Scene: The slums of Station 7A, RUST Co. Just off a forgotten, yet worn alley is a dive bar that never had a name. Citizens ignore the gunshots that came from within just a moment ago, navigating the drifting pollution in low G with practiced elegance.
The first sound I heard after my ears stopped ringing was the crackle of the radio, “Take a look,”
My hands trembled, cold from the metal I couldn’t quite get myself to let go of. The shotgun was empty. Both shots spent, gone in a flash of light and fire, I had killed someone. They didn’t even look to be as old as I was. Acne riddled their face and their short brown hair was greased back. Their face, their expression, the way they trashed before laying still left a lump in my throat. It was all I could do to not give into the bile filling my mouth.
“And you’ll see,”
Flecks of blood clung to the dust in the air, suspended by the stagnant current. It smelled awful, not just the fresh smell I’d come to love about this place. No, the cold metallic smell that accompanied viscera filled my nose.
How had it all gone so wrong?
Just a moment ago today had been normal; violent crime always happened to someone else, never me. But this time, it pooled on the concrete floor under my boots. Today was different, and not in a good way. I couldn’t believe my senses.
“Into your imagination.”
I squeezed my eyes shut and gulped for breath. Maybe it was all a dream, and I could wake up. Maybe it wasn’t real. Maybe it would all go away when I opened my eyes.
“If you want to view paradise,”
I opened my eyes when Luis wheezed. He lay at my feet in a pool, ragged shards of his arm pulsed fresh crimson with every heartbeat. His eyelids fluttered, and for a moment by heart stopped.
“Simply look around and view it,”
“Luis.” My lips felt numb as I dropped to my knees beside him.
He was pale, even the second chins that wobbled when he spoke. “Val.”
I took his remaining hand in my own, shotgun forgotten, gripping it tight. My lungs shuddered every time I tried to breathe and the lump in my throat grew.
“Are yous alright?”
“Good.” He breathed, the corner of his mouth twitching into a smile.
“Luis, you’re bleed-” I fought to swallow past the lump. “-you’re bleeding.”
“It’s alright, Val. Yous stay calm and everything will be alright.”
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t-”
He squeezed my hand gently. “Val, breathe.”
“Anything you want to, do it.”
“I’m trying Luis. What do I do?”
“Take the bar rag, wrap it around my arm.” His eyes fluttered. “Tight.”
I let go of his hands, and rummaged, leaving smears, fingerprints everywhere I touched. The bar rag was coarse under my sticky fingers, but I didn’t pay attention. My head spun, but I didn’t pay attention. My knees stuck to my pants, but I didn’t pay attention. Luis was bleeding and I needed to help him.
“Want to change the world?”
His stump was hot as I lifted it to get the rag under, gushing anew as I tightened the rag as much as I could. His breath tickled my face as I worked: fresh as always. The flow ebbed, slowing to a trickle.
“Luis,” I took his hand in my own again. “What now?”
He didn’t respond.
“Luis?” My heart squeezed in my chest. “Tell me what to do next. Please, I don’t know what to do.”
His eyes cracked open sluggishly; tongue wetting his cracked lips.
“There’s nothing to it.”
He pulled me closer, face barely inches from my own. “Yous did good, Val.”
It was all I could do to stare at him, his eyes, his face. My own stained hands wrapped around his. He was cold, just as warm as the blood around me. It was everywhere. So much, too much. I never knew so much could come from one person.
“There is no life I know,”
“Luis,” my eyes stung. “What do I do?”
“Yous done everything you can-”
“But you’re still bleeding!”
“I know, Val.”
“To compare with pure imagination.”
“I want yous to get on a ship Val, keep going until yous see something beautiful.”
“Maybe then yous won’t drink away your youth in my bar.” He tried a smile and failed, mouth working helplessly.
“Luis.” My body shook and my eyes ran, but my chest hurt most of all.
“Val, use the money in the till. I’ve been saving it for yous.” His eyes fell shut.
“You’ll be free,”
“Remember to smile,” and he lay still.
“If you truly wish to be.” The radio sang its last, falling into static as the lights flickered.
I gripped his hand tighter, but it was limp. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t think. My mind buzzed just like the radio. I let my head fall onto his chest.
It all hurt, and I couldn’t even smell the man past the cold metallic sting in the air.
Never again would he give me shit about how I order.
Never again would he wipe down the moldy glasses behind the counter.
Never again would he give me one of his smiles.
I sat up, letting the tears run down my face.
It was all over.
My friend was dead.
Looking down at Luis, I let go; my handprints stayed on his pale flesh, colored by his own lifeblood.
My hands were stiff, cold from the shivers racking my body. I wrapped my arms around myself, but it didn’t help. It only reminded me of Luis’ warm embrace.
The same cold metallic sting filled my mouth. I couldn’t even feel where I’d bit my lip.
I found a tin behind the bar and cracked it open. The candy cracked between my teeth--mint, they were mints--and for just a moment that cold metallic sting went away.
Luis smelled of mint. Always did, even the first time I walked through his door, and now I knew why.
I gripped the tin in my palm and looked down at him for the last time.