Jim does a favour for a friend.
“I want you to do me a favour.”
Charlie Moebius spoke the words into a pause in the conversation. They had been discussing politics a few moments before, so the request was an odd break in their increasingly heated banter. Charlie and Jim were friends but their political views often varied in detail. Neither ever backed down once battle lines were drawn but, given a few days awkward silence to reflect upon things, the matter would be forgotten and another trip to the pub agreed upon.
This sudden request for a favour came right out of the blue, therefore. Jim took a few moments before responding.
“What sort of favour?”
Charlie said nothing at first, instead looking round at the other customers in the pub. The place was sparsely populated at the time, it being a Monday night. Satisfied with his inspection, Charlie turned back to Jim. In a quiet, unemotional voice, he explained.
“I want you to shoot me in the back of the head with your hunting rifle.”
Jim stared at him. “Pull the other one. It’s got bells on it.”
“I’m serious,” said Charlie. “Ask me why I want you to do that.”
“Okay, I’ll buy it. Why do you want me to shoot you in the back of the head, Charlie?”
“Because I’m tired of it all.” Charlie sat back in his chair now, as if relaxing after having steeled himself to ask the favour. “And before you ask, I mean all this, life and everything.” He threw an arm out in an arc to indicate the room, the world and the universe.
Jim snorted. “Bit dramatic, isn’t it? You coulda thought up something a lot more convincing. As if being bored is a good reason for topping yourself. If this is some kinda joke, Charlie, you’re gonna have to work on it some more.”
“You’re so predictable, Jim. I knew you would think I was joking and so I prepared a way to make you believe. Come with me to the john for a minute.”
Charlie rose and stood waiting. Jim sat motionless and stared at him. For a moment they were frozen in a tableau, and then Jim shrugged and got up from the table. “This is turning out a bit weird, you know. Any funny business and I’m outa here.”
“Don’t worry - nothing like that.” Charlie headed for the rest room.
Once there, he began to unbutton his shirt. Jim watched, arms crossed and a cynical expression on his face. That changed, however, as Charlie peeled off the shirt, revealing a torso and arms scarred beyond anything ever imagined by his friend. Charlie’s whole body was a tortured landscape of jagged scars and long welts, a relief map of some bizarre and unremitting mountain range of old wounds. His arms were jagged strips of long-healed wounds, twisting and threading through each other, as though in some mad weaver’s dream. He turned slowly in a full circle so that Jim could see there was not a single patch of unharmed skin on his body.
“The legs are the same,” he said in a flat, emotionless voice.
Jim was staring in horror. “But what the… How the hell did that happen? You ought to be dead with all those injuries.”
“Exactly my point,” answered Charlie. “But you’re not looking at the result of one injury. What you see is a long history of far too many mishaps and accidents than I can remember. Well, apart from the worst ones, that is. Them I know only too well.”
“Bloody hell, Charlie. You must have rushed from one accident to the next to amass that damn collection.”
Charlie shook his head. “And that’s where you’re wrong. These took a long time to accumulate, just like I said. A very long time indeed.”
He looked meaningfully at Jim, whose brows came together in concentration as he tried to grasp the import of Charlie’s words. “So you’ve had a very long life,” he said slowly. “But that’s ridiculous - you don’t look a day over fifty.”
“Guess again, Jimmy boy.”
“What, older?” Jim’s expression moved to puzzlement.
Charlie nodded. “A lot older. In fact, don’t bother guessing - you’ll not get it.”
“So how old are you?”
There was a pause as Charlie picked up his shirt and inserted his arms in the sleeves. He was in no hurry, it seemed. But he left the shirt hanging open as he looked up at Jim. “Can’t be absolutely sure as I think I lost count of a few years somewhere along the line. But it’s eight hundred and fifty years, give or take a few here and one or two there. And I know where I got the first wound.” He pointed at a long wheal, criss-crossed by many others, stretching from his left shoulder down to the right hip. “That was in France, in the war of 1214, and it damn near killed me.”
Jim said nothing and Charlie continued as he fastened his shirt buttons.
“That was how I come to be like this, funnily enough. Was found on the battlefield by this old Frenchie dame and she tended to me, bound up the wound and all that and had her sons carry me to her house. She kept me there until I was well again and then sent me off to find my way back home. But she gave me some kind of potion before I left. Said it would keep me from further harm.
“Didn’t think anything of it at the time, but I reckon that must have been what kept me alive all these years. Can’t think of anything else that might have done it. And why did she choose me to give the thing to? Never been able to figure that out. Musta seen something special about me right from the start, I guess. Which would explain why she picked me on that battlefield. There were plenty of her own kind spending their last moments right there on that field.”
He stopped there and waited for a response. But Jim seemed speechless, either too skeptical at his friend’s confession or unable to wrap his brain around the concept.
Charlie tried again. “And that’s why I want you to shoot me in the back of the head.”
That brought Jim out of his daze. He looked up sharply and said, “I still don’t get that. Why would I agree to shoot you after seeing all those scars?”
“You don’t get it because you don’t know what it’s like, Jim. Can’t you imagine how interminable it must seem, to be sentenced to eternal life without hope of ever finding relief? It’s beyond tedious, my friend, and you end up doing anything to end it all. I’ve tried suicide several times and I just heal over the wounds and bounce back again.
“I reckon there’s only one way I can escape all this. If you’re prepared to blow my brains out with a really powerful gun, I don’t see how I can heal over that kind of wound. I have to try it, at least.”
Jim shook his head. “It’s not that simple. What about me? Nobody’s going to believe that you wanted me to do it and I don’t fancy being locked up for the rest of my days.”
“Thought about it,” said Charlie. “We do it in the woods and you make sure you leave no evidence. Just leave me there as though I’m a hunting accident victim and get the hell out. As long as we’re careful, you should be fine.”
He paused then before adding, “And I can see you’re considering it. And that means you believe me. In all those hundreds of years, you’re the first I’ve managed to convince, Jim.”
“Kinda hard to ignore the evidence of my own eyes,” commented Jim. “But don’t imagine that means I’ll do it. Need time to think about it.”
“Take all you want,” said Charlie.
Over the next few days, they discussed the matter often. At first it was all about Jim’s doubts but, in time and as he grew accustomed to the idea, the conversation moved on to the practical concerns of the deed. It became accepted that Jim would carry out his part and that it was only the details that remained to be decided. Charlie was determined that Jim not be connected to the death and they spent long hours making sure that he be free of forensic evidence afterwards.
There came a day when everything was decided and all possible problems considered and dealt with. They were ready. Jim departed on the trip that was to be his alibi and Charlie went for a walk in the woods.
He took his time in getting to the agreed scene of the “accident.” Nature was still beautiful in spite of his long acquaintance with it and now, now that he knew these were his last moments on earth, he was able to savour these sights, sounds and smells as never before. At last he could be mortal and fragile, with life the gift made precious by its inevitable end.
There was the rock set under a spreading maple where he was to meet his belated end. He moved to it and sat down, relaxing and allowing the scene to enter his soul, soothing the pains and hopelessness of too many days piled up in his wake. An owl hooted far off in the woods.
Jim moved cautiously into position nearby. Not too close, so that stray blood could not reach him but not so far that inaccuracy deflect the kill shot. This had to be clean and… Well, messy, too. The brain had to be so damaged as to be beyond any conceivable repair.
He took aim carefully, centering the sight on the back of Charlie’s head. The telescopic sight gave him a perfect, enlarged view of the chosen spot, decided upon by Jim’s long experience of deer hunting. He knew only too well the terrible damage the bullet would do in its passage through the skull and brain. His finger began to squeeze the trigger.
The shot rang out and Charlie jerked forward and down to lie spreadeagled and face down in the leaf litter. Behind him, Jim rose from his position and drifted away into the trees like a ghost. Silence fell on the woods.
The trickle of blood that leaked from the hole in the back of Charlie’s head congealed and darkened. The flow stopped. A breeze picked up a few leaves and scattered them over the body. It wandered off to play elsewhere among the trees.
And then something stirred in the litter. A leaf moved, falling away from its fellows, as though unable to retain its balance on their support. Another movement shifted a few more leaves and a hand emerged from their cover. It clenched and released a few times, as though testing its strength.
Elsewhere, there were other, similar movements taking place. An arm and another hand emerged, forcing themselves from the ground with leaves drifting from them. Then both hands took a firm grip and the arms pushed upwards. The body lifted from its prone position. It rose, poised above the earth, waiting for its strength to return.
Then the legs gathered themselves to move in closer to the body. With visible effort, the body rose to an upright position and the head, lolling down from the neck but now beginning to turn itself upwards, rose from contemplation of its downfall to regard the bitter world. The face was gone, leaving nothing but torn, bleeding and mangled flesh with the white of shattered bone staring through the gore in places.
Unsteadily at first, but with mounting confidence, the creature forced itself upwards until it stood, swaying above its former resting place. Then, with hesitant but determined tread, it began to walk through the woods toward the town.
Word Count: 1,991
For SCREAMS!!! Pop-Up Contest #3, 09.02.21