Short Story by: John Lavernoich
By JOHN LAVERNOICH
There are those who claimed that the concept of Death was nothing more than a sick joke. But Death was no laughing matter – just ask the families and friends of those succumbing to it, via disease, violence, and old age. They knew that death was part of the human experience – and which nobody could avoid and ignore, despite humanity’s frequent attempts to suppress and conquer it, even with the aid of both technology and medicine.
But if coming face-to-face with Death in its many forms chilled one’s blood – the fear associated with it was no less overpowering. And the most tragic fact of all was – Death didn’t care who it struck, like a flesh-and-blood murderer or deadly virus which had no regard for human life and the virtues associated with it.
Death was also unpredictable – just like so many other things in life. And even if humanity had the power to go back in time or see into the future – that still wouldn’t be enough to avoid the inevitable. But then, in the universe that we live in – we’re not immortal and indestructible. Nor are we perfect. And it only takes a single incident – even one so terrifying – to remind us that we’re only human. And there was a lot to fear about in the world – aside from Death, that is.
Five years ago: Richard “Dickey” Sears had been a major power in the television industry for almost the past decade – and with good reason. Sears’ specialty as a TV producer was so-called “Reality TV” programs, the type designed to show the producer’s so-called “vision” of real life – even though many media critics and journalists questioned their overall quality, including the dialogue, which sounded like it was written by those who got their writing education watching Morton Downey, Jr. or Jerry Springer on TV. But the TV audiences who helped make Sears’ TV shows successful didn’t care if they were fake to a point – and besides, they offered viewers escape from the actual real world, which proved to be too complicated for them to understand. Then again, TV viewers should be more focused on actual reality – given the many problems which were staring them in the face.
One of Sears’ many hit TV shows which he produced was A Million Ways to Get Killed, which showed recreations of actual deaths, but with a humor which was, to put it mildly, black and ironic, and especially since the victims who met their grisly end – or at least, the on-screen actors who portrayed them in every episode – were cruel, unsympathetic, and narcissistic. In other words, the death victims seen in every episode were the type who’d shoot and kill a drowning man before leaving his corpse to float atop the ocean surface.
Of course, nobody really died on A Million Ways to Get Killed – and the actors who played the death victims were smart to realize that bad behavior of any kind only brought about negative consequences, including the gory deaths which would be more than enough to sicken any decent soul who happened to accidentally watch an episode of the TV series. Then again, there was a good reason why A Million Ways to Get Killed aired on a cable TV channel geared towards more mature audiences – and in the late-evening hours. And the TV-14 and TV-MA ratings displayed at the beginning at each episode was, more or less, a hint that this wasn’t geared towards younger audiences.
It was mid-evening. Inside the West Hollywood office building which housed “Dickie” Sears’ TV production company, in his lighted spacious sixth floor office – Sears, a medium-height and slightly-overweight Caucasian man in his mid-forties with a shock of short blond hair who was dressed up in the clothing befitting his success and stature, and smoking a big fat cigar, sat at his office desk, as he made several business and career-related calls on his digital office phone. Sears was at the top of his game as far as his own profession was concerned – and believed that he’d stay this way for the rest of his life and career. But success in show business was no different from any other profession throughout the world, simply because of the risks which could make or break any career, with some of them resulting in the kind of disasters more devastating than even those created on-screen.
Suddenly, Sears’ office phone rang. “Hello?” said Sears, as he answered the phone.
“Richard Sears,” said an ominous male voice on the other line, “Your time has come.”
“My time has come? I’m only forty-four years old – I don’t plan to retire until I’m --!”
“Your time has come, Sears – sooner than you realize.”
“Look – if you’ve got an idea for a new TV show, why don’t --?” But then, a laser ray was fired, missing Sears by several inches, as it hit a picture frame containing a publicity color photo of the TV producer from a few years ago, shattering the frame’s clear glass pane, before falling from the rear office wall overlooking Sears’ office desk and landing hard on the thick-carpeted floor. At first, this might seem like a scene from a science-fiction film or TV series – except for the fact that there really was a laser blast hole in the center of the photo housed in the now-damaged picture frame.
“You’ve committed crimes against inhumanity,” said the voice which Sears heard on his office phone mere seconds ago – only now it was much clearer and not so static, as he was in the same room as Sears. And as the TV producer quickly learned – he wasn’t alone. A medium-height and slim Caucasian man in his early-thirties with short greasy black hair and a pencil-thin mustache who was dressed in a black military uniform (which looked more like the type you’d find in Germany’s Nazi SS before and during World War II, including the gloves, boots, and weapons belt) directly faced Sears and the desk he sat at, as he pointed a futuristic laser ray gun directly at him. The laser ray gun that its owner held looked like a harmless prop used in a feature film or TV show – at least, that’s what Sears initially though, until he saw the remnants of his picture frame and the photo that it housed, destroyed by the single blast fired from the laser ray gun.
“The weapon I’m holding is real,” said the armed man now confronting Sears, “Just like your soon-to-be death.”
“How the hell did you --?” said Sears furiously.
“And you will end up there. My name is Ronan – and I’m about to kill you for crimes against inhumanity.”
“Me? Plotting against – inhumanity?! Are you absolutely --?”
“You’re the creator/producer of A Million Ways to Get Killed, Sears. Is that correct?”
“Yeah – but that doesn’t explain how you got into --!”
“That doesn’t matter, Sears. All that matters is your inevitable death – quick and violent, much like those depicted on A Million Ways to Get Killed.”
“Do you represent a rival cable TV network? Because if you do --!”
“Silence, Sears! Now hear me out – you’ve committed crimes against inhumanity to the point of actually humiliating it. And where I come from, my masters have zero tolerance for it!”
“Are you from the FCC? The TV shows I produce aren’t --!”
“I can see that you’ll need further convincing, Sears. It’s obvious that you’re not taking this seriously.”
“When I call the police and you’re arrested for breaking --!” Then, Ronan fired his laser ray gun again, missing Sears by mere inches, as it hit the rear wall overlooking him and his office desk, causing a small smoldering hole in it, giving Sears cause for concern – and especially since Ronan’s weapon was definitely for real.
“I trust that you won’t defy me again,” said Ronan grimly, “But then, after tonight – you’ll never do anything again! Now, to continue – your TV show A Million Ways to Get Killed is an affront to my masters in every possible way.”
“And why is A Million Ways to Get Killed a threat to your superiors? Based on what I’m hearing, I’m betting that your would-be ‘superiors’ are already inmates at the local insane asylum! Or if they aren’t locked up in padded cells, they’re --!”
“Dead, Sears? What about the Million Ways to Get Killed episode in which two women were electrocuted inside a storm-ravaged and abandoned church in New Orleans? Did they deserve to perish?” It took only a few seconds for Ronan’s words to jar Sears’ memory – and increase an anger that the TV producer rarely felt.
“Wait a minute,” said Sears angrily, “Those two women who were electrocuted on that particular episode were really thieves trying to rob that church of its artifacts during a devastating hurricane. What they did was morally wrong.”
“Where I come from, it’s right and just. And besides, what is a church but a symbol of pointless ideals?”
“You’re absolutely nuts!”
“And there’s the episode featuring the man who fell out of a tree and was fatally injured after landing on the pavement. Can you tell me what’s wrong with that, Sears?”
“That same man was trying to assassinate his ex-boss after she fired him from his workplace.”
“His reason was justified.”
“That guy was incompetent at his job – not to mention inconsiderate towards his former co-workers and everyone else.”
“He had a right to be that way.”
That guy’s an A-plus fruitcake, thought Sears, Not to mention being more dangerous than even a foreign terrorist! Sears’ current assessment of his would-be captor was already proving to be accurate – perhaps more than he realized.
“And what about the episode in which an elderly man died peacefully with his daughter at his side?” said Ronan, “I call that disgusting and pitiful.” It was then that Sears couldn’t tolerate Ronan and his cruel jeers any longer – and no doubt most people who would have encountered Ronan would have felt the same way as Sears.
“That man you’re so blatantly jeering,” Sears said angrily, “He lived a good and productive life – and didn’t do anything that landed him in serious trouble! And you call his death meaningless?!”
“My life isn’t meaningless,” answered Ronan, “Nor are those of my masters.”
“You and your so-called ‘masters’ don’t care about positive virtues at all – all you care about are bad behavior and rotten choices in every way possible!”
“And you, Sears – do you consider showing mutilated and bloodied bodies on TV screens a smart choice?”
“A Million Ways to Get Killed has a disclaimer at the beginning of every episode telling viewers not to try the kind of bone-headed moves that put you six feet under!”
“It’s easy to make fun of those who are better than you solely by divine right – and my masters and I belong to that particular group.”
“Yeah – I can see that you’d be ticked off by that.”
“It’s also easy to make fun of us when we’re bumped off. There’s only one problem with that, Sears – when you attack our kind hard, we strike back and even harder than even you’d think! Fortunately for my ilk, fearing bloody retribution isn’t a problem – unlike your kind. Let that be your final lesson before your death.”
But Ronan wouldn’t get a chance to laser-blast “Dickie” Sears to death – for what happened next was like a plot twist from a suspense novel. At almost the same time that Ronan made his presence known in Sears’ office, Raymond Genn, a medium-height and slender Caucasian man in his late-forties with receding brown hair who worked as a janitor in the West Hollywood building which partly housed Sears’ production company office, was already on the sixth floor cleaning up after most of its occupants finished their work day and headed home, Genn approached the door leading into Sears’ office and looked through the door’s window which had the TV producer’s name painted on it, as he saw Ronan pointing his weapon straight at Sears. Genn, realizing that Sears’ life was in danger, slowly and quietly opened the door leading into the office, and entered it, as he sneaked up behind Ronan – Genn’s only weapon was a clear spray-bottle containing liquid glass cleaner.
Once Genn was directly behind Ronan, the janitor’s right middle finger tapped on the assassin’s left shoulder, which immediately caught his attention. The moment Ronan turned around to face Genn, the janitor sprayed liquid glass center directly into his eyes, temporarily blinding him, as he instantly dropped his laser-ray gun on the office floor. Within seconds, Genn dropped the spray-bottle on the office floor – then punched Ronan hard in the jaw with his clenched left fist, rendering him unconscious within seconds as he fell to the floor.
“Are you okay?” asked Genn.
“Uh-huh,” replied Sears, who was lucky that Genn was around to prevent Ronan from committing murder.
“You’d better call the police at once – no telling how long that gunman’ll stay kayoed.”
“Err – yes.” Within seconds, Sears phoned the police on his office phone – almost a half-hour later, Ronan was in police custody. Fifteen minutes later, Ronan regained consciousness and found himself inside a Hollywood police precinct station solitary jail cell, with a hidden built-in closed-circuit digital video camera recording his every move. Before midnight, Ronan emerged from solitary confinement long enough to be photographed and finger-printed by the police, who charged the would-be killer with illegal breaking-and-entering, attempted murder, and minor property damage, thanks in part to both Sears and Genn’s eyewitness accounts of the overall incident.
It was mid-morning the next day, when “Dickie” Sears entered the Hollywood police precinct station which had kept Ronan prisoner since last night. It was an urgent phone call that the station’s desk sergeant made to Sears’ home number one hour ago which brought the TV producer here. “I’m here,” asked Sears, as he entered the police station and approached precinct captain Thomas Sanders, a tall and muscular African-American man in his early-forties with short black hair and gray temples, “Your desk sergeant said over the phone that it was urgent.”
“It is,” said Capt. Sanders, “That Ronan character – the one who almost killed you last evening.”
“Did he cause you any trouble after you jailed him last night?”
“I’m afraid it’s worse than that, Mr. Sears. When Officers Wang and Ulsan checked the closed-circuit digital video monitors which are connected to the hidden cameras in the jail cells earlier this morning – they noticed that Ronan had already escaped from his solitary confinement cell. And the odd thing was – the lock to his jail cell door wasn’t tampered with.”
“You mean that he escaped from under your very noses?”
“If Ronan and any other criminals currently in custody tried to unlock and open the door to their jail cells, they would have triggered a hi-tech alarm system which would have easily alerted those police officers inside the police station, including those keeping an eye on the cells themselves. But the alarm didn’t go off both last night and this morning.”
“Great, Captain – just great.”
“Captain,” said uniformed police officer Tyler Wang, a medium-height and slender Chinese-American man in his mid-thirties with short black hair, as he approached both Sears and Capt. Sanders, “Can you please come over to the video monitor center? Something’s just happened inside the jail cell that this Ronan character escaped from this morning.”
“Do you want to join us, Mr. Sears?” asked Capt. Sanders.
“Err – yes,” answered Sears, as he, Capt. Sanders, and Officer Wang soon headed over to the digital video monitor center inside the police precinct station, which housed a half-dozen closed-circuit digital video monitors in two rows of three, and bolted to one of the side walls, all of them above the latest in video and computer technology, manned by police officers in eight-hour shifts.
“Here it is,” said Officer Wang, as he pointed straight at the fourth video monitor, which was connected to the hidden video camera inside the jail cell which previously held Ronan. What Sears saw on the video monitor screen greatly upset him, while also baffling Capt. Sanders and Officer Wang -- written on the jail cell wall directly facing the video camera in blood was the following: “DYING IS EASY – GETTING RID OF EVIL IS IMPOSSIBLE.”
“This Ronan character’s not your typical criminal,” said Capt. Sanders.
“You don’t think that he’s --?” asked Officer Wang.
“I don’t think that Ronan’s a ghost. He was totally solid when we unarmed and jailed him last night. And I doubt if he was an alien from outer space. One thing’s clear – there’s no telling when and where Ronan’ll strike next.”
“If he strikes next, that is.” But within the next few minutes, what Sears, Capt. Sanders, and Officer Wang learned would prove that Ronan was no ordinary criminal. His inked finger-prints on the criminal ID card which was filled out last night had completely vanished by this morning – as if Ronan himself was nothing more than a cipher. And the color mug shot of Ronan which was photographed not long after he was arrested last night had been reduced to dust soon after, as if a mystical force had willed it.
Within minutes, Sears left the police precinct station and drove off to the West Hollywood office building which housed his production company offices. What Sears witnessed both last night and this morning still haunted him – like a nightmare turned into reality.
When Sears entered his sixth floor office and saw the damaged picture frame – shattered glass and all – lying on the carpeted floor, and the burnt laser hole in the rear wall overlooking his office desk, he knew that what happened last night was no dream.
And then, Sears realized the painful and blood-chilling truth, based on what happened last night: Ronan came from a parallel Earth which was far more technologically advanced than the Earth which Sears resided on – an Earth where evil reigned, and all that was good and decent didn’t exist at all – and an Earth hell-bent on conquering all the others until they all shared its totally sinister traits for good, a living nightmare without end.
Sears also realized that though Ronan had already escaped police custody, he wouldn’t return to torment him. Ronan’s words painted on the jail cell wall from earlier today – which were more of a warning – would continue to torment Ronan for the rest of his natural life, as well as remind him that there were threats far greater than even Death itself, and the unexpected and unpredictable forms that they took on.
Only twenty-four hours after Ronan disappeared from the face of the Earth, production permanently ceased on A Million Ways to Get Killed – Sears didn’t mention the reasons why to the general public and the press. And he never would – Sears’ near-death encounter taught him an important lesson, and one which couldn’t be glossed over with Hollywood hype: True evil never dies.
But though true evil never died, it couldn’t change another fact which had proved durable for many centuries: All that’s truly good – including decency, compassion, and common sense – could never die as well. And as long as the best of humanity remembered and respected that second fact – more important and priceless than the world’s combined riches – it would continue to exist and persevere, while forever preventing the ultimate darkness from achieving its final victory.
© Copyright 2017 John Lavernoich. All rights reserved.