Keeping Friends

I’m heading out to Oregon for Kris Rusch’s short story workshop in a little while. Additionally, I just got my story collection Vicious Redemption out in print. So, what the heck, here’s a story. It’s short enough that I’m not comfortable putting it out as a 99-cent short, but sufficiently solid that it deserves an audience.

Warning: not for children.

Keeping Friends

“I’m trying to decide if I should kill myself now, or wait five minutes.”

My precognition hadn’t warned me about Tom’s call, but I hadn’t asked it. I pressed the cellphone into my ear hard enough to hurt, trying to compensate for the crackling connection and the passing traffic. “You don’t really want to do that, dude. You still have options. There’s other meds out there.”

“They won’t work. Nothing works. There’s no hope.”

I sat on a bench and forced my hands to stay still. My friends are important to me – I have to keep them. If I failed, Tom might kill himself while talking to me. The thought heated my blood until the air felt cool. “Can I come down there?”

“Don’t bother. I tried a knife, but it wasn’t sharp enough to cut through my neck.”

Tom had fought clinical depression for two years. Medication had taken the edge off, but not enough that he could return to work. The electroconvulsive therapy his doctor had prescribed required Tom stop taking all his medications. The edge had returned, and he was using it on himself.

“Are you holding the knife now?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Do me a favor. Put it down.”

“I need to sharpen it. That’ll take both hands.”

The phone clicked and I heard only silence, then the dial tone.

I forced myself to take a deep breath, then another, and willed my heart to slow. “I’ll do nothing,” I said. “He’s not really going to do it. He’s just trying to get attention.” With that decision, I twisted the deformation in my brain.

The world around me skipped, displaying shattered fragments amidst frozen moments. Tom’s cat lapping at pooled blood. Sheryl finding Tom. Accusations and counter-accusations over a closed coffin. Tears, and years of recriminations.

My gut burned, and I shuddered back to the moment. I couldn’t do nothing.

“I’ll call the police,” I said aloud, cementing the decision in my brain. “Give them his address. Tell them what he told me. I’m going to do that next.”

The decision changed my future, but weakened my precognition. The new future wasn’t strong yet and hadn’t yet solidified. Colors streaked the new images, and sounds skewed from lips like a badly dubbed film. Blood on Tom’s neck. A police officer tumbling down the apartment stairs, Tom’s knife buried in his arm. The stench of urine and blood. Parallel metal bars and scored, battered Plexiglas between Tom and I, new gaps in Tom’s bared teeth as he spit at me.

Prison would be better than a coffin, maybe. But Tom wouldn’t be my friend any more. Precognition had already stolen my family, my children, and too many friends. I couldn’t stand losing another.

“I’ll go down there myself,” I said. “See him in person. It’s only thirty minutes to his apartment. Talk to him where he can’t hang up on me.”

Yet another change to my future distorted the new visions to the jagged edge of uselessness. I saw shards of Tom bleeding and my fingers fumbling at a phone. Tom’s voice was unintelligible, but the anger was unmistakable. A glimpse of him at a party, the years turning his hair white; he laughed, then he saw me, and he turned away. The sudden set of his jaw reminded me of my wife when we left the divorce hearing.

The bench wobbled beneath me, the stench of bus exhaust more bitter. Tom would never forgive anyone for finding him like that. I’d save his life, but I’d lose him.

“I’ll call him back,” I said. “I’ll talk him out of this.” I’d never viewed four futures in quick succession. My precognition showed only an unintelligible jumble that hurt my ears and eyes and left the taste of hot copper in the back of my mouth. I didn’t think that calling Tom would delay him more than a few minutes, though.

I licked my lips and made a call.

“Jimmy? Listen, I just heard from Tom. He’s really really upset. I’m worried about him. You live right by him, don’t you? Could you go and check on him?”

Jimmy would find Tom, and call for help. Tom would be there for me. Tom would never forgive Jimmy for finding him, but I’d be there to console Jimmy. My friends are important. I have to keep them.

If you enjoy this, you might look at my other free story, my available short stories or my fiction collection. If you don’t enjoy this, that’s OK. If you now feel like crossing the street when I approach, that’s fine too.

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2 Replies to “Keeping Friends”

  1. This made me think of the ‘Odd Thomas’ books by Dean Koontz. I don’t know why.

    Is that a good thing?

  2. I’ve given up on the whole “good/bad thing” when it comes to fiction. If a story resonates with something in the reader’s head, great. If not, oh well, maybe the next one will.

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