An unmoving island in an expanding sea of red.
As he stared down at the body laid out before him he could feel panic setting in, his hand started to shake only worsening as he tried to control it, the smoking gun threatened to fall from his grip. Attempting to steady it he grabbed the barrel with his other hand only to flinch away, feeling the jolt of heat from the metal it finally caused him to drop the gun. It seemed to fall in slow motion, taking minutes to reach the cobbled stones of the alleyway, skittering across the floor and coming to rest in the expanding pool of blood surrounding the body. He continued to stare, his thoughts scattered and incomprehensible, a whirlwind flooding his mind.
What have I done? Did I do that? No it can’t be, I couldn’t kill. But I have, haven’t I? The body suggests so, but…that’s impossible. His mind refused to believe it could kill. Was it a corpse now, not a body? When did a body become a corpse? Did it matter? Does anything matter? I don’t remember firing the gun, but it was smoking and in my hand, I only remember…the shock….the terror! I had no choice! His mind was on the verge of snapping. It had to die, it was…unnatural, but human, how can something unnatural also be human? I’ve killed a human being…what have I done?!
His mind couldn’t make sense of anything, so many questions and so few answers. Every time he looked at the body it only grew worse, the lifeless, bloody, human corpse staining the smooth cobbles of the alleyway. It was so familiar to him and yet at the same time so alien…he could feel himself about to snap. He looked away, it was all his body would allow, and instead he faced the stone wall of the alley.
Stone is lifeless, static, unmoving, but that’s fine, I can quantify stone, I know what it is, it is stone, it is easy to understand….unlike the other thing. He caught himself before he looked back again, he was beginning to calm but could feel the knife edge in his mind, so easy to fall. Comprehension and calm would come from explanation and understanding, he knew this, so he tried to step through what had happened. Stick to the facts, he told himself, facts don’t lie, for as a logical man he prised logic and the ability to explain and quantify. So what had happened?
He was walking down the alley, wait…why was I? He didn’t remember. Does it matter? No, it’s of no consequence. As he approached a corner he heard a noise, it sounded like a thud. No, more metallic, a clang? He paused, he was nervous but found his voice, asking timidly, “hello…anybody there?” Nobody answered and the anxiety grew worse. Who could it be? Or maybe what? He didn’t want to get mugged, he didn’t know the area maybe that happened a lot here, or worse ravaged by a wild animal. In an alley? What animal would be in an alley in the city? A fox maybe, they say they are getting braver. He decided to investigate, drawing his gun, if it was a fox he could probably handle it- Wait, why do I have a gun?! He had no reason to carry a gun, where did he get this from? If he had a gun he should know why, so why didn’t he? His thoughts speeding up again, panic approaching like a train entering a station with no intention of slowing down, only destruction and chaos awaited it. No! He stomped his foot down hard, forcing himself to remain calm, shaking his head to rid himself of the unwanted thoughts. It didn’t matter, he had a gun and he had drawn it, those were the facts.
He approached the corner round which he had heard the noise, heart rate increasing with every step, he could feel the blood pumping through his chest. He put his hand against the wall, giving himself a second to prepare and take a breath before going round the corner. The wall was wet, it hadn’t rained so why was it wet? He looked up and spied a pipe ending flush with the wall dripping odorous fluids. He pulled away in disgust and took a step back, wiping his hand on his jeans, old jeans, didn’t matter. Then he froze, stepping away from the wall had given him a clear view round the corner. There was a body lying on the floor and a few feet above it, around head height, was another pipe, except this one stuck out a couple of feet from the wall. Themetallic thud, that explained that, fact. He was about to lower the gun and take a closer look when the body moved, not a body, a person, alive not dead. They groaned gruffly and pushed themselves up onto one knee. A man, another fact, facts are good, but something felt wrong. This man looked familiar, had I met him before? Was he on TV? A celebrity maybe. The man then seemed to notice he was there and looked up at him –
The horror, the panic, that was when it started, when he saw that freakish face. But what had been wrong with it? He couldn’t remember, his mind had blocked out the image, not wanting to remember. He knew he had to remember to understand but he didn’t want to, all he could remember was the horror and panic. The man had drawn in a sharp breath when he turned to face him, seeing the gun pointed at his head. I should have lowered it but I couldn’t, this thing, this man was unnatural, dangerous. That’s all he could remember. But why?!
Then the silence fell, and for a time span of what felt like hours, but was more like seconds, nobody moved an inch or spoke a syllable. Not knowing what to do but being too scared to move he held the gun tightly in his hand, a finger nervously twitching on the trigger. He knew he had to calm down but he couldn’t, he tried to breathe steadily, taking long slow breathes. It worked, he was so close, he knew he could do it, he knew he could calm down, all he needed was a little more ti –
It all happened in a second, as both men stared at each other the look in kneeling man’s eyes; the freak’s eyes, changed ever so slightly. Suddenly he sprang forward from his kneeling position, pushing off with his back foot and moving with blinding speed, reaching for the gun. He would have made it, he was fast and only had a small distance to cover, but the change in his eyes had given him away too soon, and that was all the twitching trigger finger needed. The next moment he was an unmoving island in an expanding sea of red.
He’d turned his head as the memories flooded back to him and he relived the horror, staring down at the unmoving body before him. He snapped. Gone, he ran, he didn’t want to remember any more, he must get away, so he ran, fast. Almost falling before he started on some slippery cobbles, he just managed to keep his footing. There was no specific direction to this Olympic sprint, it was the sprint of a man with a singular objective, to be as far away from his current location as possible in the shortest possible time. The alley was long but had to end eventually, as he approached a corner something in what remained of his broken mind told him to slow down or he might slip, but it was as if someone had whispered it during a monsoon, it went unheard and unheeded. He threw himself round the corner, fortunately not slipping but he didn’t pause either, mere seconds after turning the corner he was halfway down the next alleyway.
The alleys started to blur together, they were all dark and damp from dripping pipes that had no proper place to go and gutters that were either clogged, rotten or just broken. What street lamps there were gave out little light through the veil of grime covering their surfaces. No windows or doors broke the unending walls of stone surrounding him, enclosing him, although he occasionally heard distant noises, the sound of a train, the odd car horn, even a woman yelling. That same voice in his head, slightly stronger this time, told him he should follow these sounds, they were safe and there was no safety here. Alas the voice still went mostly unheard and still unheeded, for even if he had the presence of mind to heed those words, the noises were confusing and misleading. Easier to run, so he ran, faster than ever.
He was finding it hard to focus on anything and was starting to get the feeling he was going in circles, everything looked the same, and hadn’t he heard that car horn before? That woman yelling? So indistinct were the sounds it was hard to tell, was it even a woman, he couldn’t tell. No facts. He approached another corner, it was all corners now, corners and walls, corners and walls. Again he threw himself around it as he had all the previous corners, except this time he lost his footing and began to fall. The ground loomed before him, approaching in slow motion, and instead of him falling towards it he felt like it was pulling him closer. But he didn’t give in and managed to catch himself at the last moment, enjoying the sensation of denying the ground its prize. Still retaining some momentum he set off again, albeit at a slightly slower pace, down the next alley. As he ran he looked back at the spot where he had nearly greeted the floor so politely, he knew he really needed to slow down. The voice in his mind spoke up and this time it finally registered, he let out a slow breath and turned back the way he was running –
He awoke slowly and with a groan, he thought for a second that the horror had all been a dream but the throbbing pain in his head told him all he needed to know. Opening his eyes all he could see was the damp alley floor; not one to give up it had claimed its victim despite his best efforts. He pushed himself up onto one knee, giving himself a respite from the damp grimy floor and giving him a second to get his head straight. He didn’t want to get up, didn’t want to suffer that world again, but he knew it was unavoidable. That was when he heard a noise and looked up.
He breathed in sharply in shock, no, no it couldn’t be, the horror was beginning again only this time it was worse. He was looking up into the barrel of a gun, and beyond that his own faced stared back at him, horror dawning on both their faces simultaneously and in equal measure. His mind couldn’t cope with the reality of it, it just spit out horrific emotions and registered the face as a freakish mutation even though there was nothing freakish about it, it was simply his face. His own face, the face he laughed with, the face he smiled with, the face he shaved, the face he’d seen in the mirror only this morning, the face he saw mirrored now, only this time there was no glass. They stared at each other for what seemed like an age, neither version of the same person understanding the situation or knowing what to do about it but one of them in a definite position of advantage.
The realisations came all at once and none of them made sense. I killed myself. But how was that possible and how was he here and there at the same time? And more than that, this had already happened, he had already shot himself in the past, yet here he was in the future in the position of the soon to be dead man. That was the final but most significant realisation, I am going to die. He’d seen it happen, he’d made it happen and there was no avoiding what had already happened. But had it? That’s just the thing, it hadn’t happened yet, at least not for this version of him, maybe he could change what was going to happen, maybe he could save his own life. Yes, I can be faster, knock the gun away before I can fire it, it wouldn’t take much, the other version of myself had been close, I just need to be a little closer. He knew he could do it, he was determined now and his eyes showed it. He wasn’t going to die tonight. He tensed his body, bracing himself like a coiled spring, then exploded towards himself, arm stretched out towards the gun. He was going to make it, he’d been too quick for himself, he was going to liv –
An unmoving island in an expanding sea of red.