The Time Assassin

“Tell me about the ghost in the bell tower?” The child asked.

His mother sat beside him and placed her arm around him. “Well, legend has it that one Christmas Eve, the man went up into the bell tower and never came down again. He is supposed to still be there and if you are careful, you may see him on Christmas Eve at midnight.”

“Why did he go into the bell tower, Mummy?”

“I don’t know sweetie. No one knows.”

“How long has he been there?”

“I don’t know. Maybe forever. Maybe it hasn’t even happened yet.” She took her arm from around the child and stood. “Besides, it’s just a silly story. Now, it’s high time you were in bed, young man.”


Christmas Eve, 23:20

He hated this time of the year. Had done for as long as he could think now. Although, once, lurking in the hidden gulleys and tunnels of a long forgotten past, when he was a child, he enjoyed it. Now, however, the tinsel, the music, the false bonhomie and goodwill to all men struck him as facile and it irritated him. Why for just one day in the year? Once, though, it meant something. But that was a childhood long forgotten when this time of the year was a source of wonder and anticipation, before he became a cynical contract killer for whom life was cheap. He laughed inwardly to himself. Hardly cheap. Bloody expensive more like.

He shifted the weight of his bag on his shoulder, adjusting the fall of the strap for comfort and glanced across at his companion as they walked across the square towards St Michael’s, but the spotter stared ahead, oblivious of everything except the job in hand. His job. And for someone on this Christmas Eve, an ending. An outcome that neither man bothered himself with. It was what it was. The client wanted someone dead, so they delivered and moved onto the next target without a backward glance, let alone regret for what might have been, for a life now cut short. Most of those lives, though, the assassin reflected, deserved what was coming anyway, which was how he reconciled what little remained of conscience in his battle-hardened psyche.

He followed the other man wordlessly, wondering about him. They hadn’t worked together before and he pondered upon where the usual spotter was. This kind of job required a level of mutual understanding and trust. A new spotter meant getting used to a new man, a different way of doing things. Oh, sure, the same job, but each would have subtle differences and the working relationship was much like a pair of old faded Levis that had been worn in to a level of comfort that was undetectable, such that you didn’t think about it. Now he had to get used to another one. Run him in, like, he thought desultorily, stepping aside as he encountered a patch of ice on the paving slabs, narrowly avoiding walking into one of the many pedestrians gathering for the mass that evening.

At the edge of the ice-covered square stood the church. Rising in the night, floodlit with an orange glow, it stood as an imposing reminder of a once mighty religion on the small town and dwarfed the square. This night was its night. Having crossed the square without slipping on the ice and managing to avoid the attentions of the Salvation Army collection tins as the band and choir sang carols to the growing throng, they reached the entrance to the church. The spotter pushed against the heavy oak door and the hinge creaked a little as it gave and the door swung open. They strode purposefully through the vestibule and entered the nave. Incense hung on the air, along with that faint waxy odour of burning candles. The whole space was lit with their soft glow and there were wreaths of holly and mistletoe decorating the walls and the light faded up to the high vaulted ceiling that was barely visible above. By the entrance a nativity scene stood on a table and the memories unlocked themselves, flooding into his consciousness.

“I remember this place…”

His companion turned sharply and looked at him with a frown.

“You shouldn’t. It’s not possible… There should be no memories from before you joined the bureau. Something’s wrong.”

“Yes…” And that was the thing, he thought to himself.

Since time travel was mastered, the opportunity arose for the perfect crime—contract killers could move through time and kill their victims in the past. As far as detection was concerned, the killer may not have even been born, so could not possibly be guilty. Certainly little matters such as ballistics were sidestepped. That said, the assassins would clean up as much as possible because sooner or later such detection would become possible and if they could move through time, then surely so would law enforcement. At the moment, though, they had the edge. The time cops were in the future, but then when that happened they could come back to this moment. Sometimes the very thought of time travel baffled his senses with its inbuilt paradoxes. He shivered a little.

Just the cold, he lied to himself.

In order to minimise disruption of the timeline, they went back no more than a few decades and the Bureau, a shadowy organisation that employed the contract killers, did its best to keep such disruption to a minimum when it chose not only the targets, but the point in time least likely to cause a time rift. Also, as a new organisation had been set up to monitor timeline disruption—calling themselves the Timeline Preservation Society—that now sent auditors across the timeline seeking out ripples, and as the Bureau’s job was to create those ripples, the assassin had to be on his guard at all times.

Today, the auditors, tomorrow, the Time Cops.

One method the Bureau used was to wipe the memory of new employees. That way they had no way of knowing what the previous timeline was, so would not find themselves hopelessly confused as it changed. As the business progressed, regular wipes became necessary as each kill subtly altered history and they had to stay one step ahead of the Timeline Preservation Society—or TPS as they became known. Now, so many kills later, the assassin had no idea what was real and what had been altered.

So, he reflected, how was it that he could now sense memories from a time in his distant past?

“Come on,” the spotter interjected into his reflections. “We have a job to do.” He strode ahead, with the assassin following along the nave, their footsteps echoing in the vaulted space.

The priest would be holding the midnight mass soon and his purple robes of advent will now be replaced with the golden robes celebrating the birth of the messiah, he thought to himself as he walked. “I remember midnight mass,” he said.


The spotter looked back over a shoulder but said nothing, striding ahead, keeping his thoughts to himself. This isn’t right. Stupid bastard is starting to remember.

As he passed the altar, he pushed open the door to the vestry. Like the rest of the church, it was unoccupied. He crossed the room and pushed open the door to the bell tower, hiding his irritation, he silently motioned the assassin to follow.

They climbed the stone steps in the darkness, the silence broken only by the faint echo of their footsteps and their breathing, which became a little heavier by the time they reached the top. They exited out into the small walkway that surrounded the bell. The spotter crossed to the balcony and looked across the square below. Already worshippers were beginning to fill the space ready for the mass.

“Not long now,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a gadget. He tapped at it and looked again across the square at the throng below. “The target is down there. Wait while I get the coordinates. Might as well get prepared.”

The assassin nodded and dropped the case to the floor. He kneeled down and clicked open the catches. Laid out was a disassembled rifle. He pulled out the parts and carefully caressing each part assembled them into a sleek, efficient weapon. He also assembled a bipod for the rifle to rest on while he carried out the shot. His mind was focussed on the task in hand. It was a shot. Nothing more. The impact of a life lost didn’t bother him. He couldn’t allow it to, else he would be unable to complete his task.

He hefted the assembled rifle with its bipod and placed the feet of the bipod on the balcony wall. Pulling the stock into his shoulder, he adjusted the sight. Peering through the glass, the throng below came into sharp focus. Ordinary people going about the festivities oblivious of the strike about to happen, that one of them was about to die. As he fiddled with the sight and fine-tuned the adjustments, he could hear the strains of music as the Salvation Army band and choir performed ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’.

He paused as memories came flooding back of a time once thought forgotten. As the choir finished, he said “Silent night next. Then O Come All Ye Faithful.”

The spotter looked at him sharply.

“I was here, once,” the assassin said.

“You recalling more stuff?”

“Yes. And I was here.”


“When I was about nine, I think. I went to this church. I can remember the Sally Army playing in the square. It was cold like today. Very slippery underfoot with the ice. This is the moment, isn’t it? My mother…”


He trailed off as he started to recall how she looked. She had worried at him to be careful in case he slipped and hurt himself. He had long since forgotten, the memory being erased when he joined the bureau. Now, like a dam bursting, the sounds, the smells, the visions all came back to overwhelm him. Maybe it was this place, this time. They never told operatives about the specifics. ‘The less they knew the better’ was the policy and his spotter wasn’t letting on. He glanced across at the man. So far, all he could deduce was that he was efficient if somewhat reticent. A “get the job done and move on, no small talk” type. Emotionless and quiet was how the assassin thought of him. Certainly their current location and the time of year didn’t move the man.

He snuggled the stock closer into his shoulder, allowing his hands to move along the body of the weapon, his finger curling around the trigger. It had the comfortable feel of a well-worn tool. Something he used on a daily basis such that every contour was familiar to him. Once more he looked down the sight as the spotter gave him the coordinates.

“Okay, got it.” He stopped as a face sprang into his view, magnified by the sight glass. “What?”

He looked across at the spotter. “This can’t be right?”


I was here. In this moment. This place.

“There must be some mistake here!”

“No mistake. That’s the job I have. Get on with it.”

He looked once more down the sight. The child looked up at him. The face from so long ago. A face he recalled with clarity having seen it so many times in the mirror.

“But I will no longer exist. All those kills will no longer be dead.”

“That’s the idea.”

The assassin stared at the man, slowly understanding.

“You’re not Bureau, are you?”

The spotter pulled a pistol from his waistband and held it at the assassin’s temple. “Well, now that you mention it…”

“And my usual spotter?”

“Presently inconvenienced. He’ll be fine. Don’t want to disrupt the timeline, do we?”

“You’re an auditor?”

“Well done.”

“But if I pull the trigger, I will no longer exist. The timeline will be disrupted.”

“Yours, maybe, but we will restore all those you have disrupted.”

“And the paradox?”

The man smiled. A wintry twitch of the lips as if he didn’t care—which he didn’t. “I guess we will find out, eh?”

“And if I refuse?”

The man’s grip tensed on the pistol. “Either way you are dead. This way, you get to put right the timeline. Besides, if I have to kill you now, I’ll simply go back and try again.”

Something about the comment struck the assassin as he realised what was going on. “You already have, haven’t you?”

His companion said nothing other than adjusting his grip on the pistol.

“How many times?”

“Does it matter?”

“To me, it does. How many times have you killed me?”

The spotter shrugged. Telling his victim made no difference, he decided. “Three as it happens. On each occasion you refused to pull the trigger and on each occasion, I’ve had to go further back. I’m running out of patience.”

The assassin returned his gaze to the sight and peered down it. The child leapt into focus again. Dark eyes stared back at him—as if daring him, urging him to end it now.

“You know that if I pull the trigger, I will no longer exist,” he said again.

“Yes! Yes! So you said.”

The assassin sighed. “And if I no longer exist…”

He pulled the trigger. Watching down the sight he saw the child thrown back by the impact of the bullet. Blood sprayed onto the people around him as he fell. He lay on the ice, a dark stain oozing from the exit wound in the back of his skull.

The band stopped and all he could hear were the screams of the onlookers and the desperate cries of the boy’s mother carrying on the still, frozen air, to the observers in the bell tower.

He lifted his eyes and looked at the spotter. As he did, he started to fade away. In a matter of moments he had gone.

The spotter smiled as he looked down at the pistol in his hand and noticed that it, too, was fading away. Eventually no one was left in the bell tower.


The boy’s mother reached down and lifted him back onto his feet.

“I told you to be careful of the ice,” she scolded.

The boy straightened himself and brushed ice and snow from his coat before returning his gaze to the shadows in the bell tower above. Following his stare, his mother asked, “What is it?”

“I’m sure I saw the ghost up there.”

“No. There’s not been anyone up there for years. It’s just a silly story someone once told me.” She smiled and ruffled his hair. “It’s all nonsense. There’s nothing up there, just the pigeons roosting for the night. Now, come on! We will be late for mass.”

Taken from the latest underdog anthology.



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