View Full Version : Routine

December 22nd, 2013, 10:31 PM
One of my first works. Dusted it off after a year of sitting in my folder and decided to share it with you guys.

When Catherine and Ryan were finished flirting with each other on live TV, they would get to the news. Suddenly they would go from giggling and smiling, to wearing serious faces when reporting on a murder or a deadly car accident. Mike thought it was pure genius. This was entertainment. How could anybody resist watching this? He sat there, as he did every morning, eating his breakfast as they went from one horrible news report to the next. “Last night,” Catherine said with her serious face, “a bus carrying thirty-five people was struck head on by a semi, killing everyone aboard.”

Mike stopped chewing. His hand trembled as he reached for the TV and turned up the volume. The bus was no bus anymore, it was a ball of crushed metal, glass and plastic—similar to what a soda can would look like after you’ve placed it on the ground and stomped on it with your foot. He noted the street, the buildings surrounding it, the flashing lights of emergency responders, and most importantly, the way it was tipped over slightly because the tires on one side were flattened from the force of the impact. This is my nightmare, he thought.

He dropped the fork and grabbed the sides of the TV with both hands, bringing his face inches away from the screen as if to confirm his suspicion: It was the same, the same shattered windshield, the same cop with the orange vest, the same fire fighter sparking up a cigarette after seeing the mess that waited for him inside the mangled bus. Mike pulled himself away from the TV and quickly shut it off. He stared at the black screen for a long moment. Then he glanced over at the clock. “Shit, I’m late.”

At work he sat in a small cubicle among a sea of small cubicles just typing away numbers on his ten-year old piece of shit computer. Sometimes he would have to bang the keyboard against the edge of his desk to get the keys unstuck. This was such a normal occurrence that nobody ever questioned the noise; the rhythmic sound of hundreds of fingers tapping away at keyboards never missed a beat. In fact, Mike was convinced that if the building were to catch fire, nobody would move a muscle, they’d remain glued to their seats, ready to accept their heroic deaths as data entry warriors.

Mike made sure to lean low behind the maze of cubicles as he scurried to his desk. It was the third time this month that he’d arrived late, and his boss, Mr. Krumpler, had told him the last time that, and this was him being nice, he would rip his head off and place it on a spike to decorate his office with if he came to work late again.

Mike heard him going off on one of the new hires in the far corner of the room as he turned into his cubicle and took a seat. He groaned at the stack of paper work piled up on his desk, then tapped the keyboard to bring up the browser.

Something compelled him to search for images on the bus accident. Every photo he came across was exactly the same image that was in his head. It had to be a coincidence, people dream things every day that eventually happen in real life. But if that was true then why were his hands shaking? He willed them to stop when a shadow fell over his cubicle. He turned around to find Mr. Krumpler standing there, sweat dripping down his wide neck, shirt buttons undone as if to release the steam building up inside.

Mike froze. Saliva gathered in his throat; he swallowed and pushed it down. “Sorry I was late again Mr. Krumpler, I promise it won’t happen again.” He didn’t say a word, he just stood there, his eyes twitching as if trying to take Mike’s head off using nothing but his thoughts. This was the angriest Mike had ever seen him. Usually he’d have said something by now. He began to tap his foot rapidly, then crossed his arms, as if readying himself for the amount of violence he was about to unleash upon Mike. But it never came. He turned around and walked away. Mike let out a sigh of relief and began to sift through the paper work on his desk.


The next morning Mike awoke in the same violent manner as the day before. He decided to bypass his normal wake up routine and went straight for the kitchen table, turned on the TV, and waited. When the news came on he leaned forward in his chair. “It’s a beautiful morning in Chicago,” Catherine said. Then Ryan followed, “Yes, yes it is Catherine, but not as beautiful as that gold necklace around your neck.” They laughed for a long moment and then came the serious faces, the faces Mike had been waiting for. “Last night a robbery turned deadly when a store owner was shot by his assailant,” said Ryan. “The camera behind the counter caught the entire robbery on tape. We warn you, the footage you’re about to see is graphic.”

Mike was sure his heart stopped beating for a few minutes as he stared at the video footage of the robbery. It was a convenience store, just like the one from his nightmare; the shelves, signs, and even the people inside the store were all the same. When the robber entered the store he had the same skull face mask on, and was waving around the same gun in his hand. He pointed the gun in the same way, sideways, and jumped up on the counter just like in his nightmare. Mike knew what was coming next: Once the robber had all of the money in his bag he unloaded three shots on the owner.

Mike reached over and turned off the TV. What’s going on with me, he told himself as he buried his face in his hands, am I finally starting to lose it? He glanced at the clock. “Shit, not again!”

This time Mike couldn’t hide from Mr. Krumpler. He watched Mike enter from the window of his office as he stuffed his shirt into his pants and knotted up his tie all the way to his cubicle.

After about an hour of tapping away at the keys, the shadow fell over his cubicle again. Mike felt his throat dry up. The foot tapping sound returned. He
thought about not turning around, but knew it would only end up making him even angrier.

Mike turned on his chair, slowly. Mr. Krumpler had his head against the side of his cubicle, staring at him, arms crossed and foot tapping on the hard carpet.

Mike decided not to say anything this time. He just sat there and waited for the inevitable.

But Mr. Krumpler didn’t say a word. He just kept looking at him for a long while.

Mike opened his mouth to speak when Mr. Krumpler fell to his knees. “I’m so sorry Mike,” he cried. “I don’t know why I’m like this, I really don’t. I’ve gone to three shrinks and they just make me want to rip their heads off with the stupid advice they give me. I just want you to know that I’m trying, I’m really, really trying.” Mike’s mouth was still open. He didn’t know what to do. He thought about going over and telling him it was going to be OK, but decided against it.

After a minute, Mr. Krumpler got back on his feet and wiped the tears from his face. “What are you looking at?” he shouted as he walked back to his office. “Get back to work!” One of Mike’s neighbors raised up from within his cubicle and looked him in the eye. Mike just shrugged at him and he descended back into his seat, shaking his head.


That night Mike decided to skip sleep altogether. He popped his TV dinner in the microwave, brewed up some coffee, and sat at the kitchen table. He’d never stayed up past midnight, it was part of his routine. Ten minutes past and he was already dozing off. He got up and made himself some more coffee, then sat back down in his chair, staring at his reflection in the TV screen.

This time he awoke with a vicious head jerk that sent him reeling backwards in his chair. He ripped off the TV dinner container that was plastered to his face; left over chicken and potatoes slid down his forehead. He got back up and began to pace back and forth, muttering to himself, “No, that’s impossible, I made sure not to fall asleep.”

He switched on the TV and killed time by walking back and forth in the kitchen, thinking.

An hour went by when the theme music for the local news brought his attention to the screen. “It’s a beautiful morning in Chicago,” said Catherine. Then Ryan followed, “Yes, yes it is Catherine, almost as beautiful as that ring on your finger.”

Mike shook the TV and shouted, “Cut the bullshit and get to the damn news!”

After their giggling session was over Catherine put on her serious face. “Last night three construction crew workers died when a concrete slab fell from an overpass.”

Mike grabbed the TV and smashed it on the floor, the glass went spraying all across the kitchen floor. His back found the wall and he slid down, grabbing the top of his head with his hands. “What have I done to deserve this?”

He went into his closet and picked out the first thing he saw, then walked over to the front door and slammed it shut behind him. Nobody seemed to notice him, as he walked to the bus stop, wearing two different shoes, laces undone, chicken and potato juice crusting on his face and shirt flapping in the wind behind him.

When Mike got to the bus stop he didn’t stop; he kept walking a little further down the street. He waited at the edge of the sidewalk. He turned his head when he heard the whooshing sound of the bus turning onto his street. It picked up speed as it came rumbling towards him. He closed his eyes and stepped into the street just as the bus got to him.

For a second there was nothing but silence, then a loud clapping made him jump. He opened up one eye, and then the other, to find he was in a dark office. There were no windows, no walls, only a black desk with a dim light that seemed to be miles away.

The clapping got louder and louder as he walked towards the light. There was a man seated behind the desk, but his face was obscured by the shadows. When Mike finally got to the desk, a hand appeared under the lamp, gesturing him to take a seat. “Please, have a seat,” the ominous voice said. Mike took a seat. The shadowy man opened up a drawer and pulled out a bottle of Jose Cuervo Black. “Drink?” Mike shook his head. The hand popped the top off the bottle and poured a healthy amount into a glass. He heard the man gulp the drink in one shot. Then he snapped the glass back onto the desk.

“Who are you? And where am I?” demanded Mike.

“I go by many names: Harbinger of Doom, the Man in Black, Thanatos, La Muerte, Angel of Death, Grim Reaper. But you can just call me Jack. And you my friend are in Limbo.”

“The dance?”

“The other Limbo. You’re not in Hell but not quite in Heaven either.”

“Then I did get hit by that bus.”

Jack snapped his fingers when a newspaper appeared in his hand. “That’s not quite how you died.” He opened up the newspaper and placed it on the desk so Mike could see. He pointed to a photo of Mike under the obituary section:

Michael Rodriguez, 35, died in a bus accident along with thirty-four other people. He was a respected data entry clerk for a profitable tech firm. He will be sorely missed by all of his co-workers, especially his boss, Mr. John Krumpler.

“That’s it? That’s all my obituary says?”

Jack took the newspaper, folded it up neatly, and tossed it behind him. “Apparently you didn’t have any friends or relatives, so your boss took the liberty of writing it. Shows, doesn’t it?”

“But I’ve been waking up every morning to go to work.”

“You have and you haven’t at the same time. Did you talk to anyone while at work? Your boss, maybe?”

Mike thought it was odd that Mr. Krumpler just stood there staring at him, not saying anything. And when he fell to his knees and confessed his problem to him; he would have never done that if Mike was actually there. Mike’s mouth trembled when he said, “So...so…why am I in Limbo and not in Heaven or Hell?”

Jack leaned his face into the light. He wore black glasses and a black jacket. His smile wasn’t quite sinister but it wasn’t joyous either. He pointed at Mike. “Good question. You’re in Limbo because you passed your training and have been chosen to be Death from here on out.”

“What training? I don’t remember any training!”

Jack grinned. “The nightmares aren’t just a coincidence, Mike.”

“Why me?”

“Because of the miserable life you lived of course.”

“But...but…that was only routine.”

“And what is more routine than death?” said Jack in an elated tone. He leaned his head forward as if to whisper a secret into Mike’s ear. “Did you know that one person dies every few seconds?”

“No…actually, I didn’t know that.”

“Well, then, you see, you’ve learned something new, even in death. It’s all part of the balance of everything. Without death there would be no life, and without life there would be no death. The perfect routine of the Universe.”

Mike raised his eyebrows. “I never quite saw it like that.”

Jack laughed. “Of course you didn’t, this is the first time you’ve experienced death after all.”

Mike leaned forward in his chair. “So let me get this straight. You’re saying that because I lived a miserable life, I’m to experience a miserable…Death?”

Jack snapped his fingers. “Bingo.”

“But I can’t be the only person who lived a miserable life.”

“Of course not, you were just the best choice among a long list of candidates.”

Mike sat back in the chair and sighed, nodding slowly. “So what happens next?”

Jack took off his black jacket and handed it to Mike. Then he snapped his fingers and a scythe appeared in his hand. “Now I give you this, and you can get to work.”

Mike grabbed the scythe and jacket in his hand. “For how long?”

“Until the next best miserable choice dies and takes your place.”

“How long does that usually take?”

Jack shrugged. “Nobody really knows. I waited 3,000 years for you to relieve me of my duty.”

“3,000 years!”

“Yes, but it goes by in a flash, don’t worry.” Jack got up from his seat and patted Mike on the shoulder. “Be seeing ya.” Then he walked towards the exit.

“Where will you go now?”

Jack turned around, tilted his sunglasses, and winked. “To live.”

Then he was gone.

Mike got up and sat in Jack’s seat. He rested the scythe against the edge of the desk and put on the black jacket, then opened up the bottom drawer and pulled out a book. He opened it up and flipped to today’s date. It was a client schedule. He ran his finger down the page to the next client and stopped:

Cause of Death: Heart attack
Time of Death: 9:30 pm
Client Name: John Krumpler

Mike snapped his fingers and black sunglasses appeared in his hand. He put them on and poured himself a healthy amount of the Jose Cuervo Black. He downed the tequila in one shot. Then he leaned his head back in the chair and closed his eyes.

December 29th, 2013, 06:22 PM
First and foremost, let me congratulate you on accomplishing the mythical feat: this is a true short story. There is a distinct resolution for the characters, even though their fates are left a little open-ended. I enjoyed the idea of death being a game of misery-tag.

Where I start to lose you is the theme, and the structure. You've got a bit of an infinite loop going on: he jumps in front of a bus because he dreams that that very same bus crashed? I think you should look into a different lead up to him ending up in Limbo. Also, it reads at the beginning like he's either afraid of the tv and then like he's afraid of sleep because he's like some kind of unfortunate villain. To help keep the flow, try to come up with a theme that you can write along. I think a good idea might be the misery loves company kind of thing.