By George Woodruff
Thick smoke hung in the air, redolent with an atmosphere of depression and despair. Sitting near its source, a long burning, never tapped cigarette, like a troll in a gloomy cave, was a man in the midst of a deep dark pit of a mid-life crisis. He shifted and his consciousness seemed to raise leviathan like from his stupor and he thought to smoke the cigarette.
Absentmindedly he reached for it. Inattentively he gripped the burning ember instead of the filter and screamed in pain as the heat seared the flesh of his fingers. The mug of stale coffee that had gone cold in his hand flew into the air like a frightened bird, fleeing in a moment of desperation. Awkwardly it spun in the air, disgorging its contents like a drunken, puerile teen vomiting the contents of his stomach after an evening of overindulgence. Muddy coloured fluid sloshed and spattered indiscriminately on the man, the recliner he was lounging in and the nondescript tan broadloom carpeting that festered upon the floor of the apartment.
He screamed inarticulately, mouthing wordless obscenities and leapt from the recliner like a maddened bull. Angry eyes fixated upon the mug, lying like a gored and wounded animal, the remaining cold dark coffee dribbling like the last of its life's blood out on the offensive floor covering. Rage filled his being and he lashed out with an ill-aimed foot at the offending mug. Flesh and cartilage, toenails and bones collided with the broken down structure of the over padded and threadbare chair. A howl of pain re-echoed through the apartment and out the sliding doors into the dark Cimmerian night. Clutching his foot, he hopped about like a manic Morris dancer until his functioning pedal landed with crushing weight upon the supine mug. Its ceramic structure buckled and cracked, exploding into shards, lacerating the flesh of the foot that bore down the full weight of the man it supported. More inarticulate and frequently inhuman words of rage filled the air. Rage now filled his being like a pressure tank close to the point of explosion. Unreasoning anger fixated first upon the ruin that was the coffee mug, then upon the chair that had received the painful, ill aimed kick. Titan-like he heaved the chair above him and cast it out through the sliding door. Glass shattered and exploded outward into the night. The recliner somersaulted ungracefully into the balcony barrier and then over and down to the ground far below.
Slightly mollified at that display of force, he realised he would need to clean up the mess. He pulled on shoes over bruised and bleeding feet and grabbed a jacket. His simmering self-reflection was disturbed by the sound of knocking at the apartment door. Storming to the door, he pulled it open and banged the edge upon the toe of his right, bruised foot.
"FUCK!" he screamed, and then seeing the burly man standing before him, added. "What the fuck do you want?"
The troglodyte, as he perceived it, on his doorstep, changed his expression from concern to anger and yelled back at him. Anger made his words unintelligible, not that the man holding the door would have heard or understood with the pain and rage flowing through his system. "Get the fuck out of my way!" he bellowed as he tried to push out of his apartment. The man on the doorstep put up his hands to prevent himself being trod upon and a fight soon ensued as the pushing and shoving escalated with the already boiling over tempers. Bodies bounced and bounded about the hall. Fists flew, hitting walls as often as flesh. Screams of pain and rage filled the air while neighbours looked out to see the commotion. Excited chatter and words were exchanged between them as the two pugilists continued to careen down the hall flailing at each other in the confined space. Finally the angry man got a good shot in on the man who had come knocking on his door and was able to lay him out on the floor, straddling him like a demon, hands around his throat, choking the life out of him. No one among the spectators intervened. Someone thought to call the police, but that was all.
The burly man struggled with growing weakness to free his throat from the manic grip of his assailant but to no avail, soon his eyes rolled back in his head as his skin took on an unhealthy pallor.
A woman screamed. The angry man looked up and she screamed again, this time squeaking out the words, "You've killed him!" before turning and fleeing into an elevator that stood open, allowing newcomers to enter the scene. The angry man leapt after her and managed to slip into the vehicle as the doors slid shut. The closed like a crypt door on her shriek of terror with the finality of the doom of an angry god.
Caught in the cubicle with a murderer, her panic deepened and she lashed out at him, flailing her arms at him and raking at his face with long artificial nails. Re-enforced synthetic claws slashed at his visage, causing him to flinch and react in self-defence. A fist materialised in her abdomen, forcing the air out of her lungs. A knee crashed into her thigh, cracking a bone, another fist caught her in the face and snapped her head back into the wall, with a resounding smack and leaving a small crimson spot upon its mock marble surface. She crumpled like a rag doll as the doors opened and he spun about defensively; ready to face any new assailant.
He stepped from the elevator, his mind illogically working on the concept that he had to go and fetch his recliner and return it to the apartment. He stepped out of the building as police officers rushed in. He barely reacted to their presence other then to step aside as the uniforms told his mind to do. Outside he found his recliner sitting in a jumbled, broken heap on the pavement, before the crushed and dented hood of a car. He surveyed the scene with distaste and dejection. He picked up the recliner and proceeded to heave it into the dumpster near by when the squawk of a police radio disturbed him. He turned to see an officer looking at him, fear filled the police man's eyes and he fumbled for his pistol.
Seeing the fear in the officer's eyes, he reacted without thinking, and threw the crumpled chair at the policeman. The broken furniture collided with the officer, sending him sprawling and his side arm somersaulting high into the air. The angry man grabbed at it and was able to catch it. A yell from above alerted him to another presence. High above a uniformed figure leaned out over his balcony and shouted something at him. In the next instant the barrier gave way and the officer tumbled out into the night and space, failing to take to the air in much the way that the coffee mug had. A hand that had drawn a pistol flailed about, dropping the side arm and the angry man watched as officer and his weapon raced each other to the earth. Once again fortune sent the firearm within his reach and he made a grab for it, the officer belly flopped into the recliner that was pinning down his colleague. Sirens and bright lights suddenly filled the air as another police car rounded the corner of the building.
The angry man stood over the broken bleeding carcasses of the fallen officers, a pair of service pistols in his hands and blinding light illuminating him like a movie star. The sound of gunfire blossomed in the night and bullet screamed past him. Instinctively he fired, only moments later realising the sound had come from above not in front of him. It did not matter, the police had heard the shot fired and thought he had initiated a firefight. He turned and ran behind the dumpster. The protection of its thick steel walls afforded him an opportunity to see his assailants, both the police and the gunman up in the apartment building. The police were now aware of the presence of the vigilante, both those in the car and those up in the angry man's apartment. The situation had gone too far though. Unbeknownst to all, the firefight had punctured the gas supply for the building. A spectator's carelessly tossed cigarette from a balcony above tumbled down into the rising cloud of vapour and ignited the expanding volatile gaseous substance. The explosion hurled everyone out from its epicentre, searing all it could and sending flames everywhere.
Bruised and bleeding the angry man stood up and looked about him. All was chaos and confusion; mangled bodies lay heaped in charred piles at the foot of the burning building. Everywhere he could hear the sound of dripping blood and smell the stink of conflagration. The twin sensations cascaded on his senses until that was all that filled his world. Burning and dripping, dripping and burning, over and over until with an effort like Atlas, he shrugged and the whole world disappeared as he woke from his stupor. He looked about him and saw that his cigarette had tumbled from the ashtray and had started to burn some papers nearby. He flinched at the realisation that he'd been dreaming and sloshed more of the dripping coffee from the mug that was almost free from his fingers. Relief flooded his being and he laughed as he poured the cold contents on the incipient fire. He then calmly if shakily got up and set about cleaning up the mess. He continued to chuckle to himself at the wildness of his dream.
design ©2001 by Cindy Rosenthal
Untitled One ©2002 by George Woodruff
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