Killing Time (730 words)

 

The grocery store’s flickering lights bathe the aisles in a sickly yellow, but there are no security cameras. Good. He goes without his baseball cap in public for the first time in weeks. His greasy hair clumps together as he pushes his fingers through it, but his appearance no longer attracts unnecessary attention.

Discovering the specifics of personal hygiene after splinter-memories of being ordered around and manhandled like a wax doll has been an…interesting experience.

This late at night, there’s only one cash register open, and this particular 24-hour store has yet to upgrade to self-checkout, so he waits in the only available line. The man in front, whoever he is, has apparently decided that two o’clock on a Wednesday morning was the perfect time to do his entire month’s shopping; the conveyor belt is loaded up with canned vegetables and boxes of rice and pasta.

Not that he’s one to judge. His cart only has four jugs of bleach and three microwavable meals of frozen spaghetti in meat sauce. Not exactly gourmet standard.

An elderly lady shuffles into line behind him and reaches past him for one of the small periodicals by the register.

‘Sudoku,’ she grins.

He looks at her. Says nothing.

‘Sudoku,’ she repeats, and waves the periodical at him. Her voice sounds like each syllable forcing open an ancient, rusted door out of her throat, creaking and unsteady. ‘Do you do sudoku? You should. Good for the mind, y’know. Keeps you sharp. Word puzzles too.’

He grunts, edges away from her.Β The cashier scans another can of tuna fish.

‘My sister does the crosswords, y’know, but you can’t do your taxes by knowing which actor’s which, so I do sudoku.’

Beep. Another can of tuna fish. He mentally rechecks the amount of bleach he’ll need, given the amount of blood currently congealing in his target’s shower, but he should have enough with some to spare. It’ll be the caulking and the corners that’ll be difficult – this particular handler had a shower stall instead of a bathtub.

He hates shower stalls.

‘Everybody needs a hobby,’ the old woman says knowingly, and tosses the sudoku book into his cart with a wink.

He pays for it anyway, using his target’s money, because at least it shuts the old woman up.

*

Turns out, there’s something surprisingly calming about sudoku. Maybe it’s getting the numbers in precisely the right order to serve their purpose, or just the repetitiveness of the action, but he actually finds himself enjoying it. It makes a particularly good cover on reconnaissance missions.

And sometimes interrogations take time and finesse to be done justΒ right, and it’s nice to be able to break up the monotony a bit.

His next target directed him on a covert op a few months back. An assassination intended to intimidate; the agency wanted something from a businessman and, as leverage, had the asset shoot out the tires in his fourteen-year-old daughter’s Mini. The steering column had crushed her ribcage and he’d watched blood bubble from her mouth, desperate gasping breaths until her gurgling stopped. Her father did what they wanted after that, because he had two more daughters and a son.

Black blood on ripped denim. Spreading. Staining.

A desperate hand, fingers reaching, pleading, falling slack.

Bright blue eyes, going dim, going dark.

A hissing death-rattle.

So yeah. No rush. No quick merciful neck-snap. He’ll take it slow, this time.

His captive starts breathing heavier when the asset gets out the sudoku book, and his terror turns to blank confusion then to nerve-shredding terror again as the asset ignores him to work doggedly on a puzzle grid for about ten minutes.

‘What – ‘ the target rasps, until his voice, scraped hoarse from screaming, trails off.

‘I’m taking a break,’ he shrugs, letting his voice stay crisp.Β He flips his pencil around like a knife and carefully erases a two, putting it one cell over. Bullet casings clink in his pocket like spare change. ‘I’ve got nowhere to be.’ He looks up and holds the target’s gaze for a long moment until, abruptly, the target bursts into tears.

Half an hour later, when he has everything he needs from his blubbering victim and is screwing the silencer onto his gun, he reflects that this may be an interrogation technique worth using later.

Maybe he’ll try knitting next. He’s heard it’s really relaxing.

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29 thoughts on “Killing Time (730 words)

    1. Thank you! πŸ˜€ So glad you enjoyed it. ❀

      What do you feel makes a good-quality story that holds readers' attention? Is it immersive world-building, realistic dialogue, having a character that struggles then succeeds, or maybe a satisfying payoff for character development?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s hard to say because I don’t think there’s any hard-and-fast rule for this. More of a combination of everything, leaning towards one factor that gives it that extra oomph.
        Recently, I was thinking of how the best stories are like dreams. They just suck you in, and even though there’s that tiny voice telling you that none of this is real, you just can’t listen to it, because you don’t want to, or maybe you can’t.
        So yeah. That.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Very good point – it’s a decent story if it’s an engrossing read and lets them enjoy the ride. Ultimately I think we’re trying to bring the reader along with us into our own imagination with whatever stories/poems we write, so that’s fun πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

    1. So glad you enjoyed it, Di! πŸ˜€ Yes, I was trying to mix some gallows humour in this, having an assassin on a revenge spree against his former handlers while trying different hobbies to pass his time.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. So thrilled you enjoyed it, Chris! Thank you for always providing such uplifting feedback for my stories & being such a supportive reader. It means the world. πŸ˜€

      Like

  1. You never asked me this but I noticed it’s something you keep asking, so here’s some unwarranted philosophy.

    What do you feel makes a good-quality story that holds readers’ attention? Is it immersive world-building, realistic dialogue, having a character that struggles then succeeds, or maybe a satisfying payoff for character development?

    Of course all those things. But for me, the most important thing has to be a really good plot, the kind that just, keeps, ramping, up; winding tighter and tighter. And really good characters (likeable characters are great; relatable characters are better). The characters have to have an arc of their own, whether that’s an upward arc or a downward arc; otherwise the story is a bit hollow.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for such insightful feedback, Sarah! Love how you expressed it here. I’ve been trying to build stories that hopefully keep the audience empathising with the characters, plus keeping the pace ticking along so the audience stays engrossed in the story. πŸ˜€
      I know that this particular one had really dark subject matter, but does the character’s journey within it draw the reader in (since we can’t empathise with him, but can somewhat understand his rationale as payback for his past demons)? What do you think?

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      1. I’m afraid I’ll have to be perfectly honest with you here… I didn’t realize he was getting revenge until I read your comment about it. I thought he had just found a nice hobby to complement his horrifying job, haha.
        I’m going to disagree with you again… I like your characters because I CAN identify them. I’ve never killed anyone mind you, but I’ve been there in my imagination. I can disassociate. I used to write a bunch of action/killer stories, but for whatever reason I don’t write them anymore. I imagine you write these guys well because you can identify with them too. There’s something darkly gratifying about it, brutally taking down the bad guys. It’s why action movies exist, really. I think lots of people can identify with that kind of a character, especially if you put them in that place where the character is, emotionally, by making them fall in love with someone and then seeing them wronged. You do that very well. You are really good at making me hate the bad guys!!
        Oh jeez how long is this comment. Uh… I’ll post one of my old killer stories tonight.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks ever so much for always being so supportive of my stories, Sarah! ❀ Loved how you've expressed it all here. I can definitely identify with these characters who serve their own primal justice to villains on behalf of struggling people who can't; something integral to a lot of popular characters whom audiences subconsciously sympathise with, from Max Rockatansky in the Mad Max universe to Bernard Cornwall's Richard Sharpe and Lee Child's Jack Reacher. Catharsis is a huge part of that, plus the universal appeal of good triumphing over evil – the bigger the setup of the evil characters, the more viscerally satisfying when they get their richly deserved comeuppance from morally grey yet fundamentally good characters. πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks ever so much, Liv! πŸ˜€ So glad you enjoyed it – I know the subject matter can be pretty morbid for many readers, but hopefully the darkly satisfying conclusion helps the audience empathise with the character’s actions (I hope!)

      Like

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