Before we leave, one of us will die here tonight.
I just wanted to let you know before you read any further: this is the kind of story that will unfold. So you have no misconceptions about the night you are about to witness. So don’t make any emotional attachments here—you’ll only break your own heart at the end.
Here we go.
I stride through the mist of the dark night. Water splashes up onto my shoes and pants from another puddle. I still have a few more stops before my job is over for the night, before I can take my girlfriend, Catrina, out for a well-deserved date. I’ve made so many promises to her, so many that I’ve broken because of work.
Another puddle. My foot descends halfway into the broken cobblestone and twists about. My knee hits the pavement with a clunk.
Tonight. Tonight is not my night. At all.
But from my position on the ground, through the London fog that fights to devour everything around it, I hear something that should make any person’s blood boil: a little girl’s scream.
I jerk my drenched leg out of its prison and crawl forward a few steps until I can climb to my feet again. My patent leather shoes squelch with every footstep, and I mutter under my breath as I lurch forward.
“Stupid London—useless fog—irritating rain—”
I utter a lot more unfavorable things until I’m forced to be quiet out of common sense. Someone around here—a small human of the female variety—is in hysterics.
I pause at the corner of a brick building. The rain clings to the façade and dampens my suit even more. Pardon my use of the cliche, but I suppose you could say a chill ran down my spine if you were so inclined.
You do remember what I said at the start about not getting emotionally involved, right? Stay firm to those convictions. Especially when I introduce the next player:
I peek around the corner and see a small girl, maybe around seven, with her palms splayed out to protect the woman behind her. The girl has two braids which are mostly coming undone and frizzing up from the dreadful London weather, but her brown eyes are what stand out most.
Fearful. Wide. Begging.
Her arms tremble with a weight that no one, especially not one so young, should ever have to bear.
The man in the dirty white hoodie ignores his daughter. His attention is riveted on the woman behind the little girl. “You think you can just leave me, Miranda?” Tattoos sneak out from underneath his sleeves, and his eyes so bloodshot that he looks like a crazed creature of the night. “You’re nothing but a slut, you know that?”
The gun in his hand shakes—excuse me if this seems insensitive—violently.
The cold has seeped into my various bones. I am frozen, immobilized by either time or destiny.
“Stop,” the little girl begs. “Daddy, just stop it!”
The father jerks, like he’s the one that’s been shot even though he’s the one that’s holding a dangerous weapon, his quaking finger still on the trigger. “What? You gonna teach our girl how to be a slut too, just like her mama? Is that what you want?”
Miranda, the mother in question, tries to wrestle her daughter behind her, but the valiant girl stands her ground.
“Em,” she whispers. “Get behind me.”
But Em does not. She strains away from her mother and takes a step closer to her father. The man swivels, perhaps caught off guard by this, or perhaps he’s just too strung out to notice that he’s pointing a deadly weapon at someone who still watches Sesame Street.
Kids that age still watch Sesame Street, right?
“Daddy, put the gun down. Please.”
“This isn’t about you, Em,” he snarls. “This is about Mommy and her new man. How she’s nothing but a lying, cheating—” Whatever coarse word he had picked out to describe her is lost in the madness of the next moment.
“Put the gun down, Luke. Put it down!” Miranda screams at her previous lover.
Her shrieks must startle Luke, because his arm jerks. A shot goes off and buries itself into the mortar of the building I’m resting on. The women dissolve into hysterics, which is the absolute worst thing to do to defuse a situation.
“Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” Luke yells, apparently expressing the limits of his vocabulary.
Miranda dives for her daughter. Luke’s finger shakes against the trigger as he gesticulates wildly towards his ex and daughter. And for her part, Em seems caught in a war not meant for her, a terrified bystander soon to be caught in the throes of unintentional crossfire.
But you did it, didn’t you?
You got emotionally involved, even though I told you not to. I can see it in your eyes. Flashbacks of tea parties when Em came over to play, since your apartments are next door and you babysat her when Miranda and Luke fought. The little pink bear that she lugged around, that even now sits on your couch, abandoned from its adventure yesterday.
Oh, yes. You and I both see birthday parties, the missing tooth you helped pull, softball games in the park down the road. You were always there for the girl when her parents were too busy self-destructing. And you rooted for Miranda when she finally got sober, got a job, and got the nerve to sever ties with Luke, who refused to grow up. For anyone’s sake.
Emotion clouds your eyes and dulls your senses. You’ve forgotten what I said completely, haven’t you?
Even though I warned you that one of us will die tonight.
Even though I am Death, the Grim Reaper, and I can’t expire.
The gun fires.
You move first and shove Em out of the way, the bullet piercing your heart.
I warned you. I warned you that getting attached here would only break your heart.
And I hate to sound heartless and everything—pardon the wordplay again—but let’s make this quick.
My girlfriend Catrina is waiting for me.