“You can’t keep doing this, Zach. You are a better man than this, and yet you keep fucking up. It was bad when you did it only on weekends, but now you do it every night. You get drunk, and you act like a stupid idiot.” Zach is looking at himself in the bathroom mirror of Tobie’s, a nightclub on the south side of Manhattan.
“You have to make a decision. You either sober up and get help, or you die a loser—alone. What’s it going to be?”
Zach sees another man walk in and turns towards the urinals, and he stops the conversation with himself. He turns the faucet on and splashes cold water on his face to help speed up the sobering process. He reaches for a towel to dry his face and turns to look at the mirror one more time. This time he notices he is not alone. A tall man dressed in a black suit, black dress shirt, and black tie is standing next to him, looking at him through the mirror.
He caught Zach off guard and made him flinch. Startled by the man, simply standing there with a concerned stare at Zach, as if he was trying to read his thoughts. Zach finally breaks the silence. “What? What is it? Haven’t you seen a drunk man before?”
The man says nothing. He continues to look at Zach through the mirror.
“What? Are you some sort of freak? Stop looking at me.” Zach turns the faucet on to get a handful of water and tosses it at the man. He looks at the running water and places his cupped left hand underneath, and then quickly throws it to the right of him where the man was standing. When Zach looks up, the man is gone. In his place was the guy who had walked in on him when he was talking to himself.
“What the…?” the man yells when the water hits him in the face. “You asshole. What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
Zach realizes his error. “Oh, sorry, dude. I thought you were someone else.”
The man reaches for a towel as Zach rushes out of the restroom. He looks around, confused about where he’s at. He notices the man in black is standing at the bar with a drink in hand, looking directly at him.
Zach makes a B-Line towards the bar to confront the mysterious man in black. He fights through the crowd of party-goers and clubbers and finally makes it to the bar. The man in black is no longer there.
“Where is the man that was just here?” Zach asks the bartender.
The bartender shrugs his shoulder and walks away to deliver drinks to the server waiting at the end of the bar.
Zach looks around, frantically looking for the man in black to confront him about what he wants. He looks towards the dance floor and then to the end of the bar. The man is nowhere in sight. Zach turns and looks towards the exit and spots his mystery man standing quietly next to the bouncer, again looking directly at Zach.
The man’s eyes are piercing and hypnotizing at the same time. Zach wants to look away but can’t and rushes to the exit to catch the guy.
Twenty feet from the exit, Zach sees the man leave through the door. He follows him, hoping to confront him about his awkward behavior.
The first person Zach sees has his back towards him but wearing all black. Zach taps him on the shoulder. “What do you want with me?!” he yells.
The man turns around, and Zach sees it is not the man he was pursuing. He lifts his hands. “Sorry. I thought you were somebody else.”
Zach turns and looks for the man in black once again.
In the darkness, against the wall, stands the mysterious man in black. He lights up his cigarette and takes a puff. “I’ll tell you what I want,” he says.
Zach turns towards the man quickly, being surprised. “Who are you?”
“I think if I tell you what I want, you will be able to answer that question for yourself,” the man says as he comes out of the darkness towards Zach. “I heard you in the restroom, talking to yourself in the mirror. Many people do that. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed.”
Zach gets a better look at the man as he comes closer towards him. “You look familiar. Do I know you?”
The man in black laughs. “I think we have run into each other several times, Zach. You may not remember because usually, you were so drunk, you never remembered a thing.”
“Who are you?” Zach asks again, this time more adamantly. “How do you know my name?”
The man smiles, taking a puff of his cigarette. He puts the butt on the sidewalk and steps on it with his shiny black leather shoes. “I’m hurt that you don’t remember, Zach. We had a very similar conversation a year ago. It was shortly after Michelle left you, and you were drinking just as much as you are now.”
“How do you know about Michelle?” Zach asks with a confused look on his face.
“Zachary, again, I am hurt.” The man walks to the curb of the sidewalk and looks up and down the street as if he was going to cross. He turns around and looks at Zach. “You asked for my help back then, and I gave it to you. Now, you’ve asked for help again. This time, though, I’m afraid the boss was the one that made the decision as to what to do with you.”
“The boss? Who’s the boss?” Zach is now more confused than ever. “I still don’t know who you are. Now you’re talking about your boss.”
The man smiles. “Zach, they assigned me to you the day you were born. I watch over your every move and do my best to guide you in the direction you needed to go.”
A surprised look comes over Zach’s face. “Are you my guardian angel?”
The man in black laughs. “Funny how a few fictional movies and books can stereotype us. I’m a guardian, that’s for sure. But far from being an angel.”
“Why are you here?”
“Zach, normally I work in the background. You may catch a glance of me now and then, but usually, we are encouraged to stay out of sight of our reports. It’s rare when we are asked to make direct contact.”
“Then why are you?” Zach replies. “Why are you contacting me now?”
The man in black looks up and down the street again and sees a bus headed his way. He motions to Zach to come closer. “Come here.”
Zach moves next to the man standing on the curb.
The guardian takes one more look down the street. “We have given you several opportunities to change. The boss no longer has the patience of waiting.”
The man in black pushes Zach into the oncoming bus, killing him instantly. The bus stops, and several people run to Zach’s now dead body to see if they can assist.
Zach’s body is now gone, but his spirit lives on. He glances down at his lifeless shell for his soul and is shocked to see himself lying on the ground with a smashed-in head and blood oozing from his skull. He looks up and sees the man in black standing on the curb. He runs over to him and takes a swing at his head. Zach’s fist flows through the man’s head, causing Zach to lose balance and almost fall over.
“Easy there, slugger. You need to remember you’re dead,” the man says. “Now we can move on.”
“Move on,” Zach replies. “What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s obvious you fucked up the previous life you had. When it all looks hopeless, we kill that life off and move you to a new body where you are given another chance.” The man in black grabs Zach by the arm and escorts him onto the sidewalk, where they walk.
“Hey, how can you touch me if I’m dead?” Zach sees the man’s hand on his shoulder and remembers how his fist went through the man’s face, never making contact.
The man laughs. “Because I’m not dead. I’m not alive either, but that’s a story you may never hear about. We’re not supposed to give out details of how we work.”
Zach is more confused than ever now. “Where are we going?”
“We are finding your next body. This is where I get to have some fun. Because the boss was not happy about how you treated your previous life, we will downgrade you to something else. And that downgrade is at my discretion. So I suggest you start kissing my ass.”
Zach cannot believe what he is hearing. “If you were with me, then you know it was not all my fault.”
The guardian stops walking and looks at Zach. “Are you serious?” The man in black gives Zach a look of confusion. “They arrested you five times—each one on different charges. The most serious being abuse of your girlfriend back in 1998. That one should have taught you a lesson. But it didn’t.”
“In my defense,” Zach said.
“SHUT UP!” the man in black yells. “It doesn’t matter. You’re dead, and I have to find you a body so you can try to lead a good life.”
Zach giggles. “What? Like a politician?”
“Hmmm. That may not be a bad idea. I was thinking of a banana slug in the middle of the Muir Woods in California. But a politician may show you how bad you could have it and force you to either change or die again.”
“Die again?” Zach says. “I don’t want to die again.”
“Based on what you’ve told me these last few minutes, I have a feeling you will die over and over again until you become a small amoeba on the back of a crustation in the Pacific Ocean. Where you will not have any choice whether or not you get eaten.”
“How can I become just another person again?” Zach asks.
The man in black smirks. “You have to earn that right. You just don’t become human. Your life started way before you became Zach. And for some reason, you forgot all the life lessons from those previous lives. That means you have to start over.”
Zach stops. “What if I refuse? What if I refuse to be anything other than another human?”
The guardian looks at Zach with a smirk. “I’ve only done this once with anyone else. And I know it won’t be a problem for me to get permission to do it again.”
“What? What is it?”
“I abolished your soul. Any chance of anyone ever being created with your qualities and talents will never happen. Those talents and skills will be given to a brand-new soul to see if they can use them to their potential.” The man walks away and then stops and turns towards Zach. “The problem with people like you is you take these talents and don’t use them. You think life is all about you and your moment. You never realize that the talents and skills we gave you are to advance humanity—not just you.”
Zach stops in his tracks and thinks. “You’re right,” he says. “I’ve been doing nothing but thinking about myself and living with self-pity. I drink way too much, and I complain that nothing ever goes my way.”
The guardian looks at Zach. “It’s too bad you’re figuring this out now. Because I’m about to turn you into a working bee. If you don’t work and do your keep, the hive will eventually push you out and kill you. It will humble you.”
Zach’s face shows shock. “You can’t do that. I need to be human again.”
* * *
Zach wakes up on the bathroom floor of Tobie’s Nightclub in Manhattan. The bouncer is gently slapping his face to make sure he’s okay.
“Dude. Dude. You okay?” the bouncer asks.
Zach gets to his feet and looks in the bathroom’s mirror. He leans on the counter, trying to get his bearings of where he is. He turns the cold water on and splashes water on his face. He reaches for a towel to wipe the water away. As he looks in the mirror, he sees a familiar face—the man in black is standing at the restroom entrance. He winks at Zach and turns away.
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