I first saw the light when I was 6, when we were gathered around my 98-year-old grandmother’s bed in the nursing home, surrounded by stale air and signs of old age. It appeared above her head and danced ever so slightly back and forth, like a tiny firefly.
“Do you see that?” I asked my kid brother, Jamie. Mother was holding Grandma’s hand. Dad was crying.
“See what?” Jamie said. Then Grandma let out one final sound and left us forever.
That was when I first knew I was special.
I’ve seen the light many times over my life since then, always appearing just before. I saw a dot of illumination right above Tommy Conway in 8th Grade, right before he got hit by a speeding car as we walked home from school. I shouted but I was too late. My parents said it was a miracle I survived.
I saw the light over and over in Afghanistan; above a new kid’s head right before he took a bullet from a sniper, hovering over Lt. Austin’s helmet while he tried to defuse an IED – my right ear still rings with tinnitus from time to time, above countless men on the other side before I watched them shot dead or blown into millions of pieces.
I’ve retired now, after all that happened, gone back into civilian work but a line no less dangerous. Some of it’s easy and safe, and some of it isn’t, but either way it’s never simple.
Brink and I are standing next to my car in an empty parking lot, the meeting point. One lonely streetlight far away casts the only brightness in a sea of black. He’s a little shaky – the men we’re to meet were said to have Cartel ties.
A Hummer pulls into the lot from the other end, loud rap music blaring out of open windows.
“You ready?” I say.
“Yeah,” says Brink.
I look down at my hands, and see they are shaking too – and faintly illuminated in the darkness with a dancing light from above.
I don’t remember a lot from my time growing up on the farm, but I do remember some things, sights and smells mostly, and those three sounds.
I remember the sight of the old oil cans with fading labels in my father’s shop, of his tools hanging on the pegboard against the wall, and his trusty chainsaw on the workshop table, its teeth slighty rusted and dulling, uncared for by him.
I remember the smells: the smell of the oil and transmission fluid leaked out from the broken Chevy onto the garage floor, of cold rain on the wind and the hay in the barn, and of sawdust and sweat when my father came back in from a long day of cutting wood in the back lot.
I remember the sight of broken dishes on the floor, fallen from where they’d shattered on the wall, flung from my parents’ angry hands. I remember the deep red colour of my mother’s face, aflame with rage, and my father’s like stone as he walked out the door. I remember her look of disgust – who cuts wood at this hour of the night? she’d said – when she followed him out to the back lot.
I remember those three sounds, those three sounds that will forever be burned into my memory and never forgotten, no matter how hard I try: the sound of the chainsaw roaring, of my mother’s dying screams, and of my father’s evil laughter echoing out into the night.
Imagine my surprise when I went into Berenger’s office on Friday afternoon for our regular weekly meeting, and watched him swivel his big leather chair around for him to face me, like he did every time, only to find it wasn’t him sitting in it.
The same immaculate suit, the same cornflower blue tie, the same gold cufflinks, but instead of my boss, the suit was being worn by someone else.
I knew it was him, just as you know in dreams someone you’ve never seen before.
He was beautiful; his skin was perfect beneath his 5 o’clock shadow and he smiled at me showing rows of impossibly perfect white teeth. I was completely charmed and completely terrified.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said, placing his hands palm-down on the mahogany of Berenger’s desk. “I’m not here to harm you.”
“What… what.. what… do you want?” was all I could stammer.
“It is not about what I want,” Satan said, his voice smooth as silk. “It’s about what you want. And I know what you want.”
I swallowed. “You do?”
“You want her to die, don’t you? You wish she was dead, I know you do. You’ve wished it ever since that week you spent together in Cuba for your 20th. Well, my friend, I can make it happen. Do you want it to happen? Are you ready to make a deal with The Devil?” He chuckled at his own joke and grinned. He was beautiful.
“What’s the catch?” I said. “There’s got to be a catch.”
“You have to watch,” he said, still grinning. “That’s the catch.”
I swallowed again, hard. I thought about it. “Ok,” I said. “I will.”
“Do we have a deal?” Lucifer said, extending his hand.
“Deal.” I shook. His hand was as soft as a baby’s skin and warmer than a hand should be.
I knew there would be a catch. I should have known never to make a deal with the devil.
She’s dead, that bitch, and that’s what I always wanted, and now I’m free. But I had to watch her die. Every day I watch her die. Every time I fall asleep. Every time I close my eyes, even for a second, I see her terrified face and the blood and her wide eyes screaming WHY
When I went back into Berenger’s office again on Monday, it was empty.
“He looks so peaceful,” my wife said, looking down, her face stained with tears.
Inside my mind I screamed:
I’M ALIVE I’M ALIVE
PLEASE GOD WON’T SOMEONE HELP ME