My thanks to Chuck Wendig who, via his excellent Terrible Minds blog came up with this great ‘first lines’ flash fiction competition.
Here’s my entry:
Max sat amongst the dead, whistling to himself.
The whistling kept him calm. It was his way of dealing with things. He’d developed it as a knack of dealing with his ‘talent’, his own coping mechanism – if he hadn’t, well, then he assumed he’d be lying there among them.
He was grateful that this time it wasn’t a messy one – the bodies just lay there, still and not troubling him – not a one of them twitching or, as he often saw and hated, leaking anything ungodly in his direction.
The gas had taken care of that, it had been quiet, silent in fact, but deadly. Deadly to all but Max.
A terrorist attack on the New York Subway.
Well, at least when he was done he’d get the chance to see a bit of the city. He’d always wanted to take a trip to Manhattan – would have rather it had been when he’d still been in a form he could enjoy it better.
But, beggars can’t be choosers and, neither in fact could, collectors – he’d learnt that over the years too.
Max had been a collector for what felt like an eternity – he was no longer to know, time no longer a concept that had any effect on him or concerned him. He had no need to be anywhere at any specific time, he was merely placed wherever he needed to be – none of it was down to him. In reality, it was a role he’d carried out for eight years – for that was how long ago it had been when, hanging upside down from his seatbelt in a car about to burst into flames, he’d been asked to make his choice.
Max had been a bad man. The car he was driving was stolen, the contents of its boot were stolen too -the treasured belongings of a young family who, that summer’s night, had forgotten to close a downstairs window before heading to bed. Their mistake, his good fortune – or so he’d though at the time.
Less than half an hour later, and having been spotted running a red light in his eagerness to get away with his stash, the Police had seen him, given chase and, moments later, after striking a kerb on the brow of a hill, Max’s vehicle was sent spinning onto its roof and sliding down the road to come to a standstill. And then it had been the fuel, it had filled his nostrils suddenly, invading his head at the same time as he saw the flicker of a flame out of the corner of his bloodied eye.
And, it was then, at that moment, that Max had been given his choice – there was no easy way out.
He was faced with being cleansed of all of his wrong doing by dying in the flames of a burning car – without hope of being rescued in time or he had an alternative choice.
He could die, right there, the flames extinguished in time to stop him burning, but not in time to stop him inhaling enough to kill him and then…
Well, it was the ‘and then…’ which placed him right now in the subway station, surrounded by the bodies he faced. Max had taken the choice to become a collector. There were millions of them, of that he was sure, but his punishment was that he would never see or meet any of them, he would never have any real contact with another soul – only the dead souls he had been sent to collect, wherever they might be.
Max guessed that, for some of his number, it might be a rewarding role – the chance to collect a soul from a single good person, and rest assured that they were responsible for taking it and placing it where it belonged, like a worthy gift to those mourning and left behind. But Max had never been a good soul himself and, for that reason, he was tasked with the mass collections – the roadside pile-ups, the casualties of massive war efforts, the tragedy of sinking ships and, as now, the horror of terrorism from one country or belief on another.
He paused in his whistling and tilted his head to listen.
The family rattle of heavy equipment and rescuers encased in heavy duty safety equipment could be heard approaching – the emergency services had begun their operation – and so it was time for Max to carry out his own.
He stood up from his crouching position and looked about him.
They lay everywhere, bodies of every creed and colour, gender and age.
But he couldn’t dwell on the horror of it all, the sadness or the want to question just what it had achieved. Max had nothing left to do but collect – it was what he would do now until the end of his own days, whenever that would come, if it ever did.
He looked down at the face of the young woman nearest to him, and at the small child held in her arms.
He’d start there.
Max began to whistle again, nobody but him would ever hear it.
He placed his hand on the woman’s forehead and closed his eyes tightly.