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Monday, 7 February 2011

Accidental Ending

‘This can’t be happening.’ Alex grabbed another three green paper towels from the dispenser. ‘Not here, not now.’

The corporate bathroom was empty but for himself, the dominant cream base colour with the dark green features not helping him control the uneasy feeling in his stomach. An unsteady wave of nausea swept across him and he swayed forwards, using his other hand to stop his head from smacking into one of the giant mirrors on the wall in front. He had to close his eyes to block out the image of his bloodied nose upon his drained, white-washed face, his struggle to remain conscious distorting it into a mind bending blur. He took a moment to steady himself, resisting the urge to dab at the blood as it trickled down his face, pooling into the crevice of his lips before it overflowed and escaped down the left side of his chin. He didn’t care that it was dripping onto the floor because there was no need to clean it up - they couldn’t see it could they? That was the problem.

Ten minutes ago he’d had to bail on a meeting because the flow of blood was just too fierce. He was running through tissues at a rate of knots and even had to ask for more from a member of the delegation next to him as Andrea pointed at pie charts and commented on flow diagrams at the front of the room. Unfortunately his battle proved more entertaining and the room watched in silent amusement as he dabbed feverishly at his nose before discarding the unsoiled tissues haplessly in front as he struggled to stem the unseen flow. They thought he was joking. Eventually it became too much, his face felt drained and he became light headed, groggily rising to his feet. Andrea’s fountain blue glare shot daggers at him as he stumbled clumsily towards the back of the room and she ground her teeth together as her audience followed his slow progress out of the door.

Up above him he could hear the light emit a faint rattling sound and the depth of black behind his closed eyelids deepened. For a moment the room went black, it was the only light in the room and there was no sunlight to compensate for it as structurally the bathroom lay in the centre of the building. With the flickering light appeared to be an admission defeat, like Alex’s will had beat out the oppressive influence and the flow of blood, mercifully, came to a stop.

It had only been in the corridor he’d realised his problems were truly his own. On his way to the bathroom he’d bumped into the cleaner who he knew only as ‘Charlie’ and apologised for leaving an unsightly trail on the carpet. Charlie Ray had smiled and asked him to repeat himself and when Alex had done so Charlie adopted a puzzled expression, asking him what he was talking about. Equally confused, Alex had explained about his bleeding nose and even pointed out patches of blood he’d left on the carpet. That’s when Charlie gave him that same amused look he got in the board room, brushing it off as light hearted tom-foolery and prepared to return to his duties.

Alex though had looked for confirmation. He desperately pushed for the elderly man to clarify his answer. His jovial tone now gone, Charlie had obliged; there was no blood. He’d pointedly walked away from him at that point mumbling something about how a suit could make a reasonable young man ‘go stupid’ and the power could make them ‘go crazy’ over his shoulder, clearly unconcerned about discretion.

Whether he was stupid was debateable. Crazy however? That was a whole different foot off a llama. No, this was real.

He opened his eyes and stared defiantly at the red mess around his face, could feel it beginning to coagulate into slimy, algae-like clumps. He then opened his lips to unleash his tongue and set about clearing some of the worst of it around his mouth, tasting it. Hadn’t he heard it dripping a moment ago? A deep inhale through his nose confirmed it reeked of the irony red stuff. That was a lot of sensory boxes to go on, so it seemed real enough.

The door opened and John came walking in, his black suit jacket gleaming with that fresh, ‘reserved for special occasions’ glow. Alex saw him in the reflection of the mirror, strolling over towards the urinals and casually unzipping his flies before he’d even reached his porcelain destination. He curled his juicy, worm like lips and started to whistle, before cutting his tune short and sneering over toward him.

The position of his head relative to the solitary light cast a shadow across his small dark brown eyes and reduced them to little more than small black dots, which coupled with his closely shaven head granted him a classic cartoon bully look. His appearance didn’t quite do him justice however. Alex knew full well that he was clever enough to tease and frustrate with his words, his physical presence just happened to be a more than adequate fall back option he could rely on.

‘Captain Arrogance strikes again.’ Alex ignored him, still concentrating on making all the colours fit inside the lines. ‘You know,’ Alex could hear John start up a consistent stream that lined the side of the urinal. Alex couldn’t even go if there was somebody else in the room with him, let alone mid-conversation. ‘Andrea will have you castrated for this.’ John turned back to make sure he was in control of his member. ‘If I were you I’d keep up the loony act. Let them come and take you away, like right now, before she finds you. If I were you I’d –‘

‘Please.’ Alex turned to face him with his hand removed from the mirror and held out flat like a traffic warden. ‘Give it a rest will you? I don’t feel well.’ He started to dab at his face again, before mindfully turning his back to prevent John witnessing it.

‘Oh you’re actually ill are you?’ He said over his shoulder sarcastically. ‘And there was me thinking it was just a ploy to ruin Andrea’s pitch. A little convenient you should take ill so, drastically, right when impressions are so important. I mean, we all know you’re against the merger, but to fake insanity?’ Finishing his business, he stretched out his arms above and behind his head and imitated a yawn, ending in a gesture of madness as he circled his index fingers around his temples. Only then did he bring his hands back down to tuck in his existential being. ‘You want me to call somebody Alex?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘You know, a doctor? Your mum maybe?’ Alex began to frown as he pictured John’s face descend into a smirk. Then John lowered his voice. ‘The Ghostbusters…’

Stunned, the paper towels fell out of Alex’s hand. He slowly turned back around. With some effort, he managed to drag his eyes off of the blood stained rags on the floor and up to John’s face.

‘What did you say?’ His voice was frail.

‘I think you heard me Alex. So what is it? You’ve got the sixth sense now have you? Tell me, is there anybody with us?’ Alex felt weak; his head was beginning to throb again.

‘No. It’s, it’s not like that. It’s…’ He looked back into the mirror to check the whether his nose had decided to reopen the sluice gate. John followed his gaze and strolled over towards the mirror.

‘More like that is it?’ He looked into Alex’s pale reflection, trying to force him into eye contact. ‘So if I call out Bloody Mary three times –‘

‘No!’ John blinked, surprised at his outburst.

‘Well that seemed a little defensive. I think I might be close.’ Alex let out a frustrated sigh.

‘It’s not like anything.’

‘It’s got to be like something Alex.’

‘I don’t see the point, it’s not like you’ll believe me.’

‘Why don’t you try me?’

Alex finally gave in and looked into John’s eyes. He opened his mouth and almost dared to speak, but he changed his mind. John had this ability to lure you into trusting him sometimes despite his obvious hostility toward you. Alex’s eyes narrowed.

‘How do you know?’

‘Use your head Alex. How do you think I know?’ Quietly Alex backed up a step, his gaze returned to the floor.

‘Andrea told you.’ It was more an admission under his breath than a statement. John’s face curled into a callous smile.

‘Talk about a passion killer. Strangest pillow talk I’ve ever heard.’ Alex had looked back up and his stare had hardened.

‘You mean you…’

‘Mind you, she didn’t say a lot after that. Bit hard to talk when your mouth is full.’

Alex launched himself towards him with his arms outstretched, John’s back slamming into the wall of the leftmost cubicle. If it hurt he didn’t show it and Alex still had grip of him by the scruff of his shirt.

‘Easy now Alex, don’t make me hurt you.’ The threat was real enough; John had a strong build, in a straight fight Alex was always going to be on the losing side. He relaxed his hand a little, a visible crumpled patch appearing in John’s shirt where he hadn’t yet pressed it flat against his chest. The adrenaline was still too strong to allow him to let go completely.

‘You leave her alone.’

‘I’m warning you Alex. Don’t think I’ll take it easy on you just because I’m all up in your sister, mister.’ Alex leant back as if to swing for him, but a rush of blood to his head made him feel faint. He closed his eyes and tightened his lips to stop himself from throwing up, and for a moment his thoughts went blank. John’s voice sounded distant. ‘Eurgh! Get off me you freak!’

He opened his eyes with his head in a daze, blinking hard to try and gain focus. John must have pushed him off for he was a couple of steps back, and John was now sporting a brand new irregularly shaped patch of scarlet down his front, staring at it in disgust as he tried to hold it away from his person. A hand up to his nose confirmed its source, though strangely it must have come out in one lump because there was nothing replacing that which he wiped away with his already (In his eyes at least) blood stained sleeves.

‘You can see it?’ He asked groggily.

‘Of course I bloody see it!’ John was too angry to spot the irony. ‘It’s all over me!’ He walked round to the front of the cubicle and stared down at his shirt. ‘What is this? A message from the other side? Some bloody parlour trick! Jesus, Andrea was right about you, you’ve gone wacko!’ He opened the cubicle door and leant in to get some tissue from the roll.

Once he reached it, he remained hunched over, wrapping the flimsy paper around his hand in a loose bundle. Meaning to come back out to the mirrors and use the favourable angle to help guide him as he cleaned it off. As he turned around to start the short journey he found Alex blocking his path with one foot inside the door.

‘Don’t even say her name.’

‘What?’ You could tell by the expression on his face that he found such a threat comical. Lax handed he started to pat at the stain whilst his eyes came back up to Alex’s. ‘She’s twenty-nine years old Alex, you don’t control her.’

‘No, but I can protect her.’ John snorted.

‘Since when have you been able to protect anybody? I tell you what, let’s ask Chloe that question shall we? Oh wait, I forget –‘

This time, as Alex’s emotions boiled over, his physical being lashed out as well. His hand curled into a fist before rocketing into John’s cheek, the impact taking him by surprise and sending him backwards whilst his arm flung out for balance. As he fell it caught hold of the tissue dispenser and tore it from the cubicle wall as he landed seated on the toilet. The crash as it hit the floor reawakened Alex’s conscious. His hit although strong had not been enough to disable John and he was now scrambling to find his feet. Instinctively he stepped a couple of paces back and watched as John hurled himself forward. He caught hold of the cubicle door as John’s momentum swung it towards him and without thinking kicked it as hard as he could.

The sound of the impact was sickening. The edge of the door caught John just above his right eye and sent a fissure right across the front of his skull. Blood exploded from the crack as the pressure forced it further open and John staggered backwards, semi-conscious onto the seat with a thud. A hand reached up to his head and absently smeared the blood around whilst the other came out towards Alex for help, a gargled cry lost somewhere beneath the red mess.

A second or so later, Alex still frozen helplessly to do nothing but watch, John’s arms fell out of the air and the moaning ceased, his lifeless eyes rolling freely to the left in the same direction as his head until it lay limp on one side, blood pulsing in steady rhythm.

The spectacle in front of him like nothing he’d ever seen before, it was unworldly. It made him feel alien and unsure of himself, what was supposed to happen now? Should he tell somebody? It was an accident right? Self defence. Manslaughter, not murder. Right now the one thing he was sure of was that he didn’t like the feel of another person’s blood on his skin. He had to wash it off.

He wasn’t sure how, but he’d managed to convince his feet to steer him over towards the mirrors, swaying loosely as his whole body from the neck down felt numb. The only thing he could really feel any lower right now was the intense pace at which his heart was beating against his chest and dominated his breathing, forcing quick shallow breaths that barely scraped the top of his lungs.

He clumsily fumbled at the tap and at last water began to flow from it. As he barrelled big cold handfuls of it into his face it swept a glimmer of rational thinking over him. He’d better go and close the cubicle door, and he’d better do it now whilst the thought was still there.

Abandoning the tap he walked directly over to the cubicle, careful not to step on any red patches and still unsure which ones could or could not be seen. Bile rose in his throat when he looked in on John’s lifeless body and it took some effort to stop from heaving. One thing was for sure, he wouldn’t have to worry about John sleeping with his sister anymore.

Sickened by his own thoughts, he pulled the door towards him, thankful the original projection of blood had impacted on the inside. It didn’t need to be locked, just closed so that it might take the next unfortunate person to walk in on this mess that little bit longer before they raised the alarm.

Wearily, he staggered back over towards the running tap. Assessing the blood that covered him he decided it would be impossible to clean that which had fallen onto his clothes. He could dilute it, but it would still be there, it was a lost cause. He couldn’t even be sure he’d be clearing the blood that was visible; he might just be wasting his time. His face however, he could remedy. He started wiping more meaningfully at the crevices that had held the blood more stubbornly and refused the flimsy cleaning power of a rinse.

There was something therapeutic in the mindless repetition of this action. Water goes on. Hands scrub and fondle a particular part of his face. Water goes on. Eyes open up to locate the next area of attention. Eyes close. Water goes on. Hands scrub and fondle a particular part of his face. Water goes on. Eyes open up to locate the next area of attention. Eyes close. Water goes on. He’d tell Andrea what had happened. Water goes on. He may not be her favourite person right now, but she’d help him. Eyes close. Water goes on. She’d have to help him. She’s his sister, it’s her obligation. Water goes on. Eyes open up to locate the next area of attention. Recoil in abject horror.

This time when he opened his eyes it wasn’t he whom he saw in the reflection. In his place was a little girl a good two feet shorter than he with a little button nose and golden blonde pig tails held in place with pink ribbons. Her hands were by her side and she was smiling, but they weren’t her eyes.

Alex got back to his feet, tried to blink the image away. It just made his surroundings darker each time. The whole area in the mirror behind the girl turned jet black, illuminating her in the centre.

‘Chloe?’ It was weak.

Apparently she didn’t like it; her smile began to fall into a frown. Her eyes, (not Chloe’s eyes) began to change to a milky blue. A blind person’s eyes. Except he got the feeling they could most definitely see him. That idiot, he thought. Somehow by speaking her name earlier John had summoned her here like Bloody Mary. The difference here though lay in the intention of the spirit.

Bloody Mary is a summon, and requires as such. She grants universal access because she isn’t fussy; eyes are eyes in her opinion, she’ll take what she can get. So the powers that govern such things put in place a fail-safe; hence the triple callout required to make her pay you a visit. If you ever have the displeasure to see her it will be no accident, she feeds off the inquisitive nature of the foolhardy. This instance was no summon.

Then there are those who stalk. They follow you around riding in the back seat of your mind and wait for their opportunities. They conjure little tricks and play their spiteful games with an almost limitless variation. They seek your vulnerabilities and feed off your darkest thoughts and fears. Sometimes all they require is the name of one you’ve lost to grant them a painful imitation of identity; loved ones are the best, daughters are perfect. This had been following him for weeks, growing stronger by the day, and until this point Alex had managed to hide her name.

Suddenly in the mirror the reflection of the cubicle gained an outline. As the little girl slowly turned her head towards it, it started to regain its colour. All the patches of blood had disappeared from the mirror’s image, (those patches had been his own) but leaking out underneath the cubicle door was a puddle that was glowing the bright red light intensity of the neon signs in Vegas. He looked down at his chest and gradually big areas of his clothes started to imitate the process. This time however it was different.

It didn’t stop when it reached a certain point and delve off into a candy cane pink with silver glitter like that in the mirror. It kept growing stronger, more intense like ultra-violet. It started to blind him. He tried to close his eyes but his eyelids were no use, they were too thin. He tried to cover them with his hands, but it was no good, it was too late by then. The light was already inside.

From the base of his skull came a dim growling sound. It was quickly getting louder, transferring from the background to the foreground, the pitch rising into an unholy squeal. Alex fell about screaming with his hands switching lamely between his eyes and his ears. He writhed about on the floor, everything hurting. The intensity was unrelenting, rising cruelly until he was sure his head had no option but to explode.

Moments later, as suddenly as it had all started, it stopped. Alex was still screaming, his jaw felt locked in position and the energy required to do so seemed infinite. He started coughing, the reflex upsetting the rhythm and in doing so he opened his eyes.

It was light again, he could see the cream and green combo patterned on the ceiling and the dome light shone unabashed. Using his elbows to prop himself up he was now staring into the urinals and the blue streaks of toilet cleaner that lined their front. Bravely, he looked up at the mirror but there was nothing in the reflection other than the door behind him. As he rose to his feet he prepared to shake himself down, and caught sight of the blood stains on his front.

He whirled on the spot, his gaze directed to John’s cubicle. A thick red puddle was stretching out from under the door and Alex caught his breath. He carefully treaded around it to the front of the cubicle door. He knew he wasn’t going to like this.

He pushed it open, gritting his teeth, too scared to blink. As the door parted to the side it unveiled more and more of John’s pathetic corpse in excruciating detail and for a moment all Alex could do was stare.

It made a mockery of John’s existence, lying there in twisted agony like that. It wasn’t even supposed to have happened. It wasn’t planned, he wasn’t murdered. At least if he had been he could have taken solace in the fact it was meant for him, there was dignity in intent. Not so in this accidental ending. It was cheap, unscripted and above all undeserved.

‘Right.’ He said aloud. Whatever else had happened didn’t matter to him now. Maybe he was crazy, maybe it was the suit. More likely he was being haunted, even if people didn’t want to hear or believe it.

In either case, he’d killed John. That much was real. Would John haunt him now? There was no pause for the thought.

‘I’ll tell Andrea what happened.’ He blinked. ‘I may not be her favourite person right now, but she’ll help me.’ Blink, blink. His voice was a monotone drone. ‘She’ll have to help me. She’s my sister, it’s her obligation.’ He blinked. His body shuddered backwards with association and he did well to stop himself from falling by propping himself up against the bathroom wall.

‘I’ll tell Andrea what happened. Like, right now.’

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