As the sun began its vanishing act, the moon became a sliver with its true radiance obscured behind a cloud. It was on this night I managed to catch a glimpse of his being before he retreated into the darkness. His posture was menacing as the black opal dangling from a chain around his neck.
I waited patiently for him to speak. There was no choice. My life depended on it.
“Not everyone flies, and not everyone floats. I do not know what will happen until the very end. You might do neither or you might do both. That will ultimately be up to you.”
I felt a shock in my head when he said this. It started at my left temple and zigzagged its way to the right. I had heard he could be persuasive in a way that left you wanting more. I wondered how long I could resist his temptations.
I could hardly see anything in front of me, and when my ears registered the ambient noises, I wasn’t certain what was making the sound. He had put me in a dizzy haze. I was sure of it, but my ears perked up when he finally spoke.
“Do not take my silence as a form of approval.” He uttered from deep within, like a dog giving a warning growl. “Despite what you believe to know about me, there is nothing accurate about any of it.”
I constructed an image of his likeness as he became quiet again. He was an equal opportunist with his weight distribution. He did not favor the left over the right leg. His elongated fingers, manicured and durable, were often covered by stylish black leather gloves. There were a few times he allowed nature to touch them, but this was only when he was alone. He was born into an aristocratic family, and given a fitting name of Arthur, Theodore, or Samuel, or maybe he had parents a little more daring and bestowed the name of Magnus to him. He did not like people referring to him by his name. I was in process of determining his facial features when he spoke, his voice echoing.
“I could be by your side before you know I’m even there. Would you be fine begging for your life if it came to it? I imagine you want the night to unfold differently. Where you don’t have to crawl on your hands and knees to freedom. Where the little decency stored in your bones is not used against you.”
His words rattled me, sending a chill from the base of my neck to the place where my trousers sat on my waist. His authority loomed over me like an invisible shadow. He had cast his net, and caught his prize. I felt helpless much like the first time I had misjudged.
“Why should I give you any courtesy when you don’t play by the rules with the life you currently have?”
A twig broke in the distance.
“It is time for something a little more playful, do you not agree?”
I remained silent.
“Do you not agree, Nicholas?”
It was my turn to speak, but nothing came out of my mouth.
“You give me an answer as if you never matriculated from a respectable university.”
“My, my apologies.”
“It makes me wonder if the only course of action is to extinguish you now. It appears destroying the misery you feel inside would be a blessing for you.”
“I feel no misery.”
“Be that as it may, I don’t see any reason to allow you to live.” He seemed closer now. “Unless, of course, you want to try your hand at persuasion.”
“Then, by all means, proceed, Mr. Nicholas Hatcher. But, time is wasting, and patience may very well be a thing of the past.”
“Should I face a certain way?”
“Tick tock, Nicholas. Tick tock.”
“Yes, sorry. I’ll begin again.” I swallowed, but the large cotton ball in my throat remained. “I… I… might not have the same riches as some of my friends, but I have never harbored ill will toward any of them. Sure, there were times I might’ve wished to have what they had, but everybody does this. My children are fed a good breakfast in the morning, and they don’t go to bed hungry at night. My wife is most pleased. I would do anything for them.”
“Including sacrificing yourself for their well-being?”
“There are always dangers in this.”
“If I protect them, nothing else matters.”
“But you served your interests first not too long ago.”
“That’s not true.”
“I saw you lying with unkempt girls when you should have been home.”
“That was before the children were born.”
“But you were still committed.”
“I was younger then.”
“What would you do if I told you little Nicholas Jr. and his dear sister do not have much longer to live? That the plague will bring them pain they wished never came knocking? Would you believe me? Or, would you carry on with your life, not heeding my warning?”
“I would need proof.”
“The stamp of authenticity.”
“It’s only fair.”
“But life is not fair. You know this. And, I would not give you the benefit of seeing it on a declaration because I know things.”
His fingers wrapped around my neck in a fierce grip, pushing me against a tree effortlessly, and yet he allowed me to breathe. I’m certain he knew the correct amount of pressure to use on my chest in order not to kill me. I felt the bark digging into my back at all the right places. His face was mostly obscured by his hat and how he positioned his head. I saw his mouth and nothing more. His lips seemed to be the color of maroon.
“You cannot bring back the dead.” He methodically brought his other hand to my face, and covered my eyes. “Horribly, you sent an innocent man to his death. He will breathe no more like I have decided you will breathe no more.” I remained in his grasp, for what seemed forever, when he released me.
My body crumpled to the ground. I had no feeling in my legs. It was as if he drained all my energy. My arms were useless. I couldn’t lift them into the air. I could only muster a shallow inhale and then exhale.
“If you let me explain,” barely whispering, “you will know I tell the truth.”
“A liar in front of me.”
“I saw what you did to him.” His voice became guttural to the point I thought a part of his physiology might have changed. “You are not the one dictating the rules. You are not the one who gives orders. And your insignificant brain seems not to understand that soon you will find yourself in a grand finale.
“Just tell me what you want.”
He flung me against the same tree, pine needles stabbing my flesh when I landed face first. I scrambled onto my knees, and removed the needles sticking out of my palms. “If I’ve lost all chances of living, just kill me already!” My anger increased substantially. “Don’t think I don’t know you’ve been following me since that night. I know you have weaknesses too even though you claim to have none.” I had clearly misspoken. It was one thing to accept your impending death. It is something completely different to invite death, knowing there was the chance of further brutality.
I waited for him to extinguish my life. I waited and waited. He never showed himself to me again that night. I am not certain why. Hundreds of reasons entered my mind of why he departed, but not one correlated to the actual truth.
I needed to get home to my family, but my body was so weak from my ordeal. I was certain my arm was broken. My eyes closed, and I fell asleep, my hand intercepting the pine needles from touching my face. I dreamed of him watching me from far away.
The next morning I was greeted by insistent chirping of birds. The sunlight filtered through the tree tops. It warmed my face as I looked upward. I felt for my glasses. They weren’t there. I could hardly see as I stumbled away. I hadn’t comprehended my predicament until I returned to civilization. There it was in my grasp. I locked my eyes on the blurry black opal with the chain limply hanging from it.
Revenge would be coming another night, and when he made his grand appearance, I would be ready.