My writing buddies and I have committed to writing 1000 words a day, and we're going to hold each other accountable. That's going to be good for me. Tonight I did not make the 1000 word goal, but I did sit down and pound out a good 750. That's more than I would have done otherwise.
Anyway. One or two of you may remember that a while ago I posted part 1 of a trifle of a short story I wrote called The Nondescript Man. Well, here's the rest of it. Let me know what you think.
The Nondescript Man, Part 2 of 2
The nondescript man stood outside of Julie's apartment staring intently at her kitchen window. Since it was a Saturday at about noon, near Christmas, the sidewalk was jammed with people, but they all seemed to unconsciously walk around him, leaving him in kind of an eddy in the flow of the crowd. Julie, who was inside making some eggs, was oblivious. However, she did take notice when her radio station started playing her favorite song again. Then, her eyes widened as she noticed that her radio was sitting on top of a copy of the very CD that she had been looking for all these years, the one with that song on it. She grabbed it quickly, knocking the radio over on its front. Her hands trembling, she stared at the CD, daring it to explain its presence. It made no sense. She had never owned this CD. What was it doing here? She began to get paranoid, thinking maybe she had a stalker, maybe a radio DJ stalker, who was playing her song and sneaking into her apartment leaving her CDs. But that was crazy, she thought. Who stalks a forty-ish librarian with cankles, bad teeth, and a limp? There had to be some other explanation.
She decided to phone Mona, her childhood friend who also worked at the library. Mona picked up immediately.
“Mona, it's Julie.”
“Hey, what's going on, girlfriend?”
Julie thought about what to say, and decided on, “Weird things are afoot, Mona. And you know I don't use the word “afoot” unless it's serious.”
“Ooh, I like it when things are afoot. Or a foot long,” Mona added, giggling.
Julie grinned. “Oh, you're incorrigible.”
“Guilty as charged,” Mona chirped. “So what's afoot, exactly?”
Julie explained about the song and the CD, and her theory about the radio DJ stalker. Mona was silent for a minute, and then said, “Alright, so say you have a radio DJ stalker. Do you know anybody who fits that description?”
“No, that's the crazy thing. I don't know anybody in radio. I just have my one radio station that I love to listen to because it plays bossa nova music, and that's the station that's been playing this song that, until a few days ago, I hadn't heard in years. And now this CD shows up. I'm just a little baffled, that's all.”
“Julie, I'm coming over, and we'll figure this out. You know me - I love a good mystery.”
Julie smiled. “Ok, I'm making some eggs – I'll make some for you.”
“Great! I love eggs!” Mona hung up.
Outside the apartment, the eddy in the crowd surrounding the nondescript man closed, and he disappeared.
Mike woke up feeling strangely refreshed and awake, ready to take on the world. He sat up and realized he wasn't anywhere he recognized. He was on a small narrow bed in the middle of a room that was hard for him to describe. It was as though his gaze slid off of everything, and he couldn't really get a good grasp of perspective. He also had a strange feeling that he wouldn't remember anything about this place if and when he ever got out of it.
A man was standing at the foot of the bed. Like the room, he was difficult to focus on. Mike couldn't really pinpoint his height, facial features, hair color, or anything about his clothing. It was very odd.
The man began to speak. “Where are you? Who am I? What are you doing here? Those are the questions you're about to ask me, right?” Mike nodded slowly.
“Did you bring the harmonica and the marbles?” asked the man. He looked at Mike expectantly.
Mike was astonished to find that the harmonica and the marbles were in his left hand. “Uh, yeah, it looks like I did,” he said. “But -”
“Hand them to me, please.” The man held out a very long, very pale hand. Mike handed them over.
“What do you think these are, Mike?”
“You're asking me?”
“I'm asking you? I kidnap you, bring you to this weird room, and instead of giving you answers, all I do is ask you questions you have no idea how to answer? Who am I? That's what you're going to say, right? God, this is like a bad science fiction movie.”
“What?” Mike was growing increasingly confused and more than a little bit frightened.
“Beep boop, beep boop, take me to your leader.” The man began strutting around the room making “beep boop” noises. Mike looked for a way out, but he still couldn't focus on anything in the room, and it was beginning to make him a little bit nauseous.
“Um, so, can you just tell me what you want, and let me go? I have a bus to catch.”
“Oh, you have a bus to catch, do you? Well, I won't keep you then.” The man pressed a switch, and Mike suddenly felt like his stomach had wrapped around his brain. The world disappeared, and then reappeared, and he was back in his dorm room. Within fifteen minutes, he had forgotten the whole incident.
The intercom buzzed.
“Captain, I think we need to talk about our man downstairs.”
“Why? What's he done now?”
“Well, he had the college student, got the items, but then he sort of...lost control.”
Captain Vorbo sighed. He had known that Marko was completely wrong for this assignment. The whole thing was way too complex for him. The precision required to engage the targets, connect them to each other, and perform the intercept really needed a precise strategic mind, and Marko just didn't have it. The whole situation was giving Vorbo a headache.
“Ok, bring Marko to me. I'll talk to him.”
A few minutes later, the nondescript man walked into the captain's office. He saluted.
“Sit down, Marko.” The captain sat behind his desk and peered at Marko intently. Sure, the appearance was perfect – nobody would remember a face like that – but the mind was flawed.
Marko sat. “What do you need, Captain? I'm very busy.”
“Marko, you know how important this mission is to the whole scheme of things, don't you?”
“I do, Captain, I do. But I can't help feeling that everything about it, including this conversation we're having here, comes right out of a terrible science fiction novel. I mean, you're going to berate me for my incompetence, demand that I do a better job of acquiring the targets, but do so in a way that doesn't actually reveal the plot, right?”
The captain blinked, which he didn't do very often. “Marko, you read too much...though yes, that's just about exactly what I was going to say to you.”
“Well, alright then, I promise I'll do better at,” Marko made some exaggerated quote gestures and winked very dramatically, “acquiring the targets, captain.”
“Are you not taking this mission seriously, soldier?”
“Really, captain? That line? I could write better dialogue in my sleep.”
Vorbo had had just about enough of this.
“You just thought to yourself that you've had just about enough of this, didn't you, captain?”
Irritated, the captain pressed a button, and Marko disappeared. This wasn't going well.
A nondescript man walked into a bar, sat down, and ordered a series of vodka martinis. Or at least, he tried to, but the bartender kept forgetting about him as soon as he turned his back to make the drink. The man sighed, jumped behind the bar, took several bottles of the shelf, and walked out. The bartender was confused and disoriented for a second, and then blinked in amazement as he realized he'd been robbed. He looked around frantically, but he had no idea who could have nicked four bottles of vodka, three bottles of vermouth, and a jar of olives right out from under his nose.
Later, a nondescript man slept it off on a park bench, and wasn't bothered by the police.
Julie met Mona for coffee at the coffee shop, making sure to order tea as she always did. At a corner table, the nondescript man, looking a little the worse for wear, was nursing a large cup of very hot coffee that he had had to get for himself. He recognized Julie as one of his, he thought bitterly, “targets,” though he could never really understand what it was Vorbo wanted from the three of them. I mean really, he thought to himself, giving them strange things – childhood toys, a harmonica, an obscure CD – and then expecting, through a series of convoluted machinations and ridiculous leaps of logic, that somehow they'd realize their common plight and then...what? Vorbo hadn't really explained that last bit very well at all. It would be simpler if the objects led to some overarching mystery, that, when solved, prevented the imminent destruction of the planet, or something. Or if they really were aliens hovering over the planet conducting experiments on humanity. But this was just silly.
“So, any more sign of the radio DJ stalker?” Mona grinned.
“No, funnily enough, it's been a couple of weeks, and I haven't heard that song again. I still have the CD, but nothing else weird has happened.” Julie sipped her tea and looked around the room. Her gaze still slid off of the nondescript man, who was glaring daggers at her. He stuck his tongue out at her, made some incomprehensible but clearly obscene gestures, all in a futile attempt to get her attention. He was getting tired of being invisible. He hadn't signed up for this assignment, and he was getting sick of it all. Finally, he gave up, got up from the table, grabbed the table and threw it over, like in an old Western, threw his chair at the barista and missed. He stormed out, making sure to rip the door off its hinges as he left. The chair crashed into the espresso machine, breaking it. The barista blinked for a second and then looked at the broken chair and the broken espresso machine, and then over at the upside down table. She couldn't imagine how any of that could have happened. Then she looked at the door, hanging from one hinge. Julie and Mona were also looking around, wondering what the hell had happened.
At that moment, Eric walked in, surveyed the damage, and began to walk out again. Julie spotted him and said, “Wait!” Eric stopped and turned.
“Oh, from the park, hello,” he waved.
Julie hobbled over to him, her limp a little worse than usual.
“Hey, do you know what's going on here? I'm not a kind of conspiracy nut, but I've had some weird things happening to me lately.”
“Hey, there's nothing nutty about conspiracy theories if there actually is a conspiracy,” Eric said.
“Will you join us for a cup of coffee?” asked Julie. The barista seemed to be in a confused trance, as she cleaned up a mess she had no memory of happening.
Eric, who decided he could use a break from his writing anyway, agreed, and joined Julie and Mona at their table. Julie told Eric about the music, and the mysterious CD, and connected it to the grass at the park and the mysterious mess in the coffee shop. Eric told Julie about the firetruck. They discussed the possibilities intently for a while, mostly relying on old science fiction novels and movies, because those kinds of stories always had this kind of intricate threading that seemed completely unconnected until the hero solves everything in the last few pages or minutes.
Mike walked in then, again laden with his backpack. He was just starting the January term, and he had a lot of homework to get done. He sat down at a table, dropped the backpack onto the floor with an audible thud, opened it, and took out a rather imposing looking tome on quantum mechanics. He began to read. Then, he overheard Julie and Mona's conversation with Eric. He'd read many of Eric's novels, but he didn't know enough about the author to be able to recognize him in a coffee shop. Excited now, he reached into his backpack, where he happened to have one of Eric's Flabian Continuum novels, the one where the wily space pirate finally defeats the evil bureaucrats at the High Federation. He brought the book over and said, timidly,
“Excuse me, Mr. Vaughn? I'm a big fan. Can you sign this book?”
Eric grinned, took the book, and signed it.
Julie asked Mike, “Hey, so you know science fiction, maybe you can solve this mystery.” Mike listened to her story about the CD, and Eric's story about the firetruck, and a lightbulb clicked on in his brain.
“Wow. That's kind of a funny coincidence. I wonder if this is connected. A few weeks ago I got a harmonica and some marbles in the mail with no explanation, and there's also this period of about six hours that I can't for the life of me remember what I was doing, but I have a vague memory of being somewhere else.”
“Do the marbles and the harmonica mean anything to you?” asked Mona, who, as an outsider to this whole situation, felt that she had a unique perspective to offer.
“I don't know. For some reason, I don't seem to have them anymore.”
“Hmm,” said Julie. “You know, normally in these kinds of stories, something would happen here that would connect the three situations.”
“Well, I don't know, we're all kind of connected by Mr. Vaughn's stories, aren't we? I mean, right?” Mike hazarded.
At that moment, the four of them were startled to find a man standing at one end of the table. He was quite visible, quite memorable, and quite drunk. He began to speak, and to wobble.
“Look, you three were supposed to be the lynchpins to this whole big thing that we had planned for you. But – but you know what? It was a stupid, stupid plan. God it was stupid. Stupid, stupid stupid. Man, see? Now I'm quoting Ed Wood movies. What the hell?” The man sat down hard in the table's remaining empty chair. He put his head in his hands.
“God, captain Vorbo is going to be pissed at me. I'm a complete failure. He's going to have to start all over again.” The man was visibly sobbing now. Then, just as suddenly as he had appeared, he disappeared into thin air.
The intercom buzzed.
“We've taken care of Marko, captain.”
“Good.” Captain Vorbo sighed. This scheme had taken years of planning, and now it was ruined, all because the hierarchy had assigned an under-qualified agent.
“Send a note to the affected people, apologizing for the inconvenience, explaining the whole thing, and telling them not to worry about it. We'll just have to try something else, I guess.”
He closed the intercom connection and got up to pour himself a stiff drink.