C. Lee McKenzie
I knew the meeting place was going to be creepy. I didn’t think it would be a moldy crypt guarded by avenging angels, swords drawn.
The thick door grinds open when I press against it, and a musty air brushes over me and into the October twilight I’m about leave. When I step inside, the door seals behind me with a solid, dull thud. Then silence. I blink until my eyes adjust to the darkness. And there he is perched on stone just as I’d imagined, but smiling. Not as I’d imagined at all.
“You’re late,” he says, yawning.
I wasn’t expecting the yawn anymore than I was expecting the smile. Not pretty. I choke and put my hand over my mouth. “Traffic,” I mumble.
The silence that follows unsettles me more than I am already. Then he says, “Shall we begin?”
Like I have a choice? I’d say this to him, but I know better. I read the contract. I signed it, but before I understood what this was really about. I was twenty, for chrissakes. I never thought this far ahead. And I still had years before I had to think more about the terms.
This early expiration was all Fred’s fault. No. In all honesty, it was mine. I’d let him become a friend and not just my chief communications officer. When the call came, I’d been at his desk chatting, and he didn’t pick up. That call was meant for him, not me, and he knew it. He’d held up his Reese's Pieces and mimed “Peanut butter fingers. Can you get that?”
The minute I picked up the receiver, I knew I’d been had. Fred sprinted to the men’s room, and I was left holding the bag--technically, a phone made heavy by the voice and the message it delivered.
“Ah, Stephen. It’s you. I expected Fred. Fate has intervened. It’s time we met.”
I heard two things after that, the lonely sound of an old digital clock’s second hand and, “Six p.m. tomorrow.”
|Photo by Pierre J.|
Now, at just a quarter past six the next day, that voice comes at me again, only up close and with smelly breath.
“How do you see all of this playing out?” he asks.
Again, he’s put me off balance. I wasn’t ready to answer a question like that.
“Surely you’ve thought about it.” He adjusts his position only slightly, and I flinch. “Nerves are understandable.”
When I don’t respond, he says, “Hmm. So you don’t know how you’d like this to happen? Too bad. With contracts like yours I usually give choices. In your case, I guess it will be a surprise.”
My voice finally returns. “Can I ask when,”--I have to swallow--“to expect the . . . surprise?”
He seems to consider my question while staring blankly at me.
My leg jiggles, an old tick from pre-game jitters. Then for a moment I’m twenty and in my bedroom surrounded with my college baseball trophies. And I’m remembering why I signed that paper. The major league contract. The no hitter games I pitched--one after the other. The baseball hall of fame, only six years after my last game. Baseball Commissioner. All before I was forty. That’s what came with a stroke of my ballpoint.
His voice snaps me back to the dank space. “If I told you when it’s going to happen, that would ruin everything. That’s part of a surprise. You know that.”
“Do I get some kind of warning?”
“You don’t want a warning. Warnings only make humans edgy.” He strokes his bony chin and the sleeve of the cloak slips back.
I don’t want to see under that cloak, but I can’t stop staring at his whiteness. A thin drizzle of cold sweat slides down my spine.
He rises slowly, almost as if he’s tired. “Bye. Bye,” he says. “See you soon.”
With a terminal thud, Death’s door swings closed behind him. And I’m alone.
This is the best I can do. I'm totally "hopped" out, and I almost didn't join the WEP this month. However, common sense didn't prevail, so here it is--my stab at the macabre. I really need to leave this kind of topic to Lexa and Holli. They know macabre.
No critique, please. This is as far as The Surprise will ever go into the world. No thanks necessary!