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His vision was swimming. Arthur couldn't see a thing until he managed to roll over, his clothes soaked in crimson. Coleen knelt next to him. He couldn't look her in the eye. The bullet hole in his side burned, feeling like it had dug deeper, almost as if it was still moving through him, cutting through veins and sinew and bone with nothing in its path.

His whole body was screaming at him to do something, anything to stop the bleeding. He was so distracted by this pain that he couldn't even notice that his nose had been broken again, twisted to the side like the snout of a farm animal. Every breath he took was ragged, every throb of pain stabbing through his brain. With both hands, he squeezed at the wound, trying to hold it shut while the sound of the outside world beat against his ears like the monstrous roar of the foaming ocean waves he had just come to know.

Henry, Jasper, Bernadette, and Bradley. Was this how it felt for them, too?

In their dizziness, his eyes rested on a camera in the corner of the room. He tried to look away, to pull himself out of the trance the lens put on him.


Suddenly, it was as if his bullet wound had gone up in flames. Arthur opened his mouth to scream, recoiling away from the camera, the only sound escaping his lips a quiet whimper. The pressure of the blood building up against his palms was too much to hold in place, so he let go. He held his hand up to his face.

So much blood. So much red.


His breathing sped up, his body rallying for on last final push before it eventually gave up. Arthur found the strength to sit himself up against the wall, gasping for air. The sides of his vision tore like burnt paper, slowly crackling and crumbling away toward an inevitable full stop.

Nothing touches me.

Arthur expected to see his life flash before his eyes. Something like the trope he had written into his stories so many times, the last dramatic moments to squeeze any last tears out of the readers his work would never find. Instead, he was faced with the burning reality surrounding him. No distracting flashbacks or fitting last words came to mind. This was real. This was happening, and it was happening to him.

His hands were going numb. So cold and so hot at the same time. Herky-jerky spasms like clockwork out of sync with itself. He bit down on his tongue, hard, hoping that the shot of pain would buy him some more time of lucidity. Anything to keep himself afloat. Arthur wanted to grab Coleen and hold her close to him. He couldn't figure out how to lift his eyelids - he hadn't even noticed that they had closed. Arthur felt lighter all over except for the point where blood was still flowing out, slower, but still there, like an anchor dug deeply into the ground.

In desperation, he threw out his hand for something to grab onto. It found Coleen's leg. Soft. Warm. Alive. Breathing. Squeezed it. Blood underneath his palm, his own on his skin and Coleen's beneath hers. His left eye fell open, and he could see the look on her face. Through the pain, he managed to curl his lips into a smile. The 'everything will be alright' smile. The 'it's too late' smile.

A smile nonetheless.

Was there anything left to say to her?

Maybe there was. Somewhere. Sometime.

Not here. Not now.

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Cooking Up Trouble · Storage Closet