In Competition No. 3160 you were invited to supply a short story whose opening sentence is ‘I have no idea whether I killed him.’
The idea for this challenge came from The Mandibles: A Family 2029-2047, Lionel Shriver’s gripping and plausible 2016 novel about societal meltdown in the US following the collapse of its economy (yes, the toilet roll runs out). Towards the end, one of the characters says, ‘I have no idea whether I killed him’, to which another replies: ‘An excellent first line for a short story…’ Indeed. There was a fair amount of repetition, and as I read through your entries — this was a hugely popular competition — I became increasingly grateful for those that didn’t feature an insect of some kind or Schrödinger’s cat. The winners, printed below, take £25 each.
I have no idea whether I killed him. I don’t, to this day, know his identity. But someone was wearing that gory bull’s head like a helmet and prancing around the Bayswater flat as I uncomprehendingly uttered guttural incantations. When he fell, rather theatrically I thought, to the floor, I imagined it part of the ritual until he didn’t get up. I’d only been standing in for Crowley, whom I’d met in a hotel bar, keeping the ritual ticking over while the Great Beast swept out to give private instruction to one of the needier girls. ‘Oh God, have I done it wrong?’ I quavered, standing over the body and dropping Crowley’s grimoire like the incriminating evidence it suddenly might have been. One of the girls giggled, someone demanded an undertaker and I fled, not checking if the fellow was actually dead but certain I’d overstepped a mark mentioning God.
I have no idea whether I killed him. You know how it is — as bedtime storyteller after an exhausting day you struggle to remember how last night’s effort ended. Have I bumped off the evil Grocklewort yet? I know I had a poisonous vegan stew and land-dwelling sharks lined up as possibilities. Pondering this, I drift off while hugging her bear and sucking my thumb. She pokes me awake. I blunder on. Grocklewort cops it messily while his adversary, our imperilled heroine Blodwen, is in urgent need of rescue — urgent because I hear the gin bottle clinking downstairs — so a giant cockapoo has to bound from nowhere and drag her from the quicksands.
As I say goodnight she points out that I have now killed three times, but she is kind and forgiving (in omnibus caritas) and rates the third death, by drowning in a cesspit, the most satisfying.
I have no idea whether I killed him. Nothing in the media. But maybe he lacked importance, a penny-ante peeper, who’d care? Do I? Hell, this isn’t some strangulated French novel about personal identity and the meaning of life, so nuts to that.
Still, I’d like to know if I nailed the bastard. The WASP incarnate, the high-minded Galahad who never handled divorce work. With a smart mouth too, the quick-fire repartee.
Sure, I shot Marlowe, but did he die? That alley off Vine Street was well lit enough to get three clear shots in and boy, he went down like timber. Then some cop blew a whistle, meaning I couldn’t stick around.
So here I am in Rosarito. The tequila’s cheap and there won’t be a cross-border posse chasing me. But Christ, I need to know. A man can’t be immortal, can he?
I have no idea whether I killed him. I must have killed someone — nobody could have survived what happened. Target Discrimination gave me the choice, I pressed the buttons, and the screen went black while the minibus went kinetic. Just like all those video-game kills when I was kid, only without the sound effects. Result: pink mist. But whose? We said it was ‘a high-ranking terrorist leader’. They said it was a wedding party. Well, they would. And we would, naturally. Now it’s all over the web and it seems like it might have been the mother of all Charlie Foxtrots. The politicians are baying for votes. How do I feel about it? This is how I feel. I feel like the guy who’s going to make sure it isn’t his ass that will be hung out on the line for this.
‘I have no idea whether I killed him. You need to know that I suffer from severe dissociative amnesia. At times of stress I have no memory of…’
‘So you’ve said.’
‘Yes, and you need to know that we have a witness, who saw Robin die and who places you at the scene. We also have a blood-stained dish belonging to you. A bit fishy, don’t you think? We have your DNA splattered all over Robin’s upstairs window. Robin had many friends, whom we interviewed after the funeral. But he also seems to have just one enemy. His friends report that you have a propensity to fly into a rage —’
‘Well, I may have ruffled a few feathers, but that doesn’t mean I killed him. I don’t even own a bow and arrow!’
‘Ah, there’s the thing. Who’s mentioned a murder weapon? Not I, Mr Sparrow!’
‘I have no idea whether I killed him…’ The woman’s voice trailed off and Father Liam was left absorbing the enormity of her story. ‘Forgive me Father, for I have sinned.’ Despite his racing heart, he kept his voice calm as he whispered his words of absolution.
The door of the booth opened, squeaking on its hinges, and Liam heard the woman’s brisk footsteps echoing down the aisle. Her perfume, a citrusy haze, choked the enclosed space even after she had left: a once-familiar scent.
Father Liam sat for a few moments in silence before releasing a heavy breath. He had not, in the fifteen years since hastily leaving home to seek redemption in the priesthood, heard a confession of this nature before. He pressed his rosary beads to his lips and closed his eyes. He had always blamed himself, but his mother’s words now offered hope.
No. 3163: In short
You are invited to encapsulate a well-known poem in four lines. Please email entries (up to three each) to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on 19 August.
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