Charlie curled up into a tight ball. He shuffled backwards into a dusty corner of the street that was filled with accumulated litter and cigarette butts. He stared vacantly ahead at the oblivious footfall passing him. No one stopped. No one stared. Hidden in plain sight; no one noticed him. His grey, haggard face and muddy clothes were like camouflage in the dull city. If they didn't notice him, they also didn't notice the alarmingly tight grip on the small, black gun he held at his shoulder. His forefinger was still on the trigger, right where it had been six minutes ago, when that same gun had killed a man.
He remembered now. Safe against the wall, safe amongst the crowd, Charlie let his memory fold into vision. He saw the gun, laid lovingly into his hand. He’d taken it carefully, bravely. He knew what he had to do. Then he’d strode calmly into the street, gun at his side, with no feeling of guilt or shame. Passers-by didn't see the gun. He hadn't tried to hide it, so they hadn't looked for it.
His vision blurred. A man glanced at him on the ground, looked at the gun. Actually looked at it, but continued on his way without so much of a second thought. “Human minds are so weak,” thought Charlie. “They see something so out of place and then fill it in with something more digestible. That deranged psychopathic killer rocking back and forth on the pavement holding a gun, must have just been the wind rippling a bin bag.”
His thoughts returned lazily back to the past: As he walked steadily down the street he scanned the progression of people walking his way, minding their own business, on their way home, going to pick up the kids from school. He wondered at the many lives of which he knew so little, and would never know. He picked out one man. One man whose life he would now bring to an end.
Very calmly, slowly, he came to a stop at the curb and turned to face his target standing at the bus stop. Others stood waiting, leading their separate lives, not knowing this man’s final moments would leave such an imprint on their life history. In one smooth movement Charlie brought the gun up to aim, both his arms at right angles to his torso. He waited one moment. One moment for other pedestrians to realise the inevitable but also feel helpless to act. One moment for that man to enjoy his final breath. One moment when Charlie’s pulse thundered in his temples: once, twice…
Charlie blinked, shuddered back. The man dropped. His body cold as it hit the ground with a dull slump. It took a surprisingly long time for the other people to react, drop to their knees, shopping spilling onto the pavement, or perhaps the rush of adrenaline had quickened Charlie’s senses. Now everything had fuzzy edges and a dreamlike haze. People moved with stiff limbs and talked in slow motion, their shrill voices turned dull, drifting across the road in watery swathes. His mind was no longer connected to his body, just a stunned brain, momentarily stalled from though; nothing but biological matter held within an empty shell. He felt his legs move like he was in another’s body. He staggered away from the gathering crowds, towards the creeping dusk, shaking with cold tears running down his dirty face, a tight lump in his throat.
He swayed down an alleyway towards the main street. No one had looked for the source of the gunshot, no one had suspected the man who had slipped quietly away, growing progressively unstable with every faltering step he took. He came to a stumbling halt by a drain, doubled over and threw up; his body trying to cleanse itself. He lurched down the main road, against the flow, the crowd parting with disgusted faces, looking offended at their being within 20 feet of him. Past the post office, shopping mall and pub, Charlie came to rest, in the same dank corners he now resided.
He pressed the gun to his chest, the same place his bullet had entered the man, and probably still sat, swimming in blood. Heart pounding, the heat of the fired gun swept through Charlie, as quickly as the life had left his victim. With the heat came a rush of torment and anguish, guilt and panic. He’d just killed a man. Actually killed him. Slaughtered in cold blood. In broad daylight. He wasn't even on drugs. But strangely, he felt a growing happiness within him. Twisted, but unmistakably happy. He needed no drugs, smoke or alcohol, he knew now he could feed off the death of others. A grim smile crept across his features and he clenched his fist as the sweet success of murder gave him strength through his veins. He stood up, taller, more assured, and made his way quickly and confidently through the crowd.
His thoughts returned to the dead man, but less frantic this time. After all, there was little he could do to help the poor bugger now. The man will remain as only a memory, there to be remembered as and when one felt like it. The bereft would grieve, yes, but they’d overcome this mere episode all too quickly. Their sorrow wouldn't last for a butterfly’s heartbeat in comparison to his sentence, if he were caught. He needed to disappear, let himself be lost in endless population.
The stench of himself wafted up to him: He also needed a new shirt.