On The Run. Short Story.

Sometimes it is better to die than to live.

He looked at himself in the mirror, wondering if it really was one of those times. His skin was pale and spotted, his eyes hollow, cheeks gaunt. He had been running and fighting for so long now and he was ready to just stop. It seemed like it was the only way. There was nothing else left to do. The tap hissed gently as water gushed from the opening. He allowed some to pool in his cupped hands and splashed it onto his face. He turned off the taps and gently dabbed at his face with a towel. He was lucky really and he knew at this point everything he did was just prolonging the inevitable. They would catch him. They always caught people like him. Ones they classed as criminals, as dangerous. He wasn’t dangerous. Well, not dangerous to ordinary people. His stomach gurgled softly, he ignored it. It had been a while since he had eaten. He wasn’t sure how long exactly. Time wasn’t exactly easy to count. Not for him. There was a dull buzz from somewhere distant. The door. Someone else would get it. There was three of them in this place. He didn’t know the other two and they didn’t know him. It was safer that way. Hell, none of them even knew what the other looked like. Not really. He looked in the mirror again and started to shift his facial muscles. His hair rippled, then turned to a vibrant blue, a beard and moustache suddenly sprouted, the moustache a deep red, the beard a neon purple. Colours distracted a person from looking at the face properly, not that anyone here tried to look closely. Once he was satisfied, he turned from the mirror and left the bathroom. The apartment was empty. He knew it as soon as he stepped outside the door. He was alone. He wondered if something happened, then wished he could look at the news. Or any TV really. If he turned one on the facial scanners would identify him immediately. Beard or no. there were a few books lying about the place, but they were old and water stained, hard to read in some parts. He went through the small living room, past the bunks and into the kitchen, hoping there would be some food. The cupboards were bare, everything edible was already gone. They hadn’t had a delivery in a long while. No matter. He had work to do anyway.

He went into the workstation, then stopped. They hadn’t left. They were still here. He looked at the three bodies, trying to remain calm. Whoever it was had left, he would have seen them. The place was small. The third corpse he didn’t recognise, they were old, emaciated. The other two were the people he had been living with. He had to get out of the building. They’d be back for the clean-up. Whoever killed them must have had old intel, they didn’t know there were three people in the place. He went back into the bedrooms and quickly found his bag. There wasn’t much in it, but he wanted it regardless. Some money, fake ID’s, a small notebook, a few pencils and a photograph. He quickly put on the bag, then left the room. He knew there would be money in the others’ bags, but it wasn’t right to go through them. There were rules, rules that he couldn’t bring himself to break. No one would know, but he would remember it. It seemed like a defilement of their memory. He went to the door and stepped outside. No point in peering out, someone was there or they weren’t, if they were there they’d see him no matter what, surprise was better. The hall was empty. He jogged past the rows and rows of doors, going straight to the stairwell. He didn’t like using lifts, the spaces were too small, to enclosed. He took the stairs two at a time and at the lobby, he slowed and strolled outside. As he walked, he casually scanned the crowd. No one stood out to him. Protocol meant he had to wait a week before he could go to another safe house. A week of living rough. Fucking brilliant. Still, maybe he’d get food. Technically it was illegal to give food or money to beggars, but some still did it anyway. He never took money, always asked for food. Money was easy enough to come by when needed. Food was less dangerous to ask for, people were more likely to agree, no fears of getting mugged nor of what he might spend the cash on. He walked for a short while and then ducked into an alley, it wasn’t that large, maybe two feet across. He dulled the colours in his hair, he didn’t want people to look at him too much and in the outside world, colour like that would stand out.

He had found a small settlement, they were difficult to find, always moving, but he was lucky. He’d have a safe-ish place to sleep. No one would try to rob him at least. There might be a raid, but that was just luck of the draw. He could escape from a raid if he needed to. He bought a small bowl of soup, it steamed gently as he drank it all, he didn’t know what was in it, nor did he want to know. It tasted good and that was the important part. After eating he found a spot to sleep and set up camp. A small blanket to cover the ground. He didn’t have anything else. At least it wasn’t to get cold in the night.

He woke with a start. Something wasn’t right. He listened to the light breathing of those around him. Beyond that camp, there was a noise. Gentle, soft. A raid. He moved slowly, trying to be silent, and reached for his bag. In a moment they would turn on the lights, there would be screams. He needed to be faster than that. He breathed in deeply, then yelled as loud as he could. Instantly the camp was alive, everyone scrabbling to grab their things. In the panic he’d slip through the police. People started to scatter when high beam lights appeared, blinding him. He didn’t need his eyes. He started to run, listening as he went, trying to hear beyond the dull roar of noise.  His vision was filled with pulsing lights, after a second it cleared. When he could vaguely see, he was glad he had run in the right direction. He could hear a few people getting caught behind him, someone was screaming, they were no doubt being beaten or raped. He kept running, it was the only way out. There was a strange grunting noise to his left, he ignored it, escape was the only thing that mattered. He vaulted over a small wall and kept going, another few blocks and he would be safe. They wouldn’t want to hassle him on the streets, there was too big a chance he was just a regular person. He didn’t look too dishevelled yet. As he ran his beard and hair changed colour, going to a dull copper, his beard shortened and his moustache disappeared, the hair falling out as he ran.

Something punched him in the back. Hard. He fell forwards, sliding a few feet before he stopped, sprawled on the ground. He stood, trying to catch his breath, his hands and legs throbbing, he started to walk, limping as fast as he could, he glanced back and saw something moving in the darkness. He had to keep going. He slid the backpack off his back and around to his front, before he started to rifle through it, looking for something that could be used as a weapon. The best he could come up with was a pencil. Fuck. He didn’t look back again, fearful he would stumble and fall if he did. Another noise, that grunting again. Something wrapped itself around his legs, then jerked backwards. He fell forwards, contents of his bag flying everywhere. He turned in time to see what had knocked him over. It had a large maw, filled with teeth and saliva, a bright pink tongue lolling from its mouth. It’s body was large and muscular and at its base, it had ten writhing tentacles. He knew there was no escape. His tongue went to his back tooth, trying desperately to activate the catch. What the fuck was the code. It wasn’t working. The creature lunged, mouth latching itself to his neck. He tried to scream, but no sound escaped his crushed windpipe.

A photograph blew along the ground, at the whim of the wind. On it was a family of four, all smiling and waving, a golden retriever sitting to the side of them. The day was sunny and they all looked so happy. So very happy.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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