Our flash fiction challenge this week at Terrible Minds was to look under M in the Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable for our inspiration. What we chose would become our title and dictate the content of the story. We were given 1500 words this week. I didn’t use the actual fable behind the phrase as the concept behind the story because there wasn’t much to work with. I’ve simply used the phrase as my inspiration because I liked it. Enjoy.
The first time Eric saw him was the first time that he wondered why he wanted to keep living.
It was an unusual thought, brought on even after a night of what he considered bliss. The woman, Tammy, had only just left the brownstone twenty minutes ago, with a kiss so seductive that he was ready to call in sick for work and spend the day in bed with her. Sadly, she made it clear that there was no chance of missing work today. Eric didn’t even know what she did for a living.
Her profession was the furthest thing from his mind, though, when he stepped onto the concrete staircase outside and an onslaught of negativity slammed him. Why in the hell did he keep on going out until all hours of the night, picking up women likely riddled with Herpes or incubators for HIV? Why did he think that at thirty-three, he lived such a wonderful existence? He rented the brownstone, for God’s sake, couldn’t even afford a mortgage despite that he worked for one of the greatest marketing companies in all of Manhattan. His family hadn’t spoken to him in months; well, no, he hadn’t spoken to them. He ignored their calls because he was too busy screwing random women in search of… what, exactly? He didn’t even know why he was taking these risks. What had he become?
He forced himself to look up at the road, at the cars, those people going to work or school or wherever the hell the day was to take them, and Eric saw him.
Standing on the opposite sidewalk, in a black suit, complete with black dress shirt and tie, he was looking at Eric without expression. The man, with his long blond hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and the scruff on his face reminded Eric of a nineties gangster.
Eric stared back, curious now, even with his heart sinking in his chest like an anchor in the sea, and he saw the red irises. Surely notred? Auburn, maybe?
No, they really were red.
Chills coursed his body and adrenaline pumped. He hurried down the staircase and up the sidewalk towards his car.
Five minutes from work, he felt better. Maybe the sudden depression had been a result of the booze. Whoever the nut-job was, it didn’t matter.
So he thought, until he left the building for lunch. Because he only had half an hour, and the line for his favourite pizza joint was always long at this time, he was rushing, and didn’t at once see the man sitting on the bench near the door. It was only the feeling that he got as he passed him that made him turn.
Only five feet away from this apparent stalker, Eric could see that not only were the man in black’s eyes red, but he also had many small scars on his face, as though he’d walked through a thorn bush with no regard for his fragile skin.
His heart floundering, Eric stepped towards the man, mustering up all his courage. For all he knew this whack-job could have a gun hidden under his jacket.
“Who the hell are you and why are you following me?” he demanded. The closer he moved, the more scars he could identify. The red eyes… maybe not red after all? Yellow flecks encircled the pupils.
The man in black only stared back, the slightest of sneers slowly crossing his face.
“Buddy, I’m gonna call the cops if I see you again, got it?” Eric ripped himself away from the man’s dismal presence, not quite so hungry anymore.
Home had never seemed so divine. Despite his bachelor status, he kept the place clean. His mother had always kept a clean house, had gotten him used to pulling his weight, so he had no problems doing it now. While no, the house didn’t smell like cookies or vanilla, it smelled like home, as all homes do, and after the strange day he’d had, it was all he could ask for.
He considered calling Tammy, but changed his mind when he found a message from Maria, wishing to see him that night, if he wasn’t busy. Eric had become used to being the booty-call. Too bad he couldn’t remember which one Maria was.
He didn’t call anyone. Instead, he popped leftover pizza into the microwave. He was going to relax tonight, watch TV, maybe save a little dough rather than spend it at a boozer trying to coax women into the sac.
When the pizza was ready, soggy and steaming as the microwave will ensure, he carried it into the living room, where his barely used fifty-inch flat screen television sat. Couldn’t afford a mortgage, but he would damned well have his toys.
When he briefly scanned the room, Eric jumped so high that the pizza flew off the plate and the beer in his hand spilled onto his arm and floor. Sitting in the corner of the room, in a red leather recliner, was the man in black. No longer was his hair pulled back into a ponytail. It hung loosely over his shoulders, great pride obviously taken in its appearance.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Eric shouted, setting the plate and beer down on the first piece of furniture he could find. He held up his fists in a mediocre fighting stance, not sure if he wanted to fight or hightail it to the kitchen for a knife. “Who are you? What are you doing in my house?”
“Stand still,” the man ordered, his low voice gravelly but not without some kindness.
As the man in black approached, the feeling of hopelessness washed over him like a tsunami, leaving him as helpless as a cockroach in the presence of this unpredictable stalker. He couldn’t find the strength to move.
The man reached out his hand, index finger extended. The tip of it touched Eric’s left wrist, his fists still raised. Sudden pain seared through his arm and he pulled it away from the catalyst with a cry. He gaped at his wrist to see a hole the size of a nickel burned through his skin.
His gaze flicked upwards, towards the man in black, who sneered while he held his dangerous finger before his eyes. “Call me B.”
“B,” Eric repeated, now trembling with pain, confusion, and fear. He still couldn’t move his legs to escape. “Why B?”
“Because there are twenty-six of us,” B said. “I was the second.”
“The s—second what?”
“The second Facilitator.”
Eric swallowed. “What… what do you facilitate?”
“Life…” B replied. He glanced sideways at Eric now, as though sizing up a peculiar specimen. “Or death… Whichever is deemed necessary.”
Eric tried to laugh but nothing escaped his clenched throat. “What are you?”
B was silent for a moment and then placed his open hand on Eric’s left cheek. Eric’s skin began to burn, and he did the only thing his body seemed capable of doing; he pulled his head away from the hand. He couldn’t move far, only a few inches. B dropped his hand.
“I’m not like you,” B answered.
Though Eric had moved his head away from the hand, he knew his skin was scorched. He would be horribly disfigured for the rest of his life… that is if his life was not meant to end here.
“Are… are you here to facilitate in my death?”
B smiled now, without maliciousness. “That is your choice.”
Eric swallowed in response.
“When I am near, how do you feel?”
“Like I’m not worth the space I occupy,” Eric replied. “I should not be alive.”
B nodded. “I will be following you,” he said, “everywhere you go. I will be your shadow. If you decide during that time that you do want to live, I will help you change your life for the better. But you will have to fight through my aura. It will literally be a fight for your life.”
“What if I call the police?” Eric demanded, and with one blink of his eyes, B was no longer in front of him, but across the room in the chair, cross-legged and relaxed, as though he had never stood up.
“Only you can see me.”
“What happens if I don’t decide that I want to live?”
B smiled again. “I am a facilitator, like I said. I will see to it that you get your wish.”
“Why… why me?”
“I was sent by T. You may know her as Tammy. She, too, is a facilitator.”
“But I felt so happy with her.”
“That is her aura. She does like to have fun at the end of the day… because she is sent to those who want to die. It is a roll opposite of mine. We are to challenge our hosts, make them better people, or rid their miserable existence from the planet. Eric, Your test has begun.”
© Lindsay Mawson 2011