Monday, June 11, 2012

Start Again A Short Story - by Michael Taylor

                “Start again.”  The voice was bland, non-descript, with absolutely no tone to it.

                “I don’t want to.  I don’t want to start again.”  Calvin was tired, more like exhausted.  He’d heard those words more times than he cared to remember.  “Who are you?  Why are you doing this?”

                “Start again.”

                “No,” Calvin shook his head defiantly.  “You can’t make me do this one more time.”

                Calvin was doing all he could to lengthen the amount of time he was in this specific location.  It was the one constant in everything he’d been going through.  But just like the sound of the voice, there was nothing special about this place.  He couldn’t see walls, or a door.  There were no windows, and when he looked up and down, it appeared as if he was suspended in mid-air.

                “Tell me who you are?” Calvin shouted.  “You owe me that.  You should at least tell me who you are and why you’re doing this to me.”

                “You have no need for answers.  We owe you nothing.  Start again.”

                Calvin finally picked up a tone.  The voice meant business, and from what he’d already learned, it would start again whether he liked it or not.  “Please, not again.”

                Calvin appeared on the city street, a busy intersection, and cars moving quickly.  A small boy stepped into the crosswalk.  Calvin jerked his eyes toward the crosswalk sign, it was white, clear to walk, but the cars weren’t slowing.  He screamed out, “Stop!”  He tried to dart forward to snatch the boy’s arm, but missed by mere inches.

                Calvin felt the sting of a car mirror slam into his hand.  He felt the warm spatter of blood spray on his face and arms.  He didn’t give a thought to the pain he was in.  He jumped up and darted into the street.  He ran about twenty feet, knelt down and looked in the boy’s bloodied face, the body limp.  He turned his head slowly to see the driver of the car. 

                She had already jumped out and rushed toward the scene.  “Oh my God!  Oh my God!  I didn’t see him.  He just stepped out into traffic.  I didn’t have a chance to stop.”

                Calvin lowered his head, brushed the bloody hair from the boy’s forehead and muttered, “Your light was red.”

                “Start again.”

                “I can’t.  I can’t do this one more time.”  Calvin looked all around him into a vast nothingness.  “You have to tell me what you want.”

                “We want you to start again.”

                “Please!  Don’t do…”  Calvin’s cry was cut short.

                The intersection again, cars moving faster than they should be, and a young boy beside him.  In an instant he caught the flash of white out of the corner of his eye, it was the crosswalk sign.  Calvin looked into the crush of oncoming traffic.  Dark green, gold, gold, silver, blue, black, and then he saw it, the seventh car, the red one, the one that would hit the boy. 

                Calvin turned back, lunged forward, and missed the boy’s jacket completely.  He fell hard on the street pavement.  Sprawled out, arms outstretched.  The sudden pain, the flash of red, the wet spatter on his shirt side, then the sound of a thump. 

                Calvin scrambled to his feet; he didn’t bother to look at the hand that had been driven over.  As he rushed for the downed boy, he heard a woman’s voice. 

                “He just stepped out into traffic…”

                “Start again.”

                Calvin dropped to his knees and began to sob.  “I can’t do this.  I don’t know you’re doing this to me.  Why do you keep torturing me?”

                “Your questions are irrelevant.  Start again.”

                Again he stood at the busy intersection.  This time he looked directly at the boy who was paying strict attention to the crosswalk sign across the street.  The reflection in the boy’s eyes went white.  Calvin thought quickly, stuck his leg out and tripped the boy who began to fall forward.  He reached out to snag the boy’s jacket sleeve, but missed.

                The black car swerved, its brakes began to squeal and then the color red.  The red car careened toward the curb, the boy, lying prone in the street, nothing but a mere human speed bump.  Th-lump, th-lump, the sound was sickening.

                Calvin looked down, wide-eyed, horrified. 

                “Oh my God…” the female voice echoed.

                “Start again.”

                Calvin was already sobbing when he heard those words.  The cold, bland, uncaring voice made his stomach churn.  “How many times?  Why do you make me live this over and over again?  Did I do something wrong?”

                “We will answer you now.  You have lived this moment approximately seven thousand, six hundred, eighty two times.  And, yes, you did do something wrong.”  A brief moment of silence, and then, “Start again.”

                Calvin was on the corner once again.  He held up his right wrist and looked at the time.  He saw the boy beside him.  His head jerked toward the crosswalk sign.  The boy was already in motion before he could react.  He reached out to snag the boy, missed again, and then Calvin’s mind began to flash pictures.  He could hear his own voice.

                “We’re going to walk downtown.” 

                “Don’t let go of my hand.”

                “Remember, we only cross when the crosswalk sign is white.”

                What time is it? Calvin thought, and then looked at his wrist.

                Calvin darted into the street, he ignored the sharp pain he felt, and stood over the boy’s body.  The woman’s voice cried out, “I didn’t see him.”

                “Start again.”

                “The boy, he was my son.”  Calvin looked all around him, “I don’t understand. Why do you keep making me live this over and over again?”

                “Finally, you have discovered a truth.”  The voice finally had a tone to it.  It wasn’t an ‘ah-ha’ tone, but a sinister sound.  “The child should have never died.  The death was meant for you.  But, you, too busy with other thoughts to give the child any consideration, you, consumed with the concerns of time, rather than the life of your own child.”

                “That’s not true.  I love my son.  I love him.  I wouldn’t do anything to hurt him.”

                “You wouldn’t do anything to hurt him?”  There was an audible sigh of disgust from the voice.  “You let him die.  You tried to protect the child when it was already too late.”

                Calvin shook his head.  “How could I know what was going to happen?”

                From somewhere in the emptiness around him, Calvin heard his own voice, “Don’t let go of my hand.”

                “He didn’t let go of my hand,” Calvin argued.

                The voice answered, “That is correct.  You let go of his hand.  Time was more important.”

                Calvin swallowed hard.  He realized now exactly what had happened.  “I didn’t mean to.  I was just checking to be sure we were on time.”

                “And now you have plenty of time.”

                “What’s that supposed to mean?  Isn’t it enough that my son is dead?”

                The voice, deeper, darker, more ominous sounding than it had ever been, answered, “You have time too, and you have more time than you even understand.  In Hell, time lasts forever.  You, Calvin, will live the moment over and over again, for eternity.”


                “It is a parent’s job to protect their child.  You failed the boy.  You failed and you paid.  Not just in the boy’s life, but with yours.”

                Calvin doubled over; dry heaved, and choked out the question, “I’m dead?”

                “When one fails to see beyond himself, there’s always a price to pay.  There is a definite difference in the definitions of the words, selfless and selfish.”

                “But I…”  Calvin didn’t have a moment to finish his response when the words rang out.

                “Start again.”

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