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“Will you be coming over to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us tomorrow?"
his mother asked for what seemed like the twentieth time in the last two weeks.

Kyle Nabors sighed loudly into the phone, the echoing sound of his
breath drowning out the equally plaintive and demanding voice of his aging mother.

"Not this year Mom. I told you the last time you called, and the time
before that." he replied wearily. "I would rather just spend the day relaxing, it's the only day I have off for the next two weeks."

It was an excuse and Kyle was quite certain his mother knew it whether
or not she chose to call him on it. While it was true that his job as a
salesman kept him more than a little busy during the weeks immediately following Thanksgiving, that wasn't the reason he was begging off on attending the usually boisterous gathering of relatives the following Thursday.

The truth was he would rather be alone. After all the day before
Thanksgiving had been the day his life had changed forever. The day she died.

“All right, Kyle. But you know we all miss you. Is there anything – “

“Mom, if there were, I’d tell you,” he replied, before she could finish. “The very second I thought of it. Happy holidays.”

“You too, hon. Goodbye.”

The phone clicked. It was hollow. Kyle sank back into his bed. His life was a shambles. The girl. It all started with her. Though he sometimes wondered if it was something buried deep within him, and the girl was some catalyst sent by the Devil.

Kyle had been walking home from a late night completing forms at work. It was the most Sisyphean aspect of his job, and the one he always put off. Thusly, he was walking home long past normal business hours, and in his mentally exhausted state, he completely bypassed normal routes of pedestrian traffic. He wound up in a nondescript alley after a main street had a “Road Work” sign posted. As he was walking, he slipped, and fell. His knee violently made contact with the asphalt of the street, and he swore. As Kyle sought to right himself, his hand slipped too, in a pool of liquid. Kyle swore again, and wiped his hands off on his pants. They stained. He gasped at the unmistakable crimson tinge of the stain, and looked for the locus of the pool.

He found it near a crumpled pile of rags. As Kyle flung aside the garments, a girl was made apparent in the manner of a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis. She was barely alive, and unresponsive to Kyle’s queries regarding what had happened. But still alive. Kyle decided not to be a voyeur about the whole scene, and took his cell phone out of his coat pocket, in an unconscious John Wayne flourish. He dialed 911, and shouted desperately when a receptionist answered. “Help! There is a girl here, and I think she’s been badly wounded.”

“I’m at . . . Hold on.” Kyle got up, and ran to the end of the alley, where a street sign was posted. “I’m at Wabash and Lake! Please, send an ambulance.”

Feeling that he hadn’t done anything, really, Kyle ran back to the girl. She was waifish, and could have been anywhere from twelve to sixteen. “Don’t worry. Help is on the way, miss.” He took off his coat and draped it over atop the other rags, remembering from somewhere it was important for an injured person to have lots of blankets when they were in shock. They made a strange pair in the dark alley, Kyle crouched protectively over the girl, stocky, dressed for success. The girl lay prone underneath the rags, stick-thin, and she dressed in tattered and overworn clothing. Kyle began to feel close to the girl, as though he knew her his whole life – it was a closer connection than he had made with any friends in recent memory, and the girl still had not spoken.

After some five minutes had passed, the sheer adrenaline of finding a near-corpse had dropped off enough for Kyle to feel the throbbing in his knee. He stopped crouching, and leaned against a wall opposite to the girl, so he could continue his sentry duty. He thought he heard something from the direction of the girl as soon as he had reached a comfortable posture, and quickly got up to lean close to her. He heard a hesitant cough. Then:

“I’ve . . . always heard you get cold right before you die. I’m cold. ‘S funny.” A wet cough. “I don’t feel like dying.”

“Don’t worry, miss. I called an ambulance. You’ll be just fine.”

“No I won’t. I don’t feel like dying . . . doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Thanks though. This is really nice of you. I’m Kate.”

“Um, I’m Kyle,” he replied, wondering how she could talk so idly as her life slipped away from her to escape into the aether. Small talk about the city life, about concerts, about hobbies. The girl deliberately skirted mentioning why she was covered in blood in an alley, or any of the major philosophical questions people are gripped with as they die. Kyle felt guilty, but he was grateful for it. He couldn’t have dealt with a serious discussion about life and death with it so vividly portrayed before him.

This ensued for some fifteen more minutes before the ambulance finally arrived. The siren shrieked, slicing the elegant rapport. Kyle started, and looked blankly as paramedics dashed efficiently onto the scene. They loaded Kate up, almost before Kyle could shout a hasty, “Goodbye!” He was required to fill out a testimony, to undergo a brief questioning. But this wasn’t enough. Once he was released, Kyle checked the hospital, to find Kate had died very soon after arrival. It was discovered she had been stabbed numerous times, once in the right lung. It was amazing to consider she had attempted speech at all. The weeks that followed were all about Kate for him. He checked back at the police station frequently, only to find that the case was considered a dead-end. Kyle went home and wept when one detective actually sat him down to explain why they couldn’t investigate every homeless girl they found dead in the streets, in a blunt and unforgiving talk.

Kyle desperately needed that sublime connection to others. When he had talked to Kate, he had felt honestly useful, and wanted, and like the closest friend one could have. Back at his job, people had begun to avoid him. At the first signs of change, they had escaped from his acquaintance. Even his kissass associates wouldn’t share water-cooler gossip. Kyle took up a traveling post, so that he might take his hours out of the company building. He knew he couldn’t truly know anyone, and that no one else had any desire to try. It was a distant world, where no one understood each other. Only the dead understood.

Kyle knew what he had to do.

He began taking long walks at night. His eyes flickered over every motionless pile he saw, over every garbage can, searching for what he knew he would eventually find. It took many frustrating weeks, but Kyle saw a body one night. It was already dead, and riddled with bullet-holes. Kyle dialed 911, and in an Oscar-worthy performance, shouted at the receptionist that he had found a man, he thought he was dead! An ambulance was on its way. Kyle found this to be very dissatisfying in two respects. The police, having familiarized themselves with him following Kate, were suspicious on seeing him at another murder scene. And also, Kyle could feel no vigor talking to a dead person, no joie de la vie. This corpse was not his newfound closest companion, he was merely a morgue-filler. He was so much meat in Kyle’s eyes.

Kyle walked obsessively. He no longer called in the bodies he occasionally found. He devised a system, one so effective, he found three bodies one week, and one on its way. He went to the roughest neighborhoods, waited until he heard gunfire, then went to see how things had happened. Or he just walked. It wasn’t a terribly dangerous city, but enough people were murdered that he could find a new one almost every month. And he cherished the memories of those he encountered on their way out. Some of the most terrible people could make beautiful extemporaneous speeches about their lives, and what they had hoped to attain, and recite poetry they had written in their spare time. Every one was new, and though he had found six ”live-ers”, the thrill never wore off. He was their Charon, ferrying them off to death compassionately and sincerely. He could see the gratitude in their eyes, and something else.

He was far from being certain, but he had found a quality in those who were going to die. There was something indefinably wrong with them, in the glint of their eyes, or in the color of their skin. He didn’t know precisely where the telltale quality lay, but having slowly evolved into a master at this sort of thing, Kyle had begun making a study. He wasn’t getting very far, his concentration had been worsening lately. Every time he turned around, he saw a body waiting to be tagged.

Kyle awoke from his reminiscent trance. He needed to go for a walk. He got up to take care of his hygienic routine, strangely left intact, and walked to the bathroom. He turned on the sink, and bent down to splash water on his face. As he unbent, he looked at himself, and saw the glint. It was in the left eyeball. Kyle wondered if it was based upon dominant sides, and what an ambidextrous "live-er” would look like. His curiosity was quickly replaced by fatalism. He couldn’t know when or how, but he was going to die. And he really had to go for a walk, just this last time.



Comments

The following comments are for "The Ferryman"
by Washer

Snoochies
Washer has once again come up trumps. Spuds has a good story and, as is his way, terrifically polished and correct. Your story got me involved a bit more and I enjoyed reading it a little more. My winner this time is...Washer...9/10

( Posted by: Delgesu [Member] On: August 20, 2003 )

a shame
Washer~

It's really a shame that this story isn't getting any more comments than it has. You took the starter in a direction I hadn't imagined, and pulled it off with realism and flair. A worthy addition to the Write Off hall of fame in my humble opinion. I voted on this one already and gave you the edge over Spud this time around.

~Bart

( Posted by: Bartleby [Member] On: August 23, 2003 )

and the winner is...
Wow. Could this be the closest write-off ever?

You took the early lead, then I edged ahead, and now you're leading again by the tinyest margin at the death.

Assuming there aren't any last-minute votes to change things, I must congratulate you on your victory.

As Bart said, you took it in a completely unexpected direction. Not one I would have thought of - certainly not from that starter, anyway - but well executed. It's a worthy winner. (but look out! I'm right on your tail *grin*)

( Posted by: Spudley [Member] On: August 23, 2003 )

Snookums
Well, I've read both stories, and although some of the language in this story irked me a little (("escaped from his acquaintance." for example, seems a tad awkward sounding to me.)), I'm handing this story an 8/10.

I loved what you did with it, Washer. Very dark, and a fascinating concept, I might add. I found it exciting and was drawn in by the atmosphere you created.

Good job here!
Jasmine
-X-

( Posted by: Jasmine [Member] On: August 24, 2003 )

Thanks All
18 votes, 7 comments. What more could a boy ask for? Cookies. But I digress.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and / or comment. On a lot of my other works, I've received some comments, some votes, but when it accumulates this much you get a much more real idea of where your writing stands, and how much people liked it.

It was really cool that so many of the giants on this site liked the story. I've sampled a good number of works from those who aren't poets (regrettably, rcallaci is the only one I read with any regularity), and to know that such good writers liked it is like an invisible badge of honor. It's invisible so it doesn't hurt when I put it on. Um, thanks.

( Posted by: Washer [Member] On: August 24, 2003 )

Nice
I liked your work and i think its very nice.But, you just missed by one point compaired to the other story by Spudey. 9/10

( Posted by: g.s.vasukumar [Member] On: August 28, 2003 )

Very cool
Very original, strange, and dark. I really enjoyed it.

( Posted by: Elphaba [Member] On: August 28, 2003 )





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