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By Enzo Stephens
Archie Bamberg stepped to the rear of the crowd of pedestrians waiting for the ‘walk’ signal to cross the busiest pedestrian intersection in downtown Pittsburgh — Liberty Avenue and Stanwix.
It was 8 am on a Monday and the day promised to be wonderfully pleasant weather-wise; bright cerulean skies with wispy tatters of clouds riding light spring winds, and Archie was truly digging the crisp morning, his Rockin’ Joe’s cold brew clenched firmly in his left fist.
Bus after bus after bus plowed through the intersection, all stopping along the same stretch of curb, and of course, backing traffic up from here to hell and back as well as obstructing the crosswalk, which is really where Archie wanted to go.
The WALK sign flashed and the crowd surged forward to cross the intersection; people meandering side to side to allow folk from the other side to get through, and everyone wending their way around the obnoxious people-movers that farted suffocating diesel fumes.
Archie took his time, sipped his cold brew — DEE-Frigging-LISH baby — and stepped off the curb just as the last bus in line pulled away, lyrics from that amazing Metallica song reverberating in his head from last night.
For Whom the Bell Tolls. Dynamite song, although it is somewhat dated, and Archie listened to it probably a couple thousand times. One lyric, in particular, bounced around in his cranium over and over again — Take a look to the sky just before you die. It’s the last time you will.
Damned straight skippy.
And that’s precisely what Archie intended to do.
Right this very moment, in fact. Right here and now I do declare, this be the funky beat of the year!
Archie stopped right in the exact center of the busiest intersection in the entire downtown Pittsburgh area, oblivious to both foot and vehicular traffic leaned down to set his Rockin’ Joe’s cold brew on the pavement, took off his shoes and dropped into a very comfortable cross-legged sitting position. He picked his coffee up and slurped it noisily.
Cars tooted horns; all with places to go and people to see and tons of shit to do.
Buses bleated angrily. Archie was NOT a fan of them thar buses. But everything has a place in this world.
He buried his index finger up his nose, rooted around in there a bit, felt his fingernail latch onto something big and healthy and began the process of extraction. One had to be patient with this process so as to not break it up into pieces. A big booger is something to be proud of.
It came out with a kind of popping sound and Archie studied it resting on his finger. Yep, that was a good one all right. He replaced his cold brew to the ground and pulled a tissue from his pocket — a fine receptacle for that gorgeous booger, and then replaced the tissue.
From the same pocket came a small glass bottle with a white spritzing apparatus attached to the top. There was a clear plastic cap over the spritzer. The bottle’s fluid capacity was about three ounces, but there certainly wasn’t three ounces of fluid in the bottle currently residing in Archie’s hand. Maybe about half that, maybe less.
Archie held the bottle up to his eye-level and studied the hazardous material warning labels, and there were plenty of them, including the red crossbones and skulls and, well, pretty much whatever could be plastered all over the bottle to just let the entire world know how truly dangerous this fluid shit really is.
Bacillus Anthracis. Anthrax in a handy-dandy spritzer bottle. Bad, bad shit, but if anything could be said about Archie it would be this — the dude was always prepared! The Boy Scouts of America could learn a lesson or two from ye olde Arch-man.
Getting hold of this shizzle was the only crime Archie had ever committed, but it really was a doozie; a culmination of years of meticulous planning and execution. Archie would never, ever share his secrets, but oh yeah, he was surely happy as a clam that he was able to pull this one off. The reward sloshed around in a heavy glass bottle.
The original intent was to sell it to some middle-eastern country with the goal of maybe those lunatics wiping themselves out.
Or not. Maybe it wasn’t the best of ideas, but nonetheless, ye olde Arch-man made it happen.
Archie added the spritzer, and it was pure genius.
He may have infected himself, but frankly Scarlett, I don’t give a damn. Nor should he, what with all the rogue cells in his body wreaking havoc.
Cancer is purely a complete redefinition of suckitude. So maybe croaking from Anthrax might be interesting. If he was indeed infected.
Archie smiled, more to himself than anybody else, but people noticed as they strode past him, some brushing him as they swept past. And oh yeah, the intersection had degenerated into a crazed cluster of traffic doing everything they could to get past the loon parked on the pavement sipping his cold brew.
A sudden blast of pain surged up through his torso, wiping that smile right off Archie’s face, and he cried out. He did manage to save his Rockin’ Joe’s special though, so there was that wonderfulness.
The Metallica lyrics rolled around his head again and he began mouthing the words to that quite memorable tune as he decided that sitting would not enable him to look to the sky as the lyric suggested, so he lay on his back, head resting lightly on the unyielding pavement.
“Somebody call the cops on this fucking fruit loop already!”
Sure, go for it, and Archie smiled again as he gazed up into the endless blue depths of the sky.
“So, Mister Bamberg…”
Archie was nervous, but he tried to play it off as nonchalance; studying the fake potted palm tree placed between two floor-to-ceiling windows. Doctor Yan’s desk, replete with potted bamboo plants; a blotter wearing dozens of coffee mug rings; miscellaneous pens and pencils; a portable charging cable; and a laptop with a 20-inch close-up of a pink pig; was positioned dead-center of the two windows. The afternoon light was muted and gray casting his Asian features in shadow.
“Mister Bamberg? Sir?”
“What? Yes yes, what’s up, Doctor Yip?”
He cleared his throat. “It’s Doctor Yan.”
“Yes, of course.”
Soulless. A Man of Science. Go piss up a rope Doctor Ching Chang.
“So I have some preliminary results here Mister—”
“Archie. And I have to say, they are not good.”
“How preliminary and why are they not good?”
“Well sir, you have cancer.” Doctor Yan paused, removing his glasses and gazing at Archie.
“Do you guys go to acting school to learn how to deliver crap like that and actually look like you give a shit?”
“Eat shit. Just tell me how bad it is so we can move on with our day already.”
He put his glasses back on and swung his chair over to face his laptop; the picture of the pig disappeared. He typed and clicked and spun the magic mouse wheel and lines of junk spun up, down and all around the screen, and it was clear to Archie that this guy wanted nothing to do with delivering this news whatsoever. He peered over the top of his specs at Archie. “It’s bad. Varying stages, but several cancers are in Stage 4. And it’s just about everywhere. We haven’t scanned your brain so I don’t know if it’s there.
“Honestly, I’m pretty sure I’ve not seen anything quite as aggressive as this.”
Archie crossed his legs and belched. “When you said everywhere…?”
“Pancreas, stomach, kidney, blood, lung, throat. It’s like you’ve been doused in a bath of cancer.”
“Is that a joke? Did you just crack a joke, Doctor Nippy?”
“—Cuz, if you did that, was a damned unfunny joke, brother. Know what I’m saying? That was a damned stupid joke. Was it even a joke?”
The good doctor just hung out in his chair to let Archie blow off his steam. Smart dude. Yeah, Archie would give him that. He knew when to shut his hole. Archie stopped talking and the silence in the room stretched out to seemingly mammoth proportions.
“I’d like to start you on an aggressive treatment program. We’ll also furnish an emotional therapist to help you deal with this. Make no mistake sir, this is life-changing.”
Archie slapped the arms of the vanilla, hospital-issue chair with the requisite shitty worthless padding and stood up. “It’s life-ENDING ya fuck-wit! How much time do I have without all this Wunderbar treatment, eh Doc Doodles?”
He cleared his throat again, and Archie wanted to punch him there; make him swallow his tongue. Tongue? Did Archie have cancer of the tongue too? Is that why everything tasted like shit lately? Not like Archie made it a point to feast on shit.
“Weeks. Maybe a month. Five weeks.”
“And what makes you think I want to spend that time plopped in one of your gawd-awful beds sucking on tubes and dealing with catheters up my doink and a shit-bag and nurses and aides that treat you like a piece of rotting meat and especially you ass-happy doctors that think you’re the shit with your condescension? Huh?”
“Mister Bamberg, it’s your choice—”
“—Damned straight skippy, and I’m exercising that freedom-of-choice now and blowing this fudge-factory.”
That was then.
Archie made it to six weeks, begorrah-be-damned, and seriously, he maybe could have made it to seven or even eight. But when the puck goes in the net, it’s a frigging GOAL, and there’s no taking that bitch off the board; there’s no miracle rescue for ye olde Arch-man, so on this bright and beautiful fine-assed Monday morning in the ole ‘Burgh, the ole Arch-man decided to heed the words of that mighty sage from Metallica and…
Take a look to the sky just before you die.
And damn was that sky all kinds of pretty.
A deep, gut-wrenching cough heaved itself up from the depths of his anatomy and a huge gob of coppery-tasting liquid plopped into his mouth. He turned his head and yakked it out and a woman uttered “Dude! That’s totally gross, man.”
“So is your momma.”
The sky was just so gorgeous. That guy from Metallica was just so on point. Someone booted Archie’s right foot. “C’mon fella, get up.”
“Yeah, let’s go, pal.”
Archie looked toward his feet, spotting two uniformed policemen. He laid his head back down. “Nah. I don’t think so.”
“C’mon mister. You’re holding up traffic here; creating a problem. Not the kind of thing folks want to deal with at the start of their workday, right?”
“They’ll get over it.”
The officers stood on either side of Archie, looking down on him. “What’s your name, pal?”
“Okay, then Pal. Either you move or we move you, straight into holding for obstruction and resisting.”
Archie held up the small glass bottle for the two men to see. He pulled the cap off, letting it tinkle on the pavement.
“Well shit Carl, we’re gonna have to move him.”
“Touch me and I start spritzing.” He rested his forefinger on the top of the spritzing apparatus for emphasis.
“Big deal, Pal. So we’ll get wet—”
“Hang on, Mike. Look at all the warning shit on that bottle.”
Both men turned to stare at Archie. “Pal, why not tell us what’s in the bottle, okay?”
“Bacillus anthracis. Spritz, spritz.”
The officers looked at each other. “Did he just say…?”
They looked down at Archie, eyes wide in horror. He nodded. “All I want to do is to stay here and look at the sky and be left alone. Can you do that for me? Make sure I’m left alone?”
One officer stepped away, thumbing the mic at his shoulder and speaking rapidly as the other officer backed up a couple steps.
“Sure, Pal. Look, don’t do nothing crazy.”
“Then back the hell off and leave me alone.” And back off they did. And then there were sirens and lights and frantic people running all around, but Archie was just a little island of isolation, and that was just fine and dandy with him.
His vision blurred and jumbled with tears because the sky with all its amazing beauty and glory blazed down at him and he wondered why he never took the time to truly appreciate it; the flitting clouds that seemed to set the stage for happiness; the gentle breezes that ruffled his hair and touched his skin and whisked his smelly farts away.
All because of that awesome sky. So big. So vast. So endless. Archie coughed again and his body curled into a fetal position from the stunning pain and a flood of mucus and blood spilled from his mouth.
The pain relented and Archie rolled to his back, wiping his eyes so he could see. And there, moving with deceptive splendor was a huge airplane. Archie could see the belly of it; could almost see the rivets that held the fuselage together…
And then Archie was gone, bottle of anthrax rolling away from his lifeless fingers. Spritz, spritz.
Please visit Enzo on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011