WARNING: May contain naughty language.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Chuck W's Throwdown: The Unlikable Protagonist

This week's flash fiction challenge (courtesy of Chuck W. over at Terribleminds) is a tough one. In 1,000 words or less, create an unlikable, yet compelling/interesting protagonist. Easy, right?


I gave myself four hours to give it a shot since I am working today. Ended up taking closer to six.

Figured a 1,000 words is a wide-open field to cavort around in.

Wrong again.

After three re-writes I think I'm done. I'm not sure I hit the mark but I enjoyed writing it. IMHO, the final few paragraphs are weak, but I like the rest of it.
"Paper People"

Sloan twisted the knife slowly once more and the old man twitched like he was stepping on a live wire. Mr. Black’s screams were muffled by duct tape and sounded far away. Tears dribbled down his rosy, wrinkled cheeks and fell like raindrops to join the widening pool of blood on the hardwood floor.

Sloan didn’t blame the guy for screaming. Nine inches of stainless steel jammed between the ulna and radius of the left arm didn’t tickle. The point of the blade was anchored firmly in the armrest of the geezer’s Adirondack chair; heavy oak wood, a deep cocoa finish and obviously handmade in the US of A.

The hitman felt a twinge of guilt at marring such lovely furniture. But it was the only piece in Black’s office sturdy enough to survive the older man’s agonized thrashing.

Sloan sat on the edge of a battered desk and stared directly at Black.

“So we’re clear, that’s $25,000 to Viktor by the end of the week. He prefers cash but PayPal is cool, too. Just nod.”

The businessman’s watery eyes never left the knife protruding from his arm, but he managed to nod.

“Great.” Sloan slipped off the perch and snatched his knife out of flesh. Mr. Black whimpered again. The killer grabbed Black’s pinstripe tie and cleaned off the blade with meticulous care. He then drew back his arm and the gleaming metal flashed. Black’s eyes grew wide with fear.

The razor sharp edge parted the nylon ropes holding down Black’s right arm like a train through fog.

“In case you’re thinking of calling the cops or anything dipshit like that, just don’t. A man of my temperament would have no problem killing you, your wife, your children and your retarded sister in Boca Raton. And before I forget, good luck with the new candy store. I know the kids around here are gonna love it.”
Sloan walked briskly through the crowded streets of Boston and ignored the press of the paper dolls sharing the sidewalk with him. He felt much better. The Beast was back in its cage and the burning sensation on his scalp was gone.

Life was good.

He paused and sent a simple text to Viktor.

Done. NP.
Then he tossed the pre-paid cellphone to the street and smashed it to pieces under his heel. He slid the shards of black plastic into the sewer grate where the evidence vanished forever.

A paper person in the shape of a woman stared at him a few feet away. Sloan guessed the look on the two-dimensional face was surprise. Or maybe it was envy? He always had a difficult time figuring out what these things were feeling. Except fear.

That one was easy.

He checked his watch. There was just enough time to finish his last, and most important, errand of the day.
The Toys R Us store was busy.

Sloan loitered by the video game aisle and observed the paper people flitting about with ill-concealed contempt. Every day it seemed there were more and more of them. He used to wonder what had happened to all the real people. Where did they all go? But such thinking made his head hurt, his insides itch and provoked the Beast so he simply accepted it.

He did not have to wait long. An overweight, circle-shaped person waddled over, picked up a copy of “Batman: Arkham City” and tossed it into his basket before making the slow journey back to the checkout counter.

Sloan slipped through the aisles like a shark, acutely aware of the position of every security camera in the pace before vanishing, unrecorded, out the sliding exit doors into the cold January night.
He shadowed the huffing and puffing circle-man to a red 2009 Camry. The paper-person unlocked the vehicle and slid into the driver’s seat with considerable difficulty. Sloan’s entrance on the passenger side was much quicker. The overweight man stared at him with what might’ve been shock.

“Look straight ahead, don’t do anything stupid and I won’t shoot you.”

The circle-shaped figure obeyed the instructions and didn’t move a muscle – even when the tip of the meat thermometer pierced his right eardrum and exited through the left one. Circle-man’s head fell forward without a sound, resting against the steering wheel. Sloan preferred thermometers to icepicks as the radial temperature knob at the end fit more easily in the hand.
The killer stood statue still in front of a modest two-story brick colonial in Boston’s Bay Village neighborhood.

The front door burst open and a small figure dashed towards him. A real person, full of energy and life, threw himself up into Sloan’s open arms. The boy’s face was alive with love and joy.

“Daddy, you’re home!”  Sloan hugged him back warmly, taking solace in the firmness of his son, his real-ness; not the crinkly sound of a straightened newspaper and sharp, cutting edges.

“Happy birthday, Rob. I have a surprise for you. Let’s go inside and see Mom.”

Anna was in the kitchen adding the final touches to Robert’s birthday cake.  Sloan wrapped her in a hug and kissed the back of her head, inhaling the very real scent of cherries and honey.

“How was work?” she asked over her shoulder.

“Collections. Just as boring as the day before.”

He reached into his coat pocket and tossed the XBOX game to his son. Sloan watched the boy’s face light up with excitement.

“Yes! Batman. Thanks, Dad.”

“Michael Fitzpatrick Sloan, you’re going to spoil that boy rotten.” Anna’s voice was stern, but he noticed the subtle laughter and approval in her eyes.

After more than a decade of marriage the complexity and nuance of her expressions never failed to fascinate him. They were the only things real to him and he’d do anything to keep them safe and happy. 



  1. Yes! Creative and original! Great story!

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and post. Appreciate it.

  2. You write scary!
    Not sure I agree with you about the ending being weak.
    What is it you don't like and why?

    1. Thanks, BJ. I think I'll take that as a compliment as I prefer to write horror & dark alt-urban stuff. ; )

      I think the reason I'm not happy with the ending is it doesn't answer to enough of the "Six Honest Serving Men" (by R.Kipling) If you've never read his poem, here is a link.

      I was happy with the WHO, loved the WHERE and WHEN. The WHAT question was addressed pretty well. And as you observed, the HOW was described in fairly graphic fashion. But, as a reader, I would have really liked to know the WHY. Questions I found I asking myself during reading like;
      - WHY does Sloan see people that way?
      - WHY do Anna and Robert NOT appear that way?
      - WHY does he work as an assassin?
      I had answers as the writer, but not enough word count to cram it in. And there was one final question I REALLY wanted to insert at the end;
      - WHAT would happen if Sloan came home one day and found Anna had "turned" into one of the "paper people"?
      (Cue ominous music and evil laughter in the darkness...)
      Thanks for making the time to read my flash fiction.

  3. @CJayBee - On reading the piece the 2D paper characters are introduced from the start so are expected. When Robert and Anna appear in all 3D glory it is a total shock. What I didn't get re motivation was why kill for the game. He is wealthy and its an unnecessary risk and you don't describe it as something he does just for kicks. But as you say the 1000 word limit restricts what you want to say. good luck with the rest of your writing.

  4. I liked this. I thought the prose was a little purple at the beginning, but the introduction of "paper people" caught my interest.

    The second half was excellent. The only problem with the ending paragraph is the gratuituous mention of 10 years of marriage. It's too much information in this style of writing to cram into one sentence.

    Think of the story as the introduction to a character in a novel. You don't have to explain everything. You just have to carry the readers along from beginning to end.

    1. Hi Scott,
      Thanks for taking the time to read it. I appreciate your comments.

      I'll be the first to admit I have a problem with brevity and succinct, "to the point" writing.

      And upon further review, I also have to agree with you on the ending paragraph. TMI in too little time.

      Guess I need to sharpen my razor a little more. Thanks again.