Paul jolts awake from the same nightmare for the second time tonight, where he’s dead and in the ground. He lifts his knees and slides his feet across the sheets to get his legs moving but can’t shake the feeling of being crushed and paralyzed. He can still feel the weight of the dirt on his body, and the grit of it on his face. He cringes, and his shoulders shake at the remembrance of it. It was like being buried alive, but yet he was not alive. Plainly it was like being buried dead, and he could feel every bit of it. He fears that on any night now, he might go to sleep and end up under the dirt out in a field for real, like everyone else that has come before him.
With a firm scowl setting in, he lies in bed for another few minutes, reflecting on his life. He clenches his old sore-knuckled hands, trying to remember the power they used to have in them. It hurts to do it, both in his hands and in his heart. All he can think of anymore is going back to his glory days when it felt like nothing could stop him. Back then, he could never have dreamt that he would make it to one hundred twenty years old, but even that day has come and gone.
It’s not his body that he’s so worried about anymore though, it’s his mind. He has to save it before there’s nothing left of it to save at all. He’s already nearly spent his entire life’s fortune on genetic treatments to get him this far, but it seems he’s reached the end of that road. If his mind fails now, all will be lost. In the dark of his room, he rubs at the paper-thin bruised skin on the backs of his hands and forearms. It reminds him of his grandparents, how hard they fought to simply live, and how they told him a great age comes at a high price. As strong as they were, he just can’t see how they simply accepted death when it came for them. He won’t accept it, not ever. After all that he’s gone through in life, he can’t just fork everything over to the final void of death.
After sitting on the edge of the bed in the dark for a few more minutes, he decides that he might as well get up. It’s not like he’ll be able to fall asleep again. After shuffling his foot around on the floor, he finally finds his second slipper, shoves it on, and makes his way out to the kitchen. While rummaging through the fridge for something to eat in front of the TV, he hears something odd behind himself. Leaving the doors open, to flood the room in the bright white light, he reaches for the knife block that’s out of sight in the shadows on the countertop. Making sure to appear unaware of what’s behind him, he draws one of the larger knives out and holds it close to himself.
He had figured he might only be hearing things but now knows he still has his wits about him. Two men wearing all black t-shirts, jeans, gloves, and ski masks are standing across from the kitchen island from him. One of them, the wiry shorter man, has a handgun. The other, tall and slim, has something else hidden behind his back. The man with the pistol sets it on the countertop, with his finger still on the trigger. The other starts to slowly make his way around to the side so they can corner him. It doesn’t give him the impression that they’re in his home to merely rob him tonight. The two men don’t even glance at one another the whole time. Their task is set, and there is no hesitation from either of them. Something about the two is somehow very familiar to him, like he’s seen them before.
The man with the pistol puts his other hand flat on the countertop and leans forward to leer at him. All he can see is Paul’s old but still menacing large silhouette in front of the open fridge. “Mr. Mendle, so kind of you to join us tonight, it wouldn’ta been as satisfyin’ to punch your ticket while ya slept.”
There’s a rough derelict accent to the man’s voice. It’s not quite what he expected. “What the fuck do two rats want with an old man like me? If it’s my life, you’re a little bit late, I might say. It’s come and gone already.” He looks down at himself. “What’s left of it to take?”
“What’d ya do with ‘em ya old bastard? Your money won’t be savin’ yer ass this time. You’ll answer for what you’ve done. Did ya think no one was watchin’ ya?”
“Oh, you mean your little watch-list? Sorry boys, you really are too late this time. I wouldn’t put much faith in your friends for much longer, either. The landslide that’s coming for all of you has already started, I’d go home before doing something you’ll have to pay for if I were you.”
The man with the pistol finally looks over at the other, but only for a second. “It’s never too late to make a monster like you pay.”
He’s gotten their attention now, and he’s pretty sure he knows who they are. They’ve hidden their accents pretty well at work, but this pair of thugs is unmistakable. “Oh, I’m afraid it is too late, boys. You’re looking for the girls, right?” He makes a bold step closer to the countertop towards the man with the pistol, making sure he can see his eyes this time. “They are dead, son, but don’t worry; you’ll be seeing them again yourself soon enough. You’ll know it when their cold hands are around your fucking neck!”
His mind is racing. Even though it’s hopeless, he’s still trying to find a way out of this alive. The two have come for him at the worst of times. He’s not ready, and neither is his process. It’s only just seen the light of day. It’s too soon! This whole time he was sure he was in the clear, but no, these two jerks had to show up now of all times. He can’t believe this is happening. He’s about to die, and all he can think of is unfinished business. There are so many things that still need to be taken care of before he can be turned, and it angers him so profoundly. Everything he’s worked for is now so easily traded in at the last moment for nothing, and by a couple of half-wits. His hate for them is so strong; it feels like it could burn them all to the ground right where they stand.
Though it’s a pitiful attempt at thwarting such universal irony, he waits for them to finally look at one another again and then slings the knife at the man across from him as hard as he can. Before his arm can finish the swing, a muzzle flash closes the distance between them. The shot is so close; he feels the heat of it on his face.
Before the shocking pain of the bullet tears through him, he is already on the floor, collapsed back into the open fridge. There’s a big bright spot in his vision, and his ears are ringing like they never have before. He can feel the stomping of the men’s boots through the wood floor as they’re fleeing. He has no idea how long he can stay alive, but he doesn’t care. They didn’t shoot him in the head, and that’s all that matters right now.
Shakily, he presses the alarm pendant hanging on his neck then lets it fall. He knows he’s not going to make it long when the blood pooling on the floor reaches his outstretched feet. Even after being shot, he still manages to smirk at his folly. While trying to stay lucid, he counts the dim blue flashes coming from the alert pendant as they reflect off the glossy cabinets in front of him.
The only thing he can think about is the fat idiot on the other end of his emergency signal. It might serve him right to wake up with severe brain damage after all of this. It sure would be a cosmic sign putting him in his place. He figures he’s doomed for sure. If only anger could keep a man alive, he’d have a chance.