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Writing Resources from Fifteen Minutes of Fiction

The following is a piece of writing submitted by Michael K on February 26, 2008

The Twilight Avenger

My father has not been himself lately - or, perhaps the issue is this: as I grow toward adulthood, I understand him less and less, so it seems that he is no longer the same person. Perhaps it is simply me who is changing.

Sometimes he will come home from work and sit in his padded recliner saying nothing for hours on end. And when someone speaks to him his replies are nothing but grunts. Mother tells him to stop acting like a teenager, and he just grunts again.

Meal time is even worse; we sit around the table deliberately and slowly chewing our food in silence, as though gathering as a family is some magic ritual which will draw us closer together. But the silence simply drives us further apart.

When the stillness of mealtime (broken only by "please pass the salad") gets to be too much for mother, she turns on the television in the other room and turns the volume up so she can listen to the news while she eats.

Tonight the story is about the string of convenience store robberies which has plagued our city for the last three months. They call the burglar the "Ski Mask Bandit". Not a very original name. If it had been up to me, I would have come up with a much more creative name - something like "The Twilight Avenger".

Mother looked at father and tried to initiate conversation. "I hear the cops have a lead on this masked bandit that's been running around breaking into convenience stores," she said.

Father wasn't interested in being drawn into conversation. Actually, for a moment it looked as though he was going to say something, but then he closed his mouth and retreated into his silence.

The news station moved on to talk about the man who had a pet pig in his apartment, and whose neighbors were trying to get the pig evicted. Nobody around the table had anything to say about that story.

After finishing my supper I pushed back from the table abruptly and said, "I'm going out tonight."

Mother reminded me that it was a school night, and I shrugged, putting as much indifference and disdain into the motion as I could.

"Where are you going?" father asked. I think those were the first words he'd spoken since he got home.

"Pool hall," I said, and left the room before they had a chance to tell me to stay home.

As I was walking out the front door, father walked by on his way back to his recliner, and said, "Be careful out there, son."

His words weren't as startling as the fact that he'd spoken them at all. "What?" I replied after a moment of surprised wonder.

"You know. The ski mask guy. It's a dangerous city at night. Just be alert. Don't do anything stupid."

"Don't worry, dad. It's not like I'm going to walk into a convenience store and try to disarm a masked bandit."

Father nodded, but didn't look very happy with my answer.

Then again, nothing seems to make him happy these days.

Forty-five minutes later I was sitting in Bobby's car, with Bobby in the driver's seat, staring at the Cumberland Farms on Oak and Lincoln. "You ready?" he asked.

"Keep the car running," I said, sliding the ski mask over my face.

It started out as a gag, a joke, a way of passing some time on a dull Saturday evening when Bobby and I couldn't find any girls to go out with us. Now I told myself it was my way of lashing out at my parents, who never understood me, and never let me do anything my way. And particularly, lashing out against my father who I no longer understood. "I'll show them" became the motto of my crime spree.

And what a rush it was! The Twilight Avenger, racing past the video cameras anonymously in my ski mask, sticking a gun in the cashier's face, and demanding all the cash in the drawer. We hadn't yet hit a single glitch - not a single cop had come near us. The take was small, because most of the cash was kept in a time-lock safe, but we weren't really doing it for the money anyway.

A few customers screamed as I entered the store, but they didn't cause any problems. By now everyone knew the drill; even before I could say it, all the customers were lying face down in the aisles, and looking at the floor.

The cashier's hands were trembling so badly he could barely open the cash drawer. "C'mon, c'mon," I said, deliberately disguising my voice, "I haven't got all night."

Then, from behind me came another voice. "Freeze!" the voice said, "Drop the weapon on the floor, put your hands on the counter."

I didn't even turn around - any other masked bandit would have looked to make sure it wasn't a customer trying to be a hero - but I knew it was the real thing. I'd been busted.

And suddenly, the last three months of my life shifted in focus, and I saw things far more clearly - the silence, the frustration, the cautions to be careful, and so much more that I had misunderstood. "I hear the cops have a lead," mother had said, and I hadn't heard the warning.

My hands were trembling as badly as the cashier's as I bent down to place the weapon on the floor.

"Dad," I whispered, "I'm sorry."

And the cop's voice, a troubled combination of frustration, sorrow, and an unspoken plea for forgiveness, whispered back, "I told you to be careful tonight."

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