I close my eyes, and my once muddled mind falls quiet, the only noise the rushing of the sea and the impatient squawk of a gull. I dream; for once I dream something pleasant, and I am flying, taking the wings of the gull for myself and going high into the sky, leaving everything to shrink to black dots. I fly and fly and fly, my wings taking me across desert pyramids and tumultuous oceans trying desperately to drown islands hanging onto their selves, through snow-capped mountains and wide, empty plains where the horses escape from their barns and play, to sky scrappers reaching God’s hand even though the souls inside are missing God’s eyes. I fly, I fly, I fly, eventually landing on a perch where I watch a young, faceless boy scoot on by.
The faceless boy fades, and I’m taken to a dark, broken down city stitched together with the kind of character that is nearly indescribable; the kind of character that just says plain and simply who they are with no regrets, with a boastful pride that cannot be dampened despite its flaws. Instantly, I’m reminded of a night in Baltimore, an ordinary night that produced an unexpectedly delightful adventure. The football game had ended- that in itself was an experience(one thing other countries and the states have in common is fanatics; they will be everywhere, celebrating and complaining, overanalyzing and overcompensating for their average lives) , overwhelming to say the least for a mind that wanders wide, not close. The line to the bus was long and unmoving; the vehicle either stalled, the traffic was too thick, or it just didn’t feel like being helpful. We decided- or more accurately the Wise Totem decided- that we needed another way.
Unaccustomed to city life, I am introduced to a app called Lime. I’m sure most city folks in America have heard of it or something similar, and the process is so natural its like falling asleep. Except it is not natural to me. I cannot help but think. in a shifting perspective, how others who do not live here must feel when they are first introduced, or even make a ‘discovery’ or something so useful, so seemingly phenomenal. Then I think how they have things where they are that are seemingly phenomenal to us. Culture can be found in the most crowded spaces as well as the tiniest corners of a backyard. In this case, the city was my corner, and the smallest adventure was still the most thrilling.
We find the scooters, passing through some questionable areas including several dark alleys with a chained link fence at the end and boarded up windows, hop on, and whistle down the sidewalks. The wind brushes through my hair, and I try to stay focus. But this is a dream, a memory, and it collides with other fragments, other elements. I am no longer flying. I am sailing in a colorful sea bleeding red and purple and yellow. Shapes form out of the tall waves, and I see a story forming. I forget myself and where I am, the scooter falling away beneath me. I can hear a voice telling me directions, no telling me the story that has formed.
Time of Death
He is known as the trickster. A shadow they say, taunting and fooling those with or without good sense, sneaking up on them when they least expect it. His appearance is up for interpretation, depending on which part of the world he comes from. Some say he is the two-faced god reaping sorrow and destruction wherever he walks. Others claim he is a fox, seven or nine tails flaming behind him as he burns through fields and homes alike. Still more assume he is the Devil, red-faced and white fanged, with ram horns curling out of the forehead.
In this case, he is a man, roguish and gruff, his dimples accenting a smile covered by a yellow goatee.
He tightens his tie, smooths out the wrinkles in his black suit, and takes a seat in the back, where he can watch the procession calmly, a twinkle gleaming from a self-assured amusement.
The music is a slow, melodramatic piece, the symphony playing at elongated intervals. He rolls his eyes. Of course, no matter how many times I witness, it is always the same. But let’s not spoil the moment. It’s not every day the guy gets to marry the girl of his dreams.
The bride is spectacular in an off-white dress cut beautifully to accentuate the delicate curves of her body. She walks slowly, carefully, in time with the melody yet with a somber echo, as if she were walking the plank, on her way to dropping to her death. In a way, she was, for the man waiting down the aisle was not the man of her dreams but a replacement, someone to fill what the other left empty.
Her groom is smiling, beaming, which slightly improves the average nature written all over his face. There was nothing spectacular about him- skinny and pale, with gangly legs and an uneven posture which serves to invite the tiniest of breezes to knock him over, the spindly twig failing to hold its ground. He tried so hard to keep himself from buckling over, but his knees noticeable gave him away and quiet snickers went up in the crowd. Poor fool. He doesn’t know what he has gotten himself into.
There is pride in his eyes and love etched on eager lips as he takes her hand. The priest is exasperated, his papery skin drawn tightly and wearily. He doesn’t want to be here anymore than she does. The bride looks behind her, and he catches a tear drop sliding softly down her cheek, almost ruining the picturesque beauty shimmering brightly under the dome of a pitch-black cathedral.
She wants someone else. He shakes his head and grits his teeth, making that disappointed tsk from his spittle. She wants that nice, oafish boy she saw grow into a kind, handsome man. Too bad he is with me now. And it’s all his fault.
Words drift up in a plume of smoke, blanketing the attendees and scratching the eyes of the more superficial sort. They cry, grabbing embroidered handkerchiefs and wiping away the smoke, although others are impervious, their stone walls remaining unaffected. Her family knows, but there is nothing they can do. His family is too powerful, too rich, and they could use their support, especially after the draught ruined their business, their modest homes. The marriage would save them, they knew it, she knew it, but they all hated it.
Death smiles as the groom finally was permitted to touch his lips to his lovely bride. My, she is incredibly lovely, isn’t she? Mind your tongue, you impertinent young man. Death claps as the groom walks her down the aisle, his arm interlocked emphatically with her listless limb. The bells ring, and the music plays again, spurred on by a quick conclusion to a tepid ceremony. Death follows the crowd out of the archway, stopping to wink at the angel painted on the smooth marble above.
They gather under a large, white tent unfolding behind the cathedral. The clouds roll in, eager to watch the little dots mingle and intertwine, then scatter and disperse when the lightning finally struck. Death, too, rolls in, eager to watch, hoping against hope not to be disappointed. He sits in the back, at a round table decorated with red roses. He picks up and caresses the petal, his gentle strokes running up and down until it turns black. A gentleman dressing in all white sits down beside him, frowning.
“Should you be here?” He is a grizzly old man with perfectly white whiskers and an even more perfect face, chiseled from a sacred quarry where only the steadfast belonged. His cane is misleading and is only there to support the aristocratic air and privilege surrounding him.
“Should you? I have just as much a right to be here as you do,” he grins cheekily, then extends his hand, smooth and youthful, full of charismatic strength. “Family friend. And you?”
The old man reluctantly takes his hand. It is warm and course, and it meets with cold and smooth. “The bride’s godfather. Barnabus Witherbee.”
“Quite the name you have there,” he chuckles, then removes his hand from his wrist, slipping the watch off carefully, a surgeon delicately taking away what no longer needed to be there.
“I suppose its quite awful indeed,” Barnabus offers a wry smile. “Not as bad as the name she is forced to take.”
“Forced? I was under the impression that this was a happy marriage.” A bold face lied told with serene conviction. The old man doesn’t pay attention, however, and is content with being the toymaker’s toy until further notice.
“You’re not much of a family friend, then, because you’d be the only one. Even they know it’s a ruse, although I do believe the young man is sincere on his part. A ruthless coward, but sincere nonetheless.”
The old man gets up and leaves, stumbling towards the center, his feet tapping unevenly against the wooden floor rolled across the damp grass. A pitter-patter of raindrops smash against the tent as the old man pulls out his paper, a speech written haphazardly at the last minute. The rain then thrashes, drowning out his voice to a crowd of plastered smiles. The groom claps enthusiastically, still beaming at his good fortune.
The trickster stares at his newly gained watch. There is no rush, although I prefer if we didn’t run too late. It’s more fun when they try to beat the clock.
A gloom settles in, making itself comfortable among the guests. The music tries to disperse it, a slow, cumbersome melody at first- after all, its tradition for the bride and groom to share their first dance that way, although perhaps not as stiffly, with her hands barely brushing his shoulders despite him holding her close- then the tempo picks up. The bride disappears behind a veil, and the groom dances awkwardly, his body without any sense of control. Laughter erupts around him, and he grins, celebrating a long-awaited victory.
Eventually, he tires, and he stumbles over to the table hosting the roguishly handsome devil. Sweat glistens from his forehead, and he pushes back a tuft of sticky brown hair from his eyes.
“Having fun, are we?”
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“A family friend of your lovely bride. I believe congratulations are in order.”
“You know, I can hardly believe it. I am the luckiest man alive, finally having someone like her.”
“You mean, having someone you weren’t supposed to have.”
The groom’s face went dark. “I’m… I’m happy, okay? That is all that matters.”
“Her happiness doesn’t matter to you at all?” He feigns innocence, but the gleam in his eye is anything but. The groom blushes.
“I’m sorry, forgive me, I do not mean to be so rude. It’s been so long since I’ve been to a party, especially one that is bound to be so riveting,” he tinkles with the watch for only a moment or so, a practiced watchmaker in one of his numerous lives. “Here, please, take this as a token of my utmost sincerity.”
“A watch? A simple one at that. What use to I have with a watch?” Only someone who is accustomed to everything would say such a thing. He bites on his tongue. So impudent.
“Believe me, time is precious, and sooner or later you’ll wish you had more time. In fact, just to prove how generous I am, if you wind it back carefully, you may get just that.”
At that moment, there came a scream. It popped the air like a balloon, and the rubber shards floated down from the ceiling, leaving a mess in its wake. Feet ran back and forth, and soon the tent was clear of all bodies, except for one.
Laying in the middle of the dance floor, bathing in a pool of her own dark red blood, is the bride.
The groom panics and runs to her side, lifting her arm. It is lifeless. A stained silver knife- the engraved one used for the cake- sits between her fingers. Her neck had been slash, self-inflicted.
The angel in white now reeks only of Death.
Yet Death refuses to share his perfume. He watches over, waiting. The groom is sobbing, his body shakes. No one comes for him. Sirens begin to blare in the background. Somebody has some sense. Now, hurry up!
“What… what am I to do?”
The groom’s grief threatens to overwhelm him. The trickster grabs him by the collar, pulling him up to his feet. “Use the time I gave you!”
“What… of course,” the wheels click in place in that calculating mind of his. Through the vaguest insinuations he caught on as expected; otherwise, he could never have displaced his bride’s lover as subtly and cruelly as he did.
The groom spins the dial, turning the arrow backwards a notch. That should be enough. Everything around him swirls into a tornado of fast-moving colors changing into blinding white light. His legs are pulled from beneath him, and he is dragged to another place, another destination.
He lands in the parlor, in the early hours before the ceremony would begin.
It is empty, but only because everyone is upstairs changing. Is that how it works? He remembers being exactly where he was, anxious, his hand clawing at his collar. There is nothing to be anxious about. He will find her, not let her out of his sight for a moment.
“You alright, young chap?” Bromly clasps his paper-thin hand around his shoulder. “You’re not having any second thoughts now, are you? That conscious isn’t getting the better of you, is it?”
“No, of course not. This is all going according to plan, isn’t it?”
“In time, she’ll learn to love you. Once she gets over grieving for that idiot fellow. Perhaps, as a wedding present, you could have kept him around, if only he didn’t try and muddle things up, expose us for causing the draught that ruined them.”
Bromly never could mince his words, provide tack when it is necessary to do so. The groom glared at his wobbly brother, so frail and spineless in more ways than one, always chasing behind his curtails. Of course, the groom is no better, a coward who just so happened to have inherited a bit of the family’s cunning astuteness. It was so easy. One pull and the flood came rushing down, drowning the big fool who should have learned to swim. I watched Death take him. I watched her screamed as she stood on the roof, high above the rushing rapid. I watched it from the dam. I watched it all turn to our favor, reaping the rewards sewn from damage.
The groom glares. “Careful with your words, brother. Old man Barnabus is still around, and he never liked us. I remember is all too happy face when his goddaughter first rejected me all those years ago, when we were no more than children. As much as I would like to gloat, he still terrifies me.”
“Why? He has no power anymore.”
“Oh. I think he does,” the groom rubs his wrist where the watch sits. It isn’t an accident that the strange man, the strange shadow he’s seen before, gave him this precious gift called time. It had been stolen, of course, and if the groom’s shrewdness won out over his impatience, then he would have determined why before setting another foot forward. As it were, he needs to get to his lovely bride, the woman he cherished from afar all his life; he needs to stop whatever threatens to take her away from him yet again.
Yet he is afraid to tamper with the time he has been given. He waits by the banister as the others from his party come down: his father, dressed handsomely with a pink corsage blushing from a firmly pressed pocket; the twins, their debonair noses sticking haughtily in the air as if this is a true honor blessed upon them; and lastly, of course, his mother, austere in a tightly fitted gown accentuating all that made other woman envious and men drooling. Her taught lips were drawn even more so, and he frowned.
“What is it?” the groom finds himself repeating the exact same question he asked before. Like before, he knew the answer.
“Nothing,” she whispers, but now he can see it. Fear trembles in her waxen eyes. “It is nothing. Please, Stuart, just go take your place. Everything will be fine. Daphne is taking care of it.”
“Taking care of what?” He did not ask this, the trickster watching from the shadows knows, and smiles wryly. So begins the first move to change everything for the better despite his conscious begging him to stay back.
The groom, now incensed and disregarding his trepidation to meddle with time, darts up the stairs. He finds the room on the left, in the farthest corner where it overlooks the poisonous garden. One false prick of the thorn bush would cause the victim to see what they shouldn’t see, the groom knew. So did the bride. As he bursts through the door, he sees she has in her hand a juicy vine pulsing green and red.
“Ah!” His shout startles the two women. Daphne, their maid, struggles with his bride, yanking and twisting, pulling hard on her wrists. In the original timeline, the bride would have dropped it, defeated as Daphne took the vine, its thorn plunged into her porcelain skin. No great loss, and no one would have noticed until she was needed.
Yet he startles them. The vine plunges into his bride’s skin, and she falls, her body convulsing as it scratches the polished floor.
“No, no, no!” the groom yells.
A shadow casts over the room. The trickster named Death smiles a hollow smile. He pats his empty wrist, and the groom mimics his movement, setting back time once more. Thank God, I can do it again. If I have to replay this cycle a thousand times, so be it. No matter the cost.
He is back in the parlor, waiting for the others to come down. The light is grey, greyer than usual, casting a dismal spell over the fine hemstitched tablecloth, the family photo set in an emblazoned bronze frame. Bromly rushes down the stairs, grinning, and the groom lets him spew his diatribe. Then he repeats his steps, this time carefully.
When he reaches the door, he knocks softly then enters. Daphne disarms the vine, but it plunges straight into her heart. The porcelain maid, hardly stretching into adulthood, collapses.
“Well, that can’t be helped,” he sighs with relief.
“What do you mean it can’t be helped?” his tear-stained bride screams, and in one swift motion he places his hand over her mouth.
“Please, don’t spoil yourself, my love. Your beauty is radiant, and I’d hate to see it tarnished.”
She struggles against his grip, and her teeth dig into his fragile fingers. He pulls back, releasing her.
“And I’d hate to spend a minute longer with you!”
She beats into his chest, her hatred vehement. Then she spins and runs towards the glass window, flinging it open in one flawless motion and jumping onto the ledge. He grabs her, refusing to let her go, to let his love -that isn’t quite love- to go flying away like one of his lost blue jays. Never again, the small child cried, never again will I lose something I possess so dearly.
His grip isn’t strong enough, and she falls. For a hair of a second, the groom thought he saw his shadow, and she melted into them, returning to a heart that once beat for her.
Blood stains the ground.
He turns the watch back again. This time I mustn’t meddle. I must watch it play out as before.
Again, he waits impatiently in the parlor. Again, he listens to Bromly drone on and on. He is tempted to ascend the stairs and merely knock on the door, but he refrains, trusting everything will be the same as before.
He ignores his mother’s ghastly demeanor and takes her by the arm. Gently, he leads her down the hall, out into the courtyard, and into the black limo waiting to take them to the cathedral.
“Everything will be fine, mother. It has to be. Love conquers all, doesn’t it?”
She doesn’t say a word. Instead, she glances sideways at her husband and fails to hide her contempt. The driver smiles darkly. He knows all too well her story for he is watching its sequel unfold in almost the same manner. The difference is, she was too afraid to go through with it and he refused to give him any time. Love, or desperation? The trickster, bemused, ponders keenly. The he drives them to their destination, and the grey gargoyles stare coldly from their perch as they watch them arrive.
The air is chilly, the cathedral hollow. The pews are filled steadily, slowly, the reluctant footsteps dragging out as long as possible. Eventually, the guests resign themselves, realizing they have no power to undue what cannot be undone. The groom’s family knows this, and they wield it heavily over their heads, as was seen through the terrible draught in which they determined through their hearts how many breadcrumbs they gave out. For many, they needed as many breadcrumbs as they could get, so out of obligation they gathered miserably, and they took no cheer in the fact that the bride is doubly more miserable than them.
The music plays, and the somber notes do not hide themselves. She comes slowly, dreadfully, her beautiful eyes stained with tears. The groom fails to understand why she cannot see how much he loves her, how much he has always loved her since the day they met; as children, his father brought him along to understand their property and the lives that worked them, and such was her life, and her family’s life, on a muddy farm across a mosquito filled bog. How a beautiful and mischievous young girl came to be stuck in a place unworthy of her being baffled the young boy, making him determined to one day whisk her away, despite her attachment to her life and her neighbor’s young son. He was determined as with most that caught his eye, to have what he craved no matter the cost.
From the corner of the groom’s eye, a shadow flickers. There he is the roguishly handsome man with the time watch. The trickster smiles and waves, and the groom smiles back. To think he must thank the stranger who gave him this gift of time, in which he will never give back. He will replay this day for eternity if he has to because he will never let go. No, he will never let go.
The priest drones on, and he says what is required of him to say. The bride hesitates, takes a deep breathe, then repeats the words assigned to her. When it is done, the groom takes her gently, and she flinches at his touch.
He doesn’t let go of her as they make their way to the reception. “You don’t need to dote on her like a child,” his mother reprimands coolly, but his father brushes her aside.
“He is a man, Griselda, and a newly wed man at that. He has the right to do as he pleases, and she should be grateful for his grace, as should you, if I need to remind you of our own wedding day.”
His mother says nothing, but her face is sour. “Thank you, Father,” the groom leads his silent bride beneath the tent. Then he tells her,” Oh, come now, sweet love, it will not be so bad. You and your family will live prosperously and will never have to starve or be stuck in such ugly places.
“So long as we are with you, we will starve and be stuck in a place worse than Hell itself,” she spits at him, and he recoils, appalled by her manner. She tries to yank herself from his grip, but he holds her tight.
“I believe it’s time for our first dance,” he takes her to the center of the floor, and all eyes turn to them. Her body is limp in his arms, and he drags her like a rag doll. He pushes her up and leans over her neck, pressing his fine lips against her soft, pinkish skin. “Come, dear wife, don’t be so modest.”
Still, she refuses to dance, and eventually he lets her go, although not without keeping a watchful eye. She glides to the foolish man Witherbee, and he hugs her tight, his own tears stinging his eyes as he whispers into her hair.
The groom, put off, grabs a glass of champagne, and guzzles it in one swift motion. He proceeds to the dance floor where Bromly and his friends have gathered, and he sings with them, letting their good mood cheer him up.
When the sweet becomes too much, he breaks away, resting at the table with the stranger.
“Having fun, are we?”
The grooms’ eyes widen in fear. “Oh no! I forgot! I forgot!”
He rushes back into the crowd, searching desperately for his bride. He pushes and shoves, then stops as he hears a piercing scream. The bodies clear away, and he finds his mother pointing at his bride, the once beautiful woman now staring blankly up at the sky, her neck severely slashed. A knife sat between her blood-stained fingers.
“No, no, no!” he screams. Nothing he has done has prevented her death, or her misery. What does it mean? What is the use of this watch if it cannot keep him happy? Of course, he will just go on repeating this day, forever and ever, until fate has been tried and tried, and like everyone else, has given in.
He turns back the watch furiously, and Death stands idly by, still waiting.
The groom vows never to have her leave his sight. He vows never to leave her alone for a single moment. The colors collide, and once more he is spun backwards, the threads of time unraveling themselves neatly.
He cannot mess this up. He cannot. His heart pounds rapidly, convulsing violently against his chest. The day begins young, simple enough; from a wake in his own bed to a breakfast full of his favorite delicacies- corn grits, porridge, and a stuffed muffin in which he nearly chokes on a hidden shard fallen from his watch- to fitting nicely into his dashing suit. All the while he asks and asks and asks about his bride, sending Bromly in early to check on her. She is ready, he claims, and there is no sign of distress even though he knows she is hiding it well.
“What about Daphne?” the groom asks.
“Looks like she took a nasty bite from our lovely lady friend in the garden. Father is taking care of it, like he takes care of everything.”
“You know, he won’t always be around to take care of things.” The fear came out of nowhere, assailing his already troubled thoughts. He taps on his watch, the greatest gift he could ever have wanted. On the bottom is a faint inscription, a name of the watchmaker, the time-stealer. He wrinkles his nose in disgust.
“And that’s why we have you,” Bromly claps his brother on the back. “Stuart Grey, the greatest man who ever lived!”
“Now you’re just being toady. I hate to hear what the rest of your speech is like.” They laugh as aristocratic brothers know how to laugh- insincere and dour with all pretenses of good humor. The shadow watches from the corner, following with alighted eyes. All in good time. Oh! I joke with an ill-advised pun. But it is true; time is on my side no matter how much the groom plays with it.
Grey clouds circle around the cathedral, and ominous thunder grumbles in discontent. The groom frowns. The weather is not supposed to be bad. Then again, he isn’t supposed to be here, not again and again and again.
They walk in and take their positions, waiting. Once again, the pews are filled, and that blasted old Withersbee escorts his bride down the aisle. The groom notices what he did not notice before- a glint of silver slides from Witherbee’s hand and into hers. He then hugs her tightly, pulling away with tears in his eyes as he gives her a kiss and hands her over. The dark glare that casts itself over his face does not go missed, either, and the groom chooses a smug smile. Everything I want, and yet I could do more. But this is the only more I want. Her and me, instead of her and him.
His eyes stay glued to the beautiful face marred by tears. He takes a finger and wipes them away, and she flinches, revulsion making her gag. He grips her tight, threatening to slap her for such insult, but he refrains. It is something he didn’t do before and doesn’t intend to now, once again in trepidation of muddling time.
It doesn’t matter, however. His double act of grabbing, of raising his hand up in front of a man of God, is enough to expediate matters.
The bride removes the silver knife the groom all too well recognizes and begins a downward plunge towards her heart.
He doesn’t hesitate. He holds her hand, and the knife trembles, struggling to break free and scratch the skin holding the life wanting to be extinguished. The bride screams and the guests gasp, too stunned to do anything more than watch. Even God waits, holding His breath in anticipation. It would not be the last time blood had been spilled in a sacred temple.
The trickster is the only one who smiles. The roguish devil, as he likes to be called, walks slowly to the alter. He arrives just as the knife plunges into the groom’s chest, and he lets out a cry of surprise before crumpling to the ground. The cathedral erupts in chaos. Guests shove their way out the door, trying but failing to hide their jubilation. Bromly runs to his brother and cradles him, his hand pressing against the wound. But the blood flows like a river, never stopping until there is nothing left except dry mud.
The groom’s lifeless eyes stare up at the domed ceiling, at the painted scenery of blissful, cherubic angels floating naked in the fields of Asphodel. Except you won’t be going there, Death scoffs, because your soul is too rotten. I don’t have to be impartial if I don’t want to be. I take too many good, not enough bad. Besides, I also made a promise to an old friend.
As the groom’s distraught family lingers about, shouting and screaming and crying and cursing Death, Death slips in and takes the watch off the groom’s body. He disappears without being noticed, except by the mother. She calls out his name, his true name, and he isn’t surprised she knows it.
“The doors of Thanatos never close, do they?” she speaks calmly, rationally.
“Of course not. No one can escape me forever, although they may be able to skirt around it, as I know you once did, all those years ago.”
“You came for me then, in this very place as a stood up there and made a difficult choice. Why didn’t you take me, spare me all of this?”
“Perhaps I wasn’t meant to take you. After all, I so do enjoy playing games,” his perfectly white teeth flash a blinding light, and she has to look away. “Or perhaps I owed a favor. Time is a funny thing, and for it to be possessed by one man, especially a man you once loved, could be considered irresponsible.”
Death nods to the grizzly old man still standing in the heartless wreckage.
“Barnabus? I- I don’t understand. What part do you play in all of this?”
The grizzly old man walks cautiously over, his footsteps ringing against the marble floor.
“Sadly, it’s a long tale, one in which neither you can begin to fathom nor have the years to spend listening. Let’s just say I became a man to experience what man experience,” his face stretches and sags, and for once Time is weary, exhausted, and blue veins crawl up his neck. “In this case, love. I loved you, Cordelia Grey, once Belona, and yet despite having your love in return, you choose him. Despite the gift I offered, you still choose him, a man whose soul deserves to burn in Dante’s circle of Hell.”
“Then punish me for failing to be strong enough in my love,” the groom’s mother is on her knees, sobbing. The rest of the family is still immobilized by the groom’s death, and the priest has fallen in a faint.
“I already have. Death can be quick in his ways, impatient sometimes due to his mirthful spirit, and you cannot blame him- being human is tricky and we can be tempted to act as you do. No, time is different. It was his time, not yours, for he is a greedy seed blossomed from a marriage born of greed. He stole away love that did not belong to him. I am sorry, but Time is not always on your side, my dear Cordelia, and don’t be mistaken to think I am not grieving as well. I, too, am punished by constraints I have no control over.”
“Yes, you do! You control everything! You can do something! You can do anything!” she shouts and screams, her despair contorting her own body. Yet her husband ignores her, the hysterics too unsightly.
“Death, my good friend, I think we should be on our way,” the old grizzly man called Barnabus Witherbee turns his back on his former love. “You have a groom to escort to his dark chambers, and I must ensure that the bride has been delivered back to her proper time, with the young man she truly belonged to.”
“You can’t do that! That’s not fair! Please, I beg of you, if you loved me at all…”
“Yes, I did love you, or believed I did. But it wasn’t true, it wasn’t pure; it wasn’t what I was looking for nor was I quite worth it in the end, was I?”
Time then walks away and ignores her. Time ignores everything except for Death.
The trickster gives a low bow, then parts with the watch, allowing Time back in its proper place. He then turns away, leaving his friend to do what he did best while the roguish devil continues following the aisle down to the entrance where the groom’s spectral waited, wearing the same exquisite suit, with the notably exception of a hole where is heart should have been.
“What? What is this? What has happened?” the former groom is puzzled, waving hands he can no longer feel through the air.
“Oh, now do not look so aggrieved! This was bound to happen eventually; you just drew the short end of the stick. Cannot dwell on such things, for you’ll have all eternity to do so. So come friend, your new journey awaits!” The roguish devil claps him on the back and laughs.
“But… but… why me? I have done nothing! I have only loved!” Stuart Grey begs and pleads to no avail, and soon his name is stripped away from him.
“Oh, but you see you’ve done both- nothing and everything. Death, with Time, comes for us all. Sometimes we get to pick and choose when that is and let’s just say we are feeling particularly generous today. For all your deeds, we reserved a special spot beyond the gates of Hell.”
He is known as the trickster. A shadow they say, taunting and fooling those with or without good sense, sneaking up on them when they least expect it. Some say he is the two-faced god reaping sorrow and destruction wherever he walks. Others claim he is a fox, seven or nine tails flaming behind him as he burns through fields and homes alike. Still more assume he is the Devil, red-faced and white fanged, with ram horns curling out of the forehead. Perhaps he is the Devil, or perhaps he is merely inevitable, a friend for those who are not afraid and a fiend for those who make it their mission to escape the impossible.
Whatever he is, he is there. Whether dancing mirthfully on the hill beneath a sunrise or singing softly among the weeping trees in the moonlight, he is there. Time, too, is not far behind, patiently waiting to catch up when he feels it is right to do so. For while Death likes to play, Time wanders, sitting silently on the hill beneath a sunrise or standing cautiously among the weeping trees in the moonlight, watching for that beautiful thing that makes him freeze, that makes interfering all worth it: love.