As the bullet entered her body, parting the fragile layers of flesh that envelop the biological machinations and chattering internal monologues that make up humanity, time stopped.
Or no. Not entirely stopped.
What is this? What’s happening to me?
She was still perched on the faded couch, legs drawn up beneath her. The familiar sensation of metal grillwork cradled her lower half. That couch was a relic of a different decade, time having eroded most of the softer materials it was composed of. They’d simply broken down, until the couch was nothing but a hard skeleton covered in a thin, tattered layer.
A bit like me, I suppose.
He’d always been particularly attached to that couch for some reason, refusing to allow her to replace it. He’d get so upset. Even now, she still wasn’t sure if there was an element of genuine sentimentality, or if that piece of furniture was merely another prop in the complex network of different “realities” he’d drawn her into. He never used it. On the rare occasions he was home, the bed was his preferred domain. Her slumber, when she could sleep, took place on the time-stained couch.
Doesn’t seem to matter much, now.
When the trigger was pulled, she’d been in the act of closing her eyes. Her retinas retained the image of the large gash in the wall opposite the ragged couch. It was large, irregularly-shaped She couldn’t even remember how that had happened, now, but it often provided a natural visual resting place on the many sleepless nights she’d spent in this room. The dank orange glow from the streetlights highlighted the jagged edges of the broken drywall and threw the centre of the gash into shadow, which lent it an air of otherworldly mystery. She liked to imagine it as a portal to another world, or, what was almost as attainable, to the person she used to be. It was a way to beguile hopeless hours. And there were a lot of those.
What happened to that person, anyway?
Questions like that were futile, now. There was only this person, in this moment, bound by an irrepressible force to watch the conclusion. It almost felt like a violently strong hand gripping the back of her skull.
At least I’m used to that feeling. It’s something familiar.
Tiny, almost microscopic tears formed at the corners of her eyes. An interesting sensation, really. It seemed as if her tear ducts were drawing moisture from other parts of her body for a final display. A mute gesture of humanity. These would be the last tears she ever shed, and she savoured the warming salt sting. One solitary, misshapen globule, tremulous with surface tension, dropped from an eyelash, the cotton fibres of her jeans greedily absorbing it.
It will have evaporated by the time they’ve found me. Or, what’s left of me. If they find me at all.
As the bullet burrowed deeper, she became acutely aware of her own body. Each cell a tiny component of existence, each with its own separate life contained within her. They’re created, they grow, they fulfill a purpose, and they die. Some travel within the body, some get sloughed off and deposited elsewhere, some experience the warmth of sunlight, and some spend their time close to the innermost workings of her heart.
I’m not just a single life, but multitudes. Which lends an extra element of sadness to what’s happening.
One by one, like cars encountering a traffic jam, every droplet of her blood started to slow. Except for the one place where they continued to pour forth unabated. She was grateful she couldn’t see it. Neurons shuddered, as if determined to continue broadcasting impulses as long as possible. But the messages were weak, garbled, fragmented. A sentence missing every third word. In her chest was a feeling of fullness, as every airway and alveolus strained and stretched in an attempt to extract life-giving oxygen from the polluted, turbulent atmosphere of the room.
I guess I should be scared. But this feels more like a transition or release than an end. I don’t know how. I can’t explain it.
Finally, inexorably, her surroundings started to dim. The rusty scrollwork of the security bars covering the tiny window, the filthy carpet whose pattern had long since been obliterated by dust, the rickety table standing askance, piled with mouldy dishes, all faded into obscurity. The only thing that remained was the gash in the wall. In fact, it seemed brighter and sharper than ever. The centre seemed deeper, more complex. Swirling shadows flitted across the opening. Bright eyes, a soothing hand, a kind smile. A head thrown back with laughter. She felt inexplicably drawn to those shadows. No. More than that. She needed to explore them.
I… can’t remember the last time I experienced those things. Here, in this life, they have no more existence for me than a shadow.
She felt lighter. As if her essence was bouncing among the playful molecules of air. The gash in the wall was tantalizingly close. As she strained to peer into its depths, understanding finally dawned upon her.
Oh. It’s so simple.
The gash was a portal after all. A gateway to a reality that he couldn’t reach. She had been sitting in front of it for years, forming its edges by filling it with broken dreams and extinguished hopes. As she relinquished each one, they were kept safely here. Suspended and waiting. He was incapable of touching or maligning this reality. It was free from grasping hands and facial features twisted into a grotesque mask of hatred. No need for crushing guilt, or the ever-revolving grey corkscrew of depression. This place was jealously guarded, hidden at right angles to the limited plane he was capable of working within. Tailor-made for her. Private. Safe. Locked and secured. And the bullet? Well, the bullet was the key.