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!
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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 Eleven: Strength
I allowed the old man to lead me away from the killing field. The codger moved with a surprisingly swift stride for someone who looked as feeble as he did.
“Hurry along, Detective,” he said, looking over his shoulder. “It wouldn’t do to be caught here now.”
I tried to match his speed, but my heart just wasn’t in it. I couldn’t even figure out why I was so upset. I’d barely known her and it wasn’t like we’d ever had time to have a conversation that didn’t hinge on running from the bad guys. It probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. Sour grapes taste great in moments like this.
We hurried past the building where they’d been keeping us just a few hours ago and proceeded down a rough path. I could see the main road from where we were, but we seemed to be avoiding it. At last we came to a small shack. It was the stereotypical shack – front porch with columns holding up a sagging roof, shingles peeling, and a rocking chair. It may have even been painted a dingy green color, but it was hard to tell in the dark.
The old man opened the door and stood aside for me to enter before him. I shambled across the threashold and promptly allowed myself to collapse on the hard wooden plank floor. The man came in, lit a lantern, and closed the curtains.
“Would you like something to drink, Detective?”
I considered it. In most aspects of life there’s what you want and what you’re prepared to live with. What I wanted was something nice and toxic, something that would kill a few brain cells and put contracts out for the rest. What I was prepared to live with was water, so that’s what I asked for. I had a feeling we weren’t out of the woods yet.
The man brought me my water and I dragged myself into a sitting position. I stared into the glass, but didn’t drink.
“You said I had something important to do,” I finally managed.
“Oh, I just said that to get you away from there,” the old man said, sitting down and sipping from his own glass of water.
“Who are you?” I asked, starting to get angry.
“That is a very complicated question. I am many things. But from your perspective the most important thing I am is the man who created you.”
I’d always heard the phrase “go to meet your maker,” but I’d never imagined it would happen so literally.
“This is crazy,” I said. “If they have you, what could they possibly want me for?”
“Well, first of all they don’t know who I am any more than you do. I got wind that they were attempting to replicate my experiments and managed to infiltrate their ranks by presenting myself as a cat lover. All those years volunteering at the Humane Society really paid off there.”
“And second?” I asked.
“Second, you have something that even I don’t have. It’s what they’ve wanted from you all along, but they couldn’t just take it. They had to win you over. I’ll have to say they’ve done a remarkably poor job of it.”
“And what’s that?”
“Detective, you aren’t living up to your title very well. Aren’t you supposed to be good at piecing the puzzle together? I’ll give you a hint. I cloned you by crossing your father’s genes with those of a stingray.”
“That’s a terrible hint. I already knew that. It’s why my bones are so flexible and why it’s a pain in the ass to walk anywhere,” I snapped.
“And how many other stingray/human hybrids would you say are in the world?”
“I dunno. Just me, I suppose.”
“At the moment you are correct, however at one time there were three,” the old man said.
“As I said, this is crazy. What about my brother? He’s a shark/human hybrid, and they cloned him. What does any of this have to do with me?”
“You saw how uncontrolled that clone was. Your brother was complicit in their scheme at first, but had a change of heart after he saw the results of his clone. That’s why they needed you. They were counting on your hatred of your brother to get you to come over to their side,” the old man said. “Because you had that precious thing that couldn’t come from any other source: experience.”
“Every species has a set of instructions in its DNA for what to do – building the body, basic movement, essential survival, and so on. But, especially in more advanced species, the individual must be instructed on HOW to do those things. They have the potential, but not the ability. They can survive, but they can’t thrive. That’s why there aren’t three of your kind any more – the others didn’t manage to learn how to be stingray/human hybrids before they got killed. You did. You figured it out. That was your great strength that they needed. And this whole affair has been designed to get you to come over to their side and teach the army of clones they wanted to create how to do it themselves.”
“And what am I supposed to do now?” I couldn’t stand this conversation. I would have almost preferred to be back with the cat. “And what about the cat?” I interjected.
“Another of my creations, although he doesn’t know it,” the old man sighed. “You know how cats are. They always have to be in charge. This one is just a bit more ruthless about it than most.”
“Only a bit,” I said, but it was a halfhearted joke.
“Detective, I know this is difficult for you, but you need to be strong,” the old man said.
He was right. But I was tired of being strong. I just wanted to go home, crawl into a saltwater bath, and intoxicate myself for the foreseeable future. It wouldn’t help, but it was better than listening to this old geezer prattle on.
“Perhaps this will help,” the man said, laying a pistol on the floor next to me.
“What, you want me to off myself?” I asked.
“No. This was Lila’s pistol.”
“Our Nazi co-conspirator,” he replied.
“But how did you get it?” I asked. I picked it up and examined it. It hadn’t been fired. “I don’t understand. She shot Abigail with it, didn’t she?”
Just then there was a knock at the door.
This was the concluding chapter of Noir in the Naked City. At the end, instead of giving the audience the usual binary choice to make about where to go next, I opened it up for others to continue the story. If you’re reading this and want to contribute the next chapter, just show up to the next Naked City event and bring it! February 2015’s theme is Restraint. Have fun!