A new short story by Allan Hudson (Yep, that’s me!)
I’ve been sitting on this short story for a while but I wanted to share it with you this week. I hope you’ll leave a comment below and let me know what you think of it.
(Copyright owned by the Author)
They removed his thumbs the day before his rendezvous with death. His hands are bandaged up to his wrists, cocoons of tight white gauze. Given he could probably defuse the bomb with eight fingers, it doesn't matter. His grandmother helps him strap the explosives to his torso. The dynamite is old; crystals form along the upper ridge. Chances are slim that it could explode prematurely, yet it remains dangerous to work with. Although neither is nervous, they handle it carefully, committed to what must be done. Six tubes, eight inches long, one and a quarter inch in diameter, are ensconced in a light canvas vest, the front of which is being sewn together. It won’t fall off, nor can it be taken off. She pulls the stitches tight. She does it correctly because if not, the dark hooded man watching her will kill them both. She speaks to her grandson. Not with words but with damp trails along her wrinkled cheeks. The glistening of his eyes is the only response.
|Photo Credit: Agus Dietrich - Unsplash|
He’d trained for this for four weeks. The events within the target city were explained to him. The grounds where he would be stationed. He’d perfected his English. He’d studied topographical maps of the surrounding terrain, vehicle and pedestrian traffic patterns, charts and diagrams. He’d rehearsed fitting the vest, knew the blast radius and the damage it would inflict. Special attention was paid to the fact that the dynamite they would be using was not fresh. Stolen from an open-pit coal mine that has been closed for over a year, the explosives are at least two years old. The sticks have a weight strength of forty per cent, meaning they are forty parts nitroglycerine and sixty parts dope. Extremely powerful. Precautions must be followed. Most importantly, he had been drilled on the consequences of not doing it properly. An underlying threat.
|Photo Credit : Propagandaguard.com.|
The discipline restored many memories of why he was chosen. When his parents died, he was fourteen years old, left to fend for himself. His only living relative, his father’s mother, lived thousands of miles away. No means of support, living day to day, feeding on scraps or what he could find in other people’s waste. Disillusioned, he sought answers from a persuasive man, someone wearing the mantle of a holy person. He believes that what he’s doing is right.
His rooms in the city had been booked for two weeks to cover his tracks. Upon arrival, he tore up the forged papers and buried them deep in a dumpster. A locker at the bus station contained a new identity, that of a Canadian citizen – a reporter for a Toronto daily. These documents were equally well crafted. His first name is still Joseph.
The next morning he took the bus to the largest city east of Vancouver. An apartment awaited him. There he found food, money, western clothing, maps, and a canvas vest with six empty pockets. His grandmother, his only living relative, would join him two days before he walked to the target. His superiors had arranged for her arrival. If he messed up, she wouldn’t be going back. The armourer would arrive in the morning and place the explosives, then witness the sewing of the vest. When he was satisfied he would arm the explosives. Joseph would have to be at the designated site no later than five o'clock that afternoon. The crowd would be at its peak then.
Going over the checklist embedded in his memory, he follows his instructions carefully. He eats every meal at a different restaurant or café. According to his trainers, there should be no pattern to his movements. Four times he walked the same route. Remaining discreetly for a few events, he studied the people. The first walk was tentative, having never been in the city before. Each time, he looked for potential barriers or obstructions. At different times of the day he ventured out on his forays. Warned against drawing attention to himself, sometimes he lingered amid the masses. Felt sorry for the children. The timing each day differed by less than ten minutes. Except once. The fourth day he walked an extra forty-five minutes and found a location far superior for his own intentions. Thinking of his principals, he knew this new location would cause more damage. Deciding to give himself an extra hour, he planned to leave the apartment at three-fifteen the day of the attack. He swore to himself to keep this a secret, vowing to not even tell his grandmother. She’d understand.
All the fears and moments of uncertainty he’d accumulated prior to the discovery of the different location shrivelled like snowflakes on wet ground. He no longer felt anxiety over his superior’s objectives. He accepted his fate; he would give his life to send a true message to the world. Remembering the discussion on blast damage to the crowd, he knew his body would be obliterated. No one would ever know who he was. The day before his grandmother was to arrive, he left the apartment. He had to be careful because without a doubt he was being watched. In a café, he wrote a letter to the local daily, addressed to the editor. Intentionally leaving his fingerprints on the paper, he mailed it from the shopping center later in the day, forty-eight hours before the event. This was not part of the instructions he had received. He slept. He prayed. He envisioned the aftermath, an imagined glory in his name.
He lost his thumbs. He waited.
The dynamite presses uncomfortably against his ribs and he grunts when his grandmother tugs at the heavy yarn. When she ties off the last knot, she is roughly pushed aside by the shadow whose deep voice chills both their hearts. Following a close inspection, he gives his approval by securing the detonators and clock and connecting the wires. He never looks them in the eyes. His very presence silences them, humbles them, scares them. They do exactly as they’re told. He locks the mechanism in place. Backing off with folded arms, he points to the oversized coat, the mitts, scarf and hat.
The grandmother gently moves the sleeves over the patched up limbs, securing the heavy coat around his shoulders. Although it’s a size too big, it fits tightly in the front when she buttons it over his deadly potbelly. They look each other in the eye as she slides the four-fingered hands into the large mitts. Wrapping the scarf around his neck and placing the hat on his head, she rubs her hand along his cheek to hold his chin in her hand. Gazing at her grandson, she hugs him tightly. She had brought him up; she knows the type of man he’s become. A huge hand interrupts her thoughts, pulling her away. Not so rough this time, he sees the melancholy in her eyes. He opens the door to the safe house, and a whirl of loose snow sweeps through the door. Pointing to the portal, his voice is lighter, proud.
“Your destiny awaits.”
Joseph walks past the department stores, office buildings, high rises, apartment complexes, the frozen alleyways, smiling at everyone he meets. Avoiding crowded sidewalks, he sometimes has to alter his route slightly, worried he’d be jostled about or accidentally knocked to the ground. He obeys the walk signals. His pace is even and pre-planned. The ceremonies will be half over by the time he arrives; thousands of people will be outdoors. Clear skies guarantee a capacity crowd. The Olympic Games had ended that morning. The closing ceremony is the most attended event, peaking at five o’clock. His planners knew where to place him and how to bypass security. There is nothing to spoil his detour to the new location. There’s a lot of uphill walking to where he’s going. By the time he reaches his target he’s winded and relieved to be seated. No one has paid attention to him. All he has to do is wait. It’s four forty-five.
|Photo Credit: Caitlin Wynne - Unsplash|
Six O’clock Edition
“Reporter Isabelle Crockett is live at Mount Hannah.”
Crockett’s voice over describes the blast area, with live video feed from a police helicopter. Bright beams focus on a gash in the earth, treetops burning, smoke and dust swirling in the updraft.
“The devastation from an unknown explosion devastated the northern peak of Mount Hannah, shattering huge rocks, uprooting trees, creating an avalanche of shattered stones that cascaded into the forested foothill. Treetops and brush are burning from the intense heat of the eruption. Officials are perplexed as to what may have caused the explosion.”
The helicopter sweeps to the south, where crowds have torn down barriers in their rush to safety. The crowd has thinned, with onlookers gathered in knots about the perimeter. The parking lot is filled with fire trucks, police cars, ambulances. Flashing lights add a rainbow to the chaos.
“Television footage from the closing ceremonies is being analyzed at this moment. The main consensus is that it was fortunate the blast did not occur on the southern side of the mountain where hundreds of people would have perished. Other than superficial injuries from flying rock fragments, there have been no deaths reported. It’s too early to tell….”
The shrouded man enters the safe house using the only key. He’d been warned of the possibility, and the grandmother must die. Doing old people is a chore he dislikes. He hesitates when he hears a voice from the TV entertaining the empty room, a news channel reporting what people are saying about the bombing. The announcer speaks of terrorism. The only light is a sliver under one of the bedroom doors. When he calls out to the grandmother, she doesn’t answer. Cautious now, he removes a dagger from his belt. Creeping to each door, he scans the inner darkness. Easing the door to the lighted room open, he’s not surprised by what he sees.
Curled in a fetal position upon the bed, the old woman has a black and white photo of a child clenched in her puny fist, perhaps it’s her grandson. A long black dress is wrapped tightly about her legs. Eyes closed, her brow is smooth and relaxed. Her skin is pale in the garish overhead light. Most notably, a slight smile is frozen on her withered face. When he reaches over to feel for a pulse, he already knows what he’ll find. Confirming that she’s dead, he’s relieved.
The front door remains unlocked when he leaves. Someone will find her. They won’t know who she is. The autopsy will explain how she died, but not why.
Forty-two hours after the explosion, a technician is fingerprinting the editor of the city’s daily. He has just handed the letter to a detective, who holds it with tweezers. He turns it towards the desk lamp. There is no salutation. No date. Only the stamp from the post office on the envelope attests to the time frame in which it had been sent. The printing is imprecise, wobbly like an elderly person, or someone extremely nervous. The wording is simple, punctilious.
I died on the top of Mount Hannah.
I was not meant to die alone.
I am not a murderer.
We are not all alike.
We are not all mass killers.
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