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A man. Alone and silent in the icy rain. He is bathed in the garish red neon of a cheap strip bar, watching the world around him. Cole remembers the silence, momentary though it was. It is gone now. Replaced by the fury and harshness of a great city, unrelenting in its savage, deafening roar. The whisper of a calm wind is gone, replaced by the unbearable screeching of traffic. The stillness of the trees is taken by the glowing, burning neon lights of hotels and restaurants.
In the sprawl, every honk is a gunshot, every screech of tires a dying moan, every flash of light a distress signal.
A great and wonderful metropolis, so they say.
As Cole gazes around, he sees towering structures and monuments erupting out of the ground, up, into the sky. He sees frenzied streets, filled with men and women and cyclists. He sees thousands of cars, and buses choked with passengers and billows of searing black smoke rising up from rusted exhaust pipes. The wind tastes sick and bitter and it carries the stench of burning tires and rotting carcasses.
As Cole wanders dark streets, sharp winds lash against his back like leather flails. His stride is heavy and long, his hulking frame constantly hunched over. He emanates sick, violent fear. His eyes are dull and sharp at once. Voices scream and laugh and call out seductively from the shadows. As a planet orbits the sun, Cole orbits violence.
As he approaches a bus stop, he feels a hand tap against his shoulder. His head snaps back, and as he turns, he sees a young middle-eastern couple. The woman is smiling, holding her phone out to him.
“Excuse me?” he mumbles. She asks him to take their picture, and Cole looks at the phone. He takes it and she stands next to her man. Cole holds up the camera, looking at the couple through the screen. Their faces are brightly lit by fiery orange lights. The man tightly embraces her, they are both smiling.
And then they aren’t. Their faces are blank and expressionless. Corpses. They are no longer in the city. They are out in the dust, and Cole is stepping over their bodies, amongst countless others. He grips his rifle tight. He looks around, observing the quietness, the stillness of the trees, moments before the cracks of gunfire smash through the air.
He’s in the city again.
Cole stands frozen. He registers nothing. His breathing is heavy and laboured. Every muscle is tightly wound. Something rises up within him, building from his chest into his throat.
He stares at their faces, watching smiles fade into confusion, and eventually hands the phone back. The woman looks at it, and her smile drops. She yells something inaudible and they walk away.
Eventually, a bus arrives, and Cole climbs aboard. He finds a seat rests his head upon the windows, staring into the distance. Streaming rainwater and flashes of light dance upon the glass.
Time passes strangely, Cole’s perception warped by insomnia. He sits, unmoving, staring through the hazy, dirty glass until eventually, the bus route ends. Cole steps off , into the concrete hellscape once more. The street is deserted. The blackness of night is weakly staved off by the dim glow of streetlights. As Cole roams the city, the hours slip by in a haze of rain and fog.
Eventually, he comes to his apartment building. It towers over the streets, but shrinks before the skyscrapers. The walls are old and grey and beaten down with rain. Concrete crumbles away from the ledges. He stares up at the bright glow of the sign. He listens to the hum of moths crowding around flickering light panels.
Inside, the lobby is dim and old. A thin layer of dust has formed over the flickering light bulb. It reeks of cheap air freshener. A security guard sits slumped in a chair at the corner, asleep. Cole awaits the elevator
The door rings as it opens, and a man and a woman walk in. A light windcheater jacket is draped over his heavy shoulders. He carries a large duffel bag The hems of his jeans sit crumpled over his boots. The woman wears a tan jacket over her blouse. Cole’s gaze follows them as they approach. The man stares back at him, his eyes sharp. Cole looks away. The elevator opens and they enter. The man punches a button.
The soft yellow light of the elevator illuminates the dust floating around. It casts faint shadows upon her soft face.
A few moments pass.
The elevator door opens. The man glances at Cole. He steps out, followed by the woman. Cole goes to his room.
Once inside, he slumps down onto the bed, exhausted. His body is weak, yet sleep eludes him. Cole switches on the television and vaguely stares at the bright blue glow. He sips at a glass of water.
He thinks about the woman. He remembers her face, her hair, the light scent of her perfume. From one room over, he can hear the couple arguing. He hears the woman crying. The man shouting. Something smashes.
Within, something builds, rising and rising, encompassing his being. The glass begins to crack and splinter in his grip.
Crying. Moaning. Screaming. A cruel laugh. Yet another symphony of pain fills Cole’s ears as he approaches the door. He slams a fist heavily against it. Nothing. He knocks again.
From inside comes a shout, “Fuck off, asshole”.
Cole grits teeth and backs up before slamming a boot against the door. It shakes in the frame, the wood smashing around the door knob. He kicks again, and it swings off its hinges.
Cole stares at the man, as he stands behind the woman, naked, a tough hide flail in his gloved hand. She trembles and sobs. Her skin is a burning red around the latex straps. Eyeliner stains her cheeks.
Cole’s fists close. His muscles tighten. His breathing goes heavy and ragged. From his throat, comes a deep, guttural roar and he charges towards the man.
Bleaching sun. Gritty sand. Cool sweat. He’s in the dust once more. As he approaches the tent, he hears screams and sobs and laughter. He stops by the entrance, peeking in through a gap in the curtain. The belt jangles around the man’s ankles. Her fingernails claw against the desk, leaving deep scratch marks as she tries to pull herself away.
His footing is soft, quiet. Beside him, upon a hard plastic chair, sits a large glass ashtray. He picks it up. He stands behind the man, and grabs his collar, tearing him off her and pulling him to the ground.
Screams, all around. The woman. The man. Cole, most of all. Feral, grating, guttural screaming. Burning on rage.
The man writhes below. Cole slams a boot against his face. Bone splinters. Blood streams out. Cole bends down, his cold fingers tightening around the man’s soft, fleshy throat. He raises the ashtray. The man’s skull ruptures upon collision. Blood splashes. Again. Again and again, Cole smashes it against his forehead, until the man’s head lays cracked apart. A bloodied eggshell.
Cole falls back, dropping the crimson ashtray.
The body lies still. Blood covers Cole. It is speckled upon his cheek. It drips from his chin. It is splattered upon his uniform. A crimson boot print upon the dusty grey floor.
The room again. She weeps. Cole looks down at his hand. He is gripping an ashtray. It is slick with blood. She cradles the man’s shattered skull in her arms, sobbing.
She screams at Cole, but he doesn’t hear her. He doesn’t hear anything.