A Random Death

Serendipity, chance, and luck constantly and invisibly ricochet through our minutes. Is this something to be observed with reverence or with gratitude? If our eyes were capable of seeing the criss-cross and intricate paths of danger, we might never relax. The universe is a complex machine of moving parts, any of which can derail our plans without regard to us.

Each of us sits in our homes, confident that our experience will guide us in unforeseen circumstances. Because life seems so mundane most of the time, we seldom see past the veneer of randomness surrounding us. Anyone who doubts this probably didn’t see the recent story of the four-year-old boy killed by a plane crashing on him and his mother as they drove down a small road in Florida. 

Two minutes before the owner snapped the picture of her adopted cat, two men ran through the snow-covered yard, their feet slipping on the hill’s incline. The owner came outside to see if her neighbor Earl was out with his rifle again. She was a bit too late to witness the random events that had unfolded around her.

One of the two running men held his left hand to his side to slow the flow of blood from the bullet hole he acquired near the road. The other man pursued him, aiming his silenced gun at random intervals and firing. A few trees noted their passing as they ran, having been on the receiving end of the bullets intended for the bleeding man.

The chase started half of a mile from the impassive cat. The fleeing man jumped out of his sedan as it slowly continued to roll past him. He knew that the slight rise against the road would give him a few seconds of concealment. When he stood up to run in a sprint across the snow, he was surprised to feel a stabbing pain in his side. Without turning to look, he knew that his pursuer had shot him, evidently expecting him to run precisely as he had. Acknowledging that he would undoubtedly be killed, he decided to make his pursuer earn the right. He didn’t begrudge the man; he had been in the same situation a dozen times. He had been lucky enough to be the survivor. Today was not his day. 

As the two men ran up the hill, the cat turned its head to look in their direction. Though neither men noted the cat along the deck railing, Assassin noted their passing. The men would have been shocked to know that the cat hailed from Detroit and that its previous owner was a notorious killer himself. 

As the men cleared the top of the hill, the pursuer stopped and aimed carefully at his victim. It would end here, in the impersonal cold. He watched his fleeing victim also stop, waiting for the bullet that was to come.

As his finger tightened on the trigger, he felt a sharp pain in his temple. He didn’t feel the side of his head exploding outwardly as a single bullet entered his head. He fell in a heap on the snow and leaves.

As the fleeing man stopped, his breath came in huge gasps. His hand pressed hard against his side. He heard the echo of a hunting rifle but felt no impact. He turned slowly, puzzled to see his pursuer dead on the snowy ground.

He turned a bit more. An older man stood on his back deck about thirty yards away, a rifle in his hands. As the pursued man looked, the old man nodded toward the road. “Leave your gun right there and go,” he said. His voice was raspy and carried surprisingly well across the stillness. 

The pursued man dropped his gun on the ground and walked toward the road. Whether the old man would shoot him too was beyond his control. He focused on placing one foot in front of the other. Doing so had saved his life several times over the years. Don’t think, just move. There would be time later to wonder how the old man decided who to shoot. 

Earl, the old man in question, took out a cigarette and lit it. 

“Honey, I got another one,” Earl shouted toward the sliding glass doors along his deck. 

In a minute, he’d get his four-wheeler and retrieve the body. The neighbors were no longer surprised by a rifle shot coming from Earl’s direction. There was no hurry. He was going to finish his cigarette first. 

As Earl continued to smoke, the cat Assassin sat perched on the railing. Both peered out at the same snowy ground. Both waited, though neither knew for what. Around them, the universe continued. 

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