Flash Fiction: The Cusp

The flame was brief – an orange streak, naked, guarded by closed hands. In the dark it would take a while to see again. It instead left all the more time to remember the brief sight, a glimpse of a taut jaw, a creased brow . There were eyes in the glimpse, but the light was just lost in them.

Smoke caught in my nose, exhaled every time the cigarette glowed brightly. It used to make me cough, but time has worn me down. We stood there in silence – he smoked to give his hands something to do as the wait drew on. Without light, time was unknown. A minute or ten of them, thirty perhaps? I don’t care – it leaves only the moment.

I press my hand against the pistol in my breast pocket, the weight of it reassuring as my heart thumps against it.

“They’re late.”

I get a grunt of a reply in turn. Obviously they’re late. He doesn’t want me here – he doesn’t want to mind me. He always worked on his own, but everyone said I needed to learn somehow.

You have to learn in the field. It doesn’t do to just be told.

He shoves his hand roughly against my chest. Cigarette? I shake my head – I know he’s doing the same.

“Kid like you should smoke.”

I hold silence. He said it would settle the nerves.

What am I doing here? It’s a thought begrudged. The lecture theatre was stuffy. Dry, with the dulcet warble of academics and everyone walked about with no consideration – bodies were just mounts for brains. Nothing missed – you die and what is there to show for it? Nothing, all is to dust. It all means nothing. It only means a thrill. Doing this, you can get lost in the moment. A wild moment. When everything is falling apart around you it’s fun to throw your arms up.

Here I am, waiting in darkness – not just the night but not in my head too. I don’t know what’s going to happen. This isn’t safe. I love it.

Two beams glare over the hill. My partner hisses – unsubtle of them, but there is no light to see. The truck rumbles to a halt and points its headlights at us.

“Wait here.”

Of course, he knows. What other play is there though? This is wrong. All wrong. The lights should be off. They should be closer. We both know – and can do nothing.

I hear the gunshot before the trigger is pulled. He’s dead, spread over the ground. His light glows for a moment, then the speck dims. No fuss, nothing poetic about that – a little puff of smoke for a last breath.

I run. Run on. Run away from a car? They must be leaving me. Didn’t expect there to be two. He probably garbled to them I was a rookie – useless at that. He might be a crook, but I wouldn’t hold that against him. Sad, I never did know his name. I’ll remember him for the cigarettes then. Someone has to remember him.

I knew better to run back to the car. They’d have taken care of that. I don’t need to return to the others – they’ll know it went up by now. No one works strictly on ceremony. There’s no loose end to tie up here. I’m an end with no weight. I want to throw my arms up as I run, so I do. The still air feels soft between my fingers. It’s easy to run at night too, the air is so cool. I could almost forget it was my life I was running for.

I can feel the bullets whiz through the air next to me. I want to laugh. I try not to. It comes out as a muffled guffaw. I should feel fear. I think I do; there’s some sort of worry churning in my stomach. But the thrill overrides everything else.

I should worry about this. I shouldn’t be enjoying this. But I know I’m alive now, I can feel it in the fine space between the two. I wonder if there’s some revelation to come? I feel on the cusp-

The name doesn’t stand out in the column, it just blends in with all the other characters on the page. Indistinct. Eyes pass over it, but it means nothing. His name is just that of a stranger.

“… died of gunshot wounds, outside St. Louis in the early hours of Saturday morning.”

There were a few comments.

“… bright… promising in studies. Taking a degree at St. Louis University. Tragically killed in the crossfire.”

06/12/1925.

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