Ahead of the Game by S.L. Dixon

Chitter and chatter, the voices, song and conversation, it forever fills the air; growls and ticks, electricity and oil, the noise of humanity. It slides behind the quiet sounds, the chirps and clicks, the night creepers calling out from the tall corn. It’s all become a part of the silence; silence is the perception of calm and ease.

We always hear our hearts.

We always hear the blood flow.

We always hear both until we don’t; true silence, true calm and ease no matter how unwanted.

Visurum se mortem, ne sileas, the phrase followed her, tormented her, damned her very existence.

Like the creepers in the corn, the television was a piece of the silence, always on, unnecessary, but helpful. Children need guidance; the television remains a constant for the generations. TV mothers and fathers living lessons for a moral existence. Television, a constant until it isn’t.

“I’m hungry,” whined the boy. He was around eight.

Tia looked over her shoulder at the boy, exhaled a lungful of cloudy once tobacco and shrugged. She wasn’t a babysitter, she was just a chauffeur, of sorts, “Take a five, find a machine and come right back.”

“What about me?” the girl got angry; she was younger than the boy, but not by much.

“Share with your brother,” said Tia.

The children were headed for the door before she finished speaking.

“And don’t talk to anyone,” she called out after them, thinking that children never know what’s best for them, they forget, they relax and then it’s too late. It broke her heart every time she watched a child learn destiny’s hard lessons. “Please, be cautious out there and trust me. Talk to nobody!” she reiterated the point. If there was some way that she might detain them without making them feel like prisoners, she’d have done it. But, the reality of people, young and old, demand leeway, even if it’s just a visit to the vending machine.

It wasn’t a paying gig, she only took payment from the bodies of murdered parents, whatever they had handy: wallets, purses, clips. She rarely had time to scavenge with impunity.

The police chased Tia, robbery they said, kidnapping they said, murderer they said, capture they promised and the faces on the all-day news stations screamed for her blood. Tia Ramone, wanted in connection with forty-nine murders, forty-nine robberies, and one hundred eleven kidnappings. They were way off, they didn’t have a clue.

First off, she’d chauffeured more than two hundred children and hadn’t murdered anyone. You can’t own anything once you’re dead. She didn’t rob those parents and sitters; they were dead and that money went to the next in line for as long they stayed with her.

She stared out the window, puffing, anxious, listening for the children out in the hallway. She lived her life in motels, eating chocolate bars and potato chips, coffee brewed in tiny pots, never stopping long for someone to connect her face with that grainy face on the news station warnings. She’d been to every continent and visited more countries than she cared to count, but only once had a camera caught her.

“How many more?” she looked out at the moon for an answer. The moon knew everything, but kept its secrets.

That moon knew the past as well, knew she was once just a regular girl, a girl on her way to a regular life with regular dreams, but that was then.

She listened closely, stubbed out her cigarette. The children, where had they gone? She switched off the television and listened to the heightened silence. Nothing but the creepers in the corn. She opened the door and looked out to the cement walkway.

The children sat on a bench outside the door and ate ice cream cones. Tia let the door close, as long as she knew where they were, as long as the creepers chirped and sang, as long as the silence never reached the point of only blood and heartbeat.

“Ice cream cones,” she smiled thinking about the frosty treat, it had been some time since she’d had ice cream. “Where’d they get ice cream cones?” she asked, the smile sagged into a frown.

She opened the door and looked out; the children were where she’d left them.

“Where’d you get the ice cream?” Tia asked.

The boy held out the five dollar bill, “A man gave it to us.”

“I told you, you can’t talk to anyone, not until we get you home,” Tia scolded.

“We didn’t talk to nobody,” said the girl, she wore a clown’s smile of chocolate.

“Yeah, he just asked and we nodded, we didn’t say nothing,” added the boy.

Tia decided to investigate, free ice cream sounded like some pervert, “Where?” The children pointed to the motel office, “Get into the room and wait.”

Dejectedly, the children slid off the bench and stomped into the room. Tia stepped away from the door, key in her pocket. “Don’t open this door for anyone,” she demanded through the door and headed for the office.

The air was thick with humidity, a storm brewing quite literally in the clouds overhead. A storm brewing inside Tia, she didn’t like goody types, didn’t care for their nature; the nature of self that they hid behind those acts. There is a reason men give candy, it’s the same reason men offer jewelry and flowers.

“A trade,” she said and pushed open the office door, remember when you weren’t so distrusting, so paranoid? “That girl’s long gone.” The room appeared vacant, she hit the bell on top of the counter, “Hello!” she called, heard nothing, silence (blood, heartbeat, creepers, television). The bell dinged nine more times in quick succession and she stepped around the counter into the Employees Only space.

An old man sat in a recliner, the television so loud it was no longer silent. Tia looked at the back of his head. It was a motionless ball of white and bald, some pervy old man working a motel thanks to a criminal record, she suspected, guys like that worked the edges of civilization all over the world.

“Hey!” she called, reached out and touched him, his body shook a little. She lowered the volume. “Hey, wake up,” she shook him again.

He opened his eyes, empty sockets, red and dripping, he opened his mouth and let out a scream, tongue gone, a moan and a spillage of red. The man was in the wrong life at the wrong time. She stared a moment longer and then clenched her fists, punched a wall.

It was all a trick to get her from the children. She had to learn the tricks as she went and no matter how many she figured out there was always another rub. If only she’d paid attention that day, if she’d never run over that priest, if she hadn’t watched the children tear away pell-mell only to fall dead seconds later. Not a day had gone by that she hadn’t regretted taking that dying priest’s hand and letting him whisper those words into her ear, Visurum se mortem, ne sileas, kiss her palm until the light flashed in her mind and offered her insight so horrid she couldn’t help but act. So many children.

She covered the man’s mouth and listened, silence, but the blood travelling near her ears, the beat of her heart; creepers silent, “Shit!”

She ran from the office toward her room, not taking the time to wipe her bloody hand against her pant leg, already knowing the worst was just around the corner. The keys fumbled between her anxious fingers, she heard the screams of the children. The door opened and she saw the black cloak, the long bony fingers of shimmering blue flesh touching the boy’s chest.

“No!” Tia screamed, tears flowing.

The boy joined his sister on the floor, lifeless, fingers still sticky with ice cream. The shrouded figure turned and faced Tia, it was a game as long as time, longer than she’d been alive. There was no answer for the riddle of the game, not that she could figure; foresee, collect and run.

“Just because you see, it doesn’t mean you need trouble,” said a voice as smooth as Barry White coming from a face of tight paper-thin flesh pulled tight against bone and hollow; cheeks, teeth, eye sockets all pronounced and sickening. “Death always wins; it’s the rule of life.”

Tia lunged, but Death disappeared in a cloud of black smoke, trailed through the pinhole screen of the open window. She’d pack and leave, the police would come and she’d drive until she sensed the presence.

“Visurum se mortem, ne sileas,” she said staring down at the bodies.

She thought if she could save one, just one, from Death’s grip, those horrors she foresaw would vanish and let her live in the loud mystery of life. Live in the loud mystery until it was her turn at true silence.

“Visurum se mortem, ne sileas; see death, be the savior.”

S.L. Dixon was born and raised in Southern Ontario, Canada, he is a graduate of Niagara College’s print-journalism program. His stories have appeared in Starburst, Twisted Vine Literary, Pilcrow & Dagger as well as other magazines and anthologies from around the world. He resides in a coastal mountain range of British Columbia with his wife and cat.

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