“Where did you get that?” the aging man asked from his bed. “I had that locked up in storage.”
“I thought it was a fitting going away gift,” the intruder responded.
“Where am I going? And why would I need to take that with me?”
“Someone gave you this Bible after you felt the happiness of living another day. I give it to you again today, your last day in this world. It's your 'beginning and your end'.. or whatever it is.”
“What are you rambling on about? I am getting better; I've been reading and playing with my children. I planned on leaving the house soon.”
“How did you do it?”
“Sir, again I say, what are you talking about? Who are you? How did you even get in here?”
“Let's just say I knew the secret knocks to get in,” the stranger disregarded the question with a flick of his wrist. “I'd hoped you would recognize your own character. I don't know how you did it. How long have you been following me? Decades? How did you do it from Siberia? How can you tell what I'm thinking? What am I thinking now?” the intruder sputtered out while staring emotionless from the foot of the bed.
“You speak in riddles. You wake me up to speak in riddles, how am I supposed to understand you? Get out of my house this instant!” the old man demanded from his bed, starting to raise his voice.
The stranger lunged forward and covered his prey's mouth with one hand while securing the back of the head with the other.
“No one can know I'm here,” (“if I am here”, he added flippantly), “so let’s stay calm, and I won't remove your tongue. I just want to talk, tell me how you did it, my lack of faith in humanity, my intelligence, my brain fever, even the phrase, 'dash the cup to the ground’, I never said that to anyone, I only wrote it in my note; a note I've had written for years, a note no one saw until I died two days ago, so how did you do it?”, the intruder spat out in one breath.
The author just stared at the stranger dumbstruck.
“You stole my life!” this time the stranger started to raise his voice.
As the echo of his voice died down, the sound of a door opening entered the hallway. The patter of small footsteps approached the bedroom, followed by the knock of a small hand.
“What's wrong dad? Are you OK?” asked a small inquisitive voice from the other side of the door.
“Tell him you are just having a bad dream,” the stranger whispered to his hostage.
The stranger removed one hand from the man's face while strengthening his grip on the back of his head with the other.
“It is only a nightmare Fyodor, go back to bed and I will do the same.” he said as calmly as he could.
The tiny feet shuffled back to bed.
“I don't know what you mean,” the scared man whispered, “How did I steal your life?”
“Ivan is me! I am Ivan, well John, John Blacksmear. Everyone says 'black smear' was a metaphor for the presence of sin, but I know the truth. I know you stole my life story to put in your novel. And everyone thinks you're so great! You're nothing but a stalker who steals lives.”
“Ivan? Ivan Karamazov?” the author thought out loud, puzzled by the apparent lunatic in the room.
“It doesn't matter how I guess. All that matters is that it's over. You stole my life, destroyed my sanity. You will not steal another life. You will not write your second novel on Alexei. You will die tonight.”
Anna started to stir on her side of the bed. John leapt off the bed and hurried around to Anna's side, pulling ether and a rag out of his pocket as he dashed. He soaked the rag and covered Anna's face with it. She slumped back down, knocked out again.
“Don't worry. Your family is fine. I just need to make sure no one else knows I'm here. I want you to wonder if I'm a dream. Maybe I'm not real. Maybe I'm just a manifestation of the knowledge of your impending doom.” John said, grinning behind soulless eyes. John got up and walked back to the foot of the bed, staring at Fyodor the whole time.
“But that's all a lie. No, no, your family is fine haha. That's not what the lie was. I propose I am real, and I am really going to cause your death. How? You will find out in time, or you already know,” John finally blinked. This shocked the author who was starting to believe John had no eyelids. “I want to emphasize that no one will believe you if you tell them I was here. Your family will not see me. Your house has no sign of forced entry. Those feats would be easy to accomplish for a dream. But for a person... it's going to be hard to convince others anyone visited you tonight.”
“It is easier than you think to convince people you are dead,” John continued. “I died two days ago. I jumped to my death, face first into the Gulf. I unfortunately must have landed on a rock, because my face was destroyed beyond all recognition.” John seemed to lose himself in his own story. His eyes drifted upwards with no clear target and he stopped talking. A minute passed. Still gazing upwards, John seemed to focus everything he had into speaking.
John finally started talking again. “I found I am of an average height and weight. Finding another 'me' was easy. I dressed 'myself' up in my clothes, nailed my note (which I had already written, but you knew that) to my door, and viola, I'm dead to everyone but you. I WAS SANE BEFORE!” John returned his glaring eyes to the bed.
“You destroyed my mind! But then you...how could you...” John trailed off, and again gazed upwards aimlessly as he fell to his knees. His neck dropped his head as far as it could as his eyes started to leak tears.
“What are you rambling on about? If you plan on killing me get it over with,” the author insisted, doing his best to sound intimidating.
“Oh no, that's too easy. If I kill you right now, then that proves I am real,” John returned to his feet, his face and starting to get excited as he spoke, “You described him perfectly! Did he visit you too? Wasn't his ring mesmerizing? He was a little more flippant than I anticipated.”
John remained rambling and staring aimlessly as he started to pace back in forth at the front of the bed. “I wasn't sure he was real at the time, but when I read your description I knew he visited you too. You never answered my letters. You didn't care about the man whose life story you stole! No one believed I talked to him, even after your book.”
“Well do you know what he said to me the last time I saw him? He told me if I killed you, he would reveal himself to the world. He would reveal how much evil and insanity he can create in the world.” John said as he negotiated his gaze back to his victim, "I won’t be around to see me proven right. But I will watch and laugh from hell at all the people who called me crazy. Or maybe I won't because I don't exist in the first place! HAHA!”
“Now I'm sure you're still wondering, 'why not just kill me?” John went on. “'Why tell me your reason for murder?'. But, I already answered that. You destroyed my sanity. You must suffer. Or maybe your delayed death is a gift, one last day with your family. Or maybe it isn't even murder. I mean, I'm dead, and dead people cant do anything. Who knows? Not me, I do know that. HAHAHAHAHA!”
John walked to the man's side of the bed. “he gave me a ring for you,” John said as he took a ring from his pocket, “It's just like his”. John slipped the ring onto the man's unwilling hand slowly. The massive gold ring had a cheap black opal stone embedded in it. John then sat in a nearby lounge chair.
“What nonsense is this?” he asked as he stared at the ring, too scared of John to remove it right away.
“Just think of me as Alfonso XII, and you’re Mercedes.” John replied
“What?” He managed to conquer his fear and remove the ring.
“Seriously? Did you research anything about your own book? My God, thieves are so lazy. Oh well, he said you wouldn't like it anyway.”
“Stop talking nonsense and get out of my house!” the man said as he threw the opal ring at John. John snapped out of the chair, avoiding the ring while pulling the ether and rag out of his pocket again. He leapt onto the bed and pinned the man's arms under his knees.
“You missed. But how can you hit a ghost? HAHAHAHHA! Now, that hemorrhage you had two days ago (that was his doing, don't blame me for that). I'll just add a little something and your neck will swell until it bursts. Bursting things in your neck are usually fatal Fyodor, I'm sorry. HAHAHA! No doctor will be able to save you, especially if I am not real. I recommend you spend your last day with your family. As for me, I'll either float away, or I'll head to meat plant downtown. Their grinders can turn a person into just another hamburger. HAHAHAHA! Then you will have no way to know for sure if I've been alive the past two days. Oh, it is so glorious. Even he was impressed. But it's time. I leave you to wonder if I was here. Am I even real? Spend your last hours doubting your sanity!” John almost shouted as he brought the ether soaked rag down on Fyodor’s face.
Fyodor woke a few hours later, just before dawn. There was no sign of any intruder. The opal ring was not on the lounge chair where he had thrown it. He just lay in bed, eyes stuck open in shock and disbelief until Anna woke up.
“I slept horribly,” Anna said as she stretched out her arms and legs.
She sat up and saw her husband's distraught face. “What's wrong honey?” she asked.
“I'm going to die today.”