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Cornered

Got a little thing nagging at you? 

Better get it checked before it goes to your head.

Cornered by George Garnet




"Please hold and an officer will be with you soon." The recorded phone message with a soothing feminine voice plays for the thirty-fourth time. I force myself to keep counting as it keeps my brain from exploding. Forty six minutes blink through the cracked screen of my cell phone.

A female voice jolts me back to the moment. After listening to my problem  of suspended payment, she sighs and says she's transferring me to the payroll department of Social Services. Before I can say a word, the line clicks and the soothing voice returns. My head's spinning, last night's crackers wearing off. It's cold and the ruffled blanket I pull up doesn't stop the chill from spreading up my feet. My eyes focus on the ceiling crack above me. Its jagged edges remind me of where my life is now.

A cold, unsympathetic voice intrudes a half-hour later. She can't help me to unlock my account unless I arrange for a new interview. Two more days - the world starts to whirl. I can't survive another day without money, much less two.
Her abrupt explanation sums up my predicament. "New policies. You missed your first interview and need to arrange a new one before we can see if we'll restart your payments, sir."

She hangs up on my mumbling, and I find my phone credits nearly gone. I've been jobless for the last four years. My last two employers sent almost all the jobs abroad, the rest of the openings taken by low-paid immigrants on some dodgy business visa. "Globalization," the boss shrugged. "Try re-inventing yourself."

How many times do I have to invent myself? I'm 61, deaf in my left ear, suffering vertigo and arthritis. I've gone through my last reincarnation. Dropping my useless cell phone to the blanket, its credits gone, it goes dead. I reach for my almost empty angina spray as my chest tightens. My good ear begins to ring, pain shooting down my neck.

As I clench my teeth, my eyes return to the crack on the ceiling. Cracks. Plenty of cracks in my life. You can call me 'Crackie'. Everything is cracked, broken - my marriage, my family, my life; all gone in a dark, deep crack, like in a wide crevice. I'm just clinging to the edge while the whole world's waiting for me to slide down the hole.

Something faint, a premonition turns in my mind. Something flashes like a micro-lightning, neurons making faulty connections in my brain. I shake my head. As if just having woken, I get up off the bed and vertigo hits me like a baseball bat.

Sliding hands over the wall for support, I manage to get to the door and outside to the front yard. It's a grey day, the sun strangled in a thick mantle of clouds. Just yards away is my rusty Toyota buried under a blanket of yellow oak leaves on the street.

The unlocked car door shrieks and I crawl inside. My eyes closed tightly, breathing hard, I wait for the vertigo to pass. The engine starts and I thank God for small miracles.

In front of the rectangular, one-story, beige Social Services building, I wedge my car behind a black Ford, parked yards away from the entrance; eyes firmly fixed on the glass doors, I don't need to wait long.

When a skinny young woman dressed in a formal black suit walks out of the door, I reach for the crowbar under my seat. The gold job tag dangling around her neck tells me all I need to know: Social Services officer. I can't read her name but it doesn't matter anyway.

The slamming of the car door catches her attention. Her eyes widen in horror as I slash her hard across the face. Her willowy body jerks back and the contents of her purse spill on the sidewalk. She drops to the ground soundless, a crimson stain spills from the crack in her face, surrounding her head.

The emptiness inside me spreads as I stare at the crack in her face; another crack in my life. One more doesn't make any difference. The image of the dying woman doesn't bother me. Maybe I'm a psychopath, not just another ordinary killer. I don't care anymore.

I pick up her purse, taking the $75 in cash I find in there.  I bend over, her lips barely moving. "Just needed my payment," I say. "Please hold . . . an officer will be with you soon."

George Garnet's fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of publications such as Switchblade, Mystery Weekly, eFiction Literary, The Dark City Crime and Mystery Magazine, The Literary Hatchet, Heater, Romance Magazine, Needle in the Hay, The Lady in the Loft, GKBC International Short Story Competition Anthology, and elsewhere. He lives in Melbourne.