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Participate in the 3rd Season of STORYMIRROR SCHOOLS WRITING COMPETITION - the BIGGEST Writing Competition in India for School Students & Teachers and win a 2N/3D holiday trip from Club Mahindra

MARK GREENLAW

Tragedy Inspirational


4  

MARK GREENLAW

Tragedy Inspirational


Hero

Hero

16 mins 179 16 mins 179

Taking a drag off his cigarette Craig Billings' shaking fingers turn on his Tandy 486 computer. As it comes to life he finishes his cigarette. Craig stares at the monitor and brings up his file. A list of all of his stories comes onto the screen. With disgust, he turns away. His nervous hands open a dusty drawer. Sweating fingers grab onto the cold metal of death. He pulls out his 22 revolver. Unused it is still as shiny as the day he bought it, many years ago. With slight hesitation, he puts it down on the desk next to his mouse. Rolling back in his chair with wheels, he gets his 180-pound frame out of the chair. Craig walks over the mound of dirty laundry on his bedroom floor. Glancing around he surveys his room, as if for the first time. His dusty shades are down. Pictures of his dead wife still sit on his dresser which also contains an inch thick coating of dust.


“I need to dust more!" he remarks to himself with no conviction. Besides the dresser, there is just the computer desk, a closet with no clothes inside, and his king-sized waterbed are the only items in the room. The bed looms large in the room, and he realizes that it is probably a little too big for one person. Shuffling his feet, he exits the room and heads down the narrow hallway towards his medium-sized kitchen. Dirty, mouldy dishes sit in the sink being cleaned by the fruit flies above them. Ignoring them he opens his fridge to get hit with a wave of stench that almost makes him gag.


"Time to clean out the fridge!" he states unenthusiastically. Peering inside he spots the cause of the odour. 3 or 4 Tupperware containers with unknown food inside hint at him to be removed and cleaned. For a fleeting moment, he contemplates it, then the idea quickly fades.


"I'll leave that for the mourners!" is his reply. Finally spying what he was looking for, his fingers grasp onto the bottle of J & B Scotch. Having three-fourths of it left, he smiles with satisfaction. After opening the bottle he heads back to his room. His stomach starts to churn with nervousness. He almost trips over his pile of clothes but he resumes his walk over to his chair. With the bottle in hand, he re-sits in his chair and heads back to his computer. An idea pops into his head. He opens a new file. The 48-year-old news reporter takes a swig from his bottle. Beads of sweat begin to form on his forehead even though the room is relatively cool. Craig sets his bottle down and types four letters. HERO. His fingers caress the gun. He takes another swig from his "medicine bottle". As the liquor takes effect, he reminisces about the past.


He was twenty-five when he got the job at the Portsmouth Herald. He was ecstatic. Feeling a natural high he celebrated with his wife of five years, Rose. Craig Billings' career took off. He was the number one reporter. He made the cover story almost every day. He was the best. But with his success also came the ego. Craig felt untouchable, unstoppable, omnipotent. Thus, started the beginning of his eventual downfall. Craig and Rose Billings had a wonderful marriage. They had an occasional argument but for the most part, it was sheer bliss. Remaining in the spotlight they maintained the lifestyle of fame, although they were never rich. Credit card after credit card easily snuck into their wallets. Through wining and dining they were able to maintain their grasp onto each other and also their social clubs. Success surely smelled sweet. Rose offered continual support of Craig's stories. She even offered constructive criticism to help his current article flourish. It was easy for Craig. He had a way with words. With an instinct and a nose for a story was how he was able to stay one step ahead of his competitors. He had his scanners to provide important information on current activities. His camera bag was always at his side. For three years he was at the top of the world. Unfortunately, with his great success, there also came the drinking. It started out with six-packs of Rolling Rock, then it progressed to twelve-packs. After those began to have minimal effect, Craig "on top of the world" suddenly started to falter. On the way home from a bridge match with her friends Rose Billings avoided a squirrel, lost control of her car and hit a telephone pole head-on. She died on impact. Craig was at home when he received the phone call from the officer on patrol. With a tear-stained face, he put the receiver down on its cradle. It was then when he went to the liquor store and bought his first bottle of J & B. Thus began the fall of this reporter...


Craig stares at his computer screen. The four words still loom at him hauntingly. Glancing at the bottle he notices that it is now half gone. His nervous eyes shift back and forth. In a flash, his right-hand snatches the gun up. Pointing it at his temple, he remembers his wife.


"I'll be with you soon," he exclaims believably. The words on the screen catch his eye. Craig blinks, turns to the screen, and remembers that it is not quite time. Feeling inspired he puts the gun back down. Sweat flows off of his brow.


"This is going to be the story of the lifetime," he gloats. "I'm going to write about what it takes to be a hero. And then when I commit suicide it'll improve the story." "Ha! Ha!" Taking a swig off his "demon" he begins to type. His fingers dance on the keyboard as he researches, types, drinks, sweats, edits, and drinks some more. The buzz from the scotch impairs his typing but not the quality of the story. As he types and drinks he remembers again the past...


  After Rose's death, the drinking got out of hand. Night after night he would hit the bar. No longer did he listen to his scanner. If he did try to listen to it, he would be so drunk he could no longer understand what was being said. By the first year, he had slid from the number one spot to the sixth highlight. Along with the booze, he started roaming with his anatomy and started coming home with a different woman each night. Before long this stopped as impotency settled in due to the drinking, and his anger at the world got the best of him. His temper started to flair and the women no longer wanted to be near him. Feelings of guilt and uselessness started to settle in. He no longer felt like he was walking on air. By the second year, he was writing the obituaries as the younger hotshots took over his old favourite page, near the top.


He remembers where the last shred of his ego was left exposed to the world. It was the day he was called into his bosses' office. On his way to the office, he could hear the snickers and jabs of his fellow employees. Like a pack of vultures they were all waiting for him to finally get weeded out of there. Ignoring things was what he did best, so he tried to keep his dignity and kept on walking. Passively, he knocked on the door. In his prime he would boisterously knock and march in. Now, he had nothing left.


"Come in!" the authoritative voice of his boss commanded. Cautiously, Craig entered into the lion's den.


"It's been a while since I've seen you, Craig. I want to tell you that this conversation has been a long time coming. I really hate to do this, but I'm under a lot of pressure." Craig hangs his head low. The fear of getting fired settled deep into his bones.


"You know, ever since your wife Rose died, you have lost your spirit. Your edge." Craig meekly nodded.


"But it's not just your wife, it's mostly been the drinking." Again no response from the defeated reporter.


"Will you please say something!" Craig's boss Tony Marcella yells. Craig shrinks back from the outburst.


"What do you want me to say? I'm finished." Craig responds in a low voice.


"That's better!" Tony says satisfied at getting a response. "Have you looked at yourself lately? I mean really looked at yourself?" Craig shakes his head.


"Your eyes are bloodshot every day. The bags under your eyes are big enough for someone to pack clothes for a vacation. You dress sloppily. Your work is getting shoddy. Craig, you are a mess!" Tony's eyes burn into Craig's. Craig nods with understanding.


"You're right, Tony! I think it's time I turn it in." Craig's shoulders slump. He lets out a sigh.


"So that's your answer huh? Just quit? Seems to me you've been quitting for a long, long time. You've gotten good at that. Do you think I called you in here to fire you? Well, think again. Do you remember when you first started for us? You were the best. I have never seen anybody with that hunger you had. Even now, I have not seen it. Those reporters couldn't even touch you if you were the same as you were. They are just young studs, hoping to find a good story. You had everything man, everything. I really think you could have pulled through from the loss of your wife, but that liquor, those demons really have such a grip on your soul right now, you don't know how to shake loose. No! I am not going to fire you. Based on the performance lately, you're right, you deserve to get fired. That's what I'm being told is the right thing to do. But I'm not going to, do you know why?" Tony's serious eyes reach into the mind of Craig, trying to pull out the answer. They grab at air. There is no response. Tony shakes his head.


"I am going to give you one last chance. I know that you can come back to us. Get your head out of the obituaries, and come back to the top. I'm giving you two weeks vacation, and when you come back, bring with a front page story!" Tony Marcella gives a final glance of concern to his old reporter. Craig smiles outwardly.


"Thanks!" Craig Billings replies. Walking out with dignity, he glided past the cronies. They noticed the spring in his step. The look in his eyes caused them back up. In his mind, he had his story...


With that same look in his eyes Craig types furiously at the keyboard. His medicine is down to a quarter. The cascades down his face like a waterfall. His shirt sticks to his body. Heedless, of these things he continues with his front-page story. With the alcohol wrapping around his body like a suit of armor he starts to feel the effect. The has-been reporter stands up and heads for the bathroom. Staggering, he finally finds his way to the bathroom and enters it. When he looks up the cob-webs on the ceiling start to spin. Quickly he shifts his gaze into the toilet water. Craig tries his best to aim, but like most men, sober or not when it comes to getting it in the water, it is nearly impossible. It is when he is taking his leak that he begins to remember more from the past.


"I used to trust you," he responds to his penis. The memory returns...


The red-headed hooker links her arm with his. Now that his dating scene has been halted, Craig decided to get his sex from a different avenue. The prostitute had a very sexy figure with the face to match. Craig remembered thinking that it was a shame that she was wasting her self-worth but he didn't mind since it was his date for the evening. Not surprisingly, Craig had scotch in his system. The hooker let out a giggle as they drove to his apartment. While he drove, she unzipped his fly. His mind buzzing with the inducement of J & B, he began to feel a stirring in his loins. The speedometer rose as the prostitute went to work on her "John". Craig fumbled with the keys as he tried to get into his apartment. The hooker put her tongue in his ear. It didn't help get the right key any quicker. Finally, he gets inside the excitement filling the air. Immediately, the red-headed bombshell started to undress her trick. He smiled at her. His drunken fingers start to undress what little clothing she already had. The stink of sex began to fill the air. With both bodies finally naked, the hooker finally speaks.


"Let's get down to business!" she replies steamily.


After nearly an hour of making out, bumping and grinding, and every other sexual favour she could try, the hooker finally put her clothes back on. Ashamed at his performance, Craig too got dressed. It wasn't until he handed her the money, that she started to laugh. The demons from the bottle came out and he let out a roar. His fist barely missed her as he slammed it into the wall.


"GET OUT!" he screamed in rage. The prostitute left in a hurry. When he shut the door, he could hear her laughter recede down the stairs. For him, he knew, it was over...


Coming out of his haze he stares down at his useless manhood. With his story left unfinished he zips up his fly and heads back to the computer. Being in charge of the obituaries, he chuckles at the idea of writing his own before he dies.


"When I finish the story, I'll think about it!" he muses. For the next two hours, he gets into his writing zone and does nothing but type. Frequently, he takes some more of his medicine. When he finishes the bottle he retrieves another. The newspaper reporter makes a few more bathroom rounds but for the most part, he continues on with his page one story.


"I can just see the headlines tomorrow!" Craig exclaims madly. Finally, he completes his story. Perusing it, he re-checks it for errors, and finally feeling satisfied, he stops typing. His second bottle of J & B is half gone, and his buzz is exceptional. After printing his exclusive he sits numbly in the chair. With his powerful buzz, he finds the courage to pick up his gun. It feels heavy in his hands. The cold steel of the 22 brings a chill to his sweating body. Craig let's out a shudder. Placing the weapon to his temple, the reporter starts to sweat uncontrollably. Although he has gone many times, his bladder let's go and the stench of urine reaches his nostril. The taste of sweat on his lips, the smell of urine, Craig Billings finally realizes the sense of fear. His free hand grabs the bottle and guzzles some more courage. Tightening his grip, Craig tries his best to end his life. Uncontrollably, he starts to shake. Thinking back on his life, he weighs his options. With his thumb, he pulls back on the hammer.


"Any second now!" he gloats nervously. Suddenly, there is a loud thumping noise coming from his chest. It reaches his ears. With his heart adding more to his fear, he swigs more from his anti-fear medicine. It seems to have little effect, his body continues to shake and sweat.


"This might keep me alive," he states. Using his sweaty palm, he moves the revolver to his throat.


"That should do it!" Confident in his position, Craig resumes his battle. Before he can end his life however, the screen saver appears on his computer. Not liking this distraction, Craig hits a key to make it disappear. The screen comes back on. To print the story he went back to the top. Now, the four words loom large before him. HERO These four words imprint themselves in his brain.


"HERO" he thinks. "Where have I heard this before?" he questions. With the gun up against his throat, he tries to recall the memory. It seems to strike a chord of recognition in his drunken state. The type of recognition where you can't stop thinking about it until you can bring the memory to the fore. Craig thinks in frustration.


"I can't kill myself until I remember what those four words mean to me. I need some concentration." With his second bottle half-way down, he takes another long swig. Nervous fingers put the bottle down, and pick up a cigarette. The cigarette seems to help his concentration more. Finishing it, he resumes his grip on the bottle. His heart tries to leap out of his chest. Sweat is making it very hard for him to see. As his trigger finger starts to squeeze off the killing shot his mind races back to the past for a final time....


 They had moved into their house shortly after they were married. It was a huge four-bedroom Victorian. Two full bathrooms, and a small private bathroom inside the master bedroom made it easier to fall in love with the house. A hot-tub was also in the master bedroom. Rose loved to decorate so she made the master bedroom into a suite. Incense, and candles were always present to make the room smell sweet. Gorgeous curtains, matched well wither the motive of the king-sized waterbed. Pictures of the couple filled the room as a remembrance of the love they had for each other. They had wanted to eventually have kids which was the reason for the huge house. Craig and Rose quickly fell in love with the house. On their first night, they purchased some champagne and celebrated their purchase with style. Craig remembered that they had made love that night as well. It was one of the happiest memories he recalled. But those four words HERO still loomed large in his mind.


"Where is it?" he exclaims. His mind starts to drift back in search of memory.


Though the couple tried and tried to have kids Rose it turned out, had been unable to bear children. Undaunted, they kept trying and Craig remained faithful to his wife. The reporter was still very successful in the newspaper. At one point he began to have doubts. Rose's unconditional support was what kept him on the right track. One day Rose made this comment to him.


"You don't have to be successful to win my love. In fact, we could be dirt poor and living in a car, and as long as we were together I would be forever happy. I married you for the kind of man that you were. I didn't care about your success as a newspaper reporter. You are a special friend, lover, and husband to me. Without you I would feel an empty void in my heart that no other man could ever replace. Look around you, we are in a home that we are comfortable in. Granted, we may not have any kids, but that is not your fault, it's mine. A woman knows when a man has been cheating, and despite the fact that I could never give you the child you need, you have remained faithful to me. That tells me the kind of man that you are. Our love is stronger than most, and our marriage will be "until death do us part". Don't you see Craig, it is your ability to fight through the tough times that makes me love you the most? You are never a quitter. That is a very admirable quality. It is what I love about you the best. I love you Craig, you are my world, and you are my HERO!" She had burst into tears, and they had held each other for a long, long time...


Craig comes out of the memory with tears flooding his eyes. Feelings of guilt and anguish overload his senses. Craig finally realizes that a hero would not take his life. A hero would overcome his trials or die trying. He had become what his wife had thought he would never be; a quitter.


"I'm so sorry Rose!" He sobs into his hands. With a heave of emotion, he slams the bottle of demons against the wall. J & B shatters into many shards. Craig empties out the gun and throws it into the wastebasket. Sitting in his chair Craig cries tears for Rose, tears for his past, and tears for his future. When he is done, he smiles at the memory of his wife who with her memory has kept him alive. A rebirth is stirring inside him. He takes his story, turns off his computer, and goes to sleep. A hero is born.


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