This is the Tenth round of the Title Writing Prompt Challenge. For them unfamiliar with the challenge, a quick summary: three writers offer the fruit of their labor and inspiration based on a given title.
The Round 10 Title — Once Upon A Time… — was chosen by me. Gary will choose the title for the next round.
As a reminder, the writing challenge has no restrictions, and the stories span various genres. Most of the stories fall in the G and PG rating range, with a few 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 goes if you are 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.
Here’s the blurb for this story:
Nathan J. Derkle fancied himself an intrepid reporter – with a penchant for supernatural mysteries. He finds himself interviewing Reveille Evans, a man on death row, who claims that the man he killed is still alive, and that the man, perhaps, has always been alive.
Once Upon A Time
Copyright 2022 — Perry Broxson
(4,880 words – approx. reading time: about 18 minutes based on 265 WPM)
Nathan wore a fedora like his idol, Carl Kolchak, the fictional paranormal reporter in the 1970’s TV show, Night Stalker. Kolchak, played by the versatile thespian, Darren McGavin, rose to fame in the role of a dogged newspaper reporter that pursued sensational, if not supernatural, stories.
Nathan was only 24, but he’d known he’d wanted to Report The News since he was 6 – the day he knocked on a neighbor’s door and said, “I think a dragon is eating your dog.” The lady, Mrs. Ribble, laughed and patted him on the head. After she lectured him about telling “porkies,” she shooed him away. “No, really,” he protested, pointing to her backyard. “It’s a pink-eyed dragon. And it’s got your poodle halfway down its tummy.”
Turns out, a 14-foot albino boa had escaped from a reptile shop called Cold Blooded. Somehow, the serpent had traveled 7 miles from the city to the suburbs . . . finding a fluffy meal in the Ribbles’ backyard.
“What’s that?” Mr. Ribble asked, looking up from a Braves’ game. “Mitzi? My dog? What’s that about my Mitzi?”
“A white dragon,” Nathan shouted around Mrs. Ribble, “is swallowing Mitzi!”
Mr. Ribble saved his precious pooch in the nick of time. He hacked at the constrictor with a garden hoe until it sicked up his pet. He then called the vet, the cops, the Game and Fish Commission, and of course, the local TV news. A beautiful blond woman named Shirley World interviewed Nathan for WKKX TV.
“Welcome to Shirley’s World,” she said into the camera. “Brave little Nathan saved his neighbors’ pet today. What have you to say to the viewers of Shirley’s World?”
She tipped the mic to the lad.
“I thought it was a dragon,” Nathan said. “I thought it was a dragon.”
Shirley World hugged him, pressing his face to her ample bosom. “And that makes you a gallant and noble knight, Nathan. You used your words to slay that dragon.”
Nathan reflected fondly on this childhood memory as he flashed his press badge to the Corrections Officer on Death Row at Raiford Prison. The guard nodded and then pushed the button that pulled the bolt that opened the metal door. “He asked for you by name,” the guard said. “He likes that creepy show you do on the interwebs.”
Nathan touched the rim of his fedora and nodded humbly. “It’s called PodGoblin,” he said. “We’re the fastest growing paranormal podcast in north Florida. We’d appreciate your subscription and a 5-star review.”
“Me?” the guard scowled. “I don’t watch that crap. If I want to see monsters, I walk through that door.”
Another guard led Nathan down a long hallway. He kept his head down and eyes forward, as caged men whistled and tugged their junk. The guard deposited him into a secured white room, pointing to a plastic chair that could have been on the gravel patio in any trailer park in north Florida. On the other side of a Plexiglas plate, was his target: John Evans. Murderer.
“Mr. Evans, I presume,” Nathan said, sitting on his side of the barrier.
“Call me Reveille,” the murderer said through the round array of holes. “For the record, my civilian name is boring old John Evans. Retired Navy Captain. Former SEAL. That’s all the bio bullshit you’ll get out of me. The rest of my career is classified.”
“That’s generous of you to share, Mr. Reveille,” Nathan said. “Reveille? Can we start with that name . . . that call sign?”
“I don’t sleep so much, you see,” he replied. “So I’d always roust the boys out of their bunks at sunup. Since I called reveille, they came to calling me Reveille. Simple as that. Next question.”
Nathan pondered, clicking his pen and flipping his notepad. “I won’t waste your limited time with puff questions. Tell me, why did you ask for this interview almost 9 years after the murder . . . oh, and wait, a follow on: why did you ask for me?”
Reveille’s hard eyes softened, reflecting a kinship. “You don’t fuck around, kid. You keep an open mind. You’re not afraid to be afraid. That’s the dossier on you, Nathan S. Thompson, gritty cub reporter with PodGoblin, an internet news outlet that focuses on the dark and bizarre nature of the human heart. Fearless news for fearful times.”
That’s our mission statement at PodGoblin,” Nathan said. “You’ve done your homework. But what’s this talk of a dossier? Is there really a dossier on me?”
Reveille slid his eyes left, right, and center. “Kid, there’s a dossier on everybody and their housecat. “I happen to know that you, um, appropriated your name from Hunter S. Thompson . . . didn’t you Nathan J. Derkle?”
“About that,” Nathan stuttered, “my partner, Jerry, he came up with that name. Said it had more gravitas. Said it would get more likes. I just . . . you know, didn’t correct the record.”
“Didn’t correct the record,” Reveille ruminated, chewing the words and finding them bitter. “Are you going to use that criterion for my story? I need to know you’re a straight shooter, Nathan J. Derkle. I need to know that what I tell you will not be altered or abridged or distorted in any way. I need to know that you are a truth teller. Are you a truth teller?”
Nathan tipped back in his chair, sensing the radiating aggression of his interlocutor.
“I am,” he said weakly.
“Are you a truth teller?” Reveille shouted.
“Say it! Say ‘I am a truth teller!’”
Nathan leaned forward, fogging the Plexiglas with his shout. “I AM A TRUTH TELLER! I AM A TRUTH TELLER!”
John “Reveille” Evans bit into an apple and smiled with lopsided lips. “Let’s begin.”
“I find that recording one’s statements enhances accuracy,” Nathan said, presenting his Galaxy Tablet and activating the DictoPro software.
Reveille nodded gravely. “I’ll be dead in a week. What the fuck do I care how this story gets born . . . as long as the truth is told.”
Nathan pressed the green button. “The truth will be recorded,” he said. “And if the story is . . . er . . . newsworthy . . . it will be told.”
“Newsworthy,” Reveille repeated, chomping on the apple. “You mean, if it’s titillating, sensational, provocative . . . if it bleeds, it leads?”
Nathan nodded, conceding the superficiality of his practice.
“I got a sailor’s notion that you’re going to like this story, Nathan,” Reveille said. “It’s got murder, mystery, revenge, and straight-up batshittery. It bleeds, Nathan. It bleeds copiously.”
Nathan laid the Tablet on the counter close to the holes in the Plexiglas. “I’m all ears, Mr. Reveille. Please, tell me – tell us – why you killed Doctor Stanly Bland.”
“It’s going to sound like a report,” Reveille said. “Like a military debriefing. I’m not one for purple prose or florid descriptions. Just the facts, ma’am.”
“Ma’am?” Nathan asked.
Reveille laughed. “Figured you’d get the reference since you’re into old 70’s TV shows,” pointing to his Kolchakian hat and tweed jacket. “Dragnet. Joe Friday, the lead detective; he always asked for the facts . . . you know, when a lady would get into the weeds. Just the facts, ma’am. Kind of misogynistic by today’s standards, I reckon. But what’s done is done . . . no use apologizing, right?”
Nathan wasn’t sure what he was agreeing to, but nodded anyway. God, he hoped this wasn’t a bust.
Reveille cleared his throat. “I’m going to start talking now. Is your comm equipment good-to-go?”
Nathan pointed to the flashing light on the recorder. “All systems go,” he said, trying to sound military.
“Very well,” Reveille said, “Once upon a time, 339 times, Doctor Stanly Bland, killed people. Vital people. People with exceptional spirits. I know this because, his last victim, number 339, was my wife, Kacey.
“Kacey Evans, a forty-seven year-old female, in otherwise perfect health, agreed to undergo hip surgery at Gainesville VA Medical Center. She, also a military vet, was assured she’d be afforded one of the finest orthopedic surgeons in the nation . . . enter: Dr. Bland.
“We did our due diligence. We vetted Dr. Bland. He was rated in the top 2 percentile in his field. We were delighted, Kacey and I, because we had retirement plans that included rock climbing in Greece, hiking the Appalachian Trail, and diving the Great Barrier Reefs. My point is: Kacey was fit – mentally and physically. She’d wrecked her hip jumping out of choppers. Other than that minor malady, she was a sturdy woman.”
Sturdy woman. Nathan was put off by the man’s detached assessment of his wife. He asked, “How long were you two married?”
“Twenty-four years, seven months, and eight days,” Reveille reported.
“Negative,” Reveille said, “I shoot hot rounds in battle, but blanks in the bedroom.”
Nathan winced at the truth-telling. “Okaaaay, can you tell me about her death?”
“Her murder,” Reveille corrected. “Dr. Bland came out to the waiting area and told me that the surgery had gone well. That she’d be in Recovery overnight. I asked if I could see her. He said, ‘No,’ that he liked his patients to get uninterrupted sleep after major surgery. I waited in that anteroom half the night. Dozed off. Had a bad dream. Couldn’t get back to sleep . . . so at zero-dark-thirty, I crept down the hall and entered the Recovery Room.”
“Why didn’t you just go home . . . pick her up the next morning?” Nathan asked.
Reveille shook his head. “You’ve never been married . . . or been in battle, am I right?”
“We SEALs have a creed,” he said. “Leave no man behind. That includes spouses.”
“Copy,” Nathan said, hoping that was the correct retort.
Reveille shook his head again and continued. “He was standing over her” –
“Yes, Doctor Stanly Bland,” Reveille said. “Crouching. Swaying. Moaning. Dare I saying, dancing. It wasn’t sexual, per se. It was more like . . . like . . . reverie. Like those Jesus-freaks that spaz out while worshiping the almighty?”
“Either way, I didn’t like it,” Reveille said. “I yelled at him. ‘What the fuck is going on?’ . . . something like that. He didn’t turn. So I grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around. His face. It was slack. His eyeballs tipped back, like a trance . . . like a school boy, mooning over a girl. I yelled again, ‘What the fuck?’ Then he just went limp and fell to the floor.”
“Your wife,” Nathan said, “Katy?”
“Kacey,” he corrected. “I cranked up the light dimmer so I could see her. She was dead.”
“Dead?” Nathan asked. “You could just look at her and tell?”
Reveille sighed, wondering if the boy had been listening. “Yes, I could just look at her and tell. Christ! I’ve seen more dead bodies than you have seen tits.”
“Sorry,” Nathan said, thinking he might erase that from the Tablet.
“So I yelled for help,” Reveille continued. “I pushed that nurse-button-thingy so hard I broke it, and then I start giving Kacey CPR. A crowd of nurses piled in. They shoved me aside and took over the resuscitation. I looked for Bland. He was gone. I sat down. In a chair. And I just bawled.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Nathan said.
Reveille nodded sternly. “I don’t want your pity; I want you to get to the word out.”
“Mur-der-er,” Reveille annunciated. “Tell the world there’s a murderer out there.”
Nathan tilted his head, perplexed. “Wait. You killed Doctor Stanly Bland six months later in a clinic in Belize. After the malpractice charges you brought were dismissed, you killed him – killed Bland. You were tried and convicted. Sentenced to death, some 9 years ago. That’s, that’s, that’s why you’re here, on Death Row.”
“Exactly,” Reveille said, crossing his arms.
“Do I have to spell it out for you?” Reveille asked.
“Yes!” Nathan replied, frustrated. “Yes, you do!”
Reveille grinned. “Now you’ve got a sense of my frustration, Nathan. No one would believe me when I told them what I’d seen . . . Bland . . . crouching over Kacey, devouring her . . . her . . . soul.”
Nathan switched off the recording software and pushed his plastic chair back. “Okay,” he said. “Okay, okay, okay. You got me. Dumb young reporter falls for death row inmate’s joke . . . his last laugh. Yuck, yuck, yuck.”
“Negative,” Reveille growled, his eyes narrowing to slits.
“Soul,” Nathan mumbled to himself. “Soul eater. No. Doctor Soul Eater. What a waste of my time.”
“I’m not yanking your crank,” Reveille insisted.
Nathan exploded. “I’ve got fucking finals this week! I had to postpone my exams . . . for this . . . this shit.” Nathan slapped the steel door and yelled, “Ready to leave, please.”
“Sit down,” Reveille ordered.
“Mr. Guard Person,” Nathan persisted, “I want out. Now would be great.”
“I said, sit down.”
Nathan turned and shouted, “You’re not the boss of me. I’m not one of your soldier monkeys.” He pounded on the door again. “Any time now!”
“The Guard Person, as you call him, is not coming,” Reveille said. “At least not for another twenty-minutes or so.”
Reveille gnawed on the apple core. “Let’s just say, he’s in my last will and testament.”
“You bribed him to leave me alone, in here, with you?”
Reveille said, “That’s affirmative. Besides, what was I going to do with brand new Samsung Washer/Dryer front-loader combo? You know . . . after the State of Florida kills me in a week.”
“I could scream,” Nathan said.
Reveille shook his head. “Would Carl Kolchak scream? Would Hunter S. Thompson scream? Or would they listen to the facts, ma’am . . . follow the evidence . . . demand proof?”
“Proof,” Nathan said, sitting down. “You have proof?”
“Glad you asked,” he said. “I was getting heartburn.” Reveille pounded his sternum with the heel of his fist and inflated his throat, in a pelican-esque wretch. He pitched forward, gagging, catching something in his left hand. “Proof,” he said, smacking his phlegmy lips.
“Christ,” Nathan said, examining the ejected object. “A thumb drive?”
“Stripped down,” Reveille said. “Cracked the plastic case off it . . . just the guts now, the memory chip. Had to be small enough to do this.” He pushed it through one of the holes in the Plexiglas. It dropped on Nathan’s side of the barrier.
“It’s my research,” Reveille said, “or, as we say in military intelligence, a dossier.”
“On Bland?” Nathan asked. “The Doctor you strangled with a bootlace?”
He sighed. “But I didn’t do it right. Should have dismembered him. But, yes. A dossier on Bland. The soul-eater.”
“You believe that – that Bland feeds on souls?” Nathan asked.
Reveille spit an apple seed. “Can you stick it in your Tablet? There’s a name in those files. Thurgood Derkle.”
Nathan blanched. “My grandfather,” he said, skipping a breath. “What’s he got to do with this?”
“He’s the reason you are like you are,” Reveille said, “isn’t he, Nathan J. Derkle?”
Nathan didn’t like being interviewed. He was the intrepid reporter. He was Carl Kolchak 2.0. “He died, Mr. Evans. Grandpa’s passing was quite untimely. I was six. He was a great man. A reporter of great renown.”
“You were seven and he was murdered,” Reveille said. “Bland killed him. Thurgood was a vain man. He came in for plastic surgery and left in a plastic bag.”
Shocked, Nathan gathered himself and said, “It was a tragic accident. But these things happen. Even for a facelift, surgery is risky. I’ve accepted it . . . and perhaps . . . to be at peace . . . you should too.”
“That’s where we differ,” Reveille said. “You’re content to investigate and report; I have to do something about it. It’s part of my creed; my constitution. I crave justice the way Bland craves souls.”
“Eye for and eye?”
Reveille winked and said, “Now you’re starting to see the light. Stick that thing in that thing and look at the old photos I’ve curated,” pointing at the Tablet.
Nathan wiped the thumb drive on his tweed sleeve and inserted it into his Tablet. He scrolled to the directory and opened the first image.
“That right there,” Reveille said, seeing the reflection in Nathan’s glasses. “That’s Doctor Stanly Bland. It’s from the photo gallery directory at Gainesville VA Medical Center – the same place he killed Kacey. Look at him, Nathan. That boiled-egg head; those weak, pink eyes; pug nose and slack affect . . . like he’s half-napping. Most importantly, zoom in just over his left eye. See it? A scar.”
“Shaped like . . .” Nathan hesitated, “shaped like a crescent.”
“Or a reaper’s scythe – sickle-shaped,” Reveille said. “Now, hit slideshow. The images are in chronological sequence.”
Nathan did, and was rewarded with a never-before-seen sepia Daguerreotype of Abraham Lincoln, lying in a bed too short for his length, with six men attending him.
“That’s the Peterson House,” Reveille said, “across the street from the Ford Theater. They took Lincoln there after Booth shot him. This photograph was made during the confusion . . . while Lincoln lingered between life and death. See that man? The only fellow without a beard? Zoom in, Nathan. Look real close.”
Nathan looked up and said, “You think that’s Bland, don’t you?”
Reveille said, “Don’t ask me. That eggy head. Those pink eyes. And check out the scar.”
Nathan did. “It’s an old photo . . . hard to tell. Why have I never seen this image before?”
Reveille winked. “I saved a guy’s hide in Afghanistan. After two tours, he became a Senator. You’d know him. Anyway, he returned the favor by giving me access to Congressional Library’s Hall of Records. You’d be surprised what’s down there.”
Nathan squinted at the next photo. “My God, it’s a half-dozen black men. Hanged.”
“Lynched in Mississippi,” Reveille said, “circa 1880. Accused of raping a white girl. She recanted on her deathbed, fifty-years later. Take a look at the sheriff.”
Nathan did. “Bland?”
“Of course it’s Bland,” Reveille shouted. “I’ve got 339 photos in that folder. Ranging from the Abolitionist John Brown, to Archduke Ferdinand, to Gandhi, to Madame Curie, to the Rosenbergs, to Kennedy, to John Lennon, to Kaddafi, to Robin Fucking Williams!”
Nathan did not react to the screed. Instead, he studied the death images. In each, there was a man, and that man did resemble Doctor Stanly Bland.
“Fuck!” Reveille shouted. “If we had a photo of Christ on the cross, I bet my pecker you’d see Bland in drag, pretending to be Mary Magdalene.”
“Why?” Nathan asked.
“Journalism 101. Great question,” Reveille said, saluting. “Who? Bland. What? Murder. Where? Every-fucking-where. When? All-the-fucking-time. Why? Well, that’s for you to find out, Nathan J. Derkle, cub reporter for PodGoblin. Because there’s another photo – the one named TD.jpg. Click on it.”
Reluctantly, Nathan did. It was his grandfather, Thurgood Derkle. He recognized the photo. It sat in a frame on a doily on a lamp table in his grandmother’s sewing room. She’d taken it with her pre-digital Kodak.
There he was, that out-sized man with the out-sized personality, hamming for the camera, crossing his eyes and jutting his tongue, being rolled into surgery on a gurney.
“It’s Bland,” Nathan said. “The nurse in scrubs. That’s him.” Nathan zoomed in. “He’s got the scar; the sickle.”
Reveille nodded sagely, letting the surreality set in. “Now click the photo called Fire.jpg.”
Stunned, Nathan did. “It’s that trailer park fire in Muncie,” he said. “I covered it for PodGoblin. Two dozen deaths and they never figured out how it started.”
“Look at the fireman holding the burnt baby doll,” Reveille said. “It’s him. It’s Bland.”
Nathan looked up from his Tablet. “That can’t be. The fire was in October of last year. You killed Doctor Stanly Bland almost nine-years ago.”
The door to Death Row swung open. The Guard Person made much unnecessary noise, while shielding his eyes. “What you don’t want seen, don’t show,” he said, giving Nathan time to pull the stick and shut his Tablet.
“Time’s up,” the guard said.
And for John “Reveille” Evans, it truly was.
One week later, despite the heat and humidity, Nathan wore his fedora and tweed jacket. He showed his credentials at three different checkpoints. At the last one, he was searched and asked to give up his phone. Each time, he halfway hoped the guard would send him packing. “Thompson,” he imagined them saying, “Your dossier says your name is Derkle! Hit the bricks, poser!”
But, damnit, all the guards let him pass. He wondered if Reveille had bequeathed a household appliance to each of them.
As he entered Raiford’s Death Row viewing room, he noticed there were two separate seating sections. One section, he assumed, for those sympathetic to the accused; the other for those decrying the stolen life of the victim, Doctor Stanly Bland, some nine years prior. The Reveille-friendly side was filled with serious, straight-backed men – outfitted in military dress and black suits. Nathan thought them a monolith, chiseled and implacable, laser-focused on their luckless brother. On Bland’s side, there was but one lady, proper and poised, wearing a black, gossamer veil. Nathan slid onto the bleacher-style bench next to her. When she regarded him, he gasped.
“Are you,” he whispered breathlessly, “are you Shirley World from WKKX TV?”
She extended her white-gloved hand and nodded, “Welcome to Shirley’s World.”
To Nathan, the phrase was as powerful as Murrow’s “Good night and good luck” or Cronkite’s “The way it is” signature sign-off.
“You don’t remember me,” he started, “but you – along with my grandpa – inspired me to be a reporter.”
She lifted her veil and examined him. “Nathan Derkle, dragon slayer.”
He thrilled, barely able to contain himself. “Yes, yes, yes. That’s me. The gallant knight.”
She smiled through her perfect lipstick and said, “Do you know him?”
Nathan looked through the thick Plexiglas, into the austere chamber where John “Reveille” Evans sat strapped to a medical chair. “I do,” he replied proudly. “I interviewed him last week. Got quite a story. I aired it on my podcast.” He hoped, hoped, hoped she would ask him about his podcast. He so wanted to impress her with his lofty position in internet reportage.
“No,” she said bluntly. “Not him. The Good Doctor there.” She pointed her gloved finger at the other man in the chamber.
Nathan turned to the window and pushed up his glasses. There was a man in a white lab coat administering the lethal injection to the subject. The man’s back was to Nathan, so he couldn’t see his face.
“The Good Doctor?” Nathan asked. “You mean that guy . . . the executioner . . . why would I know him?”
She petted his hand maternally. Then she reached into the cleft of her voluminous bosom and retrieved an object. It was a thumb drive, he saw, stripped of its plastic casing.
“Where’d you get” –
She shushed him. Then she respectfully turned to the dying man – Colonel Killer –Ranger Strangler. She was yet unsure how she would title her story, her scoop.
“Wait,” Nathan said. “Reveille told you his story, too? He gave you his proof – the memory stick?”
The man in the white lab coat turned to the audience and began to swoon in a kind of ecstatic trance. His hairless, eggy head lolled and his piggy pink eyes rolled.
Wordlessly, Shirley removed a lipstick tube from her purse. She scrutinized it through her veil, rotated it, and pointed it at the dirvishing doctor.
“Is that,” Nathan whispered, “a camera? Because the sign said . . . it plainly said, no photography, Miss World.”
“Quiet, my gallant knight,” she ordered. “I may have only one shot at the dragon . . . .” She pressed the silver lid and the lipstick made a faint click sound. “I gotcha, you fucking ghoul.”
Nathan turned to the window. Reveille was twitching and frothing and actively dying. But that was not what anyone in the theater was watching. It was the fucking ghoul that captured the crowd’s attention. The Good Doctor began ripping his garments and pressing his pale flesh to the Plexiglas. Inside the Death Chamber, he danced a slow striptease, flinging his clothes like a burlesque moll.
“What’s going on?” Nathan exclaimed. “Wait . . . the doctor . . . the executioner . . . that’s him! That’s Bland!”
“Took you a minute,” Shirley World sniffed. “Pay attention. It’s about to get good, Nathan. You can’t panic. You’re a reporter. You must expand your senses . . . see everything, absorb everything.”
Shirley looked left, at the monolith of military spectators across the aisle – Reveille’s people. She pointed her lipstick-cam and snapped a half-dozen photos.
Nathan’s attention was torn between the capering, naked man and the restless band of brothers.
“See that man,” Shirley whispered, pointing to a sartorial, silver-haired gentleman in Reveille’s section. “That’s Senator Benson. He’s the one that gave Mr. Evans access to the evidence.” She waggled the thumb drive and slipped it back into her cleavage.
“I see him,” Nathan said. “Those other men . . . are they” –
“SEALs,” she answered. “Light infantry. Component of Naval Special Ops Force. Reveille’s people.”
Nathan watched the vets as they watched Bland dance and gambol about the killing chamber. The phrase Théâtre de l’absurde came to his mind. Then, one of the SEALs barked. It must have been a command, because they moved as one. Each hoisted their right pantleg and removed a KA-BAR fighting knife from its sheath. Senator Benson stood, and then pin-wheeled his arm to point at the target – Doctor Stanly Bland. “Chaaaaaarge!” he ordered.
And they did charge – two-by-two, through the single ingress/egress door. They barged past the guards, into the Execution Chamber, and they tackled the dancing man, slamming him to the tile floor.
“What’s going on?” Nathan asked, tugging on Shirley’s lacey sleeve.
“Justice,” she answered, snapping pic after pic with the lipstick. She inhaled, pulling wet breaths over her lips, tasting the chaos, ingesting the bedlam. Then she reached for her open purse and retrieved a knife.
“Holy shit,” Nathan shouted. “What’s that for?”
“It’s for you, Nathan.”
She displayed the KA-BAR fighting knife, fingering the serrated ridges, lovingly thumbing the blood-gutters. “Bland killed your grandfather,” she said. “Here.”
Nathan took the knife, mesmerized by its design. “He did, didn’t he?”
Shirley World smiled her best WKKX TV smile and nodded solemnly. She lifted her veil and uttered the coda: “Justice.”
His legs numb, Nathan glided off the bench and entered the Chamber. Bland writhed in the center of the scrum, squealing and flailing and fighting for his life . . . his lives.
“Let me in there,” Nathan bellowed. “Let me cut out his fucking heart!”
Senator Benson, bloody and euphoric, parted the huddle of brothers, allowing the cub reporter his hack at the monster. “Get ya some,” the Senator said, drawing a blood slash across Nathan’s face with his thumb.
Nathan charged and carved a red crescent in Bland’s white chest. Instinctively, he flipped the knife and employed its heavy metal handle as a hammer – cracking the cage of Bland’s ribs. When accomplished, he reached both of his hands into the cavity and withdrew the dark heart.
A long-sought hard-won trophy, he held it up for his righteous brothers to behold. Then, with no prompting, Nathan bit into the beating thing. Chomping, as if on an apple, he offered the ancient organ to the men that avenged the man called Reveille. Even as the cutting and carving continued, every man took his turn and devoured their honorary ounce of heartflesh.
When the men had finished their mission and their meal, and Bland was no more than a minced morass on the Chamber floor, Senator Benson separated from the pack, assuming the forward position. He wiped his face clean and straightened his sullied black suit. With mechanized military precision, he withdrew a copper boatswain’s whistle from his pocket. As he lifted it to his lips, each man stood and rendered attention.
Shirley World, outsider looking in, thrilled as the galloping, lyrical rally pierced the Plexiglas and filled her ears. Anticipating the climax, she leveled her spy camera on the seated and sedated man, John “Reveille” Evans.
Perhaps miraculously, perhaps by man’s design, the former Navy Seal stirred. His left eye opened and then his right, and then he spoke.
“Benson? Did it work? Did you switch the drugs?” he asked, wiping spittle from his chin. “Am I alive?”
Senator Benson and the gang of Navy vets raised their blades and barked out a chorus of “Hoo-ahs.”
“More importantly,” Reveille asked, pulling the IV line from his arm, “is Bland dead?” Nathan stepped forward, glancing back at Shirley World who was snapping his photo with her lipstick, then back to Reveille. “Mission accomplished,” he reported, scrubbing arterial blood from his face. “The target is destroyed.”
If you’ve already read the other two stories and are ready to vote, click HERE<<<Link, and you’ll be taken to the voting poll.
If you’ve not read the other two stories, they can be found at the following links:
E. J. D’Alise submission<<link
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