The Survivor

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Michael Marks slowly opened his eyes. His vision was blurred for several moments. All he could feel was a constant panging in his head, like a blacksmith was hammering it into a blade sharp enough to cut steel. He could not move his body without every part of him hurting, so he just lay there for a while. In the distance he could see the wreckage that was the explanation for the situation he was in—a huge jet plane, with towering flames and plumes of smoke that went up too far to see.

                Michael felt the ground around him, but it wasn’t really ground at all, as he soon found out. He felt hot sand between his fingers, and the sensation oddly felt good. Finally he shifted himself to get a better view of the wreck. He wondered how he had survived—and more importantly, why. Now he was doomed to die in this godforsaken desert, of heat stroke or starvation or some unnamed horror.

                Michael found himself wondering many things at once. How had this happened? And why did only he survive? Why didn’t he die with everybody else? Why was he forced to die a much slower death in the sun-bleached sand? There was certainly no way for him to escape the inevitable—the nearest civilization was probably miles away. He had no food and no water, and was hurting all over.

                It’s not like anybody would really miss him. Everyone he’d cared about had been on that plane. His wife, his kids—all dead now. What remained of them was out there in the burning hereafter. He didn’t have any close friends, and his only extended family was an aging father, who probably didn’t remember who he was anyway.

                Michael Marks was forty-seven, five foot six. He’d always been insecure about his height, but here, in the barren wasteland, that didn’t much matter. Besides, in tomorrow’s headline they wouldn’t say anything about him in particular, they’d just say “X Die in Plane Crash,” and he’d just be one of the X. That was fine by him.

                But just when he started becoming settled to his fate, a voice ruined it—“Hey there!”

                Michael looked up. A man climbed out of the smoldering wreck. He had light brown hair, looked to be in his forties, and was about Michael’s height. Michael just stared at him in astonishment. “I thought I was the only survivor,” the man said.

                “So did I,” said Michael.

                The man looked around him. “So here we are,” he said.

                “Here we are.”

                The man sighed. “I can’t believe this happened.”

                “What did happen, exactly?”

                “Are you telling me you don’t know how we crashed? Seriously?”

                “I must have blacked out when it happened.”

                “One of the engines failed. The pilot was preparing for an emergency landing here in this desert, but then all of a sudden the controls locked up. He couldn’t do anything about it, and we crashed. As far as I knew everybody had died—until I found you, that is.”

                “Jeez.”

                The man stepped over to him. He offered his hand. “Come on,” he said. “We should get moving.”

                Michael looked at him, puzzled. “Why?”

                “Well, we might survive this thing. There’s gotta be somebody around here.”

                “Are you kidding? We’re in the middle of a desert. We’ve got no food and no water. There’s no way we’ll survive.”

                The man looked out at the sands, not saying anything for a moment. “Alright, I guess we won’t survive.”

                Michael was more confused than ever. “I don’t get you,” he said. “Just a minute ago you were convinced we could survive. Now all of a sudden you change your mind?”

                The man sighed again. “Someone I respected a great deal once said something to me. He said, ‘Some people just don’t find living worth the trouble.’ When he told me, I said he was crazy. Now I’m not so sure.”

                “Yeah,” Michael said, “I think I heard that somewhere too.”

                Michael looked up at the mess again. It wasn’t blazing anymore—its flames had been reduced to much tamer embers. “I’m going back in,” said the man. “Maybe there is something in there after all.”

                Michael merely offered a grunt in response. He watched the man cautiously step into the ruins, avoiding any still-burning parts. The sun’s rays seemed to be melting his brain—the sand seemed so soft beneath him, like a giant mattress. He quickly dozed off.

                When Michael came to, the man was sitting a few feet away. He was fumbling with a first-aid kit that was still intact, though charred. Around him were some packets of food and cans of soda, the few that had miraculously survived the crash. Michael’s eyes gleamed; it was almost too good to be true. “I guess we’ll be able to survive a bit longer than you thought,” chided the man.

                Michael smiled. There was no other reaction to give.

                “Wanna pass me one of those?” he asked, pointing to a Coke.

                The man handed him one of the shining red cans. Michael opened it, took a tentative sip, and then began to chug it down greedily.

                “Don’t drink it too fast,” the man reminded him. “We need to ration them out. Maybe one can per day, how about that?”

                Michael didn’t hear him, or if he did, his words didn’t have any meaning in that moment—he was too busy drowning himself in relief. “Why don’t we just stay here?” he asked him. “We’ve got food and drink to last a few weeks. I’m sure somebody will find us in that time.”

                “That won’t work. We’ll just burn up. Look, you’re already sunburned.”

                Michael stopped gorging himself and looked at his arms. They were red raw.

                “Come on, you’ve had enough,” the man said. “Let’s go see what we can find.”

                Michael tested his legs, but they couldn’t support his weight for very long standing. “Here, I’ll help you,” the man said, grunting as he took him under his arm, supporting him as they walked together.

                The sand was never ending. It was all they saw for miles and miles. It was the dunes that towered over them like waves, and it was the flat valleys whose endlessness drove them insane. Sweat dripped down Michael’s brow, leaving small wet imprints in the sand beneath his feet. Before the pain had kept him from feeling the heat, but now he felt it in full force. The man, meanwhile, seemed to be perfectly fine. He wasn’t even burned. How does he do it? Michael thought.

                It had been late when they began their trek, and now it was really getting dark. The chill was setting in. “We should travel at night, when it’s cool,” the man said. Michael grunted in agreement. The sun was setting in the distant horizon, leaving a pink and purple sky, with little white sparks in its wake.

                All Michael could think about now was how tired he was. His head hurt, his legs ached, his skin burned. He just wanted to stop moving, lie down and die. But the man wouldn’t let him. “We’ll never get out of here with that attitude. Let’s keep moving.” Reluctantly, Michael followed him.

                When the sun crept over the horizon like a child peeking through a door crack, Michael could move no longer. His legs buckled under him and he collapsed in the sand. He felt immediate relief. The sand swallowed him up, and he soon was lost in his subconscious.

                His wife stood facing him. “Do you remember?” she asked him. Michael said nothing. He murmured her name. “Emily…”

                She was as gorgeous as when he had first met her. Her auburn hair waved in the wind, her eyes as green as the sea. She held out her hand. Michael looked closer. There was something white in her palm. It was a seashell. Michael took it from her, examining it closely.

                Emily suddenly yelled, “You didn’t even say goodbye.”

                Michael looked up again, but she was gone. In her place was a bonfire. Soon his entire world was burning, burning, burning into the netherworld and beyond. He cowered in fear, clutching the shell and curling up into a ball. And the words kept ringing in his ears: “You didn’t even say goodbye.”

                He woke up with a start. Looking around, he noticed that the survivor was nowhere to be seen. But something caught his eye: the shell he’d seen in his dream. It was also part of his waking world. He grabbed it and put it to his ear. The sounds of waves crashing on a distant shore filled his ears with comfort. It was like the remnants of something that once was and had been drained away.

                Michael had no idea which direction to go, or if he should go anywhere at all. He noticed that the man had left all the food and drinks a few yards away. Michael ambled over to them and began to eat and drink hungrily. His strength began to return again.

                He shuffled through the sand, not knowing where he was going and if he wasn’t going in the direction he’d already come from. The sun was directly overhead, its rays beating down upon him. And still he kept going. He didn’t know why, or if it was right, but he kept going.

                And finally, after hours and hours of this, what seemed like an eternity, he heard something miraculous. A loud humming sound, growing louder and louder, beating with regularity. It was a helicopter. Seeing it, Michael stopped moving and waited. He noticed he was still clutching the shell Emily had given him. He put it up to his ear again. The sounds of the waves were still there. Sand blew everywhere, and Michael shielded his eyes as the helicopter got lower and lower.

                When it landed, he was helped into the helicopter by several men in uniforms. A journalist was aboard. “You’re a survivor of that plane crash, right?” he asked eagerly. Michael nodded his head. “It’s truly a miracle that you survived. You must be the luckiest man on earth.”

                Michael turned and looked out the window. The helicopter was lifting high into the air now. He saw a figure in the sand, staring up at him. It was the man. “Wait!” Michael yelled. “He’s another survivor! We’ve got to help him.”

                The other men looked in the direction he indicated. They looked at each other. “He must be delirious,” one said. “The desert’ll do that to ya. Come on, let’s go.”

                Michael stared at them in shock. “How can you say that? We have to save him!” He looked out the window again. But he could not find the mysterious man. He had vanished completely.

                Michael stared out over the sand. “He didn’t even say goodbye.”

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Food for Thought

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            Marshal Wright stared through the glass pane at the delicious-looking baked goods. He could smell the wafting scent of the cinnamon-sugar coating of each individual cinnamon roll; he could hear the whipped cream spurting out of its container onto its mutual partner hot chocolate; he could taste the milky frosting of the vanilla cupcakes on the tip of his tongue. He ordered a frappuccino, not for the temporary energy boost that would wear off later anyway, but for the utter bliss of the mint topping and chocolate flavor. If one were to describe him, one could say Marshal Wright’s jaw was filled with nothing but sweet teeth.

            He came to this place often. “The Right Time Bakery” it was called.

            The bakery was always filled with warmth. The best time to go to it was during the winter, when it was so cold outside, so close to the extreme end of the spectrum, that people would be more than obliging to get as close as possible to the other extreme. This, of course, was their busiest season, as their delicious hot chocolate with a healthy dose of whipped cream on the top was a local—and soon to be more widespread—favorite.

            After taking his drink to a small round table, he sat down at a chair and looked around him. The bakery had a warm, inviting atmosphere; discussions were interrupted not by rude words, but laughter. The pictures on the walls were a nice touch, too: they were all either of the bakery’s delicious foods, happy, smiling people eating their delicious foods, or some other related charming topic. However, one in particular caught his eye, one much different from the others. It was a painting of a clock, the bakery’s symbol. This clock was no ordinary clock, however; it was beautiful, with a sugar crystal face and cinnamon stick hands. He stared at it for a lengthy amount of time.

            Reality sunk in soon, though, and he went back to sipping his frappucino and reading the completely uninspiring newspaper. He peered at a few headlines—“Man Dies Alone in Tragic Car Crash” and “Thirty-Six Year-Old Dies of Heart Attack” were a couple. He had no interest in reading these, and instead, since Christmas was nearing, he turned to an article titled “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year”. It was describing an organization that sent food and gifts to the poor ofAmericaso they could have a happy Christmas. A nice gesture, he thought, but to virtually no avail; no matter how many gifts you send a poor person, their life will still be pretty miserable.

            Finishing his frappe, he put on his coat and walked outside into the cold, uninviting world he lived in. The snow fell rapidly, and the wind picked up the lazy snow off the rooftops so they could partake in the assault. Wright hurried along, his face buried in the collar of his now soaking jacket.

            His home was small and humble, a simple apartment, sparsely ornamented with furniture and necessities. Did he really need anything else? He hung up his coat on a hook on the wall and checked his messages. The light was blinking. He pressed the button, the doorway to his social life, the final chance. “Hello, this is Poland Spring reminding you that tomorrow is your delivery day!” announced the automated voice. “Remember to leave out your empty bottles.”

            Don’t you worry, I will,he thought.

            He fell asleep quickly. He didn’t usually dream, but today was unusual. It started out wonderfully: his wife and kids were there, and they were all sitting down to a delicious brunch on Christmas day. They feasted on chocolate croissants, muffins, and orange juice. The kids were off in five minutes, playing with their new toys. But then—why did he do it?—he glanced at the clock. It was the same clock that was in the painting hanging on the wall of the Right Time Bakery. The seconds ticked by loudly, each tick a loud bang, like the slamming of a metal door. Then, oh-so-eerily, the clock melted away, like candle wax, into the dark void of oblivion.

            He woke with a start. Just a dream. He looked at his own clock, to make sure it was the same he’d had since the divorce: yes, it was.

            At9:00 A.M.precisely he walked into his office, carrying his usual brown paper bag with a cinnamon roll, chocolate muffin, and bagel (to balance the others out). Sitting at his desk, he worked in solitude, biting a chunk out of a baked good here and there. He did not need all this food, and he knew it wasn’t good for him, but he ate it for the enjoyment, not for the sustenance, as, I am sure, anyone does.

            But, perhaps, Marshal Wright wasn’t receiving pleasure from eating anymore. He still sat anxiously at his computer, still moped around his apartment. Perhaps there was another reason he continued to eat these foods, one which he will find out at the right time.

            It was Christmas Eve. He imagined his family eating Christmas cookies together, drinking hot cocoa, and watching It’s a Wonderful Life by the fire. The tree was all lit up beautifully with multi-colored lights, and decorated with the dozens of ornaments saved up over the years. Tomorrow, tomorrow was to be a glorious, bright day, looking forward to tomorrow…

            The snow was falling ever fiercer. It would not surrender the fight. Its power was unmatched by any other, and thus had no need to give up.

            In this way, Marshal Wright fought his impending heart attack. His strength was so much that before the ambulance even got there, he had fought it off and was slowly recovering.

            On Christmas morning, his family gathered around his hospital bed. His wife and two children stood over him, the ones he cared for most in the world. They were all there, enjoying the best food there is—the food of life.

He knew now what was really important to him. Food is not meant to harm you or punish you or drown your sorrows. Food is meant to bring people together, to create a happy and harmonious moment for the people you love.

The doctor came up to him. “Well Mr. Wright, you are a very lucky man. This is certainly the right time for you.”

“Yes, it is,” he replied. “It is the right time.”

And from then on, Marshal Wright’s occupation was helping those in need, those less fortunate, those who couldn’t enjoy the “Wonderful Times”. Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.

            

Rain

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            The sharp, accusing rays of the sun tore through Scott Martin as he took his first few steps of freedom. He had been in prison for seven years, and finally he was a free man. He’d shed his prison garb, along with his prison attitude. Now he was a different, more complete person. Michigan had never looked better.

            Even though he was no longer dragging around the weight of captivity, now he was pulling an even heavier weight: that of guilt. His fellow inmates certainly hadn’t helped him feel any better about himself. He had lost all contact with his parents since his incarceration, and all his friends were long gone. Scott’s biggest regret, though, was missing out on the opportunity every person should have the privilege of having—the college experience.

            The sun continued to beat down on him. Its incessant glaring was driving him mad.

            “Goodbye,” he said to the guard. The guard made no reply. Scott walked away, slightly disoriented. He didn’t know where to go. He didn’t have anywhere to go. All his life he’d lived inMichigan; it was his home, his partner. His only friend left.

            Perhaps he would go back to his hometown, where it all started: Saint Cloud.

            It was anything but cloudy today.

            His Ford was returned to him. He hardly recognized it. The paint had faded, and it was making some kind of weird noise he didn’t remember it having before. It was no longer his. But they said it was, so it was.

            Driving to Saint Cloud was one of the most confusing things that Scott had ever done. He was having trouble remembering the streets and the routes. And that sun, that accusing sun, the judge of the world, it kept following him. It was stalking him.

            After about half an hour, he couldn’t take it anymore. He had to pull over. Maybe a stronger person could have done it, but not Scott Martin. He didn’t have the strength or the courage to do what the sun asked of him. It was too much.

            But despite it all, he started the car again and kept going. He was only twenty miles from Saint Cloud now.

            It was starting to get cloudy. The developing cover was beginning to obstruct the sun’s angry glare.

            Like his Ford, Saint Cloud had also changed. It wasn’t at all how he remembered it. It had been completely commercialized: chain restaurants were now where bookstores and candy stores used to be, and all his old childhood hangout spots were gone. Was nothing sacred anymore?

            His neighborhood was even worse. The bright, hopeful houses he remembered were now decrepit and pale. The gardens had turned to weeds, the roads were in terrible shape; his old neighborhood looked completely deserted.

            Some last few rays of sunlight were piercing him still.

            He finally arrived, after a slow, thoughtful drive, at his old home. The blue paint had paled and worn away in places, and the once pretty garden now consisted of overgrown grasses. This was not home. This was not his.

            He knocked on the door. Unlike everything else, the door was still standing firm, still as sturdy as ever. It was as if it didn’t want him to come in. He didn’t much care what the door thought.

            Nobody answered. He knocked louder.

            The clouds now completely covered the sky—there was not a speck of blue. All was gray, all was sorrow.

            Still no one answered. This time he pounded on the door with both fists as loud as he could, screaming, yelling. “Hello? Mom? Dad? Anybody? Please, open the door! Please!

            It was to no avail. It was now raining heavily. Anyone watching would not have noticed the tears streaming down Scott Martin’s face. They were washed away with the rain, flowing along with all the other teardrops of all the other miserable people into the river of sadness.

            He floated down the river, knowing exactly where it would take him: the cemetery. It took him to a grave he knew well. It read:

            Here Lies Tom Colman

            1981-2000

            A Son, A Student, And A Loving Friend

            R.I.P.  

            Scott Martin kneeled in front of the grave, shaking uncontrollably. He could not stop the river. The rain seemed only to add to it. Finally, he felt something deep inside himself. He felt like all the dirt and sin had been washed away, to join the tears in the river. The rain surrounded him, was part of him, and it cleansed him. He looked up at the sky, smiling, letting the rain fall over him, and whispered, “Thank you.”

Average Happiness

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Two shots were fired on Tuesday.

            A pigeon flew out of the busy street as a taxi rushed toward it. It flew into the sky, bathed in the warmth of the hot summer sun. It finally came to rest on a curb near the Museum of Natural History, its eyes fixed on the gum-ridden sidewalk, its head bobbing back and forth, darting to the ground occasionally to pick up a crumb of someone’s discarded food. It didn’t seem to notice the many people rushing to and fro on the sidewalk, headphones or Bluetooths in their ears, their eyes fixed on the ground in front of them. Likewise, the people didn’t seem to notice the pigeon, which was pecking at a dropped pretzel.

            So it is here, in New York City, that we find our main character, a certain Jim Roderick, standing at his post as a vendor. He sold New York City’s finest hot salted pretzels, ice cold soda, meaty hot dogs, delicious ice cream—you name it, he vended it. He was located not on a busy, congested street corner, but directly in front of the Museum, where he would enjoy having intelligent conversations with passersby. But even here, as in all of New York City, it was not peaceful or quiet. He heard at least ten honks a minute, and people were often shouting so they could hear each other over the honking.

            But as long as people came to him, he didn’t care about all that. The smell of his food stayed with him wherever he went—a sign of a true vendor. Personally he enjoyed it: the greasy smell of pretzels and hot dogs was very reassuring. He didn’t eat any of it; no, he was a slim young man of about thirty, with a slightly understated muscular physique. He had scruffy brown hair and soft blue eyes that seemed to go deeper than they appeared. The food he sold may not have made people healthy, but it sure made them happy, and that was what mattered. Jim was happy enough.

            The pigeon stopped near Jim’s site, having smelled the food from far away. It resumed its scavenging, looking for anything Jim may have dropped. Then it looked up at him—for only a second—and then looked away again. Jim smiled.

            “Hi,” a man said, waking Jim from his reverie. Jim looked up, startled. The man looked rather annoyed.

            “Hi,” Jim replied. “How may I help you?”

            “Could I just get a pretzel, please?”

            “Comin’ right up.” Jim began preparing the pretzel, even though it really didn’t require much preparation at all. He looked at the man. He was a typical New Yorker, or what people imagine as a typical New Yorker. From his accent, Jim could tell—“You’re from Brooklyn?”

            “Yeah…” The man didn’t seem interested in divulging anything more. He shifted awkwardly.

            “Have you ever been in there?” Jim asked, pointing to the Museum.

            “No.”

            “You should go someday. It’s very informative. I mean, I’m not trying to advertise it or anything. But it really changed my life. Just looking up at that giant fossil of Tyrannosaurus rex, its massive skull and teeth and claws, it really makes you realize how vulnerable you are, y’know?”

            “Huh.”

            “Yeah, I mean—one fifty, please—it’s really quite amazing how they were able to restore it to its former pristine, frightening condition. Imagine how it must have looked hunting its prey, its eyes locked on it, thinking of nothing else. Imagine how absolutely petrified the prey must’ve been! Thank you.” The man handed him the money.

            “No no, thank you. Y’know, I think I will check that out.”

            “Great! It’s definitely worth your time.”

            The man walked away, not into the river of commerce, but into the Museum of Natural History, to see the teeth of the Tyrannosaurus rex.

            Jim looked down at the pigeon. It was still hovering around his stand. He took out a pretzel and began to eat it, throwing a piece down to the pigeon. He thought about the world, about life, about himself. About the pigeon.

            Another customer—no, another friend—came up to his stand. “Hey, Jim,” the woman said. She wore glasses, and was probably in her forties. Jim had never asked.

            “Hey, Rachel,” he said. “How’s your son?”

            “He’s great,” she said. “He just graduated middle school.”

            “Wow! Extend my congratulations to him.”

            “I will. How’ve you been?”

            “I’ve been good. Business has been slow, but…y’know. It seems like everyone’s getting faster, but I just can’t keep up.”

            “Yeah, I know what you mean.”

            “How’ve you and your son been coping with the divorce?”

            Rachel sighed. “It’s…it hasn’t been easy. My son, he…well, he doesn’t really say much anymore. It’s like his emotion has run dry.”

            “He needs to know that his parents love him. Be kind and reassuring to him; don’t worry, you’ll both get through it just fine.”

            “Thank you, Jim. I feel much better now.”

            “Well, this complimentary hot dog will make you feel even better! Please, I insist.”

            “No, no, I insist, I’ll pay you. You yourself said business was slow—there’s no way I’ll let you drown.” She forced the money into his hands. “You’re a great man. Don’t forget that.”

            “Oh—um—well, thanks!”

            Rachel walked away. Another pigeon came over to his stand. It joined the other pigeon, looking up expectantly at Jim. “Oh, come on,” he said to them. “I can’t always feed you. You have to learn how to take care of yourselves.”

            Of course, they didn’t move, so Jim just threw down a couple more pieces of his pretzel.

            The heat didn’t let up as it grew darker, and Jim had to drink from his own supply of water. It didn’t really matter, though—nobody bought water anymore. The sun cast an angry glow on the horizon that washed the streets in shadow. The street lamps glared right back. Jim sat out the fight, content to simply wait for customers. If none came, so be it—it was never really about the money.

            Eventually the street lamps won out. At nine ‘o clock, Jim packed his things, locked the cart, and left, saying goodbye to the pigeons. He began to make the journey back to his home, a small apartment that just fit his budget. It was a bit too cozy—his belongings, what little he had, made it difficult for him to traverse the rooms, but he had a roof over his head, and was content.

            Jim was a smart guy; he had gone to a prestigious college, gotten his degree, and been offered a well-paying job at a good company. It was when he graduated that he realized that was not what he wanted to be doing for the rest of his life. So he drove cross country for a time, went abroad, and when he came back to New York he just sort of stayed, setting up a food cart and becoming a vendor until he found what he wanted to do. So far that hadn’t happened yet.

Fat raindrops hit the pavement outside with big splashes. Jim was back in his old home, staring out the window, waiting for his parents to come back. They had gone to see a play, and should’ve been back by now. Jim wondered what could be taking them. He paced back and forth, now genuinely worried.

            The phone rang.

            Jim jumped, his head jerking toward the phone. He raced to pick it up. “Hello?” he said frantically.

            “Jim?”

            “Oh, hello, Uncle Boris.”

            “Jim, I want you to listen to me very carefully. Do you understand?”

            Jim gulped.

            “Do you understand me?”

            “Y-yes.”

            “As your parents were leaving the show, a man robbed and shot them. I’m so sorry, Jim.”

            Jim burst into tears. “Mom! Dad!” he screamed.

            “Jim, listen to me. Your parents loved you more than you could possibly imagine. Remember this, Jim. No matter what happens, never let yourself fall into despair. There is always hope, you just have to find it.”

            Jim wasn’t listening. His tears fell on the floor like the fat raindrops outside. And all he could hear were gunshots and the inevitable screams…

Clouds covered the sky the next day, weeping over the city.

            Jim put on his rain coat and hurried to his cart. He set up the umbrella to cover his cart from further damage. As he was doing so, he noticed that someone had vandalized his cart. It said, “Are You Happy?” The vandal had also found it necessary to break into his cart and steal all his food. He must have had an axe to break through it.

            Jim sighed. “No…no…no!” He banged his fist on the cart. He couldn’t help himself. The rain mixed with his tears. He couldn’t tell if they were his or the world’s.

            The pigeons were gone. They were probably warm, protected from the rain by an overhang somewhere. Perhaps in a car garage, scavenging for any food people may have dropped.

            It was a Tuesday.

            He could hear the Tyrannosaurus rex hunting its prey. He could see its teeth bared, its huge claws ready, its legs pounding the ground as it closed in on its breakfast. Jim wasn’t going to let it happen again.

            He rushed toward the scene. He could feel the impact of each step the monster took—they shook the ground with such intensity that the few pigeons on the streets flew off in fear. Jim didn’t care. He ran on, using the scream he had heard as an invisible guide.

            And then, around the corner, he saw the beast, standing awkwardly on its hind legs, its claws outstretched, pointing a handgun at two unfortunate civilians. A mother and daughter. They stood, shivering, backed against a wall.

            “Take my money! Take it! Just leave us alone!” the mother shouted.

            “Quiet!T. rex roared.

            “I don’t think you should be doing that,” Jim said.

            The man, extremely startled, looked back in surprise. “Don’t move!” he shouted. “Don’t move or…or I’ll shoot!”

            “Is this really what you want to be doing? Scaring people into giving you their money? Do you think that is an honest living?”

            “Stop it! Just stop it!”

            With one sweep of his leg, Jim knocked the man to the ground. The man shot, a bit too late, and the bullet flew off to the side, missing Jim by only a few inches. Jim grabbed the gun as the man fell, and in one swift motion pointed it directly at the man’s face. The man stared up in horror, his mouth wide open, tears streaming down his face, mixing with Jim’s tears on the ground below.

            Jim stared at the man. “Who are you?”

            “Please, please, I’m Justin, Justin Roberts, I’m confused, I’m messed up, I need money—”

            “Money? Money? What else do you need? What else does anyone need nowadays? Well, Roberts, I—I—” Jim stopped. At that moment, it all came together. He’d finally found the place where his puzzle piece, the one he’d carried all his life, fit perfectly.

            “You killed my parents.”

            “W-what?”

            “You heard me, you murderer, you thief, you vermin, you killed my parents!”

“No, no, it wasn’t me, I didn’t do anything, I swear—”

            “Liar!

            Jim took another long look at the man whimpering and shaking on the ground. His tear-streaked face shone in the moonlight. It wasn’t much different from Jim’s face, really. The difference was Jim had the gun.

Jim’s hands were trembling violently. Sweat dripped down his forehead. His eyes were wide with anger and insanity. Then he shot.

By the time the police had done a thorough investigation, there was no evidence that it hadn’t been done in self-defense. It more or less was in self-defense, although Jim could have called the police instead of shooting the man. It was decided that Jim had acted in self-defense combined with protecting a mother and daughter, and the case was closed.

            The next day was bright. There were some clouds in the sky, but they were not sufficient enough to block out the light from the sun. Jim carried on his regular job. He did not buy a new cart—he simply fixed up the one that had been broken into, with new plastic that was tougher to break.

            The graffiti remained. Jim looked at it every day. He always thought about it. “Are You Happy?”

            Yes, I am happy, he thought to himself. I am always happy. I’m…I’m happy…aren’t I?

            Rachel stopped by in the afternoon. “Hello, Jim,” she said.

            “Hello, Rachel,” Jim said. “How has your day been?”

            “Great. Yours?”

            “Very good, thanks.”

            Rachel looked at him questioningly for a few moments. “You look happier today for some reason. Why?”

            Jim was grinning a wide grin, but something about it didn’t seem right. “Everyone’s happy for their own reasons. This is just your average happiness.”

            Rachel looked at him as if he were a mental patient, and then walked off.

            Jim looked down at a pigeon standing near his cart. “Well, the sun doesn’t shine on everyone, eh?”

            The pigeon made no reply.

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