Chapter Two

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It had been three weeks since Max had lost his job and he hadn't ventured out of his flat for a second; even the curtains remained drawn. He needed to shut himself away from the harsh outside world for as long as possible.

The tiny apartment had always been a dump, but now it was completely unrecognisable. Plates and dishes towered out of the sink, surrounded by colonies of flies, maggots and who knew what else. Not an inch of the floor remained in view, covered by clothes, rubbish and discarded beer bottles.

The foul stench no longer bothered Max; he had become immune to the stuffy, murky smell emitted from every inch of the flat. Frankly, he'd lost all reason to care.

On the way back from work twenty-one days ago, Max had stocked up on the essentials. The last of his dwindling bank balance managed to buy him two bottles of gin, three bottles of whiskey, a bottle of vodka and a whole load of beers. He couldn't remember the last time he had anything close to resembling a fresh dinner but the fridge had been well stocked with ready meals, enough for him to skate by.

As he finished off yet another can of beer, he tossed it in no particular direction; hearing the rustling of crisp packets and the clanging of empty cans as it hit what was supposed to be his floor. He swung his legs round to the side of the bed and stood up, which he immediately regretted. It was less like a hangover and more like being continuously smashed in the temple by the thick end of a hammer, as he hadn't let up on the drinking since his altercation with Mr Thompson.

His head was pounding, the blood crashing like waves against his skull; it felt like knives were being driven into his temples and his eyes were popping from their sockets. Nausea struck him instantly and his vision blurred as he steadied himself against the bed frame.

He waddled towards his bathroom and pulled down his three-day-old boxers. Once he drained his bladder of what he could only assume was now pure alcohol, he sat down at his table and carried out his morning routine. He actually had no idea what time it was at all; he hadn't seen sunlight since he arrived home, and had no plan of changing that anytime soon.

On the table in front of him sat a half-eaten, cold pizza with a few flies buzzing around the greasy pepperoni topping. He flicked his wrist and brushed the flies away before tucking into his breakfast. After five slices of pizza and a swig or two from a nearby whisky bottle, Max stared at the far end of the table. He would do this every three days or so, every time he felt most depressed, when he'd lost all hope.

An old-fashioned looking revolver sat perched on a chair at the opposite side of the table, as if it were part of the family sitting up for a meal. The saddest thing was that the gun was the closest thing Max had for company lately. A sense of loneliness struck him hard as he reached over, picked it up, and twirled the cold metal in his hands.

Just holding the weapon filled him with a kind of purpose and power; it gave him a sense of control he hadn't felt in too long. He would often sit like this for hours, just holding the gun, studying it. He had bought it off a friend of a friend a few years back after a spate of violent break-ins around his apartment block. Back then it was purely for protection; now it was more comforting than ever.

He flicked out the cylinder and stared at the one solitary bullet in the fourth chamber, only reminding him of his own isolation. He spun and clicked it shut again in one slick flick; it was second nature to him now. He stared at the weapon for a minute longer, psyching himself up. He pointed the gun towards his face and edged it closer and closer to the surface of his skin. Gradually he slid the muzzle into his mouth as the familiar metallic taste ran down his tongue and danced around his mouth.

He always took a moment to think about this, as one day it would surely be the last thing he tasted. Whenever he saw people play Russian roulette in films, they always pulled the trigger as fast as possible. He had never understood this. It was always so dramatic, even glamourous, but Max wanted to take in every last moment, in case fate decided that it would be his last. It wasn't really the sense of power or control that kept bringing the gun back into his hands, it was the end result.

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