By Erik Suchy
“Ah, I take it you must be Edith?”
A sarcastic military salute, followed by a low chortle. “Present and reporting for duty,”she giggles. “Erm…Gus, is it?”
A snicker, one that makes her feel embarrassed once it penetrates her ears. “No,” he chuckles. “Off by only five completely different letters and an extra syllable. David is the name.”
The awkwardness rises in her chest until she feels as though it’s ready to burst, but she quickly pushes the feeling down. It’s been a long time since she engaged in the“single-and-ready-to-mingle” lifestyle, and she wants to feel ready and more willing to seek outa companion.
“Well, David, proud to meet you in the flesh, beyond the realms of the internet.”
She takes a seat next to him at the counter, momentarily glancing at the massive green-and-white neon sign that shines brightly above them both.
“‘Chinatown’s Best Cup Of Noodles’?” she observes.“I guess you were serious when you said you only look for the best cuisine that San Francisco has to offer.”
She hesitantly bites her tongue, hoping her tantalizing banter doesn’t strike the wrong chord with him, especially as a first impression. Instead, he produces a slightly wry smile.
“Once you step into the shoes of my profession,” he begins, “you often lose the interest to cook anything that doesn’t involve the love of a microwave’s re-heatable properties.”
“Let me guess…government-employed tech wizard?”
“Nope. Has as much to do with computers as dignity and respect have to do with anyone who works at Fox News.”
He glances up, as though anticipating to see how she will respond.
“Really? I mean, well, I’m glad we agree on that. I don’t appreciate any form of mass media that sensationalizes a story for the sole intention of manipulating anyone into always being afraid. Just another repugnant, twisted method of getting people to always tune in so they can gain the upper ratings in the Nielsen’s every week.”
The cook, an elderly Asian man, approaches them both. “You two ready to order?”
He motions for her to go first.
“Um, yes. I’ll have the Roast Duck with Shrimp Wonton, please.”
“I’ll take the BBQ Pork with Garlic Soy Sauce, if I may.”
“Right away, indeed.” He scurries off to prepare.
He turns to face her, enabling her to catch his appearance in a far better light than his poorly-lit profile picture, one she remembers as always being cloaked in thick shadows that seemingly originate from nowhere. Although his pale blue eyes briefly render her unnerved, she sees he’s a fine looking-specimen nonetheless.
“You know,” he begins. “It’s funny you should mention sensationalization, because I’m not fond of anyone who abuses their position of power to get what they want.”
“Couldn’t agree more.”
“To me, it increases the risk of a target being put on their backs, just because they think they have the privilege to escape with doing something egregious.”
She pauses, a little stunned at his delivery.
“What kind of risk?”
He takes a long, patient sip from the water bottle he’s brought with him.
“One that leads to punishment.”
She shudders. The hauntingly eccentric nature of the smirk he’s given off is enough to make her cut short and leave for her car. Then again, he’s already been shown to have an unusually sarcastic nature; if anything, maybe he’s only trying to alpha male her for who has the sharper sense of humor. Perhaps if she switches discussion topics, he won’t seem so ominous.
“So, David, then-formerly-known-as-Gus, I have a new topic of conversation for you.”
“Oh? And what would that be?”
“What does the idea of the ‘perfect shot’ mean to you?”
A spark flashes extraordinarily in his eyes.
“I do have an answer for that. But I’m willing to be a gentleman and let the gorgeous lady across from me give her response first before I so much as breathe a syllable.”
“To me, the perfect shot isn’t so much about what comes after the flash and the click, but it’s about the sense of joy, knowing you’re there to make it happen, even if the result doesn’t turnout how you want it to look.”
“Really?” He takes another sip. “Shouldn’t a job be about what you create instead of not knowing whether it’ll look the way you want it to?”
“In my opinion? Not necessarily. When I capture my subjects, whether it’s a wolf in the middle of a field or an early-morning sunrise over Lake Tahoe, I get ecstatic knowing I’m there to take it, regardless if it looks good or not in the end.”
“Hmmm. You speak about the thrill of the hunt, I see.”
One more extended glug from the bottle.
“This is where you and I begin to differ in our viewpoints.”
“In what way? The idea of the perfect shot doesn’t excite you at all?”
“It’s not that I fail to appreciate the perfect shot, but to borrow a word from you, I’m ecstatic over what it produces rather than the hesitation before it.”
“I didn’t speak about hesitation. I spoke only about living in the moment.”
“Well, I don’t believe in either hesitating or taking the time to ‘live in the moment’ in the middle of creating the shot. If anything, it’s what leads you away from doing precisely that.”
“In your opinion, I would think.”
A harsh stare.
“Not my opinion at all. I know many others who’d disagree with you wholeheartedly because they, like me, know it to be nothing short of the truth.”
“Is the truth lost on them as much as it’s lost on you? You care too much about being successful, rather than knowing you’re gifted with the power to do good things, even if sometimes you can’t.”
“I know I’m capable of producing good results; realizing that I am is what gets me ahead in this morally bereft shit hole you’d probably call a world worth fighting for.”
She’s beginning to fume.
“It is worth fighting for.”
At first, only his smirk answers, now beaming sadistically.
“In your opinion, I would think.”
A frustrated sigh from her.
“So you say it has to do with the result after the shot is achieved, in your opinion—”
“—as it pertains to fact, not opinion.”
The stillness is a heavy and uncomfortable one. She thinks of her car, waiting for her.
“—as it pertains to your interpretation of the truth.”
An expression of unbridled irritation spreads across his face. She suddenly has every reason to be afraid of his eyes.
“Let me tell you about the brutal reality that encompasses our planet. It’s people like me that helps society keep the ever-spawning presence of ‘subjects’ down to a minimum because they never know when to stop popping up. It’s very much a matter of ensuring that one head is successfully cut off before two more can take its place.”
“And you never tire of it?”
“Not at all. It pays the bills and keeps me thrilled at all times.”
“Thrilled in what way?”
The grin resurfaces. No, she realizes it isn’t a grin, not any sort of one that would indicate he’s human at all. It’s wide via proportions that she can’t seem to measure.
“I love it when my subjects don’t see me coming. It doesn’t matter where they’re positioned either; ‘too far away to take the shot’ are seven words that are too far removed from reality for me to consider excusable. What matters is what they no longer poison us with when they leave; greed, corruption, let alone any error of the highest caliber. That’s the kind of thrill I enjoy, knowing that I’ve done the job well enough to ensure that out of 7 billion, there’s always a few less rotten apples to infect civilization with the worst of their attributes.”
She goes moist with fear.
“But, there’s more. Can I entrust you with a secret?”
She says nothing, only gulping thickly while he motions for her to come in closer. Once their heads nearly touch, he drops his voice to a barely audible murmur.
“I love it when they squirm after every pop I make,with each pull and release.”
She’s shaking. She can hear them all around, whacking and reverberating off every walland into every corner.
“Pop.” He grins.
The portrait shot she did of Mr. and Mrs. Jensen last week, exchanging graceful smiles as the evening sun dipped below the skyline.
A figure, unnamed and unknown to her, lying still on the floor, bleeding profusely from the entry wound in their forehead.
She throws her hands over her ears to stifle his voice, but it only bounces back harder.
She looks up.
She only sees the smile at first, ever so inhuman. It hasn’t changed at all.
But then there are the eyes.
“THAT is what the perfect shot means to me.”
She flees back up the street towards the parking lot, ignoring the shouts from the server,saying her noodles are ready. Once she reaches her car, she slams and hastily locks her door.Initially, there’s a slight indecision to turn on the engine and tear back to the warmth of her abode. Instead, she temporarily catches her breath, trying to relax so that her already-frantic mindset doesn’t enable her to drive off so recklessly she’ll be prone to creating an accident.
There’s a sound nearby.
She looks up to see kids from the sidewalk across from her setting off firecrackers.
The honk of a truck horn.
The murmur from large crowds that shuffle past her as they walk back to their vehicles.
“Pop, pop, pop!”
There’s a scream that roars from her throat as she turns the keys and speeds towards the highway. She desperately continues to keep it going for as long as she can muster, despite her shrill pitch now beginning to dissipate and go hoarse while she punches the acceleration. It’s all she can do to drown out the sounds of a world he’s created for her, molded in his fantasy.
One where his perfect shot holds illimitable dominion over all.
Bio: Erik Suchy is a writer/photographer from North St. Paul, Minnesota. He currently attends Metropolitan State University, where he plans on earning his B.A. in Creative Writing. He is most passionate about writing speculative fiction in the horror, crime, and psychological thriller genres. His short fiction has been featured or is forthcoming in The Yard: Crime Blog, Youth Imagination, Close To The Bone, and Haute Dish.