Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Suspense

S is for Suspense.

    I know I cant get enough of it!  From Shyamalan to Hitchcock, King, Deaver, Crichton or Abrams. How about some Spielberg and then far back to Stoker.  I love all these storytellers and many more.  A common thread among them...they know how to do suspense.  Something I hope to perfect in my writing one day.

Seventeen Years and Counting, a short story I did for a writing group a few years back.  My shot at the "Global Warming/Global Catastrophe" genre.

‘It can’t be…’ It took all of Lt. Col. John Doran’s Marine training to maintain the level of calm it took to sign for the package and not drop it on delivery.

“We don’t get many of these down at the Post Office.  Post dated 17 years past.” The elder mailman nodded to the package.  “Family or something?”  The old letter carrier continued, but received no response from the obdurate looking Marine.  Looked like the girls back in sorting weren’t going to get their answer on this one.  “Well, you have a good day now, Lt. or at least it will be till that storm comes through.” 

The lieutenant didn’t hear the Mailman or the following creak of the back gate before the delivery truck pulled away.  He held a ghost in his hands and for the first time since he was twenty-three, he was hoping beyond all hope it was just his big brother Jack saying ‘boo’ one last time.

‘Feels too damn heavy to be just a ‘boo’.’  John sat down on the back porch stoop where he stood.  The slightly yellowed U.S Mail first class was smaller than a bread box, but bigger than John’s entire world.  At least it was now. 

‘Big brother always wanted the last word.’ A sardonic smirk holding no mirth lifted his lip, and then was gone.

Holding his breath he tore the seal.  A thick manila envelope and a smaller white letter slid from their seventeen year long slumber and into his lap.  John picked up the letter first and flicked open his knife with a practiced hand, slitting it open and pulling out its contents... 

“So little brother, I guess I’m dead.  I’d say it could be worse, but it is.  I failed…” 

John dropped his hands and the letter into his lap then closed his eyes tight.  His chest pulling tight so much so he could not breathe.  This could not be, but it could.  It had always been a possibility Dr. Jack Doran, famed and unflappable astrophysicist, had not succeeded on his mission to save the world, but said world had happily let that thought pass from their mind when Jack’s last radio message from space was “Mission accomplished.”   

The world had let those nail-biting hours of history seventeen years ago, become just that—history and moved on.  But John never forgot.  How did you forget your big brother died a hero, flying an experimental air craft into the depths of space in order to save the world from a future in a microwave?   His brother was the brains behind the ‘big save’ of mankind.  The man who put sunscreen on Earths thinning ozone.  He was a brilliant scientist with no rival.  He was a visionary.  He was a…      

The wind around him began to pull at the paper in his hand and dance the chimes hanging from the porch roof above.  Eyes snapping open to a troubled midday sky, something clicked inside John’s memory.   

This was the third lightning storm expected this week, the tenth so far in this abnormally hot month of May, and it was expected to be severe.  ‘Just been one of those sort of seasons’, or so the weathermen preached this year, but it was one of those sort of seasons last year and the year before.  Maybe John and the next guy down the street had noticed, but let it pass for the daily strains and responsibilities of day to day.  Or maybe they’d been afraid to see evidence that ‘the big save’ wasn’t a save at all.  Mission not accomplished, not by a long shot. 

“Son of a Bitch!” John growled, the letter crumpling in his grasp.  “My brother, the self-righteous son of a bitch.”  A moment of incredulous silence passed before John began to read again. 

“I’m sorry I was not able to bring you this message in person, though I believe you would have reacted the same.  If I had died during my mission, I’m certain it was after the deployment of the payload into the Earths outer atmosphere and its failure to disband...” 

“Why not tell us there was a possibility then?” John yelled at the writer of the letter in his hand.  “Why send me a letter now?”   

“I didn’t tell Mission command, my dear Sally or you this could come to pass for this reason and this reason alone.  I wanted to give all of you seventeen more years.   

I knew if I had failed and did not return, this letter would come to you after the Sun’s first noticeable ill affects on Earth.  By now climate changes have begun to become more severe and the governments of Earth are running low on excuses to give.  When I left you little brother, you were a MIT grad contemplating the life of a jarhead.  Something I hope you had not decided…” Doran snorted then shook his head.  “Maybe you are now one of those keepers of secrets from the many, like I once was.  However it may be, this secret will not be kept for long and the world will once again be placed in a similar if not worse turmoil we saw seventeen years before, leading to man’s inexorable end of days.  

Therefore I have given the gift of ignorance; for there was nothing else anyone could have done after the failure of my mission, or can be done to save our world as we know it.  I have given seventeen years of ignorant bliss to the world, to my sweet and patient Sally and to you dear brother.  Seventeen years I hope spent in fruitful and happy endeavor.  Seventeen years to not have hang over you all like a death shroud—a heavy weight of knowing that mankind has an end and you will be there to see it…” 

‘Damn him.  Damn him for deciding.  Damn him for presuming his big damn brain knew it all...’  John jumped up from the stoop and tossed the contents in his lap at the screen door.  ‘Damn him for not giving us a chance…’  The letter blew back to his feet in the wind and he grudgingly picked it back up with a trembling fist. 

“The large envelope in this package contains protocols to be put in place during the end of days.  Please get this to Dr. Stillwater.  You remember old Froggie, I’m sure.  But if my old lab partner is no longer among you, Dr. Jane Patrick shall do.  They will understand and know how to proceed…” 

“Oh great, an ‘End-of-Days for Dummies’ how-to.” John scoffed at the catalogue sized package on its side against the back door.  “Ladies and Gentleman, my brother the control freak…” 

“If I know you, brother I hope you will forgive my keeping this knowledge from you.  Always the optimists to my pessimist, you would have wasted what was left of your life looking for what wasn’t there.  Believe me—believe my enclosed calculations.  What I say is true.  Nothing could have fixed this…” 

“That’s where you are wrong big brother.  WRONG!”  John jumped up the back steps, picking up the rest of the package along the way.  Maybe the great and late Dr. Jack Doran’s big brain and ego wrote off man’s future seventeen years earlier, but in the now Lt. Col. John Doran, doctorate drop out and jarhead, was damned if mankind didn’t go down without a fight.   

Grabbing his car keys and cover off the kitchen counter, John jumped back down the steps and sprinted to his Jeep, the increasing winds hurrying his every step.  He had some scientists to corral, a government to get the attention of and the impossible to accomplish.  John Doran was going to try to prove his big brother wrong. 

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