D. Paul Angel
It was a capriciously Spring day. Rain came and went in bursting sheets, necessitating my jacket, even though it was uncomfortably warm to wear. Inside the bank I simply held it, its fabric being too slick to stay tied around my waist. I awkwardly shifted it hand to hand, a nervous, near constant leapfrogging with my deposit slip and envelope.
The line moved glacially. I studied the intricate paisleys brightly interwoven throughout the carpet, and wondered how much the view would change when I was closer to the brass pole holding the stained, velvet rope.
I looked up at the CLACK CLACK CLACK of a metal cane hitting the open door’s aluminum frame. The cane’s white and red paint was scratched and chipped, especially towards its lower third. Its owner was a woman who appeared younger at first glance, older at second glance, and unplaceable with further scrutiny.
She easily found the end of the line and, despite her opaquely black sunglasses, appeared to smile and nod at my attentions. I smiled back awkwardly before taking advantage of the line’s movement to look away.
As I was studying the herringbone on the tweed jacket of my predecessor in line, I heard harsh, barking shouts and rough feet clumping into the bank at a trot. Three masked men stood before us, menacing us with black, angular rifles and pistols tucked behind their belts.
Everyone began going to the ground but I found myself frozen. I knew, deeply, that if I hadn’t chosen the restroom before the bank I would have wet myself right there. I was certain they would kill me for standing, but I could not summon enough will to move.
Then I realized none of them were looking at me.
Nor was I alone in standing.
The lady with the cane had left the line and headed towards them. Rifles to shoulders; they coldly fixed her in their sights.
Her head slowly shook. It shook neither in fear nor intimidation; ignorance nor resignation. Her head shook with sadness. Terrible, absolute, sadness. The kind of deep sorrow that attends the finality of a too long struggle, when tears have wept themselves to extinction.
“Please,” she said with quiet sternness, “it is not yet too late.”
The leader derisively cycled his rifle in intimidation, his grin obvious even through his mask. The unspent round bounced twice on the carpet’s short pile before ricocheting with a TING off of one of the brass line posts.
In the silence that followed you could barely hear her utter a sharp TSK before slamming her cane straight down with so much force the air itself warped, twisting upon itself; wrapping itself, and then finally unbinding itself in three, quick, blinks of an eye.
The men dropped.
One, the furthest, simply lay quiet.
The other two held hands to their heads, their faces contorting in the rigors of silent, agonizing screams.
The last two, mercifully, finally stilled their thrashing and a funereal quietus soaked into the lobby. I alone still stood, and no one else appeared to be ready to cease from their exhorted torpor.
“What did you to them?” I asked her, surprising myself by talking.
“I did nothing to them,” she replied simply, as her head swiveled to face me. She walked towards me and continued, “They did it to themselves.”
“Feel, of course.”
“What you did to the air with your cane?” I asked confused. And afraid.
“Interesting.” She cocked her in head thought before continuing, “You saw the Clarity.”
“Pure, unfiltered clarity. Their life as Balance. Every hurt, every fear, every horror they have ever visited on anyone, and everyone, in their life, they felt.
“Fully and instantly; knowing beyond doubt they were the cause.”
“So they were overcome by their guilt?” I asked, and then noticing that the furthest robber was the only one beginning to move, added, “What about him?”
“It is Balance. The agonies they caused are balanced by those they have endured. For him, hope yet remains.”
“What are you? A witch? Sorceress? Angel?”
“I am what I need to be,” she answered with what I suddenly knew was unimpeachable veracity.
I began to open my mouth as a logiarrheaic flow of questions forming, before her stern visage closed it. Instead I found myself nodding and smiling to her in farewell.
She walked out the door, her figure lost in the glare of the low, late afternoon Sun. The third gunman rose in her shadowy wake, divested himself of weapons, and blearily followed her.
Though the customers and tellers remained bound to the floor, the other two masked men began to rise. Freed of my invisible shackles I went and helped each of them up. Distrustful eyes glared at me before softening and looking at their weapons with confusion.
I helped them pile their weapons in a heap; watching with a smile as the leader retrieved the shell he had ejected earlier. With a shaking hand he placed it atop the pile.
We left the bank together, it not yet being too late.