I take a breath, one of my last.
“Please, don’t go.”
I open an eye to see him. It is odd to see his concern now, despite how close we have become over the years. A far cry from how we were in his youth. “It’s fine. Don’t worry so much.”
His laugh is watery. “Are you kidding? After all of this? That’s what you say?”
“Yes, it is. I’m old now, what would you expect? Let me go as I wish.”
He shakes his head. His dismissal of my words actually feel like a balm to my dispersal.
“As you wish… heh. If I did that years ago, we wouldn’t be here now.”
“I wasn’t old then.”
“Sure you were. Just not as old.”
Somehow I have enough energy to chuckle. “True enough. Thank you.”
“Don’t be like that.”
I know what he means, but can’t help myself. “Grateful?” He sounds so much further away now. I do not have enough energy to keep my eye open, but I struggle to keep it so for just a little longer. A little longer. “As you wish.” I am so tired.
For some reason, hearing that still sounds foreign. Foreign, yet all I wanted. More than everything else. I smile. “Son.”
Now he is crying. I don’t have to look to see it. “Please…”
It is all so far away, but I can accept that. “Be good. I love you.”
It took me a lifetime, but I made it. Knowing my son has gotten there much sooner than I… I am content.
I am gone.
John had a problem. The problem was that he wasn’t good at his job. “I’m not good at my job,” he told his wife.
“Are you serious?” she responded. “You’ve been at it for years!”
He knew that, but it didn’t change anything. It made him sad that he didn’t know what to do. “I’m super upset. What should I do?”
“Get rid of the narrator, that’s what!” she scoffed. “What sort of story is this?”
John had no idea what she was talking about. “I don’t kn-”
“Of course you don’t know what I’m talking about!” She laughed, a shake of her head and a roll of her eyes. “John. Lean in for a moment.”
He did so and she reached up to his face to-
“There, got rid of it. Now, we’ll talk about everything else after dinner. I’m sure you’re hungry.”
Sitting in her office chair, she could hear the rabble from outside the closed window. Imelda groaned. “What now?”
Nahum, her assistant, stood with his posture straight. “They’re rioting outside. I don’t think they’re feeling the whole dictatorship.”
“Why not? Aren’t I doing better than the idiots before?”
“I think they’re unhappy about how insensitive you are.”
She glared over at him, but Nahum continued to be unfazed. “I don’t care.”
“That would do it.”
“Take care of them!” she shouted at him. “I have other things to take care of. Important things. I think they’ll be more happy to actually have food to eat. They don’t have to like me.”
He didn’t agree, but Imelda wouldn’t listen, so he decided to obey. He needed to keep this job. It was safer being closer to Imelda than anyone out of her view. Nahum shrugged. “I’ll take care of it.”
He left her to focus on important matters of state and gave out some business cards out from for people to register their complaints.
Marlyn waited at her place. One by one, her coworkers left, congregating in groups depending on who wanted to curry favor with others. She used the slow pace of gathering her things as a way to avoid that this day. She looked over at Juniper, who hadn’t moved.
She considered walking over to her, but ever since that evening… The alcohol had brought out their shared fears. Now it felt too awkward to confront her.
Hovering on the edge of a decision, Marlyn finished putting her belongings in her briefcase. Standing up, she left the room, putting Juniper behind her.
It was the last chance she had.
She sat at the edge of the creek and waited. The calm water passed by, clear enough she could see the silt of the bottom. Further toward the center there came the occasional fish. That wasn’t what she waited for, therefore she didn’t move an inch.
“Not now, sweetie,” she responded quietly over her shoulder, eyes still on the river. The time seemed about right, so she slid sideways further upstream and reached in, the water up to her elbows as she picked up a stone, turning to see what lived under it.
“Come here,” she beckoned her daughter over. The child knelt down beside her and looked at the snails attached to the rock, eating away at the algae. The girl reached out and poked one of their shells. The chime that sounded rang clear, as though a bell rang above water. “This means it’s time.”
“Time for what?”
“Now,” the woman reaffirmed. Placing the stone back where it had come, she took her daughter’s hand and they descended into the water.
Only one was real.
She swallowed, staring between the three. They sat there, tantalizingly waiting for her to reach out and pick one. “Can you hurry up?” her friend demanded.
“Sh!” She narrowed her eyes in on the three choices. “If I get this wrong…”
She ignored her friend’s grumbling and pointed at each of them. One out of three. She reached out and grabbed the chocolate ice cream cone.
Her hand went through it. “Shoot!”
Her friend laughed, looking out at the rest of the county fair. “Told you. Now let’s get some real food.”
Sadly, she left that booth and went to find lunch.
“And here we have the abyss,” said Martin.
Diana looked down into the nothingness. “Huh.” She pulled out some gum and put it in her mouth.
Martin pretended not to see it. “In the abyss lives the monsters that provide our energy. So please show a little more interest. Or something.”
She shrugged. “They’re going to do that whether I care or not, right? Why bother.”
“It’s best to know how your own power works.” He tried not to groan, but as always when dealing with Diana, it was difficult to keep himself calm. “Would you rather move on?”
She nodded, folding her arms over her chest. “Yeah, I don’t care about this.”
Finally. Martin couldn’t help but smirk. “Well, the next step is something that might interest you more.”
Without further ado, Martin shoved her into the abyss, taking a small amount of pleasure from her scream of outrage and surprise that descended with her into the nothingness.
She would be a nightmare to deal with when she got out, but he decided it had been worth it.
If she had been more willing to listen, she would have been prepared.
Mai stood still besides Zlhna’s chair as the woman wove her magic. The audience watched in awe and that was who Mai watched – the watchers. Those hovering close all had the same look of wonder on their faces. Mai wasn’t as worried about them. She recognized the complete banality that they represented.
Zlhna smoothed out the magic as though it were fabric and began to cut out the shapes she desired. Mai had seen this so many times, she could narrate it without looking. Which was what was necessary, because it meant she knew when, if anyone, would strike.
There were not many standing at the peripherals and they all appeared to be there because they had been late or shoved out from the main crowd. Zlhna’s eyes aimed up under her upper eyelid, showing the whites of her eyes. All she had awareness of was her fingers.
Mai caught sight of the assassin when Zlhna’s eyes narrowed further. This was the moment.
Mai shifted her stance barely and bit the side of her tongue until she tasted the blood begin to flow. She felt it flow through her veins. Staring directly at the attempted assassin, she shifted her arms as though she were about to move, just to get his attention. It worked. He met her eyes and she had him.
She stopped his blood. He crumpled to the ground.
Satisfied, Mai swallowed her blood and waited for Zlhna to finish her magic.
This, in the age of information.
“Can you hang on a moment? I’ll call you right back.”
“All right,” she said.
They said their goodbyes and she hung up, waiting for the callback. Two hours later, he hadn’t called back. She groaned, hitting her head on the desk. Making her decision, she called back again.
“Right, sorry. I’ll be with you, I just haven’t found the information yet.”
Will you before the day’s over? she wondered, biting back irritation. “Of course.”
They said their goodbyes and she waited for another four hours.
He brought up his face mask, making sure it was secure before wading into the remains. The outside crumbled as he shuffled through it. He reached in to grab the organs, still warm from the creature’s recently faded life. Absolutely dry, the heart took up the space of both his arms. He turned around and placed it in the metal crate, sealing it within the alcohol filled container. That part protected, he turned back around and continued to rifle through the crumbling scales.
The next most important part was the liver. The positioning of the corpse meant that the remains left within the stomach and the intestines dripped out, disintegrating everything around them. He removed the liver as quickly as he could be careful, lowering it into the second container. One to go.
Finally, he walked around the appearing skeleton to end up at the brain. He reached up and noted the holes already eating out from the inside. He made a sound of disgust. This was wasted. Taking a few steps back, he removed himself from the body, which no longer was a body, but had gradually turned into a pearl white skeleton.