Excerpt from my NaNoWriMo novel
THE ANACHRON PROJECT
Where a man walks, he brings his entire life with him. This is an adage born somewhere in China, then through literature or accident brought to Europe until an eroded form found its way onto American soil, yet the saying has always held a core truth. Wherever a person stands is both the culmination of his past and the start of his future, the fulcrum point between history and possibility. It then seems ironic that a man more aware of this truth than most would bring his life to a seedy boarding house in Fell’s Point.
This is where such a man found himself, standing in the doorway of the lively coastal den with a heavy suitcase dangling from his whitened knuckles. Even through the rumbling chatter and laughter of the sailors and whores, countless stares landed upon him. Grizzled old patrons gave him gazes, but none made him the subject of their talk. What was there to talk about? This stranger looked perfectly ordinary. Yet the patrons knew in their guts that this was exactly why they couldn’t bring themselves to stop staring. He looked incredibly ordinary, deliberately ordinary, as though a child’s doll had grown flesh and weight but kept the spotless clothes and horse-grown hair.
He stomps over to the proprietor and requests a room. The proprietor raises an eyebrow. The man speaks cleanly. Too cleanly. Like he’s carefully measuring each syllable on his tongue and biting it into a pristine sculpture of a word before he releases it. Still, the proprietor sees money and puts a set of keys in the man’s hand. Room 413. The man says his thanks and heads for the stairs. Not a glance goes to the women of comfort that call and prod to the single traveler as he makes his way through the tempestuous dining hall. The men and women of the bar feast their last glances on the stranger as he struggles up the uneven staircase. They finally admit to themselves. Somehow this man does not belong.
The man awkwardly negotiates carrying the rifle-sized case and getting a grip on the room key before he finally gets the door open. It leads to a room with the bare 19th Century amenities, from a stained and bruised bed to foggy dresser mirror. He throws the trunk onto the bed, giving a true test to its integrity before unlatching the case. The man proceeds to unpack as much of his life as he brought with him, which turns out to be a single change of clothing, a single book, a single portrait of President Jackson, a single knife, and a single pillow. The man chooses the knife and stabs the pillow open without remorse, spilling its fluffy white guts onto the bedsheets. Among the feathers fall an ornate pocketwatch and a revolver.
The man lifts the two artifacts, treating the watch as though it were more dangerous than the gun. He rests the watch on the nightstand and examines the pistol. It was a simple revolver, ashen in color save for the maroon hardwood handle and surrounded with the tingling scent of cold metal. By tomorrow it would be a murder weapon.
Swift fingers now fumble the handle of the trunk itself, undoing the loose screws securing the trunk’s latch until it surrenders the handle to the man’s grip. He shakes the gold metal tube over his hand until six cylinder bullets drop into his palm. The man now retrieves the pistol and flips the gun’s roulette open. He guides a bullet between his thumb and middle finger and slides it into one of the six chambers.
The man is frozen. His eyes are fixated on the single slot now filled with lead. He juggles the unarmed pistol in his hand a few times, and concludes that the gun has, indeed, become much heavier when loaded, far beyond the weight of a single bullet. He ponders this wonder of physics, running it through a centrifuge of possibilities in his mind before concluding that the gun’s newfound heft came not from the bullet, but from gravity. The gravity of the task this pistol and the hand that wields it would carry. Kinetic energy in lead.
Curiosity now satisfied, the man resumes his task of navigating bullets until the gun is fully loaded. He thinks to himself that one bullet should be all that is needed, considering he has no intention of fighting his way out, then remembers that the recipient of said bullets has already been shot three times and still refused to die in spite of this era’s crude medicine. He concludes five additional shots may indeed be in order.
His pistol now fed, the man stands upright and begins a grisly rehearsal. He imagines a stage set facing the entrance of the United States Capitol Building, filled with hurried performers surrounding him. He turns to see a man in an impeccable black suit with ruffled gray hair ascending the pearl-white steps. The man follows, acting his part to be like every other performer on the stage, lithely following the black suit. He comes close enough to pick out the scraggly white hairs protruding the black suit’s ears. The rest of the performers go on. He climbs each step to the beat of his heart until both men are beneath the Capitol’s shadow. He is mere meters from the black suit. The performers go on. The man slips a hand beneath his jacket to introduce his trusted revolver. He raises it just above the neck of the man in the black suit. The performers go on. The trigger squeezes. The black suit tumbles to the ground limp. The stain on the stone steps will never come out. The man fires five more bullets to be sure. Here is where the performance stops.
And so stood Arthur Dickinson in an innocent little room in a nondescript boarding house, plotting the first ever murder of a United States President.
He rehearsed his movements again and again. Consulted his schedule. Memorized the times. Stared long and hard into his pocket-sized portrait of Andrew Jackson, the man he was to kill. He let the President’s drooping nose and wavy white hair sink into his memory. Then he noticed the date of the portrait in the bottom-right corner. He chuckled. It was taken after the presidency. He’ll probably look younger now.
Arthur was so caught in his preparations that he lost sense of time. This brought him to the pocketwatch on the nightstand. He delicately lifted the palm-sized watch by the chain, letting its brilliant black and gold face dance in circles before him. Of course the hands on this particular watch did not tell him the correct time, he had his own miniature timepiece for that. Instead he was more mesmerized by the backwards ticking of the hands, creeping closer and closer to the point of no return.
He let the watch down with a sigh and made his way over to the dresser mirror as he pondered everything that had led him to this. Arthur hardly had the background of a murderer. The Boy Scouts and MIT don’t churn out many assassins as far as he knew. Yet the momentous weight of the knowledge he had been given could not be trusted to some hired hitman, to say nothing of the magnitude of the task itself. Everything was accelerating with or without his approval. In time, Arthur and a loaded revolver would leave this room, making way for Washington D.C. In a matter of hours, President Andrew Jackson will be arriving at the United States Capitol to sign the Indian Removal Act into law. In a matter of seconds, it will be vetoed with a bullet.
The face in the mirror did little to lighten his thoughts. The boys back home had done a real number on him to make him look the part. His eyes were his own, but the bushy, crooked mustache and five o’clock shadow beneath them felt like lipstick on a pig. Worse still was the greasy, waved-back hairstyle that gladly displayed the mountainous hairline he had always tried to hide. This is how history will remember me, he thought. In an attempt to cheer himself up, he imagined his friends and family will still remember him as he was before. And, hopefully, they’ll be better off after this. He pulled his own watch out of his pocket. Quarter past two in the morning. It was almost time to leave. He turned to retrieve the pistol from the bed.
Four frantic knocks at the door shook the air around Arthur. His fingers froze on the grip of the gun. It was impossible for anybody around here to know who Arthur Dickinson was, but the force at the door persisted. He hastily threw the covers over the revolver. Another volley of knocks. Arthur stood tall and ready, reached for the doorknob, and answered his summons.
What met Arthur Dickinson beyond the door was the long square barrel of a Colt 1911.
That gun would not exist for another eighty years.
Hopefully to be continued. We'll see how this month goes.