Powder Burn Flash #363 - J. Scott Kunkle
by J. Scott Kunkle
"You have a nice place, Doctor, and thanks for the coffee."
“I like the natural lighting.”
"Thank you. Are you interested in things like that?"
"Well, when I was going to college I dabbled in architecture."
"What happened? Did you lose interest?"
"I lost interest in many things. People change, get new ideas. You should understand that, Doctor."
"Only a medical doctor, I'm afraid. Psychology was never one of my strong suits. However, yes, I do know what you mean. I wanted to be an artist when I was in school. You know, move to Paris and paint masterpieces. Suffer for my craft and all that prepubescent stuff and nonsense."
"Aspirations are nothing to be taken lightly, Doctor. If it were not for people dreaming, aspiring to be more than they are, there would be no Mona Lisa, no Hamlet, and no airplane. Without dreams, the world would come to a screeching halt. We would go nowhere."
"It seems strange that a man in your position would see things that way."
"Why? Dreaming is not confined to the upper class, Doctor. Everyone is entitled to dream no matter which side of the tracks they come from. All that some people have is their dreams. It's the thing that drives them forward."
"But to what end?"
"It's not really the dreams that are important, anyway. It is the mere act of dreaming. Needing something, strongly enough drives you forward. It keeps you alive."
"But who is to say who will fulfill their dreams and who will fall short? Surely not you?"
"I never claimed to be God, Doctor and I’m not here to judge anyone."
"No, I suppose not."
A cup rang shrilly as it clattered in the sink, the last remains of the coffee running slowly from the cup across the porcelain, leaving a tiny brown stain on the glistening white surface that would be impossible to scrub away.
"It's getting late, Doctor."
"Yes, I know, but please, just a short while longer. I find talking with you rather intriguing."
"You are a strange character, Doctor."
"Yes, well, tell me, how long have you been in your line of work? Or is that too personal a question?"
"I don't mind. Nearly thirty years now, though it seems a lot longer."
"You hardly seem old enough."
"How old do you have to be?"
"Have you ever considered giving it all up? Moving away and starting over? Take an early retirement and puzzle through some of life's little intricacies? Surely you have the money."
"Yes, I've thought about it, and dismissed it. One day I will retire, but not now. I still have a great deal to accomplish."
"You see, Doctor, in my profession, I learn things that others cannot. Little things, I grant you, and most of no importance, but occasionally, like tonight, I gain a little insight, a little bit of understanding of life's workings, of how people think. It all helps piece together the puzzle. When the puzzle is complete, then I'm done.”
"I think so. You see, I have also gained from our conversation. In the short time we have talked, I have learned things about myself that I had only accepted thus far on faith. I almost believe I am half the man I considered myself. It is a good feeling. I have finally answered some of my silent questions."
"And exactly what does that mean?"
"It is the questions one asks of oneself. They are never voiced and never discussed in public. They are pondered in private and the answers are rare. And then, usually not the ones we wanted in the first place."
"You said you weren’t a psychologist."
"This isn't psychology. This is life."
"Those questions sound like they could drive you a little bit crazy."
"Not at all. It is very simple. If a person finds an answer that is contradictory to the way they wish to perceive themselves, then they merely dismiss the answer or change the question to better suit the answer. The hard part is in deciding which questions to ask and to have the humility to accept the answers, no matter how much they oppose your ideal. That is the only way to gain anything."
"And you've gained something tonight?"
"A great deal more than I had expected. As I said, I find that I like myself, and I like most of what I have done in my life. My actions have been the same as many a man before me. I can accept what I have done and any consequences I might deserve. My questions have been answered."
"Are you sure?"
Leather creaked like the saddle of a good packhorse. Light gleamed from metal as if from the shiny studs on the saddle, glistening in the moonlight. Fires danced along the steel, igniting sparks in the eyes, dying as swift as an ice cube on a hot day.
"It's nearly twelve and I have to get going, Doctor. I have some silent questioning of my own to do tonight, and I don't believe it's going to go very well."
"After having talked with you, I am sure it will not. You are a remarkable man and it has been a distinct pleasure to speak with you, even under these circumstances. Remember, son, the grass is never greener on the other side of that fence. It’s just grass, same as on this side."
"I think I could have grown fond of talking with you. There aren't many people out there with something to say."
"You're welcome, Doctor. Good bye."
The sudden crash echoes throughout the room. Amid sounds of oblivion, there is whiteness and then blackness tinged in red. The thin trickle of smoke wafts up to the ceiling and hangs there, like a vulture watching over a dying figure, the movements slowing on the floor below. Watching, and waiting.
He had his answers as well.
BIO: After serving 10 years in the U.S. Army, I returned to my hometown of Tucson, Az. My stories have appeared elsewhere online at such sites as Flashes in the Dark, The Fringe, Static Movement and Weird Year. I am also a novelist and screenwriter with several novels and over a dozen screenplays to my credit.