Late

Christian Scott
BFA IL 2022

The coffee was bitter, but Pete didn’t notice. It was too familiar to notice. If he changed up the brand or got a new drip-pot, maybe. He set the mug down on the kitchen table, careful not to make a noise. Pete could be as loud as he wanted; there was no one else here to disturb. But it would disturb him.

His suit was clean and lint-free; the collar and sleeves of his shirt starched white. He didn’t remember what day it was, on account of the Wipeout, but it didn’t really matter. Everyone lost track. Either way, he would drink the same brew at the same table at exactly the same time. He was thorough in drinking every drop and held the mug upside down over his mouth to accept the gradually slowing series of drips, kind of like a parched desert traveler—he never rinsed or cleaned the mug and never told anybody this fact. Besides, how would the subject arise in conversation anyway?

Anyway, if he didn’t get moving now, he would be late. He licked his lips in an efficient motion and headed down the hall to the door where his trusted Samsonite briefcase waited by the empty hat-rack. After locking both the door bolts—he had no valuables in the house, but locking the door seemed proper—he strolled down the tiled walkway to his Studebaker, all the while stepping in the center of each concrete square. The tile’s spacing formatted his steps to a perfect walking speed. Not too fast to imply tardiness nor too slow to be nonchalant. It was the archetypal walking speed of diligence, confidence, and control; the standard that all were compared to.

His flawless stride was interrupted by a rusted snap.

He looked down to find his right leg caught in the jaws of a bear trap.

What disturbed Pete at first wasn’t the pain, but rather the sight of his ripped pants. The metal jaws interrupted the neat ironed crease of his pant leg in a rather disagreeable way. Pete suddenly felt a bout of vertigo. This bent shin must be someone else’s. This was simply incorrect, like a misdelivered letter with the wrong name and address.

Pete was surprised that the most overwhelming thing he felt wasn’t pain, but offense. This could not be happening—correction—should not be happening. After all, he was the Perfectly Nice and Reasonable Kind of Guy Who Would Never Harm a Fly, the unseen chameleon, the pushover, the “Yessir, Yes ma’am” fella, the guy that stayed out of the news, the person neither good or bad. Yet the sight of his mangled pants and crushed tibia were clearly bad. A punishment.

Hence the offense.

Pete’s outrage extended further to his tried-and-true routine. How was he supposed to have foreseen this and therefore prevent it? How could something that ran so perfectly for so long suddenly fail? This failure happened so quickly in fact, that he still wasn’t sure that this was really happening.

So he just stood there frowning and shaking slightly and bleeding.

Pete looked past his indignation and noticed a rope tied to the trap. He followed the lead to see that the end was clutched by a hand. The hand of a mouth-breathing and muddy creature. It looked at him with a dumb and divergant gaze, much like a fish, sentiant but inscrutable. Pete tensed and looked back, waiting for it to do something.

He marveled that he had not dropped his briefcase during the whole ordeal. It made him proud.

And Pete realized that, for once in his life, he was late.



Image by the author.



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