Reruns, A to Z

Apparently, Hunter had not been quite the man he had hoped to be.

Better to admit it now, he figured.

Caressing his own hands, he tried his best to ease the nerves that came with facing his true self.

Downstairs, his father’s TV was echoing reruns of black and white comedies that relied too heavily on the body.

Even in the chaos that was his current mind’s state, Hunter was annoyed by the sound.

Forgetting to lock the door behind him, he swiftly exited the house and headed down the road towards the liquor store.

Gathering his thoughts as he walked, he tried to recall the moment in which everything he thought he knew about himself had collapsed.

Hunter was sure that, at some point, the change had been provoked – but that was mostly because while admission was easy, taking responsibility was not.

Instinctively, Hunter tugged on the heavy glass door and gasped a little when it creaked open.

Just as he had not expected to commit his most recent crime, he had not expected to find the liquor store still open.

Killian was behind the counter as usual, tired and hacking up a lung.

Little else could Hunter say about the storeowner but that the man sure loved his cigars.

Murder, She Wrote moved silently about the small screen propped up in the corner.

Numbly, Hunter gave a friendly nod and continued towards the back, where they stocked the cold beer.

Overhearing two other customers rattle on about the rising cost of Californian wines, Hunter stopped dead in his tracks.

Perhaps it wasn’t her – no; no, it was definitely her.

Quaking under his two sweaters, Hunter glanced back at the exit, wondering if he could make it unnoticed.

Realizing the impossibility of it, he opted to proceed towards the refrigerators, though he did so with much lighter steps.

Soon, he told himself, he’d have his beer in his arms and he’d be out the door; easy as pie.

“Twelve – eighty-five.”

Under his breath, Hunter thanked Killian and gestured for him to keep his change.

Very carefully, he peeked to his left to verify that the movement he sensed was her; she was getting closer.

While it had briefly occurred to him that she might not recognize him after all this time, he knew it simply couldn’t be so.

Xeroxed images of their time together seemed to flash rapidly before him, so that he had to squeeze his eyes shut to rid himself of their light.

“Yeah. I knew that was you. Off the wagon, as per usual.”

Zero sympathy – yes, that was her alright.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

The Antidote

Johnny entered the pub through the side door and looked around. The atmosphere was exactly what he had been expecting. The room was dimly lit by low hanging chandeliers that were caked with dust, most of the stools at the bar were occupied by middle-aged men sitting in silence and sipping aggressively, and in the back corner a booth was enlivened by two drunkards carrying on a desultory conversation. Johnny took a deep breath and strode over to an empty booth near the back door. He was close enough to the drunkards now to see their spit flying back and forth and wished he could settle in elsewhere. It was too risky though; the instructions for this meeting had specified this booth, and he did not want to get it off to a rough start.

“What’ll it be?” the waitress asked. She was the type of woman who Johnny guessed was much younger than she appeared. Chronic exhaustion seemed to be taking its toll.

“Um, just a water please.” The waitress sighed, dropping her hands to her side, still lazily gripping the pen and pad.

Johnny tried to smile politely but she took off without a glance back. Only a little scathed by her rudeness, Johnny slumped down in his booth and began tapping his fingers impatiently on the poorly wiped down table.

It was nearly an hour after their agreed upon meeting time when Oliver finally entered. Johnny perked up at the sight of him and gulped the remainder of his second coffee. It was tepid and strong; too strong in Johnny’s opinion but he kept ordering them to keep from further upsetting his waitress.

Oliver gracefully took the chair opposite Johnny, and it was not until they were eye level with one another that Johnny saw how much the other man was sweating.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Oliver whispered. “It’s been a difficult morning.”

Johnny nodded sympathetically, but said nothing.

“Look doc,” Oliver continued, leaning in now, eyes wide. “This needs to happen, and it needs to happen now.”

Stunned, Johnny began to stammer in opposition but was abruptly cut off by more of Oliver’s urgent whispers. Johnny shifted in his seat, discomforted by the intensity.

“I’m not messing around here. It’s serious. You gotta help me.”

Johnny nodded. Panic was obviously taking Oliver over. Johnny had hoped he would be able to convince him to come back to the lab with him for a proper assessment; a night of observation, even. But Oliver was intent on meeting in this very spot, which should have been a red flag that no amount of common sense was going to change his mind.

“I want the cure. I want it now.”

“It’s not like that Oliver. Like I said, we need to evaluate the circumstance surrounding the -”

“Doc!”

He raised his voice nearly, leaping out of his seat. Immediately afterwards, he became aware of the attention he had drawn, slunk back down, and glanced around nervously. Lycanthropy in such early stages had many possible symptoms which depended upon the infected person’s own genetic makeup. But no matter how you analyzed the data, aggression and the inability to control oneself were always at the top of the list.

Johnny tensed, trying not to let Oliver sense his building fear. The scent, as far as Johnny’s own studies showed, could enhance the potential for sudden onset rage in the infected.

“Okay,” Johnny whispered. “Order a drink.”

Relief overcame Oliver. It was visible, especially in his demeanor which lightened significantly. Oliver hailed over the waitress and had her bring him a tequila. No salt, no lemon. After a deep breath, and a slight smile, Oliver shot the liquor back and rubbed his eyes as if just waking up. Johnny could see how happy he was in that moment; it was a moment he had dreamt of for weeks on end now. The stress of the change had been an unbearable burden, but it would be over now. Johnny discretely passed him the vial under the table, and as it exchanged hands he felt a thankful squeeze of his own.

With that, Johnny rose from the table and nodded a friendly goodbye. As he made his way back to the side door he could hear Oliver order a second tequila; the one he’d poor the vial contents into. It ached Johnny to know he would not get the chance to study this one. All the same, the fallacy of the so-called antidote would be taken willingly, which was to Johnny’s benefit. Yes, they needed to die; but he always preferred it not be directly by his hand. He slept better that way.

Shyla Fairfax-Owen ©

The Day the Reaper Came

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.

“He’s dying.”

“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 ©