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.
We’re four episodes in now, and new audiences are probably going to be a bit lost. So I’m posting them here so people can catch up. I’ll post one per week until we’re caught up, and then the next episode will go live right after the event itself. Hope you enjoy them!
Episode Two: Progress
Choices. Life’s full of ‘em. You make one, it leads to another, which leads to another, an endless string of consequences flowing through everyone’s life like a river downstream from a major city. The question is whether the river is filled with honey…or blood. Currently my choices had me shambling down the street through a rainstorm that would give a respectable monsoon a run for its money without my hat.
I’d been going like this for about an hour. I don’t drive a car, don’t trust ‘em, and I can’t work the pedals in any case because of my special circumstances. My special circumstances also mean that I fall down a lot, but it’s ok. I’m used to it. I turned a corner and made it as far as a local movie theatre before falling down, which I considered the moral equivalent of winning a biathalon and the Boston Marathon on the same day.
The marquee threw its harsh neon message at me like a shotput, burning my eyes out with its brilliant intensity, announcing to the world that something part fifty was having its 30th anniversary. I briefly wondered if the last original idea that left Hollywood had turned off the iron before it went out, but then I decided I could ponder the artistic integrity of the average moviegoer better from the comfort of my own apartment. I wouldn’t be making it there tonight, I suspected, but the thought gave me the motivation I needed to get going again. I staggered up, shifted my weight, did a forward roll, used the momentum to get my feet under me, and moved on.
I was nervous. Gek had told me that I should be at the train yard at midnight. There were all kinds of things wrong with this. First, the trains didn’t run that late. Second, he told me this at just after 10:00pm and he knew it would be a push for me to make it there in time from his place. And third, while it’s true that he knows a ton about what goes on in this burg, Gek doesn’t give away information for free. This was going to cost me and it was only a matter of time before the bill came due.
I nearly didn’t go at all. But I didn’t have a lot of other options available. At this time of night all my usual informants were going to be asleep, in jail, or otherwise occupied with each other. Not to mention hard to find. At least the train yard didn’t move around.
After another forty five minutes of staggering, stumbling, falling, and getting back up, the yard finally came into view. I stopped to catch my breath. Normally this kind of trip wouldn’t take that much out of me. I’m pretty tough, but the sustained breakneck pace had put an ache in my body that made me think my muscles were staging a revolt. Plus, I couldn’t get warm with the rain pelting down. I gotta move to Venice some day so I can just swim everywhere I need to go. A part of me wished I had my leg braces with me, but I rejected the idea. I needed the flexibility when I was on the job.
The train yard, visible now at the bottom of a hill about two hundred yards away from me, was a glittering vista of shiny metal and polished plastic. There’s a kind of romance about trains and locomotives that’s ingrained into the collective unconcious, and this place had about as much of it as a single man’s apartment the day after Valentine’s Day.
People think about trains and they think of locomotives hauling lumber, coal, and hobos across the great expanse of the American midwest, connecting the great cities and bringing goods and culture to the masses through steam, grease, and a plaintive whistle that echoes forlornly through mountain passes. There’s an element of danger, where desperate men gather to seek out new lives and fortunes and risk death by misadventure for the thrill of exploration and dreamed-of riches.
That’s just because they haven’t ridden one lately and get all their news from picture books. These trains were maglev bullet trains designed to hurtle along tracks at nearly 200 miles per hour. They shone when the sunlight hit them and glittered in the moonlight. There were no desperate men here, unless they were desperate to get away from the guards that patrolled the area like ants invading the picnic of life. Trains had been big business once and were becoming so again thanks to modern technology and people’s insatiable need to be somewhere besides where they were.
I glanced at my watch. 11:55pm. I gathered myself for one last plunge down the hill, fully expecting to have to roll most of the way there, when suddenly there was a massive explosion at the far end of the yard. A plume of orange fire and thick, dark smoke billowed up into the night sky, casting garish shadows on everything in the general viscinity. I hit the dirt and swore, a long and lurid string of expletives that rivaled the explosion for heat and intensity. This was a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it meant that all the guards were going to head for the explosion – a better distraction would be hard to find. On the other hand it meant that everyone was going to be on high alert. Besides, what fool runs TOWARDS an explosion when he’s already a suspect for murder?
It was barely audible over the sounds of the fire raging and the alarms that had started down at the train yard, but still distinct.
About twenty feet away I could see a shadow detaching itself from a brick wall, motioning for me to come over. I looked at my watch again. 11:58pm. If I hurried I could still get to the train yard before midnight. Could the person I was supposed to meet have set the explosion as a distraction? If so, they weren’t going to linger. I could rush to the yard and try to find them in time or I could see what the mug in the doorway wanted. But I couldn’t do both.
CHOICE: Continue to the train yard? Follow the mug in the doorway?