Godless Monkey will be away on a photo expedition of Mexico, Central America and Columbia from March 19th to April 20th. I’m running some of my old stories in my absence for your enjoyment.
Perhaps it was nothing more than simply a twist of fate. Blake took another sip of beer and turned that thought over in his head for the umpteenth time that day. He couldn’t shake the feeling that the strange encounter of the previous day had some meaning or was a sign or omen of some sort. Now it was eating at him.
Blake had always been given to doubt and insecurity. Such was his nature, and though it had caused him endless worry and many a sleepless night he felt no inclination to seek help. It was simply who he was. Draining his glass he signalled to the bartender for another round and conjured the image of the toothless hag in black rags that had appeared with such startling abruptness. He had been struck with the overwhelming urge to turn down a dank, vaguely unpleasant smelling alley. He had passed it nearly every day since moving to his current abode, and had never given it a second thought. Until yesterday.
The minute he stepped into it she had loomed large in his path, her head turned to one side, a bulging bloodshot eye seeming to penetrate to his very core. It had given him a heart-stopping fright, and he was about to tell her off when she had raised a gnarled finger to her desiccated lips and thereby silenced him, the air leaving his lungs.
She had smiled then, but only briefly, her face turning to a mask of contrition and sadness.
“Please, good sir, would you spare a few coins? I am in need, please help me.”
He had recoiled in horror. What was this hideous old woman doing begging in an alley? Surely no one came in here with any regularity, wouldn’t she be better off trying her luck out on the busy street in the light of day? Still, he had felt pity for her and reached into his pocket only to discover he had no change to give. He wasn’t about to give her a note from his wallet; it would be silly to pull it out in a dark alley after all, wouldn’t it?
“Sorry, I don’t have any coins.”
He turned to retrace his steps and froze in his tracks as she spoke again, her voice now a full octave lower and sinister as an icy wind whipping through a crypt.
“You would do well to reconsider.”
He turned slowly to face her again, but she had lowered her head so that her face was obscured. She now seemed to be muttering something under her breath and he felt his chest tighten.
“I…I’m sorry, I really don’t have anything…I must be going now.”
She raised her head again and fixed him with two bloodshot eyes. With both gnarled hands she traced symbols in the air and then spoke in the same low, sinister voice as before.
“The man you are,
The man you be,
Is not the man that you can see,
In days to come the change be made,
The debt is paid.”
With that she let a slight smile raise the corners of her small mouth and then turned and began walking into the dark recesses of the alley. Just before she disappeared from sight she turned her head and addressed him one more time.
“Spend the time wisely, it’s precious now.”
Blake had stood dumbfounded for a minute longer, briefly contemplating going after her to ask what that meant, then thought better of it and hurried back into the safety of the sunlit street. Now, twenty-four hours later, he couldn’t shake the feeling that his life had changed inexorably.