The Appointment by Simon Phillips

Deon slips out the door in the stillness just before dawn and gently shuts the iron gate behind him. He lifts his heavy hood and bundles himself against the cold. Out through the shadows of his strained brow and into the soggy blanket of night his eyes dart up and down the streets. His breath swirls in great plumes around him. He is marching, grim-faced and determined, to the nearest church. Terror grips him.

The voice in his head had begun as static noise and grew more persistent with every attempt to drown it. Soon the noise morphed into cryptic thoughts that kept Deon awake and squirming for going on seven nights now while he begged aloud for mercy. He was putting away three liters of red wine a day but no amount of intoxicants would quell them. Sickening moans; the voice of unmistakable pain and the anticipation of pain. The voice of horror. It was Death that sought him.

Now he turns the corner. The muffled echoes of his footsteps bounce and scatter off the low stone buildings. With every hastened step the dark specter of fear advances on him. Each time he turns to face it he finds only the empty night.

In the stillness just before dawn the green Falcon careens down a damp-lit city street, its swerves so smooth they seem calculated. Dictated. The driver grips the wheel dutifully. Tears sting his scarred cheek and the salt swells his eyes. He gnaws his lower lip to still his quivering jaw.

He, too, had gone without sleep for days as the voice of his own demon master grew ever more persistent. He had been assigned the duty of murder.

The first attempt had been a failure. Reluctantly he had walked the streets in search of his target. When he discovered a woman stumbling drunk down a lone alley he withdrew the dull bread knife he had taken from his drawer. “Yes!” his demon bellowed from somewhere inside and out of him. “Kill!”

But when he caught up to her instead he slid the blade across his own face and ran in desperation to the police. There he insisted they lock him up. He was going to kill and he knew not why.

The police had delivered him bloody and shaken to the psych ward, where they sedated him pending further examination. His master forgave him his apprehension and showed him the way out: climb to the roof via the ivy trellis in the courtyard and leap two floors to the ground. There he was shown the way to the old Falcon which sat running, waiting.

Deon quickens his pace and presently he feels a heavy breathing on his neck; fitful bursts of soft menacing laughter. He recalls the story of a man who tried to outrun his fate:
A man in Baghdad is startled when he bumps into Death. He panics, steals a horse and rides all night to Samarra, convinced that if he can ride far enough Death will not find him. But Death had come for someone else, and was equally surprised to find the man in Baghdad since he had an appointment with him tomorrow in Samarra.

The driver of the green Falcon floors the accelerator. A fiendish grin contorts the muscles of his face, grotesque in the haze of the yellow traffic light as he speeds through it. His narrowed eyes scan the streets and sidewalks ahead. He will not fail again.

Deon now stands motionless in the median across the street from the church. The haunting laughter is gone. The specter is vanished.

Or floating, high above.

He realizes Death would follow him to the church and that He is simply waiting. Something within him insists that Death cannot swim and that water can save him. He turns and charts a new course for the community pool around the corner.

The Falcon has screeched to a halt and thick rubber-smoke billows around its shape. As the bluish clouds rise and fade the driver sees a distant figure on the median.

The pool will be locked up since it is winter but Deon will get in. There he will climb in the pool and find solace. He steps off the median and feels the specter swoop down behind him, giggling cruelly.

The Falcon idles, coasts carefully along the street. Its prey darts into the shadows between buildings. As forcefully as he braked, the driver hits the gas. Again streams of tire smoke spew from the car as it hurls down the street and leaps over the median. Without slowing the Falcon enters the alley, swiping walls and cars as it goes.

Deon runs hard for the pool. He ducks and swerves down the alley like a trained soldier. The demon mocks him with sinister laughter; he stumbles onto the curb and across the lawn. The steps of the pool are vast and he leaps them in twos.

The green Falcon is upon him. Up onto the curb; sparks where steel and stone collide. Chips of cement scatter as it launches up the stairs at the figure of Deon hunched in the padlocked doorway. He turns the whites of his hooded eyes to see the mad face of a helpless fiend grimacing back at him. Deon jumps and the Falcon clips him. He's thrown spinning through the air as the hood of the Falcon smashes open the doors of the community pool. He lands, unconscious, on the steps.

He wakes moments later with no recollection of the preceding events to find the Falcon embedded in the wall, bent and smoking. He limps toward the vehicle despite the shard of femur protruding from his left thigh. In it, a squeamish and bloody face stares ahead, blinking.

“Are you okay?”

The face turns to him.

“I don’t know who I am.”

The two sets of eyes lock and for the first time each one feels a sense of calm.