Rose N Crantz and Guildern Stern Are Dead, a short story by Richard A. Ridley. Date added: 2008-08-03. Times viewed: 4004.
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- Intro: These two are definitely dead. P.S. You can now get my novel - Wait until You Die - on Kindle, along with 'The Gilded Vampire'.
˜You know, this is a great experience! Sportscar, mountains, fresh air. What a view! You can see for miles!' Guildern Stern was in one of his better moods. Sometimes he just couldn't feel happy, but this was definitely not one of those times. 'Are we both having fun?' Rose Krantz, concentrating on the road before her, broke her vigilance for a second to roll her eyes towards the soft blue sky. ˜You know we are! Surely I don't have to tell you that?' She was being tetchy again, but Guildern wasn't going to let that spoil the moment. He laughed heartily. He felt like a film star. A regular Hollywood superstar. All he needed now was a backdrop of palm trees and the image would be complete. But Rose wasn't just being tetchy. She was genuinely worried. Worried about the future, now she knew they were both going to be killed. And she was annoyed that Guildern wasn't feeling that pain. In his blissful ignorance, he was happy. She decided to burst his soap-bubble. 'You know they are planning to kill us don't you? You know we are as good as dead?'
They'd been through this several times over the past two weeks, but with typical confidence, Guildern had been incredulous at Rose's suggestion. Today was no different. 'Look, I told you before, they can't kill us. We're far too valuable to them alive.' Rose was driving at breakneck speed. She didn't know why. She had a feeling that she should be taking it easy on this mountain road, which was infamous for its accident fatality rate. 'You should know what they're like by now. No-one is indispensible'. She looked round quickly at Guildern, trying to judge his reaction. But there wasn't any. He was still in denial. He thought he was worthy of a longer lifespan. He was from the old school. But Rose knew that a new school had gained control. Young whizz-kids with no qualms, no conscience, no scruples. A man of Guildern's generation didn't understand. Couldn't understand. Wouldn't understand. He expected loyalty. He lived by the outdated code of chivalric gentility. She had loved him once. But with their joint success he had become hardened, de-sensitised, arrogant. They no longer lived together. It was a sad affair really, all these arguments. All this pain. The serial adultery, the arson attacks on business rivals, the murders. It didn't seem real. It wasn't real. Neither of them lived in the real world. They hadn't been lovers for many years now, but still he would open car doors for her, hold an umbrella over her head in the rain, supply her with handkerchiefs in a crisis. 'I'm sorry, but I think you've got it wrong. Misinterpretation that's what it is. I'll sort it out. Make a few phone calls. They won't kill us. And hey! Slow down will you? Otherwise we really will die.'
Even now he couldn't accept the reality of the situation mainly because of his inability to understand any treachery that wasn't perpetrated by himself. It was a wonder to Rose that that he had survived for so long. She kept her saphiric blue eyes on the road ahead. This was a particularly hairy stretch of tarmac. 'What you mean is they won't kill you. But you're wrong. Like I keep telling you, they will do it to anyone, you don't even have to annoy them! I thought you had seen enough of it by now to realise' She dropped down a gear and eased the MG sportscar around a hairpin bend. 'This is a mean, dog-eat-dog business. You've been around long enough to know that.' A few loose road-stones caused the MG to wobble briefly, but she soon had it back under control. 'I mean, look at Tom Hendry. Twelve years service. Loved by all and sundry. But once they had decided to knock him off, nothing could have saved him. Hit and run driver. Terrible mess. Typical of their style though.' Guildern smiled lightly in his reminisces. â€˜Ah yes. Old Tom. I miss him, I really do. He didn't deserve it you know. But all the same, embezzlement! You can't have characters like that going around unpunished. Still, I miss Old Tom. Nice chap. Always used to greet us with that drawling 'Goood Morrrning!'. Sort of like a catch-phrase kind of.'
Rose turned briefly towards him and then back to the road. The car had picked up speed again. The gradient of the mountain creating a fierce drop. 'Yes Guildern. That's exactly what it was, a catch-phrase. Well spotted!' Guildern was put out. He was sick of her tantrums ruining wonderful moments like these. 'OK. Ditch the sarcasm will you? I'm only trying to make polite conversation, damn you! I know you detest me. For that matter I detest you. But we could at least be civil to each other.' Rose softened slightly. 'You know it's ironic really that we've been married for all these years. Especially in view of the affairs you've had.'Guildern snorted loudly but felt the effect was lost in the roar of the engine, so he snorted again, louder still. He felt this remark was below the belt, after all, he couldn't be blamed for his affairs. 'Well excuse me, but you've put it about a bit yourself you know. Perhaps that's what makes this marriage work so well.' Rose laughed bitterly. She wanted to snort even louder than Guildern, but felt it was too unladylike. She was determined to hang on to some dignity in all of this. 'Well it won't matter for much longer, because we'll soon be dead'. 'Are we back to that again? I told you, they are not going to kill us. We haven't crossed them. Why should they kill us now? After all this time? When, let's face it, they've had plenty of opportunities in the past.'
˜You don't get it do you? It's because of the past. Not a good or a bad past, but just having a past. Any past. We're in the past now. We are already dead!' There was a short silence. Guildern didn't want to continue this conversation. He felt it was stupid speculation. But Rose had started something she was going to see through to the end. The bitter, fatal end. ˜Look at Mable Simmonds. She was a bit of a bitch I know, but all the same, I don't think she deserved the fate of drowning in a fetid septic tank. But that's what they did to her and you know it. You were part of it! You should feel happy that at least they haven't got anything that ugly planned for us. The best thing you can hope for with them, is to go with a bit of dignity'. They drove quickly past a clump of palm trees. Even at sixty miles per hour, Rose could see that the leaves were made of fibre-glass. It was exactly their style. Guildern thought for a few seconds. He felt he was just going to have to deal with this, even though he didn't want to. Although at the back of his mind he was thinking of all the times she had been right in the past. â€˜OK. Let's run through it. If your assumptions are correct, if your sources are so reliable, how, exactly, do they intend to do away with us?â€™ He had finally begun to at least explore the possibility that she was right. He might now be a bit more receptive to the truth that had been staring him in the face since they started this awful journey, half an hour ago. 'Well, the plan is, we go on a motoring holiday to Italy. We're on this mountain road, and all of a sudden, the brakes fail on the sportscar I'm driving. Or maybe we hit an oil patch or something.' She was quite calm about it now, resigned to the fact of their demise. She had known for two weeks. He had been in denial for almost as long. Then Guildern saw the oil stain on the road ahead of them. The slick film of death. He caught a glimpse of an ambulance. An ambulance, waiting behind the bushes. An ambulance with its sign written in Italian. A clump of fibre-glass palm trees! It was a painfully thin disguise. It was exactly their style. 'You know,...this scenery....My god!' The reality of it hit him. The total, inescapable, unquestionable reality. His confidence was draining away. He was vulnerable again, just like he'd been when they first met. Silently, with child-like furtivity, he reached out to hold her hand, desperate to know that she at least, was real.
'They're shooting it now aren't they?' Rose felt strangely sympathetic towards him, now his arrogance was gone. Now he was more like his former, unsuccessful self. She felt something, some kind of affection, as he kneaded her hand just like he had in the old days. 'Yes Guildern, I think they are'. She felt something akin to love as he sensually stroked the back of her hand. She felt something of the old spark, perhaps the last ember of a former firestorm. She sighed deeply, remembering the pyrotechnics of their past, the golden past, when everything was morally certain and things were seen in black and white.But she knew that those days were gone forever, flattened by the juggernaut of sensational storylines, washed away in the wake of speedboat youth. 'I don't think they are going to shoot the crash itself, you know, wreckage or anything. They're just going to fade out on sound effects. But to all intents and purposes, we will be killed, are being killed, have been killed. Choose the temporal sense yourself, it's all the same to me.' The car came to a halt as close to the catering truck as Rose could get it. As usual the make-up artists were first in the queue. Somewhere in the distance a director shouted 'Cut! OK people, that's a wrap on the crash scene.' And Guildern realised she was right. The fibre-glass palm trees. The oil on the road. The slick film of death. He realised now that they were burning in a blaze of sound-effects.
It was written. She was right. They were dead.
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