A Twilight Dance

death-appointment in samarraThe violin bow played its merry jig over her wrists, as the pain slowly oozed from her body. She lay in a cold tub, with the twilight breeze from the open window ravaging her exposed form. A smile rested on her paling lips as the concerto soothed her into sleep, and she slowly slipped down into the warm bath. Silence ruled the air; her song was done. She crossed her arms over her chest, as the last drops of warmth dribbled over her skin. The white tile of the room belied no emotion as she closed her eyes, and fell asleep.

His riding boots banged up the stairs as hurried and unceremoniously as a panicked heart. A heart that was bleeding, for he already knew how this story would end. A door presumed to stop him, but a sound kick to its knees brought it quickly to the ground. He burst into the room, searching so hard he forgot to breathe. Where was she? He shouted her name, and began running in every direction until he came to another closed door. It was the bathroom, and even in his altered state, his sense of intimacy and decorum forced him to knock and shout.

But there was no answer. He shouted louder, as if he had misread dead for deaf. Turning and gaining enough space, he smashed the door inwards and stumbled into the small room. The sight nearly tripped him where he stood.

The sun was setting beyond the window, offering a wonderful spectacle for those with leisure to admire. Green hills rolled down to the lake that embraced the small village, dotted with cozy cottages and ancient trees. It would have been beautiful if Death were not covering it from view. The fading rays that bathed the spectacle had no effect on the ghostly cowl that covered the figure bending over the bathtub.

The man came back into himself with a start, and the lugubrious figure slowly turned to him. Long bony fingers extended from beneath the tattered fringes of Death’s garb, and in places holes revealed osseous cavities in the dark folds. The face drew the man’s eyes. It was macabre, but so beautiful; wisps of white hair fluttered in the breeze, flicking over perfect white features. Features so cold, so delicate, so fair they refused to hide the skull beneath. A slight smile creased Death’s white lips, and she turned back to the figure in the bath.

Only then did the man notice the small sphere containing a blue fire that hovered above the girl’s lips, and Death was carefully prizing away from her. Before he knew what he was doing, the man pounced on Death, and fell right through her. His vision exploded in pain as he hit the cold tiles, and merciless edges of the basin. But the hooded figure was gone. The small sphere lingered for a second on the girl’s lifeless lips, and for that agonizing instant the man wondered what he was to do. Then it fell into her mouth, and a slight gasp escaped her. But she remained motionless.

Ripping off his tunic, the man covered her body, and glanced around. Death hovered near the door. Her smile had deepened, though no life had come into her eyes.

The man turned away and picked up the girl from her bath. She was a statue of ice in his arms, and he knew he must take her into the living room where there was more sun. Quickly he laid her out on the couch, in front of the large windows that overlooked the landscape. The sun stabbed back through them, bathing the pale woman in gold. In the back of the man’s mind was a sneaking hope that maybe Death was afraid of the light. He quickly tore off shards of his shirt to bind the wounds on the girl’s wrists, cursing the lie that had inspired her deathly concerto.

A slight rustling sigh reminded him he was not alone; in one of the darker corners of the room a cowl’d figured watched his futile efforts. He had a strange notion of asking it for help. Quickly he bound her wrists as tight as he could manage, respectfully laying them over her chest under a white sheet. He stepped back, and was drawn again to look at the figure in the corner.

“What?” he barked. But her faint smile remained immobile. A sad bell rang in the distance. “Don’t you have a funeral to be getting to?” Again there was no answer.

He was afraid to go too far away from the girl, but he couldn’t help thinking there was something more he should be doing. Death just watched him.

The bell tolled again, and people could be seen filing out of the church in the distance. The six at the front carried a coffin covered in a black veil, a phoenix emblazoned over its centre. The pall bearers quietly placed it on a horse-drawn hearse, as more people gathered to carry it away.

There was a ghostly chuckle, and the man turned to the dark figure. In her hand was a ball of blue flame, lighting up her faceless features in the waning light. It floated in her palm, a life of its own. Comprehension dawned in the man’s eyes.

“Andrew!” he said, the name of the man in the coffin. Death’s smile became a grin. The bell tolled in the distance, and the procession began to wind up the street towards the house. The way to the cemetery lay directly beneath its windows.

Death stepped out into the fading sunlight, taunting him with the fiery orb, daring him to step away from her prey. The man was torn between his best friend, and his friend’s dying wish to keep his love safe. His mind in turmoil, it fell back to the habits of the battlefield, and he drew his sword. For the first time in a hundred years, surprise leapt into Death’s eyes.

“You can’t kill Death,” flew through his mind. But with that very weapon he had already given Death six of those same little orbs. He began walking towards the specter standing in the corner.

Death waited for him to be close, and then dropped the little orb. It fell to the floor with a bang, and began rolling away under the window. As the man turned and bent to pick it up, Death glided around behind him. But the man was anticipating this, and as the ghostly apparition swept past him, he swung his right arm around behind him, sending his blade through the middle of his adversary. Of course it passed right through; there was nothing for it to catch on. Death had dissolved into the air, and was soon once again hovering over the girl. Desperately and anew, he fell on the phantasmal shape, but this time she refused to dissolve.

As the last ray of daylight died behind the far mountains, the pair slammed into the floor. The girl’s closed eyes gazed on the spectacle, as Death and the soldier rolled over the wooden planks. The man gained his footing, and the ghostly shape rose in the air around him. Her face was disfigured with anger, and for once there was life in Death’s eyes. Suddenly, a sharp pain pierced the man’s chest, and he realized he had dropped his sword. He glanced down and saw a macabre translucent hand buried in his ribs, and he could feel his heart slowing to a stop. The warmth in his body was gathering around his throat, and he could picture his own blue flame fluttering.

Not knowing what else to do, he bent forward under the onslaught of pain, then twisted and fell into Death. Again she dissolved as he fell through her, on to his knees. The pain was gone from his chest, and he drew a grateful breath of air. Death hesitated a second, unsure to go back to the girl, or finish her adversary. In that instant, the man saw the little blue orb next his knee, and quickly snatched it up. Death wrapped her cold hands about his throat, and once again his life began to ebb from his body. With the orb still in his hand, he swiped at his nemesis and to his surprise she was knocked sideways and off of him. He realized that the life he held in his hands could touch Death.

In the darkening twilight, the apparition eyed him from a couple paces. The man’s courage was beginning to build, having been able to stave off Death this long. And now he had a weapon. They stood next to the window, and if they had looked down, they would have seen the procession beginning to pass below.

The silence of the room was broken by a gentle sigh, as the sheet that covered the girl rustled and she opened her eyes. The man turned to her, and saw her eyes spring open in alarm. “Lisa,” he managed to say before he was hit by a ghostly whirl of cold and power. He twisted under the onslaught and began to fall into open space.

The funeral bell was tolling over the countryside as the mourners walked under the house of the diseased. They kept their heads bowed in respectful silence, as the hearse creaked under the house’s windows. The steady plod of the horses’ hoofs was suddenly interrupted by the shatter of glass, and the thud of a body on wood as the man and Death fell atop the coffin. The horses reared, but didn’t bolt, and the people looked in shock at the supernatural spectacle.

The orb clinched tightly in his hand, the man pulled away, revealing his face to the crowd. Several people screamed, both in terror at the spectral visage of Death, and of seeing the man they all thought was in the coffin. People began scurrying in all directions, and the priest who was leading the procession just stared with his mouth open, his hands clutching the cross for dear life.

Standing on opposite ends of the coffin, the man and Death once again faced off. Quickly the soldier reached down and pulled the flag off the casket. The apparition realized what he was doing, and instantly fell on him. As pain once again radiated from his chest, the man ignored the attack and smashed his hand through the top of the coffin. Beneath his friend’s dead face greeted him. The man’s vision began to go dark, as Death fought to keep him from returning the life he held in his hands to the man in the coffin. The last light died in his eyes as he reached down and forced the orb between the dead man’s lips.

A visceral scream rent the air, as he tumbled off the hearse and hit the ground beneath. Free from the assault, his faculties began to come back to him. The first stars were beginning to appear in the night sky, and he looked up at Death standing on the hearse. Fire burned in her eyes as she stared down at him, oblivious to the man crawling out of the coffin.

The man who had just come back from the dead saw his friend lying on the ground. “James!” he exclaimed, “what…” he began, but turned above and saw the specter looming over him in the fading evening sky. “Holy Mother of…” he started stumbling over himself as he scurried on his back over the hearse and on to the ground.

Shouts could be heard around town, and there was the sound of people scurrying in the distance. Finally the horses bolted up the street, and James stood back on the cobbles as Death floated down to the ground. The priest was nowhere to be seen.

A wispy voice filled the air; high, quiet and very menacing. “You don’t think you can get away with that, do you?”

James leered back at the apparition. It turned away from him and marched towards the other soldier who was dragging himself out of the street to the doorway of the house. The door opened and a breathless girl stood with bandaged wrists. She immediately stooped and wrapped her arms around Andrew. Death bore down on them.

The soldier stepped between.

“Out of my way,” hissed Death.

“He wasn’t supposed to die,” countered James.

Death grinned. “They always say that.”

“He took my uniform and went to fight in my stead so I wouldn’t lose my commission. He wasn’t supposed to be fighting. I didn’t want him to, but I was too sick to stop him.”

The phantasm just looked at him. In the silence the commotion and shouting around them grew, but James had no mind for it. Andrew and Lisa just stared at their friend facing Death.

“It’s not fair!” the soldier shouted finally.

A ghostly laughter broke out through the darkening streets. Torches could be seen in the distance. The laughter chilled the three spectators to the bone. “If life isn’t fair, then why should I be?” Death said. The laughter died on her lips and she said more firmly, “Out of my way!”

“No!” replied James. He had no idea how he was going to stop her, but…

“Very well, then,” and to the soldier’s amazement, Death disappeared. An instant later, a group of very scared villagers burst on the scene. Several had muskets, some pitchforks, while others just knives. The priest was in the rear.

The solder looked about in confusion for a second, and instantly turned to his two friends. “Run!” he shouted. At the same time, the priest vociferated: “Demons! Kill the hell-spawn!”

Musket-fire erupted in the street. Lisa and Andrew ducked behind the door and into the darkness beyond. James paused in surprise because he didn’t feel anything. Then he saw his body fall forwards onto its knees, blood staining his shirt and running down the side of his head. But he stood there, as his body fell forward onto the dirt. He noticed a pair of ghostly arms wrapped around him, and turned to find death standing behind him. Around them, the villagers –goaded on by the priest- approached his body timidly.

A mystified look played on James’ face. Death smiled at him and laid her head on his shoulder. “That was some fight. I haven’t had fun like that in years.” The man’s mouth fell open. They were floating up into the sky, with the stars twinkling around them. Looking down, James could see his friends running into the woods behind the house, while the villagers crowded around his body.

The ghostly voice continued in his head, “No one opened the casket that the Army sent Andrew back in. Everyone thought it was you in that coffin. They still think it was you, and you were possessed by demons.” She pulled away from him, and wrapped one of his hands in both of hers.

“So Death really is fair, then?” he asked, recovering a bit from the shock dying.

“I needed to take one life today. I’ll just have to settle for yours.”

“Then Lisa was not going to die?”

Death smiled at him, “I guess we’ll never know.” Her face became serious “You were supposed to die in the battle. You can’t run away from your appointment with the Reaper.”


One thought on “A Twilight Dance

  1. Pingback: Daniel John Grady

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