Away

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic


Chris returns home with one simple plan. That plan goes awry when he finds a man in his home with a gun. Now Chris has to run, and figure out what to do next.

Submitted: September 15, 2017

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Submitted: September 15, 2017

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Away

1

Chris arrived home fit to burst. Literally. His need to urinate had been bad when he was leaving the store, but the 20 minute car ride over rough roads had done the trick to turn a need into an imperative. He stopped just long enough to deposit the milk into the fridge before making a beeline towards the bathroom.

He had the blessed toilet in his sights when something else caught his attention. There was a man in his home. This man had a gun. The gun was currently trained on Chris’ midsection. Typically, this is where fight or flight would kick in, but it would seem that an engorged bladder really does trump all other considerations.

Starting to do what is usually referred to as the “pee-pee dance” Chris asked his unwelcome guest if this could wait for just a few minutes. He didn’t want to die covered in urine. He would even leave the bathroom door open so that the gunman could see that he wasn’t trying anything “funny.” With a slight wave of the gun, Chris nodded eager thanks and went on to do his business. A man of his word, he left the door open, and could sense the silent man standing in the doorway watching him.

All thoughts melted away as the sensation of sweet release hit him. He could be facing his death, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he didn’t have to pee anymore. That was all he needed right that second. Then the second passed. After he finished, he asked if he could wash his hands. After all, even at what could be the end, one had to observe basic hygiene. Another wave of the gun allowed Chris his request. After he finished washing and drying his hands, he gripped the sides of the sink, bowed his head briefly, and asked the man if he really wanted to do this. Looking up into the mirror, Chris saw the gunman smile and nod. That was all the answer that he needed.

As the gunman lifted his weapon, Chris ripped the sink off the wall, turned, and hurled it at his would-be assassin. It caught him square in the chest. The results were about what you’d expect.

Chris stood there, unable to take his eyes off the scene. At least it had been quick. Not all of them had been. But quick was better. He never enjoyed inflicting pain, let alone taking a life, but he was a man that had become adept at staying alive over the years. As he stood there, he started going over the option in his head, and was unsurprised to see that they boiled down to the same two options that he always faced: stay or go.

If he decided to stay, he would have to be prepared to fight. After all, if this guy had been sent to kill him, then others would surely come to try to finish the job. Even if he came of his own choosing, his disappearance would probably not go unnoticed. If he left, he had to decide where to go. He had to avoid the places where he had been located before, and that list was starting to grow mighty thick.

Still weighing his options, Chris started going through the man’s pockets. He didn’t remember when he started this little ritual, but he found himself almost morbidly curious about the people that would have killed him, given the chance. Usually, there was very little he could learn about the person since they typically emptied their pockets before heading out on a job, but on the rare occasion that there was something to find, Chris was determined to do so.

This was just such an occasion, and Chris found what felt like a business card in the man’s back pocket. Fishing it out, he found a simple card that had his picture and address on one side of it. That was it. Nothing on the reverse side.

This made his choice simple. The man had been sent, and surely others would come. He didn’t want to have to fight wave after wave of hired killers, and besides, he didn’t have that many sinks just lying around. At this thought, he chuckled, and then reminded himself that he happened to be standing over a man that he had killed with his own hands. Well, sink. Whatever.

Chris went about gathering his travelling things. He had been here for quite a while, and had actually acquired quite a few things that he truly enjoyed, but he reminded himself that he had to travel light. With a final look around, he headed out the door with a bag over his shoulder and a bit of a bounce to his step. For a moment he toyed with the idea of setting the house on fire, but he didn’t quite care for that level of melodrama. Besides, after the remains were removed and the bathroom sink was fixed, he was sure that the next people to live there would be glad that they didn’t have to build from scratch.

Getting behind the wheel of his car, Chris had to decide where to go. The simple answer was: Away. Good. Got it. Away would be a good start. Find the open road and whittle down options from there. So, he started his journey to Away, that magical place where he would be safe from attacks for awhile (hopefully) and would ideally have a decent burger joint.

Over the years, Chris had become rather good at finding Away. He even kept a small journal about his travels. He was originally hesitant to start the journal, but he finally decided that even if the wrong person had it, all they would learn about are places he would never go again. So what if they also learned that he liked his pickles beside his burger instead of on it? Or that he liked places with outdoor seating better? Or even which places had the best view of the night sky? None of that would help them pin down where he was going next.

Thinking about the travel journal prompted him to consider the other journal he had been keeping. In it was all the information about the person or group that seemed to be hunting him. To the best of his knowledge, the entity that kept nipping at his heels did not have a name. That actually made sense to him. After all, you only name an organization when you want the members to show a public sense of community. He was pretty sure that if part of your duties in an organization was to send killers out, you probably wanted to draw as little attention to that organization as humanly possible.

Before Chris could really dig into the matter of finding his next Away, there was something that he had to do. Even though he was not strictly religious (he considered himself loosely spiritual,) he felt the need to go to confession. But not just any confessional would do. Even though he had long ago memorized the address of a specific church in case he would need it, he pulled out his journal and made sure that he had it correct. As a bonus, he had even remembered the name of the priest that he wished to speak with. Turning up the radio, he rolled down the windows and let the music blast as he made his way towards his destination.

 

 

 

2

It was on towards evening when Father Michael heard the man enter the confessional. The man seemed to be humming a tune to himself, but he gently coughed and the humming stopped. While in this box, he had encountered every manner of tale from every manner of person. Even though none of them would qualify for sainthood, at least, not without some real work, he could honestly say that he rarely encountered any true demons, either. There was heartbreak, doubt, misery, and wrath aplenty, but true evil? It’s not nearly as common as people seem to think.

However, the thing that he heard most coming through the grate to his right was pride. Even those that were truly ashamed of their actions still contained a hint of pride. Father Michael had an idea that this fellow would be no exception. After all, who entered a confessional humming?

After a moment’s silence, he slid back the shade that helped signal that the repentant soul on the other side of the grate could start the process of absolution. When the man did not start talking, Father Michael leaned over a bit and quietly began the phrase that even non-Catholics knew from movies and television shows. He could see the shadow of the other man nod a bit, then he started talking. His voice was strong, but old. Maybe not old in years, but definitely old in experiences. And even after all the confessions that Father Michael had listened to over his years as a priest, he found himself listening to something new.

 

 

3

Chris had remained quiet in the confession booth so that he could ensure that the man that was on the other side of the wall was indeed the man he had come to see. As soon as he heard the priest’s voice, he knew that it was. So he began.

“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been…” Chris paused a moment to consider the next few words. “…a while since my last confession. I have killed a man. It was in self-defense, yes, but I still took his life. I know the law looks at that one way, but the church may look another way. Anyway, he had a gun and was going to use it on me, so I fought back. Now I’m here, and he’s not. And honestly I do feel bad about it.

“Unfortunately, that feeling doesn’t tend to go away. And I should know. I’ve been forced to take more than one life while defending my own.” At this, Chris bows his head while remembering the faces of all the men and women that he has been forced to extinguish throughout his life. He continues, “By my count, I’ve taken more lives than most men have years in theirs. It isn’t an easy thing to admit to, and an even harder thing to carry. I’m not sure there are enough prayers in this world to wipe that stain off, but I really do have to start somewhere. I’ve even toyed with the idea of letting the next one that comes after me finish the job. That way, I’d never have to take another life. But then again, that would be tantamount to suicide, by letting myself die when I have the power to live. And I just can’t bring myself to do it.

“So, I keep on going. Every time someone comes after me, I walk away and they don’t. I would imagine that most people facing this type of life probably turn to drugs or alcohol, but I don’t. Neither one really holds any fascination for me. I’ve tried alcohol, and the only thing worse than a legion of ghosts at your shoulder is a legion of drunken ghosts at your shoulder. And drugs? Not even going to risk it. The thought of those ghosts hopped up on something terrifies me. No thanks.

“To tell you the truth Father, I’m not so much here to find forgiveness from the Almighty, as I am trying to find that forgiveness from myself. To do that, I have to get it all out. And that means starting from the beginning. Well, maybe not quite that far back, but we’ll go back to the first person that was sent after me.”

Chris leaned back and searched his memories for that first face. He found it in a pub.

“Before the Civil War, I was simply a traveler that dealt in pelts. I would buy, sell, and trade my wares at each little town I would come to. It was a decent enough life. When my stock would run low, I would just go hunting and stay in one place long enough to gather and prepare hides. I know, you think I’m out of my head. But I swear to you that I am neither drunk, high, nor psychotic. It happened. If you have the desire to do so, I’m sure you could go search through old records to find me.

“Anyway, since I didn’t have a house or lands to maintain, I never asked too much for the pelts that I had on hand, and some of my competition didn’t take too kindly to my actions. I was in a small town in Virginia when a man with a knife tried to sink that same knife into my back. He wasn’t exactly the stealthy type, which explained his lack of decent pelts, so I heard him coming and had my own knife out to answer his. It was quick, and afterwards everyone there agreed that I was just defending myself.

“But his death weighed on me something fierce, much as every death between then and now weighs on me still. And I wish I could tell you that that was an isolated instance, but I’m afraid I can’t. Now, I know what you’re asking yourself. If I was alive then, how am I here now? Am I an immortal? Am I blessed or cursed? What, exactly, am I?

“To tell the truth, I have no answers for you on any of those scores. I don’t know if I’m immortal. I’ve never been hurt bad enough to really find out, and I’d rather hold off on that for as long as possible, if I can. As far as blessed or cursed goes, I’ve not made deals with any figures either light or dark, as far as I can remember. I was born, and just never died. I don’t do anything special. I don’t feed on others for their life-force. I don’t follow a complicated medical regiment to keep myself alive. In fact, I enjoy burgers and milkshakes, and I know plenty of doctors that would tell me to cut those out, or at least cut them back a bit.

“In all my life, I’ve never met another like me. At least, I don’t think I have. I’m not exactly sure how I would know. Maybe if I had a friend that I crossed paths with long after they should have died, but that’s not too likely to happen. Otherwise, I’m not sure how others would feel about me telling all my secrets to someone that’s mortal. Guess we’ll never know.

“So here I am, nearly 200 years old, sitting in a confessional talking about all the people that have come to kill me, and died themselves instead. You would think that I would become desensitized to it, but I don’t. I’m afraid of what I might be if I ever do. Would I dive fully into the Seven Deadlys? I mean, I’ve dabbled with them the same any other person has. But after so long, they don’t hold the same meanings that they once did. For instance, lust doesn’t mean much when everyone you meet puts you to mind of a mere infant, no matter their age. And I’m sure that will get worse the longer I go on. Envy? I envy people their normal lives, but I don’t begrudge them. I don’t have time to practice sloth, and I have way too much blood on my hands for wrath to be an issue. I guess you could get me for gluttony because of my eating habits, but even that I try not to overdo. Greed? Not so much.

“Then you have pride. I guess I’m proud of living this long, even though I don’t really have anything to do with it, but I am ashamed of how I got here. All the lives that ended just so that I could survive. The early ones with anger and hate in their hearts, and the later ones that were just assassins.

“I actually think it’s the assassins that anger me most. After all, those early ones actually had quarrels with me personally. Strange, but they actually felt more honorable, somehow. But when it comes to the assassins? They’re coming after me just because of orders. Or a paycheck. I don’t know which one I find more insulting. It’s nothing personal for them. I’m just an assignment. I mean, it may not be personal for them, but it becomes personal for me when I have to live with their blood on my hands.

Chris sits in the comforting dark of the confessional and lets his mind flow over all the faces around him. He tries to pinpoint when the faces changed from personal grudges to assassins, and he’s a little dismayed to find that he can’t. He thinks of relaying this to the priest, but decides against it. Instead, he starts talking about an idea that just occurred to him.

“You know, Father, I just realized something. I’m not the only person responsible for the blood on my hands. Of course there are the people that actually came after me, but then you have the person or people that sent them in the first place. I’m not sure why they’re after me, because assassins aren’t usually informed of motivations while they are receiving orders from shadowy figures.

“I mean, are they after me to learn the secret behind my longevity? Do they view me as some sort of abomination? Have I slighted them in some way in the past? Or did they just pick my name out of a hat? I’m not sure which would be the worst and which would be the best, actually. Guess I’ll never know unless I somehow come face to face with one of these shadowy figures.”

 

 

4

Chris paused long enough to take something out of his pocket and turn it over in his hands. He knew his time here was coming to an end, but he still had a few things to say. He could sense the priest’s unease, and wasn’t really surprised by it. He had told the priest a hell of a tale, but what was coming next would be something else entirely.

“You know, Father, I have a few other gifts that go along with my long life. For instance, I’m stronger than your average person. Am I the strongest person alive? I have no idea, and I have no desire to find out. Just doesn’t appeal to me, because once you claim a title like that, you become high-profile, and that’s the last thing I want to be. Same with my mind. I have a great memory, and well above-average reasoning skills. That means I can figure things out at a good clip when I need to, and keep track of things once I notice them.”

Chris keeps turning the object in his hands. He’ll have to use it soon, or not at all. The question he has to ask himself is if he wants things to change.

 

 

 

5

Father Michael can hear the man moving, so he knows that he hasn’t left. Although, he wishes the man would leave. He has an idea that he knows where this story is leading, and his brow has broken out in a fine layer of sweat. He thinks of asking the man to leave, even though he would be violating everything he holds sacred about confession, and chooses not to. But if his stories keep going where Michael thinks they are going, he may not have much choice in the matter.

He’s about to ask the man to continue when he hears the sound of paper against metal. That sound always reminds him of letters through the mail slot in the front door of his childhood home. He looks down and sees a small paper slid through a gap in the confessional grating.

Michael reaches down and pulls the paper the rest of the way through with fingers that seem to have picked up a small shake. It’s not exactly paper, after all. It’s a business card, but with a face and an address on it. No business heading, though. But that doesn’t matter, as Michael recognizes it. The small shake in his fingers become a tremor and he drops the card. As it falls, he realizes that there is something written on the back. He reaches down and picks it up. What he sees causes him to call out.

“Holy..,” was all he managed before Chris came crashing through the wall.

 

 

 

6

Chris broke through the wall easily, and took care not to damage the grating too much. He might be needing that. At last he was face to face with the man that he believed had been most directly responsible for hounding him over the years. Now he had to find out if Father Michael was working alone, or if he was just part of something larger. And given that the church was empty for the night save for the two of them, he would be able to take his time to make sure he received truthful answers.

Looking into Michael’s face, Chris didn’t see the abject terror that he expected. Sure, there was fear, but there was also loathing. And it looked like loathing was actually winning. Maybe this was personal after all. Time to find out.

Chris easily picked Michael up and carried him to the front of the church. He didn’t do it for any symbolic reasons; rather he did it so that he would have room to work. Keeping one arm wrapped around Michael so he couldn’t get away, Chris gathered a few items along the way that would come in handy. Most notably, he picked up candelabras. He didn’t want the candles or the fire.

He wanted the metal.

When he reached a large section of cleared floor, he put Michael on the floor and held him with one hand as he quickly broke the candelabras, and used the metal bases to spear Michael’s robes to the floor. Even though he worked like a man possessed, he took great care to just catch the robes, and not Michael himself.

When he was finished, he stepped back and told Michael that if he could get up, he could go. Try as he might, the priest was thoroughly pinned. Chris nodded to himself and went looking for a chair. This might take a while, and he wanted to be comfortable. Naturally, the best chair he could find was located in the priest’s own office. When Chris carried it out, he could see that Michael didn’t like the thought of Chris in it. Too bad.

When Chris finally got himself comfortable, he pulled the remaining bits of candelabra into his lap and started shaping them into crude projectiles. He made sure that Michael could see them, and he hoped that the mere sight of them would be enough to entice the answers that he wanted.

Finishing with the weapons, Chris set them aside and leaned forward so that he could start his interrogation. He interlaced his hands and adopted what he hoped was a pose of sincerity. But before he could ask his first question, Michael spoke.

“You want to know why we are after you.” It wasn’t a question. Chris was a little shocked to hear it put so plainly. He uttered a small, “Yes.”

Michael smiled and started talking.

 

7

“You may not know it, but you are the boogeyman. At least, in my family you are. One of those men that you killed was my grandfather. You say that you’ve only killed in self-defense, but I doubt it. The way the story has been handed down to me, you and my grandfather were playing cards with a few of his buddies. This was at one of his friend’s place, and that friend happened to be a history buff. He had old newspapers framed on the walls, and during breaks in the game, you would get up and peruse them. They said that you would even mutter to yourself when reading certain ones.

“Anyway, the way you were standing reminded my grandfather’s friend of a picture that was in one of his albums of random news clippings. The only reason he actually had that picture was because it just happened to be on the back of some article about a bank that had burnt down just after the Civil War. He excused himself and went to find the clipping. I guess he was going to ask if it might have been a picture of a relative of yours.

“By the time he had returned with the album, you wanted to get back to playing cards. He dug out the paper and handed it over. You gave it a cursory glance and went back to shuffling the deck. They handed the paper around, and everyone exclaimed how strong the family resemblance was. That was, until it got to my grandfather. He spent a good few minutes looking at that picture, and then looking at you. You could probably tell he was putting the pieces together. He then said something about that scar on the right side of your head. I can see it from here. It may be small, but it is distinct. (Chris remembered getting that scar when he was a child first learning to ride one of his father’s horses.)

“At first, my grandfather’s friends didn’t know what he was talking about, until you looked around and asked if they were going to play cards, or just sit around all night. That was when they asked for an explanation. When the others told my grandmother about what happened next, they said that the less they knew, the better. Suffice it to say that you walked away and he didn’t.

“They gave my grandmother that old picture of you, so that she would know the face of the man that killed her husband. She kept that picture until the day she died. Then it fell to my father. He had heard the stories of how you killed his father, and without solid details, he let his imagination do the work for him. He became obsessed with you. If you were really as old as they said you were, then he was willing to bet that you were still around. So he set out to find you. It took years of his life, but he finally did find you out on the west coast. And once he found you, you took the rest of his life from him. I still have that news clipping. It may say that he died under rather mysterious  circumstances, but I know in my heart that you killed him.

“That’s why I went to seminary. I wanted to learn to forgive. I didn’t want my father’s obsession to become my own. It was even going well, until I was assigned to a small mid-west church early on. After church one Sunday, I went for a walk around town. I found that was a great way to clear my head and get to know the locals. I had stopped at the little dairy bar in town for a cold drink when you walked in and ordered your food. You didn’t know me from Adam, but I surely knew you. I couldn’t believe it. After everything that I had done to distance myself from my past, you dropped it all right back in my lap.

“I can never forgive you for that. Never. Not ever. My family was rather well-off when I was a kid, and now I’m the only one of us left. I had been planning to donate all of the money to the church once I found one that I could call home, but then I decided to put it to a different use. I would use that money to end you. I know it goes against my vows, but some things are worth damnation. To me, ending you is one of those things.

“So now you know. Go ahead and kill me. Finish my family for good. That’s what you do, I’m sure. Do it!”

Michael gave Chris a look filled with such hatred that Chris actually wondered if death might not be a welcome release for him. But no, that was not what he was ultimately here for. Instead of using the weapons that he had created, Chris broke them one by one. When he had finished that, he went around and pulled up the metal pinning Michael to the ground. Michael kept giving him looks like he was expecting each moment to be his last, but that when he was finally free of the floor, Chris turned his back, walked off a bit, and gestured for Michael to have a seat. Chris made sure not to sit in the chair from Michael’s office. Instead he sat in the closest pew.

Michael stood up, and examined himself to make sure he was none the worse for wear as best he could while still keeping an eye on Chris. When Chris made no move to stop him, Michael dragged his chair to the other side of the altar so that at least that would be between the two.

After five minutes of deafening silence, Michael asked the question that Chris knew was coming.

“Will you tell me what happened to my father and grandfather?”

Chris sighed, gathered his thoughts, and began his second confession of the night.

 

8

“The ordeal with your grandfather happened much like what you heard, but with one small twist. I didn’t kill him. That honor went to the guy that owned the house. As soon as they started pressing me for answers, I knew it was time to cut my losses and go. I was leaving with quite a bit of their money in my pockets, and they didn’t like that. They started calling me a card cheat, and threatened to give me more pain than I could handle if I didn’t cough up their money. Honestly, I actually considered it until my host started trotting out words like ‘abomination’ and ‘freak.’

At that point I truly had had enough, and walked out the door. They followed me, of course, and the man pulled a knife. I guess he was going to make good on his threat. He lifted his knife and your grandfather put his hand on that arm. I guess he was trying to calm things down, and things went from bad to worse. I looked over my shoulder just in time to see the man pull his arm away from your grandfather and send an elbow back for good measure. He may have forgotten that your grandfather was a bit taller than he was, and instead of an elbow to the forehead, he managed to catch him square in the throat. And I’m sorry to say that that was pretty much that. I left in a hurry, and I guess I took the fall for his death.

“Unfortunately, I did have a bit more of a hand in your father’s death. He did indeed find me out on the west coast. Right on the coast, actually. I was spending a lot of time on the beach at that point, usually watching sunsets. Well, one evening I’m sitting there when I hear someone screaming. I look around and there’s this man coming towards me waving some sort of weapon. I couldn’t tell exactly what it was in that light, but I could see enough to know that I didn’t want any part of it. He had pretty well blocked off all of my escape routes on land, and I guess he figured that he finally had me cornered. He probably didn’t think I’d head out into the water, but that’s exactly what I did.

“Along with my strength comes an ability to swim fast and far. It has saved me many times, but that time it also condemned your father. He tried to follow me. I could hear him splashing out into the surf, but I figured that he would get about waist-deep and give it up as a bad job. But I was mistaken. By the time I had turned around and swam back, his body had returned to shore. I left the ocean that very night, and I’ve yet to return to it.

“I am truly sorry for the pain that I’ve caused your family. I am. And if there was a way to make it up to you, I would in a heartbeat. But unfortunately bringing back lost loved-ones and lost years are not among my abilities. I know you probably can’t find it in your heart to forgive me now, but I hope in time you can. Or, at least, find a way to gain closure with the information that I have provided for you tonight.

“I think it’s time for me to be going. I hope I’ve seen the last of your assassins. In fact, I want you to have this. I hope you use it in time.”

Chris pulled a blank piece of paper out of his journal and scrawled his cell number on it. He set the paper down on the altar opposite of Michael, who had begun to look like a man that had been kicked in the stomach. Chris knew that look well. He hoped that Michael would eventually find some peace. He turned to leave. As he was closing the door, he saw Michael stand up, lean across the altar, and pick up the paper with his number. He shut the door with a smile.

 

9

Chris left the church humming again. He hadn’t felt this good in ages. Maybe this time, Away could last a good bit longer. In his pocket, he could feel the business card that he had made sure to retrieve after his business was finished.

Getting into the car, he dug the card out of his pocket and tossed it into the glove box. The last thing he saw, which made him smile, was what he had written on the back of that card.

Found you.

Chris got back out on the road, rolled the windows down, cranked the music up, and started the long search for Away. Maybe he would try back east this time.

The End


© Copyright 2020 CharlesLeeMcCabe. All rights reserved.

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