It was a cloudy day, and Caleb kept to the shadows as he crossed the street. He didn’t want to be seen, though he knew that avoiding contact was inevitable. It had been getting harder since—What was that? Was that shadow there earl—
A searing pain tore through Caleb’s back. He let his damn guard down again. Instinctively, he tightened his grip around his duffel bag as he started to move.
Caleb leapt aside, the hints of a second strike whooshing past his ear. He didn’t turn to face his attacker. He just sprinted as fast as his legs would take him.
“You can run all you want!” the attacker screamed. “But you know you’ll never, ever, be free!”
Caleb ran, and ran, trying to catch his breeaaaaaaaaaaa…
“So, Caleb. Care to explain the dropping figures for this quarter?”
The conference room was silent, its inhabitants in suits staring at him. Why did this concern him? Hadn’t this meeting been about management procedures?
“Well,” he said, “for starters, the exchange rate hasn’t been conducive to sales…”
Blood streaked down Caleb’s back. Damn it that stung. He had a long way to go before reaching safety. Take each moment as it comes, he thought.
Up ahead, on the only bridge leading home, stood three figures with scythes, their tattered cloaks flapping in the wind. At least they didn’t get the jump on him now.
“Back for more?” one figure screeched.
Caleb drew his sword, his other hand drawing his bag closer. Each moment as it comeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
A number of eyes were upon Caleb. He wasn’t sure if they were directed at him, or at the person before him.
The waitress didn’t seem pleased, but she didn’t withhold service either. “What you want to order?” she asked.
Caleb tapped the man on the shoulder. “Uhm… I believe the queue is back here.”
The stranger rounded on him. In an instant, he seemed bigger than Caleb thought he was.
“You know what, he’s right,” the waitress said. “I think you should head to the back of the queue, mister.”
The stranger stood there for a moment, and looked at the people standing in line. At first, it seemed like he wouldn’t budge, then he stormed out the door.
Caleb sighed a breath he didn’t know he was holding.
Limping on a broken ankle and holding a shredded hand, Caleb made the arduous trek across the plains. It was easy-going from here on out, but that didn’t mean he was out of danger. Those damn things could strike any time.
It didn’t use to be this way, he thought. What was the point of leaving his district to scavenge for food? He was sure that the Fischer was able to get by without stepping food outside the border.
He’d have to ask him about it, if he could find the time. Right now, his only concern was getting to safety.
Just as he thought about refuge—like a jinx—a breeze caressed his wet wounds. Caleb swung around, lashing out with his sword, only to slice through a black cloud of smoke.
“There’s no use fighting,” a voice from behind him said.
Caleb spun again, and saw nothing but wisps of vapour.
“It might not be today,” it said, “but I’ll get you sooner or later.”
“You can try,” Caleb said, as he twirled and swished at his side. Nothing but air again.
Right as he turned back and tried to make a break for home, something cold and sharp pressed onto Caleb’s neck.
“Oh I’ll try. I’ll try all righhhhhhhhhhhh
His phone rang.
“Hey,” Caleb said. “Mm hmm. I’m on the train now. Nah, I’ve just been busy. Not tonight, sorry. Yeah. Nope, it’s just been a long day. Oh? Yeah what about her?”
The phone conversation between Caleb and his colleague would last for another half hour, most of it being about the caller’s pursuits of hitting on their co-worker.
Caleb dragged himself to the door. It was a miracle he hadn’t bled to death. He rapped the door with bleeding knuckles. An apple fell out of his duffel as he shed it off his broken shoulder.
The door opened, and light shone forthhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh
“Rough day at work?”
“Me too. I got the wine, you brought dinner?”
He passed his wife a paper bag.
“Yum, Chinese. Wine and dine over some Netflix?”
A nod and a kiss.
An hour had passed, and all that’s left of dinner were paper boxes and an empty bottle. Caleb stroked Tanya’s hair as she nodded off in his lap. During moments like this, he wished he had the ability to stop time.
He wished that he could stay in this moment forever, and not have to venture back out into the world of extroverts again.
Sometimes he felt so out of place in a world made for the brash. Perhaps he should call Fischer and ask him about the sweet programming gig he’d landed.
He looked at Tanya, her chest rising and falling to the gentle sighs of sleep. Someday, he’d probably find a job that suited him more. Or perhaps he’d find a way to live off the grid, far from anyone else.
Maybe he’d have to fight these battles till his dying days—he kissed Tanya on her forehead and tucked her in—but it’s during brief moments like this, that Caleb felt it’d all be worth it.