“Hey,” the young girl calls across the diner, snapping her fingers to get the waitress', and nearly everyone else in the diner's, attention, “I need my bill now!”
“I'll be with you in just a moment, ma'am,” the waitress calls back with a smile before turning back to the couple whose order she was in the middle of taking.
“I am in a hurry,” the girl calls, “You need to get over here now!”
“Go ahead;” says the balding middle aged man, “we're not in a hurry.”
The girl yells, “That's mighty big of you, asshole,” this causes the couple of people who weren't already staring turn and look too, “Y'all can just mind ya’ own damn business; you ain't better than me to look at me like you are!”
The waitress nods her thanks to the couple and crosses over to the young girl, “What can I do for you,” she asks with a tight-lipped smile.
“Give me my bill; I got places to be!”
The waitress reaches into her apron, and pulls out her ticket book. She tears off the young girl's ticket, and places it on the table before her. She starts to turn to go back to the other table when the woman shouts again.
“Where you going? You're helping me!”
The waitress turns to see the girl is now waiving a credit card. She turns back, picks up the check, and then reaches to take the card. The woman flicks the plastic at the waitress, and it bounces off the server's chest, and falls to the floor at her feet.
“You better pick that up,” the girl orders.
The waitress' smile tightens even more, causing her lips to completely disappear. She stoops down to retrieve the card from the floor. “I'll be right back, ma'am,” she says politely, if not warmly.
“Damn right you will!”
When the waitress returns with the card and receipt, the girl snatches it out of her hand, and begins examining it. The waitress maintains her tight smile, but does not say anything before turning away and going back to the couple she had been helping.
“Rude bitch,” the girl says in a stage whisper loud enough for most people in the restaurant to hear it.
The girl confirms her total on the receipt, and writes it right above her signature. On the tip line she scrawls, “BITCH!” instead of any actual gratuity. She then wads up the slip, and smacks it loudly down onto the table in a wet spot left by her water glass.
Head held high, the girl slides out of her booth, and walks to the door. She slams the glass door open as hard as the pneumatic piston will allow, and walks out into the cold night. She doesn't notice the older woman in the black coat rise from her seat at the counter, where she leaves a fifty dollar bill as payment for the single cup of coffee she has been nursing for the last hour.
The girl stalks down the street. She comes across a ragged, bearded man sitting on the cold pavement. He has a handwritten cardboard sign reading “Iraq Vetran. No Job. Pleese Help. God Bless You” propped on his lap, and a dirty Apollo Coffee cup on the sidewalk next to him. She makes a point of kicking over his cup, scattering the loose change in it over the sidewalk.
“Hey!” the homeless man protests.
“Get a job, leech,” the girl says and spits at him before walking on. She still fails to notice the woman walking a half a block behind her.
The white haired woman stops at the homeless veteran, who has gathered up most of his spilled change, and hands him a twenty dollar bill, “Thank you for your service,” she says, and continues on.
The girl turns down an alley, taking a shortcut back to her apartment.
When she is about halfway through the alley a voice calls from behind her, “That's quite the chip you have on your shoulder there,” it says.
The girl turns to look at the woman in the black coat, “Now I know you ain't talking to me!”
“Oh, but I am,” he replies, his voice is calm and kindly.
“Bitch, you better mind your own business,” the girl turns and starts down the alley again, walking faster than before.
“But this is my business,” she says, still calm, still pleasant, but with a note of sadness, “Phelone Birch. Only twenty-seven and already so cold and jaded.”
The girl stops and turns. She arches an eyebrow and asks, “How the hell you know my name?”
The older woman smiles, and twirls a lock of her long white hair around the index finger of her right hand. She starts walking towards Phelone, “Do you realize how rare it is to find someone who is truly well mannered? We use the term 'common decency', but we really shouldn't. It's inaccurate at best; there's nothing common about treating your fellow man decently anymore.”
“What, are you one of those old Jesus-freaks? Gonna tell me to watch my fucking mouth or else I'm gonna go to Hell?”
The old woman chuckles, “No, nothing like that. You were free to do whatever you liked, but you should understand that there are consequences for your behaviour.”
“Yeah, Santa ain't coming to my house this year. Boo hoo,” Phelone sneers, “Now answer my damn question: how do you know my name?”
“I know a lot about you; I've been watching you for some time now,'” the woman says, “I know that you had a rough childhood, to put it lightly. I know that your mother was a drug addict and that you don't even know who your father is. I know that you fought hard to make it to where you are in life; to not follow your mother to an early grave with a needle sticking out of your arm. I know you are not a nice person.”
“Who the hell do you think you are?” Phelone rages.
“It is unfortunate that in your struggle to better your place in the world you have chosen to not better yourself as a person. In fact, you have chosen to make the world a worse place for others.”
“I ain't worried about nobody but me!”
The older woman ignores her. “That poor waitress, for example: did you know that servers make less than minimum wage? There was nothing wrong with the service she gave you-”
“She was rude! Didn't even speak to me when she finally came back with my card!”
“She took your abuse, and never completely lost her smile. She does that every day. Most people aren't as bad as you, most aren't bad at all, but the ones that are, well, I don't see how she manages to get out of bed every morning to face that. I couldn't.”
“It's her damn job to serve me!”
“True, but she was your server, not your property, and yet you treated her like some indentured servant. You didn't even give her a tip: I saw what you wrote down, that one last bit of abuse to a poor girl who spent time on you that she could have spent on someone who would reward her service with a decent gratuity. Thankfully she will get larger tips from the people who witnessed her smiling in the face of your abuse that will make up for it.”
“No one gives me a tip,” Phelone protests, “If she wants to make better money she should get herself a better job.”
“And the homeless man? You could have just ignored him, but you didn't.”
“Screw him, he probably ain't even a vet. Just some damned drug addict trying to steal my taxes!”
“You spit on him,” the woman said, “You kicked over his money, and then you spit on him. That is a special kind of horrible, wouldn't you say?”
“Okay, Miss Manner, I got your point. I'll go to my room without desert and think about what I did, okay?”
“No, it's not,” The white-haired woman replies, then after a breath asks, “Are you familiar with the Moirai?”
“Isn't she a singer?”
The woman smiles at Phelone, “No, dear, they were a trio of women in Greek mythology.”
“I'll look'em up on Wikipedia.”
“No, you won't,” the woman in the black coat says matter-of-factly. Her voice is still kind, yet sad, but her smile is gone, “They essentially issued our lives to us. Clotho would spin the thread of life, and Lachesis would measure them out, allotting each of us how long we had to live.”
“Bitch, I ain't got time for this.”
“Then there was Atropos: the inevitable. It is her that we take as our inspiration, we of the Sisterhood of the Hinged Blade.”
The old woman reaches into her coat, and pulls out a pair of scissors; not gleaming silver, but old and dark. These are scissors that may be beyond antique, and may actually be ancient; ancient, but well cared for.
Phelone starts to back away.
“Atropos would use her scissors to cut the thread, thus determining the time and manner of each person's death. Some cast her as evil for doing that, for essentially killing each of, but it was only her job: her duty to the world,” the older woman steps towards Phelone.
“Get the hell away from me,” Phelone shouts, fear tingeing the edge of her anger.
“We of the Sisterhood feel that Atropos perhaps gave some people a little too much thread; the sort of people who make the world a worse place just by their living in it. So it is our duty to give those who deserve it a little trim,” the older woman strikes forward with her scissors faster than Phelone can react. The blades snap shut inches from the younger woman's face, “and now your thread is cut.”
“The funny thing about cutting a thread is that you can never uncut it; there’s no going back. I'm sorry. I know you tried so hard to be the success your name doomed you to not be, but in the effort to be a successful person you forgot to be a good person. Now you will be nothing but another crime statistic. Maybe in your death someone else will remember the fragility of life. Maybe your end will help someone else to remember to not be mean to other people.”
“Somebody help me,” Phelone screams, and turns. She's shocked to see another figure standing behind her: a woman, her age rendered indeterminate by the cloak that hides her face in shadow. She is holding a pair of old shears of her own; these ones are open so that the young girl can see the sharpened edges.
Phelone gasps, but before she can make another noise, the cloaked woman drives her scissors forward against the young woman's throat, and snaps them shut. Blood sprays out as the sharp blades cut through flesh and muscle, leaving dark splotches on the other woman's cloak.
The blood flows into her lungs as she tries to breathe, and Phelone grabs at her open throat as the scissors are pulled away. Blood pours around her fingers as she staggers back into the older woman.
The woman from the diner takes Phelone's shoulder in her hand, “Shh, shh, child. It's almost over now. The pain will be over soon.”
As Phelone's legs give out, the second woman, grabs her other shoulder, and together the two sisters help lower the young woman gently to the ground. They stay with her, holding her hands as the light of life fades from her eyes. When her heart stills, the older woman gently closes the young girl’s blank eyes, causing two final tears to roll down her already cooling cheeks.
The sisters stow their blades back under their coat and cloak respectively before calmly leaving the alley. They seem to melt into the night’s shadows.