1999, Dark Fantasy, Short Fiction
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Finder Kept | A Tale of Unintended Fate

{ 1682 words }

Submerged within a heap of filthy old blankets and trash next to the garbage bin on a chilly autumn night, a shaggy old bum witnessed a dark-clad man running through the alleyway that he called home.  Given the way the Running-Scared Man kept glancing behind himself, it seemed obvious to The Bum that someone or something had given him chase. The Bum did not want any undue attention offered his way and so he remained still while he lay upon his bed of detritus.  With hardly peeking eyes he saw Running-Scared Man stealthily toss something toward the heap of black trash bags that lay mere inches away from where The Bum rested his head.  The Running-Scared Man sprinted away and disappeared into the dark of night with the sound of his footfalls fading fast.

Hearing no incoming footsteps, The Bum emerged slightly from his safe cover to dig amongst the waste in hopes of snatching up the discarded curiosity like a homeless man on a free plate of food at the shelter.  The curious package he found was a beige leather satchel.  He opened it and immediately discovered the cash it contained, paying no mind to the other object inside the small bag.  The Bum quickly studied his new fortune: a fifty-dollar bill, two twenties and a ten, all crisp and full of promise. He fondled the bills with grimy half-gloved hands, hands that had not held that sum of money in quite some time.  His slightly drunken mind fantasized about the quantity (and quality) of liquor he could obtain with the cash.

The Bum finally acknowledged the weight of the package.  Sobering now, he considered the satchel and its strange markings, and wondered what was actually in the damned thing.  Given its weigh it could be something metallic, perhaps even mechanical.

Before he could entertain his own theories or take a peek inside it, the bag suddenly began to glow.  No, the object within the bag began to glow—a brilliant blue shining that instantly mesmerized him.  Yet it offered a bitingly cold sensation to his hand and he immediately dropped it in the heap, startled.  The bag and its glow disappeared under the mass of trash.

In the near distance, The Bum could hear the voices of men approaching swiftly.  Given The Running-Scared Man from moments earlier, and now those who were surely his pursuers, The Bum did not require the genius of Einstein to discern danger from safety.  Without a second thought he shoved the cash into his coat pocket and burrowed himself back under his blankets.  The bum hoped that whomever the voices belonged to would not notice him, and would continue on their merry way.

However, good luck never seemed to be on his side, and as his luck would have it, they noticed him despite his efforts.  Beneath the blankets he could not see them, but he heard three distinct voices.  All three of the voices sounded unnaturally deep and gravelly, but he could not fathom what could cause that peculiar attribute.

“Stay on his trail, I’ll deal with this here” he heard one of them—the obvious leader—say with labored breath.

After the sound of what sounded like someone sprinting away, there was only silence for a minute that seemed to last one hundred and eighty seconds over its sixty-second limit.  The Bum tried to feign ignorance as he rolled about in the heap, groaning as if he was still in a drunken daze, though he was scared quite sober now.

“Hey, old man…”

“Unnnnn…”

“You see a man running down this alleyway?”

“Hunhhhh?”

The Strange Leader leaned over The Bum to get nearly face-to-face with him. “Look at me.”

The Bum didn’t want to.  He knew that this strange man was looking for the man he saw earlier, the Running-Scared Man, who unwittingly provided him with his new fortune.

Also . . . that voice.

“Hey, you hard of hearing?  I know you heard me, old man.  Look at me.  Come up from that heap of shit you call a home and look at me!”

The Bum did so.  He was greeted with the most otherworldly eyes he had ever seen.  His first thought was that it was time to get off the sauce, or at least switch to a higher grade of liquor, one that did not induce such hallucinations.

The Strange Leader who would be his interrogator wore a black suit that seemed to be consumed by shadows and the darkness of the night.  The Strange Leader pulled out a snapshot from his breast pocket and flashed a penlight on it just before his face.  It was a photo of the man in question.  “Did you see this man or someone resembling him come through this alleyway tonight?”

“N-n-n-no,” The Bum said.

“Take a damn good look.  Don’t you hold out on me, trash man.”

“W-w-where . . . am I?”

“Oh, give me break!  You’re no good to me, hobo.  What a fuckin’ waste.” Considering the rough, gravely quality of the stranger’s voice, the insult seemed to be laced with menace.

The Bum watched him return the photo to the breast pocket of his pitch-black suit, turn left toward the nouth end of the alley and suddenly bolt away to join his cronies in pursuit.  He was gone quicker than a hot breakfast at a homeless shelter, The Bum thought.

Some distant part of him hoped that the stranger in the suit and his other boy scouts would find the guy they were looking for.  He just wanted to disappear with his new fortune and avoid all resemblance of responsibility.  He was just beginning to make a living at that.

He remembered the beige satchel (which he now wished was a bottle of Vodka instead) and began digging in the heap for it.  Once he found it he proceeded to put it into his coat pocket, but something caught his attention.

The damned thing started to vibrate.  It started to glow that electric-blue shine again.  Immediately he felt a cold piercing sensation through his gloves, stinging his skin.  He tried to drop it, but the damned thing would not let him go.

Instantly the glow intensified to an unbearable brilliance, and then he and the mysterious bag vanished from the night, from the alleyway, from the known world itself.

* * *

The Bum arrived to a new place as instantly as he had vanished from that dark alleyway.  However, now he occupied an even darker place—if it could even be considered a place at all.

It was completely dark.

It was incorporeal.  He knew this because he did not stand on the ground or a floor.  He was simply held suspended in place with no physical matter around him.

Yet this was not an ethereal place.  It was far too dark and deathly cold to be considered that.

No.  This was not what The Bum would consider a favorable, welcoming place at all.  It felt like a place of limbo, a place of, well, nothing . . . yet . . . something.  Somewhere or somewhen.  And so he hung slack, but upright by an invisible force in the dark, cold place of nothingness, the strange satchel and its enigmatic trinket no longer in his possession.  In addition to the discomfort he felt from the cold, he began to feel a sensation that was altogether even more unpleasant.  Weird, painful, prickly feelings overtook him.  It felt like a hundred-thousand needles had just begun to penetrate his skin, perhaps to bleed him dry.

He screamed, but there was no sound.  He flailed, but to no avail.  He was trapped, a prisoner, but of whom, or what?  Before his mind could complete that thought, the nothing-place seemed to respond to his question.  The darkness began to recede into grayness as a voice alien to him began to infiltrate his mind.

This was not a fate meant for you.

That comforted him, if only a bit.

However, you are welcome here nonetheless.

What did that mean, exactly?  He did not want to stay.

There is no way to reclaim your freedom, nor the life you once knew.

No!  The Bum tried to say, yet he was still rendered mute.

More thoughts persisted.  No, they were not thoughts so much as they were memories. His memories.  And these memories covered the scope of The Bum’s life, from his birth as a child with a stillborn twin, to his recent fall from grace as a degenerate gambler. That particular memory stung.  It was a wound still fresh, his greatest shame, his biggest regret. He had lost everything because of it, and nearly his life.  He had been a fraud to his family.

This nothing-place, which was clearly something if not an actual place, returned to its previous murky black darkness.  It then released him from his suspended state, providing a ground for him to land, which he did intensely hard.  He felt both shoulders pop out of socket as his arms took the brunt of the landing.  This time the clearly malevolent place allowed his scream of sheer agony to sound.  He flailed like a wounded animal. The voice reiterated:

Apologies.  The pain will subside in an instant.

“Thank you.”  The gracious Bum said.

This fate was not meant for you.

“I know.”

You should not have arrived here.

“I’m sorry!”

But since you have, you will remain here for an indeterminate amount of time.  Perhaps forever.

The Bum sobbed uncontrollably.

You will not require sustenance, nor sleep.  Still, it is very likely you will die here.

It paused, allowing The Bum to adapt to the gravity of the situation in which he found himself regrettably and eternally assigned.

Do you know why you are here?

“Yes, because of . . . the satchel . . . and what was inside…”

You have no earthly idea the protocols you have compromised.  The imbalance you have created in your stead.

“I’m . . . s-sorry.”

This fate was not meant for you.


Written in 1999 & 2011. A slightly different version of this story was previously featured in Best Left Buried, a print anthology published in June 2011 by Static Movement, edited by Gregory Miller. This re-published edition exists for electronic access and online archiving, and is intended for reading and reviewing purposes only — any other unauthorized use or dissemination is strictly prohibited.

This edition is copyright © 2016 by Brandon L. Rucker. All Rights Reserved.

Cover designed by Brandon L. Rucker  and copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.

brandonrucker.com | RuckerWrites | @RuckerWrites

Amazon | Smashwords

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