Whiskey burns the back of my throat as I exhale, settling my gaze on the placid man before me.
A shadow of what he was before.
Because, before, he had light. Had life. Something to look forward to. Something to hold on to. Back then, he thought he was tough-shit. Thought he was the bee’s knees. The cat’s meow. Thought he was something better than the rest of us, stepping on anyone and everyone to get his way. Rabidly pursuing any who thought differently, who dared to try and make him face fact.
Before, he was confident.
Stood proud. Stood tall.
Now he cowers, a glare dying in the corner of his eye. Weak, because he knows.
I am the one who snuffed that light.
The one he should’ve left alone.
The one creature that he wasn’t tougher than.
I was the one who showed him that he wasn’t anything special. That he was no bigger than a sneeze. And, I’ll be the one to seal his fate, too.
To steal the son.
“It has to be him,” I say again, setting the whiskey back down on the table.
“Please,” he says.
It makes me laugh inside.
He never would’ve begged before.
My smoke drifts lazily off the end of my cigarette, and I dispose of the ashes with a flick to the butt as I think. Pondering the situation.
He seems to think my pondering is consideration.
But, I let him make his plea anyway.
“Please,” he says again before getting to the meat of his argument. “He’s got a future ahead of him—a good one, too. And I promised him that. He’s my son, you know? My oldest. My… my best. Please, don’t take him. Take anything else from me—take my house, or my job, or my money—hell, take my life, even—but, please. Don’t take his.”
I sigh, taking a drag before I respond. In the wait, he looks eager. Taken to thinking that I might be reconsidering the punishment. That I might be re-assessing.
“Sorry, no can do,” I tell him plainly, downing the rest of the whiskey so the truth comes out smoother than the alcohol. “My hands are tied now—just like yours are. You screwed up long ago, and now? Now he pays. You pay. I’m not in charge of the price now, just the collecting. But, don’t worry, your son won’t be a sacrifice. Not in the way you think. He’ll still live.
“…probably,” I add, thinking about the hell hounds, and how keen they are on new “toys”.
…he’ll probably survive.
Of course, that doesn’t comfort the boy’s father—the arrogant sinner before me.
Looking distraught. Sad. Hopeless. Forlorn.
Really, and truly—right down to the roots of his soul—he looks sorry to me. Regretful. So, so regretful.
And, maybe it’s just the consequences that he’s sorry about. The fact that he’ll have to give something up—give someone up—but…
I don’t think that’s the case.
After all, isn’t it consequences that make us grow? That teach us what it means to hurt and be hurt?
For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction, yeah?
Isn’t it consequences that teach us that?
That make us appreciate our good deeds, just as much as it makes us fear our bad ones?
If he’s sorry for the consequences, then…
They’ve served their purpose.
Sorry is sorry, after all. As long as it’s meant.
As I mull that over, I extinguish my cigarettes remains, smothering them against the glass of this shit-hole bar’s ashtray.
And I tell him what I think.
What I feel about it, now that time has passed. Now that he’s grown, matured.
“I’m sorry about all this Eddy. Really, I am. You seem to have grown up a lot since last we met, and I’m proud of you for that, but: rules is rules. Curses are curses. And nothing will change the fact that, all those years ago, you messed with the wrong beast. It’s sad. Really, it’s sad,” I make sure my sincerity drags into my voice, bleeding out as I keep the sympathy out of my tone. Instead, I play to how true my words are.
“If you’d been this guy all those years ago, this never would’ve happened.”
At first, I can’t tell if my words sink in or not. If he’s even heard them. He seems to have gone hollow, eyes fixated on the floor. Looking more and more like a raccoon as every seconds passes. Dread and horror filling him to the brim.
Too full, I think.
Too full for my words to have been caught, anyway.
After a moment, he stirs.
“If this hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t be the man I am today.”
Sounds like it’s chipping at stone for him to admit it. Breaking him, bit by bit, inside, to have to face it. Have to own it. Accept it.
…be less than angry about it.
Just the slightest bit…
Grateful, I guess.
Stupid and silly and nasty as it feels to admit, I know he is.
Because, he isn’t wrong.
If he’d never messed with me, he’d be dead.
He’d still be a shit-head.
An arrogant, angry, shit-head. A menace to society. To the ones who love him.
He’d be worse if it weren’t for what I have to do. What I have to take. Where this road leads.
“I hate consequences,” he mutters blandly. Eyes blank, tone neutral.
I only serve him the truth.
“Yeah… me too.”