Tag Archives: escape

Exodus. Flash Fiction.

Margaret leaned back, tilting her head up towards the sky as she watched the ships launch. She held her breath as they rose through the sky, then finally she released it in a long sigh. She could hear people shouting and screaming on the streets, cheering at the rockets overhead. Margaret didn’t feel their joy, Owen was on one of those ships. She always thought there’d be more time, that they could take things slow. They signed up for the lottery together, dreaming of a life built among the stars. They never thought that only one of them would be picked. He had tried to back out, give his spot to someone else but she insisted, she didn’t want him giving up his future just for her. It wasn’t fair or right to ask that of him. The planet was too full, to make life possible for everyone, some people had to go, that was just how things were. New planets were being seeded across the galaxy, the rockets would ferry them to the great ships and from there they’d start their journey. For Owen the journey would pass in a blink of the eye but she would be long dead when he finally reached his new home. Part of her understood those celebrating below and she did want to join them, all this space, this freedom. Almost half the population were leaving the planet, maybe now those left behind would have a chance, after all the earth could support their numbers now.

Margaret heard the door behind her open, she didn’t turn to look, she couldn’t seem to take her eyes from the sky. She felt hand on her shoulder, “He’s better off up there.”
“I know.”
She heard him sniff, “you’re mother would have loved to see this. She’d have loved to be up there, going on such an adventure.” Margaret didn’t look at her father but she reached up and took his hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. She felt a sudden wave of guilt, she had been so focused on going she hadn’t spared much of a thought for who she’d be leaving behind. In all her fantasies of life on a new planet with Owen, her father had just been there, part of the scenery. He never signed up for the lotto, he said he couldn’t bear to leave behind their small apartment, the memories there. He sat down beside her and pulled her into a hug and together they looked up at the stars.

Survival. Short Story.

Vincent walked through the scattered corpses, around them dying fires were smouldering, a thick haze filled the air. He didn’t pause or look at their faces, it was better not to know. When it had began all those long months before he had seen his first dead body, it haunted his dreams, but these bodies were nothing now, just part of the backdrop. It had been a teenage boy who was running just ahead of him when one of the monsters grabbed him. Vincent hadn’t paused, hadn’t stopped, he just kept running, it was the only thing he could do. He made it another twenty steps before something sailed over his head and landed in front of him with a heavy thud. It was the body of the boy, his head ripped from his shoulders, a gaping hole where his stomach should have been. Vincent had been sure he was next, kept expecting something to grab him but nothing did. That night the scene played over and over again in his dreams, the boys body crashing in front of him. When Vincent finally woke from his nightmare he’d just enough time to turn and vomit onto the ground beside him rather than over himself. How many people had he seen killed since? How many bodies? It was an endless parade of death and destruction. He’d seen people torn limb from limb, screaming all the while, he’d seen people killed in the blink of an eye, a giant stone falling from above and crushing them. He’d seen buildings collapse and burst into flames and somehow he’d managed to survive it all.

Vincent kept walking as the military moved in, this was the truly dangerous part. If they noticed him, noticed that he was broad shouldered, that he was still strong, he would face a seemingly simple choice, join the army or die. The truth of the matter was it would be a death sentence regardless of how he chose. The army had been throwing men at the things since it began and still they kept coming. It was all humanity could do to stay ahead of them. He ducked into a dark and half collapsed alleyway, two children, a boy and a girl, were picking through rubble, the girl glared at him as he past while the boy kept rummaging. Vincent kept them in sight until he rounded the corner, it was always better to have your guard up around the kids, they tended to move in packs and didn’t mind using the knives they liked to carry. He moved through an old apartment building, it was leaning drunkenly against its neighbour, looking as though it would collapse any moment. As he moved through what was once the lobby he could hear the noise of people above him, those too stupid or too poor to go anywhere else. Not him, so far the only thing keeping him alive was being on the move. He’d met plenty of people in the last city who told him it was safe, that he should stay, find somewhere and hunker down until it was all over. Three weeks ago it had been destroyed entirely, last he heard there was nothing left but a smoking crater. He picked his way over bits of concrete and rubbish, it looked like someone had attempted to move it all to the side but had given up partway through. Vincent paused at the front of the building, looking out at the rubble strewn street, people were already coming out to scavenge after the last attack, some were crying and shouting as they dug, but most worked silently, looking for food or anything valuable. At one end of the street stood a tall, gangly boy in a green, ill-fitting uniform, it looked as though he had borrowed the clothes from his father and the tightly gripped gun was almost comically oversized, he had wide, staring eyes that were starkly white against his grey, dust covered skin, Vincent guessed he couldn’t be older than thirteen. Vincent stepped from the building and headed off in the other direction keeping himself hunched over, the kid wasn’t exactly threatening but when dealing with someone that young, that untrained and that scared, you never really knew what you were getting into. Somewhere to his left there came a deep, throaty cry and Vincent froze, already people were beginning to scatter, someone ran past him, knocking him down as they went. Vincent scrambled to his feet and started running.

Vincent watched the city burn, people streamed past him in a steady flow, he could still make out people fleeing the city, dark shapes lit only by the leaping flames behind them. The gunfire had stopped, the army had abandoned they city around the time Vincent had made it to the outskirts. Vincent turned from the city and started walking again, he had lingered too long here, growing complacent, he needed to keep moving, needed to stay ahead of the things. Some people were talking, but most trudged forward with their heads down, many of them carried nothing having no time to grab any of their meagre belongings.

Vincent stopped and sat against some rocks. His feet were tired and sore, around him he could smell food cooking over the campfires that dotted the area, his stomach grumbled sullenly. He hadn’t eaten since the day before, but he had gone longer without food. He had been moving with the others from the city and they swarmed across the countryside, picking everything clean. He didn’t know where he was heading, he wasn’t sure if anyone really knew or if they were just following the signs to the next city. A small family huddled around a fire nearby, he watched as the mother passed food to her children, the mother looked up and caught his eye, he saw a flash of fear and she moved closer to her children, Vincent looked away. He wouldn’t take their food, he wasn’t a thief and he wasn’t that desperate, not yet. He stood from the rock and started walking again, ignoring the protesting pain in his feet. If he kept following like this he’d never get anywhere, he’d just be another desperate refugee, penned into a resettlement camp or conscripted. Besides, there was safety in numbers, but it could also attract the wrong kind of attention, all those people, weak and frightened, would make easy pickings for anyone or anything that decided to come along. Vincent spotted an apple on the ground, a glint of green that had mostly been buried in muck, he pulled it out of the mud and quickly wiped it down, the green skin was smooth and unbroken, though he knew he’d have eaten it even if it was half rotted. Vincent ate it quickly, trickles of juice running down the side of his mouth, already things were looking up.

Close to Salvation. Short Story.

Larry gazed up at the sun above him, he licked his dry, cracked lips with his thick, heavy tongue. It had been so long since he had last had a drink, almost two days now at this point. Yesterday he had come across an old dirty bucket that had been filled with rain water, he had been tempted but the algae that covered the surface and the tiny wriggling things had put him off. Now he would give anything for a single sip of that water. He had been foolish to think he could survive out here, what did he know about the wilderness? The closest he had ever been to nature had been sitting out in his parents back garden on a nice day. Hell he hadn’t even been to the beach in years. He had been safe where he was, he’d still have water and food, though that would have run out in other few days anyway. In the distance he could hear the rev of an engine, his heart beat faster and he quickly broke into a shuffling run, he needed to get somewhere safe, some kind of shelter, before they spotted him. Even at full strength he wouldn’t be able to take them. He didn’t know exactly who they were but he didn’t need to, he had already seen what their kind did. The strong survive, the weak perish, that was their motto. He’d seen them run down an old man, he watched from his apartment balcony as the old man had struggled to get away, watched as they gave him a head start, then all took after him at once. The old man made it another five, maybe ten feet before they caught up with him. He didn’t want to see what happened next but he couldn’t look away and as he watched they beat the old man to death before tearing him limb from limb. At least Larry hoped he was dead at that point.

He had always thought that at the core of it people were good, that if there was any kind of mass disaster people would group together, try to help one another out. He was wrong. Or maybe the sickness just took all the decent people. He had watched as they broke into stores, sometimes they didn’t even take anything, they just broke the windows because the whim had struck them. He had seen them going into apartment buildings, making their way up through the floors. Sometimes they’d come out with someone, sometimes kicking and screaming, other times unconscious. He knew it was only a matter of time until they did a sweep of his building and if that happened where could he hide? His apartment was small and minimalistic in decoration, white floors, white walls, smooth clean lines everywhere. The day he saw the old man was the day he left. He packed a bag for himself, stuffed it with food and bottled water, then at night he snuck out, moving through the city slowly, listening to every sound and praying it wasn’t one of the gangs. He had made it out easily enough and then he’d just kept going, he didn’t have any place in mind or any real plan. It seemed like an adventure and, like all adventures, it was just supposed to work out for him. He was supposed to come across lakes and rivers as he needed them, perhaps a friendly farm house or two that had managed to survive or avoid the sickness. Perhaps he’d find a small town, a group of people trying to claw their way back from the apocalypse, people who wanted civilisation, peace.

He was going to die out here, in the middle of nowhere, all alone. His throat was dry and felt as though it was sticking to itself, what little saliva he could gather was thick, more like mucous than spit. He had stopped sweating sometime ago, he knew that was a bad sign but he couldn’t remember why. His brain was slow and fuzzy and the only thing he could really focus on was the constant, screaming thirst.

Larry lay on the ground, he couldn’t go any further, he had collapsed a few minutes before, ahead of him he could see the shimmer of a lake, could hear the waves lapping against the shore. Slowly, painfully he reached out and grabbed a handful of grass and he began to crawl. The progress was slow and each movement took more and more out of him. He had kept his head down and just focused on moving forward, he looked up again and saw that the lake appeared no closer, he let out a low moan, he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t go any further. He was going to die here, alone and so tantalisingly close to his salvation. No. He wouldn’t die here, he couldn’t. This wasn’t going to be the end of him. He started moving forward again.

Larry lay on the warm ground, his breathing came in low, laboured gasps. The water was so close, maybe a fifty feet, but he had nothing left to give. He reached out and tried to pull himself forward, he didn’t move. He reached out again, trying to adjust his grip. He tried to pull again but he felt the clump of grass sliding through his fingers. There was a sick, steady throb in the back of his head. The water of the lake gently lapped against the shore, a cloud rolled across the sun sending cooling shadows across the land, somewhere a bird called out, Larry let out one last gasp, then he lay still

The Maze. Short Story.

Gwen leaned against the wall, her breath coming in short gasps, she had been running for what felt like hours and she was still trapped in this damn maze. She raised her head and looked around, “I’m done, seriously. I quit. I want out of here.” There was no response. Part of her knew this wasn’t the game she had been told it was, but she still clung to the hope that someone would step out from behind the wall and tell her it was all just a joke. Behind her she could hear the gentle scuffle of someone approaching, Gwen stood up from the wall, her feet were aching, but she had to continue forward. She started walking at a slow pace, it was better than nothing. Her mouth was dry and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. The thin cut on her arm still burned but she was able to ignore it for the most part. Her t-shirt and shorts, a clean white when she began, were already dirty and stained. She didn’t know where the others were, they had started off in a group of ten and they’d been separated one by one. She didn’t even know if they were still alive. The walls of the maze were smooth and grey, they stretched up into the sky, at least twenty feet tall, they were cold to the touch and far too smooth to climb. The ground of the maze was made of the same grey rock as the walls, but it wasn’t smooth, it was filled with cracks and dips, each one just waiting to snag an unwary foot. Gwen wiped her hair out of her face, the sweat sticking it to her scalp in clumps, when she got out of this she was going to kill Charlotte, her and her whole adventure sports kick. It was supposed to be like a haunted house maze where you had to escape, but it wasn’t supposed to be this crazy, it wasn’t supposed to be real. She had seen the maze from the outside and remembered thinking it wouldn’t be that difficult. Then they’d blindfolded everyone and brought them in. Gwen didn’t remember much of that part, hands had spun her around a few times before they started guiding her. It hadn’t seemed like they had been brought that far into the maze itself, but she had been here for hours and was no closer to finding an exit. She had thought it was all just a game, right up until one of the “actors” had attacked her with a knife. If Gwen hadn’t ducked away at the last second the cut would have been much, much deeper. A screamed echoed through the maze, Gwen stumbled to a stop, she was panting heavily, there was no sound behind her. Who had screamed? She leaned against the wall, almost sliding down it, this maze was impossible, she hadn’t even come to any dead ends yet, it just kept sprawling on and on. How was she supposed to get out if she couldn’t even find a dead end? Her breathing began to slow and steady, her dry throat was maddening, she looked up at the deep blue sky, what she wouldn’t give for a quick burst of rain, it wouldn’t be much but the drops she could catch on her tongue might ease the awful dryness in her throat. That gentle shuffling noise came from behind her again, now that she wasn’t breathing as heavily she noticed the other sound, it sounded like someone dragging the tip of a knife along a stone wall. She shuddered, the cut in her arm giving a sullen pang of pain. With a groan Gwen stood, her feet were throbbing steadily now and she began to walk as fast as she could, running was beyond her a this point.

Gwen took a left, then a right, the sound kept getting closer and closer all the time, pushing her on. She had finally accepted this wasn’t a game anymore, she had known the moment the knife had cut into her flesh and the man wielding it had raised it for another stab. She had tried to convince herself that the struggle between the man and Tom hadn’t been real, it was just acting, a fake out. She didn’t know how the struggle ended, she had already started running before she knew what she was doing, but she could guess. There had been more screams, three or four, she wasn’t sure anymore. She turned the next corner and stopped. Ahead of her was a smooth wall, she had finally found a dead end. She turned, the sound of the shuffling was close, so close it sounded like they were almost on top of her. She could try going back the way she came, but there had been no turns for a long time before this, it had just been smooth wall. She moved back until her back was pressed against the wall, maybe whoever it was was just as lost as she was, after all they couldn’t possibly be following her all this time.

The man holding the knife stepped around the corner, her grinned at her and raised the knife, he broke into a shuffling run and dove at her, Gwen screamed as the knife pierced her body, the pain was white hot and all consuming. He lashed out viciously, the blade finding it’s target again and again. When he finally stop Gwen lay in a bloody heap on the ground, her breath came in thin, reedy gasps, the man bent over and pressed the now warm blade of the knife against her throat, he winked at her, then pulled it across, her throat opening in a wide, toothless grin.

Escape. Flash Fiction

Janet looked at the pills that were spilled across the table. It wasn’t really giving up, was it? She stood from the table and went into the bathroom, there she dipped her hand into the bath, it was just the perfect temperature. She turned off the faucet and went back into the sitting room. She looked at the TV, the station had gone out about two hours before, replaced instead with a sign claiming technical difficulties, most of the stations were like that, though one or two were showing repeats of some stupid comedy show. She could still hear screaming outside. They were already in the building somewhere but she was safe for now. She went to the window and pulled back the curtain a little, peeking out. A glance was all she needed. She could see people fighting in the building across from hers, down on the streets. It was everywhere.

She had tried to ring her parents shortly after it started, there was no answer, she had managed to get through to her sister Grace. That had been a tough call. Grace was locked in her basement with her two kids, someone was trying to break in, it was hard to hear her over the banging on the basement door. Her children had been crying, Grace was crying too, kept asking for help. Grace had managed to get through to their parents, but they were only on the phone for a few minutes before there was shouting and they were cut off. Janet heard the door burst open, the screams of her sister, of her niece and nephew. She didn’t listen much longer. Johnny had told her to stay where she was, that he was coming to her and together they’d escape, but that was two hours ago now and he wasn’t answering his phone. She knew they were all gone, she was the only one left. There was no one coming to save her, no way out of the building. She had expected to feel horror, grief, but instead there was a numbness, it all didn’t feel real, it was like she was stuck in a dream or some awful movie.

Janet gathered the pills and brought them to the kitchen, there she ground them up with the back of a spoon, once she had crushed enough she scooped the powder into a glass. She topped off the glass with some vodka, then a dash of Coke, she stirred the drink and then she went into the bathroom.

In the bathroom she stripped out of her clothes, she started to tie her hair up then stopped, it wasn’t like it really mattered now anyway. She slid into the bath, but it wasn’t as comforting as she had hoped. Before she could reconsider she downed her drink in four large gulps, the alcohol burned its way down to her stomach and the powder left a bitter residue on her tongue. Someone banged against her apartment door, there were screams coming from the hallway. Her body felt heavy now, she was feeling tired too, too tired to move, to try and barricade herself in. The banging on her door stopped, she felt the warmth of the water rising and realised she was sliding further into the water, she didn’t bother trying to push herself back up. That was too much effort. Her eyelids were heavy now, too heavy to keep open, Janet closed her eyes and her breathing started to slow and a moment later she slipped beneath the water.

Laketon. Short Story.

“I’m dead and I have been for a long time. Before we begin properly I really need you to understand what that means. I have not seen friends or family, I do not know what they look like now, I don’t know how they’re living their lives. I don’t even know if they still live in the same city, but I know they had a funeral for me. I know they mourned for me. I left on the day I died. You might think it’s overkill, hell I even wondered that myself when it happened, but you’ll see. You’re new to all this, aren’t you? Have you seen them yet?”
“Seen who?”
The man chuckled and shook his head, “You’ll know them when you see them. It’s none of that men in black suits bullshit, they look like regular people but they’re not. You won’t notice it at first, but as time goes on you’ll be able to spot them. They move oddly, they don’t seem to eat, they tend to stare for just a little too long before they blink. I’ve seen groups of them in a restaurant with full plates of food, they move their forks around, it’s almost like they’re pretending to eat like in a movie. You’ve talked to one or two people so far, but the more interest you show in what happened, the more interest they’ll show in you.” The man took a drink from his coke and set it back on the diner table, “You won’t know my name, someone will probably be able to figure it out eventually, but I’ve taken steps. I’ve changed how I look, I’ve taken great pains to disappear, but I think they know where I am. They’ve been content to leave me alone for the most part, I think because they know I’m scared.”

He took a deep breath, then shook his head. “Sorry, I’m rambling. Ok. I’m going to start at the beginning.

It was Stephens idea to go camping, he loved camping, always spending time in the woods and trying to convince us to come with. That weekend we were all free so we decided fuck it, why not? It had been a while since we had all gotten together properly and had a laugh. The plan was simple, grab a few tents and some food, a couple of beers, maybe a few joints and Stephen would help us with all the outdoorsy stuff. We arrived early enough and started out, the hike was longer than I expected it to be, and I was in worse shape than I thought. All of us were really, except Stephen, he was laughing and joking the entire way, trying to keep up morale. When we got to the camp site he chose we were all tired, but we took a short break and got everything set up with minimal fuss. The weather was nice out, sunny and warm but not too hot. The night was supposed to be cool, but not cold. We all had our jobs to do, get fire wood, help set up the tents, that kind of stuff. Nothing too interesting happened really, it was just a normal day. That night, after we had a few beers and smoked a few of the joints I had to take a piss. So I left the camp and started walking. I always needed a bit of privacy to go, if there were people around I just couldn’t. I made sure to keep an eye on the fire and what direction I was going in so I wouldn’t get lost. One of the others, I’m not sure who, called out they’d send a search party if I wasn’t back in ten minutes. It didn’t take me long to find a good spot.

I was finishing up when I looked up at the sky, it was a clear night and there were so many stars out, it was beautiful, I’d never seen anything like it. Most of the time if you looked up you’d see a couple of stars, and even then they were most likely satellites. I don’t know how long I was looking up at the sky, it was kind of hard to keep track of time at that point, but then I noticed something. A sudden burst of light to my left. I looked out and could see it over the trees, it looked like light pollution for a town or city, but I knew that couldn’t be it. Stephen had guided us out here and said there wasn’t anything around for miles and miles. Whatever it was was close. I moved my way through the trees, until I came to a ridge, and I saw it. A town. It was so close but there was no noise of traffic, nothing. Just silence. I didn’t notice the quiet at first because I started to laugh. Stephen always bragged about being an experienced outdoors man and he had managed to get us all turned around. I was looking forward to making a few jokes at his expense.

I found my way back to the campsite easily enough. I sat down and waited for a moment, finally it came and I casually asked about the town. Stephen got a weird look on his face and he told me there wasn’t any town or village anywhere near us. I started laughing then, I made a few jokes though I don’t really remember them. He was so insistent that I must have imagined it that I stood up and told him to follow me.

We stood on the ridge, Stephen was staring in disbelief, the others were cracking more jokes. Stephen hadn’t said anything since we got to the ridge, he looked at us, his eyes were slightly wide with fear and he asked why there wasn’t any sound. The others didn’t seem to take much notice of that, they shrugged it off, it was late, the town wasn’t terribly large, everything had probably shut down. But I could see cars sitting on the roads, they weren’t moving, but they weren’t parked up either. One of the others suggested that we go and check it out. I felt a little  scared, but I figured we’d be safe enough, probably just some small backwards town where everything closed at sundown. Stephen didn’t really want to go, which I found strange, he was always the brave one, pushing us all forward. As we made our way down the ridge he trailed along behind all of us. He didn’t say anything, but I could feel the unease from him. It was around this point that I realised that Stephen and I were by far the soberest in the group. The others had practically started drinking and smoking as soon as camp was set up. As we got closer I could feel it, something heavy in the air. The guys ahead were being too loud, too disruptive. I kept trying to get them to quiet down, I told them that we didn’t want to get hassled by any cops out here, but really I just didn’t want them breaking that heavy, oppressive quiet.

It didn’t take us long to reach the outskirts and everything seemed normal at first. Houses with blinds closed but lights on, cars parked in driveways. As we went I felt more and more uneasy, even the guys had started to keep it down. They stopped making stupid jokes and were talking in half whispers. We had also started to walk in more of a group formation, pulling in closer to one another, whereas before we were spread out.

It was when we reached a group of shops that we saw what was really wrong with the town. There were cars in the road, with drivers sitting up behind the wheels but not moving, there were people inside the restaurant, frozen mid-bite. At first I thought they were wax dummies, the others seemed to agree. We looked around for a little bit, but I was really starting to freak out. I approached one of the cars and gently tapped on the window, the person inside didn’t move and I started to feel a bit silly. Obviously they were just wax, it was some weird new amusement or something. But then I noticed that the wax dummy was breathing, her chest was moving up and down so slowly I had almost missed it. The other two didn’t want to go, they wanted to stay and explore, take pictures for the internet, after all we were the first people to get a look at this. I tried to tell them about the breathing but they dismissed it. Me and Stephen eventually convinced them we should get out, that there had to be security in a weird place like this and we didn’t want to get caught. We turned and started to go back the way we came. We had gone maybe ten feet before there was a high pitched whine in the air, we all winced and covered our ears. I turned to look for the source and saw that the people were starting to move. Slow, repetitive and jerky, but they were moving. I felt like my breath caught in my throat, I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move. The others hadn’t noticed yet, I wanted to call out, to warn them. That’s when I saw her. She was about average height with long brown hair and white skin. She looked normal enough but there was something off about her. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but it was in the way she moved, like she was still learning how. The noise stopped as suddenly as it began and we could all hear her footsteps, heavy and kind of dragging. There were noises, snippets of music coming from the restaurant, a weird mechanical rumble from the cars. Like everything was stuttering and trying to start properly. The others had spotted her too, one of the guys raised his hand, he was about to call out to her but Stephen grabbed him. I could barely hear the scuffle over the sudden noise, but she had heard it. Her head whipped around. We could all feel it, that heavy gaze. She shouted something at us, but none of us could make out what she was saying. We all turned and ran.

The entire town seemed to be waking up and I knew with absolute certainty that we needed to get out before that happened. We were at the outskirts when everything finally started again. I was the last one out, behind the others, making sure no one tripped though they seemed to have sobered up considerably. I felt this awful, piercing pain in my head, it was like my head was in a vice that was trying to break open my skull. I kept running and the pain became worse, it was blinding. A few minutes later I came to, I was being half carried and half dragged by the others. I had passed out at some point and had thrown up on myself. The others were pale and shaky, but I had seemed to have gotten the worst of whatever it was. I could still feel it as we walked, though the further away we got the less it hurt.

We got back to our campsite and quickly packed, starting the trek back to the car. When we got home we tried doing some googling, to find out anything about the town, but there was nothing, nothing at all. It didn’t exist. We figured it was just some weird government thing, they couldn’t of known who we were so we figured we were in the clear.

Then we started seeing them. More people like that woman, they looked normal but there was just something off about them. I died two weeks after that camping trip. We were going away again, it had been planned for months. Stephen was driving, we were supposed to go across the country for two months, see what there was to see. I wasn’t feeling great, I was jumpy and nervous since I had seen that damn town. The others seemed to have moved past it better than I had. The other two had taken to saying that it wasn’t that bad, that we had just been too drunk and high and we had half imagined most of it anyway.

I cancelled going on the trip that morning. They drove to my house to convince me to go. Stephen even loaded up my half packed bag and everything, but I refused. They got a little pissy with me, not that I blame them. They drove off, my bag still in the car, there had been a bit of an argument and we had all forgotten about it. It was an hour later that I realised my phone had been in the bag, it wasn’t anything special, I was never big on carrying a phone around anyway. I figured I’d just pick up something cheap the next time I was out shopping.

I saw the news report a few hours later. The car had been in a pile up, no survivors. They could barely even identify the passengers of Stephens car. Mostly it was down to guess work. There were four of us that were supposed to go on the trip, there were four bodies. I was still in shock, the cameraman panned over the mangled wreckage of cars and I could see them, every emergency personnel there gave off that vibe, that they weren’t really people. It was then that I knew I had to run. It sounds crazy, even after everything that happened, but I could just feel it. I didn’t want anyone else in danger, so I didn’t tell anyone.

I don’t know for sure who that fourth person was, but I have a suspicion. There was a hitchhiker in the area, around our age, looked kinda like me, same height and everything. We were all kind of friends in that we’d always pick him up if we saw him hitching. I think he was the fourth body. I don’t know if they knew it was him at the time, I don’t even know if they know it now. They know it wasn’t me though. I was able to hide for a few years before I saw another one of them. They spotted me, their eyes never leaving me as I ran. The story broke not long after. It’s weird. I could see it happening on the news, the way the story shifted and changed. Do you remember the absolute panic in the early days? The droves of people that went out there looking for their loved ones? No? Of course you don’t. No one really does, but it’s out there if you look. Footage that’s floating around on the internet, photos. Little bits and pieces that were missed out in the clean-up. They’ve left me alone for the most part now that they see everyone is buying it. But I can’t go back, not now, after all this time. How could I even explain it to my family? I’m trusting you here, that you’ll be able to tell my story, but screw it up a bit more, change the details. I only named Stephen as it was his car that crashed and everyone knew he never let anyone else drive that car of his, even though it was a bit of a shitbox.”

The man took another drink from his coke, this time draining the glass. He reached across the table and shook hands with the man sitting across from him. “I’m not going to see you again. I’m not going to answer any questions. Good luck, you’re going to need it.” He slid from the booth and walked out of the diner.

The man sitting at the table, turned off his small recorder. He took another sip from his coffee. If he had this meeting two months ago, hell even a month ago, he would have dismissed it all as the ramblings of a mad man. He looked out the window and a man sitting on the bench across the road caught his eye. He wasn’t sure why at first, the man looked normal enough, grey suit, newspaper in hand. It took him a minute to spot what was wrong. The man was turning the pages of his newspaper every ten seconds. He watched as the man finished it, then opened it from the front and started again.

He shook his head and smiled to himself, he was just on edge, that was all. When he glanced at the man again the man was looking right at him, his eyes flat and emotionless. As he watched the man continued to turn the pages every ten seconds. Not even looking down. He stood from the small booth, not bothering to finish his coffee, he threw some money on the table, enough for what was ordered and a tip and he quickly left the diner. As he walked he kept glancing behind himself, expecting to see the man with the newspaper following him, still turning pages, but there was no one there.

No Good Deed. Short Story.

Just wanted to wish everyone a happy holiday!

Unfortunately I’m a bit under the weather at the moment (actually everyone here seems to be, be warned for this is a house of sickness. Maybe we should throw a red cross up on the door to warn people away.) I’m hoping I’ll be back to full health in a few days, thankfully the worst of it seems to be over! My nose has stopped dripping like a leaky tap and my head feels like the vice has only been tightened a little bit rather than all the way. As an aside, can we just take a minute to appreciate whoever invented Solpadine? My hat goes off to you, wherever and whoever you are!

Hope everyone else is doing well and is having a wonderful time!
________________________________________________________

No Good Deed.

Deborah looked up at the sky, she loved the stars at night, millions of them all shining at once, she always had, but they weren’t much comfort tonight. She was huddled against a tree, shivering slightly. It was a cold night and she was tired, too tired to run any longer. Her legs ached steadily and she knew they would be cramping horribly tomorrow, assuming she lived that long. Somewhere a branch snapped and her breath caught in her throat. She slowly eased out the breath, then inhaled just as slowly. Mentally she cursed at herself again, why had she been so stupid? She hadn’t been thinking, she had just run, she had thought that trees would provide cover and protection, but he had followed her. She had kept going until everything looked the same and she was hopelessly lost. Every time she moved forward she remembered the first rule of being lost, stop and wait for someone to find you, but then that was the danger, wasn’t it?

She had been driving to her boyfriends, a normally pleasant enough drive, when she came across the man lying at the side of the road. She pulled over and got out of her car, she was careful to keep some distance as she called out, “Hello? Are you ok?” there was no response. As she moved closer she realised that the man wasn’t breathing. She turned to go back to the car, to her phone, and froze. Another man was standing between her and her car, he was grinning at her, his grin was wide and jovial but his eyes were flat and dark. “You startled me. That man over there, I think he’s in trouble, I was just about to call for help.” She hadn’t heard another car pulling up, she hadn’t seen another when she had stopped either. The man nodded, “Yes, I saw him too.” His voice sent shivers up her spine. She needed to keep him talking, another car could come by any second. He looked her up and down, his eyes examining every inch, “Do you have your phone with you?” Deborah nodded once, “Yes, I wanted to move out of the road, in case someone came speeding by. People come up and down this road all the time, usually going pretty fast too. They’d be on you before you realised it.” She thought she was babbling but she couldn’t stop, she was too afraid. He shrugged, “You’d be surprised how lonely this stretch of road can be, especially now.”
“I guess. I wouldn’t be too worried though, my boyfriend is expecting me soon, so if anything happened I know he’d call someone or come check on me.”
“Oh, you’ve a boyfriend? How nice. Tell me, are you one of those good women who keeps her purity? Or one of those floozy’s who spreads her legs at every opportunity.”
Deborah’s heart was hammering in her chest. She couldn’t show she was afraid, she needed to be confident. She needed to get to her car. She moved slightly to the left, he shifted with her. “I don’t think that is an appropriate thing to say to someone.”
He smiled at her, “So you’re one of those whores? I get it, you just don’t want to admit it. Or maybe you’re just shy and virginal.” She shivered as he said virginal, the way he leered over the word made her feel dirty, soiled, his voice sounded wet as he said it, almost as though he was salivating. “There isn’t anyone around here for miles you know. Even if your boyfriend is expecting you it would take him a while to notice you were missing.”
“That man over there needs help, do you know CPR? I’ll dial 911, maybe you could check for a heartbeat?” She needed to distract him, but his eyes never left her.
“Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s not going anywhere. How can he? He’s a mannequin after all.” Deborah felt coldness flooding through her. She had to get to the car. She had left the keys in the ignition, if she could just get there she could lock the doors and drive away. She could make a run for it, try to duck around him. Her eyes moved to her car, it was just a quick glance, but he caught it. He held up a set of keys, “Oh, I wouldn’t if I were you. I made sure to grab these while you were distracted.” The entire time they had spoken that smile had never left his face. It felt like she had been standing on this road for hours. He took a step closer, “I’m a fast runner too, who knows. Maybe you’re faster. I like a good chase.” He winked at her and Deborah ran.

Her only thought was escape, the road was long and straight, she’d be able to run on it easily, but then so could he. There was nowhere to hide and he was right, it could be a while before another car came along. The woods were her best chance.

Deborah wrapped her arms around her knees, trying to keep herself warm. Somewhere in the darkness she could hear someone yelling, though she couldn’t make out what they were saying. Part of her wanted to run towards the voice, though she knew that would be a mistake. She lowered her head to her knees, whoever it was they were far away and their voice was fading. If it was that psycho he was moving further away.

Deborah woke with a start, at some point she had fallen asleep. Her entire body was stiff and sore and she was covered in scratches she hadn’t noticed the night before. Slowly she stretched and stood, trying to work out the stiffness. As she did she looked around herself, making sure no one could sneak up on her. There was no sign of anyone. Part of her felt relief, but at the same time she knew she was in trouble. She had no experience with the outdoors, she didn’t even know what direction she should be heading in. How big were these woods? After all she had only ever driven through them and it felt like she had run for miles the night before. After a moment’s hesitation she started walking.

About two hours later she had found a road, she didn’t recognise where she was but the road looked like it was well maintained. That was good, it meant people used it. She moved back into the trees, using them as cover. She heard a car coming and she stood, getting ready to wave them down, then she stopped. What if it was him? He had to get into the woods somehow, she didn’t know where he was, it could be him driving towards her. The sound of the engine was getting louder, she needed to make a decision. She took several breaths and stepped out to the side of the road.

Deborah was crying silently in the passenger seat, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. The woman beside her kept reassuring her it was ok, that she was safe, and she knew the woman was right, but part of Deborah was afraid she’d wake up and find herself sitting in the woods again, that the man would be standing over her, leering, and then he’d pounce.

The Package. Short Story.

Brandon took another drag from his cigarette, inhaling it deep into his lungs, already he could feel the soothing rush wash over him. It was ok, mistakes happen, but they’d fix it. Terry was out there right now tracking down the package and everything would be back to normal. He took another puff, stubbed it out then grabbed out his pack. He lit the next, proud that the tip was barely wobbling, this one was easier to light than the first. He had been shaking so much then the tip of the cigarette kept weaving and bobbing away from the flame. He glanced at his watch, they had loads of time still, at least three hours. He looked down the road, hoping to see the two bright headlights of Terry’s car, but there was no sign of them. The package couldn’t have gotten far, after all they were in the middle of no where and it was heavily sedated to begin with. He took another drag, it was Terry’s fault really, he hadn’t been paying attention. Brandon had needed to take a piss, so he did what he was supposed to, told Terry and headed out back. Everything was fine until Terry started yelling and the package ran past him, pushing him down mid-stream. By the time he’d gotten himself standing and tucked away Terry was already in the car, screaming he’d run it down. He exhaled a cloud of smoke, then glanced down at himself, it wasn’t too bad at least, he managed to avoid getting too much piss on himself.

Realistically he knew that he should have gone with Terry, but it had all happened so fast. What if the package had overpowered Terry and gone off with the car? He took another drag, Terry would handle it, Terry was good at that kind of stuff, that’s why he was the lead, though Brandon was starting to question that. If Terry was so great he wouldn’t have let the goddamned package escape. He angrily stubbed out his cigarette and lit another. What if the package looped around and came back here? It would be the sensible thing to do, there was a phone here, electricity, warmth. Brandon looked around himself nervously, the package would probably assume both of them went after it, it had every reason in the world to loop back. There was nothing out there, just a single, hard packed road and nothing else but trees for miles. It would take days to get anywhere close to civilisation on foot and the chances of them running into someone was incredibly slim. Brandon started to walk around the building, a slow circle. He paused, was that it there? Over by that clump of bushes? He shook his head, no, just the wind. He moved on, feeling like someone was watching him. He shook his head again, like that would be any surprise. The company probably had cameras set up all over this place. He looked around, this time looking to see if he could spot any cameras. He could feel his phone in his pocket, should he ring someone? Call for back up? Sure it might get them a reprimand but that was better than what would happen if they couldn’t get the package back again.

In the distance Brandon could hear the rumble of a car, he ran around to the road and felt his shoulders relax slightly. As it got closer he could see Terry driving it, he seemed happy enough. Terry stopped the car and got out, “it was a tricky one but I got it.”
“Sedated?”
“Yup. Made damn sure of it this time. I’ll have a talk with the delivery guys later. I’ll also call the company, we need to make sure the sedatives themselves are still ok.”
Brandon took a final puff then threw his cigarette on the ground. He was almost out. “So, we’re going to report it?”
“Of course. God, can’t hide something like this, it could be a once off, might be a problem with supply. The company will want to know. If it wasn’t our fault we’ll get some bonus pay coming, if it is we just have to attend a day course. It’ll be fine. Now C’mon, help me grab this, it’s heavier than it looks.”
Terry moved to the back of the truck and pulled something from it, it landed with a heavy thud. Brandon moved around the truck and bent over, grabbing the womans legs.
“Oh man, you should have seen your face though. Priceless. Did you piss all over yourself too?” Terry chuckled, Brandon could feel his cheeks redden, “I was caught by surprise. And no, I managed to avoid myself for the most part.”
“Ah don’t worry about it. You can shower once this is done, I have some clean clothes in the back of the car. A good tip, always carry a spare set, you never know what’ll get on you.”

The room was brightly lit, the walls and floor were metal, there were several drainage holes in the floor. The room itself was cold despite the candles, which were there for ceremonial reasons. “Least I got most of the set up done. Here, just dump the package down there. It won’t be going anywhere any time soon.” They dropped the woman in the centre of the circle of candles. Terry stood up and let out a breath, “Right, lets get this done, shall we?”

The entire affair went smoothly, they chanted and performed the ritual. When it came time to slit the packages throat, Terry broke an ampoule under her nose, she coughed once, gasped for breath, then Brandon slid the knife across her throat. Blood flooded from the wound, running down her like a red cloth. They finished the ritual, then stood looking at the mess. “do you want clean up or dumping?”
“I suppose I’ll do the dumping, you chased it down after all.”
Terry nodded and went to the wall, he grabbed the hose and turned it on while Brandon grabbed the package underneath its arms and started dragging it away.

Brandon took a deep breath before he opened the hatch, a gust of air blew up at him, he knew from the last time how badly it smelled. His lungs were starting to ache but he didn’t want that air inside him. Working quickly he pushed the package inside. It landed somewhere below with a slight squelch. Brandon sealed up the hatch again, he took small, short breaths until he was clear of it, then he breathed deeply. When he returned to the room the metal was clean and the last of the water was draining away.
“Everything go ok?”
“Yeah, no problems.”
“Good. No surprises down there?”
“No? Why would there be?”
“Oh, did I not warn you? Sometimes you’ll hear something down there. Don’t worry, it never comes up, just a little freaky.”

Together they walked outside, they stood for a moment in the fresh air. The clothes Terry had given him were a little tight, but they fit well enough. Brandon took out his packet of smokes and took out the final two, he passed one to Terry and kept one for himself. He lit them and together they inhaled. Brandon breathed the smoke into the night air, feeling all the tension melt away. They had done the job well, even if there was that little hitch. They smoked in silence until they were done. Terry flicked his butt onto the ground, “ok, lets get moving.” Brandon stubbed out his cigarette and got into the car. He smiled as the engine came to life, it really was satisfying work.

Up in the Mountains. Short Story.

Jessica stopped running, her chest was burning and it felt like her legs would collapse any second. She leaned against a tree, gasping for breath. They were still out here somewhere, looking for her. She tried to slow her breathing, by taking long, slow breaths but it felt like she wasn’t getting enough air. Her mouth was dry, so very very dry, but there was nothing to drink. Somewhere to her left she could hear something moving, she couldn’t get going again, not now. She crouched down, trying to hide her body behind the thick trunk of the tree. Jessica managed to slow her breathing a little, but she couldn’t hear anything else.

When she had counted to three hundred without hearing anything she stood again, her legs felt stiff and cold, she stretched slowly, trying to get the blood back into them. She didn’t know if she could continue running, but she knew she needed to move. She scanned the trees around her and started walking. She didn’t know how far she would have to go, she just knew she couldn’t stop.

It had been a normal day before all this started. She had met up with Bobby and Rick and they had all decided to go up to the mountains. It was a sunny day out and they didn’t want to waste it. Originally there were supposed to be more coming, but Johnny was too hungover, Ashley had given herself food poisoning somehow and Joanne had decided it would be better for her to sit around the pool in her apartment. Everything was fine until Bobby had grabbed her arm tightly, she hadn’t noticed how they had been directing where to go, how they led her away from the paths. She had tried to laugh it off, make a joke of it, but his eyes were flat, dead. Rick was suddenly behind her, grabbing at her too. She couldn’t remember much of what happened afterwards, it was too fast. She had managed to get away somehow before they did anything. She heard them yelling after her, shouting that they were only messing, that it was a joke, that she should come back. Jessica kept running.

The only thing that reassured her out of the entire thing was that she knew they weren’t great outdoorsmen. She wasn’t exactly a pioneer woman herself, but she knew they’d have a hard time tracking her. For the moment she wasn’t concerned with thinking, just moving. The further she got from them the better off she would be. Besides, the mountains were usually swarming with people, she’d run into someone who could help sooner or later.

Jessica sat on an overturned log, she needed a break, she was more stumbling than walking. She knew she was probably a bit dehydrated, she had dropped the bottle of water she had brought in the struggle, and her phone was dead. That was the worst of it all, she had forgotten to charge it the night before and Bobby claimed his car charger was broken. She shook her head, she was such an idiot. She had always gotten a weird vibe off the two of them. She had thought that Rick had balanced Bobby out a bit, brought down his creep factor. Apparently he just got better at hiding it. When they were younger Bobby would always stare at her, she didn’t want to make a big deal of it though, so she just made sure they were never alone together for very long. She should have just pulled out when everyone else did, or gone to Joanne’s place to drink and splash around in the pool. She had felt a little trepidation when she found out it was just the three of them, but she had shaken it off, dismissing it as just a little anxiety from when Bobby was weird.

It was getting dark, clouds hard started rolling in and it looked like it was going to rain. She had found a stream a short while ago and started following it. Her throat and mouth were dry and the temptation of the stream was almost maddening, but she didn’t know how to make sure the water was clean, she couldn’t make a fire and even if she could she had no pot to boil it in. She was dehydrated, but if the water made her sick she knew it could kill her. For now the risk wasn’t worth it.

Darkness was falling and it was getting colder, it was still relatively warm but she was wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. Jessica finally sat down on an over turned log. She couldn’t keep going in the dark like this, already her legs and arms had scratches and cuts, it would be far too easy for her to twist or break her ankle. She hadn’t heard any sounds of pursuit in a long, long time, but she hadn’t seen any signs of people either. She had spent a good hour of the day debating whether or not she should leave some kind of marker or signal behind her as she went, but the fear of Bobby and Rick finding it was too great. She had no idea if they were even still on the mountain, but it would be easy for them to tell someone that they decided to stay camping so they could keep looking for her. No one would question it, after all why would they?

She was so tired now, she kept dozing off slightly before her head would jerk up again. She needed to sleep but she was afraid that they would find her, if she was awake she’d have some fighting chance, but if they caught her unaware she was doomed.

She woke sometime in the morning, the light streaming through the trees. Her body felt cold and stiff, her muscles ached. Slowly she started moving and stretching, warming up her muscles. She had a long day ahead of her, she needed to get moving. Ignoring her growling stomach she started to walk again, she would get out of this. She had to, there was no other option.

Jessica froze, up ahead she could hear voices, the stream was too loud to make them out properly, but she could definitely hear men. Could Bobby and Rick have gotten in front of her? Had she gotten all turned around? Slowly she moved closer. She could see them through the trees, a group of twenty something’s, laughing and joking around a small fire. Her heart started beating faster and tears starting flowing as she stumbled out of the bushes, she was finally safe.

Slow, Painful Death. Short Story.

The room was large and bright, a desk sat in the middle, behind which was a large sliding door leading to a balcony, the door was open letting in a light breeze. Joanne hadn’t expected this. She thought it would be a dark room with a large bed and the smell of death. The room itself smelled clean, there was a faint undertone of illness but just a hint. Where she had expected hardwood floors were carpets, thick, soft and white. The man sitting behind the desk looked frail, old. He was slightly emaciated, his cheeks were sharp and pointed, his eyes sunken into his head and rimmed with darkness. He didn’t stand as she entered, the door closed behind her. She moved into the room slowly, unsure of what to expect. The man smiled, his teeth were straight and white, a strange contrast to his grey, sickly skin. “Please, have a seat.”
Joanne sat down, clutching her bag tightly.
“I was wondering if you’d show up or not.”
Joanne smiled uncomfortably, “I wasn’t sure if I would either to be honest. I’m a little nervous about the whole thing.”
“Understandable but don’t be.” He started coughing, great hacking sounds that came deep from his chest. He brought a handkerchief to his mouth, when he took it away it had splatters of blood. “Are you all right? Do you want me to get someone?” He shook his head and reached for a glass of water and took a sip, “Sorry about that. It comes and goes. One of the downsides of dying I guess.”
Joanne nodded, unsure of what to say.
He took another sip of water, “So, how much do you know?”
“Um. Not much really. I was just told that you could help me.”
“By Officer Smith, right?”
“Yes. He was very kind to me, during it all.”
He nodded, “Yes, so I hear. The police have failed you. Let’s just be crystal clear here, your husband has the right connections to make this all go away.”
Joanne nodded.
“He has money too, so you believe you cannot escape him?”
“I…I tried that once. About five years ago now. I ran. I did everything right, I only used cash, no cards, I gave myself a fake name. It took him four months, but he tracked me down. He had hired people to do it. He came and he brought me home. That night he taught me a lesson. That’s what he calls it. Teaching me a lesson. I learned my lesson that night. I stayed with him, hoping that someday he’d go too far and just kill me.” She shuddered, “I…I’ve never said that out loud before.” Her eyes filled with tears and she struggled at the clasp of her bag, she retrieved a tissue and dabbed at her eyes a little. After a moment she continued “It became too much, I tried going to the police, I thought it would be over then. Either he’d be arrested and convicted or he’d kill me. Something would happen to finally end it all. But it didn’t. He wasn’t arrested and I’m still here.”
He nodded, “Yes, you are. And now you’ve come to me.”
“Officer Smith told me you could help, said you would help me stop it.”
“Did he go into any more detail?”
“No.”
“He wouldn’t I suppose. First things first, I’m dying. I have been for the last thirty years. At the moment I have about three months left, when I was first diagnosed I had three months left. Yet I am still here. It is nothing to do with medicine, nothing to do with me being a fighter. This disease is insidious, it worms its way into your very being. Doctors are unable to remove the tumours. I have been in remission, complete and total remission twenty nine times. The cancer is gone, no tumours detected, but it always returns after a few months. Slowly at first then getting worse. After the first time I came to a realisation very, very quickly. This wasn’t normal cancer. It’s like a parasite, living inside a host. One of the benefits of having a parasite is that I can pass it on. Once I do I go into remission, completely and utterly.”
Joanne nodded politely.

“You don’t believe me, but that’s ok. You will if you go through with it.”
“Go through with what?”
“Killing your husband of course.”
“Killing?”
“What did you think he meant by take care of it? Did you think I, a dying man, would go and intimidate your husband?” He gave a wheezing chuckle, “No, I’m afraid my days of intimidating people with my presence alone have long since passed.”
“maybe this was a mistake.” Joanne stood, “Thank you for your time.”
He nodded once, “if you leave that’s it, no other chances, no do over’s, you have made your decision.”

Joanne nodded and walked towards the door. Her hand rested on the doorknob, her fingers closing and opening. She turned back towards him.
“What exactly are you proposing?”
“Simple. I infect him. He will have a short but painful illness culminating in his death. Doctors will not be able to cure him and he will become too weak to do you any harm. I require no payment unless it works. Once it does I ask that you give me one hundred thousand dollars. Once your husband dies you will become a very, very rich woman and that will be an exceedingly small amount, a drop in the bucket.”
“That’s all?”
“That’s all. I would also appreciate it if you made a matching donation to a charity of your choice, but that is entirely up to you.”
Joanne had moved closer to him as he spoke, her hands rested on the back of the chair.
“How is it done?”
“Your husband, does he like to drink?”
Joanne shook her head, “He doesn’t drink any alcohol.” She was always thankful for that. The things he said and did when he went into his rages, she couldn’t image how much worse they’d be if he drank.

“What about coffee?”
“Yes. He drinks a cup of coffee every morning, then another at lunch.”
“I will give you a vial of my saliva and all you need to do is put it into his coffee. Nothing else.”
“That’s all?”
“That’s all. The rest will take care of itself.”

Joanne took a deep breath, “Ok. Let’s do it.”
“You will only have once chance at this. The saliva is useful for twenty four hours, after that it will become inert unless it has been previously ingested.”
“I will get it into his coffee.”

He reached behind the desk and opened a drawer, from it he took a small, glass vial. He started to clear his throat, over and over. The sound of it made Joanne’s stomach clench, she couldn’t watch. She closed her eyes as he hawked up a lump of something and spat it into the vial. When she heard his drawer closing again she looked back. He held a vial of thick, black phlegm. “It’s all here. Just pour it in. It will mix with the coffee easily, it has no taste and no noticeable texture.”
He held out the vial, Joanne took it, her skin crawling as it came into contact with the glass. “It works faster if he drinks it all, but even a sip will be enough.”

Joanne carefully put the vial into her handbag, “Thank you.”

He looked over the file he had been given, Joanne’s husband really was an awful man. He was always very careful over who he offered his services to. Those who the law couldn’t, or wouldn’t, touch. He didn’t bother trying to convince himself that what he was doing was noble, he knew that at its core it was selfish. He wanted to live longer. The cancer would return, but it would be a few months before that happened, a few months of almost perfect health. He spread the pictures out in front of him, the ones that had been taken of Joanne and above that a photo of her husband. It was early morning, soon he would drink his coffee. He liked to look at a photo of them as they did so he knew, truly knew, what he had done. He felt himself shudder and his breathing became easier. He took a slow, deep breath and smiled. She had done it. Others had backed out before and he didn’t think she would, but you could never know. He carefully stood from the chair and stretched, they were both free, even if his freedom was only for a little while.