They were coming back.
Hadn’t they had enough?
Didn’t they get tired?
I was exhausted, physically and mentally. The last few weeks had left me spent. And yet here they were back to wring the last of my reserves.
Their feral eyes glinted in the orange evening light reflected in the fresh puddles. I’d hoped, prayed, the afternoon rain would have driven them away for the day. But as soon as it stopped and the sun tore a hole in the cloud overhead, they tore a hole in the silence, howling, squealing, growling and nipping at each other as they returned to dish out more of their onslaught, the very thought of more of this torment a torment all of its own.
The small one took up his usual position beneath the tree, beating the trunk with a stick. He was their cheerleader, their drummer boy, their flag bearer, heralding them into battle. And he did his job well, propelling the rest of the band into a frenzy as they rushed about, quickly working up a sweat which would soon glisten on their skin and their matted hair. The others broke and twisted low-hanging branches from the tree and wielded them like swords, swinging them around their heads, looking for someone, anyone, even each other whenever the opportunity presented, to lash out at.
Their leader, the alpha, even though he couldn’t have seen me where I hid, was looking right at me. Sensing my presence, and my frustration I shouldn’t wonder, the animal grabbed the head of the last surviving rose on the bush next to it and, smiling ear to proverbial ear, wrenched it free, dismembering the flower in its filthy paws and dropping the remains to the ground, petal by petal.
Two of the females broke from the group and approached him to investigate. He snarled, bearing his teeth, and screamed into their faces. They jumped back, frightened at first, but then at once excited. They screamed back at him, only louder, accepting his challenge. He roared back, louder again, and the rest of the group swooped in, not to be left out or outdone. For a solid five minutes, a bloody eternity, they did their best to explode my ear drums, trying to best each other with the decibel level of their shrieks.
The hush so sudden, I thought for a moment I actually had gone deaf.
As the sun dipped down behind the rooftops, I watched them cluster and stand back to back, assuming a defensive stance, the ones on the edges scanning the surroundings for trouble.
By the time the alarm was sounded and they tried to scatter, it was too late. A group of adults descended upon them with impressive speed, plucking the younglings on the perimeter up and tucking them under their arms like footballs.
The rest of the group found their escape route blocked by two more adult bulls, who had flanked them, and they gave up, accepting their fate.
But the alpha. He was not going to give in so readily.
“Five more minutes,” he sobbed, bursting into tears so expertly he could have been gifted all of next year’s Academy Awards right there on the spot. “Just five more minutes.”
“I gave you five minutes already,” came the reply from the balding bull bearing down on him. “And you took ten.”
The alpha threw himself to the ground and beat his fists off the concrete. His father stood over him. “It’s time to come in now. Back to school for you in the morning.”
Then came the four words to rescue my sanity from the abyss.
“Summer holidays are over.”
There’s nowhere I need to be.
And nothing I have to do.
Once, this was the dream. But seeing as I never got round to putting something by for the proverbial rainy day, it’s the farthest thing from.
No matter how much I might have hated the day job, at least it gave me purpose. I’m not going to find much of that strolling along on this actual, non-proverbial rainy day in these depressing, gray woods, but maybe the fresh air will do me some good.
It’s not fresh air I need; it’s a job. And quick. The shitty severance I got isn’t going to last pissing time.
I’m laying the ground work for another sleepless night or ten, doing the mental arithmetic of just how much time pissing time amounts to, when I step ankle-deep into a mud-filled puddle.
Well, of course I do.
Cake, have some icing.
I squelch-limp over to a long-fallen tree and take a seat on one of its broken boughs. I don’t bother taking the shoe off. What’s the point? It’s forty degrees outside. Not like waving my sock around is going to help it dry any. I sit there long enough for it not to matter anymore. Long enough to drift off into my own little world of opaque pointlessness, a world so sealed off from this one I do not see or hear the little boy in the brightly colored raincoat until he’s standing right in front of me.
You don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. That’s what my mom used to say. No idea where the hell it comes from, but I know what the hell it means, believe that. So when Flash Harry glides up alongside me in his two hundred thousand dollar ride, the right-hand side of his S-Class overstepping rudely into the bicycle lane, the gleaming black bodywork so close all I have to do is move my knee a bit to the left for it to touch me, I know what I gotta do: tumble to the ground screaming and crying like a soccer player in front of the opposing team’s goal. I tangle my legs up in the frame of the bike as I roll, for optics you understand, as I hear his brakes apply. The car stops on a dime, right the way you’d expect, and Mr. Mercedes climbs out, jogging up to me in his nice blue suit.
My name is now Fintan, it would appear.
I’ve always hated that name. Puts me in mind of unwitting, socially awkward dorks who sit up the front of the class and bring the same sandwiches to school every day in aluminum foil. In other words: sad, boring bastards.
To you and me.
So, for a day or two, until I find someone better, a sad bastard is what I will have to be.
Or maybe not.
Maybe I’ll do all the other Fintans out there hiding in plain sight a favor and stick with it for longer than usual, just for the sake of injecting some personality and life into their insular little lives, maybe increase the stock price in their awful moniker.
Really. Come on. Christen your kid Fintan and you’re basically condemning them to a life of tedium. Not saying calling them Bruce would mold them into an automatic action hero, but it would be a step in the right direction.
If your name is Bruce, you have no choice but to lead an interesting life. The name demands it.
But anyway, look, suck it up, my friend. Fintan it is and Fintan you are.
I tuck the driver’s license back into the wallet, and then the wallet into what is now my new jacket. I tie his backpack around his ankles, fill it with rocks and push him off the ledge into the river below.
I’ve avoided him, since the first day I clocked him, the second time I climbed on to this piece of shit bus, on my third day in this piece of shit job.
And I’ve seen him on board every day since. In the same seat. With the same empty seat next to him.
Because everyone else on this thing avoids him too.
Like a Jehovah’s Witness.
Maybe that’s why he’s laughing, because Jesus, or whoever it is they bang on about, is by his side filling with him the good word, and it is as good as he had hoped. And instead of knocking on your door relentlessly, wanting to share it all and read to you from his good book, he’s decided to keep all that goodness to himself.
That would be one reason why he’s laughing.
But all the time? This guy, he’s laughing every day, every time I see him.
All the goddamn time.
Nobody, including me, looks or stares for fear of making eye contact.
Been watching a lot of amazing video essays breaking down screenwriting, screenplays and writing, as of late – big shoutout to Nerdwriter1 and Lessons from the Screenplay – so inevitably the gravitational pull of Christopher Nolan and the millions of theses produced on his films reeled me in like a Corellian corvette into the belly of an Imperial Star Destroyer.
Now, I am a Nolan fan, but his movies do have flaws. Okay maybe not flaws – let’s call hang-on-a-sec moments. As in, “Hang on a sec, how can the entire police force of Gotham become imprisoned in the sewers beneath the city for months (the entire police force, not even a desk jockey is left behind), only to emerge with the same amount of facial hair and body fat when Bruce breaks them out again?” Hmmm, maybe they lived on rat burgers like the underground dwellers in Demolition Man.
When you’ve got an intricate narrative going on, it can be difficult to keep all them plates spinning. And as a viewer, I am very forgiving. But, great as it is, and I do love the movie, there is one aspect of The Prestige that leaves me scratching my head. Now maybe it’s the dent in said head from using it a brake in a cycling-related fall a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, and I’m missing something as a result of a latent brain injury.
But maybe not.
‘I don’t think you need to highlight it for me with the big red circle,’ she said. ‘I mean, thing kinda stands out all on its own, don’t it?’
‘Yeah,’ Evan said, ‘I suppose you’re right.’
‘I suppose I am.’
He tapped the screen. The circle vanished. He angled the display back at her again. The girl squinted and scrunched up her freckled nose and poked her tanned face into the phone’s screen like someone sixty years her senior.
‘What the hell is it supposed to be anyways?’
‘That’s what I came back to find out,’ he said.
‘Yeah, I rode through here a couple days ago. Was reviewing the helmet cam and tail cam footage-’
Evan stopped. The look on the girl’s face said it all, said she had no idea what the hell a “cam” of any description was. ‘A video camera, you know? I got a little one on my helmet and one on the back of the bicycle, facing rearwards. Just in case I get into an accident or something. Was going through the footage from the one out back and it picked this up. Lot of rocks along that trail, lot of bouncing up and down. This is the clearest grab I could get.’
The fare slid in on to the backseat. The car dipped so hard, on what was left of the suspension, I thought it was going to do a back-flip. Whole lot of man for one man. “What’s up, buddy? Where to?”
“D.C.,” he said.
“No. I said D.C.”
“Yeah, I get that, heard you the first time. But it’s not as if I’m going to drive you the two-or-three-thousand-whatever-it-is miles there, so which airport we going to?”
“None of them, unless you think you need a runway.”
“Okay, I don’t have time for this. Get out of my cab.”
“Time, like so very many other things is something you have in plenty.”
“Fuck. What are you? A Jehovah? Scientologist? Whatever you’re selling, I’m not buying. Now out of my cab, now. Before-“
“Before what? You throw me out? Now wouldn’t that be something for all to witness.”
Dick had a point. When I turned around, it was clear, even sitting, that he was closer to seven feet than six, and was somewhere around three hundred pounds. Not the lard ass I pictured either. He was hewn from solid rock. Figuratively speaking.
“You don’t sound the way you look,” I said.
“Appearances. You can never can go by them. Take yourself, for example.”
He allowed himself a little smile.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll bite. Who are you?”
“Third one in a fortnight. Jesus Christ,” said Taylor. “I’m getting to know this area of woodland too well. Am I mad, or is this-”
“The same tree?” said Griffin. “Yes.”
“Any I.D. on the vic?”
“You don’t recognize him?”
“The light’s not so good here. Hang on.” Taylor changed his footing on the step and angled the flashlight better. “Sweet J- Is that Frank Quinn?”
“Was,” said Griffin.
“So what’s that? One serial rapist. One child killer.”
“And one gangland don.”
“Someone would appear to be clearing up shop.”
I can hear one behind me somewhere, crashing through the bushes, giving chase. I can’t keep this up for much longer. I can’t run, have never been able to. But I have no choice other than to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
My lungs burn.
My sides hurt.
My throat is dry while sweat cascades down my face.
And I’m breathing so hard I think I could puke at any second.
Another branch hits me in the face and it stuns me. I stumble, my vision darkening, my blood-covered overalls snagging on a bramble… and then I’m in a clearing.
I have no goddamn idea where I am. But there’s a house in front of me, right in the middle of this leafy glade. That’s got to be good, right?
To my left, a laugh. Jesus, there’s more than one of them now.