She leaned forward, hair partially obscuring her face, a cigarette held to the lighter in his outstretched hand. She inhaled deeply and sat back, exhaling smoke and misery in one long sigh. “This isn’t how it was supposed to go,” she said softly, “There was supposed to be more time.”’
He watched her in silence, her words hanging in the air like the smoke from her cigarette. She was right, he thought. There was supposed to be more time. People always thought that; everyone who came to him had plans that were theory only, plans that, no matter how detailed and concrete, were always placed at some distant, future point. Eventually, they realized that no one ever came to him if there actually was more time.
Her half-smoked cigarette dangled from one hand as she stared out the passenger side window of his black Cadillac. A single line of tears ran down the cheek that was visible. He sensed more tears — a tidal wave of them, probably — threatening just beneath the surface. It was time to end their business. He took the cigarette from her limp hand, finishing it in one long drag. As he snuffed it into the ashtray, he cleared his throat expectantly, waiting.
She continued to gaze out the window, but a wistful smile joined the tears on her cheek. “You need something of his,” she asked, “something personal, right?” He nodded. She fumbled in her purse for a moment and produced a thin white envelope. “This is his watch. He wore it every day until……until….” Her voice faltered, trailing off into silence.
He nodded again. Of course; watches are useless in the ICU — they get in the way of IV lines and monitors, they’re not sterile, the nursing staff hate them — and what possible use could a watch be to a dying man, anyway? He took the envelope and tucked it away inside his suit jacket without so much as a glance inside. People thought that the object they gave him had to be significant, to hold special meaning to the person they were offering, but in truth, it didn’t matter. The significance was in the giving of the object, not in the object itself. Giving him something of theirs was the final act, like signing a contract. It made their arrangement binding.
”Is that it,?” Her voice a study between sorrow and relief, “Is it done?” He nodded one last time. She took a shuddering breath, straightening her back and blinking away the last of her tears. She smiled tremulously. . “Good,” she said, almost to herself, “good.” She opened the car door, swinging her purse back up onto her shoulder as she did, and stood up into the darkness of the deserted parking lot.
She turned to shut the car door, then paused, leaning back in to face him for the first time. As she did, her hair fell to one side, revealing a black eye, swollen almost shut, the bruising just beginning to fade to green from a purple so deep it was almost black. “One more thing,” she said, “Will he know?” She paused. “I want him to know.”
He regarded her face, still silent. Slowly, a hard smile, devoid of mercy, formed on his face. His eyes glowed red, casting harsh light and shadow on her face. Her own pitiless smile showed faintly in the red light. She turned to go; he cleared his throat again.
“Oh, yes,” she said, “I almost forgot. Something of mine.” Pulling a small handgun from the depths of her purse and handing it to him, she shut the car door and disappeared into the darkness.
He held the gun in his lap, setting both hands lightly on its surface. The red glow of his eyes deepened; thin tendrils of smoke started to rise beneath his hands. For a moment, the gun glowed, then disappeared. Darkness returned to the car’ interior. In it, his face transformed, the human features dissolving until all that remained were a pair of red eyes, narrowed to slits, atop a blank slate where mouth and nose had been moments before. He put his hands on the car’s steering wheel, and the car itself slowly disappeared in a cold mist.
In a hospital room some fifteen miles away, a man lay motionless in an ICU bed, monitors beeping softly. Suddenly, he moaned, softly at first, then louder. Alarms began to sound, echoing down the quiet hallway outside his room.
“No…..” he moaned, shaking his head back and forth. “No! No! NO!!!” As the room filled with nurses and doctors, he opened his eyes. “No!” he screamed, “No! Their eyes! Their red eyes!” He grabbed at a nurse’s hand. “Please help me! Their eyes! They have no faces! DEAR GOD THEY HAVE NO FACES!!!!!” For one long moment he froze, mouth open in a perfect circle of surprise, torment visible on every feature, then he collapsed, limp, onto the bed. The cardiac monitor beeped steadily, showing only a single, flat line.
Twenty minutes later, a doctor approached the woman sitting stiffly in a waiting room chair. “I’m sorry,” he began, “we did everything we could, but —-“
“But he’s dead,” she finished.
The doctor nodded. “I’m so sorry. The
gun shot….his head wound was just so severe….there was nothing we could do…”
She sighed deeply. “It’s my fault. I don’t even know where he got the gun. I knew he was….” Pause. “depressed. But I never thought he would….he would…”
The doctor put a hand on her arm. “It wasn’t your fault. Suicide is never anyone’s fault. You can’t blame yourself for not knowing.”
She smiled softly, sadly. “I alway thought we would have more time…” She stood to go. “Excuse me, but I have to start making…arrangements.” She turned away from the doctor, headed towards the elevator doors, but he stopped her.
“Your eye,” he said, “I just noticed it….are you sure you’re all right?” She put a hand to her eye, where make-up tried and failed to conceal the bruise. “This?” she said lightly, “This is nothing. I…ran into a door frame.” She gave a rueful laugh. “He always talked about how clumsy I was.”
As she turned to the elevators, the doctor thought he caught a faint red glow from her eyes; before he could do more than register the thought, she was gone. He shook his head and rubbed his own eyes. Too many late night shifts, he thought to himself as he made his way back to the nurse’s station.
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I posit we use one shot derringers, ten paces, turn and shoot. Then it won't be suicide, It'll be consensual homicide, a new crime category. I marvel at how this cigarette prompt has turned into an avalanche of self harm stories.
Me, too. Although this story did not start out that way; it was one of those pieces that developed a life of its own and went where it wanted to go.
Aren't cigarettes considered slow suicide by most people who don't smoke, and many who used to? I don't think it's such a big leap for many people when they're down that mental road. The horror element is nice and subtle in this, not overdone. It could almost be the imagination of the doctor and the dead man.
Thanks! That’s high praise when it comes to horror.
Fine work Theresa. Cigarettes would have also done the job if she had not. First submission, a hit for sure. Keep them coming this way.
Thanks very much for the read and the kind words.