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by Mark Cooper

Each step was as hard as the next. Penny sighed, running her fingers through her messy hair. Eyes started to blur from all those drinks she had down stairs, or so she would like to believe. Stopping at the door, she looked down at her card key — it matched the number on the door of the room. 166.

She dug into her book bag, her finger brushed over something cold and smooth. Still there. She sighed again, using the key to get inside. The bright lights blinded her for a second. Mumbling softly, she put her arm over her eyes protecting them. “What the hell …” She moved over to the bed side table, turning the light off.

“Hey! I need that on!” His soft voice broke through the stillness of the room. Rubbing her eyes, they focused on the figure that sat by the window. He was there holding his precious guitar. She always hated that stupid thing ever since she met him but he refused to let it go.

He looked over his shoulder, and smiled sweetly at her. “About time you decided to come up here … I thought I would have to drag you from the bar.” He chuckled, strumming a few strings on the guitar. ”Hey I wrote something for you … Come here …”

She blinked. He’s never done something like that for her before — why do it now? She walked up behind him, seeing his reflection in the window. She laid her head on top of his nappy curly hair. She took a deep breath; the scent of cheap cologne filled her nose. How she loved that smell. He smiled, looking down at the guitar. He strummed a few practice strings.

“It’s nothing much, but I was thinking of you …” He closed his eyes as his fingers seemed to dance over the strings. It was a soft, sweet tune. Sure it would never be a hit song but it seemed like one to her in a way.

Her eyes became blurrier, not from the alcohol but from her tears. She pulled away, putting her hand over her face to hide her tears. His fingers stopped suddenly, making an unpleasant twang sound. “What’s wrong, Penny?” He went to turn to face her.

“No … Keep playing … don’t stop playing …” She’d wiped her tears away with one hand and reached into her bag with the other hand. He blinked then shook his head, picking up from where he stopped. The room filled with that sweet tune and the sound of him humming along to words of a song that didn’t exist yet.

She retrieved the pistol from the bag; silencer already placed on ahead of time, to make it easier. But nothing could make this easier. Hand shaking and tears flowing freely, she watched him sway to the tune as he played the same chords over, his humming growing louder. Why was it so hard? She’d pulled the trigger many times before, but what made this time any different? She held it up, gently placing the muzzle against the back of his head. It tangled into his hair. He stopped again with that twang noise. Eyes wide looking back at her in the window.

“Penny …”

“I told you to keep playing!” She shouted to sound tough, but she was just as scared as he was if not more. He winced, trembling fingers going back to work, not missing a beat. But his voice seemed to waver as he tried to hum along through the tears as they found their way down his cheeks. She bit her lip, closing her eyes.

“Penny … I’m sorry …” he whimpered, looking at her, their eyes meeting in the reflection of the window, dark mirror images of each other being etched into her mind.

“Don’t say a word. Don’t look back, and …” She choked on her last words but he understood, lowering his eyes. His fingers strumming the final chords of the song that she would never hear again. She took a final breath. “And don’t … stop playing …”

Then she squeezed the trigger.

Mark Cooper is a 40 year old father of three. A life-long lover of the strange and bizarre, he divides his time between his mind-numbingly boring office job and acting as patron of many of the West Midlands’ finest comic book stores. If his wife knew just how much his comic book addiction has spiralled out of control it could be grounds for a rather messy divorce. To date he has completed two of his three goals in life; however, taking over the world has proven more difficult than he expected.