by Bill Kowaleski
John David Donne had just taken his first sip of coffee when he decided to enjoy it in his back yard garden. Such a beautiful early summer morning demanded admiration, and besides, what else did he have to do? He opened his back door, turned right, and opened the gate, all the while watching his very full coffee cup closely to avoid sloshing it. When he finally looked up, he found himself eyeball to eyeball with an unusually large, chestnut-brown donkey.
John stopped. His coffee sloshed out of the cup and onto his shorts. His mouth dropped open. He rubbed his eyes with his free hand, but the donkey was still there.
“Good morning, John,” the donkey said in a deep masculine voice. “Gonna be a beautiful day. Too bad about that coffee stain.”
So this is how it begins, he thought. First, I’m forced to retire, then my wife dies, and now dementia sets in. So much for a happy retirement.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said the donkey. It took a step closer to him, placing its mouth near his nose.
“I’m not a hallucination, John. Smell my breath. You ever hear of a breath hallucination?”
“You’re a talking donkey,” John spluttered. “You’ve got to be...”
“There is an explanation. Have a seat right over there where you were heading with the coffee. There, now let me tell you just who I am.”
Mrs. Cheever’s upstairs window looked right over John’s garden. She opened it and waved to him, a big smile on her face. “Morning, John. Gonna be a hot one, eh?”
“Uh, yeah, Gladys, seems so.” He paused then added, “Everything look OK here in my yard?”
“Roses are great, and that rabbit fence around your vegetables seems to be working. That’s a cute donkey you got there. You sure the city lets you keep animals like that?”
“I, uh, I’m just keeping him today for a friend.”
She nodded, waved, turned, and walked away from the window.
“She saw you,” John said.
“’Cause I’m here,” said the donkey. “Now let’s get down to business, shall we?”
“Look at your left wrist.”
John never wore a watch, but there was a very large square one wrapped around his left wrist, something like one of those fitness trackers, or smart watches, but somehow different.
“How did that get there?”
“John, what if I told you that after thirty plus years at the post office, you’ve finally got the chance to make a difference, to change the world. That device on your wrist will help you do that.”
“It’ll tell you what it can do, and it’ll guide you every step of the way. You see, you’ve been chosen to perform a quest, and once you understand what that device is capable of, well, you’ll know what to do.”
“Chosen? By whom? Just who are you really?”
He swore that the donkey smiled. Perhaps a smile, or maybe a smirk.
“Your astronomers have been discovering a lot of planets lately, John. Lots of them not so far from Earth. We’re from one of those, but our form would be most disturbing to you. We find these gentle, stubborn creatures aesthetically pleasing, so I took this one over for a while.”
“A donkey-ET,” said John. “Despite Gladys Cheever seeing you, I’m back to leaning more toward the dementia idea.”
“Just listen to the watch, John, and all will become clear.”
There was a pop, like a balloon exploding, and the donkey was gone.
John sipped his coffee, and as he did, thoughts intruded, thoughts that were entirely new, completely outside his experience, undoubtedly from the watch. Now he knew what it was. It could instantly transport him anywhere. It gave him incredible strength and, at the same time, it made him invulnerable. No bullet, knife, lance, sword, or even bacterium could harm him while he wore the watch.
“What’s this quest the donkey-ET mentioned?” he asked the watch. But there was no response.
When his cup was empty, John headed indoors for a refill. Once inside, he heard the television he’d turned on upon awakening. He realized that he hadn’t caught up on the news yet. He’d only been sitting a minute in front of his favorite Gray Channel News station, the only place to get the truth, when the anger set in.
The Blue Party was at it again, proposing all kinds of horrible things that would destroy his beautiful nation. Their candidate for Leader, Jacob McKinley, was such a lunatic, so repugnant. John couldn’t even imagine how anyone could vote for the man, yet the polls showed a tight race. I’d love to get alone with him in a room, thought John. I’d tear his head off.
His eyes clouded, he felt as if he had been transported to a movie theatre. He saw vividly before him a room, empty except for Jacob McKinley. John saw his hands squeezing the candidate’s throat, the struggling, the eyes glazing over, the limp collapse.
He saw himself tapping the watch and then reappearing in his living room. A thought entered his head: When you’re ready to do it, tap twice.
Now he understood. The donkey-ET had chosen him to save the nation from the terrible scourge of the Blue Party. With their leader dead, they would surely lose. But did he have the courage to actually do the deed?
He decided to give the matter some thought. After all, the donkey-ET hadn’t specified any timeframe, nor had it suggested any urgency. Why not get used to the capabilities of his new toy?
“Take me to Paris,” he said. But it took another ten minutes of the watch’s presenting him with maps and street views before it zeroed-in on the exact spot to drop him.
He tapped twice, and he was there, on the Champs Elysées, strolling with hundreds, if not thousands of tourists.
His next stop was Istanbul, then New York, then Sydney. There he tested his strength and invulnerability by boldly accosting a well-dressed older man a block from Circular Quay. He pushed the man against a wall, ripped out his wallet, removed the cash, returned the wallet, and calmly walked away. When a police car, lights flashing, screeched to a halt alongside him, he tapped the watch twice, and he was back in his living room.
Many of his fellow postal workers had talked about doing some traveling once they retired, but over the next week, John did it with a vengeance. Eliminating the cramped, uncomfortable air travel part saved a lot of time, and knowing that nothing could harm him, he felt free to sample war zones, the jungles of New Guinea and Amazonia, a top secret American military compound, a brothel in Pattaya.
But all the time he thought about his quest and, after a particularly satisfying experience with a Thai prostitute, he decided he had to test himself. Could he really kill the Blue Party candidate?
The test would be simple. He’d find a particularly odious criminal and kill him with his bare hands. Identifying such a monster didn’t take long. News reports were full of the exploits of the criminally vicious.
He chose the leader of a Guatemalan gangster militia, a man who’d ordered the deaths of dozens, maybe hundreds of people, many still children. But how to find him? As soon as he’d had that thought, the watch showed him exactly where Hector Isidro Hernandez was hiding.
John waited until the watch told him Hernandez was sleeping, then tapped twice. He emerged in confused darkness. The sudden humid warmth and the smells of human sweat and livestock came close to making him vomit. But he breathed deeply through his mouth, shook his head, and requested night vision enhancement. The watch obliged, and his eyes took in a scene of squalor: clothes, books, dirty plates, and other objects impossible to identify surrounded a mattress upon which a hairy chubby man with a thick black moustache lay upon his back, snoring loudly.
He’d read that Hernandez had run afoul of the Guatemalan military. He had gone into hiding and was thus unable to occupy the mansion he owned. He moved from one safe house to another in the poorest parts of Guatemala City now but continued directing his criminal enterprise. He must have felt he was safe here, John thought.
Outside the room John could hear muffled voices. Bodyguards, undoubtedly, perhaps three. A wave of fear and doubt washed over John. But then he reminded himself of the terrible things he’d read Hernandez had done. He crouched next to the bed, leaned in, grabbed the throat and squeezed.
It was the first time he’d fully tested his strength enhancements, and they shocked him. He heard two distinct snaps. He let go and realized he’d nearly severed the neck. Hernandez wasn’t snoring now, but when John put his ear to the man’s chest, he still heard an irregular heartbeat. One powerful punch to the head stopped that, but the crunching sound his punch had made was loud enough to evoke a call from outside the room.
“¿Hector, todo va bien?”
Fear overwhelmed him. Logic told John that the men outside couldn’t hurt him, but his instincts said otherwise. He quickly tapped his watch twice.
Back in his bedroom, he panted until his heart slowed down. It had been exciting, but he’d panicked. He hadn’t made absolutely sure that Hernandez was dead, though he most probably was. When the time came to kill Jacob McKinley, he’d need to settle himself more. Planning was the key. If he planned every move, every second, he could be methodical.
That night, John David Donne slept fitfully. He awakened repeatedly to the sound of cracking bone, to those words shouted from outside the bedroom. Each time he reminded himself that he’d rid the world of a monster, that it was a better place now. But he was a killer — an assassin to be exact — and that fact weighed on him.
He followed the news reports of Hector Hernandez’s murder as closely as a non-Spanish speaker could. Given that the man had been killed right under the noses of three bodyguards, they were suspected of collaboration. All three were executed the next morning. And immediately after that, at least a dozen more of Hernandez’s suspected enemies lay dead.
It wasn’t the outcome John had anticipated. All those additional deaths could fairly be blamed on him, but he decided that this was just what happened among the lawless. He’d at least removed one of the worst of that lot from the world.
Copyright © 2016 by Bill Kowaleski