Chuck’s challenge for the week: The Opening Line challenge. I took a few weeks off from the flash fiction game, but it’s time to saddle up again. The task at hand: choose an opening line from another author and build it into a 2000-words-or-less story.
I took a line from a guy calling himself Nicholas. The first line is his. The rest is all me.
The Immutable Mr. Jenkers
The 3rd time I killed Mr. Jenkers I knew i had a problem.
Not because he came back to life. That happens all the time. Once is rarely enough when you start talking about quantum murder. Sorta like fixing a wobbly chair. You shave a few millimeters off one leg, then it’s wobbling the other way. Go back and try again. Or like swatting cockroaches. Sure, you get that one, but there’s a thousand just like him in the walls just waiting to pop out. That’s why there aren’t too many guys working solo like me anymore. Murder’s one thing, but that’s one universe, one reality. You want somebody well and truly wiped out, it takes legwork. Timelines have to be rewritten, sometimes memories have to be wiped, hell, I once had to take a two-hundred-year detour to make sure this one woman didn’t date any men from India, so that her descendant’s bloodline could be clean enough for her to marry into a rich family. People ask for the craziest things. And I’ve been back and forth across time so often, sometimes it feels like I’m older than the dirt itself.
Certainly felt like that after Jenkers. Who hires a hitman for a cat, I should have asked. Why not just, you know, stop feeding him, or drop him off across town. But it’s a hard thing to say no to a hundred thousand credits. And besides, how hard could it be?
I should’ve asked around before I took the job. I did, after the fifth try. Turns out, this cat’s been around for over three millenia, and maybe longer — they just don’t have good records going back past ancient Egypt. And no, I’m not making that up. Best I can make out, there have been over 800 documented attempts on the life of this particular feline; most of them successful. But like a bubble under a static sticker, you squish it down, it just pops up somewhere else.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The owner’s this sweet old lady. ‘Bout 60 or so. All white hair, glasses on a chain, looks like a librarian except for the dark circles under her eyes and the smell like she hasn’t bathed in a few months. And she wants Mr. Jenkers whacked. “Do it humanely,” she asks. On account of she still loves him, despite the fact that she’s pretty sure he’s eroding her sanity. Those were her words. “He never sleeps,” she says. “He just watches me all the time. Like he’s accusing me of something. Like I had tried to kill him and he knew all about it.”
I know, right? She didn’t get the irony, and I guess that’s fair. I didn’t get it right away either, but of course she was trying to kill him, and he absolutely knew about it.
I’m getting ahead of myself again. It’s a hazard of the job.
Protocol says you always go the straightforward route on the first try, because you never know when once will do the trick. So — that afternoon, picked up a cat carrier, came by Harriet’s place (her name is — was — Harriet). Jenkers in the carrier along with a couple of bricks, and into the river he goes.
Next morning, he’s back. I fire up the ReClocker and arrive at her house a day earlier. No frills, just a hammer to the back of his head. Get back to Now, the cat’s still there. I try this a few different ways, go back a few years on the cat, come to find out she adopted him fully-grown from a shelter. So I go back further. Try to kill him every time, naturally, but sure as the sun, there he is every time I go back to Now. Trace him back to another family. Two kids, picket fence, and this psycho-eyed cat. Thing is, though, I’ve gone back five years now, and the cat looks exactly the same. Killed it over a hundred times, now, and every time, he’s back. Mr. Jenkers. Orange stripes, big chunk missing from his ear, eyes sparkling like black diamonds. And now, Harriet’s words are in my head, and I feel like when he looks at me — in the past, you know, not in the Now — he knows what I’m doing.
I go back ten years, and there’s Jenkers. Same as ever. I go twenty years back. Same old Jenkers, same old scar on his ear, same evil eyes. He’s living with some World War 2 vet, and I can’t bring myself to kill him in that timeline, so I go back even further. Thirty years. Then fifty.
When you first suit up in this line of work they tell you not to go getting crazy notions in your head about drastically altering the flow of history. Can’t go back and wipe out Hitler, for example — something’s broken on that guy’s reality and he always comes back. Can’t scrub out Mussolini, or Pol Pot, or Rasputin, or any of those guys that the history geeks would really like a crack at, right? Thing is, those guys — and I’ve gone back and messed with them, who wouldn’t? — they at least exist in a normal timeline. They’re born, they turn into big world-altering jerks, they die. And you can’t erase them from the Stream, but at least they’re just little contained pockets of horror and atrocity.
But not Jenkers.
This thing is beyond anything I’ve ever seen, beyond anything the Bureau’s ever seen, and maybe beyond anything the universe has ever seen. You go back to the Renaissance, Jenkers is there scratching at the edges of a Botticelli painting. Go back to the Middle Ages and Jenkers is chasing plagued rats down alleys. Ancient Egypt, like I said, was a good time for the old boy — they worshipped cats back then, you know, and with his eyes like eternity, well. You think cats get spoiled now when they end up with somebody like Miss Harriet, it’s nothing on Egypt in the pyramid days. He had his own entourage.
Suffice it to say, as far back as we can go — and we can go pretty damn far — I can’t find an origination point for this cat. For all I know, he’s existed since life first crawled up out of the swamps. He can’t be killed. Can’t be erased. Can’t be unmade. He’s like a scar in the fabric of the universe.
So what else could I do?
I adopted him from Miss Harriet. Took him back to my house. Bought a bunch of toys, you know, feathers on strings, little jingly balls. Found this guy on the internet who sells catnip by the pallet — god knows Jenkers will go through all of it.
It was unnerving at first, coming home every night to those empty black eyes staring at me like death itself. But he grows on you after a while. I always laughed when people said their cats had personality, but Jenkers… he’s got a sense of humor. Like, he’ll run under my feet when I’m coming downstairs in the morning. As if he were trying to kill me, to get back for the thousands of times I killed him. But it’s all in good fun. Late at night, he sleeps on my feet. When I’m reading, he’ll nose under the book and demand to be petted, with that one floppy, chewed-up ear.
I still kill him at least once a week. Just to see what happens.
But he always comes back. Dependable as the Sunday paper. Watching me with those eyes like midnight at the bottom of the ocean.