A Dozen Starlings

It was her eyes that unnerved him so. Two uncaring beads of a deep blue that he had never seen in another, like holes punched in the ocean floor, without any hint of light or recognition. She sat now across a long glass table, framed in the predawn dimness by her silky golden-white hair, holding him in her gaze like a stone she might send skipping to a watery grave.

“What did you say your name was?” he asked.

“I didn’t.” Her voice was thin and hollow. He imagined she could scream into a canyon without producing an echo. “Are you certain you want to do this?”

A sickly laugh died on his tongue. “Of course not! I want you to do it. If I was certain I would do it myself.”

The corner of her mouth twitched once, and she gave a slight bow of her head. “You’re not ready. Please see yourself out.”

He slammed his hands onto the tabletop, only relieved in retrospect that he had not damaged it. “I paid you to do a job.”

“Very well.” She rose up from her chair like smoke. She was deceptively tall, her long legs distracting him as she removed an unusual-looking handgun from somewhere unseen and leveled it at his forehead while closing half the gap between them.

“Wait!” he yelped. His voice came out shrill, much to his embarrassment. “I didn’t mean now.”

“I was paid to do a job.”

He exhaled and rested his hands in his lap, leaving ghostly outlines on the glass that evaporated in the warming air. “How will I find you…after?”

A heartless grin crossed her face, and at last her eyes lit up. “You won’t.” She pulled the trigger, and just outside the window a dozen starlings took to flight in the first rays of dawn. To him it seemed that the world fell still in this moment, a portrait of startled birds, though of course it continued on its normal course.

He would not wake for 140 years.

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