Dues of Mortality





Cleveland, Ohio 2021

The news would probably call it a result of posttraumatic stress disorder, with Clyde having seen combat and all. Or more likely, the coroner’s report would say it. The terribly tragic story of another homeless corpse wasn’t exactly a reason to cut into the coveted primetime webisodes. He’d be lucky to get a couple of lines in the obit section of the Plain Dealer. This was assuming, of course, anyone found his body…or for that matter, even heard the shot; shit, three square blocks of this neighborhood could be blown to smithereens without anyone so much as complaining about the noise. In any event, it appeared imagination would, once again, be the sacrificial lamb to almighty convenience. Dammit all. Shooting himself he could handle, but being cliché…that might sting a bit. Preferably, the bullet would enter just above the tonsils and exit through the back of his skull, splattering a healthy mass of gray matter against the crumbling drywall. There was a small margin of error, but if he did it right, it would be quick and hopefully painless.

He wasn’t wearing a comwatch or anything, but if his hemorrhoids were any indication, he’d been warming the corner floor the better part of the morning. His brain channel surfed at a queasy speed; he couldn’t focus for shit. He clawed at his chest, feeling faint, and a droplet of rusty water splattered on his nose. I can do this, he thought. I’m supposed to…obviously! Why else would he have found the gun when he did? A person in his condition didn’t just happen upon a .38 caliber off-ramp by accident.

Jesus! He dug the barrel into his temple. Just pull the trigger.

The cold metal scraped a purple blotch beneath his right eye.


What happened last night?

* * *

Thirty-six Hours Ago


Having to be anywhere near the place was absolutely despicable. Not because Gabriel’s three-hundred-dollar Italian shoes had to clap through a stronghold, housing enough weaponized agents, biological toxins, and their by-products to wipe out nearly half the planet, but the people he had to contend with were just plain nauseating. That Japanese mafioso was hooked on the very narcotics he sold—disgustingly unprofessional, and that moronic prince from the Middle East—a thuggish little dick completely enamored with his own voice. Gabriel didn’t mind that they were draconian cutthroats masquerading as diplomats and public or religious servants. Shit no. He made his living keeping such human refuse out of prison, and made sure they remained free to torment their respective societies for years to come. It was the fact that they were just so…disingenuous about themselves. Naturally, they couldn’t reveal to those “respective publics” that they were self-preserving murderers and abusers of power; Gabriel understood that. He wasn’t exactly upfront with the press about his own dubious nature. But when you’re trolling around a facility that isn’t supposed to exist, and buying weapons that aren’t supposed to exist, with money that wasn’t supposed to exist, was there really a need for such abundant pretense? What an irksome waste of time! All the goddamn handholding these tinhorns required was out-and-out maddening. They wanted proof that someone with a direct line to Wallace was overseeing the process. They wanted to make sure someone cared enough to do things right. Christ! As if Wallace or anyone in charge gave a flea’s fart about their pointless cause, their temporary government, or their fucking foreign rebellion.

“We’ve increased the potency of the toxin so you can minimize the delivery system,” Gabriel assured the general’s attaché.

            “Good,” the pearly-toothed woman answered. “It should give us the last bit of leverage we need to put our demands on the prime minister’s list of priorities.”

            Smart move, on the general’s part, to send such a pouty-lipped and leggy woman from—where was it?—Uganda or something like that—to tie up the deal. Otherwise, Gabriel might’ve passed her off to the head lab-man and been on his way back to Cleveland. He was anxious to see how the untested unit was blending with its surroundings. Maybe if he played it right, he could snag a quick lay after sealing things up. It was the least she could do.

* * *

In one of the many small, eastside Cleveland suburbs sat the horrific eyesore of an abandoned duplex on the corner of a rundown residential street. The broken concrete steps looked as deadly to approach as the front porch, with its rotted boards and three cracked pillars. There wasn’t a single square inch of paint that wasn’t chipped or peeling, and every window on the bottom apartment was sealed with sheets of compressed wood. Clyde was trying to remember how he got to be standing on its front walk, but gave up when he realized he didn’t really care where he passed out; never did.

Around back, more boards, black with mildew, covered a basement window. A couple of good kicks and they were easy access. The trick was to make it inside without falling and smacking his face like he did earlier coming out of the liquor store. That’s fucked up; fall on your face one day and you’re tiptoeing around sidewalk seams for the next two. But this house wouldn’t let him fall. They were kindred. They were the same—tired, weak, broken down and completely useless. Yeah, they were soul mates. Stuffing Grandpa Willie’s old baseball cap into his coat pocket, he slipped while squeezing himself through the window and fell hard on his ass. The basement was like a murky cave that gave him the feeling that a storm of squeaking , leather-winged bats might burst from shadows, at any second and carry him off. The house was at least ninety years old, and no one had lived inside for a good thirty. Guess the great economic expansion wave swerved when it hit this place. He fumbled in the inky space until something hard and stationary punched his ribs. He hooked it like a drowning man reaching for a life preserver. The blindfold of darkness was beginning to tear and he could just make out the staircase linked to what had to be the banister in his arms. Two deep breathes of determination and up he lagged.

The inside of the place made the outside look like something out of House Beautiful. What was left of the ceilings ran brown with water stains. Old scraps of curling wallpaper looked like they were trying to escape the layers of remaining plaster. The floor was missing a few boards, so he had to watch his step. In his drunken stupor, he could easily step into a seven-foot drop back to the basement. The worst of it was the damp musty stench that clung in the air. A mélange of rotted wood and rat droppings attacked his lungs with all the mercy of the Japanese on Pearl Harbor. He chuckled between retches.

“In a world of shit now,” he coughed.

Then he felt the wave wash upward and he began to sweat. Dropping to his knees and leaning over one of the larger holes in the floor, Clyde heaved violently; his eyes nearly spurting from their sockets. Echoes of vomit splattering against the cement basement floor reminded him of sausage frying, which added an extra wring in the pit of his stomach. Afterwards, empty and exhausted, a dry corner of the room appeared to him like a blissful desert oasis. He crawled over and crumpled into it with the wispiness of a dust bunny, in hopes that tomorrow’s sunrise would be kind enough to pass him by.

“Hold it!” a voice exploded, cutting through Clyde's short hours of heavy slumber like a jackhammer through concrete.

During the night, wood rot had claimed another victim among the boarded windows and the sounds tailed in on the morning breeze.

“I said hold it, you little shit!”

The voice made Clyde’s head feel like a basketball being dribbled down court. He warily pushed himself to his feet. Just barely able to stand, let alone walk, he stumbled over to the sounds of running footfalls along the side of the house. Looking down, out of the window, he spotted the frame of a boy who couldn’t have been more than thirteen or fourteen, zip through the small alleyway between the house and the old brick building next door. To the rear of the building, a trash dumpster gave him the barest pause as he lobbed something into it. He then springboarded for the chain-link fence that divided the property from the adjacent street. A misshapen piece of fencing caught his ankle like a bear trap, and it wasn’t long before a huffing, burly policeman had him by the scruff of the neck.

“Little bastard,” the policeman said, panting uncontrollably and visibly angered that the would-be thief had incurred such extreme physical exertion. “Bet if I snapped ya’ legs off, you'd think twice about running!”

“Fuck you, man,” the boy hollered back. “I ain’t do nothing!”

The instant Clyde saw the police uniform he plunked beneath the window and peered cautiously over the sill, praying that he hadn’t been spotted. He wasn’t in the mood to get rousted. He’d filled his weekly quota of dodging suburbanite cops with hard-ons for the homeless. All he had to do was avoid the main streets at night, keep panhandling to a minimum, and make occasional use of public restrooms and shelters to maintain a look that might have said mental case, but at least it didn’t say vagrancy. He stayed put until he saw the boy thrown into the back of a squad car and the policeman had driven away. He bobbled his head to throw off the cobwebs and the jerky movement was inharmonious to his hangover, making him see spots. One of them, though, was more like a sparkle of light, like what came from whatever that kid had tossed into the dumpster. He fell once, trying to stand, and then lumbered outside.

Stolen jewelry, computer link; what was it? He thrashed around inside the dumpster until he spotted what looked like metal sandwiched inside an old copy of Nation World Weekly—a tabloid often better for crude insulation and toilet paper than reading. It turned out to be one of those ancient .38 caliber revolvers, like the one that belonged to his grandfather. He’d bought his back in the 1970s, because it was what all the TV cops carried back then. Such a relic wouldn’t even scare off a schoolyard bully today. Modified bolt guns—essentially low velocity MAGs (magnetic accelerator or rail guns) and their ill-gotten, offshoots were the weapons of choice between your average street punks and gang members. Next to the gun was an oddly-shaped piece of metal, which he also retrieved. It was a cylindrical stem, roughly five inches long, with a series of individual rotors—an automatic powered lockpick—state-of-the-art, designed to simultaneously decode an interior locking matrix on most dual action locks while determining the pin setting. In a sense, it literally made the correct key, electronic or otherwise from inside the lock. The kid looked too young to be a professional. He probably had an apprenticeship with a local crew. Those punks had gotten awfully organized in the past few years, co-opting tricks of the trade from the pros and fortifying themselves with ex-gang muscle. They’d committed a shitload of high-scoring robberies, had every homeowner in the suburbs with more than an acre-and-a-half cashing out their kids’ college funds for security upgrades. Clyde toyed with the idea of using it, and then pictured himself getting shot by a retired investment broker’s twenty-one-year-old trophy wife. It may be worth selling, at least. He stuffed the boy’s objects into the pocket of his dirty jacket and dragged himself back into the house.

The water dripped steadily from the ceiling. It had been raining almost an hour now and the moisture was drawing out even more of that insufferable mold. He watched the rain dousing the floor beneath the glassless window. The dismal gray skies almost made it appear as if a new day had never come. All the better. He could see himself too well during the day. Night was a simple exercise of determining shadows—using shards of wayward light to give him direction without demanding judgment on the parts of him that had been exposed to the cruelty of daylight. Clyde was still hunkered into the corner of the south bedroom, in communion with the revolver in his right hand. He kept polishing it against his shirt, not able to understand why it felt better to have it in the palm of his hand rather than the fold of his jacket. He could feel every ounce of the steel, almost as if it had gotten heavier with each squeeze of the handle. He angled the barrel so he could see the bullets’ points down the right side of the chamber. A static charge surged through his chest and each breath he drew seemed shorter than the next. His skin and extremities tingled. He shook like a naked child in a snowstorm. Memories coalesced, peppering his brain like hailstones—a psychotropic montage of unforgivable sin…and incontestable failure.

How he welcomed it, encouraged it, rallied the pain like a rebellious army, collecting it to full capacity until the very weight of it crushed him like a grape. The trigger would practically pull itself. He slid the barrel under his chin, indenting his flesh. Tepid tears tracked his cheeks, searing his frayed skin.

He said, “I’m sorry, Momma.”






Soar   Soar wrote
on 10/4/2008 8:52:44 AM
It is gripping Jason. I can't wait to read the book. It was a pleasure meeting you last night as well as the "rest of the family". It was awesome to be able to actually visualize the written words as I read the sampling. You were able to capture life as it really is.

RaymondSpringer   RaymondSpringer wrote
on 7/14/2008 9:39:33 PM
I loved it Jason. I can see why you won 1st place. It is full of emotions of life on the streets. I can't wait to read the book.

Novel / Novella
writing ClydeFisk
Stan Lee is the greatest of all time!!!
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Rating: 10.0/10

This is the first chapter of my novel Dues of Mortality. It is a near-future thriller!
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