The Consequence of Balance

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic

I finally had the interview I'd been after for months. I needed this one...for my wife. This is my last chance to save her. But there would be consequences.

Mr. Mara was already seated when I arrived. I followed Kelly, our young waitress, out onto the open-air terrace of the little café where we had agreed to meet. He stared across the table at me without blinking, his eyes the color of the autumn sky. It was unsettling. I adjusted myself in my seat and tried not to look as uncomfortable as I was feeling. Confident it wasn’t working, I focused on my coffee, took a deep breath, and began.

“Thank you for meeting with me today, Mr. Mara. I appreciate you making the time.” I said over my coffee cup trying to look at ease.

“Nonsense. It’s my pleasure, Ronald. May I call you Ronald?” His voice was a deep rumbling sound that echoed across the practically empty café where he had chosen to meet.

“Of course,” I said. “Or Ron. Only my mother calls me Ronald,” I tried to force a laugh, but it came out more of a croak than a chuckle.

“I prefer Ronald, actually. There’s something proper and strong in a person’s given name, wouldn’t you agree?” I could tell the question was rhetorical. “There’s power there, Ronald. Power in the name given to you by your creator.”

“Ronald it is,” I said, again trying to sound like I wasn’t completely creeped out by the older gentleman across from me. I needed to get a hold of myself. This was my idea. I’m the one that had followed the trail, I’m the one that had uncovered the sources, and I’m the one that practically sold my soul to get the interview. Get a grip, I told myself. I looked across the table at Mara and realized I had been sitting there in silence with my thoughts. How long had we just been staring at each other? This wasn’t going well. I shook myself out of it and shuffled my notebook around to try and look like I was just gathering notes. He spoke before I could.

“I’m enjoying our time together, Ronald. But I must wonder, was there something specific you wished to speak about, or did you simply want to enjoy a cup of coffee with me today? Either way is fine with me,” he said as he moved his attention away from me and onto the waitress. His voice boomed across the café. 

“Excuse me, my dear.” Everyone in the place stopped and turned towards us. “Can I get another cup of your brew? It’s divine.” She smiled, shook her head positively, and disappeared into the kitchen area of the little terrace café. I tried in vain to get her attention before she disappeared; my coffee was getting low as well and I needed all the caffeinated calming power I could get. I turned back to face Mara to find him again staring at me across the table.

“Yes,” I said. “I mean, of course. It’s an interview, right?” I was acting like a journalism student rather than the award-winning author that I was. I was letting this guy get to me and I needed to snap out of it. This was too important. 

“It is, indeed, Ronald. One that you asked for rather vehemently, I believe. My assistant said you were quite persistent.  A matter of life and death, I believe she said. Is that true, Ronald? Does someone’s life hang in the balance as we sit here enjoying the sun, good coffee, and each other’s company?”

“Yes. Yes, Mr. Mara, it is,” I said. He was blunt, so I figured I’d do the same. 

“Then let us speak frankly, Ronald. What is it exactly you need from me?” Mara set back in his chair as the waitress set fresh coffee on the table. He smiled at her as she turned to leave, then turned his attention back to me.

“I need you to save my wife’s life,” I said quietly. “She’s dying.” I realized I was looking at the tablecloth and turned my gaze back to his, which had not faltered. “She’s got cancer.”

“I sincerely hate to hear that, Ronald. What is it you believe I can do to help your wife? I am not a doctor, after all,” he said as he poured several packets of sugar into his coffee cup. He then nearly emptied the small pitcher of creamer into the cup and began to stir it as he looked back across the table at me, waiting for my reply. 

“I know who you are, Mr. Mara, and I know you can help. I’ve done my research,” I said laying my cards out on the table. I hoped he wouldn’t call my bluff; I honestly didn’t know much. All I had were theories. But I had enough case studies in my messenger bag to prove he had somehow helped dozens of others out of bad situations. Many were very similar to my wife. I didn’t know the how, or who he was, but I knew he had helped and now I needed him to help me.

“I see,” he said as he sat back and crossed his legs, balancing his coffee cup on his knee. “You’ll have to forgive me, Ronald, but I have to ask again…what exactly do you believe I can do to help your wife? Speak plainly, boy.”

“I…I don’t know. Not exactly. But I know that over the last twenty-five years, and probably much further back, you have done something to help heal at least 12 individuals that were diagnosed with similarly fatal diseases. I got some of them to open up to me, others wouldn’t. None of them would tell me exactly what you did. But all of them were guarded enough to convince me that whatever you did was real. Not some kind of self-help, self-actualization bullshit. We’ve tried all of that. Whatever you did healed them. And my wife needs you; she doesn’t have much longer,” I was practically yelling. People were starting to stare at me, but he just looked at me, took a drink of his coffee, and smiled.

“You know, you are the first to come to me like this. Oh, I’ve had many come ask for my help over the years but none so deliberately. None so passionately. You still have fight in you…you still believe saving your wife is possible and I like that about you, Ronald. The others, they did not. They came to me with a sense of doom and gloom. They had lost all hope and then, and only then, did they turn to me for help. Some I helped, a great many I did not. Some of it depended upon them, of course, but many I simply chose to ignore. I prefer the optimist to the pessimist every time. A glass half full person, I am. I can see you are as well. At least you used to be. Your wife’s illness has just about driven that optimism out of you, hasn’t it? Bully for you, Ronald, for holding on to a piece of hope, however small it may be. Tell me, Ronald, what is your wife’s name?” 

“Jessica,” I replied. “Her name is Jessica, and she has breast cancer. Stage 4. We’ve exhausted the options, our savings account, and our hope. I was researching experimental medicines and procedures both in the US and abroad when I came across Maggie Bell’s story. Do you remember Ms. Bell?”

“I remember them all,” he said.

“Right. Well, she led me to a couple of others, and they led me to more until I had a pretty thick file on you and your little miracles. Each had a story to tell about how you had swooped in and saved their life. At first, of course, I thought I was total bullshit. For one thing, no one could tell me how to contact you or how they even came to know you. I later figured out that had to be by design. Your design, I guess. Anyway, it had to bullshit, right? Just another yogi or whatever preaching self-love or mind over matter shit. But I kept digging. Soon other things, other patterns, started showing up. Like the consequences of knowing you. At least that’s how Maggie Bell put it.”

“And you chose to reach out anyway, I see,” he said never taking his eyes off me.

“Yeah. Mostly because I didn’t believe…” I paused.

“And now you do? Tell me, Ronald, what exactly do you believe? How is it you want me to help you?

“Mostly because I didn’t believe,” I continued, “that you had actually healed them. And if you did, well you couldn’t have been responsible for what happened after that.”

“What happened after they were healed, Ronald?” He was leading me. I knew it, but I went along anyway. I needed him.

“After they were healed, in each case, something terrible happened to someone close to them or around them,” I explained. “Sometimes it was a terrible accident. Sometimes it was completely random, but always close to them somehow. And sometimes…other times it was more purposeful, the result of them losing their mind maybe.” 

“Like?”

“They hurt other people. A couple of them hurt people,” I said.

“And knowing this, knowing that my help exacts a terrible price, if you believe the stories, you have come to me? You have sought me out in this little café on a Sunday morning to ask for my help? Why? You obviously believe I can help, or you would not be here. Aren’t you afraid?”

“Yes,” I answered before I could think about it. 

“Of course, you are, Ronald. Yet here you are. Here we are, I should say. You and I are standing, or sitting as it were,” he laughed at his own joke and took a sip of his coffee, “at a fork in the road. A fork in your road, I suppose, mine goes on either way. Look ahead of you, Ronald…what do you see? How does this play out in your mind?”

“Can you help me or not?” I needed to know.

“I can. But I like you, Ronald. And my assistance comes with a price, a steep one. So, it’s important to me that you fully understand what it is you are asking and what will be required of you as a result. Do you? Understand, I mean? Do you see my predicament? I so seldom find someone I like anymore. People are so vain and self-centric; they just don’t seem to care for anything beyond their next social media post or how that person they haven’t spoken to since high school regards them on Twitter. People have stopped caring about people, Ronald. And I am a fan of people, though I scarcely recognize them anymore. You, however, I like. And you clearly care for more than yourself. I am in a pickle, it seems.”

“I need your help,” I said sounding more desperate than I wanted to.

“Do you? I mean, I understand that Jessica is sick, and yes, she will die. Soon. But that is her destiny, Ronald. A life is not an indefinite thing. It has a beginning, and it has an end. You do not get to choose either, I’m afraid. Yes, you have the illusion of free will, but even if you believe that you are in control you must understand that everyone dies. Everything dies. Eventually, even I will face death. It is a natural part of life. It is unblinking, and ugly, and very often messy. But it is eventual and certain. Death comes for us all and all you would be doing is prolonging Jessica’s time here. And the cost could be more than you can bear; have you considered that?”

“What would the cost be?”

“Hard to say, without giving it some thought. But one thing is certain, there must be a balance in this universe. And when you mess with that balance, the repercussions can be much harsher than you might imagine. It is seldom as simple as a life for a life. You see, all lives touch other lives. Many other lives, in fact. Denying death, or even postponing it, has quite serious consequences to all the lives involved, good or bad. Sometimes the wave created by changing one’s destiny is small, other times it is beyond your sense of reckoning. To save one life could mean the sacrifice of many, many others. Is that a price you will pay?”

I was silent. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure what he was talking about. Destiny? Universal balance? I’m not sure I believed in any of those things. I’m not sure I believed anything he was saying. But he had helped others and bad things had happened afterwards. Had to be coincidence, right? It wasn’t cosmic justice; I just didn’t believe that. That said, I was beginning to have doubts about why I was here and what I was doing. I needed to be home with Jessica, not chasing after some false promise of hope half a world away from her bed.

“Good. Doubt is good, Ronald,” he said unprompted. Was he reading my mind? “Doubt makes us think about consequences and ultimately leads us to proper decision making. I, of course, cannot help you on the subject. True free will may be an illusion, but in this case, the decision must indeed be yours without coercion. Do you have any questions I can answer? I will try to be as honest as I can, Ronald.”

“Fine. Who are you? I mean, really…who are you?” It seemed a reasonable question at this point.

“Who is perhaps the wrong question. I am more of a what. Who lends itself to the presumption that I am a person. Someone like you and Kelly.”

“Kelly?”

“Yes, our young waitress. She is seventeen years old or at least she will be on Friday. It will be her birthday. Her parents are Greek Orthodox, but she isn’t what you’d call a practicing follower of the faith. She believes in a higher power but, like so many people her age, she requires proof. It seems faith is a lost concept on most people now days. Kelly is going to die today, Ronald. She doesn’t have cancer, or any other illness that I can discern, but she will die this very day, nonetheless. I know this. She will receive a text in a few hours from David, her boyfriend. It will confirm their plans for tonight, but more importantly it will take her mind, and her attention, away from the moment. She will not see the van and she will die. Painfully. It is her destiny. I know this. What am I? I am a power that could stop that text from getting through keeping her mind on the moment so that she sees the van miss the stop sign. Or perhaps I could block the call that the driver receives that causes him to miss the sign all together. Or perhaps I am the power that causes it all to happen. Perhaps I am both.”

“You’re…fate?” I was trying to understand.

“Not fate, per se. I am a power than understands fate and can manipulate it as it suits me. If I choose to, which I seldom do,” he replied. “Let’s take Kelly, for an example. She has been perfectly sweet to me today and has served us well. What if I took a shine to Kelly? What if I decided to step in and prevent Kelly’s untimely, though universally mandated, demise this afternoon? There would be consequences.”

“OK. But you’d not just be helping Kelly, but David too. And her parents. And the driver as well, I’m sure. And his family,” I said feeling like I was making an important point.  “It’s like you said, one life touches many, right?”

“That is true. So, I help Kelly, and all is well in the world, yes?” 

“Yes. How could saving her life be a bad thing?” 

“I did not say it was a bad thing, I said it would have consequences,” he said leaning forward in his chair. “If I help Kelly today, she will not die and the driver, Carl we’ll call him, will not have an accident. She and David will have their date and they will continue dating for some time. Eventually, Kelly will cheat on David, or he on her, or they will simply pull apart from each other and go their separate ways. Each will find love, marry, and have kids. Kelly will live on to the age of seventy-two. David will see eighty. Carl will continue to drive the van for a living and he and his wife will die together, rather peacefully, in an unrelated car accident fifteen years from now. No harm, no foul. But…”

“But,” I said. I knew there was going to be a but.

“But, if Kelly does not die today struck by Carl’s van, there will not be local legislation called for to replace the stop sign with a traffic light. There will not be impassioned speeches made by parents of slain children, victims of the very same type of accident Kelly will be part of. There will not be a social media movement by Kelly’s friends to get everyone to “live in the moment”, a movement that will get teenagers to pay just a little more attention to their surroundings. That movement alone prevents at least two kidnappings and subsequent deaths. If Kelly dies, they will put in a traffic light and that traffic light will stop a cement truck driver from running the stop sign and colliding with a school bus full of children on the way to their first field trip to the zoo. Kelly’s death and, by default, that traffic light saves eighteen children and three adult chaperones from an untimely death, a death that was not to be theirs.  So, you see saving one life, in this case Kelly’s, would result in the ending of at least twenty-three other lives. A bill that would have to be paid. The scales must be measured and there must be a balance. If you asked me to save Kelly, you would be responsible for those twenty-three lives, Ronald. Do you understand?”

“Then why help people at all?” I was really trying to wrap my head around of it. The whole conversation was surreal. 

“A good question, I suppose. A fair one, at least,” he said after a moment.

“Are you the devil?” It just came out. I had told myself all along that I didn’t believe that, but it had still managed to hang in there way in the back of my mind. After all, it fit. A guy that comes along at the instant of the worst time of your life, does the impossible, and then demands a steep price as a result. It was absolutely every scary story I had ever heard about the devil and his deals. They even had a song about it. It seemed ridiculous when I heard it out loud. There had to be another answer.

“The devil? Which one? There are so many out there,” he calmly replied. “Am I Lucifer, the fallen angel that refused to worship man? Did I lead a rebellion in Heaven and, as a result, was I cast out to the depths of hell? No, it’s not quite that simple, Ronald. I suppose the correct answer to your question greatly depends on you and your beliefs. Do you believe in the devil?” He sat back and regarded me as a teacher might a student.

“No, I don’t. At least I didn’t. Now, I’m not sure what to think.,” I said honestly.

“Good. That’s a great place to start. Knowing you don’t know is the beginning of wisdom, they say. You’ll find a great many things we cling to in our beliefs don’t stand up to scrutiny, Ronald. If you don’t believe in the devil, then that must not be what I am. I am only what your belief structure will allow me to be. Do you understand?”

“No, not really,” I said. 

“No, I suppose you don’t,” he said with sympathy in his voice.

“I just want to help my wife, Mr. Mara. I don’t know if you’re the devil or a devil or what you are. I know I don’t want to hurt other people. I’m a good man. I just don’t want my wife to die.” I was starting to cry and quickly pulled myself together. I wasn’t sure what Mr. Mara was, but I knew I didn’t want him to see me cry. 

“Of course, you don’t, Ronald. But the time has come to decide what is to be done. If you desire that I save your wife’s life, I will. I have, after all, become rather fond of you and I will do that for you,” he said. He paused for a moment, looking off to one side calculating the cost, I assumed. “Did you know your wife has asked that her body be donated to science, Ronald?”

“Yeah. I fought her on it at first, but she was pretty resolute about it,” I said laughing softly, remembering the nights we had sat up debating the subject. “She says that her body lying in the ground doesn’t do anybody any good. But maybe, just maybe, if someone studied her it might help someone else down the road. Like donating her body would be the one thing that led to the cure, you know. I told her it was ridiculous, but she won’t budge on it.

Mr. Mara sat across from me, unblinking, waiting for me to understand.

“Wait. Are you saying that my wife’s death might…could… cure cancer?” The very thought had my mind reeling. I felt sick at my stomach.

“I did not say that; you derived that from my question. The future, as I have stated, is difficult to understand and often fluid in its nature. It is an interesting thought though, is it not? The idea that saving your wife’s life, however well meaning, could result in countless other lives being ended, ravaged so completely, by a cancer that could have been cured by the simple act of allowing nature, indeed fate, to take its course,” Mara said as he again motioned for Kelly to come back over to our table.

“But it’s possible, isn’t it? That’s why you brought it up. Why else would you?” I was feeling the full weight of our conversation landing squarely on my shoulders now. The very idea, the possibility, that a decision I made to save my wife could prevent, or at least postpone, the finding of the cure to the cancer she is dying from was more than I could process. How many more would die? How many other husbands would have to mourn their wives? How many more children would have to grow up without a mother?

“Yes, sweetie…can you get you guys anything else?” Kelly said as she walked up to the table. I wanted to tell her. I wanted to scream it out at her until she understood what was at stake for her this afternoon. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t move past what Mara had said about the lives she would be saving. How many would Jessica be saving?

“No, my dear. Just the check will be fine,” Mara said never looking up at her. His eyes remained fixed on me; he was waiting to see what I would do. I looked down, unable to face Kelly, and swallowed the last bit of coffee swirling around in my cup. When I again focused on Mara, he was watching Kelly walk away after setting our check on the table. His look was one of thoughtfulness and regret.

“A shame, that,” Mara mused, “she is a light in this world that be extinguished much too soon. As for your wife…anything is possible, Ronald. I cannot tell you the future attached to you and your wife, even if that was my desire. It’s simply not how things are done. There are rules, you see, even for one such as I. That said, I can tell you that Jessica’s sacrifice would have long and lasting effects on this reality, as would the forced continuation of your time in this realm. The whims of the Fates, I’m afraid, are often cruel and relentless, my friend. But time is fleeting, and I regret that our time together is coming to a close. It is time to decide which destiny you wish for your wife, consequences be damned.”

I sat back in my chair and met Mara’s gaze. It had all seemed so simple when we sat down barely an hour ago. I would unmask his secret, demand he help Jessica, and then deal with the effects of the later. In my mind, before our conversation, there was nothing that I feared enough to keep me from having him save the life of the only person I’d ever loved. He could have asked for my life in return, or even my very soul, and I would have agreed. But could I allow my own desire to cause the deaths of countless others? Directly or indirectly, I didn’t matter. So many others. Could I put the cure for cancer on hold just so I wouldn’t have to carry on without her? Was it even possible? My head was a muddled mess. Mara sat across from me patiently, as he had all throughout, with a look of sympathetic curiosity.

Finally, he spoke. “Time is short, Ronald.”

I was about to speak when my phone went off in my pocket; I reached down to silence it when Mara, for the first time, reached out and touched my hand.

“You need to answer that, Ronald,” he said sternly. Time is short, he had said. Panic hit me hard in the gut as I realized he had not meant our time together. I fumbled in my pocket awkwardly and nearly dropped my phone getting it out and up to my ear. It was the hospital. I listened as the doctor on the other end told me Jessica had slipped into a coma and that I needed to come to the hospital as soon as I could. They offered to contact friends and family for me. I told them no; I would take care of it. I hung up knowing I would not make it back in time to say goodbye.

“How long does she have?”

Mara looked away for a moment then replied, “she will pass from this world to the next within the next few moments. I am sorry, Ronald.”

“Save her,” I said. I didn’t even think about it.  I don’t even remember saying it, but I know I did. Mara said something in a language I didn’t understand, stood up and moved to my side. He paused and placed his hand on my shoulder before walking away from the table. Then, he was gone.

The next phone call I received was the hospital again, though this time it was to tell me of the miracle that had just happened. A miracle that they could not explain. My wife, against all odds and science itself, had turned the corner and started the long road to recovery. In time she would be fully in remission. My wife doesn’t know, of course. How could I tell her? It was a gift from God, we’re told, and she believes it. I know better.

I never saw Mr. Mara again. I looked for something bad to happen around me or my wife. No matter how bad it might have been, in my mind I thought that if there was something terrible, a car accident or a school shooting or anything, it would mean that the other consequence would not come to pass. It never did. I can only assume that my fear has been realized. I understand now that when Mara placed his hand on my shoulder, it was an act of condolence.

In 2022, there will be 1.9 million new cancer cases diagnosed in the United States. An estimated 609,360 will die.  

That is my legacy.

I wonder, would you have been stronger than I? Would you have also chosen to close your eyes when faced with the darkness inside of you? Would you, like I, discover that you are capable of great evil when given an impossible choice? Maybe not, but I hold no disillusions about what I am. I am a husband who loves his wife. And I am a murderer.


Submitted: September 20, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Mac Childs. All rights reserved.

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Dissimulé1993

Interesting story

Tue, October 4th, 2022 9:45pm

Dissimulé1993

Interesting story

Tue, October 4th, 2022 9:45pm

HOUDINI

That is exactly why God has not delegated that power to anyone...and curiously enough he didn't even save his own son {Jesus} when he could have. But as a consequence all mankind would have been doomed...

Wed, October 19th, 2022 6:44pm

HOUDINI

interesting story and a very tough dilemma.
Well done.

Wed, October 19th, 2022 6:45pm

Author
Reply

Thanks!

Wed, October 19th, 2022 11:52am

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