Marked for Death

By Edele Winne

Coco was a small yappy black and white Shi-tzu dog with a talent for sniffing out those about to die. She had proven it eight times on dead end Mercy Street where mostly seniors lived, by camping out on the front porches of those about to expire.

As you can imagine the Mercy street residents were uncomfortable around little Coco.  Coco’s mistress, 89 year old Annabelle Coumbs, pshawed the whole business and refused to discuss it.  But everyone else did.  As the older residents passed away with Coco standing guard new younger people moved into the freshly vacant houses.  Mercy Street became an interesting mix of older and newer, seasoned and fresh, those about to die and those with long lives still ahead.

Muriel Robert was thirty one.  Because she was thirty one, she did not think about her health.  She considered herself unremarkable: short and thin with bobbed mousey brown hair.  She had smoked for six years in her teens but that was years ago.  At first she was pleased to find the charming Coco camped out on her porch, and then perturbed as she remembered the death vigil stories.  She petted Coco, who was most appreciative, and then went back into the house determined to ignore the death watch.

Maybe the dog just stopped here for a rest?  Maybe it was chasing a squirrel?  Muriel chewed at her nails.  It’s nonsense.  Coincidence.  Coco wanders everywhere and people only notice when someone passes away.  Besides, I’m thirty one!

            Muriel gave the dog a worried look and a pat on the head as she left for her evening shift at the hospital.  As a nurse she was no stranger to people dying, she’d hardened herself to it.   But now everything was different- she was looking at the possibility of her own death.  Was it going to be a car accident?  A sudden heart attack?  A crazed shooter at the hospitable or maybe even an earthquake?  She was too busy thinking such things and didn’t stop at the red light.  A dark blue pickup smashed into her passenger side and started her car spinning up onto the sidewalk.

It all happened so fast she did not tense up.  Rather calmly she noticed the car spinning, the approaching cement wall of the Chinese restaurant.  This is it.  I wonder if I will die in the car or in the ambulance? She pictured her colleagues at the hospital trying to save her bloody battered body.

There was a nasty scraping sound and her car stopped moving. Muriel was fine.  She turned the engine off.  Her door was slightly misshapen and jammed against the cement wall.  The passenger door was smushed in and the glass broken.  She picked a few pieces of shattered glass off her lap.  She exhaled heavily and considered pinching her leg to see if this was really happening.   I guess I’m not going anywhere for a bit.

            The pickup truck had skidded around the corner and she could not see it.  But she could see black smoke in her rear-view mirror and hear people shouting.  An explosion thundered from out of sight, and now she saw injured people staggering away.  Maybe this it.  The pickup exploded, the restaurant will catch on fire and I’ll be trapped as the fire comes closer and bakes me.  She laughed.  The idea of being baked to death suddenly seemed funny.  Of all the ways to die!

            And then it happened.  She could hear people screaming.  Many were running.  There was a loud pop and a whoosh and the roof of the restaurant was on fire.  Burning debris began to fall on her smashed car.  She felt the heat for the first time; put her hand against car roof.   It was hot.  She felt the intensity of it all at once.  She actually was going to bake to death in her car.

It was not funny anymore and she began to panic.  The temperature was climbing quickly.  Droplets of sweat formed on her forehead and ran for her chin.  She grabbed at her seatbelt, expecting it to be jammed, but it let go easily.  She wormed out of the driver’s seat and into the passenger, ignoring the glass.  She could probably make it out the smashed window.  She decided to try the door first, pushed at it with her foot.  It popped off and landed on the pavement with a loud thunk.  She scrambled out, backing away from the burning building and her crumpled car.  There was another weird whoosh and then the gas tank exploded.  The car was thrown forward violently, flames engulfing the entire thing.  The heat was searing.  Muriel staggered back a few more steps and then collapsed to the ground in shock.

The air was invaded with sirens as fire trucks, ambulance and police screeched in.  A male firefighter ran to her and pulled her back from the inferno.

“Are you all right?”  He asked, dreamy blue eyes staring into her brown shocked ones.

She was too stunned to say anything.  He held her in his arms, wiped up her face a bit- she was bloody on one side- and gave her some oxygen. She blinked.  He was holding her hand.  Maybe I am dead.  This might be heaven.  She thought as she looked at his firm chin.  He smiled suddenly, showing three dimples!

The day progressed blessedly.  Muriel did not die.  She had a small cut on her forehead.  The fireman’s name was Trent, and he stayed with her while the fire was being fought, and while the burnt husk of her vehicle was carted away.  In fact he stayed with her the entire day.  They sat on the curb across from the fire and smoke and talked about their childhoods, their hopes and dreams.  He shared some food with her.  At dusk they came to their senses, realizing they’d spent the entire day talking and gazing shyly at each other.

“I should go.”  Muriel said, and then looked completely lost, thinking of her burnt car.

His laugh was warm and deep and friendly.  “I can drive you.”

She was exhausted but she didn’t want to fall asleep as they drove.  It’s not because he wasn’t a good driver- he was- it was because it all felt so dreamlike she was certain that if she fell asleep she’d wake and he would be gone, the dream over.

He parked the car in front of her house.  She invited him inside.  He put his arm around her to steady her as they walked to the door.  A rustling from the porch drew their attention.  It was Coco, the small black and white Shi-tzu, still on vigil.

“What a cute dog.”  Trent cooed.

A shudder of dread icicled down her spine. She’d forgotten about the dog.  About the predictions of death.  But it hadn’t happened, had it?  Not yet.

            Trent unlocked the door with her key and helped her inside, concerned over her sudden weakness.  He helped her to the couch, asked if she wanted some water.  But he never got the water.  They never got up from the couch.  Instead, they held each other, she cried, they kissed, they touched, their clothes came off and they made sweet passionate tender love until they fell asleep in each other’s arms in the darkness.

Muriel opened her eyes.  Her body hurt.  The accident, she remembered.  And Trent, the fire fighter.  He was still there, curled on the couch, the hair on his chest glistening in the moonlight that was peeking through the front windows.  It had been an unbelievable day.  A sound from the porch reminded her of what was out there.  Coco.  The death dog.

She suddenly felt very strongly that she had to protect herself.  She withdrew gently from Trent’s sleeping arm, and pulled on a few clothes.  Accidentally she put on his shirt. Quietly, she opened the front door and stepped onto the porch.  Coco looked up at her.  He didn’t wag his tail.

“Go on.”  She urged.  “Go away.  Go home.  Get off my porch.”  The stubborn creature refused to budge.  She reached down to pick it up and Coco growled at her.  She tried to make the little dog get up, shoving it with her foot but it nipped her leg. Angered, panicked, she kicked at it.  It barked loudly.

She felt like she was in a trance.  If only she could get the dog to move, she would be safe.  What would happen if she didn’t?  Would she die?  A heart attack?  Fire?  Would sweet dreamy Trent awake and strangle her?

Her hands began to shake as her body overflowed with fear.  She went back inside, straight to the kitchen.  She’d thought she was getting a glass of water but she went to the silverware drawer and withdrew a large butcher knife.

She stared at it in her hand in disbelief as her feet carried her back into the living room, to the front door and the porch. But there was someone in the way.

“Oh God!”  Trent said.  He was naked still, and had been looking out the front windows into the night.

He grabbed her wrist, tried to twist the knife away from her.  She couldn’t believe what was happening and fought him.  He thought she was trying to kill him.  It was all unfolding too quickly, too horribly for her.  She just knew that she had to get that cursed dog off her porch.  Her life was suddenly almost wonderful, and that little animal was determined to destroy her.

Trent was strong and kept the knife blade from pointing at him.  But Muriel had nurse’s arms, used to lifting patients that didn’t help and moving gear.  She pushed towards him suddenly just as he twisted her arm inward and she felt the smooth cool steel blade break through her skin, snake in between her ribs and puncture her heart.

He gasped in shock.  She pulled the blade out.  Her blood spurted out, staining his shirt, her skin, the carpet.  She sank to her knees, and then slowly fell face first into the bloody carpet.

Trent tried to save her, but the wound was too grievous.  He called for an ambulance but she was already dead.  He pulled his pants on, stepped out onto the front porch, away from the horror inside.  Breathed the cool night air.  Heard sirens in the distance.  Hadn’t there been a little dog out here?  He looked, but it was gone.

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