It was raining that night. It wasn’t supposed to rain. The weather channel promised clear skies, but still, the rain pounded upon the pavement. The slapping of water against concrete ricocheted in my ears. I batted at them to stop the ringing, but it only made the droning louder. The gas station in the next parking lot was relatively empty, its buzzing neon lights creating a glow around the entire building. I tried to focus on that fact—at least something was going right for me.
Pacing back and forth along the brick wall, I felt myself become more and more anxious. My palms were sweating, my head was reeling, and my heart was racing faster than a man fresh out of prison. I slammed my fist into the wall, and when that did nothing to calm the incessant sound of my own voice in my head, I replaced my hand with my skull.
They’ll find you. They’re going to kill you. They’ll make you go back. You can’t go back.
I just couldn’t shake the feeling that something was going to go terribly wrong. One, two three, four…I counted to myself. The doctor said it would help. It was supposed to help.
I desperately sucked in air. I couldn’t breathe. I was dying. The counting wasn’t helping.
Of course it’s not helping, you imbecile, the cruel voice hissed. The doctors don’t want to help you. They want to kill you.
“Shut up! Shut up!” I screamed back, the sound exploding from my mouth, sneaking down the dark twists and turns of the street around me.
Something’s wrong. Something’s terribly wrong. You’re dying. They’re going to kill you. Just like they killed Papa.
Huddling against the gritty wall, I tried to focus on the sound of the pouring rain, counting each drop that I heard. At twenty-seven, I was interrupted by a loud scream.
With wide eyes and ragged breaths, I snapped my head to the gas station. Dressed in dull gray, hospital-like clothes that had to be three sizes too big for his emaciated body, under a dark hoodie, a man swung a gun towards the cashier. He was a slight man, his body looked like twigs covered in cloth. But his presence completely negated his appearance. He stood like he was being constantly electrocuted, a small shudder racking him at all times. His hands guarded his sides, ready to attack the first thing he saw. Just the way he presented his gun made me want to run in fear.
“Get on the ground!” I heard the man yell. His oddly familiar voice was tinged with a fear-filled insanity.
I could not believe what I was seeing. Before I had been able to raid the gas station, someone had beaten me to it.
This is a trap. It’s a trap, a horribly clever trap. They know you’re here. You’ve got to kill him! Kill him!
My feet staggered forward, commanded by parasitical thoughts. I restarted my count of the falling rain, clicking my fingers, shuffling forward slowly, ever so slowly.
The man was unravelling by the second. The racks of his body were only getting worse, and he couldn’t seem to decide whether he wanted to point the gun at the clerk or at his own head. I tried to see his face, but it was covered by the shadow of his hood.
“The past is the past,” the man said. “You can’t change it. I know what will happen. It’s going to happen. It’s already happened. And then it will all be better. That’s all, don’t you see?”
The man’s rant was a jumble of murmured words. He kept grabbing his head as though it was giving him immense pain. He was an absolute lunatic, that much I could tell.
I neared the door now, so close to my prey. I could barely focus on what was happening at the cash register, as a light inside was flickering. My eyes twitched in time with its clicking. I walked closer to the light, staying outside the building and looking through the window to avoid being seen. Below the dying light, a display of lighters shined. I smiled and toyed with the one I always kept in my pocket. I’ve always loved playing with them, holding my finger over the flame until the last possible second.
“Please stop!” The balding clerk cried out, interrupting my happy thought. I wished he would shut up, as his cries only made it harder for me to hear the man’s voice. “I’ll give you anything you want. Just please don’t kill me! I don’t want to die!”
“I don’t want to die either,” he told the sobbing cashier, his fingers twitching. “I don’t. You think I want to? It’s not easy. But the past is the past. I’m going to make everything better.”
The clerk attempted to talk some sense into the man, though it was mostly drowned out by his own blubbering, but I still picked up fragments— “you can have the money,” “please,” “don’t kill me.”
The man was too busy trying to explain his business there, completely ignoring the clerk’s useless cries. “Don’t you understand?” he cried out. “You can’t change it! You can try, but you will get nowhere. Nowhere!”
The more the man talked, the more I began to understand him. Nothing could bring Papa back, nothing could change the way they tortured me in the hospital, but the money I could get from this place could save Mama. I couldn’t change the past, but I could change the future. It was unfortunate that I had to kill someone so intelligent.
“It will be so quick,” he explained to the clerk. “You will feel no pain. I’ll make it all better, so much better than they could ever make me.”
The clerk was on his knees now, crying out to a god who laughed at his pleas.
“Stop talking!” the man cried out. He was shaking again, thrusting the gun towards him. He was distracted. This was the time to strike. I took shaking steps forward, afraid of the actions I knew I had to take.
“One, two, three, four…” the man counted to himself.
Every part of my body came to an absolute stand still, my heart clenching painfully with realization. No, it couldn’t be. How could it?
I snatched the man’s shoulder and turned him towards me, ripping off his hood.
The eyes looking back at me were my own.
He gave me a small smile and placed the gun to my temple.
“You can’t change it.”
I pulled the trigger.