Meanwhile in Baghdad

—Chapter 7—


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Malak sat at a table in a pub, slowing the passage of time. He could grind it down to bullet time, then steal bar peanuts from people’s hands before they reached their mouths. The perfect crime. Malak felt he was using his second chance in life to the fullest.

He had his eyes on a man and a woman at the bar. The man was a giant. Robust felt like the word, even if the man had walked into the pub on a cane. Red hair and red beard. Laughing loud at most things the woman said. This was the man who stabbed him.

The woman was of real interest to Malak. She claimed to be named Charlotte when introducing herself to others in the pub, but that was a lie. Charlatan. She wore a mask that the others couldn’t see. It was constructed from the same material as Malak’s. Whitewood. Expertly carved. This made him curious about her, and so, she was the first one Malak spared.

 

 

At night, outside an unnamed gas station in La Meseta. Malak watched as people gathered. They all held candles near their chests, in memory of a missing man named Yote.

A lot of them dressed like the punk who had held a gun to Malak and Drake by the highway. One of them was, in fact, the very same man. Rice Henderson. Rice O’. Rice Something—or just Rice. Nearby Rice in the candlelight were other people of significance. Ruben Craig, or Ruben Reid. Joseph Epstein, or Joey Low Action. Sharyn. Just Sharyn.

Malak wondered about her. How she could live a life for so long with just one name to all of it. Had she never changed?

Malak—not The Man nor Liam Jacques—wondered.

 

 

Malak stood outside a house in Canute, Oklahoma. It was raining and nighttime. He had frozen the night to a standstill, and the raindrops hung in place. A sky of potential energy that was going to crash down soon, but for the infinite moment, stood still.

Sitting inside the living room window, like displays in a museum; please, don’t touch. They sat in soft reclining chairs. Linda was upright, and Frank was leaned back in his seat. Both of them front-lit by the TV. They didn’t look happy in the way that happy looked in movies: no big smiles, no holding hands. They watched the news. Frank’s eyes were half closed.

Please, for the love of my God the Lord, don’t make me touch them tonight.

Malak remembered: he was allowed to save one more. Obligated. He held onto the moment for a little while longer. Time could be slowed and stopped, but not reversed. He couldn’t go back to when this house was his. He couldn’t even go back to when Frank and Linda wanted to move, but were afraid that their son wouldn’t know how to find his way back to them. He could only wait, in the moment that his dad was supposed to die, and wonder if it was crueler to leave him when he was supposed to be moving on.

He could only walk away. Forced—obligated—to come back later.

But that was later. Malak had time.

 

 

In the snow, warm behind his mask. He watched Drake, standing in front of an old house in Foxboro, and he understood why Johnny had chosen both of them as candidates for the mask. They weren’t so different, on the inside.

He watched as a passing car parked in the middle of the road. The driver got out and walked up to Drake. The two men embraced. Malak was unseen, but gave Drake a thumbs up. Good job, friend. Way to make even.

Drake got in the passenger seat of the car, and the two drove away from Foxboro without sharing a word. Why bother? It was what both of them wanted. The first words between them in years would be spoken later that night in a motel, the whispered words I still love you and the whispered response I love you too.

 

 

In a church steeple in the morning. In San Samarra, of all places. And the woman in the whitewood mask. He had given her three more years. But that was really all he could afford to give her. He shouldn’t have even given her that.

Malak killed her atop the Church of Apollyon steeple. Fitting? He wasn’t sure anymore.

He walked back down the steeple steps, and out the front doors of the church. He sat on the curb all night, letting time pass as it was supposed to. Trying to remember what it was like when he’d been one of them.

 

 

The next day, people began to arrive. First the giant man, Aidan O’Moran. He entered the front doors of the church and locked every door behind himself. Soon, his people were gathered on the streets out front, joining hands in jubilant prayer.

Next, people in rainbows gathered on either sidewalk: women holding hands with women, and men with men. Among them were Drake and Regis. A marching band could be heard approaching in the distance.

Last to gather were those with black jackets and spiked out hair. With them came Sharyn, Jace, Rice, and Joey. The new Flashpoint Zero found their way onto the roof of the building across the street from the church. As Jace plays her first chord, Malak freezes time.

He’s done a lot of work to figure out that this is the moment. This is, for Earth, as good as it gets. He can’t go back or he would. Maybe there were better times before this. But he can’t undo anything. For now, he can only leave it, and be glad for the people he looks out on, because he’s left them in a moment when they have what they want.

He takes off his mask.

He sets it on the ground.

He stands up, and he goes to check on everyone, everywhere, just to be sure he got it right.

 

The End


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© Ray Underscore Thompson, November 16, 2016