Heat. Screams. Gunfire. It was all around him. Simon ran towards the door, back in his room at the old factory. The second his hand touched the knob, he was scalded and withdrew. Smoke filled his vision, his nose, his lungs. Those screams continued from the other side, urging him on desperately..
Simon reeled back and kicked the door open with all his might. Fire filled his old living space, so bright and hot he could barely see. The screams continued as he brought his arm to shield his face and pushed onward, his limbs becoming heavier and heavier with every step. It was like somebody had attached a chain to his back and kept pulling. Figures ahead were barely silhouettes in the raging flames as he fell to the ground on his hands and knees.
He remembered that scream. It was one he?d heard in his nightmares for years. Simon couldn?t see her face yet, but it was etched on his memories, clear as day. Cici. Terror in her young eyes as he crawled, helpless to save her.
And the other...blonde. Curvaceous. Trouble personified. Tahlia had swept through his life like a tornado. Reawakening a fire in him that had died with Cici. Now, the two were together, struggling against invisible bonds, screaming for him to help them.
Simon?s muscles ached and strained, dragging his impossibly heavy body across the hot floor. Every bit of his body and soul felt overexerted, drained. And then the third figure stepped forward. He?d half expected to see Cotter standing there. Just as it had been the day Cici was ripped away from him.
But it wasn?t.
As Simon?s gaze turned upward, all he saw was himself.
A cigarette hung from his lips, his eyes lost to shadow. The cherry glowed with a hellish orange light as he took a drag. The smell of gasoline filled his nostrils suddenly, and he wasn?t in his old home anymore. Suddenly, he was in that old warehouse from 11 years ago. Cici and Tahlia knelt in the puddle of gasoline, both of them drenched and wailing.
?Please?? he tried to shout. But his voice only came out as a whisper. His doppleganger stared down with those dark eyes and flashed a bright, toothy grin. The shadow Simon held up that cigarette as if presenting it.
?Please?? Simon begged again.
Simon?s stomach turned as the shadowy version of himself flicked the cigarette away, sending it tumbling slowly into the puddle. The trapped fighter screamed and writhed, trying to move, but couldn?t budge even an inch as the flames burst to life, rushing towards Tahlia and Cici, his cries echoing into nothing as the inferno engulfed them.
He lurched upright in his bed, his body covered in a cold sweat. That world was gone. Here, it was quiet. Peaceful. The sound of crickets creeped in through the window as he tried to catch his breath. A dream. It was only a dream?
Simon wiped the sweat from his brow and tried to even out his breathing. He closed his eyes and then grabbed his jeans.
Moments later he stood out on the porch, the sky littered with bright, brilliant stars. A cigarette raised to his lips, the flame illuminating his face briefly as he lit the tip. It *was* incredibly peaceful out here. Coming from a place that was full of noise and bodies, standing along in the middle nowhere surrounded by nothing but open land as far as the eye could see was an odd comfort.
The screen door behind him creaked open, drawing his attention back. Kate stood in a pair of PJ pants and a tank top, her hooded sweatshirt pulled tight around her slender frame. She lifted her chin toward him, a little smirk on her face.
?Night owl, huh, Doodlearms??
Simon grinned. ?Yeah, that?s me. Burnin? the midnight oil.? He took a drag and blew it out the corner of his mouth. ?Didn?t wake you, did I??
Kate shook her head and stepped out, surveyed her property a moment. Simon had to admit, she was a looker. There was a time not so long ago, those eyes alone might have done him in. She turned those multi-colored hues upon him, glancing at the cigarette in his hand. ?You bring enough for the rest of class or what??
?Oh. Right.? He said, fishing in his pocket. ?My manners.? He let her draw one out and quickly lit it for her.
Kate took a drag, holding that smoke in a while before letting it glide out from her nostrils as she gazed at the farm in the moonlight. ?So, what do you do, Simon?? She asked appraising his tatooed form. ?I don?t imagine you?re a kindergarten teacher or a preacher, lookin? like that.?
Simon looked down at his arms a moment. ?You implyin? somethin??? he said, feigning offense.
She snorted. ?Nah. You?re a picture of well-adjusted. The tats and scars wouldn?t terrify a room full of children at all.?
Simon smirked, a quiet laugh escaping him. ?I?m sorta in-between things at the moment...?
Kate watched as if waiting for him to finish. When it became clear he hadn?t planned to, she continued for him. ?Buuuut, Kate, I used to...what? Ride dirtbikes for a living? Hand-model??
That got a genuine laugh out of him. ?I don?t imagine they?d want mangled hands for that gig.?
?Hey, you don?t know.? She smirked. ?Those meat hooks are so messed up, they?ll make the jewelry look even better.?
Kate leaned her hip against the railing and looked him in the eye. ?Come on. Level with me.?
?I was a fighter.? He admitted.
?Like a boxer??
?Cage. Bare knuckle.? he clarified.
?That makes sense.? She said, squinting and nodding. ?Were you good.?
?Well, not to brag, but oh yeah. I was awesome. Totally blow your mind.? He nodded with faux vigor.
Kate shot him a toothy grin, taking another drag. ?So? What made you quit??
He snorted. ?What makes every man quit something he?s good at??
?Castration?? She deadpanned, getting a laugh out of him. ?So. You found yourself a girl, huh? And where is she on this road to self-discovery??
?Off somewhere with some other guy.?
Her brows raised. ?Wow. Damn. That?s some ****y luck.?
?No,? Simon laughed, ?It?s not like that. She?s working a job.?
Kate leveled a stare at him. ?Why do I feel like that job?s not entirely legal??
?It probably isn?t.? He admitted. If he was honest, he didn?t quite understand the point of the whole thing, other than getting money, but it wasn?t like he was some pure, good intentioned angel his whole life either. Hell the amount of blood on his hands alone would terrify Kate if she knew.
The young mother took a long drag, studying the stranger before her. ?Do I need to worry about you, Simon?? She asked slowly, pointedly. ?Are you gonna be a problem for me??
The corners of his mouth twitched just a bit before he shook his head. ?No. I?m just a guy trying to figure things out.?
Kate nodded. ?Good. Because you do anything to put me, Pops or my little girl in trouble? They ain?t gonna find your body. We clear.?
She was ballsy. Tough. Simon liked that. ?Crystal.?
?Good.? She said stomping out her cigarette. ?Then we can be friends!?
Kate smiled and went past him, giving his arm a squeeze. ?Don?t stay up too late.?
?Ugh, fine, Mom.? He whined.
?Don?t you use that tone with me!? She called back, playing along.
He made a noise like a whiny teenager.
?Hey, I brought you into this world, I?ll take you out!? She said with faux anger. ?Little ****...? she muttered, heading on in.