Pete’s cell phone rang. It was the police. His boss had been arrested for embezzlement. Could they come over to get some background facts from him? No, the firm was not going to reopen. There was no money to even cover the final paychecks.
Pete got to his feet, wiping his forehead. So much for his week off. He’d be spending it reworking his resume and contacting his network of business contacts. Better head inside to get ready for the detectives to arrive. He realized he was sweating. But he’d land on his feet; he could do this. Everybody had a bit of bad luck. It was just such a shock.
Just as he closed the patio doors behind him, his wife’s best friend threw open the front door. “I’m so sorry, Peter! Is there anything I can do?”
Wow, news travels fast, he thought. “No, Marnie. I’m okay. I’ll just have to find another job. I’m sure I’m not the first.”
Marnie jerked her head forward, her eyebrows drawn way down. “Job? No. I mean about the accident.” Her hand flew to her mouth, and she burst into tears. “You didn’t know. Of course you don’t know. They called me by mistake. Because my last name is Peters. They thought they were calling you, your number …to tell you…they’re…gone, Peter. A car accident, in the mountains, nothing left. They’re all gone.”
Just then the police arrived, knocked, and entered–both detectives and traffic police, ready to share the news of the embezzlement, the accident, and oh, there was more. Peter’s boss had not only been an embezzler, but also a hacker. He’d cleaned out Peter’s bank and investment accounts, borrowed on Peter’s life insurance plan, and run up an amazing amount of credit card debt in Peter’s name. Peter was wiped out.
Night came, and Peter stopped answering the phone. He sat in the dark. I can’t even pay for the funerals, he thought. Or food. His eyes felt hot, and he realized he was running a fever. Not that he cared. What was a fever when he’d lost all his family? But over the course of the next hours, his joints began to ache with a pain that seemed to be coming from deep inside him. A neighbor found him delirious in the front yard the next day and rushed him to the hospital. It took three tries to find a hospital that would take him since Peter’s health insurance had been cancelled, and his credit had been trashed by his hacker boss. He was a charity case now.
When he recovered, he had nowhere to go. No one wanted to help since his problems were so deep, they frightened his old friends away, almost as if Peter’s misfortune might rub off on them. He took to sleeping on the beach, thankful that it was still summer. Thieves stole his shoes, his belt, his watch. He had nothing. He ate food people threw away in the trash cans at the beach—pieces of hot dogs, the kernels in the bottom of boxes of popcorn, shreds of potato chips left in the bag, apple cores. By day he sat in the shade of the cement walkway, watching Lake Michigan roll in and families play in the sand. How had things gone so wrong, so quickly? It was more than he could take in.
* * * * *
And, of course, it wasn’t his fault. It was mine. Third person omniscient gives me such ultimate power that I had to see if I could trash the perfect life I’d given Peter. It was so easy; it only took nine paragraphs. Now Peter is homeless, lost, sick, and alone. But it still doesn’t feel quite right. I’m treating him as a pawn, a modern day Job, someone who has to go through whatever I pick for him. That’s a writing tactic I typically advise against. I haven’t given him a chance to develop a personality or even have much in the way of emotion. That’s not really fair to him.
Ah the burdens of omnipotence. You’d think with absolute power, we writers could do whatever we want, but apparently not. We are playing with human beings who have free will, and once we admit that, things get very, very complicated for us omniscient folks.
So now I have to admit that he can do more than merely ride out the misery of those nine paragraphs. He can act. Maybe I should give him a paper clip, a plastic bag, a spoon, a candy wrapper, and a piece of gravel. Or maybe you have a better idea.