Matt Gemmell

TOLL is available now!

An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

★★★★★ — Amazon

Final Bob

university 5 min read

The following account was found on my desk here a little while ago, written out in a hurried longhand on the back of a slightly crumpled A4-sized booklet. The room had been locked since I had left it, and there was no indication of how the message came to be there. The only possible clue was a slight static charge lingering in the air, and a faint but unmistakable smell of burning. Both faded rapidly.

I’ve converted the account to the third person for your edification and entertainment, but it is otherwise unaltered. It describes events which are apparently to take place many hours into the future from my perspective, and details the closing of the saga of Bob & Wendy.

Bob walked back into Jim’s bar, feeling a bit better after having stood out in the evening air for the past few minutes. The evening was wearing on all too rapidly, and he knew that before long the dreaded moment would arrive: the Goodbye for the Summer. Pausing just inside the doorway, he allowed his gaze to rest on Wendy, sitting across the room with the various other 3rd year CS students, and his mind drifted back to his train of thought as it had been earlier in the afternoon.

Chris Johnson’s athletic pacing up and down the Bute Hall had gone mostly unnoticed by Bob, who had finished the exam with plenty of time to spare. The natural exhilaration of having completed the final exam of the year had never really taken hold; his mind was too focused on Wendy. Despite the strength of his feelings, and even despite the inter-dimensional sword concealed in his bag, he had to admit that it just wasn’t going to work out between them.

She was clearly devoted to Hans, who wasn’t really such a bad guy when not portrayed as a Die Hard-style technicolor villain. She’d been with him for this long, and that surely had to count for something. Also, she was just about to walk (or rather, drive) out of his life for more than three months, during which they’d not even be in the same country. Certainly not the ideal setting for a budding relationship. “No matter how truly acecore it would have been”, he muttered to himself, drawing a sharp glare from Rob “Mc” Sutherland who was also patrolling the exam hall.

Now, hours later as he looked across the bar at her, a grim acceptance began to form. He’d simply have to accept this and try to move on as best he could. She glanced up, somehow aware of being watched, but he had already averted his eyes and resumed his course towards one of the other tables in the cluster which had been occupied by increasingly drunken would-be computing scientists. Had he made eye-contact with her at that point, he would have found her expression unreadable.

Time ran both quickly and slowly, as it does on occasions which are both a beginning and an ending, and finally, from the corner of his eye, he saw her rise from her chair. In retrospect, the lurch his stomach executed on cue wasn’t quite as bad as he might earlier have predicted. This, then, was it.

At length, having said her goodbyes to almost everyone else, she finally reached the table where he sat with his few closest friends. He stood up, and set his face in a well-practised and hopefully breezy smile. She was saying something now, but it was scarcely registering. Perhaps a thank-you for revision help during the exams, or best wishes for the holiday period. He managed to respond almost automatically. He hoped she’d have a great summer too. Yes, he’d certainly stay in touch. Of course she’d be back for 4th year. And so on.

The pleasantries drew to a close, and she began to turn to leave. Without being aware of having thought about it, he kissed her on the cheek; the gesture of a friend. Innocuous. Reasonable. She smiled. He thought that that might just be enough.

Then she was gone, and time resumed its normal pace. The environment regained its suddenly brash and somehow crass loudness and vibrance. In the ages-old tradition observed in such situations, he ordered another drink.

The evening passed quickly after that. More drinks, food, dancing at the Shack (if he could ever justifiably be accused of dancing, anyway), and at last he was alone, having split off from the last stragglers of the CS group ostensibly to try to catch the final bus. Thankfully no-one else was in much of a state to realise that any bus service must surely have finished several hours before.

It was always surprising how quickly the streets quietened once you’d moved away from the city centre, and it wasn’t at all long before he found himself entirely alone and unobserved. He stopped, resting for a moment on a low wall, lost in thought. Seeming to come to a decision, he reached into his bag and took out a pen and the IS3 exam paper from earlier that day, turning it over to the blank back page. Pausing only intermittently, he wrote until almost the entire page was covered in dense scrawl. Satisfied, he returned the pen to his bag, and drew out a very different object.

The inter-dimensional sword barely reflected the ugly glare of the sodium streetlamps, which was perhaps for the best in case anyone watched him at that moment from any of the countless darkened windows above and all around. Nor was he particularly concerned about that possibility. It wasn’t like the police would believe such wild stories anyway, even if they had nothing better to do on a Friday night in the city.

The blade whispered as it flew through the air, tearing open the fabric of reality with almost no resistance at all, and the street was briefly illuminated far more brightly than it had been a moment before. Then, all was normal once again, except that the young man who had stood there was now nowhere to be found. Had anyone passed by immediately afterwards, they might have remarked upon a lingering static charge in the atmosphere around a low wall by the side of the street, or a faint odour of smoke and ash, but at that hour the streets away from the city centre are quiet and mostly deserted. No-one passed that way for many hours, by which time no trace of anything at all unusual could be found.

Many miles away, Wendy had arrived home hours before, and had spent the evening with Hans. She occasionally wondered if anything particularly noteworthy had happened on the CS crowd’s night out, but her curiosity wasn’t particularly strong. They were great folk, but they were also computing scientists, she smiled warmly to herself as she began to drift off to sleep.

And as everyone knew, computing scientists of all people aren’t renowned for being surrounded with high drama, intrigue or adventure. A compiler error is usually the talking point of any given day, and a Java-related chat-up line is plain outrageous. No, she was pretty sure that whilst it would no doubt have been a great evening, in the grand scheme of things Friday the 4th of June 2004 was surely nothing at all out of the ordinary.

That’s all he wrote. God knows where good old Bob will be when Saturday arrives, but personally I feel better having heard in advance how this thing will all pan out. I was going to write up some crappy story-style ending, but thanks to finding the note I’ve had time to revise some of Chris Johnson’s notes for the IS3 exam tomorrow. So, thanks in advance, Bob. Much appreciated dude.

Strange to think that less than a day and a half from now he’ll be gone, out of time and space to Somewhere Else. Kind of fucks with your head really. That’s assuming that it’ll happen that way at all, and that I’ve not somehow altered the future timeline by just posting this stuff. Man. I think I could probably do with a beer at this point.

There’s one thing I am sure of, though: even if it does all finish up the way the note describes, that won’t be the end. I know Bob pretty well, and take it from me: Bob will return.