by Matt Ewens
The three mercenaries stood and eyed Wade with a vicious intent. Their hands poised at their sides, waiting for the slightest movement. The mercenary in the centre of the small group had a long scar that stretched from his eye to his chin. His face looked haunted and possessed as he stood completely still. The other two men were equally still and both had the same expressionless look.
One of the men turned his head to spit onto the dusty sand and Wade caught a glimpse of the scorched brand of Bain tattooed onto the side of his face. Bain was the leader of one of the most dangerous criminal gangs in all the lands.
Wade felt uneasy, he had a strange feeling of déjà vu, it was as if he had already been in this place and at this moment in time. Although he somehow knew that he was going to kill them all and survive. The scorching hot sun beat down on his rough unshaven face and he felt a bead of sweat trickling downwards and drip from his chin.
It was coming, he could feel it.
The mercenary on the left made his move, he was fast, but not fast enough and Wade shot him in the face. Wade had already fired a second shot at the next man, who’d not even managed to pull his pistol out before his head snapped backwards from the impact of the bullet. He moved to dispatch the mercenary with the scar, but he wasn’t fast enough and he felt a bullet tear through his arm. He stumbled, but managed to fire off a shot and his enemy fell to the dusty ground, his dead eyes wide open as his last breath escaped his lungs.
Wade stood breathing heavily as he felt his own blood dripping from his arm. He looked down confused, unsure why he was bleeding.
The adrenalin started wearing off and he grunted in pain and staggered to his horse to get bandages and whiskey. He inspected the wound and the bullet had gone straight through, so he tipped some of the whiskey onto the wound and he screamed as he tightly wrapped the bandage around the damaged arm.
Before he mounted his horse, he felt inside his leather jacket for the wanted poster. He opened it out and stared at the brown stained outline of his friend Zane. He smiled and his sweat dripped off his Stetson hat and pattered against the running ink.
It was unusually hot and Wade felt his horse struggling to keep at a steady gallop as the day wore on and as the last rays of the sun started to set he decided to rest his horse and set up camp. His arm was aching tremendously, but he’d made sure that he’d drunk enough whiskey to knock him out for the night. In doing so, he’d forgotten to extinguish the flames of his camp fire.
The next day he awoke to the feeling of cold metal pressing against his skull and he slowly opened his groggy eyes.
“So we finally meet Wade,” his voice insipidly cruel. “You know I can’t let you live, can I?”
He raised the gun and steadied himself. “Last words?”
Wade was confused and smiled, expecting Zane to stop pretending, but the gun exploded and Wade was instantly silenced.
Zane lifted the smoking gun and a warped, seductive smile spread across his lips.
Wade slowly awakened, his mouth drier than usual. He opened his eyes, noticing that all the lights had died, except a bright flashing red one that emanated from the Virtual-Life game panel.
He reached up and unlinked his head from the immersion ultra-drive, but as soon as he did so, he felt a searing pain in his eyes. The pain flashed across his torso and he screamed in agony. After several minutes the pain started to die away, until he was able to open his eyes. He felt a new pain, it was his arm? He took off his jacket and touched the bloodied bandage. His mouth was exceptionally dry and he felt very weak. He’d also lost weight, he was very thin indeed. He groggily stood up and looked over to the other pod expecting to see his friend, but it was empty.
A hand suddenly gripped Wade’s shoulder and he turned around sluggishly.
It was Zane.
Wade shook his head. “Hey, you were getting way too serious in there, can’t believe you pulled the trigger,” he paused noticing that his friend’s face was devoid of emotion. “Well anyway, it’s strange I feel like I’ve been in there for days, look are you alright?”
Zane’s face twitched spasmodically. “That’s because you’re still in the game,” he screamed and a thin smile spread across his face, he then exploded in laughter.
Wade started backing off, but Zane stepped forward into the light, his tearful eyes streaming as he raised his concealed gun and pressed the cold metal against his friend’s head.
The red flashing light from the immersion ultra-drive reflected ERROR off his milky deranged face as he squeezed the trigger.