“Henry’s Waiting Room”
Short Story by Jeff Hill
All you need to know to understand my story is that I used to be a bad man. I’ve killed four hundred and sixty-eight people in my century of life, and I say a prayer every morning and every night for each and every one of them when I wake up and when I go to bed. I also see them when I sleep. None of them are angry, which makes it even worse. They all forgive me.
Every single time.
I’ve tried the family thing twice in the last seventy years. It has yet to work out. Probably my own fault, but still, it kind of sucks. A lot of people talk about me behind my back when I walk past them. But I don’t really care. It’s my own fault. Most things that go bad in my life are my own damn fault. It’s redemption, or punishment. Either or, maybe both. I don’t really care.
I deserve it.
I’m in a constant state of living hell. The doctors say that I should have died of lung cancer three years ago, but I just can’t seem to die. Part of me wants to, just so I can be done with this stupid game of redemption. But part of me knows right where I’m going if I don’t do something drastic. And quick.
Someone would have seen these last three years as a blessing in disguise, but I just see them as a curse. I can’t really do anything to help anyone. Not on the scale that I have to. In the Big Guy’s eyes, I’m pretty much a piece of crap. I can’t do anything right, that is, except for killing. I’m pretty good at that.
First, I worked for the mob. Then I went to work for this crazy art professor, fixing all of his “past mistakes,” as he put it. Turns out, the guy was a total nutjob. Not that most of my employers weren’t, but he was a new type of crazy. Theatrical crazy. When I saw that he was using people, the wrong people, the people-who-kill-for-fun type people, I got my butt out of there and split. I ran for a few years, but he always seemed to catch up with me.
Every time he met up with me, someone I cared about would either vanish or flat-out die. Always natural causes, but I knew what was really happening. It’s like he was Death personified. I know how crazy it sounds, but I really think he was. And every single time, he would go to their funeral, leave his business card on the casket, and wink at me in the crowd.
But now there’s no one left. Not a single person. He’s killed all of my friends, my business partners, my favorite waitresses, my dog, and just last week, my ex-wife. There’s only one person left on his list: Me. I’m not scared of what he’ll do to me, I’m just scared about where I’m going after he does it.
The light at the end of the tunnel sucks when you sit there waiting for twenty years. And I don’t really know why he’s doing it, other than the fact that maybe he enjoys his work. I guess that’s the big difference between him and me. Me, I killed all those people for a paycheck. And I hate myself for it. But him? He practically thinks of himself as an artist when it comes to the people he kills. That’s the difference.
When it comes right down to it, though, it’s really not that big of one. Not in the eyes of our victims. Sure, I feel bad, but that doesn’t really change anything. They’re still all dead. I can’t bring them back. I can’t ever fix the families I destroyed, the lives I broke, the futures I blinked out. I deserve whatever he does to me.
A knock at the door, and I know it’s him.
I put on my best suit, suck in my gut, and wheel my oxygen tank over to the door. As I answer it, I find myself starting to cry. He looks exactly the same as I remember him. Every single time, he always looks the same. Never aging and always with a smile on his face.
“Lucius,” I say. “Never leave a loose end, right?”
He pulls out a gun and invites himself inside.
“You want something to drink?” I ask.
He nods, and I fix him a Jack and Coke.
“They’re waiting for you, Henry.”
“You know,” I start to tell him, “I’m not afraid of you. Not really of dying either. It’s just the whole anticipation of what’s to come that bugs me. You and I, we’re not exactly the best people in the world. What do we have to look forward to after we bite the dust?”
He smirks, sets his drink down, and raises his eyebrow when he sees the Bible sitting on the coffee table.
“It’s not that bad,” he tells me.
“Yeah?” I ask, sitting as I unhook myself from the oxygen tank. “How would you know?”
He empties the clip into my chest.
As he begins to distort and my life ends, I hear his answer. I’m not going to lie… I feel a little better when he tells me.
“Because, pal. You’ve already lived it.”
Originally published in Flashes in the Dark in 2011.
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