Zero Kills Everyone

Doctor Bishop opened the box. Inside, a smaller box, made of dark metal, with a small dial and a red button.

“As per your order, Mr Marcus.”

Edgar leaned over the device and smiled. “So?”

“Ten kills only the worst. The most hideous fiends you’ll ever find on this earth. From there, you can work your way down.”

“So setting the dial to one will…”

“Tiny thoughts of envy, possibly low-level rage, a little lust perhaps. I can’t be entirely sure.”

Edgar stared closer at the dial’s tiny white dashes. “I see you’ve added a zero, doctor. What will that do?”

Study

Where am I?

John’s covering his eyes. They’re squeezed tight. His head throbs, his mouth dry. He takes a long breath. The searing light subsides.

He’s in a narrow, white room. At the far side, a small box.

No, not a box. It’s moving.

The box-thing races at him; John braces. It leaps toward his face, but far too early; John instinctively drops to the floor. The white room’s boundary welcomes the box-thing with a shocking embrace.

John stands and watches as the box-thing writhes on the floor.

RESET

A searing light forces John to cover his eyes.

Where am I?

Long Way Down

A red light flashes. No sound, just a slow blink.

Daniel blinks back.

Surely not?

He jumps from his bunk, typing furiously at his personal interface. A holoscreen flicks on, bathing the dark room in an eerie blue glow. The screen brings bad news.

CONNECTION LOST

He drops the interface and scrambles up a white ladder to the station’s observation room. It’s no larger than a small bedroom, with three inch tempered glass on all sides.

His eyes trail the lunar elevator all the way back down to the planet below.

A planet which appears to be on fire.

Oh fuck.

Reflection

Hello! Welcome back after a two-week absence. I’ve been trying my hand at some other forms of writing and, unfortunately, couldn’t quite find the time to #fridayflash as well. Please check out http://www.redmancunian.com if you’d like to read some of what I was up to in the mean time. It’s football (soccer) related, just so you know. Anyway, let’s crack on…

Reflection

John’s khaki shorts dampened as he squatted on the rain-soaked decking. His summer ensemble defied the morning’s biting cold. He sucked in the chilly air and watched with curiosity as his outward breath visibly flitted away in the light of the morning sun; memories of school science lessons and many other things he had long since forgotten disappeared in front of him.

John picked up the coffee mug beside him, its warmth offered his shaking hands brief respite from the cold. But he didn’t care. He took a final gulp and tossed the mug deep into his back garden’s neglected shrubbery. It disappeared from sight, just as he soon planned to.

The sound of voices crept over the fence from the garden beyond. This wasn’t ideal. He hadn’t intended for there to be witnesses. John turned his mind to Sam and focused on the fact he’d be with him again soon. He focused hard on his face, his smile, his laugh. But the unwelcome voices remained, drowning out that of his son.

John pulled the borrowed Glock 22 from its now soggy paper bag. He hoped that the note he had left would be enough to appease his brother’s superiors when the inevitable investigation began. An officer should never mislay his weapon.

The metal was cold. John lay it in his lap and closed his eyes. He reflected for a moment, on Sam, on the accident, on what Claire had done after. Every single moment which had led him to this point. Every single moment of his sad, pathetic excuse for a life. He was decided.

I’m sorry, Sam.

Without hesitation, he snatched up the pistol and forced the barrel to his temple. He pushed hard. His hand shook, such was the pressure with which he pushed, as though it would somehow make the whole thing easier. But then something he had not anticipated: a small tear, trickling down his cheek. Its salty moisture warmed the cold skin beneath. It actually felt nice. Was this right?

John took a final deep breath. He pushed the Glock harder against his temple, until metal met bone. He squeezed his eyes tight and thought of nothing but Sam. His index finger gently caressed the trigger, and he prayed for the strength to force it down. He urged the finger to push, to make the final act for him, to take away this horrible responsibility. But it didn’t. He dropped the pistol and fell onto his back.

A pathetic non-end to a pathetic non-life.

As he reflected on his cowardice, he noticed the sudden silence. Not a sound from the garden opposite, or from anywhere at all. He opened his eyes: the sky above was blank. He was sat in glum shade, where there had only seconds before been light. He looked closer: the sun was missing from the sky. There were no clouds or lovely shades of morning blue, either. John jumped to his feet and looked behind him: blue skies and white clouds. To his left and right, the same.

He focused his gaze at the silent object above him. As he moved along his decking, he thought he saw movement. He stopped, but saw nothing. He took another few paces and there it was again. He repeated the test. The movement was him. Like those Magic Eyes, where you stare at the abstract until the real image becomes visible, suddenly the thing above him became clear. Houses and trees and jungle gyms were all reflected in the sky. It was as though a giant mirror floated above him.

John quickly traced the object’s edges. It was roughly rectangular in shape, and stretched for what he crudely adjudged to be a mile across the sky. The morning sun attempted to seep out from behind each of its four sides.

John had been so focused on the mirror above he had not initially noticed the encroaching screams from over the fence. As he turned his gaze away from the sky, he heard them. Multiple screams simultaneously invading his ear drums, playing catch up. It was as he began to race across his soggy grass that he saw the two yellow eyes watching him from the end of the garden.

Like the grass beneath his feet feeling the force of Mother Nature’s winter games, John froze. The thing wasn’t moving. Like the object above, the creature seemed to reflect the word around it, but it stood out against the backdrop of John’s overgrown green bushes. It definitely had limbs; John could see the bushes in between what looked like arms and legs. It almost seemed human in shape – if there was ever to be a man born made entirely of diamond, John decided this is what he would look like. The only difference was the shape of the head, it was too rigid, too square. And, of course, those piercing yellow eyes, which were fixated on the humanoid standing in front of them.

The screams from next door had stopped, replaced with those of people a little further away. Distant cries for help which would not come. As John took a step back, the diamond creature took one forward. John took another back, and the creature replied again. Another step and John would be within reach of the Glock. If the creature wasn’t aware of what it was, it soon would be. John kept his gaze firmly on the thing in front of him and took a final step back. As he snatched up the pistol, the creature appeared to ready itself for a charge.

John’s steady hand raised the Glock into the air and pointed it straight ahead. The diamond creature had already silently bounded halfway across the garden. It looked like diamond, but John sorely hoped it was not made of it. He took a deep breath. His index finger gently caressed the trigger, and he prayed for the strength to force it down.

The Fluffy Promotion

The Director’s office smelled of cigarette ash and day-old deodorant. James Rooney, whose crew cut and slender frame made him appear younger than his thirty-three years, took a regrettable deep breath as he entered. The morning sun shone in brightly through full-length windows on three sides. He stood in between two plush leather chairs – non-swivel variety – and awaited the invitation to sit.

“Either one,” the Director said, without glancing up from his long, dark oak desk. Director Jenkins, a middle-aged man with a rough, unshaven face and an even rougher reputation, very rarely invited employees up to his office.

James perched himself on the edge of the chair to his right. Director Jenkins glanced up from his desk and stared at him with wide, suspicious eyes. James shifted nervously in his seat. Jenkins enjoyed this part, and paused to let it simmer a little longer. Then he said, “Relax, Mr Rooney! Relax. It’s good news.”

James let out an audible sigh of relief and sunk a little further back into the chair’s soft leather. “Oh, thank goodness. I mean, you hear stories-” He stopped himself. Evidently he’d become a little too relaxed.

Luckily, Jenkins appeared in good spirits – which in itself was a tale James would enjoy telling at a later time – and took the quip in his stride. “I wouldn’t know anything about that.” He began to shuffle the papers on his desk – a tension building technique he had long-since mastered – then cupped his hands together. “Now, to business. You know why I’ve called you up here?”

James Rooney was pretty sure he knew why. Several months ago he had applied for a position in a special programme which involved infiltrating and monitoring very special persons of interest. The actual nature of the programme was unknown, although it was the cause of much discussion and wagering in the lower floors of the Dynamic Industries offices. James was happy that the Director seemed happy, as this surely indicated good news.

“It’s about the programme. The Persons of Interest programme I applied for,” he said, disguising his answer ever-so-slightly as a question.

Jenkins smirked. “Of course it is. I’m happy to say you’ve been accepted.”

“That’s fantastic news.” It was fantastic news – the bump in salary alone was astounding – but hidden behind James’ smile was an important and nagging question. He had only applied for the position one a whim one horrible Friday afternoon, after all.

“But I do have one question. Why me?” And there was the nagging question in his head. James had none of the qualifications he deemed necessary to work in the Person of Interest division. He knew very little about it, of course, but from what he had gleaned from others, and his own ideas about what the division did, he doubted his background in data analysis would be of any use to him. The application was more in hope than any sort of tangible expectation.

Jenkins leant in closer over his desk. “We deal in a very special kind of observation and monitoring here, James. For it to work we need very special people, too.” He paused, allowed the moment to build. “You’re one of those people.”

James had always imagined being called special would fill him with some sort of inner warmth, but the answer was too vague to allow this. He needed more. “Special how?”

“Well,” Jenkins began, the sun now shining in stronger and highlighting the near-baldness of his scalp, “the science behind it all is far below my pay grade, to be honest. Inconsequential really. But the crux of it all is this: we have a way to implant a consciousness in a living being, so we can monitor a specifically chosen target first-hand, without the need for bugs or cameras. But, the criteria for compatibility rules out most people. You, however, are a suitable candidate.”

“Suitable candidate?” James pondered.

“Like I said, leave the science to the scientists. Basically it’s all about brain wave suitability, compatibility matrices, etcetera etcetera. It’s all quite complicated and extremely boring, I promise you.”

“But-”

Jenkins anticipated his response, He knew this dance. “You’re wondering how the targets don’t realise the people closest to them aren’t quite their usual selves, considering that they’re wandering around with yours or someone else’s conscious thoughts in their head?”

James nodded.

“Trial and error. We started by implanting on human targets, but, as you can imagine, it became difficult to maintain a satisfactory façade long enough the glean the information we required from the target. Sooner or later they figure out something is up.”

James shifted back in his chair, having found himself on the edge of it. “So-”

“So,” Jenkins again cut in, “we decided to travel down a slightly different route. A route which enables us to monitor the targets closely, but with a very low risk of discovery. Two percent risk in fact. so far anyway. At this point, Mr Rooney, I have to ask you, are you still interested?” It was a question HR required Director Jenkins ask, even though only one answer was ever acceptable. Still, even now, Jenkins awaited the response hungrily, his finger perched above the black security button under his desk.

James found himself glancing over his Director’s left shoulder and out of the ludicrously over-polished double-glazed windows, where several birds flitted around in the open air. His mind replaced the birds with dollar bills, and he imagined them falling through the air all around him. The Person of Interest programme didn’t half pay well. “I’m still interested. Definitely.”

Jenkins slid his trigger finger away from the button. A smile stretched across his ragged face. “Excellent. That’s good to hear. Now, big question…” His trademark pause reared its ironic head again. “How do you feel about Pomeranians?”

Sticks and Stones, Part 3

Sticks and Stones, Part 1
Sticks and Stones, Part 2

Sticks and Stones, Part 3

I eventually moved Colin and Sandra to the storage room. Their bodies. The girl sat with her mother for at least an hour after she died, screamed through half of it. She didn’t know what had happened and I was too scared to tell her. She’s asleep now, has been for a while, in our meeting room come break area out back.

I tried catching a little sleep myself but couldn’t drift off. It feels clichéd, but every time I closed my eyes I saw their faces. Clive, Sandra, the boy and the man from the street. I’ve never been around a dead body before; I refused to see my mother and father after they passed. I just couldn’t face it. The decision kind of feels justified at the moment, despite my sister’s awful protestations at the time.

The only good thing to come out of this morning is that I didn’t die. That’s selfish, isn’t it? I’m not sure. I shouldn’t be upset that I’m happy I’m alive. But why am I not dead? The girl’s screams killed her mother and Clive, but not me. All those people died in the street, but not me. It could just be coincidence, but nobody’s that lucky. I guess there’s a way to find out, but I don’t want to try it. Not yet.

I hear the little girl stirring and make my way to the break area so I’m there when she wakes. She sits upright on the floor and stares right back at me. For a moment, silence. A precious sound right about now.

“Hello,” she eventually says, half-stifling a yawn.

She’s speaking. I’m not dying. This is my current thought process. Reflex takes over and I go to reply, but stop myself. Who’s to say what will happen if I say hello back.

I nod and smile.

“You won’t speak to me either?”

My heart sinks. Poor girl. I widen my smile and shake my head, opening my arms in a gesture of willingness but restriction. I pull out my phone and compose a message telling her that I want to speak, but I can’t. That if I do, she might get poorly.

“Like mummy?” she says, brushing some of her soft, blonde hair behind her little ear. The sort of thing a mum would usually do.

Does she think her mum is only poorly? I hope not. I hope she realises she’s dead so I don’t have to be the one to break the bad news to her. The thought makes me feel selfish once more, but I can’t help it.

I nod.

“My name’s Grace, what’s yours?”

I smile and write ‘Claire’ on my phone, offering out my hand. She shakes it. I feel more comfortable now, having found out her name and realised her shouts won’t harm me. She may have just lost her mother, but I think the entire exchange has been more beneficial to me than it has her.

As I stand and pull Grace up with me I hear a sound coming from the street. I decide that if I can hear it from all the way back here it must be fairly loud. I quickly gesture for Grace to sit in the corner and cover her ears. She looks scared, but does so.

I close the storage room door behind me and rush to the front of the office, tying up my annoyingly-long brown hair as I go; I was due to have it cut tomorrow. The winter cold has frozen the windows, condensation making visibility of the outside impossible. Having not wanted to revisit the scene of the morning’s crime, I had stopped myself from wiping any of it away. At this precise moment, it poses a problem.

After a moment I hear it, a sound I entirely fail to comprehend. I feel my palms moisten as rage builds inside me. How can anyone be this cruel, this stupid.

It’s a man shouting in the street, beckoning people to come to their death.

I wipe a small section of the window clear and peer outside. The visible area is covered with bodies, their outlines on the snow resembling sprinkles on a cupcake. I make little effort to properly survey the area for fear of seeing those which I recognise.

I watch as the man is joined by another. They converse for a moment, too far away for me to hear properly, before stopping below a building on the opposite side of the street. The bottom floor of this street is mainly offices and shops, with many of the upper floors low-rent flats. The first man grabs a mound of snow, rolls it into a ball, and throws it at a second floor window. After waiting a moment, he does it again. Suddenly, a man appears at the window, pulling it up in one frantic movement.

“Get lost! Go on!” he bellows, his voice wobbling from either the sudden cold, or the more likely anxiety that his words may kill.

But his words have no effect. He watches on – just as shocked as I – as those two sons-a-bitches laugh right back at him.

“Bye, mate!” one of the men shouts. The man in the window falls from it, hitting the ground with what I imagine to be a snowy, soft crunch.

Bastards.

I’m not sure what stops me – cowardice I suppose – but I do nothing to confront the two men. I lock the office door as their shouts dissipate- cussing myself that I had not done it sooner – and push one of the smaller desks in front of it.

Grace must have heard me doing so and has joined me, still covering her ears. I place my hands on my ears and pull them away, she copies. She’s safe for now, but for how long? If those men come back she’ll be in trouble; we can’t stay here forever anyway. I have to do something, she’s my responsibility for now.

I suddenly recall the building site I passed on my bike ride to work this morning, and the builder with the pneumatic drill. I’m sure he was wearing those sound-blocking earmuffs you always see covering their ears.

They could prove to be very handy indeed.

Sticks and Stones, Part 2

Hello there. As with last week’s, the piece was written in one sitting (plus an edit or two after!) with no planning. I’m kind of enjoying just writing and seeing where the story takes me, if I’m honest. How it affects the final piece, well you can judge for yourself below! But, while I’m having fun, I’ll carry on doing it. Enjoy!

Sticks and Stones, Part 1

Sticks and Stones, Part 2

We speak, we die.

Bloody hell.

I slide out Clive’s office chair and slump into its cold leather. I rub my temples in a desperate attempt to stop the pounding beyond them. Something nudges my foot.

I look up and Clive has written something else on another sheet of paper. More this time.

IT’S ON EVERY CHANNEL
IT’S HAPPENING EVERYWHERE
I KNOW IT’S CRAZY
BUT WE MUSTN’T SPEAK
JUST IN CASE

I finish reading and give him a half-accepted nod. I mean, how does something like this happen? It’s too much to try to untangle on a Monday morning. I decide to write down my most immediate question.

WILL LISTENING TO THE NEWS HURT US?

Clive shrugs. We sit in silence for a few minutes, each contemplating our own thoughts. At least that’s what I’m doing. I really want to turn the television back on, despite not knowing what may happen after. Clive’s been listening to it for a while and he’s OK, so it could be fine. Then it dawns on me. Did I say something to cause that young boy outside to die? The very thought makes me nauseous again, although I know there can’t be much more inside to be brought to the surface. Still, my stomach is in knots. I probably just killed that boy.

Clive forces another sign in front of me.

WE SHOULD SWITCH IT BACK ON?

You know when you’re younger and there’s that place in your house your parents told you not to go to, but you did it anyway. A place you know you’ll get in trouble for going – like the basement or your mum’s make-up drawer – but you just can’t help yourself. This feels like that. The need to know what’s going on outweighs the fear of what may happen. So, as with even the most obedient of cats, curiosity gets the better of me.

I throw Clive an enthusiastic nod.

The television, long since lost in this era, chimes to life with a waning fizz. After seconds of warming up, the screen fills with…nothing. I flick to the next channel and get a “Programming Interruption” message. The following channel displays the same, as does the channel after that. I quietly curse Clive’s inability to find a comfortable place with the modern man by the fact he still doesn’t have Freeview. That’s when my phone vibrates.

I already feel silly for forgetting about it as I swipe it out of my cardie pocket. It’s a message from my sister, Ellie.

WTF is going on? Where are you? Are you OK?

We’ve always been close – sisters born only a year apart usually are, I think – but grew to rely on each other even more after mum and dad passed. It was obviously a tough time, but with no other immediate family, all we had was one another. We still meet up once or twice a week, despite her moving away last summer, to catch up and exchange stories.

I notice the message was sent over thirty minutes ago but is only reaching me now. The network must be suffering problems. With probably hundreds upon thousands of people all trying to text or call family and friends, I guess that’s understandable. I fire off a quick reply telling her I’m OK, that I’m safe in work, and tell her that under no circumstance must she speak. To anyone.

I hate the thought of her sat alone at home with my two-year old nephew, Lance. Unfortunately, he’s started speaking a lot lately. I guess the fact she has text me is good news, so I decide to take it as such. I force from my mind thoughts of children arriving at schools, all playing and laughing and shouting. Dropping dead. Not having the news suddenly seems a blessing.

Clive taps me.

WHAT NOW?

I shake my head. I decide to deal with something I know I can and make my way to the bathroom opposite. My knee is still throbbing from the fall and the cut needs to be cleaned. As I pass across the hallway I catch the front door burst open out of the corner of my eye. Two figures rush inside.

Sandra, a middle-aged lady who looks a hell of a lot older, usually arrives later than the rest of us as she has three children of school age. “Bloody traffic again!” she’s found shouting most mornings. Not today, I hope. Please God, not today.

I panic and wave my right hand around manically while covering my mouth with my left. She acknowledges my mad mime and gestures that she understands. While this makes me feel a little better, the sight of the person with her does not.

I can’t believe I didn’t see it right away, but the little girl with her must be her youngest daughter. She’s mentioned her many times before but her name alludes me. Right now the little girl is thrashing around with duct tape across her mouth and her hands bound together. As I get closer to the two of them it is clear Sandra has been crying. The fact she only has one of her three children with her is enough to tell me why. The girl’s pleading mumbles grow more intense and send a shiver right through me. The poor thing has no idea why her mum has done this to her.

I try to think of what my mother would do right now. She always seemed to find the right words at the right time whenever me or my sister were upset. If she were here right now, she’d know what to do. She’d have the girl laughing and smiling in no time, I’m sure of it.

What she wouldn’t do is shove me out of the way. I turn to see a furious Clive ripping the tape from the girl’s mouth, gesturing wildly at Sandra who promptly bursts into tears. Sandra tries to reach across to stop her daughter from screaming but Clive pushes her away. I’ve never seen him so animated, so angry. I go to move closer but it’s already too late. The girl’s shouts for help are quickly followed by two loud bumps and a suddenly silent room.

Only she and I are still standing.

Fate

The trip back was tougher than John had been told. He was weary, anxious. His stomach tightened as he approached the unrecognisably young boy. A moment fifty years in the making.

The question itself wasn’t the issue. He knew the boy would accept, eventually. After all, he had.

But consideration spawned apprehension. He knew how big a decision this was; the boy’s entire life would be sculpted by it.

No choice.

The boy was the only person who could do the job, the only one to trust.

John only hoped that, fifty years from now, the boy would feel the same.

Stick and Stones

Hello, good people. Back to a full feature this week. Enjoy!

Sticks and Stones

The door swings open and Clive staggers inside. He’s long since given up trying act like he’s not hungover. Especially on Mondays. I ask him how his weekend was and he mutters something nondescript as he meanders to his office at the back. The whistle signals my morning brew is ready, which I pour, before slumping back down at my desk. As I lift the mug to my lips, blowing gently on the liquid inside, I hear the first scream. The first of – as it would turn out – far too many.

I forget myself for a moment as I scan the room for my colleagues’ quizzical faces. Being only a ten to 9, Clive and I are the only ones in the ground floor building. He pokes his head out from behind his office door just as I shout his name.

“Was that-” he says. I gesture a nod.

He disappears back into his office, leaving me to investigate the origin of the scream alone. My mother always said I was far too nosey. I slide open the front door and brace myself for the winter cold which rudely follows. I already feel my teeth chattering when I notice the gaggle of commuters across the street. They’re all shouting over each other, so it’s much too difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on. I carefully bounce across the icy road and approach a woman nearest the curb.

“What happened?” I ask.

As she steps back the body of another young woman reveals itself. Lying so motionless on the floor, her face devoid of feature, I already know she is dead.

“She just, she just…”

I place my hand on the woman’s shoulder, grip it ever so slightly. “It’s OK. Just relax.”

“She just…dropped d-”

She trails off abruptly as the man behind me falls to the ground. I turn just in time to see his head crack open on the curb. I cover my mouth as I feel a warm sensation begin to rise in my lungs, desperately trying to force it back down. I breathe deeply for a few seconds, allowing the moment to pass. It’s only now I realise the woman is screaming again. As I turn back to calm her she runs away up the street.

I catch the eye of a young boy, not too long out of college by the looks of his new suit. He looks as white as a cue ball and just as sick as I feel.

“What the hell’s going on?” he pleads.

I part my folded arms. “I honestly have no-”

He drops to the floor right in front of me. The adjacent flat’s rubbish bags cushion his fall, so there’s thankfully no bodily trauma this time. I rush over and raise his head but he’s not breathing. Most of the gaggle have scattered but one of the remaining men comes to my aid. He checks the young boy’s pulse and presses his studded ear to his mouth.

“Dead,” he says, shaking his head. It’s so matter-of-fact I know it’s not the first person he’s attempted to help this morning.

The warm sensation again rises in my lungs; I’m powerless to stop it this time. I crawl over and quickly cover the frosty curb with horrible breakfast-filled vomit. I force out the last drop and wipe my mouth, when the gravity of the situation again hits me.

People are just dropping dead.

I rise to my feet and rush back across the road. Forgetting the conditions are not currently my ally, the opposite pavement promptly bests me. I put out my hands and manage to slightly break my fall. I feel the warmth of my blood cover each palm and most certainly my knee. I can already feel it trickling down my leg beneath my tights. I force myself to my feet once more and stumble into the office.

Clive watches as I stagger inside. He begins to gesture wildly as I look toward him. His arm waving becomes increasingly manic as I open my mouth.

“Clive, you have to see outside. It’s…well it’s…”

I find myself unable to properly articulate a situation I genuinely do not understand. The moment I take to consider this is enough time for Clive to rush across the floor and cover my mouth. I feel my eyes widen as I stare back at him and attempt to wriggle free. He lets go but shakes his head, pushing one finger to his lips. He makes his way back to his office and gestures for me to follow.

He has his television on. It’s against company policy to allow a television in the building, even in the office of the manager. I’ve told him this many times, but at this precise moment I couldn’t care less. I still manage to shake my head at him – reflex I guess – but he simply smiles a half-smile and points at the screen.

It’s not just here.

The news tells me of people dropping dead up and down the entire country. By their very early estimates, there is not a town or city where at least one case of this has not been reported. The news anchor speaks over image after image of people simply dropping to the floor, dead. It’s so horrible to watch, but I cannot muster the will to turn away. Then the news anchor drops the bombshell.

“As far as we can tell, the only thing each case has in common is that the deceased was spoken to, or in the vicinity of a speaking person, moments before he or she suddenly expired.”

She says a lot more, but this is all that sticks. I feel the distinct beginnings of a migraine brewing inside my head as I try to arrange the anchor’s words, but a sudden thought shocks myself to a stop. Are the words themselves killing? Could listening to her speak result in my death? I pounce forward and slam the television off. It’s too much. Jesus, it’s all far too much.

I shudder as Clive taps me on the shoulder. He again places his index finger over his lips, as he holds up a small piece of paper he has written on. The words chill me.

DON’T SAY A WORD, CLAIRE. WE CAN’T.

WE SPEAK, WE DIE.

The Perfect Getaway

Tap tap tap, tap tap tap. Tap tap tap, tap tap tap.

A small pigeon lands on the car’s black bonnet, distracting its driver from his rhythmic wheel tapping. Malcolm Reynolds looks up, his youthful face – defying the sands of both time and activity – throws the bird a wry smile. He stares at it for a moment, it stares right back. Then, as if aware of what is to follow, it quickly flies back into the welcoming arms of the morning sun.

Tap tap tap, tap tap tap.

“Ten, nine, eight…” Mal pulls up the creased sleeve of his checked shirt. The elegant, gold watch around his wrist reads 9:01am. “…five, four…”

Tap tap tap, tap tap tap. Tap, tap, tap…

The Midland Trust’s heavy steel doors burst open and three men – each carrying a black sports bag – storm out. Mal reaches back and opens the driver’s side back door. The three men make a beeline for the vehicle and pile inside.

Mal glances over his shoulder. “Any problems?”

The first man in removes his balaclava, revealing the face of man deep into his fifties, grey hair already winning the battle of the scalp. He shakes his head. “Clockwork.”

Mal forces the car into gear and removes the handbrake with relish. Rubber quickly defeats concrete and the car screeches away from the curb. He gently presses down on the accelerator and joins the morning traffic.

The other two men remove their balaclavas. The youngest of the three, sat in the centre, leans forward and places his head in between the two front seats. “Why aren’t we smashing it?”

Mal sighs. “Jesus, kid, how many times.” He checks his rear view mirror. “Draws unwanted attention. They’ll find us soon, but not too soon. We went over this.”

The kid slumps back down. The older man nudges him in the ribs with one arm, grips onto the door with the other as Mal swings the car around a bend. “Sorry, Doc,” he says.

Mal laughs. “You’re alright, Marty. Just relax, kid.”

Mal swings the car around another right turn and past a stationary police car. He looks in his wing mirror, just to make sure. “See. What did I tell ya?”

The kid wipes his brow. “Cool. Yeah, cool. I know, I know.”

He shifts down a gear, making a final right turn into the industrial district. Soon, they’re surrounded by nothing but factories and private buildings. The sound of a siren quickly reaches their collective ear.

“Here we go!” Mal exclaims, unsure if he has successfully hidden the excitement this part of the job still gave him. He fears he hasn’t.

He flicks a few stray strands of sandy brown hair from out of his eye line and presses down hard on the accelerator. Forty, fifty mph, he shifts up a gear, sixty, seventy mph. The sirens are louder now, pounding inside cars and heads. The once stationary police car joins another and together they flank the car. Mal knows they are currently radioing for further back-up. It won’t matter.

As Mal swings around a final bend a disused, decrepit industrial unit comes into view. As they approach, the outer gates slide open. Mal accelerates through the gate and into the unit’s large open entrance. As quickly as they slid open, the gates automatically close shut, seconds before the chasing police cars brake and skid to an inauspicious stop. Mal peers over his shoulder at his passengers. “Clockwork.”

He drives deeper into the unit, out of the sight of the helpless police officers. “Right, home stretch. Don’t forget what I told you.”

The old man grips his sports bag tight. “We got it, Doc.”

Mal reaches down and pulls a pair of black sunglasses from the dash, slips them on. “Remember, cover your eyes,” he says.

With only two-hundred metres separating them, the ramp comes into focus. Mal gently squeezes the pedal, his attention on the speedometer. One hundred metres, fifty metres, twenty metres…

The car hits the ramp with a thud, its base evidently raised slightly from the ground. Mal makes a quick mental note to deal with this issue later. As the vehicle rises into the air, a bright white light fills the entire world around it. For a second, there is nothing but light. So bright it hurts. The three men cower in the back. Even now, it forces Mal to squint behind his sunglasses.

As the white light fades, Mal shifts the car into neutral and prepares his foot above the brake. The three men uncover their eyes just in time to see the pile of tightly arranged cardboard boxes break their landing. Mal grips the wheel tightly and brakes hard, the car coming to a comfortable stop. Just as planned.

For a moment, silence. No talk, no engine, no sirens. Silence. Mal often finds his clients need a moment or two to gather themselves, so he allows it. After a while, he speaks. “OK, job done. You good to go?”

“Sure.” The old man removes several bundles of fifties from his bag and leaves it on the back seat.

He peers down through the passenger side window which has been rolled down. “You wanna count it?” Mal shakes his head. “Course, why would you.”

Mal smiles. “Remember, Marty, be careful with it. They won’t cotton on immediately, but somewhere along the line they’ll realise there’s two sets. And if they catch you-”

“Don’t worry, Doc. It’s not like I know your name anyway. And I’m not that stupid.”

“Good,” Mal says, offering half a wave goodbye. “Oh, and don’t forget to turn your watches back.”

“See ya, Doc.”

Soon, the three men are out of sight. Mal checks his watch: 08:01am. He grins at the watch as though thanking it for confirming his continued perfection. He turns the ignition on and the car fires into life. He sits for a moment, waiting. Then, his phone rings.
“Hey. Yeah, yeah, all done … Well, the ramp needs looking at … Give me an hour to get back and take care of the Repeats and I’ll meet you back there … No, they didn’t even ask, can you believe that? … OK, see you then.”

Mal throws the phone onto the passenger seat. As he pulls out the unit’s back exit, he can’t help but laugh at the sheer ignorance of the day’s clients. At no point did they ask what happens to their own doubles.