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The Slim Gentleman

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No more than five hours ago, I was warm and cozy next to my wife in the den. The glow of a brilliant fire lit up her soft face to remind me of the wisest decision I'd ever made. Dumb luck introduced us, but my hardheadedness won her over in the end. Occasionally she'd look up at me with her sleepy eyes and smile. Right then and there, I thought to myself, "Eddie, you could die today, and these few moments with your sweetheart would make life whole."

Never in a thousand years did I believe I would indeed die this very day. Patricia, my wife, pleaded with me to stay home. She warned me over and over that trekking out into a blizzard is treacherous, and I should have my head inspected. She calmed down once I mentioned that I'd stay close to the house and come right back if I got too chilly. It wasn't a fib at all. There's no telling how far off I wandered, but I didn't mean to do it. It's almost like something was calling me.

When I finally gave in to logic and turned around, I saw it through the trees and falling snow. A giant stag was looking in my direction and begging me to pack it tightly into my freezer for the winter. Maybe I was too enthusiastic to notice my hands were so numb I couldn't feel them. Heck, I didn't even acknowledge my trigger finger was already in position before I even aimed at the buck. Somehow I ended up shooting a big chunk out of the top of my leg.

As soon as the shotgun went off, I pressed my back against a tree trunk and slid down it so I could prop myself up to make my body easier to find. More than likely, It'll be my corpse an old farmer will stumble on in a day or two after the winter storm blows by. I can't feel anything aside from the strain to keep my eyelids open. The blood slowed down but not before soaking into the powder all around, forming a bed of red ice. My last thought was the delicate glow of Patricia's face before darkness eclipsed the vision.

"Good morning Eddie, It's nice to meet you. My name is Harvey."

Talking is useless. It was like being caught in a nightmare surrounded by ogres and incapable of screaming or running away. All my body can do is witness the circumstance as if I watched a character in a play from the audience.

"This is quite an exciting situation, Eddie. It looks like I have your undivided engagement, so I'll do all of the talking. There's no need to speak up because you can't."

My body was no longer in the middle of the woods outside of Clarkstown. Vision is limited, but I'd swear I was in some cheap apartment in the center of the city if I didn't know better. Busy street sounds broke through wood panel walls, and the pungent odor of rust stifled any additional aroma. The slim gentleman's breath would exit his mouth and stop directly in front of his face until he made a gesture. Then the translucent bubbles of air shadows shattered like glass and drifted away, like fragments suspended in time, unaware of gravity. Oily hair rested just above the bottomless darkness in place of his eyeballs, and the skin on his face was no thicker than silk stretched tightly covering a skull.

"I'm not who you think I am, by the way. My work is all freelance, so I have to take it when I can get it. Do you know what makes me want to curse Eddie? There always has to be a reaction to every action. Who knows who made that rule up, but we're all stuck with it. I'll have a target right there in my sights, unlike you a few moments ago, and before I can unload, the prey gets a little push, and it's game over. The real frustration comes into play when you realize the jerk who did the pushing has no idea they screwed me over, and it happens all the time. My mind is aware, and I know every step I'll take to meet my quota. Those freaks who give their naughty little nudge don't even know they ruined my day. So it's on to the next, and that brings me to you, Edward."

Harvey props his feet up on my lifeless body. "I bet you are wondering about the metallic fragrance hovering around that noggin of yours. It would be blood. Not yours nor is it mine, but the pesky scent tends to stick with me over time. Most clients never pick up on it, but you, Mr. Edward, are aware. Interesting. Would you enjoy a cup of hot tea?" Harvey places a steaming mug in front of me before yanking it away and continues, "Bless your heart, y'all don't drink this here hot tea in the south, do you, partner? Not to mention you're a tad bit paralyzed, and that never helps." The bony man flicks my beak to prove a point before moving on. "Regrettably, I can't smell savory blood myself because the tantalizing bouquet of desperation dominates my senses. Maybe I'm wired that way, or perhaps misery brings me more joy. Picture a starving alcoholic strolling right by a platter full of fried chicken for the open bottle of whiskey. The poor slub is hungry but never caught a whiff of the chicken. An alluring oak perfume infringed on reason instead. I'm the alcoholic Edward.

The room turned upside down and then inside out several times within a second. I never noticed Harvey exit, but I did see him re-entering with a dollar bill in his hand. "Let's cut to the chase, my paraplegic compadre! Everyone has a choice. You can freeze to death under a tree if you don't bleed out first, or you can shake my hand and live. It sounds like a no-brainer to me, bub, so how about it? Do you want to play snuggles with Pattycakes tonight, or do you want to be a tasty frozen treat for a Tasmanian Tiger? I know those beasts aren't in Tennessee, but I appreciate a decent alliteration. Contrary to popular belief, I have a conscience, so let's dissect the details. You will be giving me something in return, and generally, it would be an encounter with a descendant sometime in the future."

Harvey grins before sipping on his tea. "Between us two, you and your wifey can't have children. It's tragic, I know, and to be honest, it's your fault, buddy." Harvey leans in closer, "The little guy is shooting blanks, oh well. If you haven't guessed already somewhere down the line, one of your ancestors made the same agreement, and bam! Here we are. The good news is it won't be your kid because, well, you know." The mysterious fellow makes a gun with his fingers and shoots at me. "It appears to be empty, Edward. Shake my hand today; you'll return like nothing ever happened; I'll meet up with a relative, probably distant, and offer him a choice. An extra fifty years or so sound good, Edward, or do you want to go ahead and let fortune kick that bucket in the ass? Oh, good, I can feel you're coming around. All you have to do is shake on it. Go ahead, buddy; you can move it now.

A weight lifted from my arm, and the feeling returned to my fingers. Harvey reached out, and I shook on the deal. The dollar bill fell from his hand simultaneously and landed on my bloody leg. Afterward, my limb dropped like a chunk of lead, and once again, I was motionless. Harvey slid the currency into his front pocket and gazed at me for several minutes before finally speaking. "You'll know when your down to the final few years, Eddie. It'll eat at your gut like a ravenous piranha chewing its way out of there. You'll go to sleep thinking about death, and it'll be the first thing you envision when you awake. Oh, the rain, it'll mean you're down to the wire, my friend. Sorry, I can't simply give you a date. I'm supposed to be all vague and stuff; it's how this works, Ed."

Harvey stands, and the last thing he says is, "Clifford will love his inheritance." The ghostly figure evaporates, and I somehow return home. Patricia greets me at the door and tells me she's pleased I was only gone for ten minutes. My clothing is clean, and my leg is perfectly fine. I tell myself it was the right decision, but something is different; something haunts me.

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