Hello, Internet! Today on this special edition of Flash Fiction, Andrea Speed drops by once again with Karma. A delightful tale of suspense where the only monsters we must fear are the ones within ourselves.
by Andrea Speed
When the burning started, Ben thought it was lung cancer.
Cancer ran in his family, and while no one had ever had lung cancer to his knowledge, Ben had smoked for twenty years before giving it up. He liked to think he’d dodged a bullet, but he should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. Was anything?
Anxiety was tearing up his stomach as he sat in the small room off the doctor’s office, waiting for the results from his chest x-ray. It would be pretty funny if he got an ulcer from this. Why did they make you wait so long? It seemed like torture. Could he complain, though? He was sixty-two, and he knew a lot of people who never lived that long. Considering the life he’d lived, he should probably consider himself lucky he made it this long.
Doctor Rhee came in, and Ben couldn’t read his expression, except he was frowning. That wasn’t a good sign. He held a folder in his hands. “We … would love to know how you did this, Mr. Carter, but I don’t think it’s possible.”
“What are you talking about?”
Rhee put a couple of x-rays up on the room’s lightboxes before turning them on. At first, all Ben saw was the filmy shadow of his lungs beneath his ribcage, and some smudging on the bones that could have been someone’s smeared fingerprints. Except they weren’t smudges, were they? He leaned forward, but wasn’t sure he was looking at, so he stood and got closer.
There was writing on the x-rays. It was faint, small, and as he got closer still, he realized the writing was not on the x-rays.
It was on his ribs. The words were carved into his bones.
“Is … this a joke?” Ben asked, not understanding this at all.
“That’s what I’m wondering,” Rhee said, giving him a skeptical sidelong glance.
A closer inspection revealed the names carved on four different ribs: Margaret Davenport. Patsy Davenport. Robert Davenport. Peter Davenport.
Ben put a hand on his chest. That couldn’t … no. His stomach turned to ice. “Do the names mean anything to you?” Rhee asked.
Margie. Patsy. Bobby. Names from another life. Peter – the man he used to be.
He almost forgot them. All the names, his old name. He’d been Ben Carter so long …
When he was Peter Davenport, he married young, hastily and without thought. He had many issues, and being a young family man in a shitty, dead-end job led him to equally early alcoholism. He had rage issues, but he had no idea how toxic that cocktail was until he came to in the shower one morning, sticky and cold, and discovered he was covered in blood. Only the blood wasn’t his.
From what he’d pieced together, since he had no memory of the incident, he’d come home, drunk and angry, to a sleeping house. But rather than disrupt things with an argument, like he usually did, he simply took a knife from the kitchen, went upstairs, and stabbed Margie to death. It was fast, as it didn’t look like she fought back at all. He then went to Patsy’s room, and killed her too, leaving the baby, Bobby, for last.
Once he got over the terrible, brutal shock of it all, he began to plan. It wasn’t that the horror of his own depravity didn’t get to him, because it did, but all he could think was he didn’t want to go to prison. He cleaned himself up as best he could, and just walked away. He assumed he’d be arrested, but he made it to the Greyhound station, and he decided then and there on a couple of things. Peter Davenport was dead. He was now someone else, someone who didn’t drink, who didn’t get trapped, someone who never had a family or a past. The new name came later.
To this day, he had no idea how he hadn’t been arrested. For the first couple of years, he expected the cops to bust down his door and drag him away. When it didn’t happen, he began to view that part of his life as a nightmare he once had. It couldn’t have happened, right? Not if he was never punished for it.
The doctor was still talking, but Ben heard none of what he said. He was staring at the names carved into his bones, and wondered how he ever could have been so naïve to think he’d escape from a crime as great as that.
The cops never caught him. But something else was keeping score, and he had a terrible feeling the cops might have been the better option.