by Kevin Elliott
Not For Sale
Author requests article critique
Not For Sale
Author requests article critique
It was an average, rainy, mucky Thursday in a busy city in central Pennsylvania. Middle-class laborers and Upper class businessmen trekked the soaking sidewalks--some coming, others going, but all working. In a sea of umbrellas, there was a man so unremarkable, so plain, and so unsuspicious that it was amazing no one noticed him. In his plain brown raincoat with black umbrella and soaking khaki pant cuffs, the man zigzagged between the jungle of empty faces and soaking feet, tan-colored tennis shoes (they were white when he bought them) flipping water off the toes as he walked. Clip-clop; pitter-patter; splash-sploosh; the steady stream of commuters in their car-pools, off to lunch. Every day, the same sounds were heard, the same faces were seen, the same smells were smelled, and the same paths were walked. On this day, however--this miserable, yucky day--something would happen, right under the noses of even the most observant citizens, that was different. They would miss it…every one of them. They would never see it coming—or going.
The man continued his steady strides, determined now to reach his goal in time. In time for what? Where was he going? What was he going to do there? Never stopping, never pausing an instant, never looking anywhere but forward, ever onward he walked, still unnoticed by the public eye. It wasn’t that they couldn’t actually see him—he was as visible as you or I would be. It was simply that they didn’t really care to notice him. He preferred it this way, to be perfectly honest. He liked the shadows; staying out of sight and out of mind. He especially disliked cities. Still, what must be done must be done. As the minutes passed, umbrellas began to disappear (and their owners with them) as people began reaching their destinations, stopping for lunch, or going home. Finally, the man stopped his marching at the corner of an intersection, leaning against the traffic light pole as he pulled out a pocket watch. 1:21 PM.
“Four minutes, yet,” he mumbled to himself, “Where can I kill four minutes?”
Glancing around, he tried to locate a coffee shop, bookstore, or even a pharmacy where he could wait out the final four minutes. The only thing of the sort was a delicatessen across the street. All other spaces were occupied by offices or department stores.
“Too soon…” he mumbled.
He readjusted himself against the pole, watching zombie-like pedestrians cross the streets and head their separate ways. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of something—rather, someone—that didn’t sit well with him. Inconspicuously, he slipped away from the pole, melting into the crowd, heading across the street to the deli.
“Okay, now’s good, then…” he muttered.
Upon entering the deli with the loud ‘ding!’ of the bell hung above the door, he collapsed his umbrella, shut the door, and moved as quickly to the counter, glancing out the front window to see if he was being followed.
“May I help you, sir?” The cashier asked.
The man quickly glanced around the room of the deli. A few patrons were finishing up their lunches and preparing to go back to work. There was a second line for drinks where four customers stood, impatient and needing their caffeine boost for the day…again.
He walked up to the counter and spoke in a quieted voice, “I’m here to pick up my B.L.T. order.”
“I’m sorry, sir. We’re not running that special today.”
“No, I placed an order earlier. I requested a B…L…T. I was promised to receive it today.”
The cashier nodded and leaned forward inconspicuously, as if he was reaching for something beneath the counter. “You’re early. There are three minutes left until your escort is in place.”
“There is a complication.” As he spoke this, the deli door opened, ringing the bell again, and a lady stepped in line behind the counter. The man glanced around quickly to see who had entered. The lady was wearing a large black hat, a long, black coat, a black dress, and shiny black shoes. She was dressed as if she had just come from a funeral—a very expensive funeral. Giving a polite smile and nod to the lady, the man turned back to the cashier at the counter.
Pursing his lips and raising an eyebrow, the man stated, “I would really like my order now, if you please.”
“Oh,” the cashier whispered with a nod. In a louder voice, the cashier said, “I’ll have to speak to the manager about this—for verification purposes, you know.”
“I understand,” the man replied, then mouthed the word, “HURRY!”
Grabbing his right wrist with his left hand at waist-height, the man pivoted while he waited, anxiously, for the cashier’s return.
“Excuse me, sir,” the lady asked, “do I know you from somewhere?”
“No, I don’t believe so. I haven’t seen you before, so I doubt you’ve seen me.”
“Oh, forgive me.”
“Don’t worry about it. I get that all the time. I just have that kind of face, I guess.”
The lady smiled politely, but was clearly not amused.
Pivoting back around, the man felt a little less nervous, but confused. “What is she playing at? Wouldn’t she have done it already?”
As he thought this, the cashier returned with another man, apparently the manager.
“Thank you for your patience, sir.” The manager acknowledged the man, then ducked beneath the counter, pulled a key from his pocket, unlocked a low drawer, then pulled a dark, rectangular object from the drawer. Sticking the object in a to-go bag, the manager closed the drawer, put the key back in his pocket, then stood up. Smiling, he handed the B.L.T. order to the man and said, “Everything’s been taken care of, financially. Have a good day, sir.” In a very low voice and through his teeth, he whispered, “Good luck.”
With a nod and a polite word of thanks, the man turned, and then marched out the door, opening his umbrella. “There is no escort for two minutes, so I am to assume that I am on my own.” The streets were now mostly clear—a few teenagers playing hooky and the remnants of families and employees heading to their next destinations, never paying mind to anyone else, always walking forward. If it weren’t raining, one could almost hear a pin drop. The man, accomplishing merely one of his goals for that day, jogged across the street. He made it half the way before he heard what he had hoped he would not. Clip-clip-clip-clip. Ch-chick.
“You didn’t recognize me, Chris?”
The man sighed and turned around slowly. “Of course I recognized you, Madame S’Tan. I could never forget the pungent stench of your arrogance and greed.”
“Your gentile words amuse me, Christian. You know what I seek, do you not?”
“I do. The extermination of my kind. The pre-mature conclusion of my mission. The death of all that is good.”
“Foolish man! I do not seek the end of what is good. In actuality, I seek to make all things better—more uniform, more peaceful, more…perfect.”
“And yet you are the one wielding a firearm. You will find no weapon on me, so why else would you wield a weapon if not to kill me?”
“Mostly I wear this for self-defense, but if this is the only way to stop you, then I must apply its use.”
“Madame S’Tan, you may stop me in my tracks and put to death the only life I can live on this planet, but you will not stop the mission. For every one of us you kill, another two people join our cause. We grow by the minute. You cannot win.”
“You lie, Chris!”
“Madame…I cannot lie. It’s not in my job description to do so.”
“Funny. You know, I don’t mind the thought of you dying. I can make an excellent example out of you for all your new recruits. Your death can mean the end of your operations.”
Chuckling, the man crossed his arms across his chest. “You really are stupid, aren’t you? You know nothing of our operation. You know nothing of my purpose here. Do you?”
“I know plenty. I know enough to convict you of treason, disobedience to this country’s leader, and the smuggling of illegal goods.”
“A sandwich is an illegal good? What next, nail us for drinking Mocha-jauna?”
“Your jokes are dying faster than you are, Christian.”
“Touche. Still, I know of no reason why buying a B.L.T. is a criminal offense.”
“We know about these B.L.T.s, Christian. It is because of them that you are being charged of these crimes. I gave you the chance long ago to abandon that pursuit so you could live free of persecution. Yet, you defied me then as you defy me now. You would rather die for this insane mission than to live in peace.”
The man glared, “Your so-called leader cannot offer peace. He does not know peace, so how can he offer it? He does not control the fate of any man, woman, child, or beast. He has no power. Your mission is in vain, Madame S’Tan. I urge you to abandon yours.”
“I will not!”
“Then I the same. You waste your time, energy, and words, Madame. What is it you intend to do, then, get soaked in the rain and have an argument that cannot be resolved between us? I say do as you were sent to do. My death will not be in vain. Yours will, however. I would rather die in your place to grant you time to see the truth than to know that your life is worth nothing.”
“How dare you?! My life is not worth nothing! My life is not in vain! I have served my leader well and he will reward me after I have finished my mission.”
Shaking his head, the man spoke softly, “It appears that you do not even know your own leader. Then finish it. Kill me. Return to your leader. See the rewards he has for you. See that I speak the truth. No matter what you do to me, my mission will continue.”
“How do you know that someone will take your place and complete your mission? How can you guarantee this?”
“I cannot guarantee anything. I only believe. Faith in the unknowable is one of the great adventures in life. I have faith that others will see the truth and that the mission will continue. I have faith that others will stand against you and spread the truth to all who seek it. My mission is the mission of all those who have faith. My mission is the mission of all those who seek the truth—who seek true peace…who seek true knowledge...” Tears welled up in the corners of his eyes, “who seek real love…”
With a shriek of annoyance and anger, the lady shouted, “Enough! Your words mean nothing! Your mission ends here!”
Some heard only the rain, some heard only the loud bang, and others heard only the cry of intense pain as the man, Christian, was slain in the middle of the street. For a moment, it seemed as if time stood still. The rain seemed to stop falling, suspended in air by some unseen force. The smoke from the gun seemed to never dissipate—only exist.
The cashier was holding his breath, the manager had turned his head away, and the lady…was gone. As the crowds emerged from the stores and offices, the only trace of the conflict that could be found was Christian, lying in the middle of the street, dead. The people surrounded Christian’s body, stunned and confused. Some had called 9-1-1, some had run to see if he could still be alive. Some stood and stared, and some…chose to ignore it and walk on. After all, why get involved in a murder? You’ll just end up as a suspect, right?
The cashier and manager were at the body now, standing over him, aghast and bewildered.
The cashier was first to speak. “I…I’ve never seen anything like this before. Why did he have to die? What is it that is so important that he had to either surrender or die?” Shaking, the cashier turned to look at the manager, who was staring into the lifeless eyes of Christian.
The manager then nodded and knelt by the body. Reaching into the inside breast pocket of Christian’s coat, he pulled out the now-blood-stained to-go bag and handed it to the cashier.
The cashier raised an eyebrow and stared at the manager.
“I had told you what to say to this man, but I had not told you why so that you would be protected. Now I want you to know what he fought for, why he stood up, and why he died. Open it.” The manager nodded.
Slowly, the cashier pulled the object from the bag.
“They, a group we call The Punishers, do not want people to hear the truths you now hold in your hand. They are afraid of it. They cannot control it, so are afraid of it. They are dangerous to those who believe in what you hold. They are not afraid to kill—they have no regrets. They feel no remorse. Their mission is to stop the spread of these things. Our mission is to the spread the truth they hold. We must not fail, boy—never falter. Christian’s mission was to attempt to deliver this to people who seek the truth. He knew how important it was to make sure people had a chance, a chance at the very least, to know these truths. His death illustrates just how dangerous his mission was. His death does not mark the end of the mission, though. There are many like him. His death does not mark the end. His death marks the need for someone to complete the mission.”
Turning it over in his hands, the cashier discovered nine golden letters that spelled “Holy Bible.” Within its pages was a bookmark which read, “B.L.T. Bibles Leaking Through.” The cashier stared at the book in his hands, a decision forming in his mind.
The manager placed a hand on the cashier’s shoulder. “Will you take this truth to those who need it? Will you carry the torch and complete the mission set forth by those who have gone before us?”
Well, dear reader…will you?
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This is a very good story. I really like the challenge at the end!
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