This story is by Wendy Pearson and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here.[Psalm 103]
Aunt Annora died yesterday. For the second time, I became an orphan.
As I stand on the porch, waiting for my two cousins to arrive, I hear the blowing wind. The same eerie sound. Like the first time, when I was three—the day my mother gave me away.
She took me to her sister’s house, and I never saw her again. The one thing I remember about her was the shock of long red hair blowing in the wind as she ran down the front steps of my aunt’s porch.
I’ve always had an affinity to the wind. It’s invisible—just like me. It comes and goes, and we only see its effect, but no one knows where it resides.
Her departing words to me were, “Ivory Harlow, behave.” When I reached up my arms to her one last time, she turned her back on me and ran. Not even a kiss goodbye or a hug. The only thing we have in common is long red hair.
If my mother taught me only one thing, it was that nothing in life is ever black or white. There’s always a gray area. Even though she ironically named me Ivory and her name is Ebony. I prefer to live in the gray areas or shadows—that’s where the invisible survive best.
My aunt’s departing words to me, “Ivory, your dad left the day you were born.” The only good thing about her comment is that she admits I have a name.
Annora made mention of Mother but once, “She’s bad news and runs with some dangerous people.’’ No other details and orphans know better than to ask too many questions.
The only consistency in my life is that everyone has been emotionally unavailable to me.
My cousins, Martin and Rick pull into the driveway. They’re here to discuss funeral arrangements.
“Hello,” I say. No answer. They are all business and not much for pleasantries.
Annora’s sons don’t like me, and I can’t relate to them either, as they’re much older.
They ignored me from the day they met me. My aunt kept me in the basement on a little cot, away from everyone.
“We’re selling the house. It’s time to move out,” says Marvin. “We want to fix the place up a bit before the first showing, with no one in the way.”
Rick grunts his agreement.
Marvin leans on the porch railing and looks right through me, “I have a realtor coming over tomorrow to list the house and put up the ‘for sale’ sign.”
I don’t bother objecting or ask any questions. What would be the point? These two vultures have made up their mind, and they’re giving me no notice, just the boot. They’ve always been money-hungry. To them, I am the ‘invisible orphan.’ I don’t exist.
“Did you hear me?” asks Marvin.
My voice says, “Yes,” but my body is numb.
“It’s time to use that degree, get a job and find a new home.”
Sure, I’m a college grad, but I’m ass-deep in student loans and have no work experience.
My part-time job pays peanuts. Hardly enough to rent a cheap room, let alone eat.
The funeral is cheap and cheerless. My cousins inform me I’m not in my aunt’s will. No surprise there.
I lose no time in finding a low-rate room, near the university. Lots of families rent out rooms to students to supplement their income. At least my room is at the back of the house, and I have my own private entrance.
I didn’t have much to move from Annora’s house, just some clothes, and books. One taxi cab ride with my belongings got the job done—the little cash I have left I use to pay the cab fare.
I ride my bike to my part-time job and back home every day. Living alone feels the same. I grew up that way. I toss and turn all night, my mind full of worry and stress about my debt.
Two months come and go and still no permanent work. My boss at my part-time job says business is slow and he is letting me go. I can’t pay this month’s rent. The couple who owns the house agree to let me stay one more night and then leave. I have nowhere to go. They put the ‘room for rent’ sign back up at the front of their place.
I bike over to my part-time job to beg my boss to keep me on for at least a week or two. He says no. I ride back to my place. At least I can sleep here tonight. Tomorrow, I might be sleeping on a park bench. I shudder at the thought.
I park my bike and notice an envelope taped to my back door. I open it, and there’s a note inside. It says, ‘Meet me at Scotts Woods Park at the totem pole at 7:00 PM tonight. Come alone.’ It’s unsigned. I put the key in my door and contemplate what to do. Who knows I even live here? Is this a stalker attempting to lure me to my death?
It’s 6:00 PM. I wash up and eat a piece of toast. The curiosity is killing me, even though I’m terrified. I decide to go. Before I lose my nerve, even though I don’t even know who I’m meeting? How will I recognize them?
As I ride over to the park, the wind is blowing again—its eerie hands pushing my bike faster towards my destination.
I arrive at the park and cycle to the totem pole. It’s hard to miss. I get off my bike and wait. Looking around I see some people walking and kids playing ball, but no one I recognize. Maybe this is a cruel practical joke.
So far, it’s a no show. I keep an eye out to make sure people are still in sight, if only in the distance. Desperation has brought me to this. I agree to meet a stranger in a remote area.
I catch someone out of my peripheral vision coming from the rear. I turn around to look. Two men are walking towards me. My heart starts to race, as I tell myself this is a bad idea. They’re both dressed in black suits. They don’t look like cops—more like mobsters.
“Miss Harlow?” asks the taller one.
“Yes,” I say. “How do you know my name?
“Don’t worry, no one is going to hurt you,” says the heavier one. “I’m Joe, and this is Dino.”
“What’s this about?”
“We have a solution to your problem,” says Joe.
“We understand you could use some cash to pay off some loans. We can help.”
“How do you know so much about me?”
“Call me, Joe,” he says. “That doesn’t matter. We have a problem too. We thought we could help each other.”
“How can I possibly help you? My goodness, I tremble at his request. Doesn’t he know I can’t even help myself?
“We will pay you $100,000 to kill someone. If you agree, you’ll have our gratitude. Something we don’t offer to everyone.”
“You must be mistaking me for someone else,” I say. “I’m not a killer for hire. I don’t even own a gun, or know how to use one.”
Joe lights a cigarette. “We can provide some fast training in that area. It’s a generous offer. You should take it. You’re all alone. You’re in debt, and we hear you lost your job. Do you want to end up on the street?”
“How do you know all this?”
“We have a mutual friend in common,” he says. “That’s all you need to know,” says Joe.
I rack my brains trying to figure out who is feeding them information about me.
“Yes or no?” says Joe. “We’re on a tight timeline. Will you kill the target?”
I take a look at Dino, and he’s puffing on a cigarette too. He’s in silent mode and hasn’t said a word.
I can’t believe I hear myself say, “Can I sleep on it?” My last-ditch effort to buy time to think. A sense of vertigo hits me. Things are moving too fast.
“No,” says Joe. “It’s now or never. You’ll be trained by our weapons expert for one week. You’ll practice and be tested. But the job must be done soon, on a specific date.”
“Why?” I ask. “What’s the rush?”
“Are you in or out?” says Joe, his voice losing patience.
This is the solution to get out of my financial hole. I could start my life all over again—debt-free. I know how to be invisible. I’ve had a lifetime of practice. Maybe this is my chosen profession. My destiny. What I’ve been looking for all along. Insane as it even sounds to me, it’s my ticket to freedom.
Desperation forces me to say, “I’ll do it.”
“There’s no turning back, once you agree,” says Joe. “You must kill or be killed.”
“How do I know you won’t kill me afterwards?” I ask.
“We don’t work that way,” says Joe. “A car will be outside your place tomorrow at 9:00 AM, with a driver. He’ll take you to our training center.”
It’s Saturday, eight days later. Somehow, I ace the training and pass. Joe and Dino don’t seem surprised. I overhear them say, “She’s just like her, isn’t she?”
Like who, I wonder?
I’m officially a hired assassin. I’m given a car with a driver. He takes me to a field to meet a helicopter. Once we land, I have a map and full details of where the target will be and the exact time. I have an M4 sniper weapon and know how to use it. One mistake and my life is over. I cannot fail.
The pilot flies me close to the designated spot. I make my way to the rooftop, set up my gun and check my watch. I get the target in sight and pull the trigger. A woman with long red hair falls and lies dead in the street. People near her panic and run. I pack up my weapon and safely make my exit.
I feel no emotion. Assassins can never quit this business—only be replaced.
In my weapon bag, I have one more envelope that says, ‘Open and read, after the asset is deactivated.’
I open the envelope:
‘My dear Ivory,
If you’re reading this, then I’m dead.
I gambled you wouldn’t take the money and kill the target.
If you had declined, then I’d be alive and allowed to leave.
Since you said yes and killed your target, your own mother,
I leave you the only thing I have, my chosen profession and
I’ve earned the money I need to be debt-free. My ticket to freedom. But more than that, I’m following in the steps of the woman I never knew.
Tears fill my eyes and roll down my face. I reach the field where the helicopter is waiting to fly me to safety. As I walk towards it, I hear the eerie wind blowing again. A howling refrain… I am my mother’s daughter.