The young man was sprawled out on his side on the grass, at the man’s feet. His eyes were closed and his breathing was labored. His breaths began to decline and get softer...and softer...
But the man, observing this, did not move. He only further observed the lad.
The young man’s face was streaked with blood and his mouth was severely cut and a steady stream of red trickled from one corner of his mouth and made a pool on the grass. The hands that had worked so hard in making his living were in a twisted position and had horrible gashes. The man could see the white flesh within that blood hadn’t reached yet. He looked at the young man’s neck---it hung awkwardly to the side. The man’s stomach curdled and he felt like retching.
The young man’s legs were tangled and one ankle was unnaturally bent. His shirt was soaked with blood and he was slowly dyeing the grass red.
And yet, with all these obvious injuries and not-so-obvious ones, the young man lay almost peacefully---his long eyelashes just barely brushing his bloodstained cheeks, cheeks that were smoothly still.
The man stood over him and stared into the young man’s face intently and for a fleeting moment, there was pain and indecision in his own face.
But he overcame it by pulling an orange flask from his pocket. Kneeling, he poured the contents into the young man’s mouth.
And in doing so, he changed the future.
Sunlight peered into his eyes, making everything an orangey-red through his eyelids. It took a lot of effort to open them, but he managed to do it and he could see nothing but the clear blue of sky and the green of the trees above him.
And yet, was he really alone? The motorcycle had crashed, he began to remember, and there was nothing but pain---and then darkness. He should have been dead, but he was alive. It took a bit of an effort, but he smiled and then winced in pain. That brought back the question---was he really alone? He felt another presence there, but only one. It was almost silent and he knew the presence was not of an ambulance worker. It sent out a cold, indescribable feeling towards him.
Had this thing---whomever and whatever it was---saved his life? He had seen himself lying there somehow, just barely holding on and he had not been aware of someone else being there. He had been so horrified at the extent of his injuries---broken neck, broken ankle, twisted wrists, fractured and broken ribs…..the list went on. But one thing that stuck out from the blood and cuts on his face was his mouth. It was severely cut and just barely hid a chipped front tooth. He tried to sit up and then went white with pain. He cried out silently.
Suddenly, he felt someone helping him up and a tasteless, yet with a hint of sweetness, fluid went down his throat. He coughed and spluttered, but his instinct made him swallow it. The pain lessened and he could sit up and move.
“Take it slow, Paul,” came a warning voice.
The young man, Paul McCartney, turned slowly to face the speaker.
“Hello, sir...” Paul began, but trailed off upon seeing the man’s face. “What the hell......?” he whispered shrilly when he found his voice.
“It’s quite all right, Paul,” the man assured him, but his voice was less than assuring.
“No it’s not...what in bloody hell are you? God, I am not seeing this. This is absolutely insane!” Paul put his head in his hands and turned away from the man.
“But you should be quite used to insanity now, luv,” the man said.
“This is not real...this isn’t bloody real...” Paul repeated to himself.
“I assure you, dear boy, that this is all quite real.”
“Oh, fuck off!” Paul shouted almost hysterically, hearing the voice and suddenly in a fury. “I’m dead, right? Just tell me that! If I’m alive, this is just too crazy! This is just some bullshit someone thought up!”
The man came closer to Paul, but Paul screamed in terror.
“Stay the hell away from me!” he shouted. “I don’t know who you are, but you’re not me!”
For the man looked oddly like Paul.
“Are you sure about that?” the man inquired quietly.
“Screw it all!” Paul cried. “You look like me, you talk like me, you’re almost as tall as me! Lord, this is some kind of dream! I must’ve had too many tabs...”
“Paul, Paul,” the man chuckled, “you really must calm down.”
Paul just stared back at the man with blank, yet seeing, eyes. The man was Paul. He didn’t look like him anymore---he was him.
“But you’re not really me, are you?” Paul asked with pleading eyes. “You’re right; I’m not sure anymore! I’m me and you’re you---and you just happen to be like me, right?”
“If it were only so simple!” the man replied patronizingly, giving Paul a strangely affectionate look. “My dear Paul, please calm yourself or---” the man’s expression was suddenly coldly hard---“I will have to calm you myself.”
The man’s eyes were enough to make anyone cringe in horror—though shaped and coloured like Paul’s, they had none of the dreamy, soulful and thoughtful qualities that Paul had in his own. They were crafty and just plain cold. The coldness made Paul shudder and he was still.
“Now that you are calm,” the man said a bit smugly, “we can get down to business. Maybe it would be best if I was in my true form to talk to you. It may make you feel better.”
The man seemed to shimmer and ripple for the briefest moment and he changed from looking like Paul to being what he really was---a thin, small-looking man of about thirty years, with hard, glaring ice-blue eyes and scruffy black hair. There was a permanent scowl to his features, but Paul reflected that if the man smiled, really and truly smiled, he wouldn’t be so hard-looking. But mirth hardly played a part in the man’s face.
“Do you feel any better, now, Paulie?” the man asked, in what was meant to be a kind tone.
Paul’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t call me that, if you please, sir,” he said in his most dignified and freezing manner.
“If you insist,” the man replied, shrugging. “Shall we talk, then?”
“I would rather not,” Paul shot back, in a very cold voice. “I don’t know what you are and you were just me a minute ago, so I don’t think it’d be safe for us to chat.”
“Safe for you or safe for me?” the man asked, with a sardonic little leer.
“Neither,” Paul answered. “But seeing that you just saved my life, we might as well talk.”
“That’s better, Paul. You owe me a bit of civility for saving your little life.”
“Cut the sarcasm and just say what you’re going to, okay?”
The man smiled in a mix of affection and cruelty.
“Yes, I saved your life,” he said in a sing-sing voice. “You would have died if it had not been for me.”
Even though Paul knew this was true, having had a short out-of-body experience, he couldn’t help rolling his eyes at the man’s boasting tone.
“Allow me to introduce myself, m’boy,” said the man, holding his hand out to Paul, who refused to take it. “Well, if you won’t shake my hand, you’ll at least let me tell you my name?”
Paul couldn’t help a small smile of amusement, seeing that he really was being an ass to the man (who deserved it anyway, a small voice whispered in his mind).
“I’ll take that smile as a yes. Mr. McCartney, my name is William Campbell. It is my pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
Copyright 1999-2000: Lissa Michelle Supler. May not be reproduced by any means in any form without the permission of the author. Permission may be obtained e-mail.
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