by Pauline Duchesneau

The slam of the heavy steel door and the mechanized latching of innumerable locks dropped lead into my gut. I’d tried and failed to prepare for this moment. I couldn’t tell if my poker face held. His was stone. The piercing ice blue eyes incinerated my confidence. I silenced the words forming in my mind before they induced panic.

Attempting to smile, I moved forward. “Hello. I’m Walter Ingraham, the writer. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me.”

“I know who you are. Don’t waste our time. The clock’s ticking.”

The grating of the chair I slid out from the table raised hairs on my arms. Fumbling with the embarrassing mess the disgruntled guards left when they searched my briefcase, I retrieved a notepad, pen, and recorder. I wiped my brow with a folded handkerchief.

“Ok, I’m ready.” If that were possible. I wished the table wasn’t so narrow.

“The first wasn’t as life-changing as you might think.”

He watched me for a reaction. There was no escape from his unnerving stare.

“We have a different understanding of reality, you and me. Crazy you call me? When one willingly accepts the limitation of five senses as the total of human perception, well—pffft…”

He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms.  Just when I thought he wouldn’t continue, he lurched forward, and I startled.

“When did you decide with certainty that you knew The Truth? That things are the way they are, and there’s no other view. See now? You’re all set. Just keep calling me crazy. You’ll feel better.

Or…think about it. Could be worth forfeiting a little sleep.

We’re not so different. Perspectives can change everything. Everyone’s capable of anything given the right circumstance. And if it’s only circumstance determining whether I did it and you didn’t, then inside we are no different at all. Deal with that.

She was old, sad, alone and hurting inside and out. The darkness spread out from her and hung in a miserable, tormenting cloud of malice. I watched its talons tear at her soul. She stared at me in recognition though we’d never seen each other before. The look pleaded for help. A lifetime of pain hit me with one word before she directed her motorized wheelchair into the alley and I knew I could not deny her.


I understood exactly what she meant and the level of her desperation. She lacked the ability to free herself. She depended on me. I followed her. I felt her anguish. She stopped her chair, still facing away from me.

Do it now, I could hear her beg in my mind, and it broke my heart.

I took the blade from my pocket, flipped it open, and granted her request. She sank into herself. Her head fell back. One last connection radiated thanks, and her shadow dispersed. Peace replaced misery. I’ll never forget that look. And I’ll never regret helping her.

I stopped keeping track of them all. They were much the same, shrouded by horrific black clouds. The cliché can’t be accidental. The blackness is unlike any other: impenetrable, seething, and indomitable. It’s more deadly than the fastest-growing cancer and viciously contagious. I might pass the optimistic ones on the street one day and note their determination. The next day, they are overwrought and looking for me with those pleading eyes.

Their relief propelled the mission as I honed my skills over time. I learned to leave no trace of my presence. The afflicted took an active role by retreating to remote places. For the sake of dignity, I worked quickly and didn’t linger. Their gratitude spurred motivation. I spread the gift of liberation and felt elated. Don’t look at me like that. No, it wasn’t about power, not an adrenaline rush, no bloodlust or morbid fascination. Simply my purpose.

I didn’t choose the course, but I accepted it. Compassion drove me, and I understood this awareness was rare. These pitiful souls were stuck in a society that perpetuated, if not created, their condition. You’ve seen it—the mire of worry and despair fed by sensationalism, the toxicity of pervasive negativity and isolation. I never encountered someone needing my help who was not alone.

My services were in high demand. Sometimes I released six or eight a night. And then I knew it was time to move to another city. I hated to leave the others still seeking my help, but they were everywhere.  And to serve the most, I needed to be careful. The method worked for a while until that cop caught me by chance. And now he’s called a hero. How’s that for irony?

Now, perhaps you have misconceptions. My reasoning may not be easy to accept. And then we’re back to the crazy proclamation. You think you must dismiss my story as the raving of a lunatic mind.”

He leaned across the table, straining against the manacles toward me.

“But it’s been hard to ignore your soul’s message as we’ve talked today, Walter. I’m genuinely moved by your pain. When your desperation peaks, you’ll seek ability like mine. For now, if you can look beyond the traditional, the learned, the commonly perceived acceptable… if you can let down the veil of judgment…”

The tension in his face relaxed, and his head tilted. I felt his gaze pass through me. His next words were no more than breath.

“What a rare shift of fate…You see as I do.”

The pen slid from my hand. Its clang on the cold metal table echoed.

About the Author:

Pauline Duchesneau

Pauline Duchesneau writes in rural central Maine with an adorable beagle curled by her side who listens with angelic patience to every word. Her work appeared in Yellow Mama and Dime Show Review and is forthcoming in Riggwelter. She is working on her first novel and is ever grateful to her soulmate wife who shares the vision.