The Lonely Hunter

Aina saw and felt nothing, as though she no longer existed. Then, everything came back to her at once. Her senses were overwhelmed. An acidic scent of smoke swam in the air, attacking her dry throat.

Where she laid, she tasted metal on her tongue and spat out blood. She wished she would have had a bottle of water on her right then. But rules were rules. Belongings of any kind were forbidden on a time trip. All precautions against paradoxes had to be strictly observed, Aina had been warned yet and again.

Black spots danced around her vision as she tried to figure out where she was. She blinked hard through sore eyes, and stumbled along the alley. Conscious of her nakedness, she peered from behind the wall. Surrounding screens lit the familiar city in shades of blue and green.

It took a while before she remembered what she was here for. This was the right place. Aina was right where she needed to be.

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Gone, Still

“What you want, is irrelevant,” Shiloh read her father’s lips, barely parting as he spoke. “We need a change. I need a change.”

It had been a week-long fight, one so intensely routine she wondered why he bothered to go through the motions. He knew very well how she felt about leaving her home of eighteen years. No promise of a better city, or a better life, could have changed that.

Nor could it have been true in fact. Shiloh loved this city. She turned her attention away from Dad, tightening her fist with tired frustration, which was most of how she felt these days. When she felt calm again, she looked up and caught his last words in time, “It’s final, Shy.”

Before Shiloh had a chance to have her say, her portly father had returned to wolfing down his dinner, as though she was to accept what he had decided for her. To hell with that. She never would. Anger surged within her like fire in her throat.

Why does he get to decide?, she thought. I am part of this family too, aren’t I?

She lifted her hands slightly, but decided against speaking out. She was not about to argue against her father again. Volume wasn’t her strength, not since a sudden bout of illness took her hearing two years ago.

Part of her stubborn self wanted to bring up how Mum would have understood, which honestly would have upset herself in equal measure. Instead, she swallowed her tears. She pushed her chair backwards, hard as she could, hoping it might screech like chalk against board.

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Coming Undone

Darkness stretched an unending distance ahead, bearing nothing but dread. Only because she insisted, I found every inch of courage I never knew I had, and began walking down the familiar road again. For the first time, I thought.

“No. Once again,” I heard her soft voice in my ear. “It all happened right here.”

There was no one here but us. Yet she spoke in whispers, as though someone might be listening in on our little secret. Somehow, I could feel its presence too. Afraid of what I might find if I tried, I stared at the vast space ahead instead, unblinking eyes dry as bone.

Serenity emptied my mind in the comforting silence that followed. I let out a scream, letting out the tension in my aching body. The void screamed back, enveloping me with palpable stillness. I wanted to do it again, but I remembered that I was not alone.

You will never be alone again, she reminded me.

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Methods of Escape

Lita lived alone. Her whole life was an unbroken routine, just like most people around her. Only that she minded it more than others did. Still, she began this morning the same way she always did – at the local supermarket, where the endless beeps never failed to leave her in a trance, with ringing ears and numb fingers.

Queues dragged on, like the quartz clock’s tick to its next destination. Five minutes before five o’clock, she waved the last customer away without a word, and endured the resultant sour look. It affected her none. Her empty mind commanded her to stare ahead, as she slammed the ‘Counter Closed’ sign down louder than she needed to.

She waited patiently for the customer to stomp off after promising an unfulfilled threat. It was one that she had heard too many times before. Then, she started to lock up the cash drawers, as a faceless someone once taught her to. These habitual motions took no more, and no less, than two full minutes.

Once that was through, she smiled for the first time this day. She delighted in the idea of doing something that she had never done before. She meandered along the familiar aisles of her second home. Certain that no one was watching, she began slipping whatever could fit into her jacket pockets.

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Blinded by the Light

A vagrant busker strummed his scarred guitar, crooning a folk song with feigned sorrow for a few crumpled dollars. Above him, the sun glowed orange and pink. Lost souls wandered past in search of solace and contentment, none with any admiration for the beauty of such simple sights.

Further down the footbridge, triplets rode tandem on a small bicycle made for two. Their parents raced after them, but proved no match for wheels. The kids zipped by with ease, yelling at the top of their lungs, “Don’t you try to come after us!”

For hours, Alison had been watching all of these, taking in every bit of emotion she could feel in the air. Woes of the poor man. Frustrations of the working class. Pure happiness of the young family on a short-lived vacation. This was what she did every morning, since the day she found out that her imminent future would be in darkness.

In time, she had learnt to see more than this city ever would. Even if it never seemed enough, she knew it had to be. Turning to the seas that she loved, she leaned against the railings as she whispered, Remember. Remember everything.

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The Ratconteur

An antique dining table stretched across the dust-streaked, cobwebbed room. At each end sat one half of an odd couple: an old man and a large rat. One was painfully oblivious of the other, to the other’s amusement and partly, chagrin.

This soon changed, when the smaller creature decided to break the silence and make its presence known, “Where do I begin?”

Abandoning his bread and wine, the man looked around with furrowed brows. The voice confused him. He had lived alone all his life, which explained his less-than-savoury dinner, or home on the whole. His eyes darted about. No matter where he looked with his neck stretched taut, he saw no other person in the room.

And so, he cried out impulsively, “What? Who’s speaking?”

“Right here.”

Upon the second statement from the stranger (and intruder, if he may so assume), the man almost fell from his chair and most certainly, did knock over his wine glass. He stood up and began to shout, “Where, where?!”

“Here, here, here,” the calmer voice reiterated. “I am right across you, seated with my feet on your leftover breakfast.”

Unwillingly, the man followed the voice. And true enough, there it was. For five full minutes, he sat down in silence and poured himself a second glass of wine. Then, a third. And a fourth. He was thinking of what to say, but simply could not find the words as he looked through his new wine glass – at the warped shape of a talking rat.

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