The End…

by W. M. Butler

I lay naked beneath the outer ring road, in one of the mini gardens placed along the elevated roads by The Shanghai government. The gardens and the green belts that line the roads out to the Pudong airport served three purposes that I knew of. One was to beautify an otherwise long and uninteresting journey out of the city, the second to hide the poverty of the rural countryside from arriving foreigners entering Shanghai, and finally to improve the airflow and ease the pollution caused by constant blistering streams of traffic that came and went. The pungent scent of clover and drone of bees mixed with the slicing hum of consistent engines muddying my ears.  A momentary lull in traffic like a slow winding down clock settled over everything and covered me. It had to end this way; PeiPei had killed me. She hadn’t held the gun but she pulled the trigger; her betrayal, my murder, it was the same thing. I couldn’t hate her for it I couldn’t hold a grudge. It all played out exactly how it had to. The key around my neck was gone, the location of the door it opened and the room’s contents would be denied Zhang forever. I never told him anything he could use. When he finally discovers that the information I gave him was nothing more than a diversion. A last tile tossed on the table so that Xu had the time he needed to disappear, Zhang would be angry. Let him be. By the time he figured it out and came back here in the hopes of dragging what he needed to hear from me I would already be dead. I will have bled out, eyes open in awe and wonder reflecting heaven with Yama whispering the next life in my ear, another secret I would take with me, one nobody but the dead could know. Zhang told me that once; he was the one that said that the dead tell no secrets. That was my brother for you, always with the theatrics.

I guess he was right about that though, but he was wrong about everyone having their price or when that failed a limit to the pain they could endure before telling him what he needed to know, namely the truth. He was right about the pain, I had had enough of that for this and my next life but he never figured that at the end of it that I would lie, that I would withhold the truth. How could he? I was the most honest person he knew. We were brothers and he trusted me right up until the end when I stole from him. Yet still as he pulled out my fingernails to find out if I had made a copy of the key I could tell that even though I had ruined him for the love of a woman, for a chance at a better life than this one, he knew that I had never spoken an untrue word. I never had before and despite my actions, I had never lied to my big brother. That was his mistake; maybe he wanted to believe that although I had played him I was honest about it and I was. Until fifteen minutes ago. That’s the funny thing about being faced with death. It changes a person, makes them do and say things that they normally wouldn’t. In most cases telling the truth, in mine the opposite.

The world around me slowed down and I could almost swear that the sun, now the only and last clock that I had was ticking off my final moments, I knew he had failed to open the door with the key and I knew PeiPei was waiting in the backseat outside the abandoned factory. I knew when he jumped back into the car crazed and riddled with disbelief over my lie. I knew he was slamming his fists down on the wheel; I smiled as PeiPei shuttered in fear and for the first time saw the monster in him. I knew that he was moving down the road at a dangerous speed getting closer and closer. He would be too late. I settled into my death with a warm gurgling sigh, soothed by the sun light, soothed by the rasp of a gentle wind on blade of grass. Minutes dropped from the sky.  A bumblebee settled on my nose, its fine liquorice dark haired legs mired up in the congealing blood.  It broke free and spiraled upwards dodging floating clouds of pollen seeds, magnolias brooded dripping from their branches.  I listened to the concertina like rumble of insects as they were drowned out by the thunderous lash of a 747’s engines screeching away from the city towards an unknown destination. And after that passed, I could hear the swish, swish, swish of legs cutting through the tall grass, I could hear PeiPei trailing behind crying over the bruise he had placed on her eye, it was then with them only yards away that I made my escape.