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The Chameleon: A Short Story

Life Is Fleeting

I killed myself this morning.

It was much easier to do than you might suspect.

It takes very little talent to actually kill oneself, but it does require a willingness, and therein lies the major roadblock for most people.

I was quite willing.

I could either kill myself, or wait for Max Pignataro to do it for me, and his way would have been much more painful.


The Process

The hardest part of the whole operation was killing Max’s top man, Alfie, and that turned out to be a walk in the park, literally. Alfie had been following me for a couple days, not being too damned sneaky about it, letting me know that Max had not forgotten about the thirty grand I owed him, thirty grand I did not have, never would have, and that fact would ultimately lead to me floating in the Blue River, face down, a leaking head wound from a forty-five slug to the brain pan, fish food for the Crappies and Carp, not a future I was willing to accept.

Truth be told, Alfie isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, never has been, not when we were kids, not now, so it was fairly easy to lose him in the park, double back around him, and bash him over the head, jagged rock doing the damage, and Alfie bled out within two minutes, no sound, no one to come to poor Alfie’s rescue, the fallen maple leaves stained red, a lonely man on a lonely path on a lonely night.

Drag the body back to the parking lot, that was the tough part of the plan, Alfie in sore need of a diet, but drag him I did, found some leverage to lift him up into my car, me sweating like a pig, finding muscles I didn’t know I had, fear always the greatest motivator.

I drove Alfie to the quarry, right to the edge, one-hundred foot cliff to the rocks below, pulled him over into the driver’s seat, doused the car with gasoline, lit a match, pushed it over the edge, the night sky awash in yellows and oranges as Alfie took the final plunge, no longer concerned with weight loss or raising his IQ. Tossed my driver’s license over the edge, there for the cops to find, nice and tidy, poor s.o.b. (me) decided to end it all rather than wait for Max, or better yet, the cops would think that Max had killed me, jail his sorry ass for a good, long time.

The plan wasn’t going to fool too many people for too long, maybe three or four days, longshots rarely win in life, just long enough for the M.E. to discover Alfie’s crushed skull, run a DNA test, but by then I would be three or four days into my departure.

I killed myself this morning, and I didn’t feel a thing.

Looking for salvation

Looking for salvation

The Reason

How did I find myself in that situation, the need to fake my death?

Poor choices? Poor upbringing? Parents who didn’t care? Bullshit! If I’m being completely honest with myself, it just comes down to the fact I’m wired differently than most folk, always have been. I’ve been running from stupid decisions and faulty wiring for most of my life, and that’s just the real of it. I wore my poor parents out, calls from the school principal about pranks I pulled, starting back when I was ten or so, and it just got worse from there.

I’ve been arrested twelve times. My best friend is a transvestite hooker by the name of Maurice. I haven’t had a mailing address since I was sixteen. You can’t find a beat cop who doesn’t know me by my first name, so this thing with Max, it was coming for a long, long time.

My old man said excuses are like assholes, everybody has one, so you won’t hear one from me about this current detour in my life. I did what I did, and deal with it I would. Three or four days would put me halfway across the country, where mountains reach the damned stars, maybe further, within sight of the Pacific, it all depends on the rides I can flag down on the way.

I had had the foresight to grab Alfie’s ID before he took the rocky dive, so for the time being I was Alfie Petrocelli. Not a great name but, in my situation, beggars can’t be choosers. He and I didn’t look that much alike, but I’m non-descript in appearance, look like a million other people, a chameleon blending into any scene, so I could pass for him in a crunch.

Maurice Is Not Happy

“You did what, you crazy bastard?”

No, not happy at all.

“I killed Alfie, dumped him and my flaming car into the quarry. What the hell choice did I have? Max wasn’t going to stop hounding me until I paid up or he collected his pound of flesh.”

“Now what do you plan on doing? Your little stunt isn’t going to fool anyone for long?”

“I’m heading west. How much cash do you have? I’m good for it, you know that?”

“How the hell would I know that? You’re in this trouble because you couldn’t pay back a loan,” but as he said that he walked to a cupboard, took out a container, opened it up, and took out a handful of bills.

“I was saving for some cosmetic surgery, but that will have to wait. Here, two-thousand, take it, get the hell out of here. Maybe things will calm down in a year or so, but I doubt it.”

The Getaway

I grabbed my coat, nothing more, fist-bumped my best friend, walked out the door into a night threatening. Despite the wind and smell of rain, the streets were filled with the lost and the lonely, the forgotten and the discarded, all looking for exit doors in one way or another. My feet brushed by discarded syringes, the smell of booze and despair in the air, the syncopated beat of music coming from dive bars, thousands of horns and screams and sirens providing a symphony of anger and helplessness as I made my way down State, took a right on Eighteenth, not a soul paying me any attention.

St. Marks coming up on the right, my old stomping grounds as a kid, praying my ass off for salvation, not having a clue what that meant, just keeping the nuns at bay by appearing devout. I opened the door, a quick detour, walked down the marble floor, my footsteps echoing, a giant cross guiding me to the altar. I dropped to my knees, wondered if the god of my youth was paying any attention whatsoever, dredged up prayers of that youth, my lips moving, hoping someone was listening, anyone, for the love of God, get me out of this mess, bless me Father for I have sinned.

“I figured you’d end up here, you crazy Mick asshole.”

The sound of Max’s voice arrived at the same time as the barrel of his forty-five pressed against the base of my skull.

“What did you do with Alfie?”

There was no point making up a story. Max has known me since we were both kids, at St. Marks, both of us the best of friends, ducking the blows of Sister Philomena.

“Alfie took a wrong turn at the quarry. He took a nasty plunge, I’m afraid. How did you find me?”

His laugh was as empty as his heart.

“Where else would you go? St. Marks has always been our sanctuary, since we were kids. I figured you for hoofing it out of town, but a quick stop here. I didn’t have much faith in Alfie doing the job proper.”

The gun pressed harder into my flesh.

“Say a quick prayer and let’s go. I think it’s time for our story to end, don’t you? I’ll just have to mark your loan down as the cost of doing business with a perennial loser.”

He was right about one thing. It was time for our story to end. I felt the comfort of my old combat knife, sheathed at my waist, as I made the sign of the cross and stood up.

Dig a new grave

Dig a new grave

Write Your Own Ending

I don’t much care which of them makes it out of that church alive. You can decide. Seems to me they both need a little salvation, but they may not meet the requirements.

2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)


Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 30, 2021:

Thank you again, Lora!

Lora Hollings on August 28, 2021:

So happy to hear that you liked my ending! Thanks much for this challenge, Bill. I had so much fun writing it!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 28, 2021:

Oh, Lora, that was a fun ready. Great imagination. Nobody died, perfectly logical, hope for salvation in the end. I love your take on this. It was much more peaceful than anything I would have come up with. lol Thank you!

Lora Hollings on August 28, 2021:

The following is what I wrote as an ending for your story, Bill. When you mentioned salvation, I just had to come up with a more optimistic ending...

I was in a deep slumber when I felt someone shaking me, violently. I thought I was dying but instead I was safe with some bum who looked like the wrath of the gods, and who kept saying in my face. "Are you alright?” I thought I heard some groaning over here. I was just about to call the cops but thought I should check you out first. It sounded like you were having a bad dream.

“It never felt so good to be alive and I hadn’t murdered anybody nor did I owe Max $30,000. I got a break! The first real break that I had in my entire life. I guess that I had too much to drink at that bar and I passed out. Someone up there truly did like me. And I swore I was going to turn my life around and actually make something good out of it!

Yes, everything was great until he said,"I called the nuns at St. Marks and they're coming for you!” Sure enough, they were soon there even Sister Philomena. I couldn’t believe she was still alive.

“Why it’s you," she said in a stern but shaky voice. "I would recognize you anywhere. Now, you are going to straighten up young man or I will take my rod to you. Now, what do you have to say for yourself? I started to say something but stammered. "Still causing trouble are you? Well, this time you’re going down the right path and that’s the end of that. To the church with you right now.” I couldn’t help but wonder if I really did get a break.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2021:

I do like that ending, Vidya! It would be a fun way to end a serious story. A bit whacky, but fun nonetheless.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2021:

Maria, you are very welcome, and thank you for the work you do. I've lived a long time, and seen some strange things, but this anti-mask, anti-vaccine movement has me voting it #1. I just don't get it and I am completely pissed at those who continue to ignore the science of it all.

VIDYA D SAGAR on August 27, 2021:

A great story Bill. Kept me intrigued till the end. It was fun reading everybody's responses and suggestions on the ending. How about a twist to the tale and end it like how Flourish suggested, with a nun caning the two and making them serve at the church as repentance for their sins. Just a thought. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story Bill.

MariaMontgomery from Coastal Alabama, USA on August 27, 2021:

Thank you so much for your comments on the COVID-19 vaccine. As a public health educator, I am dismayed at the number of folks who still believe the virus is not real, and I'm angry at those who refuse the vaccine. I know there are some who cannot take it for some underlying medical conditions, but the others have no legimite excuse. I don't have a question today. Just wanted to say thank you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2021:

Me too, Greg!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2021:

Thank you Lora! It's amazing, isn't it? The nuns still haunt me to this day. LOL Have a wonderful weekend, my friend.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 27, 2021:

Thank you Denise. I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's nice to know I haven't lost what abilities I had.

Blessings always


greg cain from Moscow, Idaho, USA on August 27, 2021:

Sha - oh, oh, oh! I wanna see it, too. ;)

Lora Hollings on August 26, 2021:

What a story, Bill! Full of satire, twisted psyches, and characters on the fringe of society written in the style of Dashiell Hammett. I certainly would like to see you finish it. You always are so good when it comes to talking about those nuns :) I really liked Shauna's ending. I thought it was a good match for your style.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 26, 2021:

Spellbinding. I was gripped with the intensity of emotion. You are right about one thing, they are both in need of salvation.



Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

Thank you very much, Nithya! I will try to have that for you in a week or so.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

I'm looking forward to it, Sha!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

Indeed, John, it's a good ending.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

I will keep that in mind, Rosina! Thanks for your thoughts.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

Thank you, Chitrangada Sharan! I will probably give them what they ask for, as soon as I find the time.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

You are probably correct, MizB, I probably can't resist writing the conclusion to this one. I already see it in my brain.

Thank you for the very kind compliment. Coming from an editor with your experience, that is a very satisfying thing to read. I am grateful.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

I can just see that, Flourish, your aunt walking right up to them, taking the gun away, and hitting them both with a yardstick. lol

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

Yes indeedy, Sha, I can see that happening. Now give me some filler to build up the suspense. I will be patiently waiting in Olympia.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

Sha, thank you! And thank you for noticing how I incorporated the title of the story into one sentence. I can't sneak anything by you.

I await your Chapter Two, my friend. I know it will be a dandy.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

Seriously yes, Brenda, I'm going to leave you hanging. Maybe I'll return to it and write Chapter Two in the near future. Maybe I won't. lol Thank you!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

Thank you very much, Niks. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

I like that, Linda, I "Holland'ed" it. lol I like that a lot. Thank you! I saw a movie a long time ago, I think I was in college, and it had a similar ending, and I remember walking out afterwards and I was actually angry that there was no ending. I'm sorry for doing that to you.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 26, 2021:

Thank you, Pamela! Maybe one day I will write an ending to it. Maybe not. For now I'm content with the result.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on August 26, 2021:

Spellbound from beginning to end. I enjoyed the read, waiting for the next chapter!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 26, 2021:

John, Bill has asked me to write the next chapter of this story. He wants to see more from me than what I posted in the comments. I began working on it last night, but it's not finished.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 26, 2021:

I love Shauna's ending. Well done!

Rosina S Khan on August 25, 2021:

This is a very interesting and engaging story. I would end the story with the main character who faked his death coming out of the church alive and triumphant. Thanks for sharing, Bill.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on August 25, 2021:

A fascinating and intriguing story, Bill.

When the reader is ‘asking for more’—I believe, that’s the sign of a good storyteller, which undoubtedly you are.

Interesting comments by fellow writers too. Thanks for sharing this enjoyable read.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on August 25, 2021:

Oh wow! I was following along so great, and then poof -- nothing. I don't believe I'll write my own ending because I think you can't resist writing one later. I'll wait for it.

Bill, in the 9 or so years I've followed you here on HP, I've watched you mature into a really wonderful writer. I'm not saying you weren't good already, but your writing has lost its grunge and the same raw subject matter now flows as smoothly as silk. I'm not the expert on fiction writing, but as an old editor of 33 years, I can see, smell and taste the difference. Here's to many more years to you and your stories (raises her glass of sweet tea).

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 25, 2021:

Gripping from the the very first sentence. I look forward to all of the responses. I can see my Aunt Alice, a nun, happening upon those boys. She’d have none of that business in God’s house.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 25, 2021:

Okay, I didn't even need to re-read the story. You've jolted my muse out of her slumber:

I hesitated a moment. After all, Max and I had grown up together. Sister Philomena had tortured us both; we were partners in crime at St. Mark's. It seemed we both had scars, not just from being slapped on the knuckles by our ornery nun, but by the righteous parents by whom we were both respectively raised and rebelled against.

I hesitated until I saw Max cock the pistol. At that time I lunged, going straight for the jugular. I heard the gun go off at the moment of impact. And that's all I remember.

Suffice it to say, this story ended on that fateful day in St. Mark's Cathedral.

No one was found guilty in either murder. Lives lost. Story over.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on August 25, 2021:

Holy Shit, Bill! This is the type of fiction I expect from you. I love the darkness, the intrigue, the fuck-ups. That makes for good fiction.

I love how you subtly incorporated the title of the story into a sublime sentence. Only the best of the best pull that off.

The first paragraph reminded me of a real-life incidence and I was filled with sorrow. One of my cousins, of which I have many (Mom is one of ten kids) and don't know most, killed himself because he was caught up in a Mexican drug cartel (he and my aunt lived in New Mexico). One day my aunt came home and found her son dead in the garage. He'd shot himself. His brains were all over the garage walls. The note he left basically said either he killed himself or the cartel would have beaten him to it. True story and one I'm sure haunted my aunt until the day she died.

I'd love to take a stab at your challenge. However, I can't do it on the spur of the moment. I'll have to print this out and think on it.

I think you may have succeeded in bringing my muse back from her year-long nap. This is the kind of stuff she thrives on.

Excellent, excellent story, my friend! In the words of the former California Governor, "A'll be bach!"

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on August 25, 2021:


Seriously? You're gonna take me all the way to the end & make me use my imagination.

Lol! My mind can conjure up a few scenarios.

But I think Max might be a bit surprised.

Thanks for the read.

Niks from India on August 25, 2021:

A great way of writing about mistakes and lessons. The first part hooks the readers and the second one gives satisfying answers. I loved reading.

Linda Lum from Washington State, USA on August 25, 2021:

Bill!!!! How could you do this to us? I'm really into the story and then you slam on the brakes. How am I going to write an ending. I write recipes for goodness sake!

Great character development, rock-solid dialogue, tension-building story line. You "Holland'ed" it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 25, 2021:

This is another great story, Bill. I love the fist paragraph as a lead in to the story.

I like the character development, and I don't need an ending.

This is an enjoyable read!

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 25, 2021:

Thank you, Bill! I appreciate your kind words. I hope all is well with you and your family.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 25, 2021:

John, I probably should have given it an ending, but time did not allow for that, and it had already sat for far too long. Glad you liked it.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 25, 2021:

I'm glad you approve, Misbah! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Have a wonderful Wednesday and blessings to you always.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 25, 2021:

I'm glad you liked it, MG! I suspect, if I were to finish it, our protagonist would live to fight another day.

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 25, 2021:

Hey Zulma! Thanks for reading. Sorry about the ending. I just couldn't decide on death or freedom. :) We are doing well. I am landscaping the backyard before the Fall rains, and my muscles are screaming at me, not to mention the hip, which is replaced the end of September. So I'm pushing myself more than I should but hey, you only live once, right? We are counting the days (one year to go) until Bev retires. Then I'll have time to play more. How are you doing?

Bill Holland (author) from Olympia, WA on August 25, 2021:

I'm glad you liked it, Ravi! Thanks for taking the time to read it.

Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on August 25, 2021:

Bill, this is really great writing. You definitely have a gift, which I’ve known for a long time. I’ll be curious to see how others decide to end this.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on August 25, 2021:

I was looking forward to this story “The Chameleon” that you mentioned you were working on, and Bill, you didn’t disappoint. Well, you did in a way because you left me hanging wanting to know which way it ended. Let’s see what the readers suggest shall we. Seriously, this is classy stuff.

Misbah Sheikh from The World of Poets on August 25, 2021:

Mr. Bill, thank you very much for this fantastic read. Climax? Oh, I see. We need to think about it. ;) Have a great day. Take care and stay blessed and happy!

Blessings always!

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 25, 2021:

That's a wonderful tale and told in a taut manner. You created a hell of a character desperate and everything. Thanks.

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on August 25, 2021:

What, seriously? I have to provide my own entertainment? No fair! I was so getting into this story and you go and pull the rug out from under me. Why? Feeling a bit evil, are we?

Okay, I'm done ranting/whining. This is a good challenge and I'm looking forward to seeing what others come up with. Don't let the fact that I grew up in the South Bronx fool you. This genre is not my field of expertise so no I will not be partaking.

I don't know. It's a good start, really pulled me in. Maybe I'll throw some words down, maybe I won't, but I'll definitely be thinking about this.

Anyway, how goes by you? Glad to see your muse paid a visit even if it was only a flyby.

Have a lovely day, Bill.

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on August 25, 2021:

Nice story Bill. The ending is quite tantalizing and leaves one open to interpretation. I loved the complex interplay of characters you have weaved here. Thanks for sharing.

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