Emon sipped his cola-laced rum, and as he set it down, the clear cubes of ice settled against the glass. The alcohol burned his throat, and it was the first time he didn’t care. He used to worry that drinking might damage his vocal cords, but ever since he was in a car accident, he couldn’t say more than a few ragged-sounding sentences before succumbing to an irritated throat and uncomfortable coughs. So, it didn’t much matter what he stuffed down his throat.
He said, “Have you ever wanted something so bad you’d do anything for it?”
He wasn’t talking to anyone in particular, and it surprised him when the man next to him replied, “Yep. Too many times to count.”
Emon looked over, and the stranger didn’t look back. He just looked into his nearly empty tumbler. He had silver hair peppered with black shading that suggested he wasn’t as old as he appeared, though deceit is always a two-way road where the gullible is almost as guilty as the deceiver. He wore an odd yellow corduroy coat with brown leather patches on the elbows. Emon didn’t know people still wore jackets like that, and so he suspected the man was in fact as old as he appeared.
The man in the yellow coat looked at him and said, “We’ve all made our fair share of mistakes, son. What was yours?”
It’d been a while since someone gave Emon an ear, so he took it kindly. “Car accident.”
Emon was originally too ashamed to answer, but when he looked into the man’s soft, comforting eyes, his inhibition eased. Because he’d already spoke too much, his voice started to take on a rough quality. “The accident… it was my fault.”
The man gulped the last bit of his drink. “Run a red light? Stop sign?”
“No, nothing like that.” Emon said, and sipped his rum. “Much worse.”
“Ah, say no more, friend. Not everyone can escape fate when they drink and drive. Someone has to fall some time.”
“Ain’t that the truth?” Emon growled, but unintentionally. His voice had reduced to a deep rumble, one without tone or softness.
“So, what is it? You want to take that night back?”
“I would if I could, but I’d take something more subtle you know?” He paused to take a sip of his drink with the hope it would soothe his now burning throat. It was as if he’d swallowed barbed wire. “I’d give anything to sing again.”
“That’s a pretty odd thing to want.”
“Nah, not when you love someone.”
“Oh, it’s for a woman.”
“It was for a girl, but she’s not so into me anymore.”
“I don’t understand why, you’re still pretty handsome for a man who lived through a car accident.”
Emon took in a long deep breath and let it out slowly. “What she loved most was my voice.”
“Well, that sounds shitty of her. Was it that good?”
“The best.” he said as Aria, a young blonde woman, entered the bar. She wore a short white skirt, black corral boots, and a baby-blue spaghetti strap. A soft, white cardigan hung from her shoulders, which danced in the air as she made her way to the other side of the bar.
“Let me guess…” the man in the yellow coat said.
“Yup, that’s her.”
“If you don’t mind me saying so… wow. I don’t blame you for wanting your voice back.”
“I don’t mind at all. She’s to die for.”
Suddenly, the man was standing so close that Emon could smell his cologne. It had a hint vanilla, but there was something else he couldn’t quite place. Ever since the accident, everything smelled wrong. Flowers smelled unpleasant, and already unpleasant things smelled even worse. This man smelled like burnt or rotten food. Emon was always passive, so he didn’t say anything to him about it, but he placed his hand over his mouth to muffle the stench.
The man in the yellow coat said, “What if I could help you out?”
Emon let out such a sharp laugh that it sounded more like a bark. He looked up at the man who smiled, but there was a quality of seriousness in his face, too. “You’re not kidding.”
“No, not at all,” he said, and pointed to different people as he spoke. “See that man over there in the corner? He also caused an accident, one that killed a family of four. The mother, father, and daughter all died on impact. The son was found a day later wandering the streets screaming for his father. The boy died that night from his injuries. The judge took it easy on him, though. He even got a promotion at work.”
“One in a million.”
“Then there’s that guy over there, had sex with a woman while he was drunk, though she said he raped her. He was given a chance because he was too drunk to realize what he was doing.”
Emon didn’t reply this time, only listened. His throat was hurting too bad, but also he wasn’t sure what any of this had to do with his situation. Removing his guilt from the accident was hardly the same as judges finding leniency on drunks. He was becoming increasingly curious of how all of it connected to him.
The man in the yellow coat continued, “The woman at the end of the bar…”
Emon perked up and looked at Aria. The man quickly said, “No, not her. The other side. She crashed her car right through a family’s living room. Killed a little girl, the husband, and left the wife to suffer permanent injuries in a long-term care facility. The driver herself suffered deep gashes to her face.”
“I don’t see any…”
“I know. Everyone gets a second chance, Emon.”
“I don’t understand.” He said, shaking his head.
“What I’m trying to say is that I can help you like I helped them.”
“Wait, what? Who the hell are you?”
“Just someone who wants to help.”
It wasn’t until that moment he realized he hadn’t told the man in the yellow coat his name. “How did you…”
“You want to sing again, right?”
Emon carefully considered his next words, but there was only one thing he wanted to say. “More than anything.”
“What I’m trying to say is that I can give that to you.”
“I dunno, man. I don’t believe in all that mystical bullshit.” Emon said, and coughed from the harsh tickle in the back of his throat, his voice nearly dead.
“You don’t have to believe, you just have to accept my help and you’ll get your voice back.”
“I don’t know about that…”
“What could it hurt? Worst case, nothing happens. Best case, you’re singing again.”
Emon spoke again, but his voice was little more than pops of air. “Fine.”
“Are you giving up or accepting my help. Which is it?”
“The second one.” Emon whispered, as he felt tears burn in his eyes. The pain in his throat had become so intense that he wanted to reach in and tear it out. No, worse. He wanted to get the pistol his father used to commit suicide and use it on himself. Befitting since he was the reason his father killed himself. He forced himself to speak up, “Goddamn it, the second one.”
“Then it’s done.”
Suddenly, the pain stopped. The swelling thickness of his neck and fat globulous feeling deep in his throat disappeared. Emon reached up and rubbed his skin. It was as if nothing was wrong. He swallowed a few times just to be certain, and all things awful had ceased. He didn’t know who this man was, but he had to be an Angel sent by God to give him just one more chance.
Emon opened his mouth to speak, but the man in the yellow coat interrupted him with his finger. “Not yet. Don’t waste your first words on anything but a song.”
He furrowed his brow, and the man continued, “Go sing. Perhaps you’ll win her back.”
A cold sweat permeated his body, every inch of his skin a swamp of nervousness. Rolling drips tickled him as they ran the length of his body. He shook his head.
“Go on,” the man urged.
Emon didn’t know why, but he felt compelled to give it a shot. He really had nothing to lose. So what if someone laughed at him? He already knew the dark stories of half the people in there, and while he killed an old woman in his accident, it wasn’t nearly half as bad as their crimes. Hell, not even a little bit. At least his accident killed someone that was already on her way out. That was his rationalization, anyway. The only one that got him through most days, but to him, it was good enough.
When he reached the stage, he grabbed the microphone and looked at the bartender. Dean cocked his head to the side as if to ask if he was sure he wanted to sing, and Emon nodded. Dean shrugged, and turned the karaoke system on. The man already knew what Emon liked to sing, so he threw on Metallica’s cover of Turn the Page.
The guitars sung a sullen melody as Emon watched the small crowd of late night degenerates from center stage. All of them drank some kind of drink to forget their past, and they all looked toward him as he began to sing.
The words flowed freely through his throat, and the voice that came out of his mouth was good. No, it wasn’t just good, it was better than he remembered. Aria turned toward the stage, her eyes wide as he watched her. He felt his smile stretch across his face, and he had a hard time keeping his words from distorting, but he couldn’t help it. It had been so long since she noticed him, and now she seemed enchanted by him.
Aria stepped toward the stage, and began to sing with him. Her voice was smooth like velvety fudge, but that wasn’t the most amazing part. It was as if they’d never broke it off or that months hadn’t passed since the last time their lips pressed against each other. They stared deep into each other’s eyes, and at that moment, despite their falling out, he’d just as sudden fallen back in love with her in a way that made him immediately forgive her for everything that happened.
As she approached the stage, probably to join him, she suddenly stopped. Her eyebrows turned up with worry, and she grabbed her throat. She started to back away as a heavy cough barked from her lips.
Emon said, “What’s wrong?”
She didn’t say anything, she just continued to cough. Then her cough seemed to echo, but as he looked around, he realized it wasn’t an echo after all, it was everyone in the bar coughing. When his eyes returned to Aria, black soot billowed from her mouth each time she heaved, and her skin began to turn ashen-pink. Boils appeared, and her hoarse shriek grew louder.
“What’s happening!” he said, and ran to her. He dropped the microphone, and a quick chirp of feedback called from the speakers. He grabbed her arms, but it burned his hands. He immediately let go, unsure of what to do. She dropped to the ground, and her hair crackled and smoked as if on fire. She frantically patted at her head as her shrill call for help transformed from fright to agony.
Emon looked at the other patrons of the bar, and they, too, screamed with misery now. One man’s hand had melted, and then chunks of meat fell away from his skeleton. He fell to the ground in a soup made of his own dissolving flesh. The rapist’s eyes exploded and splattered all over his female date. It melted through her skin like an acid, and they screamed a song of unequivocal torment. The woman at the other end of the bar who drove her car through the house had lesions open across her face from which blood and black ooze poured. Flames seemed to lick from the wounds and burned the surrounding skin. Everyone but the man in the yellow coat was dying.
Emon ran to the man. “Make it stop!”
The man smiled. “It is as it should be.”
“What are you—just stop it!”
The screams died one by one, the sole voice remaining was that of a terrified Aria. She cried, “Emon!”
He turned just in time to watch her hit the ground. He looked back the man in the yellow coat, and said, “What the fuck did you do?”
“This is all thanks to you, my friend.”
“This is my fault?”
“No. It’s their fault. Their sins damned them. They were nothing more than rotting souls waiting for me to collect them. You just, simply put, helped the process along.”
“That I didn’t see coming. I don’t always know when someone has sinned, but as it turns out, she was no better than the rest.”
“Why… how did I… everyone’s fucking dead!”
“Oh, Emon. I hope you understand, but as a demon, I cannot collect souls. I need a tool. In this case, I needed your human voice. Normally I have to spend a lot of time convincing someone to accept something in return for a gift, but once in a while someone comes along like you that accepts without asking too many questions. I only have you to thank for that.”
“I never wanted this… I can’t be your tool. I’ll kill myself!”
“It’s all right, Emon. Relax. Your job is done,” he said, and threw some bills on the bar. “You paid your price. Enjoy your voice, son.”
As hot tears poured down Emon’s face, he watched the man in the yellow coat straighten his jacket and then disappear out into the hot afternoon sun. As the door closed, the force of the wind blew a nearby window open. It clattered against the wall, and the sun poured in as if to call his attention to ensure he witnessed what he’d done. Indeed, he paid, but he wasn’t so sure it was worth the price.