The Reef glistened, reflecting the purple, pink, light green, and deep blue lights of the streets below. The wall of windows on the intertwined high rises danced in the waving lights, within each window an encapsulated snapshot of human life. Office spaces, apartments, restaurants, shopping centers, banks, sports arenas, and even gardens pervaded the ever-fickle portraits of each glass. With everything bathed in the colored lights, Harry McCormick felt his time dwindling. Though overpopulated and overcrowded, no place seemed so empty as the Reef.
The cars on the streets below streamed by with a quiet buzz. A breeze rushed over Harry. He shivered. It was too cold out here. Spring always seemed to be so far off at the edge of winter. Harry sniffed the cool night air; the smell of rain tickled his nose. That smell never left the Reef, the clouds always hung over this part of the city, never allowing the Reef a moment to dry.
“So, you found it,” Harry whispered into the air.
“Wasn’t too hard,” a voice echoed through the sprinkle of rain that dripped from the clouds.
“We’ve been through this, Frank.” Harry turned around, the rolled sleeves of his red button-up dropped below his elbows. Another man stood across the rooftop. He was thin, but solid.
“Your time has come, Harry. Can’t you feel it?” Frank took a step forward.
“It was made clear to me that my time would come when I decided, not when some mysterious entity sends its errand boy. I’ll go on my own terms, not on yours.” Harry turned back to look over the Reef. He stood at the very center of it all. An island that tore through the waves of the deep sea.
“When’s the last time you left?” Frank continued to come closer, holding a hand in his pocket.
“Fifty, no, eighty years ago. She’s changed a lot since then. The entire city has. The people here used to care about life, they used to have the decency to understand the gifts given to them. Life here is special, Frank; it grows without hinderance, it needs little nourishment to thrive. Yet, the people all just throw it away. No one knows what this place used to be.”
“I do, Harry. I know.”
“It’s not the same. You’re not from here. You don’t have that same connection. You serve the god of death as its harbinger.” Harry turned again to Frank and backed away from the ledge.
“We’re no different, you know. Just two sides of the same coin. Some people get heads, others get tails. It’s not up to us to decide who gets what. That’s Fate’s job. She’s the cruel mistress behind it all. You think I have a choice? Six hundred years ago this valley was nothing but a village digging deep into the Earth, looking for something whose existence is uncertain. You say they revered life, yet look what they did to my forest? We were born out of the same strife, you to save people from the forest, me to save them from the valley. It has to end. This game we’re playing. It needs to end, now.” Frank drew his hand from his pocket. The glint of a blade flashed.
“I don’t think it does.” Harry lunged toward Frank and grabbed the man’s wrist, twisting it until the knife fell to the ground. Harry kicked it away. Frank thrust his knee into Harry’s stomach and then punched him in the face; Harry dropped to his knees. Frank wrapped his arms around Harry’s neck and squeezed.
“Just let it end, Harry!” Frank screamed as Harry clawed at Frank’s eyes and kicked at Frank’s groin. Harry grabbed hold of Frank’s fingers and bit down, almost severing them. Frank released his grip and screamed. Blood trickled from his hands. Harry jumped back toward the knife, picking it up.
“It doesn’t need to be like this, Frank. I don’t want to kill you. I’ve tried running all these years. I’ve tried to wait out my clock, but you just can’t let it be!” Harry yelled.
“I need your life! You don’t understand what you’re doing! This world needs me! It needs the balance the forest provides! If you just let me take you, it’ll be worth the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of people. It’s been years since you’ve tried to save anyone. You thought if you let your life run out, you’d be able to avoid me. You thought I’d stop chasing you if you had no time left. You were wrong! Every time my life gets close, I have to kill again. Every time. As long as I’m cursed, I’ll keep killing! You think I’ve enjoyed this? The last six hundred years I’ve killed hundreds of people. Hundreds! I didn’t choose this, Harry. The forest cursed me with it. That godforsaken forest tricked me into it. It’s lies and deceits took those lives, not me. I can’t resist it. I can’t do it! You can try to kill me, it won’t work. The only way I die is by letting my clock run out, but that can’t happen. As long as I have the will to survive, I have to kill. And you, you get to save everyone! You get to be the hero! The immortal savior of the city.” Frank fell to the ground and leaned against the roof’s ledge.
Harry grasped the knife, holding it out toward Frank. His breath erratic. His time closed in on him. Breath struggled passed Harry’s lips. Who was the last person he saved? It happened so long ago. His life extended so far, but once he realized Frank chased him, he hid. He hid and his work ceased.
“How many people have I killed?” Harry said, his hands relaxing.
“Every person you could have saved in the last eighty years. A couple hundred maybe? I don’t know. You do, though. You know the ones you could’ve saved. At least you had a choice in the matter.”
Harry dropped the knife. His breathing short and labored. He pondered for a moment, thinking back to every person he felt he could’ve saved, but didn’t. Harry dropped to his knees and bowed his head. He tried to stand, but his strength failed him. His time was up. He spoke, his voice labored, “Frank, how many can I save still?”
“Thousands. Every life I would have to take until the end of my curse. It would all go to you. Then through you to me,” Frank stood up and walked over to Harry. The purple and blue lights of the Reef pulsed below the edges of the rooftop. The sprinkle of rain now a torrent.
Harry sighed. He pulled himself to the edge of the roof and looked down again into the streets below. The cars rushed by, cascading through the Reef. “I thought this would all just end someday. I thought that if I just waited it out, your curse would end too. It was naïve, I realize that now, but these last years were the best of my life. As soon as I realized that I could let it end, I was at peace. Do you remember what it was like to feel peace?”
“No, I don’t.” Frank picked up the knife.
“I hope you find it one day. I didn’t think I’d fight you for this. I was prepared to take my own life, but I felt the same as you did. That survival instinct came over me. I won’t fight you now. I’m ready for this. Let’s end it.”
“Thank you, Harry. You were always the better man,” Frank said as he slipped the knife across Harry’s throat. Harry’s eyes glistened in the rain, reflecting the waving colors of the Reef. Frank sighed and looked out over the valley. The city beyond the Reef glowed a dull yellow, and beyond that the black abyss of the forest loomed. Frank couldn’t feel the forest’s call. He felt peace, knowing that it would end someday, even for him.