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Phantom Contracts

I always carry the salt with me.

Published by Vocal

Trudging through the heaps of ivory snow, my feet are sinking less and less. It’s getting easier to move my feet. It’s still snowing ever so slightly. Snowflakes kissing my cheek, a welcoming feeling until the wind whips through and sharpens them into icy knives. Finally, I can see dirt exposed.

It’s a thin margin of dirt between the snow and the frozen pond. The ice creaks and groans. This sheet of ice is fairly new, it hasn’t reached frigid levels of cold out here. Although, my frozen-over ass would tell you differently. Well, this is the best spot I’m going to find.

I pull the saltshaker out of a zippered pocket and sprinkle a hefty line of salt out on the dirt, about a foot long. I dart away, finding a snowbank to hide behind. Normally, leaving salt out for Second Lifers is much easier but when you’re working an area that’s been blanketed with snow, it’s difficult to find a decent spot.

As I wait, I remember reading through my great grandfather’s journal. How he loved heading to his lake house in the winter. Being surrounded by pearly white colors and calming blues. Myself, I hate it. I’m just here for work.

Great grandfather Shawn was a character, as far as I could tell from the journal. Smarter than most of his peers. While everyone was worrying about that whole Y2K scare, he was worried about using cleaner energy. And when he spoke of what they used to call “ghosts” or “phantoms” most people laughed at him. Telling him they’re not real, that he’s read one too many fairy tales.

Shawn would’ve fit right in today, which is remarkable considering his time was 90 years ago. Shawn was well aware that we live a second life, but from the sound of his entries, most people didn’t know this. I guess proof of this didn’t come until long after his time. But it seems so obvious now.

As I think about it, in this day and age, we have no idea what happens after your second life. What will people 90 years from today think of how little we now know? Of course, we speculate there’s a third life in another realm, but all we know is that you experience a second life in this same realm. But on a plane of existence that only semi-integrates with this one. Which leads us to my job…

And reminds me of another hilarious thing I read in Shawn’s journal. They actually put murderers into prisons with all the rest of the criminals! I’m flabbergasted that they let those that took the lives of others to, one, continue to live and, two, continue to drain our tax dollars. But again, this was a different time, all before the Eye For An Eye Law.

Not everyone’s on board, I obviously am. Why else would I work for the EFE division? Granted, I only do occasional work carrying out contracts for First Lifers. Most of my work is on Second Lifers. I prefer this. We’re unsure how much time one typically has in their second life. The less time spent for the murderers, the better. They weren’t kind in their First Life. They’re always worse in their Second Life. And thus, I always carry the salt with me. This asshole ended the lives of two young girls, and he is taking his sweet time right now.

As if on cue, he appears by the salt. Kicking it up, spraying salt onto the snow. His angry grunts echo and reverberate through the frozen air. I ready my hand on my belt. Nope, this gun is for First Lifers. These bullets will do nothing here. I clutch the handle of my other gun. It’s charged, juiced up with plenty of currents.

This guy continues kicking and grunting. Why’s he so angry? What’s he thinking? What does it feel like being in your Second Life? I truly wonder. He suddenly stops, then turns towards the pond. Here’s my chance!

I draw my gun as I sprint towards him. Lifting my legs high to traverse through the snow. I reach him and he spins to face me. He flickers through my existence, his face cycles through several depressed and angry expressions in half a second. He sticks his arms out to stop me, but I shove my gun at his chest, pull the trigger and the energy current blasts from the barrel. It has that same awful feeling every single time where I get a raging jolt through my arm all the way to my shoulder and instantly strikes me with despair.

He falls back and with an extended arm grabs my sleeve and tugs me towards him. Suddenly, we are falling in, but he has yanked us 20 feet from the shore. We crash through this new sheet of ice and sink into the piercingly cold water.

Dark and murky and its coldness crushing me from all angles. I instantly feel my muscles numbing and know I don’t have a lot of time to act.

I shake my arm free from his double-dead hand and swim upwards. Kicking through the chilling water is the single hardest task I’ve ever attempted. I emerge from the surface of the pond with such force I feel I am going to break my neck against the chilling sky. I swim desperately for the shore and pull myself onto the dirt.

Hypothermia will set in too quickly. I need to act faster than I can think. I drag myself out of the lake and run for something that isn’t snow. An old, dilapidated oak tree will have to do. I slam my body into the trunk of the tree, pieces of bark falling around me. The bark has the slightest bit of warmth to it and may be my saving grace. I jam them into my coat to generate any bit of heat. I close my coat tight and rub my body furiously. The cold tingles and radiates through my body. My fingertips feel ready to peel apart. I warm myself furiously. I cannot stop. I need warmth.

Minutes of this.

And like a heater had been placed inside my coat, warmth begins to slowly radiate through my body. Starting with the fingers, working over my arms, reaching my torso. Oh, thank goodness. My body temperature is regulating again.

I continue for several minutes. I’m afraid to stop.

I only stop when my phone goes off.

My shaky hand reaches for a pocket and has trouble unzipping it. I fumble through and manage to pull out my phone. It falls from my hand, into the snow. I pick it up and it falls from my hand again. The full sensation I should have isn’t there yet. I manage to grasp my phone, hold it to my ear and answer.

“Yeah?” That’s all I can manage.

“Bryant, you got another one. Right there. I’m sending you the coordinates.” My boss hangs up. Not a talker, this one. That’s strange. Two contracts in the exact same area. This never, well no, this has happened once.

Though the last time it happened it was with First Lifers. Right after I ended the contract of this despicable guy, his partner showed up at the drug den they were hiding out in. I got notification and had to immediately go after him. But I rushed it, I wasn’t careful. I completed the contract, but the wall he was up against was so thin. And I hadn’t scoped out the area. On the other side was young Theresa Jones, 18.

It was an awful feeling, seeing an innocent die from the steel in my gun. A hazard of the job, that’s what I tell myself. She wasn’t deserving of death, but then again, she wasn’t completely innocent. She was in that drug den. And how do I know she wouldn’t take what she acquired there and go sell it on the streets? To kids even younger than her? She wasn’t perfectly innocent. That’s what I tell myself. It helps most nights. But there are sleepless nights in my pit of agony and misery where nothing helps.

But most of my work is on Second Lifers. I prefer this.

The coordinates come in on my phone. My trembling fingers hardly manage to hold the phone steady as I study the screen. Shit! This guy has to be right next to me!

I leap to my feet and spin in a circle as I scan my surroundings. Nothing but white snow. Snowflakes fall faster and harder. I don’t think I can even feel them. I need to finish this contract and then get out of here as fast as possible. I reach for the saltshaker, I can’t grasp it. And then there he is! Sprinting past the oak tree towards the god damn frozen pond!

I chase him. He’s quick. He’s easier to see than most Second Lifers that I’ve dealt with. Flickering just slightly as he gallops through heavy snow. I can hear his labored breathing. He closes in on the pond and I close in on him. He stops at the edge of the water. I slow down. I’m not going in that damn pond again.

Snow falls wildly. It’s whipping around in all directions. Our surroundings are fuzzy, static-like, but I see this son of a bitch so clearly. In his gigantic, hooded jacket, hood pulled tight over his face. Oh, will I ever know what you did to deserve this? Probably not. I give a half-hearted swing with my left hand to get him to react. He jumps and I counter with the right. Connecting on his jaw. Ooh, it hurts! His body more solid than most. He staggers back, then lunges forward with anger. Just what I wanted.

My gun still holds a significant charge. I dodge his attempted punch just barely, flip my gun out of the holster, plant it on his chest and squeeze the trigger. I jump back to get out of his reach. I’m not going in that pond again. As he is flung backwards, I feel nothing in my arm. No jolt to my shoulder, nothing.

He crashes through the ice into the freezing water, lifeless yet again. His body sinks and spins under the water. He floats beneath the sheet of ice, bouncing up against it from beneath. I watch curiously as he rotates. I want to see his face. It’s awful, but it gives me a sense of closure. To see the face of the terrible Second Lifer I rid from our world.

He slowly spins and bounces into the ice from below. His body turns, back now parallel with the bottom of the pond. He sinks, flutters, flickers. I inch forward, mindful of my steps. I lean forward. He begins to float again. He pushes up against the ice and his hood slips off. His face presses into the ice from beneath.

I see his brown eyes, his thick eyebrows, full lips, large nose with a break in the bridge from that rollerblading accident when he was seven. His face is my face. He is me.

He sinks again. Deeper and deeper.

As he fades into the darkness of the water, darkness creeps in from all around me. A darkness that looks cold but feels like nothing. I wondered what it felt like to be in your Second Life. I spent such little time in it, I never stopped to embrace what it felt like. I guess… nothing.

At least I know what this asshole did to deserve this. At least I don’t need to tell myself lies to get through the nights anymore. At least there will be no more sleepless nights. No more agony. No more misery.

Just a darkness so cold that it feels like absolutely nothing.

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