Pull into the parking space. Stop the car. Take out the keys. Her keychain-no. Don't think about her now. Open the door, and walk over to the parking meter.
Insert credit card, press the buttons, and wait.
His eyes glance down-
All May Park, and All Must Pay. -reads the sign, and he smiles at that, just a little.
The slip prints out. Take it, glance at the tiny letters.
"All may park," says a voice.
He turns around. "Excuse me?"
It's a girl-no, a woman. She flickers between forms, a little girl, a teenager, a woman, and an aged crone. "And all must pay." The flickering of forms stops, and she is an old woman. "What will you pay?"
Gesture at the machine. "I already paid."
"What will you pay?" She is very close. He can see the hairs on her upper lip, thin and wispy and grey. "Your firstborn?"
“Who are you?”
He takes a step back. “Okay, lady. I don’t know what you want, but I already paid.” Another step. “If you don’t back off, I’m calling the police.”
“All may park, and all must pay.”
He lunges, reaches his car door and leaps inside. Slams the door. Drives away.
He doesn’t call the cops. Tells himself it was just a bag lady. And locks his doors.
Lying in bed at night, he stares at the ceiling. Was he hallucinating? Or was she just a homeless woman asking for a handout? The bed is wide and he is very small inside it.
Stare at the clock. Hairline fractures spread over its face. 9:37. 9:37 forever, he thought. That's when she hurled it at the wall.
Months pass. Choosing his clothes, he averts his eyes from the empty side of the closet. A thin layer of dust covers the shelf.
He avoids parking meters altogether.
More sleepless nights. He sells his car, rides the metro to work. Every homeless lady sleeping in the back of the subway makes him stand up, check the map to see how far it is to his stop.
Was it too late to call? Was it too late to say he was sorry, so so sorry? Would she even listen?
One night, he walks home a different way from the metro station. Breathes in the sky, a burnt orange-red color. No stars in sight.
“What will you pay?”
He screams. Falls over.
A young woman stands over him. Her hair is long, falling over her face, obscuring it. “You must pay,” she says. “In the end, you must pay something.”
Scrambles to his feet. “Leave me alone!”
“I will collect your soul, when you die. I always get my payment.”
“I already paid you! Five dollars, six cents!” He hugs his briefcase to his chest. It is a barrier between him and the woman. “What else do you want?”
She is silent.
“Look-” Fumbles in his pocket. Pulls out his wallet. “Here-ten dollars. Go get yourself a meal. There’s a McDonald’s down the street…” His voice dies off.
Her form shifts. She is a middle-aged woman now. “Are you more comfortable with this form?” Silence. “I do not have to cater to your fears, you know. I am the more powerful by far.” She sits down on a bench. That wasn’t there before, he thinks. She pats the spot next to her. “Sit. We will discuss payment.”
His legs itch to run, but he sits down. “I don’t have a firstborn, if that’s what you want.”
“I will take whatever you give me. It must have great value to you, however, or it will not have any value to me.”
He rocks back and forth. “I can give you my phone.”
“I have no use for machinery.”
“I live here.”
Stares. “In the parking meter?”
She folds her hands primly. “Would you give me whatever is in front of your door when you return home?”
Thinks. The only things he can think of that might be in front of his door are packages. “Sure. And will you leave me alone when I bring it to you?”
“There is no need to bring it to me. I collect immediately.”
“Great.” Stands up. Holds out hand. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
She flickers between forms as she stands, landing on a little girl-about eight or nine. Shakes his hand. A grin stretches across her face, displaying a row of white, straight teeth. “The pleasure is all mine.”
He walks home. It is still a long way to his house from the parking meter. Wonders briefly about what might be at his door, then hears his phone ring. A call from his boss. He takes it, talking and walking and nearing his house.
Turns the corner onto his street.
Drops his phone. He runs-abandoning the sidewalk and charging through the grass.
She turns, hand raised to knock at his door. Her face slowly lights up-
And she is gone.