D’awh! Thank you! I actually have a few short stories I’ve written based on prompts like this, but I’m not really sure what to do with them.
I might as well contribute something small. It has been a while since I wrote fiction. I am taking a break from writing essays to write a short story.
So I guess there was an afterlife after all. Probably should pack my stuff in preparation for hell.
I chuckled. Who would have expected a 25 year old to die from a heart attack? Being offered a second chance at life is tempting, but stealing someone’s time feels wrong. No, it is wrong. Yet I cannot deny that I am tempted.
Gosh, I would die for a drink right now. Maybe a bad choice of words but can I be blamed for trying to make light of a serious situation?
They say that death makes life worth living. I never understood that saying. To me it is like saying that pain makes pleasure more meaningful or that somehow salt makes us appreciate sugar. No matter how many ways one tries to cut at it, death sucks.
I am going to steal 10 000 years if need be until scientists figure out how to make us immortal. Call me selfish, but anyone in my position would do the same.
Then I remembered her smile. A tear fell on my left cheek.
Oh how I missed our late night outs together. I miss the smell of hair after a morning shower. I missed how she giggled when I tickled her from behind (and the punches that followed from her). I missed watching those silly romcom together, I at times find myself watching them alone. I just missed her so much.
Chloe passed away a few years ago. I thought I moved on by now. What is the point of living forever if it would mean just being miserable the whole time? The choice is clear, her or immortality.
I smiled and approached Death.
“I choose her.”
Okay here is my own entry.
Death isn’t discriminate, it will come for us all eventually. I’ve always known that, always accepted that, I just never expected her to come knocking on my door on the eve of my eighteenth birthday. I was supposed to have died then and there, a heart attack, she said softly.
For some reason though, she spared me. Death looked at me with a sad look in her eyes and said she would let me live, but only if I would take my extra time off others to extend my own. At the time I didn’t want to die, who would honestly accept death especially if they were young.
My response made her smile and with a click of her fingers the air around me shifted and suddenly I found myself holding an old tattered book. I opened it cautiously and flicked through it, I saw name after name after name. Death explained how the book had the name of everyone who lived at that moment. She told me a new name was added with every birth and a name would fade with every death.
Most interestingly was the numbers scrawled after each name, as I watched they kept counting down. I guessed that was how long they each had to live. I turned to ask Death but she’d already vanished.
I focused on the book again, I noticed that my name would appear at the top of each page no matter what page I went to and only the other names changed. I wondered how it worked when a raven’s feather floated down to my hand.
My own name revealed I had just under an hour left. Time to choose Death’s whisper drifted passed me as I found myself holding a black quill, a raven’s feather.
“Time to choose…” I echoed as I altered someone’s number.
The quill stained the book red, my alterations clearly standing out, and with each number I crossed off, my own number increased. The question now is how long should i take?…
Don’t know what to say…
Alas my dear reader, your formidable will to ignorance has mandated a truth most imperative for me to bestow upon you, that of the fragility of your mortal flesh and its innate tendency to succumb to the elements of the earth from whence it came.
I sense your quiet unease pulsating beneath the skin, an inkling of the primordial fear that has haunted your kind since the inception of consciousness. In your realm of thought and abstraction I am an idea both insurmountable and all encompassing yet beyond cognitive comprehension. The inner light of your realization casts a shadow of my likeness and it dances wild against the untamed flame that is your will to persist and overcome.
When this fire smolders from embers to ash I shall arise from the smoke, whole and unfettered, whereupon you shall be taken into my embrace and unraveled.
The underlying awareness of imminent expiration is what drives your people to prolong themselves and dedicate material relics in their memory so that they may inspire and their essence subsist within the collective flame of the next generation. It is passed through a torch continuously sustained through the ritual of inheritance.
Do not ascribe my observation with mockery or contempt, dear mortal. In the face of each subsequent catastrophe that seeks out the complete and unconditional obstruction of this torch you always carve a path for continued resilience. I have gazed into your fire, seen into the essence to which I am eternally bound and weaved out a thread tracing out the line of impulse and innovation all the way to the initial spark that lit the first flame.
Why, you may ask, do I endeavor such folly?
I answer you, oh curious soul: why to regale you with a lost tale!
This is a condensed account of a unique and peculiar individual from far back in your line to a period of pestilence and persecution, the Dark Ages. I hadn’t been so busy since the great flood, a vast land was ravaged with a plague and two-thirds of its inhabitants were in need of relief.
I carried out my purpose solemnly, waiting for the fire in each of the afflicted hearts to go out before reaping them. Many held out in fear of damnation, praying to keep my touch at bay, such stubbornness only served to diminish the dignified release I sought for them.
Then there was this girl, the special subject of this story. I came for her father, a clocksmith and a pioneer of his trade. He was surely a maverick among the locals, through his ambition of constructing mechanical instruments that measured a fabricated passage of time. Still I respected his will to knowledge for the interesting progress I foresaw his work facilitating.
A pity he had to die before gaining prominence but there was something ironic to his impending demise that I regarded with just the slightest degree of amusement, as if the clock measuring the passage of his own life had come full circle. It was then that she called out to me, lucid of my presence under her roof, begging that I let his dwindling flame linger.
Her unexpected interjection filled me with a sense of perplexion, a confusion that was both vaguely familiar yet intimately distant. I became acute of my acquired numbness to what had eluded my very state of being, the awareness of the past and its gap from the present.
This girl somehow untouched by disease could sense me and the flame of life within her dying parent and instill within me a personal comprehension of their manufactured notion of time? I accepted it as a gift and allowed the father’s fire to subsist until it overcame the strain and burnt well with life.
An acceptable oversight, I would come back for him eventually when he truly succumbed. With my new gift I contemplated on how long I had been working and for how long I would continue but the answer did not come. For a moment most brief I felt the void of desolation encroaching within me but my conviction promptly resurfaced and sealed off this breach.
Yet a part of me was now tainted.
A decade passed and I felt the world turn ceaselessly, completing one full circle after another with no end in sight, no loss in vigor, just the renewed impulse to continue and repeat. The sensation this welled in me could best be described in your language and understanding as utterly nauseating. Finally I returned to them in hopes of claiming the father would grant me respite.
She was now a woman who cared for the ailing man and presumed his craft as her own, I daresay her potential surpassed the foundations laid by him. I took corporeal form as a raven and announced my presence on the window porch. She recognized who I was and simply nodded.
I took the father in peace and sought to converse with the woman on the nature of personal time but it wasn’t to be. A local inquisition arrived and took her in for questioning. Having spurned a woodcutter’s proposal and engendered the envy of less educated females of her standing it was no surprise that she had been accused of witchcraft. You humans can be so petty with each other’s lives.
They imprisoned her and I knew her fate was sealed. She made a futile effort to plead her innocence and was subjected to exponential treatments of pain. Wounds and trauma can imprint themselves onto the soul. I find your art of torture both perverse and distasteful, leaving behind a most unpleasant mess for me to clean up.
In the end the poor creature could barely even walk anymore. With both body and mind broken she confessed her fictitious misdeeds. I would see to her at last but was this the salvation she sought?
Well dear reader I know you disapprove of my inaction during her incarceration but on the day of her execution I came to visit her in the illusion of a monk. She asked me if this was her punishment for interfering with my work ten years earlier. I told her she was an anomaly of her era and out of balance with the collective flame. Given her strange grasp of my existence she asked if I could give her more time to keep living. I refused and advised her in making peace with herself to make the departure easier.
She refused my wisdom and proposed a challenge, one last desperate attempt to prolong the inevitable, through a game of chess. How classic. Before her the last person to best me was a Indian stonemason but his victory was not to last indefinitely. I had taken his mindset into consideration to defeat subsequent challengers but in my hubris I neglected to anticipate that in her internal framework would defy the comfort convention.
Yes, I lost. While disappointed I honored her wish and found my own peace of mind in the process. It was her cursed gift that I would relieve of myself and return to her. I conjured out and extracted the taint she awoke in me and gave it a material form for her to appreciate: a pocket watch of my design. In the moment of her flame extinguishing I explained how her fire would briefly relight just long enough for her to make a privileged choice.
She was hung in the gallows and dead within minutes, only to be revived once her body had been taken down. Just a few minutes before her flames were no more and she summoned my apparatus to her service. It clicked open revealing two dials, the outer one pointing at the nearest human life to the user and the inner circle measuring the target’s remaining lifespan before the smaller needle came full circle. Her power lay with her being able to move this needle freely, to take hours from others into herself or set back the time of their death and keep me at bay.
Instinctively she used it against the hangman, forcing his inner dial to complete a rotation and stealing all 18 years, 3 months and 5 days he could have expected to look forward to. I designed the device to make such deaths peaceful, indeed he just closed his eyes and his heart stopped before falling to the ground.
Such a pity, one who worked so hard and paid so little. At least he was now at rest.
The woman was alive, her flesh though maimed was blessed with just under 160,000 hours of protection before resuming its mortal state. Entropy could not touch it either, not as long as the embers of her flame remained crystallized in stolen life energies. She thanked me for the gift but I knew her gratitude would be fleeting. The will to endure the weight of eternity itself is burdensome for a higher power such as myself. You humans while ever so remarkable and efficient could not bear to subsist for even a second in such captivity.
She came to fathom this weight over hundreds of lifetimes and when I met her again in the technologised era she was ready to die. I know my dear reader, you saw this eventuality as the moral of my tale, did you not? I shan’t bore you with irrelevant details but needless to say upon my reunion the frozen embers of her flame had begun to melt and evaporate.
The woman had done much throughout the course of her extended life, all that she could to fight off that dominating cosmic will that permeated through her with cold and heavy indifference. She had brought forth inventions that changed history, disguised herself as a man and played the game of warfare, took countless lovers and sired offspring, accumulated wealth and recognition for her genius, a flame of ambition that tried and failed to persist against the tides of casualty.
She used her power to prevent those she cared for from succumbing and while they were grateful at first just as she once was, overtime the ones she saved came to resent her for essentially possessing them. Hence she let them go and could not quite connect with others again, leaving her alone in a crowded world to reflect on her despair and isolation until it became a living nightmare.
I assured the woman that her win all those centuries ago was not a fluke on my part just to see her suffer but that I did give her that pocket watch knowing how she would end up. Accepting this she offered to return it to me but I refused, for that old taint was still present and I had no wish to reacquaint myself with it. So she hid it and I will not divulge its current whereabouts.
After that of course her time was up and her neck broke as it did in the moment of her original demise. She succumbed to my embrace and I delivered her from the loud unrelenting silence, into a gentle tranquility. And so my friend, do not deny life, for the woman used her second chance to forge the vapors of her dreams into material reality, but do not define my absence into its design, else you will squander and begrudge the singular opportunity of your existence.
I am not your enemy but the gift of peace and completion.
A bit long, but trust me, it’s not as dire as the title makes it seem.
The burden of living is the act of carrying on this crusade. Even as they all drop, one by one, like the tails of the comets passing by a distant planet, emitting one last vibrant explosion of rebelliousness as they are wont to do, before they fade to the ether. The fate and burden, the last whines of a dying star.
Electronic crackles and whispers drift from the static produced by the television. Photonic pulses beat in a lonely staccato, mindless servants generating the images of a distant news anchor, an indifferent algorithm compiling the still shots into animated movement. A fascimile of a human, a deceptive derivative of the organic subject it represents. Sound waves pierce the medium, a midpoint between the two dichotomies of coherency and incohorency. The medium transmits the message, falling on apathetic ears.
“Your Soul Energy is the glitch in the system. A bug in the program. But it’s not something that I can ameliorate,” the Reaper said, decades past, epochs long before the sense of time eroded away the humanity lingering within these bones. “In the same way you can’t just erase black holes. They are the esoteric things of the Natural plane. And you seem to be the Conduit at the junction between both planes of existence.”
Moonlight rips throughs the horizontal blinds, incadenscent rays casting a striatal pattern on the floor. The eternal abyss above my city hovers and sneers at the denizens below. Distant galaxies and turbulent quasars blink against the background, detached observers and calculated intellects amused at best by the turmoils plaguing humankind. The lifeless clanks and movements of the sentries levels below, suffering and sadism working hand in hand, pummeling the natural laws into submission. The bloodcurdling protests and tortured howls of the ostracized, the manic desperation and hunger of the downtrodden. The opportunistic caws and screeches of the scavengers, the hungered growls of the hunters. The living dead that haunt the alleyways and outskirts of civilization, barely scraping by.
“Good evening, Damien,” a disembodied, masculine voice calls overhead. “You have three unread emails and one new video call message.”
“To which are you referring to?”
I clench my jaw. “The vid call.”
“From Wesley,” the A.I. delivers in a clinical tone.
“He calls every day,” I lean against the wall, arms crossed over my chest. “Same time. Same phone. For the last two months. Persistent bastard.”
“He is concerned, Damien,” the A.I. chastised gently, an uncharacteristic move. “This deliberate distance you put between yourself and others is distressing him.”
“Space-time geometry doesn’t bend to the will of anyone. Not even light can escape it,” I murmured, tilting my head a scant few degrees to the side. “But, I digress.”
“He was unusually insistent, Damien,” the A.I. pressed. Another alarming deviation from its algorithms and protocols.
“If he really cares, he can hop on the next flight from Seattle and come here,” I snapped. “I’m not going to be the one to break this game of cold shoulder. I made my choice, a year ago. And he made his.”
“A choice that I regret.”
A voice speaking from the shadows.
The vestiges of my breath evaporated into the ether. My pulse stuttered into a wounded gallop, echoing a somber staccato. “Came here to finish me, have you?”
“No,” he replies, an unusually defeated tone. His treacherous heart concealed is in the layers of the shadows. I have no way of hunting for it. No way to tear it out. “Goodness, no.”
“Blades have hunted the Rippers for centuries. Epochs. Eons,” I crane my neck, carefully moderating my breathing pattern. “Hunted us like foxes on an afternoon horseback ride. Slaughtered us to the nines and kept trophies. So, forgive me if I’m a little skeptical.”
A fraction of his facial features catches the filtered moonlight, his skin absorbing the incoming rays with the elegance of a porcelain surface. A deviant beam of light strikes his irises, drawing out the evergreen shades of the wilderness. The treacherous part of me, the one that is still human, could never manage a successful resistance.
“I would never raise a hand against you, Damien,” the bastard replies, calm and mellow, as if it was a deep-seated conviction he has kept a secret for years.
“And I’m not justifying my actions to you,” I curled a corner of my mouth upwards, quelling the spite that explodes beneath my sternum.
“You don’t need have to. You don’t need to,” he says, unusually gentle.
I look away. “Fine. Whatever. Go get a knife from the kitchen. You know how this works.”
“I’m not doing that,” he replies slowly.
“Why not?” I craned my neck to face him, plastering on a bitter smile. “If I recall correctly, you had a marvelous reaction when you found out. Even if it was by accident.”
He paused for a moment. “It was stupid. I was stupid.”
“I’m not the one who decides that for you. Just like I’ve never decided to be this,” I intoned. “I’m just aware of the fact that if I don’t do It, that I’ll die.”
“I know,” he says, uncharacteristically gentle. “I know.”
“Do you?” I clench my jaw. “For someone who works in the black-ops division with the overarching mission to stop terrorism, corruption, and the oppression of the minority, at any cost, your government seems damn fine with throwing my kind to the gutters.”
“I’m sorry, Damien. I’m sorry,” he chokes out.
“I kept it a secret, for your sake. I couldn’t exactly broadcast it to the squad, could I?” I smiled bitterly. “I only ever fed on the targets and the ones that deliberately tried to take out the team. I trusted you to have my back, even when I knew what you were. But, a man can always be disappointed. Guess I learned that too late.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m sorry.”
“You remember what you did. You knew what you were about to do. So, stop dragging this on. Do us both a favor,” I stepped away from the wall I was leaning on. I swallowed, smothering the panic lurking beneath my composure. “I’m done. I’m tired. I’m tired of living in a world where I’m clearly not wanted. A world that hates me.”
He steps forward. A determined expression hardens his features. “I won’t do that. I will never do that. I won’t make the same mistakes the others did.”
“Bold talk. But it achieves nothing,” I replied coldly.
“I don’t care. Believe what you will. It doesn’t change me, or who I stand for,” he steps forward again. My mouth curls in disgust. “I will not kill a Ripper. I will not kill an innocent. I will not kill you.”
I step back, a bitter sound bubbling from the depths of my larynx. “Chivalry is what kills a Blade. Cunning is the trait that makes Rippers the excellent and ideal survivalist,” I shake my head. “Because unlike you regular humans, we’ve faced down Death once and lived to tell the tale. But for the rest of you, it’s game over.”
“I will not kill a Ripper. I will not kill you,” he repeats again, the chant of a deranged man. “I won’t. I can’t.”
“Blades have always been all talk and no honor. You’re no different,” I said coldly. “You’re all catching up, at least.”
“You and I both know that you don’t even believe what you’re saying,” he replies, gently.
I retreat a few more steps. “You can try running me around, cowboy. It doesn’t fix anything.”
“Love fixes everything.”
“Oh? Does it?” I chuckled bitterly. I sneered back. “I guess it works if it was for someone else.”
“I have always loved you. I still do,” he replies softly. He takes one more step.
“No. You just can’t bring yourself to kill me because I am a Ripper. I’m too useful of an asset to dispose of,” I growled. “You need my ability for covert operations and assassinations. You need my expertise in computer networks, security, and cryptography. You need my knowledge on social engineering. My specialiazation in intelligence gathering and psychology. You’re useless without me.”
“That’s not true,” he shakes his head, his irises glistening with an emotion I refuse to quantify. “That’s not true at all. And you know that.”
“I never knew where I stand with you. What makes it different?” I snapped. I felt my throat closing. “What makes you different, Wesley? You’re not the first Blade that tried to sweet talk their way out of dire straits.”
“Then I’m the first Blade that will choose to love a Ripper, Damien. It’s my choice. My choice and mine alone. I don’t make choices because of what I am. I make choices based on who I choose to be,” he asserts, surprisingly firm. “Who I want to be. And I choose not to repeat the same mistakes that the others did. I choose to understand. I choose to love. And no one, no one, takes that right away from me.”
I smothered the involuntary sound that threatened to break out of my throat. “Your father will be ashamed, Wesley. So ashamed. Disappointed. Furious. Mournful. Because his only son chose to abandon the tenets and skills he was raised with, since birth.”
“Then let me disappoint my family, Damien. Because I’m not changing. Not for them. Not for the world. Not even for you, whatever this vision of me that you refuse to let go of,” he argues heatedly. “I’m not the only Blade that chose to do this. There are others that you never knew of. You never knew of them, because they were all executed before the scandal could come out.”
“Lies. All lies,” I sneered, half-heartedly. “Your kind lured them into warm beds and then plunged the knife into their necks when they were at their weakest.”
He clenches his jaw. His eyes continued tracking my every move. “I know this, because my elder brother was one. He fell in love with a Ripper. He naively tried to convince our father that his ways were wrong. Then, one evening, I never heard from him and the woman he loved, ever again.”
I exhaled shakily.
His eyes hardened. “I dug up the secret. I waited and bided my time. I trained. I learned the darkest techniques of our trade. Then, at the tender age of nineteen, I knifed an old man in his sleep. And he bled, like a gutted animal.”
I clenched my jaw, but kept my silence.
His shadowed face hardens to a chilling finality. “And from then on, I vowed to myself – I will abandon my family’s ways. I will make my own choices. Live by my own beliefs. Free from the manipulation of anything else.”
I shake my head, chuckling bitterly. “Pretty words. I admit, you almost had me. But actions are actions. You chased me out. If you really believed it, you wouldn’t have done that.”
I shuddered at the rapidly closing distance between us. I flinched back when he raised a hand, as if to reach out. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? I know I have no right, but, please. I have to know if this is what you want. What you wanted still.”
I inhaled slowly and exhaled, feeling tempted to lash out. The beating warmth of his Soul was searing, I could never ignore it. The proximity is maddening. It flickers and burns bright. I briefly entertained the thought; clamping my fingers around his stocky throat, my eyes ablaze with the pain I still carried. The giddy high of the rush, flooding my veins, shaving off a few more years from a sworn enemy. Settling for the eternal winter that protects my emotions.
I imagined it all, for a fraction of a moment.
“I forgive you,” I said softly.
I somehow knew it would end up like this. In front of me, Almighty Death robed in all his glory sits on a throne of bones. Darkness blankets the area around me only to be disturbed by lightening. I decided to do what any other Sicarian would do. I bow to the God of Sicaria. I bow deeply until my head touched the black marble floor.
“I beg you for your forgiveness. I… I have fallen in battle Almighty,” I say with reverence. No doubt, I have been brought before him for punishment. The foul savages of The Kartjak Empire invaded and the Sicarian army was unable to stop them. Great shame fills my very being as I remember my failure in leading the garrison in protecting capital city Athenos. As I watched the great statue of Death fall before my very eyes.
I wait but Almighty Death does not speak to me. I dare to take a peak at it’s glory and I see Almighty Death extend a bony finger towards me. Beckoning me closer.
Unsteadily, I rise and with labored steps I approach. When I am close enough, Death’s arms extend out faster than I can react and grab hold of my head, forcing me to draw face to face. The malignant red eyes of Death reflect his rage as it pours deep into my very soul. A sudden power, an invisible aura forces its way into my body and all I can do is wait for it to end. And then darkness overtakes me.
I open my eyes once more but instead of Almighty Death and his throne I see smoke above. Screams echo around me. I look around and see the burning city of Athenos. I look down and find the bodies of my fellow soldiers, their armor covered in blood and their faces full of horror.
“I… I survived…” I say, “No… I was saved.”
Tears flow down my face and my body shudders with wretched pain forcing me to my knees. I am alive. Almighty Death forgave me and granted me new life. Already I can tell that I am not the same. There is something… else inside of me. Eating away at me but also waiting for my call.
“A survivor!” I hear someone say. I look up to see a group of Kartjakin soldiers, dressed in their horrid gold chain-mail. Their faces are covered by their metal masks, made to mimic the face of their heretical gods. Their blades are drawn, covered in scarlet blood. One of them holds a woman by her hair, dragging her along. She is unresponsive, most likely her last breath shall soon come. I know what I must do.
I rise to my feet, a new sense of confidence brimming within me. I feel the Almighty’s power waiting my call.
“Your lives are mine,” I say and my voice booms across the city. The soldiers stop dead in their tracks. I smile. For I have been chosen. I have become Death’s Apostle.
And a heroic savior is born. Or maybe just another pawn to facilitate some grand plan on behalf of their mysterious deity.
Basing off what I made about the Deity’s in Aeradoth (the world Sicaria is in) there are no true black and white “saviors”.
This is actually something I hope to explore in a story later on.