SKYLINED: a short story in nine parts.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is an old story. It was written in May 2002. I’d been writing consistently since 1994, but this story (originally entitled “The Conspiracy”) was among the first prose stories I’d ever written outside of a creative writing class. Nearly everything prior had been written for comic book adaptation, and the few prose stories I’d done during this period were superhero-themed tales. I quite liked this story when I first wrote it.
In the ensuing eighteen years since its initial online publication, I’d long forgotten about “The Conspiracy” and was blissfully unaware of its many blemishes. Still, like some of the other stories on this site that have been pulled from the wreckage, I felt there was something salvageable if I was willing to do a full rewrite. The tale that follows is a result of that effort. Ultimately, I cut ~2,000 words and rewrote most of what remained. It was renamed “Skylined” because I felt that the original title really didn’t reflect the tale.
The rewrite is far from perfect, but I think its serviceable.
It felt like Monday.
It was Friday, but it felt like Monday. Fridays were usually periods of calm when actual work could be completed. But today had been anything but calm. Treat had spent the morning hours responding to over sixty emails and fielding a dozen calls from authors. The afternoon was no less busy, but each minute seemed to tick by reluctantly. Still, it was Friday, and if nothing else, the workweek was officially drawing to a close.
Treat stood up from the uncomfortable office chair and stretched his lanky arms above his head. He pushed a hand through his straight black hair. His back ached. Too many nights spent sleeping on a decade-old futon, to many hours seated on the uncomfortable commuter bus, and countless years at a small cubicle. Stretching did little to alleviate the pain. The heating pad, an embarrassing albeit essential prop, helped, but not nearly enough.
Treat walked to the window and stared out at the city. Combustible, cold and gray, stared back. The city of Combustible was an immovable object. Its vicious, insatiable appetite gorged on morsels like Treat The sun reflected against the arched glass panels of the adjacent Newlander Building. The late afternoon shadows cast a crescent-shaped smile over Combustible’s Riverside District. Not the smile of an old friend. It was the smile of an enemy with whom Treat happened to share a flat. A murderer’s smile.
Treat loathed Combustible. Hated both its lifeless infrastructure as well as its living occupants, the roar of delivery trucks and police sirens; the jaywalkers, perverts, and foul-mouthed adolescents; the unfeeling automatons who staffed the endless eateries and retail shops. Mostly, Treat hated that he was a part of it all, a cog in the mad mechanization of the city. He rode the loud buses of the Combustible Transit Authority daily. Frequented the restaurant district several times per week. Contributed to Combustible’s economic growth through department store purchases. Treat’s own salary helped finance the city’s ongoing expansion via the wage tax deducted from each biweekly paycheck. The billboards touting Combustible’s growth and appeal—Work here, play here. Stay a week–Stay a lifetime—were everywhere. The privilege of working in Combustible and the ten-percent wage tax was a byproduct of that privilege. Although Treat lived in the suburbs, his residence was within the city limits. His tax rate equaled those who resided in the belly of the beast. But Treat preferred suburbia, having had his share of city life and its madness maze. A prior residence in Combustible’s historic district had nearly killed him. He’d lost several friends during that period–victims of muggers or random violence—but Treat had at least escaped alive. He vowed not to live within its walls again.
NEXT: Skylined continues.