A Short Story: “Sam’s Ending”

“Where are we, is this Heaven?” Jerome asked aloud before the wood beneath his back suddenly fell away and just as suddenly slammed back into him.  “Well, I sure hope Heaven doesn’t have this many potholes,” came a voice from the darkness.

As he stared into the light above him, he realized he was now lying down rather than standing before a firing squad with Maggie.  “Maggie!” He cried out and sat bolt upright so quickly that it made him dizzy. “I’m over here,” she replied with a groggy voice.  He snapped his head over toward her voice and saw that they were both in plain wooden boxes; they would have been coffins had they been dead. The light looked like a dome light one would find inside a car. From the creaking and rumbling and what the light illuminated, he realized that they were in the back of a covered truck with a single dome light above their heads. Another sharp jolt proved that the voice had been right about the potholes.  Jerome could see Maggie slowly sitting upright next to him about a foot away.

She said, “how can we still be alive? I remember the guns firing, and look, I’ve got blood on my chest.”  Indeed she did, and so did he; there were two holes in his shirt with blood dripping from them.  “I thought were were going to be with the Lord.” She had been at peace with them dying for their faith for much longer than he had, but in the last few days even he had developed an unnatural peace, almost excitement, about facing the squad that would finally send them out of that wretched prison into the arms of Jesus.  So, he could understand why she sounded almost disappointed.

The voice in the darkness could not.  “You sound like you would rather be dead!  I risk my hide, not to mention other body parts, to save your lives, and this is the thanks I get?”  It was the voice of an older man near the back of the truck whom they could not see.  He did not sound angry as much as annoyed.   He also sounded familiar. “Who are you?” They asked almost in sync.  “Call me Sam,” came the reply.  “What’s on your chests are not wounds; they were produced by squibs.”

They looked at each other very confused as to what a sea creature with ten tentacles had to do with their present situation.  “Squids?”  Maggie spoke for both the them.  “No, squibs,” Sam said, emphasizing the b.  “A squib is a small explosive. Yours popped a plastic bag filled with fake blood; in this case, a mixture of corn syrup, red food coloring, and corn starch.  Also makes a surprisingly good ice cream topping.”  Sam sounded like a professor who enjoyed lecturing about his subject a bit more than his students enjoyed hearing it.  He continued, “It also propelled a small needle into your chests, injecting you with a fast-acting anesthetic.  So, when the squad fired, you fell limp just as if they had actually executed you.”

“So, they were shooting blanks?” Maggie asked.  “Correct.”  She began to realize that the conspiracy necessary to keep them breathing must have been rather large.  As Jerome was examining the fake wounds, he found a slim book concealed beneath his shirt.  As he removed it, he also felt a small sting as he removed the needle Sam had mentioned.  It was hollow, with holes in both covers for the needle and the fake blood, but he could still read the title.

“Thank you.  I’m sorry that I sounded ungrateful, but this is all such a shock,” Maggie said.  “Don’t worry,” replied Sam.  “I understand you must be terribly disoriented.”  A look of surprise and realization came over he face.  “I recognize your voice; you were the doctor who examined us when we were checked in to the prison!”  “Indeed I am; that was months ago.  You have an excellent memory.” He sounded genuinely impressed.

“Why are you doing this?” She said as she pulled the same hollow book out of her shirt.  “Maybe I don’t think I would be doing my job as a physician if I let two of my patients die needlessly.  Maybe somebody paid me.  Maybe I’m just a sucker for young lovers such as yourselves.  In any case, I’m not why my motivations matter to you.  They don’t change the fact that you are alive while all your enemies think you are dead and that you are being driven to a nation where you will be safe.”  Maggie would have blushed at Sam’s final explanation if her skin were light enough; they were not actually lovers yet since they had been arrested before they were married.  Now, she realized, they might still have a chance.

Jerome, who tended to be more direct than Maggie, put her question more bluntly, “Are you a believer?  We prayed for our executioners before they fired, so we’re obviously concerned about the state of your soul.”  “Well,” said Sam with just a hint of mischieviousness in his voice, “I’m afraid I’m going to leave the state of my soul a mystery for now.”

Maggie had now had time to examine the strange book.  She smiled at the irony of it saving her life by making her appear dead.  Her smile quickly faded when she read the title. “Again, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for you saving our lives.” She halted, obviously unsteady, “But, before I was arrested I was a librarian, so I have to ask.  Why did you destroy two perfectly good copies of Romeo and Juliet to do it?”

Sam answered as he stepped into the light, allowing them to see his face for the first time.  He was grinning with bright eyes.  He did not look somber or heroic as they had expected.  He looked like a middle aged man with a bad haircut who had just proudly pulled a marvelous prank. “I would think the answer to that would be obvious by now. I never liked the ending.”

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