The Seasons

A single beam of light made it through the thick canopy to strike the forest floor. It was a sign of the end of summer that enough leaves had released their grip on branches to let the light through. A figure moving amongst the trees stepped to avoid the spot on the ground, though it smiled as it did so.

Another figure joined the first. “You would laugh at my end, sister?”

“Don’t be so dramatic. It is merely the passage of time. It happens every year.”

“And every year you seem happy about it.”

“Well, why shouldn’t I be? My time is upon us. Don’t you rejoice at the beginning of your season?”

“It is never enough.”

“Careful, brother. You’re beginning to sound like a human. They, too, jealously guard their time, and envy those they think have more.”

“I do not care. You can delay the change. If you have any affection for me, you will.”

She considered the suggestion. “For how long would you have me delay?”

“A month. Six weeks at the most.”

“Six weeks! You would have me give up half my season? And for what? Merely because you are not satisfied with your allotted time?”

“So you will not grant my request.”

“I should say not. Other things depend on the turning of the wheel. More important than your petty desire for more.”

“You hurt me, dear sister.”

Only then did Autumn perceive the danger. Summer had never called her ‘dear’ in the whole history of the world. By the time she had thought the unthinkable, Summer had taken hold of her and cast her into a deep pit hidden nearby.

“You will release me this instant or you will regret it!” Anger punctuated every syllable.

“I think not. Perhaps, if it were a week or two later, but you are not yet in your full. I, however, still retain most of my strength.”

“Our sisters will never let this stand.”

“Oh dear Autumn,” this time he made no attempt to conceal the sneer, “they will never know. They will simply marvel at your generosity. Or scowl at your negligence. They will not discover you.”

She had no response for his dismissal of the danger the others represented.

“Now enjoy the warmth down there. It will be with us for some time.”

A Little Happiness

The night sky was clear and the nearest city was miles away, so innumerable stars shone overhead.

“What do you want to do with your life?”

“I want to be happy.”

“No, I mean…”

“I know what you mean. And I’m telling you I want to be happy.”

The air was pleasantly chilly without being cold. The ground was hard, but the blanket they sat on provided a little cushion.

“Life is a gift. Don’t you want to do something amazing with it?”

“I do want to do something amazing; I want to be happy. Life is misery and suffering. There is hardship everywhere you turn. To eke out some happiness amidst all of that? That is amazing.”

“But…”

“This is our life. We don’t owe anyone some big accomplishment that’s probably going to be forgotten in a generation. And that’s only if we succeed. Life is hard enough without making ourselves responsible for other people.”

Other than their voices, no sounds intruded on the stark beauty of the fall evening. A single meteor traced a path through the sky.

“Look, a shooting star. Make a wish.”

“I still think…”

“This is a gorgeous – dare I even say romantic – evening. Do you want to keep arguing? Or do you want to kiss me and find just a little happiness in this moment?”

“That’s not even a choice.”

“No, it isn’t.”

Looking Back

In the kitchen, there was a dark spot in the corner of one counter. A pan had been placed there directly from the stove, without a hot pad, and left there too long. It had happened during their first dinner party celebrating the new house.

The carpet in the living room had light and dark patches revealing the layout of furniture. The couch – it had been long and deep enough for two people to easily lose themselves in it – had sat across from the television. Many movies had played on that television and been ignored.

On the door frame of the kids’ bedroom were two sets of marks with dates at each one. One set stopped at about three feet several years ago. The other had a few marks later, but it, too, soon gave out. There was some evidence of someone trying – and failing – to sand the marks off.

Finally, in the master bedroom there were several holes in the wall. Something had been thrown against them hard enough to break the dry wall. No effort had been made to repair the wall; it served as one last memorial to what had gone on in this house.

“Where do you want to go?” the driver asked.

He looked out the window. The house he had spent several years of his life in now stood empty except for memories. “I don’t care. Away from here.”

The driver nodded as though such instructions were not uncommon. The car pulled away from the curb and made its way down the street. Slowly at first, it picked up speed as the house receded. He refused to look back.

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!”

Living for Other People

Think about how your death would affect others.

So live for other people, to spare them.

Well, yeah, I guess so.

What happens when that’s not enough, anymore? Do I always put the wants and needs of others before my own?

When your want is your own death? Yes.

What if no one cares?

Someone always cares.

How do you drive?

What? What do you mean?

I mean, your rose colored glasses must make every light look red. Must be hard to go if there’s never a green light.

You’re too much of a cynic. Someone always cares.

And their wants always outweigh my own?

Not always, but in this case, yes. You’d be hurting them; that’s wrong.

So I should hurt myself instead?

No! That’s what I’ve been saying. By hurting yourselves, you hurt others.

You misunderstand. Merely by staying alive, I hurt myself. Every day, a bit more pain. Every day, a bit more suffering.

It’s temporary.

So is theirs. Their pain, their grief, will fade over time. Why is their temporary pain worse than mine?

You’re proposing a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

First off, let’s quit pretending that people live forever unless they kill themselves. Everybody dies. I’m just talking about moving the end up a bit. More importantly, how do you know the problem is temporary? When will I feel better? Do you know how long it has already been going on? Do you know all the other solutions I have tried? The notion that things always get better isn’t supported by reality. Sometimes things get better. Sometimes they get worse. And sometimes they get better and then get worse again. A never ending merry-go-round.

Why can’t you just be happy?

Why can’t you just be tall?

What? That’s different. Try looking at the positive side of things.

Because I’m not here to validate your happy little bubble. Because keeping my feelings to myself, hiding the pain and suffering so that other people aren’t uncomfortable, has contributed to the problem. Pretending to be happy makes me more miserable. That’s why I can’t just be happy.

So you’re going o kill yourself.

No. Not today.

But everything you just said.

Today, I’m still living for other people. I just don’t know for how much longer that will be enough.