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Fiction Suspense Contemporary

There are some nights when you can lay your head down at the end of the day and drift off to sleep rather comfortably. Your pillow cradles your head ever so snugly, extra soft after a long day, putting the mind at ease. I can’t say I remember the last time I had one of those nights. For the past five years, I’ve tossed and turned, limbs restless while my hands claw at the sheets, grasping for something just out of reach. Alone in the dark, it did not matter if my eyes were open or closed, the image was always the same. A haunting memory that will never cease to be. My thoughts shift and turn, always touching upon the fact that I kept a gun under the bed. . . and what I would do with it when I saw her again. 

But tonight was different. 

Tonight that Sig Sauer P365 XL rested comfortably in my hand with a magazine of ten 9mm rounds inserted into the grip. The weight of it put a slight smirk on my face, eyes gleaming with desire. 

“Tonight is the night,” I said to myself.

I got up and sunk the gun into the concealed holster clipped within the waistband on my back right hip. “Tonight it ends.” 

I looked up and stared at myself in the rectangular mirror that sat on the white bedroom dresser directly in front of me. I was only thirty-four years old but already my brown hair was starting to gray at the sides. Thick black bags hung tight beneath my sunken brown eyes. My lips teetered between a thin line and a subtle scowl and every day it seemed to drift toward the latter, with every lonely sunset draining more and more of my youth away. I looked down at my watch. 

8:25 pm. 

It was time. 

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and without another thought, left my house and ventured out into the city beyond. Cars sped by with a heavy swish. The sidewalks were alive with people, some happy but most serious; their faces well lit by both the city lights and the harvest moon ascending out in the distance - its bloodied face watching me with an ominous eye, like it knew what I was up to. That thought sent a shiver down my spine but I was comforted by the passing of a warm summer breeze.

Midsummer nights always held a sacred place in my heart. There was something special to them. A certain feeling that danced in the air, filling the senses with compassion and the urge to have fun. It was when Alice, Tim, and I were at our happiest. Alice always knew how to get me laughing with her cheesy jokes and bubbly personality. Tim was so precious and full of life, always asking the most interesting questions with his childlike wonder.

As I looked at the full moon now, I wondered if he would have asked me why it looked larger as it was coming up over the horizon compared to when it was directly above you and I knew I would have given him some fatherly answer to which would have undoubtedly led to another question.

Almost five years ago, the three of us were walking home from the movies on a night not too different than tonight. We were all smiles as we made our way to our cozy apartment. Alice was deep into one of her post-movie rants on how the storyline was constructed and whether it was well thought out, or complete garbage. We had just watched an action flick so, of course, she had a lot to pick at. I didn’t interrupt though, it was cute to see her mind work. I just held her hand as she worked through the many character arcs the movie possessed. Tim looked up at her, observing her as a child does their mother when their interest was piqued.

Everything was just fine. Everything was normal. Then we rounded the corner and I spied a pair of headlights, moving down the street in our direction faster than it should have been. It jerked left and right, caught in an endless swerve. Alice was too lost in thought to notice and Tim was distracted. I was the only one who saw the coming danger. I should have said something but everything happened so fast that all I could do was narrow my eyes and watch with a dumbfounded curiosity. When I finally decided to act. . . it was too late. 

My train of thought derailed momentarily when I realized that I had arrived at my destination: a city bench posted on a quiet sidewalk that faced a lonely alleyway. Two trees flanked either side of the bench, obscuring it from view from afar. I sat down and I looked down at my watch,

9:05 PM

Perfect.

I stared over my left shoulder and out over the intersection beyond. Few cars frequented these streets and not many people walked this way eitherMy hand went to my hip and felt the gun beneath my shirt, sensing the heat emanating from the lifeless metal, fingers snaking their way around the grips.

A thought crossed my mind, asking what the hell I was doing here, but that voice was all but a whisper now. Instead, I brought up the memory of my wife and son, crushed beneath the wheels of a blue Ford Raptor; Their blood splattered against its side like a terrible abstract painting. I remember myself, lying on the cold sidewalk, body contorted from the impact. The horror and pain of it all kept me there as I saw her stumble out of the driver's seat, barely a scratch on her.

“I’mmm sorry,” she slurred. “I didn’t ssssee *hic* see you there.”

They said I was lucky to be alive. I sure as hell didn’t think so. The real lucky one . . . was her. Luckily for her, Daddy had a lot of money to pay for a good lawyer who was able to sweet talk the judge into lessening the murder charge to just vehicular manslaughter. What should have been 35 to life was instead reduced to just five years in prison and community service upon release. I hoped that the prosecutor would have fought this, but he didn’t care. He was always looking at the clock and checking his phone during recess. I was beyond shocked. Justice was been robbed from me just like the lives of my family and the day the verdict was issued was the day I bought my Sig. It had but one purpose and one purpose only: 

Retribution. 

It took two hours, but eventually, I saw a lone figure walking my way, the sound of her heels echoing down the lonely street with each footstep. A sinister ache swelled within my chest at the sight of her, throbbing with each heartbeat. Though the night was warm, she wore jeans and a long-sleeve blouse, hands tucked in her pockets. A brown leather purse was slung over her shoulder, cross-body, and rested comfortably on her hip. Her golden hair bounced with each step.

“Hey, you got a light?” I said as she passed me by. 

“No, sorry,” she said with a meek smile.

I got up from the bench and she stopped dead in her tracks, eyes widening with horror once she recognized who I was. 

“Oh my god,” she breathed.

I said nothing and lunged forward, grabbed her by the arm, and pulled her into the empty alleyway. The shadows between the two buildings swallowed us whole. She let out a sharp scream but I promptly pushed her against the brick wall of the building, pulled out the Sig, and told her to shut up. Feeling the warm metal against the underside of her chin and her scream immediately died down to a whimper. 

“Did you think you were done?” I demanded. “Did you really think five years and community service would be penance paid for the life of my wife and child? No. Never. The devil has plans for you!”

I pressed the gun harder up into her chin as my anger flared. My face contorted into a that of hot rage. 

“The pain you made me suffer. . . The mourning and emptiness. I obsessed over counting down the days to when you would be released and enjoyed every moment of tracking you down,” I said.

I switched the safety off the Sig with my thumb. 

“You can’t imagine how much I’ve been looking forward to this.”

“You think you are the only one who has suffered?” she said, her words coming out in a nervous mess. 

I narrowed my eyes into a scowled stare.

Was she mocking me?

Though fear was still thick about her, the look in her eye was genuine, so I let her speak. 

“There isn’t a day that goes by where I am not filled with shame and regret,” she said, “Every time I close my eyes, I can still see their mangled faces underneath my car and all the blood pooling on the ground beneath me like a crimson stain marking me for damnation. . .”

My grip over her loosened.

“I was naive then,” she said. “Never thinking about how my actions could affect others until that fateful night stripped everything from me. Yes, my father got me a good lawyer, but nothing comes for free. Now, he won’t talk to me.”

“You deserve much worse than that, Elena,” I said as I pushed the gun back up into her chin, “Much, much worse. My family was everything to me. They were all I had.”

She started to tremble, her face contorting with terror. Then, she started to sob uncontrollably. Pangs of guilt flared in my heart. In that moment, I saw all of her youth fade away and I beheld who she was now: A broken soul who had experienced pain beyond her years. It clung to her, feeding off her spirit like a hungry parasite, leeching the life force from her.

When she was able, she looked up at me and said, “I’ll never be able to live a normal life. Everything gives me anxiety! Why do you think I choose to walk through the city alone at night? I am too terrified to get behind the wheel of any vehicle and I have no one to ask for a ride. My family won’t talk to me. They think I am a stain upon the family name and cut me off as soon as the judge’s gavel hit the pedestal. All of my friends have moved on in the five years I was in prison. I am an outcast now, alone and riddled with fear.”

We stared at each other, the empty shadows of the alleyway bearing down upon us as the heaviness of the silence grew in weight and size. Eventually, Elena shook her head.

“So if you are going to shoot me, just do it. Honestly, you’d be doing me a favor.”

Only after hearing what she had to say did the Sig feel heavy and my arm weak, palms growing sweaty as I thought about pulling the trigger and ending her life. How was this possible? I had been thinking about this moment for years. Why was it so difficult now? Lost in thought, I didn’t see her hand slowly make its way into her purse. By the time I saw what she was doing, it was too late. Her hand shot out of the bag, lighting quick, holding a small black cylinder to my face in one hand and simultaneously pushing the gun away with the other. I heard a sharp hiss and then a burning pain bit into my eyes. I stumbled back, crying out as I tried to use my free hand to protect myself from the burning spray. Now free, Elena pushed me back and continued spraying. Everything it touched burned! 

I never saw her run off. All I heard was the rapid echo of her heels fading out down the street, as she called back, “Stupid, idiot! My father will have you locked up for life over this!”

I stumbled back, dropped down, and braced up against the wall of the alleyway, sobbing uncontrollably as misery took hold over me, every tear shed adding to the burning sensation on my face. The smart thing to do would have been to get up and get as far away as I could from this place. Elena would have most certainly called the police after she ran away but I didn’t care at this point. I had the strength to move but not the will. I laid my head against the cold wall and allowed the pain to eat away at my face as I waited for the inevitable sound of sirens coming to get me.  

“Hey, buddy,” a voice said, “are you okay?”

Through my swollen eyes, I saw the blurred figure of a tall man standing in the light of the sidewalk. When I didn’t say anything, he approached me, asking again if I was okay. As soon as he saw my reddened face and the gun in my hand, he stopped and shook his head. 

“Hard times, huh?” he asked. 

“Hard times. . . yeah,” I managed to say through the flaring pain, “But I don’t care anymore. I am pretty sure I am cursed to live a cruel existence, like Job from the Bible, except there is no God to save me in the end. . . The devil has already won.” 

“Come now,” the stranger said, “you are still a young man. You can’t be more than thirty-five.” 

“Yes, but the weight of it all is too much to bear.”

“C’est la vie, my friend. Such is life. Now come on, let's get you out of this dark, dirty alley. I have a church not too far from here where we can wash all that stuff out of your eyes.”

He extended his hand down to me and I looked up at him, considering his offer.

“It’s never too late to ask for help,” he said. 

I took his hand halfheartedly in mine and allowed him to hoist me up to my feet. I holstered my gun, and together, we walked off in the direction of the church. Though the thought of prison nagged at me, and my face still burned, I looked up at the summer moon. High in the night sky, it looked upon me with its hallow stare. The summer breeze blew, touching the core of my soul, temporarily putting everything into perspective. A smile crossed my face.

“Such is life,” I said.   

May 27, 2023 03:53

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