This post should be called The Things: Worst Title Imaginable. but I can't do that. The original assignment has been completely forgotten. It was for my Intercultural Communications class, so I'm going to imagine it had something to do with that. The prompt seems to have been lost in the text. Anyway. My original intent with this story was to deliver a brutal, visceral story into a class that my father would describe as 'being for bleeding-heart pansies.' I enjoyed writing this piece, and still enjoy it. I hope you do too. So here it is, The Fall of Man.
Sweat poured down his face, the feeling of fists clenched around his lungs worsening. Anton leaned against the corrugated iron side of the warehouse hoping to catch his breath. The burning on his hand was nothing compared with the feeling of a truck having parked on his chest. Gasping for air, he reached into his cargo pocket, thanking God that his inhaler was still inside. Anton desperately sucked in two puffs of medicine and held his breath until his lungs burned. He stifled the inevitable coughing fit for fear that he would give away that he was outside.
Anton put his back to the wall, drawing his knees up to his chest, putting his head between his knees. The enormity of what he’d been through the past few days drew tears from his eyes. When he closed his eyes the faces of the people he’d killed since Tuesday flashed through his mind. Like a machine gun emptying its magazine the images rifled through his mind. Thirty eight men and women will never again see their children, will never again share a meal with the ones they love- or even merely put up with.
And for what?
Was the LC-11 really worth their lives? The anguish Anton had to spread, had caused himself? Why should his hands be crusted with blood? How could he let this happen? Of course, it wasn’t Anton that was to blame, it was the company. Demanding the R&D be done to produce the LC-11 was nothing short of cruelty without forcing him to test it. It seems that quitting was the best thing to have done. He should have walked out with Lionel the day of the initial presentation of the concept of the LC-11.
But, of course, there was the money.
Government funding on this project was only rivaled by that of the Manhattan Project, and in comparison, the product of the Project was the equivalent of a metal Tonka Truck for children. Anton would never claim that he stayed for the money; his pay check didn’t expand a dime. But the resources at his disposal, the pure scientific freedom he and his team were given to produce the LC-11 were astronomical! Resources or not, though, the only surviving members of the LC-11 team were he and Lionel. Lionel was the only member of the team that wasn’t slain by Anton’s hand. Lionel was easily the eldest member of the team, but also the most innovative. His mind frequently astonished Anton and the rest of the team with his ideas. They used to joke that Lionel had dealt with Satan for scientific genius.
Anton hoped he had because Lionel would be damned. If only he’d stuck around. Then it would be him that killed the entire team, it would be him crying to himself against a warehouse baking in the sun. It would be him hearing the crack of gunshot followed by screams.
Anton tripped over his own feet scrambling to stand. As he ran for the nearest door he scanned the area for a wayward piece of rebar or a two-by-four, anything he could use to crack a skull with. If his little girl weren’t screaming bloody murder, he would hate himself for his motives in looking for these things. Finding nothing, Anton approached the first door, kicking it.
And saw the sign that read “PULL.”
Anton jerked the door, rushing in, noticing only too late the gunman just inside who firmly pressed the barrel against his temple.
“I don’t mind leaving a bloodstain, the Mexican usually comes in on Thursdays to clean up anyway.” The hulking man in a nearly skintight black shirt and sport coat spat to the side, keeping one eye on Anton and one finger on the trigger. “You bring it?” Anton trembled, urine dripped down his leg. “Of course you didn’t. Hugh won’t be happy. You see the light out there?” The giant gestured with his head toward the center of the warehouse. Anton shook in a vaguely affirmative manner. “Go there. Don’t do anything stupid.” An evil grin crept across his face. A red laser dot appeared on Anton’s chest. “You know what they say about running from a sniper? Don’t, you’ll only die tired. Get moving. Boss doesn’t like being kept waiting.”
Anton didn’t move; he was paralyzed with fear. The mountain next to him lowered his gun, firing it at the ground at Anton’s feet.
“I said MOVE,” he barked through the ringing in his ears.
Completely unbidden, his feet began to move into what appeared to be a car’s worst nightmare. Engines ripped out of cars hung from chains in the ceiling. The hollowed out carcasses of cars were strewn about randomly. Big, long tools were strewn about, greasy instruments of the demise of these beautiful machines. It took all of his self control- and the red dot studiously following his chest- not to grab a tire iron for a weapon. Nobody ever said anything about bringing a tire iron to a gunfight.
Anton realized that through all of the fighting, the killing, bribery, extortion, blackmail, and torture he’d gone through the past few days to protect the LC-11 that if Hugh wanted it bad enough all he’d have needed to do was ask for it. Anton wasn’t a hero. In comparison to even the most flaccid of the men in movies Anton would always be the weaker. He had, in the past, cracked under pressure every time. When his Daughter, Cierra, walked too closely to the street he always pulled her back. When dogs barked he crossed the street away, even if they were behind tall fences and chained to a tree.
Approaching the light at the far end of the warehouse it became terrifyingly clear that either he’d completely changed who he was to get his family back. Or he was a cold-blooded killer to begin with? The thought sent chills down his spine, but as he rubbed his blood-encrusted fingers together the thought didn’t revile him as he thought it ought to have. It didn’t matter that the man coming to the rescue was not the same man Samantha had married, it only mattered that he was coming, he hoped.
A shiny gray Maserati in front of him was all that stood in the way of his view of the man behind all this, its engine hung suspended above it blocking his view of his wife and baby girl. Anton envisioned it as the car’s beating heart ripped from its chest and hung above to drip dry on the corpse. His mother, her dark humor always on the outside, had asked him the question “Is it crueler to let a wound to the heart fester, or simply to cut it out?” Anton never had an answer, and even staring at this embodiment of the question, he couldn’t figure it out.
He stepped around the car, dragging his fingers across the sleek surface to find a tall white man in an Armani suit standing, facing away with a crowbar in his right hand. Cigarette in his left. Samantha and Cierra were tied up back to back. Samantha, his beautiful wife, looked away from him as if ashamed to let him see her the way she is. Cierra’s chin drooped to her chest as if she were sleeping. Blood dripped from her nose repeatedly, as if on the tick of a metronome. She didn’t appear to be breathing. His heart stopped beating. Anton rushed forward, lowering himself to his knees to check on her.
“That’s close enough.” The suited man said amiably, a cloud of smoke enfolding his head before dissipating. “You take another step toward them and I’ll put the crowbar through one of their skulls. I haven’t decided which.” The man could have been ordering coffee. He leaned on the crowbar like he would a cane, took another drag of his cigarette, and flicked it off to the side.
“Just tell me that my little girl is alive.” Anton could only stand and watch, the man had him by the balls, as it were.
Hugh turned his head, looking down at Cierra. The light of the bare bulb hanging directly between Hugh and his captives exposed surprisingly little detail of his face. He twisted, bending at the waist to look at Cierra’s unconscious face, turned to look at Anton. “Oh, she’s alive,” he drawled. “But she ain’t happy.” Hugh straightened, stepping closer. Anton noticed that Hugh tried to conceal a limp by leaning on the crowbar like a cane. His back to the light bulb, Hugh’s face was cast in shadow, few predatory details were revealed by ambient light from gaps in the shutters. “I’ll ask this only once, Scientist. Where is the LC-11?”
The red dot on his chest had begun tracing shapes unknown to all but the sniper. If it were in an action movie, Anton would have laughed at the macabre smugness of it. “I don’t have it. It is still locked in the laboratory with my team.”
White, perfectly straight, teeth appeared in the darkness in a smile shape. After a bitter laughter, Hugh whispered in a voice meant only for the ears of those in the circle of light, “Ah, yes. After they learned that you had doomed them I’m sure they wanted your blood, didn’t they?” Samantha began sobbing behind him. She’d been friends with many of Anton’s team. “To be honest with you, Anton, I’m surprised they didn’t get it. You’ve always been kind of a limp dick, haven’t you?” Hugh had been getting closer inch by inch, word by word, but pulled away, quickly enough to startle Anton. He twitched.
Hugh walked in a small circle, laughing as if Anton had made a joke over a beer. He picked up the crowbar, spinning it around for his own amusement. “Oh, Anton, you are a funny man, aren’t you?”
“And you succeed, but I did tell you I would only ask once.” The crowbar traced a graceful arc, smoothly from the rotation of its spin, directly into, and beyond where Anton’s knee joint was. Pushing it out of the way, straining the tendons. Popping them. Ripping them.
Samantha screamed out in warning, but she was too late. Anton’s howl married Samantha’s in the air, creating a symphony of cacophony of agony and empathy. He fell to the floor, his skull bouncing off of the bare concrete floor, an old oil stain imperceptibly cleaned by his short hair sweeping up some of the sodden dirt. There was no blood, no laceration in the skin. There was only pain, beautiful in its simplicity. Breath left Anton like his first wife had: out of nowhere and with no apparent hope of return. Everything became fuzzy and white, like he imagined heaven, except for the dynamite explosion of pain. The world pulsed, with his heart, he thought.
Anton looked up at Hugh pathetically to find him pulling out another cigarette and lighting it, wincing. Was that regret in his eyes? Or just his leg hurting that caused the limp? He didn’t care. After lighting the cigarette, Hugh pulled another from the pack, gesturing it toward Anton. Anton nodded, opening his mouth slightly as Hugh took a knee.
Lighting the cigarette, Hugh chortled sardonically, “I left my good cop at home, so I’ll just have to fill in for him.” Using the cane to lever himself up, Hugh stood, nudging Anton’s shoulder, making him lay on his back. Samantha still wept in the background, though Anton couldn’t see her. The mountain of muscle, he now realized, had been standing behind him, gun drawn, just in case something happened that hadn’t been planned for. He’d holstered the pistol. A desperate man with a broken leg is much less of a threat than a desperate man with both of his legs intact. Much to his delight, the nicotine in the smoke worked quickly at dulling the pain in his leg somewhat.
“You see, Anton,” Hugh drawled again. “I didn’t want things to go this far. I wanted you to be able to work in your little lab, to make things for your government. To make things for me. And nobody would have to ever be the wiser, nobody would have to be dead. You would never have had to become a hardened badass, and most importantly,” Hugh hooked the crowbar around Cierra’s neck, “your baby girl’s life wouldn’t be in my hands right now.” Hugh winced, seemingly disgusted by his own actions.
Samantha wailed, struggled against her bonds. Anton rolled over onto his chest, and strained to drag himself forward. From not far away, a .50 Caliber weapon barked, sending a hunk of metal into the concrete inches in front of Anton’s eyes. He stopped dead.
In a flash Hugh was on the ground, his face inches away from Anton. “Where is it?” His voice was high-pitched, desperate. “Where is the ‘Eleven?”
Anton was defeated, he had nothing. No means of bargaining, no leverage against this man. He needed it for something; that, if nothing else, was clear. Hugh faced dire consequences himself, if he didn’t get it. His eyes were wide, spittle dripped from his lips.
“Where is it?”
Anton looked away, dropping his forehead to the cool concrete. He slowly let out a tobacco-scented breath. “It’s gone. After I murdered my team I burned the laboratory safe with the finished product, and all of the research. I fried all of the hard drives in all of the computers even remotely involved with the LC-11 project.”
“Then I guess my choice is clear.”
Anton was amazed to find his brain bashed in with a crowbar to be relatively painless. He died knowing that in the end he had done the right thing. He asked God to spare his wife and daughter, but considering the events of the past week Anton knew that God couldn’t possibly exist or care. Never hurts to try, though. His wife and daughter were next to die, he knew. They were irrelevant after Anton’s death. Dead weight. He hoped that they would die quickly, painlessly, and without fear. Before he died, Anton wondered what his obituary would say.
Anton would not live to see Hugh gather his associates and kill them with his crowbar. He would not see the man empty his employer’s bank account and give it to the girls, apologizing deeply for his actions with tears in his eyes. He would never have believed that he went straight to the police, exposing the largest crime syndicate to the police, leading to the biggest organized crime bust since Capone. Following the bust, Hugh would be murdered, writing a poem, which would be part apology, part exultation of the man who inspired Hugh to become a better man, the man who, in an indirect way, saved the world. The bloodstained poem about Anton would never be read, except by a forensic investigator who framed the work and passed the poem down to his children in the hopes that they would learn from the honor of the Man Named Anton. His children would never read it.
It was a little long, but I hope you enjoyed it. Next week, tune in for A Discourse on Love. I'll see you then.