The medicinal stink of the space station hospital filled Carl’s nostrils. It made him think of death. He always hated hospitals. Never as much as he did right now.
“It’s been a few days since he woke up. Can we see him?” The older man stood straight, tall and more than a bit menacing to the overworked doctor who seemed to almost disappear in his shadow.
The doctor frowned, the corners of his mouth pinched downward as he tried to find a way to say no, diplomatically. “I would rather you didn’t. He still needs time to adjust to his condition.”
“Has anyone told him…anything?”
Seeing himself in a situation where nothing he did would be right, he erred on the side of his self-interest. No telling what happens to people who say no to these types. “Not a word. We did as you instructed. You’ve got five minutes. Go slow.” He nods at a Sisterhood nurse who leads the two of them into the ICU.”
“You have two visitors, Vincent. Remember, five minutes, gents.”
A sound, just a whisper, rattled from across the room. “Who won?”
“Damn Vincent. You wake up from nearly dying and the only thing you can ask is…”
“Fuck you, Carl. Who won? Did Bobby beat me?”
“What do you remember?”
“Not much. I remember coming around that last turn… The raceway was singing to me. ‘Faster, go faster. Is the best you can do, Vincent? You don’t really want to win. You’re a loser.’ But I did want to. I was retiring, no one had ever taken the Kessel Run three times in a row. I wanted this. I needed this.”
A long gasp for breath, deep, painful; cracked ribs resist, the pain highlighting memories.
“I always knew where Bobby and Pauley were on the raceway. I can just feel them. Bobby was next to me as we came into the straight-away. That last ring. Only one of us could fit… I knew they would peel off. They were all over me, Pauley on the left, Bobby on the right. I was in the zone, I could see everything. I would take them in the last second — but that didn’t happen, did it. Why can’t I remember?”
“No.” Carl’s anger with Vincent drained away. The two brother-in-laws never got along. This was not the time for their rivalry. The question still hung between them.
The older man had Vincent’s face plus thirty years. Eyes hard, like flint, his face fiercely proud of his son. “You did good son.” His hand rested softly on his son’s shoulder. He was happy he could give his boys a life different than the Family demanded. They were brilliant racers. No racing family had even done better.
“Pop? What happened? Why can’t I remember?”
“You might not remember a lot of things for a while, Vinny. Just know we love you, no matter what happened.”
“You might, but it wasn’t your husband he killed.” Pop winced. He was tolerant of their relationship even though he disapproved, he could not deny his son anything. He embraced Carl like family, as best he could.
“It was an accident, Carl. You can’t blame him for what happened.”
“I can. I do. I won’t ever forgive you for what you did.”
The memory came back in flashes, spinning wildly, losing control, having only a split second to choose which of his brothers would die. Oh, god. Pauley!
He started coughing, a dry gasp, choked with the memory of what happened. The nurse rushed back into the room. “Out.” Her eyes cut them from the room like a blade.
“When are we going to tell him?”
“What? The truth?” Pop looked at Carl, a threat of violence in his mein. “Never.”
The funerals for the two Minetti brothers, Paul and Robert were held two weeks later. Vincent died two weeks later, the Minocs, those most soul-less of gamblers, say from grief, others thought from the burden of the price of his win.
The truth was simpler. Carl couldn’t keep his word. His pain wouldn’t let him.
Pop knew. The Family demanded vengeance. It would be within his right.
But Carl was all he had left.
He did what had to be done. The truth demanded it.
He had all of their names etched on the Trophy.
He buried it alongside Carl.
The Race © Thaddeus Howze 2016, All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. Since they insist on constant entertainment and can’t subscribe to cable, Thaddeus writes a variety of forms of speculative fiction to appease their hunger for new entertainment.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies:Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short(2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (UK, 2012), and Possibilities (2012).