I recently started a thing out of boredom as I desperately try to find an agent for my novel which has seen umpteen different drafts give or take a few. I’m starting to realise that either A) the world simply isn’t ready for my literary brilliance, or B) my novel isn’t that good. Seeing as it has had umpteen different drafts, I suspect it’s the latter.
So, whilst I grapple with my piece of satirical literary fiction, I have started playing about with some silly dystopia. This is a continuation of this.
Alex heard the shot. There were often shots in this part of town. Sometimes they turned out to be cars backfiring or other loud bangs that easily explained away shots. Tonight, however, she knew it was a shot because moments later she saw a man laying on the ground. At first, she didn’t move. She stood perfectly still looking at the stiffened form of the man and the semi-circle of red snow that stretched out around him. It glinted in the light of the streetlamps, like a giant ruby. Then her senses kicked in. She hurriedly looked around, neck almost snapping with the speed of it. She stared at every parked car, at every alleyway and scanned each and every shadow. She toyed with the idea of running but thought better of it. If the shooter was still around and was at all interested in shooting her too, they’d have done it already.
Instead, she crunched through the snow towards the prone figure. The colour had already drained from his face and the snow was not melting as quickly on his skin. His eyelashes looked almost as though they were made of cotton. Alex could feel an odd whooshing feeling in her stomach. Her heart hammered at her ribs. She had never seen a dead body before.
She finally let a breath slip from her nostrils. The cold hands of the body clutched at a brown envelope. Fingerprints of blood smeared its surface, but black ink could still be seen. Hurried looping letters clearly spelt out The Truth the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth. Alex froze, and it had nothing to do with the recently fallen snow. Why a dead man mere minutes from her office held an envelope addressed to her publication she did not know. Especially when, thus far, the only thing she had published was a small letter letting the city know that she was there and that the truth would be coming… eventually.
Once again, she scanned every shadow and peered into the darkened alleys expecting to see the man’s killer taking aim at her. She should really call the Enforcers. She should let the law arm of the council sort it out. It was their city after all. Though doing so would run against her journalistic instincts. Yes, she should take the envelope, then call the department. Or, even better, she should take the envelope and let someone else call the department… the body wasn’t going anywhere and if it did, the problem would be solved, so she needn’t worry about it.
She eyed the face of the lifeless thing that was once a man. He wasn’t particularly remarkable looking. Square head, puffy cheeks and a head of brown hair. Who was he? Why had he been gunned down? Alex stooped over and tugged the envelope from the dead man’s hand. He offered some resistance, his frozen fingers reluctant to let go of whatever information it contained. Alex felt her stomach churning and her heart lurch with a mix of anxiety and exhilaration. She may well be able to publish something yet.
Peering down at the dead man, she contemplated making some kind of gesture. A mark of respect. That’s what people did for the dead. Then, thinking better of it, she stuffed the envelope into her coat pocket and hurried away.
I may not live much longer. Whilst I have made my peace with that, I cannot leave this world when the City is denied the truth. I cannot meet you in person for that might compromise everything. They don’t think much of your publication; they do not believe you to be a threat. That will be their downfall.
12 Eldon Crescent. Go there and listen to the madness. You will find the truth in it.
Alex read the letter again, and then a third time. She even considered giving it a fourth read as, after all, it was short and didn’t take long. She could have even read it five times if she wanted.
Had she not pulled the letter from the fingers of a dead man she’d not have given it much thought. It was vague and of little value. Had it not come from a dead man, she’d be reluctant to seek out twelve Eldon Crescent. Had it not come from a dead man, she’d not consider going to the house of a stranger. But it had come from a dead man, which changed everything. Messages from dead men needed to be followed as, being dead they couldn’t well explain themselves.
The metal percolator hissed on top of the iron stove. Alex snatched it off and poured herself a tiny mug of rocket fuel espresso. The rich, chocolatey aroma filled the cold little room that had little more than a cluttered desk and a rickety little bed. The room rocked a little. Alex gripped her coffee cup tighter to prevent the contents from spilling as the world shuddered as was its wont. Moments later, fresh snow started to fall past her frosted window pane.
She realised her fingers were trembling. She closed her eyes and saw the expressionless face of the dead man looking up at the sky, hair flecked with snow. She wondered just how true his words were. Had he really made his peace with death? She doubted it. How anyone could, was beyond her. From the moment a person is born their body fights to stay alive to the last breath. Even if someone were to accept death as an inevitability, they fight it till the bitter end.
What had the man done to warrant getting shot in the back? What truth did he know to be given a death sentence? Of course, there still remained the possibility that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, as people so often are. However, even if that were the case, there could be a very interesting series of events that led to him being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Alex took a sip of her espresso despite the late time. Sleep would not come that night anyway. Her eyes drifted from the letter to the collection of newspaper clippings scattered on her desk.
Crime rates down to an all-time low. Read one headline.
Crime rates are higher than they’ve ever been. Said another.
Mayor’s Office warns of a rise in fake news. Said a third.
Alex wondered if anyone else had found the body yet. It would have been frozen stiff by now. The blood would have set like cherry flavoured ice lollies. Maybe the Enforcers from the Council’s legal arm had been called and those strange men in long coats and stern, rigid expressions were already setting up a perimeter. It was impossible to tell. They arrived silently, their sharp little cars practically hovering along the icy roads. The medical vans, they moved with blaring sirens and wavering blue lights. The fire trucks warbled too, giving everyone that peace of mind; help was on its way. The enforcers, however… well, if they had a siren, the bad men would know they were coming.
Whatever the truth behind the statistics, it had risen by one murder.