As Elijah walked through his office, he stroked a finger along the top of his desk, a coating of dust attaching to the sweat on his finger as he did so. He looked at the table as his finger reached the edge and admired the trail he’d left. At least he could actually see the desk’s true color now.
A sudden urge swept over him. An urge to call off his meeting and just spend the next few hours restoring this room to what it once was. To actually use this room in the way he used to use it. To try and put things back to the way they were. But he realised it was too late.
It never used to be this way. He looked at the chair that sat emptily beside the decrepit desk and thought of all the times he sat in it. All the mornings he’d left home early and came to this office to sit in that chair and hardly move for the next five hours. The time when he’d got a call from his wife who was in the hospital, moments away from giving birth to their one and only child. The time when he got another call only weeks later from the same wife, who could barely string a sentence together because their baby had just died in his sleep. Of all the times he was so angry at everybody and everything that he just locked his door and sat in that chair, staring blankly at the wall, fighting every urge to put a hole so big through it that there would be no need for a door anymore. But that was all gone now. There was nothing left, only dust.
Elijah suddenly saw a photo frame sitting face down on a shelf behind the desk he’d been feeling sorry for. He picked it up, a plume of dust erupting into the air as he did so, and blew on it to see what was underneath. It was a picture of he and his wife holding baby Gregory the night after he was born.
He thought about how happy both of the people in the photograph looked, how he thought that nothing could take those smiles away from their faces. And then he remembered who the people in the picture were, and without thinking he threw it to the opposite side of the room. Glass exploded in every direction before settling on the ground, each fragment reflecting light from a source outside that Elijah hadn’t previously seen.
Shards of happiness, Elijah thought.
Suddenly the glass shards stopped gleaming in the darkness of the room, and Elijah heard a car engine shutting off and doors opening and closing outside. He checked his watch. Half past ten. They were on time.
He composed himself and turned around to face the door. He didn’t know how this meeting would go, but he hoped it would go well. It had to. The last few were painful but he at least managed to leave with his sanity still intact. He wasn’t sure that would continue for much longer. He was running out of options, out of money, and this needed to go better than ever before. He couldn’t run. The consequences of doing that before were swift and angry.
Elijah could just make out the shape of a small but stocky looking man turning the corner of the hallway outside his office. As he got closer he saw another man follow behind him, and another, until eventually there were five men walking into his office and closing the door behind them.
One of the men, the one with the grey hair that was starting to recede, turned the light on and casually walked over to the chair behind the desk. He was about to sit down but the light that illuminated the true state of the sorry excuse for an office made him turn away in disgust. Elijah was glad he hadn’t walked away with a backside as grey as the hair on top of his head. He at least had that working in his favour, or so he hoped.
The grey-haired man walked to the front of the desk, uncomfortably close to Elijah, and finally the awkward silence of the last thirty seconds was broken.
“Do you have it?” the man asked.
Elijah had rehearsed this moment countless times in his head. He’d performed the script over and over again, changing the lines every time, but when it finally came to the performance of his life, he had no idea what to say.
“I tried. I really tried. But I don’t. I’m sorry,” he finally blurted out, the sudden panic obvious in his voice.
The man breathed in heavily and let out a sigh that made Elijah nervous. He sounded annoyed, like he’d been dragged to this miserable office just to be told he wasn’t going to get what he’d asked for. But he didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to.
All it took was a simple turn of the head and three of the four men standing behind him moved towards Elijah, grabbing a hold of his arms and keeping him still, while the grey-haired man pulled something shiny from the pocket of the jacket he was wearing that looked like it cost more than the car Elijah had driven to his possible death in. A knife.
Elijah knew not to struggle. It would only be rewarded with pain.
The man admired the beauty of the blade in the light before setting his eyes firmly on Elijah.
“What did I say to you the last time we met?” he asked, as he pricked the end of the blade into his fingertip. A tiny trickle of blood crawled down from the entry point. “I believe I was very clear.”
“I had three days.”
“Correct. And yet here we are again. So tell me, why have you ignored my request?” The man looked as calm as can be, Elijah observed. Like he’d just gotten out of bed. But there was more there. There always was.
“I tried to get a loan from the bank but they refused me. Please, I’ve given you my house, my business. I don’t have anything more to give. It’s all gone.”
“That’s strange, because I’m sure I saw a car parked outside when we drove here. Earl, did you see a car?”
One of the men that wasn’t currently holding Elijah with a vice-like grip nodded and didn’t speak a word.
“If there’s a car, there’s money. And if there’s money, then why isn’t it here in my hands?”
Elijah felt like shoving that blade into his own chest for being so stupid.
Why didn’t I just take that fucking cab?
The truth was that he didn’t have money. Well, he had some. Not enough to give to the animals that were hunting him, but probably enough to turn them away for the time being. But it would only satisfy their hunger for so long, and then they’d return when he had nothing and rip him to shreds. It was pointless.
“Please, I don’t have anything,” Elijah said, a begging tone suddenly entering his voice because that’s all he had left to give. “I’ve paid you back what I owe. I can’t give you any more than what I have.”
Another nod of the head from the grey-haired man resulted in a finger being pulled in a disgustingly painful angle, followed by several punches to the gut and the face, all blinding him with seething agony.
He was suddenly on his knees, blood oozing from every orifice he could think of, every inch of his body aching and sore.
This is it, he thought. Soon the dust in this office will be claiming me the same way it has everything else.
The punches stopped coming and the fingers stopped being twisted, and the man suddenly spotted the smashed frame lying on the floor. He picked it up and inspected it before bending down on one knee beside Elijah.
“Such a pretty thing. Be a shame if she lost a few teeth or an eye, wouldn’t it?” Elijah saw the faintest hint of a smile pass his lips and the anger he suddenly felt numbed the pain. He wanted to reach out and strangle every inch of life out of him, but he couldn’t. This man, this beast, had taken everything from him, including the love of the wife he was now threatening. And he wanted more?
The man stood up from beside Elijah and set the frame down on the desk where the picture contained within could still be seen. He paced a couple of steps back and forth a few times, silent, until he finally turned to Elijah and sighed.
“Well, this is it. I’m afraid you’re no longer a good investment, and I hate investments that don’t pay off. I tried to give you time; I gave you far more than I usually give people. But you threw it back in my face. I’m just sorry somebody else has to pay your debt,” he said, his blade still twinkling in the light.
Elijah knew what came next. More pain, but then relief, followed by darkness. He’d dreamt of a day when all of his problems would cease to exist, but there would be no relief here. He wondered how it would feel when the metal took away his life. Would it hurt?
Of course it would, idiot.
But it would be nothing compared to the pain this man was going to inflict on Sarah for mistakes he had made. No, he had to get free. He had to grab that knife and slice that monster’s throat wide open so all the black could come pouring out. It was right there. All he needed to do was lunge forward and grab it. So near yet so far.
He’d spent so long running through the ways in which he was going to escape his death that he hadn’t realised the blade was already in his chest. He felt blood soaking into the shirt he was wearing, turning it from a bright shade of white to an ugly red. His arms were free now but they were useless. He tried to get up but every slight movement felt like lifting a hundred dumbbells.
This room, this dusty old ruin, will be my tomb, he thought.
Minutes passed by and the pain became weaker and weaker, until eventually it didn’t feel anything worse than a headache.
The men had already left the office, but he could still hear them talking outside. They were joking about something but Elijah couldn’t tell what it was. He hoped their car would explode and blow them all to pieces of flesh smaller than the bits of glass that were cutting into his face, but he wasn’t that fortunate.
As his vision began to get darker and the voices quieter, he finally heard the voice of the man that had ensured he would never leave this room. He only heard fragments (“…tools,” “…borrow,” “…Elijah said”) but he knew who he was talking to. Seconds before the darkness of the room became permanent, he heard the words that killed him.
“Thank you again, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
NOTE: This is the first attempt at creative writing that I’ve made in many, many years. I expect it’ll carry the stench of somebody who’s very rusty in the field, so any and all constructive feedback would be very much appreciated.