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CERTAINTY

Certainty


Estimated reading time — 9 minutes

The say the only certainty in life is death and taxes. Well, I probably know better than most. You see, I had a run in with the dread angel. Am I alive, you ask? You may be querying, ‘Has this person’s words been transcribed by a medium?’ Well, to tell you that would be spoiling the fun of my story, so please do read on.

My name is Ernest E. Davitz, and I am a stock broker of sorts. By that, I mean that while by day I participate in that grand game of trading stock, but also by night I adventure into all manner of ways to accumulate wealth. Money is my passion, you see. When I was in the cub scouts I discovered that I had a talent for growing money. I sold the most cookies, in a manner of speaking. Later on in the boy scouts I earned all of the badges surrounding finances and marketing by selling the most raffle tickets. In fact, I sold so many that I wound up keeping a commission for myself. Printers capable of handling cardboard stock are wonderful things.

Never mind all of that, though. I am digressing from the actual story. You see, it all began like any other day. I don’t remember the exact date, but I do know it began on an unseasonably cool day in July. It was going to be one of those days where the weather was diverse. I had planned to start my day with a blazer and sweater in the morning, then break down to my typical button up shirt as the heat built throughout the morning. I remember being particularly uncomfortable in the elevator as the gauge ticked off the floor levels on the way to my company’s austere facilities where I held a coveted corner office.

I was not warm from wearing the ugly sweater left over from the annual Ugly Sweater contest last winter, though; in fact I still felt a chill in the air. It was puzzling me, as the elevator was packed full of those fellow heat producers who also worked in the building. I should have been feeling the temperature eat through my antiperspirant. Instead, I found myself clutching my briefcase to my front as I attempted to suck in more warmth from my surroundings through sheer willpower.

I might have thought that I was coming down with a summer cold, except I was a bit more preoccupied with this feeling that was slowly overcoming me as we approached my floor. A sensation of dread had begun to build, and I did not know why. There was nothing on my docket to worry over, and the news from the financial markets this morning had been full of cheer and the promise of increasing my contributions to various overseas accounts. If anything, I should have been full of anticipation regarding the grand game in which I consistently placed high on the leader board.

As the elevator doors opened and I stepped out I could feel my heart pounding rapidly against my rib cage. I began to suspect that I was suffering from a panic attack by then. I had read about them in college when I had taken a few credits of psychology. As often as not they were not connected to actual reality, which was leading to many internal thoughts on the matter in regards to myself. I had always been inordinately overconfident throughout my years, so this feeling was in particular something I felt would only be ascribed to me if I were to be assigned by hell to a room in which I was eternally tormented by fear.

I was so preoccupied with these morose thoughts that I almost failed to notice him until the last moment when I was approaching my office.

He stood there, all trim and dapper in his sedate black suit, dark grey shirt and black tie while in conversation with my secretary Helen. His hair was neatly trimmed short, his skin pasty white and he wore rather wide framed black spectacles. As I caught a sideways glance at his profile, I rather thought him to be of the mixed lineage of European and perhaps a Japanese person entering into the equation a few generations back. While his attire and appearance was rather morbid, what in particular caught my attention was the palpable aura surrounding him.

By aura, I do not mean that his presence commanded those nearby to pay attention to him. No, those shark-like people do not particularly affect me. I had passed probably fifteen such individuals since stepping out of the elevator. No, this man who was perhaps five inches shorter than myself and was thin as a twig, was engulfed in a literal aura. To me it appeared as if he was surrounded by wisps of black smoke that rotated lazily about, and yet did not seem to obscure his features. As I stopped and frankly gaped, I could not help but notice that no one else was reacting to his presence in any way out of the normal. The only consideration for this manifestation which surrounded him was that each person gave him a large berth when walking past. There was not a hint of fear coming off anyone except myself.

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As I stood there in clear hesitation, the man glanced my way. His pupils were, of course, jet black, and as our eyes locked I could not help but notice that the smoke of his head flowed around something unseen. The invisible object in fact struck me as being shaped like a halo.
Despite the fact that I was standing in the middle of the flow of human traffic in the hallway he smiled in recognition at me. It was neither a malicious smile, nor one of joy, but I would be lying if I said anything other than it weakened my control over my bladder.

I may have swore out loud in that moment, which was completely out of character for me. Several people walking past glanced at me in various states of puzzlement. I did not particularly care in the moment, for I had already decided on a course of action. I turned and I fled. Of all the chatter and background noise, I only heard the receding voice of Helen calling my name in the background as I hurried away.

My anxiety did not lessen on the way down. There was no doubt in my mind that I had met the dread angel. Why he had chosen to attempt to meet with me in such a formal manner was irrelevant. As the elevator lowered at what seemed like an abominably slow pace, I half expected him to simply appear next to me.

As I was released into the ground floor lobby, I came to the realization that either my time was not in fact up, or that he was hampered in his movements. He may be coming for me, but apparently he could not just appear and vanish like some movie ghost. This meant that my fate was not sealed.

If anyone possessed the resources to outrun that dark angel, it was me. And I was going to damn well do it.

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Within the hour I was on board a train bound for Delaware. Why Delaware, you ask? Simply stated, when was the last time you ever heard anything tragic occurring in that state? Exactly. In these modern times where you could do in seconds on your phone what would have taken all day long just a decade ago I had already rearranged my finances. I had arranged for a certain amount of income to be liquidated from my portfolio and to be made available to me through a series of methods which were not all completely legal. My journey on the train gave me time to arrange for certain other things I would need. My maid would raid my personal safe for me. In there I had certain documents which had been created for a false identity in case I ever needed to flee the financial authorities. Of the stacks of solid currency in there, what she could not stuff in a manila envelope would become her termination bonus.

My feelings of anxiety had mostly evaporated when the train pulled into the station much later in the day than I would have liked. In fact, I was starting to wonder if I had hallucinated the entire scenario. I had participated in my share of narcotics over the years, and so it was entirely possible that my panic attack earlier in the day had accidentally released a hallucinogenic which had been stored in a fatty deposit.

I had almost convinced myself of that when I saw him again. As impossible as it might be, he was standing on the train platform maybe twenty meters away. His aura had thinned somewhat, but now the halo seemed somewhat more substantial. He had not yet spied me, so after a second of two of recognition on my part I turned the other direction and fled.
With the dread angel confirmed in my mind to be in pursuit of me, I altered my plans after that. I came to the decision that I would require transport going forward where I could not be cornered. What if I took a flight only to find out that he was on board? My only recourse would be to hide in the commode, and that was as good as accepting my final judgment. The same thing went for trains. Even utilizing a ride-sharing service would be risky. So, after a sleepless night of being in constant movement, that next morning I purchased a vehicle after picking up my funds from a Fed-Ex office.

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What followed was a grand chase worthy of any film starring DiCaprio. Oh, you may consider this to be a form of punishment in and of itself, but in fact I came to relish the chase. How I stayed one step ahead of him took constant scheming on my part. You see, my hunter proved to be a worthy foe. Rarely would any of my ruses work on him twice.

His resources proved to extend greatly into our world. Having lived as I had, I was well versed in the capabilities of a federal officer. I quickly discovered that my credit sources had been tagged. While this limited my capabilities, it also gave confirmation to my genius through my prior preparations. I had millions still at hand with which to fund me.

So proceeded the chase. I will not bore you with the particulars as I led him on a merry journey over southern borders only to flee back north when it seemed I was becoming predictable. Along the way many a palm at a border station came away holding a year’s worth of salary. How I did not fall into the mundane traps of ordinary existence which could lead to one’s own end still remains a mystery to me.

As you might presume from my storytelling, he was of course not bothered by human borders. Why then was he slowed by terrain? You would have to ask him. My own conversations with the dark angel never went that direction – although I am getting ahead of myself here.

Three years is how long I lasted. I could have continued for a lifetime, but sadly my money ran out in Ottawa, Canada. It had been a mistake to wander that far north. Up there it became impossible for me to find a decent back-alley poker game with which to increase my funds, you see.

And so it was that I found myself in a cheap motel alongside the road on that fateful night when he finally caught up with me. By then I had changed my appearance so many times that even I was having difficulty recognizing myself. As I sat up and proceeded to the door after his knock, I noted mentally that it had been roughly three years since the chase had begun.

I opened the door, and of course there he stood. He was as immaculate as ever, and his aura had all but vanished by now. The halo hanging over his head appeared solid and to be entwined by thorny vines with bits of dark green paper stuck to them. His face showed recognition of me, as always, but bore no particular malice. I suppose to his kind we were nothing more than a number on a ledger sheet at the end of the day.

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“Mr. Ernest E. Davitz,” he said by way of greeting. “While this has been a somewhat distracting form of entertainment, I am afraid that your journey is at an end. My I come in?”
“I suppose I have little choice,” I said and gestured in accommodation. I did not bother with any flights of fancy regarding ducking out the door and running. At this point all I would do is prolong matters by a day or two at most. I knew that I was defeated.

As I settled down on the bed he fished out his wallet and handed me a card. I did not bother glancing at it. “Tell me,” I said in resignation. “Why did it take so long for the grim reaper to chase me down?”

He gazed levelly at me, his face at once every government bureaucrat I had ever had the displeasure of meeting. “The grim reaper? Mr. Davitz, I believe you are mistaken. I am not the grim reaper, the angel of death, or any other name ascribed to that office.”

His words made me rock back as if I had been struck. “But the smoke! The feelings of anxiety and finality that surround you – that damned halo hovering over your head,” I said, my voice rising in pitch. “If you are not death, than who are you? And why have you chased after me like some English hunting dog who has caught the scent of the fox?”

He sighed, which showed the first and only bit of weariness he would ever display. Rather than answering me immediately, he turned and opened up his briefcase. “I suppose I should not be surprised after all of these centuries. My brother gets all of the propaganda and attention. Do not get me wrong – I am incapable of being envious or jealous. But his fame does at times make my ordained task difficult.”

Having fished out a folder of impressive size, he paused long enough to glance at the first paper on top before handing the entire stack to me. “Mr. Ernest E. Davitz, have you ever heard the saving, ‘The only certainty in life is death and taxes?’ It is a literal truth. I am the Grim Accountant; I am the Angel of Taxes, and I am here to issue you a great many warrants regarding your finances. You are being audited.”

I stared at him for a full minute and then finally groaned, “Just kill me now.”

Credit: N. Ravenel Bard

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