Le Morte d'Author

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
The tall, black-robe, scythe-wielder is having some difficulty tracking down his next victim.

Submitted: October 08, 2018

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Submitted: October 08, 2018

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LE MORTE D’AUTHOR

The Cessna Grand Caravan carrying the Echo Lake Mile High Skydiving Club climbed steadily into the crisp Colorado sky. The seven veteran members chatted among themselves and offered assurance to Henry Burton, their charter member and aspiring novice. Nobody noticed the tall, black robed figure, a scythe resting on the floor between his knees, sitting next to Henry. Nobody but Henry that is.

“ROGER WILCOX, THE WRITER, I PRESUME?” said the figure.

“Beg your pardon?”

“AREN’T YOU ROGER WILCOX OF 1457 PEACHTREE STREET, ATHENS, GEORGIA?”

“No. I’m Henry Burton. From Denver.”

“I SEE. YOU’RE SURE?”

“Positive.”

“DO YOU WRITE NOVELS?”

“I’ve started one. You know, everyone wants to write the Great American Novel. It’s a long way from being finished, though.”

“ANY GOOD?”

“My writer’s critique group likes it so far. It’s about a hard luck college student who has to sell his plasma to make ends meet.”

“THAT DOESN’T SOUND PARTICULARLY INTERESTING.”

“That’s just the set up. He agrees to participate in a dangerous experiment where he dies and goes onto life support. When he recovers he documents his near death experience.”

“NOW YOU’RE TALKING.”

“The agent I met at a writing conference encouraged me to finish it and submit it to her.”

“WOULD YOU MIND SHOWING ME YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE?”

“Look, I told you my name is Henry Burton. My wallet is in my back pocket and the harness on my parachute prevents me from reaching it, but I assure you I am who I said I am.”

“HMMMM” said the stranger. He scratched the side of his cowl with the scythe.

The airplane leveled off, and the pilot announced they were nearing the drop zone. A flashing red light above the open door at the side of the plane changed to yellow.

“Twenty seconds,” said the pilot.

The eight parachutists stood and performed a last-minute buddy check on each other and shuffled to the opening. The black robed figure remained seated.

He looked at Henry and said, “I’LL WAIT FOR YOU ON THE GROUND, ROGER.”

 “I told you, my name is not Roger,” insisted Henry.

“VERY WELL.”

All eight members landed safely, and as Henry gathered and folded his chute, the stranger appeared beside him.

“CAN I SEE YOUR DRIVER’S LICENSE NOW? YOU’LL NEED IT TO DRIVE HOME, RIGHT? MOUNTAIN ROADS CAN BE STEEP AND ICY, YOU KNOW.”

Frustrated, Henry retrieved his wallet and showed his driver’s license.

“HENRY BURTON. HMMMM. I’LL BE DARNED. SORRY, MY MISTAKE.” he said and disappeared.

 

Gary Horton dropped off the stern apron of the thirty foot Reefer Madness into the transparent blue waters of the Pacific. Twenty feet below him the Great Barrier Reef and the vast diversity of its marine life awaited. He kicked his feet and descended toward a sandy meadow amid the coral reef, holding his camera to his chest and watching for a suitable photo opportunity.

Two-hundred yards from the Reefer Madness the dorsal fin of a great white shark broke the water, plowing a white-topped furrow through the ocean. Then it curved toward Gary and disappeared beneath the surface.

At first Gary thought the thing floating in front of him was a dark, amorphous seaweed. Then he discerned two arms, not exactly treading water, but outstretched, as if trying to create a recognizable human shape. The scythe completed the picture and Gary comprehended who he faced.

“ROGER WILCOX, I PRESUME?” said the figure. The words formed in Gary’s mind without the benefit of sound.

He shook his head no.

“AREN’T YOU ROGER WILCOX OF 1457 PEACHTREE STREET, ATHENS, GEORGIA?”

Gary peered into the void of the black cowl trying to perceive lips moving. There was only darkness. Again he shook his head no.

“DO YOU WRITE NOVELS?”

Gary put out his hand and waggled his wrist, indicating a so-so answer.

“WHAT KIND? ARE THEY ANY GOOD?

Gary floated into a gunfighter’s stance and pretended a quick draw.

“WESTERNS?”

Gary nodded and held up two fingers then pantomimed opening a book, then flashed a thumbs up signal.

“TWO PUBLISHED ALREADY?

Gary nodded.

“DO YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF PHOTO ID HANDY?”

Gary pointed up, following the anchor chain, to the silhouette of the Reefer Madness floating against the opaque sunlit surface.

“IT’S ON THE BOAT?”

Gary nodded yes.

“DO YOU HAVE SIX INCH SCAR ON YOUR LEFT CALF FROM A CHILDHOOD PLAYGROUND ACCIDENT?”

Gary swiveled in the water and brought his left calf around for inspection. It was pristine.

“HMMM. I SEE. MIND IF I CHECK YOUR ID ON THE BOAT BEFORE I GO?”

Gary shrugged and the dark figure disappeared.

A few minutes later it reappeared just as Gary was focusing on a unique and rarely photographed specie of anemone. He didn’t notice the billowing black robe nor the bullet shaped shadow that glided past him.

“YOU’RE GARY HORTON OF SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA. BORN JULY, 22ND, 1982?”

Gary nodded his head vigorously and spread his hands as if to say, ‘I told you so.’

“SORRY, MY MISTAKE. HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A STRIPED SURGEONFISH?”

Gary shook his head.

“THERE ARE SEVERAL ABOUT A HUNDRED METERS IN THAT DIRECTION. The figure pointed a boney finger.

“GOOD LUCK,” he said and disappeared.

Twenty-feet away the great white sensed a school of coral trout and changed course to intercept, leaving Gary to his photography.

 

Seal Team Nine fanned out and approached the mountain cave, forming a ragged semicircle with its members arrayed as if numbers on a clock face. Don “Cool Breeze” Sears lay on his belly at the six o’clock position, peering through his night vision goggles. The two fuzzy red infrared signatures of the cave’s sentries flanked the opening. Billy “Fencepost” Perch stopped at nine o’clock and Natalie “Pole Dancer” Zolotsky took her position at three o’clock. Two short clicks, a pause and a third short click sounded in his earpiece. His team was in position. He replied with three rapid clicks and Fencepost and Pole Dancer moved.

Low clouds hugged the mountain blocking the stars and the thin crescent moon. A perfect night for killing bad guys and capturing the local insurgent leader in his lair. Beside him, Gary felt a presence. He swiveled his head in both directions, but the NVGs detected nothing. He turned back to the infrared signatures. His two scouts closed the gap to the sentries.

“ROGER WILCOX, I PRESUME?” said a voice.

“Shhhh, you idiot,” whispered Don without taking his eyes off the red images.

The voice of darkness lowered to a whisper, despite its knowing that only the man next to him could hear it. “AREN’T YOU ROGER WILCOX OF 1457 PEACHTREE STREET, ATHENS, GEORGIA?”

“No,” he whispered. Don moved his goggles onto his forehead and stared into the darkness with his naked eyes. He saw only an impenetrable jet black form against a murky black background.

“DO YOU WRITE NOVELS?”

Don, almost inaudible, answered, “Working on a fictionalized account of our missions. I signed a contract with Random House two months ago.”

“REALLY? IMPRESSIVE. DO YOU HAVE ANY SORT OF PHOTO ID HANDY?”

Don rolled onto his side, opened his blouse enough to draw out his dog tags and offer them to the voice.  

“DONALD COOPER SEARS, UNITED STATES NAVY?”

Don nodded yes and returned the goggles to his eyes. His nine o’clock and three o’clock teammates closed the gap to the sentries. There was sudden, violent movement. A blur of infrared images as two of the red figures slumped to the ground. The red glow would fade rapidly in the cool mountain air. Two short clicks, a pause and a third short click in his earpiece signaled the sentries were dead. Don responded with one short click, a pause and three rapid clicks. Around him, the images of four, five, seven and eight o’clock converged on the cave opening.

Don raised himself into a crouch and crept forward.

“DONALD?”

Don paused and turned to the voice. There was no infrared image, only an absence of background heat. Rocks and trees retained residual heat from the day’s sunlight, but he detected a vacant region of coolness in the shape that approximated a tall man. The absence spoke to his mind.

“SORRY TO BOTHER YOU. CARRY ON.”

The black void disappeared, the background coalesced into gray and Don resumed his approach to the cave.

 

Roger Wilcox of 1457 Peachtree Street, Athens, Georgia reached for the well-worn thesaurus beside his computer. He needed a good word for slow. Something that indicated being tired.

“Languorously,” he said. “That’s the perfect word.”

He typed it into the sentence and read the whole page back to himself aloud.

“Dirk McBane holstered his Walther PPK languorously and covered the gunshot wound in his shoulder in one graceful motion. His left arm ached piercingly, but he managed to twist off the cap of a bottle of single malt Scotch and dribble a healthy portion into his coffee mug.

His receptionist, Lucy Morales, stepped over the prostrate body of her ex-husband and rushed to Dirk. He flinched imperceptibly when she embraced him.

‘Oh, Dirk, you saved my life,’ she whispered sulkily, unfazed by the corpse or Dirk’s wound. ‘Are you okay? Should we call an ambulance?’ she queried.

‘Nah. It’s just a flesh wound. I’ll manage. It’s been a long day. What say we hit the sack?’ He swigged the Scotch, and still holding the glass, wrapped his arm around Lucy.

‘Ten years married to that louse,’ she whined. ‘How could I have been so stupid to marry a mob hit man?’

‘Forget about it, Dollface. Anybody can have an off decade.’

Pleased with the passage, Roger smiled and hit the save icon.

“ROGER WILCOX, I PRESUME?”

Roger looked up at the tall, sable clad figure standing before his desk.

“Yes?”

“FINALLY. YOU’RE A HARD MAN TO TRACK DOWN.”

“I was at a writer’s retreat up in the Smoky Mountains. Been gone all week.”

“A COLOSSAL WASTE OF MONEY.”

“No, money well spent. It was great. I learned so much. I figured out why none of my books or short stories sell.”

“NO, YOU DIDN’T. YOU’RE DELUDING YOURSELF. DID YOU EVER CONSIDER A DIFFERENT OCCUPATION? ONE NOT SO PRONE TO REJECTION, DEPRESSION AND SUICIDE?”

Roger kept a large, three-ring binder filled with rejection letters in his lower right hand desk drawer. Beneath the binder he kept a Smith and Wesson Police Special. Every time he opened the binder to insert a rejection letter he saw the revolver.

“What do you know? Huh? I’m a writer. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be, and now that I’m getting good and going to sell millions I’ll make the New York Times Bestseller List.”

“NO, ROGER. YOU’RE GOING TO END IT TODAY.”

 “No! I won’t do anything like that. I’ll be a great novelist.”

“HEMINGWAY WAS A GREAT NOVELIST. WIKIPEDIA HAS 329 ENTRIES OF WRITER’S WHO TOOK THEIR OWN LIFE. I FEEL SORRY FOR YOU, ROGER. IF IT WERE IN MY POWER, I WOULD SUGGEST YOU CONSIDER A DIFFERENT LINE OF WORK. PERHAPS PUBLIC ACCOUNTANCY.”

The robed figure glided around Roger’s desk and stood next to him. The vacant cowl appeared to read the words on the computer screen.

“LANGUOROUSLY?” he said.

“You’re damn right, languorously,” spat Roger in defense. “It’s a great, outstanding, superlative word and just the thing I want to say. This will sell like hotcakes.”

“AND PIERCINGLY? SULKILY? QUERIED?”

“Those are all exactly the right words.”

“HAVE YOU EVER READ ELMORE LEONARD’S RULES FOR WRITING?”

“Who’s he? If you think it will help, I’ll buy a copy.”

The cowl raised to scan Roger’s bookshelves, dozens of writing manuals, dictionaries, thesauruses, reference books, but precious few novels. The figure leaned close to Roger. “NO. IT’S TOO LATE.”

“You can’t come now. I’m so close. I don’t want to die,” he pleaded.

The figure reached out a boney hand and pressed the DELETE key on Roger’s computer. The screen turned blue and the circuits inside burned.

“YOU MISTAKE ME, ROGER. I’M NOT HERE FOR YOU. I’M HERE FOR YOUR CAREER.”


© Copyright 2019 Rob Witherspoon. All rights reserved.

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