Jake groaned and clutched his head, nearly falling over as his surroundings snapped into focus. It happened that way sometimes when he overindulged in the most special of his potions.
Sometimes he’d still have some memory of his time under the influence, but when he took too much, as he clearly had this time, all he was left with were blurred images which usually took a few minutes to start filtering in.
Still… this… this was the worst he could remember feeling. He must have knocked back a lot more of the potion than usual. Not a good sign.
He was at least back home. That too wasn’t unusual. Him, the other person Jake became when using the special potion, often returned home when the effects started to wear off. It was one of his few saving graces.
The television was on, the volume loud. For a few minutes it was merely a babble of sound sending sharp jabs through Jake’s head, then the words suddenly snapped into focus and ice flooded his veins.
On the television was a breaking news report. It was describing carnage. A rampage. Dozens of people had been killed, torn apart by some form of monstrous creature which was massively stronger than any human.
More victims were still being found. A few terribly injured, but most already dead. And it had all happened in an area barely half a mile from Jake’s house.
Jake looked down at his arms, his clothes, only now noticing the state of them. The blood streaked across them. His heart felt like it would burst and he shook his head, moaning to himself.
“No! No, no, no, no, no! I can’t have. But I must have. Dammit, why did I drink so much of the potion?”
There was no doubt in his mind. As he listened to the reports he felt a strange dislocation, an echo, as if the events being described were ones he recognised.
He’d been there. The amount of blood on him was far too much to just come from a fight. It was the amount you might get if you were to, say, rip someone apart.
It was all too much. His arms were shaking, and almost without realising it he was lifting a bottle of that potion from the desk where it rested, lifting it towards his lips.
He froze, staring at the bottle in his hand, then slammed it down. That was not the answer. But as the full weight of what he had done hit home, as he heard that the death count was already forty-three people, he knew there was another drink which was the answer. He couldn’t take the chance of ever taking the potion and turning into him again.
Until now he had never seriously harmed anyone, at least not where the harm couldn’t very easily be justified. But this… forty-three people. Forty-three. Most of them, if not all, must have been innocent. And there were those he’d badly injured as well. At best they’d survive and live with the trauma the rest of their lives. At worst they, too, would die.
No. He knew what needed to be done, and it needed to be done now. He walked over to a wall safe, punched in the code, and let it scan his fingerprints. Then he opened it carefully and moved the bottles within until he got to the one containing a cloudy, silvery substance. He pulled it out, and placed the potion which had caused all his problems back in its place.
Then he closed the safe. He couldn’t have just anyone stumbling on the chemicals in there. If he could have destroyed them safely and quickly he would have, but there was no easy way to do so.
With that done he sat down on a chair at the table, took the top off the bottle, then drank down the entirety of the silvery contents. He shouldn’t need to drink more than a third of it, but he wanted to be sure. His experimentation with various potions down the years had given him a constitution which could shake off with barely a shrug things which would kill a normal human.
It tasted surprisingly good, considering what it would do. But within a minute he felt its effects striking. It wasn’t painful, but he swore he could feel his body shutting down already. His head grew heavy, his vision blurry. His ears were ringing.
No. That wasn’t the potion! It was his doorbell. Moments later the front door was slammed open. The smells of the night time city swept in, bringing with them two figures. One of them massive. Jake squinted, trying to focus, and could just make out that it was his friends Stan and Vincent.
“Jake! Are you okay?” asked Vincent urgently. “We saw the news. We were worried about you.”
“It’s fine,” Jake said, fighting to keep his words from slurring. “I know what I did. So I’ve done what I had to.”
“Done what that you had to?”
“Forty-three! Forty-three dead! I don’t deserve to live after that.”
“Come on Jake, you can’t blame yourself for that.”
“Of course I can! I should have stopped taking that potion years ago. I could have prevented it from happening.”
“How could you possibly have known what was going to happen?”
“I should have,” said Jake. “Never again. I’ve made sure it can’t happen again. Goodbye, my friends. Please try not to think badly of me for what happened.”
“Goodbye? What do you mean?”
“Vincent,” said Stan urgently, holding the empty container in his massive hands. “I think he drank this.”
Vincent snatched the bottle and sniffed at it. His eyes went wide.
“What the hell? It reeks of all sorts of poisons. Jake, why on earth did you drink this?”
Jake couldn’t answer. His head was slipping to the table in front of him. It didn’t matter anyway. Though he was wondering why it wasn’t obvious to them why he’d chosen to end his life. But end it he had.
“We need to find a cure,” said Stan.
“A cure?” replied Vincent. “For some of these chemicals I don’t think there even is a cure. And we don’t have time. Look at him, he’s slipping away.”
“There must be a cure here. Jake has potions for everything!”
“Even if that’s the case, how are we going to find the right one? We can’t ask him. He wouldn’t tell us even if he was able to speak. And look at him. He’s dying in front of our eyes!”
“Wait! The potion. If we give him enough of that then maybe we can save him.”
“No!” Jake was surprised he’d managed to groan the word out loud. He couldn’t say more than that. But they mustn’t do that.
“It’s a good idea,” said Vincent. “I don’t see any of it sitting around though.”
“The wall safe,” said Stan. “He might have some in there.”
He walked over to the safe. Jake’s head was on the table now, and facing in that direction. He could still make out Stan’s movements through cloudy eyes. He watched as Stan grabbed the door with his massive hands and started to pull. There was a grinding, crack, then the entire safe came out of the wall. The door still intact.
“Dammit!” said Stan. “Now what?”
“You take the front, I’ll get the back,” said Vincent. “Between us, I think we can pry it open.”
Jake’s vision dimmed completely, fading into black. He could still hear the sound of straining, then a metallic crack followed by Stan shouting yes!
The safe had been top of the range. Almost impossible to break into. But of course it hadn’t been designed to cope with Stan and his massive physique combined with Vincent and his vampire physiology.
Stan felt hands sitting him upright, and he tried to keep his mouth closed as a bottle was forced into it. He stood no chance against their strength. Moments later, the potion was pouring down his throat and into his stomach.
Now everything hurt! The potion burned fiercely as it fought back against the poison he’d taken. His body started to shake and twist. And now he had the strength to fight back!
Against one of them. Not against both. Not yet. They kept him pinned down, pouring more of the potion down his throat. Damn it! They couldn’t do this! He deserved to die for what he’d done! He had to die! But they might just have found a way to prevent it happening.
* * *
For the second time that night, awareness returned to Jake as he came around from a very large dose of that potion. This time he was laying on the floor. No, he was pinned to the floor by two people.
“You can get off now,” Jake said. “I’m me again.”
“Let me check your eyes.”
That was Vincent’s voice. A moment later his face appeared in front of Jake. Vincent stared at him for a few moments, then nodded. He moved and the pressure on Jake eased. Then vanished as the second person removed themselves.
Jake eased his way up, and noticed that Stan was moving one arm stiffly and holding his ribs. Vincent wasn’t showing any obvious wounds, but being a vampire he would heal quickly. However his clothes were scuffed and dirty which Jake knew would hurt Vincent almost as much as any actual injuries.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” said Jake. “You should have let me die. I know you’re my friends and I understand why you did it, but you shouldn’t have. This needs to stop now. I have to stop becoming him. Before I hurt or kill any more innocents.”
“What exactly do you remember from when you went out earlier?” asked Vincent.
“Nothing! But I’ve seen the news coverage. I saw the state I was in. I know what I did.”
“Maybe you should watch a bit more of that coverage before you do anything drastic. Well, anything more that’s drastic.”
Jake pushed himself to his feet and slowly moved towards the TV. The headlines running along the bottom made his heart sink. Even more people had been killed than he’d believed. Killed by him.
“This is just proving I did the right thing by trying to end my life!” he said.
“Wait,” said Vincent. “The bit you need to see will be on in a second.”
“Here’s the headline news once again. Almost one-hundred people have been killed and dozens more injured in a rampage by a creature surviving witnesses described as a monster. Their stories would be completely unbelievable if it wasn’t for the damage done to the bodies of those killed, and the fact they all describe the same thing.”
Jake’s heart sank. He wasn’t sure how much more of this he could take. Why did Vincent want him to watch? So he’d know the true extent of the lives he’d torn apart? But then the report carried on.
“However we now know there was no monster. It was just a man. And the police are close to identifying just who that man was.”
Jake knew he needed to act quickly. He needed to do what was necessary before the police caught up with him and prevented him taking the right way out.
He couldn’t end up in prison. He sometimes had flashbacks from the potion. Short periods where he changed into the other him without warning. People around him in prison might not be innocent, but they certainly didn’t deserve that.
“We’ve had confirmation there was no monster, just a madman in a hugely powerful exo-suit, converted to look like a monster.”
Jake’s head shot up. What? What were they talking about? They thought he’d been wearing an exo-suit?
“The carnage would undoubtedly have been far worse, and we might not even have known the monster was actually just a machine, if it hadn’t been for the intervention of what can only have been someone in a similar suit.
“Survivors of the final attack by the so called monster reported that as it was about to leap on them something smashed into its side. This suit looked more human, from the descriptions. Or more humanoid at least. However it was quite clearly artificial judging by the strength and the rage it showed.
“The eyewitnesses had already seen several people being ripped apart by the madman on a rampage and they thought they too were about to die. But the second machine came to the rescue, tearing through the metal, electronics, and the deranged murderer inside the suit, all with equal ferocity.
“The madman tried to fight back, but he stood no chance. In a matter of seconds his machine was incapacitated, smashed to the ground. Whoever was in the second suit, the hero, wasn’t taking any chances. They continued to attack, and soon both the monster-suit and the man inside were ripped into pieces.
“Before anyone could thank their rescuer he left the scene, fleeing with a speed which once again couldn’t be possible for a normal human.
“Those he saved have asked us to pass on a message of thanks, and we are happy to do so. They know they owe their lives to their mysterious rescuer, and would love the chance to thank whoever it was in person. If it was you, please get in touch and we’ll make the necessary arrangements!”
Vincent turned the TV off, then smiled at Jake.
“That second machine was you, Jake. Well, it was him. I’ve listened to a few of the descriptions and there’s no doubt. That’s why you came home covered in blood. You’d been out there saving people, not killing them.”
Jake stood there, struggling to come to terms with such a rapid change. Was Vincent right? Were the killings not down to him? Not most of them, at least.
A thought flickered into his mind. A memory, from before he took the potion the first time that night. He’d been… he’d been watching television. There had been…
Yes! Of course! Now he remembered! There had been a news flash interrupting the film he was watching. In the haze his mind had been in after the potion wore off he’d totally forgotten. Probably something to do with finding himself covered in blood!
The news flash had been talking about how someone, or something, was killing people in the area. How police sent to stop it had been killed too. And he’d realised it was right around the corner… and that he could do something to stop it. Or rather that the other him could. So he’d knocked back the potion.
And that meant he hadn’t been the killer. He’d been at home during many of the murders. And now he remembered something else. He remembered the intense rage inside him as he downed the potion. The determination to stop whatever horror was unfolding. A determination which had apparently stayed with him when he became the other.
“You could have just told me this!” he said. “Rather than forcing me to drink the potion again.”
“Well, firstly you were too far gone,” said Vincent. “The potion was the only way we could think of to save you. And secondly, we didn’t know any of this at the time.”
“You didn’t know I wasn’t the killer?”
“Oh we knew that,” said Stan. “You’re our friend. We know you wouldn’t have done something like that. Not even when you were him. Not to innocent people. But we didn’t know the details of what had actually happened, and who the killer was.”
“I don’t understand how you could have been so sure! I was covered in blood! You have no idea what he could be capable of!”
“I think you’re forgetting something,” said Vincent. “We actually know him better than you do. All you have is vague memories and jumbled thoughts. We get to actually spend time with him. While he is many things, quite a few of them most unpleasant, a killer of innocents isn’t one of them.”
Jake sat there for a time, thinking. Finally he looked up.
“I guess we don’t have to worry about the police coming knocking,” he said. “Not if they think the hero was another of those machines.”
“No,” said Vincent. “I think they’ll be searching for that machine for a long time.”
Jake took a look down at himself and shook his head. “Look at the state of me. I guess that madman got what he deserved, but I’m still a mess. I’m going to get cleaned up.”
He stopped, glanced at his two friends, and finally smiled.
“Thank you. Thank you, both of you. I leapt to the wrong conclusion, and without your help I would never have survived to know that.”
“That’s what friends are for,” said Stan.
“Thank you anyway. Now, I’m going to get cleaned up. And then when I come back I’m going to have a drink!”
“Not of that potion!” said Stan and Vincent urgently.
Jake chuckled and shook his head.
“No! Not that one. Twice in one night is more than enough! I’m going to settle for a beer… and I won’t be touching that potion again.” He saw their doubting looks and smiled sheepishly. “For a few days, at least.”