The idea behind this kind of prose is that it is indeed small, as in shorter than short; less than 1,000 words. A complete story in barely more time to read than to take a few breaths. And, theoretically, nothing hanging, though perhaps whetting the reader’s appetite for more.
This one goes a little beyond that word limit. Sometimes the boundaries have to bend a little …
* * *
The Wyoming Express
The man liked The Kid but didn’t really understand him. The Kid showed up a couple years ago with a backpack over one shoulder, said he was a good mechanic and offered to help part-time with the bigger, more complex jobs on a cash basis. The man ran an old, one-bay garage in a little town down in Reynolds County with no more than 150 people stretched out mainly along a single two-lane and over an hour from anywhere with a Walmart. Inside it was grimy and cluttered with old highway signs from forgotten roads nailed to the walls. Two old, analog gas pumps sat in front. He serviced old cars with old tires and sputtering engines that kept people just barely mobile enough to get to the little store up the street for their beer and cigarettes.
He tried The Kid out on an old Dodge pick-up with a shot fuel pump and a suspension that would barely hold it up and was astounded at the job The Kid did. Using salvaged parts and ingenuity he’d brought it back to nearly new, or at least what he envisioned ‘nearly new’ to be having not really seen it for himself for years. So, yeah, he said; let’s do it. There were never formal paychecks and he never had an SSN or other personal information about The Kid in a drawer. Calling him ‘The Kid’ wasn’t accurate as he was clearly in his 30’s, but as the man was now pushing 70 that age seemed inconceivably young. The Kid was certainly affable, and the man knew his name but beyond that nothing else. Didn’t know where he was from or what he had done prior, though due to his own Marines background he suspected something military just from his muscular build and the way he handled himself. He knew he lived somewhere back in the forest. Whether a cabin or an old trailer or a cave he didn’t know. He always parked his old Jeep around back, where it couldn’t be seen from the road. And that backpack he walked in with was always close to him. Even when he was working underneath a vehicle it was never out of reach. “It’s just a habit,” he’d said.
He was working on an old Mustang when the black Tahoe pulled up and three stern men in dark suits jumped out. “Feds”, the man thought as he watched in the office from behind the cash register, but the way they fanned out and reconned the area told the man this was something much different. The Kid, he noted, had suddenly vanished. Two of the dark-suited men began moving towards the office. The older of the two, with greying temples, adopting a premeditated, sinister smile.
“Good day,” the older beamed. All of them seemed to be looking everywhere. “What a gorgeous part of the world!” He continued to make small talk, which the man tried to answer courteously without encouraging him. “Say, listen,” the older finally got to the point after several minutes, “We’re looking for someone. We’ve got a pretty good idea he’s around here.” Then he described The Kid to a tee. The second man moved closer to peer into the garage, and the one outside moved to just in front of the open garage door.
The man told him, “Sounds the way a lot of people look. What’d this guy do?”
“Why, nothing,” the older man smiled slyly and malevolently, “We’re friends of his. Not like he’s in trouble.”
“Doesn’t ring a bell,” the man said.
“Doesn’t, huh?” the older sneered and glared such that a chill went through the man. “Well, gee. This is sure a colorful old garage and me and my friends really like places like this. Mind if we look around? Might see a sign on your wall we want to buy.”
The man said, “Yeah, I do mind,” but couldn’t say it with any authority and feared his voice was shaking. “None of my stuff is for sale.”
“Oh, don’t say that, you don’t know what we’re offering,” the older one told him in just a degree short of a threat. By then the second had moved a step into the garage, as had the man outside.
Then The Kid reappeared. He moved and fired an enormous weapon in the same motion. It was biggest handgun the man had ever seen, and it exploded with a deafening BOOM. The man outside was blown all the way back against the Tahoe, an enormous hole in his chest. Instantly the second crouched and moved to his left and sprayed the garage with an UZI pistol pulled from his jacket, but The Kid had already shifted. From low behind the Mustang’s right front bumper he fired another thunderous round that nearly severed the second man’s leg at the thigh. He fell back against the wall and tried to raise his UZI to fire, but The Kid was already coming at him and another round blew out the back of his head.
The older had dived over the counter and pulled the man down with him, his own gun out. “What the hell is that, a mouse?” he snarled, but that was just as The Kid delivered his head shot to the second, and the older’s eyes went wide. He pushed the man away and tried to peer around the end of the counter with his finger on the trigger, ready to spray whatever moved. The Kid had already shifted again, knowing the position of his final assailant. Before the older’s eyeball cleared the corner, The Kid sent a bullet through the counter that caught him in the shoulder. The older gasped, tried to hold onto his gun, but The Kid had come now over the top and shot down at him; another head shot. That ended it.
The Kid emptied the five spent shells from his massive gun – the man would later know it as a .500 Wyoming Express when deputies helped him identify it – put the shells in his pocket and loaded five new ones. He left the building; the man rose high enough to see him peering into the Tahoe and looking around the sides of the building, before coming back. “It’s okay,” he said, “That’s all of them. You can come out.”
The man stood cautiously as The Kid returned his gun to his backpack. “I’m sorry about all this,” he said. He had no reason to believe so, but the man sensed he was in no danger from The Kid.
From his Marine days the man thought he recognized a little of what he had just seen. “Special Forces?”
“At first, but it became something more covert. And I left. I had seen enough.” He waved his hand towards the older. “They started in Special Forces too. They didn’t like that I left.”
The man asked, “You deserted?”
“No. You can’t desert something that doesn’t officially exist. But to their way of thinking you can’t leave it either. You’re there for life. I just didn’t see it that way anymore after the things I’d witnessed.”
And then, “If you think we’re all on the same side, you’re wrong. We’re at war with ourselves”.
The Kid reached into his backpack and retrieved what turned out to be a cellophane wrapped brick of $100 bills, which he tossed to the man. “For your trouble; that’s $10,000. Hide it before the sheriff gets here. If he gets here in the next ten minutes, which I doubt, try to be too much in shock to tell him anything for another 20. Otherwise, give me 30 minutes before calling them.”
The man watched him move to the door. He wouldn’t have to try too hard to feign shock. The Kid paused just outside. “I could’ve been content here,” he said. “Almost was.” Then he was gone. The man looked at the bullet holes sprayed across his garage. Then he looked at the older splayed on the floor blocking easy egress from behind the register, the huge bullet hole under his eye and his brains scrambled out of the back of his head, and threw up.
* * *
BTW: The photo art and prose included in any given post are separate creations and rarely have anything to do with each other. Duality and such …
All my life I have had to learn to do things differently. To see the world differently.