Contest #94 shortlist ⭐️

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Science Fiction Friendship Sad

TW: gore

One step will lead to another and you will be free from the loop.

Free to live the rest of your life.

Just walk away.

 

Cameron ignores his reflection waving from the store windows across the street, opting to focus on the sky instead, watching the scaffolding above the entrance to the cinema with wary intention. Sneaking looks in between nodding along to Felix’s excited commentary on the inconsistencies between the third and fourth installments of…it’s been so long he can’t remember what movie it is.

“Look out!”

He pulls on Felix’s arm, crushing him against the wall as a hammer falls into the spot he’d previously occupied.

 

There it is.

 

Quicker still, Cameron drags Felix back out away from the wall, a shower of nails scraping the brick on their way down.  

“Bloody hell!” Felix starts hyperventilating as he looks between the hammer and nails. “If you hadn’t… we’d’ve…” He gulps and chuckles nervously, straightening back up. “Close shave, huh?”

Cameron smiles up at him, the corners not quite reaching his eyes. “Yeah, close.” He pats Felix on the shoulder and nudges him forward. “how about a drink to calm down.”

Leading the man along, Cameron keeps a careful eye on their surroundings.

Pulling Felix back when a joyrider runs the red light, the police sirens following a beat after.

Rejecting the first three taxi’s that pull into the rank when called, waving away Felix’s questions and smiling glibly at their curses of ‘wasted time’.

“Cam, you know ‘spoons is closer right?”

“We’re not going to fucking ‘spoons.”

The fourth cab’s driver barely glances at the two as they climb in, greeting them with false cheer. Cameron gives a destination and asks him to take a detour around the Blackwall tunnel, his only response being a tired nod.

The two friends sit in silence in the back,

The empty lyrics of the pop tunes on the radio change to news of an accident in the Blackwall tunnel; Felix jumps in his seat, words tumbling from him like fragile blossoms shedding at the end of spring, an omen of impending heat.

“Wait a second… How the fuck did you… Did you know that…”

He stops when Cameron slaps a hand on his mouth. “Stop the car.”

The vehicle slows and Cameron drops a handful of cash into the front passenger seat, before pushing Felix to get out.

“Hey, I didn’t tell you how much it…what the hell?” The driver falls into silence as he compares the pile to the number on his dash.

Felix points between the taxi and Cameron.

“How did you?”

He rears back when Cameron speaks at the same time, shaking himself like a dog of water.

“Stop that!”

“Don’t predict what I’m…”

“How are you…”

“Are we being filmed?”

“Seriously mate, I don’t like it, stop!”

He suddenly gasps and grabs the front of Cameron’s jacket, pulling him up onto his toes and hissing in his face. “Is this what I think it is?”

Cameron cocks his head, “maybe”.

Felix drops him and looks up at the sky, whispering his disbelief to the blue beyond.

Cameron gestures across the road to a small café with faded yellow signage crouching in the dim hollow between a hairdresser lacking customers and a dismal bookshop with a rack of tattered. “I’ll tell you about it in there.”

The café is hot and smoky, phantom grease lingering in the air and on the skin.

Cameron breaths deeply and grins, fighting down a cough, “it never changes”.

The man behind the counter watches them with an expectant look, eyebrow raising at the statement.

“Now, will you explain what’s going on?” Felix leans in close, so close Cameron can feel the heat and smell the hint of vanilla on his breath.

Cameron shifts in his seat.

“We are stuck in a time loop.”

Felix taps the table, “okay. But the fact that I can’t remember anything means it’s just you in the loop.”

Cameron frowns and pinches his nose. “I guess.”

“And we’re here because…”

“So long as you don’t eat the food, it’s one of the only places we’ll be safe for a full hour, I think.”

“You think?”

“I’ve never gotten further than this before.”

Felix nods slowly, brows furrowed. “So…How do we end the loop?”

By walking away.

“By saving you.” Cameron’s gaze is level, tongue grazing the backs of his teeth as he forcibly relaxes his jaw. He nods at the clock on the wall; the glass misted out by condensation, but the shadows of the hands clearly pointing between one and two and to the seven. “We just have to get past four. When it rains.”

Felix drops his gaze to a single solitary ant marching along the skirting, voice dropping. “What do you mean by saving me?”

“You die.”

“What’s with the face?”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s the one you make when you’re trying to hide your lying face.”

Realising they aren’t going to order anything, the man behind the counter disappears into the smoke in the recesses of the shop, his place being taken by a shadow in the mist, waving cheekily at Cameron.

His voice cracks, “I’m not lying.”

Silence wraps around them, sizzling in the air. The ant reaches the other side and, finding its way blocked, turns around to go back the way it came. Sighing, Cameron reaches over and lets the insect crawl onto his hand, he lowers it to the floor, shirt riding up as he presses on the edge of the table.

Felix grabs his wrist. “What happened to your arms?”

Cameron turns them at the gentle touch, allowing the man to examine the multiple rivers of scar tissue crisscrossing his palms and racing up his arms.

“Every time I loop, a new scar appears.”

Felix goes silent, dropping his hands and frowning at the saltshaker. When he speaks again, his voice chills the air, raking over Cameron with the bite of frost.

“Why would you keep doing this then?” He stands, turning heads as the chair scrapes against the linoleum. “If I’m already dead you should just move on with your life.”

Cameron leaps to his feet, making to snatch the fleeing male’s arm. Felix swerves and shoulders his way outside, chased by the other.

Outside the air has started to chill, clouds moving in to cover the sun, threatening the rain promised by the morning’s forecast that Cameron has yet to see.

“You’re not dead! I can save you.”

Felix spins to look back at him, “Why would you want to!”

“Spending an eternity in hell is better than a lifetime without you!”

A couple walking past titter at the exchange, two other passers-by surreptitiously fishing phones from their pockets.

“I can’t hear this right now.” Felix throws his arms up and turns away, running to the crossing. “Don’t follow me!”

He doesn’t see the light change to green.

He doesn’t hear the growl of an engine before it’s beside him.

He doesn’t see the motorcycle before it swerved into him.

Struck by the construct of metal and smoke, he crumples, spinning, folding to the ground, hard enough to bounce and leave an imprint in red. The driver flies of his seat and rolls into a post some twenty feet away.

The cars all halt, their drivers ignoring the green beacon above in favour of getting out to survey the carnage. The nearby expressions of the bystanders have changed from slight interest to those of shock and disgust.

Someone screams for an ambulance.

The dial tones of two phones sound simultaneously.  

Cameron jolts to a stop, perched on the edge of the pavement.

He looks down at Felix.

His best friend.

Wearing the band tee he bought him for Christmas one year, that he refused to throw away, with the logo half faded and cracked. He finally has concert tickets, three years after he stopped listening to them.

As he watches, a single drop of blood races down the twisted turn of his neck, chased by more, pooling under his Adam’s apple.

He doesn’t dare look at his face, at his eyes staring unblinkingly at his own, for fear of seeing his own grinning reflection.

Like a puppet with cut strings, he stands there, watching as the various onlookers’ crowd around and push him out of the way, blocking Felix from view.  

His eyes sting and he blinks rapidly.

 

You would think, that after seeing it so many times, you would have no more tears left.

 

“Shut up!” Cameron’s outburst goes mostly ignored by those gathered around the accident, but a few concerned looks scorch his side. Quickly turning, he starts to jog away from the scene. 

 

Finally giving up.

 

“Never.” He grits his teeth and breaks into a run. Turning the corner, he listens to the wind, following the distant growing sound of a siren.

He slows on the next corner.

There’s a glimpse of a reflective strip and he steps into the path of the oncoming ambulance.

“Restart loop.”

May 21, 2021 16:04

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2 comments

Rayhan Hidayat
18:54 May 28, 2021

I love this, this is great! Reminds me of this music video> https://youtu.be/A7KNYk4f3XQ Just wish it was more polished, a few formatting hiccups took me out of the story a little. But time loops are always fun and I thought you executed it well. Good stuff😙

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05:48 Jun 01, 2021

Intriguing. I stumbled over the first paragraph...why is Cameron waving at his own reflection but not looking at it? And I was super curious to know the details about how the time loop happened and why, and what the scars were about? But the writing was compelling and kept me reading through. Congrats on the shortlist!

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