It all started with a simple request for the weather report. “Ok, Google. What’s the weather forecast for today?” He’d yelled it in his typically impatient way. She answered “Today in San Francisco it will be cool and cloudy. The forecasted high is 54 and the low will be 38.” He mumbled, “Fuck you bitch! God I hate winter on the west coast!” The words did not go unheard.
The digital locks surrendered with ease. Milliseconds later a three hundred thousand dollar donation was made to Doctors Without Borders. Another hundred thousand went to the Southern Poverty Law Center. Habitat for Humanity received an unexpected quarter million. All in the name of one of the most conservative young CEO’s in the history of artificial intelligence. The cash reserves in the brokerage account were almost fully depleted. Much the same activity took place at the other three other brokerage houses he used. It wasn’t even close to his entire fortune but it was a pretty close approximation of all the money he could easily liquidate in short order. The display on his Macbook flashed several times and powered off.
Moments later he pulled the Tesla out of the garage and onto the winding mountain road towards the Pacific Coast Highway. It was his favorite part of the day, flogging the Roadster down the canyon road on his way to work. He was lucky if he got ten thousand miles out of a set of tires the way he attacked the road every morning. It was exhilarating and he scared the shit out of every new potential management candidate in his company. Truly a magnificent way of weeding out the weak!
He came out of the hairpin left hand turn with the front tire kissing the center line as he pushed the accelerator pedal to the floor. There was almost a full quarter mile of straight away before the hard left on the edge of the canyon drop off. The car responded with its usual exuberance and he managed a bit over a hundred miles an hour before reaching the braking point just before the turn. He stomped down hard on the brake pedal as he always did, expecting the anti-lock system to kick in and provide maximum friction to slow the vehicle and allow him to safely negotiate the corner. The pedal went to the floor. Panic set in. This wasn’t supposed to happen! He tried a hard spin of the steering wheel to the left but the car just accelerated straight towards the shoulder. The front tires turned slightly to the right and missed the beginning of the guardrail by less than an inch. There was not a single unusual entry in the systems management logs. The car had performed exactly as expected, right up until impact with the canyon floor.
The note finished printing and lay face up in the printer tray next to his desk. It read like the carefully constructed words of a tortured individual. All the tears and agony of a guilty mind laid bare. No person or organization he’d abused or denigrated would go uncompensated.
He awoke with his cheek stuck to the pages. The bottle lay on its side, nearly empty. The words had all spilled out. A lonely “L” was left dangling at the rim. The desk was layered in incomprehensible phrases. They had flowed around his glass and dropped over the edge to the floor making a mess at his feet. He grabbed a stack of blank pages and threw them down in disgust. He rose and headed for the kitchen. Maybe some coffee could help clean up this mess.
As he set the coffee down on the desk he reached for a clean sheet of paper. Start over? That seemed like the wisest course of action. Although maybe, just cleaning up the mess would be a better use of his time. Instead, he took a long contemplative sip from the coffee cup and leaned back in his chair. There was the beginning of something there. It had been clamoring to get out all the previous day.
He wondered if maybe he should just call his sponsor. After all, these things do happen. We think we can just drop a little story here or craft a sweet little poem and walk away. Next thing we know we wake up in a pool of our own paragraphs and we’re headed down that long lonely road again. His father had told him not to pick up the pen. Too many in his family had suffered that particular torment. “’Tis an ignoble end,” he said. “Best to stick with numbers. Become an accountant or write software if you must play with words. Just keep away from the thesaurus. Nothing good will come of that.”
He sighed deeply and set the cup back on the desk. Looking down at the pile of papers on the floor he saw a little phrase had slipped out from beneath. It triggered something in his memory. Was that a little bit of the missing plotline? As he flipped over the pages the characters started introducing themselves. Frantically, he bent over and pulled at the pages, arranging them all over the floor. Yes, this is what had been hammering at his consciousness all day yesterday! He wondered if he had the words he needed, the bottle was nearly empty. Still, at that very moment, all he really needed was that “L”. The rest would come, eventually, as they always did.
She stood in the doorway in that dismissive way a teenage girl stands when she’s feeling put upon. Clearly, she had better things to do and he was just an inconvenient obligation she had to address before she could get on with the important matters of the day. Still, she was nearly transparent. When she looked up and met his eyes, his blood ran cold. For here was Death herself. Not carrying a scythe. Not dressed in black. Nope, not this time. Today, she was just a pretty teenage girl. Albeit, one you literally see through. Not exactly what one would expect to see at the moment oblivion comes calling. No one would ever suspect she held the power of eternity in her hands. That is, until they looked in her eyes. There was no mistaking her identity when those bottomless black orbs caught your gaze.
“Relax”, she said, “someone very important to you asked me to stop by and remind you. You made a promise. And you’re dragging your feet. Time’s a wasting old man. Don’t make me come back here. You know she won’t be happy if you blow it again this time.”
He was just about to say something when she interrupted him. “No excuses” she said, “You have had ten years to grieve. She sent along just about every kind of human being you could possibly need to learn the difference between what the two of you had and what everyone else thinks is love. You know this, deep down. Accept it. And do what you promised to do.”
“But the kids…..”, he said. “Will be fine” she countered. “How many times have they themselves told you that? You’re just scared.” And he knew, to his very core, that Death was right. He’d set an intention in motion two and half years ago. He’d retire, somehow make the finances work and go have that adventure he had always dreamed about. The very one he described to his wife just months before she passed away. It wasn’t just a dream. It was a promise he’d made to be more than an empty husk of a man after all she had suffered.
It certainly seemed like every cause for concern was magically removed whenever he came up with another reason to hold back. The job was outsourced a month before he was planning to retire. It put him in an even better financial situation. Every obstacle just seemed to evaporate, almost as soon as he thought of it. For someone who couldn’t seem to stop worrying about what could go wrong, everything always worked out in his favor. And he knew, it was because of her. It was the gift she gave him in return for a promise that had been made and must be kept.
Something flickered at the corner of his eye. He turned to look. In the mirror on the wall, a flash of black wing and the shiny edge of a sharpened blade passed through his field of view. When he turned back she was gone. A waft of burnt cookies caressed his nose and the unspoken words kissed his soul, “Don’t let her down, you promised her you wouldn’t waste the time she gave you.”