The rain was coming down hard. Sirens flashed in the distance. Tires screeched across wet pavement. Pedestrians ran for cover, but the city life roared with defiance. Tonight would not go so quietly into that good night, and neither would the man walking home.
“Rough night, Davis.” The doorman held the glass door open for him. “I heard a tornado touched down. Can you believe that?”
“No, but that would be some sight.” He smiled at the older man’s nervousness. “What is this world coming to?”
“It’s going to hell.” He closed the door behind him. “Fast,” he muttered.
“Not me.” Davis approached the elevators. “I’ll be damned to go down without a fight.” A woman turned his way. “What about you?” She laughed with uneasiness, but that would be her only response. “Just another lamb to the slaughter,” he thought.
Davis resided on the fourteenth floor. He was well aware of the fire escape and other multiple exists. He kept up appearances with his neighbors, but he hated when they dropped by unannounced. He valued his privacy and did not dabble in gossip, but he made sure not to give anyone any ammo to use against him. All they had to know was that he was a single, white male, who worked in the private sector.
Slipping his key into the door, he felt eyes on him. His hand slipped beneath his coat. His back stiffened, but there was no attack. He was alone, but he knew different. Someone was watching him, but who? Did someone realize what he was, and could he deal with them quietly?
“Davis.” A woman stepped into view. It was his neighbor. “You almost flooded the floor.”
“What? What are you talking about, Janet?”
“You left your sink on. Again.” She scowled. “I heard water running.”
“Give me a break.” He opened the door, relaxing a notch. “You’re paranoid.”
“Well, the super found the sink running.” She opened the door across from where he stood. “Ask him.”
“Fine. I will.” One foot slid over the threshold. “Anything else?”
“Don’t forget to pay your rent.” The door slammed closed behind her.
“One bullet,” he muttered. “Would anyone care if that bitch was dead?”
The darkness was welcoming. His finger lingered over the light switch, begging to drop away into the abyss that held him now. Light trickled in under the door, giving an eerie glow to the living space that he stood in. He closed his eyes and savored the quiet. This was his sanctuary away from the world and separate from what he was. He was home.
His eyes snapped open. His finger stabbed the light switch. He grabbed his holster, removing the gun. Eyes narrowed, but an empty room met his gaze. But he knew that someone was there.
“Is this how a killer lives?”
“Where are you?”
The apartment was small. He stood in the living room, which connected to the kitchen. He quickly slid to the side, pressing his back against the wall, and scanned for his target. He moved against the pale blue of the interior and approached his bedroom. The door was closed, but without hesitation, he kicked it open. And there he was. His intruder sat on his bed with arms crossed, waiting patiently, and his finger curled around the trigger. But something in the back of his mind coiled away, snapping fear down his spine, and for the first time, his hand shook.
“Hello, Davis.” The man rose from the bed, a shadow against the dark. “Nice to see you again.”
“Again?” Davis tried to steady his hand. “Do I know you?”
“Who are you?” The man slipped past him as if he wasn’t even standing there. “I asked you a question.” He made a move to grab him by the arm, but his mind screamed to stop. And he did. “Who are you?”
“You didn’t open this.” He poked at the large manila envelope resting on the living room table. “It’s your next assignment.”
“How do you know about me?”
He should kill him. Every bone in his body urged him to pull that trigger. His mind, however told him different. Something wasn’t right. He never knew fear, and he didn’t like this feeling that had him now in its grip. Why was he afraid of him?
“I like you, Davis.” The man plopped on the couch. “You cut right to it. No bullshit.”
“No bullshit.” Davis hesitantly took a seat opposite him. “So, why don’t you tell me why you are here?” He positioned his gun at him, but his hand still shook.
“Nervous?” Davis glared at him. “You should be.”
“And why is that?”
“Because you are going to kill me.” Davis laughed. “Tomorrow.” The man leaned forward. “And you will kill me.” Davis’s smile froze across his face. “All because they paid you to.”
“What is this? Some kind of joke?”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Oh, I believe that I will kill you, but it won’t be tomorrow.”
“Yes, it will.”
Davis fired off a round. The sound of the gun nearly made him jump out of his skin. His hand shook violently. His mind screamed something inaudible, and his eyes fell on the bullet hole in the couch exactly where the man sat. And something inside of him told him to run, but he was frozen in place. Was this hell?
“I’m not going to kill you.” Fear coiled around Davis. “I don’t need too.”
“I… I don’t understand.” Davis followed the man’s eyes over to the manila envelope. “You want me to open it?” The man nodded. “Why?” His blank expression drove a cold stake right through his heart. “Alright. Alright. If it gets you the hell out of my apartment, then so be it. I don’t normally do this until the day of the kill, but obviously, you don’t plan on leaving until I do.” A haunting smile flicked across the man’s face.
Davis’s legs felt like glue. It reminded him of a scene from the Nightmare on Elm Street series. He remembered the girl trying to run up the stairs, but the stairs melted beneath her. She was struggling to survive, to escape, but she was caught in a deadly trap, a moth to the flame. And so was he.
The envelope felt like a weight in his hands. He wasted no time tearing it open. A picture slipped out and fell face-down against the floor. A notepad chased it, the name and place of his target. He followed it, grabbing the piece of paper by the edge of his fingers, and he carried it up to his face. A name lingered over his lips, and he slowly bent down to retrieve the photo. And the image that met his eyes made his heart stop beating.
“Do you now understand?” Davis was speechless. “Who hired you?”
“I… I… The hell with it. Some guy. Andrews.”
“I see.” Another smile painted across his pale skin. “My so-called best friend, who is banging my wife. They’re in my bed right now not expecting me until tomorrow.” Davis swallowed hard. “You want me to leave?” Davis slowly nodded. “Burn the photo.”
“I got paid to do a hit.”
“Oh, you’re going to do a hit alright.” Davis did not like his tone. “Now, burn the photo.”
Davis did as he was told. He walked into the kitchen and turned on the stove. Small flames trickled up toward him, and he dropped the photo into their embrace. He hoped when the task was done, the ghost would be gone, but a siren was screaming inside his head. He wasn’t done with him, and that was why the strange man now stood behind him.
“Go to my house,” he whispered into Davis’s ear. “Kill them both.”
“Is that what it would take to get rid of you?”
“Yes.” Davis turned toward him. “If you don’t…” Davis followed his gaze toward the large, glass window. “It’s a long way down.”
“You can’t kill me.”
“You killed me.” The man stepped back. “So, what will it be?”
The air was brisk. Fall was coming. A shrill whistle broke the silence, and the train slid into the station. Hungry footsteps pounded the pavement, and a million eyes sought refuge from the cold. Life was in full motion, but one man remained standing still, locked on target.
The man before him looked very much alive. Small wisps of air escaped from his lips. His eyes drifted over those before him, but Davis quickly turned away. What if he recognized him? What if he knew that he was about to die?
Davis drifted closer to the edge of the platform. From where he stood, he had a perfect line of sight. His hand tightened around his gun. Nobody got the drop on him, and nobody would make him kill for free. The ghost was back, safely tucked inside his passenger, and his moment was now. And he withdrew his arm, but a kid slammed into him, sending his skate board spinning backward. And Davis flailed against the wind and crashed down hard onto the third rail, and his electrifying scream was muffled by the train whistle.