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.
Episode Ten: Charity
They say that when you have a really important decision to make that you should flip a coin. Not because you should leave important decisions up to chance, but because when the coin is in the air you suddenly know exactly which way you want it to land. Unfortunately the coin doesn’t always land the way you want it to.
With the clone at my brother’s throat and the Nazi dame with a pistol aimed directly at Abigail’s head, I knew what I wanted to do. I couldn’t reach them both in time, and I desperately knew who I wanted to save. But we don’t always get what we want in this world.
As I started to move forward, the anger started to build in me. It wasn’t fair. A genetic experiment had brought me into this world. My family had been in an adjoining test tube and my friends only called me when they needed something. Resentment followed me around like some sick groupie and society had been only too happy to sweep me under the rug.
This city…this city was a cesspool and going downhill from there. Organized crime, corrupt politicians, greedy corporations, and those were just the big players. The real decay came from within, not from those ruling on high. Ignorance, apathy, pettiness, and sloth were the water that was causing the grassroots to rot out from under itself. It was enough to turn anyone’s stomach. And here I was with a choice to make.
I felt the muscles in my legs start to coil. When your bones are made of cartilage it makes walking around a real pain in the ass, but it also means that your skeleton is basically one big rubber band and I was about to shoot myself forward to save the person I knew I needed to save, not the one I wanted to.
My options sucked. On the one hand I could save Abigail and doom the world to a fate of eugenics and genocide at the hands of these half-baked hate mongers. My insufferable brother would be dead, I could give these goons what they wanted, and walk away in the hopes that she would follow, but even if she didn’t there would be lots more people like me in the future. I could finally stand a chance of fitting in. But these losers would be in charge then, and they didn’t deserve to be in charge.
On the other hand I could save my brother and we could work together to stop this new world order. Civilization could be allowed to sort its problems out for itself without a master plan and would either succumb to the rot or rise above it to achieve a kind of weird nobility. As far as I was concerned civilization had had their chance. They didn’t deserve another one. All the redemption had been squeezed out of the entire works ages ago. And I would lose the first woman I’d felt any connection with in a long time.
I pushed off from the ground and my bones added extra snap to the spring. I raised my right arm back. I’d only get one shot at this, so my aim had to be good and I had to put as much force behind it as I could. As I sprang, the world muffled around me. I vaguely thought I heard my brother screaming something at me, but I couldn’t hear him over the report of a pistol being fired. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of red and something drop to the ground, but I didn’t look at it directly. I had my eyes fixed on my brother’s clone, who seemed to be moving in slow motion, and my vision was blurry.
When I reached them, I punched the clone as hard as I could with my right arm. The serrated barb that grows out of my forearm plunged into his chest where I desperately hoped some vital organ was located. After sinking the barb in as deeply as it would go, I pulled my arm back and began punching him as hard as I could. The barb detached itself from my arm and stayed in his chest. I wished I could pull it out and stab him again and again and again, but that’s not the way this works. I didn’t deserve to have that much power. I didn’t deserve a lot of things. After what felt like forever, the light went out in the clone’s eyes and he rolled off.
I sat back, exhausted. As quickly as it had come, my anger drained into fatigue. In place of the usual sounds of the night or any of the remaining participants talking, I heard a buzzing noise. I vaguely registered my brother getting up and running off somewhere. I didn’t care where. There was a commotion and lots of yelling, but I ignored all of it.
After spending an entire lifetime looking out for number one I had finally fulfilled one selfless act of charity. It hurt like hell. I’d saved the world. And now that it was saved it could go fuck itself.
“Detective,” I heard a voice say. I looked up and saw the old man, the one the cat had kept around for companionship.
“What?” I replied.
“We should get you out of here,” the old man said. “Nothing else good is going to happen here tonight.”
“Where would we go?” I asked.
“Does it matter?” The old man held out his hand.
“It does if you’re going to turn me over to the cat.”
“I could do that,” the old man said. “But it wouldn’t really be in my best interests, so I won’t. Of course I have no way of proving that to you now.”
“I need to see about Abigail…” I began.
“Detective,” the old man said gently, “You can’t help her anymore.”
“And my brother…?” I began again.
“He can take care of himself. There’s something more important for you to do now.”
CHOICE: Go with the old man or stay and help his brother.