Death on Repeat

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic


A man dies over and over again. After every death, he wakes up thinking that he had experienced a terrible dream. Tired and weary he seeks to escape the never-ending loop.

Submitted: January 21, 2018

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Submitted: January 21, 2018

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It was an ordinary peaceful winter night with no hint that something terrible was about to happen. Neal gazed out the window of a dark kitchen. Six floors below, honking cars and crowded buses crawled in a thick line which after a half kilometer long traffic jam split into three. Tired passengers got out of buses at a bus stop close to Neal's apartment building. Most of them ignored a nearby pedestrian crossing and squeezed through the cars to get to the other side of the street.

On the opposite side of the street behind a supermarket stretched a line of fifteen-story dominoes turned at a slight angle. Behind hundreds of windows, Neal saw people dining, couples quarreling, children doing their homework and lonely people sitting in front of their TVs. 

A microwave beeped and a smell of cheese and spiced bacon filled the room. Gurgling stomach failed to steal Neal's attention away from the window which reflected his pale face and curious dark eyes observing the outside world with electrifying intensity. For some reason, his guts told him that these were the last moments of his life.

An elongated object with a tail of fire passed in front of the moon and stars and began its descent. As it approached, Neal heard a sound of a humming rocket engine. Less than ten blocks away, it violently slammed into the ground. After a flash of white blinding light, the ground trembled, alarms of parked cards played a horrifying symphony and an incoming earth wave moved buildings as if they were matchboxes. From the point of impact at a terrifying speed came a wall of flame that disintegrated all things. Houses shattered. People in the houses evaporated. People in the bus stop evaporated. Neal took a quick deep breath. The window exploded. The wall of fire slammed into him and a finger of death touched him.

Neal woke up in a bedroom illuminated by dawn. His bedding was drenched in sweat and his muscles hurt as if he had run a marathon. But the inconvenience and pain were overshadowed by the relief of being alive.

Over the last month, he had gotten used to a tiring beginning of the day. This was not the first dream in which he had died. He had been decimated by a nuclear apocalypse, blown up by rockets and crushed by broken ceiling many times over. Every time the dream was different but the concept remained the same – he always died.

The alarm rang and Neal lazily placed his feet on the cold floor. For a while, he sat in front of a mirror staring at an emotionless face and weary body.

'The day won't get shitty by itself. I need to get my ass up and go to work,' he thought and stood up.

Neal went through his regular morning routine. He spent ten minutes in the bathroom shaving, taking a shower and dressing up. Then he went to the kitchen where gazing out the window, he turned on a kettle and placed remains of yesterday's supper into the microwave. The view was identical to the one he had seen in the dream. There was the wide street that forked in the distance, the supermarket and the pattern of identical buildings behind it. Adults on the pavements, cars, and buses moved in the opposite direction than they did in the dream at a slow and sad pace as if being pushed by invisible slave masters.

Neal worked in a logistics center on the outskirts of the city. On the road, he was a polite driver and followed the rules but in the mornings went over the speed limit whenever the opportunity arose trying to compensate the few minutes of lazy lying in the bed.

During the last few months, he had perfected the car radio playlist. With the twelve buttons on the radio, he would easily select his favorite stations. That morning, on the way to work, he pressed a button to turn on a rock music station which, he hoped, would help to wake up and push the vivid memory of the last dream out of his head but to his surprise, he heard a morning prayer. Then, he pressed a button to hear some morning jokes on a favorite talk show but the radio played casual music instead. 'What the hell?' thought Neal and glanced at the playlist. It was all a mess.

After a sudden realization that he could no longer distinguish reality from dreams weak nausea struck him. 'Did he ever had adjusted the playlist in his car?' he began to doubt. He could hardly tell if what happened in the past was real or only a dream. The memories of the major events in his life were clear but it was the small details that gave him a headache.

The next day after every dream ending in death, Neal noticed minuscule changes around him that made him question if he had not really died in the previous world and awoken somewhere else.

He was damn sure that his uncle had died of a liver failure due to heavy drinking five years ago but after one of the apocalyptic dreams, he learned from the mother that the uncle was not dead but had severe health issues with the liver. There hung a world map on one of the walls of his bedroom. After being killed by a falling ceiling in his bed and waking up he noticed words in the corner of the map written with a black marker, "Neal is a cutie." He could swear that they were absent before he had fallen asleep but he also had an odd memory of his ex-girlfriend writing the words a month before they split up.

This morning, just like every morning of the last month, news on the radio spoke about threats of Russia and North Korea and their restored nuclear programs. It warned how unpredictable and dangerous those countries were for the world safety and how we had come to the brink of the third world war. The world lately had become a total mess. The tension had been increasing for the last five years. Nowadays everyone, it seemed, waited for the war to start and the world to end.

Deep inside, Neal hoped that today would be different from yesterday by something more than changed radio stations. For example, a gorgeous boss' secretary would start liking him, or at least everything inside his tiny space enclosed by three walls would go by the textbook.

On the way to his doorless prison cell, he paused by the secretary and asked, "How was your weekend Jane?"

Not sparing a glance, she replied, "Fine." and made Neal's heart sink into his stomach.

Just like always, the morning was depressive and boring. Only today the customers on the phone were angrier than usual and did not hesitate to explain to him how to do his job.

'What am I doing here?' Neal often asked himself and the answer was always the same, 'What would I be doing elsewhere?' No matter where he pictured himself being, he could not imagine life getting any better.

During the lunch break, he always escaped his trench and everything that reminded of the troublesome office and drove to dine in one of the two favorite eateries located by the highway close to one another. The first one was crowded McDonald's with relatively slow service and the second was a home food restaurant that served food which never tasted homemade.

The drive to either of the two places took less than five minutes. He had never seen a single accident on the stretch of road, though Neal was not surprised that for some reason today it would be different.

Along the way, a blinding light flashed from the direction of the city. Brake lights on all cars lit up. Most of them slid and hit one another violently, others drove off the road, hit a wide ditch and landed into a rough, bumpy field. Neal slowed down and followed an old van into the grass field. Rocking up and down through an uneven ground, hitting hidden obstacles, the car almost flipped over two times before stopping. At some point, Neal slammed his head into the steering wheel and passed out.

The sun was setting when he woke up. First snow of winter fell from the gloomy sky. Upon inspecting his legs and hands and realizing that his only injuries were a few tiny bruises on his forehead, Neal stepped out of the car. He tilted his head back, closed his eyes and extended his palms to feel the falling snow. The sensation was different from what he had ever experienced as the snowflakes felt much warmer than the air.

Suddenly Neal realized that the thing falling from the sky was not snow but something else. The feeling of being safe and out of danger quickly turned into the familiar sixth sense telling him that he was about to die. Neal opened his eyes and saw the sky covered in falling pale ashes. He turned towards the city and saw a mushroom cloud losing its shape. A light flashed far behind a forest, from the direction of an ammunition factory.

The tingling in Neal's chest increased. He took a deep breath. His heart beat like a drum. A wall of destruction came from a new mushroom cloud. After laying down a forest, it swept away a giant hangar as if it was made of cardboard and slammed into Neal. He felt his breath taken away, he felt light turn into darkness and in the darkness, he saw a tiny light which pulled him in with frightening speed and force.

"You might get punished for dozing off like that, Mister," whispered a soft female voice. A gentle touch of a finger ran down his spine. Feeling a cold sweat underneath his clothes, Neal turned around and saw the beautiful secretary who barely ever spoke to him. Her sparkling eyes emanated deep sympathy.

"I hope you won't turn me in," Neal plainly replied. Feeling shivers from the vivid imprint of the last death, he failed to manage even a faint smile.

"We'll see about that. Perhaps I won't if you treat me to a supper." She giggled, wavered for a second and walked away gracefully letting the lone observer enjoy the view.

'What the hell is going on?' thought Neal. 'What's up with those damn dreams? Am I even alive now?' For a moment he felt an urge to cut his throat with scissors conveniently lying within his reach. Perhaps he should do it again and again until he got himself a better job? He lifted the scissors up and ran a finger along their sharp edge. They would open the throat just fine.

A phone rang. Neal instantly returned to reality and once again found himself on the modern battlefield trying to survive another day. But perhaps, he hoped, today won't be shitty as usual. Perhaps, Jane was not being cruel by teasing him. Perhaps, today he would get the chance to take the gorgeous woman out for a supper.

After the working hours, he found Jane sitting at her desk with a lackluster frown. They had a short warm conversation, walked to his car and drove off to the city. She surprised Neal by describing a humble pizzeria in which they dined as cozy and lovely. When there were no co-workers around her, she seemed as an ordinary happy woman with simple flaws and insecurities. She was not a princess he had imagined her to be but an unspoiled woman with whom he found it possible to have an intelligent conversation.

'Probably,' he thought. 'The world in which I currently find myself is not real.' In the real world, he would have taken Jane out to an expensive restaurant and failed to meet her cosmic expectations.

As they walked back to the car on an empty sidewalk, it started snowing. For a moment he paused to marvel at the slowly gliding fluffy snowflakes. He watched them pass a dim road light He watched them sacrificially hit the road to form soft foundations for their sisters. Suddenly, he felt a gentle wrap of woman's hand round his waist. He felt a warm forehead gently touching his cheek.

"It's beautiful," she said. "Please hold me."

Now Neal knew that he was a dream because nothing so magical had ever happened to him. But this was a dream in which he wanted to survive at all costs. This time he would dodge death be it brought by a nuclear explosion or any other disaster.

"Let's hurry," Neal said. "We need to get away from the city." Holding the young woman by a hand, he rushed to the car.

They drove away from the city, away from its exploding center, away from the exploding ammunition factory, to the direction of an unpopulated country where bombs never dropped.

"Where are we going?" she asked.

"Someplace safe," He replied and a familiar light flashed on the horizon behind them.

"I understand." She placed her hand on his and watched him with dreamy eyes. Then, a few moments later, happened the most unexpected thing.

Her grip on Neal's hand tightened. With an inhuman strength, she crushed his fingers. Neal's eyes grew wide. He screamed. But the scream lasted only a fraction of a second because his face was shoved into the steering wheel. Neal hit the brakes and the car started spinning. A crushing strike from above snapped his back in half. His head jerked backward and touched his bottom. He was dead. Once again he approached the light at the end of the tunnel. Once again he woke up in a bed drenched in sweat.

In Neal's mind, the end of the dream played on loop the whole morning. He had seen something terrible that could not be unseen, could not be forgotten. The beautiful smile, the terrible strength, flashes of light on the horizon: everything felt so real. He felt exhausted both mentally and physically. He needed a rest. 'Screw the boss, screw the customers.' he thought, turned off the phone and dug his head into the wet pillow.

Neal closed his eyes but awareness of the world did not dim. His thought machine did not turn off. He wondered, 'Could it be that it was impossible to fall asleep because he already was dreaming?'

Neal walked into the kitchen wearing only pajama shorts. There, just like every morning, he switched the kettle on and placed leftovers from supper into the microwave. As the two devices emitted their distinct sounds, Neal looked through the window.

A thought crossed his mind, 'How am I going to die today?'

The world outside seemed dull in comparison to the vivid worlds in the dreams. The sky was uniform gray and the city lacked light. There was no color in anything and no difference in people, car and bus shapes. It was a mixture of light and dark objects moving in predictable boring patterns.

Neal looked at his fingers. The hand felt as if it was not his own. He placed it on the surface of the heated kettle. The pain felt fake. Everything in this place, including him, it seemed, was lifeless. This was the bleakest dream he had ever had.

A thought crossed his mind. 'The world always ended him, but what would happen if he ended the world?' He opened the window and stepped on the sill. Winter wind blew at his face and exposed body but he did not feel cold nor did he feel fear to take a step forward. Everything felt just like in a dream. He glided down like a snowflake, with butterflies dancing in his chest and slammed into the ground.

Neal woke up in a silent room with white walls and nauseating smell. With a corner of an eye, he saw the father whom he had not seen for two years sitting beside the bed, his grim and worried face directed at a TV hanging in front of the bed.

The quietly played news said, "After a meeting between USA and Russia presidents, the eastern socialist alliance and NATO decided to sign a disarmament treaty and re-establish diplomatic relations. This is a day for history books."

Half wrapped in bandages, half covered in plaster, Neal could not move a muscle, not even a finger, nor could he say a single word. A tear rolled down Neal's cheek. He did not feel it.


© Copyright 2018 Algis69. All rights reserved.

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