But I do have something. Since this is October, I have a horror story. I'm not normally in the habit of writing horror; you can probably tell from my other stories that I tend to prefer more light-hearted stuff. Still, I felt an itch, and had to scratch it. So here you go:
A SHORT MEDITATION ON DEATH
Death is everywhere, no question. At every moment, around every corner, no matter what you do, death is waiting. Something out there is out to get you. Somewhere out there is a threat to your existence. I know this is true.
I wake up, neither murdered in my sleep nor poisoned by carbon monoxide. I take a shower, and avoid slipping and breaking something--even a Pope can die that way. Shaving doesn't open an artery or cause an infection. I get dressed and go to the car.
They say driving is more dangerous than flying, and I believe it. Every time I turn the key is another opportunity for the car to explode, and any high-speed idiot could slam into me as I roll out of my driveway. I survive so much, just when the day has barely started.
I pass two accidents on the way to work. One is a fender bender, and both parties are talking to the cops. Cops always make me uneasy. Give them any excuse and they'll put a bullet in your brain, or thousands of volts in your skin. Just one excuse. That's all they need.
The next accident looks more dire. Not only cops, but paramedics are on the scene. One person is wheeled into an ambulance. Were there more? I can't tell from here. One car is dented on the side. The windshield on the other is shattered. Someone might have cracked their skull on the glass. A passenger might have broken some ribs, or punctured an organ. They could be bleeding to death as we speak. I could end up that way. So could you.
I work on the third floor of the Davison building. I build software. At any moment, one of these computers could burst and set the building on fire. My chair could collapse, and the air stored underneath the seat could burst right through me. That happened to a guy in China. Something could knock the support out of the building itself, perhaps a bomb or a truck. All of us would be crushed or buried alive.
Lunchtime. The TV in the cafeteria is showing the news. The onscreen graphics and the closed captions mention a missing teenager. Cathy from Customer Service is glued. "Isn't that just the saddest thing? I hope they find that girl soon."
"Not likely," says Pedro. "There're some sick people out there. They'll be lucky to find her in one piece."
"This just isn't a safe world anymore." Cathy takes a bite out of a chicken sandwich. "I miss when you could go out without having to worry about who else is out there."
I contemplate the chicken. I have some leftover fish. If any of us were less careful, if it were undercooked, the bacteria would be eating us from the inside right now. Then there's the junk they put in the meat itself. No telling what that will do to us in thirty years.
I tell her, "The world's never been a safe place. There have always been murderers, thieves, and rapists in the world. Just think, a few decades ago, you could get beaten to death for being black. A thousand years ago, your whole town could be slaughtered by Vikings. And then there's disease, and famine, and weather. Did you hear about the flooding in Cambodia last weekend? A thousand people, dead, just from one storm."
Cathy and Pedro both give me sour looks. "How can you be so calm about that stuff?" Cathy said.
"I just prefer to be realistic. Death is part of life, and you have to accept that. I do hope that girl is okay, though."
I remember something I need to do.
After work, I drive to the hardware store.
When I was a kid, I was afraid of hardware stores, and tools. My father had a workshop, and whenever I went in there, I was seized with the thought of what those tools could do to me if anything went wrong. The hammer that could break my skull; the buzzsaw that could chop off my hands; the welder that could burn out my eyes. Over time, though, I came to appreciate their utility, and their potential for creativity.
I buy some bug spray, some nails, and some garbage bags. I stop and get a burger and head on home.
I lay the bug spray next to my computer; I've been spotting centipedes there. The garbage bags go in the kitchen. I take the nails down to the basement. The light is still on, just as I left it last night. I am relieved: the girl is still there. She is okay.
Her name is Gayle; she is fifteen or sixteen, and I met her in the park. Her hands are bound tightly to the arms of the chair, and her mouth is duct taped shut. By now she's probably seen the stains on the walls. Her eyes widen when she sees me, and she shakes so hard that the legs of the chair rattle on the floor.
Just think: a few days ago, she believed she could go outside without fear. She ignored the many forms death could take in the world. Nothing could hurt her. Why worry?
Now she knows the truth, that we all must die. I could say something to reassure her, but I would be lying.
Well, maybe not entirely. I smile at her as I lift the hammer off the table, and take a nail out of the package. I hold the nail to the back of her hand and raise the hammer.
"Don't worry," I tell her. "It'll all be over soon."