trigger. His fingers sprouted from lean and masterful hands. His fingers, his hands, his arms, his body was tough and well toned. It had to be; this job required running (and fighting, if mandatory).
Okay, let’s go, he thought anxiously. Thomas—calculating, apprehensive, nervous—stared through the viewfinder
(through the looking glass)
The crosshairs that had marked a dozen dead men landed on Jim Dent. The guy was giving his speech—not nervous, not apprehensive, but indeed calculating. Apparently, judging by the awed looks on the crowd’s faces, Dent was doing an excellent job.
Not for long.
Thomas gave an involuntary little grimace, which he could not help. It came with the job.
Frick. Another sweat bead had necklaced itself on his brow, leading into his eyelid and blurring his vision. He couldn’t shoot like that; it was so… retro. Was that the word the kids used these days? Thomas wasn’t sure; he didn’t have time for socializing and playing with kids. He only had time for missions.
Tom again brushed the unpleasant liquid away.
Hurry up, before Dent finishes. Or the boss might be unhappy. Heck, was the boss ever not unhappy? In addition, what about his boss? And higher still? Who ran this business, anyway?
Now stop lingering. Finish him. And for God’s sake don’t miss.
Miss and the boss would be unhappy.
Thomas wiped his forehead.
Simultaneously, the buzzer rang. For a crazy moment he dreamt he was in a cozy house, and the buzzer had rung, so he should get to the microwave, and pull out the dinner, so he and his wife and kids can eat, eat together, not alone—
STOP. You’re on a roof, dope; a roof. Overlooking a, for the moment, peaceful park. Now your buzzer rang. Meaning you should have killed Dent by now. Meaning you need to get a hold of yourself. Meaning you need to get a hold of your sniper rifle too, while you’re at it.
Oh geez—I’m unhappy. Thinking of his boss, Thom wondered if he was the only one. Suddenly, he heard a voice. However, of course, it was fake. It was his mind, his goddamn ambitious mind thinking it up, it had to be, because…
Because the word was “Dad.” Issued by a little girl his sperm had never produced, must be his daughter, and she would have pigtails, and he would name her Isabella, and on her birth date he would cradle his wife in his hands after labor and tell her, “Parents, we’re parents, oh god, my god, wow!” and it would be a good day.
The daydream made him uncomfortable. Claustrophobic, even. Suffocating, even. Below the roof, it was still warm. Nevertheless, up here it was suddenly cold. And claustrophobic.
The cold pressed in on him like a tangible force. It restricted his breathing. The fingers holding the trigger went limp. He didn’t know limp, triggers, or fingers. Or breathing. He wasn’t breathing. That was why it was hard to.
He only knew one thing: he was going to miss somehow. Miss and make his boss unhappy. God forbid he make his boss even more unhappy than he was already.
Thomas regained breathing. It was warm again. But the claustrophobia, the suffocating, persisted. He stared into the viewfinder again. It had moved a little, and the crosshairs were rested on the stomach of a happy performing mime. Thomas was terrified he might shoot Mr. Mime, terrified of shooting an innocent, but wasn’t that what he was doing—killing innocents? He didn’t know anything about Jim Dent. Only that the big leaguers in this corporation wanted a hit on him, and that meant tough luck. Maybe Dent even had children. And here Thom was, ready to cut his thread on life early.
God, I need a drink, he thought.
The buzzer stopped ringing. His sweat was gone. So now, why wasn’t he pulling the trigger and sending a fearsome bullet into Dent’s head to silence his speech for the last time?
Well, I think it’s because you don’t want to do it. You don’t want to kill Dent. Look at him, he’s a char!? You are tired of taking orders, aren’t you?
Thomas thought of what to do. This was too much for an assassin with no last name to think about. To be or not to be, that is the question.
So he should miss. Make the crowd scatter, and then tell his boss it was all an accident?
No. That wasn’t making a stand. Making a stand was throwing this sniper off the roof and running for the hills.
Oh, look at you, Thomas. You’re excited. You’re excited because this is permanate; because this is change.
But look at what will happen. The bigwigs will track you down and undoubtably kill you, and there will be no difference.
“No,” Thomas thought aloud, “there will be a difference. I’ll finally be the one running my life.”
On that thought he sat up, kicked out the rifle’s tripod, and threw it over the outlook. He turned and half-ran-half-skipped to the staircase down. He decided he would take his boss out for a drink tonight, tell him exactly what he did, and then, before leaving, shake his hand one last time.
His antagonistic brain thought, “This company doesn’t accept traitors. He’ll tell the big-leaguers or kill you himself!”
But, thinking of how his boss was just as unhappy as he was, Thomas said: “No, I don’t think he will.”
When he reached the final step of the staircase a small crowd had gathered around the gun. A boy was trying to reach for it and his mother was restraining him. A restaurant owner from across the street said, “Whoa! Don’t touch it folks, it might discharge.” However the man thought himself worthy enough to touch it. He held it out to Thomas and said, “What a beaut’. Looks like something outside of a Jason Bourne flick.”
Thomas, on the other hand, said he thought more outside of a horror movie. A gun the hero uses to kill an evil man; or, perhaps, to kill a monster.
On the way to a cheap motel—Tom had no real home—he passed a beggar and gave her all his old-life belongings: the buzzer, his coat, a walkie-talkier, and a packet of earplugs.
Afterwards, lying on his Room 119 twin bed, he considered.
In a week he might have a girlfriend. In a year that girlfriend might have advanced to a wife pregnant with a girl he would name Isabella. He also wondered if by Friday he might be in a shallow grave. To his mute surprise, Thomas found he didn’t really care.
It was worth it just to be, for this day and maybe next year, alive.