Chapter 7: Nick
636 Days Before the End
I jolt in my seat, and turn back to my conversational partner. There is a dull static buzz in the back of my mind, the light from the copy machine seems to be the only light source in the room. Line after line of glaring blue light bounced around the room as papers fell into the tray with a deafening clunk?
"Sorry?" I mutter to the man sitting across from me at the table, doing my best to hide my discomfort. He is shoving donut after donut into his gaping maw. I am disgusted, and I fight my desire to gag and vomit.
"What has been eating you man?" a flash, for a split second the scene is different. He is shoving pound after pound of flesh into his mouth. And then the scene is back, normal, I haven't even noticed the change.
"What?" I say, my lips struggling to let the words out, the buzzing grows louder. "Sorry, I meant, sorry. You are. I mean, sorry, nothing. Nothing. I just have a headache."
"I am words you cannot hear," my partner says, wiping his mouth with his die.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry," I yell, the buzzing is deafening, "I can't hear you."
"Nick, Niiiick!" I hear my name just above the buzzing, "Nick. Are you sure this is real?" Silence. The man disappears for a single second, his visage replaced by one familiar to me. Pale, blonde, with the tip of her hair dyed red. Then the film recovers, continues playing, the splice happens so fast that I don't even notice. My friend sits stock-still, both arms resting on the table, his eyes blank. My skin crawls at the sight, so does his. Literally. Small bumps appear below the surface and skulk around, underneath his skin, they cover his body. The buzzing returns.
"Doesn't that hurt?" I ask calmly, sliding my chair slowly back.
"Nicholas, why don't you love me?" a female voice emits from my companion's mouth. It is familiar, but I can't tack it.
"Your skin... what's wrong with your skin?" I ask.
"You left me to die alone, Nicholas," the voice, I realize with growing terror, and the slightest sense of disappointment, is my mother's.
"Really, we are going to pull that one out on me?" I mutter. My partner's skin starts convulsing viciously. Patches of wet red crop up all over his white flesh. Black and yellow bodies violently surge against the wounds, burrowing their way out. Wasps. I hate wasps. The buzzing is unbearable, my mother's voice begins to sob, and the body of my partner is consumed in a raging body of insects.
"Are you sure this is real?" Natasha says. Cut to black. I'm in a chair, she is above me, shining a toxic light into my eyes. My hands are bound and my mouth taped shut. I struggle in the chair, I seize hysterically, and she stands above me disappointed. "Oh just GIVE. UP." she yells, I can feel the periods in her sentence, they rip through me like bullets. "Giiiiive uuuuup, just stop trying. You cling to your precious reality like a child. What has it given you? Hmm? What do you gain from it? Torture! It scolds you, it mocks you! Look at what you've been reduced to Nick! Look at what has happened to you! You should be disappointed, how the hell did a little snot like you become Applicant 636? GIVE UP!"
Pause. Cut away. New scene. The sound of waves slamming against rock echoes through my ear drum, only to be ripped out by the gusting of wind. I'm looking over a sheer cliff at the ocean far below. The sun has just set, but the cloud coverage causes the would to be tinted blue rather than orange. Rain falls heavily, seeping into my clothes, into my skin, and I close my eyes.
"Are you here to help me?" a child's voice asks. I turn around to be greeted by a young, brown-haired girl in a red dress.
"Who are you?" I ask, forgetting all principles of politeness.
"Katie. Are you here to help me? I'm looking for my daddy."
"What is your last name?"
"Rousseau-Lambert. Katie Rousseau-Lambert, are you going to help me find my dad?"
"What is his name?"
"Jacques. I lost him a long time ago, in a storm. I've been looking for him for a long time."
"I'm afraid I won't find him, Nick. Help me find him!"
"Pause," Natasha's voice again, "Fade to black. Next reel. Are you sure this is real?"
The new room is black, completely, with a small black table in the middle and two black chairs. One is already occupied by someone, a youngish, dark-haired boy in a disheveled suit with a red tie. He looks incredibly tired.
"Nick? What are you doing here?" Midas asks.
"I'm sorry, have we met?" I reply.
"Ah, ah, I see," he leans back and regards me with a slightly disappointed look in his eye, "Yes we have, actually. But you don't seem to be able to remember it. Tell me, what is the date?"
"It's the six hun-" I stop before I can even choke out the end of the last syllable, "Uh, I meant the sixth of, hmmm..."
"Oktober?" Midas suggests.
"Yes, yes, sixth of Oktober!"
"Nineteen nin- no, two thou-... uh, hmm."
"You don't know do you Nick?"
"No, no, I've just got a bad headache. You wouldn't believe the day I've had."
"Oh really? What have you done today Nick?"
"I went into Katie's tru- hmm, no, that's not right. Oh, right, I remember now; Matthias, Smith, and myself plotted against you, and we're on are way to rescue Natasha right now. No hard feelings about that, right?" I tacked the last sentence on, hastily.
"Oh no, none," Midas dismisses the thought with a wave of his hand, "But you say you are currently on your way to get Natasha?"
"Yes, that's right. Although..." I pause, "If that is true then I wouldn't be here now would I?"
"No you would not."
"So that is wrong too then... Wait, riiiight, I forgot. I met Matthias, Natasha, and Jones this morning, they want to go on a trip, we have to transport this car to you. You're paying us very generously, you know."
"I'm aware. Much more than I should be, considering the slipshod job you are doing. But you're wrong again, Nicholas, that isn't what you did today." I strain myself, trying to remember this morning, which somehow seems to distant.
"Wait..." I stop and look at Midas, then I snap my fingers, "I met you today!"
"Bingo," Midas says, steepling his fingers.
"I went up to your office for the job interview, I was early and caught Natasha as she was on the way out... I was Applicant S-"
"NO. SHUT UP. SHUT. UP." Natasha's shrill voice echoes out from nowhere, there is a swift blow to the base of my skull, followed by the taste of blood. "I TOLD YOU TO GIVE UP NICK. GIVE. UP. I AM SICK OF WASTING MY TIME WITH YOU. WHY DO YOU HAVE TO MAKE THIS SO DIFFICULT? DID MATTHIAS FIGHT LIKE YOU ARE? NO, NEITHER DID SMITH, NEITHER DID MIDAS, NEITHER DID SCYLLA, BUT YOU. YOU ARE KICKING AND SCREAMING EVERY STEP OF THE WAY LIKE A LITTLE CHILD."
I'm in a field. It's on fire. A bullet flies past my ear.
"I just want things to go my way? Is that so bad?" Natasha continues her rant.
Shadowy figures appear on the horizon, I instinctively reach for my pistol, and then immediately question that instinct. I'm even more surprised when I find the pistol there.
"I'm a liar, okay? Yes, yes, karmically that is bad, but hey, sometimes the truth is the more damaging of the two options. And really, I'm nothing more than a figment of your imagination, right? A relapse. PULL YOURSELF TOGETHER, YOU DISGUSTING WASTE OF LIFE," Natasha shouts.
I fire the pistol, operating entirely on gut-emotions, not questioning any of it. The bullets connect with one of the shadowy figures, and he falls to the ground then disappates.
"Hey, hey, hey, HEY!" Natasha yells and approaches me, snatching the gun from my hand, "STOP IT. YOU'LL FIGURE IT OUT, YOU'RE NOT SUPPOSED TO AND YOU KNOW IT. STOP THIS, ALRIGHT JUST STOP IT, BAIL OUT. CUT, CUT!"
And the screen fades to black.