Authors: Todd Keisling
Tags: #General Fiction
A LIFE TRANSPARENT
Copyright © 2007 by Todd Keisling
First Digital Edition: January 2011
Cover design by Erica Keisling
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owners and the above publisher of this book.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
Prologue: This Banal Coil
1: A Life Ordinary
2: The Flickering
3: Gray Sight
4: The Omitted
7: The Missing
9: The Good Doctor
10: Negative Spaces
11: A State Of Love And Liminality
Epilogue: Life Pitch
About the Author
Albert Sparrow didn’t know the man, which made him easier to kill. Smith huddled near the mouth of the alley, his dirty paws reaching out in supplication to the people passing by. Sparrow admired Smith’s humility even though it would profit him nothing. The man controlling them made it clear: the populace was unable to see them.
“Spare some change?”
Smith’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Lunchtime crowds raced down the sidewalks, busy with daily tasks and self-importance. The smell from a pizzeria across the street carried over, displacing the funk of garbage and exhaust fumes.
Sparrow lifted his tired face to the sunlight, basking in its simple radiance. He licked the air with his tongue, tasting its intricacies. Every moment of freedom from the gray was a cherished blessing. He couldn’t remember how long he’d been trapped there, or what today’s date was. Fortunately, it wouldn’t matter for much longer, not after he’d done what he had to do.
“Anyone? Change for food? Haven’t eaten for days.”
Sparrow tried to ignore Smith’s grating pleas, busying himself with the task at hand. He knelt beside the dumpster and shoved his arm into the dark gap underneath. His fingers blindly searched through the grime that blanketed the alley floor. Where was it? His heart rate rose with nervous fervor. This would be his salvation, and he would have only one chance to do it.
Thoughts of their warden, the Gatekeeper of the Gray, filled him with adrenaline. He would not go back. Not to the fate that awaited him. The master had plans for him. Grand plans. He could hear that monotone voice in his head, booming:
We will shuffle you off your banal coil, Mr. Sparrow, and it will be glorious.
Sparrow’s searching fingers finally skated over the blade. He smiled, pulling the knife from its hiding place. The warden had little control in this colorful void.
“Mister? Coins for a sorry soul?”
Albert Sparrow climbed to his feet, brushing away the grime from his clothing. He took a breath, listening to his heartbeat, and tasting sweet murder on his tongue. Smith continued his futile begging, oblivious to Sparrow’s slow advance toward the mouth of the alley.
Overhead, the sky dimmed. The cars which crowded the street began to fade from view. The people on the sidewalks were as transparent outlines, ghosts wandering a desolate painting of civilization. Sparrow gripped the knife. It was dull, the blade spotted with rust. He stood behind Smith.
“They can’t hear you,” Sparrow said.
“I can try,” Smith said, offering his companion a fleeting glance before his attention returned to the street. The world lightened, flooded once again with color. Cars and people returned in full form. “There’s always hope I can change things.”
Sparrow raised the blade, but hesitated. He almost pitied the man. “We made our choices. Some of us belong here.”
Smith scoffed. “Easy for you to say. You’ve got his favor. The rest of us are going to rot.” He pulled back his sleeve, revealing pale flesh marked with clusters of gray pox. “Bastard’s sucking us dry.”
, he thought. He sliced the air in a short arc, plunging the rusted blade deep into the man’s back.
Smith let out a rattling gasp. He turned, eyes wide in shock, one hand grasping for the weapon. In an act of twisted benevolence Sparrow helped him withdraw the knife, gritting his teeth as blood flowed from the wound.
Sparrow again thrust himself upon the man and pressed the blade against his throat.
“Sorry, friend. You’re my ticket out. I figure murder is random enough to break the strings.” He put force against the handle, inching the blade into Smith’s neck. Sparrow watched as life left the man’s eyes: they dilated, lost focus, and finally went blank. Smith gurgled one final breath. Blood gushed from the wound.
He let go of the knife and stumbled backward—it was done. The sky dimmed, and the world flashed gray. He felt a force wrenching at his stomach, threatening to tear it from him, but after a moment it relented. Crowds and traffic reappeared. Sparrow sucked in the air as if for the first time.
Sparrow calmed himself, methodically wiping Smith’s blood on his pant leg before walking out of the alleyway toward traffic.
The voice coming from behind him was unmistakable—the warden, his master. In the gray world it would’ve boomed across the heavens, through the very fibers of his being. Here in the real world, full of its wonderful colors and depth, his master’s voice was but a whisper on the breeze, a tickle at the back of his neck.
You are breaking the rules, Mr. Sparrow.
But Sparrow was running, and he would not look back.
Donovan Candle’s alarm sounded at 6:30 AM. He stirred in his sleep, eyes fluttering behind their lids as the blaring noise rose in waves of stabbing intensity. He struggled to keep himself wrapped in the warmth of sleep, treading the peaceful waters of an otherwise vivid dream.
Donna’s elbow promptly connected with his ribs. His eyes flew open, and his hand found the alarm. After switching it off, Donovan rose, saw the time, and frowned. He’d already lost two minutes of his morning.
He was careful not to disturb Donna, whose alarm was set to wake her at 6:45. She justified those fifteen minutes, saying she needed them on account of beauty rest, and he didn’t argue with her. Donovan paused at the door and looked over at her sleeping face. He smiled, and made his way to the bathroom.
An unsettling feeling rose suddenly within the pit of his stomach. It caught him off guard, a sensation that felt like clammy fingers curling around his insides, tugging. He put a hand to his belly and waited for it to pass.
What the hell was that?
he wondered. The sensation relented, giving way to a low rumble of hunger. It was still a while before breakfast, and so he busied himself with a shower and shave.
Donna was awake when he finished, as evidenced by the sound of the coffee maker gurgling downstairs. The scent of frying eggs made his stomach growl. He went to the bedroom, saw the time was 6:53, and began to dress in his Monday clothes: a dark green Oxford, khakis, black belt, and matching shoes tied left foot first. His watch struck 7:00 as he fastened its band. He smiled.
Right on schedule
, he thought, and wandered downstairs for breakfast.
Donna greeted him with bleary eyes, a tender smile, and a kiss. He poured himself a cup of coffee, took a seat at the table, and folded a napkin on his lap. That odd pull in his stomach resurfaced briefly, but he forgot it as Donna brought over the frying pan and served his eggs.
“There’s bacon on the stove, too.” She returned to the counter and placed the pan in the sink.
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
Two pieces of toast popped out of the toaster. Donna tossed them onto a plate and returned to the table. “I’m starting a diet today.”
“A diet?” He took a bite of eggs and dabbed his chin with his napkin. Donna nibbled her toast.
“Yeah,” she said. “I want to lose a few pounds.”
“I think you look great, honey.”
don’t.” She took another bite of toast. They finished breakfast in silence. When he was done, Donovan took his plate to the sink, poured himself a second cup of coffee, and went for the newspaper. He checked his watch again. It was 7:22.
When he returned to the kitchen, he kissed Donna once more.
She blushed. “What was that for?”
“Nothing,” he said. “I can just tell today’s going to be a good day.”
He nodded. “It’s just a feeling, I guess. Besides, everything’s still on schedule, so that always makes for a good day.”
Donna chuckled. He delighted in her laughter. The sound of it made his heart skip a beat, and always brought a smile to his face. A good morning indeed. Still grinning, Donovan sat and unfolded his newspaper. There wasn’t much worth reading—mostly articles about local politics, the announcement of a new reality television show’s premiere, rising taxes, falling stocks, and so on. He beamed when he saw a familiar advertisement:
Has your identity been compromised? We can help!
Contact Identinel, your security sentinel.
He’d worked for the company going on nine years, although it had been a bumpy road at first. Fresh out of college, he’d quickly learned that an English degree was useless. The liberal arts were sinking fast, and needing something to make ends meet, Donovan had finally taken a low-end position in the sales department of Identinel. Nine years later, he’d managed to work his way up the corporate ladder rung by agonizing rung, and now he was a team leader in his department. Sometime soon, hopefully tomorrow, he would receive another promotion. Spotting their latest ad in the paper was a good omen. He skimmed the rest of the paper and finished off his coffee.
He passed the newspaper down to her and shook his head.
“Same ol’, same ol’.”
The microwave clock read 7:39, which Donovan confirmed with his watch. If he left now, he’d make it to the office with a good twenty minutes or so to spare. His punctuality could earn him a few points when it came time for his review.
“I think I’m going to leave early today, hon.”
“What’s the rush?”
“No rush,” he said, rising from the table. He took his jacket from the back of the chair and put it on. “That review’s tomorrow. I want to impress Butler.”
She snorted. “I hope he paid attention this time.”
Donovan shared his wife’s disdain. Impressing Butler was no easy task, given his inflated sense of self-accomplishment, but Donovan had proven himself reliable and earned the highest sales record for four years in a row. How could he
have earned this promotion?
“I’d better be going,” he said.
“Don’t forget to charge the cell phone.”
He double-checked his pocket, nodding as the phone knocked against his car keys. Donovan had resisted acquiring one for as long as he could, but Donna wore down his arguments, and they’d settled on a pre-paid model. A new addition to his morning routine, he struggled to remember it needed charging. The damn thing drained its battery almost every day.
Donna’s attention remained with the newspaper. “Have a good day, dear.”
“What, no kiss?”
She looked up at him, arching an eyebrow.
“You’ll get more than that tonight, Donnie.”
Donovan grinned, leaning over to kiss her. He felt a flush of heat in his cheeks. He loved it when she called him Donnie.
“Hold that thought,” he told her, and opened the door. Their brown-haired Persian, Mr. Precious Paws, scampered out past him, furry head and tail held high.
Excuse me, your highness
, Donovan thought, winking at Donna before closing the door behind him.
He stood on the porch for the moment and breathed in the crisp, morning air. That phantom hand tugged at his gut for only a moment and then it was gone. Donovan steadied himself. He looked up. The sky was clear. Birds chirped overhead.