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Contemporary American Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

I am always on the move. I meet a lot of people. Today my first patient is a man called Thomas. Not the brightest bulb by any means. He’s smiling at me as he talks about purity. I nod along. I believe in purity as well, just not the same kind. He talks about purity of blood. He flaunts bruised knuckles.

            Thomas likes to fight. I can see the glow of hunger in his eyes when he talks about hurting people he thinks of as impure. He wants more than that. He asks if I do as well.

            “Do you fight the good fight?” Tom asks me. He’s got a beer bottle in his hand. Something about the way he holds it tells me that he’s used a beer bottle as a weapon before. He likes me but there’s a tickling little voice inside him suggesting he hits me with it.

            “I like to think so,” I tell him. I smile. “There’s so much wrong in this world. I want to wipe it clean.” It’s a line I’ve used before because they always think I’m talking about ethnic cleansing.

            He smiles. “I’ve got some buddies you should meet.” Swigging the rest of his beer he rests the bottle on the bar top and pulls out some cash. He smiles at the woman behind the bar. He can’t tell that when she smiles back, it’s because he’s leaving.

            “Sounds cool. You crack some skulls?” I give him a reflection of his hungry smile. I hate that smile. It’s the smile of an unrepentant killer.

            “Not so loud man,” he shakes his head. His red cap dances about. The numbers 88 on his neck and as he turns around, getting off the bar stool, I see 14 on the other side.

            He’s a worthy candidate for healing. I wonder as we leave the bar if I should wait and meet his friends first. Instinct tells me that the longer I leave the poison to fester inside him, the more it will infect the world.

            He’s got a black van. Nothing special, a lot of guys like him have custom plates to show off their beliefs. Thomas apparently doesn’t want his ride being traced. The licence plates are new. At most they’re a week old.

            I look around. The parking lot is empty. He looks around as well.

            “Got a problem man?” He asks, smiling.

            “No problem, Tom,” I point to his arms. His sleeves are rolled halfway to his elbows. “Blut und ehre?” I ask. I can see the stylised u and t on one arm and r and e near the wrist on the other.

            “Yeah,” he rolls up his sleeves. Smiling, he traces the black letters.

            “Got a swatstika?” I ask, they all have fucking swatstikas.

            “Of course, my whole back.” Tom flips a thumb over his shoulder.

            “Just the kind of guy I was hoping to meet tonight then.” I hold out my hand.


Tom takes my hand and I see realisation dawn in his eyes. My gift worms its way through his veins as fast as his heart can pump the blood. It spreads through the muscles of his body. That’s the easy bit. The ink of his tattoos starts dripping from his skin onto the dust of the parking lot.

            “It must be tiring being filled with hate,” I say. I still have his hand clamped in mine. I look into his eyes. “I’m going to burn that away. All of it.”

            His eyes dart around but we’re alone. It’s dark. The nearest streetlamp doesn’t dare cast its light this far from the road.

            “You killed a man eight days ago.” His eyes bulge. “His name was Yusef. Did you know that? Did you know his name? Did you care? Did you even know he was Muslim, or did you choose him because of the colour of his skin?”

            His nose starts to run. He’s sweating out anger and hatred that have defined most of his life, if not all of it. “You thought that just because the police haven’t found you it was fine?”

            There’s a nasty part of my gift that involves soaking up the memories. Cruel things they’ve done that need to be washed away. Tom killed Yusef. He wasn’t alone. I see their faces, his friends. I also see other people he’s hurt before. Yusef wasn’t the first one to die. He wouldn’t have been the last.

            “No more of that Tom. Don’t worry. This is the kind of second chance even prison can’t offer you. You’ll be a brand-new man.”

            There are so many memories. Thomas has been in this his whole life. His mother and father attended rallies. They taught him the salute. Some hatred goes too deep. He didn’t even know what it meant to begin with. By the time he did there was no questioning it. Desensitised to hatred and violence.

            I try to memorise the faces of Tom’s friends and forget the things they’ve done. It makes me ill when I think about it all.

            No one else will do what I do. Most siphoners don’t care. Some of them are worse monsters than Tom.

            “How are you feeling Tom? Lighter? You just lost a few pounds in tattoo ink. Years of memories. Leaves a lot of space for you to make new ones. Don’t worry, I’m almost done.”

            There’s not much of him left. He’d built a life around hurting people who didn’t fit his definition of pure. I pick his wallet out of his pocket and find his license. I memorise the address. I’ll have to look before he goes home. A person is easy to clean. If he has flags and paraphernalia all over his house, then I’ll just burn it.

            He’s drooling. His muscles, honed through years of violence are limp.

            I’m done.

            He’s as good as new.

            “I’m Tom,” he says, staring up into the dark sky.

            “That’s right buddy. Now that’s all you are. This time you can be a good man.”


I carry him back to the bar with his arm over my shoulder. He looks drunk but the reality is that he’s going to be blank until he learns to live again. I’m going to say hello to his friends before then. They can turn over a new leaf together.

            I take his cap and throw it into the dust before we go inside. He’s not going to need it now.

            “Tom here’s taken a turn,” I say. “Someone call him an ambulance please.” I rest him gently in a seat. He smiles with the easy familiarity of a new-born baby. There really wasn’t much left when the hatred was gone.

            “I’m Tom,” he says.

            “That’s right buddy. Be a good boy now.” I give him a wink and walk away.


Out in the parking lot again I change form. I have to change my appearance constantly to avoid discovery.

            His keys jingle in my hand. I open up his van. Plastic sheets cover the walls. Rope. Baseball bats. A black hood. A spare gasoline can. I open the can and tip it over. It glugs and glugs as it vomits up its contents.

I sigh and take the hood. I pop open the cap to the gas tank and dip the hood down into it. Pulling a lighter from my pocket I birth a little flame in the corner of the cloth. I run to my car as the flame chews its way down the black hood.

            I barely have my car door open when the van explodes. It’s not as impressive as the movies but it is beautiful.

            I turn the key and drive away. My night’s work isn’t finished yet.

May 08, 2022 11:33

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22 comments

Rama Shaar
04:17 Jun 27, 2022

Very good! I wonder what his back story is and what made ridding the world of evil his mission and gift.

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Holly Guy
08:30 May 20, 2022

Hi Graham, this is brilliant! Such a fascinating story. I really liked the line 'He can’t tell that when she smiles back, it’s because he’s leaving.' because it is so true! We've all been there... My only feedback is that sometimes the dialogue was a little bit difficult to keep up with, in the sense I wasn't sure who was talking. For example " “You killed a man eight days ago.” His eyes bulge. “His name was Yusef. Did you know that? Did you know his name? Did you care? Did you even know he was Muslim, or did you choose him because of the c...

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Graham Kinross
08:55 May 20, 2022

Thank you. It was an experiment writing that, I prefer to write in past tense so this was challenging.

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Jay Mc Kenzie
21:30 May 19, 2022

I agree with everyone who wants a sequel! It's such a compelling premise. I want to know about the siphoner- how did he become one? What dealings does he have with the others? What's his story? How is carrying all of those memories going to affect him long term? Yes. I'm in. Tell me more...

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Graham Kinross
21:39 May 19, 2022

Thank you, Jay. If a prompt comes up that fits for a sequel I’ll give it a go. Are you working on a new story at the moment?

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Graham Kinross
07:16 May 22, 2022

This is the sequel. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/559mfa/

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Erich Cliffe
15:14 May 19, 2022

Interesting premise. I like how the scenes move fluidly and the imagery is crisp. However, the terms "patient", and "siphoner" threw me off, since they seem like out-of-context jargon. I know it relates to vocabulary that exists in the narrator's world, and I can guess what they mean, but it leaves me wanting an explanation. So I echo other comments in saying a sequel would be nice. I want to know more about this world.

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Graham Kinross
22:06 May 19, 2022

Thank you Erich. I’ll see what I can do about a sequel and I’ll have a look at your stories as well. I try not to use terms for magic that other people use a lot but that leaves some more obscure ones so I can see why that was a bit distracting.

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Graham Kinross
07:17 May 22, 2022

Here's the sequel. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/559mfa/

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Zack Powell
01:05 May 19, 2022

Now this is a creative interpretation of the prompt, Graham! Definitely got fooled by the genre tags, so when the twist happened, it kept my full attention. I'm gonna parrot Deidra - a sequel to this would be lovely. The premise is great, and there's a lot of interesting situations you could land the narrator in. The ending was a huge cliffhanger, too. If this were the first chapter of a book, I'd absolutely continue reading. By the way, I really like the writing style you used for this one. Very light on commas, mostly just declarative sent...

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Graham Kinross
01:57 May 19, 2022

Thank you. I’ll give a sequel a go if I find a prompt that suits it. It’s a very different style for me. Sticking in present tense feels unnatural for me. It’s more common I think in America to tells stories in present tense but in the U.K. past tense is used for things that happened even moments ago. It was a challenge.

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Kaizlees Stories
02:41 May 16, 2022

This story is good it's very creative 👌 I just made a new story go check it out

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Graham Kinross
21:55 May 19, 2022

Thanks Ko, I read your story. Great start to your reedsy portfolio. Hopefully you’ll have more for me to read soon, let me know.

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Kaizlees Stories
01:28 May 20, 2022

I will np tell me when you update a new story to I'll love to read it

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Graham Kinross
01:36 May 20, 2022

Thanks, I will.

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Kaizlees Stories
14:59 May 20, 2022

Yay there is new promps I'm so excited

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Suma Jayachandar
05:41 May 15, 2022

A beautifully crafted story. I normally skip reading stories that warn me of violent content, unless they are this well written- Crisp, action filled and it's heart at the right place. Thank you for sharing this.

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Graham Kinross
21:54 May 19, 2022

I wanted something that would half redeem people who have dedicated their lives to hatred. In the grand scheme of things they’ve still done terrible things but at least they wouldn’t keep going. I want to talk about that more if there’s a prompt that fits it. What are you working on?

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Deidra Lovegren
16:08 May 14, 2022

Graham, I think you just wrote the pilot of an excellent television series. A modern day take on "Touched by an Angel" -- but definitely updated for the post-post-modern day era. Gritty. Naturalism at its finest. I didn't want it to end. I wanted more. I am filled with questions about both of these characters...I read it twice. Then a third time. Well done. Well done. Well done. (I hope to see a sequel?)

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Graham Kinross
02:18 May 15, 2022

Thank you. I’ll think about a sequel. Did you get my email about the podcast?

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Deidra Lovegren
15:31 May 15, 2022

YES -- I forwarded to Russell about your story for Blue Marble Storytellers. Do you want to be interviewed for Read Lots Write Lots? I'll email you more details about both. (Russell has been "world traveling" for his job, so he'll be in touch when he catches up!) :)

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Graham Kinross
07:18 May 22, 2022

Sorry for the late reply. I would prefer my story being read if that's ok. Maybe I'll work up the courage for an interview later. Here's the sequel to this one. https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/559mfa/

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