3:00 AM glows on the dashboard. Perfect. As intended, you’ve arrived fashionably late. You turn the keys in the ignition, making the air vents wheeze and silencing the rumble of your car’s engine. The anticipation feels warm and bubbly—the way a good drink makes you feel—as you push open the driver’s side door and step into the cool night, music from the estate rippling the air with its rhythmic hum.
Your heartbeat is slow and steady in your chest. You know the secret. Snug in your pocket, it tugs on the right side of your jeans. You know the secret, and no one else does—not yet. As you near the mansion’s wide front door, you come to the realization that you are a prophet of sorts, attending the party with full knowledge of what is fated to happen while others flounder about blindly. You feel yourself smile. You know the secret. Only you.
When you grasp the cold doorknob, you don’t expect it to give. Pleasant surprise—it turns completely, so you swing the door open and walk among the throng of moving bodies unobtruded. A raven-haired woman to your left is sashaying her hips, all glossy muscle and red, ribbon-like straps. A man shifts his weight from one side to the other and makes eyes at the woman. The crowd bounces with the music, their drinks sloshing around in their glasses and their nose bridges gleaming with sweat. Strobe lights flash, making everything seem like a series of photographs taken seconds apart from one another instead of the fluid motion of reality. This is their escape. Their temporary solace from misfortune. You remind yourself that sorrow is waiting at each of their doorsteps, that without you, the sun will rise jaundice yellow in the morning to harbinger a hangover, an angry boss, or a disappointed wife. They would saunter through the coming days, desperately awaiting their next opportunity to lose themselves in drink and dancing, to muffle sober thoughts with loud music and crowds. It’s a life you know well—one you endured, too, once, until you discovered your higher purpose. These people, however, have no divine calling. They exist solely for you to observe, to pity, and to help.
A slender woman in a shimmery, sapphire dress prances toward you, perhaps sensing your power. She has pretty hair—blonde, sleek. Her lips move, but the music drowns out her words with its pulsing beat. You catch a groove and move this way and that while she wriggles her slim body against yours, though dancing feels awkward. No, not awkward. Pointless—you didn’t come here to dance. Calm and focused, you entertain her for a few seconds longer, and then shuffle through the crowd.
You brush your hand along your right pocket, feeling the bulk of something hard and heavy. It’s almost time. The excitement tingles your fingers, makes your insides gush with delight. Any minute. You have to swallow the laughter fizzing in your belly and focus on keeping your mouth stiff and straight. Any minute.
“Hey!” Shouts a rosy-nosed boy with freckles and a collared shirt. You know he’s familiar; you went to school together. To acknowledge him, you nod, and continue weaving between the party guests. If he knew why you are here today, he wouldn’t be so rude as to intrude on your work with frivolous conversation. Soon, he’ll appreciate your charity.You consider allowing him to be the first person to receive your services, but then, out of your peripheral, you see him. One of the strobe lights flashing about spotlights him for a moment, but only a moment, before he dips back into the shadows. It’s Will. Will, with his deep-set, black eyes that seem to absorb his surroundings like pools of vacuity. With his tousle of sandy hair and his quick, slight frame. With his too-large nose that makes his angular face appear fowl-esque, bird-like. When you see him, he’s turned to the right with his shoulder pointed toward you, and that’s how you know for certain that you are not mistaken—the scribble of ink on his neck gives it away—the tattoo of the fireflies.
You remember when he turned his chin up and pulled the collar of his shirt down to show you, the old memory still fresh in your mind, as tender as a gushing wound. It was June, and you were teenagers and the tattoo was bright and still cellophaned. It was on the beach or maybe the boardwalk. A large firefly glowing green, its wings spidery, its exoskeleton black and shiny. Smaller ones clouded around it, glowing, too, like embers. You told him it was girly. Instead of defending it, he let go of his shirt, looked at you straight on, and said simply, I know what you do. And then you knew you had to get rid of him, but you couldn’t right then, because there were too many people around. So you planned it, but then he disappeared, and that was the last time you saw him.
Does he know you’re here? Doesn’t matter. You know what you need to do. You scan the crowd for his square shoulders and his green t-shirt, catch a glimpse of him hustling through the sea of bodies. You follow, elbowing your way up the large staircase. Dignified shouts of protest sound from the party guests you plow through, just a notch above the music, but you don’t worry about that. Will is the only thing that makes you worry. If you are to do your job, he can’t be lurking around.
Will darts around the corner, slips through a crack in a door. You peak into the room. There are large windows through which silver moonlight beams, his silhouette is black against them, a shrinking shadow as he moves further and further away from you. You make out the outline of a bed, a dresser. A bedroom. His arm, like a bony, alien limb in the bright light, reaches up and pulls something—it’s not a window, but a sliding glass door, you realize. Then he keeps moving, and that’s when you glide into the darkness of the bedroom, the thump of your boots soft on the carpet, the music muffled now. You see him out there, leaning against the iron railing of a balcony, his skin metallic under the full moon. You see him, and he can’t see you. You know the secret. Only you. Your lips stretch into a toothy grin, your diaphragm jerks, and air rushes from your nose. You want to laugh the satisfied, hearty laugh of someone getting what they want. You turn your head up toward the moon, a bright, silver coin. The secret seems to burn in your pocket.
Will left the sliding door open. You walk right through it, feeling a rush of excitement when he snaps his head toward you. His black eyes shoot up and down. His voice cracks when he says, “It’s you.”
You utter the question that’s been swimming through your mind for years: “Where did you go?”
“I never thought I’d see you again.”
You stare. Your hip thumps beneath your pocket.
Will lets out a breath. “Guess now’s as good a time as any. I never thought I’d see you again.”
You flash your teeth at him. “Miss me?”
“No,” he grunts, lurches forward. Something glints in the moonlight but you reach for your pocket—now’s the time now’s the time now’s the time—and pull out the pistol and press the black metal between his eyes. You realize the glint was something in his hand—a knife, his knuckles white around the handle. He holds it up by his shoulder with his arm bent, with the blade pointed at you, but now he is paralyzed because that’s the kind of power you wield, the power of gunpowder and purpose. You are like God, you decide who lives and who dies, and Will had cheated death for a long time and you don’t like it when they don’t play by the rules. Serves him right to pay—Oh, yes, he is going to pay. You make him think you will shoot him, but the knife sparkles the way water sparkles in a hot desert, sparkles like water when your throat is dry and your mouth is sticky. Good, Will. Good choice, bringing the knife.You think you will use it, cut slowly, make it really hurt.
His voice wobbles, “Don’t. Please.”
You press the barrel hard between his eyes. Will stumbles, holds his palms out flat, lets the knife clink onto the stone floor. Pleads, “If you let me live, I won’t kill you, and I won’t tell nobody, neither. Honest.” His eyes widen, the bone-white sclera circles all the way around those black-hole irises. You glare straight into them.
“Why’d you make me do this, huh?” You ask. Your heart feels a bit heavy—Will was a good kid. He had fun; he was one of those that actually enjoyed their time on this earth. It’s a shame you have to kill him.
“You don’t! C’mon, man, you remember all the good times we had?” His eyes water, the rims red. “All those summers. All those crazy nights. Drop the gun, man.”
You tighten your grip, holding a slight, firm bend in your elbows. A muscle in your back twitches.
“I don’t wanna die,” his voice goes high. “You don’t wanna do this, right?”
“You help me do a job.” At first, you're not sure, but then, yes, he could. He could help you. You, an angel, and the only man who was able to defy you. This could work. “You help me tonight, and I won’t kill you.”
“Okay, okay,” his head bounces up and down, “I’ll do it. But you gotta put the gun down so I can move.” He chuckles and his brows turn up, the kind of look you give when you tell a corny joke to a grocery store clerk.
Slowly, you lower the weapon. Holding your face firm and stiff, keeping your eyes locked, you assure him, “If you show me I can’t trust you, I will end your life.” Your chest swells with pride, knowing you can promise this and no one else can. Will exhales when the gun is angled toward the ground. He says, “What do I need to do?”
“I want everyone here dead.”
You instantly raise the pistol again. You’re not taking any chances. Will blubbers, “No, I—I’ll help you, but, man, that’s a lot of people. You’re gonna kill that many people? It might be too risky.”
“YOU KNOW WHO I AM!” You bellow, the pistol shaking in your grip. Will jumps, stammers at the barrel, “O-okay, okay, I-I I’ll help you, we’ll do it. We can do it.”
“We’re doing these assholes a favor. Taking them out of their sad, pathetic, lonely lives. You think they want to be here? Suffering day in and day out? You and me, we’re different. We have divine power. They are nothing.” You bend down and reach for the knife, your index finger still curling around the trigger of the pistol. You point the knife toward the moon and shove it against his chest, feeling his heart hammer like a rabbit’s. “You kill them, you save them. That’s our job, our purpose. You understand? Like killing flies.”
But then, your finger squeezes the trigger. And there is the thump of a limp body falling to the ground.
Will turns and looks at the dead man behind him.
“Your turn,” you smile.
“Why don’t we split up?” Will’s voice goes high, trembles, “I get the upstairs and you get the downstairs. How’s that sound?”
You raise your gun to him again, cock your head to the side, hiss, “See that guy in the window?”
Ever slowly, Will turns his head, his nose vibrating like a guitar string. Just barely, there is the outline of a round head and square shoulders visible through the glass.
“You kill him.”
Will starts toward the man, and the man darts into the darkness. Will shuffles through the sliding door and bolts through the room, with you on his heels and with the gun pointed at his head. You can make anyone do anything you want them to. You decide who lives and who dies.
He finds a light switch and flicks it on. The bedroom door sways gently in the draft from the open glass door. Will’s eyes scan the room, but it is empty. Without looking at you, he says, “Looks like he’s not in here.”
The closet door is slightly ajar. Will creeps toward it, swings it slowly, hesitantly. On the ground there are black pairs of dress shoes like beetles, but the man is not there. Will steps toward the other side of the bed, peers into the gap between the bed and pale blue wall, but the man is not there. He glances again toward the balcony, the iron railing gleaming in the silver moonlight. The man is not there.
Will looks sideways at you with his black eyes, “I’m gonna look in the bathroom.”
The door creaks as he pushes it, and you follow him into the bathroom. Will steps carefully, as though he may accidentally step on something sharp, even though the floor tiles are smooth and spotless. He opens the shower curtain with a great screech from the hooks on the rod, and there is the man, pink and bug-eyed and sweating, “Please, no, please, no, I have a daughter I have a daughter,” he begs Will, and Will slowly raises the knife and the blade shakes so badly it looks like a blur of glittering steel. The underarms of the man’s shirt are saturated with sweat, and another stain darkens the denim of his jeans at the crotch and spreads quickly over his lap and down the insides of his legs, making Will scrunch his nose in disgust and urge the blade closer to the man. The smell of urine and death wafts pungently through the air, and finally you’ve had enough and you shout, “DO IT! KILL HIM NOW WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR?” And Will whimpers like a hurt dog and drives the knife forward, plunges it through the man’s shirt on the right side of his chest, cutting him enough for a spot of blood to emerge on his shirt. The man breathes hard and blinks with his bug eyes. Will gasps for air, opens his mouth to say something, and that’s when you shoot him straight through the temple and he falls onto the shower floor, sliding in the trickle of piss running towards the drain. Then you shoot the man.
“Wasn’t that a waste of time,” you say aloud. You realize now that the music has stopped playing. You frown. The wail of sirens cuts through the silence, and you think to yourself, now my whole night is ruined. You unroll a wad of toilet paper and wipe the gun handle down, and stride out of the bedroom, leaving the gun in Will’s open hand and stuffing the paper in your pocket.
Downstairs, there are stumbling, half-naked people being ushered outside by policemen. One of the officers—a gray man with a bulldog face who smells like old cigarette ash—asks for your I.D. You reach into your back pocket and slide your driver’s license out of your wallet. The officer says, “Were you ‘ware of any underage drinkin’ here tonight?”
Suddenly, there is the great shuffle of three policemen stampeding down the stairs.The one in the middle says, “Looks like a murder-suicide upstairs. Think you need to come look at this, chief.”
“Good grief,” says the old police chief. “You have a good night and let us know if you see anything suspicious. Stay safe out there.”
“Will do. Thank you, sir.”
Dawn is breaking now—milky daylight spills over the horizon. When you get into your car, you turn the keys in the ignition, making the engine sputter and then start. Cheap thrills, you think. Disappointment sits heavy in your belly, sinks low like a stone. Cheap thrills tonight. Next time will be better. Next time there will be no one to interrupt you. You grind your teeth thinking about that bastard Will, that dead bastard.