The L/Wake

The first of our team we sent down the stream into the lake was Arthur. He’d died just before the turn of the shifts and McKenna had found him half sunken in a radioactive pocket a 100 feet from the claw cyclotron and the furnace. The feed showed us he’d stupidly crossed the threshold marked by the red indicators but there had been a low rolling mist so his visuals were probably obscured. He always complained he was sweating too much inside his suit when near the furnace. We were extracting Astatine in those days.

I am reminded of this because now, seven years later I am standing by a different lake in spring, some immeasurable hours before a person I know or knew is to be lowered into the ground. It seems foreign to me this ritual of returning to soil. What they return has not been given by the earth but nonetheless they ground a vessel empty of what was vital, they anchor it so it would remain there as a return point for them in years to come. There is a hint of love in that, a melancholic one. Later, when I stand beside the casket set deep within the grasp of wet and wormy dirt, I might admire the boundaries the earth creates around it, because I know it will be there forever and I know that each time I venture to the cemetery and search for its marker, the grey gravestone, I would produce a set of memories. They would be different each time and I would be sad or happy thinking back to them. I would speak as if to the rotting skeleton hidden underneath the heaviness of unspoiled earth an in my mind it would speak to me and I would see the person it once was. It’s almost a luxury now that I think about it.

On another mission years before the Astatine one a colleague had been struck by a metal tube cracking his visor. In his confusion he’d detached himself from the line and had floated into deep space within a hands reach of his anchored partner. There are many ways to describe a body floating slowly, unreachably away, arms and legs flailing, the lack of oxygen after the backup compartment has been emptied coloring his cheeks purple and blue. He disappears fast, the rotation of his body engulfed by distance and darkness. It’s happens in quiet. Within moments there is no marker that he’d ever been present with us. No grave to return to, to mourn and talk to.

There are swans in this lake. I don’t know if they come because of the quiet or the ludicrous amount of bread crumbs the keeper feeds them from a plastic bag. We are an ordinary occurrence to him fumbling with words of condolences and thin alcohol glasses held between slippery fingers. The house behind me is unsteady with grieving voices, the occasional hoarse laughter. You can hear the tears in the dialogues, a common tongue with different nuances to it. There are trays neatly arranged with food almost like a cocktail party. Everyone takes small bites from the small pieces chewing through grief or sheer uncertainty as to what else to do. A wake is a time when people form a bond through the sharing of stories. I’ve heard most of them that they were willing to share. The stories are all the best ones and they gathered together faces that would intentionally avoid one another. The body rests in the middle of all, oblivious. It’s quiet within it.

“Soren, come inside you’ll freeze out here. It’s bollocks weather.”

Greggory, my brother in his thin rental suit, is shivering by the door of the house, cheeks red from the brush with the wind. When I returned home, I had a difficult time remembering how to accept the wind against my skin. On Epos the wind is almost non-existent, a planet that was initially audible with barely a whisper.

 When we pulled Arthur out we had to decontaminate the body if we were to bring it home with us. A stage of necrosis had begun on his lower torso and after twelve hours muscles in the lax body had become animated. There were frowns all around, a shared unfamiliarity with the side effects at play. The reaction reminded me of the work of some endoparasite sparking extra neurotransmitters in its host. I wonder of the creatures co-existing with poisonous gases, living in the deep dark of the pockets.

“What about the lake?” Alexandria asked when we gathered huffing and puffing in the heavy red hazmat suits.

“What about it?” McKenna mumbled. He’d been staring at the chamber where Arthur’s spasmodic body lay on the med tray. We had quarantined that section of the base in the first hours.

“We could put the body there.”

It was my suggestion picking up on Alexandria’s unspoken wish. The lake was like a biodegrading organism. The substance in it wasn’t water, it was heavier, the color of molten silver and the first truly alien material we encountered on Epos. We’d taken probes to distill but the samples evaporated too fast, a process of a hybrid hard and liquid state to gas in the matter of minutes. It existed solely as one. I knew it would chew right through Arthur’s suit down to the bones leaving no skeleton. It had done that to our equipment when we first tried dipping a camera. It’s only honest to admit that our tech was far too primitive for what was on Epos. Aside from our digging and extracting mission we didn’t tamper with anything else.

“What bullshit are we going to sell to the Mother Base? Because you know they’d be sticking their noses in this.” Janeck was Arthur’s bunk buddy. “They’ll ask about reason of death. They’d want it entered in the system and the body shipped back with the first batch.”

I knew what to tell them, what to lie. The return of the body was going to kickstart an investigation into the nature of the parasite and our work was going to be hindered, the company hiring us was going to lose millions of credits and we our jobs unless another contractor took us in risking we were carriers of some virus out of deep space. The Mother Base was going to send Specialists and they were going to close down Epos marking it a red zone. Quarantine. But after they saw the lake for what it was, I knew they would try to drain it. So I lied.

Later, the supervisor of the second extraction team on the other side of Epos, Piermont contacted me. One of his crew had suffocated in his suit after failing to secure his gear. After leaving the body in the med bay it too had reanimated to an extent correlating to Arthur’s case. Fewer hours though. Six or seven to the twelve we had with Arthur. I remember asking whether they had a lake on their side.

“A big silvery one, yeah. Nero nearly lost his fingers trying to stir it, the damned fool. I don’t think it’s actually a lake, more like a spill from something.”

“Put the body there, suit and all.”

It was that simple. Like we had sent Arthur down the thin sleeve of the silver river and watched the lake rise up to catch him and drag him down into a grave of sorts, below that reflectionless liquid to be anchored in a way. In a way through this returned to origins belonging to something else, a ritual mimicking that which I’m attending now. Funerals don’t differ much from one another as long as there is a place. It made Epos that, a waypoint to return to like a person returns home and goes to visit those who are no longer there.

I place my hand around Greg’s shoulder and let him take me back inside.

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Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 5

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4, Part 1

Chapter 4, Part 2

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It came bounding from the threshold of dusky woods, an achromic color like dying fire stirring the ashes, anemic body spilling between the tree trunks, tangling skin and bone and muscle in the branches and wailing as it did.

Neave caught the yellow of its eyes as it narrowed them upon her, piercing, devouring even from the great distance. Like smoke it moved swaying trees in its wake, borrowing a shade of the enclosing night, translucent, yet vibrant as it shifted making her eyes water. The color of death and decay.  Ambrose was eager to send biting bullets and they flew passing through the prism of its body hacking at wood and rock instead.

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Neave took them away, leaving behind the gaping mouths of unclosed doors, like black tombs erect in the dying light. She chose the path not down, never down where it was a territory of the dead and forgotten but up where people had a chance to come and go. Go. It was possible, wasn’t it? Neave wasn’t sure, tripping in the dark audible with snakes hissing, goats belowing. Ghost things, past things, things that didn’t exist but came with the Fox.

The introduction reminded her of something that had happened not long ago, something rotten, cruel, intimate. She jumped at each gunshot unfamiliar to the sound live and present not dull like in the movies. Bang! The growling, drooling sound leapt left to right and back again now outside of its hideout, now with them on the blind road. The sun was nearly gone and everything that didn’t exist in it took a form.

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A car thrown in the bush emerged, doors ajar, light flickering, radio croaking, waves overlapping with indistinguishable voices. Neave recognized her silver, the car she had come with. Come. She had chosen to visit here, days ago, years ago. She had been here and with her had been the Fox. The only memory that mattered appeared.

She stopped abruptly, facing the Fox.

“Go, I’ll keep it busy!” Ambrose was shouting gesturing towards the car. Sierra was already working at it, trying.

The Fox had halted, throbbing, pulsating, a worm wriggling phantom. Its proximity was familiar to Neave, dangerously so. It leered at her, recognizing her scent. Its ragged head dropped down, muzzle sniffing between her breasts.

“You knew. When you asked whether it came for me, you knew it did. But you weren’t sure whether it had taken me.” She looked at Ambrose, reaching for him with eyes that he didn’t return quickly enough.

“If I had said anything you would have run. Back then, across the field in the rain. And I wanted to keep you close, safe. I saw the marks, Neave. I had to do something. For you to face it, however not like this.”

Neave bent back on herself, into herself, shuddering. The bruise where he had grabbed onto her arm, latching himself like a leech, sucking joy out and inducing fear, hurt. She rubbed at it, feeling the muscle underneath leather and skin convulse. He came at her, pushed her into a corner, tasted her, trying her on and off. Fast it became something else, terrifying, unwanted. Something to run away from, unaccepting. Ambrose took careful steps towards her, rifle aimed high at the Fox’s head.

“Maybe if I wasn’t so afraid we wouldn’t be here,” Neave put out a hand untangling a piece of her to give to the Fox. He licked her palm, ruby red tongue darting out to lap at sweat and dirt.

“Neave, don’t…” Ambrose pleaded, his rifle rising and falling with the heavy breaths of his chest, unsteady, sweaty in large palms.

“I have to, Ambrose it’s the only way. He takes me and it all ends. Just like in the story. Otherwise I am no one and everything around me is nothing. He would return me to me. I won’t be afraid this time.”

The Fox nodded, a grotesque thrust of its large head.

“Bullshit. Look at me. Hey!” Ambrose just like the night when he found her, stood there a towering figure with secure eyes and secure smile, grey hair falling against the side of his narrow face. “It will hurt you. You don’t need to indulge its whims. You can come home with me and Sierra.” He looked at the Fox, a tense smile and reached out his hand, long slender fingers touching her skin. Touching. A mistake.

The Fox recoiled from Neave and snapped its jaws closed on Ambrose’s hand tearing flesh from bone, dividing. The scream was Sierra’s, running from inside the car to pick the detached, cradle Ambrose in his blood-spurting convulsions. The luminous yellow irises lacking pupils rolled in their sockets, foam bubbling around the rabid snout. Midway it met Sierra, darting at her neck, departing the head half from her body. The person that had been Sierra seconds ago dropped to a shapeless form.

“They wanted to help…” Neave told the Fox, briefly catching the man that walked inside its skin. The Fox opened its steaming jaws, the pungent smell of carrion escaping, mixed with fresh blood, and laughed a human laughter.

Because she had nearly been stolen and in fear of losing herself she had run here, where there was simplicity and in it there was no one. Except the Fox in the autumn looking for his sacrifice. And in the attempt to escape what was nearly done to her she had come here to receive it anew but unlike the other time, the first time she couldn’t run now. She had been returned to it, some anomaly, some paradox that prevented her from going further. The memory leak.

The opaqueness presented itself to Neave, opposite, upside down, astray. Peripheral. That was a good word for it, Neave thought tasting bitterness and iron on her bitten tongue. Not remembering wasn’t a symptom of him and his advances, the hurtful bruise on her arm, but of this place. She didn’t exist in it, but she had crossed its threshold in a desperate attempt to escape to some familiar normality away from prying eyes. The density of it was unfamiliar to her and she felt lightweight, paper thin, impossible to gather, impossible to connect.

“Take me home,” she spoke to the Fox, gripping a handful of fur between her trembling fingers. The missing item locked into place, the harsh feel of the sharp hair irritating her palm. Going back home, she had to face herself. She closed her eyes waiting patiently, obediently for the Fox to do its duty. Take her, kill her, return her.

It weren’t jaws that closed on her neck but lips, salty and rich on blood. Ambrose’s scream punctured, her eyes snapping open. In his slumped form in the red dust, in the lightless night his grip on the rifle was janky, his voice incoherent, thick with grief and pain but he did send a bullet. It connected with the Fox’s eye, the great beast bellowing at the leaking juice from its yellow socket. In its confusion and pain it snapped different set of jaws on Neave.

The night seeped into her eyes, a cosmos reeling down on her, cold and solid, strangely like daggers sliding into sheaths.

“Neave! Neave!”

She stood on unsteady legs, swaying like the grains had been beaten to a submissive motion by the rain in that field so long ago. A brotherly hand came on her shoulder shaking red dust of her jacket, tears of her caked with regret cheeks. The illumination of multiple flashlights fell upon her, the brightness impossible to stand. She turned her head towards the place where Ambrose lay but there was no one there, there was no one where Sierra had fallen. Something was taken from her hand, a weight disappearing leaving her fingers numb, flexing in and out. Her brother held the rifle putting it away, safe distance, good intentions.

“What are you doing here, Neave? I looked for you everywhere, I thought you were dead!”

It’s not something she could answer sleeping in yesterday’s clothes. Yesterday she’d given herself over to the Fox, a ripple in time, a ghoul prancing in golden tilting fields in the moaning mountains. He hadn’t taken his token, his promise. Ambrose had robbed him of that, not allowing for her to sacrifice that which she valued, feared losing, feared giving. He’d understood, had seen why the runaway, why the lack of memory.

But she’d seen the out of place, the different. Now, being picked up, carried away past the trashed car with its doors ajar, past the crumbling houses she gave in to a different touch, the soothing caress on her back, thumb drawing circles. But she missed the other, the friendly hand pulling her from the mud leading her safely to a sanctuary. The only thing existing in that place had been the house with the swing and Ambrose and Sierra in it. She wept for that. She wept for his black eyes. She wept for Sierra.

Coming home she felt like running away again. Coming home she felt like going away.

***

The End

Take you for staying for this short journey!

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 4, Part 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

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Their eagerness to know more transfused into Neave. She allowed herself a deeper breath, eyes not meeting eyes, hers into the distant where the memory existed.

“The man who lived in that house over there told it to me.” Neave pointed at the smallest of the three houses, a green door marking it. “When I asked why he would want to hurt a hungry fox he asked me ‘what do you think the fox eats, little girl?’ and I said ‘chickens of course what else’.” Neave reached for Ambrose’s cigarette, an old habit calling back, and took a drag that jimmied open her throat clogged with difficult memories. He received it back with a twinkle in his eye.

“That man was not nice, I recall that. He laughed at me but when I tried to run away he grabbed my arm and took me inside his house. ‘Do you want to know the truth about your precious fox?’ he asked. His breath stank of alcohol and milk, his hands of gunpowder and dirt. But I wanted to know. I wanted to.”

She looked at them, Ambrose eager to hear, Sierra eager to see.

“He told me a long time ago just after the first houses were built near the river ill luck befell the people and the village. It desolated most of it and the elder stricken with grief, took a rope and headed to the oak tree to hang himself. When he got there a man wearing a fox skin was sitting under it roasting a chicken leg on a tiny fire. He talked the elder out of suicide and shared his chicken with him while the elder told him of their predicament. After hearing all, the stranger offered a solution. He told the elder that if they dined him with the finest meal tonight, tomorrow the sick would be healed and the crops would be rich again and if they gave him one girl after her first blood every autumn the village would flourish and expand and fill with the riches of the earth. They would be kings among the hills.”

“The elder agreed and in the morning when he returned to the village what the stranger had promised had come true. Come autumn the man in the fox skin came for the first girl just as he’d promised he would. The villagers were angry with the elder and how he’d hidden the truth from them. Dealing with demons and spirits…they called him a witch and butchered him. The demon took his girls despite everything, sneaking in the night soft as a whisper, quiet as a fox.” Neave inclined her head towards the green door of the small house. “I was so little, couldn’t be more than six. After I heard the story I wanted to cry but the man just laughed. ‘It’ll happen to you too! The man in the fox skin will come to take you and make you his whore you little bitch.’ I snuck past him and didn’t leave our house for days.”

“What a fucking weirdo. I’m so sorry, Neave. That must have been horrible,” Sierra sighed.

“Did it come? Did he come for you?”

Neave watched Ambrose, his unblinking stare piercing.

Sierra’s eyes widened. “Ambrose! Don’t be an asshole!”

She wanted to tell him, she wanted to be sure. The mark of something held in her hand returned and she flexed her digits tickling at her palm and the pressure there. Her mouth was dry, the red dirt carried in the wind crunching beneath her teeth.

A distant almost indistinguishable cry pierced her ears.

“Did you hear that?” Sierra asked and she swiftly ran down the stone steps and back to the yard where it was darker. The narrow light from her phone’s flashlight provided indication as to where she was.

“Inside the cave lived a Fox,” Neave whispered staring at the jagged rock.

 “Why isn’t it marked on the map, the cave?” Ambrose asked.

“It’s so people don’t go there.” Neave said listening to the cry. It was a woman crying, a child screaming, a person wailing in agony. It was a horrible sound and it chased away all other noise present in the vanishing daylight – the sound of night approaching through the trees making them sway as it came.

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Ambrose joined Sierra adding to the stretch of yellow glow. He clutched his hunting rifle and aimed it at the approaching darkness.

Chapter 5

Inside the cave lived a Fox – Chapter 3

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

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Neave woke in bed in the spare room of the cottage. Mud and anxiety washed away, she had surrendered to a motionless sleep lulled away by the low kept voices of Ambrose and Sierra and the still lingering scent of the opiate candle. The morning was a different shade but Neave was still clutched in the remembrance of yesterday.

She rolled on her side, fingers woved into the blanket, pulling hard to simulate possession. She curled her body into a fetal position escaping for new seconds into darkness behind closed eyes. Beneath the cover she felt naked, exposed, only a skin thin shroud of a memory covering her, the house, Enok, the blurred faces she called family. And nothing more of her present self, of who she was. All memories were fragments from the past, just nostalgia in heaps, nothing useful, only bittersweet. A fickle horror swirled like smoke from a burning cigarette but she blew on it disconnecting its chances of encompassing her to suffocate in its blue haze.

Despite it all her memory loss had boundaries now, a beginning to be placed with precision and an intermission- now, to be played out in order to restore the middle and provide the ending. Her want to go home was still present, but returning would also mean living with the missing and Neave couldn’t bear to be her own stranger. She opened weary eyes to the dull silhouettes in the room. The voices in the other room had escalated to fully developed sentences, rising in volume and urgency. Neave left the bed and received the cool morning air against her bare skin.

She found Ambrose and Sierra in the small kitchen. The devious grin that had played on his lips hours ago was replaced by a youthful smirk.  There was a sudden gentleness lurking in his features and Neave found herself reaching for the coffee mug he offered, a symbol of an act of complete normality she welcomed.

“We know where to go,” he said pointing towards the backpacks on the sofa. Next to them rested against the leather seat was a hunting rifle.

“I don’t know why he needs this,” Sierra joined taking a long sip from her cup.

“In case. Just in case.”

“There is something wild to shoot? How about you leave the shooting to me?” Sierra waved an instant camera at him and slipped it in her backpack.

Neave left the coffee untouched. “I don’t understand. What do you mean you know where to go?”

“It was something you said that gave me an idea. Fair fact, it’s a long shot but I suspect a plausible one. On the way here you mentioned that story, “Inside the cave lived a Fox”. You said it was like local lore, so we did some digging and sure enough there is a similar folklore tale originating in Yarlford, one of the villages up in Mt. Wrell. We figured it would be best to start there.”

Neave folded her arms searching through her brain for the village, a place she had known, had visited. Yarlford, hundreds of years old withstanding the wheels of time, the changing currents. It surfaced with semi-vivid imagery, echoes more than voices, passing weak odors instead of pungent smells. It hovered ghostlike but the more she focused on it, the more the link strengthened returning her to a world less distorted and more memory like. It settled right there in her childhood, a pieced of her mind untouched by her amnesia. Neave could feel Ambrose watching her closely, leaning into the same want to construct a world that was not tainted, that could be reached and anchored.

“I remember spending my summer vacations there but…. Could I have gone there?” And was I alone if I did, Neave wondered.

Sierra took Neave by her hand and pulled her towards the door. Her lips hovered close to Neave’s ear, the breath ticklish on her skin when she whispered. “I think it’s worth the try. Are you ready, Neave? You will rediscover yourself today.”

*      *      *

Yarlford was far. Neave remembered trekking up to it from the train station in Tallbridge. It would take half the hours of daylight to cross the invasive river, hoping from boulder to boulder, to climb over fallen trees shattered by lightning and find the right herd path beside game trails leading into deep woods. A bullet had whistled above her head once, the hunter hiding in silence behind his scope. She had to crisscross over hills and valleys overgrown with grass, remaining at all times above a quaint quiet world populated by distant yowls of cattle. By the time she would reach the house the sky would be turning indigo.

Ambrose took the wheel leading them out of the dirt road and on to a new one miles away that climbed them in her periphery of civilization’s reach to a domain where the wind rustled through the tall grass. Sierra rolled down the backseat window. Her hair scattered, toyed with by the currents.

“It really is a moaning mountain,” she noted. They crawled, tires fighting against the still wet unevenness of the red dirt road threatening to become a landslide and throw them in a ditch of splintered trees soaking in mire ponds filled with rocks. Sierra took photos and wrote down with a blue marker on the white space of the Polaroid her thoughts.

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Neave could see she was enthralled by the endless valleys and jutting peaks colored in pale blues.

A map was spread on the dashboard but Neave’s uneducated eyes couldn’t see where they were or would go. Ambrose tapped a finger at a junction. “That would be somewhere at the foot of the village. We’ll leave the car there and continue on foot.”

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Outside of the car the steep trail that opened on the side of the road snaked its way past the first houses, caved in under time and nature’s pressure. Neave knew them to be sanctuaries of snakes, tongue-splitting venomous reptiles hiding inside their man-made shrines.

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“These were abandoned a long time ago,” Ambrose spoke squinting to look inside an empty window.

“When I was a child people would still search for buried gold coins in them. One man was bitten twice by snakes.”

“Did he die?” Sierra snapped her photo pausing only to scribble, the marker leaving a squeaky noise.

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“I think so.”

“But did he find gold coins? A pot of gold coins perhaps?” Ambrose caught up with her lighting a cigar. The smoke he blew caught her in a sweetened haze.

Neave pictured two gold coins dug from underneath dusty floorboards crawling with the slimy bodies of smooth green and yellow snakes, placed over her eyes, a cold payment for greed, mistrust and cruelty.

“I don’t think there were ever any.”

Coming up the uneven trail outside the density of trees and nodding houses, Neave’s heart skipped and she rushed ahead. She slipped over exposed rocks white as bone to climb the path to open ground. The sight of a crownless oak spreading dried branches like a scarecrow to touch no sky, made her smile.

“I remember this tree. Lightning struck it and it never grew afterwards.” The snap of the camera behind her sealed the moment. Ambrose gave her his leading stride offering open palmed the discovery.

“We’re here,” Neave told them.

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Chapter 4

The Manuscript Society

Written for Flash!Friday’s Vol 3 – 11 two-part prompt, which you can check via the link, or view the photo part of the prompt here 

 


 

They were burned on Hope Street on a school day. Academics rioted, howling across the view, exampling their dedication and love through own blood spilled abundantly on the pavement. Others failed trunks full of heirloom classics, begging to be shot then, and not see them dumped and stamped on.

Brilliance was never understood. It was mourned only, private or in death.

John Kronin’s army deployed like vultures before the masses, their faces nebulous, averted from the tied exemplary victims and their works of art, smoldering together in a fiery pit in the middle of Hope. The New 1st Parliament members watched wordlessly from behind a wall of the militzia’s forces.

It took less than twenty minutes for flesh and paper to fuse. A posthumous monument of man and art; Opposing heroes immortalized in their charcoal expressions of terror, their forever lost words ash at their feet – that’s how they’ve labeled it, nearly five hundred years later.

There are many visitors to the Moonseum of Human History. Augmented and voiced-over, this visualization means little to the people around me. It’s salvaged data from pictures and memoirs. We left so long ago.

But it is genuine. I was there yesterday. I will go on Hope Street again tomorrow. Maybe this time…

Lost time is never found again

Untitled

I arrived at the train station fifteen minutes earlier. I sat down on a worn bench inside the waiting hall where it was cool and ate a tuna sandwich I had prepared at home. Chewing on a piece I observed. There weren’t many people traveling at this hour, 14:15, and it struck me as odd, because it was a week day and the Shinkansen line from Maibara to Kyoto was usually a busy one.

My train was set to leave in 10 minutes. I looked at my watch remembering then I had the digital one on today. My other watch, the mechanical one my father had given me when I was seventeen had stopped working a day ago and I had left it at the shop for repair. I felt at unease watching the four digital numbers static but for the seconds counting up, building to something I couldn’t predict. I had no knowledge of the time ahead of the one displayed right now and for some reason it felt terrible. I tried to picture a regular clock and arrange the hours on it as they were and as I have always known them, but my mind failed to do so and I realized through the mental image of a blank clock that the hours had merged into an unrecognizable net of numbers somewhere in the back of my head, where I couldn’t read them or place them. In a sense I had become timeless.

My watch blinked, a very brief and barely detectable change that sent me two minutes ahead at 14:17. When I lifted my gaze towards the time-table the digital clock on the bottom of the screen was caught in a pause itself as the numbers didn’t change, just faded out and faded in along with the whole time-table which also had been frozen, trains, gates, lines, nonexistent for a fragment of red neon dots. When the table cleared the time shown was 14:18. The standard clock hanging beside the time-table had been taken down and I stared through the space where it used to be, still trying to remember how time looked like in its full cycle.

I took my briefcase and hurried outside. On the exit another digital clock wished me a good day and offered its own view on time – this one showed 14:20.

A throbbing in my left temple appeared and I rubbed a knuckle on the painful spot searching for the train. There was one with painted graffiti on it. I made my way towards it but the digital sign above the middle window read “VACANT PLEASE DON’T BOARD.” As I obeyed the written rule other people didn’t and they swiftly and undisturbed walked through the sliding doors.

I looked at those people unsure whether to board the same train I thought I had to. I searched their faces for the same distress I was experiencing. The old man carrying a small red handled saw in a plastic bag looked at me, scratching his yellow beard glued to a scrawny chocolate tanned face. He bowed his head and went on. On the platform we stayed, only I, a boy with very long fingers and a guitar, a lone businessmen and a daughter helping her old mother support herself. A brown dog with its tail bitten off swung by us sniffing the air and my pocket for the unfinished sandwich I had stuffed there on my way out. I emptied the content of the small bag, crumbs, little tuna pieces and sauce beside a trash bin and watched the dog lick the pavement for the scrubs. I flinched away at the blood still dripping from its wound. My throbbing changed to the right temple.

I walked back to the group still unsure whether to board or not.

“Is this the train to Kyoto?”

I looked to my side to find the boy with the long fingers holding his ticket out, pointing the time and destination.

“I wouldn’t know. I guess it might be it. Or maybe it isn’t. I don’t know.”

The vacant sign crawled lazily across the black screen until it collapsed and a new one emerged reading “Maibara – Kyoto.” An announcement came that passengers could now board the train to Kyoto, leaving from platform 4.

My watch showed 14:19.

“Excuse me”, I said turning to the woman holding firmly her mother’s hand. They were just about to enter the train. “What time is it?”

The woman fumbled in her bag and took out her mobile phone.

“14:24”

“I see. And this is the train to Kyoto?”

“Yes. There was an announcement about a delay, so it will leave five minutes late.”

“Sorry, but what happened?”

“A worker got electrocuted somewhere down the rails.”

I turned to see the lone businessman shyly answering me. He slicked back his receding hair and nodding, climbed in.

“I hope he is alright,” said the woman.

I held my head. It throbbed on both sides now. I closed my eyes and counted the churning gray parasites in the blackness behind my eyelids.

The train departed and I sat on a bench watching it slide away fast. When I went back inside the digital clock showed 14:31. My watch patiently waited, displaying 14:26, not a second more or less.

Ouroboros

I chased him back to the hotel, simplifying my way through the duplicate construction of streets, colors and people with a 45 colt. We moved in equal parallels inside the building and chose a similar pattern – too similar, like a wave of memory or purpose from yesterday that haunted until tomorrow and felt like today. It irritated me I hadn’t done it yet. He had eluded me until now when he swam out of the shadows.

He took the stairs, and I did so too. The maid’s scream reverberated on the silent staircase and he threw back his arm to fire at her – his face was hidden by a mask and I missed his eyes when I caught her limp body. I lamented for a heartbeat her terror-stricken death glare then resumed my pursuit. She was one more victim that I couldn’t take, but had to in order to catch him. That bastard. I yelled after him, my voice breaking the spiral perpetuity of stairs I could see above of me. He caught the warning and returned it with a laughter demolishing my steadiness – it felt like a long lost pain returning and it squeezed the skull around my brain till my eyes bled with real tears. He mocked me for even attempting. But I had been at this for far too long to give up on the last ascend I could find possible and sustainable. He had to die. I had to kill him.

I carried on supported by the colt, anger and revenge.

We reached the rooftop of the hotel simultaneously, but then he lagged one second ahead of me and stood facing with an aimed gun.

I had pictured this moment ever since he chose to murder my wife. I knew it was him, because I saw him that night, in the mirror when he was leaving our apartment all bloody and smiling under that mask.

Now I did the same, mimicking him with the raised gun. We both held our 45’s with determination. His suddenly was lowered.

“You can’t kill me,” he said.

“You can’t run forever,” I told him.

“It’s pointless. It will never end. God, it will never end…You…Me.” He beat his head with fists. “Remember, remember, remember. How can I do that? Why aren’t you doing that?!”

“What? Shut up! It will end tonight. I will kill you for what you did to my wife.”

“Don’t you get it? It will never end!” He walked towards me, maniacal laughter emanating in muffled eruptions. I took my distance back, involuntarily abiding the need of my body to retreat. “We’re the same!”

I shook my head ‘no’; he nodded his ‘yes’.

“Now I understand it all.” He began to sob, stifled cries under the mask.

He took it off and threw it at me. I caught it. I could feel the nakedness he exposed staring at me and waited my time to look up, feeling newly accumulated anger fill me up.

Two years had passed, but I had finally found the man who had turned my life into a never-ending nightmare. I could look at his face, and when I did we were the same. Like he had said. I found his eyes this time. They found mine and in a matching blink cleared a world of wrongs and duplicates, seeing to fit everything into one whole, into one singular existence. Everything but this, now. Me, him, us.

“Oh..,” I said, staring. It hurt.

“Put it on,” he prompted me. “You understand.”

And I did so.