Copyright is held by the author.
I SAT by the edge of the stream waiting for Thomas to die. I was pretty sure that today was the day, but I had no idea how he’d die or exactly when it would happen.
I glanced at Thomas who was passed out in front of his tent, spoiling the peace and quiet with his snoring. A bottle of Grey Goose vodka lay empty beside him. In sleep, the lines on his 55-year-old face smoothed out and made him look more vulnerable and peaceful than he had last night while he was cursing and yelling and waving the bottle around. The embers of his fire were now cold, but a few hours ago I worried that an errant spark might start a forest fire. So far he and I were alone, but I had a premonition that would soon change.
At just past midday, Thomas began to stir. He opened his eyes and wiped a string of saliva from the corner of his mouth. He sat up slowly and hung his head between his knees. His long hair was matted with dirt and a straggly beard covered the lower part of his face. He slowly rose, groaned and grabbed a tree branch for support. After urinating on a bush, he made his way along the path to the edge of the water. Not so long ago, Thomas had walked proudly along the sidewalks of downtown Toronto with his head held high, dressed in a navy blue suit, with a briefcase in his hand. Now, he staggered by me, with his head down, dirty and unkempt. He didn’t see me as I sat on a large boulder, watching him. I’m sad for him, but feel some relief knowing he won’t have to suffer in this life much longer.
“You can’t have this one — he’s mine!” Said an angry voice behind me.
I quickly turned to look in the direction of the voice. He looked somewhat familiar and then I remembered him: Franklin. We’d met once before. I studied him while he stood there glowering at me. The summer heat shimmered in waves around him and I watched a drop of sweat travel from his receding hairline, past his right ear and drop off his double chin onto a rock. I think it even sizzled. You’d think he’d be used to the heat by now. All in all, he’s was very ordinary to look at. He seemed like a typical office worker, although I know what he really did to make his money not so long ago.
“Hello Franklin. What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be harassing some poor soul who is beyond redemption?”
“Look at him,” Franklin said, then snorted. “You call Thomas salvageable? He’s a drunk. He hasn’t had a job in over two years. His wife took the kids and left him because he cheated on her. He hasn’t paid his taxes in years and he has to hide in the woods to avoid being arrested. And, lest we forget, he killed his own father.”
I lifted my eyes toward heaven and muttered, “God please give me strength.”
“Franklin, I’ll grant you that he cheated on his wife. It was once only, and he’s suffered from guilt ever since. He even told his wife about it, which was probably naïve on his part, because she gave up on the marriage as soon as the words were out of his mouth. As for his job, he was downsized when his company was taken over and then the recession hit. He looked for work for over a year and a half before his depression took over and he could hardly get out of bed. He’s not hiding from Revenue Canada either. He couldn’t pay his mortgage, he lost his house and he’s been living in that tent behind you for the past few months. And he did not kill his father! People like you are always trying to distort the facts to suit your needs. His father was 85 years old and in a coma in the hospital. During surgery he had a stroke and he never woke up. He’d made it very clear to Thomas that no one was to take extraordinary measures to keep him alive. So, yes, Thomas and his mother agreed to disconnect the life support. They certainly didn’t ‘kill’ him. The next thing you’ll be telling me is you’re going after his mother too!”
“Well, she is actually on a list of persons of interest.” Muttered Franklin.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “That woman has never lied, stolen, cheated, or said a bad word about anyone in her entire life.”
“What time is it?” Franklin asked quickly.
“I don’t know. I don’t keep track of time.”
“Of course you do,” he said. “We all do. Time is crucial. This has to be done by 4:00 o’clock today.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
I already knew the answer, but wanted to keep him talking and maybe make him sweat a little more.
“If this guy isn’t dead before 4:00 p.m., then my employer will show up to find out what’s taking so long. We’re all given deadlines and if they aren’t met, then we lose the chance and have to wait for the next one. You’d already left the last time he arrived so you didn’t see how angry he was. If I lose another one, I’ll be punished. You don’t know what it’s like,” he whined.
I turned back and watched Thomas drink directly from the river, not caring if it might be polluted. His shoulders were stooped with a weight that only he could feel. He stood and looked up at the clouds as they drifted by. Silently some errant tears fell against his cheeks and he let out a shaky breath. It was then that Franklin walked past me and stood directly behind Thomas. I watched as he raised both hands and shoved Thomas head first into the water. He came up floundering and coughing. He was obviously hung over and weak from malnutrition. He reached ineffectually toward shore, but there was a slight current and he couldn’t touch land. He wasn’t going to make it I thought sadly. Was I going to have to go head to head with Franklin this time? I wasn’t big on confrontation.
I heard a splutter of surprise as Thomas’s hand grabbed hold of a large dead tree branch that was partially submerged and sticking out from the shore. He hung on. I thought there might have been a bit of divine intervention involved and I smiled at the thought.
“Damn,” said Franklin.
“You aren’t very good at murder are you?” I whispered in his ear.
He jumped at the sound of my voice.
“No, I’m not good at murder,” he snapped.
“I don’t even know why I’m living this hellish existence anyway. I never murdered anyone in my life until recently. Seems my job description demands it when necessary. I don’t deserve any of this life I’m currently stuck in.”
“Are you kidding me?! Until recently, you were a photographer, remember? You took pictures of young children — pornography. You’ve always been beyond saving.”
“I was an artist. I provided a service.”
“You were a degenerate who preyed on young children and let other degenerates indulge in their own sick fantasies.”
We watched Thomas crawl onto the muddy shore and lie there not moving.
“Is he dead?” said Franklin hopefully.
“I don’t think so.”
“All right, I’m going to finish him off.”
He picked up a large rock and approached Thomas cautiously. He raised the rock above his head and started to bring it down with the intention of crushing Thomas’s skull.
“Franklin, it’s 4:00 o’clock.”
“Nooo,” he said, suddenly dropping the rock and staggering backwards. He began looking around wildly.
Everything was unnaturally quiet. There was no sound from the forest. The wind had stopped and the birds no longer sang. The silence was ominous. I waited. Franklin waited.
Next to where Franklin stood, there was a large noise like a crack of lightning and the ground split open, leaving an opening about three metres wide. A yellow cloud of sulphuric steam rose up in the air, instantly killing all vegetation around the mouth of the hole. From the recesses of Hell, Franklin’s employer emerged, bringing with him intense heat and a foul odour. The Devil was definitely not happy today. Franklin let out a whimper and I watched him try to explain how it wasn’t his fault. The reasons didn’t matter to Lucifer. He towered in front of me and looked directly at me with his blood red eyes filled with hatred. He curled back feral lips from large yellow teeth and let out a primal scream of a beast in pain. He reached out and grabbed Franklin by the neck with his jagged claws and pulled him backwards into the pit. As quickly as he came, he vanished into the bowels of the earth. I heard a long scream from Franklin and then the hole closed up behind them.
I momentarily closed my eyes, took a deep cleansing breath and listened to the sounds of the forest return to normal. I don’t come across evil much in the world I inhabit, so it hurts when I’m reminded that many people live with evil every day of their lives and think nothing of it. It also hurts to know that other people like Thomas will come in contact with evil when they least expect it and it will shatter their lives and the lives of those they love.
I stood silently beside Thomas and waited for his heart to stop. I knew his time was near. Today was too much for his wasted body and broken spirit. Finally, he let out one last ragged breath and then was still. His pain was gone. I watched and waited. I so badly wanted to introduce him to my world. Then I saw the shimmery shadow of Thomas rise from his physical body, stand and look around in confusion. I smiled, reached out my hand and joined it with his.
“Come with me, Thomas,” I said as I unfurled my wings and lifted us both in the air. “My name is Grace and I have someone I want you to meet.”