The thoughts would end today.
Mark stood at the edge of the train platform and looked about in wonder. He had been so engrossed in his own thoughts that he hadn’t realised where he had been going, but now as he looked around he realised he was in the perfect place.
Hearing a train rapidly approaching, Mark steadied himself and, as the train sped around the corner, he ran past a young woman and leapt into its path, hoping his pain would finally be at an end.
But no impact occurred, apart from that of Mark crashing heavily to the train tracks and cracking his head.
He waited for a moment before raising himself to his bloodied knees. What had gone wrong? Had he failed in this as well? Mark unsteadily rose to his feet and looked back at the platform from where he had leapt. Everybody seemed to be frozen in time, one man’s face scowling as he dropped his hotdog – which now hung suspended in midair. The young woman he had pushed past, her features contorted in horror, stared at the point from which Mark had leapt.
Over the entire platform the situation was identical. Turning around, Mark saw the train unmoving not two feet from where he had landed, sparks frozen in time as they leapt from the wheels.
“If you want to die so badly,” said an emotionless voice from the platform, “why not do it for a reason, instead of this useless waste?”
Mark spun around towards the voice and saw a lean black man moving smoothly through the crowd of frozen people. There was something unnatural about the man, but Mark could not decide what it was. Suddenly he realised what it was: the man’s eyes were cold and reptilian. Slitted irises peered at Mark as he gazed in terror at the figure above him.
“W-who are you?” he asked in a quavering voice.
“That is immaterial, but you may call me Quentin for now. Now answer my question.”
It took Mark a moment to recall what the man had asked him, but finally he remembered and said, “What do you mean?”
Quentin rolled his eyes. “I mean, I can give you the power to save a life in return for yours. Would you consider it?”
Mark momentarily disbelieved what the man said, until he looked around again and saw the obvious results of the man’s power. “Are you the Devil?” he asked in terror.
Quentin frowned at the question, but his voice remained void of emotion. “Nothing so crass, boy. You could call me an observer of humanity. I usually have no direct involvement, but occasionally I cannot resist and I intervene where there is an opportunity. Now, answer me quickly or I shall release my hold on time and let that large machine crush your body to mush.”
Mark considered the proposal; if he could save a life at the cost of his own, perhaps it would take some of the stain from his own sins and aid him in the next life. “Yes, I would,” he said softly.
“Good! Now get out of there and I shall inform you of what it is that you shall have within your grasp.”
Moments later they were back at Mark’s apartment. The transition had been instantaneous between the train station and the hovel he called home, and Mark felt slightly breathless as his feet wobbled beneath him.
“I will not squander words, human, so listen well. You may now freely give your life at any time simply by thinking it. However, the catch is that there must be somebody to absorb the power of that life. Somebody who will die without it.”
“That should be easy enough,” said Mark softly.
Quentin laughed coldly. “You would think so, wouldn’t you?”
Mark looked at him quizzically and was about to ask what he meant, but Quentin waved his question away. “No more talking. You have until midnight to decide who deserves this gift the most, after which I will take the power away and leave you alone once more. Bitterly alone.”
Without another word, Quentin disappeared. No clap of thunder, no flash of light. One moment he was there and the next he was not, leaving Mark shaken and unsure of where to begin.
The children’s hospital! Where else to find somebody deserving his gift of life? Mark almost laughed aloud, but remembering his misery his look of relief reverted to one of pain once more.
Mark arrived at the hospital just before noon and spent the next few hours moving from room to room, talking to critically ill children whose only hope at life would be the gift that he had to give. Initially, Mark had planned on turning over his life to the first sick child that he found, but as he prepared to release the power that he felt within himself he had heard a soft cry from the next room. He had gone to the room and found a child in even worse condition than the first. This happened through fourteen rooms, and Mark found that he could not decide which child to save. Five o’clock arrived swiftly and Mark was suddenly ushered from the ward – visiting hours were over for the day and he was told to come back tomorrow.
“But I don’t have until tomorrow!” he had pleaded. His cries fell upon deaf ears.
Mark felt defeated and finally understood Quentin’s amusement at his earlier statement. He was totally useless if he couldn’t even find somebody deserving life in that place, and his depression deepened even more.
He walked the streets of the city for several hours, trying to think of somebody who deserved his life more than anyone else. He had just decided to return to the children’s hospital and try to break in before it was too late when he heard a loud crash from just around the corner.
Without thinking, Mark rushed towards the sound and rounded the corner to be confronted with a scene of absolute carnage. Two cars had collided head-on, the driver of one staggering groggily away from the demolished wreck of his car. Nobody else had arrived at the accident yet and Mark ran to where the man stood unsteadily. The man waved him away and pointed towards the other car. “Help them!” he gasped. “I swerved to miss a dog and went on the wrong side of the road. Please help them!”
Mark ran to where the other car lay and saw the body of a young woman lying face-down on the bonnet, the smashed windscreen covered in blood and the severed arm still clutching the steering wheel evidence of how she had arrived there.
He reached the body and was amazed to find her still alive, dark blood bubbling from her lips as she fought for breath. “Please,” she gasped. “Let me die. Let the pain end.”
Mark gasped at her words, so similar to his own thoughts ever since Natalie had died. “Not today,” he growled as he felt for the power within himself. Forces he could not control surged from within him and into the young woman, and Mark felt his own life being forced from his chest and into the body of the girl.
Her arm, still grasping the steering wheel, slowly dissolved. At the same time a new arm began to sprout from her shoulder like a new bud surging from the earth. While this was happening, the bleeding from her other wounds stopped and her wounds healed completely without scars. Her breathing calmed and the blood stopped coming from her mouth.
Mark felt himself becoming weaker and glanced down at his own body. While the young girl was becoming healthier, his own body was slowly dissolving and becoming less substantial. As he saw this happening, Mark felt regret. Not regret for what he did, rather it was regret that he would never be able to help anybody else like this. If he had been able to live, he would have liked to dedicate himself to helping others, just as he was helping this girl. He realised that the last three years had been wasted while he had drowned in misery after Natalie had died in an accident not too dissimilar to this one. He wished now he had tried to help more people during this time.
The girl opened her eyes and looked up into Mark’s and gasped. “Are you an angel?” she asked incredulously.
Mark grinned with genuine amusement as his features melted away around him until only his eyes remained. Then they too were gone.
Mark felt a clap on his back and turned to see that Quentin was standing beside him, the two of them alone in an empty, but blindingly white room. “A beautiful thing,” said the black man, his eyes no longer slitted and reptilian. Now they were as blue and as stark as a summer day and carried no malice, only joy.
Mark felt tears in his eyes and dropped his head. “Yes it was,” he whispered.
“Do you regret your choice?” asked Quentin softly.
“I thought it would be easy,” wept Mark. “But all of those children needed life. I couldn’t choose.”
“Ah, but you did. In the end you made the best choice of all.”
Mark looked up, his eyes angry. “How do you figure that?” he asked.
Quentin leaned down and gazed into his eyes until Mark saw the deep well of power there and looked away. “Because you chose with your heart, not your mind.” said Quentin calmly. “You really wanted to save that girl. Even when you realised you actually wanted to continue to live you did not turn back. It is easy to take your own life, but harder to give it up for another. If you had tried to give your life to those children, you would have failed, because you didn’t really want to die. You have been through pain for a long time and thought to end it in the easiest manner possible, but now you know it is not easy, just cowardly.”
“What are you?” asked Mark incredulously, afraid of the answer.
“You already know, my son.”
Mists swirled around the two and Mark frantically tried to wave them away to get a better look at the being before him, but He slowly faded back into the milky fog. Mark waved his arms around desperately, moving forward through the mist to where He had disappeared. He saw something emerging through the fog before him and ran towards it.
Just as Mark broke through the fog, he felt a hand grab him on the shoulder and haul him back. Spinning around, Mark found himself gazing into the features of the girl he had saved.
Mark felt a screech behind him and a rush of air. He turned and saw a train scream by, not a foot from where he had been stopped. If the girl had not grabbed him he would now be dead.
But he already was dead . . . wasn’t he?
“What are you trying to do, kill yourself?” screamed the girl.
Mark turned, understanding blooming slowly and a small smile creeping onto his lips. “Not today,” he said softly. “Not today.”
Copyright (c) 2009 Luke Romyn