Mr. Benno is dead, and I didn’t kill him.
I lick my thumb and leaf through the brittle pages of my book, looking for some kind of explanation.
"Robert Benno, American. Born on May the 15th in St. Marten's Hospital, died on September 23d, just at the gates to his apartment complex. Cause of death: Heart attack."
But that’s wrong. Absolutely wrong. I had checked on Robert during his first heart attack. He’d survived of course, and that was because the book had said he would die in a car accident. He wasn’t supposed to die until today, six months later.
But here he lays, six feet under a carpet of grass and weeds, with nothing but a small plaque to identify him. Why did the book change his date after keeping it the same for the past forty-seven years? It had never done that before.
With a sigh, I close the old tome and gently place it back in my bag. I have a grandmother to kill in fifteen seconds, and stressing about this now wouldn’t help me. A door, old and chipped and with a dire thirst for grease, appears next to me. I twist its ornate knob slowly, giving one final look to Robert Benno’s grave.
He wasn’t a very important person from what I’d seen. Just an aging man with a nasty attitude. Didn’t help people, didn’t donate to any charities or the like. No art, no pets, no family, no friends. He just existed. And because I wasn’t there to take him to my sister, he’s just another soul doomed to wander the earth.
I open the door, where the steady beeping of a heart monitor goes flat in a dark room, and I think, for a moment, that his existence is a sad one.
I suppose that makes me a hypocrite.
Hate thrives in a small town. It breeds and festers, latching onto its victim until it becomes too weak to escape from its venom. Jessica Freeman is a product of hate. The bastard child of a construction worker and a librarian, she lives with her mother and two brothers.
Jessica discovered this small house several weeks ago on one of her long walks. The place is overgrown with weeds from the surrounding forest and other vegetation I don’t care for. The squeals of newly-born rat pups echo in the old walls. Gnats and flies skitter about haphazardly, and mosquitoes bite at her constantly, knowing she’s too tired to strike them. The harsh rays of the noontime sun filters through the trees and past the cracked and broken windows, glaring at her and creating an uncomfortable humidity within this wreck of a home. The place stinks of feces and death and fear.
The garage of the house has a series of rotting rafters rather than a proper ceiling. Tied to one of the sturdier rafters is a thick cut of rope. A young girl, no more than fifteen, stands on a chair she’s brought from the kitchen. The old thing creaks and groans under her weight, but holds. Jessica is praying to her creator because she wants forgiveness. It’s not my place, but I forgive her.
The girl grabs the noose, the rope heavy and cold in her frail hands, and she carefully slips her head inside. She looks down at the floor and purses her lips, staring as a caterpillar quietly shuffles by, and she sniffs. Jessica shuts her eyes tight and takes a deep breath. She takes a step forward and falls.
The rope holds true and keeps her up, centimeters away from the floor. Jessica hacks and coughs. Her hands grab the rope that constricts her neck, pulling. Kicking. Struggling.
Then, for a moment, her gaze meets mine. She stares me with her fearful brown eyes, speechless.
“You have beautiful hair.” I say. Absolutely beautiful.
The rafter, which had been groaning under the pressure of her desperate ministrations, snaps loudly, and falls, bring her tumbling down along with it. She’s a strong girl, with good genes. She recovers quickly from the fall. She pulls at her noose, eyes trained on mine, and in seconds she pulls it off and scrambles to her feet. She backs away, making movements with her mouth but never producing any sounds to match them. Once she’s a safe distance away from me, she turns and runs, screaming as time begins to slow.
I look at the mess she’s made. Out of the rubble of rotten wood and old birds’ nests, a soul emerges, white as my brittle bones. I crouch down and extend my hand, and the creature accepts. Once it’s comfortable, I walk out of the garage and into the living room. Jessica is stuck there in mid-run, unable to move until I allow time to flow once more. I whisper softly to the small insect, “I’ll be taking you to my sister now. Your friends are waiting for you.” The caterpillar gives a small nod, pleased with the news, but continues to stare at the frozen girl. Her dress is tattered and there’s dirt and debris in her golden hair, and her neck had reddened severely under the noose’s grip.“I think Jessica would be sorry if she knew what she did.” The creature doesn’t answer, and I let it be. A white door appears to my left, and I enter. Behind me, the screams of the girl return.