Hitman

*Muses Note: This week’s story is by our returning guest writer, J.M. Whitty. You can read more of her stories here*

May 2019 prompt

He had been tailing his mark for months. Silently watching her every move from a safe but measured distance – if he could track her. He was perched high in a tree resting his weapon in the nook of an ancient branch.

Now I just need to wait, he thought to himself as he lit a smokeless cigarette. He inhaled and blew out an invisible first draw, imagining the smoke curling around his face. He was beginning to picture how he would execute the kill.

One step at a time.

His target was the most unusual request he’d had in a long history of supernatural kills. He’d been asked to trail the usual suspects: ethereal beings of the poltergeist variety; end long feuds between ghosts haunting the same building; but most often, he ended the plain ol’ hatred for another that could only be resolved through an assassination. Those were the most lucrative, but this was a whole other level of strange.

Six months prior he had been sitting in a diner minding his own business when he was approached by a figure who looked like he’d crossed only halfway into the land of the dead.

“Can I help you?” said the hitman as he barely looked up from his food.

“I’m sure you can,” replied the man. “Your special skills are exactly what I’m looking for.” He sat down, his ghostly figure fading slightly into the worn vinyl seat.

The hitman looked up. He was used to speaking with all kinds, but this man – if he could call him that – struck a nerve deep down inside that he couldn’t place. He felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck.

The man placed a small velvet bag on the table. The hitman paid it no notice, as it slowly changed from a wispy idea of an object to something tangible in the living world.

“What is this?” he asked.

“Payment.”

“For what?”

The man leaned forward. The hitman cut another bite of food and lifted it to his mouth. In a low voice, the man explained his request. It was simple – kill the bear.

Raising the last forkful to his mouth, the hitman slowly chewed, swallowed and set down his cutlery. Curtly, he said, “You want me to kill a bear.”

“Precisely.”

“I think you have me confused with somebody else.”

“I definitely don’t.” The man sat calmly, his one pale ghostly eye looking straight at the hitman, who stared back silently in return. A few seconds later, the hitman took the small velvet bag in his hand, weighing it carefully.

“What’s in here either means the job is hard or you’re desperate.” The hitman tossed the bag up slightly and caught it.

“You’re not a stupid man.”

“I didn’t think I was.”

The man contemplated what he wanted to say next. Finally, he opened his mouth, “I think you can see I am … was … a back country fellow. I know bears. And, this bear is not a bear. It is a beast unlike any I have seen.” The hitman nodded as he listened.

“I lost most of my face to this bear before she killed me. The scars aren’t so visible now that I’m … dead, but they sure scared people when I wasn’t.”

The hitman scanned the man, noting the gruesome scars running down the left side of his body. “Is that what killed you?” he asked.

“No. That time I lived. It’s a painful reminder not to mess with nature. But the worst came later.”

This seemed to interest the hitman. His eyebrow twitched upward, almost undetectably.

The man continued, “I hunted that bear for nearly ten years. She always knew when I was around and either swiped at me or evaded me. Until one day she had enough and mauled me again, trying to teach me to keep away. That’s how I died.” He paused for a moment.

“And now, no matter what I do, I relive that moment over and over again. There is nothing that can keep me away from that bear. Even now, I feel an invisible force pulling me back. I have been mauled by her more times than I can count. Reliving my own death in a Promethean hell, my skin ripped over and over and over.”

“What exactly do you want me to do?”

“Like I said, kill the bear.”

“That’s it?”

“Yes,” the man replied, “Kill her, and maybe I’ll be released from my hell. That’s all I want.”

Desperation always explains a heavy bag, the hitman thought to himself. “Fine, when do you want it done?”

“I’ll tell you how to find her, then you can tell me the day. Watch her for a while and you’ll see this isn’t a straightforward job. She’s a clever beast.”

“I’ve not failed yet.”

“That’s why I’ve come to you.”

The air was starting to warm. The hitman had been sitting in his perch for the whole night. His body was stiff and he welcomed a sliver of sunshine reaching for his cheek. The bear’s den was hidden around here and most mornings he caught her walking toward the river. He hoped he picked a good spot today.

Beams of sunlight began to peek through the trees. He was in luck; the bear emerged from her hiding place and stuck her nose in the air, feeling the warmth of the sun on her snout. The rays of the sun shined through her, so her figure shimmered like a mirage. The hitman blinked. He never told me she was a ghost.

He watched her slowly move through the forest, and in the dark of the trees her fur took on the shine of a living bear. I couldn’t have known. She investigated her territory for anything that seemed amiss. He knew he had been careful and she would never know he was there. He waited for the perfect shot.

Suddenly, the bear seemed agitated. She stood up on her hindquarters and bared her teeth, rage in her eyes. The hitman couldn’t see what had set her off. He looked intently in the direction she faced, and it pained him not to know what had upset the beast. Until he heard a familiar voice.

“Hey bear.”

You idiot, thought the hitman. He watched the one-eyed man approach the bear.

“I stayed away as long as I could this time, bear. But you know I can’t stay away from you.” The man circled the bear, taunting her. She held her ground, rotating her ferocious body to keep facing the man.

“You’re not going to win this time. I have a trick up my sleeve for you.” The man laughed. “And, thanks to my friend up in the trees somewhere, I found your den.”

The hitman watched the bear react to this as if she’d understood what the man had said. She swiped him hard in the face and he fell to the ground laughing.

“I don’t care what you do to me, bear. I’ve got you this time.” He stood halfway up, ghostly blood running down his already grotesque face. The bear stood before him, calculating her next move. The man yelled, “Kill her!”

The hitman remained still. He chose the moment, not the person who paid him. It was his job and his reputation on the line. The hairs on the back of his neck raised and he felt like something was just off. I don’t like this.

Just as he finished the thought, the bear roared. In the months of tracking this bear, he had never seen her so enraged, so protective. Something was definitely not right.

The bleeding man was back up on his feet again. “Come on bear, hit me again. What do you think I’m going to do? Kill you and your cubs again?” He erupted in an evil laugh.

Cubs? I haven’t seen cubs, thought the hitman. How could I have missed that? He watched the man continue taunting the bear. The man reached into a bag slung over his shoulder and threw something at her.

“That’s one of yours, isn’t it? Lost my eye taking that cub.” A small bearskin landed at the feet of the ghostly bear. “I got more than one over the years!” She growled loudly. “Kill her!” the man yelled again and walked back and forth in front of the bear’s large figure.

That’s enough, thought the hitman and he steadied his weapon, gingerly placing his finger on the trigger. He inhaled so that his lungs were half full and paused. He held his breath until the bear and the man were in the right positions. He fired.

A loud crack echoed through the forest, as a bullet, specially designed for supernatural kills, whizzed through the air like lightning. It tore into its target, perfectly positioned for a clean death. The hitman breathed out as his mark crumpled to the ground.

He stayed in his hideout while he watched the bear sniff the permanently dead figure before her, until it disappeared in the wind like exhaled smoke. The hitman thought he could sense her relief and she turned to see where the shot had come from. Maybe she’s thanking me, he thought. Can ghost bears do that? He liked to think so. You’re welcome.

The bear growled again and padded off into the sunshine. The hitman thought he could see two small figures follow, but he couldn’t be sure. They were like apparitions in the sunlight.


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