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John stared at the hourglass, fearfully gnawing his fingernails. The man had said it would be a simple decision, to pick one of three. One of three, but look at him now. Quivering. Quivering like a rabbit in the headlights. He had to make up his mind. Almost half of his time was up and grain by grain, he watched as more time flowed away in a river of sparkling sand.
To start with he’d thought, just forget the whole thing. The man wasn’t actually going to kill him. But as John pored over the events which had just passed, the more real they became.
Anyhow, even if it was just to be on the safe side, he should make a decision, even if that decision was not to make a decision. After all, if it was a real offer, as unlikely as it was; a million pounds was an awful lot of money.
But who, who could he choose? Who was he prepared to condemn? Pick no one, he would die and the money would disappear. Pick Karen, how could he live with himself, not only because of the guilt which would surely ensue, but the lack of companionship, friendship and love would surely crush him. And that left one option... The kids. That wasn’t an option, he thought, that was unthinkable.
So... Him or Karen... Or one of the the kids? Goddammit.
John squealed as his teeth found flesh on his finger tip. Why had he accepted the offer in the first place? It was obvious from the start that it wouldn’t be as simple as the man had made out.
One hour, one million pounds, no debt, no mortgage, private schooling for the kids, etcetera, etcetera. At least his intentions had been noble. That didn’t exactly matter now though. The very best outcome was... Well what? That was the question really, what would benefit the family most? No father or money? Out of the question. No mother, but one million quid instead, well... No, of course not. And one kid dying and that resting on his conscience for the rest of his life? That option, if you could even call it an option, was almost laughable had the circumstances been less dramatic.
He had to start thinking; he’d wasted another five minutes at least.
John wiped his sweaty palm across his forehead and sighed.
“H***,” he whispered, why had he put them in this situation? It was all his fault. He looked to the hourglass for inspiration, and without thinking, picked it up. Weighing it in his hand, he followed the carved grooves in its polished oak stand. It was about twenty to twenty five centimetres tall with three short pillars surrounding the glass which encased the sand, now bottom heavy.
Thinking back to what the man had said, John searched for a loophole or backdoor. Regrettably he’d signed a contract and so couldn’t complain that he hadn’t wanted to participate and the man whose name had now escaped John’s memory had been crystal clear on the conditions.
One hour, one choice, one million pounds. One hour, no choice, you die. Or words to that effect.
Perhaps he could submit one of the kids. There were two of them. But could he ever live with himself? And he knew that he couldn’t give them Karen, he’d rather die. But that was what it all boiled down to really. He would rather die than sacrifice one of his family and, without question, that was the “right” thing to do.
However, was it? The kids would grow up without a father. No one to take them to football, no one to walk them down the aisle, no one to bore their grandchildren with nostalgic stories. What sort of a father wouldn’t be there for his children by choice? Furthermore, that option deprived them, all of them, of the money. Surely that, if anything, was selfish. Take the coward’s way out, then essentially take the money with you to the grave. But John knew in his heart, even if he didn’t want to admit it that, that was the noble, “right” choice. But could he do it? Could he sacrifice himself? He didn’t think so.
Looking down to his lap, John furrowed his eyebrows in grim thought. Perhaps, well maybe, that was the only way. He took the heavy black revolver in his hand and imagined what it would feel like to pull the trigger, to blow away all that stress, all those worries. It would save him the choice, it would save him the hurt of killing one of his own, but where would it get him? Who would it help? Him, and after all, it would be no different to the man killing him. At least this way, he could make sure, make certain that he didn’t flake out at the last second and volunteer one of the family instead.
Yes, this was the only way he thought in conviction. He could leave them a note and explain himself, but John thought it would be better, easier not to tell them of his decision to kill himself over them. He knew it would only devastate Karen. Instead, he simply swiped an old post-it-note from the table and a pen, scrawling the words “Goodbye, I always loved you but I cannot go on” in his messy handwriting.
This was it, he thought. How would the others feel? Would they be sad? He knew that they would, but he also knew, at least he hoped, that they would never find out. He sucked in a lungful of air, exhaling slowly. This was what it had all come down to, his life that is. All those days of fun and childish hope, all those nights out with friends, all those nights in with Karen and the kids, all those memories about to be shattered.
John reconsidered. He knew that Karen and the kids wouldn’t get the money. But he also knew that anybody in their right mind given the choice of money or life would pick the latter. He had to do it, for everyone and even if it was just for his own peace of mind and self-reassurance, it was worth it. It would also ensure that he couldn’t make a stupid decision at the last moment and throw all of their lives away or anything like that. He had plotted to simply kill the man when he came back to collect John’s decision, however he knew, as the man had told him before leaving, that it wouldn’t help anyone. The man was working for a huge company, he had said, who could track down and kill the entire family in minutes if need be and so killing one would hardly make a difference in the big scheme of things. For the same reason, he couldn’t simply leave with Karen and the kids, take a very long, unannounced holiday to Africa or somewhere of the likes. In fact the man’s one parting sentence had more a less quenched any hope of escape.
H*** to it, John thought. It had to be done. He took a swig of whisky from a hip flask in his pocket and settled further back on his chair.
Imagining the peaceful nothingness which lay beyond, John flicked over the safety catch on the gun. He lifted it up to his head solemnly and stared in sorrow at the almost empty hourglass.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered to the air, closing his eyes in grief-stricken determination.
He gritted his teeth and blew himself into eternity with one squeeze of the trigger.