Go to any mall and it’s like a lake that’s been freshly stocked. I can catch and release all day until I find just the right one.
I can project myself into another and get a sense of them, feel around for weaknesses. Call it a gift. The best way I can describe it is to say it’s like a dream. I can feel their pain, wallow in their emotions, assess their infirmities and decide if they should die.
If a fiction writer were to write of me today, I’d be called the Grim Reaper or Doctor Death. I’ve been called lots of different names in absentia, including a few I’ll refrain from repeating here.
My name is Mort.
I do not have a set of rules for what I do; rather, I pick and choose at random, running with my current mood, winnowing the herd, allowing the fates their fun, and playing it from the hip—so to speak.
The mall is also a good place to cool off, get an ice cream, and people-watch; which is what I and that kid who is staring at me from across the food court decided to do today. The kid gets up, ice cream cone in one hand and a small white plastic bag dragged off the bench in the other, and walks my way. He is ten-ish and a little pudgy.
What bothers me about this is that when I project myself into him I get nothing for my effort. Reading him is like reading a fern.
When he approaches, he says, “Hey, mister. Whatcha doing?”
“Fishing,” I say sarcastically.
He looks left and right, pivoting at the waist as his cone drips on his blue and red striped pull-over. He smiles at me, a wicked little smile, and I see his fangs. He leans in and says, “Me too.” His eyebrows waggle.
I understand two things from this exchange. The reason I cannot project myself into him is that he is a soulless creature like me. But what is more important is that I have competition. I say, “Go away boy, you bother me.”
“What’s a matter, mister?” he says as his smile wilts and his eye sockets go grey, “can’t a kid go fishing where there’s fish?” His voice gravels through the last words and his eyes are menacing. He is an old hand at intimidation, but I am older still.
“Certainly,” I say jovially, throwing my hands out to either side. “Fish a plenty.” I stand and walk away from him, knowing he’ll follow. He cannot bear the idea that I am not afraid of the likes of him. He’s prideful. The Red Sox hat led me to that conclusion.
I have a destination in mind and he is duty bound for his pride.
“Hey mister, do you know who I am?” His childish voice has returned.
As I pass a trash receptacle, I allow the remnants of my ice cream cone to drop from my hand.
“Hey mister, cat gotcha tongue?”
The Sword and Sorcery shop has no patrons and the proprietor is at the back of the store reading something when I enter. I reach into the display window with my right hand and remove a sword, the likes of which I haven’t held since the middle ages. It has a wide quillion that makes it look like a cross to someone looking down after being run through. With my left hand I pull out a small vessel containing water that was a gift from Pope Benedict IX during his short second reign. Using my teeth to unstopper the small flask, I splash what little remains inside onto the sword and plunge the sword into the kid’s heart.
His eyes get big. He looks at me, the sword, me, the sword, and then finally me. “Mister?” he says, and then, “Addonexus?” It is Roman for ‘bringer of death’, which gives me a sense of his true age.
I say, “Extremum vitae spiritum edere.”
He tilts his head to one side like a dog that has heard a high pitched sound. He has no ghost to give up.
His body begins to spasm, a stream of fog roils from the wound, and he seems to evaporate right out of his clothes and off the sword. All that is left of him is some dust and his few bits of clothing. The blue and red striped shirt is hanging off the sword and I hear the ruffling of paper from the back of the store.
“Can I help you with something?” The proprietor’s voice is agitated.
I polish the sword quickly with the shirt and replace the sword in the window. “No,” I say. “It’s not quite what I was looking for. Thank you.”
On my way out I pick up the small white bag the kid was carrying. It’s filled with comic books about, of all things, vampires.