“Get down! Don’t move!” Rich said, leaping up between Mel and the rest of the dance floor. She fell out of her chair, her legs having turned to jelly. Rich pushed her down against the wall and slightly under the table. He stooped in front of her and put his hands on either side of her face, forcing her to look into his eyes.
“Stay here! Don’t move!”
Mel couldn’t move even if she tried. She stayed exactly where she was, frozen, watching the room empty. Her eyes frantically scanned the crowd hoping to see Shannon somewhere, but couldn’t. Her ears wouldn’t stop ringing and she pressed her hands over them.
She didn’t know how long it lasted. It didn’t feel like something that she could ascribe time to. It was something outside of time. A state of being. Terror.
But it did stop. And it was quiet.
She saw Rich standing in front of their table. He was facing toward the stage. He looked around at the room, then took a drink.
Mel looked past him and caught sight of a lone man standing on the dance floor immediately in front of the stage. Bodies were littered around him. He pointed the gun at Rich.
“Luke,” Mel thought.
Luke stared at him, and Mel saw Rich take several steps forward.
“Don’t fucking move!” Luke yelled. He fired a shot into Rich, who didn’t flinch.
“If you make me spill this, I’m going to be pissed,” Rich said.
Luke was already pale, but something more seemed to drain from his face. Rich set his glass down and took another step forward.
“Put the gun down. If you want any chance, you need to drop the gun.”
“Fuck you!” Luke shouted. “I’m not scared. I don’t care if you’re some cop, or you have a vest on, or what. I’m not scared to die!”
“Death isn’t what you should be afraid of,” Rich said. “Put the gun down.”
Luke laughed at Rich.
“What should I be afraid of? God? Am I going to face some sort of judgment? There’s no fucking God out there! And if there is, I’ll spit in his face.”
Luke fired his gun into Rich again. The whole room echoed with the explosions.
Mel screamed, and kept screaming even after Luke stopped firing the gun. He looked over at her, turned the gun, and fired again. Mel felt herself convulsing, her whole body flooding in searing pain.
Then suddenly it stopped. She wasn’t shaking anymore. She didn’t even hurt anymore. She lifted her head.
Rich was staring at her. She couldn’t understand the emotion in his eyes, but his face was dark.
“Stay there. Wait for me,” he said quietly, then turned back to Luke and began walking toward him.
“Who the fuck are you?” Luke shouted.
He lifted a pistol to his own head, but Rich was immediately in front of him, and pulled the gun away so that it fired into the ceiling. He crushed Luke’s wrist so that he dropped it. Luke screamed and Rich struck him across the face so hard he sprawled across the floor. Rich stepped forward again, directly over him. He stooped to grab Luke by the throat and then lifted him into the air.
“You won’t face god,” Rich said, his voice pulsing with rage. “Murderers belong to me.”
Mel could hear Luke gasping for air as Rich crushed his throat. She could hear his body writhe and strike at Rich, trying to get out of his grip until a very heavy silence descended on the room. She watched as his body slipped away from him, and Rich continued to hold something that looked like Luke, but was different. Mel had a quick thought about what Rich had said about paintings versus photographs. He held what was Luke up in the air.
The room began to grow dark, and a cold washed over her. Instinctively Mel hid her face as the darkness grew as deep as the sun was bright. It hurt her eyes.
Then the air felt normal again.
She felt a hand on her.
“Mel, stand up.”
She looked up and saw Rich. He took her hand, and he helped her up. She looked around the room, and saw other people starting to stand up too. Shakily, and disoriented. But moving.
As she watched them, she realized their bodies were still on the floor. Looking down, she saw her own body.
She screamed and started crying. Rich reached out to hold her but she shook him off and stepped back.
“Who are you? What’s going on?”
“You died,” he said quietly. His voice was heavy. “I’m sorry.”
Mel began sobbing. Rich stepped forward and put his hand on her shoulder then pulled her close. He embraced her. Mel looked up, shook him off, and then stumbled toward the dance floor.
She couldn’t be dead. She could still think. She could still breathe. Hear. See. But then she stopped. The air was thick with smoke, and she couldn’t smell it.
No. She couldn’t be dead.
“Shannon!” Mel cried.
“She’s over by the door,” Rich said.
Mel turned and saw Shannon lying on the floor. Her shirt was stained red. A small ribbon of blood ran from her mouth to the floor. Mel ran to her, kneeling next to her.
“Why isn’t she waking up? Why isn’t she here?”
“She’s still alive.”
Mel hung her head. She put her hand on Shannon, but couldn’t feel her. She sobbed.
Rich walked up behind her and put his hand on Mel’s shoulder.
“Let’s go sit. There’s nothing you can do,” he said.
“Do you know if she’ll make it?”
“I think she will,” he said.
“Oh my god,” Mel said. “She’s going to be alone. She’s going to blame herself.”
“Come over here,” he said, reaching for her.
She pushed away his hand.
“No! Stay away! Just let me be next to her…”
She hung her head.
She didn’t know how much time passed or if time was even a thing anymore, but eventually Rich put his hand on her shoulder, and then stooped down next to her.
“What are you?” she asked.
He looked her in the eyes.
“I’m not someone who likes to explain himself.”
She held his gaze.
“Are you evil?”
“Will me answering that question change your mind?”
“I don’t know what to think,” she said.
She looked back down at Shannon.
“Are you still alive?”
“But you’re here with me?” she asked.
“I walk on both sides,” he said.
“Can you tell her?” Mel asked.
“Tell her what?”
“Not to blame herself.”
Rich stared at her, then stood up.
“Come on, let’s go sit down.”
Mel placed her hand over Shannon’s. She couldn’t feel it, but she hoped that Shannon might somehow.