A short, paradoxical time travel saga.
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Everything, with the exclusion of himself, was suspended, unmoving.
In mid-consumption the fire stood stock-still, its prey equally so; held in frozen agony by fiery jaws.
Curiously the immobile flames generated no light. They were as snow in the darkness, its own body providing illumination, though not direct light.
Ahead of him, Skip observed that the window through which he had watched events unfold was gone; so too the wall in which it was housed. Instead, shards of glass and exploded masonry were suspended in mid-propulsion, tiny grains of displaced mortar trailing like bubbles in their wake, as though this entire, crazy tableau were a scene underwater.
Disfigured yet more -its hair aflame- the severed head of the child-eating abomination sat in mid-air. A streaking human comet, its arrangement suggested a trajectory that might propel it straight into Skip's face. A trail of saliva and blood spewed from its mouth, stretching back in a long, stringy line of fluid like a tethering cord attached to the most macabre of Halloween balloons. A decaying strip of flesh obscured its left eye; maggots present in the raw meat beneath. Fear no longer performed in its one, visible eye; present instead a perfunctory acceptance, as though somewhere in the depths of its damaged brain this once human creature had long ago accepted this as its end.
Though still agonisingly conscious of his injuries, this room of horrors went some way toward numbing Skip's physical pain.
But the psychological agony was worse.
He would be done for mentally, and he knew it. Even now he battled the onrushing madness, struggling to award meaning to what his eyes told him were there. Was he even alive? Surely the flames must have devoured him and this was some mentally fucked-up limbo?
Beyond the suspended bricks and blood and debris, the tail of an aircraft stood triumphantly above the frozen flames, kidnapped from normal skies to wreak involuntary havoc here.
"What now?" Skip asked the room, his voice a scorched whisper, as he gazed north past the burning behemoth to Oakley Hill and what had once been the city's commercial district.
His attention ascended the hill's ruined vista, his ravaged fingers once more tracing the contours of the metal disk beneath his coat. This is where it had all began, the end of the world. Instinct had brought him here, though now, with the paper thin walls between lucidity and madness crumbling in his mind, Skip began to question that intuition.
Leading ever upward toward its summit, row upon row of ruined businesses lined the littered road, like rotten teeth on either side of a diseased and moribund tongue.
For a fleeting second, movement up on the hill; gone as quickly as it came, vanishing behind one of many wrecked and smouldering vehicles.
Skip leaned forward, squinting. Was this the madness at work again? If so, he reasoned, then why didn't he feel right at home in this fucked up place?
Though the foot of Oakley Hill was obscured by pockets of frozen flame, Skip could read the lay of the land above without too much effort. Borne from myriad wreckage, spirals of smoke hung frozen in the air, and between them..........yes, a figure marching purposefully toward the hill's summit. Though distance made it hard to discern, whoever it was appeared to be dressed in a suit, and not the filthy garb of one who's mind was indigenous to the world as it stood now. A hat of some sort sat skewed on his head and he leaned to his left, counterbalancing the weight of a case held in his right hand.
Slowly, as though considering a rest stop, the figure halted, stood motionless for a time and then turned back toward the fire and brimstone at the foot of Oakley Hill.
Amazingly, as though he could see Skip clearly through the distance and the flames, he set down the case, removed his hat and, with a sweeping arm, bowed for his audience of one.
Skip flinched, "S-S-Slater............"
Even across the protracted distance Skip could feel the madman's stare, hotter than the flames that had only moments ago threatened to consume him.
Slater's garb was curious. Like a new pin among old, his black suit appeared new and though he couldn't discern detail, Skip pictured the razor-sharp crease of his trousers, the gold cuff-links, his aftershave, the fastidiously Windsor-knotted tie. A departure from the unkempt, bearded and dirty previous incarnations of the man Skip had suffered the misfortune of acquainting.
And on the hill, the man who had killed the world (or at least one version of him) dropped the hat back onto his head, offered an ostentatious salute, and resumed his march toward the beginning............... and the end.