Ante Mortem

"It's easier just to run. Besides, it's what we deserve."

- - - -

His shallow breathing echoed from the cold, greenish walls, mixing with the eerie silence around him. Each desperate gasp filled his mouth with the terrible stench of rotten flesh, pouring down from the large chunks of indefinable meat hanging on the ceiling.

In retrospect taking a bullet to the stomach was so far from being pleasant that he wouldn't wish it upon anyone, not even them. Maybe he just should have changed. 'Or they could have accepted me the way I was.' It was his fault for living his life the way he did. 'Their fault for making me do it!' And now, when everything was about to end, he felt like he owed them an apology. 'So what if I'm sorry? It doesn't change a thing now, it's all the same once you're…'

But Eddie wasn't dead yet. At least he thought so, at least he felt alive enough, if only for the throbbing pain in his entire body. 'Maybe it was just a test! A test to make me feel sorry! And now I've got it and the pain will go away, because it's not real!'

With this thought he shook off the drowsiness that was holding him down and bravely pushed himself up… only to fall back against the next wall screaming, clutching his stomach in pain. "O-okay… okay, guess it's real after all."

Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man.

She shook her head angrily at the mocking bloody words on the wall. She wanted to wipe them off, make them go away, but when she reached out for them the flames kept her from getting close enough. 'Only a bit… only a little bit more…'

They were right. The words were right. 'No, they are not!' It was the only possible explanation. Why else would she be here, looking for him? 'I'm not looking for him, the knife, he has the knife!' He had saved her, but- 'I wish he hadn't. I deserve-' she hadn't even thanked him for it. 'Wish he hadn't. Doesn't understand! Nobody… I-' She couldn't change that anymore. She would apologise when- 'If I…' she met him again.

Angela stepped through the open double-door, into the next empty room. It was filled with greenish fog and barely illuminated… save for the flames. The flames, hissing brightness, longing to burn her. They had grown. They were only a flicker back when-

A scream. Angela gasped and covered in fear. It was going to kill her this time. It was going to end her suffering at last. It was… was human?

She looked up when she thought that she'd heard a voice. Not talking, not another scream, just… perhaps she was wrong. She stood up and stepped into the middle of the room, her eyes nervously darting around when suddenly she saw him, leaning against the wall, not minding the flames, probably not even seeing them, but why… why hadn't she seen him before?

Why didn't she see the hideous things hanging from the ceiling? Why did she look like she didn't care about them? About… anything. Or maybe something was wrong, maybe she didn't see them, maybe she didn't even see him. 'Maybe I AM dea-'

"Who are you?"

'Never mind.' The fog was still shimmering in the green light but it was too dark, still too dark to see her clearly. Carefully Eddie took a step away from the wall. Her shoes were black and she wore reddish-brown pants and a slightly battered grey sweater at which she was tugging nervously. Suddenly Eddie noticed that he was still holding a pistol in his hand. 'The one from before, I thought I had dropped it, didn't pick it up now, why didn't I let go-'

A sigh. White trainers, short khaki pants, a striped shirt and a light blue baseball cap on top of that, not to mention slighty portly. And if this guy was contemplating his name it definitely took him too long. But even if he wasn't, what was it to her? There didn't seem to be any point in staying longer than necessary. 'Though you do that a lot, right?'

A sizzle and the flames were flashing up. She should be used to it by now but it still made her feel uncomfortable, made it get worse, made the pain burn deeper into her. She sighed again and turned to leave.

Now he hadn't even said a word yet and she just turned to leave, muttering something, probably to herself but just loud enough for Eddie to hear it. "Hot… too hot in here."

He frowned. If she'd asked him he felt as if he could very well freeze to death down here. Then again, maybe it was just for his recent loss of blood or… another thought struck him. "Are you making fun of me?" he asked through gritted teeth, slowly making his way towards her.

She stopped. Turned around but didn't move, didn't even blink. "What?"

He wanted to step closer but there it was, the sharp pain again and he had to stop, trying his best to remain upright while looking her up and down. "Hot, huh? I bet fat Eddie's really hot stuff, right? That's what she said too. I don't blame her, not really. It's my fault for being dumb enough to believe it, Eddie DUMBrowski, what did I think she sees in me anyway? Oh Eddie, you're so much fun! FUN! I bet it was funny when she dumped me in front of all the others, when they were laughing at me with their eyes… their… you're just like them, aren't you?"

He stared at the young woman, the pistol quivering in his sweaty hand, cursing himself for even considering an apology to them. How did she dare mock him like that? Silently, as if she didn't mean to, as if she was suggesting that it was all just HIM imagining things!

"Eddie Dumbrowski? Is that your name?" "DOMBROWSKI! IT'S DOMBROWSKI YOU-"

Angrily he stepped, no rather stumbled closer to her. The greenish lights were flickering, still too dark to see her face, see the mocking laughter in her eyes and wipe it out, out forever. He raised the pistol, ignoring the sharp pain in his side, his shaking finger on the trigger.

She hadn't seen the gun before, thought he wasn't a threat but now the barrel was pointing at her and it would finally be over. She could almost feel the flames withdrawing, sinking back to where they came from. Angela closed her eyes and prepared for the last step into darkness.

And she heard a noise. But it wasn't a shot, just a thud. When she opened her eyes she saw the young man lying on the floor, one hand pressed to his stomach, the other one still desperately holding on to the gun. Whatever had happened to him before she came here, he clearly hadn't taken it too well.

She stepped closer. 'Pathetic. All the same. Just like…' She could see the pistol slowly slipping from his hands. 'Then why are the flames gone?' He was still holding on to it, but she could probably take it from him with ease. 'And then he gets what he deserves. What I deserve? Should die anyway, men, this man, just like…'

Every breath he took was like torture now, sending a wave of pain through his whole body. Was it just for that or did the room seem empty all of a sudden? No. No, the stench was gone. So were the things on the ceiling. But she… she was still here, coming closer, bending down to him, to tease him, he couldn't see her face now, but in a moment he would, would see the laughter in her eyes and then he could wipe it from her face before he died and she'd die too and in death they would be the same and she wouldn't mock him anymore, nobody would. 'Only in death?'

There she was, next to him on her knees. And with the strength he had left he tightened his grip on the gun and looked right into her eyes. The laughter. That horrible laughter they had tortured him with all the time…

'Just like me.'

… it wasn't there.


- - - -

Fin. Heh, always wanted to use that one. Opinions, anybody?

The quote written on the wall was snatched from dear Mister Nietzsche, full credits for the inspiration as well as major thanks in general go to Salem Saori!