Death Spiral

by Steven Nimocks


     This sudden fiction piece originated from a writing exercise I did a while back. The exercise was to write a story using six words. Back in the 1920s, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story using only six words. His story? He wrote, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Some claim that Hemmingway started six-word fiction and there are web sites available now to read such.

     In my exercise, I wrote several six-word stories. Once I finished part one of the exercise, part two was to expand the six words by writing for 15 minutes on the same subject. What was my six-word story? The one I chose to expand was, "The assassin said, 'Farewell, my friend.'" I expanded it for the exercise and my friends told me it was an exciting story.

This brings us to this revision of Death Spiral. I hope you enjoy it.

     The assassin said, "Farewell, my friend."

     Staring down the business end of a silenced Barretta made the recent past flash before him.

     The stolen key worked on the side door of the gray, non-descript building. Jack closed the heavy door behind him and slipped into the narrow hall. He paused and listened. The sounds of silence were welcome. Down the hallway he moved, checking doors as he went. He held at the intersection and listened. Nothing.

     What's this? We agreed on no casualties. He turned right and stepped over the bodies, careful not to make a noise. The alarm hasn't gone off. That's good. At least we have that going for us. Jack moved two doors down and paused again. Was that a noise? Perhaps from upstairs? He went forward and found the stairwell door. He looked both ways and ducked in.

     He let the door shut and kept it from making a sound. A radio played on a classical station in the lobby. He checked for movement on the other floors. Nothing. He descended the stairs and hesitated at each landing. There's the door with three on it; that's the one. He entered and halted on the other side and watched, listened. So far, so good. Well, except for the casualties upstairs.

     Jack walked down the hallway and stopped before each door. It was quiet down here, too quiet. He glanced in an office and another body slumped over a desk. What was going on? This was not in the plan. What was Clint doing? Has he lost his mind? We'll get caught with this many dead. Too many clues and too much evidence for the police to process. I've got to finish up and run out of here fast.

     He looked both ways and continued down the hall. There was the sign pointing to the lab. This must be the door. He tried a key. No luck. He listened again. It's too quiet down here. He turned another key. They changed the lock. When? How did they know? Were they tipped off? Did Clint do something stupid? Why the sudden change in behavior? Had the gas affected his judgement? They received vaccinations to take care of that.

     Jack jimmied the door to the storeroom while he watched both directions and hoped he was quiet enough. He entered and closed the door, and it creaked as it latched. The shelves were full of boxes of different shapes and sizes. He knew the one he wanted and scanned the shelves. He found it and removed it from the shelf. Sweat trickled down the side of his face. He shined his small flashlight into the void left by the missing box. Nothing. What now? His objective was not there.

     He replaced it and pulled random boxes out and checked behind them. It has to be here. He stopped cold. What was that? A door shutting? He waited. The eerie quiet covered him like a shroud of snow on a winter day. He investigated further. There it was. The safe was in the supply room. He listened again.

     The safe was still shut. He reached in the pocket of his vest and pulled out a crumbled paper with the combination. He froze and tuned in to the slight sound down the hall. He waited. He could hear his heart thumping like a bass drum. He dialed the first number. He dialed the second number and froze again. That faint noise. Was it his imagination? He trembled slightly and dialed the last number. He heard a click and smiled. He turned the handle, and the door swung free. He reached in and took out the small metallic container. This is the one. The markings proved it. This is the coveted box. I can retire after this.

     The storeroom door flung open and there stood Clint, smiling and holding the Barretta on him.

     The assassin said, "Farewell, my friend."

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