Kenny had always wondered if he would wake up if someone broke into the house at night.
Or during the day.
He never considered the housebreaker might sit down at the edge of his bed and gently shake him awake.
His first thought was that he was sick and someone was here to help him. That was why he didn't reach for the Springfield XD 9 mm that hung on a nail above the nightstand.
He couldn't remember how, or if, his last trip had ended.
Was he in the hospital?
No. His blue acrylic throw with the huge horse was wound tightly around his hips and the familiar blue nightlight glowed from the bathroom.
His first impression of the man seated on the edge of his bed was of a caretaker with a bedside manner, perched lightly so as not to disturb the patient, perhaps to take a temperature, or administer medicine; very calm and reassuring.
Kenny lay still, his eyes half open, waiting for the dream to end, or the memory to come back...
It started to seem odd that the man remained silent, his gaze narrow and expectant, his left hand on his left thigh, his right on his right hip.
Seconds passed, and clarity began to dissipate the confusion in Kenny's sleep numbed mind, but with the clarity came a different level of confusion, and with that confusing clarity came fear.
As the last bit of sleep paralysis faded from his mind like breath from glass, the alarm must have flashed in his gray eyes.
For before his triceps could even begin to tighten to lift himself to a less compromising position, the housebreaker shook his head slightly, just a barely perceptible twist: a warning.
But it was too late. Kenny's reflexes had reached his brain, and the recently awakened organ was not fast enough on the turnaround. He couldn't stop it any more than he could open his eyes while sneezing. The man moved. It didn't seem as if his movement was sufficient to cause the shocking impact in Kenny's throat, but Kenny's arms flailed to his throat. His mouth opened in a simultaneous attempt at gagging and screaming, but he could do neither.
He lay flat on his back again, mouth opening and closing. Finally, air rasped through his larynx in a shocking groan He retched, dry heaving, then bile filled his mouth. The convulsions brought no response from the housebreaker. Kenny rolled slowly to his side, and raw, burning bile dripped from his mouth. He gagged and spit again. He stayed on his side, his mind stumbling through a list of very limited options.
He rolled his eyes upward. The Springfield was gone. He was in no position to use his feet to kick. The blue horse blanket was tangled around his legs.
The man let him lay that way for some time.
Kenny finally rolled onto his back.
The man spoke.
"Kenny, you are about to die."
Kenny exploded into a useless flurry of arms and legs but stopped when he found the barrel of a revolver somehow inserted into his mouth.
As Kenny fought to control his instincts, the man removed the barrel and placed it firmly on his lip just under his nose.
He continued, "There is absolutely nothing you can do to prevent it. Every man dies, mot never see it coming. But you will. And it is a gift."
Tears fled from Kenny's eyes, sobs surged against clenched teeth.
"I'll give you a minute to accept it. Don't struggle or you wont know the exact instant. You won't be ready..."
Kenny lay still, his mind exploding in supernovas of desperate confusion. There was nothing rational to do, so his mind began to consider the irrational. The man shook his head. "Don't. Please. For your own sake"
Kenny's mouth opened, silent sobs escaping, shaking his body.
The man nodded. "That's it. Accept it. And I'll tell you why."
He slowly reached in to his left pocket and withdrew a pocket watch. Opening it, he laid it on the night stand, with the clock face facing them.
"Look at the watch."
Kenny looked. It was a simple brass case with a Roman numeral dial There was an inscription on the upper side. # 35 33 34.
Then, the man reached into his shirt pocket and took out a curling wallet size photo. With a slightly tremulous hand, he held it inches from Kenny's face.
Recognition was instantaneous, and Kenny was fighting for his life again. His left arm lashed out and was blocked but he used the opposing force to shove himself to the other side of the bed, rolling off the side, and scrambling to his feet, fighting loose of the blanket. He crashed into the bathroom doorjamb, Legs churning, he pulled himself upright and lunged toward the doorway that led out into the living area, but the bed slammed into his shins, pinning him against the wall next to the closet.
The man stared across the bed, the revolver held low but steady in his right, the photo still in his left. He shook it slightly, urging Kenny to look at it again.
"You are about to die, Kenny. There is absolutely nothing you can do to change that. I just want to give you a chance to die the right way. When you're ready. Are you going to accept it, or do I just shoot you now?:
The look in the man's eyes was surreal. Concern was evident, even poignant. It was as if he simply had no choice, and was being as considerate as possible.
Kenny said nothing, and didn't move.
The man laid the photo face up on the bed between them. With the gun still held steady, he bent and retrieved the watch where it had landed on the floor. He laid it beside the photo.
"When the second hand reaches 12, you'll have exactly 5 minutes. During that 5 minutes, I want you to think about what is going to be happening when that second hand is on the other side of 12 after the five minutes is up."
Kenny stared, uncomprehending.
"Don't say anything. Don't talk. It will distract you from your thinking. Think about whether you believe in life after death. You have five minutes, starting............now."
Kenny spent the first 30 seconds still considering a method of escape. Once again, the man seemed possessed of a preternatural knowledge of his thoughts.
"I'm telling you, Kenny, that you will die. Any attempt to escape will only cut your life shorter."
Kenny began to sob again. The man fell silent.
Thoughts of hellfire as long rejected as thoughts of hearing the ocean roar in a seashell, he frantically tried to focus on. It hadn't seemed likely for such a long time, but.....now, he was being forced to consider a practical impossibility. Could there exist the smallest chance that seconds after the bullet crashed into his brain, he would still exist, that his mind, his........soul, yes, soul would still be alive, would be.....somewhere.
Kenny was not a proud man, not even stubborn really, and he began to accept the idea quickly. But then, he wondered frantically, would he just be dead if he refused to accept the enormous possibility? If he accepted it, there might be a reward, but if he refused, mightn't he just be dead? Cease to exist?
You could live forever, but you could only die once. If there were hellfire, wouldn't he just be burned alive and then be dead?
Now he looked at the clock. Three minutes had passed.
This wasn't fair. No one could answer the biggest question of their lives in five minutes with a gun pointed at their head.
The man spoke again, softly. "If you're right, then you will simply die and never feel anything again. But, if you're wrong......"
The new wrinkle threw a fevered desperation into Kenny's tortured mind. Only seconds longer did his wagering continue, before he threw over any idea that did not encourage him to play it as safe as possible. He began to beg, aloud, for his soul's destiny. Swearing, sweating, shaking, sobbing, he promised the Man Upstairs that he wassins, his freaking sins, his, anything he did that God didn't like, and that if he were to live, he would never do anything again that God didn't like. He would pray all the time and read the Bible through and go to church and- "OH GOD I SWEAR IT!!! I SWEAR ON THE BIBLE, ON MY MAMA'S GRAVE, ON MY LIFE, I SWEAR!!