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Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

Dark clouds hung in the sky and rain fell heavily as the doors to the emergency room burst open and EMTs charged through pushing a gurney. They had rushed from the scene of a car accident with their patient, Doug, who was unconscious and badly injured. The doctors and staff worked fervently doing what they could to keep him stable and, hopefully, wake him up. They worked tirelessly, giving everything they had, and in the end, he was stable but still unconscious. They’d done everything they could and now it was up to him.

— — — — — — — — —

On a bright morning, Doug found himself hiking in a forest. He loved to hike. He knew every trail within 30 miles of his home like it was his own yard. But this trail was unfamiliar. In fact, this entire mountain range was unfamiliar. It was completely new to him and he was soaking up every moment.

While stopping for a moment he heard the low rumble of thunder in the distance. He looked to the sky and saw dark clouds to the east. The streaks coming down told him he needed to get to shelter soon or risk being soaked to his core.

He pressed on a bit further and came upon a shrine. It looked as old as it was ornate and appeared to have been carved into a rock face. Several monks came out to meet him. They wore long robes and sandals, and their heads were shaven. They greeted him as he approached.

“Hello,” he said as the first raindrops began to fall. “Would it be ok if I stayed here with you for a bit? There’s a storm coming.”

“On the contrary,” replied one of the monks. “It appears the storm has already arrived. Please, come inside.” The monk turned and gestured for Doug to follow.

The inside of the shrine was just as magnificent as the outside. The walls and ceiling were rounded and showed no sign of tool work. It was almost as if the space had been carved out by the elements and the monks had just moved in and decorated.

“This place is amazing,” Doug said as he looked around in awe. “When was it built?”

The monk smiled. “It wasn’t built. It has always been here.”

Doug started to say something but cut himself off when he noticed the lighting. There were small fires lit near the walls but they weren’t held by candles or in braziers. In fact, they didn’t appear to be held by anything. They were just small orbs floating in the air, glowing almost white, with flames dancing on their tops. He moved closer, his jaw hanging open. He could feel warmth coming from them but not nearly as much as there should have been. Further, they didn’t have any apparent fuel source.

“How did you…?” he asked, not even finishing the question.

“We are capable of many things.” replied the monk. “Let me show you something else.”

The monk led him to a small table upon which laid a single object. It was about a foot long and cylindrical. It looked, to Doug, like the handle to something, though he didn’t know what.

“You’ve been chosen,” said the monk.

“Chosen?” Doug asked. “I don’t understand. Chosen for what?”

“There have been many, throughout the ages, who have carried out some very despicable acts. They have attacked those weaker than themselves and killed and stolen for longer than history records. They have committed all manner of atrocities and justice must be served. You have been given the opportunity to be the bearer of that justice.”

“I don’t… How am I supposed to do that?”

The monk picked up the object and held it out to Doug. As Doug took it in hand a blade sprang forth but not from within. The blade seemed to form from the air itself. It took only a second and, when complete, the blade was about two feet long.

Doug turned the blade over in his hand. He thought it felt lighter than it should have been. He turned to give it a swing. It carried more momentum than its weight should have allowed for.

“What is this made of?” he asked.

“That’s not important.” replied the monk. “What is important is that you understand what to do with it?”

Doug had never used a sword before. He thought it should feel awkward, but this was… comfortable. “Wait, are you wanting me to kill someone?”

“You are being given the opportunity to mete out justice for all those who have been preyed upon.”

“How can I…? How do you expect me to get…? What is this place?”

The monk motioned toward an archway set into one of the walls. Doug hadn’t noticed it before. It was the size of a single doorway but, even though there was no door, he couldn’t see through it. There was nothing there. Not a wall or another room, just a void. He found it very unsettling.

“You don’t need to be afraid.” said the monk. “There is nothing that can harm you.”

“What is that?”

“It’s a doorway. To wherever and whenever you need to go.”

Doug looked incredulous.

“Step through and see for yourself.”

Doug stepped toward the archway but hesitated. He held a hand out to touch it, expecting to feel something. But there was nothing. It was neither hot nor cold, and when he pulled his hand back he could see no marks of any kind. He looked at the monk, who nodded in return. He closed his eyes, took a breath, and stepped into the void.

When he opened his eyes he saw he was standing in Munich in the early 1900s. He had never been to Munich but, somehow, he was certain that was where he was. Before him, stood a man whom he immediately recognized. It was Adolf Hitler, though he didn’t look the way Doug expected him to. He was young; in his twenties maybe. And his mustache was thicker than he had seen in pictures.

He was confused. If he had been sent to kill Hitler shouldn’t he be seeing him at his death? Why here and now?

He turned to look behind him and saw the archway there. Like before, he couldn’t see anything through it. Unsure of what to do, he stepped back into the void and found himself back in the shrine.

The monk looked concerned. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“If I’m supposed to kill Hitler, why was I sent there and not to the place he died?”

“You were sent to a place and time before the man caused so much pain. You were given the opportunity to stop him. Think of the lives that will be saved if he is prevented from going on.”

“But, at this point, he hasn’t done anything. He’s innocent.”

“But you know that he will. You know what will happen if you don’t act.”

Doug knew the monk was right. He’d been given an opportunity to change history and right an awful lot of wrongs. He gave the monk a nod and stepped back through the archway.

On the other side he, again, stood before Hitler. The young man just looked at him without any trace of emotion visible on his face. There was no one else around. The street was empty. There was not a sound of any animal. If it wasn’t for the man’s breathing he would have thought time was stopped.

Doug looked from the man’s face to his sword, and back again. He knew what he had to do. Holding the hilt with both hands he drove the blade into the young man’s chest. As the man’s face contorted with pain, he withdrew the weapon and the man’s body fell, lifeless, at his feet. Seeing the job was done he stepped through the archway.

“You’ve done it,” the monk said. “Are you ready for another?”

“Wait. You want me to do it again?”

“You know very well that there are many, many who deserve your justice. You have been given the opportunity to make the world a far better place. Will you take advantage of that opportunity?”

Doug looked at his weapon. The blade had been coated in blood before he’d stepped through the archway. Now it was clean. Looking back toward the monk a slight smile appeared on his face. He turned and stepped into the void again.

On the other side, he faced someone new. He’d never seen a picture before but, at once, he recognized the man known as Jack the Ripper. This time he didn’t hesitate. He slew the man and went back to the shrine where he was given yet another chance to stop an evildoer before they had the chance to hurt anyone.

It went on like this for what must have been years. He would dispense his justice and return to the shrine only to be sent somewhere else. He never got tired. He never got hungry or thirsty either. Some of his targets were dictators, others murderers, others still were rapists or thieves. The list went on and on. The great majority of them were people he’d never even heard of before. But each time he saw their face he instantly knew who they were and what they would go on to do. It seemed that his work would never be finished.

Eventually, he stepped through the archway, into the shrine, to find the monk smiling.

“Are you ready for your last kill?” asked the monk.

“Is it finally that time?”

“Yes. The man you are about to deal with is, by far, the worst you’ve ever seen.”

He smiled and stepped through the void for the last time. On the other side, he found himself face to face with… himself, just as he had been on that trail before the shrine. Confused, he turned back toward the archway in time to see several monks step through.

“Why am I here?” he said. “I haven’t hurt anyone.”

“You’ve bathed in more blood than any of those you’ve cut down.”

“I don’t understand. You told me to kill those people. To prevent them from hurting anyone. I did what you wanted me to do.”

“We told you nothing. You were given the opportunity to exact someone else’s vengeance and you took it. You could have, just as easily, said no. Now finish what you’ve started!”

He looked back at himself. Like all those before, the other him just stood there with a blank expression on his face. Aside from the breathing, and the occasional blink, he looked lifeless. Doug raised his sword above his head but was overcome with sorrow. Like the first time, all he could see was innocence. He tried to strike but found that he was unable to bring the blade down. He couldn’t bear the look in his own eyes.

He looked back to the monks “But if I do this, it’ll undo everything I’ve done.”

“Yes, but when you face eternity the only blood on your hands will be your own.”

Doug understood. Taking the hilt in both hands, he plunged the blade into the man’s chest.

— — — — — — — — — —

The ECG connected to Doug reported a solid tone prompting a doctor and several nurses to run into his hospital room. They worked on him for several minutes, trying everything they could to restart his heart. But it was to no avail. The doctor pronounced him dead and covered his head with a sheet. One of the nurses looked out the window as the sun came out from behind the clouds. The storm had passed.

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