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 Women are like bacon. They look good, smell good and taste even better. Unfortunately, each piece will slowly kill you.

 -Fact of Life


 Six years ago

 “Fucker’s deader than a doornail,” a man said, sounding almost disgusted.

 Someone snarled, and I tried to turn in the direction of the sound, but my limbs wouldn’t cooperate.

 “If you have nothing to add to this, you may leave,” a cool, calm voice practically purred. “Doctor?”

 “I have a pulse back, but I have had a pulse three times, and he’s coded in the back of the ambulance twice. He was pronounced clinically dead on scene, and then resuscitated himself on the way to the morgue. It’s very likely that his lungs are fried and nothing will help him. The respirator is breathing for him and keeping the blood circulating through his system via the machine. If I take him off, though, it’s highly probable that he will succumb to the injuries he’s sustained,” another voice, whom I assumed was the doctor, rushed out.

 “Keep him on it. Find him some lungs,” someone, the man who’d sounded deceptively calm earlier, ordered.

 “Sir,” the doctor interjected. “It’s not as simple as just finding him some lungs. Someone has to die before he can have his lungs.”

 “So make someone die,” the calm man replied, sounding so very practical that it was hard to listen to.

 “But sir,” the doctor objected.

 “I don’t care what you have to do, but if you want to continue breathing yourself, you’ll do it. You’ll make it happen, because I need him. I need him, or the whole operation that I’ve spent the last decade planning will be for naught. Do it or die. Simple as that,” the man ordered flatly.

 Silence followed that statement, and I realized that whomever that man had been referring to had left the room, and me.

 “This guy needs to die,” the man that had been reprimanded earlier said. “It’d be a favor to him if he did. His life will be terrible. No woman will ever want him again. Not when those scars heal.”

 “His life is already terrible, Kershaw,” the doctor said softly. “The boss guy won’t let him go, just like he won’t let the rest of us go. Plus, he’ll get reconstructive surgery, and the majority of these scars will be taken care of.”

 “No fucking shit. You should pull the plug. Give him a way out of this,” the first man identified as Kershaw said in obvious disgust.

 “You know I can’t. He’s got my family on his radar, just like he has yours and this guy’s,” the doctor said gruffly. “He’d have them, too, if they weren’t so protected.”

 Family? Did I have a family somewhere?

 “His brain is going to be fucked up after all of this. When I got him out of the morgue, he’d already gone fucking cold. There’s seriously no way that he’s going to come back as anything but a vegetable,” the voice of Kershaw said.

 The doctor grunted in reply.

 “At this point, he wouldn’t be able to remember how much he’s missing. Seems kinder than having to see your wife and kids every day. Watching them go on with their lives without you,” the doctor’s voice sounded choked.

 “Sorry man. Didn’t mean to bring it up,” Kershaw replied. “Fucking A, I hate this job. Fucking Hill. Fucking government project bullshit. I never signed up for this.”

 “None of us did,” the doctor explained. “Haven’t you figured that out by now?”

 “All I know is that one day, the boss man’s going to get what’s coming to him, and when that day comes, I’m going to have a front row seat in a recliner with a bag of popcorn on my lap and a beer in my hand.”

 “When that day comes, Kershaw, we’ll all probably be dead,” the doctor countered.

 There was silence for so long that I thought they were gone, but then Kershaw said two more words, and it was those words that would haunt me for the next two years.

 “Or free.”




 Six months later

 “You’re going to hurt yourself if you don’t slow down.”

 I looked over at the doctor, Dr. Monroe Ruben, and grimaced.

 “This is the only way I’m getting out of here,” I countered. “If I can’t fucking work out, I can’t fucking fight my way out of this hellhole.”

 Dr. Ruben didn’t bother to correct me.

 “I like your determination,” he informed me. “But, if you’re not careful, you’re going to end up hurting yourself worse than when you started.”

 I gave him a blank look.

 There was no way that I could look that bad. I’d seen the pictures. I saw the hideous burns on my body. I saw the way I’d looked—which, might I add, wasn’t pretty.

 One man had called me the melted man. There had been burns on my face, neck, hands and forearms. All of which, including my face, had been reconstructed.

 No longer was I the man that I was before—and I knew the man that I used to be.

 I knew that I wasn’t ever going to look the same, and if I was being honest, that was likely a good thing. The old me was dead. The old me, the one that had a wife and kid, was gone. He would never be a threat to that family again.


 Because I made a deal with the devil.




 Another six months later

 I stared at the man through my scope.

 I couldn’t do it. I really couldn’t do it.

 There was no way in hell that I could do it. This man had been like a second father to me. He’d been my backbone for three years. He’d taken care of my wife and child for the last year while I’d been recovering.

 While I’d been dead.

 I dropped my head to the ground, uncaring that there was a large rock denting my forehead.

 “No. No, no, no, no, no,” I swallowed the bile threatening to make its way back up my throat.

 I lifted my head and stared through the scope one last time.

 One last final time, then pulled the trigger.

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