The men who live in the woods behind my house had been getting out of hand for some time. They were all in their mid-fifties, golfers formerly, and meat eaters -- jolly men in general -- but since... [+]
William was a stout, stubby little man hiding in the corner of his own bed. A large pillow separated him and his wife, Ann, like a barrier. I watched him as he rubbed the barrel of a polished revolver, the very same one he tended to nightly. The television was kept running, as it was every time I visited when he slept. I think William found a certain level of comfort falling asleep with it on, like he was afraid of the silence the dark carried. The silence that brought me as well.
I watched him crack the hammer back with a look of remorse hiding behind his eyes. He had been practicing the nightly routine now - for weeks - only to never go through with it.
“Would you like to talk first, William. Before you make that decision, perhaps? I would appreciate it if we did,” I asked.
I made sure to keep myself hidden –my face in particular- with the company of the shadows, so as not to startle him. It seemed my hopes were a lost effort, however, as I noticed his face worsen to stark white like a ghost. He was careful, as careful as one could have been when jumping in their own skin, not careful to fall out of the bed, but careful not to bother Ann while she slept.
“Who’s there? Who are you?” William whispered.
The thought of not stepping forwards had crossed my mind, and for a moment after I did I regretted it. People don’t react well to seeing my pale face, or bony fingers. Or black eyes. I try to be presentable, wearing a suit, but most of the times nobody sees past my unfixable face.
“Have I done... it,” William asked me. “Have you come to take me or are you my psychosis taking shape towards the end of things to stop me?”
“I’ve come to show you something, perhaps stop you from making a terrible mistake? One I’ve seen too often happen to good people. It seems this time you feel too broken to be put back together,” I replied.
It’s my job to bring them when they’re ready. To guide them once they can no longer stay in the realm of the living. Except, sometimes they aren’t ready to go; they’ll scream and shout for their mothers or lovers. Sometimes I’m not ready either. I hate it when they cry because then I want to cry and somebody in my position shouldn’t show tears. There is an order I must follow: a strict regiment that demands I do not develop feelings for those I meet.
The look on his face, however, looked ready. The pistol remained steadfast in-hand with the glint of the single bullet in the TV’s glow reflected off the barren nightstand.
“If you are who I think you are, then I’ve nothing left to give you. You’ve already taken our future with you. I demand you take me, too,” William commanded “It’s the least you could do.”
He was right. I had been here, once before. I recognized the crooked slant of the roof. It was the same eggshell white as before, only the paint now looked dirtier, cracked and peeling now. The inside, last I remember, was so well kept and there were pictures everywhere of a happy family. Now there were none and a locked door stood across the hall with chains wrapped around it’s pink frame. Most likely because of me, but I’ve grown accustomed to closed doors and angry families now. I hate to be yelled at, but maybe somebody has to be there to absorb the pain when they don’t know what else to do with it?
“Why don’t we go in there and sit down so we don’t wake Ann?” I asked, pointing to the barred off room across the hall. “Perhaps I can show you something to change your mind?”
That was when William, the timid and gentle man I remember snapped and warped into someone else. I heard the hammer from his pistol click into place and there he stood, in front of me, shaking like a scared child with the empty gun aimed directly at me. Another thing I grew used to; I’d do the same if I saw my chilling face. I don’t blame who has the thought.
“You will take me, here and now. You will remove me from this terrible, rotten life! Nothing gets better and the pain doesn’t leave me, not like how they promised it would. She,” William gestured to Ann, “She won’t even look at me anymore; everybody is afraid to touch me and treats me as if the heartache is contagious. I cannot continue like this, I simply cannot,” William cried as tears started to trickle down his round cheeks. “I wanted to say goodbye to her. I wanted that chance and the world took even that from me. They stole that moment from me. What am I supposed to do now but die?”
“I don’t want you to do that. I don’t want to do that when you have a chance, my dear friend,” I replied.
I truly didn’t want to. I knew how serious he was by the look in his blank eyes; they were the same the day I first met his family. Since then, I never wanted to return here. I was always afraid. Too afraid, after what I’d done. I knew I would face his blame and rage, and her failure to respond. I knew there were rules, and truth be told, I didn’t know what breaking them would do. I’ve never broken them to begin with. But the promise we made brought tears to my eyes in the shadows of the night, when I shouldn’t have thought of her. But I did.
There would be repercussions for this assuredly, but I couldn’t tell which was worse: breaking a rule, or further breaking a family that was in need of hope? So, instead I did something uncharacteristic of me, the usual stickler for the rules: with the wave of my finger, the chains evaporated to rust and the door opened. I waved for him to follow, making sure to show him the stuffed bunny she shared with me.
Reluctantly, he followed me to the small room with the decorations still left out from the past Christmas. To the time when William first began to hate me, I suppose. That was also when I first began to question things.
She wasn’t the youngest, nor the cutest of the children I’ve sadly had to meet. She wasn’t the smartest or the bravest either; she hid when I first came. We spent hours talking over tea before finally she, and I, were ready. Most people ask to say goodbye to their family before they leave, or to watch the final sunset or sunrise. It varies, but she didn’t ask any of those questions. Instead she asked me to make sure he would still smile once she’s gone. I promised her I’d see to that when she gave me her worn, stuffed bunny.
And so, when William entered behind me I did just that. I let him see her, as she would have grown up to be beyond the years she lived. Seven now, and still smiling with the dimples I became a victim of. Can you believe that?
“What is this? My darling Elizabeth... is that really you?” William cried.
“I can’t make it permanent; there are some rules even I’m not courageous enough to break. But I can let you spend tonight with her. To share her smile, and hopefully carry it forwards like she wanted you to. For Ann as well as for yourself like a shield against the sometimes-cruel world,” I replied.
William dropped to the floor almost immediately. His blank stare suddenly vanished and was replaced with great, oceans of blue that started to leak. He didn’t dare let go of her as they embraced; I doubt anything in the world could have torn them apart in this moment.
“I hope we will not see one another for some time, William. She wouldn’t have wanted that. Neither would I,” I replied.
And yet, even in their special moment, Elizabeth couldn’t help but sneak a smile to me from over her father’s shoulder. The very same smile that warmed my heart to know I’d kept my promise.
Staying felt wrong; I’d already lingered in the shadows of their home long enough like mold. I was in every corner of their memories now, robbing them of their most precious gift. Now at least, I’ve managed to scrub the mold from some of those memories and preserve the ones that will keep us both going. The ones that will remain warm in both of our hearts. The memories that will keep me away for a very long time.