Happenstance

by Kevin Bachman

Happenstance

            Just a few more minutes, Kate. Jesus, we just fucking got here like thirty minutes ago. Lannas words could barely be heard over the background choir at The Blue Key, as a mixture of Tom Pettys Mary Janes Last Dance jumbled over the loud banter of the raucous crowd. The place was packed well beyond its capacity tonight due to the fact that finals had just been wrapped up at U of M.

Lanna cut her eyes to the side of the bar as she turned up her bottle of Michelob Ultra, inspecting the group of loud and attractive frat boys that just entered. You could practically hear the sound of her gulps as the beer slid down her throat. She finished it off then elegantly sat the empty bottle on the bar, all the while never taking her eyes away from the boys.

            You said we could leave whenever I got ready, so lets go. We arent even old enough to be in here anyway, Kate shouted back to her lifelong friend. She timidly looked around the bar, half-expecting someone to escort the two of them out at any moment.

            Kate always felt awkward when Lanna dragged her into these situations, mainly because she wasnt a particularly social girl and these types of public settings made her utterly uncomfortable. She would usually spend the entire time clinging to Lanna like a wet shirt and being short with anyone who tried to strike up a discussion.

Her shyness had earned her the reputation of being somewhat of a cunt.

Kate also didnt care much for drinking. Lanna usually drank enough for the both of them anyway, which more often than not landed her in some random guys bed, while Kate would end up having to find her own way home.

            It was standard procedure at this point in their friendship.

            Relax, doll. Marcus said it was cool if we stay as long as we leave before his shift ends. Lanna leaned in close to Kate as she spoke the words, her breath reeking horribly of booze and cigarettes. Besides, we are supposed to be celebrating. Finals have officially been aced, and no more classes for the winter. If that isnt a good reason to get fucked up, then I dont know what is.

            For as long as they had been close, finding a good reason to act like an idiot was all that Lanna ever seemed to care about.

            The twenty-year-old girls had known each other since preschool and were on-and-off friends all through elementary. Once they reached middle school, the two blossomed into the best of friends, practically inseparable from that moment on. Lanna was the tall, dark-haired beauty who was the life of the party, true homecoming queen material. Kate was just the mousey little blonde girl who shadowed her, gorgeous in her own right but more of the honor society/valedictorian type.

            Apparently, opposites really do attract.

            During their junior year, Kate was accepted into Stanford (along with several other impressive institutions) with a full ride, but she instead decided to go to U of M with Lanna. Her parents were irate with her for months over that decision, but that did not deter her from her course. Someone has to look out for her, she would often tell her parents, trying to convince herself just as much as she was trying to convince them.

            She often wondered, as she did at this moment, if she had truly made a mistake.

            You are unbelievable, Lanna. Kate shook her head and crinkled her nose up in anger. I fucking knew you were going to do this to me again.

            Oh my God, you are being such a child right now. Lanna rolled her eyes and threw her arms out wide as she spoke. If you dont want to stay then call a cab or something; it really isnt that big of a deal.

            It is a big deal. I shouldnt have to call a cab. You drove me here, and you promised that you wouldnt do this to meagain. Kate accentuated every angry word with a head nod.

            Excuse me. Just then a tall young buck interrupted the girls quarrel with the moronic arrogance that only a frat boy could possess. I couldnt help but notice that you ladies dont seem to have any drinks in your hands, and my friends and I were wondering if there was anything that we could do to change that? The frat boy just stood there, smiling, as pleased with the lackluster pick-up line that just escaped his lips as if he had quoted Shakespeare.

            No, we were just leaving, Kate said as she took Lanna by the hand and began to pull her toward the exit.

            Actually, Lanna forced Kates hand away from hers, my friend was just leaving. I, on the other hand, would love to have some drinks with you guys. But only if we are doing shots Lanna crossed her arms over her chest, forcing her cleavage to bust out of her low-cut top.

            Kate just stared at Lanna, mouth agape, unable to find the words to express her disgust at how she was acting.

            Shots it is, then. My names Benji, by the way. Staring at her tits the entire time, he put his arm around Lanna and began to lead her away from Kate, toward the loud circle of frat boys that she was previously eyeballing.

            Lanna looked back over her shoulder at Kate as she walked away, giving her friend a saddened look, as if she were absolutely ashamed at what she had just done, yet she followed through with it anyway. Kate was appalled. All she could do was watch as her best friend walked away from her, yet again leaving her stranded in a place she did not want to be.

            As Lanna and Benji walked past the bar, a peculiar man caught Kates eye. He sat casually reclined on the stool, sipping on some top-shelf scotch and eyeing her curiously. He wasnt anything like the rest of the kids who frequented this bar. In fact, he looked much too old to be a college student at all. It was possible that he was a professor at school, but Kate didnt recognize him.

The man was roughly in his mid-thirties. He had the palest of complexions, with a full head of dark black hair that was combed over to the left side, making him look either uppity or very professional. Kate couldnt really decide which. His smooth-shaven face exposed his chiseled jaw, and his bright green eyes were the kind a girl could easily get lost in. But what caught Kates attention the most was the suit: Brioni, wool blend, light gray with a dark gray tie. The shoes were alligator skin, either Gucci or Harrods of London; she couldnt really tell from where she stood. It had to be a four thousand dollar suit, and it accommodated his disposition very nicely.

The two of them briefly locked eyes. He toasted his drink her way, shot her a crooked smile, and then took a sip.

She smiled back at the man awkwardly and then began scanning the bar for Lanna, hoping that she could at least talk the sodden girl into relinquishing the keys to her Ford Focus.

            But the bar was much too crowded, and Kates frustration had finally gotten the best of her. Their dorm was only two miles from the bar and she was certain that she could make that walk in about half an hour. Sure, it was freezing outside and it was past midnight, but the quicker she got away from this situation, the better she thought she would feel.

            So away she stomped, elbowing a path through the crowd as she made her way across the bar to the door. Kate looked back one last time to see if she could spot Lanna on her way out, but all she could see was a crowd of random heads.

            When she turned back around to continue her exit, she ran directly into a man, causing him to spill his drink on himself. She could smell the scotch before she even looked up and saw the dark stain it put on that expensive Brioni suit.

            Oh. My. God. I am so, so sorry, Kate said with a hand over her mouth, and she began to tear up. It seemed as if this night could not get any worse for the poor girl.

            I assure you its fine, my dear. An honest mistake, nothing more. The man spoke with a British accent, additional sexy on top of existing sexy.

            Your suit Kate pointed to the stain and began to sob.

            They are just clothes, love. The man flashed her that crooked smile again, and Kate thought she might fall over. Is everything all right?

            Kate wanted to vent; she wanted to tell this strange man everything that had happened tonight. Something about the man seemed so familiar, and it felt as if she could tell him anything, even though he was a complete stranger to her. She began to stammer, stumbling over her words and stuttering idiotically as her chin began to quiver. Finally, she decided on what to say. Im fine. I was just leaving.

            Do you need a ride?

            No, thank you.

            Can I get you a drink before you leave?

            I dont really drink.

            Ah, I see, he said as he wiped the remainder of the scotch from his jacket. I assure you, this old man knows how to take a hint.

            No, its justI didnt mean Kate began to stammer again.

            The man held up his hand and shook his head with his eyes closed. No need to explain, my dear. It was a pleasure to bump into you, Miss... He left the Miss hanging in hopes of getting the girls name, and held out his hand in hopes of a farewell shake.

            Kate. Kate Branch. She reached out and took the mans outstretched hand.

            As her skin touched his, she felt as though she was engulfed with static electricity; the hair on her arms and neck stood on end and the breath was pulled from her chest. Her eyes met his, those fierce green eyes. Suddenly, his eyes seemed to glow, and the electricity turned to warmth and began to travel south, settling itself between her legs. She could feel her panties becoming damp, and her face flushed with embarrassment. She tried to pull her hand away from the mans grip, but she couldnt. She wasnt exactly sure if she wanted to.

            It was a pleasure to meet you, Miss Branch. He leaned down to kiss her hand softly, looking down her arm as he did so. My name is Kobis. As he spoke his own name he kissed her hand, and the warmth in her cunt became a stabbing pain, so much so that it caused Kate to pull away from the mans grip rather violently.

            Again, he hit her with that crooked smile, but this time it seemed much moresinister.

            Obviously shaken and unsure of what had just happened, she began to make her way for the door once again.

            Do be careful on your way home, my dear. Bad things often happen at these late hours, Kobis muttered as the petite girl frantically escaped the bar. Kate never slowed, but she heard every word he said, even over the loud, drunken roars of the crowd, as if he were whispering directly in her ear.

            She burst through the door and sprinted out into the cold winter night as Kobis found his way back to his barstool, satisfied and amused by his actions.

Another scotch, love. This trip was much more enjoyable than the last time he visited this hellhole. He would never admit it, but Kobis was beginning to enjoy his time here, almost as much as he was enjoying this particular drink.

*****

            You have got to be kidding me!! Tyler Bronson was beside himself, slamming his fist down on the bar as he shook his head in disbelief. The forty-five year old lawyer was beside himself, as he often was when his team laid an egg at the end of their games. The Cardinals of Stanford, Tylers alma mater, took the Oregon Ducks to double overtime in the conference championship, only to come up short on the last play of the game. It was supposed to be their year, and Tyler had much more than his school pride riding on this game.

            Two fucking grand, thrown right out the goddamn window, he mumbled to himself as he finished of the last bit of his Coors Light, which was now warm since he hadnt touched it during the entire second overtime. He pulled out two twenty dollar bills and left them on the bar, put on his jacket and stood from his stool. Keep the change, hon.

            Since the game was on the West Coast, it didnt start until 9:30, and Tyler had been at The Blue Key since kickoff. Four beers was his usual drinking limit when he frequented the bar, but tonight he had six. He was a little buzzed, but that wasnt enough to stop the frustrated sports fan from driving a short five miles home.

            He walked across the crowded bar, taking off his white Stanford hat in frustration and scanning the crowd as he plunged his hands in his pockets in search of his keys. This crowd of kids had gotten somewhat rowdy this night, which was unusual for The Blue Key. One of the main reasons why Tyler watched the games there was because of the relaxed atmosphere, but with the semester at U of M coming to a close, the kids seemed to be blowing off more steam than normal.

            Must be a full moon tonight.

The frigid winter winds hit him hard as he opened the door to exit, stealing the breath from his lungs and causing his eyes to squint against the blast. The temperature had dropped at least thirty degrees since he had arrived at the bar, and the hard rains that greeted him earlier had given way to a light drizzle with the occasional snow flurry.

            He hit the unlock button on his keys and heard the two beeps from his Mercedes SLK250 Roadster, reminding him where he parked in the overcrowded lot. Tyler didnt realize how exhausted he was. The transition from elation to depression at the games outcome had taken a lot out of the man, and his defeated demeanor showed it plainly.

            Most of the time, Tyler stayed pretty much on an even keel, a byproduct of nearly twenty years of dealing with the judicial system, but the drinking had brought out a small piece of that nineteen-year-old law student that he had been so many years ago back on the campus of Stanford.

            He approached the Roadster, stood at the drivers side door for a brief moment with his eyes closed and exhaled slowly through his nose, trying desperately to let go of his frustrations before he got behind the wheel on this slippery winter night. He slipped the key into the ignition and started the car with one turn. The car was so quiet that he could barely tell if it was even running. He then quickly fumbled with the heater, turning on the defroster full blast and activating his seat warmer.

            He never noticed the pale-skinned man sitting in his back seat.

*****

            I have been patiently waiting for two long weeks for this night, just like a good boy. The night had to be perfect: the cold, the rain, the snow--all of the proper ingredients to make this night memorable for all of the parties involved. And most importantly, it must be memorable for me as well.

I tend to remember them all, regardless.

Where are my manners? I havent properly introduced myself. My name is Kobis, and I am not of this world. There are many names for my breed: hellion, dark entity, demonbut I prefer to consider myself more than any of those things. Yes, I am a wretched beast from the pits of what you would call hell, that much is well known across the dimensions. But I fancy myself to be much, much more. I am a puppet master of sorts, pulling strings to delude the minds of these fools here on your plane of existence for no other reason than to bask in their suffering.

In other words, I am that little prick on your shoulder that whispers naughty things in your ear.

Excuse my scattered thoughts. I digress. Back to this perfect night and the perfect subjects: I often choose the most wholesome puppets, typically because they are inclined to be the most challenging to control and the most fun to break.

Of course, it goes against everything the boss tells us: warp the minds of the weak and the spiritually broken. Rubbish, I say.

Easy pickings just dont seem very fun to me. I like a bit of a challenge. Like this outstanding human that finds himself behind the wheel of this rather impressive vehicle, Tyler Bronson.

Dont worry, love. He cant see me back here. Its one of my many talents, being seen only when I want to be seen.

Tyler is a candidate that I have had my eye on for quite some time now. He was a bit of a hellion himself back in his younger days: drinking, drugs, sex--your standard college boy. But then something happened one day, something that I did not expect. He got his shit together.

He ended up graduating from Stanford with honors, received a job at his first law firm a mere week after graduation, and has been on the straight-and-narrow ever since. Quite honestly, it sickens me.

And that is when he became the apple of my eye.

It is long overdue for Mr. Bronson to take a long, hard look at himself and realize that he isnt the man he portrays himself to be.

Mr. Bronson must be broken.

*****

The rain subsided completely, and the snow began coming down a bit harder. Kate was thankful that she decided to wear her fleece hoodie tonight, walking at a quickened pace as she kept her arms crossed tightly over her chest to help keep her body temperature up. In all honesty, the girl couldnt care less about the cold. She just wanted to get home and spend the next twelve to fifteen hours in the sanctity of her comfortable bed, forgetting this night all together.

She had already walked the first of the two miles rather quickly, spending most of the time trying to justify Lannas actions. Kates greatest gift was also her greatest flaw: her compassion and forgiveness. The tears on her cheeks werent even dry yet and here she was making excuses for her friends actions as she shivered her way home.

The street that Kate walked, which wound through a densely wooded area, was oddly quiet that night. The entire time she spent walking the road, she hadnt seen a single vehicle pass by in either direction.

It must be the bad weather.

Kate. A disembodied voice stopped the girl dead in her tracks, directly underneath one of the few street lights that lit the long road. The snow glistened in the florescent light as Kate scanned the area carefully to make sure that she heard what she thought she heard. At first, she thought it was the wind, but as she stood there waiting to see if she could hear it again, she did. Kate. Over here.

That voice--she knew that voice. Lanna? Is that you?

Kate took a few steps closer to the tree line, taking her hood off and listening intently to pinpoint where the voice was coming from. The snow began to stick to her straight blond hair. Kate. The voice wasnt that far away, and it was indeed Lanna. Over here.

Lanna? Where are you? Kate stepped into the tree line, cold, confused, and concerned for her friends wellbeing.

*****

Ah, the lovely Miss Branch, such a pleasant girl. She has such a bright and promising future ahead of her, full of potential, but she is also a key component in my plan. We spoke briefly earlier, and I could see the honest pain behind those gorgeous blue eyes, a pain inflicted by a loved one. It brought me large amounts of joy to see such pain.

Kate.

Miss Branchs role in this game is simple. She is the catalyst, the spark which starts the fires. Without Miss Branch, none of this would be possible.

Kate. Over here.

I chose her for the same reason I chose Mr. Bronson: the wholesome, better-than-thou, ethically superior faade.

The girl is too smart for her own good, yet she chose to restrict herself because of a deeply-rooted friendship. How lovely. Oh, how the workings of the material world do please me.

It isnt fully her fault, though. Most of that blame falls on the shoulders of the creator, that contemptuous, self-righteous cunt. How can you create such a lovely beast such as Miss Branch, drop-dead gorgeous with a mind that is just as brilliant, but give her this flawed personality that causes her to hurt so deeply?

I suppose it could be worse; at least he didnt give this one a random case of cancer.

Kate. Over here.

            Under different circumstances, I could see myself being attracted to this young beauty. She is quite striking, indeed. But I need her in order to get to Mr. Bronson.

So Miss Branch, too, must be broken.

*****

            Lanna? Kate whispered as she entered the wooded area just off the road, her breath showing thick in the frigid air. Her brow furrowed in confusion as she sought out the sound of her friends voice. Is that you, Lanna?

            Kate. This time the voice sounded different; it reverberated eerily, bouncing off the trees and echoing as if the words were spoken in a deep canyon.

            Then came the laughter, slight at first, but gradually getting louder, and Kate could tell that it was obviously not the laughter of her lifelong friend.

            She froze for a moment. Her heart began to race frantically as she scanned the area aimlessly, her eyes darting back and forth, trying to discern what was happening.

            The night became unnaturally still; the only movement was the large snowflakes that now tumbled gracefully from the low-hanging clouds above. That is, until she began to hear the crunching of leaves.

            Someone was walking toward her.

            Kate tried to turn and run, but she found that she could not. It was as if her body wasnt under her control anymore. She called out to the stalking sound one last time in hopes that it was who she initially thought. Lanna? Youre scaring me.

            The silhouette of a man began to take shape, strutting out from the shadows gracefully. The man ran his fingers through his hair as his appearance began to come clear. The milky skin, the Brioni suit, and those amazing eyes: it was the man from the bar.

Miss Branch. Kobis tone was as chilling as the night air.

            Kate became even more terrified than before, remembering quite well the way her previous encounter with this strange man ended. His last words rang in her ears. Do be careful on your way home, my dear. Bad things often happen at these late hours.

            Why are you here? What do you want from me? Kate finally found the courage to speak.

            Kobis began to smile.

            For a brief moment, the vivid full moon escaped from behind the clouds and seemed to shine a spotlight on Kobis--or rather, his smile. His smile was impossibly wide, and it stretched from one side of his face to the other. But the width of the smile wasnt what worried Kate; it was the teeth. They were not the teeth of anything human. They were sharp, long, and ever-growing as his mouth began to widen, and his eyes began to glow brightly.

            The sinister grin continued to grow, and a guttural growl began to erupt from his throat. It was by far the most inhuman thing Kate had ever heard, sounding much like a drowning lions roar.

            All the color left her face as it became a mask of sheer terror.

            Finally, her body freed itself from its petrified state, and she did not hesitate. She began to run.

*****

            The Classics, 680. Giving you the soothing melodies of the romantic era on this dreadfully cold winter night. That was Franz Shuberts Sonata in A minor, which he composed at the tender young age of twenty-seven, way back in 1824. Ah, to be that young again. The radio announcer spoke softly over the static-riddled radio station.

            Tyler had become a bit of a piano connoisseur over the last few years. In fact, he had purchased a fully restored Simon Homolak concert grand piano from the 1830s with the first big check he earned at the firm. He never really learned to play past a novice level, but that didnt deter his affinity for the sounds of the classical piano.

            And now for something to set the mood of the weather. Chopins Etudes, Op.25: No.7 in C-Sharp minor. The piece started slow, chaotic and sinister, and then became soft and melodic.

            The roads were now covered in a thin blanket of snow, and Tyler was beginning to struggle to see through his windshield. He had meant to get his wipers replaced before this horrible cold front came through, but the busy life of an attorney didnt afford him much time for anything else.

The frozen flakes were winning the fight against those old, worn-out wipers.

He pulled out his phone and began to check for messages as he rolled down the blanketed streets, checking to see if his daughter had messaged him during the game. He was so caught up in the drama of the game that he had forgotten to check his messages before he left The Blue Key.

Kobis leaned over Tylers shoulder so that he, too, could check the messages.

She had indeed texted him, about thirty minutes ago. I am staying at the dorm during break, sorry.

Oh my, that was brutal. Kobis stated the obvious.

Tyler had invited her to spend her break with him at the condo in Florida, but they didnt really have the best of relationships these days. Ever since the divorce she had put up an emotional wall, one which he had yet to breech.

It was devastating news. He had been looking forward to this vacation with his daughter for weeks, only to be shot down at the last moment by the only person on this planet that he cared for. His eyes began to glass over with tears.

Kobis, who leaned back comfortably in the back seat of the Mercedes, chuckled mockingly at the mans pain. How utterly fucking pathetic.

This was what Kobis did best, inserting doubt and negativity. Even though Tyler couldnt see or hear Kobis, the influence of those words was sent telepathically into Tylers mind, eating away at his self esteem like a potent acid.

Tyler didnt know how to reply to the text, so he merely stared at the phone glassy-eyed, trying to think of words to cause his daughter to change her mind.

Eyes on the road, Mr. Bronson. Kobis sent the influence to the melancholy man.

He looked up just in time to see the figure darting across the road through his blurry windshield.

He slammed on his brakes as quickly as he could, but the slick blanket of snow did not adhere to the rules of brakes. The car didnt slow in the least, and the figure in the road stopped in the headlights, only to see the speeding vehicle after it was too late.

The thud was sickening.

*****

            Kate never saw the car coming. She didnt have time to react or brace herself.

            The force of the car sent her barreling over the hood, and the momentum carried over after she hit the unforgiving pavement, sending her rolling into the ditch about thirty yards away.

            She was conscious the entire time, and the pain that she was in was legendary.

*****

            She had such a beautiful face, such potential, all gone in the blink of an eye. Truly, that is the way of the world, the way this morose game is played. One moment you have the entire world in front of you, and the next you are lying on the side of the road, coughing up your lifes blood with your broken ribs stabbing through your lungs.

And what about poor old Mr. Bronson? I am not entirely sure that he is aware of what is going on at this moment. He appears to be in a state of shock, or denial.

I exist for these moments, working these sacks of meat like the puppets they were meant to be. If only I were allowed to navigate around the rules of this game.

Yes, we higher beings do have rules we are required to follow. The creator made sure of that when he made us.

For example, we are not allowed to harm these pitiful souls physically, only through influential suggestion. Direct influence is also prohibited. Admittedly, this gig would be much simpler if I could just say the words Put a gun in your mouth, but where would be the fun in that?

I like this way much better.

*****

            Tyler was slow to get out of his car to examine the damage, leaving the door ajar and causing an annoying alarm to mix with the loud melodies of Chopin. He wasnt entirely sure what he hit--most likely a deer, he thought. This particular stretch of road had its fair share of deer crossing traffic signs. Whatever it was must have surely destroyed the front end of his Mercedes.

            Surprisingly, the damage was minimal, only cracking the bottom bumper a bit, but the blood that stained the hood unnerved him. Jesus fucking Christ.

            He crouched down low to examine the bumper more thoroughly, trying to calculate how much this little mishap was going to cost him in car repairs. Just as he was about to stand and return to his car, he heard the moans of the creature that he struck.

            Fuck. Tyler couldnt bear the thought of leaving the beast on the side of the road, suffering painfully until it finally bled out, so he went to his trunk and took out his tire iron. One good strike to the head should do it. Its the humane thing to do.

            The guttural moans were coming from about a hundred feet behind him, down in the gully. He casually walked over to where the sounds were coming from, slightly tapping his leg with the tire iron and shaking his head disgustedly, desperately trying to mentally prepare for the gruesome task at hand.

            Kobis sashayed behind him, his hands deep in his pockets and his face painted in amusement.

            Tyler saw where the creatures carcass made impact with the pavement, a large splatter of crimson which trailed off the road. It reminded him of a horror film he once saw, where the antagonist dragged a bloody corpse across the floor of an old abandoned hospital, leaving a sort of snail trail of gore that looked eerily similar to this one.

Before he could begin his descent down the side of the ditch, he saw the broken form of the creature he struck. A girl--at least he thought it was a girl. He really couldnt tell through all the blood. He instantly turned away from the grotesque scene and retched violently.

            Okay, lad. Get it over with. Crack its fucking head open and let us be on our way, Kobis whispered to Tyler, smirking as he did so.

            The lug wrench hit the snow-coated pavement, and Chopin continued to play dreadfully in the background.

            His instincts kicked in and sent him rushing down the gully to make sure his eyes werent playing tricks on him.

            They most certainly were not.

            It was indeed a girl, but she was so twisted up and broken that he couldnt make out much more than that. Both of her legs were bent back awkwardly, shattered to pieces from the impact against the bumper of his Mercedes. Her gasps for breath were bubbling and wet sounding, a byproduct of the splintered ribs which stabbed at all of her vital organs. But what alarmed Tyler the most was her offset neck. It most certainly had to be broken.

            She looked up at him blankly, scared and confused, wanting desperately to call out for help but lacking the strength to form the words.

            Oh God! Oh God! Oh shit! Tyler began to weep. He fell to his knees as he approached her and held her, a feeble attempt to comfort her in her last moments of life. She never took her eyes off him, staring mindlessly at him with those cold eyes as large amounts of blood poured from her mouth. Her lips moved slightly and he could hear her whisper under her breath, Help me.

            Help! Someone help us! the panicked man screamed out to the night, with no one in earshot to hear. He was now wearing quite a bit of the girls blood on his Stanford Cardinal sweater. She was bleeding out before his eyes, and there was nothing he could do.

            The girl stopped breathing, but she continued to stare into his eyes, into his soul.

            Oh no, dont die on me! God, no! He shook the girl frantically, as if waking her from a slumber. Wake up. Please, wake up, he whispered to her as his attempts to shake her back into consciousness failed.

            As the life left Kates body, Kobis closed his glowing eyes and breathed heavily through quivering lips, almost seeming sexually aroused, as his body absorbed the moment of her death. He cherished that feeling, much as a junkie catching a rush.

            Tyler could do nothing but stare at her for several moments after her passing, watching the snowflakes turn red as they landed on her face, absorbing the blood instantly as they made impact.

            How truly touching, Kobis said condescendingly.

            Finally, Tyler snapped out of his trance and realized that he had to call the authorities. He laid the girls cold body back down in the puddle of blood and shuffled back toward his car to find his phone.

            Have you lost your bloody mind? Kobis asked, his words mystically penetrating into Tylers mind. You are a lawyer, are you not? How many drunken drivers have you put in the clink on manslaughter charges? Hundreds? Do you think that you will miraculously get out of this by being honest with the authorities?

            It was an accident. I didnt see her. I cant just leave her here. Tyler tried desperately to dispute the logic of the maddening voice that was inside his head, a voice that was making more sense than Tyler cared to admit. Still, he rummaged through his car for the phone he dropped after the impact.

            Yes, it was indeed an accident, Kobis piled on. You were preoccupied with your phone, in a somewhat drunken state of mind, no?

            Tyler found the phone under the passenger seat, beside a few stray golf balls that he lost months ago. I have to do this. Her family deserves to know. He wasnt completely convinced.

            Tell me, Mr. Bronson, how many years of incarceration did your last prosecution receive? I seem to remember the judge throwing the book at the kid. Could you handle twenty-five long years in the clink? You have a daughter to think of, you know.

            The mention of his daughter stopped Tyler dead in his tracks as he pressed the 9 button on his phone. If he were locked up for this, she would undoubtedly have to leave school. Her mother hadnt been able to hold a job since the divorce, living solely on the alimony checks he gave her. Tyler was single-handedly putting his daughter through college, and if he went away for this crime then so would her continuing education.

            I cant leave her, Tyler repeated over and over in his mind. His baby girl was the only thing he truly cared about in this world, and he would be damned if he ruined her future over a mindless mistake that he made. He looked to the inner voice of Kobis for guidance. What do I do?

Kobis showed a sinister grin that would impress even the Cheshire cat as he realized that he had finally gotten through to the man and was beginning to win at this game that he so loved to play, the game of mind manipulation.

            Well, you cant just leave the poor girl in the gully.

*****

I often think to myself, how can any respectable creator allow us to toy with his favored children as we do? Cruel, dont you think?

In a way, I pity your kind.

I have been playing at this game for such a long time. Ive brought giants to their knees, kings have fallen before me, the minds of the most beloved public figures have succumbed to my manipulations, and yet I feel as though the man upstairs is truly to blame.

Almighty? All knowing? All powerful? All bollocks.

He is the true villain of this story, this everlasting saga of unending death. He, who has the power to bring this all to an end, yet He remains voiceless in this war for your souls.

If only my master were so bashful.

Again, I digress; you must forgive me.

Mr. Bronson did precisely as I instructed him, dragging Miss Branchs cold, dead, and beautifully broken body to the side of the road where the next oncoming vehicle would find her, then we fled the scene of the crime as quickly as possible.

Next, we had to address the massive amounts of gore that clung to the front of his vehicle like a hungry child on its mothers tit. Luckily for Mr. Bronson, there was a car wash a mile or so down the road.

The damage to his vehicle was minimal, so there was no need to address that dilemma anytime soon. Most likely, no one would even notice.

Once everything was in order, we made the journey back to his lonely abode. The pitiful fool wept the entire way. You cannot even begin to imagine how amusing it was.

And that brings us to this very moment, back at Casa de Bronson, disposing of the bloodied clothes, still weeping, and wondering how in the bloody fuck he intends to live with what he has done.

Not to be flippant, but I must admit this human has great taste in dcor. Everything is immaculate, from the white Ocean Club Pacifica sofa to the 85 Sony flat screen with 4k ultra HD to the gorgeous, yet ancient, piano over in the corner. The framed Action Comics #242 hanging on the wall is a nice touch, as well.

But enough of the small talk, now I get to sit back in luxurious comfort and enjoy the procession of consequence.

If you have not yet come to appreciate my work to this point, just wait.

It gets better.

*****

            It was seven minutes until eight oclock, and Tyler still lay in his large, comfortable bed, not having slept a wink the entire night. How could he? Every time he closed his eyes, all he could see was the eyes of the poor girl whose life he took, staring through him like the sharpest of daggers.

            His phone began to vibrate on his bedside table, and he merely turned his head to watch it dance along the table, afraid to answer it for some strange reason. After a while, the phone stopped moving.

            He continued to stare at it mindlessly. I should have called the cops.

The phone began to dance again.

            For fucks sake, answer the bloody thing, Kobis shouted from the couch, his feet propped up on the coffee table as he enjoyed some popcorn while watching one of his favorite movies, Its A Wonderful Life.

Tyler reached for his phone lazily with no intentions of answering it, merely to see who it was that was calling so early on a Sunday morning.

            The name that scrolled across the caller I.D. was Baby Girl.

            He fumbled with the phone frantically, trying to answer it and put it to his ear at the same time, wanting desperately to hear his daughters sweet voice. It seemed the only thing that would make this horrendous situation less bleak.

            Lanna? he asked softly.

            He couldnt make out what the girl was saying through the uncontrollable sobs and mumbles.

            He sprang up from the bed in terror. Lanna, honey, calm down. Whats wrong? Are you okay?

            Kates dead, Dad. Its my fault.

            Tyler froze; he couldnt breathe. What?

            Shes dead. Its my fault. I made her walk home last night and someone hit her with a car. My best friend is dead and its all my fucking fault.

            Oh God, Tyler said in a shaky voice. His trembling hand instinctively covered his mouth and his knees almost gave out on him.

            I cant fucking live with this, Dad. It hurts so fucking bad. Lanna was hysterical.

            Lanna, dont say that. Im coming to get you. Where are you? Tyler began searching for his clothes.

            I cantI just cant do it The connection was lost.

            Lanna! Tyler screamed into the phone. He called her back as quickly as his fingers could move. No, no, no It was all he could say as his daughters phone rang and rang.

            No! He didnt even bother putting on his shoes as he raced for the door.

            Mind if I join you, old friend? Kobis asked as he followed suit. I wouldnt miss this for the world.

*****

            Tyler sprinted up the four flights of stairs with all of his speed, never slowing as he made it to room 406, the room his daughter had been sharing with her childhood friend.

            Kobis was already standing by the door when Tyler got there, his arms crossed over his chest as he hummed Chopins Etudes Op. 25 No. 7.

            Lanna? Baby, are you in there? Tyler frantically knocked on the door, rather hard and rather loud. If she were indeed in there, then she undoubtedly heard those knocks.

            He then tried to open the door, but it was locked. Lanna! Answer me, goddammit!

            His frustrations and fears finally got the best of him as he shouldered his way through the door, sending it flying off the hinges and collapsing on the floor.

            Attaboy, Mr. Bronson. Kobis chuckled as he pushed away from the wall energetically to enjoy the moment.

            Tyler fell to his knees after entering, absorbing the scene in the room: his greatest fears come to life.

            His baby girl, Lanna, lying in a massive puddle of blood, pale-faced, with both her wrists cut.

            Look at the bright side, old chap. At least the twat cut them the proper way, Kobis piled on, commenting on the vertical direction of the cuts on Lannas wrists.

            Tyler couldnt move. He couldnt speak. He just sat there on his knees, looking at the body of his only child. The blood was still inching across the floor, but the girl was quite dead.

            Too much blood.

            Nonsense. There is no such thing as too much blood. Kobis just couldnt help himself.

            Too much blood.

Too much blood, Tyler finally said out loud.

            My dear Mr. Bronson, have you finally lost it? Kobis asked rhetorically.

            It was painfully obvious, he had indeed lost it.

*****

            Kobis sat peacefully at the one hundred eighty-four year old piano, tapping the keys gracefully, playing the soundtrack to Tylers nightmare, Chopins Etudes Op. 25 No. 7.

            Tyler sat on the couch with his phone in his hand, staring blankly at nothing in particular, trying to get the sounds of Chopin out his mind, trying to forget the look of Kates eyes as she passed into the void, trying to muster up the courage to call Kates mother and tell her what he had done.

            Honestly, Mr. Bronson, it would be rather noble on your part. Kobis spoke, never missing time as he continued the beautiful romantic piece by one the finest pianists to ever live. And to think, now you dont have to worry about leaving anyone behind.

            That last jab struck home with Tyler. He had no one at all now. Nothing was stopping him from making the right choice. But how could he possibly live with himself? Not only did he destroy some poor familys foundation, he destroyed his own as well.

            Those eyes. That song.

            The Cheshire smile found its way back onto Kobis face as he heard every word the tortured man thought. Maddening, isnt it?

            The demon was indeed enjoying the fruit of his labors.

            Hours went by, and Kobis continued to play the classic piece, until finally Tyler could not bear the pain any longer. He thumbed through the contacts in his phone and found Rebecca Branch, Kates mother.

            The phone began to ring. No one answered. It went to voicemail.

            This is Rebecca. I am unable to come to the phone at the moment. Leave your contact information and I will be sure to return your call. Thank you.

The beep sounded, and Tyler almost lost his nerve. A few moments passed before he spoke. Rebecca? This is Tyler Bronson, Lannas father. I dont know how to say this. He paused, trying to figure out a polite way to put it, but finding no other way to say it. I killed your daughter. Im sorry.

            He hung up as soon as the words left his lips, dropped the phone on the floor and dejectedly walked back to his bedroom.

            Bravo, Mr. Bronson. Bravo, indeed. Kobis now banged chaotically on the keys, seeming to channel the very spirit of Chopin with his passion. Now, if you would so kindly give me what I came for, I can leave this pitiful shithole you call a reality.

            Kobis head swayed back and forth as he continued to play. He could hear the sounds of Tyler fumbling through his night stand, sobbing and weeping like a timid child at his first day of school. Then there was silence from the room while the Etude reached its crescendo.

            Bang!

            Finally, Kobis concentration broke, his eyes rolled back in his head and his bottom lip shivered uncontrollably, his breathing labored and orgasmic.

            Once the rush of the quickening passed, he stood from the ancient instrument, brushed his hands down the slacks of his Brioni suit to smooth out any wrinkles, adjusted his tie and made his way to Tylers room.

            Tylers body was sprawled on the bed, but his brains were relaxing on the wall behind him. The smell of gunpowder was overwhelming. Smoke rolled away from the barrel of the Smith and Wesson .357 magnum in a wicked manner, while that same smoke rolled away from Tylers mouth. Kobis couldnt see the exit wound in the back of Tylers head from where he stood but judging from the size of the firearm that was still attached to his grip, he couldnt believe that the man still had a head at all.

            Thank you, Mr. Bronson. You can rest peacefully knowing that I will bask in your suffering for many years to come.

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