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 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28
Convincing myself to stop the bike in front of her house was more difficult than I’d anticipated, but I knew it was the right decision. She would have some homework to do, or a test to study for, and I still had to figure out what I was going to do.
She slid effortlessly off the bike, then turned to face me as she pulled off the helmet. Even with her hair messed up from being crammed in there for the whole ride, she still looked beautiful, maybe even more-so because of it. I wanted to tell her that, but I had no idea what that one statement might lead to, so I left the bike running to keep myself from saying anything. Shawna, though, had other plans as she reached over and hit the bike’s kill switch.
“I thought maybe we could talk,” she said.
I was a little surprised by the fact that she knew how to shut the bike off, but I was even more surprised by the sudden desire to talk. Besides the fact that I was supposed to kill her in the next 24 hours, things were finally going well between us again and I didn’t want to screw that up by saying the wrong thing.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,…I,…uh,…really just have something I have to take care of…”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure Weed can handle it by himself, at least for a few more minutes.”
There was a pleading in her eyes that made me want to do anything and everything she asked, so I had to look down. A week ago the only thing I wanted was to talk to her and suddenly I couldn’t even look her in the eyes.
“It’s not Weed…”
“Please?” She asked as she grabbed my hand.
The image came instantly and I was not prepared for it. I saw Shawna sitting on a bed, but it wasn’t the Shawna of today, it was her as she’d been when she first moved in, 8 years old and almost terrified. But it wasn’t exactly as she’d looked when I met her. In this image she had a black eye and her lip was split.
Screaming and pounding sounded just outside her bedroom door as she clutched her pillow a little tighter in front of her. I wanted to rush to her but all I could do was watch her rise from the bed and move towards the door.
The screaming was interrupted by the sound of shattering glass and a loud thud, causing Shawna to rush to open the door. Through her eyes I could see a woman on the floor, surrounded by the remnants of a glass table. The blond hair was covering her face, but I could tell from the feelings rising within Shawna that it was her mother laying in a pool of blood in front of her.
“Clean up that mess,” the man standing over her mother barked at Shawna.
In the vision she jumped at the sound of his voice, and so did I, causing me to pull my hand away, breaking the connection with the Shawna standing in front of me.
“What?” She asked.
“Nothing,” I lied, while trying to shake the image of her as a kid from my mind. “I just really have to take care of this one issue, then we can talk about anything you want.”
I looked her in the eye as I said it, trying to let her know I really meant it because I did.
She looked back at me, but all I saw was a disappointment reflected in her eyes.
“It’s okay,” she said as she handed me back my helmet. “I guess it’s really not that important.”
And at that point all I could do was watch as she walked away. I wanted to call out to her, to say something to make it all alright, but I had no words.
I watched her go through her front door before starting the bike back up. I had to get out of there, but this time I knew exactly where I was headed, even if I didn’t know exactly why. Finkenbine wouldn’t be there. I knew that because I was the reason he couldn’t be there. But that didn’t really matter. I felt a little better just seeing the Salvage sign as I pulled into his gravel drive.
With the bike shut off and my helmet on the handle bars, I continued to sit there for a minute before heading towards the trailer, and more specifically to the gate beside it. The piles of salvaged parts were visible over the privacy fence but just seeing them wasn’t good enough. I needed to walk beside them as I talked to Finkenbine. Thankfully the gate was unlocked so I let myself in.
“I really could use your advice,” I said out loud as I wandered through the maze of metal. “I need to know what to do.”
My voice echoing off the oversized mounds of junk was the only reply.
“How’d you do it? How’d you kill someone so close to you? How did you convince yourself to kill your best friend?”
As I continued wandering through the salvage yard, I could hear Finkenbine in my mind asking how I’d managed to kill the first four people I was assigned. And he was right. At first you just delude yourself into thinking that you’re not actually responsible for their death. Next you convince yourself that they brought it on themselves. Then you rationalize that if it wasn’t you, it would just be another reaper. With each death you just have to push yourself a little farther, stretch the boundaries of what you were willing to do just a little more. It was kind of like the story of how to boil a frog. If you try to throw it in boiling water the frog would jump out, but if you put it in a pot with warm water and then slowly raise the temperature, it will stay, eventually being boiled alive. That was exactly how I felt.
But even though completing the last assignment wouldn’t be my death, I knew it wouldn’t be the end either. Finkenbine had basically told me that much. He lived up to his end of the deal when he killed Buck, but that didn’t stop Lucifer from coming back to him time and time again. Sure, I’d know better next time, but that wouldn’t mean it would be easy to say no, that time or the time after that, or the time after that. And maybe that was why Finkenbine decided he was ready. Death really was the only way to end it once and for all.
That thought was still bouncing around my head when I suddenly looked up to find myself at the farthest corner of the junkyard. I had to do a double take to figure out exactly where I was, though, because the giant boat Finkenbine had finally finished wasn’t there. I would have thought I was just in the wrong spot, except for the empty forty foot long patch of dirt where the boat stand had been.
“No,” I said to no one in particular. “There’s no way it’s just gone.”
But it was. And as I turned around in circles, making sure it really was gone, the shock of the missing boat quickly turned to panic because if the boat was gone then anything could be…
I ran through the aisles of junk faster than I would have thought possible, making it to the garage beside the trailer in no time. The door was open a crack so I rushed inside, only to stop dead in my tracks. It was completely empty, with both his trike and his hearse gone.
The panic turned to anger and frustration, though that barely began to describe what I was feeling. I wanted to kick something, but there was nothing to kick. I wanted to scream, but there was no one to scream at. The next best thing was someone to vent to, someone who would understand exactly what I was feeling and would feel the same way.
I spun the tires, kicking up a stream of gravel as I left Finkenbine’s place. I should have been more cautious but instead I hit triple digits a couple times while taking some of the turns a little too fast, but I made it to Weed’s place in record time.
“What do you mean?” He asked when I told him exactly what I found, or more specifically what I’d found missing.
“They’re gone. All of them. The boat, bike, and car.
“And you’re sure they weren’t just moved?”
“The garage was empty so obviously they were moved.”
“But they might still be at his place, just hidden.”
“Maybe, but I didn’t see them anywhere in the junkyard.”
“But they might still be there,” he said firmly.
“I really doubt it. I mean, why the hell would someone just move a forty foot boat?”
“Okay, that’s a good point.”
“It just doesn’t make sense.”
“I’ll have to go check it out,” Weed said. “Maybe tomorrow or the next day.”
“And I’ll go with you.”
Weed just stared at me for a second.
“So you’re going to be here?” He asked.
It took me a second to catch what he was trying not to say.
“Oh, right. I guess you might be on your own.”
“Might be? So you haven’t decided what you’re going to do yet?”
That simple question made my world come crashing down again. I’d gone to Finkenbine’s to get a new perspective and all it did was cloud my head even more, so the only response I could offer Weed was a shrug of my shoulders.
“You’ve still got a little time, right?”
“Good,” he replied with a grin, “So we still have tonight to forget about everything…”
“As much as I would love to fry a few more brain cells with you, I really need to figure out what I’m going to do, and your smoke won’t help with that at all.”
When he saw that I meant it, he turned serious.
“You got all the information you need?”
“If that’s your way of asking if I know what she did, I kind of think I know, but I’m not completely sure.”
“How is that possible? You said you could see everything with one touch.”
“I can, but something happened and I pulled my hand away before I saw the whole thing.”
“So go back and find out.”
“You didn’t see her when I told her I had to go. She was wanting to really talk, I think about us. And I can’t have that talk with her, not now.”
“So avoid the talk, but touch her long enough to find out what she did. That’s the only way you can really make your decision.”
“And what am I supposed to say? Hey Shawna, can I hold your hand long enough to see whatever bad thing you’ve done so I can decide whether or not to kill you?”
“Well you can’t say it exactly like that, but yeah.”
He said it so convincingly that I almost believed him, then the grin started spreading across his face.
“No, seriously, what should I do?”
“I don’t know what to tell you. I told you, the very first day she moved in, that she was gross and we should stay away from her, but you wouldn’t listen to me.”
“We were 8, and you thought all girls had cooties.”
“But if you’d listened to me back then, you wouldn’t be in this situation now.”
“Maybe, but by that logic, we would have had to avoid all girls, forever.”
“Never mind what I said then.”
“I never do.”
We both lit a cigarette and sat there for a minute.
“So where does that leave us?” Weed asked.
“Exactly where we started, with me having to decide what the hell I’m going to do, and you having to deal with the shitty results, no matter what I choose.”
“You know I’ll understand, right?”
“Just come see me and let me know what you’re going to do so I can at least say bye to whichever one of you I need to, okay?”
“Of course,” I replied, “but right now I think I need to keep riding to try to clear my head.”
“That’s one of the best ways.”
I caught Weed staring through the garage door as I pulled out of his driveway and I felt like dirt. I probably deserved every bit of pain I was feeling at that moment, but he didn’t deserve any of it. Yet somehow he still didn’t blame me. No one could have asked for a better friend. I just hoped that my decision, whatever it might be, wouldn’t change that.