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Image by Ben Sweet

ONLY THE DEAD...

Feb 13, 2020

A dialogue only short story. This was another competition submission, and a challenging one. It didn't go anywhere, but it's all beneficial right?


Only the dead is about two criminals in a bank vault mid-heist, one of them gravely injured. I was really smashing out these short stories in early 2020, which reminds me to get back into them. 1683 words, not much more to say about it, which is kind of ironic when it’s so heavily focused on dialogue.

Only The Dead...: Work

“We’re never going to get out of here.”

“You’ll be fine. Breathe. Emergency services will be here soon, then we’ll get you to hospital. Has the bleeding stopped?”

“It’s slowed down. I think.”

“Keep the pressure on it.”

“It hurts like hell.”

“Well, yeah, it’s a bullet.”

“How long until the cops bust in here?”

“This is a fortified bank vault. Nothing short of an Abrams Main Battle Tank, or God himself, would be able to bust down these walls.”

 “That little old lady was the last one I would’ve assumed was carrying a gun,”

“You know what they say about assumptions.”

“I’ll never underestimate the elderly ever again. Hey, what’s that?”

“The phone, like I said, and a hostage negotiator on the other end ready to do his best to empathise with our position.”

“Which is?”

“To get you to a hospital for one.

“You gonna answer it?”

“Just letting ‘em sweat a bit, Chuck. You be quiet now, I’ll do all the talking. Save your strength. Hi there. I’ll have a large Hawaiian pizza on thin, with extra pineapple. Charlie will have a large pepperoni and olive. Throw in a bottle of Mountain Dew and a cheesy garlic bread too, please.”

“Sir, my name is Officer Rand, I’m here to get you and your accomplice out of-“

“Officer, before we start, I want you to make sure this is all on record. It’s important.”

“This your manifesto or something?”

“Just make sure it’s recorded, ok?”

“I can confirm this call is being recorded. Sir, I’m here to get you and your accomplice out of there as quickly and safely as possible without anyone else getting hurt.”

“Bit late for that. Charlie is bleeding all over the place. I only dropped the old broad when she pulled out that peashooter and shot him. What’s with the gun laws in this country? A little 90-year-old woman who probably isn’t allowed to drive, brandishing a pistol bigger than her pet poodle. She ended up shooting him in the leg because the gun was too heavy for her to lift any higher.”

“I see. What’s your name, son?”

“Son? I guarantee I have a couple of more candles on my cake than you. Unless you’re my real dad. The one who pulled the deadbeat dad cliché of all time and went out for smokes, never to return. It’s Sioux.”

“Sue? Like Johnny Cash’s A boy named Sue?”

“Nah, a Sioux name. It’s Wambleeska. Stands for White Eagle. But you can call me Lee.”

“Ok, Lee. What can I do to help move this process along? There’s a lot of concerned people out here.”

“I don’t doubt it, Officer Rand.”

“You’re in a bank vault, and sitting on a stack of money, so what can I get you besides that?”

“We were never going to take any money. Charlie is here because he can’t stand living on the street anymore. He’s looking forward to being sent away to one of our country’s fine prisons, so he can have a bed and three meals a day. As for me, in all seriousness. A pizza, for now. Hey, Rand, Charlie is bleeding pretty bad. He may not have much time, so I want to be straight up with you. I’m wearing an IED. It’s ok, Charlie, I’m going to get you to the hospital.”

“Can you repeat that please, Lee? Did you say you’re wearing an Improvised Explosive Device?”

“Correct.”

“Lee, I’m going to have to pass you along to someone in the bomb squad?”

“No. I want to deal with you, Officer Rand.”

“Ok, Lee. You and I are just going to talk for a while. Nice and easy. I understand what you’re going through.”

“I doubt that, Rand, but I appreciate you sticking by the book. The first thing I want, is for my buddy to get to a hospital and get stitched up. He’s bleeding all over the place. He’s pale, and he’s breathing strange. I’m going to open the vault and put him outside, then close it again. I need you to promise you’re going to take care of him.”

“We’ve got eyes on you, Lee.”

“All the bank customers are out?”

“Affirmative.”

“That old lady ok?”

“Bit shook up, but she’ll live. Tough old bird.”

“Good. I didn’t want another death on my conscience.”

“Alright, bring him out. There are be two officers standing outside, ready to take him.”

“Just no funny business, you hear?”

“You can trust me, Lee.”

“I’d like to believe that, Officer Rand. I want it on the record that I forced Charlie to rob this bank. He didn’t even have a gun. You make sure he only gets a few months in jail. Just until they can fix him up.”

“Argh, Lee, it hurts.”

“Easy buddy, take a deep breath. They’re going to fix you up. Now lean on this wall while I open sesame here. All the best, Charlie.”

“Thank you, Lee, I’m sorry about everything.”

“Don’t you worry, not your fault. Enjoy your stay in the hospital. They’ll take care of that leg, and fix the rest of you.”

“Goodbye.”

“Lee? Lee? You there?

“I’m back. You get Charlie to an ambulance?”

“The paramedics are loading him in as we speak.”

“I was joking about the pizzas, but I’m hungry. Ever since I came back from the desert, I’ve been hungry.”

“The desert?”

“Iraq.”

“You fought in Iraq? So did my son, Ari. He’s been home, what is it? Three years now. Maybe you fought together.”

“How old’s your son?”

“Ari’s almost thirty.”

“Then I doubt it. I was in Operation Desert Storm, and your boy would’ve been about three when I was deployed. We were responsible for a small patch of territory fortuitously named Karma. It was in the armpit of Iraq, about 70 clicks outside of Baghdad. Fat lot of good it did. Twenty, thirty years later we were back, not a lesson learnt.”

“The more things change.”

“You said it.”

“Ari said there was nothing like the oppressive heat of the desert. The sun beating down, scorching everything alive, bleaching the bones of the dead rebel fighters.”

“When I was first deployed, we were packed in the chopper so tight it was overloaded. We’d done basic training, but you can never truly prepare for desert warfare. The flat, hellish expanse leaves you raw and exposed. Then miles of rocky outcrops and sand dunes popping up like crusted pimples. The elements are more hazardous than the enemy. How come your son came home? He ok?”

“An IED went off one day as he was scouting the perimeter. He got tinnitus. Could have been worse. The soldier he was patrolling with wasn’t so lucky.

“Blast injuries are brutal. Ruptured organs, blown off limbs. But it’s the fragments that get ya.”

“Speaking from experience?”

“Lost a leg. The platoon was collecting water down near one of the watering holes. Got ambushed. The Victoria Cross was small consolation. I traded it a few months ago to pay the rent. Had nothing left to sell after that, so I started sleeping rough in the park, next to the war memorial.”

“Victoria cross?”

“Yeah, we lost 11, but they said it would’ve been 29 if I hadn’t done what I’d done. So I lost a leg but gained a worthless piece of metal. Life’s funny sometimes, but not ‘haha’ funny. God has a twisted sense of humour.”

“Is there anything I can do, Lee?”

“I guess all I really need from you, Officer Rand is to tell my story. I’m not alone. Do you know in the United States, an average of 20 veterans commit suicide every day? Can you believe that? And here, there’s been 419 suicides in serving, reserve and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel since 2001.”

 “It’s hard, Lee, and I’m sorry. Why don’t you come out so we can talk about this in person?

“More soldiers have died in our own country than in active battle.”

“Lee.”

“This is my own version of the thing that monk did where he covered himself in petrol and lit himself alight. What’s that called?”

“Self-immolation?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I got a mountain of cash here in this vault, and I’m ready to blow it and myself up.”

“Listen, Lee, it doesn’t have to be like this. Do you have any family we can put you in touch with?”

“Officer Rand, people pass me every day, and all they see is an old homeless guy. They don’t see the real me. I’m not some junkie who’s burnt all his bridges with his family. Never touched the stuff. As for burning bridges, I’ve got no family left even if I wanted to burn the bridges. Like I said, Dad split when I was a tike. Ma died of emphysema while I was posted. And I was an only child. But then there’s the light of my life. My beautiful wife, Leona, and my daughter Gracie.”

“Where are they, Lee? Can I make some calls?”

“They were killed by a drunk driver, in a Mercedes. He’d been drinking at the Regatta all afternoon. It was dark and raining heavily. A hit and run, they died instantly. The bastard left them bleeding to death, cold and scared on the William Jolly Bridge.”

“What happened, Lee? Did they catch the driver?”

“There was footage, yeah. Your boys in blue caught up with him. He got off on some technicality, and the footage disappeared. A week later, he was back running the bank. This branch is one of his.”

“So, you picked here as some sort of recompense??

“No mere act could compensate for the loss of my two beautiful girls.”

“I’m sorry, Lee, I truly am. Justice doesn’t always smile on the just.”

“It’s not hard, all you need is billions of dollars and a few friends in the right circles, then you can literally get away with murder. Hey, Officer Rand?”

“Yes, Lee?”

“Thanks for the chat. Cancel the pizza. Tell your son I said he was a hero, and I’m sorry.”

Only The Dead...: Text
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