This is the fifth round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them not familiar with the challenge, a quick summary: three writers offer the fruit of their labor and inspiration based on a given title.
The Round 5 Title — Rainman — was chosen by Gary. Perry will choose the title for the next round.
The writing challenge has no restrictions and the stories span a wide gamut of genres. The majority of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range with a few perhaps pushing into the soft R-rating. Those ratings are guidelines but they are subjective. If you find a story disturbing because of the topics, language, and/or plot points, stop reading and move on to the next one. The same thing goes if you find yourself not interested in finishing a story. It may seem like obvious advice, but these days many people go out of their way to experience outrage (and then complain about it).
This, then, is Perry’s submission.
Oh, before we begin, I solicited blurbs from each writer. Here’s Perry’s:
Rainman has a job uniquely suited for his despicable disposition: he hunts people. Specifically, he hunts down “abortion-seeking” women. He meets his match when he encounters a 400-year-old witch named Maud LeFaye – a midwife dedicated to women’s right to choose.
Copyright 2022 — Perry Broxson
(4,000 words – approx. reading time: about 15 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Rainman was a nasty, handsome man. He was known unaffectionately as Rainman for the torrent of tears that roiled in his wake. Oddly enough, he was a man exempt from tears. From infancy to adolescence to adulthood, Rainman never wept. To this day, it is not known whether this idiopathic malady was physical or spiritual.
Despite his cruel, peculiar nature, Rainman did not lack for lovers. But the lovers, to a lady, inevitably became haters. His ex-wife, Cassandra, branded him Dorian Gray. He had to research the reference – his command of literature lacking. When he did, he found the appellation quite flattering. A man with a bilious soul and a beautiful face . . . befitting, he figured.
His chosen profession fit his fetid disposition. He hunted people, did Rainman. Specifically, he hunted pregnant women that were labeled by the State as being “abortion-seeking” – a felony ratified by the governing party called Christo-crats. The penalty for abortion-seeking was, even to Rainman’s estimation, harsh. For a first-time offense, acid was splashed into the face of the perpetrator. A second offense merited the accused an Old Testament-style stoning. There would be no third offense.
He loved his work. It gave purpose to his life – having lost his family for serial infidelity. Rainman wasn’t particularly religious or ideological. It was the hubris of women that earned his ire. He became physically enraged by the thought of a woman wantonly destroying a life that a man had created. Hence, he channeled this passion into his work.
The job suited his mercurial morals, in that the written statutes were so subjective that he could exercise broad and debauched discretion. The fact that he’d arrested dozens of women that were neither “abortion-seeking” or for that matter, even pregnant, gave him no compunction. The National Catch-n-Cash branch of Homeland Security paid out, regardless of the ensuing adjudication.
On a Tuesday at 10:00am in a year yet realized, Rainman bypassed a coffee shop, thinking maybe a stiff drink would do him good. He’d caught a Mary (bounty-speak for pregnant perpetrator) two evenings prior and had blown half of his payment on hookers and a kilo of dope called Synthetic Sin. Still in the grip of a trip and hangover, he pulled into a bar called Shotz.
“Got any Pappy?” he asked the barkeeper.
The young man turned from a keg he was priming and asked, “Pappy Van Winkle – the bourbon?”
“No,” Rainman spat, “The Pappy Van Winkle that fucked your granny’s cat! Of course, the bourbon.”
The barkeep fished for a key on his fob and opened a wooden cabinet. “You’re in luck, mister. The owner keeps a bottle to bribe the State Health Govvies.”
Rainman tossed back a three-hundred-dollar shot and grumbled, “Too many goddamn Govvies in our goddamn business. If I had my way, there’d only be one law and one law only.”
“What’s that, mister?”
Rainman pushed his glass forward and winked. “No more fucking laws, son . . . one law that outlaws all laws.”
A barfly overheard his comment. “You’re saying no laws . . . no laws at all?”
Rainman kicked back another costly bourbon. “I am.”
“That’s the very definition of anarchy,” she slurred. “Are you a goddamned anarchist?”
His face slowly changed to a brick red – the color creeping out of his collar like a heat rash. He didn’t like to be challenged, especially by a woman. “I’m nothin’,” he replied, then begged another Pappy.
“No, you’re somethin’,” the barfly shrilled. “Handsome as the Devil’s brother . . . but dumb as a stump.”
Rainman tipped the bourbon, and then he clenched the empty shot glass. “What did you say?”
“D. U. M. B.,” she spelled, as if to a child. “You’re dumb as a” –
He punched her with his closed fist. The glass shattered, slicing his fingers; the crystalline splinters assailing her eyes.
“Mister,” the bartender cried. “Stop it!”
When rage beset Rainman, nothing could stop him. He saw red; he turned red; he heard red and smelled red and bled red. He straddled the booze-addled hag and hammer-fisted her face. If the young bartender hadn’t smashed a stool across his back, he’d have certainly murdered her.
Rainman fell atop the bleeding woman. She screamed until she was bereft of breath.
“Off her,” the bartender yelled, yanking his collar.
Rainman rolled off and over, panting from dehydration and exhaustion. “What happened?” he asked.
“You almost fuckin’ killed Miss Jewel, is what happened,” the young man shouted.
“Oh,” Rainman said, observing the woman as if for the first time. “It happens.”
Rainman reached for his wallet. He gave the young man its contents – the last half of his bounty. “These days . . . too often. It just happens.”
The bar’s owner scrambled out of a backroom, brandishing a sawed-off shotgun. “Get the fuck out of my establishment.”
Rainman stood woozily, swaying, examining his mangled hand. He grabbed a bar rag and wrapped it. He started to leave then halted. “I’ll take this bottle of Pappy with me. That five grand should cover it.”
“What about Miss Jewel’s medical bills?” the bartender asked.
Rainman swigged deeply from the bottle and made an ahhh sound. That, it seemed, was his reply.
Driving mindlessly through the city, Rainman received a phone call. The ID said, “Clark from Homeland Security.” Clark, he knew, would have a lead for him – another Mary to track and bag. Rainman was sick and tired and generally disgusted with himself. Most importantly, he was flat-busted. He’d blown his entire wad in two days. That cash was meant to last a month. He had rent to pay, utilities, and most importantly, child support. His ex-wife, Cassandra, would be livid. And their teenager, Ryan, would have to get free meals at school – a thing that embarrassed the kid to no end.
“Pathetic,” Rainman chided himself. He slapped his forehead with his bad hand, doubling the pain. “Barfly was right. You’re dumb. A dumbass dummy dumb-dumb.”
The phone buzzed and buzzed, drilling into his brainpan. He jabbed the button and growled, “What is it, Clark?”
“That’s a fine how-do-you-do,” Clark said. “You back on the Syn Sin?”
“No, no, no,” Rainman lied. “Headache, is all. Sorry. What ya got for me, Clark?”
Clark sighed and said, “My informant at the Lady’s Health Center tells me that a potential Mary contacted their office . . . had some suspicious inquiries.”
“Got a real name?”
“Negative,” Clark said. “But the cell tower pings place her in the Ivywild District.”
“Ivywild,” Rainman said. “Bunch o’ goddamn hippies and Wiccans out there. She may be shopping for one of those crazy midwife witches.”
“That’s the conventional wisdom, yes,” Clark said.
Rainman waited, counting the throbs in his aching hand. “So, what else you got? Surely there’s more intel.”
Clark sighed again. “Wish there was, Rain. All I’ve got is a blurry photo taken from a traffic cam. I’ll attach it and send it to you.”
“Okay,” Rainman agreed, “but I’m going to need a little cash advance.”
“Christ,” Clark said, “we paid out ten large two days ago! How do you blow that kind of wad in 48 hours?”
“Not your business,” Rainman snapped, sensing the rage rising from his gurgling bowels.
“Well, the answer is no,” Clark said flatly. “It’s called Catch-n-Cash. Catch comes before Cash for a reason.”
Rainman swallowed his hot vomit. “It’s just that Cassandra and the kid” –
Clark hung up. As Rainman prepared to smash the phone on the dashboard, it rung. “Speak of the devil,” he whispered. “Cassandra,” he said, trying to quell his anger. “I was just thinking about you. How’s Ryan?”
“I don’t have time for chit-chat, Paul,” she said, “I need money. This month’s and the prior two months’ child support. I’m strapped and Ryan needs . . . never mind. When can you pay what you owe?”
“Soon,” he lied, wincing at the use of his Christian name, Paul. “But until then, why can’t your fancy-pants boyfriend shell out some cheddar?”
“It’s over with Hugo,” she said.
“Over. And it’s none of your fucking business,” she snapped. “Get me the money by noon tomorrow, or I’ll call Clark at Homeland Security and get your ass fired.”
He squeezed the phone with his bad hand. Blood drizzled down his forearm, pooling in the elbow of his sleeve. “Well, that would be stupid! Then you’ll never get your money.”
“I am stupid,” she said, her voice weakening to a whimper. “I pick the shittiest men. I’m so, so, so stupid.”
Driving to Ivywild, Rainman reflected on the phone call with his ex-wife. She was crying, he mused. Unlike her. Cassandra never cries. She’s got to be in a hard spot. She and Ryan both.
He looked at the blurry photo that Clark had sent him. It was the typical garbage resolution one would expect from city video – it captured a woman with oversized sunglasses, a floppy hat, and a scarf. “Smart disguise, Mary,” he said aloud. “Smart enough to know you might get snapped by the traffic cam.”
He wanted to call Clark and tell him the photo was shit, that not even Sherlock Holmes could find this Mary with this little intel. Then he noticed something. There was a passenger in the car – not in the passenger side seat, as one would expect, but in the backseat. Lying down. He made out a white baseball cap with a logo – looked like a red A. Angels? Atlanta Braves? Astro’s? Oakland? He didn’t follow sports like most men his age. His interests leaned toward bar games: darts, pool, and cards.
Cruising through the queer community of Ivywild, he spotted an old friend. He rolled down the window and called out: “Rita. It’s me, Rainman. Can I buy you a drinky-winky?”
Rita, a hooker with wild white hair and acid scars on her face, leaned in and said, “Not if I was I was choking on the ashes of my dear dead daddy.”
“Harsh,” Rainman laughed. “Tell ya what, let’s compromise. You sit with me for ten minutes, and I don’t handcuff you, toss your saggy ass in the trunk, and haul you to the station.”
“On what charges?”
“Dealing Sin. Prostitution. Or better yet, Witchery,” he said. “The Christo-crats just pulled that one out of the Old Testament. The Govvies passed it unanimously. Wanna test it?”
She got into his car. “What the hell has happened to this world, Rainman? How did we let these zealots take over our country – our freedoms, our bodies, our brains?”
“Not here to discuss politics, Rita,” he said. “I have good intel that there’s Mary in Ivywild. She’s either abortion-seeking, active, or after-action – doesn’t matter to me. Here’s a photo. Recognize her?”
Rita glanced at the image and shook her head. “I wish I was a witch, Rainman. I’d turn you into a cockroach and stomp you with my stilettos.”
“Recognize her?” Rainman insisted.
“You’re lying.” He grabbed her wild hair and pushed his pistol under her chin. “I make one phone call to my boys at Homeland Security about you selling Sin, and the Govvies take away your shitty kids. Still don’t know the Mary in the photo?”
“Call ‘em,” she dared. “I’ll tell the Homelanders that I sell the Sin to you.”
Hives collected on his neck as he scrolled for Clark’s phone number.
“You wouldn’t,” she said, knowing he would.
“Hello, Agent Clark. It’s me, Rainman.”
She broke. “Don’t. You win. I’ll talk.”
“Never mind, Clark,” he said. “My canary is singing.” He hung up and turned to Rita.
Rita gulped, swallowing the bitter pill of betrayal. “Promise not to hurt the girl.”
“Catch-n-Cash,” Rainman said. “Nobody gets hurt. I get paid. The world keeps turnin’ and burnin’.”
“You’re a piece of shit, Rainman.”
He yanked her hair and growled. “Your kids, Rita. Tell me about the Mary, or your kids get fostered to a Christo-crat family.”
Eyes teary and smeared, she said, “She’s at Haven Place. It’s a converted cathedral on Salem Street. But I’m begging you, Rain, let this Mary go . . . it’s a special situation. This gal ain’t no lawbreaker; she’s in a hard spot.”
“She’s in luck,” Rainman said. “I can relate. I’m in a hard spot.”
Rainman reached across the woman, opened the passenger door, and shoved her out. She landed hard on the ridge of a main sewer drain. “Thanks for the chat,” he called, revving the engine, leaving her in a cloud of caustic exhaust.
He sped around the corner, glancing at street signs, mumbling the names: “Black Cat Avenue, Gallows Road, Broomstick Boulevard . . . there, there it is, Salem Street.”
He stowed his piece in his waistband and leapt out of the car. Not one for subtlety, he tried the doorknob, failed, then shot the lock into metal shreds. He kicked it in and charged the first person he saw. Shoving his gun into an old lady’s face, he shouted: “Who the hell are you?”
“Maud Le’Faye,” she said. “I am the Provost of Haven Place.”
Rainman was angered by her equanimity. He shouted louder: “Where is she? Where’s my Mary?”
The woman did not flinch. Her wrinkled face did not react to the attack. “Your Mary?”
“The abortion-seeker,” Rainman shouted. “The baby-killer! Where is she?”
The old woman smiled and said, “You’re angry, young man. Why is that?”
“You bet I’m angry,” he snarled, “you’re standing between me and a fat payday. Take me to her, you old witch. Or I’ll” –
“Shoot me?” Maud cackled.
“Shoot you and fuck the bloody bullet hole,” he barked, hoping to overwhelm her with hate and rage.
Calmly, she unbuttoned her vintage lace collar, exposing her creped neck. Rainman saw the scar she showed, noting its unique pattern. Only a rope, he knew, could brand a body so.
“Hung?” he asked, suddenly more curious than angry.
“Hanged,” she corrected. “Almost four-hundred years ago.”
He dipped the gun, his shoulders shaking with laughter. “You old broads are getting high on your own brew. Sometimes I think you really believe this witch shit.”
Suddenly, two more women were in the room. It was dim, and Rainman wondered from what door they’d entered. They too, wore drab fabrics with white, ruffled collars. They too, exposed their marred necks. He wondered if it were a hallucination – the effects of a bourbon and Sin blend.
“We do believe,” the sisters harmonized.
Rainman scratched his hairline with the muzzle of his pistol. “Thing is,” he said, “I don’t care what you believe, sisters. I don’t care what the Christo-crats believe, or what the Govvies believe, or what Father God believes. All I know is that there’s a Mary in that other room. I can smell her. I got a nose for crotch blood, same as I got a nose for cash money. When I count to three, I’m goin’ in there and claiming my stake.”
The ancient ladies regarded one another with the passivity of owls. No one spoke.
“One,” Rainman enumerated, showing a bloody finger.
Three more ladies appeared, suddenly shoulder to shoulder with their sisters.
“Two,” Rainman said, pausing to fish a palmful of crimson powder from a baggy in his jacket. He snorted the Synthetic Sin and scrubbed the residue on his gums.
The sisters multiplied in the dark. He guessed there were a fitting thirteen – the number of the Coven. That was fine by him. He reached into his jacket and retrieved a 20-clip magazine. He jammed it into the pistol’s port and racked the bullets.
“Three,” he said, punctuating his ultimatum by chambering a round.
The ladies, as if by contagion, laughed demurely, covering their mouths with their skeletal hands.
“I’m serious, bitches,” he said, pointing the gun at the first sister, Maud Le’Faye. “Step aside, or Sister Fuckwit grows a hole.”
The laughter swelled, spilling out of their toothless maws.
“Stop laughing,” Rainman shouted. “You’re mocking me . . . stop it! You’re making me . . . angry!”
Unrestrained, the ladies laughed with the abandon of a wine-drunk pagans.
A fever blazed, and the red beset him. Rage, like a fire, scorched his skin, inside and out. Hate, like hornets, stabbed and stung, inflaming his brain. With his good hand, he shot the first sister in the throat, bejeweling her scarred necklace with a red ruby.
Rainman laughed as she collapsed into a heap. “Laugh at me,” he shouted. “Laugh at The Rainman and reap the whirlwind.” He shot the next woman that bent to minister to her sister. Then the next and the next. He shot them all and let Father God sort them out.
Stepping over the hillock of human carnage, he headed for the massive bronze door. For a mesmerizing moment, he was spellbound by the hellish reliefs that adorned the surface. It depicted scenes of winged demons hurling wailing babies into a lake of fire. Above the threshold, a baroque placard read: “Incolumis, legal, atque rarae.” He was no Latin scholar, but even he knew it translated to Safe, legal, and rare.
Irked by the art, he emptied his pistol into the bronze lock. As the smoke wreathed, the door groaned open. Rainman entered the room.
Everything was white: the walls, the floors, the ceilings, the muslin curtains that separated the stalls . . . all white.
Surgical lamp-stands stood silent sentry as he navigated the maze of rooms. Within each stall was a white bathtub, so white and clean that it could have been hewn from a bleached whale bone. Laid out on wheeled tables, was an array of steely instruments, ranging from scalpels to forceps to clamps to scissors to suction wands.
“Jackpot,” Rainman muttered, knowing he’d lucked upon a facility know as an Abortion Abattoir in the bounty biz. He’d get five times his Catch-n-Cash bounty for disclosing this facility to HS. But he must be cautious. The Abattoirs, it was rumored, were the domain of Witches. Anxious and unsure, he regretted using all his ammo. He pulled a knife from a sheath strapped to his leg.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he sang.
He heard the rustling of muslin curtains, then a moan, like the bovine low.
“I hear you, Mary. If you won’t come to me, I’ll come to you,” Rainman threatened.
There was a thrashing sound, followed by a splash, followed by a woman’s voice whispering one urgent word: “Quiet!”
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary,” Rainman sang, “how does your unborn fetus grow?” He laughed and slashed through a muslin curtain. The tub was empty, and the instruments sterile. He walked on, checking each stall. “Only a matter of time, Mary. Might as well make it easy on yourself. Tell ya what, when I say Marco, you say Polo. Ready? Marco.”
He stopped and listened, cupping his ear, and repeated, “Marco!”
In the white room, there was nothing but the humming judgment of the articulated lamp stands. “I said, Marco!” he shouted. “Listen, if you’re not going to play along, nobody’s going to have any fucking fun!”
“Paul?” a voice mewled. “Is that you?”
Confused and angry, Rainman slashed curtain after curtain, as if in homage to Hitchcock’s Psycho. “Where . . . who the fuck? How do you know my Christian name?”
And then he saw her.
Two women and one girl. The first woman was Maud Le’Faye – the same old crone he’d dispatched outside the white room. The other woman was his ex-wife, Cassandra. The young girl was, of course, their only daughter, Ryan, wearing a white baseball cap emblazoned with a red letter A.
“Cassandra,” he said, flabbergasted. “What’s going on here? Why are” –
The old Provost, brandishing a scalpel, advanced and demanded: “You must leave.”
“I shot you,” Rainman countered. “Ain’t no dead witch going to tell me what to do. This is my family. Cassandra, why are you and Ryan in an Abortion Abattoir?”
“Daddy,” Ryan cried, looking up from the shallow red water of the tub. “It’s not mommy’s fault. It was Hugo.”
Rainman could not complete the mental puzzle. His girls were in the tub. His daughter’s head lay in her mother’s lap. It recalled happier times – Cassandra, a young mother; Ryan, a carefree toddler – when the two would bathe together, playfully, in the stable home he once provided.
“Hugo,” he mumbled, performing live logic. “Your mom’s fancy-pants boyfriend . . . that Hugo?”
His daughter nodded. His wife wept.
“Wait,” Rainman brooded, scratching his scalp with his knife. “Are you saying Hugo is the reason you’re here – seeking an abortion?” He looked at Cassandra and then at Ryan.
“It’s the reason,” Cassandra nodded and sobbed, “that Ryan is here.”
“Ryan!” he said, cocking his head incredulously. “Ryan . . . you mean . . . Ryan is pregnant?”
Maud Le’Faye clutched the curtain with her gloved hands and said, “We can discuss this post-op.” She drew the curtain tightly, excluding Rainman.
“Post-op,” Rainman blurted. “You can’t do this to my child . . . to my, my, my grandchild. This is illegal. Immoral. It’s murder.”
He watched the blurry figures through the muslin curtain. He heard the snip of scissors and the whir of wands. He heard his wife hum a soothing song. He heard his daughter’s rapid, ragged breathing.
Then he heard crying. His own. It was alien to his nature, but somehow liberating.
As he staggered out of the white room, through the bronze doors, he noticed no sign of the massacre he thought he’d committed. No dead witches. No carnage. The only testaments to the hallucination were the hot brass cartridges that littered the floor.
He plunged into the Ivywild sunlight and removed the baggy of Synthetic Sin from his pocket. He regarded it lustily, then shoved his nose into the dust and snorted. His heart galloped, and his head swam, and his senses quickened. Suddenly, a light from heaven flashed and blinded him. He fell to the ground as darkness fell upon him.
A voice – firm, forceful, female – filled the chamber of his brain. “Paul, Paul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you?” Rainman asked, already aware.
The voice replied, “I am She – Mother God – whom thou persecute.”
Through blind eyes, Rainman cried from the side of the road. “Forgive me, Mother God. I did not know. I did not know.”
“Forgiveness is conditional,” She said.
“What can I do to earn your favor, Great Mother?”
“Seek them out,” She roared, “the men that walk among you. The men that impale with impunity; the men that plunder pure loins; the men that eschew responsibility. Seek them out. And in my holy name, reproach them.”
The Provost of Haven Place, Maud Le’Faye, stepped into the road and kneeled beside the man responsible for rivers of tears. Tenderly, she swabbed his forehead with a cloth. She sang him a song that was more spell than music. Then she wiped his eyes with his own tears until the scales lifted.
“You?” he said, his vision returning. “Is Ryan all right? Have you done it?”
“Reproach them,” the old healer said, echoing the Mother God.
“Reproach them how?” he asked, sitting up.
She reached into the flap of her bloody apron and retrieved a coil of hemp rope. At the frizzled end, a hangman’s noose was expertly knotted.
As if through a glass darkly, Rainman saw his calling. With a grateful, vengeful heart, he embraced his new crusade.
As the red beset him, he thought of a fancy-pants man named Hugo, hunched over his daughter, grunting, rutting. Then he thought of the devilish pleasures he would take in the man’s torture and protracted execution. His allegiances now fully switched, Paul was no longer bound by Man’s laws. He no longer worked for Homeland Security; he was a solely devoted soldier to Mother God.
“Arise,” Maud Le’Faye exhorted. “Go, in the name of Mother God, and smite the wrong-doers.”
“In Her Holy name,” Paul cried. “I can do all things through She that strengthens me.”
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