Justin Zipprich is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He has been writing since he was a child. From short stories and news articles to screenplays and comedy sketches, he loves to write it all. He has a love for the English language and the adventures it creates.
He is proud to have had his previous work published by Necrology Shorts, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Fiction and Verse and Whisperings Magazine as well as getting an honorable mention in Allegory. He has also had a story published in the short story collection “Luscious” as well as a Best Screenplay nomination at the Action on Film Festival for his script “One Moment”. See his website at www.jzipprichblogging.com.
The World is Falling Apart by Justin Zipprich
A light snow began to fall as Charlie Reardon departed the diner and made his way down Madison Street. Departed was a nice way of saying that he was actually violently thrown out of the establishment. It had all gone downhill so quickly. At one moment he was simply enjoying his beer, at the next he was involved in the first fistfight of his life.
When he was sober, Charlie was well educated. After a few beers he became a genius on all topics, a real know-it-all. To be honest, it was the other man’s fault. Didn’t he know that there were two topics you never talk about, religion and politics? If that man had never started spouting his mouth off about the latter, Charlie would have never have been forced to prove the man wrong.
The diner was a bizarre combination of eatery and brewery. On one side, families enjoyed hamburgers and French fries. Ten feet away from them, the town drunks sat at the bar grumbling about their hard lives while they got their nightly booze fix. Charlie sat at the end of the bar on a rickety, uneven stool. He wasn’t usually a drinker but after an especially hard day at work he decided that he would stop in and join the regulars for a few drinks. He was finishing off his third beer when a man sitting further down the bar was given his check. He was a small man with a beanpole frame. An angry grin seemed to be his default expression. When the angry man read his bill, he became instantly enraged. He claimed that he didn’t have enough money and that it was the government’s fault! His paycheck had been reduced to pennies after the greedy government had taken their share.
When the man’s voice escalated to angry screeching, Charlie felt he had no choice but to convince the chap to relax. He didn’t intend to further anger the smaller man. He merely explained that it wasn’t the government’s fault that he had no money. The gentleman simply had a paltry, low paying job and the income equal to a street beggar. If he wanted to make more money, all he had to do was apply himself and he would find a worthwhile occupation.
The plan, as anyone could have imagined, backfired miserably. The dirty little bastard became less of a civilized adult and more like a violent and frightened ape, growling and poking Charlie in the chest with a bony index finger. It didn’t take long to figure out that no amount of verbal persuasion would calm the man down. Charlie was about to give up and walk away when the excitable imp laid down the straw that broke the camel’s back. He raised one skeletal finger and held it no more than an inch away from Charlie’s face as he made his final, ignorant point.
Without hesitation, Charlie pushed the finger away, wound up and punched the man square in the nose. The drunkard didn’t stand a chance. The blow threw him off his feet and launched him backward. He crashed through a flimsy wooden table, landing on the hard floor with a loud thud where he remained, unmoving. Without hesitation, Charlie turned his back to the fallen man and started for the exit. He had to get out of there and fast, before he got himself into more trouble. His wish was granted as the largest bouncer he had ever seen suddenly lifted him off his feet. It was funny how there was no happy medium in this place. Everyone was either as skinny as a twig or as large as a buffalo. The hulking man took no liberties. He carried Charlie to the door and threw him like a ragdoll into the street, already cold and wet from the falling precipitation.
Now here he was, feeling buzzed and sore as he walked down the middle of Madison Street. It was a quiet night with not a vehicle in sight. Dark clouds filled the sky while a chill in the air forced him to tighten the belt on his coat. His head had begun to throb. The result he assumed, was a combination of the booze mixed with his violent exit from the diner. He hadn’t walked too far when he discovered the woman. She was a beggar dressed in filthy rags. She ducked inside her ratty jacket as she cowered against the brick wall of the Madison Street Bank. He despised people like her. What was so hard about finding a job anyway? It was easy to find work when one truly applied themselves. He always tried to avoid these people like the plague. However, on this brisk night, the elements worked against him. The wind seemed to push him towards the filthy woman even as he fought to stay away.
When she looked up at him, he was completely taken aback. Any resemblance of a female face seemed to have been washed away by disfigurement. The face that peered out at him was covered with bumps and boils of various shapes and sizes. Her other features consisted of a thin and lipless mouth and two small holes in the middle of her face that constituted a crude nose. Worse of all were those eyes. Underneath a flap of skin (a sad excuse for a forehead) sat the eyes of death. Sunk deep into their sockets, the eyes contained pupils as black as the darkest night. They seemed to gaze through him and into the deepest reaches of his soul. The sight of her stopped him dead in his tracks.
Charlie was frozen in place as the ghostly presence in front him made its plea. “Spare some change for a poor lady?” Charlie tried to respond, utter a sound, even grunt but he was too frightened to speak. “Please, just the change in your pocket will do,” she begged.
He was finally able to clear the cobwebs from his head and cough up the blockage in his throat as he spoke in the coldest tone he could muster. “I’m sorry, I have nothing.” With his stiff legs, he turned, trying his best to walk in the other direction.
“I know what you did.”
The words brought him to a stop. He turned back to face her. “Excuse me?”
The vagrant’s narrow slit of a mouth turned upward into a grotesque smile. “You like to hurt people do you? Does it give you some sort of thrill to knock poor drunks to the ground? I bet you feel like a real tough man.”
Charlie’s inner monologue spun into overdrive. Was she talking about his fight in the diner? How could she know? Who was this sick woman and worse of all, what was happening to him? He felt his head throb harder as the moments passed. He didn’t want to deal with any of this, he just wanted to get home into a warm bed.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re referring to,” he lied.
Her deformed smile widened. “How’s your head? I bet it hurts like hell. I bet it feels like a million tiny hammers are banging away in there, splitting your skull.”
This was too much; he had to get away from her and fast. Using every ounce of strength he had, he forced his body down the street. Behind him, the haunting sound of the old witch’s cackling kept his feet moving. As he walked, a more intense pain suddenly hit him. In addition to the dull throbbing in the back of his skull, he now found it harder to breathe. He felt as if his lungs were working against him. Every shallow breath took all the energy he could muster as it tried to make its way out of a throat that seemed to be caving in.
He was so distracted by the pain that he had little time to react when a young child burst out of a nearby alley, coming straight at him like a tiny pit-bull. Vicious with intent, arms outstretched, the boy ran up and wrapped his arms around Charlie’s legs, stopping him in place. He tried to keep his balance and stay on his feet but it was to no avail as he fell to the street like a falling tree. A sharp pain hit his chest as his entire body slammed to the pavement. He managed to turn from his stomach to his back as the pint-sized deviant stared down at him.
The child-like creature could not have been any older than six or seven years old. He was short and skinny as most youngsters were. What truly separated him from those other children was the face. The young boy had the same disturbing and disfigured face of the beggar. He could swear that it was the identical look: the slit of a mouth, the non-existent nose, those same fear inducing eyes. How could it be? Had he drank much more that he thought or was this some kind of waking nightmare?
Charlie realized that this experience was far too real as the hideous child bent down towards him, the disfigured face mere inches away. The child’s breath was hot and sour as he spoke. “I bet your feeling pretty bad right now,” it hissed. “The thick liquid running down your throat, the way your lungs feel like the hottest fire burning in your chest. It is exactly how he felt in his last moments.”
While Charlie’s entire body was aching, the worst sting came from his utter confusion. How could this child know how he felt inside and to who’s last moments was he referring? What was most disturbing was the gruesome face that both the homeless woman and this child shared. How could an old haggard woman and a youthful adolescent share the same grotesque appearance, the same harsh features?
He could not take much more of this. He needed to get away. He had to get home to his comfy bed and the open embrace of a good night’s rest. The demon child slapped Charlie hard on the chest and chortled. “How funny and ironic it is that you will soon meet the same fate as he!”
The demented crowing elevated as Charlie rolled back over onto his chest. Now on his hands and knees, he tried desperately to crawl to some sort of safety. The terrible child did not attempt to follow, nor did he attempt to hold Charlie back. He just hopped up and down in the middle of the street, taunting and laughing the most terrible laugh.
Charlie felt like an infant, crawling the way that he was, but the unfortunate fact was that he couldn’t stand if he tried. His body felt weaker by the second. Even the crude army crawl he was attempting took amazing effort. Add to this the fact that every ragged exhalation felt as if it might make his chest implode at any moment and he knew that stopping for even the briefest rest was mandatory.
Slowly he dragged himself through the cold, mounting snow. His clothes were now drenched, adding a completely new layer of misery. Finally out of the street, he found a small alley, a place to rest. His bed would be the rough, grainy asphalt. His pillow, the cold metal of a large, filthy dumpster. He positioned himself next to it, wanting nothing but to sleep.
He closed his eyes and thought back on his life. What differences had he made in this world and how would he even be remembered, if at all? His life, his work, they were all mundane experiences and as he had grown older, he realized that he had made very little impact on the people around him. The thought of leaving this life with few memorable accomplishments both disgusted and empowered him. He knew that there must still be time, he still had a chance to make the differences that he sought. It was time to get up and show the world what Charlie Reardon was capable of.
When he opened his eyes he instantly believed that his luck had changed for the better. Standing over him in full uniform stood a tall, statuesque police officer. His hat hung low over his eyes in an attempt to shield them from the descending snowflakes. Backlit, the official was swathed in shadow. While Charlie had at first considered himself lucky, the sight of the officer now seemed to disturb him in a way that he couldn’t quite understand. He wanted the officers’ help but all he could muster was a desperate wheeze.
“No reason to waste your breath,” the officer barked. “I’ll be doing most of the talking. After all, it’s time I’ve explained the little adventure you’ve had tonight.”
Even if Charlie had really wanted to ask the million questions that came to his mind, a thick liquid seemed to fill his throat, which rendered him unable to speak, only to listen. At least one of those questions was answered when the officer stepped forward, raising his hat. For the third and final time, Charlie gazed upon that same hideous appearance that he was far too familiar with. The same grotesque look shared by the sick woman and the excitable child also rested on this man’s face. Still the most disturbing features were those eyes. Only this time they seemed brighter, more intense. They glowed and pulsed, forcing Charlie to realize that these eyes were the pure essence of evil. The hope that he had once had now completely washed away, never to be seen again.
Charlie tried again to speak. His words coming out in hopeless fragments. “Your face. That face.”
“Ah yes, my face. You’ve seen this face before, am I right? The explanation to this is simple. The others you’ve seen tonight are just a few of my various incarnations. You see, I thought I’d play with you a little before you found out the truth. After all it is what you deserve, don’t you agree?”
“Please, it hurts, everything hurts.” Charlie pleaded.
A nasty smirk came to the grotesque officer’s face. “Oh I know your pain. I am willing to bet that every inch of your body hurts very badly. But you see it’s all in the name of science. Let’s call it a special experiment in your faith. You see, I want you to feel exactly how others you have mistreated have felt. For instance, take that man that you had the altercation with back at the diner a short while ago. Tell me, do you make it a habit to simply walk away from a man that you recently murdered?”
Charlie gazed up at the oppressive figure in utter surprise. He could not be speaking about the man he had struck in the tavern less than an hour ago.
“Murdered?” He asked, the words gurgling in his throat.
“Ah, the things you miss when you turn your back,” the vile man responded. “Had you stayed, you would have seen that the man you struck had fallen backward and hit his head on the ground precisely on that rare soft spot, knocking him unconscious. Into a sleep from which he will never wake. I’ve given you the privilege of feeling what he felt as his life slipped away. That thickness in your throat matches the blood that pooled in his as he lied motionless on the filthy bar floor. Your labored breathing mirrors the poor drunkard as he struggled to gasp his final breaths. The weakness in your heart is exactly how that poor soul felt in his last dying moments.”
Charlie was horrified by these revelations, wanting nothing more than to explain. But he was much too weak to say much of anything. All he could muster was a desperate: “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.”
The officer raised his voice to a threatening level. “Of course you didn’t know, not a single one of you mortals has the slightest idea! You were all put on this earth by a God who trusted you would do what is right, to follow his teachings and treat others how you would want to be treated. But do you do any of these things? Of course not! You treat each other like dirt. You inflict pain, you steal, you lie, you do everything possible to hurt one another and at the end of the day you get down on your knees and pray. You pray to your God to forgive you for all you have done. You assume you have been absolved and then you go out and do it all again. It’s a vicious circle and yet you never learn. These are the reasons why I have returned. I have come back to this world to remind you all about the other half of the equation that you all so easily forget.
“I am here to show you all that the devil still exists, has always existed. I used to watch from the distance but now I realize that I am sorely needed here. You people are no longer afraid of a Hell because you have created your own Hell here on Earth. You, Charlie Reardon, have not been the first nor the last to have the privilege of feeling the pain of your victims. Rest assured that this is not a punishment but a reinforcement of who you truly are inside. In the end, I will reveal to the world that their belief in a higher power to deliver them from their sins has instead transformed the vast majority into simple reincarnations of myself, thus proving that the devil is alive and well. May you die fully understanding what you have become.”
Those were to be the final words that Charlie was ever to hear. Satan left him, disappearing into the night, leaving him to die in the gutter, with not a soul in the world to save him. The light snow still continued to fall, blanketing him with a fine dust. He would die there, his last memory a sin that he had not realized he had committed. The last words he muttered were, “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.”
There was no one there to hear him and no one there to care as he felt his heart beat one last time.