This short story of about 3,000 words was a finalist in the Wordstock Ten 2010 short fiction competition. Below is an excerpt.
You walk up to the driver’s side door of the car and try the handle. It’s locked, so you pad around your pockets. The muffled cries and thumps continue to emanate from the trunk. You hear the clink of metal as you are padding the left side of your chest. You reach inside the worn black leather jacket and pull out a set of keys. Angling toward the dim streetlight, you try to identify the key on the ring that might open this car. Trying to ignore the light maroon stains on your fingers, you separate the key with the pentagonal Dodge icon from the rest of the pack.
The key slides into the handle and turns, the locks slide up with a heavy chunk. Before opening the door, you pause to look back at the trunk. Walking around the car, you draw your hand across the curve of the back, coming to a rest at the same Dodge pentagon in the middle of the trunk door. The vehicle is filthy, and you’ve created a streak of smudged dirt with your hand. You pivot the pentagon, exposing the keyhole.
The thumping stops, and the trunk is silent save a barely-audible murmur. Perhaps they’ve exhausted themselves. The old K-car’s trunk can’t be air-tight. Whoever it is probably isn’t in life-threatening danger. Maybe they deserve it. Maybe they only got what’s comin’ to them. Or maybe they’re gonna get what’s comin’ to them.
An engine revs and a car peels through the intersection on the next block up. The slow thud of a bass line lingers longer than the sound of the engine. The noise of far-distant traffic carries on the light wind. Or maybe all you can hear is the wind itself. The wind and a whimpering murmur below you.
The streetlight above you flickers off and then on, changing between a shade of yellow and a shade of white, as if clearing its throat before continuing its incessant electrical hum.
Maybe you’re gonna get what’s comin’ to you.
You stand in front of the payphone and pick change from among the lint in your right palm, the piece of paper crumpled in your left hand. The scrap has a number on it, but no name, just the letter ‘B’. It’s quiet on the dark street, and you can hear the faint murmur, the distant haunting, coming from the back of the car.
You drop in a few coins and dial the number. Three rings, then someone answers.
“Hey. Hello?” It’s a man’s voice. Not old, not young.
“Hey,” you reply. “Hey, B.”
“Who is this?” The handset of the old payphone is shit, and there’s a hiss behind the silence and a crackle accompanying the words.
“Hey, man.” You fumble over the words. “It’s, um. It’s me.”
There is a long pause. Before you can ask if anyone is there, the voice comes back. “So was the info good? Did you find it?”
There’s a sour tingle in the air, something you didn’t realize you were smelling until now, and you see the half-dry vomit at the edge of the sidewalk. “Yes,” you reply. It’s just a guess.
More silence. More hiss. “Did you,” the voice starts, then pauses again. “Did you take care of it?”
You turn to the car reflexively. You imagine opening up the trunk, and you try to envision what you might see. Whose face you might see. In your vision, the trunk opens slowly and there is a pool of blood, inches thick. The spare tire floats among white-fleshed limbs and the trunk light causes a gradient of color in the blood from light orange to dark brown. It foams and bubbles at the corners and ripples quietly in the middle.
The click of the phone breaks your vision. You’ve been disconnected. You thrust your hands deep into your pockets, both pants and jacket, but you can’t find any more change.
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