Take the first step on one of the many journeys in J.R. Vikse's
new short story collection, Fictions of Questionable Length
with this excerpt from The Last Domino.
“I want you to imagine a room in which Time does not exist.” Dr. Carver placed his elbows on his desk and leaned in, gazing meditatively over his glasses. “In this room is a circle of dominoes, standing up, just waiting to fall. What do you do?”
“Push one over!” The answer came from somewhere in the middle of a mass of first-year students. No hand was raised to identify its owner. A nervous giggle sounded from the herd.
“Okay.” Dr. Carver raised an eyebrow. “So, you push one over, and one by one they all fall down. Simple enough, right?”
The classroom nodded as one.
“Tell me, then. What happens to the final domino?”
A confused silence.
A hand went up at the back of the room. “It falls down?”
Dr. Carver remained silent, encouragingly waiting for the trap to spring.
The student finally realized that more was expected of him. “... last?”
“Last?” Dr. Carver’s other eyebrow joined the first. “What is last? This room has no Time, remember?”
Another hand, this time from the front row. “If there’s no Time, then there’s no last domino. It doesn’t matter which one is at the end. By the time–” The student caught herself and grinned an apology, “the pattern reaches the end, the dominoes are still standing, or still falling, depending on your perspective.”
“An interesting theory, Ms...?” Dr. Carver paused and scrolled down the class list in front of him.
“Ms. Boikera. So, what is your answer?”
“The dominoes fall in perpetuity. There is no last domino. And there is no first domino.”
Dr. Carver smiled and addressed the rest of the class. “Ah. According to Ms. Boikera, without Time, one can have effect without cause. Do you all agree?”
The bewildered first-years looked to each other for answers, but found only solidarity in ignorance. The hand at the back of the class was raised again, this time at the rallying urging of nearby whispers. “No. You can’t have effect without cause.”
“What variable, then, do you suggest Ms. Boikera is missing from her hypothesis?”
More silence. Dr. Carver sighed. Another year of hopeless General Arts students.
A voice from the door broke the stillness. “Us.”
Dr. Carver looked up. Standing just inside the door, leaning awkwardly against the frame, was a slight young man. The student stared uncomfortably at the wall behind Dr. Carver’s head, unwilling or unable to make eye contact. The professor motioned for him to continue.
“She forgot that she was in the room, to set the dominoes in motion. The missing variable is human will.”
“Just so.” Dr. Carver nodded and stood behind his desk. “And it is that variable that we will include in all our discussions on patterns of behaviour and cycles of violence this semester. I hope you all purchased my book; it’s required reading for this course.” He held up a hardcover and looked back over to the student by the door. “Please, come in and take a seat, Mr...?”
The young man finally brought his gaze to the professor’s face. “I can’t stay. I just came by to deliver something.” He reached into his backpack, never taking his eyes off of the professor, and his hand re-emerged clutching a small, gleaming handgun.
Before the first student had a chance to scream and duck beneath their desk, the young man fired three shots with unerring precision into Dr. Carver’s chest.