I first met Mr. Yao at a political rally, although this meeting didn’t occur in the conventional sense. Everyone attended the rally to raise money for street repairs. It didn’t seem like the sort of thing anyone would protest against. But you never know what motivates other people.
Everyone’s cheers and chanting fell. Muffled screams and load pops moved closer to the door. A man with a white beard crashed through the glass doors.
“Everyone run! He’s got a gun!”
Screams filled the room. Only the loud pops from the rifle broke through the screeching and yelling. I hid around a corner with two others. People fell like sacks of potatoes. Blood crawled along the grout between the tiles. Constant screaming. More rifle pops.
The active shooter turned towards me. I closed my eyes with my hands in the air; waiting. The screaming stopped; no noise.
Am I dead?
I waited a moment. Silence. I opened my eyes. Everyone stood frozen in place; like wax figures.
Is this death? Does time stop when you die?
That’s when I met Mr. Yao. He walked up to me while everything else remained motionless.
“Good evening, Mr. Pion. My name is Mr. Yao. I have a proposition for you.”
“You see, you are about to get shot. I can stop this from happening. I can save your life.”
“How? What’s happening?”
“As you may or may not have noticed, I have stopped time. I can only hold it for a couple more minutes, so you must make a decision. Would you like to live…”
He pointed at the active shooter.
“Of course, I want to live!”
With a smoky poof, a stack of papers and a pen appeared in Mr. Yao’s hands.
“I need your signature before we can move forward.”
I stared at the contract.
“What’s the catch?”
“Simply this, I do a favor for you today and in return sometime in the future, I will call upon you to do a favor for me.”
“That is it. Nothing more and nothing less.”
“What if I don’t do your favor?”
“Then you die like you should have to today.”
He remained calm and cool during the whole conversation. Everything about him looked pleasant except his smile; that wolfish grin.
Is this a lie so he can eat me?
“Time will be starting up soon, Mr. Pion. Sign or do not. It is your choice.”
I walked forward, took the pen, and signed my name.
He turned the page.
“And sign here.”
He turned another page.
“Initial here. Initial again. Sign here. Mother’s maiden name. Sign again…”
“Can’t I do this all with one signature?”
“And finally, stab your index finger with the pen and smear the blood on this page.”
“I am kidding. That is a terrible joke.”
“What the hell, dude!?”
“Hey, lighten up Mr. Pion. I saved your life. And please do not call me dude.”
With a puff of smoke, he was gone.
“NO!” The shooter said.
The rifle jammed. Police fired their pistols. The shooter dropped to his knees and the rifle fell to his side. He choked on his own blood and fell to the floor.
“The target is down! Move in!”
The shooter looked up at me, struggling for words.
“Your turn.” He said.
Seven years passed, and I never thought of that day; a bad dream long forgotten. I lived alone, with my dog Max. I got home one evening excited to see my floppy eared friend.
“Hey Max. I got you a new bone.”
“Hello Mr. Pion.”
With a lump in my throat and chest pounding, I grabbed the umbrella next to my door. Max put his head on the floor with his tail wagging in the air ready to play.
“Your jasmine green tea is delicious. And my name is not Jesus.”
“Who are you? How’d you get in my house? How’d you get passed my dog? Why are you sitting in the dark drinking my tea?”
“I am very offended that you do not remember me, Mr. Pion. I only saved your life many years ago from a misguided shooter. But to answer your questions, you may recall my name is Mr. Yao. I come and go as I please and Max is unaware of my presence, and I’m waiting for you to turn the lights on. Allow me.”
He snapped his fingers and the lamp next to him lit up. Max didn’t acknowledge him and acted as if only I stood in the room.
“I apologize; I didn’t recognize you.”
“No harm; no fowl. Do you recall the agreement we made?”
With a poof, a stack of papers appeared in his hands.
“I owe you a favor, don’t I?”
“Excellent memory, Mr. Pion. Yes, it is time to repay that debt. I am afraid you will not commit to what I am going to ask of you. Do keep in mind, by signing this document, you have already agreed to the undertaking. Would you like to review the contract before I continue?”
“I remember the agreement. Let’s get this over with.”
“Very well. Please sit down and enjoy this fabulous tea with me.”
A cup of tea poofed onto the coffee table. I couldn’t help but examine it before taking a sip. The aroma climbed up my nostrils with hot steam almost burning my nose. I burned my tongue and the roof of my mouth. It tasted sweet, as though Mr. Yao knew exactly how much honey I like in my tea. How did he make things appear out of thin air?
“Simply put Mr. Pion, in exchange for your life, you owe me another life. As I have said, you have already agreed to this and backing out now is not an option. We cannot go back in time to when you should have died so you must take a life. You can choose the life, or I can choose for you. I will give you one day to decide. I will return this time tomorrow.”
He vanished as quick as he appeared. The cup of tea left with him and Max never noticed things coming and going in my living room. The lump in my throat wouldn’t go down and I felt nauseous. I’d never taken a life.
I couldn’t sleep. Max snored all night on the floor. I felt anxious the next day. Small children even scared me.
“Hey, mister? Bang! Bang!”
“Steven don’t point your toys at people!”
I walked by a movie poster covered with monsters and demons and a big, bold ‘Coming Soon’ on the bottom. Every time someone spoke, I heard something different.
“You gonna kill some people?”
“What!? What are you talking about?” I said.
“I said, do you have a light?”
“Oh! No, sorry.”
I avoided everyone the rest of the way home. I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I decided not to go through with the contract.
It must have a loophole.
~ An excerpt from “The Demon’s Favor” from the short story collection The Morbid Museum.