He wasn’t any deader than usual.
I mean, sure, he was dead. His head was barely attached by a few wet strings of whatevertheheck, and floating in a pool of blood so warm that it must have been pumping through his veins just moments earlier. No, Roman was about as dead as you can get. It’s just that after a bloke’s come back from the dead half a dozen times, you start getting a bit cynical.
I kicked him a few times to make sure anyway, which turned out to be a bad idea because his head fell off all the way.
“Mongrel!” I said gloomily, more as a general swear than at him in particular. Roman doesn’t like me really swearing. “Blood on me jacket again!”
I crouched by the pool of blood and pushed his head back toward his neck. Nothing happened, but I kept it there anyway, ignoring the darker, slicker patches that showed on my leather cuffs. Roman’s not a vampire or anything like that. He just dies a lot. And it turns out that in a world where someone’s always trying to kill someone else, that can be a pretty lucrative talent.
Fingers clawed at my arm.
“Water!” rasped Roman, sucking in a gurgling breath.
“Oh, shut up,” I grumbled.
He sat up easily, dripping gore, and ran a bloody hand over his neck. “You’re no fun anymore, ya know that?”
“It wasn’t even frightening the first time.”
“You keep tellin’ yourself that, kid. You get the money?”
“What am I, an idiot?”
Roman flicked me a Look. “You weren’t supposed to break cover this early. I was supposed to take a ride to the city morgue. You should know by now that some of ‘em come back to check.”
“If I sneak into the morgue any more times this year, I might as well install a revolving door. Besides, what were they gonna check? They cut your head off.”
“I remember. Not my favourite way to die, I have to say.”
“Keeping score, are you?”
“Well, at least we got to live the high life for a while,” said Roman, shrugging. “And the Client paid well, so we should be comfortable for a while.”
“Where are we going this time?”
“Heard a rumour of some kids like me, up in Melbourne. They call ‘emselves Gamers. Maybe we’ll go there for a while.”
“More like you? Together? How’d they find each other, the White Pages?”
“Internet, kid. What are you, ninety? And you found me.”
“Yeah, but I’m not special,” I argued. I just like hanging out in morgues. “It was an accident. I dunno, Roman: a bunch of ‘em together, dying and coming back to life? We really wanna be in on that?”
“Bigot,” said Roman, grinning. “Hey, the Client’s little friends left a machete behind.”
“I’ve already bagsed it,” I told him. “You got the crossbow last time.”
“Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” said Roman. He was closer, of course.
I darted in front of him to get it first, and a sharp noise cracked through the air. Something punched my chest, hot and cold and powerful, and spun me away from Roman.
“Ow!” I staggered, shocked at the suddenness of it all. “Mongrel! What was that?”
My knees gave out, sprawling me in Roman’s blood. Only it couldn’t be his, because his was over there…
“Oh heck,” I said, and my voice sounded thick, as thick as my blood. “I’m gonna die.”
I saw a confusingly sideways montage of Roman dashing at the shadows on the other side of the street, a shard of light glinting in his hand. Gunshot split the air once again, then four times in quick, frantic succession. I heard a heavy, wet, smacking sound, and the client’s head somersaulted through the air, rolling out of sight down the bitumen.
“Baby, you still with me?”
There was Roman again. I must have lost a piece of time, or consciousness, because he was holding me now, gripping me too tightly with arms that were wiry and uncomfortable. I wasn’t used to being this close to him.
I snuffled a sick laugh into his shoulder. “Guess we asked for too much this time, eh?”
“His mistake,” said Roman, eyes like flint. “Police’ll get a body this time after all.”
“Two,” I said, snuffling again. “Reckon I should have picked you up from the morgue after all. Heck, Roman, it hurts!”
There was the stubbly warmth of his cheek against my forehead. “I know.”
“Money’s in the station lockers,” I said to the growing void. “Number seven this time.”
“Don’t be like that, baby,” said Roman. “We’ll get it together.”
“You suck at lying,” I said.
My heart ceased to beat, the silence of it ringing loud and sudden in my ears. Light and consciousness slipped away.
I woke, gasping and flailing, to a feeling of claustrophobia and the smell of plastic. My hands slapped against thick plastic above and around me, and I felt the sharp teeth of a metal zipper on my fingertips.
A body bag. I was in a body bag.
But that was Roman’s trick! I had been dead. So very, very dead.
Breathing too quickly, I struggled with the zip, tugging at it with my fingernails until I’d made an opening big enough for my hand to slip through. I unzipped myself and emerged into bleach-scented chill like a butterfly from its chrysalis.
“Well,” I panted, into the cold silence of the morgue. “This is a twist.”
I hope you enjoyed my offering for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge. I saw the prompt and had an idea and opening sentence almost at once. The only problem is, I think there’s more story… Aaaaand now I wanna write it as a tv series. As if I haven’t got enough to do.
You can check out the challenge and all the stories in the comments section here!