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Straightening his back and clenching his teeth, J managed to overcome this unpleasant sensation. His arm shot out seemingly of its own accord and he grasped the door handle, almost wrenching it from its proper place as he pulled the door open and staggered outside. Someone called out from the café’s interior but not before he was stumbling away down the street.
A few moments of panic, then partial reassurance as he got his bearings. The Eastern part of the city; run down but welcoming and close to home.
J half-ran the familiar route back to fifty-seven Templar Street with its tall, narrow buildings jostling for space among the uneven pavements and trees growing from neat holes in flat concrete.
Skipping up flights of stairs like some excited child and he was once again facing his own front door, reaching for his keys and –
“Hey, how are you?” The girl’s hair was green today, an absurd mess hanging over her dark forehead.
“Oh, yes, er – ” J faltered for a moment. “Hi Hema.”
“Are you alright? You’re all pale.”
“No I’m fine. Really. I’m just in a rush, that’s all. I’m expecting a phone call.”
She looked him up and down for a second, then ran a hand through her hair. “Okay. Well I’m off to a mate’s. It’s the start of reading week so we’re going to get pissed and go to a gig. Some shit band, I dunno.”
“Great.” J mumbled something he thought sounded like an appropriate response then left her in the hallway and disappeared into his room. Silence. Three PM. The familiar arrangements of light and shadow provided some comfort even in his shaken state, but nothing could distract him from the fact that less than twenty minutes previously he had discovered some kind of flat metal object at the back of his head.
A little while later he sat at the table in what passed for a kitchen, finishing a cigarette. He flicked the last of it it out of the open window. Very slowly he raised his hand and held it behind his head.
Maybe it’ll be gone. Maybe I imagined it.
Like a specialist at a bomb, he placed the tips of two fingers on the back of his head. Prickly hair, and warm skin covering cranium. Recklessly he moved his fingers and then felt it, cold and alien in such intimate proximity to his brain. The pain followed immediately, worse this time as if someone had wired the thing to a car battery.
When the phone rang five seconds later the sound cut through him and he shrieked in a high thin voice that sounded nothing like his own.