By Joey McMeans
At the break of dawn, I awoke, as I had done for many years since the mysterious and unfortunate death of my daughter, and as the early rays of sunlight crept over the town, they shed light onto the mysterious scene that was unfolding in the ravine round the back of my house. For three of the four seasons of the year, the ravine is obscured from view from most windows in my home, but on some lucky days in the fall, when the leaves have abandoned their post and drifted to the earth to wait for their spring reinforcements, I can see all the way down. Unlike the other houses around us, our house backs onto the ravine, without a fence keeping us safe. Our neighbours like to tease us that one day a bear is going to wander into our yard while we are out eating lunch and maul me and my family violently, but no one believes them.
As I peered down from my window, I saw three strange men garbed in black robes at the bottom of the ravine, seated on small yellow and blue plastic chairs which looked eerily similar to the toy chairs belonging to our neighbours’ son. Intrigued, I continued to watch. They were seated around a large pile of leaves, all red and brown and rustling occasionally with the blowing of the wind. The men each had a large black suitcase laying on their lap, with their hands crossed atop it. They seemed peacefully seated across from one another staring intently into the pile of leaves that lay between them. I noticed something else glinting in the early morning sunlight resting above the crossed hands of the man in the middle. It seemed to be a key of some sort, but for what I could not say. As my patience with watching these men grew thin, and I was turning to crawl back under my sheets and return to sleep, something glinting in the early morning sun caught my eye. One of the men had opened his suitcase and was brandishing a large machete, like something you would see in the hands of a conquistador cutting through a South American rainforest. This new development drew me back to the window. He took the machete and flipped it around in his hand, catching it daintily by the blunt back half of the blade, and waved the handle in my direction. For the first time it occurred to me that I could be seen from my window, and that they may have been watching me just as long as I had been watching them. Now, I may be alone in this assumption, but in my opinion when a man with a machete asks you to do something, you do it, and you do it quickly. So I threw on sweatpants and a cheap white tee shirt that I had left laying around the room with the intention that someday this week I would wash them, and headed downstairs. The house was dark, and the dinner dishes from the night before still lingered on the counter. I would have to do those at some point today, if I found the time.
I slid open the glass sliding door that separates our kitchen and backyard and started outside. The cool fall air nipped at my ears and my toes as the wind rushed in to greet me. God, I hate fall. Just choose! It’s cold as winter or warm as summer. I hate the transition. I wandered out to meet the three strange men sitting in my ravine, with the sharp edges of the crunchy leaves poking my feet, making this meeting all the more unpleasant. When I reached the clearing down in the ravine, all three men had brandished their machetes and seemed to be offering them to me. One man, the one on my left, stood up and began to move. It occurred to me that this was the first time that I had seen these men walk or stand.
He walked over to the play table of our neighbours’ son which had been tipped over in the dirt next to him. When he walked, he seemed to limp in a way, moving with jerky and unnatural movements. I began to grow wary of whatever could come of this conversation. “So, gentlemen, can I help you? Any reason you’ve gathered here this morning?” I inquired. The man seated in the middle turned to me and removed the scarf covering his mouth to reveal that it had been stitched shut, and quite sloppily by the looks of it. He lifted the hand which held the machete and again offered the blade to me. Now, I wouldn’t call myself a violent person. Most of the time I try to keep the peace in situations where things might get a little out of hand, but I figured that this time, where the punishment for not choosing correctly might mean my prompt execution, I extended my hand out to meet his and tenderly took the machete. It was heavy, and the weight being added to my hand almost caused me to drop it. I lifted the machete up to eye level for further inspection in the early morning light and saw what looked to be some sort of Latin, or early Germanic inscription on the blade. I could see dark red spots, of what I assumed to be blood dried into the inscription. Whatever it was that these guys did, they weren’t screwing around. The man who had gotten up to fetch the play table had returned, and placed it down in front of me on the crust of dried leaves which coated the ground with a satisfying crackling. He proceeded to then kneel down next to the table to my right then lay his head across the table and flipped his hair to the side, exposing his pale white neck. Still unsure as to what these strangers wished of me I asked again. “What are you expecting me to do here? Frankly, I’m quite confused at the moment!” The man in the middle, who appeared to be the leader, stuck out his palm, its paleness almost radiating and with his other hand made a chopping motion down, onto his palm.
For a moment I stood puzzled, dumbfounded as it occurred to me what they wanted. “No. No bloody way. I refuse. Not happening! You all need to leave right now! I will not behead your friend, a stranger, behind my house! I am going back to my home NOW, and I don’t want to see any of you here again!” I threw the machete down onto the ground and began to storm off back to my house, with tears beginning to flow down my cheeks, when one of the men in black stepped in front of me. Holding his machete to my throat, he blocked my path. “LEAVE ME ALONE!” I yelled. But as I struggled to find a way to pass the man stood in front of me, the leader came around behind me and swung me around to face him. Staring intently into my eyes, he pressed a small piece of plastic and paper into my hand. Looking down, I immediately recognized the embossed silver text of a debit card, and upon closer inspection, bearing my name. I shuffled the card under the note and began to read.
“Dear Mr. Pritchett,
We understand that we have put you in an uncomfortable situation this pleasant morning. We are sorry if we have frightened you with our appearances or demands. That said, unfortunately we can’t let you leave just yet, for we have need of you. On this card, you will find a balance of 500,000 dollars. Each time you aid us this morning you will receive another card, to a total of 3. Consider this payment for your services. Now, should you refuse our requests or our payment, you leave us no choice but to kill you. I hope that we can avoid that scenario. The pin for the cards, should you choose to accept, is :1309.
Thank you very much.”
Even a man with money could always use a little more, and 1.5 million dollars is a lot of money. I nodded to agreement to my captors and I was allowed to be free.
The man had stayed on the table, neck exposed throughout that entire exchange, and when I had steeled the courage and gathered the machete from the ground, I prepared to commit murder. Holding the knife high above my head, I brought the blade down hard onto the table, using all of my force to cut my way through the man’s neck. His head shot off like a cannonball and blood spurted furiously from the space it had once occupied. The two other men who had stood watching came to remove the body, gingerly placing it to the side, blood still pouring from the gaping wound. I took a deep breath. The next man took his place on the improvised chopping block. With great force I took the head off his body as well. The leader looked on with his dead, grey eyes and passed me another card. Motioning for me to help, we added the second body to the pile. Finally, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a third card and placed it on the table, spattered with blood and gore from my two previous victims. He took his place, just as the other two had before him, and lay before me, accepting his fate. For one last time, I raised the knife above my head, and it came screaming down on the neck of the leader. His blood spurted all across my shirt and pyjama bottoms as I leaned over to collect my reward for my service, before laying the machete whose metallic sheen was replaced with a bloody shine next to the corpse. Turning my back on the mess I had made, I climbed the hill back to my house, grinning from ear to ear.