The Last Minutes’ Meeting
By Kevin S. Mahoney
The where wasn’t important. They all met in a room. It could have been an unused classroom, a church basement, or a rehearsal space. There were chairs, a podium, and a microphone. Four walls, a ceiling, a floor- there was even a way out. Were there windows? There seemed to be, but they didn’t open, and staring into them revealed nothing. It was always black outside, no light or sign of movement. It was just where they were.
The people at each meeting varied. There were lots of teenagers. There were some adults. Occasionally, a small child joined them. Those were the hardest to deal with. No one knew what to tell little Billy or Jill when they came to their first meeting, any more than they knew what to tell each other. They were here, until they weren’t, and so they talked amongst themselves. And every meeting started the same way.
“Hello,” the slight woman would begin, “my name is Pamela. I was murdered, just like all of you. I was beheaded by a machete. Do we have any new people here tonight?” No one knew why she started every meeting. It felt like something she had been doing for years, but of course no one could remember how long they’d been where they were. Maybe it was something about her; she seemed prissy yet caring, the kind of wife and mother who would shriek top volume at you to take your muddy shoes off before you came inside, then hug you tightly as she served dinner.
Silence inevitably followed. The first timers didn’t like hearing it stated so baldly like that, and had to take stock. The regulars were glancing around, spotting the new meat, always hoping to find a regular missing. People did go from that place, but how and when were as big a mystery as where they all were and why they were there.
The new meat would speak then, each in their turn. Many never saw it coming, whatever it was. One minute they were in the attic, then a brief moment of blackness, then here they were. Some remembered what they were doing when their time was up. You could always tell the teenagers who were indisposed at their critical moment. They appeared in pairs, and most had the newfound decency to blush, before taking their turn.
A small percentage of people had stories to tell. They were the ones who had tried and failed. How or who they failed varied widely. Some died in battle against impossible monsters. Some tried to run, but were caught. Many fell down the stairs to their doom, high heels splintered in their rush to flee. It was depressing. No one came to the meeting a victor. In a way, they were comparing different flavors of mortal misery.
Yet, between themselves they learned things. There were commonalities. Certain places and times recurred. Lots of people were doing similar distracting things when their lives were stolen from them. No one seemed to have brought their drugs or booze along with them, but if given the chance, no one who went to one of those meetings would ever bother with either again. Sex and death as two sides to the same coin were discussed over and over. There were a lot of teens there; sex would have been a major interest in any case.
The most interesting person there was
Nancy swore up and down she knew what had happened to her. Her father had stabbed her in the
abdomen. But to hear her tell it, it
wasn’t her father at all. It was a
monster, in a dream. She claimed to have
beaten the monster years before, but he had returned, had killed again, and had
gotten her at last. Nancy
It sounded like wish fulfillment, or a crazy conspiracy theory, but parts of it checked out. Some of the new meat that arrived after
swore they knew him, that he had killed them too. But Nancy swore she had mortally wounded the
guy when she died. It was confusing. Nancy
Lots of things got jumbled up. You wouldn’t believe how many of us were killed by a big man in a mask. Some swore he had a kitchen knife, others were sure his blade was bigger than that. The mask was different too, according to who told what story. Some swore it looked like that old Bruin, Cheevers. Others were sure it was something floppier, like Nixon without the big nose and all white, with eyes like empty fishbowls. Either way, no one could stop him or escape.
Escape is what it always came down to in the end. Once the new members were talked out, it was always the same debate. Why were we here? What was keeping us? Surely no higher power would delay us, seemingly indefinitely, forming a company united in suffering. There had to be a way out for all of us, not just the odd soul slipping away between meetings, like a bill sliding behind the stove to be forgotten.
Jeff and Sandra (died in the middle of “the act”, impaled by the same spear) finally figured it out. They were arguing when the revelation came. Some of the couples continued their relationships, as well as could be managed, death doing the parting and all.
“It can’t be the sex,” she said, “if that were all it was, every teenager in creation would be here.”
“How many of them were killed in the middle of it?” he asked. “It can’t be many.”
“No,” she countered, “but lots of the other teens here weren’t having sex. None of the adults were when they died. And they’re here. And we’re from different places, snuffed different ways, yet we’re all just as trapped.”
“I’d snuff you, he said, “If it meant some peace and quiet, let alone an end to these meetings. It’s horrible, going over the last minutes of each other’s lives.”
A thunderstruck silence fell at that. Most were shamed by the idea. The last thing most people remembered was their murder, or the events that led up to it. Sandra’s eyes gleamed, full of an unhealthy realization.
“None of them. None of them are here.”
She drove the front leg of her chair through Jeff’s face before anyone could move to stop her. There was a wet thud as he went down, like someone had dropped a glazed ham onto the linoleum. When the furor subsided, we noticed Sandra was truly gone. Her solution occurred to the smarter ones amongst us with sickening speed. The members of the Last Minutes turned on one another. The successful aggressors vanished as the bodies piled up in the anonymous room. It was a room for victims. It had no room to spare for monsters.
This story was the union of a few ideas. The odd unconventional slant on familiar tropes (horror movie victims) was influenced by Penn Jillette’s new project Bad Penn and a few of the stories in Nika Harper’s new book, Echoes of Old Souls. Interested readers can still fund the movie and buy the book, respectively.
The fuel for this story, my second in less than twenty-four hours, was Guatemala Antigua from The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. My girl got me this stuff, and it kicks so much caffeinated ass.
The music used to keep your humble author clicking happily away was his Cranberries station on Pandora. You may be able to listen in here.
Technically, I published this about two hours late. I know the calendar says it’s November at , but that depends on both the time zone of the reader and the appropriate definition of the word evening. The sun ain’t up yet!