For those who haven’t already read them, you can find links to the previous chapters here:
Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9
Chapters 10 and 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16
The hospital offered motorcycle parking near the handicap spots but I avoided those and chose to park out in the middle of nowhere, giving myself the longest walk possible to the front doors. It still wasn’t long enough though, because even when I reached them, I still had no idea what I was going to do.
“I’m looking for Ms. Reader,” I told the receptionist.
“Oh, you must be the boy that pulled her from her burning car.”
I really didn’t feel like discussing the reality of the whole thing with anyone else, so I just let it go.
“Yeah, something like that.”
“Well I’m glad I got to meet you. Her room is on the third floor, room 306,” the receptionist said. “She’s been hoping you’d stop by.”
Those words echoed through my head as I waited for the elevator, then made my way to her room. I knew what I had to do but not how I was actually going to be able to. I mean, how was I supposed to kill some little old lady, let alone the one I just saved?
Because of my deal, and based on my other assignments, I knew she had to deserve it, so I had to do it, right? But even if she did deserve it, how was I going to do it? My mind went around in circles as I rode the elevator up.
“You must be Nathaniel,” a nurse said, coming out of room 306. I’d been standing outside the door, staring at the room number, trying to come up with some excuse to leave but obviously I didn’t come up with one in time.
“Uh, yeah. I guess I am.”
“Great. You got here at a good time. She’s awake and feeling much better. You can go on in.”
“Thanks,” I replied, taking a deep breath before moving past the nurse and into the room.
Mrs. Reader’s face lit up as soon as I entered the room. I tried to look away but that felt even more awkward.
“So you’re the one who pulled me from my car?”
“Yeah, I guess that was me.”
“Well come a little closer. I won’t bite.”
I was probably as far from her as I could and still be in the same room so I moved closer to the foot of her bed.
“I just wanted to thank you for what you did.”
“You’re welcome, I mean, It was nothing, really,” I replied.
“Oh, but it was,” she said, pausing as she seemed to gather herself. “You know, when it happened, when the truck slammed into me and my car was spinning around, I thought “this is it”. And I was okay with that. Part of me really wanted to go, to be with my Hermain again.”
She teared up as soon as she mentioned his name, and for some reason I moved around to the side of her bed but stopped short of reaching out to comfort her.
“It’s been quite a while, but I still miss him,” she continued. We were together for almost 30 years when…well, when it happened. It was really hard at first, but it got easier; though even now there are days when I think I should join him. And I thought that truck was going to make it happen. But when I woke up in the hospital, I realized it must not be my time. I guess someone still has plans for me.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Listening to her talk let me put off the inevitable and gave me a little more time to decide what I was going to do. And the part about her wanting to be with her husband did make it seem like it would be a little easier to do what I had to do, but then I doubt anything she could say would truly make it easy for me. But did I really want it to be easy? I mean, what would it mean about me if killing someone, especially an old woman, became easy? I was still lost inside my own head when she changed the topic around to me.
“A lot of people wouldn’t have done what you did,” she said.
“I think most people would if they were in my shoes.”
“That’s a good attitude to have,” she replied, “even if it is naive. I’ve been on this earth long enough to know that most people are selfish, regardless of what they’d like to believe of themselves.”
She said it, not in any sort of depressed or angry way. To her it was just the truth, but I didn’t know how to reply to that so the silence just hung there for a minute before she continued.
“I recognize you from school,” she said. “Though I would never have guessed you’d be the one to save me from a car crash.”
“I don’t mean that in a bad way, you’ve just always came off as someone who keeps to themselves.”
“That’s probably a good way to describe me.”
“So why’d you do it?”
“It was just the right thing to do,” I said, and it was as good a response as any, though I don’t know how true it was. Honestly, I had been asking myself the same question over and over all day and never came up with a good reason.
“Is that why you’re here now?” She continued with the questions.
“I guess. I mean, principal Rooney said you wanted me to stop by, so here I am.”
“And I appreciate that. I just wanted a chance to thank you for what you did. But I can tell you’re preoccupied with something so won’t keep you.”
I was about to apologize for being distracted when she moved her hand to mine and gave it a squeeze. Instantly the images flooded my vision. The images were very much like what I saw when I pulled her from the car, only this time there was no pushing them away. I watched her go home from school, say goodbye to the nurse taking care of her husband, then take care of him herself, night after night. She’d make dinner for them both, then genty feed him before eating anything herself. Then she would give him his medicine and read to him from one of his favorite books or from the newspaper. Night after night she continued doing everything for him as he continued to get worse. Then one night, after waving goodbye to the nurse on duty, she went to her husband’s side and cried. She cried about how much she loved him and how much she missed him. I could feel her pain. She cried about how weak she was. Then she went to the kitchen and fixed them both dinner, vegetable soup, pretty much the only thing he could eat any more.
I wanted to pull my arm away, to just leave her there in the bed, but I knew that if I left, Lucifer would make sure I had another chance and another, until I completed my assignment. And who knows how many other people might be hurt in the process? I couldn’t take that chance so I forced myself to stand there and watch as the scene unfolded in my mind.
Mrs. Reader once again fed her husband, though this time she didn’t eat anything herself. Instead, she grabbed his pill organizer. There were separate compartments for each day of the week but instead of giving him the pills for one day she opened every compartment and pulled out the small yellow pill from each of them. I couldn’t tell you what type of pill it was, but she seemed to know exactly which one she wanted. Then gently, she coaxed him to swallow each of them, one after the other. Then she kissed his forehead, pulled the blanket around him and walked away, going back into the kitchen to do the dishes with tears running down her face.
Several minutes later, with the dishes washed, dried and put away, she returned to her husband’s side. He looked peaceful, like he was sleeping. But then she pressed her fingers to his wrist, cried once more, then went to the telephone. The paramedics were there in no time but they could only confirm what she’d already known. It was at that point that I felt the relief wash over her.
The vision continued to play out in my mind as I tried to process what I’d already seen. She killed him. Her husband. Obviously it tore her up to do so, but she’d done it anyway. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. But then I remembered what I’d done. Just a few days ago I wouldn’t have thought I was capable of killing anyone, and though I didn’t physically carry out the killings, I was responsible for two deaths. So how could I be surprised that she killed him. Was it out of malice? Out of desperation? Out of love? I don’t think anyone could say, least of all, Ms Reader herself. But did it even matter? With the others, I could feel their anger and their hatred. I could feel the evil that caused them to do what they did. With Mrs. Reader all I felt was overwhelming sadness.
“Are you okay?” Mrs. Reader asked, pulling her hand from mine. “You have a pained look on your face.”
“I was just thinking about something I have to do.”
“I’m sorry, you must have a lot to do and I’ve been taking up your time,” she replied. “I won’t keep you any longer.”
“She had lived a long life,” I told myself. And she would be happy being with her husband again. That made my decision to do it a little easier but it didn’t help me decide how. Yes, she killed her husband but she didn’t deserve to suffer. And it would look really strange if she were to die while I was standing beside her bed, so I knew it couldn’t be right at that moment. But Lucifer did say several times that I could do it when and how I wanted, so I grabbed her hand and immediately pictured her falling asleep that night, long after I left. I pictured her laying there peacefully then gently passing away. Somehow, knowing that she wouldn’t suffer made it a little easier. I knew I’d done everything I could, given the position we were both in.
I felt the energy move through me again, reassuring me that my task had been completed.
“It was nice meeting you,” I said, releasing her hand.
“And it was very nice meeting you,” she replied, “Thank you again, for everything you’ve done for me.”
There was a knowing look in her eyes that made me question what she meant by that. Could she possibly know what I’d just done? The question lingered with me as I left her room and walked back to my bike. It stayed with me as I made my way home, the ride was nothing but a blur.