by Matt Bolton
There can be no describing the pain a man feels when he remembers. He, like all others must be the prisoner of his existence; no other can ever truly share this with him. They will always stand apart, and can no more fully empathise than can they merge with the physicality of his mind. His pain must be his alone – his useful enemy; his spiteful friend. His words can only conjure a shadow of the trueness; its ghost, whose desire to speak honestly is confounded by translation.
Carrying this burden seems incredible, yet all men must; more often than not burying it with drugs, acquisition, or other fixative distractions. Some manage to reach a satisfactory conclusion to their lives without the monster erupting, by keeping it at bay in any way they can, barely even aware of its existence, but knowing that to capitulate in the fight to keep it asleep, or tethered, is to change their reality beyond redemption with unspeakable acts. It is possible to see in all men signs of this, given enough time and good sight. There are always warnings.
All men are killers.
The landscape had been colourful once. The colours were still there, all infected now by time, greasy dust from the explosion; and, if you looked just a little longer, the unmistakable rub of misery itself. Through this landscape, with little thought for the aesthetic quality of it, or anything else much except the panic in his mind, the pain biting at the wound in his buttock and the desperate searching and pushing of his limits in order to run just a little faster, was Arnold. His breath came in great whooping gushes and his legs and lungs burned furiously with their wrenching efforts. His eyes searched for cover and his ears could still hear the barking of the hounds. There would be no stopping for a while yet.
Eventually Arnold came to the boundaries of the town, where the swamps began. The men and hounds would have trouble following him now. Arnold knew the secret ways through the sucking, stinking marshes to the home of Niall, a man approaching old age, who Arnold had known since as far back as he could remember, and who had saved his life and that of his older sister on the day of the explosion, the prelude to which now seemed like another life. Niall had wept for a lot longer than Arnold had at his failure to save their parents too.
The events of that morning had culminated in the rape and death of Arnold’s sister. The men who had committed these acts were damaged and had buried their torments too close to the surface, so that they could be seen to move under the skin. Arnold had been stunned to bear witness to this, and to the grim inexorability of the men’s shredding and violation of her. The amalgam of contempt, carelessness and triumph which was the clinging odour of these men and their acts could never, ever be explained.
Arnold had no one left, now that his sister had been ripped away from him. No one except Niall, who welcomed Arnold into his rickety shelter in the swamp, with a big smile, very quickly supplanted by a look of fear and concern as he noticed the panicked state of Arnold and saw the shadowy group of figures in the near distance, halted by the swamp; and heard the baying of the hounds struggling on its journey through the thick, dusty air. He deliberately calmed himself, realising after the initial liquid terror, that the men could not reach the two old friends.
After a little while, Arnold related the day’s events to Niall, who wept silently again for the loss of Arnold’s kin, and his own friend. Niall cleaned Arnold’s wound. He had been shot, leaving a painful flesh wound.
Niall continued weeping as he listened, nursed, and stroked Arnold’s head as he calmed him enough, eventually, to enable sleep. He thought back over his life, which seemed so long, and remembered the time before the explosion. He remembered his wife, their home, their close and long friendship with Arnold’s father and mother, and the town where he’d grown up, which was near the woods where he would run his dog. He thought of how all these things had been deleted by greed. Something about the memory of the freedom and visceral power of that dog running and barking lit a fire within him, and put a final end to the gentleness which had abided there all his days.
Niall washed his face in front of his mirror, and as he watched the dirty water drip off his nose, he realised that he’d mixed some of Arnold’s blood with the water on his face. He turned away and was only slightly surprised that he’d decided to leave it there. He smiled as he heard the dogs once again, and stood a little on tip-toes to get down his gun from the shelf. Without looking at Arnold he walked straight out through the door.
Later, bleeding and damaged, Niall took the eyes from the last of the men, threw them towards one of the dead dogs, and then walked away, leaving the man screaming. His gun smoking, and still weeping silently as though he would never stop, Niall walked off into the grim, thick night.