Scissors, hammer, matches. He stared at them arrayed before him on the table until his eyes unfocused, their edges melding as his gaze drifted to some unseen point beyond. Downstairs the hammering on the door continued, a metronome broken only by the yelling that periodically replaced it. But if Michael heard it he showed no response.

Some time later he stood up, his limbs rebellious, and walked to the bathroom. Standing before the mirror he stared at his reflection, thirty-seven years of wear etched upon it. Taking the scissors in his right hand and combing through his thick, tangled hair with the left Michael cut away down to the skin, leaving his head bare aside from a cluster of dark brown gathered around a scar on his temple that he couldn’t reach. His hair pooled in the sink like a growth, pulsing under the flow of water from the tap.

Returning to the bedroom Michael removed his clothes, first his jacket and then his shirt, sliding his belt from his trousers and his trousers from his legs, his socks from his feet and his watch from his wrist. His underwear he left on. With the scissors he cut up each piece in turn, strips of material falling to his feet. His watch he smashed beneath the handle of the blades, grinding steel into glass until the numbers of the face broke apart and ran together. Shaking the pieces into a wastebasket by the door Michael strapped it back onto his arm, and then paused and looked in the direction of the noise.

Taking the hammer Michael descended the stairs and stood beside the door, watching it shiver with every blow. This close the yelling sounded animal, the words undefined. In one fluid movement he slid back the latch and let the door fall open, the man falling with it before the metal met his skull: quickly he tugged the clothing from the limbs before the blood could pool against it and wrapped his own body inside.

Upstairs he took the matchbox and struck a match against its edge, the flare briefly drawing his shadow large upon the wall before the flame was pressed against the shredded fabric. Moments later it caught hold, the room a dance of darkness and light: Michael watched for a second, a minute, and then turned and left.

Outside the flicker was visible behind the curtains, the door half open and Michael half a street away, his pace steady but unhurried. Soon after he was aboard a bus headed west, empty save for a woman with a cat and a teen with his hat pulled low over his face: he sat near the back with a plastic cup full of coffee and a stick of bread and closed his eyes.

The sky began to lighten above the hills behind and the electric lamps lining the road began to switch off, their pace exceeding the pace of the bus so that at first the darkness came up fast behind and then overtook, extinguishing the orange glow before them and stretching forward into the distance. The teenager had woken up and, seeing the bread, taken the seat adjacent: Michael stirred and came to and, noting the boy staring at the food, nodded.

“So,” said the boy a few minutes later, crumbs lining his top like a puzzle, “what do they call you?”

He paused for a moment, his eyes fixed past the windows of the bus, and then replied. “I’m not sure yet.”


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