The following is a story I submitted for consideration in a contest last month. It wasn’t chosen as a finalist. It represents the first time I’ve used the second person in fictional form. A friend of mine read it, and pronounced it the most intriguing, evocative thing I’ve written. This piece is an adaptation from a much longer work in progress.
You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill, you can bundle up for it. Chillier still is the city itself, and the cold within your soul. You don’t want to get up. You don’t leave your cracker box flat. You’d rather listen to the scurrying of your only friends: the rats and roaches.
But you know you’ve got to go.
You know you failed. Spectacularly failed. You wanted a little for yourself, so you reached for the brass ring. And it didn’t pan out. Not only that, but the boss found out. Mr. Osgood doesn’t suffer fools lightly. You knew the risk, but you were so alone, so unseen, so unknown. You’ve practically been invisible your whole life through, with no one taking much notice of you. No notice at all, really.
Except when you bolloxed things up.
Then they noticed you. Parents, teachers, employers: they saw you for the colossal failure you were…
You get up. Woolgathering won’t make this any easier. You shiver in the cold, stumbling towards the light switch. You flick it on, pass into the bathroom, relieve yourself. You flush, looking down into the swirling water, and see your life going down the drain with your urine.
But it didn’t.
Why did you cross Osgood?
You don’t know. Except you do: you did it to be noticed. But now you’re not sure you can take the heat your rash choice has brought.
You’ve been noticed alright. Maybe for the last time. And when you’ve gone no one will know of your demise. Looking in the mirror, you see eyes bloodshot, red-rimmed. You should be weeping–the tears want to come. But you’ve none left.
They’ve been burned out of you, leaving just a cold shell of a soul. The things you’ve done. You knew there was no turning back.
But you had to try.
You turn on the shower, waiting for it to warm. It doesn’t. You get in, shivering all the more. You soap, lather, shampoo. Turning off the water, you reach for your towel. Drying quickly, you get out.
Do you even recognize that face looking back at you in the mirror as you shave? Who is it? Whose is it?
You don’t know. But you do know that it’s like looking at a dead man.
You finish, dressing quickly. Cold as it outside, you don’t bother with your coat. It can’t be colder than it already is inside you. All the tender, soft, human parts of you have long since turned to ice. It would have to be very, very hot indeed to warm you, bring you back. You chuckle, a sardonic warble in your throat.
You leave your apartment. It could burn for all you care; you won’t miss it, or its old, moldy smells of decay. You look down at your hands, imaging you can see right through them. Alas, you’re not that invisible–still essentially a man.
Maybe Osgood will have mercy.
And maybe whales don’t swallow tiny Krill wholesale.
Where is it? You’ve never seen, nor given, it.
Mercy is the dream of children. But you’ve awoken. And it’s not the world you know. Especially not here. Not in Osgood’s city. Where every dream is a reality. And nightmares lurk just beyond the veil. You know. You helped bring some of them to fruition.
Making your way down the stairs, you want to stop. But don’t. You know better, know nothing good awaits. But you’re drawn by some strange magnetism. You’re drawn to that great man, Osgood, who’s both more, and less, than that.
Had you but known? It wouldn’t have mattered: you would have done the same. You had your time in the sun.
Now it was time to pay the piper.
You make your way out of your building, into the street, not flinching at the cold. You pass the unseeing throngs, bundled against the chill. All your life this is all you’ve known: the hustling bustle of the salmon hordes, streaming this way and that. Everyone fighting for their piece, their dream, their brass ring.
You wish you could watch them burn, but as you head to the subway you know you won’t get the chance. If you were a man of regrets, that’s your only one: that you won’t live to see the world burn.
You deposit your tokens, passing through the turnstile, head onto the platform. Almost you look for number 9.5, but know he would find you even there. There’s no running. Your train arrives. You get on.
It’s a quiet ride to your stop. Cold and dark, people are more insular than usual. Nobody looks up, or around. No one wants to be bothered. Least of all you. You are cold and hard as a glacier, moving inexorably on to what comes next.
You tense your jaw, square your shoulders, squint your eyes. The train arrives at your stop. You get off, make your way back up into the world above. There it is, two blocks over, surpassing every other skyscraper with its sheer size: Osgood Tower.
You swallow. You will not plead. You will not simper, or cower. You will face your fate like a man. You don’t hurry, but you arrive at the building altogether sooner than you suppose. You enter through the revolving door, heading for the elevators.
You get on with a group, punching the number for the highest floor: 144. Osgood’s personal penthouse. They all quickly look at you, and just as quickly look away. They want nothing to do with you, or your fate. It’s almost like they can smell it on you, your utter failure. Your uselessness.
They shrink back as much they can. You don’t blame them. Then you do what you do best, and kill them all. All five souls who thought they were so much better than you. Looking up, you know all but Osgood’s private camera had been disable the moment you stepped on.
“Good, Jud, good,” a voice rumbles over the intercom. “But it’s not enough. Not by half. If anything, you may bought yourself some company for your journey.” The elevator continues to rise.
Then it stops at floor one hundred forty-four.
“You know what this is, Jud, right? This is the end. The end of our journey together. The end of what I had hoped would continue to be a fruitful relationship. Alas, it was not be,” Osgood intones with a sigh.
“Goodbye, Mr. Mericot.”
“You’re the devil,” you hear yourself say. And the elevator, Osgood’s elevator, begins to make its plunge.
“No, Jud, nothing so dramatic. Not as far as this world knows. I’m merely your disgruntled former employer,” he says with a chuckle.
The elevator is falling so fast now, the blood you spilled begins to rise, spattering you, the ceiling, the mirrored walls of the car. Like the famous NASA plane, the so-called “vomit comet,” you begin to rise from the floor, feeling nearly weightless.
You feel like you’re falling forever… Forever falling. But you know there will be a sudden stop at fall’s end.
You keep falling, picking up speed.
And then you stop.
The bodies around you float to car’s floor; you follow them.
You’re not dead. At least you don’t think so.
Then the bell dings, doors sliding open.
“Welcome, Mr. Mericot,” a raspy, grating voice intones. “We’ve been expecting you.” You’re suddenly cold–colder than you’ve ever been. The last thing you want to do is leave the confines of the elevator. You try to hold on, but can’t–invisible hands drag you through the air as if you were so much ephemera. The corpses around you rise, streaking up, out, and away.
You know where you are. The one place colder than you. You try to scream, but icy air suddenly solid occludes your throat.
“Mr. Mericot, welcome to Hell.”
You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill…
You awake in the dark. You hear the howling of a biting wind outside. You know that chill… You’ve been here before. The sense of deja vu is a palpable thing. Like someone with synesthesia, you can taste it in the cool air.
Then it dawns on you: you’re reliving your last day.