“On the First Day” by James Robert Smith
From The Devil’s Coattails edited by Jason Brock and William F. Nolan
Cycatrix Press, 2011
Norris Atwell is a Defense Intelligence Agency assassin with the peculiar hobby of collecting “last lines,” or the final words of his targets. Most recently he successfully took down a man named Terrence Thackery, a pseudo-philosopher whose work graced the self-help shelves in the bookstores and the late-night infomercials on cable TV. This was not the kind of guy Atwell’s bosses usually targeted, but Thackery’s teachings of late had drawn a huge following, and his end-time prophecies were beginning to have a serious impact on society and, more importantly, the economy.
Atwell, the consummate professional, did his job, but not before taking in Thackery’s last lines – words that have resonated with him more than he expected. Those words continue to haunt him as his daughter wakes one morning with an ominous declaration: “No one can go outside.”
As you can see, “On the First Day” has an intriguing premise, and I was excited about its potential. However, while the idea is good, the execution left me a little wanting. Smith’s style is a little too formal and stiff for me, and the dry prose really kept me from engaging with the story and the characters like I wanted to. Smith has written and published a great deal, but this is my first encounter with his work so I’m not sure if this is his usual style or something he felt best suited this particular story. Either way, the stilted dialogue and matter-of-fact descriptions didn’t work for me at all, making this particular story a hard one to recommend.