What’s Left Behind

Markkela ducks beneath the dashboard and huddles to the seat. Headlights glare overhead, and the muffled noise of a passing car swells and tapers away. He gulps and peers out the windshield.

Four hours.

Night hangs thick over the quaint suburban street, disrupted occasionally by the dull glow of distant porchlights. But Markkela can see through the gloom well enough to make out the surveillance car sitting inert along the curb.

He glances at the bags in the backseat. He can see it in his head – the crumpled, stained sheaf.

Edward Grikis. The one name still unmarked.

But that’s behind him now. All that matters is gathering his things and making it to the dock. Four hours. Markkela shakes himself, then pulls a cloth mask over his face and slides out of the driver’s-side door.


The figure stands just beyond the doorway, slivers of light from the foyer lamps settled on his broad shoulders. His gloved hand grips at the door, and his heavy boot is jammed into the opening. 

‘It’s a long trip up from the city,’ he comments.

Markkela’s peering through the doorframe straight into the visitor’s dark eyes, the only thing he hasn’t covered up.

‘You’re right,’ Markkela hisses. ‘You’re not in the city anymore.’

‘And?’ The man’s face is covered up, but Markkela knows his voice.

‘Out here, Kaulin’s just a guy,’ he answers. ‘And so are you, Ed.’

Edward Grikis sighs through taut-stretched cloth. 

‘City or not, you owe him on that loan.’

‘Get out.’

‘It’s just two thousand. Kaulin only wants what he’s owed.’ Grikis nods sideways. ‘For now.’

Markkela spits. ‘I said get out.’

‘If that’s how you wanna do it,’ Grikis warns, and retreats from the stoop. Markkela watches as the twin headlights glimmer to life in the distance, then fade away into darkness.


Markkela turns to see a silhouette at the top of the steps.

‘Who was that?’

He closes his eyes, prepares to say the words he’s dreading.

‘Saari…’ he begins. ‘I have to leave.’


Markkela creeps through shaded yards and along the length of hedges. Fear and urgency leave him impossibly alert. He slips through the shadows: over fences, under trees. He watches carefully through gaps in the leaves or boards, his eyes locked on the car parked across from the decrepit house. Can they see? It was better not to risk it. He lowers himself to the ground and crawls serpentine through the thick, neglected grass. Every few seconds he checks behind him, paranoid, and every few seconds the car still sits dormant. After one more check, he slithers up against the wood plank wall and crept to the window.

The house is dead, of course, dark and gloomy. He doubts anyone has been inside for weeks. He checks the time again – still almost four hours to sunrise. Four hours to his escape.

Markkela jams his fingers into the windowframe and pulls.


A solitary lamp hangs over the parking lot, and white dances from beyond distant glass windows. The thundering bellow of jet engines roars overhead, drowning everything in momentary noise. Then – silence.

Markkela shakily shoulders his bag and strides through the sparse clusters of cars. A faint dread nags at him; the residual echoes of Saari’s protests haunt his ears. Guilt, too, hangs thick over him. Thinking he’d run far enough – and now he had to leave everything behind.

Markkela clutches tighter to the strap. Maybe she’d never forgive him. But they’d live – both of them. Alone, but free.

The sliding glass doors to the airport seem to roll toward him with crushing inevitability. His steps hardly register. His eyes wander the height of the smooth glass and concrete to the blinking towers beyond. The green lights swim under a mental haze.

A shadow flits by Markkela’s periphery, and the world’s seized by clarity again. He turns, stumbles, his eyes dart to two black-clad shapes surging toward him. Markkela drops the bag and runs unencumbered for the doors – 

A pair of heavy hands grips him by the shoulders and yanks him back, and the unmistakable voice of Edward Grikis slips a quiet warning in his ear.

‘Don’t make a sound.’


Markkela prowls through the wreckage of his former home. There really isn’t much left, not after CSI finished their sweep; it’s ransacked, every room turned upside down in a mad search for anything with writing on it. Markkela sighs. He had hoped more would have been preserved; the videotapes, maybe, or his old journals. It was going to be a lonely few decades on that island.

Markkela climbs up the steps into his old room. Moonlight filters through the blinds, softly touching on the debris-strewn floor. The mattress is overturned; the sheets are torn off; the desk, stripped bare. Photographs lie on the ground, opened up, probably in search of notes, and the drawers hang ajar.

One thing catches Markkela’s eye – one thing evidence hadn’t claimed. An ornate frame glints in the light, dusty and beaten as it is, its face downturned. Markkela stoops down and picks it up. He turns it over in his hand and drops it instantly.

A face stares back at him behind the cracked glass.

Saari. His Saari. Then it hits him all over again, and he’s thinking about a different name.

Edward Grikis.

Markkela shudders. He swallows, snatches up the picture frame, stuffs it into his jacket. His lip curls into a snarl.

The smuggler’s voice rings in his head. I ain’t waiting. Six sharp.

But there’s three and a half hours. He has time.

Markkela storms out of the room and down the stairs. Behind him, he can almost hear that damned smirk –

‘Welcome home, Andrew.’


‘Welcome home, Andrew!’

A gloved hand tears the blindfold off with a wrenching force, throwing Markkela forward. His eyes struggle to adjust from the artificial dark to the natural. Three masked men are sitting in the seats ahead of him.

His house looms just beyond the window.

He screams fruitlessly into a knotted gag. His hands struggle with restraints. One of the masked men laughs.

‘Don’t worry, Andrew.’ Kaulin. ‘You don’t need to say a thing. We’re talking tonight, okay?’

Markkela ignores him, keeps writhing and shrieking. Tears stream down his cheeks. Saliva drips down his chin and onto his collar.

‘I didn’t ask for much,’ Kaulin scolds, ‘and yet here you were, trying to skip town.’

‘Over a couple thousand.’ Markkela would know that drawl anywhere. It’s Milo. ‘Some kinda honour code?’

‘I’m sorry it had to go this way.’ Grikis sighs from the driver’s seat. ‘But I warned you.’

‘That he did,’ Kaulin sneers, and nods out the window.

Milo climbs out of the car.

Markkela kicks. Twists. Shrieks. Bashes himself near-senseless on the leather seats. His eyes sting, his jaw aches, his throat burns. It makes no difference. 

All he can do is watch, transfixed, as Milo’s black shape saunters up the front lawn.


It’s a long drive to the city – one hour and twenty-eight minutes, Markkela counts. That leaves two hours. 

He grimaces. It’s going to be close, but he’ll make it.

Besides, he thinks, would I want to?

The car slides into a narrow street lined with low-rise apartments. Broken streetlamps glimmer as they tilt precariously over the sidewalk’s edge. Orange-yellow light fades in and out of shadow. Markkela flicks the headlights off and carefully parks along the open shoulder. His eyes check left and right; his mind’s vision is narrowed to a slit, illuminating one thing only:

Edward Grikis. 

Markkela glances at the photograph, now laying on the passenger side. ‘Rest easy,’ he says, only half-aware he’s speaking. He bends down and pulls a pistol out from under his seat, then cracks open the door and slips into the night once more.


The gunshot rings out for half a second, muffled by the suppressor. The porchlights seem to dim; the shadows deepen. Markkela stops, stunned, and all sound falls away as he stares in horror into the blackening night. He doesn’t even scream anymore. It wouldn’t make a difference if he could.

Fifteen seconds and a breathless Milo clambers back into the van. A pair of hands – Markkela doesn’t see who’s – affixes the blindfold over his head again. 

Then he’s thrown out the side door onto the pavement, still in silent shock, dripping saliva and blood onto the road.

‘That’s a warning, Andrew.’ Kaulin growls, faintly audible through the ringing in his ears. ‘Sell off her jewellery or some shit. I don’t care. But get me the two thousand.’ His voice echoes over and over.


But Kaulin’s dead now. Markkela caught him outside the gas station on 34th and Sommerant. Two shots to the head, and it was over. He hadn’t said much; didn’t have time to be afraid. But it was a long time coming. Markkela at least took comfort in that.

Milo had been second, a confession twisted out of him in the last moments. Markkela couldn’t even remember what he’d said. None of it mattered; not a word was regret. Not a word was what he wanted to hear. But that had to be done too.

The police noticed when he took out the lawyer. 

From there it’d been running, running, running. Changing plates, changing names, crashing in backstreet hovels. He’d called the smuggler soon after, put his thoughts on a new life on some island, a drink in his hand and the sun hovering distant over the crystal sea. Grikis was just the driver, he’d said. He could live with that.

But that’s cowardice, he thinks. Lounging around, while he’s still breathing.

Markkela sidles up against the outer wall of a quaint townhome. He’d been here before, many times, many hours spent watching and waiting. He’d mapped out the whole block, memorised which lamps were working. He faintly recalls a time the image of that building was burned into his head, sleeping and waking.

What had stopped me?

He comes up with a dozen reasons; the police, the reporters, the smuggler, on and on. They don’t matter now. One hour, forty minutes. Markkela breathes deep of the rank city air.

He kicks in the door.

The shout is almost immediate, faintly audible from upstairs, followed in seconds by frantic thumping. Markkela tenses. He’ll be disoriented. He grips the pistol tighter and walks in feigned calm down the entryway into the kitchen. 

He waits.

The sound of panicked stumbling subsides, and silence descends. Markkela tenses once more, positions himself behind a counter. That night burns clear as day, making the lights seem to waver, the silence takes on a warbling, drowning noise of its own. 

And then, just like that, he emerges. A white nightgown over his back, dishevelled, dark pits beneath his eyelids. He turns, and his dead shark-eyes briefly flare in shock.

Edward Grikis. 

Markkela greets him with barely-contained hatred.

‘You should have run – ’ but he’s interrupted by a flash of motion.

Grikis pulls a gun from under his robe and opens up.

Markkela dives under the counter, desperately clutching his weapon. He crawls to the corner and points his pistol around to shoot back. A cacophony of gunfire fills the narrow hallway. Bullets streak overhead and past him. Glasses shatter, wood splinters, bullets ping harmlessly off metal. Markkela’s ears keen in protest, filled with a high-pitched whining, but the noise doesn’t let up. Debris rains down on his shoulders. He feels the faint sting of a dozen tiny cuts as shards and splinters cascade onto him. The gunshots blend into a deafening symphony of steel drowning the whole house – 

– and then, just like that, it stops.

Markkela pauses for a few seconds, still stunned, his ears ringing, the shallow slashes on his arms and face beginning to register on him. A car alarm blares incessantly in the distance; crumbling detritus patters lightly beside him. A thin veil of whitish smoke hovers around him, and dust hisses to the ground. Markkela cautiously peers over the countertop.

Across the hallway, an arm slumps limply from behind a corner.

Markkela’s heart races and sinks all at once. He creeps forward again, and his limbs groan in protest. His breaths are shaky, his hands quake with adrenaline. He rounds the corner.

Grikis is on the ground, blood pooling beneath a hole in his forehead. His gun is lying on the ground beside him, slipping out of an outstretched arm.

Markkela goes silent. His head races. His heart sinks.

A thousand words whirl inside him. A thousand things he would have said. He silently screams, willing Grikis to life, willing him to just one last sentence, one answer – hell, one frightened stare, one rickety breath, anything – anything!

Markkela opens his mouth, and everything pours out in one primal cry of anguished despair. He hurls the gun to the ground and kicks blindly at the corpse. The world falls away, just Grikis, Grikis, Grikis, that body hanging in an empty void.

When Markkela returns, he grudgingly checks the time. One hour, twenty-five minutes. The sun was more than far enough away for him to make his escape.

He looks at the corpse, now bruised and splattered with dark blood. He shakes his head, and looks into the night. I might as well.


The port is about another hour north. He hadn’t wanted his escape to happen anywhere near the city, and for that matter, neither did his contact. So the northern port it was, up seventy miles from the sprawling outer district Kaulin used to own.

Markkela’s eyes are on the road, but his mind is on something else. He thinks again and again to the new life. He’d been told everything would be fine; quick, quiet, hopping to some island in the Keys, a new name and new cards. No one would know. 

He glances at the photo in the passenger seat, and Saari silently judges him from behind the glass. Markkela shrinks away, swallows. It isn’t cowardice anymore, is it? She rests easier now. And still it eats at him, gnaws at the back of his head the whole way there.

The night is paling, and a faint glimmer begins to appear. Markkela checks the time again. Forty-three minutes to sunrise. The first fingers of light reach over the horizon.

Yet inside, the images in his head are dark. Markkela wills himself to see it, to gaze on his island life, but his mind’s eye is blind. There’s nothing there. The new cards, the new name, the last of his days, a void.

And then something clicks. Markkela sighs, resigned, and casts another longing glance at Saari’s silent visage.

He throws the wheel left and swerves back toward the city.


Markkela parks on a lonely corner and climbs out of the car. He ambles down the street, the gun hanging limp out of his pocket, and the broken-framed photograph in his left hand.

In the distance, the sun peers over the horizon; the vague v-like silhouettes of gulls hover around it. Markkela hardly notices. He hasn’t been tracking time for a while now.

A small crowd gathers around a street corner, staring down the block, as Markkela approaches from behind. Murmured conversation rises in the brisk air, awed and fearful. The cause of their concern soon comes into view.

Dozens of police cars line a narrow street blocked by wooden barricades. Streetlamps lean awkwardly over the pavement as siren lights flash in an endless, blinding strobe of red and blue. Frantic officers in dark uniforms rush about the entrance of a small townhome.

Markkela shoulders through the crowd, pausing at the barricade. He glances down, and Saari looks back at him, that once-warm smile now cold and hollow.

He shakes his head and smiles weakly, slipping her face beneath the folds of his thin jacket. Then, lifting his hands upward, he steps through the gap into the light.

About the Author

Alex Gentem is an aspiring software engineer and borderline cryptid from the eastern U.S. When not involved in those activities, he also occasionally writes stories, and even more occasionally finishes them.