Three Strikes

Submitted into Contest #45 in response to: Write a story about inaction.... view prompt



I’ve never seen the world move so slowly, but I guess that’s how death works. Well, and superhero films, although it’s usually the superhero witnessing the slow-motion as they perform some heroic feat, and I’m no superhero. I’m the guy cowering in the back of the 7-11 while some gun-toting shithead robs the poor clerk behind the counter.

           Outside, I can see cars driving past on the street, except they’re not really moving. The birds in the sky look ready to plummet to the ground, and the elevator music blasting from the overhead speakers has deepened to what sounds more like monks chanting. Even my breathing has slowed. I can feel my chest fight for air.

Oddly enough, my brain is working at twice the speed. The dickwad upfront is screaming something I can’t fully understand, but I get the gist. He wants the money, and the terrified girl isn’t moving as fast as he’d like.

It’s funny; I remember watching a bunch of martial arts movies as a kid and dreaming of being the kind of badass that could roundhouse kick evil douchebags in the face until the sun came up. I never took the time to learn even the most basic martial arts moves, and right now, I’m reconsidering how quick I’d be to show off those kicks and punches if I had.

My heart feels ready to explode.

He’ll come back here next, I’m sure. He’ll get his money, shoot the girl, then check for witnesses. That’s how it goes, isn’t it? Of all the places to be gunned down. Of all the places to die.

Something loud cuts through my thoughts, something shattering. I don’t know what just broke, but the tension is growing. For a split second, time starts to move forward again, just long enough for me to catch a little of the dialogue up there.

“I don’t care, just fucking open it!”

He sounds angry. He probably has an itchy trigger finger, too. Bad signs if I want to get out of this alive. Although, if my years of working with damaged kids have taught me anything, it’s how to recognize when someone speaks with fear.

What does that guy have to be afraid of, he’s the one with the gun? But I don’t know his life’s struggles, and I guess I can’t minimize them. Who knows what kind of shitty childhood he had, but does that excuse him coming in here like this? More importantly, is it really that nimrod’s life I want flashing before my eyes seconds before I die? Fuck him.

Yeah, fuck him. I’m about to take a bullet between the eyes, and this is my last chance to prove whatever I want to prove, or just stand up for myself. Literally. But my hands are so sweaty, and I can barely feel my face. Words would just dribble out of my numb lips, and I’d accomplish nothing but dying sooner. No, I should stay put. Surely someone’s called the police by now.

Another disruptive noise reaches my ears, but this one’s followed by the cashier screaming. As my heart prepares to leap from my throat, I muster the courage to peek around the aisle corner. I have only seconds to live after I hear the shot that kills her.

I’m just in time to witness the bright commotion of gunfire. The seconds pile on top of each other, existing in the same moment as time speeds up tenfold, then wholly halts.

In a flash, the girl behind the counter is riddled with bullets from head to toe, but all I see is the broad back of a man wielding a gun and dozens of shells hitting the hard floor in a ringing clink clink clink.

Flinging myself back to my safe-ish spot in the corner, it’s hard to hush my heavy breathing and, I’m embarrassed to admit, my whimpering. With both hands over my mouth, I’m desperate to avoid the same fate.

It’s not enough, though, and when I hear him nearing the end of the aisle, I can feel the urine soaking my crotch. This isn’t how I wanted to go out, but we don’t usually get the choice.

A petite girl, probably in her early twenties, walks up to me. I’m ready to lose my lunch at the grotesque sight of her, but I’m far more baffled that she’s standing at all. I watched that guy unload a massive gun into her, but the little cashier somehow walked her corpse back here to me.

“You failed. Again.” Her wounds look painful and fresh, dripping gory bits down her chest, but her face doesn’t seem bothered by it.

“What are you … how … I don’t understand,” I mumble. This is probably what dying is. The gunman already shot me, and this is what I’m seeing while I lie on the floor bleeding out.

The girl’s skin slips off like a human suit, leaving the demon exposed in front of me. I’m starting to remember.

“You have one more chance to prove you’re capable of compassion. Otherwise, your soul belongs to Hell.” I almost missed the tiny smirk it wore, but this demon had a quota to meet, and my soul was up for grabs.

“I can do it this time, I know I can, I just need another chance.” My brain is back in the game.

A demon won’t give you more than three shots at redemption, and then it’s Hell for all eternity. I can’t remember how I died anymore, or even how I lived, but I know my character was so borderline they couldn’t decide where I belonged in the end. This guy’s licking his chops to collect me, another resident of Hell, but I think I can prove him wrong.

“Last chance,” he hissed.

When the scene reset, so did my memory.

Death approached in slow motion as the gunman at the counter shouted at the cashier. Instinctively, I hid in the back. This will sort itself out; I don’t need to be involved needlessly. He’ll shoot the place up whether I intervene or not, why get two people killed?

My jeans tighten as my bladder releases itself and my heart pounds so loudly, I’m sure they can hear it upfront.

BANG. I hear the shots, and the body hit the floor. Closing my eyes, I feel the tears fall to my cheeks. I have seconds to live.

“That was your last chance.”

My eyes open to see the girl, bloody and missing a hole in her stomach, glaring down at me disapprovingly. I’m astonished. Zombie films were never my favorite, and wriggling under the stare of a real-life zombie reminded me of how uncomfortable those stories made me. She was there to eat my brains or rip my arm off to save for a late lunch. I want to run, but my muscles atrophied since I crouched down in my hiding spot.

“Come with me,” she huffed irritated.

The wall of cold drinks split apart, revealing the wall of white fire behind it, and the girl costume slid off the demon again. My brain puts the pieces together, and I panic.

“Wait. No. That wasn’t fair!” I shout, jumping up as quickly as my damp jeans allow. The demon isn’t amused, watching me scramble to my feet and chase after him, but fuck if I care. I need to fight for a fair shot at my redemption.

“That time wasn’t the same, you didn’t give me long enough to do anything! I was—”

“You were what, about to cry? About to pray? About to sneak out the back? I’m not sure you understand what this test was all about, which is why you’re sentenced to Hell.” He looked away from me and stepped toward the flames, but I’m not ready. I leap forward, grabbing his thorny arm, falling to my knees, and pleading for my soul.

“No, that’s not it, I was going to stop the guy! You HAVE to give me one more chance, you have to! PLEASE!” I’m not putting on an act, I’m genuinely sobbing for my life. Or whatever’s left of it.

I shouldn’t be surprised that my cries have fallen on deaf ears, the guy’s a demon after all. After he shakes my hands away, he looks down at me with despicable eyes, and I feel myself shrink away.

“You’ve been given the same number of chances as any other human. I have no interest in whether or not you think this is fair. Perhaps if you lived your life differently, you wouldn’t be forced to prove your worth to the higher powers.” The demon hollered, spitting at me with fury.

“Do you know what the correct answer to your scenario was?” He asked. I shake my head, pitifully.

“We never expected you to sacrifice your own life by stepping between the gun and the girl, but the solution was in your pocket the whole time. All you had to do was pull out your phone and dial 911, then you both would’ve lived.” He snarled as he gripped the collar of my shirt and dragged me behind him.

Kicking and screaming, I continued pleading for my soul as Hell gobbled me up.

June 08, 2020 05:28

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