TODAY; 12.10pm:

The pain was excruciating.
It was much worse than the first time.
When I arrive, I'm shaken, by both the transition
and what had happened to FOUR.

I survey the barn for changes
but everything is exactly the same as I left it,
except for the missing car, which hasn't come home with me.
It's fucking freezing, but the blizzard's stopped and everything is deathly quiet.

The clock says I've been gone for only ten minutes.
I get up, put on an puffer-jacket, and start clipping my beard.
When it's a manageable length I take a razor to it, leaving just a little goatee beard.

I then chop my hair to a more manageable length.
My hands are shaking and I'm doing a terrible job,
but I tell myself it's not meant to be a work of art. It's a disguise.

I get the hair dye and pour it into the bowl.
I comb it through my hair but it's not working,
so I just dip my fingers in the bowl and run them through my hair.
It's messy, but it's working.
The kink comes out too, and I end up with straight, black, chin-length hair;
and blue-black hands.

I wash my hands as well as I can, and put on the new pair of shades.
Then I find the black suit on its hanger.
I put on the shirt, cursing myself as I stain the cuff with the dye,
then pull on the jacket and pants.

I lock and load the automatic, then tuck it into my waistband.
It is so cold against my skin and even though the fear is gripping me,
I can't wait to get back into the warmth of the Machine.

I check myself out in the mirror.
Looking good...
But I'm trembling...
Not just from the cold...
The fear...
The fear of knowing is worse than the fear of not knowing.

As I sit down into the Machine, pulling the top over myself,
I think of the pain that FOUR was going through.
'Could I handle that?' I think,
then say out loud, 'I could just not go back.'
But what would that mean?
What would happen if I just didn't go back?
Like THREE had said: 'What's to stop me?' 

As I do, I hear a noise outside.
'A car? Out here?'  is my first thought,
'I should check it out.' 
I start to pull myself up using the handle
and I feel a tingling in my hands ....