When I went to hell, I knew exactly why. "Well, Tony, shouldn't have wiped your hands on the dog, I guess," the man in the dark suit began. "And if you hadn't shot these two guys back when you were twenty it would've probably done a lot in your favor too."
"I know what I did," I replied.
"Thought so, but I have to be clear with everyone who goes down here. After all, we need to find a fitting punishment for you."
"Aha. What do you have in mind?" I asked as I sat down in the office chair across from him at his gesture.
"Think. Long and hard. Two mothers lost their sons thanks to you."
"It was self-defense."
"It wasn't. You didn't need to shoot them in the chest. A bullet in the knee and they would have gone down either way. They didn't have any weapons; they were coming at you but it wasn't a fair fight. To be frank, if it was just me I'd let it slide. You were in distress, maybe you weren't thinking, but see, this
is how we get you. And it's still two lives that were snuffed out that night. Either way, you did change your ways, didn't you?"
A fond smile crept its way onto my lips. "When I met Maria."
The man in the dark suit raised his brows. "Yes, right. Your dear wife Maria. A virtuous lady with a heart of gold if there's ever been one."
"Yeah. Maria's great."
"Was. My condolences."
The second these words had left his mouth, I felt my chest tighten. My heart must have stood still for a moment. "Was?" I repeated.
"You've been waiting for a long time, Tony. You didn't notice of course, but we are really busy most of the time. You died ten years ago on the spot, so happy anniversary I suppose. The sad thing is that in the meantime, something truly unfortunate happened to your mourning widow."
"Did she remarry?" I inquired.
"No… that's not it." He slammed the folder in front of him shut, suddenly a relieved smile on his face. "But this actually made me come up with a great punishment for you." He rose from his chair and held out his hand to me. I did the same and shook his offered hand.
He cleared his throat. "For the pain you have caused to loving people and for the lives you have taken, you shall witness the person you yourself loved most of all being wiped from the face of the earth."
I swallowed hard. I couldn't think of anything I would like less than to watch my wife suffer, but he was right. It seemed adequate. I deserved it. Even more so, something deep inside of me had to know what had happened to the love of my life. A dread-filled, nervous, frightened kind of curiosity.
The man in the black suit led me into a dark room with only a chair and a large screen inside. He sat me down on the chair and proceeded to strap me down into it. Once I was seated, he reached out to touch my face and pushed up my eyelids. When he let go, I noticed I was unable to squeeze them shut again.
"Don't worry, your eyes won't dry out," he promised. "All you have to do is watch and then I'll let you close them again."
I sighed, and nodded. "Fair."
"Ready?" The man produced a small remote control from his pocket.
I took a deep breath and directed my eyes up at the screen, bracing myself. "Yes."
The man patted my shoulder and pressed a button on the remote. The screen buzzed and came flickering to life. I could hear the man leave the room and shut the door behind himself, locking it with a click. My heart was pounding in my chest as I stared up at the monitor on which an image had appeared.
It displayed a familiar scene. Our neighborhood, the street on which we'd lived before I'd died. It was dark and the moon hung high up in the sky. And there she was. Maria. She looked older than I remembered, but not by much and she hadn't lost one bit of her beauty. The silvery moonlight was shining down onto her brown locks which were flowing down her slender shoulders as gracefully as ever and tears were shimmering in her large, dark round eyes. She quickly wiped them off with one hand, the other clutching the shopping bag she was carrying.
And then it happened. As she rounded the corner, she bumped into someone. She gasped and dropped her shopping bag, spilling oranges, eggs and a bag of flour onto the ground. A slew of apologies on her lips, she bent down to pick it all up. She hurriedly shoved the items back into her bag and stood back up, only to find herself eye to eye with the muzzle of a gun. My heart sank and judging from the look of sheer terror on her face, so did hers. Her jaw dropped to form a surprised, horrified little "o", but it didn't last long.
The man pulled the trigger just a split second later.
I watched as Maria, the woman that had made my life worthwhile, who had cherished and loved me despite my past crimes, who had showed me a different side of a world that had treated me with little else but disregard at best and cruelty at worst before the day she had stepped into my life, fell to her knees. By the time her lifeless body hit the ground, I was screaming so loud I thought my lungs could have burst.
The man took out a small polaroid camera, snapped a picture of the scene and turned to leave. He didn't pick up her purse nor her bag. He simply walked off, a smile on his face, as if he was pleased at just having snuffed out the life of an innocent, unsuspecting pure soul; as if he hadn’t just stolen what could have been decades of healing from her loss and enjoying her time on earth from her. Tears running down my cheeks, unstopped by my frozen eyelids, I yelled at the screen, at the man… at the corpse of my wife.
Finally, the lights of the moving picture faded to black and the screen turned off. I could hear the man in the black suit come in behind me. He walked up to me and loosened my restraints before gently wiping over my eyelids. They fluttered shut instantly and I blinked a few times, getting used to the feeling again as the tears kept streaming down my cheeks. I swallowed, looking up at him.
"Where is she?" I asked breathlessly.
"She's in limbo. She'll go to heaven for sure but for now, there's too much turmoil in her soul for her to find release."
"Send her up there now!" I demanded, wiping my red, swollen eyes.
"Not that easy I'm afraid. It's her soul
, Tony. It's inside of her." He sighed. "She'll have to calm down first. It might take a while. She's dazed, confused… at complete odds with her sudden death and far from acceptance." Suddenly, he perked up like he had just had an idea. "Of course, I suppose we could… help
things go their natural way a little."
"We could? How? Whatever it is, I'll do it. Anything."
"Hold your horses, I'll explain. There's only one thing that'll help the soul of someone who has suffered injustice at the hands of another. Do you know what that is, Tony?"
"Forgiveness?" I offered pathetically.
"Haha, no. Revenge! See, there's one big advantage you have by having been sent here, and that is that once you've received your punishment, you're free to go. Well, not exactly free, but free to do as we tell you without being tortured." Noticing the disbelief on my face, he rolled his eyes. "That's how it works. You come down here, we make you repent and once we think you've had enough, we sent you forth to get us some new sinners. And this guy, he's got a top spot on our list. You may have noticed that he didn't kill Maria for her money or possessions. He did because he wanted to and he's done it before. He enjoys
I let out a shaky sob. The man in the black suit held out his hand to help me up. "So, Tony, how about it? Are you going to avenge your dearest departed? This time, it truly would be the right thing to do. An eye for an eye."
I could feel my face harden and I placed my hand in his and let him pull me to my feet. The man in the black suit guided me back to the elevator I had found myself in after awakening. The one I had descended in. We stood side by side in the small cabin when an unsettling thought came to me.
"How do I know you're not just screwing me over?" I asked.
"I have absolutely no need to. All I want is for this man to be down here." He chuckled a little. "Oh, the things I'm going to do to him… the things I'll make
him do…" His voice trailed off. "And you, you want to take revenge for Maria so she can move on. We both have our motives in the open and I swear by my good name that your maneuver will not be in vain."
"And your good name is…?"
"Son, I'd have to mutilate your vocal cords for you to pronounce it," he replied with a laugh. "And what good is a name you can't speak out loud? Just trust me on this. I mean, it's not like you got much of an alternative."
"I'll trust you then," I muttered, hoping I would not be regretting this decision anytime soon.
"I will give you what you need most in this world you are about to return to; a body. But that's all I have. You'll need to find a weapon and a way, but since the will is there already, I'm confident in your success." He motioned for me to turn to him and I did, giving him a questioning look. "The apartment you'll find yourself in is his. I'm not sure if he's home, but let's hope he is and you'll manage to catch him off guard. One more thing, you need to be over with it by sunrise. That's when I'll take you back here. Good luck."
With that, he pressed both his palms to my temples and I felt my eyes flutter shut, only to see a set of completely new surroundings upon opening then again. I was standing in a kitchen, facing a fridge right next to a small stove. My head was spinning and I had to grab onto the counter behind me in order to stay on my feet. Looking down on myself, I recognized the clothes I was wearing. The same jacket and pants I had worn when I'd had my accident. They were even still torn in places. I could feel my own crusted blood rub against my skin from the inside of those parts that hadn't been ripped apart but should have. Still, my body was whole.
Ignoring the disgusting feeling of dirty clothes and the aftertaste of my own death that hadn't seemed to have happened this long ago, I began to look around. The block of knives beside me looked promising. I grabbed a hold of the longest one and pulled it out, considering it. It certainly wouldn't be easy, attacking with such a large, clumsy makeshift weapon, but with a bit of luck and his potential surprise acting in my favor, I figured it had to do. Trying not to make any sound, I proceeded into the adjacent room.
The bedroom was right next to the kitchen and they were connected by a tiny, narrow hallway. I held still to listen to any possible noises but all was silent. The idea that he really wasn't home began to sink in. Of course, that would complicate matters a bit, but at least it gave me the time to look around. The bedroom door was already open just a crack and it creaked when I pushed against it. Slipping inside, I found the room to be of about the same style as the kitchen–small and cramped. The sheets on the bed were folded in a neat, orderly manner that appeared weirdly at odds with the general decrepitude of the place.
There was an old white closet leaning up against the wall across from the small bed. It looked beaten up and I immediately noticed scratches in the paint. There was dust everywhere under the bed and nightstand, I could even see it from where I stood. I frowned slightly. Maria would have hated this room. I remembered the many times I saw her sweep the floors in our house, her hand on her back in uncomfort. I'd offer her to take over and she'd let me, only to reconquer the broom saying I didn't do it right. Sweet, perfectionist Maria.
Remembering the photo he took of her body, I began to go through the drawers. I was sure he was keeping a stash of them somewhere. My search came up with nothing at first, until I tripped over a tiny elevation in the ground. A loose floorboard, how original. I bent down and used my nails to dig it up before lifting it from its place. There was a yellowed envelope hidden in the small space I had just uncovered, stained with dust and the marks of time and use. Its opening edges were frayed. I picked it up to take a look at it. As expected, there were photos in there. Lots
of photos. I counted twelve in total.
I couldn't bear to look at that of my wife, but I did pay attention to the three that followed hers. I assumed they were in some sort of chronological order. If that was the case, then the later victims had suffered a lot more at his hands. These last three hadn't been shot. They had been stabbed to death, each one apparently with more ferocity than the last. It was sickening.
Once I couldn't stand it any longer, I continued looking around. Needless to say, I found his laptop and decided to make use of it. He's not home yet, but it can't be long now. I know he's not expecting me. I'll wait behind the door for the bastard. He won't even see it coming. It'll be quick and clean, or at least quicker and cleaner than he would deserve after what he did to them. To her
. Who knows what the man in the black suit's plans for me are for after that. Maybe I should be scared, I don't know. That's where I'm at right now, and that's all. I put the photos back into the envelope and placed it on the table, in plain sight for the cops to find when they'd come to investigate what I imagine will probably be quite a stank after a few days.
I guess you guys are gonna hear some about all this in the news soon. Or maybe they'll cover it up, who knows. But if the authorities do
find him, and if they do
find the photos, then there'll be people out there knowing why there's a dead man's fingerprints on it. Besides, my initial demise came so quickly I couldn't even think about it too much. If I'm being honest, I went into writing this expecting it'd turn out to be some kind of goodbye letter. I guess that's just not my thing. This is alright though. This will do. x
This is kind of a big story, so let me start basic.
I work at Kmart in a store in Australia, and our stores (dunno about other ones) have kiosks where you can upload photos from your phone and have them printed at the service desk. Anyway, I was working at the service desk today, scanning people's returns and trying to get through the busy Sunday shift. I hadn't noticed yet but standing in the que was a somewhat tall, a little hunched over old man with glasses that looked more like swimming goggles. It had been a busy and stressful day so far, so I was focusing on the task and didn't notice him yet.
I finished serving the customer and he walked up to me, very shyly. "Excuse me young man," he started, trying to gently get his old Iphone out of his pocket, "could you please help me with the photo machines? I'm not very good with technology." My first reaction was "oh real cliché, an old guy who needs tech help goes straight to the 16 year old." Luckily however, I made the decision to leave the rest of the people in the que for my workmates to serve, whilst I helped the customer.
We get to the kiosks and I immediately see the problem. He pulls his Iphone 4 out and he is starts to put his password in whilst holding the phone upside down. This guy doesn't need help. He needs someone to do this for him, I thought, as he passed me his phone which is opened to his emails. "Can you please print that photo?" He says, as I look at what he has. It was a beautiful shot of some army-looking jets on a runway, with a symbol in the sunset and the caption "1970-1989" underneath. It was a stunning photo really, but trying to print it over emails would mean that the quality would be really poor. I told him that and he kept going "Oh, that's alright."
So I hooked up his phone, went through the options like sizing, glossy finished and whatnot. I asked him what he wanted, but he never gave me straight answers. "Oh, if that's okay" he always said. We settle with 3 custom prints of the planes.
But as I was scrolling through the options (I'm no expert at the photo kiosks) I accidentally pressed something and I see all 15 images he has on camera roll. A few of a small dog, quite a lot of someone's thumb, but there's about 7 images of a woman in there, taken August in 2019.
The woman looks about 80 like the old guy, she was much wider and larger that the guy and all the shots were of her sitting on a leather couch with several medals on the chest of her pink shirt. She looked quite unwell but she smiled in the photos.
Anyway, I think nothing of it and complete his purchase. That's the first time ever I have done someone's entire order for them.
We go back to the desk and I warn him that since the photo were saved through an email, the print quality might be a bit bad. "That's fine," he says, patiently holding his order slip. He payed the $3 and then said something all old people say like "Oh you're help is worth more than that." I can tell he is extremely thankful for my help and it makes me feel a little better as well.
One of the photos finish so I handed him one so he can look. And to no surprise, the printing job looked terrible, it was really low quality because of how emails compress image files.
I turned away and began putting his other two in a folder, somewhat disappointed in myself for how shit the photo quality was, before I turned and looked at him. He was staring at the sample I gave him, with his glasses on the bench and his face turned red. He wiped his eyes and sniffled, his gaze never lifting. "It's beautiful," he says, still locking eyes with the print.
Then he looks directly at me. His eyes are completely red and glistening in what I can only assume is happiness. I hand him his other two prints in the folder and I try to say "That's everything" or "Thank you" but my voice is lost. Personally, I am a very emotionally controlled person, but seeing this old person react like this broke me.
His voice was still cracking as he took the prints and began to walk away. I was lost for words, and then I found that my own vision was blurred. Continuously thanking me, and getting increasingly louder, he turned and broke into a burst of tears, walking away and holding the photo in front of him as he left my sight.
I was frozen solid, still processing what had just happened. Then it hit me. The photo of the old lady on his phone who was wearing the medals, had been taken over a year ago. The man had come in alone, quiet and shy with his only goal to print the photo of the jets in the sunset with the "1970-1989" caption.
I might have just printed a memory of his wife.
Notes: I still have no idea whether that last part is true or not, but I can't stop thinking about how that all happened. If I wasn't there at the service desk when he was, if I hadn't of decided to help him order the photos, if I had just ignored him and told him that someone else would help him, would he have ever gotten those images of the planes?
I made a choice today: Spend my time and effort to help this guy or not. My whole life I have never felt like my choices or actions had ever affected anyone before. But I came home from work today completely silent, still thinking about how different that old guy's afternoon could have been if I had made the wrong choice. So I ask you, to make the right choices every day, because you have no idea how they are gonna affect other people.
Edit: I didn’t realise I was that good at storytelling, apparently I made a few of you tear up lol.