Point Blank by Paige Bagby
It started with a point, as it always does. One thing that gets every other thing started in a never-ending series of events that will all one day lead somewhere. Possibly. Definitely. Sometimes.
In this instance, the point was named Candace Styles and was placed on the corner of Weston Boulevard and Pike Street. She stood in the midst of what appeared to be a supercell, sheltering from the storm beneath a tree that was teetering on the edge of bursting into flame due to having recently been struck by lightning. She appeared to have chosen this spot to shelter from the storm after her umbrella had been destroyed by a passing tornado-force gale. The rain, however, was falling sideways, so she was at a loss on all accounts.
Candace stood on the corner of Weston and Pike because she was waiting for the crosswalk signal to stop having fits. Most likely due to the storm, the street lights were all blinking at random, and this signal in particular appeared to be stuck in a never-ending loop. She stared down the red hand, which was missing a few choice pixels, as it wavered on the edge of changing and yet never quite made the commitment.
She didn’t dare try to cross the road even though the traffic was almost nonexistent for the time of time. She had the sneaking suspicion that the moment she took the chance, something akin to a funeral procession would materialize from the void and force her to retreat under the burning tree once again. So she waited, uncomfortable and smoldering slightly from the flecks of fire that dribbled down on her from above.
It was during a moment a brief moment of calm that the person who had been standing behind Candace chose to speak.
“You’re aware that you’re on fire, miss?”
She hadn’t noticed when the man had approached, and as a result, she made the appropriate startled response before addressing him.
“Yes, I’m aware,” she replied.
“Then why don’t you come out from under the tree?”
Candace tossed her smoking brunette hair, plastering it across the opposite side of her face. “I’ll get even more wet. I just need to cross the street. It shouldn’t be taking this long.”
“But the rain will put out the fire.”
“I’m already dripping. I just need to get home.”
At this point, the young man looked up and down the street, noting the lack of traffic. “Why don’t you just cross now?” he asked, looking up at Candace from beneath the hood of his sweatshirt.
“Listen, um, what’s your name again?”
“Calvin Brigstein, but everyone just calls me Cal.”
“Listen, Cal,” Candace said, “I can’t just cross the street when the light says not to. It’s blinking, and if I cross now, you know it’ll turn red and a car will hit me. I’m not stupid, you know.” She said this last part as she smothered a spark that landed squarely on her head.
Cal gave Candace the sort of look that suggested he wasn’t quite sure if she were joking or if she actually believed she didn’t possess the cognitive ability of a grilled cheese sandwich. He decided it didn’t really matter considering the fact that the storm had hit a new level of downright unpleasant.
When Cal failed to offer a response, Candace huffed and returned her attention to the crosswalk. Much to her delight, the red hand had switched to a debilitated-looking fellow who appeared to be walking with his limbs not attached to his body.
“That’s what I wanted to see,” Candace said, gesturing to the feeble light. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m going home.”
Cal watched quietly as she resumed her soggy journey. No sooner had she done so than a rather large truck, which was hauling a load of damp beets, came barreling down the road, the driver heedless of the conventional traffic laws still at work before him. Neither Candace nor the driver seemed aware of each other. Cal, however, was somewhat wiser to the situation. He made an honest attempt at leaping forward to heroically sweep the threatened maiden back to safety.
Consequently, he was rather put out when Candace was hit squarely by the truck.
The driver, having given no notice to the thud and bump of a human body colliding with his bumper and tires, continued through the red light with reckless abandon.
“Oh dear,” Cal said. He stooped over the place where Candace’s body had been flung.
It was a mess.
He straightened up and pulled out a pocket watch. It should be noted that this was completely white and had no face or numbers or anything that would make it a proper watch. From this unmarked abomination, Cal gleaned that it was the twenty-third of June, thirty-four minutes after five in the afternoon.
Cal gave Candace’s mildly surprised face another look before walking past the burning tree and back up Weston Boulevard. As he went, a hooded shape, very much identical to Cal, approached him from an alleyway and fell into step beside him.
“Same as the last time,” the new person said. It was not a question.
“Yes, same as always.”
There was a pause between them. The storm, having discovered that the conversation between Cal and Candace was no longer in progress, chose that moment to return to its raging whistle.
“Have you seen enough yet?” the hooded figure asked. “Can we move on to something new?”
Cal shrugged. “One more time. Maybe it’ll be different.”
The figure chuckled.
“I didn’t think so. But I suppose this is better than the moping. I thought I’d have to come up with something interesting to get you out of that rut.”
“Your idea of interesting involves nuclear holocaust. Hardly wholesome entertainment.”
“That’s a matter of opinion. Now can we please leave this bloody timeline? I don’t fancy being around when the tornado touches down.”
Cal hesitated a moment before nodding.
“Okay. Let’s go, Brigstein.”
At this point, it would be wise to abandon the cooling corpse of Candace Styles and give a little more attention to Cal Brigstein.
Despite what Candace may have thought, he wasn’t too far off from the awkward and mouthy intern at the company where she was, until recently, employed. Sometimes he was a well-meaning plastic surgeon with an appreciation for Picasso. Other times he was a successful medical malpractice lawyer. Once he even found himself as a lonely Swedish goatherd trying to make a living yodeling on the unforgiving Hollywood streets.
But most importantly, he was short.
Less importantly, he was blond and had a surprisingly pleasant smile that would, on occasion, break through is otherwise plain, emotionless face to make him an almost interesting-to-look-at sort of person.
But I digress.
Having abandoned one body in search of fresher ones, Cal continued his walk up Weston Boulevard. At the moment, he was behind his morose companion, who was the same height as he was and had the same mop of hair poking out from beneath his hoodie. The only noticeable difference between the two was the entirely too-happy grin on the second man’s face.
As they walked, Cal watched the other man with a dead-eyed expression.
“Don’t glare at me,” the more cheerful of the two said over the still-raging storm. “I told you to find something better to do with your time after the first ten goes.”
Cal gave a sigh and ceased his attempts to damn his companion’s heart to oblivion with a stare.
“There has to be one, Brigstein,” Cal said. He sort of mumbled his words, but he raised his voice just enough to be heard over the storm. “Just one where she lives.”
“Does there?” Brigstein asked.
Though Cal could not quite see it, he was all but certain there was a nasty sort of smirk on Brigstein’s face.
As they walked further from the carnage behind them, the space around them darkened to a shade of gray so dark that no natural storm could have created it. The wind took some invisible and arbitrary cue and died without so much as a gasp. Sensing the change, the rain, thunder, lightning, sidewalk, buildings, and the entirety of the normal plane of existence started to fade away until the two men were left surrounded by the gray blackness. Neither Cal nor Brigstein seemed bothered by this development and continued on their walk, if that’s what their forward motion could be called in the nothingness.
“You lead the way,” Brigstein said in what most people interpret as a British accent. “And perhaps choose something that won’t send you deeper into a funk.”
Cal took the lead. He looked around at the darkness then at the pocket watch he had clutched in his hand. He seemed to use it as a compass, walking through the void in one direction, then another. At one point, they heard what seemed like a particular breed of cow lowing in a field during a spring rainstorm. It ate a four-leafed clover. Then there were two businessmen discussing the length of a coworker’s skirt. Several children could be heard commenting on the shape of a bald man’s head in a Middle Eastern dialect. Cal and Brigstein passed by them all without stopping.
At some point in the emptiness, Cal found his feet falling once again on blessedly existent cement. Beside him, Brigstein had pulled the hood even further over his still-smiling face. The usual traffic that plagued Weston Boulevard poked along beside as they made their ways toward Pike Street. No one else walking down the sidewalk seemed to have noticed the two as they appeared, nor did they seem interested. Their cellphones seemed significantly more interesting than the two short men matching each other’s steps with a disturbing degree of accuracy.
Brigstein opened his pocket watch and glanced at it. It was just as bare as Cal’s.
“Five-twenty-five,” he said.
“Yes,” Cal said, not breaking his pace or lack of expression.
“Five-twenty-five in the afternoon,” Brigstein said, adding a little emphasis to his words.
“Yes,” Cal repeated.
“Is the masochism getting the better of you?” Brigstein paused and smiled. “Or should I say that sadism?”
Cal failed to answer. Instead, he fixed his gaze on the crowd of people parting around him. He had an inkling that giving his excuse would result in a very unhappy, very inhospitable Brigstein, and such a character was more than sufficient to keep him from his idiotic plan.
“I’m sure there are easier ways to torture yourself,” Brigstein said. Now his eyes were narrowed. “Have you ever gotten a papercut and poured lemon juice on it. Truly frightful.”
“I’m not going to do this anymore,” Cal said.
Brigstein’s steps faltered. “Then why did we come here? Is this your timeline?”
Once again, Cal refused to answer. Instead, he attempted to pick up is pace. Best to be out of arm’s length when the realization hit.
Brigstein’s smile fell a fraction, just enough to make him look menacing. “What are you planning?”
Cal allowed a cacophony of car horns and irritable commuters to hide his mumbling voice. He checked his watch.
The crowd of people grew denser as Cal and Bristein approached an intersection. Ahead, in the mass of sweaty, businesslike humanity, Cal spotted the familiar brunette dome of a particular Candace Styles. His heart beat uncomfortably as his adrenaline spiked. Brigstein seemed to have caught a whiff of the hormone.
“Cal, you know the rules.”
Whatever else Brigstein may have divulged about the rules and their importance fell on deaf ears. Cal started running with all the agility his out-of-shape twenty-something body would allow him. He wove through the crowd toward where Candace stood at the back of a herd that was attempting to cross the street. The war-torn walking man had just been replaced by an almost obscene red hand.
“Cal,” Brigstein called. His voice was suspiciously calm.
Cal did not stop.
Candace was stepping into the road.
A truck, loose beets flying out of the back, barreled down the road, the driver oblivious to the people crossing the street.
“It ends now,” Cal shouted.
He tackled a startled Candace Styles, throwing them both in front of the truck.
Paige Bagby is a lover of all things science fiction and fantasy. Drawing on her favorite authors like Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut, she writes out of Stroudsburg, PA where she lives with a poodle and a boyfriend, neither of which act their age.