There he is, crossing the street. Work must have been difficult today. He drags his feet. None of that usual spring in them. He’ll pick up his takeout order from the Chinese restaurant downstairs and head up to his apartment above.
Creatures of habit are the easiest to watch. I know what he will do and when he will do it. I rub my thumb over the webbing of my right hand, feeling the tattoo there.
“Take him tonight,” God says. “His time has come.”
I nod. His time has come. His nightly shower would be the best time.
Putting the car in gear, I pull around back and park next to a dumpster. I close the door gently and lift my eyes to the fire escape. The fourth-floor window is open. It’s a warm night.
“Let him eat first,” God says.
Taking my time, I pop the trunk and sling the duffle over my shoulder. I push the dumpster under the fire escape and climb on top. It smells horrible. They would pick it up in the morning, but for now, it is full of these tenants’ filth. I can’t help but chuckle to myself. In more ways than one, I am using the filth of this world to better it.
I reach the ladder easily. They really shouldn’t keep their dumpster so close to their fire escape. There are too many crazy people out there. The least they could do is lock their windows.
I climb onto the first landing and I sneak past the first window. The apartment is dark inside. When I reach the second landing, voices meet my ear from inside. The TV is on. Cartoons. I peek around the corner and find a little girl sitting on the carpet with her eyes glued to the screen. The bright colors flicker and flash through the living room while her mother whips something up for dinner in the kitchen. I step past the window and the metal creeks under my foot.
I’ll have to remember this on my way down.
Blue light flickers over the third landing. Someone else has their television on and they’re snoring. I look inside and find an old man kicked back in his recliner with an oscillating fan blowing cool air over his plump belly. The news flashes images of current events, good and bad. I can’t help but notice more bad than good.
“This is why you are here,” God says.
I nod. This is why I’m here.
Continuing up the steep stairs, I finally come to the fourth story window. His window. Looking inside, I’m careful not to expose myself. The remains of his Chinese takeout lay strewn across his coffee table in paper cartons. I poke my head in and turn my eyes down the hall. The bathroom door is open just a crack and steam swirls through the opening.
I place the toe of my left shoe on the floorboards and roll to the ball of my foot, applying pressure gradually, listening for creeks. I shift my weight through the window and gently bring my other foot down inside. The floors in his apartment are rather new. Some of that laminate wood planking. I shouldn’t have a problem.
As I creep down the hall, I can hear the irregularities in the sound of water falling in the shower. He’s in there lathering and rinsing. He’s much bigger than I am. I must be careful. Drugs would work too slowly. If I put a needle in his skin or cloth over his nose, he would still have time to fight me off before he goes down.
I unzip the end of my duffle and pull the slapjack out. I give it a test swing and feel the weighted leather flip through the air. This should work.
Pressing gently on the bathroom door, it slowly swings inward and a wall of steam washes over me. The sounds of water come to me from behind his white shower curtain. I move into the bathroom and take several careful steps. He pulls the bottom corner of the curtain aside and I freeze in place.
He grabs the shampoo bottle there and closes the curtain again. I let out a long shaking breath. I continue forward to the curtain and wait for a moment. He puts the bottle back and still I wait. He’ll be scrubbing the shampoo into his hair. His eyes will be closed. Perfect.
I lift the slapjack over my head and yank the curtain aside. He spins in surprise and his foot slips out from under him. I bring the slapjack down on his head as he falls. He sits in the tub looking up at me for a moment, dazed, one eye squinting through shampoo suds. He raises one hand to block me and mumbles some plea I can’t quite hear over the water. I strike him again, and his body goes limp.
Foamy shampoo and blood swirl together and go down the drain. I finish rinsing his hair for him before I shut the water off.
His big wet body is difficult to pull out of the tub. Too slippery to get a grip on. I dry off his wrists and ankles so the tape would stick better. I pass the silver roll around and around. When in doubt, use more than you think you would need. I dry his head and wrap the tape over his mouth and around the back. Two, three, four layers. Placing a finger under his nose, I make sure he’s still breathing. I wouldn’t want to repeat what happened last time.
I drag him down the hall to the window. I go out onto the fire escape and drop the duffle at my feet. Checking over the railing, I make sure we aren’t lined up with any windows. I wouldn’t want that little girl to see a naked man hanging outside her window. I pull a snatch block from the bag and hang it from the landing above. I hook another pulley to the landing at my feet. Smoothly, I run a rope through the snatch block and the pulley, gaining a mechanical advantage over his massive bulk. I’ve practiced this over and over. Lowering him without an advantage would be impossible. He’d pull me over the railing and we would both fall to our deaths.
“He’s waking up,” God says.
I nod, pull the needle from its case in the duffle bag, and duck back through the window. His eyes flutter open and he looks up at me with unfocusing eyes. I stab the needle into his shoulder and press the plunger. His eyes flutter closed again.
Dragging him to the window, I prop his feet up on the sill. Wrapping the end of the rope over and around his ankles several times, I finished the binding by wrapping between them to hold it all together. Giving the rope a couple of tugs, I’m satisfied with it.
I duck back out the window and pull on a pair of gloves. I take up the other end of the rope and pull. It goes through the pulleys and to his ankles, lifting him through the window. Much easier than dragging him around the apartment.
His head hits the wall under the window sill. Oops. I keep pulling, bringing his feet all the way up to the snatch block. I tie off my end and flop him over the railing with a grunt. He dangles upsidedown in the open air for a moment and I stop his swinging with a steadying hand.
It’s a long way down.
Hand over hand, I begin to lower him. Though the pulley system helps with his weight, I must be careful not to let him thump against the lower landings. I watch him carefully as I let the rope out. He nears the bottom, but I have come to the end of the rope. I’ve run out. I calculated the rope length required for the distance to the ground, but I didn’t take the pulleys into account.
Peering over the railing, I try to determine how short the rope is. It’s hard to judge distance when you are directly above an object and the destination. If I kill this one, God might find someone else to do his work.
Well, there isn’t much to be done now. I let go of my end and the rope whips through the pulleys. He falls to the alley below, but it doesn’t look that far from up here. I shrug and pack my things.
Descending the fire escape, I pass the sleeping old man and come to the little girl watching cartoons. My foot creeks on the fire escape and I curse my forgetfulness. She looks at me as I pass, so I wave. She waves back and smiles. Two of her front teeth are missing. The tooth fairy might use this fire escape to visit her soon. Or she already has. I press a finger to my lips and she nods in silent agreement.
Continuing down, I pass the dark apartment and climb down the ladder. I drop onto the dumpster and jump to the ground. He lays face down beside my car with the black rope coiled in a sloppy jumble on his back.
I flipped him over and lowered my cheek to his nose. Shallow breaths puffed against my stubble. He’s alive. I check his head for lumps, but there is no more than what the slapjack gave him. I untie the rope and stuff it into my bag.
With a hand under each of his arms, I drag him to the back of my car and stuff him into the trunk. I slam it shut and lean against it, looking upward to his window. It seems so much further away now.
“You did it,” God says. “Bring him to me.”
I fire up the engine and back out of the alley onto the street. I follow the signs to the freeway and merge into the evening traffic. Soon, I’m leaving the city and he’s coming too again. He starts screaming through the duct tape and kicking the backseat.
Red and blue lights flash in my rearview. Had I been speeding? Should I pull over?
“Peace,” God says.
Clicking my blinker on, I pull over to the shoulder and his muffled screams and thumps are louder than I would like. The officer makes me wait with his spotlight blinding me in the mirrors. I keep my hands on the wheel and will myself to remain calm. Am I sweating? Will this cop hear him in the trunk?
“Peace,” God says.
The officer walks around the back of the car and taps on my window with his flashlight. I roll it down and squint into the blinding light.
“Licence and proof of insurance,” the police officer says.
I give it to him and his flashlight lingers on my tattoo. The three-fingered hand of God on the webbing of my right hand. Screams from the trunk and kicks on the back of the seat. The officer doesn’t even flinch. He studies my license and insurance for a moment and then hands them back to me.
He leaves the light on his hand holding the documents. A little tattoo caught my eye on the webbing of his right hand. The three-fingered hand of God.
“Slow it down,” the officer says. “You have all the time in the world, brother.”
I thank him and pull back onto the freeway, continuing into the night.
Several hours later, I turn off and into an endless sea of dark crops. My car lights the edges of soybean and cornfields as I drive down this dirt road. He screams and kicks again and again. Will he ever grow tired of this?
Finally, I reach the road and turn right. Several moments later I come to the gate. I step out to unlock it and coyotes howl in the distance.
“Om ody el ee,” he screams from under the duct tape.
I unlock the gate and swing it wide with a rusty screech. Gravel crunches underfoot as I return to the car.
“Oo are oo?” he demands.
“The hand of God,” I say.
The sound of sobbing leaks from the closed trunk as I pull through the gate. A moment later, we arrive at the barn. I get out once more and open the barn doors wide. After backing the car in, I close them again.
I flip a switch and four overhead lights illuminate the dusty space. A thick canvas tarp hangs over the device at the other end of the barn. We wouldn’t want such a sacred object to get dusty. I whip the tarp off revealing two obelisks underneath.
I step back and look upon the device in awe. Each time I come here, I cannot help but feel a sense of wonder. Such raw power.
“Do it,” God says. “Send him to me.”
Popping the trunk, I pull him out by his arm. He resists but there isn’t much he can do with his wrists and ankles bound other than make things difficult for me. I could give him another needle, but I want him to be awake for this. He should experience his journey as I had years ago.
I drag him to his place between the obelisks and leave him there. He tries to squirm away, so I plant my heel between his eyes. Just once. I wouldn’t want him passing out.
“Step away,” God says.
I nod and step away as the obelisks begin to hum their sacred song.
Chills rush through my body and my hair stands on end. The air is full of electricity invisible to my eyes but I can feel it. He begins again to scream and writhe on the floor. I can remember this agony.
“It’s all worth it,” I say over the humming.
Still, he screams and thrashes. I don’t blame him. I didn’t trust the hand of God who brought me either. But he was right. He had told me the same thing. It is all worth it.
His skin began to unravel like the yarm being pulled from a sweater. Then the muscles and organs underneath evaporate into the obelisks, leaving only his skeleton. His bones separate and spin in the air. Faster and faster, flinging apart into smaller and smaller spinning pieces.
And now there is nothing left but the smell of burnt hair. Being reduced to atoms and flung through space and time is a painful process. I know rebirth is painful.
The return journey will be easier.
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Thanks again. Until next week,