Six months ago
It’s late. The blue light in the subway car makes everyone’s face look ghostly. I’ve followed him here. After months of careful research I’ve found him. He posts about video games on social media, some music videos, meaningless banter. He and his friends swing between being tough and being nerdy. He’s younger than I imagined. Of course, that awful night five months ago I only saw his shadow. He’s been posting less since that day, but that doesn’t surprise me. The gun feels heavy in my pocket. Who’s tough now, Kendrick?
It was such an ordinary night. I was meeting my mom for dinner at this crappy little diner. I approached from the back alley so I was in the dark, she was illuminated under a streetlight. Gleaming auburn hair, hints of grey, beige coat. My mind’s eye filled in the colors; in reality she was a silhouette. She wasn’t alone. Another silhouette. A man. A boy. It didn’t look like they were arguing but he pulled out a gun. A robbery? I hadn’t thought about crime in so long it took a moment for my mind to find the right word. I started running. A loud bang. Time slowed. She fell in slow-motion. The other figure was frozen. He turned his head towards me. I must have screamed. I didn’t think he would shoot me. I had forgotten how to be afraid. After what seemed like forever, he turned from me and ran. I reached my mom. There was blood coming from her stomach but not as much as I recalled from the movies. I cradled her head on the ground. I turned to look after the man. I expected a flash of fire. I expected him to burn, screaming, in the street. But there was only silence as his shadow receded into the dark.
So. God didn’t get him. Maybe it was a slip up. He must be busy, after all. But I’m not. I spent day and night on the computer. For weeks, I didn’t see anyone. For months, I only researched. I tracked him down on a crime forum. He said that killing someone was only slightly different than VR killings. No one believed him. But I was able to track him down on a gaming forum and there his username linked to his social media accounts. Kendrick Wills. I’ve got you now.
Getting a gun was harder. I had to use Tor to find a contact. Even in the city weapons are becoming difficult to obtain. When lifted out of poverty and the looming threat of instant incineration being a criminal requires more effort than most are willing to put in. But I was still able to find a man who handed me a gun in a paper bag on a street corner. Some things never change. And the whole time I expected to go up in flames. I smelled smoke constantly. I dreamed about infernos, screams and skin melting. But I couldn’t stop. I think, at some point in those months, I went from being alive to being dead, and since I was already dead there was no point in stopping. The flames had already consumed me inside and all that stood between me and my fate was that final baptism of fire, which would come soon enough.
In a subway car, after midnight. The train pulls into a station. Kendrick stirs and I think for a moment he’s going to get off, even though this is not his stop. I know that because I’ve followed him on this route many times. He gets up and my stomach sinks. But no, he’s just moving into the next car. It’s like he can sense the danger that is coming for him. My body is tense but my breathing is non-existent. I’m like a panther, stalking in the jungle. I move towards the connecting door and follow my prey. The train starts moving again and casts us into darkness for a brief moment. I pull out the gun and aim it down the center at Kendrick’s back. The blue light returns and I feel myself standing there, illuminated, all eyes on me. Then the first scream, followed by more. I focus only on Kendrick. He turns and stands facing me.
It’s a total out-of-body experience. It’s his death sentence, but it’s also mine. One bullet, two deaths. I wonder if it’s going to hurt. No, scratch that. Of course it’s going to hurt. Being burned alive is awful – worse than bullet. But, somehow, maybe less painful than living without my mom.
I pull the trigger. Loud noise. Deafening. Kendrick collapses. My ears are ringing. My hands are shaking and I want to drop the gun but I hug it close to me instead. My skin tingles from the flames that will consume it soon, any minute, now. But nothing. There are only screams. Lights flickering. The train slows as it reaches another station. The doors by Kendrick’s limp body spring open. I bolt. I fly through the doors. The gun drops from my fingers as I land on the platform and I keep running. There is shouting behind me. I run up the stairs towards the station, two steps at the time, and I expect my legs to catch fire at any moment. The station is pretty empty this time a night. Just a few people milling around. They don’t know what took place beneath them. They don’t know that I’m a killer. I catch my breath as I reach the exit and step into the night. Quiet.
I stop and spread my arms wide, facing the sky, awaiting my judgment. Nothing. There are only stars above me.
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