So This Is How It Ends . . .
“Listen, it’s not the worst idea I’ve ever had. And it certainly won’t be the last,” Stephanie Dyer said, just moments away from her death. The energies of the rip in multidimensional space-time crackled behind her, silhouetting her body and casting a shuddering, uneven blue pallor across the hardwood floor. Pushing her fringe of hair out of her eyes, Stephanie surveyed the living room one last time. It was a bit different than she remembered it. It hadn’t been that long, had it? A calming sense of nostalgia warmed her chest as she took stock of the scuffed, scratched floors and the body of the old woman that lay, unmoving, by the overturned armoire.
As she turned to face the swirling blue abyss, the other conscious occupant in the room stirred. Clutching his side, Stephanie’s oldest friend Michael Duckett struggled to remain on his feet by bracing himself on the back of the armoire. Michael looked tired. Not as tired as she was — not by a country mile — but tired nonetheless. She couldn’t blame him. It had been a long road, and it would have to end here.
“Please,” he said, “We have do this together.”
“No, Michael,” she refused to meet his gaze, “I need to do this alone. I started this loop and I need to close it. And to do that, I need you to trust me.”
“I know I haven’t given you any reason to, and I’m sorry. I wish I could go back and fix that. But I tried and look how that ended up,” Stephanie chuckled before composing herself. She turned to him and their eyes met for what felt like infinity, “So for once, can you just pretend that I know what I’m doing?”
The room around them stood quiet. There was no movement aside from the rotating portal that hung in the middle of room over the toppled coffee table.
“I’m sorry,” he continued, attempting to push up the glasses that had been lost long ago. “I’m sorry I called you an embarrassment.”
Stephanie felt the hint of a grin form at the corner of her mouth. “But I was an embarrassment.”
“Yeah. But you’re not supposed to say that,” Michael returned a tentative smile that left before it could fully form. He looked away. “But you’ve always been my best friend. And . . . and you were right, too.”
“It was kinda fun to play detective with you. Just like it used to be when we were kids.”
Stephanie could do nothing but nod, with words caught in her throat. She couldn’t bring herself to explain what this meant to her. It would be too complicated. It was always too complicated. She didn’t understand it most times.
“I . . . ” Michael sputtered a bit. “I don’t want you to die.”
“Neither do I! You think I’m doing this for my health?” Of course, trying to lighten up dour times with a joke was Stephanie’s natural instinct, and her last moments were no exception. But, to her credit, she pivoted right back into earnest sincerity. “You’re my best friend, too, Michael. I’m trying to help you, like you always did for me. Just think of this as my way of saying thank you.”
“For putting up with me,” Stephanie winked and let out a small sigh before turning to the portal, which had begun to emit a low, angry hum. She didn’t know what lay on the other side but, in her heart, she knew that the next jump would be her last. The story couldn’t end any other way. And it she had to try to end it. It had to be her.
So Stephanie leapt headfirst into the roiling tides of the space-time continuum, letting the blue energies wash over her body one last time. As she left this universe and this time behind, she closed her eyes, all too ready for the inevitable.
It may have been the end, but at least it was a pretty badass way to go.
Hot Date With Destiny
Michael Duckett was a young man with a decent head on his shoulders and a crippling anxiety that prevented him from ever using it. He had just slogged his way through another day at work, punching numbers into a computing box for no reason besides enriching his corporate overlords. It was a dreary, soul-crushing job that left his bank account only a little less than empty and his body a lot more than tired and drained every night. Tonight was no different, aside from the fact that it was Wednesday and that meant it was laundry day.
A holdover from his childhood, the “Wednesday-Laundry Day” mantra had been championed by his micromanaging mother. Despite the fact that she—now in her self-dubbed “sexy sixties”—was immersing herself in whatever horrifying bacchanalia they got up to in Boca Raton and was not around to badger him, Michael had the laundry day itch branded onto his soul. Not to mention a myriad of other more socially debilitating neuroses he had yet to work through.
Still, Laundry Day had its share of perks. That is to say, one perk in particular that went by the name of Terri Bradshaw. In a rare stroke of luck, Terri and Michael happened to have the same laundry schedules. She had introduced herself some weeks ago over the folding tables, and Michael found her very easy to talk to, which, for someone who used to suffer minor panic attacks before making phone calls, was an even rarer godsend.
“So, do you come here often?” Michael had asked.
She chuckled and turned back down to the jeans she was folding. Her auburn hair swished to cover her face and a smile. “Nice one.”
“Uh . . . yeah,” Michael wasn’t sure what joke he had made, but he leaned into it. For the first time in a long while, his innate fear of being judged unfit by the opposite sex was nowhere to be found. This was an opportunity he refused to miss, so he leapt on it. “I’m Michael. Michael Duckett.”
“Terri. Nice to meet you.” Terri placed her jeans neatly into her laundry bag. “So, Michael Michael Duckett, what do you do?”
Michael deflated a little. The mere mention of his boring job sent his stomach into an involuntary stress gurgle. He hated being asked about it almost as much as he hated the job, “Oh, I’m an Analyst . . . at The Future Group.”
“Oh, you work for The Future Group?” Terri leaned back a bit, eyebrows raised. She was still interested. “My brother works there! Do you know Jacob?”
“Jacob? I love that guy. Of course I know Jacob!” Michael did not know Jacob. In fact, as unlikely as it seemed, Michael had never met anyone named Jacob in the 24 years he had skulked about this Earth. The Future Group employed over 7,000 people. Perhaps one or more could have been named Jacob. He didn’t really know. Either way, he’d gotten himself in deep already, so he just smiled and nodded.
“He loves working there,” Terri continued. “Says it’s the best job he’s ever had!”
Michael did not share Jacob’s assessment. He fidgeted with his glasses, running his fingers along the thin frames. “Yeah, uh, it has its ups and downs.”
“Hah, well Jacob doesn’t stop raving about it.”
“Yeah, that’s ol’ Jacob. He’s always . . . always . . . raving . . . ” Michael trailed off. He had no idea what else he could say about Jacob, besides the fact that he had good taste in sisters. Luckily enough, the conversation took a turn and Jacob was never mentioned again. And so it went with Michael and Terri sharing a good time amongst the fumes of noxious chemicals synthesized to mimic the pleasant scent of spring meadows.
As the weeks passed, they spoke more about their days (usually uneventful), their old college roommates (the worst), their favorite wines (hers rosé, his a dry pinot grigio), how Haagen-Dazs made the only good kind of chocolate ice cream (it was sweet, but not overwhelmingly sweet, and thus a delight to the palate, even when re-purposed for Rocky Road), and other topics Michael assumed normal people talked about.
Terri had a habit of good-natured ribbing, which Michael found endearing. Their rapport was fun and flirty, but Michael still possessed the underlying fear that it could turn on him at any moment, so he never asked her out, of course. Each subsequent Wednesday, he hoped it would be the day he would overcome the mental programming that had held him back since high school, but it never was. Today, though, this today would be that day.
Carting his wet clothes from the washer to the dryer, Michael thought of Terri, whom he had not yet seen today, though his time at the laundromat was half over. It broke with the tradition they had established. Well, he had established, anyway. The wet slops of seven identical powder-blue button-downs slapped against the porous metal cavern as he moved on to his unmentionables and inserted a handful of moistened boxer briefs, all gray.
After his clothes were safely spiraling into a state of dryness, Michael bussed his cart over to a set of hard plastic chairs that had been designed for maximum lumbar injury. He sat for a while, shifting his weight into increasingly painful positions, figuring the distraction would keep him from obsessing over Terri. Meanwhile, the television hanging above him spoke dire warnings of missing persons. A local doctor had mysteriously disappeared from his bedroom in the middle of the night and the police, as usual, were baffled. All that and what an upcoming spate of thunderstorms would mean for his weekend would follow after a few messages.
Michael’s attention, however, was drawn to the irritating fact that a single piece of clothing remained in his cart: another pair of underpants that had camouflaged against the side. This one, however, was conspicuously dry. The corner of his eye twitched with the impotent rage associated with the thought of having missed a single item of laundry. But perhaps it was unwarranted. Maybe it was a clean pair that had stowed away with its filthy brethren. Only one way to be sure. Michael raised the underpants to his nose and gave them a cursory sniff. He was met with the fading scent of faux mountain air. His suspicion was correct: they were quite clean.
What Michael had inconveniently forgotten was that he was in a public laundromat. Public laundromats tend to be occupied by people, and this one was no different. Michael was sucked back into the moment by a short burst of stifled laughter. Across the way, Terri leaned against the detergent vending machine, wearing a green top and a knowing smirk.
“Nice one, slick,” she shook her head.
“Yeah, well, they were clean!” Michael removed the underpants from his nose and tried to sound authoritative, but his declaration ended with a sort of yelp as he walked towards her.
Terri giggled. He could marry that giggle. “I’m sorry, did I embarrass you?”
“Um . . . no. No! Not embarrassed at all. How’re . . . you?” Michael pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“I’m alright,” she said, loading her washing machine. “Just a bit late today.”
“Oh, are you?” Michael pretended not to have noticed. He feared the implication that he had been keeping track of her schedule and their usual rendezvouses. He had, but still. Also, he didn’t think his joke about a “laundrez-vous” would land. His jokes rarely did.
“Hey, listen,” Terri looked away, “I’m in a bit of a rush today, so I’ll just cut to the chase and ask: do you want to get dinner sometime this week?”
Alarms went off in Michael’s brain, signaling a code blue. Never having had a code blue before, there was no plan of action in place. So all that came out of his mouth was a slow, droning “Uh . . .” followed by “. . . dinner?”
“Yeah,” Terri smiled and Michael’s heart quickened to a pace just short of a serious medical emergency. “Do you have a place you like? I could do anything.”
“I know a great Italian place down on Concord Street! Let’s go there!” He wasn’t certain how he knew of it, but, similar to the way a surfer’s life might flash before their eyes before a shark attack in an attempt to glean information that could prevent their death, Michael, in a more mundane application, recalled a slew of reviews he had seen on the internet. A restaurant on Concord Street stuck out as the only place that was infestation free after last month.
Terri smiled again and her hazel eyes sparkled. “I can meet you there at 6:30 tomorrow. Does that work for you?”
“Great. That’s great!” Michael’s grin froze on his face and began to hurt his cheeks as time passed. Had that really worked? As his mind wrapped itself up in questions, he hardly noticed as a full half-hour sped by. Still transfixed and, honestly, confused by what had happened, he folded and packed his dried clothes and slung his bag over his shoulder. He waved goodbye to Terri as he slipped out the door. The smile persisted. If it continued for four hours or more, he would have to call his physician.
* * *
It was dark outside by the time he left. Michael couldn’t see his watch, but it was definitely around 9:30. He walked down the street past a row of cars, neatly angle parked. At the end sat Michael’s 1982 Mercury Zephyr, a car that he lovingly referred to as “the Garbagemobile.” The otherwise red car had a canary yellow passenger’s side door that failed to function since its previous owner had opted to weld it shut for undisclosed reasons. Still, the trunk worked well enough. Michael thumped his fist on the corner and it popped open, allowing him to toss in his laundry. Or was it clothes, now? When did your laundry stop being “laundry” and become “clothes”? When you folded it? When you brought it home? Or when you put it in your dresser? Michael enjoyed this pointless line of questioning brought on by the euphoria of his potential date with a beautiful woman, as it distracted him from overthinking about said date.
Michael slammed the trunk shut and turned to find the crazed blue eyes and wild hair of an entirely different, entirely angrier woman who had definitely not been there a second ago. He jolted backwards and tumbled onto the asphalt. A jeep whizzed by his head at what felt like 50 miles per hour, but was probably more like 5.
“Oh my God! What the hell, lady?” A situation in which panic was natural. Michael almost felt at home.
“You’re Michael Duckett!” The woman declared in a voice so far from Terri’s melodic tones, it would need a GPS to get within striking distance.
“Uh . . . yeah?” was all he could muster. “How do you know my name? Who are you?”
“I need your help!” She seemed less interested in his questions than her own agenda, whatever that was.
“You need . . . my help?” Michael pulled himself to his feet by leaning on the Garbagemobile’s rear bumper, which shuddered against the rusty nails holding it on. “For what?”
“I saw your ad. I need to hire you. It’s urgent.”
“Sorry. My ad? I think you have the wrong guy. I’m not for hire.” Michael brushed himself off and, being certain his life was no longer in any significant peril, took stock of the situation. He sidled past the woman, who was wearing medical scrubs beneath the folds of a long brown coat, and onto the sidewalk. If she had escaped from a mental hospital, killed an orderly, and stolen his clothes, that would explain the scrubs. It was a bit of a reach, but not an unreasonable conclusion given the circumstances.
“I have a case for you,” she said. Her eyes had a cold fire behind them that complemented the harsh red lipstick that popped against her dark olive skin. She would have been beautiful if she hadn’t been completely off her rocker.
“Yeah, a . . . nut case,” Michael winced. Another joke that didn’t land tonight, but there really wasn’t much time to workshop it. “Lady, I can give you bus fare or . . . uh . . . whatever you need. But I’m pretty sure you have the wrong person.”
“No. I definitely don’t. You’re the detective!” Despite her manic motions, the woman’s frizzy, curly blast of bright blonde hair refused to move very much.
“Detective? What the hell are you talking about?” Michael inched toward the door of the Garbagemobile. “I’m not—”
The woman slapped her hand on the door, blocking his escape. With her other hand, she removed a smartphone from her purse and thrust it at him. “I recognized you from your photo.”
Michael left the smartphone in her hand and awkwardly scrolled down with a single finger. It was not often that Michael got to use a fancy smartphone. His own was an elderly flip affair with a creaky hinge. The screen on this one was brighter and boasted a higher resolution which allowed the bold black headline to leap out of the bright white background in all-caps, silently yelling at him:
“MICHAEL DUCKETT AND STEPHANIE DYER – PRIVATE EYES FOR HIRE – NO CASE TOO TOUGH, NO CASE TOO CRAZY – REASONABLE RATES – ANY TIME DAY OR NIGHT.”
It was a simple internet classified ad—the Hail Mary of desperate schlubs seeking used leisure suits or unlikely missed connections. Below the headline was a picture of him and his oldest friend – and roommate two years running – Stephanie Dyer, standing side by side. It was cropped to focus only on their chests and heads, so Michael couldn’t place where or when it had been taken. Stephanie was making overenthusiastic gun fingers at the camera, while Michael seemed aloof in an attempt to appear cool. It had not worked.
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About the Author
G.M. Nair is a crazy person who should never be taken seriously. Despite possessing both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Aerospace Engineering and a job as an Aviation and Aerospace Consultant, he writes comedy for the stage and screen, and maintains the blog MakeMomMarvel.Com. Now he is making the leap into the highly un-lucrative field of independent book publishing.
Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire is his first novel, and in a world with a fair and loving god, it would be his last. Alas, he tends to continue.
G.M. Nair lives in New York City and in a constant state of delusion.