The Operator’s Mind

The Operator’s Mind

First Place in Group 66 • Action-Adventure/ A sea cliff / A video camera

Synopsis:  A soldier goes in search of a war criminal and finds that destroying evil requires evil.

 


Of course the hunt brought me back to Sea Cliff.  The place hadn’t changed.  Not in a decade of war, nor the collapse of aristocracy.  It stood in a choke of fog, a bulwark against the future.  Yellow light leaked weakly from several upper story windows, giving the manor shape, illuminating her stone and brick facade with its clothing of creeping ivy and cobbled drives.

 

I could imagine her walking the halls, knowing one of these days, I’d come.  She’d be ready.  She was always ready.  The mistress and her house were always ready.

 

I ground my cigarette under my heel.  Getting inside would be easy, finding the equipment would be easy.  Getting out, that would be the hard part.  

 

Because I’d seen the video camera before, I’d confessed to it myself—like so many others who could now be called criminals.  When power shifts, your past becomes your worst enemy.  I was my own worst enemy.

 

But I wasn’t here for me. I was here for the future, or so I liked to tell myself.  

 

The thought made me move, and I slipped in through the servant entrance.  

 

The camera was still there, as I’d known it would be.  One of the greatest weapons to win the war to end all wars.  Propaganda and close-up confessionals.  That camera made traitors of us all.  But seeing it there, carefully situated under its cover with its crank exposed, it was barren of power.  Its menace lay in the operator’s mind, in the reels it ejected for public persuasion.  Destroying it would pointless.  

 

Of course I’d known that, in my deflated balloon of a heart, I’d known.  It was the mind I was here to destroy.  The twisted and evil mind, regardless of the childhood where her eyes were made of trust and her hands held mine.  Held mine in this very place.  Out and down the jagged edge of this western most point in an idyllic world.  Into an ocean I can still hear.  Just barely, just through the thin, time-warped pane of glass across the room.  

 

No door hinge, no perfume scent, no rustle of clothing or shifting of air to let me know she was here.  It was her eyes on me.  Eyes so like looking into a mirror, if that mirror would show me myself after all compassion, all heart, all soul—had been sucked out.  Merciless eyes, not wary and not afraid.  Eyes like a science-fiction robot, taking in information but feeling nothing at all.

 

“Today’s the day, then?”  Her voice flat, like the thing we’d come to was no more than a taxing drive into town, an appointment that simply couldn’t be put off longer.  

 

My neck heated, up behind my ears to turn my scalp to goosebumps.  My heart hammered triple time.  A cannonade distraction.  Silenced the second I noticed her fist.  She wouldn’t strike me with it, it would be her elbow.  Just as I would do her.  Ladies needed to protect their hands.  

 

I moved first, kicked at her stomach. She grabbed my foot and yanked, hauling me close, I put my hands together as if in prayer, and struck her in the face with my elbow.  Once, twice, three times, until her cheek ricocheted off the wall.  She snarled, her upper lip curled and already bloody.  I drove the bludgeon of my fist into the soft part right under her ribcage and her breath came out in a whoosh and stayed lost.  

 

She folded into herself, touched fingers to floor, then felled me with an adders strike to my ankle.  Her knee crushed my nose, and when I opened my eyes I saw red.  The red of her stockinged knee, the red of my blood. I choked on it.  

 

“You still telegraph your moves.”  Her breath was back.

 

I reached and coiled my hand into her hair.  I yanked her to the floor and spat blood into her eyes.  “And your vanity still outweighs your common sense.”

 

“I prefer not to be mistaken for a man.  Unlike you.”

 

The trigger of the Webley & Scott was under my finger before I realized I’d pulled it from my belt.  The slim barrel shook at her temple.  My ears were an echo-chamber of my heartbeat, my nose full of the rusty scent of blood, my mouth slick with it.  

 

A spatter of red hit her cheeks as I spoke.  “Make your final peace.”

 

“You won’t kill me.”

 

She believed that.  I believed it too.  Had I really thought that only the escape would be the hard part?

 

I yanked the tarp covering the camera, felt the weight of it shift as I pulled.  Another tug, and I felt the beast on its perch totter and tip.  

 

“No!”  She cried, her voice lost inside the crunch of hundreds of carefully machined parts coming apart against the floorboards.  Lenses cracked, casings splintered, the handle barked against a stool and snapped off.  

 

She clamored up from the ground, scrambling to the wreckage as if there was anything she could do.  Her unhappy face already bruising, and in the dim glow from the electric lamp, she appeared both ghostly and more human than ever.  

 

She was on me in a fury, grappling for the pistol.  A shot discharged and the window shattered.  Glass tinkled down and the ocean’s roar swept in on cold air.  My back hit the window frame as she forced my gun hand onto a jagged spear of glass.  I felt the pop as some tendon in my wrist severed.  She yanked my hand and drove it again into the slice.  

 

The weapon was prized from my grasp and I knew.  I would fail.  I’d destroyed the wrong thing of evil.  

 

There was only me and her and the gun she held to the hollow of my neck.  

 

“You lack the courage of your convictions,” she said, and the safety went with a loud snick.

 

“You won’t kill me,” I tried.  

 

She only laughed.  

 

© IReen Weiss 2017


WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY –

{1713}  A fun read! I enjoyed the build up and the overall flow of the story. I’m always quite drawn in by stories that offer quick turns and a deliberate direction that satisfy even at the ending. This all happened here. Well done.  

{1669}  I really enjoyed this. There was excellent sensory detail throughout the story; I cringed at the tendon part. It was exciting and the tension was high.  

{1743}  Fine sentence: “It stood in a choke of fog, a bulwark against the future.”  Conjures Orwellian imagery.  The tautology in several of these sentences is quite aesthetically admirable.  Such as: “When power shifts, your past becomes your worst enemy.  I was my own worst enemy.”  What a musical sentence: “My heart hammered triple time.”  Someone like Benjamin Britten would have loved reading that sentence.  This flash fiction is intelligently conceived and an enjoyable read for the reader who savors specifics and who loves well-crafted language.  The O. Henry surprise ending is incisive and biting.  Fine writing possesses a mellowness, like a good bourbon, and then a surprising flourish.  

 

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK –

{1713}  While the story was strong I did think there was some opportunity towards the end to emphasize the point of the story. As it came to a close it was all a little quick without feeling entirely obvious.  

{1669}  I think the beginning was a little confusing. Try to keep the back story as simple as possible. The war/aristocracy info isn’t all that important–what matters is the personal motivations of the main character. That is the part that is a little unclear.  {1743}  “servant’s entrance” not “servant entrance.”  Of course, that could be argued.

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