He tried to imagine a glowing figure coming down from the heavens offering his hand to him and that would be it, but he knew better. He knew he'd go home and he'd sit on the couch waiting for his wife to come back with the mail. She'd come back with a red letter with large black letters imprinted on the envelope. It would spell out E.R.A, and the words "Extermination Regulation Agency" would be in smaller letters under it. He knew it and he hated it.
"Need another drink?" the bartender asked.
"No, but pour me another one anyway"
As he watched the bartender fill his glass he thought about his latest prosecution. He won, but it wasn't a sweet taste in his mouth after the juror's decision. It was sour, the sight of a man crying for not his life but for his children's well being. He'd been convicted of trying to escape the E.R.A and he was 3 months past his expiration date. He didn't stand a chance in court, and his sentence would inevitably be death by hydrocyanic acid. He remembered how the colorless liquid boiled in the I.V. drip. At first nothing happened, but after only a few seconds pain graced the man face. And it was over. There were no tears for his death nor were there claps. The room dissipated quietly.
Now sitting here in the bar he felt sick. He had sat and watched a man, who committed the crime of caring dearly for his children, be exterminated. It wasn't just the fact that he'd watched, it was the fact that he caused it that made his stomach turn. It was no better than killing the man with his own hands. His father would be so proud. His own son had become the E.R.A's archangel Michael, the perfectly balanced scale.
"Hey buddy you're the last person here and I got shit to do." the bartender said closing the liquor cabinet.
"Alright I understand, I mean you are a very important man"
"Yea I gotta deliver some bottles with peoples dreams at the bottom of "em"
"Tell them that I've been drinking for 24 years and I've yet to find my dreams at the bottom of them"
"Why the hell would I do that? As long as they think they're dreams or the answers to all their problems are at the bottom of a bottle, I'll be able to afford Maine lobster on my plate every Saturday night."
"The little things, eh?"
He laughed. "Yea the little things"
He watched the man put on his long black jacket. "How fitting" he thought. A dark man, selling dark promises, wearing dark clothing. Ever since the establishment of the E.R.A everything seemed darker now. Hell even the sky had lost some of it's blue luster and the sun just never really did shine as bright.
"Darkness there, and nothing more."
"What you say old timer"
"Nothing. I was just leaving"
He started walking to the door, he noticed that the bartender tucked a pistol under his jacket and followed. The short distance from his stool to the door seemed to take forever. "I guess when you have a short time left, you start to savor every second of it"
"Oh so that explains it. How much longer you got?"
"A year. But I hope since I'm a very successful lawyer they may give me an extension." he didn't know why he said that. The last time the E.R.A allotted extra time was to a man who had saved the lives of two E.R.A big wigs. The only reason they needed saving was because another man, who was only a few weeks away from his extermination, decided that if he took some E.R.A agents hostage he could bargain for extra time.
"How many cases have you won?" he asked as his eyes darted from shadow to shadow.
"198 early exterminations and almost 50 past expirations."
His stomach turned again because for a moment he felt proud of himself. Then he remembered all those people where killed put down and now his cheeks turned red with shame.
"Well I would pray for you, but I'm not sure if that's a good idea."
"Why not?" Vincent asked raising his brow.
The young bartender laughed hysterically. He seemed as if he was about to die from laughing too hard. His face became red and veins protruded on the side of his head. Soon the man was gasping for air and bending over to catch his balance.
"What's so damn funny?" Vincent asked helping the man stand up straight again.
"You of all people should know the answer to that. It's because the E.R.A is our God now. They decide if we're good enough to live in the beginning and kill us in the end. No matter who you are they'll come, they always come"
After that the man walked off. Even after the darkness swallowed him Vincent could still hear his laughter. He clenched his fist till they turned white. He wasn't sure if it was out of anger or fear. Probably both.
He started heading home, when he noticed how dreadfully cold and dark it was. The night's air whipped at his face causing his eyes to tear.
"Why the hell did I leave my jacket at home?" he asked wrapping his arms around himself.
He looked to the skies and expected to see a few stars clinging to their dark surrounding, or even the moon drowning the earth with its silver light, but there was only darkness there and nothing more.
"I wonder if this is what death is? Just complete nothingness and only the sound of your thoughts and pictures of memories from your life for an eternity."
As he continued to walk he noticed a group of kids in a circle laughing and kicking some object on the ground. He figured it was some form of game they were playing, but as he walked by he saw that it wasn't a ball at all but a small gray cat. For a while he watched as the kids kicked and laughed at the helpless creature curled into a ball trying to protect it's self. It was then that he realized that the kids planned on killing the little gray.
"Hey what the hell are you damn kids doing?!" he yelled across the street.
"None of your business old man." One of the kids said back. He figured it was the leader of the group. The cruelest of them all, so the other followed him out of fear.
"Where is your dad? Is he even alive or have I had him exterminated already?"
The kid didn't even reply. He just stared; he stood shocked for what seemed like an hour. As Vincent stood across the street he came to realize now that the kid was the oldest son of his latest extermination. He remembered now that the boy sat behind his father with no expression on his face, he didn't even cry when the bailiff dragged him out, or when his father screamed and begged for his life. Now he stood across the street from Vincent and he cried. It wasn't like how his father screamed and cried for his life and children, but it was a silent. Tears streamed down his face and his body shook as he futilely tried to fight them back. A sinking feeling welled in his chest along with feeling of shame and regret, he had come face to face with the results of his latest work. And what had he said only added salt to the already deep cut on the boys heart.
"I didn't mean that" he said
The boy turned and walked away. Leaving his minions, the dying cat, and his father's killer to watch as he walked away crying silent tear. The other boy stared back at Vincent and after seeing their fearless leader succumb to tears they decided it was best to leave. Vincent crossed the street and kneeled beside the dying cat. It had enough strength to look up at him and let out a pathetic noise that couldn't pass as a meow. The small notion seemed to be its last plea for mercy. An overwhelming sense of sadness washed over Vincent and before he knew what he was doing he picked up the cat and tucked him under his shirt, pushing the grey's head through his collar and cradling his body.
"Mara will help you little guy." he said to the grey, who might be mistaken for dead if the faint beating of it's heart didn't tell Vincent he was still alive.
He no longer walked home, but sprinted. He couldn't remember the last time he ran so hard, his body began to sweat profusely and the beating sound of a over worked heart filled his head. The wind which already whipped heavily at his face now became a torrent of icy whips. The tears made it hard for him to see, but his instincts lead him in the right direction, for the cat's sake.
By the time he reached his driveway his whole body was numb. His arms were frozen around the grey holding him up. It took a painful effort to move one of his arms out of the position to open the door. He numbly fumbled with the cold brass knob until the door swung open and he looked down the barrel of the pistol he had bought Mara fours years ago.
"Oh, I'm sorry Vinny." she said lowering the gun to her side.
He noticed that her eyes were red and her eyes lids puffed out from excessive rubbing. He always knew wishing was pointless.
"It's ok Mar but I really need your help with something." he said when he finally had enough air in his lungs.
"Is that a cat in your shirt?" she asked stepping back.
"Yes mar and I know your not fond of cats but it really needs your help."
"Why? What's wrong with it?"
"A couple of kids decided to try and kick it too death, but I ran them off. Please Mara I don't want it to die."
She must have seen the desperation on his face because she stepped aside and allowed him to come inside with the half-dead cat.
"Here lay it on the coffee table." she said pushing away old magazines and letters.
Vincent noticed a red letter fall to the ground, but ignored it. He had more important thing to deal with.
He gently laid the cat on the mahogany table. Mara knelt down and hesitantly reached for him and felt along the cats side. Then she left the room and returned with a small black kit with a red cross on the from. She took out a flash light and opened one of the cats eyes and shined the light in it.
"He's had trauma to the head, and I think he's got about 3 broken ribs. I don't know much on the anatomy of cats, but I don't think any of them are close enough to the heart to puncture it." she said pulling out a small black device that had a large screen and three button on the left side. She pressed the top button and the screen flickered to life and she moved it over the cats small frame. As she did pictures of bones moved across the screen as she moved the device. She stopped at the three place and with her slid her fingertip towards the top of the scanner enlarging the image. Even Vincent could recognize the broken bones.
"Will he live?" he asked.
She didn't reply instead she pushed the second button on the side of the scanner and waved it over the cat again. This time the screened showed a complex system of what to Vincent seemed like red tube.
"What are you looking for?" he asked impatiently
She sighed, "I'm looking for any blood clots that might cause heart attacks or seizures."
Lastly she pressed the third button, but she only moved the screen around the grey's head and a small mass appeared on the was painted with colors of blue, green, yellow, and reddish-orange.
"What are you doing now?"
She turned off the scanner and cut her eyes to Vincent, "I was looking for any irregular brain damage."
"So is he --"
"He'll be fine as soon as I wrap him up and call a vet and see if there is anything we can give him, so for right now I would like it if you step out of the room taking your uneducated question."
He flinched at the comment. Then she noticed that she was smiling her famous smile and he couldn't help but smile back. He quietly left the doctor and her patient.
He walked through the hall looking at all the pictures from his not so distant past, that's when the realization came that this was the last year of taking pictures and the all to familiar feeling of depression weighted itself back on his shoulders. He walked through
the bedroom door and sunk himself on the edge of their bed resting his head in his hand.
"What's wrong Vinny?" Mar asked standing in the doorway
"I think you know." he said with his head still buried in his hand.
They sat in silence. She allowed him to wallow in sadness , because right now that was all he could do. After a few more minutes she finally broke the silence, "What are you going to do."
He looked up at her and admire her features for a second before answering, "I guess I'll go down to the courthouse tomorrow and see if I can get an extension."
She smiled a faint smile. Vincent could tell that she doubted him, or at least the chances of him of ever getting a life extension. As a nurse her sadness over death had long passed, but now pain weighed heavily on her face. It showed pass the smile and the tired red eyes. He wished that he could tell her that everything would be ok and she would never wake up without him by her side. He could say that but it would be a lie. Her being twenty-three Vincent would expectedly be long gone before she would. They both knew. He thought about how at the day of the wedding he spoke the words "till death do us part". the words had him wishing again. He wished that he had never said them because not even death could put a gap in the love he had for her.
Their eyes locked and he poured his love for her into the gaze. He couldn't have found the words to express all the feelings he had for her so his eyes found the way. They told her that if he could give her anything she'd have the universe. They whispered that long after his death, his love would break through the boundary of the world of the living and the dead to her. They screamed that she was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. They told her many thing and she heard. She fell to her knees and began to cry. Vincent ran to her side and cradled her, no words were spoken and only the sounds of tears hitting the hard wooden floor shattered the silence. Vincent knew that they were not selfish, they were tears for him. The sadness that was once placed heavily on his shoulders was now replaced by a sense of love for his wife and determination to live. He no longer wished for the strength to face the court tomorrow, she had given it to him. He knew now why the man had cried so viciously for his children. It was for love.
They laid on the floor wrapped in each other arms for the rest of the night. Vincent never fell asleep but the slow rhythmic breathing told him that silence of the house had finally lulled Mara to sleep. He pulled her close so as to feel her heart beat with his. He
was. He needed to feel what life of another human felt like. To him she seemed to be bursting with life, and again for a moment Vincent felt like the epitome of death. He wondered if this was how every person he had put down felt like this seconds before they were exterminated. He felt tears begin to well up in his eyes, when down the hall he heard something fall to the floor. He gently unwrapped himself from Mara and walked as quickly and quietly as could to the living room.
As he rounded the corner he saw the shadow of something slip behind the couch. Weaponless he picked up a newspaper and rolled it as tight as he could get it, he figured if he hit hard enough he could distract the intruder. He crouched down and stalked his way towards the back of the couch. He jumped around the back with his newspaper sword risen to strike, but when he saw that the intruder was actually the small grey cowering in the corned of the couch and the wall he lowered his weapon. The cat looked up to him and seemed to understand that this was the man that had saved his life and he meant it no harm. They grey uncurled itself an walked to him, he crouched down and ran his fingers along the cat sides which were wrapped in bandages. He could feel the grey's muscles twitch so Vincent rubbed behind his ears. The cat began to purr and arched it's back.
"What is her name?" Mara asked standing behind him.
"Jesus Mar you scared me. Did you say it was a girl?"
"Yes, it is a girl." she said snickering.
"Well if she had one before I rescued her I don't know it."
"You should name her."
"You know I'm bad at naming things. You've probably already thought of a name anyway."
She laughed, "You know me too well. Yes I have thought of a name for her.
"Well what is it?"
"I don't know if you'll like it."
"Come on babe I'll love anything you say. Even if you decide to name it pickle sandwich."
"No I'm not going to name her pickle sandwich." she said smiling at the old joke the two had made years ago, " I want to name her age."
"I love it." he said extending his hand to her.
She took his hand and sat down with him. The grey moved from Vincent to Mara and positioned itself in her lap. Mara sat quietly looking down at the small grey that had curled up in her lap and fell asleep. She had never let go of Vincent hand so he could feel her grip tighten. He looked to her and for minutes they sat like this.
"I don't want you to die." she said never looking up from the grey.
Vincent didn't respond.
"I don't want to feel what this earth feels like without you."
Still he didn't respond.
"I think we can escape." she finally turned to him desperation in her eyes.
"You know I can't. You know we can't."
She hung her head and turned back to the cat. Vincent sighed an checked the time on his watch. He had to be at court in two hours so he decided to go take his shower now.
He stood in the shower and let the hot water fall on him. He wished that he could wash away the years of being the E.R.A's attack dog. He wished the heat of the water could melt away the feeling of being the people's reaper, but those are thing that have stained his very soul and no matter how long he stood under the stream of water they would stay.
After his hour long shower Vincent rushed to get dressed. Mara had already been in and out of the shower and sat on the edge of the bed in her white dress. Age sat in her lap relishing in the fact that she had a new family. Vincent walked to her and leaned down to kiss her.
"Are you ready to go?"
"Yes. I've left Age some cut up fish in a plastic bowl in the kitchen. We'll have to pick up her some food when we come back."
They left the house hand in hand and Age laying in the bed sleep.
When they arrived at the court house they had to wait on another case in front of him. They sat outside the courtrooms door in silence still holding hand. When the bailiff called them in Vincent's heart beat began to race. The walk down the aisle seemed to be forever. He thought that this was literally the walk for his life. When he reached the front the judge acknowledged the case and asked Vincent to begin his testimony.
"I, Vincent Kronos, have come to the court to ask for a life extension." he began, "I believe that for my service to the E.R.A I deserve an extension."
"And what makes you feel so deserving Mr. Kronos?" the judge asked peering down at Vincent.
"I am the only attorney in the E.R.A's history to ever have over 200 people exterminated either due to crimes they've committed or having avoided their faiths and living past their expiration dates."
"Mr. Kronos I am aware of your services to the E.R.A, but I see no reason to grant you a life extension. Are you aware of how long ago the last life extension was given?"
"Yes I am."
"Are you also aware that the recipient was neutered and under E.R.A surveillance due to the many death threats he got. Along with the lives of the judges he saved who granted him the extension."
Vincent's confidence faltered at this, "No I was not aware of that."
"The granting of an extension was a mistake Mr. Kronos, one the E.R.A will not make again."
Vincent clinched his fist. He could not fail here, his anger began to take over his whole body. He slammed his fist down on the table in front of him.
"I have murdered over two-hundred people for you bastards. Innocent people who have only committed the crime of wanting to live, a mere human instinct. I deserve to live."
The courtroom fell silent. The stunned faces of the people around him made Vincent realized that they were shocked to hear the word "murder". The E.R.A had never once called themselves murdering they always covered themselves in euphemisms so not to scare the public.
"Mr. Kronos we have never murdered anyone and accusing us of such an atrocity is among the highest acts of treason." the judge said standing up, "so as a traitor I sentence you to an early extermination.
Vincent's heart skipped a beat as the judge slammed his gavel down. Timed seemed to slow around him. He turned to look at Mara, her mouth was agape and her body went limp as she stood and fell back into the bench. The bailiff approached with handcuffs at the ready. Vincent did not move as the bailiff began to read his right nor did he move when he grabbed his shoulder. It was when he reached down to put the cuffs around his wrist that Vincent grabbed the bailiff's wrist instead and twisted it as far as it went with out breaking. The bailiff grunted in pain and fell to his knees, Vincent looked him in the eyes and saw eyes that begged for mercy. Vincent gave him none. He smashed his knee in to the man's nose, he could feel the cartilage give way with a sickening crunch. Blood poured out from the bailiff's nose as if some on had turned on a faucet, attached to a human body, and either from the hard blow to the head or the fast lost of blood the man passed out. Or died, Vincent wasn't sure.
The bloody acts happened so fast that the judge hadn't had enough time to call for reinforcements, he still stood in shock.
Vincent turned back to Mara, her eyes were wild and confused. He ran to her and grabbed her hand.
"let's run Mar, lets just run." he said.
Mara opened her mouth only to have the words get stuck in her throat. She closed it and began to run. They both did. They ran past the jurors who sat in shock, not because Vincent had probably just killed a man, but because it had been many years since they had seen anyone defy the E.R.A so boldly. They ran through the courtroom doors with such a wind that the man who stood behind then found himself being flung across the marble floors. The ran past the old security guard who only took a second to lower his paper to see a couple running screaming with joy down the hall, he probably figured it was another approved marriage.
When the reached last door and had too burst through it, Vincent had found that the sun shone much brighter and warmer than before. He looked to Mara and saw that with her rosy red cheeks and heaving chest that she had never seen her more beautiful. He looked back to the distant horizon that shown with the falling moving and promise of freedom.
They had reached the edge of town when sirens began. Soon cars pulled from every alley and rounded every corner, but they still ran. Even faster now being so close to freedom and just as close to death. Their feet had finally hit dirt and a feeling of weightlessness and more importantly freedom filled him, he forgot about his feet that had hurt seconds before, his lungs which seemed to fill with fire each time he breathed in, and his heart that was ripping at the seams from overexertion. Only the thought of being free with Mara filled his mind.
Two shots went off. At first Vincent didn't feel anything, but suddenly he felt his legs buckle underneath him, he was on his knees, then his hands. Soon Mara was beside him screaming to get up. The pain had finally pushed through the adrenaline and reach his brain, he was in so much pain he could form words to pass through his lips. He could only watch as Mara kneeled beside him screaming. His heart could only beat harder as he saw soldiers in all black uniforms with the letters E.R.A on a patch that covered their heart, he could warn Mara. His eyes could only produce tears as he watched one of the soldiers grabbed her by the hair and drag her out of Vincent's reach. Another soldier had walked behind Vincent and pulled his head back with one hand and held his eyelids open with the other. The soldier that had dragged Mara away now stood over her with a dark pistol in his. The tears flowed faster and harder down Vincent's face. "why?" he thought, "why, did I have to drag Mara in this. I was the one who was suppose to die now both of us will."
"I'm so sorry Mara." he screamed. His heart gave him the strength to talk through the still burning pain. "I'm sorry that I couldn't afford for us to have a baby, I'm sorry I had your father killed, and I'm so sorry you married a dog for the E.R.A. I wish I could've given you so much more. I'm sorry Mara and I love--."
One shot and blood splashed on the dirt. Mara's body slumped to the ground her eyes still were wide open and rimmed with tears. Vincent saw the life leave them, no longer were they filled with love and concern for her patients. Now they were blank and empty.
In the last few days Vincent had experienced times when time seemed to slow, but now timed stopped. He thought about how right his father was, "son they'll come, they'll always come. Why? Because they think their more efficient than God at his own job."
He closed his eyes and wished for the cold heartless table. He wished that as the
hydrocyanic acid entered his bloodstream he could look up and see the eyes of his loving wife staring back at him, full of tear, but alive. He wished he could have fought for the man who died for his children.
He remember Age at home sleeping on the bed, the newest family of their short lived family. She was the last good deed he had done in twenty years. Now it was his time to pay for the many lives he had cut down. He opened his eyes and looked to the sky, he swore he could see a man in shining white robe. He blinked. Now before him stood a soldier in all black with the letters E.R.A patched across his heart holding a pistol pointing down at him. He smiled.