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Short Story 56


He needed thirteen stitches. The seam across his cheek was a raw reminder of the knife that had nearly run it through. The victim ran his tongue against the opposite side smiling at the man gathering his things on the warehouse floor.


“Is that it?”


He looked up at him blank-faced, “What were you expecting?”


“I don’t know. I thought by now you doctors would have learned to do something showier.”


“You talk so much, do you have no pain receptors?”


“Oh no, it actually stings a little.”


“Your sarcasm is unappreciated.”


“Well, your discreetness and bland temperament are.”


“You know there is no way to hide this from Gravity.”


“I know. Let her find out. Being mad at me will give her something to do. Besides, she’s good at it.”


“You say that as if you’re actually looking forward to it.”


A wistful smile, “It makes her happy to worry, so why not let her.”


“Arc, are you really planning to go through with it?”


“Why not. I’ve tried everything else. It seems only right to do this too. Besides, I would hate to disturb expectations. And even if I said I wouldn’t would you honestly believe me?”


“Probably not.”


“You see, there. Just as I supposed.”


“But don’t you imagine you’ll regret it?”


“How? Why?”


“You can’t turn back once you’ve started and she might not be as well disposed to the idea.”


Arc leaned back on his arms staring off into a void unpierceable to any other eyes. To an observer, he would appear no older than twenty-two or twenty-three. His pale blue eyes, graying black hair, and insipid skin were as ineffectual of time as a clock that can be perpetually rewound to the last second where it had stopped.


“I have faced far worse. This will be nothing.”


“Only this spells something new for you.”


“It is for this newness that I crave. To fear it would be a disgrace. Have I not faced battles, war, and legions? Only a coward would shy away at such a small challenge.”


“Do you think that Gravity will take to it? Do you imagine she’ll take it for a small challenge?”


Arc played with a bobble that clung to his jacket by a safety pin. It was nothing very important, just a little bit of sand. “I imagine she’ll be upset, but there’s nothing that can be done about that. I’m in rather a lose-lose situation.”


“You think so?”


“Unfortunately, I know so.”


“Do you honestly feel staying is a loss?”


“That’s a rather complicated question. Alas, I find myself asking if it would be better to pretend things could stay as they are.”


“Is what you’re proposing the kind thing?”


“You see there, good old Maxum, I am pinned, stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

Maxum stood, his beaten leather bag under his arm, “There is still time to change your mind.”


“So, there is, but I don’t think I can now. No, it is best to stay firm and let the tide take it. There are some things no matter how hard you try you cannot avoid.”


“Would you call what your about to do unavoidable?”


“I would.”


“When are you going to see her?”


“Just after this, I think.”


“Will you tell her then?”


“I imagine I won’t have to.”


“You don’t think that will be traumatizing for her.”


“There is nothing I can do to prevent it from being so. To tell her will make nothing better.”


“To create an illusion? Is that fair?”


“There is no fair or unfair in this.”


“You might find it more difficult than you imagine to carry out your plan.”


Arc jumped from the crates. The soft sound of the soles of his boots making contact with the cement floor was silenced by the compact objects all around them, “There is nothing to be done about it. I cannot avoid it and as I’ve already said, I am not a coward.”


“Isn’t this the step of a coward?”


“If you see it that way, I believe, there is nothing in my power to dissuade you from thinking me so.”


“Maybe so. All things considered, it is fair to say you are a fool.”


A large archaic smile, “Ah, the words once spoken to me by my own mother. So, I am.”


“You really are an infuriating old man.”


“I suppose I am, but you’re also an impertinent child, so we make fairly good company for one another.”


“You’re not taking this as seriously as the subject deserves.”


“On the contrary, I am taking it more seriously than either of you could possibly understand. I’m tired, Max, very tired. I’m ready to rest.”


“Not many in my field think this way these days, it could be that I am old fashioned, but I can’t stand the idea of a life being wasted. Thrown away for nothing.”


“And what am I to do? I have been running my whole life. One day they will catch me and turn me into a science experiment, where they lock me in a cage and prod at different parts of me while screaming their ideas of what makes a bastion of morality. Those mighty gods with all their money. Their Olympus made of sharp glittering metal and gemstones all held together by the blood, sweat, and tears of their slaves who do not even know they are slaves. At that point it will be as if I am dead anyway. Why not just beat them to the punch?”


Maxum didn’t look at him, his right hand growing white against the black handle of the bag, “Then I advise you to do it before she can talk you out of it. Though I remain against this plan totally. However, I do not pretend that I can overpower you, with either physical effort or mental arguments.”


“I will heed your advice.”


“Well, for all its worth, I hope you fail, old man.”


Arc stood staring at the boxes for a long time, the vial that hung around his throat by a faded strip of tied leather squeezed between his fingers. “What a world this is, and how tragic the lives of those who live in it.” A faded grimace, a remorseful searching of the thick metal rafters, the vial was unstopped and in one unforgiving movement he downed its contents returning the stopper, “What’s done cannot be undone, it is for the dreamers to imagine to what end.” Flicking the bottle of sand that clung to his clothes by the pin he turned his eyes on the large open bit of light that shown over the boxes leaving the warehouse.


Every step was counted as it was taken, eyes wistfully scanning the scenes around like a dreamer expecting to wake at any moment. The day had been eaten away, it was late in the evening, the sun fading around him. There was a strange beauty to its fading descent, the moon already impassionedly taking possession of its spot in the sky.


Reaching the face of a long-abandoned building he diverted into the slender alley, using the rusted fire escape to climb up to the seventh floor. The window was unlocked, in a second, he had it open, and with all the dexterity of his appearance receded into the building.


“Your back already.” The girl that greeted him was just over twenty, she was small in just about every way, very pale by nature, and had large gray eyes that possessed a bright golden ring around each iris. She was dressed in a long skirt that came halfway down her shins and an oversize sweater that hung near her palms and over her hips by several inches. That mixed with her twin braids gave her the appearance of a child. It was her usual fashion.


“So I am. What’s for dinner?” It was an absent question, asked as he hung his jacket on a peg near the window. It would be a lie to say anything other than he felt old today, very old.


“I was trying a fish and chips recipe I found today.”


“Wonderful.”


“Is something wrong?”


He kicked off his shoes, looking the window, “What do you mean by that?”


“I don’t know, you just seem off. You look… tired.”


An arrogant smile drifted across his youthful face, “Do I? I have to say it’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say that.”


“Well, it’s the first time I’ve thought it. You were looked at by Maxum today. Weren’t you?”


“Can’t you tell?” Here he turned to her fully for the first time since entering exposing the long line of stitches across his cheek.


“What happened? You need ice. I’ll get ice.”


“It’s fine, you don’t need to…” She was gone before he could finish talking.


Gravity, he had taken care of her since she was only three. He had found her all on her own, just a baby abandoned in the Philippines. They believe her father was from the West, but they knew her mother. She was young, only sixteen when she had her. One day she left and just never came back. No one knew why. The child was just left on her own. Unwanted and forgotten.


“Here put this on your face.” She slapped the ice bag over the wound, the lumps sending a horrid ache up into his head.


“Thanks.”


“Sit down, dinner will be ready in a minute. Dad, stop being so stubborn and go sit down.”


They looked the same age now. She had been calling him dad since he had brought her to the States when she was only four. She didn’t call him that in public anymore. People would misunderstand.


Falling on the sofa a flutter of pleasant weariness edged over him, he put his feet on the glass coffee table closing his eyes. Gravity. He had named her that because it was something she had added to his life. Something that had been missing for so long. She was the reason he stopped traveling and despite how things had gone today she was also the reason he avoided conflict. And why he felt the cruel movements of the game he couldn’t stop playing, the one he had grown weary of.


“Did Maxum say how long it would take that to heal?”


“No, but I doubt it will take more than a day or two.”


“It always amazes me how quickly you heal. I think I’m the only girl with a bionic dad. Do you want to eat at the table today?”


“That’s fine.” He opened his eyes staring at the high ceiling for a moment before standing and taking a seat in front of the plate she left for him.


“You really look tired today are you feeling all right?”


“Yeah, I’m fine.”


“The last time you said that you were laid up for three weeks. You’re not young no matter how old you look. You should take better care of yourself.” She took a bite out of one of the fries, “I forgot the malt vinegar. No. Stop eating. Wait until I get back.”


“Why was the window open?”


“Huh?”


“Why did you leave the window open. I told you to lock it after I left.”


“Oh that. It wasn’t open the whole time. I had this feeling about fifteen minutes before you got back that you would be home soon. You want some?”


“I’ll try it.”


“I’ll leave you one that hasn’t been molested.”


“Don’t leave the window open when I’m not here.”


“I understand. I’ll never do it again. But you really should be careful Dad, you’re not completely invincible.”


“More so than you give me credit.”


They began to eat. It was good. Gravity had taken over cooking when she was fifteen and had truly thrown herself into it. She was a veritable domestic in everything, but to him, it felt as if she were a bird trapped in a cage he had built around her. He knew her well enough to know that she would never leave him. They would remain as they were now until the next time they had to leave. All the while, her youth and life were being worn away while he remained eternally the same, a tether she would never be able to escape.


“You’re thinking something.”


“Um, oh. No, not really.”


“You’re just saying that.”


“Yes, well, it’s not important. What have you been doing all day?”


“Nothing really. I went shopping. I cleaned. I cooked. I got this really great book on growing a garden. I thought maybe we could have one on the roof or maybe the eighth floor. It has big beautiful single-paned windows that get light most of the day.”


“Sounds like a great idea.”


“You’re not as excited as I thought you’d be.”


“Yes I am.”


“Then you are tired.” A frown. It was cute, she could never muster any real negative emotion, they didn’t look quite natural on her face, as though she were making them up instead of really feeling them. It had been that way since she was a child.


“Yes, I suppose I am.”


“Do you need to go lay down?”


“No, I’ll finish first.”


They chatted through the rest of the meal he continued to steer the conversation away from himself. It would be impossible to explain to her what he had been doing for the past several weeks, or even why he had been doing it. When they had finished she took the dishes.


“Want dessert?”


“No, I’m going to take a shower and go to bed.”


“Probably a good idea. Even so, I’ll leave a slice of cake in the fridge for you if you want it.”


He paused near the opening to the kitchen, watching her. It was right, what he had done. No matter how hard he tried there was no way she would leave the cage even when he left the door open. He was bound to fall anyway. She had said it herself he wasn’t invincible. It was time. Time to let go.


“Don’t stay up too late.”


She looked at him over her shoulder with that beaming unaffected smile, “I won’t.”


The desire to say goodbye, to say I love you. The words that said not to worry and to express how happy he was she was the last one. But they wouldn’t come out. They stayed there at the edge of his teeth, hidden behind the white cage the bars too thick to let them out. He didn’t want her to know. It was better she just thought he gave out. That his time had at last run its course.


Diverting he went to his room. A mild rush of discomfort greeted him upon his entrance. Leaning against the door he found this wearying grasp something pleasant in a morbid kind of way. He pushed off going to the bathroom, stripping down he saw the reflection of his skin staring back from the mirror. He had always healed with lightning speed, but that didn’t prevent the scars from forming, didn’t stop them from painting his body with lines and spots, all evidence of the life he had led, examples of his vulnerability.


The warm water made him restless and increased his fatigue. When at last he changed and went to step out the door of the bathroom he had a rush of it, an intense aching that spread the length of his body. The cold bed clothes were a welcome relief, the soft mattress growing warm beneath him. The thought that this one might just work. This time he might yet succeed at something he had been waiting for, something that never came, and stood out against all the others.


How many years had he lived now? There seemed no point in counting. It didn’t matter really. Another wave, this time more painful than the last. It went on for several minutes and then faded, leaving him exhausted and washed out. He was tired, very tired. He couldn’t help closing his eyes, fading into a sort of fever that had been waiting for him just behind his eyelids.


“This is good,” His voice whispered to the darkness of the room, to the far-off ceiling, to the memories that clung unfaded to the back of his mind, “Everything in this world should come to an end at some point. Why should I be the exception.” A single tear slid free falling to the pillow, where it left a damp stain on the gray pillowcase.




To be continued

Thank you so much for reading everyone!!



Prompt Sentence: He needed thirteen stitches.


Word Count: 4979


©DecemberKnight 2023


Special thanks to Heather Zabriskie from Unsplash for the use of the image!


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