Take a break from the hectic news of Hollywood with our weekly look into the world of "what if". Fresh fan fiction happens weekly here at Cinema Blend on Short Story Saturday. This is our latest short story entry... "Late Fee".
The back door of Finn Holloway’s shotgun shack made two specific clicks when it opened, and just one when it was closed again. As a security system, it worked only slightly better than a "Beware of Rabid Dog" sign written in invisible ink, but it was how the 53-year-old Finn could tell the difference between outside noises that didn’t matter, and the ones that threatened his safety.
In the ten years since he’d gone down on his luck and moved into the sub-bungalow, hidden out in the woods that ran along Yancy River, Finn had dealt with an intruder a single time. Relaying it to his poker buddies at the tackle shop for their Thursday night game, it became a skinhead who mistook Finn’s place for a dealer’s house, and the ensuing fight is how he got the scar in the middle of his sideburns. But it was only a raccoon that didn’t need to exert much energy in pushing the back door open, as Finn hadn’t ever secured it, more intent on uncapping a beer and watching a movie than worrying about what boundaries certain species of wildlife could and could not makes their way across.
It was the movie’s loud volume that kept Finn from hearing the door’s clicks then, and he often wished he’d never even rented that movie in the first place. It was one thing to have to deal with the scar, an inch-long gap near his right ear where hair no longer grew, but he never solidified the lie that he told his friends in the beginning, and his accidental improvisations became something of a joke to them. "How tall was he again, Finn?" someone would ask, jabbing the next guy in the ribs. It was at this point easier to deal with their jokes than imagine the shame he would feel if they knew his assailant had a tail.
The shack’s furniture was at a bare minimum in most rooms, the living room held to just a couch in front of a TV and a DVD player. If he didn’t have his weekly poker game, he might never have had any decent conversations, as anyone he could call a relation had been dead for five years. The guys also ribbed Finn’s "decent conversation," which mostly involved all the DVDs he watched, but he could take that without issue.
He wasn’t able to get the Internet at his place, not that he wanted to, and his past involved an incident with a woman named Marisa that left him very uneasy about attempting ever a new relationship. So all he needed to do was make sure he stayed in the fishermen’s good graces. There was no chance he’d ever have anything real to say to the idiots he did grunt work with in the fields, so the thought of staying home alone all seven days a week was enough to put Finn on edge, and he reacted strangely when he was on edge.
The week before Thanksgiving, Finn’s card game was called off because someone was sick, which had never happened before; usually that person’s chair was filled or they just played as a foursome. But not this time. And that meant there would be a full three weeks in between games. Finn took the news well over the phone, but he immediately turned it inside out within his head, assuming that for some reason everyone was getting together to play without him. He certainly knew that wasn’t the case, but once the thought entered his head, he couldn’t force it out. They’d never quite bullied him, but what if they only accepted his presence because they thought he was just a dunce whose wallet they could raid in return for some knowledge about whatever the hottest movie in theaters was six months previous. Or worse, maybe they just felt sorry for him.
These are the paranoid assumptions webbing one side of Finn’s mind to the other as he lies atop a mattress with half of its springs removed, a black sheet beneath his back. He stares into a ceiling that looks as if it may crumble at any given moment, possibly even upwards. The only sound in the room counteracting the crickets outside his window is the chain on the ceiling fan, plinking twice a second and eventually interrupting his thoughts. Surely it was cold enough outside that he could just turn the fan off, since that noise wasn’t…
He quickly shot up into a sitting position, his heart outpacing the fan’s chain. Click.
Somebody was walking through his house. At least, he thought there was. He didn’t move, not wanting to alert anyone inside or out of his presence, and it was only after waiting another seven minutes in silence
(plink plink, plink plink)
before he slid out of bed and peeked out his window. Seeing nothing, he slowly half-crawled to his bedroom door, opening it after mouthing a prayer. He stole a look out, peering either way, vaguely aware of both the front and back doors without really seeing anything in the darkness.
"Is someone there?" he called out. Not waiting for an answer, he yelled, "I’m not armed, and I swear on everything holy I ain’t got shit for money. So take what you came here for and be gone!" Nothing but silence greeted his ear as he waited for some vile miscreant’s reply. He held a breath and whipped the door open, stepping out towards the kitchen at the house’s rear. Just as his hand touched the light switch, he heard the television in the living room turn on, and his next breath was the iciest in his long heartache of a life.
Without realizing it, he pulled the butcher knife out of the plastic drain board next to the rusted sink. He tiptoed down the hall, passing his bedroom and bathroom doors, eyes wide and his mind on a series of edges. There was no reason why anyone should be inside his house right now, not causing a noticeable ruckus. If no one was actually robbing him, it could only be the worst case scenario, and that would mean the knife he was holding in his hand meant nothing.
The TV was a cheap flat-screen, bright enough to light the small room and then some. Of the two windows, the one opposite the TV was missing its curtains, and Finn had never cared enough to put any up. In that window, he could already read the ominous words somehow being broadcast across the screen.
"We know what you’ve done."
Finn felt the vomit rise up into his esophagus, but managed to keep it down long enough to raise the knife he was holding up to his throat, whispering his mother’s name before dragging it along his Adam’s apple, crying out in agony.
Momentarily disconnected, he realized he’d dropped to the ground in a sobbing heap, anticipating a blood-soaked death atop his frayed brown rug. It wasn’t immediately obvious to him that he still clutched the knife handle with the strength of an ogre. With his free hand, he patted down his shirt, shocked to find it dry, and then held a hand to his throat, amazed to find it wasn’t split into sopping wet halves. Finn was not keeled over experiencing the final seconds of his life, and he didn’t know why.
He then looked at the screen, and the words burned their way into his retinas, a million needles only increasing his suicidal motivations. The knife appeared sharp and had been as early as that morning, so Finn tapped his index finger on the tip, expecting pain and feeling none. No drop of blood. No tiny wound. Steeling himself, he brought the knife tip up to his eyeball, pushing it in. But except for a slight discomfort and some watering, he couldn’t even feel the blade’s indention. A whimper escaped him, and he ran to his bedroom closet.
There was only a bit of truth to what he’d called out previously. He was armed in as much as he kept a Smith & Wesson revolver in a box, but he hadn’t used it in a few years, not even when he fought the fox or whatever. This situation was much direr, and it took him no time to toss aside the photo albums rested atop the all-white shoebox. He nearly choked on his spit once he pulled it out, however.
In the dust on the lid, someone had written "We Know," though he knew it was fairly impossible that anyone had gone into his room at any point in the three years since Marisa was last in there. But Finn couldn’t let dust omens and sexual nostalgia keep him from sealing his own fate before someone else stepped in.
He tossed the lid off and grabbed the gun, noticing every chamber was filled. Not believing it correct to say his mother’s name again, Finn instead chose to mouth his father’s name around the gun barrel just before he pulled the trigger. As he’d wisely chosen to kneel down this time, the sense of mortal vertigo that passed through him didn’t drop him, but rather set him leaning against the bedroom wall. His body convulsed with sobs, but his eyes produced no more tears. Pointed the gun at the wall, Finn pulled the trigger. His right ear would continue to ring for the rest of his life, and the bullet hole in the wall would never be patched up.
But when he put the gun back in his mouth…nothing.
It was then he heard the footsteps crunching through the leaves outside. The road/driveway ended twenty yards from his front door, with nothing but trees in between. "They’re here," he thought to himself, looking at the gun in his hand, wondering if it would be of any use.
The shack’s interior was suddenly ablaze with white light, shining in through the windows and even between the tiny cracks in the walls. Finn got to his feet and looked outside the window. There were two spotlights on either side of the dirt patch that had finally started to show signs of life again after all these years. Behind the near-blinding lights, he could make out the shapes of two tactical vehicles parked where the blacktop turned to grass. In the same instant he wondered when it would happen, there was a loud repetitive knock on his front door.
It didn’t stop as he threw the gun on the ground and exited the bedroom. It didn’t stop as he turned on the living room light, noticing the TV was now turned off. It only stopped when he opened the door itself, and even though there had just been a knock, his three identical visitors were standing ten feet away, dressed from head to toe in blue jumpsuits. One of them stepped forward, his eyes the exact color of his clothing, bright enough to shine even through the spotlights’ glare.
"You are Finn Holloway?" the man asked in a voice strained enough to pass for calm. His hands were at his sides, and there were no weapons anywhere on his person. They didn’t need weapons.
Finn nodded, and the three men came forward, while another three stepped out of the trees, refilling their spots. That’s when he saw they weren’t identical at all. One of them had hair slightly curlier than the other, and one of them was a blond girl. He didn’t understand how he didn’t notice that from afar. She is the one that pushed him out of the way in order to get into his living room. The two men followed her, neither giving Finn a second glance.
One of them, the bearded chubby guy no older than 23, stepped back through the doorway. "It is safe for you to come forward, Walter," he called out, and Finn heard more rustling in the trees. A featureless shape stepped into the glaring light, and as Finn’s eyes focused, he recognized Walter Denham, the Pabst-drinking bass hound from his poker game.
"Walter?" Finn asked, incredulous.
With only a look of disdain, Walter stepped past him into the living room, which barely had enough room to hold the four people currently standing in it. Finn wanted to turn to go inside and plead for everyone to just understand his side of the story, but the three standing in front of him – he could also swear that they were all identical – were mentally holding him in place. Such would be his life now, just in places much more torturous than his own front stoop.
"It’s in some kind of compartment under this ugly brown rug," Walter said, and everyone stepped aside. The blue-eyed demon brushed the rug aside with a whisk of his left leg, revealing a loose board in the floor.
The blood washed out of Finn’s face and his chest expanded, a piercing pain shooting down from his shoulder. Maybe he would miraculously have a heart attack before this ordeal reached its inevitable conclusion, and he would be saved. But instead, the pain left as instantaneously as it came, and the dizzying rush of re-grasped consciousness came just as his fatal flaw was spoken.
"He was actually bragging about it at the poker table," Walter declared. "He said no one would ever know what he did, and that no one would even care if they did find out. Can you believe how sick that is?"
Kneeling down, the blond woman removed the board, uncovering another plain white shoebox, the same as the one Finn kept his gun in. Inside was plastic Blockbuster rental case for a copy of Arthur Hiller’s 1970 film Love Story. Everyone gasped, and Finn began to murmur uncontrollably, the very first step on his long road to constructed and extended insanity.
Finn’s right arm was suddenly and violently grasped, and his head snapped to the side. He stared deep into the bluest eyes he’d ever seen, forcing out the last full sentence he’d ever utter: "It was Maris’ favorite."
Bearded man grabbed Finn’s left arm and he was dragged down the path to their vehicles, where he would be strapped in for the transport to their facility hidden a mile beneath the Grand Canyon, where he would then be tossed into a forgotten cave, next to a similar cavern home to where the skeletal dust of millions of people who repeatedly forgot to rewind. It would be a strenuous trip for the six cadets, but one well worth their efforts.
The last words Finn heard and fully understood that night, spoken by old blue eyes, would later echo in his head in different variations, during the fleeting seconds every few years when the physical and mental anguish he was forced to endure momentarily lapsed.
"Just because we are going away does not mean we will ever really be gone. We are Blockbuster. We do not forgive. We do not forget."