It always started like this. He would snap into attention standing on a small secluded bridge. Sometimes he blew his brain off straight away as he awakened. But what was the point now? Twenty times in a row had changed nothing. Why would one more make a difference? Other times he shot the man next to him and hiked as far as he could before falling asleep and ending up back on the bridge. Eight days was the farthest he had gotten without sleep, and that was even using his amphetamine surplus. His body hadn’t been made to stay awake long times. The man next to him had been able to go on longer in those times he had convinced him they were in great danger. Those times they had headed south and went on without rest. The point when he had felt his legs and arms weight a tow truck, his mate had been as chipper as a chipmunk. They had always ended back. There was no escape. And he was alone. His mate had no clue what the fuck was going on. Not after asking and interrogating him countless of times. Times that had sometimes ended into squabble and one of them killed.
Other times, he just shot the man out of frustration or boredom as soon as he woke. But he always let him have his last drag of the cigarette.
The orange glow of the diminishing stub glowed in the darkness even now. When the man was done, he always insisted they headed straight to the house to get their task done and over with. He watched as the man took the last drag in and shifted the weight of his rifle on his shoulder.
They wore no insignia. They had their hunting clothes on, and if they got caught, they were to deny everything. It never got that far. When they were done in the house, his mate would shoot him to his stomach, tying up the loose ends. Meaning him. That was the man’s orders. So he had confessed after he had tortured the man the first time around in the loop. There was no point in doing it again. Only thing he had gotten out of the man was that he had orders to shoot him, and that was all what was to it.
He followed the man across the thick woods. They were in the middle of nowhere, playing good little soldiers. Sometimes he lost his nerves and shot the man in the back right here and right now. In less than two hours, he would die a slow, agonizing death from the shots into his abdomen while having to watch into the eyes of the woman he himself had shot only a moment ago. And then he would be back on the bridge, doing it all over again. Anyone saying they could get used to dying and killing was… There was no point in finishing that sentence. Any sane person would know the answer. If they didn’t, then there were a lot of questions they might need to ask of themselves.
Occasionally, he escaped with the target and his family: wife, three children, and the family dog. But even with their car, he would get as far as the shore. Then he would fall a sleep and be back on the bridge.
Sometimes he entertained the thought this was just some weird military project he had been assigned to. And when he hit his thousandth time, he would be waken up for real. The thousandth time had gone a while ago.
Then he had started to think he was demented. That he was actually sitting an old-folks’ home. But that seemed like a grimmer option. No silver lining, just the realization he would never get to escape killing her and killing her two daughters and a boy in front of her cold-blooded. He could still hear her screams. And in the background, the dog would park. Its whimper with a gunshot would be the last thing he heard.
He took the rifle off his shoulder and readied to shoot his mate. He lowered it. He just couldn’t. Instead, he followed his mate to the cabin. The target had thought he could hide here and get away with the deeds he had done. No one was left alive to incite a revolution. If he could, he would let the man live. Anything was better than this.
He knew the target was in his study, reading under a dim candlelight. His wife would be upstairs putting their five- and four-year-old daughters and their eight-year-old son to the bed — one big happy family living in a cramped bedroom. The dog was downstairs in the backroom, having being closed there accidentally by the boy.
They crawled the rest of the way to the door. The door was unlocked because, of course, they had forgotten. If they hadn’t, maybe this would have gone differently. Maybe he would die for real. As always, his mate would head to the target, and it was his job to see to the family. He had objected and changed it around other times, but staring the target into his dead eyes while dying himself wasn’t exactly fun either.
He crept up the stairs, the best he could. Which was the best. He knew every single one of the floorboards. He pushed the bedroom door open and shot without missing and without having to look. He turned and faced his mate coming up the stairs. He fired, hearing the man tumble down. He followed down the stairs, stepping over him. He could shoot him into his head and put him out of his misery. But why should he? The man hadn’t shared the same sentiment after all this time. Nothing changed except him. And he couldn’t even take himself out of the equation.
The man grabbed his boot, but he shook his leg free and left him there to die. He headed to the backroom, unsure if he would shoot the dog or not. The woods were no place for a domesticated pet. He drew the door open and readied to shoot, but couldn’t. The huge eyes of the middle sized black and white sheepdog were too much. The dog wagged its tail, and he lowered to scratch it behind its ear.
“We better get you somewhere safe,” he said and took the dog by its collar, searching for a leash. It was there on the kitchen counter, just next to the back door.
He dragged the dog with him. He didn’t have to. It was more than willing to come, most likely smelling the death in the house. They headed out into the woods. The dog following obediently close by. He kept wake as they hiked and watched over as the dog slept. In the distance wolves howled, but that was all what he would let them do. The dog would get into safety. He knew it was a stupid obsession. Eventually the dog would end back into the house and he on the bridge. He just couldn’t give up the dream he could save someone. And even if he couldn’t, at least he had a purpose for now.
The wolves circled them far, hating the smell of him and fearing the shot of the rifle. He knew they would have to endure one more day and they would be out of the forest. He was feeling the fatigue already. Staying awake made his eyes burn. He had to keep them open. More than a couple of seconds and he would fall asleep. He kept pushing himself, and finally the day shone on the road to the city. It would be nine point three miles to the nearest town. Easy compared to what they had already gone through. He stepped on the road only to see a truck coming at him. There was a screech of breaks, but he stood there frozen, watching the headlights and waiting for his dead. The dog jumped to his aid to push him out of the truck’s way. The dog’s paws on his back were the last thing he felt, then he was swallowed by darkness.
Next thing he knew he was back standing on the bridge, watching the orange glow of the cigarette. But something was different. The dog pressed against his leg as he looked down. The dog met his gaze with its huge watery black eyes. Finally, something had changed. He loaded his rifle and shot his mate before he could shoot the dog.
Thank you for reading! Have an exciting day ❤
© K.A. Ashcomb
0 comments on “Short Story: Strange Loops”