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UKArchive ID: 17258Choices by thegeeza
Originally published on September 18, 2006 in Fiction    

Too often in the modern world, our futures seem to be in the hands of people who do not listen. How do they make their choices? Choices that will affect the lives of many. 1,051 words.



‘Your child is … unusual, Mrs Roberts.’ – ‘How so?’ she said. The headmaster shuffled in his chair and fingered his ear. He made to speak and then stopped and shook his head. He stood up. ‘I’m afraid that I’m going to have to ask Charlie to leave the school.’ – ‘But why?’ – ‘Please don’t make this more difficult than it already is.’

In the corner, a budgie squawked and fluttered its wings. As the woman stared at the teacher, pleading for some kind of explanation, they turned to a commotion in the bird cage, witnessed a cloud of feathers and heard the creature fall, dead, to the bottom.

The headmaster walked to the cage, peered in, turned around and asked the mother and son to leave.

‘Do I have to go to another school again, Mummy?’ – ‘Yes.’ – ‘But why? All my friends are here.’

***

He walked through the shattered streets, full of man-made carnage. There was a layer of white dust on everything. Pieces of concrete were scattered around, as if some monster had smashed its toys into a million pieces after a child-like fit of rage. A woman called softly to him. She was lying under a large piece of masonry, one hand free, waving at him gently. Her dark skin, covered in dust and blood, made her look Caucasian. Charlie walked over to her and went down on one knee to look at her face. Despite the dust, her brilliant brown eyes stared back at him. He saw a small child to her left: its head had been crushed by a slab, the size of a paving stone. ‘Help me,’ she said, in Arabic. He pulled his side-arm from its holster and put it to the side of her head. She didn’t flinch as he pulled the trigger and blew her brains all over the rubble. The splashing of bright red on the surroundings took his eye: the contrast would make a striking painting.

***

‘What we do today, we do for the good of mankind,’ said the General. ‘You must not hesitate to perform your duty.’ He looked at Charlie, standing before him, not blinking. ‘Are you okay, Captain?’ – ‘Yes, Sir.’ – ‘What’s on your mind, son?’ Charlie paused to think. The General said: ‘Don’t think about them as people, you understand? Use your training and do your job. We are all counting on you.’ – ‘Yes, Sir.’ – ‘They threaten our way of life, son, and people like you have to stand in their way. Stand up and be counted.’ – ‘Yes, General, Sir. Thank-you.’ They exchanged salutes.

The crew of the bomber kept quiet, speaking only to confirm operational readiness, altitude and position. Fifteen minutes to drop, they were ordered into radio silence. Charlie looked at the sun, rising before him above the cloud base. He thought of the beauty of nature and its simplicity. He thought about the human virus that had spread all over the world, leaving dirty hand marks and shit everywhere. It was natural for things to die and for new life to replace it. The human factor smothered and choked it.

‘D minus two minutes.’ – ‘Check.’

Two pieces of paper were handed to him. He pulled a key from his neck and opened a panel. He watched the controls light up. He typed the codes from the two pieces of paper onto a keyboard and pressed a button. ‘Ready.’ – ‘Check.’ – ‘Arming.’ – ‘Check.’ He heard a beep and saw a red button start to flash. ‘Armed.’ – ‘Check.’ – ‘Confirmed,’ said another voice, behind him. All that remained was the memorised code and the push of a button.

He thought of the people below. People going about their daily business: sitting in meetings, waiting for a bus, having a quick coffee, food shopping, having sex, talking to their mothers on the phone, working out in the gym, watching television, eating, laughing, crying, fighting, shouting, raping, abusing, killing. ‘Captain?’ He thought about the target and the fact he had been there himself, that he had visited tourist spots, spoken to waiters, talked to tour guides, been to the theatre, taken photos: Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London.

‘Captain!’

He keyed in the number and stopped.

‘Captain – we will miss the window of opportunity!’

Charlie pressed the button.

‘Away. Package has been delivered. Return to base.’ – ‘Check.’

***


‘There were people down there.’ – ‘I know,’ said the psychiatrist, nodding. ‘Real people, doing … things,’ said Charlie, his head bowed. ‘Yes.’ The psychiatrist looked down at his pad. He had drawn several three dimensional boxes on the page and nothing else. ‘Why did we have to kill them all?’ Doctor Reynolds looked up and sniffed. ‘You were following orders. It’s not your fault. You had no choice. No choice.’ – ‘Why me?’ – ‘Well, you must be trusted by your superiors. They, in turn, are trusted by the public to protect them. There must have been a very good reason to have to do whatever you did.’ – ‘But what was the reason?’ The doctor shook his head, still sketching. ‘Why don’t you know? Who decides?’ shouted Charlie.

Reynolds stopped, sat back and looked up at this aggression. They were sitting directly opposite one another, in comfortable chairs, only a small glass-topped coffee table between them. Charlie snarled and looked at the reflection of the doctor in the glass. He thought of picking up the table and smashing it down over his head, raking shards of glass down his face, watching the blood drench the collar of his white shirt, of putting his own hands around the doctor’s neck, strangling him, contaminating his own skin with the man’s blood. He considered how easy it would be to do this.

He watched the doctor convulse, heard the gasping noises, saw his hands squeezing the arms of the leather chair and listened to the last wisp of breath. All was quiet, all was silent. It soothed Charlie. He saw the man’s wild eyes, his grotesque face. He waited and watched death. He wondered if the spirit was watching its callous client sitting, doing nothing. He considered how many spirits would be in the room watching him. He took the pad and looked at the doodles before placing it neatly on the table.

‘There is always a choice, Doctor Reynolds. Who can tell me if I was right?’


** End. (c) Steve Smith. 2006. **



© thegeeza (thegeeza on OLD UKA)
UKArchive ID: 17258
Archived comments for Choices
admin on 18-09-2006
Choices
I say, Geeza, this is rather good - albeit somewhat scary 'n' bloody. Nice to see you posting again 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks!

RoyBateman on 19-09-2006
Choices
It's good to see a familiar name! Very powerful and well written, though - probably of necessity - disjointed. I think I know the point you're making, but this is such a big subject that I reckon maybe a bit more explanation would make it easier for the reader to go straight through and "enjoy" this quite horrifying tale. Something to link the awful tableaux a bit more...but that's only my opinion, and this certainly leaves an impression on the reader!

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Roy. Glad you liked it. Don't like too much explanation - want the reader to think!
Steve.

RichardZ on 20-09-2006
Choices
Nice piece. Original and interesting.

You've managed a very rapid summation of Charlie, that lets us fill in the blanks. Love that. Total story in one bite. 🙂

Wasn't fond of the mixed dialogue in the same sentence. I was scratching my eyes a bit at that.

Charlie of course, is a nucking futter, and won't be getting invites to Christmas dinner.

R

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Richard...
Charlie is normal - we're all crazy 🙂
Cheers,
Steve.

sirat on 23-09-2006
Choices
I enjoyed this one. The only thing that made it a bit bumpy were the dialogue sections where there was no line break between different speakers.

Rightly or wrongly I read it as an allegory, the notion that there are people in the world so powerful that they only have to wish for the death and destruction of others and that's exactly what happens. This idea was what seemed to be lurking behind the notion of the man who could "think" people and animals to death.

It reminded me a lot of the classsic Jerome Bixby Sci Fi short story "It's a Good Life". If you're not familiar with it you should try to track it down. Yours goes beyond the plot of "It's a Good Life" in suggesting the allegory. I thought it was a very solid piece of work, achieving a great deal in a small number of words.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, David. I'm experimenting with putting dialogue together, to see if it makes it easier to read. I read something recently, and it seemed to work - perhaps I didn't pull it off, as another commenter found it difficult too. I might pull the dialogue out "properly".
I'm pleased with your comment, as originally I wanted to make it very obvious that the man could could cause death by thinking about it - the original cut stated that in the first paragraph, but I removed that and softened everything to try and make the reader think.
I'll look up that short story you mention.
Thanks for reading and the feedback.
Steve.


Bradene on 23-09-2006
Choices
Scary stuff, I think the disjointed way you wrote this made it even more terrifying, my mouth was quite dry by the end. Val x

Author's Reply:
Glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting. Steve.

e-griff on 23-09-2006
Choices
Yep, 'It's a good life' deffo. (and even The Midwich Cuckoos?)

At first I wondered why he shot the trapped woman. I take it that was a merciful shot, whereas his brain needed anger to strike.

I'm not sure if the nuclear drop on London was a mite too dramatic for this story. miight work better if they were mundane killer choices in the battlefield. the reason for this it it might be drawing attention form the main theme by its publicity value.

Anyway, really nice wee story, powerful and well-wrote.

Couple of comments;
'laying' should be lying (woman under stone)

I too diapprove of that strange speech punctuation (including the colon, which should be a comma). The dashes are not needed. I myself would put different speakers on new paras, but it's clear enough even if you don't. (some don't 🙂 )

And '... looked up at this aggression' doesn't quite say what it should. (ie you can't look at aggression. You can 'look up' at a display of aggression, or something like that )

good one. This is the kind of direct incisive writing of yours I like 🙂 JohnG

Author's Reply:
I'll have a look at that short story, for sure.
Looking up at aggression is not literal of course - has an implicit ("sign of").
Changing "laying" ... ta, for that.
I think the speech style probably doesn't work, as per other commentors. I shall abandon this experiment. Perhaps it works only for first person (and more refined at that).
Glad you liked it, John - thanks for taking the time to read and comment!
Steve.

reckless on 24-09-2006
Choices
Good piece, and with a timely message. Shame people never seem to learn it. "don't think about them as people": that's the key to it all, how so many dictators, politicians and their followers can do so much damage to so many.
Didn't realise you were still around, though glad that you are.

Author's Reply:
Thanks, Reckless... It's almost always never about the people, and always about the individuals and their motives, isn't it?
Still around ... just been too busy to do much.
Thanks for reading and commenting. Steve.

KDR on 13-11-2006
Choices
Er...it's a bit different from 'Great Expectations', mate! 😉 (It's a course thing, don't worry. Not that you were...)
Dickens or you...Dickens or you... Sod it, you win. Much more my cup of tea, I reckon. lol.

Not sure if I'm Charlie (insert 'a' if you want...), but I didn't find it all that scary, unlike others. More interesting than anything, and very unusual.
Like others have said, I didn't think the dialogue thing worked, but I see you've already addressed that issue. Maybe a first person story would be better for it. Worth a try, anyway.

Cheers for the read,
Karl

Author's Reply:
Ah ... I love "Great Expectations". That's a fantastic story.
It wasn't supposed to be scary, as such. First person - maybe. I wanted the reader to work out his character, and first person might have been too much "tell".
Dickens every time!
Thanks for the comment.
Steve.

Flash on 13-11-2006
Choices
The Midwitch Or Midwich cuckoos, did spring to mind when reading this. Also an episode from Star Trek, where the Enterprise picks up an abandoned human on a planet, the character has similar abilities to your main character , and is also called Charlie.

Erm...not sure about this one to be honest, interesting yes, but for me something is lacking about it. Not sure what though.

Flashy

Author's Reply:
Cheers, Flashy. Didn't copy it, honest!
Thanks for reading.
Steve.

sirat on 13-11-2006
Choices
If I could come in again having read Flashy's comment, I think perhaps what's missing is reader identification with any of the characters. The only victim I felt anything for was the woman under the stone slab. Doing it in the first person would give you the chance to let us inside Charlie's head and feel a bit of his emotional dilemma. It might need to be a bit longer to do it. but as the title "choices" suggests it's really Charlie's abilities and insights and actions that are the centre of interest. It would be a great deal more effective if we could identify with him and care about him a bit more.

Author's Reply:
I agree with you, but adding more substance to the characters would certainly move the piece out of the "flash fiction" category. I replied to KDR just now and will elaborate a bit, that I wanted to present an unusual character, give him some strange abilities (or massive conincidences!?) that would catch the reader's attention quickly. The first person perspective would have introduced more "tell" and I wanted the reader to form their own opinions about what was going on.
All a bit experimental and a bit different, but I'm happy the short piece generated comparisons with things I hadn't read and differing opinions - even after a couple of months of posting it.
Thanks for reading (again)!
Steve.