In this line of work there were few answers, and many questions.
One question, in particular, stuck out like a knife from a dead man's chest: "Could you ever kill a friend?"
For years, Blay the Assassin thought about it, turning it over and over in the quiet hours of the long, cold nights. The unanswered question never diminished. Blay's passion for the craft, however, did. He found himself a rich man, and even the luster of "professional power-shifting" had grown tiresome to him.
Blay the Assassin was done.
Or so he thought.
One day, the unanswered question burned a bright, new mark on his curiosity.
An old friend had returned.
Decades ago, Blay performed a service for a rising star in the entertainment industry - a singer, a non-commercial wonder who rebelled against the established industry.
This singer, known as Zalla, was so loved because he fought against the syndicated corporations where all music "thrived." He claimed, "Music is the deepest expression of the soul. And the soul can never be bought. So why should Music?"
Zalla wrote all of his own songs, and never once sold a single ticket, despite playing to crowds of millions.
There were men who wanted Zalla dead.
But Zalla was full of life, and anger, and strength. And so, he called upon Blay. Blay performed his duties with the utmost professionalism: no questions asked, and no answers left behind. The deaths of a few corporate overlords went unsolved.
But the message was made clear, and Zalla continued to grow, and gather the world under his profitless blanket.
Near the end of his journey, Zalla called upon Blay once more. He invited the assassin into his private home - a small cabin on a mountain road - and together they drank whiskey and tea.
It was Zalla who began the conversation, "Sir, you and I are nothing alike. But that does not mean we are not friends."
Blay, who could practically smell a job coming, merely nodded.
Zalla took a swig of whiskey, and held it in his mouth, letting the pain of bitterness seep into his features. He swallowed hard, "I must ask you something then, Blay."
"Of course." Blay would not vocalize his presumptions, but he knew what was coming. Most people had to work themselves up to the question of murder.
"Blay, have you ever killed a friend?"
It was not the question he had expected. Zalla still had so many enemies, what need did he for killing friends?
Blay pursed his lips, and shook his head, "No. At least, not one of my own."
"But if the need did arise, could you do it?"
"Anything can be bought," Blay said, echoing a half-line from one of Zalla's songs: Anything can be bought, but not everything should be sold...
A wide, brimming smile spread Zalla's lips, "Good, good. That's what I needed to hear."
And that's when Zalla asked the one question Blay could never figure out: "Blay, my old friend, I am done with this life. But that does not mean this life is done with me. One day, they will try to bring me back - they know there is money in every thing I do, every word I sing. Blay, should I ever try to bring back the old, and call it new, and should I ever sell it to the world, could you kill me?"
"I could kill you right now, if you wanted."
Zalla chuckled, and slapped his knee, "No, ho-ho, no. Later will be just fine, Blay. I haven't sold my soul just yet."
And so the years parted like fields of grain, blurring together until Blay could not remember one from the next. But he always remembered Zalla's question.
Just when he believed the question would go forever unanswered, an announcement shook the world.
Zalla had returned. His music was the same, but the message of free expression was overshadowed by a visible layer of filth and corporate greed. The expenses for marketing alone would've been enough to feed a small country for a century.
It was a surprise to Blay. He thought the old musician had died a long time ago. He had heard less and less from his old friend, and watched him slowly decay under the weight of time. This news of Zalla's return brought a comforting, mixed joy to Blay.
Blay, an old man with streaks of black still lingering in his gray mane, remembered his promise to his old friend. He did not know if he could go through with it.
But he was a professional. No matter how hard the job was, he would try to keep his promise.
It was on the night of the first concert that Blay made his appearance. The swarms of people filled the city until it began to burst, and no amount of enforcement could keep their excited energy at bay.
Zalla had returned.
Blay found him in a dressing room, buried deep below the largest stage ever built. A wake of unconscious bodyguards lay bleeding or groaning in the hallways behind.
And there was Zalla - a fraction older, a fraction fatter, but it was Zalla, nonetheless.
"Hello, old friend," Blay said, a gun hidden behind his back, "It's so good to see you again, despite our circumstances."
All things considered, to see the old musician once again made his chest swell with warmth.
"Who the hell are you?" Zalla said, leaning into his mirror, absorbed by his own reflection.
It was a pain Blay felt in his heart, more than anywhere else. Nobody likes to be forgotten.
"You asked me a question, so many years ago. And I am here to answer it, just as promised."
Perhaps it was the tone of Blay's voice that pulled Zalla away from the mirror. Blay's watched as his old friend slowly turned towards him. And for a moment, Blay believed - he truly believed - that he would not be able to uphold his bargain.
He could not kill his old friend.
But it was not the Zalla that Blay once knew. The lips were the same, but the smile was wrong. And the eyes - they were not the deep, blue pools of wisdom that Blay had once known. They belonged to someone else.
This, then, was the answer: Zalla had not come back from the dead.
Instead, the new corporate masters had killed the old Zalla, and replaced him with a fake. It was everything the real Zalla had feared.
The warmth was sucked from Blay's chest. He pulled out the gun, and aimed it at the Fake.
"What is this?" the Fake stuttered, falling back against his mirror, "What are you doing with that?"
It was the easiest question Blay had ever answered.
I took a break from writing. This was my longest break in a months. On my calendar, I have 7 whole days without Xs on them. That's 7 days without writing (or, at least writing with intent).
Here's what I learned:
I'm back at it. I'm crushed by the success of others - others who have started after me. It's a defeating feeling.
But it's also a good feeling. I know what I've been doing wrong, I'm improving my writing, and best of all - I'm trying to write for myself. It's more fun that way, and when my stories don't do so well, it hurts much less because I'm interested by what I've written.
Oh, and if you're looking for hundreds of other stories from me, I've got them all laid out over here.
Thank you for reading! Please, like me on Facebook here - I'm trying to build it out over there, and I'm close to the double digits on likes! Wow! Amazing! So many!
Another Story? Here you go: An Unexpected Death