Callum’s left eye fluttered above the landscape further down the hill, recording a view for future reference, its wi-fi facility having failed not long after installation. A Tartan roll-up, mixing its sweet aroma with the purple gorse that clung to the surrounding outcrops, smouldered in his left hand as he sat on a rock just beneath the brow; an island in an oasis of rhododendrons that crop dusting had failed to shift. On gazing with his remaining eye at the surrounding hills, mostly devoid of the plant, it appeared this pike had missed the local government’s attempts at clearing such a troublesome shrub.
Below him a swollen river flowed muddy sludge towards the sea. Nomad sheep spotted the lower moorland with drops of beige. A silent eagle, or at least a very large bird of prey, glided in the air currents that whipped up the valley in bitter gusts, an uncomfortable contrast to an otherwise late-June sun. Hot. Cold. Hot. Cold. He shivered within his Parka as sweat welcomed the icy blasts like a stranded fish gasping for life.
An old yellowing cap, Nike swish barely discernible, was pulled down almost to his eyebrows, warding of the glare. An archaic Colt .45 rested on his lap. He expected to be using it soon; when the four men who’d started their stealthy way through the bushes an hour earlier reached his position. They seemed unaware of the presence of his nano-eye.
He coughed, hawked, and spat brown phlegm at a bee on the flowers nearby. It buzzed away to find less bothersome nectar, its eight-centimetre-long body powdered with pollen. Callum remembered the days when the media scare-mongered the depletion of the bee population, and the consequences to unpollinated crops. It was a godsend to the gene experimenters, the part-time garage nano-techs who soon had super bees that achieved what had been foretold. The new bees were bigger and stronger, but man-made didn’t mean better than nature, better than evolution. You’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise though. Man the god. The backstreet god.
Out of habit he pinched his smoke, emptied the dried backy into a doc leaf, wrapped it carefully and put it into his soft brown faux-leather shoulder bag along with his other possessions. The bag was only about eighteen inches deep but Callum reached inside up to his shoulder and searched with his fingers for a spare ammo box.
“You’re not having it,” a muffled voice stated.
Callum sighed, continued his fumbling.
“You won’t find it.”
“Shut up, Bag!” It hated being called Bag. Its real name, or rather the name it had chosen for itself, was Ceasar. “You’re no better than the nano farts who made you.”
Bag didn’t bite on the comment. It had learned not to respond to Callum’s insults, mostly. Bag knew it had been created in, and was part of, another dimension. Not a product of humans at all. But it had been sought after by humans for eons. It was in fact virtually all that was left of the alternative dimension, so it wasn’t infinite. But for a human to comprehend that vastness it might just as well have been.
Eventually Bag gave in and allowed the bullets to be found. It always knew what its carrier was looking for, although it was never sure how it knew.
“They’ll kill you anyway.”
“And why’s that?” Callum knew the answer and was in no doubt the Bag knew he knew and yet …
“Because they want me.”
“And why will they kill me?” Callum emptied a few shells into his left hand.
“Because you want me.”
“I have you already. And I wonder sometimes…”
“You’d already be dead without me.”
“Perhaps. But I wouldn’t have to suffer your ear ache. Now shut the fuck up, they’ll be here soon.” As he finished speaking his left eye returned to its socket and began its download via the server that made up the bridge of his nose. He was motionless for a few moments. “Shit.”
“I told you … Never mind. Those four ex-special forces guys who were following us?” No one would have seen Bag move but Callum felt the nod, “There’s another eight coming up the other side.”
“Oops. I can smell a little fear.”
“You bet you can. We’re fucked. And you’re fucked.”
“Who do you think they’re working for?”
“Doesn’t matter. When one of them picks me up he’s mine.”
Callum felt the statement like a punch in the gut. Even if he offered up Bag without a fight and, unlikely as it seemed, they let him go, he doubted he could survive on his own anymore. He continued slipping ammo into the empty slots on the belts across his chest and countered with, “They’ll use tongs and have a lead-lined box to put you in. They know that if they succumb to your … charms, their boss will be after them like they’re after me now. And you know I know because I used to work for him doing more or less what they’re doing now. And he’s after destroying you and your dimension for good.”
“He isn’t,” Bag stated.
“We’ve been over this before …”
“Then why argue?”
“Because I knew what he was going to do with you.”
“What he told you he was going to do to me.”
“Aldridge Lane is a liar.” Bag’s opening vibrated.
Callum normally enjoyed winding up Bag, getting it to respond physically, but didn’t even notice this time. He was trying to figure a way out of this. “He was a good friend of mine for years. We grew up in the same neighbourhood.”
“But he got to be the boss, and you his lackey.”
“Not quite. He went into business. I joined the army. He bumped into me when I came out and offered me a job.”
“Look. Lane has accomplished what few people from his background could. No. Protesting isn’t a good argument. I know how he reached his position and it’s because he has my twin and together he believes we are a hundred times more powerful.”
“Huh! Powerful? You’re nothing put an overblown conjurer’s accessory.”
A voice boomed, “Fool!” inside his head, and Callum couldn’t help screaming. Hands over ears didn’t help. Bag hadn’t done that before.
“Fuck! You scared the shit out of me. Those special forces guys are gonna think you’re torturing me.”
Callum sensed a raised eyebrow from Bag. “And they’re wrong?”
“No. You started torturing me the day I picked you up. You made me dependent on you. Anyone else would be dead, the amount of times I’ve been shot. Not all your gadgets are perfect though. Take the …”
“Quiet!” Bag hissed.
Callum slipped off the rock and kept his head low, waiting for Bag to explain the order. There was a tone to Bag’s word that demanded action. Bag wasn’t usually so helpful in these situations. Not until afterwards.
“It’s not right.” Bag didn’t normally mumble to itself, or be so non-specific, either. But Callum remained quiet. Being rude to Bag was normally a bit of fun. Sometimes Bag even seemed to appreciate the humour. The banter helped Callum feel they had a relationship and helped him to forget that Bag was not of this world, shouldn’t even exist in this world. It was moments like this, and there had been a few, when Bag demanded Callum put his total trust in it. Doing anything else was suicide. Permanent suicide.
“Put me on the ground.”
Callum lifted the strap over his head.
“Keep holding that.”
As Callum laid Bag on the rocky ground it did something else it had never done before, it formed into what could only be described as a black hole about a metre in diameter. It made the surface of the mountain appear paper thin, a vast empty space of nothing that Callum had to look away from or lose his sense of balance.
“Keep hold of that strap and dive in.”
“Quiet! Do as I say,” Bag hissed.
“You must be joking.”
“When have I ever joked? Why have I kept you alive for so long? Why have I not found someone else before now? It’s because you have a core of decency and for some reason I feel bound to keep that spark of consciousness in existence. … Please.”
Now that was a surprise. Callum looked back at the hole and as far back in his memories as he was able to go. A bullet ricocheted off the rock he hid behind at the same time the report of the gun that fired it reached his ears. Putting the .45 back in its shoulder holster and holding tightly onto the strap, he rolled into the hole.
Callum expected to leave his stomach behind in a roller-coaster fall that would last for ever but it was like jumping into black molasses, yet he could still breathe. Or was he even breathing? Was his body working at all? He was thinking, but had Bag tricked him? Was he dead?
With the last question still forming, he tumbled unceremoniously onto solid rock.
“Fuck you, Callum! Why don’t you have a bit of faith in me?” Bag didn’t give any more explanation and even if he had it was doubtful Callum would have understood. He lay on the hard surface, squinting at a blue sky. His brain felt like it was still in the treacle, as if it had twisted somehow in his skull, the feeling he had when being woken up in the middle of a deep sleep.
“Where?” he slurred.
“Here comes a clue.”
The zing of a bullet passing centimetres away from his ear and, what sounded like the distant, single phut of an assault rifle still wasn’t able to shake his morose. But he had to move. He turned on all fours and scrabbled away in the opposite direction to the shot, flinging himself flat as a burst chipped out rocky shrapnel with an instant smell of shattered flint. He was up and off this time, allowing the adrenalin to wash clear his mind, zig-zagging this way and that before a feet-first slide down the side of the hill and a knee-shocking landing just three metres below.
“What happened?” he asked Bag in monosyllable gasps.
“After all this time you didn’t trust me.”
“What did you do?”
“Not enough to make you safe.” Bag’s strap wriggled to be pulled over Callum’s head. He obliged. “Take a look.”
Rolling with his back against the side of the hill, the landscape appeared the same, although there seemed to be even less rhododendron bushes. The river below was hidden by the brow of the hill. He shifted along and took a quick peek in the direction of the shooter but wasn’t given time for a good look as bullets brought back the smell of burning stone, and grit, thankfully just a bit of grit in his nano-eye, which cleverly flicked out the irritation before Callum could rub it. Moving back the other way and sliding along about ten metres he took a second and longer look.
“They’re on the other hill too!” he said, as he ducked down before the clatter of soft hot metal on rock showed the shooter had seen him again.
“Yes. And no.” Bag took Callum’s frown as the question it was. “That’s where we were a few moments ago. You need to get down this hill fast.” Bag seemed to squirm on his shoulder as Callum started the descent.
“Let’s get this right. We’ve somehow moved from that hill to this hill?” Bag ignored his question.
“I take your constant attempts to irritate me as a sign of affection.” Bag was normally eloquent and to the point, but this was fractured and disturbing. Callum could sense there was more to come and worried at the length of the pause as he ran, jumped, slid, managing somehow to retain his footing. “I was hoping to take us several miles away to safety, not just to the next hill. Ye of little faith.”
“Ah!” Callum’s sign of understanding seemed to irritate Bag even more.
“Do you remember the last time you had sex?”
“What kind of question’s that?” Callum shouted between gasps.
Bag answered its own question. “I do. There was a physical attraction between you, but that was all. I’d always mixed up emotional feelings with the physical act. Strange that after all these eons it only dawned on me then.”
Bag banged against Callum’s side like any bag would under the circumstances. Callum was already hallway down the hill where rough tracks criss-crossed his descent.
“Take the right track,” Bag advised.
Callum did as was suggested and picked up speed on the better surface, his soft leather combat boots barely making a sound. Where was all this philosophical crap leading up to?
“We need to be out of sight.” Bag stated the obvious. “See that farmhouse? Go there.”
Callum looked across the rolling hillside. The only building was about half a mile away, not far off of the track he was on, a derelict stone crofter’s cottage that he’d been able to see from the top of the original hill.
“We’ll be in their view.”
“But not for long. And at that range even a top sniper isn’t going to anticipate where you’re going.”
Callum glanced back. The hill they were coming down still hid the brow of the opposing hill, but not for long. He hoped Bag was right about the sniper. Given the right weapon, Callum thought it was a shot that he’d be able to make without too much trouble.
“What was her name? Banana?” It seemed Bag was back to his theories … and an attempt at riling Callum. Bag with a sense of humour? What was the world coming to?
“She did have stamina.”
“You didn’t do so bad yourself.” Bag was silent again. For an object that had been in existence for hundreds of years it appeared to be doing a lot of sudden thinking.
The cottage was not so easy to get to as Callum expected. There was no distinct pathway and large boulders made it likely that a landslide had persuaded its occupants to leave. A grey slate roof was still partially intact but the window frames had all but rotted away. He jumped a fast-flowing stream, red with the pungency of rusting iron, grabbing a clump of heather to stop himself falling back, obscuring the unpleasantness with a whammy of moorland perfume.
“I was pleased your motivations for having sex with Bryanna …” Callum had sensed Bag had intended to use the fruit name but decided not to at the last moment, “… were not those of love, and I wondered why. I’ve never experienced the thing you call feelings, not the same way as humans do anyway. At least I hadn’t thought so, but that night made me look inside myself.”
Callum snickered at the thought of Bag looking inside a bag, remembered the black hole and stopped. Bag ignored the churlishness.
“While I am an object, I never considered myself a being. Your companionship has led me to speculate otherwise. Do you like me, Callum?”
“What!” Callum lost his footing but slipped safely, apart from several hundred scratches, into a gorse bush. After extricating himself he slipped Bag off his shoulder and looked at it. As always it looked used but in good condition. An analysis would have stumped any scientist, though it appeared to be perfectly good leather. “You’re a fucking bag.”
“You fell in love with that Valentino coat.”
“I liked it very much but I couldn’t afford it.”
Bag spewed out a multi-patchwork coat. Callum grabbed it and checked the label.
“That’s worth over two-grand! Why didn’t you tell me you could do this?”
“It’s property. As you see it. What am I?”
Callum looked at Bag and back at the coat in his other hand, stuffed the latter into the former. “You’re starting to screw with my mind.”
“You’ve been doing that to me ever since you picked me up. You’re different from all the others.”
Callum still couldn’t see where this was going and, slipping Bag over his head, continued the last ten metres to the cottage. At the rear he scrambled through the doorway over its fallen lintel and into its cool interior, disturbing a short-eared owl that nearly pulled off Callum’s cap as it took flight into daylight. It was dark after the bright sun outside and it took a few moments to adjust. It was completely empty. A pile of ash in the centre of one room suggested furniture might have been abandoned there once, or maybe the window frames had been used as firewood.
“And you reckon we’re safe here?”
“So,” Bag began, once more avoiding Callum’s questions, “I’ve come to a conclusion.” Callum sighed. “I’m beginning to understand what hurt means. I don’t mean pain in the physical sense, although it might surprise you to know I do have sensual experiences, being close to you is a pleasant one. A thousand years ago I had no concept or desire to experience or understand feelings. They are things that I only now crave for. I questioned whether that was a weakness as some of your kind profess but by analysing my past I am convinced it is often a strength, at least as far as a race is concerned. But can it be a strength for me? And if it isn’t, is it something I should fight against or is it a natural progression to sentience?”
“You’re freaking me out, Bag. You’ve been around long enough to know all the answers.” He patted Bag on his hip, surprised at Bag’s recent revelations, and only then admitting to himself his own feelings. “As it happens, I am quite fond of you, but that’s probably due to what you can do for me. Selfish.”
“But that’s what love is about. Selfishly wanting to please another.”
“No. I mean selfish. As in, I don’t care about anyone else but me.”
“But you care about me for your own ends.”
“Exactly.” Callum frowned at his own hypocrisy. “Your shitting with me again, Bag. We’ve got to think about how I’m going to get out of this.”
“You have to truly believe in me,” Bag insisted. “It will be possible then. Lay me down again. You have to trust me fully this time. You have to accede to the journey.”
Callum slipped Bag off his shoulder again and tentatively laid it on the flagstones, twisting the strap around his wrist. The black hole reappeared instantly, making the floor appear brittle.
“Where will we go?” Callum asked.
“Far enough away to not have to worry about the angels of death.”
Callum took a long breath. “Let’s do it.” He pitched forward into the syrup, gave up to its tacky embrace, allowed himself to sink deeper, hoping that Bag would toss them into some idyllic sun-soaked island. Now he knew that Bag could supply him what he wanted, money was no object. He could hide from Aldridge Lane forever.
“Yes you can.” Bag’s voice echoed gently in his mind. “I love you, Callum.”
Food for Thought
Is trust a trusted word? Can we truly trust? Is it a strength or weakness? And if we accept it are we ready to accept the consequences?
About the Author
Terry Martin has been writing all his life (his career started on local newspapers though he later trained and worked as a graphic designer) but rarely bothers to submit his stories, to the annoyance of his wife, Liz. He was publishing editor of the award-winning anthology quarterly Murky Depths that mixed short stories with comics. (Back issues still available
http://www.murkee.co.uk/murky%20depths/md-menu.php) He also writes songs, an extension of his poetry (cheesy ones, of course), plays guitar with his band Phatt Knappii (http://www.phattknappii.uk/) , and paints and draws when the inclination takes him (not often enough). Samples of his art are available at http://www.lucifal.com.
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