By Dave Gilbert
The colossal roar of the ignition and the backfire of the muffler doused any hopes of a quiet exit. Cursing silently to myself, I eased the car out of town; keeping my head low and praying that nobody would look and recognize me. The harsh downpour of the last couple of days had not abated, and I had to move slower than I would have liked. Fat raindrops pummeled my windshield, forming multi-faceted liquid magnolias that glared at me like harsh diamond eyes. Accusing eyes. HER eyes. They materialized around me like ghosts. And, like ghosts, they began to speak.
I hate this damn town! I hate everything about it!
Then why do you stay?
Where the hell would I go?
And the other voice one from the same pair of lips, but a different voice all the same:
Lets just go. Take the money and leave this place. Why should we stay, Max? Theres nothing for us here.
Well, I finally was doing it. I was leaving this two-bit town and was off to someplace greater. But not with her. I was alone. As it is, was, and always will be. Thats my fate, and my penance. To suffer the company of me, myself and I for the rest of my life.
The front tire hit a pothole and the car jerked awkwardly before I could right myself. I yanked the steering wheel and the tires fought for purchase. The swerving headlights danced madly, and then I saw it. That damn white sign filled my vision like a knockout punch. I slammed on the brakes and the car squealed to a jarring halt - mere inches from the town landmark.
Jesus Christ! I muttered, suddenly realizing that my fingers were clamped to the steering wheel in a death-grip. The knuckles were lily-white, and my heart was beating like a jackhammer. After a few minutes, I managed to take a deep, long breath and slowly peeled my fingers away from the wheel, leaving permanent creases against the damp leather.
Outside the window, behind a sheet of water, the words Reality On The Norm Welcomes You! floated garishly in front of me like a cheap carnival levitation trick. My mouth formed into a sneer an expression that was becoming more-and-more natural to me lately as I began to ponder the irony of my current situation.
(Three days earlier )
My fedora and overcoat did little to protect me from the torrential downpour. The weather seemed to have a vendetta against me. The bursts of wind gathered the rain up and shoved it directly into my unprotected face, leaving me blinking and sputtering and trying to regain my sense of direction. So it was only natural that I was angry and irritable when I reached my destination. The light and warmth that greeted me inside did very little to quell the rage within me.
Ah, Mr. Griff. Is it still raining?
Yeah. I grumbled, taking off my hat and shaking the remaining raindrops onto the immaculately shampooed carpet. I cast a beady eye on the black-cowled figure behind the reception desk. Was he joking? I wondered. He was wide-eyed and grinning, but the Grim Reaper was ALWAYS wide-eyed and grinning so it was impossible to tell. Why the hell did you call me out here?
Death absently tapped a bony finger against the polished desk. Mayor Gower would like to see you.
Regarding what? I asked, re-donning my fedora.
A stony silence told me that was all the Grim Reaper was going to tell me.
Well, it had better be important, I snarled as I squelched my way to the giant mahogany doors. I could hear Death sigh at the sopping wet footprints I left in my wake. I suppose I could have had more respect for the office, but I had just been dragged halfway across town in the middle of the night in the pouring rain. I was wet, tired, cold and annoyed, and I could never keep my temper under those conditions not even for an anthropomorphic personification.
Besides, I had lost all respect for the mayor and his skeletal crony long ago.
I pushed the doors open, and the blast of arctic air hit me like a
tidal wave. Droplets of water that had slipped down my neck instantly
began to crystallize and turn to ice. I had forgotten that the mayor
needed to keep his office at sub-zero temperatures. The instant chill
grabbed my spine and nearly froze me to the spot. Cursing the day I
was born, I waited for my teeth to stop chattering and forced myself
to cross the threshold.
TO BE CONTINUED...