A tale I originally wrote for a short fiction class, dusted off and edited to publish for the new year, as a tale of self-redemption and new beginnings.
The Day I Died
A fictional tale for your consideration
Another puff of acrid smoke silently stalked its way across the bar where one Daggett Masterson sat. This bar, like so many others in the America of this time, was expected to follow a law prohibiting the smoking of cigarettes inside its establishment. This law was of no concern to two particular individuals in this place tonight, for there was a magnitude of purposefulness here that outweighed social convention and obligation.
Daggett outwardly ignored the smoke that singed the hairs of his nose as he shuffled with his watch. How many years now it’d been since he’d even smelled tobacco; the scent released in him another wave of nostalgia. I suppose I do have worse memories… “Pour me another drink, would you mind?”
The barkeep accepted the shot glass that was slid back to him from across the counter, pouring another round of whiskey into it. Daggett could feel the heat of the alcohol even from here. “This is the real stuff, Dag. I know it’s been years for you, so take it easy.” Daggett ignored the advice broadcast his way, slamming the fresh shot back as though he were in a drinking competition.
“I don’t need this swill for the courage. I’ve had a very long time to think about what I need to do, Mack, and once this dizziness wears off I won’t have a problem doing it. Besides, ever since, you know, the law, any chance to knock back a few is few and far between.” Daggett tilted his glass from side to side, as if trying to swirl the whiskey that was no longer there. “And, it’s for the pain.”
Mack chuckled, the cigarette still dangling from his lips. “Yeah, Dag, I get it, whatever you need to say to convince yourself. Just don’t get so sloshed that you forget what you said you were gonna do. You told me what you were gonna say, and made me swear to make you swear that you would go through with it!”
“Yeah… well you should know that I’ve learned to keep my promises. I learned that lesson the hardest way I possibly could.”
“Yeah… you did, my friend.”
Daggett drew in the last of the whiskey fumes with a deep breath, and he let that air out languorously as he glanced down at his watch again.
“Damn,” he muttered to himself. “Time’s getting away from me already.” He pulled on his shirt collar out of habit, checking that it was still straight even though he already knew it was so.
As the clock struck 8:31 exactly, the front door opened. The left hand of a man held the door open for a striking young woman. In his right hand was a small black folder. A sweet fragrance accompanied the woman as she fluttered past Daggett, toward a table in the establishment’s back corner. That smell… haven’t smelled a scent that lovely in… such a long time.
The man entered just behind the lady, and gestured her toward the far table while he kept his free hand at her back. “I’ll get us some drinks, wait up for me over there?”
What a sweet voice she has. Daggett swiveled his empty glass around again.
The new arrival slapped his overstuffed folder onto the counter with an ungraceful plop. “Hey, where’d the bartender go? I thought I just saw him when I came in the door?”
“He’s out back, probably chasing some bums away from the dumpster. Probably won’t be too long,” Daggett said to the younger man.
“Ah, so you know him pretty well. Friend of yours?”
“Yeah, we go way, way back,” Daggett tilted his head to the side enough to get a decent glimpse of the back table where the woman was now sitting. “She your wife?”
The younger man matched the same glance to the back table. “Naw, girlfriend. We just came from a show and she wanted to stop off for a few drinks.”
“Ah. Well son, with a beauty like that, you really ought to have a ring on her finger by now.”
The younger man steered his head toward Daggett like a curious dog. “Yeah, well, I’m just not sure. It’s a big deal, and… and hey, what makes you say, by now? How do you know this isn’t our first date?”
“It’s a hunch. You pick up on these things pretty quickly when you get older.”
The bartender returned to his post, wiping his hands off with a towel of questionable sanitary standards. “Sorry about the wait, had to go to the pisser. What can I get you?”
The young man hesitated. This wasn’t exactly the best part of town in the best part of America; Daggett could feel the apprehension weighing on him. “Two vodka martinis, one extra dirty. Both stirred.” He slid a twenty across the counter. “Keep the change.”
As Mack started mixing the drinks, Daggett eyed up the black case that was on the counter. “So what’s with the case, kid? You don’t look that important.”
“Gee, thanks, pops. Not that it’s really any of your business–”
“You’re right, it’s not, but go on.”
The young man rolled his eyes. “As I was about to say, what’s in here represents a great business opportunity. I’m finally going to get out of this hellhole and travel around the country, and get paid to do it!”
“So you’re taking the lady out of this hellhole too, right?”
“Well no, she has her own place and her own things going on. And I’m not sure it’s going to work out anyway. She’s being flaky, but hey, you know how women are.” The younger man gave Daggett the proverbial wink and nudge, expecting the older man to get at least a chuckle out the quip.
It didn’t even earn him a smirk.
Daggett ran a finger along the edge of his empty shot glass, tracing circles around it gently. “You’re real smooth, kid. What do you think you’re going to find out there that’s so much better than what you have right over there?”
“Money, pops. Travel, adventure. I can finally escape this 9 to 5 bullshit. Come on old man, don’t tell me that you don’t know what that’s like.”
“Maybe I do, kid. And I think maybe your lady does, too. You think she’s just gonna sit around while you cavort around the country? You don’t think she’s gonna want the same things?”
“Well, yeah, but she told me that she’d support me on this–”
“Bullshit, son. I’ll bet you any amount of money that she’s going to get so lonely that it’ll drive her crazy. In fact,” Daggett stole another look at the back table. “Yep, I know that look. She’s putting on a brave face, but she’s not happy.”
“Okay old man, I’m here for a drink, not a lecture.” The younger gentleman took his drinks and retreated to where his lady was waiting.
Daggett spent the next few minutes steeped in contemplation, and more whiskey. Each second that ticked by on his watch rang like a knell in his mind.
Yelling came from the back of the establishment. “What!? What did I say that was so terrible!?”
“Dag… I’m kinda busy here, maybe you oughta see what that trouble is before one of my glasses gets broken over that kid’s head?”
“Yeah, I’ll do it.”
Daggett stood up, picking up the leather duster that was on the seat next to him. After putting it on with feigned effort, he took on an outdated yet dignified appearance, not unlike a fine antique.
The young woman had stormed away from the table to make what looked like an urgent phone call on her mobile phone. She was now in the opposite corner of the place, obvious tears seen streaking down her cheeks. It was at that moment that Daggett approached the bewildered younger gentleman.
“You know what, why don’t we start over? My name is Daggett Masterson.” He held his right hand out.
“Look, Mr. Daggett, I appreciate the polite gesture, but now isn’t a good time.”
This kid is such an ass.
“I’ll be brief. Indulge me?”
The younger man took a deep breath and then sighed as he took Daggett’s right hand into his own. “I’m Donald Moore.”
“Alright Don, I won’t waste your time. I’m gonna be really blunt with you.” Dag helped himself to a seat across from Don. “I’m dying. I don’t know the exact second of the exact minute, but I know it’s gonna be tonight, and soon. There’s nothing that any doctor at any hospital can do about it. But in these last hours of mine, I knew there’d be someone that I could help.”
“Look pops, if you’re really dying, I get that you’re wanting to do some kind of last good deed before you go. But why the hell are you here, and not at some homeless shelter or a clinic? And what help do you think I need anyway, there’s nothing–”
I’d like nothing better than to punch him.
“Shut up. Your lady is pissed off at you, and it’s because of what’s in that case. You think that contract inside is your shortcut to success. You’re so focused on trying to leapfrog into the future that you can’t see what’s right in front of you now. You think that you’ve read all of the fine print, but you’re wrong, and what you’ve missed will cost you what you have in front of you right now and what you think you will get tomorrow.”
Don looked nonplussed.
Daggett didn’t give the younger man a chance to complete another thought. “What’s in your left pocket, is more important than that damn case.”
Now Don seemed flat out confounded. “Alright old man, spill it, just how the hell do you know about this? And where did you come from, anyway, you some kind of relation that I forgot about?”
“A little bird told me about your problem. You could say, a mutual friend. But that’s not important. What matters right now, Don, is that you take your head out of your ass and start appreciating what you have right now. I don’t have time to explain how I’m here, at this exact moment. It’s been a long and painful journey. Suffice to say, I knew that you’d be here tonight, and I knew what kind of trouble you’ve been having with that lady of yours.”
Daggett reached into his jacket’s left pocket, and produced a small cedar jewelry box. It was badly beaten, terribly worn from years of travel and exposure to the elements. “This box is beaten to hell, but what’s inside is new and very unworn, I can assure you. Think about that.” He slid the box across the table to Don, and then glanced at his watch.
“Do me one last favor, kid. Even if it’s just for tonight, do what’s right by that beautiful woman over there. You have no idea what kinds of terrible things can be just minutes and miles away.”
In as much time as it took for a flustered and confused Donald Moore to open his mouth to speak, Daggett Masterson had risen to his feet and was at the door. He pushed it aside with his left hand, and then disappeared into the coming storm.
With a shaking hand, Don pulled a brand new cedar jewelry box from his left pocket, and sat it beside the one given to him by Dag. He first opened the new box, and was relieved to see that the item inside hadn’t been stolen somehow. With trepidation, he opened the old box, and was stunned beyond any sense of belief by what he saw next.
In both boxes were identical, beautifully new gold rings, each adorned with twin blue sapphire gems. On the inside of each ring was an engraving: “To Lilith, the one love of my life.” Carved into the inner lid of both boxes, was the message: “I am yours to the day I die, and beyond,” followed by the unique signature of one Donald Moore. Don Moore, a man who has, in the span of just a few minutes, had the encounter of a lifetime, and now found himself facing possibilities and choices that defied every bit of logic and sensibility he comprehended.
Don quickly grabbed the two boxes, stuffed them into his coat pockets, and bolted toward the door. Rain had started to pour in the darkness, and the aged form of Daggett Masterson was nowhere to be seen. Water poured down Don’s face as he yelled out into the night for the man who had just turned his life upside down. Minutes felt as hours.
Finally, his only reply was a horrific crack off in the distance. To the untrained ear, it might have been thunder, but there had been no lightning. And young Donald knew the sound of a handgun when he heard it.
Daggett Masterson… I remember now!
Bewildering shock overwhelmed him. He reached back into his mind and remembered a story that heonce wrote when he was barely a teenager, about a grizzled detective who was desperate for redemption. Tears joined the water on his face when he recalled that the character in his story had a wife who was murdered, and had lost all of his money to a con man in a get rich quick scheme.
I never finished that story. No one else has ever read it. I never saved it and never put it to paper… nothing else adds up… Daggett IS me!
Lilith called out to Don from the door of the bar. The young man ran back and embraced her. “I’m so sorry,” he sobbed into her ear. “Let me take you home, please.”
Confused, but amicable, she relented. “Okay. You left your, folder, inside.”
“Forget it. I don’t care about it. I love you, and I’m not going anywhere but home. With you.”
As the couple started off toward their nearby car, Don glanced a final time toward the blackened horizon. He took a final look at his old self, and vowed not to follow in his footsteps.