[Wow, yeah 2nd story posted in half an hour. Okay this one's a little bit of a call for help because I love the story line but the dialogue seems really really cliche no matter how many times I try to rewrite it. Also the characters could use a little more defining. As always, criticism greatly appreciated, and yes, it IS 100 bullets inspired.]
The Old Guard
The humid air pervades every inch of his being, sweat gathering under the strap of his duffel bag. The suit, he thinks, was a really bad idea. A reflection, in a jungle full of mirrors, the cries of birds echoing like ghosts through the thin coastal forest. Mosquitoes, a constant annoyance before, now grew further and further apart, despite his quinine he still avoids them. His leather shoes stepping first on jungle path, now sand, scuffed and useless.
The path opens to beach, calm. A tranquil bay, water the color of clear turquoise seen only in travel brochures. Curved slightly, like the last slice of a crescent moon; on one tip, a house. The beach, like his mind, is empty except for a man. Lounging in canvas deck chair, a small temple of beer bottles nearby, not asleep but resting, a shirtless figure. The man cannot see him, nonetheless...
‘Hey Jack’ the reclined figure says, from his throne. His reign over this place, at once nothing and everything.
A breeze rustles from inland, the palms whisper secrets in the wind.
‘Haven’t seen you in a while’ Lucien says, he is 5 years Jack’s elder, he trained him and he can sense his discomfort.
‘How do you know I’m not here for you?’
‘If you wanted me dead, well, there’s not much i could do about it. Believe it or not, you could take any of us out, that was your purpose.’
Jack winces, at which word, he doesn’t know for sure. Lucien’s departure was difficult for him, losing his father was easier, somehow, perhaps because his father was never his mentor, his friend.
He could do it, pull out the gun and snuff him, another candle extinguished. He could do it. That was the power of a gun, it took you to a plane above men, made you an angry and hateful god. He could do it...
‘Throw your stuff down, there’s another chair there. Still got a few more soldiers to kill.’ he gestured to the sweating alcoholic platoon of glass bottles.
‘Gallows humor, nice.’
The sun rests a little lower, still hovering above like an uncertain god, unsure whether he should abandon his creation or try, perhaps in vain, to fix it.
‘Still wearing the old suit n’ tie? Still living The Life?’
He didn’t like calling it that, it implied that killing, and killing for money was his entire being.
‘Yeah, kinda, I mean for all it’s worth.’ Jack’s eyes narrow as they always have with questions, as if they passed by his facial features for a while before articulation.
‘Listen Lucien, I gotta ask...’
‘Why did I do what I did? Leave? Shit, I've been asking myself the same thing. I mean when we lost Gareth in Chicago, that’s when I got the idea but why? Maybe I’m just sick of killing to live.’
Jack stopped, disturbed by how well Lucien had articulated what he was feeling.
‘I was gonna ask ‘Why here?’, I always figured Rose Beach was some girl you know? Didn’t think it was...’
‘A place?’ Lucien chuckled and drew another draught from the bottle, finishing it.
‘Rose Beach is, was a girl too, used to live on that house there with her old man, named her after this place.’ he nodded at the ancient house at the edge of the bay. Lucien paused, then shrugged, as if dropping a yoke. ‘I killed her, I wanna say that I refused, or that I rebelled or I fought, but I didn’t.’ He looked Jack in the eye. ‘I thought I was a soldier, I wasn’t, I was a salaryman doing his job, a job he could have left.’
The sun coated the world in gold leaf and if you were light enough, you could walk into it, on the ocean’s golden film, walk into the sun.
‘Yeah, yeah it really is’
‘Might go see her someday, hey, at least the trip’s short and cheap.’’ He gestured at the dark metal object lying idly on the sand and smiled. A gun, the tools of their shared trade.
Jack just drank his beer.
‘So are you gonna shoot me now or should I start on dinner?’
‘You’re not gonna fight?’
‘I always liked you Jack, perhaps not too smart but loyal. Shit, probably wouldn’t have ended so well in Seattle without you. No, I’m not going to fight you, just gimme a few to make my peace with the world when you’re gonna, y’know.’ he mimed shooting himself in the head ‘Pow’. Lucien grinned a Cheshire cat grin.
Jack looks out across the water.
‘I grew up in Honolulu, and nights before I joined you guys, we’d get wasted and pissed off and about 3 in the morning we’d go and throw the bottles into the water.’
‘Shit, we used to the same back in Miami.’ the Cheshire cat grinned again.
‘Thinkin’ about it now, I guess we were just angry, and scared about the future y’know. And the big blue was, like, huge and dark and it didn’t give a shit. Throwin’ those bottles was our way of trying to stop it, the future I mean.’
Jack looked over the water, blue and clear and clean and young. He wanted to wash himself off himself. The Life had taken its toll on him, coated him in its oil, he wanted to wash the film off in it, to feel something again.
‘Now I guess it’s not so scary anymore.’
He tossed his empty bottle gently into the sand.
Dinner was a quiet affair, Lucien cooked, Jack drew figures in the sand or built the fire or wrote or simply sat, there was nothing to say and so many ways to say nothing.
‘Jack, you know why I quit?’
The fire crackled explosions and gunshots in miniature.
‘I quit because of Gareth, because of Rick, because of Kim, because of every candle I snuffed with a gun wearing the suit n’ tie. I quit because I felt nothing for anything. We killed Gareth, we didn’t lose him and we hide from that because until we got the order to shoot him in the face for some stupid shit, he was a brother to us. Rose died because of me, after I left, I killed everyone involved, all of them. They didn’t die well and they didn’t die fast, by the end there was very little of them left at all. ’
His words were measured, like he was holding back a flood, a torrent that would drown him now and forever.
‘And when that was done, I felt nothing. Not even pride in the kill, pride in being the best. Nothing. So I left, tried to see the spark, the value in people. And I did, I do. I mean all of them so alive and then bang, they’re gone and they wont be anything ever again.’
Lucien, Jack realised, was explaining this to himself, he was simply the audience.
‘I don’t have a right to do that. That’s why I can’t fight you, that’s why I can’t come back.’
Jack looked at the cooler and at the veritable mountain of bottles.
‘Just two soldiers left in there, wanna help me finish em off, Lucien?’
‘Gotta go sometime don’t they?’
‘Yeah, I suppose they do.’
Morning. Over the eastern lip, the sun bursts like a spark, improbably bright, the house silhouetted in its rays, casting a shadow over the bay.
Lucien struggles to his feet, a hangover threatening him like a storm cloud hovering on a summer day. He wonders briefly what to do with the rest of a life he didn’t plan on having and glances at Jack’s chair. A note is pinned to the cloth with a switchblade, like a struggling fish, it flails in the wind.
Thanks for showing me how clear the ocean is. I hope you don’t go meet Rose just yet.
I’ll square things back home, I think this’ll be my last job, maybe.
Your Friend, Jack”
With a smile, he starts to collect the bottles. It doesn’t matter how many dead soldiers you have to clean up, as long as you save one, he tells himself, believing it.
As long as you save one.
[25 years later]
‘Dad are we there yet?’
He looks around and smells the air
‘No, not yet, not far to go now.’ he says. Turning back to look at the young man full of energy, he sees a boy who threw bottles in Honolulu, and at the same time, one who never did. He can understand his impatience, his desire for everything and he can also see he must temper it, or try at least.
The path opens to beach, calm. A tranquil bay, water the clear turquoise seen only in travel brochures. Curved slightly, like the last slice of a crescent moon, on one tip, a house. The beach, like his mind, is empty except for a man. Lounging in canvas deck chair, a small temple of beer bottles nearby, not asleep but resting. The man cannot see him, nonetheless...
‘Papa!’ a girl’s voice shouts.
The resting man turns to the blossoming young woman walking in the waves and follows her pointing finger to the two figures emerging, as if born again, from the forest.
Jack turns to him and
‘Son, give us a minute wouldja? We’ve got some catching up to do.’
Like a stranger walking into the wrong theatre in the middle of the movie, he leaves his father be.
Lucien speaks to the girl in Spanish, Portuguese perhaps, Jack never knew many Latin languages and spoke none. Then turned to the young man.
‘His name is Will. Will, this is Lucien.’
‘There’ll be time for meetings later, follow Rose, she’ll show you where you’ll be staying tonight.’.
Watching the two figures walk lazily down the crescent moon beach, they sit, so much to say and so many ways to say it.
‘You rebuilt the house? Old ghosts?’
‘New life, it’s what she would have wanted.’
‘He looks like a fine young man. Knew you’d do a good job of it.’
‘It’s harder to create than destroy.’ They sat for a while, counting how much they had destroyed. Years could have passed, the sea could have swallowed the land and spat it back out again in their personal eternity. No matter how much they created they could never hope to challenge it, their wreckage, their personal graveyards, but you had to try, it was all that you could do sometimes.
Lucien held his bottle aloft.
‘A toast, to the old guard and the young blood, to the dead soldiers and to the last ones standing’
Clink went the bottles.
That night under stars, drunk off bad beer, good wine and youth, two old men told stories about danger and adventure and friendship.
That night under stars, drunk off bad beer, good wine and youth, two lovers kissed quietly, intensely, glad to be alive and never knowing how close they were to never being at all.
Outnumbered? Outgunned? Outclassed? Hmm, they're learning.