prompt: struggle with choice
In an alley, the window between someone dying and deciding what to do is very wide.
Blood seeps into the gutter, washing further into the darkness. The source of the blood is a man, someone I was too late to save, someone who will never be much more to me than a gray, bearded face attempting to howl upwards.
But he had no voice. The gunshot opened him up and all the breath in him drained out through his chest. And I know he was a man, a history, a family, but only if I let him be.
Right in front of me, pinned to the wall, his own gun turned against him… I have the one who took his life. And he, too, is a man, a history, a family. There’s no remorse, only a snarl, and I know if he were to take his gun out of my hand, he’d kill me just as quick.
I saw his face when he pulled the trigger. He was the smaller of the two, but the gun put him in control. And when his victim-made a dash his face lit up. It was a smile long and revealing, not a courtesy or amusement, the fake smile you see at a party. It was the most sincere smile I have ever seen and silenced my heart for no one has ever smiled for me in that manner.
The killer is small beneath my forearm. Pegged against the brick, I suppose I can feel how little effort it would take to crush. I wouldn’t even need the gun.
I was walking home after my shift, the bus stop just another block away. Normally I don’t look down the alleyways at night for a variety of reasons. And I don’t know why I did tonight, or when I chose to run towards the sound of gunfire. In the moment it took to grab the gunman, as the body fell to pavement, there wasn’t any certainty, or lack of certainty. It just happened.
There’s no certainty now. No one on the street heard the gunshot. No one else is looking this way. Everyone was else was smarter than me.
And now this window stretches open, far wider than I would have ever guessed. The man on the ground has stopped opening and closing his mouth like a fish dying on a rock. I could kill this man in front of me, knowing he would do the same. I could call for help and have him arrested. I would testify and he’d go to jail.
And then what?
The gun is pressed against the killer’s sternum, that’s the only boundary between him and me.
Would sending him to prison make him a better person? Or would it harden him and make him worse?
I was raised to believe in good and evil, and punishment. But what can punishment change?
If there’s a Hell… why should he be punished until then?
If there is no Hell… what would I accomplish by putting him in prison?
And the difference between the two of us ends if I pull the trigger.
In an alley, our fears creep up on us. I fear I have no idea what the world should really be.