And so, you have come to the end of our labyrinthine tale. I did not expect you here so soon. You have successfully navigated the twists and turns, the tricks and deceits, and now that you are here, no doubt you expect one final ordeal–one last challenge before you can claim your prize…
Then how did you…? Never mind. Pick a door–any door, and–God be willing, I will see you back here, in a little while.
The credits are rolling and the cinema lights are coming up, but still you sit in your seat, waiting. You’ve gone to see the film with high expectations, studiously avoiding any online reviews or the water cooler spoilers of your colleagues. You know this Director’s oeuvre, right from the stunning debut that everyone went to see twice, once to see what all the fuss was about, then again, to see how he did it. The Master of the twist, the Magician of the unexpected. Some of his later films, perhaps, were a little obvious, or worse, the twist, though clever, was just that–clever. No real gut wrench, no rewiring of the brain required to understand it. Still, a new film is always something to look forward to.
And yes, there’s a twist in this film, but it comes near the start, as part of the setup, and yes, the film is decent enough, the actors lift the occasionally stilted dialogue, the cinematography as ever is glorious, but…
Final credits. The cinema is nearly empty: you, someone buried in their mobile phone, and a couple in the back seats making out who probably haven’t even noticed the film is over. No post-credit surprises then. A man in uniform comes in with a long handled dustpan.
And you begin to wonder–did you miss it? Was it cleverer, more subtle than you expected? Was it then, cleverer than you?
I must have blacked out for a moment. I can’t remember the fall, only the stomach lurching jolt as the safety rope jerked tight, and as I come to and stretch out first my hands and then my legs, I realise I can’t feel anything–because there’s nothing to feel–I am suspended in mid air, twisting and turning on the end of a rope.
“Hello?” says a voice, as I clutch tightly onto the red and green striped nylon. I do not answer, and then a head appears over the precipice above me.
“Ah! There you are. You okay, down there?”
It’s me. I’m the one standing above me. Which makes the ‘me’ on the rope…?
You slip into the time stream, the steady flow from past, to present, to future, one second per second, looking for backwaters–twisting eddies that might take you where you want to go. But the boat is a pig to steer, it fights every turn you take, and–even more than any submerged rock, or paradox–you fear a capsize, a surrendering to the natural order. Your caution means you miss opportunity after opportunity, and you feel yourself losing the battle–and then you see it, and dig your paddle hard into the flow, and …
“They’re so cute!” she says. “Warm and snugly! They keep twisting and turning around my neck!”
“They’re trying to strangle you.” I say. “Not that you’d notice.”
She pouts and lifts the two hissing snakes back into their tank. “Beast!” she says with mock passion, as the constrictors writhe and try their best to hide beneath the rocks and branches.
They want to kill her. They all do–all the animals in the Zoo. They’re terrified of her, from the tarantula she pronounces “tickly”, to the crocodile desperately trying to rip chunks out of her leg, they all want to kill her.
I do as well, of course, but I had my chance, and failed, and know better than to try again.
The Jeweller holds the chunk of uncut stone in his aged hands, turning it first one way and then another under the bright light. You feel some of the tension drain away, there were times you didn’t think you’d make it. Times you wondered if it was worth all the sacrifices, all the spilt blood. But now…
“Plain, or spiral cut?” The jeweller repeats, dropping the eye piece and staring at you with a red-rimmed eye.
“Excuse me?” is the best you can manage in reply.
“Every stone can be cut two ways” the jeweller says, stretching his neck until there’s an audible click. “There’s a spiral–a twist–at the heart of every diamond. A plain cut imprisons that shape. Makes it sparkle inside, not on the outside. A spiral cut, on the other hand, reveals it, shows it off to the world, makes it sing.”
“It’s a Singapore Sling,” I say as I slide the glass across the smooth counter. “With a twist.”
She blinks at me. And then again. You get used to the double eyelids–they’re the rule rather than the exception at Jimmy’s. Some of the bar staff–that is, some of the other humans who work here, this is after all a classy establishment and only the best bartenders will do–they find it creepy. Me, I don’t mind. Especially when she’s flashing the sort of credit she’s flashing. Besides, ignoring the eyes, she’s kind of cute.
“What’s the twist?” She asks, with a knowing smile. For a moment, I fantasize about our bio compatibility ratings, but I know it’s just that–fantasy, and I have a job to do. Still, I turn on the charm, and I tell her…
When you can run faster than your pursuer, you do exactly that. You run straight and true, thanking your lucky stars as you leave them behind.
But when you’re slower, then you’re either smart, or you’re dead. You have to be more nimble, more cunning. You have to twist, and turn, hoping that the sudden changes of direction lose your pursuers more time than it loses you.
And that is the key. You don’t run faster by jinking, so if you do it when the pursuer is still a way off, then all it does is hasten the end. For optimum effect, you need to leave it to the last possible moment. You need your pursuer breathing down the back of your neck, and hope that as you turn, they overshoot, and miss, skidding and sliding, carried on by their own speed, to buy you a few precious seconds more, to reach safety, or pray for a Deus Ex Machina…
I look at the dagger in my hand. The black cloaked teacher repeats his question. “Does anyone notice anything unusual?”
Kerrigan, two seats closer to the front, raises his hand. “Yes?” the teacher asks.
“It’s slim, Sir!”
“So?” the teacher probes.
“A stabbing blade, Sir!”
The teacher smiles a thin smile, and I wonder if he is thinking the same thing I am–that Kerrigan attracts far too much attention to succeed as an assassin.
“Does anyone know how many times Caesar was stabbed?”
The room is quiet. Kerrigan is either too smart to answer two questions in a row, or not smart enough to know.
“23 times. Of those, only one was considered fatal. What did his assassins fail to do?”
This one, this answer we all know, and we respond in well drilled unison. “Twist and turn, Sir!”
“Twist and turn” I mutter in quiet echo, holding the dagger beneath the level of the desk, watching the keen blade catch the light and remembering the feeling that first time, as struggling flesh resisted the motion, and died in the effort.
You’re not sure where the gun has come from. It hangs limply in your hand, until you turn and point it at the Director. But he is already shot, already dead. Or dying. You approach slowly, cautiously, the ringing in your ears pulsing with every heart beat. His eyes flicker alive as you bend over his prone body, his lips twist and convulse–he’s trying to say something, but struggling. You wait, frozen, then he tries again. “Have you ever…”
There’s a pause, he squeezes his eyes tightly closed, opens them again, seems to think.
“Have you ever… tried living your life… backwards?”
And then he struggles up from the shrinking pool of blood.
You take that last turn, and there, in the distance, is a light. For a stretch the tunnel is straight and true, and the light is bright. You quicken your pace, and then slow again, still cautious, still wary. To fail after so many trials, so many disturbing experiences, is unthinkable. The light is bright, you can’t see any detail past it, but there’s something hanging from the ceiling, something that casts a half shadow, something dark, in places, see-through in others. The light is bright, and you shield your eyes as you get closer, as the shadows become symbols, familiar, but not readable. Familiar, yet strange. They’re hanging in a clear glass like substance, but the light hurts your eyes and you turn away for a moment, feeling the coolness of the walls. Then you strike forwards, eager for the prize. The symbols seem as though they should mean something to you–writing, but strange writing, unfamiliar letters, odd words, and as you pass beneath them, as you find yourself looking over a wooded valley, at a path stretching far in front of you, you twist and look up and there it is, the right way around :
Liam Hogan was abandoned in a library at the tender age of 3, emerging blinking into the sunlight many years later, with a head full of words and an aversion to loud noises.
His work has been performed by others at Liars’ League (London, Leeds, Hong Kong, and New York), and ‘Are You Sitting Comfortably?’, and by himself at StoryTails, RRRantanory’s Little Stories, and ScienceShowoff. You can find it in print in ‘London Lies’ (Arachne Press), ‘FEAR: Vol II’ (Crooked Cat) and Litro, as well as online at Stimulus-Respond, Dark Fountain Journal, and Synaesthesia Magazine.
He dreams in Dewey Decimals.