A short story by AD Bane
James had to die. The reason was simple: there was no other choice.
On a cold, autumn day Gabriel Carter came up from the lake at his summer home on Lake Silver with a gutting-knife from his garden shed in one hand and a bucket in the other. At the edge of the water where he’d knelt blood and the intestinal trails of his quarry were carelessly scattered on the gravel and now seeping into the earth to be reunited with Mother. And he didn’t care, not even when he looked down at the blood on his hands and the milky-white lumps going back and forth in the bucket with his every step – those great, grey orbs that, from time to time, turned right-way-up and stare at him, unblinking. Perhaps he should’ve realized what he did was wrong – and not just unlawful but unmoral and wicked enough to scare any normal person into spilling their guts before the judge. But he really couldn’t admit to have cared: it wasn’t a feeling he felt or wanted to feel.
He supposed it began twenty-three years before when his brother was born. Of course, like any big brother, he’d been caring and kind from the first – yea, sure they had their quarrels: what brothers don’t? – and that was something no one could deny, not even himself. Yet the real trouble had been there all along, and he supposed he knew now what it was: there was nothing good left in his heart. Where had it gone? He couldn’t say that either. But it was gone, just the same – not his entire heart, you understand, just the part that ought to care. And what did that leave behind? That was the problem.
Even then, even with all the goodness of his heart gone, it might still never have happened. That is, it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t come along.
It was the first of September, nineteen-something-or-other – why did he care? – and Gabriel Carter’s mother had just called to wish him a happy birthday (the occasion was now some three months past.) He had accepted the well-meant wishes, just the same, and vowed to intentionally forget her birthday next year, even if it meant bashing himself in the temple with a hammer to get the job done. Anyway, he was just heading out to the store at the moment, and it wasn’t really the right occasion for shabby birthday well-wishes, anyhow. It only put his mood off, and that might’ve been the real reason for the problem right from the start.
Down Galbany Drive was a quiet trip. There was hardly anyone else living on that part of the lake, not for near on thirty kilometres or more; and of course that was because he’d seen to it properly when he’d bought up the entire lake front three years before. He liked to drive his road – that’s what it was, really, his road: the plows didn’t even come down it in the winter anymore, not unless he complained at the courthouse. He liked it because it was his, because no one else lived on it. His old mother had called him selfish, but he saw it more as enjoying one’s privacy. And that was what it was to him: privacy. Gabriel liked to be alone; it was just fine by him.
In town the heat rose from the pavement in sweltering waves that made the air hum and his face break out in sweat when he opened the door of his truck. Kids were about on skateboards or bicycles, perhaps on their way to the lakeshore, or maybe they were returning up the hill to the Fas Gas to buy slushies. The older kids were out, too, having discarded all clothing but that which was of the utmost essentiality, and they hung around by the skate park or the mall, smoking as if there was no tomorrow to lay their ugly sins on and jabbering on in voices so loud and shrill they might all be half deaf. It was all a cacophony, a frightful disturbance, he thought. Someone ought to shut them up. But then, he realized with a sigh, there would be nothing but silence, and someone would complain about that, too. Who was he kidding? It would probably be him complaining.
Thank Heavens the grocer had air conditioning! No sooner did he step through the door and he was cooled right down to his shoes. He could feel the sweat drying on his back, and there was a certain summer excitement to the feeling – perhaps a relic of the days when he’d been the one going up the hill for a slushy.
He’d forgotten his shopping list again, he realized as he trolled the first isle. Normally he could make it in and out in nothing short of twelve minutes flat, but that was with his list; and now his stomach was sinking with the realization that he probably wouldn’t make it out before noon (that was now near twenty minutes away). And so he settled, none too happily, into the routine of hunting down all those things his stomach demanded. Things his mother had taught him to shun; things he’d taken to eating simply out of spite.
It was on isle thirty-seven he first saw him – a lawyer or real-estate kind of guy, or someone else equally as important, all done up in his clean suit – just standing there watching him through the food rack. Of course he thought it a little strange to say the least, but he went on about his business and didn’t think much of it, overall. There were weirdos in town: that’s why he liked it way out on the furthest shore of the lake. But when he happened upon the same black suit and green eyes looking at him through the rack on isle thirty-eight he’d had enough. He never had been one to take much creepiness, especially from those who thought themselves better than he.
“Can I be of some assistance, Mister?” he asked as scornfully as he could. “I, at least, know where the door is – and how to use my own eyes.”
“Oh no, to be sure no,” said Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes with a naïve, almost auspicious smile. “I’m just here doing a bit of shopping. Don’t mind me.”
“Then kindly do your shopping on a different isle,” answered Gabriel Carter. And again he made every effort to show his distaste.
“Now, Sir,” said the stranger, “I think I’ve every bit as much right to be here as you have. Don’t let’s let any differences come between us, for I think we’re both respectable men.”
Perhaps if Gabriel had known then who the stranger was he would’ve found softer words; as it happened, in his elder days his temper had been getting more, not less, and at those words he could take it no longer.
“Every bit as much right!” he cried in dismay. “And to think that good, upstanding citizens like myself who do not leech off the free people must suffer—” He sneered. “—your kind! Now I ask you, Sir, if I were to put my own nicely polished fist in your pocket what I would find. My own wallet, as like as not! You ignorant, whore-sucking leach, riding on the backs of us working folk: for you’re too goddamn lazy to support yourself!”
“Now Mister,” said Black Suit, Green Eyes, the naïve smile not fading from his face for a moment. “There’s no cause for such words ‘tween you and I. If I hadn’t known better when first I saw you I would’ve thought you were one of those drifter-types, for your speech is disgraceful! Let us recline now into civil talk and better words before we come to blows and bad blood.”
“I’ll show civil talk when you take yourself elsewhere!” said Gabriel defiantly.
“Very well then,” replied the stranger; and with that he was gone. Gabriel couldn’t see where, but he supposed he’d made off down the other side of the food rack, and that was fine by him.
His temper was still in a rage when he pulled into his drive at the lake house again. How could a stranger have dared to creep about on him like that? In his younger days he might’ve had thoughts of taking his pocket knife to the man; now a pocket knife just didn’t seem big enough. He wanted him dead, and that was a fact.
He’d gone out to the deck that very afternoon to enjoy what was left of the sun, a cold beer in one hand and his cigarette smoking in the ashtray on the railing, still quite within reach. For awhile he tried to read his favourite book, the Good Book – “The only book worth reading at all,” as his mother was oft to say – but he couldn’t get into it on that day. What with beget’s and thee’s and thou’s, he found himself turning pages faster than he could read them and so came to the Book of Daniel. And that was it for him. He had never much liked that book. He had never allowed himself to like it; and so he had never enjoyed it and could find no reason to continue reading or trying to enjoy it now. He set the Book aside and closed his eyes to the hot summer sun and the cool breeze off the lake.
But when he opened them again the man was there. He sat across from Gabriel in the other deck chair that there really was no reason for, and he was just watching curiously through his bright eyes, perhaps smoothing his suit from time to time or taking a sip at the beer in his hand. And when Gabriel opened his own eyes and the two saw one another, Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes just smiled that same, dumb, naïve smile that said You’re a nice guy; I’m a nice guy: let’s be friends. But friends was the last thing on Gabriel’s mind. For a moment he considered breaking the bottle on the deck next to his chair and driving it into the man’s throat; but at present it would take him too long and he would be too slow to actually accomplish it: the stranger – younger, fitter, more agile – would have the better of him without even the need to try. So he didn’t move at all: he just sat there with the anger building up inside and all the horrible things he’d ever done to strays or other kids coming to the front of his mind.
“I see you’re angry,” said the stranger a little magnificently. There was something airy about the way he said it, as if he thought himself above the world, thought he understood it much better than Gabriel did. That was maddening.
“You goddamn right I am!” answered Gabriel. “I don’t know what part of what I said at the grocer you didn’t understand, but it was not an invitation to come to my house and drink my beer!”
“Oh, this?” asked the stranger, looking at the bottle in his hand. “Nah, this isn’t your beer. In fact, you might say it was all mine – the beer, the house, the grocer—” He laughed a little cackle that echoed across the deck. “—ah! You might say even the lake was mine! Well, it was all given into my possession on account of people like you being stupider than you should be – or than you have proper right to be. Ah, there it is: people like you.” He cackled again. “I suppose one could even say that I own you, although I personally prefer to think of it as a lease on life.”
“You don’t own nothing, and you aren’t anything but a greasy, slimy toadsquat on the face of society,” said Gabriel, glaring. “Now get off my deck, get off my property, and don’t come back or I’ll shoot you. You hear? I’ll shoot you dead, and that will be it. No more grocer for you, no more beer, no more lake. Just dead, and dead’s fair as ever could be for you and your kind, you thieving bastard!”
The man only laughed a long, loud, cackling cry that resounded across the water. “You’re welcome to try!” he said, smiling his naïve smile – only now there was a certain twinkle in his eye. “Oh yes, I’ve been shot before, Mister Carter. Many times, in fact!”
“Well then, we’ll see how you like another,” said Gabriel, getting up and going inside for his shotgun, which was hung above the door.
“No need, Mister Carter,” said the stranger. “I was just on my way, anyhow. No need to get to uncivilities. There’s plenty of that going on elsewhere.”
“Just you move it quick,” said Gabriel, “or I swear I’ll blow your head from your shoulders, fair as shine, and don’t you doubt it.” He was very nearly irate now and felt sure he meant every word, if only it meant he could have some peace and quiet.
Again the stranger laughed. “I’ve no doubt, Mister Carter, no doubt.” His words were calloused and mocking. Still, he stepped down from the deck; but as an afterthought, it would seem, he turned back. “One last thing, Mister Carter,” he said. “You’ve got three weeks.”
Three weeks, thought Gabriel? For what? And he said as much in the next moment, but only with bottle in hand and the deck rail close enough for breaking.
“Till you die, of course,” said the stranger disinterestedly. “That’s all. Nothing major. It’s just your time, you see, time to go where others cannot follow – not follow yet, anyhow, not in the traditional sense.” He stepped down to the grass once more. “Good day, Mister Carter,” he said, and made across the lawn. Straight and casually he walked.
“And who are you to say when I’m going to die?” called Gabriel after him.
“Oh, didn’t you know, dear man?” asked the stranger, turning his head with a twinkle in his eye and that same stupid, naïve grin on his face. “I’m the devil.”
Gabriel could hear him whistling as he made off through the trees along the lakeshore. A catchy tune, one he thought he was likely to remember forever.
He hadn’t doubted it for a second – how could he? The no-nonsense, laugh-at-the-world Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes had said it and that seemed to him to be as good a fact as any. Even now when he thought of it he remembered seeing the flame burning in the stranger’s eye, and he knew it was true.
He reclined himself to sitting on his back porch for what remained of the afternoon, considering what his unlikely visitor had said. He was going to die? In three weeks? He wanted to tell himself it was preposterous, a gross miscalculation on the part of Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes; but he couldn’t believe that: after all, when had the devil ever been known to make a mistake? Except, of course, when he’d thought he was winning when that man Jesus went to the cross. But hell, Gabriel thought, everyone can get caught up in an exciting moment. He just couldn’t bring himself to believe it might be a mistake. Which left only one option: he was going to die, and he had to know how. He had to stop it happening, at any cost.
It took him some time to go to sleep that night. It was well past dark and well past midnight before he finally drifted off, his shotgun under his pillow in the master bedroom upstairs in his lake-house; and then all he saw in his dreams were the green eyes of the stranger, first smouldering, then bursting to flames before his eyes, burning until the flesh peeled back from his skull and there was only empty, bony eyeholes looking out at him. And all the while laughing, smiling that damned maniacal grin – though it didn’t look naïve any longer.
When he awoke it wasn’t yet light outside. He looked at the alarm clock on his bedside table, but it must’ve quit working because it said it was only one hour after midnight. He looked out his window, but there was nothing but darkness looking back – nothing at first, that is: for a moment he saw the flaming eyes of the stranger watching him, but when he rubbed his own eyes it had returned to his dreams. He was going crazy, he thought, and it was all that damned stranger’s fault.
Regardless of the hour, he got up to make himself coffee. All the clocks in the house, it seemed, had quit working: they all said one o’clock, except the one in the parlour: that one said seven, but it hadn’t worked properly in years. In the kitchen he found the coffee maker was already bubbling and dripping. He’d gotten to the table and sat down before it occurred to him he hadn’t turned it on, unless it was while he slept. Then why was it on? “I thought you might want a cup,” said Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes, sitting down at the table across from him. “So I took the liberty of putting some on. I don’t drink it you see – gives me the most frightful headaches.”
Gabriel sat up in bed, bolt upright, wide awake without even the birds to blame it on. His heart was racing, the sweat cold on his face. He groped in the daylight streaming through his window for his shotgun, but there was no reason: his room was empty, his house deserted, save for himself.
He went downstairs to make himself breakfast, wondering if, perhaps, it had all been a dream, just a frightful nightmare that managed to get the better of him. He’d convinced himself it was a dream by the time he reached the downstairs corridor, but there on the table was his coffee mug, and beside it another from his own cupboard, both empty, both stained at the bottom with what they’d contained. Didn’t drink coffee? The devil was a liar. But then he’d already known that, if he’d thought about it. That was what the Good Book taught, anyhow, wasn’t it?
He tried to turn his mind away from the inevitable probability. Likely as not he was still dreaming, he thought, and quite soon he would wake up. But the thing about dreams is that while you’re in them you still have to play along, and so he consented at last to turning the problem over in his mind. He was going to die: that much was fact, it would seem. But there had to be some way to get out of it, there simply had to.
The bump on the door marked the morning paper delivery (he paid handsomely to get it delivered all the way out on Galbany Drive), and as he went to get it he thought that if only he could—but no. And there it was, printed right on the front page, as pretty as could be: Mrs. Allen Droger passes on, it read; memorial service to be held at Grant Laughlin Cemetery that very afternoon. Where else would the devil be, if not at a funeral?
He had never known Mrs. Allen Droger, and neither did he care to know her now. But in fact one o’clock found him standing by the gate to the cemetery in jeans and a t-shirt, looking for all the world like he was going to a party. Instead he was searching the faces of the mourners who came in hopes he’d see those green, flaming eyes. But he didn’t, not then. One-thirty came, the ceremony commenced, and he was still standing at the gate looking out to the crowded parking lot, a little discouraged.
“Looking for something?” asked a voice near at hand. There’d been no footsteps, no breath. It was just the voice; and now when he looked he couldn’t mistake it, not those brilliant green eyes with the flames flickering behind them. “Ah, but I suppose you’ve found it now.” Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes smiled his wicked grin. “And of course you want to know if there is anything you can do to change what’s going to happen. No, don’t look so surprised; it’s the same thing everyone wants to know.”
Gabriel said nothing. Somehow, he thought, he didn’t have to.
“Well,” said the devil with a distracted sigh. “There really isn’t. These things just happen, you understand. They just do, and it’s a bitch, but what are we going to do?”
“I can’t die,” said Gabriel. He didn’t feel confident, but he hoped he at least sounded it.
“I assure you, you can,” the devil replied. “As a matter of fact, there is nothing stopping you dropping dead this very moment – that is, nothing except for me, of course. I won’t take you now because it isn’t your time. Take Mrs. Droger, for example, she didn’t know she was going to die. Oh yes, she did suspect that it might be soon, but she didn’t know for certain anymore than you knew yesterday. But her time came in due course, and now we’re putting her into the ground. It’s the grand circle. Life is a funny thing: one moment you got it, the next you don’t. No warning, no sound, no flash – just pop—” his long fingers flew up before his face in a miniature explosion, “—and that’s it for you. And Mrs. Droger probably would’ve spent more time with her husband if she would have known. But that’s not the way it works.”
“Is there no chance?” asked Gabriel.
“No,” the devil replied with a smile. “None at all.”
Gabriel’s heart sank. He’d been so certain he’d be able to work out a deal, at least barter for his life somehow. Of course, if he’d thought it out clearly he might’ve realized Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes was probably just doing what he did best – that is, lying – but the thought never once occurred to him. Gabriel didn’t always think very clearly.
“Isn’t it sad?” asked the devil, turning his green, smouldering eyes to the gathered mourners, most of whom were in tears, and those who weren’t were sporting hardened faces that said either they didn’t care and were only there because someone had made them or they really did care and felt it would be better if no one knew they did.
“I suppose,” said Gabriel, distracted. He was wondering what it would be like to be the one on inside of the coffin: the world shut away from you, and then all that dirt over your head, feelings of suffocation and whatnot.
“Them just going about their own pathetic lives, never knowing when they could just snuff it and be done with.” The devil sneered and rubbed the tips of his fingers together.
“Perhaps,” said Grabriel, still distracted.
“Well, I must run now,” said the devil. “Three more tombstones to set before two o’clock, and look at the time: I’ve only got twenty minutes!” He turned to leave, but then just as he’d turned back in Gabriel’s back yard so he did now. “There was one thing,” said he casually, as if he didn’t really expect Gabriel to care and was just saying it to be nice.
“What? What!” cried Gabriel. “For the love of God, please tell me!” It wasn’t like him to beg, but obviously these were extraordinary circumstances.
The devil got a very nasty expression on his face, as if he’d just heard a very awful strain of music or a skunk had just been killed upwind, and he said, “Oh, I certainly don’t. But, very well, just as you please. There is one way to save yourself. I didn’t tell you before because it’s not very nice; but I can see that you’re desperate.”
“What??” pleaded Gabriel. He thought of his lake-front house, his other home in the Hamptons, his truck, his Porsche tucked away in his garage, all the money in his bank account, his mother and father, and his little brother— “Please, I’ll do anything!” he cried.
“In order to pass on death,” said the devil slowly, methodically, as if he were thinking it through as he said it, “someone else has to die in your place. And Mister Carter,” he added, pausing, as if in afterthought, “you got to do the deed yourself.”
Gabriel had been thinking about those last words for several days now. You got to do the deed yourself. They circled around and around again in his mind, turning, throttling his self-motivation and intrigue, and then coming back around again to take another swing. Murder? Was that really what he was thinking? He’d always thought of himself as a killer when it needed to be done, but Murder? He wasn’t sure if this classified as one of those things that needed to be done. And anyway, who was he to kill? How was he to decide that one life was less valuable than the next? Unless, of course, he were to off a criminal. But he didn’t see as that was very likely: prisons didn’t just let you walk in for the sake of killing an inmate to save your soul.
He spent so much time stressing over this that he hadn’t been answering the phone. He only now realized it because there was someone pounding on his door, and when he answered it there was his mother glowering up at him. “Gabe!” she cried. “I’ve been calling and calling, and you could’ve picked up. What have you been doing? Not a thing, not a goddamn thing!” She was peering past his shoulder, into his living room. “Just look at this place, just look at the state of it!”
On any other day perhaps he would’ve told her to be quiet. She was one of those people he put up with only because he had to. But today – oh, yes, today was different. He would’ve shut the door in her face, hoping to catch her fingers in it; but she was already over the rug and waggling an accusing finger in his face.
“Just think what your father would think if he saw you!” she cried. And then, “Oh, Good Lord, what have you done—?” The Good Book was overturned on the floor, forgotten by his absent mind. “No son of mine ever disrespected The Book! Pick it up, goddamnit! Pick it up, I say!” she screamed at him. “Who raised you to this? Surely it wasn’t your father and I. We did our best, but you’ve always had a mind of your own.”
There was some part of him that considered it right then: perhaps she was the one. But he already knew he couldn’t, not his own mother. As much as he hated her there was something sacred about the blood they shared.
She was digging in her purse for her phone now, dragging it out and punching the buttons with her long fingernails stained in pink. “George, you’re never going to guess what – I know! Oh my poor heart, you’d never believe it to see it. The Good Book and all! Can you believe that any son of mine could be so disrespectful? Why if I hadn’t—I’d—I’d—”
He slumped into the chair at the table and put his head in his hands. What in the name of the Good Book was he going to do now?
She was still going off on the phone: “Better tell Jimmy we’re taking him out tonight since his brother ain’t fit for reason or anything else at all. Ah, yes—the Brand & Broker. Perfectly fine. I’ll see to it that he at least cleans up before I get out of this trash heap.”
She was right about one thing: the state of his house had declined terribly since that day in the cemetery. He hadn’t the motivation to do anything about it, and now the papers were stacked on the coffee table, his shoes were scattered in the hall, the kitchen was littered with dishes, the table with mail, and the back porch with empty beer bottles – normally he would’ve at least made sure those got taken care of, but now what did it matter?
“Gabe, have you been drinking again?” his mother cried, exasperation in her voice as she peered through the window and out onto the deck. “Dear Lord, he has been. There must be fifty of them! George, you’d better come down here right away. This is beyond my control. If this boy thinks he’s going to the drink like his uncle did—”
Great, thought Gabriel. What was worse than his mother? “Mom,” he said. “I’m fine. Do you get it? F-I-N-E.” He said it so forcefully that she took a step back from him.
“You’re anything but fine,” she grumbled. “Anyone can see it, anyone at all. Why, if Jimmy were here now he would say the same thing.”
“Jimmy don’t know nothing,” grumbled Gabriel. And it was true, he thought: Jimmy had always been a good enough brother, but he’d never been very level headed; and when they were younger Jimmy had been the one to get them into trouble. Gabriel had beaten faces, broken limbs, crashed cars – all before the age of twelve, and all for his brother. And to what end? To this? So that he could die?
“Jimmy knows a good deal more than you,” his mother was saying. “Why, he don’t drink, he respects the Book, he respects his mother, and he never cusses. Never, you hear!”
It was true. Jimmy was all those things; but Jimmy was also imprudent and an upstart, and Gabriel had always been the first to tell anyone so.
That was when he’d decided, he thought. It hadn’t been later when his father and Jimmy had come around to see to his predicament. No, it’d been at that very moment as he thought about all the many things that Jimmy was. Jimmy was the one who was going to die.
He didn’t do anything about it right away. In fact, it may’ve been that he didn’t even realize he’d made a decision – not immediately. Certainly he hadn’t consciously told himself that he was going to kill Jimmy. It was one of those things that just was.
Yet, before it just was he’d tried another road, a road that might’ve saved him a lot of hassle later on. In town there was a homeless guy who was always sitting outside of the mall asking for money. And he often got it, too. Gabriel himself had once thought of giving the man a dollar; but when he’d seen him sitting in the alley behind the mall with a pack of smokes and a bottle of booze he was glad that he hadn’t: why should he pay to support the bum’s need to squander money? Now when he thought about it, why shouldn’t the bum be the one to die? What good was he but a scrape on the back of society? Worse than a lawyer; worse than the devil. He’d even driven his truck up Galbany Drive and into town to find the bum, but he wasn’t at his usual place in front of the mall or in the back alley. Perhaps someone else had already done the deed, or perhaps he’d fallen in a hole somewhere and died. Either way, that wasn’t the answer; and as soon as Gabriel had thought it through it was perfectly clear to him what was.
The devil came to him in a dream again. It was September fifteenth, two weeks done, one left: that was what the devil had said. But those two weeks had felt more like two days. Some mornings he woke up to find he’d slept right through one night, the next day, and the following night after that, only to wake up as if nothing was wrong. The devil was stealing his days, he thought. And why wasn’t he surprised? The devil – Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes – was a liar and a sneak. Of course he was stealing days. Sometimes in dreams Gabriel could even hear those soft footfalls and the crisp crackle of flame as the devil watched him from the foot of his bed in eager anticipation of the new soul he would soon claim. Now there was only a week left, and time was passing by too quickly. It had to be soon.
His mother and father would’ve called the sylum if they’d known. Probably anyone in their right mind would’ve. Gabriel even had some moments where he’d relapse and wonder again why he had decided to go through with this; but the truth of the matter was no one else understood what it was like to have the devil sitting on the foot of your bed watching you with his greedy eyes. But then Gabriel woke up one morning to find out three weeks had turned into a day: tomorrow was his last day to live. Today was the day: he had to kill Jimmy.
He called his mother. She said Jimmy was out with friends. He asked where, and she said she didn’t know but that he was welcome to pray and ask God if He knew. Gabriel laughed at that. Ask God? What a joke.
He tried a few people that he knew Jimmy liked to hang out with, but none of them answered. That was when the bell rang. It was Jimmy, Jimmy and his friends in all their glory. And all the goodness in Gabriel’s heart was gone.
Even now he could hear Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes laughing that insane, maniacal laugh. The water in the bucket just sloshed back and forth, carrying those getting-greyer-by-the-second orbs with it. They no longer watched him, no longer could – they’d all turned down, and that was alright.
The back door still stood ajar. His mother was in the kitchen screaming. His father was holding her. The police were wrenching the bucket from one hand and the knife from the other. One was holding the muzzle of a gun to his forehead, telling him to get down. And he did. What use was there in fighting now? But he began to laugh a long, drawn-out cackle that even Mister Black Suit, Green Eyes would’ve been proud of. They looked at him like he was insane, and perhaps he was, he thought; but it didn’t matter. What mattered was that he was alive: the devil couldn’t take him.
The following day the paper read: September 15th. Police arrest Gabriel Carter for the murder of James Carter, Alissa Broker, Kyle Tallen, Mark Watt, and Miles Tate. Mister Carter says, “Had to save my life. Devil was going to take me.”As Mister Carter slips further into his own delusion—
The day after that the papers read: September 16th. Gabriel Carter found guilty of first degree murder; sentenced to death.
Gabriel Carter’s execution was issued immediately. No one knew why; it just was, and the date was set for September twenty-first. After he was removed from his holding cell an inscription was discovered on the wall. It read: October 21st. It has ben day and day that thay kep me hre. If they dony fed me I will dei. But devil dont get me. I winn.
He could smell him before he could see him. They were only just pushing the needles into his veins now; his arms and feet were already tied down so tightly he couldn’t move an inch to save his life. And then the devil sauntered in and sat on the foot of the bed, stinking of sulphur and his eyes burning bright. “What did I tell you, Gabriel?” he asked.
“You can’t,” said Gabriel with a smile. “You can’t take me because you didn’t get me! I did what you said: I killed someone else in my place. Now it’s been seven weeks. You can’t take me!”
“Yes,” said the devil with his maniacal smile. “You did at that.”
“So you can’t take me,” said Gabriel. “Too bad. You lose. I win.”
The devil just laughed. “Oh yes, I suppose you do.” He smiled still broader.
“Why are you laughing?” asked Gabriel.
“Look at this,” said the devil, still smiling and holding up a copy of the paper.
September 21st, it read. Gabriel Carter sentenced to death by lethal injection, to be carried out today.
“I just picked this up this morning,” said the devil, leafing through the pages. “Really interesting stuff in—”
“No you didn’t,” said Gabriel defiantly. “You didn’t because it’s October twenty-first, not September twenty-first.
“It is September twenty-first,” said the devil, still smiling, the fire dancing behind his eyes. “I told you that you’d die in three weeks, didn’t I? And that was three weeks ago—the first of the month.”
“But all that time—!” cried Gabriel.
“What time?” asked the devil. “Oh yes, that time. I guess I lied, didn’t I? Well, about that, anyhow. I took it from you while you were so worried about trying to save yourself. You can see I am a perfectly reasonable guy though. I didn’t lie about when you were going to die. I told you the perfect truth and I gave you lots of time to prepare. And you did, Gabriel, you did. You did better than I could’ve imagined. Do you understand that, Gabriel? Everything you did brought you here. Everything you did.”
A doctor came into the room: a priest came with him, a judge, and two police officers.
“May God have mercy on your soul,” said the priest.
What soul, thought Gabriel? He hadn’t had a soul for a very long time.
The poison ran into his veins—”I win,” said the devil – and Gabriel Carter died.
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