When I wake up I'm already running. My t-shirt and bluejeans, stale with yesterday's sweat, slip onto me as if by themselves, and I'm climbing out the window when I hear the door explode and heavy boots stomp into the room. They say they are the FBI. They say to get down on the floor, asshole. Some deep instinct has kicked in just in time. Maybe saved my life.
I don't know where this instinct comes from. I don't know where I am. I don't know how this can be happening to me. I even left my wallet up there.
But I'm tumbling down on a lawn of thick soft grass and finding my feet and jumping a chest-high metal fence and almost choking on a bitter metallic taste in my throat I can only hope is adrenaline and not some gross nerve gas or anything.
There's a man waiting behind the corner of the fence, behind a stone pillar large enough to hide him. He has a large gun and black body armor and a helmet covering his face. The gun is just a little too large, as I reach him before he can level it on me, falling forward to put all my mass behind a heel kick landing high up on his chest and dropping him before he makes a sound. This is the first time I've ever had any real life application of kickboxing.
The man makes no resistance as I take the gun from him. From the movies I recognize it as a UZI. The safety is off. The thought that they are here to kill me sinks in as two bullets dig into the bricks in front of my face. I can hear the impacts, sharp little cracks, but I can't seem to hear anything else. I don't hear myself screaming as I turn around showering the street in bullets of my own and two men in black fall down.
And I run, without looking back.
Bullets chase me all the way. I think I'm getting what they call shellshock. The unbearable certainty that I can die at any moment and I can't really do anything about it. I just get lucky, so very fucking lucky, so many times I lose count. They're everywhere. They're not a heartbeat away from getting me. I feel them breathe down my neck sometimes. I run until my feet bleed and go numb and then I keep running. I kill so many people it starts to feel like nothing. Like I'm watching from the side. I know that's bad but I'm seeing this knowledge off from the side too and it doesn't bother me.
I tell myself this is how abusers work. When they push you into reacting your reaction justifies their escalation. I tell myself I don't deserve to be killed. I hide for a moment behind some rusted old machine someone left in a concrete tunnel maze beneath an apartment complex where I killed a young CIA officer brandishing a shotgun at me. She looked distracted, frustrated, dragged into a job she didn't want to do in the middle of a very bad hair day. I leave a puddle of blood and tears when I stand up, and I wrap my feet in ripped-off shirtsleeves to keep from leaving a trail as well.
And amazingly no one seems to follow me. It's getting dark when I make my way outside, and there's helicopters pointing searchlights around in the distance. A building a dozen blocks down the street is on fire, but I'm sure that has nothing to do with me.
The gunfire further away might, though.
The first thing I see when I stumble into a laundromat is my face on an Ipad. It's a good picture. Terrifying. Somehow I'm shot from below, close up, lit by muzzle flash, a few drops of blood splattering across my face, wearing a snarl and a pair of murder eyes I can barely recognize.
The lady with the Ipad looks up at me, freezes. I snatch the expensive thing from her hands and heave it onto the stone floor as hard as I can with my left. Now everyone's staring at me. I stalk down the line, taking their phones and any gadgets I see, slapping them out of their hands, getting rid of them any way I can. After eight destroyed devices a teenage boy throws his smartphone down by himself, and steps on it, and raises his hands. I give him a nod and gesture with my weapon in a way I hope is unthreatening.
'We don't want a hostage situation', I say, trying not to scream when I hear my hoarse broken voice. 'So nobody call, nobody shout, nobody move. I'll be out of here in a minute. Leave you alone.'
They play at statues. I blink, look around, try to figure out what I'm even doing here. Freshening up, of course. Using a tap running water that feels strangely cold and hard, I rinse off my face and hair, my gun hand, my belly, as well as I can reach under my shirt with one hand. It takes a while to figure out in what order to do this simple sequence of things, I imagine I'm very confused, but eventually I tear off my clothes, wash the rest of the way and grab some handfuls of clean clothes. My hostages, as I'm forced to admit they are even if the cops don't know about them yet and we may still avoid a “situation”, are civil enough to avert their eyes and give me privacy enough to be able to use both hands to dress.
'You', I say, reclaiming their attention once proper, pointing at the man with the most comfortable-looking shoes. 'Shoes. Please.' He throws them my way without a word.
Lacing up with a speed I hardly recognize, I ask of news of myself. They say I'm a spy, a Daesh sleeper agent, a genetically engineered monster bred to destroy the country. I keep my opinions on the subject of nation-states to myself, and assure them it's all lies. I haven't killed anyone who wasn't trying to kill me.
I don't tell them I'm innocent. It seems many lifetimes ago since I passed that point. Maybe they can tell. They still look at me like I'm not human. I limp away into the night with my stolen gun in my pocket, alone.
A week passes and I begin to realize this is my life now. The news show no end of invention when describing my crimes. I' perform illegal abortions, I cloned Hitler's brain, I cancelled Firefly, I may know more than I'm saying about the Zodiac killer, I got Trump elected. I'm the boogeyman, I'm history's greatest monster. I don't think I've killed even a tenth as many people as they say I have.
I don't think.
I think I have gaps in my memory. Maybe the propaganda is getting to me. How would I know what's true or not? I consider giving myself up, but they've already passed a law just for me. There can be no retreat for me, no surrender, no prison, no justice.
I am to be shot on sight.
And that scares me even more than the idea I may be a mass murderer and not know it. Every military and law enforcement agency in the country and a large number of foreign ones and an army of armed vigilantes are after me and maybe I need to be taken down but I'm not going to make it easy for them. I'm not innocent, no, but this isn't right. If we live under rule of law you can't let a person be shot down in the street. Without even the possibility of accountability, of mercy, of defense, of communication.
And I hear the baying of the crowds. For them it's not about justice. Not even revenge. I'm fucking entertainment.
And I hang on by my fingernails and I live from heartbeat to heartbeat. Killing, running, not eating, not sleeping, never a minute's respite. My luck will run out sometime. Even Gun Kata is just gaming probabilities. I live by luck and by being willing to go further than anyone really thinks they could. Just ask the Interpol guy whose face I ate. (After he was dead.) (I was just so fucking hungry.)
And in time, I become so desperate for human contact I write a letter to Rolling Stone magazine. They publish it, even if they make it clear they don't believe me, and think anyone who does should be whipped.
So I keep running. One step ahead. When the helicopter gunships scour the land I'm on a speedboat to Canada. When they knock on every door in the continent I'm living in the woods. When I go for a week without killing anyone someone bombs a police station in my name. So I'm not ahead. I'm just surviving.
And I'm trying to find my humanity. Somewhere. If I ever had it. Maybe it was just a dream. I never said I was innocent. I know I'm not innocent.
This is a joke from the pages of Wormwood that's probably not worth the four hours I took writing and drawing it, but it made me laugh. In the comic it's a TV show where the punchline is the twist, but I think it only really works as a joke, with the twist being the punchline.
Also I thought I had a silly story with a twist ending on the level of the story of Nate the Snake and the lever that ends the world in me. Alas.