story

Flash: On Mark

23.7 seconds. A new record.

I restarted the timer and began to leave. I had scheduled for up to two minutes before I would have to run and planned to walk causally before then.

As I rounded the corner, I took in the scene around me. It was a very nice day for a quick walk in the park. Too bad it would soon be over. As I counted down, a woman screamed. 15 seconds off. Damn.

As I made my way to the car, I could hear people rushing around me. A crowd was beginning to form on the far side of the park. I allowed myself a quick grin before slipping back to the confused look that everyone else seemed to be wearing. Closing my car door, I could hear the first police sirens sounding off.

There were three messages waiting for me on the answering machine when I entered the apartment. I could not help but to smile at all the work that was now coming my way. Ever since that job three months ago. I pushed the button and a computerized voice told me the time of the first call. I had just missed it. As the mechanism went silent, a new voice started.

“You missed.”

I stopped and turned to the door. No one was there, surely. He was just leaving messages. That was the first stage. I still had time if I wanted to stop the second or even the third. And there were only three stages. I needed to complete the job now or I moved to the second stage. I stopped the machine from going to the next message. I needed to go scout out my next step.

It was bad form to sneak into a hospital but I was in a hurry. After stealing some scrubs, I walked over to the desk and glanced at the board. She was still in surgery.

I needed to get out of here. The longer I lingered the more likely I would be noticed. I walked toward the surgery area. Maybe if I could get to her right after, I could finish this and leave? I made it as far as the door before someone shouted for me. Too late.

I had to take several blind turns before I felt like I had lost whomever was chasing me. I ditched the extra clothes and made my way to the stairwell. Three flights down and I was at the exit and street level. Two missed chances. I need to come up with a new plan fast. There were only three stages and I was moving quickly to the end.

I made it back to my apartment and collapsed on the sofa. Then I noticed the answering machine. One new message. Reluctantly, I played it.

“There are only two stages.”

Two stages? Before I could answer, I noticed a growing red spot on my shirt. The voice continued.

“Welcome to stage two.”