Today I am a friend, sympathetic and loyal. My clothes are distinguished, but not ostentatious: a merchant's garb. My friend has come to me today from another city—not an easy trip. The two of us are chatting outside an expensive cafe in the respectable part of town. He's more jittery than usual. I make a quip about it, something about too much coffee. The joke makes him suddenly serious. The chorus thinks that's funny. I see why, but the humor is lost.
"Abe, I need your help," he whispers, leaning in close. "I'm in trouble."
He's afraid. He's a fearful man. He fears he's being tracked; an assassin. His fears aren't quite correct, but they're not quite wrong, either. Of course, I don't know that.
He wants me to help him. Protection, he says. He needs protection. You've got connections, he says. Do you know anyone? Yes, I do, I tell him, placing a reassuring hand on his. I know someone. He lives on the other side of town. I'll take you to him, I say. He can make sure you're protected.
The trip across town is quiet. We go on foot, alone, taking back ways and side-streets, our backs to the respectable places, descending through the city's social strata. Indulging my friend's paranoia. He keeps glancing around, listening. Does he hear them too? They're getting louder now, impatient. Here, they say. Now! But of course, I'm the only one who hears. I'm always the only one.
They are right, though. Here is good. Now is good. The two of us are alone. The alley is dark. There are no witnesses. A young man with a crooked nose, on his way through this alley for a different purpose, will receive the blame. The credit. The dagger slips smoothly from its sheath. I put my hand on my friend's shoulder and slit his throat. He had begun to say something, but can't finish. For an instant, I stop and wonder what it was. Would he have told me he was a spy? That he was working for a nation that wished for the death of my king? Would he have told me he was a mage? Or did he simply wish to ask where to go next?
The chorus interrupts my thoughts. Now! they scream. Do it NOW! Mad, violent, desperate. As though afraid I might give up, turn back. As though I might forget. They should know better. I have nothing left to forget.
The dagger pierces the layers of fine clothing, going straight to my heart. I'll bleed out in less than a minute. I pull out the dagger, quickly wipe it clean on my shirt before the blood soaks through, and return it to its sheath. Then I collapse, the nagging pressure on my veins disappearing as they empty themselves onto the street. It's almost a relief. If it weren't for the waiting, death would be quite pleasant. But I can no longer remember a time when I wasn't waiting, and dying, and waiting again. And listening, always listening. Was there ever such a time, or has it always been like this? Sometimes, I almost remember. A life of my own, of myself. A sound--a cracking, scoring sound, perhaps. A flash of light—a shudder--a tremorous, unearthly scream—sparkling, like fireworks—!
always listening. Was there ever such a time, or has it always been like this? Was I ever alive? Have I ever truly died?
The darkness closes in at last and buries my thoughts under thousands more. I am lost; only the ceaseless chorus remains.