Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Save Scumming (Stranger Tales No. 2)

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A slight jolt, and he was there. But he’d been there for five minutes already. He had caught the point again. It made him sick to his stomach.

‘So,’ Sam said, ‘you look well.’

Better than you, Chris thought. How old Sam looked, compared to when he last saw him. The grey hair had overtaken the black in the battle for dominance of his head. His cheeks had a slight jowl, showing the continuing pull of gravity on his body, dragging him down to the ground. He still had the best smile Chris had ever seen.

‘I see you’ve gone up in the world,’ he replied, looking around the huge dining room. Sun streamed in through the bay windows, lighting upon the marbled floor, glancing off the rosewood of the restored fireplace. He knew the house contained at least five bedrooms, all the size of his garden at home, as well as a huge lawn and swimming pool out back. It was the kind of miniature stately home where you could refer to the sides as “wings” unironically.

‘Well, these things happen somehow,’ Sam said with a modest look around, as if only just noticing his riches for the first time. ‘You live your life and you work hard, and things always turn out well.’

Of course they did, Chris thought. He felt his jacket pocket. The vial was still there, making a cylindrical impression on the side of his shirt. Right away, the voice on the phone had said, you have to go right away, and he had run out the house without a second thought. On the doorstep of Sam’s home, he had felt a sudden weight in his empty pocket, and when he looked, the vial was there. Stolen from his brother’s lab, no doubt.

‘How’s Anita? How are the girls?’ Sam asked.

‘They’re well,’ Chris said. ‘They’re good. Well, they hate me, but they’re good.’

‘You know you’ve gotten quite the reputation,’ Sam said, with a raised eyebrow. ‘The most beloved bastard in the whole town, was how Darrel put it to me.’

‘That’s generous,’ Chris said. Whoremongering scumbag was what Anita liked to call him. Why she hadn’t left him yet, he’d never know…no, that was a lie. He knew why. He knew why, but he hated to think of it, like he hated to think of why that vial was in his pocket, and why that phone call had come earlier, and why sometimes he felt a jolt, like he had just waken up from sleep, except he had been going about his life the whole time.

Sam leant back in his chair, arms crossed. He smiled at Chris. A mixture of pity, disbelief, light-hearted humour. He took everything with a smile, no matter what. The best smile in the world.

‘Why do you do this to yourself, huh? I know you don’t get any pleasure out of cheating on your wife, and scamming people at work, and being a hot-and-cold manipulative dick to everyone. What’s the appeal? Why keep hurting everyone like this?’

Chris looked down at his hands. Ever since they had sat down at the table, he had been leaning forward, elbows on knees, like a scolded teenager. Everyone had impulses, didn’t they? Everyone would suddenly get the urge to do stupid, irresponsible things now and again, right? Sam had been the first person he had mentioned it to. Sometimes he would walk down the street, and get the urge to suddenly stop, and when he did it, two seconds later a person would turn the corner, and say hello, and that was that: friends for life. They day the house caught fire, he felt the urge in the morning to leave and go into town; the day his dog died, he knew he had to run home early from work and see her. ‘Doesn’t that happen to everyone?’ he had asked Sam, years ago when he was a teenager. ‘No,’ Sam had laughed. ‘Sounds like you’re possessed.’

Most of the time he felt the urge to talk, and connect with people. He wanted to know everyone. He wanted everyone to laugh at his jokes, to tell him about their lives, to kiss him if he thought it would be nice. He was the sun in the solar system, the point on which the world revolved, and every other person was a passing orbit, one of a multitude of tiny objects. Somehow, the wires always got crossed, and he left a constant trail of furious husbands and wives and mothers and employees and children. He never meant to make anyone angry. He just couldn’t help feeling slightly satisfied when most of them were. Hate was as good as love, a voice said through the air. If you can’t get one, then swing to the other.

There were exceptions. People he considered people. People he considered precious. But it seemed the world was indifferent to all of them, equally, and he could only be pushed along with it.

‘I don’t know,’ he told Sam.

‘Well,’ Sam said. ‘You can always start anew. You’re never too old, I say, and the way science is going these days, we’ll soon be able to stop aging entirely. A bit late for me, but I don’t mind,’ he added with a chuckle.

The vial pressed into Chris’s chest. He fished it out, and placed it on the table between them.

‘Maybe not,’ he said.

Sam frowned

‘What’s this?’

‘Louis made it,’ Chris said. ‘It’s…medicine.’

‘And what does it do?’

‘I heard it makes you younger. It heals you and makes you young again.’

Sam neither moved nor said a word.

‘…I want you to have it.’

Chris waited for him to move, to take it with thanks, or even be surprised that the science existed, but Sam did none of those. He stared at the clear solution in the glass for a while, and then he looked to Chris, giving him a worried, searching stare.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I want you to have it,’ he repeated.

‘I don’t need to be any younger,’ Sam said, pushing the tube back across the table. ‘And look at me! Look at this place! You think I need anything else in the world? No, if anyone needs to heal and have a fresh start, it’s you.’

Chris refused to take the potion back. It was never meant for him.

‘I’m glad I got to see you again, after so many years,’ Sam continued. ‘But this is too much. Know what I think you should do? I think you should move town. Break up with Anita and let her have the kids, and go start over in a place where no-one knows your name. Take this thing if you want to be younger, but you don’t have to – it’s never too late to be a better person. I know it’s what you want, Chris. You were never made to be the man you are now.’

But I was, Chris thought, Sam’s hope in him only feeding his despair. I was always meant to be this way. I’ve always been directed down this path.

‘Sam,’ he said, ‘please. Just take it. You know I can’t move, I can’t leave town – I can’t barely do anything. I can get another one for myself, I can break up with Anita, but I can’t leave this place. Just take it, and I’ll take mine, and we…we…’

We can be together, like I always wanted. Like I was never allowed. He had buried the pain – he hadn’t seen Sam in years, he had moved on with his life – and then the phone call had come straight after breakfast, with the unknown, disembodied voice at the other end:

Sam Sachs is going to die soon. You should see him right away.

Sam gave him that smile again, the smile of a man who understood the world, the smile of a man who was comfortable and happy and never questioned his sanity and free-will.

‘You can’t re-do life,’ he said.

But you could. One time, the world had frozen around Chris, and he had been stuck, stupefied, trapped in his own body as the steam stopped about the kettle and the curtain froze on the same billow and all noise in the world ceased to be. A blink later, he had been in his bedroom floor, gulping in breaths, shaking as if he had nearly died. He would catch on points in time; a moment of that freeze would catch him and swallow him for half a second, leaving him reeling as he resumed eating or working or whatever he was doing. And sometimes, sometimes he had the feeling he’d done something before. Going through the motions, bored with what had excited him a moment ago, feeling as if he already knew what the outcome was.

‘Please,’ Chris said again. ‘Please, do it for me, just drink it.’

The potion was put in his pocket for a reason. Maybe it was allowed now, him and Sam. To re-do life was possible. It had to be possible, if there was any justice or hope in the world.

Sam rose from the table with a sigh. He pushed his chair back in, then froze, hands still on its back. Chris jumped up from his seat as he saw the shadow of a spectre rise behind his friend’s body. Sam looked over to him, as if he had realised what was happening.

He collapsed to the floor.

‘Sam! Sam, no, no – this can’t – Sam, please…’

Chris grabbed the vial from the table, half-pulling off the table cloth as he did so, and pulled Sam’s head off the floor and onto his knee. His hands were juddering too hard to screw the top off. Sam coughed, and brought his hand up to rest of Chris’s arm. Finally, the lid came loose.

‘Take it,’ Chris said, bringing the liquid to his lips, ‘take it and you’ll be fine, you’ll be fine…’

With a swipe, Sam knocked the vial from Chris’s hand, spilling its contents all over the marble tiles. The clatter as the glass hit the floor was like a gunshot to Chris’s prayers.

He started crying.

He gripped Sam’s body close to his, wishing that they could trade places, wishing more than anything that he wasn’t so fucking helpless.

‘Why would you…why wouldn’t you…’

Sam, with the last of his strength, gripped Chris’s arm, and gave it the smallest shake. Chris turned and looked at his face, meeting Sam’s eyes for the last time.

Sam smiled at him. The sort of smile that said everything would be okay. The most beautiful lie of a smile there had ever been.

With that, he closed his eyes, and stopped breathing.

‘What’s happened?’ came a voice, and Chris heard Sam’s son, Darrel, run into the room.

‘Sam’s dying!’ he shouted, voice a gurgling shriek. ‘Phone a fucking ambulance…someone…phone a fucking ambulance…’

He knew it was too late, of course. But it felt right to let other people take his body from him, to let them take over and try to resuscitate him though fate had decreed that he would die at 7am this morning.

Chris went to the bay windows, still sobbing to himself as Darrel and his family dealt with the paramedics.

Please, he said in his mind. I think you can hear me. I know you can change things. Please, re-do it all. Go back to that point where I was at the table. Let me try to convince him to drink it, one more time, like I know you wanted him to. Please let me do it over again.

An answer came, fluttering light in the wind, a ghost of an emotion drifting down from on high: frustration. It wouldn’t work. No matter how many times he re-did it, Sam would always say no. This was not the first time. The only mercy was that Chris remembered but one attempt.

What feeble god can only control one person? he thought. What kind of omnipotence can ruin my life, but not even stop another man from dying?

No answer came. The sudden urge to leave overwhelmed him, to go home, to go out and meet someone, to connect with more people and continue the drama. As he left’s Sam’s gorgeous mansion, he asked the wind one more thing:

You can kill me, I’m sure. Do it. End me.

Not yet, came the answer on the breeze, faint as dying breath as it pushed him away from Sam’s home.

Not yet.


Written by G.J.

06/04/2013 at 5:05 pm

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