The Client

“I want you to kill me.”

The woman who had walked into the office was young, in her twenties. Her dark hair was tied back so as to direct attention to her face. Sharp green eyes contrasted with soft features. There was no hint of jest or irony in her appearance.

CJ pulled her feet off the desk and sat forward to better project her own seriousness to this potential client.

“What?”

“I said, I want you to kill me.” She still seemed to mean it.

CJ shook her head. “That’s not what I do.”

“I’ll pay a lot of money.”

“To kill you.”

“A. Lot. Of money.”

Years after her parents and several therapists tried to break her of the habit, she still chewed the inside of her lip when she was uncomfortable. The pain, even the hint of blood, seemed to calm her down a bit. “Why? Why do you want someone to kill you?”

“Not someone. You.”

“Okay, me.” That raised all sorts of other questions, but CJ decided to stick to this one for now. “Why do you want me to kill you? Why do you want to be killed?”

“That’s not really your concern.”

“The hell it isn’t. If you’re asking me to kill you, I need to know why.”

“So you’ll do it?”

“No! I mean, that’s not the point. Why?” Other than what she was saying, this woman seemed perfectly sane. There was nothing off about her demeanor, her voice, the way she looked at CJ when she talked. But maybe all of that didn’t really tell the story.

The woman sighed. “Very well. I am in a tremendous amount of pain.”

Try as she might, CJ couldn’t hide the skepticism from her face. “I’m not a doctor, but…”

“Not right now. During the day, it recedes. But at night, it becomes intolerable. I can’t take it anymore. So I want you to kill me.”

“Have you seen…”

“Yes. Several doctors. All of them at the top of their fields. None can help me.”

“So why not just kill yourself? Why hire me to do it?”

“I can’t.” The finality of those two words said not to pursue this question, but CJ still wondered.

CJ continued to worry her lip. Throughout the conversation, the woman had maintained a rather stoic exterior. But she had glimpsed something underneath, however briefly. The woman was desperate. None of this made sense to CJ. And she had no intention of going through with the proposal, but there was more to all of this.

“Here.” The woman tossed an envelope on the desk.

“I’m not taking…”

“Consider it payment for your time. If you come to the address on the card inside, you’ll be paid more.” She turned around and walked out the door with the same matter-of-factness with which she had entered.

CJ picked up the envelope. It was thick and filled with hundred dollar bills. There was a card inside with an address on one side and a time and date on the other. 9 p.m. tonight. If she went, the woman might get the wrong idea. But if she didn’t go, who knows what would happen. Maybe she should call the police. Or a hospital. But she wouldn’t do that. It would not do to get a reputation of bringing in authority figures on cases.

9 o’clock. That gave her seven or eight hours to do a little research. Maybe she could find out who she was dealing with. But she wouldn’t kill someone, even if was someone willing to pay her for it.

The Hunter

Something was moving in the house; he could hear it. His tail twitched slightly as he lay on the couch and kept his eyes closed. The sound was quiet. Perhaps it was a mouse, but he didn’t think so. The last mouse had been weeks ago; since then they had stayed away. His reputation had gotten around.

But if it wasn’t a mouse, what could it be? It was an unusual noise, yet it was also vaguely familiar. Rather than the chittering and scurrying of a small animal, it was slow, deliberate, and very soft. The fur on his back rose slightly as a chill filled the air near him. He remained motionless, allowing only one eye to crack open just a little bit.

At first, everything seemed normal, nothing out of place. Then he caught sight of a shadow nearby that couldn’t be coming from any object in the room. It did not belong. For several minutes, he watched it as it remained in one place.

When it finally began to float away, he pounced. The shadow thing moved faster than he expected, and he misjudged the jump. He managed to rake it with one paw before crashing into the lamp on the small table next to the couch. The cry of pain from the creature was high-pitched and loud. The wail didn’t frighten him, though; he simply wanted to silence it all the more.

Looking around the room from where he had landed, he couldn’t see the shadow any longer. However, he could still hear it. The wailing had stopped, but it was still moving. He dropped quietly to the floor and began silently stalking it. Up the stairs and into the unlit bedroom he went, all the while being careful not to make a sound.

He couldn’t separate it from the background darkness in the room, but he wasn’t looking for it anyway. He could feel the cold and follow it easily. His own black coat gave him the same advantage. The feeling led him to the corner.

He leapt, grabbing the shadow with this teeth this time. It tasted vile. Definitely not food, but also not welcome. It thrashed and cried out again, breaking free from his bite. It sped down the stairs, but he followed immediately, refusing to let it out of his range once more.

Back into the living room, he jumped onto the coffee table, knocking coasters and the television remote off. He sprang toward the shadow, which tried to evade his attack. It failed. Trapped in his bite, he dragged it down, ripping into his front claws. On the floor, he rolled, now using his front paws to hang on to it and his back claws to continue tearing.

The wailing was worse this time, but he ignored it. When it finally stopped struggling, he gave it a few more kicks and let it go. The thing didn’t move again, and after a few moments, it dissolved without leaving any trace. It was gone, he knew, though he still wasn’t sure what it had been. At least the intruder had been eliminated.

Tired from the hunt, he jumped back onto the couch, turned twice to make sure nothing else was present, and curled up to sleep. When the bigger ones returned, one of them – the louder of the two – seemed upset about the lamp and coasters, but he was too sleepy to get up and pretend to be bothered by its scolding.

Selfish

The key turned in the lock, and the door swung open. Bruised and battered, she walked into the dark apartment and collapsed on the couch. Months of planning and work had finally paid off tonight, and now she was emotionally and physically spent.

Her only concern now was what had happened to her partner. She had lost track of him in all the chaos, but the whole building had collapsed, so he must have succeeded. They had agreed to meet at this safe house, so all she could do was wait.

Her phone beeped, a video message. His face appeared as soon as she tapped on it.

“Hey you. We’re about to get started, and I wanted to send this out before it was too late. My hope is that I’m there to stop you from seeing this.” He forced a chuckle.

“We both now this is a one-way trip. If you are seeing this, it means you made it out alive. I’m glad. And I’m sorry I didn’t.” He took a deep breath.

“My real hope is that I say something to you now, before we begin. I want to tell you we don’t have to do this. I know we both want these bastards to pay, but I don’t think it’s worth our lives anymore. These last few months, I’ve gotten to know you, and I would rather live with you than die to kill them.

“I know how selfish that is. We started all of this to make sure they can’t do to anyone else what they did to us. You want revenge. You deserve revenge. I did too, back then. But now… I don’t know how to ask you to give it up.

“See? Selfish. Probably selfish to send you this message. But if I don’t manage to be selfish enough to say something now, I’m at least selfish enough to want you to know that I love you. Don’t worry, I know you don’t feel the same. But at least think of me fondly.”

The message ended. She sat in the dark with tears streaming down her face. Then she threw the phone against the wall hard enough to hear something break. “Asshole! Why didn’t you say something!”