Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Reader (04/15/10)
TITLE: The Collector
By Marlene Bonney
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The middle-aged man mounted his battered bicycle.
Pedal fast. Take it slow.
It was just past dusk, a perfect time for lurking in the shadows. Creeping behind Ching Lu’s Café, his eyes darted back and forth like the balls in a ping-pong competition as he tried to keep track of exits on both sides of the building at once.
Keep it quiet. Tip tip-toe.
Great—they were using the south door tonight, which would be the faster getaway. As soon as the dining leftovers were placed outside for the welfare donations and the busboy’s back was turned, the man darted silently over to the bag. With practiced ease, he scooped it up in one hand while balancing his bike with the other. Two minutes—another record.
He made it back to the tiny apartment he called home in good time and placed the loot on the ramshackle table.
Safe again. Ho-ho-ho.
He licked his lips in anticipation, rather like a cat does before pouncing on its victim. He carefully removed fifty items from the bulging bag, one at a time, his fingers caressing each one as if it were a worry stone--before crushing it to smithereens under his fist. The middle was what he was after but he would eat the crushed pieces for a bedtime snack.
The flimsy door broke easily. The two young cops held scarves across their faces to ward off the unmistakable scent of a decaying body. With thick plastic gloves up to their elbows, they body-bagged the male victim, and genuflected over the corpse. The eventual autopsy report would reveal an aneurysm to the heart.
“Hey, Mike, get a load of this!”
“What in the world?”
Both policemen gazed incredulously at the walls, puzzling over the maze upon maze of tiny printed slips of paper taped haphazardly in all directions. . .
Carl Lindsay once was your average Joe, a young man with a wife, two great kids, and a job that provided them to live, if not luxuriously, more than adequately. But there always seemed to be something missing.
Then, he met her. By accident, or fate or destiny, who can say? She had set up shop in a district Carl would not ordinarily have frequented, but a client lived in the area. He was immediately drawn to the window’s neon signage: ALL WHO ENTER HERE WILL DEPART IN PEACE.
The palm readings were the most appealing at first; then the tarot cards and messages that spoke uniquely to him. Toward the end of that chapter in his life, he lost his family, his addiction emptying their bank accounts. Madame Marie disappeared one night soon after that, taking her expertise to greener pastures and for awhile, Carl was bereft.
“Doesn’t matter—there’s no money to pay for her services anymore.”
Carl was fired from his job, his strange and erratic prophetic warnings of doom or good fortune cascading from his lips as fluid and constant as Niagara Falls. He wasn’t surprised. Madame Maria had ordained it weeks ago. He found an abandoned, dilapidated apartment not far from opportunities for handouts. It wasn’t long before he stumbled onto another way to feed his stomach and his soul. Chinatown restaurant garbage bins satisfied his palate while their fortune cookies determined who he was; most times their distinct messages were self-fulfilled, but, occasionally the little strips of sayings came true on their own.
“Something you lost will soon turn up.” “You will win some money today.” “Decide what you want and go for it.” “All the preparation you’ve done will pay off today.”
He relished the promises and painstakingly taped them into cryptic mazes on the walls of his apartment, checking off each one as it came true.
Tried but not true. Woe, woe, woe.
A mission opened up next door to Carl’s Chinese take-out and he welcomed free meals there. Ironically, they handed out free messages under the plates, making him feel comfortable. Turned out to be scripture verses, no less! He began replacing the wall fortune cookie messages with the Scripture verses. Within a month, Carl met Jesus at the mission and the Bible verse promises were fulfilled. For the first time in his life, he felt complete.
Promise kept. Time to go.
After Carl left this world for heaven, his mission friends remodeled his apartment, turning it into a shelter for homeless people. But the Scripture-laden walls were not touched, a testimony to all who entered.
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