Charlie

There was a knock at the front door. Charlie sighed, stood up slowly from his comfortable leather chair, and shuffled to the tapping of persistent hands. He twisted the knob and with a great groan from the hinges, the entryway was opened. Standing before him were three children dressed as ninjas. They each raised plastic shopping bags bulging with candy and said, in unison, “trick or treat.”

There wasn’t a lot of excitement or spunk in the voices but it was getting late and Charlie was the sole house on a very long dead end street. Most kids that made it to his door this year were a little out of breath and slightly irritated at the journey. Charlie peered over his rimmed spectacles and looked over each of the beggars before him. Their arms were beginning to shake slightly as the weight of the collected candy tested the strength of their black costumed arms. Charlie reached into the pockets of his corduroy pants and pulled out a caramel candy. He unwrapped the gold plastic, popped the piece into his mouth, and flicked the wrapper at the child to his left.

“No candy,” he muttered, the caramel clicking against his teeth as he moved it around his mouth. He raised a bony finger at the ninja on the right. “Twenty-five years…drunk driver.” He pointed at the middle child. “Eighty-six years…stroke.” The one on the left was beginning to cry. Charlie’s finger hovered for awhile. His eyes went wide and his features twisted and distorted. He finally managed to whisper, “Nine hundred forty-five…asphyxiation.”

Charlie felt something dripping from his nose. He wiped the back of his hand across his nostrils and gasped at the sight of blood streaked across his aged and weathered skin. The hard candy tumbled from his mouth and cracked into a dozen pieces when it hit the stoop. The ninjas each looked at one another. The last one was still sniffling but quickly getting his composure back. They decided to leave and threw a few rocks at the house when they were some distance away.

Charlie paid no attention as he turned to his chair, eyes locked to the crimson smear, and slowly shuffled back. He saw a reflection of himself in the television across from his seat. The unit hadn’t worked for years but Charlie wasn’t strong enough to carry it to the curb so it remained in its spot. He squinted at the distorted shape and couldn’t make out any definitive features. There was a small box of tissues on the coffee table before him so he grabbed a handful and began cleaning up his face and hand. Charlie shoved the soiled squares back into the box and sighed deeply. He knew what was next. He’d know for years. Ever since he was six and he stared at his own reflection and willed the answer.

A chill gripped his entire body. He shivered even as a fiery pain exploded in his left arm. Charlie fought back vomiting. He gritted his teeth and laid his head back. There was a knock on the door. He gasped as a fist clenched his heart and almost passed out as the pain continued to blossom across his hand and shoulder. It was creeping up his neck and it felt like someone just punched him in the jaw. There was a dull pulse that filled his hearing and the shout outside from the angry teenager was muffled. Things began to slow down for Charlie. His vision blurred and went black. The pain and pressure across his body lightened and a smile crept across his lips. He heard the music softly, at first. It crescendoed into an epic symphony a moment later.

It was something he remembered when he was that little boy watching himself die alone in an empty house. Why am I smiling? Why am I smiling?