Having just finished his most recent job, John, the private investigator, walked out of his office building.  Moments after he set foot on the street, he heard a noise coming from a nearby alley.  He wandered over to take a look.  In the alley, he saw a large man wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt was grabbing another, much smaller, man.

“Fork over your dough,” the large man said, “or else.”

But the victim was too overwhelmed by the situation to respond.  John stepped aside, so the mugger wouldn’t notice him, took his cell phone out of his pocket, and called the police to report the incident.

“This is the police,” the operator said, “what’s the emergency?”

“Operator,” John said, “I am witnessing a mugging on Madison Alley, off the 1900 block of 62nd street.”

“A mugging, you say,” the operator asked.

“Yes,” John said, “it’s happening right now!”

“May I have your name for the record,” the operator said.

“John Morgan,” John replied, “you can look up the rest of my information.  You should have it there; I’m a private investigator who’s helped the police before.”

“Alright, Mr. Morgan,” the operator said, “We’ll have a patrol car sent over as soon as possible.  Thank you for your call.”

“What should I do?” John asked.

“Get a safe distance away,” the operator said, “muggers can be quite dangerous, and this is a matter for the police.  You’ve already done your duty as a citizen by calling us.”

“But this crime is happening now,” John argued, “can a patrol car really get over here quick enough?”

“I don’t know,” the police operator said, “anyway, thank you for your report.”

The police operator hung up.  John peeked into the alley.  He knew that this would all be over before the police would arrive.  Then, he noticed the mugger pulled out a gun.  John had to decide what he would do, and fast.

 * * *

Knowing that the situation was getting bad fast, and the police would never arrive until it’s too late, John decided that he had to intervene.  He drew his own gun, pointed it at the mugger, and walked down the alley.

“Let the man go,” John threatened.

The mugger turned to face John, and startled by John’s unexpected and surprising arrival, pulled the trigger almost immediately.  John felt intense pain as the bullet struck him in the chest.  He began to feel weak.  As he struggled to try and maintain his balance despite the pain, and the wound, he pulled the trigger of his gun, firing it at the mugger.

His vision was fading as he began to fall over, but he noticed that his bullet had struck the mugger, as he saw a blurry image of the mugger beginning to fall as well.  Considering he was weakened by the bullet, he knew that was a lucky shot.  He also caught a glimpse somebody running away, past him as he fell.  Though he was seriously wounded by his actions, and didn’t know if he would survive, he took comfort in the fact that he had allowed the victim to get away safely, and all but guaranteed justice for the mugger.

 * * *

John knew that by the time the police arrived, the mugger would be long gone.  However, he also somewhat agreed with the operator that getting involved directly would be too dangerous, and foolish, but he figured he could use his investigative skills to collect some information about this mugger for the police.

He walked aside, sat on a nearby bench, and pulled out a pair of headphones.  He put them in his ears and pretended to be listening to music.  He then heard a gunshot, and moments later, saw the mugger step out of the alley.  He walked to the street, and then turned both ways, looking both ways, though as John was behind him, he never saw the mugger’s face.  The mugger proceeded to walk away.

Once the mugger was distant enough, John got up from the bench and began to follow him.  He figured that finding where the mugger went after the crime would help the police.  He remained comfortably behind him, so the mugger never got suspicious.

He continued to trail the mugger for about a half hour, before he saw the mugger walk into an apartment building.  John approached the building, to follow the mugger.  However, he could not get into the building.  The door had a buzzer on it, and naturally, he did not know anybody in the apartment to let him in.

Knowing the mugger went here could help the police, but he didn’t know which apartment the mugger buzzed into.  He didn’t know if the mugger lived in this apartment building, simply went to visit a friend there, or what.  He also knew the mugger could easily get out.  John never did get a look at his face, so all he needed to do was change his clothes, and he could slip by unnoticed.

He ultimately concluded that the mugger had given him the slip, but concluded that the fact that the mugger went to this apartment building means either he lives there, or knows somebody who does, and this information would surely help the police to track him down.

 * * *

Despite his concerns, John ultimately found that he agreed with the phone operator that the mugging was none of his business.  He already did his duty as a citizen by phoning the police.  Getting involved any more was foolish and unnecessary.  If necessary, he’d come to the police station later as a witness, but decided it would be best for him to walk away from the scene for now.

Shortly after he walked away, he heard the sound of a gunshot.  He turned back, and saw the mugger walk out of the alley.  The mugger looked both ways before he proceeded to walk away.  As he turned to face the direction John was going, John caught a glimpse of the mugger’s face, and got good enough of a look that he’d be able to describe him for a sketch artist.  John smiled at this fact, and then continued to walk away.

Author’s Notes (may contain spoilers):

Choices is a relatively recent story idea I had, which is an experiment into non-linear storytelling, a subject that I think might make a good reflection post in the future. The whole idea was to present a character who has to make a decision, and then write what happens for each possible decision that character makes. It’s not simply about John debating on the possible consequences of each option, but rather, all three options actually happen during the story, and there is no obvious best choice or worst choice. Both good and bad things result from all three. I don’t know if something like this was done before or not, but still, it makes a rather interesting idea that I may revisit again in the future.

After much debating with myself, I decided to limit the story to three possible choices. I originally had a lot more ideas: what if John gets involved before the gun is drawn, or what if he gets involved but doesn’t draw his gun, for example. I ultimately settled on sticking to three because I didn’t want the story to be too long. I settled on three basic choices: getting involved, helping out discretely, or walking away, as these seemed to be the best options. The other two options I described probably would have ended in a way that was too similar to the first option.

I was also debating on how to separate the three choices, as at the end of each option, the timeline resets. Nothing that happened in the previous choice matters, so it would become very confusing if I didn’t do anything. I originally simply wanted to do an extra line break, but realized this may not be obvious enough. I think the three asterisks, plus John’s logic leading him to that choice helps to separate the different options.


One thought on “Choices

  1. Pingback: Reflection: Non-Linear Stories and Branching Plots | White Rakogis's Lair

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