Miranda Kate’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Catch Me If You Can
When they got back to Rob’s flat, Michael knew it was explaination time.
Rob already knew Michael wasn’t from here and had seen people disappear and appear over the last few months, even his own friends. But he was fascinated by Michael’s story and that there were other times, and he was also curious about who the Jester might be. When it came to Michael’s dilemma about how to catch him, in his true form, he wanted to get involved.
“It’s not like there’s anything else for me here. As you’ve seen it’s all falling part, no one knows which way is up! Yet we all still keep going on doing what we were doing before – like going out to night clubs, pretending it’s not happening. But fundamentally it’s only going to get worse.”
“I just can’t guarantee your safety Rob, because I just don’t know what will happen if we catch him together – if anything.”
“Mike, I’m consenting to this, you’re not forcing me.”
Michael was still dubious. “I just want you to be sure. It’s not much fun being his ‘play thing’ I can assure you.”
“I get that, but I like the idea that we might be able to surprise him. He won’t be expecting it. It gives us an edge.”
Michael relented with a smile. “True. It would be nice to knock that hideous grin off his face, if only for a moment. But the question is where and how?”
“I still think our best bet is the alleyways around here. I know them inside out, especially the dead ends. We could corner him.”
“Assuming he’s not using any special tricks when he vanishes that is.”
Rob pulled a face. “If he’s doing that it won’t make any difference where we are, we’ll still be shit out of luck!”
Rob pulled out some paper and laid it out on the white kitchen table, while Michael quickly shifted their coffee cups to the work bench next to it. He began drawing the layout of the alleyways, using his flat as the central point. He identified all the establishments that backed onto them, and highlighted the dead ends. They discussed how they could lead him into them from the various locations, running through all the possible scenarios, knowing that in the end it was solely down to where he might appear.
Michael sat back. “At this point we’re playing blind.”
“Yeah, maybe, but Mike at least we’ve familiarised ourselves with all the possible vantage points, so we stand a better chance.”
“True.” Michael yawned. “It’s late - ”
“- or early, depending how you look at it.” Rob checked his watch; he hadn’t seen 3am for a long time.
“Let’s turn in; we can do a physical run through in the morning.”
“Okay.” Rob rolled up the drawing.
They spent most of the following day walking round the maze of alleyways so that Michael could orientate himself, particularly to all the dead ends. They’d numbered them for ease and ran through all the various routes that led to them. By mid-afternoon Michael felt confident that he had them down and they decided to go to Frank’s diner for a drink. Rob set Michael the task of taking them there without any guidance, and he succeeded without a hitch.
As they settled on stools at the bar, Michael looked in the mirror that hung behind it. It was still quite busy for the time of day, but as he checked out the other patrons, one stood out. The man was nothing out of the ordinary and seemed to fit in well, dressed casually in jeans and a shirt, but the intense way he was watching Michael caused the hairs on the back of his neck to prickle.
They ordered their drinks and Michael observed the man for a while as he drank, noticing that he barely took his eyes off Michael. Eventually he nudged Rob, who snapped his head round recognising the intent behind the movement. He followed his gaze in the mirror and picked out the man easily, leaning over and whispering, “Do you want to go now, see if he follows? If he does, head for dead end number 3.”
Michael nodded and took the last swig of his drink as he slid off the stool and put some money on the bar. He patted Rob on the shoulder in a ‘so long’ gesture, and headed out of the door without looking back.
The man followed.
Michael glanced back at each corner to check the man was still there, while taking the designated turns to the dead end. His heart raced as the adrenaline kicked in, and he asked himself could this really be it? Could he finally get back home? He couldn’t quite believe that it was this easy.
A very faint cackle tickled the back of Michael’s mind confirming that it was the Jester and not just some random person following him.
After a sharp left turn he reached the abrupt dead end, and turned ready to face him. He heard the man’s pace slow down as he approached the corner, and then he stepped round making himself visible to Michael. He stopped, unabashed at being seen.
They stood facing each other and waited.
No changes occurred and Michael wondered how long it would take. The only part of the man’s face that was recognisable as the Jester were the eyes; deep, black, and endless. The longer Michael looked into them, the more depth they seemed to have. He felt like he was looking down into a black tunnel that seemed to go on forever, spiralling down.
Michael’s head jerked back as the Jester loosed his cackle, and he realised he’d been taken in by his hypnotic eyes. The tone of the cackle started to ascend, becoming louder as Michael listened. He covered his ears, but the shrill pitch still came through. He shut his eyes, and bowed his head under the pressure of it, as he tried to keep it out.
Only when it suddenly cut out did he realise that he’d been shouting, imploring the Jester to stop. He looked up in shock; it wasn’t like him to do as he was asked.
“Thank you.” Michael uncovered his ears.
The Jester didn’t speak, or move.
Michael took a cautious step towards him. His smile broadened.
“You can smile, but I’m not stupid enough to make a grab for you. I know I’ve got to wait for you to ‘change’.”
The Jester threw back his head and let out a deep, hearty laugh. Unlike his usual cackle this sounded like he honestly found Michael’s words funny. Michael refused to let it unsettle him and remained still, concentrating on shielding his thoughts; he could feel the Jester probing them.
Michael took another step forward and the laughter stopped, along with the smile.
“Not sure are you, what it is I’m playing at? Why, when you have an obvious route of escape, would I attempt to catch you?” Michael tried to display an innocent, open expression, but he couldn’t keep his smile down.
The Jester’s eyes narrowed. Michael took yet another step this time keeping his movements slow, not wanting him to bolt. He could feel the Jester searching around inside his mind, trying desperately to coax some sort of information out, but Michael kept his mind blank, only concentrating on an image of himself smiling.
Michael watched the Jester’s frustration grow; the more irritated he became, the more his features deteriorated. The moment had finally come. Large pieces of flesh rolled down his cheeks and fell on to the ground sounding like large rain drops. The hideous truth of his corrupt face began to show through; the young pliable skin dissolving, giving way to the drawn, paper-thin film that covered his skeletal head.
Despite having witnessed this a couple of times, Michael still wanted to retch on sight of it, but he remained upright and resisted the urge to step back. In fact he forced himself to take another step forward, closing the gap between them, causing the Jester to glance behind him as though getting ready to run.
But right on cue the sound of footsteps could be heard, travelling down the alleyway, moving in their direction. Michael prayed it was Rob.
Upon hearing the footsteps the Jester stiffened. His eyes darted back to Michael and his putrid grin faltered; his face having completed its change now. At first anger flashed in his eyes, but then it dissipated as Rob came into view, taking a stand behind him, blocking his exit.
His effeminate tone cut the air as he spoke, “Clever, Michael, very clever.”
He started to back up against one of the walls, maybe thinking of edging his way out, but Rob flanked him.
Michael found it hard to believe they had actually caught the Jester and found himself holding back a little, wanting to savour it after all his failed attempts.
But when Rob gave him a questioning look, he nodded and they both leapt forward, seizing an arm each.
The Jester was startled by the duel movement, only expecting one, but there was little time to react as everything started to swirl round them, and they were plucked out of this time, falling through the darkness into another.
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