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Tumblers by Simon Bestwick

Tumblers by Simon Bestwick Illustrated by Dan HenkI push the first tumbler across the table towards him, slide the second to a halt in front of me.  Then I pull the cork out with my teeth and spit it across the dust-covered room.  It flies out through the glassless windows and hits the street outside.

I pour two fingers worth into each glass and say: “Drink, you bastard.”

He stares back at me for a long time.  I rest the gun barrel lazily on the table top.  “I said, drink.”

He keeps looking at me and I click back the hammer.  At some point he realises that being dead’s not going to let him off the hook, and reaches for the tumbler.  The back of his hand looks like cracked leather and a flap of skin hangs down to expose dry yellow bones and the brittle blackened tendons that hold them together.

I pick up my own tumbler with my free hand and raise it.  “Mud in your eye.”

We both drink.

I put my tumbler down; he puts down his.  I refill them.  Neither of us makes a move to drink again.

After a moment, I hear him start to breathe.  Not that he needs to, being dead, but it’s hard to talk if there’s no air in your lungs.  He hasn’t bothered breathing in a long time.  It’ll take a minute or so before he’s able to speak.

While he works on that, I look around the room, keeping watch on him from the corner of my eye.  There’s not much; not much to show for any kind of life.  A bare bed-frame – no idea where the mattress went – with a perished-looking suitcase underneath.  A grimy print of a harbour on the wall.  Bare floorboards.  Spiderwebs.  Even the spiders are probably dead by now.  And the dust.  Everywhere, the dust.

He hacks and coughs, spits accumulated matter from his lungs.  I look back at him.  “Polperro Harbour,” he says.


He nods at the picture.  “The Harbour.  At Polperro.  Cornwall.”

“I know Polperro,” I say.  “Went there once.  Summer holiday in Cornwall.”  I study him.  “Passed through it last year, looking for you.”

He nods.  “What’s it like these days?”

“Town’s still there,” I say.  “That’s about all you can say for it.  No-one’s lived there in years.  I’m not sure anyone’s lived anywhere in years.  Most people gave up.  Who could blame them?”

“You didn’t,” he says.

“I had reason.”

He shrugs.  “So did others, surely.”

“I’m not others.”

“There’s that.”

“Did you never try to find her?”

I shake my head.  “No point.”

“Why not?”

“You took her from me, before you killed her.  Remember?”

“You could have tried.”

I nod at the tumblers.  “Drink up.”

He picks up his glass with a rattling sigh.  When the tumblers are empty, I refill them.  “I could never get her back,” I say.  “That only left you.”

“And the end of the world wasn’t going to stop you.”


“Nor death.”


“Mine, or yours.”

I pick up my tumbler and study my reflection.  I look from it to him; there’s not much to choose between us.  “No.”

“So what happens now?” he says.

“Drink up.”

He does.  So do I.  We put our tumblers down.

And then I raise the gun and shoot him three times in the chest.

He lurches back in his chair, dust puffing from the exits and entries.  His arms flap.  He looks dazed.  I aim again and shoot him in the forehead.

His head snaps back.  The chair topples over.  He crashes to the floor.

I waft the smoke away.  The gunshots echo down to silence.  No sound in response; not the bark of a dog, not the scurry of a rat.  There’s nothing.

I put the gun down and pour a fresh shot.  Just one this time.  For me.  I knock it back in one.  It’s a good malt whisky – 18 year old Bowmore, maybe the last bottle in the world – but I can hardly taste it anymore.

I sit back and I wait.

When I hear him start to move again, I’m disappointed but not surprised.

He rises; half-stands, crouching.  Then he rights the chair and sits down again.

He brushes dust off his clothes.

For a long time, we watch each other in silence.

“Well?” he asks.  “What now?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

And I fill the tumblers again.


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1 comment

  1. I’d like to see where this goes as a novel. Raises a few juicy questions…

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