Art Pact 154


There's a kind of peace that comes over you when you're facing the open end of a gun. Like that little black hole that can suck in a life and erase it forever is really a candle flame that you can stare at to clear your mind. All other considerations are secondary, and everything comes down to just the simple moment. The now. You can't just hear your heart beat, you can feel it. I don't just mean the pulse or the bump in your chest, I mean actually feel your heart contracting in its four separate chambers, two by two sending the blood squirting into your lungs and then into the rest of your body. Like a tiny fist grabbing  onto a finger. I imagine it's what being a child is like, not understanding that there is a you separate from the rest of the world and there is a moment of division separate from the rest of time, an instant that cuts the past from the future. You are everything in your own mind when the loaded barrel is pointed at you, and there is no history, nothing to come. That's the possibility of the gun, the ability to erase a person's thoughts of what he's done, and at the same time cut away any chance he might have of making new thoughts in the days as yet unseen. It's a great power that a gun holds, and it's so frightful that it leaks into the very aspect of the thing, so that you can experience in a sense what it is like to be dead before you are made that way permanently.

I searched the little spot of darkness and found that moment, and let it crawl over me and into me, purging all the fear from me. There's nothing to fear from history, because it is done. There's nothing to fear from the future, because it will not soon arrive. The dead fear nothing. So, by putting myself apart from time and from life, I cleared my mind of fear and hope, and took a step closer.

"I mean it, goddamn it!" Fletcher shouted. The dot wavered, and for a moment so did I, but then the shell of emotionlessness was over me again. I stepped closer. "For chrissakes, I said I mean it! Stay where the hell you are, or I swear I'll put a bullet in your neck!"

The specificity of his threat seemed nothing but absurd, and so absorbed in the absorption and neutralisation of fear was I that I was a sitting duck for such comedy. I found myself smiling, then grinning, then a chuckle was out of my throat.

"Stop laughing, and stop walking, or it'll be the last thing you do!"

I stopped both - coming to a standstill a meter closer than I had been, with just a smile on my face.

"I've been walking since I was six months old," I told him calmly. "If I'm going to die, it might as well be on the move. And I can't think of a better way to die than laughing."

My bravado had overcome my serenity, which might not have been so great for me except that it was now clear that whatever happened, Fletcher was not going to shoot me. He had left it too long - he had begun to see me as a person again. Perhaps a person he hated, but Fletcher's religious streak was too deep for him to be able to kill me with impunity. He was afraid of his god, and his god had said (using as it's agency the old preacher's sermon) that there was to be no raising of the hand against your fellow man. I was going to die by the gun, that much had not changed, but it was not going to be Fletcher's gun, not today and not so long as he was holding it himself. I acknowledged the feeling by backing away again to the water-trough. Although my serenity had gone, it had left me with a profound sympathy for the man, and so I saw no sense in making this harder on him than it already was..

"What now?" asked the sheriff.

"You could get out of here before the cavalry turns up," I suggested. Fletcher jumped.

"Cavalry?"

"Sorry, just an expression. I mean, in case the posse from town turns up here. I'm willing to let you get away, but they might not be so forgiving. Right, Sheriff?"

"Now I don't know..." said that worthy.

"Sheriff!" I said, raising my eyebrows and letting my eyes flick towards Fletcher.

"Ah, yes - I mean, well, Fletcher here might show willing by untying me. Then there's no harm done, no need for me to get involved, right? He could get out of here."

I didn't trust the Sheriff, but I was willing to bet he wouldn't try anything particularly stupid until he was out of pistol range, so I nodded agreeably and turned to Fletcher.

"What about it?" I offered. "Let the old man go and we'll put all this behind us?"

"Old-" the sheriff spluttered, but a stern glance from me shut him up. He pouted under his moustache.

The little black circle - which had been trembling for a minute now, suddenly began to flatten out and finally disappeared completely, vanishing as Fletcher pointed the gun down at the dust of the yard. He took two steps backwards, and looked back down the valley at the town.

I looked away for a second to the Sheriff. To my surprise the bound man was looking up into the sky. I followed his gaze, saw something moving down towards us. Coming down fast. I opened my mouth to call out a warning, but it was hopeless. With the sound of a thousand amateur violinists the time door slid into the ground ahead of us. Where Fletcher's hand had been, holding the gun, was just a blank space. His shoulder was missing, and his right foot. He toppled into the thing, a shocked expression plastered on his face, and vanished completely.

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