Author's Note: Hi! This is my Short Story for the prompt by @Messenger on Paid for a Prompt. Hope you enjoy!
"Caw! Caw!" screeched the crow. Or was it a raven? There wasn't much of a difference anymore. Very few birds were left in the wild; Gale wouldn't have been surprised if it was merely a choking pigeon. All birds these days just screamed "Caw!" whenever anyone was around. It got really annoying.
Gale Norman was the Bread Boy. A Bread Boy was a position of great honor-- at least to Gale. He was proud to be a Bread Boy because at least he didn't have to be the Sweeper Boy.
His job was to wake up early in the morning and deliver a few people their daily basket of bread. He had already passed Mrs. Robinson's house and Mr. Cobble's house, and was already somewhat tired. Now, he had to bring bread to the Old Mr. Carlson and he would be done. Many of the other boys considered Gale unlucky for getting assigned to Mr. Carlson although Gale didn't even know why; the poor man was just a World War III veteran. Mr. Carlson was known for his ominous scowl and the blisters and burns covering his body. He always looked like he'd been standing in a fire.
"People should pay him some respect," Gale once told them. They had replied with guffaws of laughter, turned away, and proceeded to pickpocket weary travelers. New York City, the town that Gale lived in, was a relatively small town, but was almost always full. There were often travelers coming to New York City, hoping for something called "Stocks", but the townspeople always had to tell them that stocks didn't exist anymore.
Gale then neared Mr. Carlson's gate. He ringed the gatebell, and after a few moments, the gate opened.
Gale continued through, shuffling over cobblestone walkway littered with the fallen leaves of autumn. Mr. Carlson's lawn was in very poor condition. All the trees were bare and withering. There was almost no grass on what was left of his lawn; Branches, leaves, and animal waste products covered the ground. To Gale's relief, at least the cobblestone walkway was somewhat clean.
Arriving at the extremely worn-down, dilapidated house, Gale closed his eyes and breathed deeply, wondering why he was so nervous. At the second exhale, Gale opened his eyes and noticed something out of the ordinary.
There was an eerie green light seeping out of the second-floor window. Like most of the other stuff on Mr. Carlson's property, the window was extremely foggy and dirty, so after close inspection from the lawn, Gale couldn't make out any details.
"I'll just . . . ask him about it," Gale told himself. He steeled up his resolve and rung the doorbell. It took almost interminable five minutes, but finally, the door opened, revealing the face of Mr. Carlson.
Mr. Carlson had never looked this . . . manic. The times before, Mr. Carlson looked tired and bored, but today, Gale saw wild, joyous eyes. But it wasn't a healthy kind of joy. Mr. Carlson wore a stained white lab coat and thick black pants. He had large, intimidating boots, and his white hair was unkempt and scattered. Of course, there were burns all over his skin that showed no sign of potential healing.
"H-hi," stammered Gale, backing away from the fearsome appearance of Mr. Carlson.
"What's wrong, boy?" shouted Mr. Carlson with a disdainful glare so forceful that it made Gale shiver.
"Wh-what's that green light up there on the second floor?" blurted Gale. Mr. Carlson looked taken aback for a moment, and then grinned wildly.
"Perfect," he murmured, bursting forward and snatching Gale, dragging Gale into the house.
"W-wait! What are you doing?" protested Gale as Mr. Carlson pulled Gale up a flight of stairs. The man is stronger than he looks, thought Gale. The closer Gale got to the top, the more green light there was.
"Stop! Stop, I tell you! Stop it!" Gale screamed.
Mr. Carlson looked down at Gale, "You know 'bout World War Three, don'tcha, you little wench?"
Gale nodded, although he didn't really appreciate being called a 'Wench'.
"You know what weapons they used in good ol' World War Three?" asked Mr. Carlson smugly.
"Atomic Bombs?" guessed Gale. He remembered vaguely about a lesson about World War Three.
"Exactly right," growled Mr. Carlson, "And you know that I endured all of those deafening explosions and destruction? You know how much pain I felt? It was worse than anything! I could feel the sun glarin' down at me! I could feel the radiation glarin' down at me! I could feel my commander glarin' down at me when I returned, alone, with burns everywhere and all over m' skin!"
Gale forced his teeth to not chatter with fear, "Wh-what exactly are you getting to, Mr. Carlson?"
"What exactly I'm gettin' to? You prankster boys are always makin' fun of me! Well, I'll make sure you all pay!" he shouted. Gale's eyes widened in terror.
He collapsed onto the ground in front of Mr. Carlson, "Please! I never joined them! I was always on your side! I was the one defending you!"
Mr. Carlson smirked venomously, "That's what they'll all say."
Gale couldn't believe the situation he had gotten himself in, "I-I'll do anything!"
"Anything, eh?" said Mr. Carlson with a pondering look on his face.
Gale knew this could be Mr. Carlson's weak point, so he needed to exploit it, "Yeah! I'll do anything from servant work to cleaning to--"
Mr. Carlson punched Gale in the chest, straight and hard, and he tumbled down the stairs. Gale looked up weakly to Mr. Carlson's angry face spitting and screaming, "I want you dead! Dead! Dead!"
"P-please," whimpered Gale, trying to get some sympathy from the crazed face of Mr. Carlson.
He turned, smiling again, "You know what? Since you are so desperate to help me, I'll grant you your wish! You'll be the subject of my wonderful experiment!"
Tears streamed down Gale's dusty face, but that didn't stop Mr. Carlson at all as he dragged Gale up the stairs the second time.
"Now, I am observing how the human body reacts to Type-5 Radiation. If I can get significant progress on the reaction, I might be able to cure my burns!" Mr. Carlson giggled, which was much more terrifying than his scowl.
Gale noticed at Mr. Carlson put on thick goggles and some type of one-piece yellow suit. The suit had an oxygen tank on the back of it and the entire suit looked really heavy. Then, Mr. Carlson dragged Gale over to a huge, tin door. So many things were made of tin these days. Gale read that tin could block Type-5 and Type-7 Radiation, so it was used during World War III as a protective barrier in homes.
Mr. Carlson opened the tin door, which led to a very small, cramped, tin room. Mr. Carlson closed that door and opened another one on the opposite side, and shoved Gale straight into it.
The pain was immediate. Gale felt as if he were swimming through lava. No. Gale felt as if he were swimming through acid. And lava. And more acid. His eyes were closed, but he could see black dots dancing on his eyelids. He turned away from the direction of the light.
Gale screamed, but nothing came out. His throat burned. He heard the voice of some muffled laughter. Mr. Carlson must enjoy my suffering, thought Gale weakly, but angrily. With a final push of adrenaline, Gale tried sprinting back to the tin door, but he collapsed onto the iron floor in agony.
His breathing getting heavier and heavier, Gale started to feel his mind shutting down. He stood up, but he couldn't hear or feel anything anymore. He felt like he was floating, yet he felt like he was being compressed.
Everything began spinning and spinning and spinning . . .
Then, unable to withstand the suffering and the confusion any longer, Gale opened his eyes and staggered towards the source of the green light.
But before he was incinerated, Gale saw a glimpse of something outside the window-- the most beautiful creature in all of creation.
It was a bird-- and it was more colorful than anything he had ever saw. There were vivid reds and flashy yellows and bright greens. It was all of the color that Gale wished he saw on Earth.
And then, the color disappeared. All that was left was black. Pitch Black. The shadow of the world. The shadow of a shadow. And eventually, even the shadows were overwhelmed by endless oblivion.
. . .
A week later, the townspeople gathered around for the funeral of Gale Norman, who had supposedly died from a gardening accident. The experts protested that Gale looked like he had died of radiation burns, but no one wanted to argue against the weeping face of Old Mr. Carlson. Mr. Carlson had been the one to bring Gale's body to the funeral, tears flowing out of his eyes.
There was one thing out of the ordinary about Mr. Carlson when he came to the funeral, however. He looked younger, healthier, and happier. And the most interesting thing?
His skin bore no sign of the burns.