The bullet shredded into his arm like a fox going into the bushes to kill its prey. He quickly ran behind a wall and fumbled to reload his small pistol. They were getting closer, he could feel the vibrations of their heavy footsteps coming through the walls. He grimaced at his arm, turned out of the room and fired as an armada of other bullets went through his body, maliciously destroying his organs.
This is how many books start. Most of the time because the plot is so terrible they need something to immediately hook the reader, like violence. Whether people care to admit it or not, we are generally interested, if not acquainted, with violence. Unfortunately (fortunately?) I really can’t start off in this direction, for that would be a little misleading. There won’t be much violence; hopefully, at least, a little black humor.
Instead of starting in a dilapidated building with something trying to kill the protagonist, I will start in a train with nothing trying to kill the protagonist. This train was moving along at a steadily fast pace through the light night which was beautifully illuminated in small places by the snow-covered brick buildings. The soft light played along the interior of the train, creating rich tones of red and gold and resting gently on the dark wood finish of the seats. A man of average height, light blonde hair, and in his mid-twenties sat drowsily on these wood seats feeling the sharp rocking back and forth movement of the train.
This man, Moses Reinhartt, for that was his name, sat slumped in his seat with his eyelids half closed, eyes half seeing. He had dreary gray eyes that didn’t quite go well with his thin wispy blonde hair, although the rest of him would’ve been handsome if not for the lines of sleepless nights crisscrossing his face. His hands were in the pockets of his brown ratty mud-stained overcoat, relaxed except for the occasional twitch. His boots and slacks complemented the under-kept coat by being faithfully in the same condition; in fact, they acted almost as if they were trying to outdo the coat.
While his apparel clung to him unwanted but necessary, like a politician, his eyes focused and unfocused on the cabin. The rich tones of gold would suddenly take the form of the lights lining the car and then spill out onto the velvet red walls, only to disappear completely into the windows. But then the gold took the form of a mountain and the shadows gallantly became men climbing it. The men began to argue and fade into the color of the red velvet walls. He blinked and then peered at the phantasmagoria. It was a scene from the new moving picture, “The Fountain of Youth,” which he had just seen. Unfortunately, it was obviously illogical that he could see it playing out on the walls of a train, so he sighed and shifted his gaze elsewhere. The rows of seats came swiftly at him to where it seemed as if they passed through his body and into his clouded mind until the stained brown wood was indistinguishable from his thoughts. His whole world seemed as if it was trying to slip away, or was he trying to slip away from the world? His eyes roamed aimlessly around the room trying to stay awake (or trying to fall asleep? He never could decide) until they settled on the only other passenger in the car.
This man was in many ways the opposite of Moses; they were like black and white squares on a chessboard. His hair was ink black and pushed back from his round face. Despite his round face, his features were remarkably sharp, same with the rest of his body, round but sharp. A rare breed for sure. This man’s clothes were clean and well-kept, all-though his white shirt was wrinkled and unbuttoned at the top and one of the legs on his black slacks was stuffed into a sock. His left hand rested on a large black suitcase, so black it seemed, that it wasn’t even there, just a dark void where something should be, but wasn’t. Reinhartt’s eyes went up his arm from the suitcase to his face. Not only was his face round while Moses’ was thin, but it had no wrinkles, and a healthy color. Then he realized, with black jealousy, that he was sleeping soundly, a smile of boyish contentment on his face.
Reinhartt had not slept for a week and a half. He had been working long shifts at work, making twice as much money, but spending it all seeing moving pictures at the theater.
One day, in fact yesterday, after the day shift at work, one of his co-workers, Shirley, turned to him as she was putting her coat on, “You know, it must be grand being an insomniac. It’s like your some sort of superman. You can work twice as many shifts and make twice as much money,” she said with a laugh. “Well, good night.”
It is not so simple.
Contrary to what some people like Shirley may think, having an inability to sleep is not a superpower, or even close. First of all, just because he didn’t sleep, doesn’t mean he could sleep. And, moreover, just because he couldn’t sleep, doesn’t mean he didn’t need sleep. For these reasons he was always, always tired. Think about how, at the end of the day, the human machine gets tired, therefore it shuts down, wakes up in the morning and is not tired. For Moses he got tired but had no way to replenish his valuable stores of stamina. Consequently what stamina he had was constantly being hacked away with every action. Minutes would blend into hours, hours into days, days weeks, until objects places and ideas, like the cabin, would meld together into one stream of thought. And that thought was the thought of a lonely soul looking for relief. Occasionally, he would receive relief, when his blended thoughts, world and vision, would cumulate into a great dark black wave that would rush against him, leaving him unconscious. Much like being knocked unconscious, but more of an enveloping wrap than a penetrating rap.
It was because of this that he looked with such envy on the passenger’s sleeping face. Then he began to think, but I shouldn’t blame him for this gift that’s been given to him. He paused. It is not even a gift, it is a right! God’s the one who has taken this away from me! Of all the little children in the world, he decided one day to just take sleep away from me! Me! Of all people, me! Whatever had I done to deserve this?
A little exhausted after this mental rant he let out a tense breath and looked at the ceiling. A sigh of contentment passed the passenger’s lips as Moses’s own tightened. His anger immediately switched back to the passenger. Yes, why me? More importantly, why you? Of all the—
His thoughts were cut short as his car jumped and rocked up and down, finally settling down with a few sharp jolts.
Moses jumped up, What was that? He then looked at the Passenger, still sleeping? Passenger was still sleeping albeit in an odd position, STILL sleeping? Why, of all the—
Another jolt hit the car, sending Moses sprawling on the floor. He jumped up once again and ran to the back door, looked out, saw nothing and then ran to the front. Out the front window he saw that the train was making a wide right turn and would be to its destination, a city, soon. It was because of this turn that he saw two of the cars behind the first alight in a roaring passion. Just then, the next one blew up and went into euphoric flames. Moses stared in stupid shock for a few moments but was then knocked out of it by an explosion from the next car.
Maybe it was one of the terrorist attacks he had been hearing about in the papers or maybe it was mechanical failure. He did not know. What he did know was that there were only three cars between him and an explosion.
He was, honestly, too tired for an explosion today. His nerves just wouldn’t, just couldn’t, take all that stress.
Moses ran to his satchel and slung it around his shoulder as another group of jolts sent him tumbling over the next bench. He ran to the back door and struggled to open it. Just as he heard it click he saw in the reflection in the window of the Passenger, hand on suitcase, head on floor, sleeping.
Reinhartt walked hurriedly towards him, Why, of all the— the car rocked about so angrily this time that Moses was thrown around like a squirrel in a dog’s mouth. When it stopped, he was next to the Passenger.
He shook him, “Hey!” (another shake) “Wake up!” (shakes again) “Your going to die you arrogant sleeping man!”
“Why, of all the—”
We all know what cut him off mid-sentence and so did he. The next car to be baptized in fire would be his. He grabbed Passenger around the middle and hauled him to the door. Out he went with Passenger in tow onto the outside platform. The chill wind woke him up more than the explosions, which he didn’t quite think was possible. He looked at the blur that was the snow, took a frightened breath, and jumped.
Suitcase laughed, Moses yelped, Passenger slept, and they all landed safely in a drift of snow.
Reinhartt popped his head out of the snow. All of his limbs were there except—he gasped—wait. He pulled his leg out of the blank snow which had been hidden from his view and breathed a sigh of relief. He looked around, suitcase was still giggling and Passenger was still—
“Why, of all the—” the next car, his car, leaped into flames and threw a party to rival that of a New Year’s Eve celebration.
Moses lowered his arms back down from over his head and slowly reopened his eyes. That was the most exciting thing he had ever done, besides sleeping that is. He stared in disbelief, who could have done this?
“I did it! Yes! Haha! This is it! Now nothing can stop me!”
Moses turned around.
Passenger was sitting upright in the snow, hands in the air, a grin of pure bliss on his face. He was a full head shorter than Moses and with his round body and hands in the air he made a comic sight.
“Y-you’re awake.” Moses stammered.
Passenger’s eyes widened and he turned slowly to look at Moses. His eyes were black.
“Did I just say something about nothing? Nothing being able to stop me?”
“Um, yes. Yes, you did.”
“Forget about it. Must’ve been my dream.”
Passenger looked around at the snow, then the city, a half a mile off.
He then said desperately, “Where’s my suitcase?”
“It’s, it’s behind you.” Moses said pointing.
Passenger gratefully turned around and scrambled to his luggage. He clutched the suitcase to his heart and looked around once more. He stood up respectably, suitcase in his hand at his side. He gazed at the train trundling into the city, fire attacking its back.
“What happened to the train?” he said absentmindedly.
Moses scrambled up, “The cars were exploding, one after the other. You were sleeping so I grabbed you and jumped into a snowdrift. Our car exploded just after.”
“Ah yes, well. Thank you, thank you very much.” His voice was not high-pitched, but there was definitely something high about it. It was awfully energetic, saying words like a typewriter.
They stood in the blue gray snow staring at the train, the moon staring at them. The wind blew their clothes around and their gaze blew back at the wind. Their luggage sat there forlornly, but not as forlornly as the white gown that was the snow that held it. The train went on into the city, but not as much as the silence that went on in their conversation. The silence was becoming unbearable, more unbearable than Moses’ insomnia.
Reinhartt waited. He did not know how long he could stand it, the silence. Longer than the passenger at least.
What do you do when your train spontaneously combusts with out warning?
What do you do when you’re a half mile out of town at dawn in the windblown snow?
What do you do when you’ve just saved someone’s life?
“Do you want to go get coffee?” Said Passenger.
Color is important. It is the beautiful unnecessary clothing the Earth has donned on her already beautiful form. The prize the sun flaunts so magnificently, the gift the stars present so modestly. It can be subtle like the white of a coffee mug, or stunning like a marriage proposal or a tropical bird’s plumage. It can be dead like a dead man’s pale face, or alive like newlyweds, or the green of spring.
The color this morning was very much alive. Everything was clear and alert. Or maybe the world just seemed this way because Moses felt clear and alert, felt the sharp wind pierce his lungs, felt the ground with every attentive footstep.
Reinhartt and Passenger trudged through the blue-gray snow peering at the winking blinking world. But the snow was not quite blue-gray anymore. It was a gelid clear white, although still retaining the light blue. This blue, though, came out of the snow itself, was a frozen glow emanating from the innermost places, the type of which can only be seen on clear cloudy mornings. The morning was cloudy, full of thick billowy clouds that hung suspended in the air watching curiously the stirring landscape. The clouds, too, had the odd emerging light. They were a definite gray but they swelled in places like a wave at its fullest. And in these bulging areas, a white luminescence tumbled out, the lights way of saying, ’I’ll stay under the covers today thank you very much.’ The landscape was clear but not bright, one was able to look at it without having to squint ones eyes. Since the origin of the somnolent light could not be found, the world seemed as if it could only be seen because of the world itself, it did not seem illuminated by any outside force. It stood on its own. Like the city. The city, it seemed, was isolated because it rested at the base of a very small mountain range in a snowy landscape, but it was these very mountains that were blocking the view of another city on the other side. The mountains hovered over the buildings, the two saw it rising above the city as they were approaching. Alongside them the railroad track flew behind them in a futile attempt to pierce through the snow, for it was swallowed up like a stick thrown into a chasm full of flailing white blankets.
As they walked through the foot of snow they felt the cold wind bite their faces and heard the snow crunch underfoot as the city became more prominent. They could see the smoke rising from the chimneys of the bakeries and early risers. Then the duo began to pass buildings, until all at once they were in the city. This change was like passing a few trees then suddenly finding yourself in a forest with trees rising and passing about you. The city was a forest, a man-made one that housed humankind rather than animal kind.
These buildings were made of humble brick that was a duller form of venetian red. The doors were red, blue, green, yellow, of all sorts, the important thing is that these colors were very dark and resonant, not bright or brilliant. They did not stand out. The paint was peeling off the doors and window frames in the way that only old houses or weather worn wood can accomplish, in this case, probably both. These buildings were mostly three to five stories tall, although the rest reached ten. Occasionally they would be wider than tall, but on the whole they were thin.
The fact that it was a city did not stop the buildings being used as homes as well as for shops and businesses: most of the population lived in the city. There were hardly any neighborhoods. A building where one man might work to support his family would house another man’s own, and it was perfectly natural. The city had many factories—the wider than tall buildings. They were primarily used for metal products but most of the rest were used for the clothing trade. Everybody else earned a living by a trade, and these ones were just as many as the factory workers. This kind owned family-run businesses, kept alive generation after generation. The shops were almost always on the bottom of the buildings, the owners living a floor above. This was not always the way the citizens made their living though. Around a hundred and fifty years ago it was a colony started by a mining expedition for the silver in the very mountains that loomed above the city. They were, in their day, one of the largest suppliers of the country’s currency, but the silver had long since been exhausted leaving a small city that the good people decided to remain in.
The denizens of the current city were not in any way different from any other large city. They were predominantly middle class, the lower class following, and the upper class last, sticking their hands into the other twos’ pockets. Each person was different but there were two definite types of people. First there was the town icon, the people who grew up in the city, those whose ancestors grew up in the old town. They were the kind of people that owned the many shops that not only helped the city be self-sustaining, but to make it what it was. It would be a completely different city without them. These people, almost all of them, wore an apron, whether a shoe-maker, tailor, baker, smith, artist etc. etc., that had many pockets on the front for holding all sorts of things. When they walked their leather shoes tapped out a satisfied homely tune. They almost always could be seen with a jovial smile on their face, on the men, a curled mustache was often seen above. These were the specimens the people of power wanted the tourists to see.
The next type was the factory worker, or the “soots” as they were derogatorily called. They often had clean faces on the way to work, but came home with soot or grease covering them like some hilariously deceitful propaganda. After their wives made their lunches this kind hurried out the door in the morning, rolled up their sleeves and went resolutely to work. They wore mostly button up shirts with overalls that were black and blue, like a few of their faces. Their overalls were mostly a dark blue, but that didn’t matter much because at the end of the day they were permanently pitch black. This kind of man took no pleasure in his work but took a great deal of pride in it, and it was with this and his meager salary that he returned home to his family. They didn’t have the jovial smile of the others, but they had a composed, competent determined look. At the end of the day their boots dragged along the ground and their heads hung doggedly down, soot on their visages and driving caps.
Moses bumped into one of these as he was looking at a baker switching his sign from closed to open. He looked after him as he hurried off to a factory, and then back to the baker who hurried back to the oven. They had now gotten far enough into the city that they began to walk on cobbled streets instead of snow. These thin streets curved around the city the way veins wind through our bodies. Moses thought it was interesting how we unintentionally mold almost everything after ourselves.
“Welcome to Joachimstal!” Passenger finally said the name of the city that was taking the writer so long to think up. “Have you ever been here before?”
“Yes, several times actually.”
“Well, then, do you know of any good coffee shops?”
“Oh! Yes. There is Vera’s Coffee Shop…”
“What about Adelaida’s Coffee House?”
“They don’t open for another hour or so.”
“Really? Vera’s it is then!” he said in his energetic lively way.
“Vera’s is much better anyway.”
They continued walking.
After several turns the thin street opened up into a square. There were metal tables and chairs to the right, the snow gathered around their legs. Behind these chairs, in the middle of a building, a sign jutted out that said in purple letters: “Vera’s Coffee Shop.”
Passenger said “I’ll get the food, you find a seat. What do you want?”
Moses replied and moved towards a seat. He picked one facing Vera’s and sat down as if he was having a perfectly normal day. The fact is, though, he wasn’t having a normal day. If you consider spontaneously combusting trains, arrogantly sleeping men and oddly beautiful mornings a regular thing, you either have an awfully good life, or a God with an awfully bad sense of humor.
Reinhartt felt that, if there really was a God, he must have an awfully bad sense of humor. Why give men nipples? Why make an awfully cute creature like a raccoon prone to rabies? Why make us the most abusive, lustful, hostile, and violent creatures on the planet and then give us a conscience and tendency to guilt? Why give us a tremendous intellect and then a puny body that could be mauled by a bobcat? Is it really that funny that more people die from coconuts than sharks each year?
Excuse me. Where was I? Ah, yes. Moses saw passenger coming back with the coffee and steaming pastries. He set the plates down and dropped into his seat.
Passenger peered at him queerly for a minute and then said “I suppose I should introduce myself. I’m Smith John.”
Moses stumbled, “Nice to meet you John. I’m Reinhartt, Moses.”
“Oh please Reinhartt, just call me by my first name I really don’t care.”
“…I thought I did.”
“Well, my last name is John, but my parents decided to name me Smith, they gave me the most generic name backwards. Isn’t it somewhat the same with you Reinhartt?”
“Well actually my first name is Moses and my last is Reinhartt.”
“Then why did you say it ‘Reinhartt Moses’?”
“Well I thought I would say it the same way you were…” Moses said a little confused.
Smith, abruptly went to his coffee and cinnamon scone. Moses took a bite of his blueberry muffin feeling the warm bready substance and tasting the sweet-sour of the blueberries as he stirred sugar into his coffee. Smith swallowed.
“This is good! Very good!”
Moses smiled as most people often do when receiving a compliment for merely supporting and enjoying something, “See? I told you. I really do love this place.”
“It is a wonderful square. I love the seats, the snow, the cobbles, and the shops.”
“Mm-hmm” Moses agreed.
He sipped his excellent coffee and looked at the square, starting at Vera’s and panning to the right. Next to Vera’s was a tailor’s business, next to that a building for apartments and offices and along that, an alley disappeared behind a building. This building was very large and on the side a large sign read in faded letters, “Parfyons Powder”. Several groups of large barrels were in the alley.
“Black coffee is like black humor,” Smith stated putting down his black coffee. “It’s bitter, but we like it, and for some reason we keep coming back for more.”
Moses paused, “You’re saying that we like sarcastic, ironic, dark things for the fact that—” he halted, then continued— “for the fact that it is sarcastic ironic and dark.”
“Exactly! We enjoy bad things, or, actually, not always, not just, bad things. Unaccepted things. Nobody really cares if it’s bad, they just want to see people cross boundaries! For instance, say a homeless man went to a funeral just for the food later at the reception. Bad? Maybe. Unaccepted? Sure. Comic? Absolutely!”
“Yes!” He exclaimed. “But funny?’
“I suppose so.”
“See, bitter. But deep down, we like it!” He punctuated these last three words with gusto, tapping his chest where his heart was. Moses assented.
Another break in their conversation occurred. Moses found it funny they were sitting outside. It was a bitter, but humorously cold morning in winter. Funnily enough, he and Smith didn’t seem to care. In fact, they both enjoyed that they were sitting in the cold, calmly enjoying their breakfast. Strange mornings call for strange dining locations I suppose. Moses felt obliged to start the next string of conversation.
“Have you seen The Fountain of Youth?”
“I saw it recently.”
“What did you think?”
“I thought it was funny how the heroes were old men, trying not to be old men. A sort of Don Quixote theme on a grander scale.”
“I liked that.” He speculated. “If you could drink out of the fountain of youth and gain eternal life, would you do it?”
Smith took a sip of his coffee and set it down, “Absolutely.”
“It’s eternal life. Why wouldn’t I do it? I wouldn’t have to worry about sickness or old age, most importantly, imminent death.”
“But what would you do?”
“What do you mean?”
“With all that time?”
“Take over the world. Explore the world. Once I’ve taken over the world, do odd things to satisfy odd questions I have. After that, explore the universe. What could you lose? What would you choose?”
“I wouldn’t drink it.”
“Why?” Smith blurted emphatically.
“Because I want to see what happens when I die.”
“Ah. But what if nothing happens when you die?” He said this next word strongly, “nothing.”
“But what if something happens. Then you’d be barred from it with one sip. Barred from the one thing nobody knows.”
“Well, you see. With dying you don’t know what happens. But living, now there’s certainty.”
“In life though, there are not endless possibilities. There may be millions, there may be billions, and there may be trillions. You may do all of them a trillion times, but eventually you’ll run out. You’ll be stuck in this place like an adult in a room full of toys you’ve outgrown.”
Moses leaned back satisfied and took a large bite out of his excellent blueberry muffin. Smith was leaning forward, his chin on the palm of his fist. His black eyes stared blankly at the table, then speculatively.
“Regardless of the Evil of all evils: Boredom, when you die there’s still the possibility of non-existence. Better to suffer than to be non-existent.”
Now Smith took a bite of his scone and leaned back contentedly. Moses slumped forward, letting his head be held up by the cold fingers of his right hand. His gray eyes stared intently at the meal. Then he put his left hand on the table like some triumphant spider.
“I am an insomniac. I’ve way too much time on my hands to try everything. I’ve tried falling back asleep, it’s nearly impossible. It’s like running away from something when there’s really nothing chasing you. That’s what eternal life would be like, running from nothing towards somewhere you can’t get, death. Just running. Running from nothing, towards nothing, until finally you just sit down. You don’t move in any direction, you don’t think about anything because there’s nothing left to think about. You’re non-existent. Dead you’re non-existent. Alive you’re non-existent but alive you know it, you know your non-existent, you know your nothing. You’re stuck in the paradox of life without death.”
Moses let out a slow breath. Smith smiled smugly but truthfully, still leaned back in his silver faded chair. He tapped two fingers on the armrest.
“I am a narcoleptic.” Moses looked up in surprise. “I have had thousands of seconds taken away from me by sleep, temporary non-existence if you will, and I didn’t even know it. I will hungrily devour up any bit of time I can get. If it’s just sitting, and I know I’m sitting, so be it. It’s better than not knowing and not even being able to know. It’s being and that’s enough.”
This was not the response Moses was expecting, although it might have been the one he was suspecting. They sat in silence again, Smith staring at Moses. Moses was still slumped forward head on hand staring at his coffee. He flipped the spoon up and down in his drink.
“That’s why you wouldn’t wake up.” He said matter-of-factly.
“Probably, sorry about that.”
Moses shifted to where he was facing Vera’s and squinted.
“You’ve got it much easier that me.”
“You mean being an insomniac is harder than being a narcoleptic?”
“You have energy, you can think clearly, you can rest.”
“But great portions of my life can be taken away from me like that!” (He snaps his fingers) “I took a girl out to dinner once, she never stopped talking. Gorgeous redhead with the greenest eyes ever. I fell asleep in the middle of her talking about how her beloved parents just drowned at a dog food factory. When I woke up I was surrounded with every type of Italian food imaginable, six different types of pizza, spaghetti, gelato and this giant, unnerving meatball-looking thing. I’m sitting here with food piled up to my nose when I realize she’s gone. The waiter walks up, and tells me she left and hands me a six hundred and four taler bill. I ask him if she left her address or some way to contact her. He says she told him to tell me when I woke up that I should go drown in a vat of boiling dog food and see if it’s boring enough to fall asleep in.”
“It’s terrible!” Smith said exasperated.
“Ah yes!” Moses smirked, “But funny?”
Smith shifted in his seat and grumbled, “…I suppose so.” he said quickly.
“You see?” He bantered. “Well, being an insomniac I can hardly even get to the point of asking a girl to dinner. I’m just too tired most of the time. Once a girl even came up to me and asked me to dinner. I was so tired (I hadn’t slept for a month) that I just stared at her like some petrified zombie who had just seen someone with two heads. And I was a zombie! And she did have two heads! My lack of sleep affected my vision that much! Finally she got sick of me staring at her with that confused look on my face and left.”
“But, you see. Regardless of whether you have the energy or not, you have all the time in the world. And you don’t need to rush just because you may, occasionally, pass out.”
“But, because of my lack of sleep I don’t have the mental energy to even decide what to do with all that time. Once, on a saturday, I just sat on a bench at the park for twelve hours, doing absolutely nothing.”
“Once I was about to make a lot of money, and I was sitting on a bench going over my notes. I fell asleep for twelve hours and woke up at eleven o’ clock in the morning with some kids throwing acorns at my head.”
“What were you doing in the park at eleven at night, about to make a lot of money?”
His eyes got that wide look when he first saw Moses, “That’s not the point.”
“Your right. The point is, quantity over quality.”
“Quantity over quality: My life is quantity, yours is quality. I want quality you want quantity.”
“So it’s a matter of opinion.”
“I guess so.” Moses said matter-of-factly.
“Your awfully philosophical aren’t you?”
“Like I said, I’ve way too much time on my hands.”
Smith decided to leave it at that. He finished his coffee and scarfed down his cinnamon scone. He then lifted his black-hole suitcase onto the silver table.
“I suppose I should give you some sort of reward for saving my life.” He said clicking the latches and smoothly opening the suitcase.
Moses said uncomfortably, “Oh, no. It was the least I could do. You already bought me lunch and gave me some entertaining conversation.”
“You saved my life at the risk of your own and I’m going to pay you a good amount. I insist.”
He shuffled around in his suitcase. Moses couldn’t see what was on the other side, but he could hear. There was a great deal of clicking and whirring and he could see Smith lifting up another lid. He heard him sliding metal as if on a safe and then he pulled his hand out.
In his hand he held a hefty sum of bills. Moses, even though he couldn’t see the numbers, could tell it was a lot of money. The coffee stain colored paper fluttered like a rare breed of butterfly in the wind.
“If you insist…” Moses said reaching for the money.
His pale spindly hand reached out for that ridiculous sum. But the money exploded in Smiths hand with the sound of a gunshot into a million pieces, like a puff of smoke. They fluttered off in the wind like several breeds of butterflies. Dancing in the wind they gaily enacted some ballet Moses was sure he’d seen before. He smiled blissfully and blinked slowly watching them wander off in the cold wind. He couldn’t explain why that particular stack of money had exploded like that, and he didn’t care—the motion of the whole ballet was beautiful.
All this happened in an instant. In the next instant Smith kicked the table over dashing the dishes on the cobbles and pulled Moses behind it. He pulled two revolvers out of his suitcase and handed one to Reinhartt.
“Just stick close to me and you’ll be okay.”
Stick close to him? He just handed me a revolver, what’s that supposed to mean? Moses thought.
Then he heard several more gunshots. Instantly he felt bumps spring up in the metal table bruising his back and causing him to cry out. Smith whirled around and unloaded his gun. He flipped nimbly back behind the table and reloaded bullets from somewhere in his shirt.
Stick close to him? Moses continued. Stick close to him against what?
He peeked out from behind the table and in that peek two things happened. First he saw five or six men crouching behind tables identical to their own. They had on beige trench-coats and gray fedoras. The fedoras shadowed their eyes making them look very sinister. Sinister is probably the best word to describe them. The way they fired their pistols, the way they hid in their coats like some unknown pack of something in a cave. The next thing that happened was a bullet grazed the left side of his head and another clipped some of his wispy hair off.
He pulled his head back behind the table as his fair hair floated towards the ground and was then shot again dispersing it into the air. He looked at the man he just met.
Stick close to him? Against whom? I just met this man.
“I know I’m a man you just met, but if you don’t follow me you’ll get killed.” Smith yelled. “On the count of three, we’re going to make a run for that alley. One, two, three!”
Smith burst out of hiding firing at the enemy with his right, carrying his suitcase with his left. Reinhartt scampered afterwards, firing a few shots of his own at the unidentifiable men. They retreated momentarily behind their tables as Smith and Reinhartt wound their way through the tables knocking them down harum-scarum. The pack of men in trench coats and fedoras then jumped out simultaneously and began a renewed assault. Smith kicked another faded silver table over and they jumped behind it. Their attack did not seem to be letting up for the bumps shot up as rapidly as bamboo shoots (ok, which in plant growth-rate terms is as fast as it gets). As soon as one would run out of ammo and have to reload the next one would have just finished and resumed shooting.
“They’re getting closer.” Smith said.
Moses didn’t check and he didn’t question Smiths deduction, but he did question how they were going to get out of this predicament. There was still a steady stream of fire manifested by the bamboo shoot table and the white powder and red dust that came out of the snow and bricks.
They needed a god-send and Smith saw one, although it was unclear whether or not it was from God. Walking out of the street next to the alley was a factory worker, covered in ash and absorbed in himself. This man had black boots, black slacks and a heavy black coat. Did I mention his hair was black too? His listless hair did not go over his eyes but the way his head bowed down it covered them. All that could be seen was his pointed nose and his mouth set in a grim line on his young face. His whole head was tucked into his coat, because of the cold, like some odd turtle, although his heavy dark clothing would have been enough to keep out the prying fingers of winter. He was walking towards them oblivious of the high speed pointed cylinders of lead hitting the town. He did cause the fire to let up a little.
And it let up enough for Smith to jump out, grab the young man, press his revolver against his temples and say, “Stop! I will shoot!”
All action in that little square ceased. The pack lowered their arms and stood straight, Moses shuffled to Smith’s side and warily raised his gun, trying to look like a dangerous man who meant business, but only succeeding in causing the pack to wonder if they even had guns on the planet he came from, or ’meant business’ for that matter. They stood there staring at each other. All that could be heard was the windblown powder sifting through the bitter air. The packs eyes couldn’t be seen under their fedoras and their faces were expressionless, but their guns slowly lowered to their sides. They shifted eerily together towards the three like a field with some sinister intent.
“Get back!” Smiths voice carried across the still square. “I will shoot this innocent civilian!”
The pack halted but did not move back. Smith slowly stepped backwards into the alley next to Parfyon’s powder barrels, pulling the hostage with him.
“You had better stay back!” Smith threatened “This man’s brains wouldn’t look good on your record, would it!?”
Moses was confused: What kind of gun-carrying men dicker with a random civilian? While Smith was talking he looked at the hostage whose eyes were still hungrily looking at the ground. In his hands he held a lit match. To Moses greater confusion, he flicked it into the air.
“I’m going to count to three and by then your guns had better be on the ground and your backs turned around!”
The match rotated in the air flying like a determined free faller.
The flame billowed in the air like a dead superheroes cape falling out of the sky.
The burning twig of wood landed on a spilled trail of Parfyon’s powder. It ignited with fury and sprinted towards the barrels and crates. They exploded with such stunning magnificence that the entrance to the alleyway was completely covered, blocking the square and beige trench-coated pack. The force of it blew Smith, Reinhartt, and the hostage backwards into the snow with a shower of white powder.
In an instant Smith was on his feet and sprinting through the city, pressing the revolver to the hostage’s back. Moses ran after them as the explosion grew with more window shattering booms. The building would not survive anymore than snow falling in a forest fire.
Moses ran after Smith, it was the only thing he could think about. He kept his eyes fixed on the back of his thin black hair, now all over his head like a crazed spider or some dramatic orchestra conductors hands. The venetian red brick began to blur as they wound through the city turning every which way. The red, yellow, blue and green of the doors leapt into the venetian red and mingled entirely as they knocked over a bakers stand. The snow and cobbles were a treadmill of flashing white, blue and gray. The only thing that stayed fixed in Moses’ vision was the clouds with their white luminescence tumbling out and it was only with this parallel landscape that he had any idea of what direction they were going as he bumped into yet another person.
They then came into an alley where a truck sat, black smoke puttering out of the exhaust. They hopped into the back of it, climbed over some wooden crates to get to the back and sat there, breathing heavily. They stared at the light coming out of the entrance and waited, Smith’s barrel pressed against the hostage’s right temple. All that could be heard was the engine tottering like an old man and their breath rasping like a young smoker. Then they heard two sets of heavy footsteps crunching through the snow and approaching the back of the truck. Moses clutched his pistol in both hands and took one last sharp breath of the bitter cold air as the door slid down and slammed shut.