Naked City is a monthly live literary event held at the Goat Farm in Atlanta. Each month, the hosts reveal the theme for the next month and people sign up for the privelege of getting five minutes to speak, sing, or do whatever on the subject of the theme. Go over your five minutes? Then you must spin the Wheel of Consequences!
Starting in February, I began a writing challenge for myself: A crowd-influenced serial called Noir in the Naked City where, at the end of each episode, the protagonist would be faced with a choice. The audience would make the decision for the character, and then the next episode would be written with that choice in mind AND on the next month’s theme.
Episode Nine: Terror
We emerged into the night, my brother glancing back over his shoulder. We were somewhere on the far outskirts of the city, much farther than I’d anticipated. There were woods nearby. I looked around for Abigail, but couldn’t see her.
“Turn left,” my brother said. I did so and affected the shambling lurch I use for quick locomotion, but then he said “now right!” and I stumbled and fell trying to make the correction.
“This isn’t going to work,” I said from the ground. “You can have speed or quick turns, but you can’t have both. I need to know where we’re going.”
“I don’t know where we’re going yet. I’m trying to throw them off our trail.”
I groaned. My brother. Hadn’t seen him in years, but he hadn’t changed a bit. “Fine. Where did Abigail go?”
“I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. We need to split up for a bit until the heat’s off.”
“For once in your life can you make a decision?” I said through gritted teeth. “I have no idea what’s going on, I’ve got Nazis and cats after me and I’m not sure which is worse. They’ve captured me two or three times and haven’t done anything and now YOU show up insisting that we have to go right now, except you have no plan as to WHERE we should go.”
“I’m sorry, Meyeni,” he began, but I stopped him by getting up and lurching away from him.
“I told you not to call me that.”
I heard silence behind me for a few moments as I trudged away, heading for the woods. More cover there. I thought he might follow me or say something, but the next thing I heard was his retreating footsteps. Good riddance. He bailed me out of that situation, sure, but he sucks at making decisions and that kind of waffling can get you killed pretty quickly.
It was getting dark, the kind of dark that makes your imagination populate every inch of space with your worst fears. Of course in the mood I was in, I probably was someone else’s worst fear. I hated feeling out of control of what was going on around me. I had to find Abigail. I’d been going through the motions with my life for a long time, but here was someone I felt a connection to. It was important.
I heard sounds all around me. The shadows moved and made visibility tricky, but there was plenty to hear and I felt an unfamiliar sensation building within me: actual fear, and I wondered if going into the woods had been a mistake. In general, nothing really scared me. I had a healthy respect for some people and cats made me nervous, of course, but actual fear was new to me. Seeing my brother’s clone and knowing what they were going to do with it was something else altogether, though. The world was changing.
“Detective,” someone said. It was a lingering voice, drawing out the word. I stopped and tried to triangulate the source of the sound. “Detective…” the voice said again. “It’s a tasty offer.” That damn cat.
I considered retorting back, but decided to keep silent. Then I thought I felt something furry brush against my leg and I kicked helplessly out into empty space.
“Detective, you really don’t know what you’re missing,” the cat said. The voice was coming from all different directions.
“Don’t believe him, detective!” That was Abigail. She was close by, but I couldn’t see her. The dense woods, the shadows, masked her from me.
“You probably want to know why we haven’t just taken what we need from you, detective,” the cat went on. “After all, we’ve had you at our mercy several times now. What could you possibly have that we couldn’t have just taken by now?”
“Detective, you’re the biggest fool I’ve ever met, but use your head on this one for a change!” Abigail called out. I wished I knew where all these damn voices were coming from.
“Listen to her, Meyeni,” my brother joined in.
“Your genetic material is invaluable to our plan,” the cat said, clearly moving, slinking through the shadows. “But we could have gotten that anytime. What proof is there that I mean you ill will? What are they so afraid of? Could it be that they don’t want you to get what’s coming to you? What is rightfully yours? Or even just a night of peaceful sleep instead of the nightmares you drink to fight off every evening? We can give you those things.”
The sounds of the night were punctuated by rustlings all around me. The shadows squirmed and mocked my vision. I closed my eyes and tried to picture the scene around me, but the sounds of the night surrounded me and swallowed up the rustling movements of my friends and my enemies alike. I wasn’t even sure which one was which anymore.
“All of you stop it!” I finally yelled.
“Meyeni,” my brother began, and then stopped. “Detective,” he continued, “they are telling you the truth about one and only one thing: the choice in this is yours. They cannot just take what they need. But they will lie to you until their dying breath to convince you to join them, and once you have done so then all is lost. It is true you haven’t always gotten what you deserve, and some of that is my fault. And for that all I can say here and now is…I am sorry.”
I buried my anger at my brother…Prionace…and tried to think.
Just then I heard a snarl and saw the clone leap at my brother, tackling him to the ground. Then I felt a sharp pain in my shoulders as that damn cat jumped up and raked at my back. I reached back, grabbed him, and flung him as far away as I could, but his claws took a chunk of my shoulder with him.
Turning to my right I could just make out the clone, teeth bared, about to tear out my brother’s throat. Abigail was near as well, looking uncharactaristically frightened. I tensed to spring on my brother’s attacker when I saw movement. The Nazi dame stepped out from behind a tree with a pistol aimed at Abigail’s head. I knew I’d never reach them both in time.
Choice: Who does he save?