Stopping for Death
(First Published in "The Mill")

Nolan Sordyl

               Jim Rogers saw Death most recently last Tuesday. Jim was eating lunch with his friend Steven Craig at their usual spot on the corner of Madison and 5th, an old style diner- the kind that looked like it might drive away and be gone tomorrow- which Jim had been eating at since it opened twenty six years ago. He would tell anyone who asked that the last stool to the left of the bar was his, the faded red padding worn and ripped in a few places, but still uncomfortable as ever, as he was fond of saying. On this particular Tuesday, Jim Rogers’ stool was taken by a dark haired man in a tightly fitted suit with a phone attached to his ear, so Jim and Steven Craig decided to take a booth by the window. That’s when Jim saw him, saw Death, for the first time in many years.

                Jim had just gotten his food, the usual order of fries and a cheeseburger, cooked medium well with American cheese, ketchup, mustard and a little bit of lettuce, and had begun picking at his fries, when he glanced out the window to his left. Death was standing across the street, people passing him on either side, looking in at Jim Rogers. The wind was blustering through the streets, blowing people’s hair every which way, but Death’s overcoat didn’t even flutter. The coat was as black as the inside of a mausoleum and hung down nearly to his ankles. His thin, stark white hair stuck out from underneath his dark hat, an old wool fedora, and was also apparently unaffected by the wind. His face was pale but not without color and slightly wrinkled, and at its center were two azure eyes which almost seemed to glow when the sun hit them at just the right angle, rimmed by a pair of thick, round glasses. His eyebrows were raised, ever so slightly. His mouth remained closed, forming a small and nearly indistinguishable line near the bottom of his face, while his hands rested in the pockets of his coat.

                When Jim Rogers saw this, he began coughing on a piece of hamburger that had fallen into the wrong pipe.

“You alright over there?” asked Steven. Jim held up a finger as he tried to stop his coughing. Steven laughed, “Take your time.”

When Jim’s coughing finally died down and he had caught his breath, he said with a grin “sorry about that, my wife always tells me I’ve got a drinking problem.” Steven smiled and shook his head.

“You’ve got some problems alright, I’ll tell you that.”

Jim grinned and shook his head, and turned to look out the window. Death was there, gazing across the street and in the diner window at him. Jim felt his heart in his chest. It might burst at any moment.  Dabbing the sweat from his lip with a napkin, Jim turned back to Steven.

“Speaking of my wife, I totally forgot that I made plans with her this afternoon,” Jim said.

“So you’re gonna run out on me just like that, huh?” said Steven.

“I’m uh, I’m sorry,” stuttered Jim, “I don’t know what to say. Steven held his gaze on him, eyebrows raised and a smile beginning to creep across his mouth.

“Oh c’mon now,  I’ll make it up to you” said Jim, pulling his one coat sleeve on with some urgency.

“You had better,” said Steven with a grin, “and you can start with letting me finish that burger.”

Jim smirked as he stood up. “That’s the last thing you need, Steven.”

Steven shrugged, his mouth already full of burger.

“I’ll see you later,” said Jim, moving briskly towards the door. Steven waved.

v   

                Jim Rogers could still remember the first time he saw Death. He was twelve years old at the time. His mother was sick, very sick, and most of his family was at the house that day. Even aunts and uncles and grandparents that Jim normally only saw on Christmas or Thanksgiving. They were all in his parent’s bedroom, where his mom was, and Jim was in the kitchen pouring a glass of milk for himself. As he finished, there was a knock on the front door. With everyone else in the bedroom, Jimmy moved to answer the door himself.

                Jimmy removed the chain latch and opened the door, and found himself staring back at the shiniest pair of black shoes he had ever seen. Looking up, he saw a pale white face, blue eyes peering down at him from beneath the brim of his hat, still and unimpressed. He had never seen this man before. Jimmy did not know why, but his breath became caught in his throat and he took two slow steps backwards, his eyes fixed on the man in the door. At this, the man walked into the house and brushed past Jimmy on his way to the bedroom. The hairs on Jimmy’s neck stood up and his arms became covered in goose bumps and Jim shivered as a wave of cold washed over him. He turned around in time to see the man open the door to his mothers room, glide in, and shut the door behind him. At this, Jimmy heard a shriek from the bedroom, someone let out a loud moan, and then several people began crying. Jimmy rushed to the bedroom and threw open the door. His father was on his knees next to the bed, his large frame heaving and his face buried in the sheets.  His mother lay in bed, unmoving, her eyes glossed over and fixed on the ceiling fan. The sheets were balled up where her hands clenched around them. Her face was gaunt and bony, her lips sucked inwards with distinct wrinkles emerging in all directions, making it appear as if her mouth was stitched shut. Her skin was nearly as white as the whites of her eyes. The worst part about it was the stillness of it all. Jim had never noticed how much a person moves even when they’re standing still, but now his mom was lying there and her chest was not rising with her breath, her eyes were not blinking, and Jimmy was frozen. He could not force his mouth to close or his legs to lift themselves off the ground, and he thought that he may look as still as his mother at this moment. Jimmy’s grandma darted towards him. She had tears welled up in her eyes and making tracks down her wrinkled cheeks.

“Oh Jimmy,” she said with a sniffle, “honey we told you not to come in here.” She brushed Jimmy out of the room and closed the door behind him.

 Jim stood there for several minutes, his eyebrows scrunched, focused on every breath. He wondered when his chest would stop rising and falling with his breathing as his mom’s had done. When he remembered the man in the overcoat, he whipped around to look at the door, but it remained shut. The man had not been in the room, yet Jimmy had never seen him leave. The door stayed shut for a long time.

v   

Coming out of the diner, Jim glanced around for Death, but he could not see him. He began walking the eight blocks home, a small two story house on the edge of Cleveland. Jim would not drive.  When he arrived, he noticed some of the green paint was peeling and made a note to repaint the house this weekend. This time he meant it. He did notice, though, with some satisfaction, that the lawn was neatly and squarely trimmed. When he had first bought the house, the grass was long and there were weeds strewn everywhere. It looked like a jungle and he could not stand it.

Walking inside, he found his wife Adriana in the kitchen, stirring something in a large pot. The smell of spices filled the house. When she heard him enter, she looked up at him with a smile as warm as the pot she had been focused on a few moments earlier.

“How was lunch?” she asked.

“It was good,” he said, hanging his coat on the rack.

“Let me guess- fries and a burger?” Adriana said, her smile raised on one corner of her mouth.

Jim laughed and shook his head as he crossed the floor towards her. He put his hands around her waist and kissed her on her cheek. She raised her shoulders and leaned away a bit, blushing, her smile stretching across her face and filling the room like the smell of the spices in the pot. Jim almost told her about his encounter with Death. The words were in his mouth, but then Adrianna spoke and decided for him that this was something better kept to himself.

“How’s Steven doing?” She asked.

“He’s getting along really well. Seems to be enjoying retirement,” Jim replied.

“I knew he would,” Adriana said, turning back to the pot. Her hair was grey now, with little strands of white. It fell to her shoulders, though when Jim had met her it flowed down to her back. It was black then, and smelled like the ocean.

v   

                Jim remembered the first time he saw her. He and Steven and some other friends were headed to Puerto Rico on a fishing trip. They were leaving from Florida, and while they were there they stopped in a bait shop to stock up, because Steven insisted that he had heard it was cheaper in Florida than it would be when they got to Puerto Rico. It wasn’t, but Jim never complained. The store was more like a small shack, and when Jim opened the door a small bell rang. The girl behind the counter turned, her long black hair waving in the air as she did. Jim stopped for a moment, his friends piling up in the door behind him. Adriana giggled and her cheeks grew red. Jim put his hands in his pockets and fixed his eyes on the floor as he made his way across the store to the counter.

“Can I help you?” Her voice was smooth but had an underlying hint of hoarseness, with the slightest ting of a Spanish accent, like the soft white sands of Caribbean beaches. You especially tell when she said words like Caribbean ,or Rogers. The soft and discreet rolling of the “R”. He heard Neruda and Quixote and Socrates and Gallileo when she spoke.

“Uhh, yeah” said Jim. Her eyes were a piercing and deep shade of green. There was the tiniest sparkle in them, like emeralds. She laughed and her eyes grew very thin. Jim realized he needed to say something. But her cheeks were so round that it caught him off guard, and there was a small gap between two of her top teeth. She raised her eyebrows.

“Oh, yeah can I just have some worms. Please” Jim stammered.

Adriana disappeared into the back room, her long black hair flowing behind her.

On their way home from Puerto Rico, Jim returned to the store and convinced Adriana to go on a date with him. She was twenty seven, four years younger than Jim at the time, and her father was Puerto Rican while her mother was the daughter of an Irish immigrant. They ate seafood at a restaurant on a brightly lit street in Florida, lined with neon and palm trees. She had the cod and wore a black dress.

v   

As he sat down at the kitchen table, the chair squeaked against the tile floor and Jim wondered if he should tell Adriana about his encounter with Death outside the diner. Jim certainly did not want to ruin the surprise he had for his wife, and he had never told her about any of his other experiences, and so decided that it was not necessary to tell her now, either. Death had probably been there for someone, else, anyways. It was a busy street after all and Jim felt healthy as ever. If he told Adrianna she would probably just laugh and pat him on his shoulder, or worse try and take him to a shrink. She was like that, always looking out for Jim and trying to make him go see doctors for this or that. As sure as the Browns were to lose on  Sundays, there was Adrianna that night in bed, telling Jim things like “You should get that looked at darling” or “You really ought to go just for a check up, dear.” And as sure as Jim would tune in to watch the Browns again next Sunday, he would lie there in bed and refuse to go to any doctors, before leaning over to kiss her on the cheek and returning to his book, which was usually a biography of some sort, and Adrianna would sigh and roll her eyes and say things like “You’re impossible, I swear.” In fact Jim had not been to a normal hospital since he was in college.

v   

 

After his mom died, it was many years until Jim saw death again. He was attending Stanford University when he did, playing tight end against USC in Los Angeles. It was a fall Saturday much like any other. There was a breeze in the trees and the air had just a bit of bite to it. After another failed drive by Stanford’s offense, Jim trotted off the field and took off his helmet. Before be turned to sit on the bench, he glanced into the stands for a moment and saw him. The same man he had seen towering above him in his doorway before his mom had died. He wore the same glasses and hat, and sat watching Jim on the sideline. His black coat stood out among the reds and yellows of the rest of the crowd, and while everyone else watched the action go back and forth on the field, he sat and watched Jim.

Jim went to a few of the bars that night, along with Steven who played Safety for the team and their friend Doug Fairtree, who was a backup linebacker. Doug didn’t play much, but was one of the most well liked people on the team. He had wavy brown hair and brown eyes to match.

Sitting at the bar, Jim stared down into his soda, stirring it aimlessly with a straw. Steven was sitting to Jim’s left and watching something on the television while Doug was hitting on a blonde girl at the other end of the bar. When she left, Doug came and sat down next to Jim.

“Man, I thought she was a sure thing,” he said.

“What happened?” asked Jim.

“Both my parents are five foot seven, what’dya think happened?”

“Oh sure, blame your height again Fairtree, and not your stupid jokes,” Steven chimed in.

“My jokes are certainly not stupid,” said Doug, “How do you think I got a date-“

“Your sense of humor wasn’t what got you a date with Karen Silvesco our freshman year, I’ll tell you that much,” said Steven.

“Well it sure wasn’t my good looks, I’ll tell you that much,” Doug said, laughing.

“She probably felt bad for ya,” Jim said.

“Yeah, whatever,” said Doug as he punched Jim in the arm.

“Hey man you gotta take what you can get,” said Jim, before sipping some soda,” You ready to head out?”

“Sure, let’s hit the road,” said Doug.

“You coming, Steve?” asked Jim.

“Nah, I’ll catch up with you guys. I told Amy I’d meet her here in a little bit.” Amy and Steven had been dating since they were sophomores in high school.

“Alright, sounds good,” said Jim. Behind him, Doug flicked his wrist and made a whipping noise.

“Very funny,” Steve said, smiling and nodding as he turned his attention to his drink.

As they were leaving, Jim turned around to glance at the television once more. As he did so, he noticed the man sitting in the dark back corner of the bar, at a table by himself. He wore his black overcoat, even inside, and his gaze was trained on Jim. Jim felt a tennis ball sized lump quickly forming in his throat. In an effort to play it off, he reached for his glass to take one last sip and noticed that his hand was shaking. Jim quickly looked away and hurried out of the bar.

                Jim and Doug climbed into Jim’s car, a big old Plymouth that used to belong to Jim’s father. They rode most of the way without talking about much, the wind blowing through the windows.

“Cigarette?” asked Doug.

“No thanks,” Jim responded.  Doug shrugged, and placed a cigarette in his mouth. He dug in his pocket for a few seconds before producing a lighter. His hand accidentally clipped the seatbelt and the lighter fell to the floor between Jim’s feet.

“Ah, can you grab that for me man?”

“Sure thing,” said Jim.

Jim reached down between his feet and groped for the lighter. He didn’t feel it, and so he looked down. It was lying near the gas pedal. He grabbed it and as he sat up his head was slammed against his door. He heard a huge boom and the sound of breaking glass. His whole body hurt. After a few tries, he opened his door and rolled out. His hand was bleeding and his head was throbbing.

                The paramedics told Jim he had run a red light and another car slammed into him on the passenger side. Doug had died on impact. Jim was released from the hospital the next day, but would never drive a car again.

v   

                On the bus to the airport, Adriana sat with her hands clasped in her lap, alternately trying not to grin and grinning. She had always told Jim that she loved how he took her to new places and showed her new things. And since she was young she would tell anyone who would listen that she wanted to go to Africa and see the wild life there. She had always been fascinated by lions and rhinoceroses and it had long been a dream of hers to go on a true safari. So for their twenty fifth anniversary, Jim decided to surprise her with a trip to Africa and a true African safari. He put his hand in hers, and smiled. He picked at the fabric on the back of the seat in front of him, and thought of how the seats had been leather on the busses that took him to Fort Benning for basic trainining in 1972. Ragged brown leather.

v   

                When Jim saw the man in the black overcoat in the Vietnamese jungle, he finally knew for sure that he was not of this Earth. Or maybe he was more of this Earth than Jim or any man. Jim had been drafted into the first infantry division and was on a patrol in the jungle near the Mu Gia pass. He was in the rear of the group as they moved along the trail in near silence. Equipment clanged together over the sounds of the jungle and boots clomped on the dirt trail. The chorus of insects came together in a constant hum and branches and leaves constantly brushed over Jim’s face. Sweat ran in streams down the back of his neck. He hadn’t slept in forty seven hours but his eyes were wide open. They darted back and forth as he trudged through the jungle. He turned a corner in the trail and behind a bush to his right he saw a figure- he wheeled around and snapped his rifle up to fire, but nothing happened. The safety was on. He dropped his eyes for a split second to turn the safety off and when he looked up, the figure was gone. It had been the same man from that night in the bar, still clad in his black overcoat despite the oppressive jungle heat and glaring out at Jim from behind those round spectacles. Jim felt suddenly and awfully cold. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up and his feet refused to move.

                With a loud crack and a boom, Jim was thrown back into a tree. His helmet fell off and hit the dirt with a muted thud. Blood seeped through his shirt from his stomach in an ever growing dark spot. Men were screaming. Jim recognized the voices as those of the men in his patrol. He looked up to see men lying on the ground all over the trail. Tommy Standish, who had been on point, had a bloody and tattered stump where his leg used to be. Many of the men cried out or tried to stand up. Some were still, like Jim’s mother had been in that bed.

                Suddenly, Jim heard more yelling in the distance. He did not recognize these voices or the language they spoke. His heart skipped a beat. Several other men had managed to pick themselves off the ground and they scrambled to nearby trees for cover, Jim managed to do the same, finding his M16 rifle and sliding behind a large rock to the left of the trail just as he saw them- the VC stormed out of the trees onto the trail, maybe seven or eight of them yelling and firing. Jim took aim and returned fire, hitting one of the men. He convulsed for a second, and then dropped into the dirt, squirming and writhing in pain. His large cone hat fell off his head as he did so and through all the noise Jim could hear him crying out. A large pool of blood was forming in the dirt under him. Jim could not remove his eyes from the man. Jim had never shot a person until now.

                A bullet whizzed by his head and pinged off the rock. Jim slid even further down into the dirt, his heart leaping into his throat as he realized there were more men in the forest, firing at them. Jim’s head whipped around in every direction, his eyes racing across the trail. There were no more VC on the trail, but he only saw four men left of his patrol still standing. He yelled at them that there were more behind him in the jungle. One of the men was screaming into the radio. Jim remembered that there was supposed to be another patrol about two klicks south of where they were. He fired blindly into the jungle before slinking back into the dirt. He needed to get back to the rest of the guys in his patrol. They were about thirty feet down the trail and huddled together behind a large fallen tree, but there was no good cover between them and Jim. Jim heard the voices in the jungle getting nearer. With a deep breath, he took off, sprinting towards the rest of his patrol. He felt dirt kick up around his ankles as bullets smacked into the ground around him. His feet felt as if they could not carry him any further. A bullet pounded in the trunk of a tree right in front of Jim, sending bark everywhere with a deafening crack. Finally, Jim neared the fallen tree trunk and threw himself against it. He heard Reese Phelps talking yelling into the radio, covering his ears as the rest of the men fired into the forest. Gunshots exploded in his ears. The man on the radio said that the other patrol was only a few minutes out, if they could hold out. Jim’s head began to fall to one side and he slouched over, feeling lightheaded. He looked down and saw that he was still losing blood from his stomach. He tried to stand up and fire at the approaching men, but his legs would not allow it. His eyelids were becoming increasingly heavy. The shouting now sounded as if it was nearly on the trail. The last thing Jim heard was the sound of boots slamming on the hardened dirt of the trail, and gunshots.

                Jim awoke in the dark to the sound of moaning. His back itched and he sat up. Jim yelped in pain and immediately sat back down. He looked down at his stomach, which was wrapped in a large white bandage with a large red stain in the center. The cot he was laying on was stiff and scratchy. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, he realized he was in a large tent. The door was open at one end, and Jim could see that it was night and he was in the outpost which he had left from this morning. There were several other cots in the tent, in a row next to his. Jim squinted. Some were empty. Some had people in them. Some people were moving, some were not. Jim looked hard at the bed directly to his right. The person in there was not moving. Their chest did not rise or fall. They were still. Behind him, in the darkened back corner of the tent, someone was standing. The wind outside fluttered the tent flap, and more moonlight fell into the tent. Jim saw the light reflect off the glasses of the man in the overcoat. He was looking right at Jim.

v   

                Adriana was sleeping. Her chest rose and fell steadily with her breathing. She was sitting in the window seat while Jim sat in the middle. A young Asian woman sat in the aisle seat, wearing tight jeans and working on a crossword puzzle. She was trying to figure the solution to “Amherst Poet”. Adriana shifted her head and now rested it on Jim’s shoulder. Her hair no longer smelled liked the ocean, but now like Lilacs, which Jim supposed he found equally agreeable. Peering over his seat, Jim saw a black someone wearing a black fedora towards the front of the plane. He paused a second, but then told himself that he was being irrational before falling asleep.

v   

                After he came home from the war, Jim moved back in with his parents in their home near Buffalo. He hung around and took a job working at a burger joint for a few months before he got bored and decided to take his things down to Nashville to try and make it in the country music business. He couldn’t really sing much, but he knew some chords on the guitar and been practicing in his free time while was at home. Plus he had heard of people making a solid living as session musicians in the studio and had always wanted to see the Smoky Mountains anyways. So in late August he packed two suitcases, took the few hundred dollars he had made working, bought a bus ticket and headed south. He found a small one bedroom apartment when he got there and paid enough rent to live there for three months. After that, he had a few dozen bucks left over for food. After spending a couple of days roaming around Nashville and trying his luck with a few girls, Jim decided to get serious and put his efforts towards scanning the newspapers for ads in hopes of landing a job. Over time, he got a few studio gigs, but nothing ever really panned out as he had hoped. Depressed and out of money, Jim made up his mind to return home in November. His suitcases packed, Jim strapped his old army knife onto his belt and hitched a ride to the train yard. Once there, he climbed into a boxcar and fell asleep to the steady rhythm of the train bumping and bouncing down the track.

                When he woke up, the car was filled with a pungent stench. Jim sat up and saw a man sitting a few feet from him, looking down at him. His grey wool cap was tattered and had a large hole on the right side and his olive canvas coat looked similarly worn. The man’s hair was long, falling in greasy locks down past his ears and his thick beard was gray and scraggly with spots of black. Behind this beard, his eyes were gray as well and wide open, looking straight through Jim.

“Howdy,” said Jim, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.  The man nodded.

“Where you headed?” asked Jim.

“Dunno,” was the reply.

“Me neither,” Jim said. At this, the main pulled a small snubnosed revolver from underneath his coat.

“Jesus Christ,” Jim scrambled away until his back was pressed against the wall of the car. The train rumbled on, the two men swaying in unison.

“Look I don’t have any money. Why do you think I’m riding in here?”

The man kept the gun trained on Jim.

“That’s a nice coat you’ve got,” the man said.

Jim’s dad had given him the coat just before he got drafted. It was nice, and expensive too.

“Alright, fine. You want my coat? Fine,” Jim began taking off the jacket. The man’s hand shook as the pistol quivered around. Aiming at Jim’s head, now his left foot, now his stomach, now the wall behind him.

Jim took one step at a time as he approached the man, coat in one hand and both hands raised in front of him. The train emerged from a forest into the daylight, illuminating the car further. Behind the man with the gun, Jim saw the man in the overcoat. His hat and glasses were unchanged and his eyes were fixed squarely on Jim. Death was here, for someone. In the box car. Jim paused a moment, before dropping the coat. The man tilted his head. With a yell, Jim lunged at the man, grabbing his wrist. A staccato shot rang out through the car. The pistol fell to the wooden floor with a heavy clink and Jim slipped the knife from its sheath on his belt before sliding it into the man’s stomach. He held the man’s weight in his left arm, and removed the knife with his right. The man looked at him, the luster draining from his grey eyes as his lower jaw hinged open, leaving his mouth hanging wide. When the man’s head fell backwards, Jim dropped him and then grabbed his suitcases and tossed them out the door with the knife. He moved to jump out himself, and hesitated. Turning, he bent over and picked up the revolver, and tucked it in his belt before returning to the door. With a deep breath, he jumped.

v   

                Jim ran his fingers along the cool metal cylinder of the revolver as he lay awake in their tent during the night. He was sure it was in his imagination, but he swore that the revolver was always chilled to his touch, even when it was hot outside. And Africa was hotter than he had expected. There were plenty of bugs swarming around him despite the nets designed to keep them out. He could hear Adriana’s slow and methodic breathing next to him. He could feel Death watching him, his bright blue eyes staring right through him as he lay there in bed. Those eyes had been piercing through his head for the whole hour since Jim woke up and saw the man in the overcoat standing in the dark corner of their tent.

                The company that ran the safaris discouraged people from bringing any weapons on the safari. They were very adamant about the fact that the tours were safe, and that guides carried firearms in case of an emergency, so customers didn’t have to. But Jim was not about to put his or his wife’s life in the hands of a safari employee, and besides, he had always carried the gun with him before, so why stop now.

The dirt road was bumpy, and Jim and Adriana bounced up and down in the back seat. The tall savannah grasses waved in the breeze, and tall, jagged trees dotted the afternoon horizon in the distance. The land stretched on forever. The jeep kicked up a cloud dirt in its wake. The sun felt pounded down on Jim’s face beneath his wide brim hat. 

“That over there is a herd of Thomson’s Gazelles,” the driver pointed out.

Adriana looked over at Jim with her emerald eyes, the gap in her teeth showing as she smiled, and hugged him, wrapping her hands around his beige vest and squeezing him in close. Jim wanted to smile and be at ease.

The jeep roared on through the savannah for several minutes.

“And those, obviously, are West African Lions,” said the driver, pointing to a pride in the distance.

“Did you get a picture of them?” asked Jim.

“Six,” replied Adriana with the enthusiasm of a young child.

The jeep turned a corner in the road and then began sputtering.

“Uh oh,” said the driver from the front seat.  The jeep clipped on a few more feet before slowing and coming to a halt.

“I knew I should’ve filled up before this tour,” said the driver.

“I knew I shouldn’t have used a discount safari company,” mumbled Jim to Adriana. She giggled.

“Hey folks, it’s not protocol to leave you two here, but there’s a refueling station just a half mile up the road. Would you mind if I ran and got some gas real quick and left you guys here? It’d only take a couple minutes, and you guys will be fine in the car,” said the driver. Jim and Adriana looked at each other.

“Sure, fine by us,” said Adriana.

“Awesome. I’m so sorry about this folks, but I’ll be right back,” said the driver, and with that, he was off in a slow trot down the trail. Before long he had disappeared over a rise in the road.

“Hey, sweetheart, I’m gonna run to the bathroom real quick. Alright?” said Jim.

“But Jim, we are supposed to stay in the car,” said Adriana.

“I know, but I’ve gotta go real bad. And I’ll be fine, I promise,” said Jim, opening the door.

“Alright, but make it quick,” said Adriana.

Jim shut the door softly behind him, and trudged over to a cluster of bushes. He looked around. Africa was really beautiful this time of year, he thought. Of course it’s probably beautiful all times of the year, too. Not that he would know any better to say such a thing. He moved to unzip his pants when he heard a rustling in the brush behind him. His mind went back to the man in the overcoat watching him in his tent last night. “He’s here,” he thought, “Death is finally here for me.” Without realizing it, Jim had begun trembling. His blood froze in his veins. It must have been a Lion creeping up behind him, eyeing him up, ready to finish him off. Jim moved his shaking hand from his zipper to his belt and removed the pistol from its holster. Closing his eyes, he cocked it. The bushes right behind him were rustling now, and the lion was almost upon him. Any closer and he would be able to feel it’s breath on his neck. A twig snapped. Jim spun, snapped the gun in front of him and shot his wife.

                Adriana screamed and clutched her stomach. The brush let out a hushed whoosh as she fell forward in a heap. Jim’s mouth hung open, his entire body trembling as he dropped the gun and collapsed to his knees. Adriana was lying in the tall grass, face down. Motionless.

                Their driver paced back over the hill towards the jeep, ringed by the azure sky, whistling “Oh Susana” and carrying a can of gas. He wiped the sweat from his brow. He kicked up a trail of dirt in his wake, as the sun blazed a trail across the sky.