Discounting the mortal hiss in the air, it had been a rather ordinary Thursday. Jonah was tired, as usual, but forced himself to take his afternoon walk nevertheless. He fumbled with the buttons of his knee-length, thick polyester, coat for longer than he had the day before. He sighed at that realization, then pushed it to the back corner of his mind reserved for disappointments. He covered his balding head with a black bowl hat and reached clumsily for his cane.
Outside the air was crisp and refreshing. Autumn had always been Jonah’s favourite season. When he was a boy, he used to rake all the lawns on his street, and when no one was watching, he’d jump in the piles and pretend to be swimming on some opposite planet. His joints ached at the thought of doing that now, but he still quite enjoyed leaf-gazing. Actually, he had very few pleasures in life anymore, but Autumn walks were on the top of the list.
In the park he hesitantly watched the children play cops and robbers. They cackled and roared gleefully, and Jonah found the scene carnivalesque and difficult to watch. In his eighty-four years, and especially in the way he had chosen to live them, he had seen enough casual brutality. Children today; he had not been able to attain that level of desensitization until his sixth kill.
“That’s not true, Jonah. You always had a cavalier approach to right and wrong, didn’t you?”
Jonah looked beside him. The park bench he had been sitting on alone suddenly occupied a second body. The man seemed more a shadow, cloaked in a black hooded garb that left his face to the imagination.
“I suppose you’re right,” Jonah whispered, regrettably. He did not need to ask the shadow who it was, or what it wanted.
The man and the shadow watched the children play their grotesque game in silence for a little longer, while pigeons squawked uninvited at their feet.
“Are you afraid?” the shadow finally asked.
“No. Just tired.” Jonah reflected on his reply, and then spoke again, still not turning to face his visitor. “What’s on the other side for me?”
“That part, Jonah, is up to you.”
Now they faced each other, and Jonah saw what was hidden beneath the hood. Empty eye sockets, like an abyss with a magnetic draw. Worms wriggled about the holes, apparently unable to decide if they would rather be inside or outside. The skull was spotted with rotting flesh, but was more bone than skin. The sight of the bits of flesh dripping and dissolving did not disturb Jonah in the least. Mostly, he was contented by the cognizance that there was no associated foul scent. On the contrary, all he smelled was Autumn.
“I must confess, then?” Jonah asked with a hint of disinterest in his tone. He pulled his attention away from the rotting flesh and un-eyes, disgusted more by the idea of confession than anything else.
“No.” At this, Jonah turned to face him again, startled. “It is I who has a confession” he finished.
Jonah stared blankly until the voice resumed. It was low and steady; apathetic, much like that of Jonah’s own father’s had been.
“Jonah, it is not your time. But it can be.”
Jonah felt a numbness overtake him. His hands, though shaking on the ball of his cane, felt disconnected from himself; as did the rest of his limbs. It was his time – he could feel it in his bones, in his lungs, in his heart.
“Jonah, focus.” The voice was even softer now, and Jonah was wondering if he had altogether lost his grip on reality.
“You’ve taken many a life,” he continued. “Today, you will be asked to give one.”
The pigeons took flight in unison, the flap of their wings sending a chill straight through Jonah’s thinning body.
“I don’t understand,” he whispered, his voice quivering enough to give way to odd cracks.
“His name is Eric. He’s fourteen, the grandson of a Mr. Garret Lyon.”
Garret Lyon, he had been Jonah’s last kill.
“He’s been quite ill. Right about now, his fever is blistering. He’s home in bed, just across the street there.” The visiting man did not point, but Jonah instinctively knew where to look.
“Not if you’re willing to make a trade.”
“I have a choice?” Jonah’s tone lightened.
“We always have a choice.”
Yes, choice. That was something Jonah had always believed to be true. But for the first time in his life, having to make a choice was not a burden, but a blessing. Jonah’s heart quickened and he began to perspire under his hat. Somewhere in the background, he heard the man say: “Give yourself to me, Jonah, and your soul’s debt will be paid.”
His heart continued to beat harder and harder against his chest and the sweat became profuse. Without so much as a word, he had made up his mind.
This was the end.
Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©