BAM! Something hard hits me on the side of my head and I’m out.
I float in a murky sea for what seems like an eternity. I have no sense of time or distance, no thoughts, no emotions, just the sensation of water flowing through me as I slowly sink.
Then I hear a voice, thin and far away, as if it someone were calling through a string telephone. I see the lighted surface above me and I desperately struggle towards it.
I regain consciousness with my face pressed against cold concrete, my ears ringing, my head pounding from the blow. I open my eyes slowly. My vision is blurred but I can see that it is night-time. Apparently, I’ve been unconscious for—I don’t know—five, six hours? I can’t recall exactly what time it was when I was hit. Or what I was doing there. Or even who I am.
I hear the voice clearly now, a woman who is bent over beside me.
“Viktor,” she says, “Can you hear me?”
I nod groggily and struggle to get to my feet. She grabs my arm. “Careful,” she says as she pulls me up, “Let’s just take it easy until you regain your balance.”
I stand still for a minute, my legs wobbling, looking around in the darkness. My vision is beginning to clear and I try to figure out where I am. But nothing is familiar.
Except her. She is slender, brown hair, unremarkable at a glance. Her face is soft, with blue-white skin and deep-set eyes that hint of sadness. I know her from somewhere and she obviously knows my name. But the complete memory refuses to ignite.
“Do you think you can walk now?” she asks.
“I’m sorry,” I answer, “Have we met?”
“You don’t remember me?” She shakes her head and laughs softly, “I’m not surprised. It must be hard keeping track of all of us.”
“I’m Elsa,” she continues in a matter-of-fact tone, not bothering to extend a handshake.
I give her a confused look. She seems amazed at my denseness.
“Elsa?” she says, “Berlin? 2008? Ring a bell?”
Berlin! Yes! Now I see her face, staring out at me from a black-and-white photograph. I remember that she’s a single mother with two small children and that she’s earning a living as a waitress.
And Karl. For some reason, Karl also begins emerging from the fog in my head. I don’t know his last name, or even if his real name is Karl. He has an accent, maybe Eastern European, maybe South African, who knows? He shows up when there’s a problem.
“You’re a solution,” Karl tells me, “That’s what I pay you for. I don’t care about right or wrong, fair or unfair, none of that crap. All I want is a solution. As long as that’s you, we’re good.”
“Let’s start walking, Viktor,” Elsa says as she takes me by the arm and begins leading me forward.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
She ignores my question and follows with one of her own. “I’m curious, Viktor. Are you a religious person?”
“No,” I scoff.
She frowns thoughtfully, then continues.
“I used to be,” she says, “I was a good Catholic, believed in heaven and hell. I believed you pay for your sins when you die. My girlfriend, Jana, on the other hand, was a Buddhist. She believed you pay for past sins in your present life.”
She sighs, shakes her head.
“They’re all wrong,” she continues, “All the theologians and philosophers. They scrape off a few crumbs from the edge of a world they cannot see. And from those few crumbs they think they can extrapolate the entire length and breadth of the spiritual universe.’ It’s all so absurdly naïve.”
She pauses as if she’s waiting for all of this to sink in, then she resumes with finality.
“There’s no heaven or hell, at least not the neatly packaged version that Christians believe in. And it’s not about paying for your sins. It’s about maintaining a cosmic balance between good and evil.”
As we continue walking, it dawns on me that I have yet to see any recognizable landmarks. No houses, trees, sidewalks. But now we’ve stopped and we’re standing in front of a large windowless building with a single door. She turns to face me.
“That’s where your case becomes relevant,” she says.
I study her face again and finally realize who she is. I see her walking out of her apartment in a waitress uniform, a smile on her face as if she had just kissed her children goodbye. I am on a rooftop across the street with a Russian SV-98 sniper rifle. I frame her face in the crosshairs of the scope. A single shot from 250 meters out.
She places her hand on the door and pushes it open.
“An evil act creates an imbalance that has to be restored. That’s what we’re here for,” she pauses for a second, then shoves me through the door.
“Restoration,” she says, walking in behind me and closing the door.
We are in a dimly lit room. A small group of people are gathered in the shadows along the back wall.
“You probably remember Alfredo. Miami 2019.”
She nudges me towards the group of people.
“And Sean, London, 2015,” she says, “They all want to meet you.”
Invisible hands reach out from the crowd. As they pull me towards them, I hear the voice of Karl from years ago.
“You’re good, kid,” he said, “You have no empathy. I like that. You’ll make a lot of money. But enjoy it now, because nobody gets old in this business. You start getting old, you start slipping, you start making mistakes. You become a problem instead of a solution. Then one day, you’re walking down the street, and out of nowhere—BAM!”
Louis Kummerer is a technical writer working and living in Phoenix, Arizona (USA).
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