Tade Thompson lives in London. He has had some of his short stories published in both print magazines and webzines including 'The Hit' in Bloodlust UK, 'Sidetracked' in Neverary, 'Foster's Run' in Carillon, and 'The Cheese' in Nitelife Cafe. He is currently polishing his Urban Fantasy novel 'The Unfound' and working on a second book. He also has a graphic novel on the backburner. He defines his work as speculative fiction although he does not shy away from writing conventional urban fantasy or horror stories. There is absolutely no evidence that he had anything to do with Chernobyl.
I'm going to die in two minutes.
I'm not talking about the Shakespearean "little death" sexual way either. I mean the heart-stopped, lungs expelled last breath, fixed-dilated-pupils flavour of death.
I know I'm going to die because at the back of my neck there is the cutting edge of a very old katana, or samurai sword. The other side of my neck and the left side of my cheek is pressed against a chopping board.
In my field of vision: a view of part of my dining table ending in a smooth edge, vertical instead of horizontal. A Guinness coaster on the table, also vertical. Everything is ninety-degrees wrong. Sofa, occasional table, double-glazed window, fake Picasso. Actually, the Picasso looks good from this angle.
I'm going to die in two minutes.
No hero will burst in through the glass to save me. I have no James Bond gadgets, no ace up my sleeve. This is the proverbial it.
I don't believe in heaven, hell, purgatory, Valhalla, Avalon, or reincarnation so I'm totally fucked.
There is a dangerous man behind me. He has tied me to the dining table. My hands are in handcuffs, and I am bleeding from a gut wound, which is located just where I think my appendix should be.
The katana is mine. I don't know how to use it, but it's good for impressing single nubile thirty-somethings with factoids about the technique used to forge the sword being hundreds of years old. When they ask you to demonstrate, you just feed them some codswallop about the sword having its own spirit, and how you don't draw one unless you intend to draw blood. Bright eyes. Lights off. Cue condom.
This whole mess started when I accidentally kissed Shakatar Green on the lips this afternoon in front of the burger place.
No. I'm wrong. That's not where it started. It started earlier in the day, in the morning at work. I was going to make coffee when I saw Walther Elms feeding blank sheets of paper into the shredding machine.
I've fed blank sheets into the shredder before, usually when it's placed between legitimate documents that require shredding and I'm feeling too lazy to throw it in the bin. What Walther was doing, however, seemed a little odd.
He had a ream of photocopy paper in one hand, wrapping ripped open and folded back like a weird foreskin, and he would select a sheet and offer it to the electric paper chewing god.
'Morning Walther,' I said.
'Feeling alright there?'
'That's good,' I said. The machine chugged along, masticating the rain forest one page at a time. 'Erm, what are you doing?'
'Using the shredding machine,' he said. He was calm, his face expressionless. Walther is a nice guy. He's a bit older than the rest of us, and he has three kids. He's been married so long, the ring digs into the flesh of his finger.
By now a small crowd had gathered, and people peeped above their cubicles.
'Walther, the paper's blank. They aren't documents. That's just paper.'
'I know that.'
'Because if the shredder is always working, always shredding, it can never be useless, can it? I mean, think about this shredder. How long have we had it? Two years? Has it ever failed us? Has it ever stopped pulverizing our Top Secret Documents? No. Faithful service from the start.'
'If it's not in use, then it can be seen as a waste of space. It'll be seen as redundant, and they'll have to get rid of it. Don't you see? It's been…been reliable…'
Twin streams of tears flowed down his cheeks and I understood. I placed my arm on his shoulder and squeezed. He sobbed, stopping the feeding frenzy and no doubt earning sighs-of-relief from environmentalists everywhere. I took the paper with no resistance, and led him to the coffee room.
We talked. Nothing work-related, everything on the periphery, everything casual. I had to leave, and he shook my hand thanking me. No, he didn't need a ride home. Yes, he'd call if he needed anything.
Outside the coffee room I ran into Shakatar Green. Shakatar was a beautiful Indian woman. She had the narrow face, the dark eyes, the slender body, the long black hair, the dark skin, the regal grace, and the sheer mind-blowing pulchritude of her ancestors. Shakatar was Human Resources, and hence an office goddess.
Oh, and Shakatar was Mrs Shakatar Green.
'That was a wonderful thing you just did,' she said.
'Wasn't a problem. In his position I'd love for someone to help me out,' I said. 'I'm not in his position, right?'
'What? No, no.' Shakatar laughed. She had even white teeth. 'Someone told me Walther was freaking out, and I rushed down expecting…well, I don't know what. That was my job. Thanks. Very sensitive of you.'
'No big deal.'
'Will you meet me for lunch?'
'Have lunch with me,' she said. I could only see rows of white teeth with a red lipstick boundary. 'This afternoon. I'll call.'
We met for lunch.
'You know, I wouldn't have thought you were a burger person,' I said.
We were in a burger joint. Easy to recognise: uniforms in garish secondary colours, small space-optimised tables, naff music, the smell of reused cooking oil, cheap meals specially named after the latest Hollywood blockbuster for children, spilt drinks on the floor, and the omnipresent mop bearing staff member.
'I'm not,' said Shakatar. She bit into her burger, manicured hand ready on her drink.
'Shakatar, why are we here?'
'I'm not entirely sure.' She stirred the ice in her drink with the straw. 'I saw you with Walther, and I just figured I'd chat with you a bit.'
'Why was he fired?'
'He wasn't fired. He was made redundant. In any case you know I can't discuss his case.'
'Guess not. I don't want to talk shop anyway.'
'Why a burger place?'
'I don't know.' She laughed, a sound I could get used to. 'I guess I didn't want this to be like a date.'
'It's not like a date, don't worry.'
We fell silent, and I looked at the table, wondering why I came. 'Tell me about your husband,' I said, finally.
'Charlie? Nothing to tell. Charlie is Charlie.'
'Where d'you meet?'
'On a motorway junction. I had just started driving, he was trying to use the exit, I whacked him. We exchanged insurance information, he called me up, we had a few dates.'
'Then comes love, marriage, and kids.'
'Not exactly. No kids. Charlie is kind of busy most of the time, and he doesn't like children.'
'But you do?'
I'm not good at reading the opposite sex. I thought perhaps she wanted me to say something, like let's go and find a cheap motel. I countered that by thinking it was the testosterone giving me that impression.
'Charlie's a bit possessive,' she said. 'I think he would see children as rivals for my attention.'
'I would, if I were married to you.'
'And you? Anyone in your life?'
'No,' I said. 'Not during the week. On the weekend, I usually have an "anyone". If I'm lucky, the same "anyone" on Saturday and Sunday.'
She tilted her head, and the silky hair flowed off one shoulder. Any more of this and I would be talking bad talk. Adultery talk.
'I think we should go. It's almost time,' I said.
We stood on the high street, the office a three-minute walk away.
'I have to check some things. I'll see you at the office, yes?' she said.
'Okay.' She started walking off, but I just held her wrist. 'See you later, Shakatar,' I said, pulling her close. I aimed for her cheek, but her lips were there. It happened fast, but the moment slowed for me. The brief pressure of her lips, the hint of breasts against my chest, her perfume-everything in one drawn out second.
'I'm sorry, I was just going to-'
'It's alright, it was a mistake,' she said. 'Bye.'
Yes, a mistake. I could feel the blood rush to my face though, and I'm sure she saw it. I plodded back to the office, wondering what the hell Charlie Green had done to deserve Shakatar.
The day ended, my not-so-adulterous lunch forgotten. I poured some wine and settled down to a dose of brainwashing from evening television. I had barely sat down when I heard the doorbell.
'Special delivery. Sorry, I'm late.'
I looked at the time. Ten-thirty. I left the chain on and opened the door a crack. I found myself looking down the barrel of a sawn-off shotgun.
There was a crash as the chain snapped and the door flipped open.
'Hi, there. I'm Charlie Green.'
Shakatar had omitted a few minor details about her husband.
Charlie was the biggest man I had ever seen in my life. His bald white head brushed against the top of the door, and he was almost as wide. He was built like a professional wrestler, and he held the shotgun in his right hand, handcuffs in his left. He kicked the door shut and locked it.
He did not look pleased.
'You've been sleeping with my woman, haven't you?' he boomed.
'No,' I said. I wasn't happy with my answer. It didn't sound true, even though it was.
'Don't lie to me, you little motherfucker. I saw you! I saw you today!'
He raised the shotgun and I darted for the living room, expecting to have the back of my head opened any moment. I could hear his heavy footfalls behind me. I panicked, and snatched the samurai sword from its mount. He burst in, and I swung wildly, not only missing him, but losing the sword at the end of the arc. It swished away, and landed on the futon sofa.
He hit me with the stock of the gun, and I dropped, seeing whole constellations. Warm liquid flowed down my scalp, and my hand came away wet. When I looked up he had retrieved the sword. He grabbed the front of my shirt, lifted me, and plunged the blade into my belly.
Before I passed out I had an absurd thought about his well-defined forearm muscles and watercress.
'I can't kill you today,' said Charlie. 'It's Saint Felicitas' day, and you can't share in martyrdom, buddy. No. We'll just wait here until after midnight, then we can have a little chop-chop, eh?'
Charlie had handcuffed me and tied me to the table. The bleeding from my gut wound had slowed to mild ooze, and the pain seemed to be waning.
'Mr Green, there's been a mistake. I didn't sleep with your wife. Please call an ambulance. I won't press any charges.'
'Shut up! You lie. Just like her. Just like all the others!'
'Others? What are you…look, why don't you phone her and ask?'
'I never ask her about it. Only the men. And there have been many. But I always get them. I always get them.'
And there it is.
I'm about to die, and there will be no respite.
I spent over an hour trying to tease information out of him, begging, threatening, crying. Nix. Charlie just stood stock-still with the sharp end on my neck waiting for midnight.
I have about six seconds to live and my death is inevitable.
It's midnight. It's one second into the new day. July eleven. Not the day in honour of Saint Felicity, or whatever Charlie said.
The sword lifts from my neck; Charlie getting a good swing for a clean decapitation.
A swish, and the weird ninety-degree tilt changes. Everything dances crazily, and there's blood-
(C) Tade Thompson 2003
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.