The Shadow Of Death – Alan Dale Dalby

Sarah Elliot stood in her backyard enjoying the cool night air.  She had recently become a night owl thanks to her husband’s obsession over his work.  He had finally published his first novel, and now there was demand for a sequel.  David had always planned on writing a second novel.  In fact, he already had eight of them under his belt before finally penning the one that was not only accepted by his publisher, but by the masses as well.  Now he was struggling with a deadline and a severe case of writer’s block.  Sarah had become a ghost during the past few months.  She found herself gradually changing her hours so she could live her life without sharing the stress that David was under.  Every day his mood grew worse.  He was feeling a strong panic, having no ideas, no further paths for his now widely famous characters to travel down.  He was taking out all of this on his wife, something he had never done before.  Sarah had watched her husband of ten years transform into an entirely different person and she did not care at all for this new man living in her home and sharing her bed.  He was abrasive, easily angered, and instead of speaking in his usually kind voice he now preferred to snap at her whenever they had a rare moment of interaction.

So the night became Sarah’s sanctuary.  Summer was nearing its end and the weather was just right for peaceful nightly strolls through her backyard.  The nearly-full moon lit up the sky, coating the silent darkness in a soft glow.  Shades of grey, blue, and purple adorned the thin clouds that wove in between the stars.  Sarah stood on the grass in her bare feet.  She wore a thin dress and held onto a soft blanket that she had wrapped herself in, her beauty sadly going unseen as her curly hair moved ever so slightly in the gentle breeze.  No eyes were upon her, or so she thought.  Her eyes darted from the skies to her neighbor’s house as she noticed a sudden movement.  She looked through the darkened windows, but did not see anything or anyone.  The house had been on the market for a long time, and the ‘For Sale’ sign had recently been removed.  Perhaps she had a new neighbor?  With her interest and imagination now turned on, Sarah continued to stroll around the yard, oddly content in her loneliness.

 

“She lives!”  David said jokingly as Sarah came down the stairs.  She had slept through the day as usual, and now rose to greet the sunset.  She ignored her husband’s comment and headed into the kitchen to make a cup of tea.  David watched his wife as she lit up the stove and boiled some water.  She yawned as she grabbed a box of teabags from one of the cabinets and dropped one in her favorite mug.  She liked it because it was slightly larger than a regular mug, and was decorated with a picture of her parents.  They had given her this mug as a Christmas present not long before they both died tragically, taken by an unknown carbon monoxide leak in their home.  They had gone to sleep one night, the usual routine, but unfortunately never woke up.  Sarah poured the boiling water into her mug until it was full then covered the mug with a tiny plate and left the brew to steep.

“How is the novel coming?”  She asked apathetically as her husband stood and walked toward the kitchen from his usual seat on the couch in the living room.  His laptop computer sat there, waiting patiently for its screen to be filled with the body of David’s next masterpiece.

“I’m still stuck.”  David said.  “I keep starting to write, but the words just won’t flow.  I’ve crumpled up and tossed out eleven different outlines.”

“Maybe you should take a break.”  Sarah said.  “Get some distance from the new book and think about the last one.  Then maybe the new story will come to you.”  Sarah took the plate from her mug and tossed the wet teabag onto it.  She sat down at the kitchen table.  The screech of the chair legs across the linoleum ripped through David’s brain.

“You know me and deadlines.  I panic very easily at the slightest thing.  Responsibility terrifies me.”  David moved over to Sarah and stood behind her.  “Oh Sarah,” He placed his hands on her shoulders and gently rubbed them.  “I’ve been a real asshole lately and I want to apologize.”  Sarah had nothing to say.  Nothing came to mind, so she continued to sip her tea.  “I promise I will make it up to you.  Once this book is done, we’ll both take a break.  A nice long vacation sounds nice.  Anywhere you wish to go, we’ll go.”

“That does sound nice honey.”  Sarah said as she gave into the massage.  She leaned back and sighed contently.  Her eyes were closed.  A slight smile crossed her thin lips as her face became visible to David.  He tilted his head as he hovered above his wife, admiring the beauty that had not faded over the years.

“You know how much I love you, don’t you Sarah?”  David asked.  Sarah opened her eyes slightly and her smile grew brighter.

“I love you too.”  She said.  “I miss you.”

“I’m right here Sarah.  I always have been.”  David said. Sarah leaned forward and grabbed onto the handle of her mug.

“That’s not what I meant.”  She said before sipping some more spiced chai.  David continued to rub her back, but she was no longer responsive.

“Did you know that the first person in the United States to be arrested for speeding was a taxi driver in New York?”

“Fascinating.”  Sarah said as she stood up, taking her mug with her.

“Did you want to talk for a while?”  David asked.  “I mean, I can’t spend much time away from the book, but…”

“You just go back to work David.”  Sarah said coldly as she made her way upstairs.  “I’m going to take a shower, or maybe a nice long bath.”

“Okay honey.”  David said.  “You enjoy yourself.”  He spoke genuinely, knowing that he was constantly on thin ice.  His work often turned him into a beast.  As he heard the water turn on upstairs, he headed back over to the couch and sat down.  A box of nicotine gum stared up at him and David glared back at it.  He popped a piece into his mouth as he closed his eyes, yearning for just one cigarette.  His screensaver displayed a school of three-dimensional fish swimming around in a virtual tank.

The night fully set in and David headed upstairs to find Sarah sitting up in bed reading a book.  He stripped down to his boxer shorts and headed into the bathroom.  He brushed his teeth and sniffed his armpits, dabbing on a little extra deodorant, heading back into the bedroom.  He opened his mouth to speak, but Sarah was no longer there.  He walked over to her nightstand and picked up the book she was currently reading.

Forbidden Obsession.”  David read the title out loud sarcastically.  On the cover was a painting of a man who was in impossibly perfect physical condition.  Laying down in wait of this Adonis was a woman with an equally immaculate body.  Both had long flowing hair which was blowing in the wind as they prepared to make passionate love on the shore of a sprawling beach underneath a purple sky.  “Maybe I should just write trashy romance novels.”  He threw the book back on Sarah’s nightstand and turned off her lamp.  He crawled under the covers on his side of the bed and closed his eyes, slipping into peaceful slumber alone.

Downstairs, Sarah stood by the couch glaring at David’s computer.  She often had urges to simply smash it against the wall, toss it into the street, or watch it melt in the fireplace.  One day it would no longer be her husband’s first love.  This thought, this hope, was the only thing that kept her from acting on one of her violent fantasies and murdering the machine.  One day life would go back to the way it used to be.  Sarah had been supportive of David’s dream for all of the years she had known him.  She still supported him, but just wished for a little bit of togetherness.  Not five minutes of pity-chat, but a day out, or in; just a single day with the most important person in her life.  Sarah’s thought’s trailed off as a light outside caught her attention.  She looked through the window facing the neighbor’s house and noticed that the light was coming from inside.  She followed her curiosity to the back door and out into the cool night.

 

A chill ran through Sarah’s body as the fresh air touched her damp hair.  She was in a purple gown that did not offer much warmth.  She shivered but soon adjusted to the temperature.  She slowly moved towards the mysterious house next door.  Her bare feet felt good as the soft grass of her and David’s lawn flattened beneath them.  She tried not to giggle as a few blades stood up in between her toes, tickling her.  A large bush stood between her yard and the new neighbor’s house.  The lights were still on as she reached the bush.  She peeked through it, but could not see much.  She was trying to be as stealthy as she could, but soon found herself standing beside the bush, fully exposed.  She stared into the window that was lit, but could only see was a blank wall.  Suddenly, a figure appeared.

Startled, Sarah leapt behind the bush and hid herself.  She soon found the courage to turn and look back towards the window through the leaves and branches that she hoped were successfully shielding here from view.  The figure was still there.  It was a man.  He looked tall and thin, though she was having a hard time making any distinctive features out.   One thing caught her eye that she had to squint at in order to believe.  The man had first appeared faceless as he darted into view.  Now Sarah could see why.  He was wearing a mask.  It covered his entire face.  Above it was a fine head of soft brown hair that hung slightly over the top of the mask.  Sarah remained crouched behind the bush waiting for the man to disappear.  When he finally did, Sarah stood and made her way up the lawn towards the back door of her house.  As she fled, she was entirely unaware that the mysterious masked man had returned to the window.   Once she was inside, the light in his window went out.

 

David stirred as Sarah climbed into bed with him.  He took a minute to make sure he was not dreaming.  It had been a while since the two had been in that bed at the same time.  He noticed that Sarah was breathing heavily, and even in the darkness was visibly shaken.  He turned over and put his hand on her thigh.

“Are you okay honey?”  He whispered.  Sarah shivered a bit from her damp hair touching the silk pillow case.

“I’m fine.”  Sarah said abruptly.  After ten years of marriage, David could read his wife far better than she could lie.

“I’m here for you. You know that, don’t you?”  David rubbed his wife’s side gently.

“Can I ask you something David?”

“Ask away.”

“Do you know anything about the people who bought the house next door?”

“Nope.”  David said.  “I noticed that the sign was gone, but that’s about it.”

“I never saw any trucks or vans parked outside. So when did they move in?”

“Maybe they haven’t yet.”  David said.  He scooted his body closer to Sarah’s.  “Why do you ask?”

“A light was on.”  Sarah said.  “It just made me curious.”

“Well, maybe we should bring them something.”  David said.  “If we go over there with a bottle of wine, we can find out if anyone is living there.  If they don’t answer the door, fine.  If they do, we’ll have an excuse for snooping.”

“I guess.”  Sarah said.  David caught a whiff of Sarah’s hair.  It smelled sweet, like lilacs.  He kissed her on the back of the neck and his hand began to wander.  He caressed her stomach and started to move north.  Sarah twitched and David retracted his arm.  The two fell into a deep silence, and David returned to his side of the bed.  Slowly sleep took them, lonely in their togetherness.

 

“There’s nobody home.”  David said.  He and Sarah stood at the front door of the seemingly vacant house.  The sun was high in the sky, filling the world with light and warmth.  David looked at the bottle of wine he was holding.  He pushed the ribbon that was wrapped around it up a bit and read the label.  “At least we’ll have this now for whenever they do move in.”

“Let’s go.”  Sarah said.  The man in the mask filled her mind.  She had seen him in her dreams the night before.  She wanted to get away from this house, yet felt strangely drawn to it.  She pulled herself away and stepped off of the front porch.  David followed Sarah across the driveway and back onto their front lawn.

“They may have just been checking the place out last night.”  David said.

“What?”  Sarah turned to face him and waited for him to catch up to her.

“The owners may have just dropped by last night and checked the place out.  That could explain the light being on.”  David said as he walked side by side with Sarah towards their front door.  “Or maybe they just wanted to make it look like somebody was home.”

“Maybe.”  Sarah took one last look back before she and David went inside.

 

Sarah awoke from her nap to find that the sun had gone down at last.  Lying next to her in the bed was David.  Sarah looked over at her nightstand and large red numbers announced that it was one o’clock in the morning.  Sarah rubbed her eyes before slowly and carefully slipping out from under the covers.  She walked silently out of the bedroom, grabbing her purple gown on the way.  She slipped the garment on as she headed down the stairs, treading cautiously in the darkness.  She found her blanket strewn over one of the chairs in the kitchen.  She drank a glass of water before picking up the blanket and headed out the back door.  She wrapped herself up as she stepped onto the grass.  It was damp from a brief August rain.  She looked over at the mystery house and found it dim, lifeless place.  Sarah made her way down a slope on the backyard and stopped by a lamp.  The short black pole let off a glow from its tip, giving Sarah a feeling of security as she stood next to it.  She tilted her head back and looked up at the sky.  The yellow glow of the moon accented the black vastness perfectly.  There were fewer clouds this night, making the stars more visible.  Sarah closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“Beautiful aren’t they?”  A soft voice said.  Sarah’s entire body jerked, her head turning to face the source of the voice.  As her eyes opened, she saw a dark silhouette standing a few feet away from her, the light from the lamp concealing him.  It was like listening to the voice of a shadow.  “The stars I mean.”  The shadow’s head looked upwards.  “The way they glow and shimmer, it’s as if all of the souls in heaven are dancing.”  The shadow’s head turned back to face Sarah.  She thought of darting as fast as she could back into her house, but found herself frozen in place.  “I’m sorry if I startled you.”  The shadow said as it stepped forward into the lamplight.  “My name is Francis.”  He said with an extended hand.

“Hello.  I’m Sarah Elliot.”  She said as she accepted his handshake, grabbing hold of a soft black leather glove that covered Francis’s hand.

“Well it’s a pleasure to meet you Sarah.”  Francis said.  Sarah looked at his mask.  It was finely crafted, half silver and half black.  It covered his entire face, having only one very thin opening at his mouth, two small nostril holes, and two holes that only revealed his eyes to the lashes.  He was tall and thin, dressed in expensive looking black slacks, a long sleeved black shirt, and a dark red vest with a matching tie.  Sarah’s examination of the rest of him was constantly interrupted by his eyes.  There was something captivating about them.  Perhaps it was the mystery of what the rest of his face looked like.  He had very long eyelashes, complementing the beautiful green color of his irises.  They seemed to glow in the lamplight.

“So, are you the new neighbor?”  Sarah asked, motioning to the house next door.  Francis turned to look at it.

“I am indeed.”  He said.  “I’m sorry to have snuck up on you, but I noticed that you are something of a night owl.”  Francis said, turning to face her once more.  “I myself prefer the company of darkness.”  He folded his arms behind his back.  “There is a magic to it that the daylight seems to forget: like the stars for instance.  Such an amazing sight should never be stolen from our view.”

“Yes, I do admire them.  I love the weather this time of year as well.  It is so hot during the day, yet so cool at night.  It’s perfect.”  Sarah smiled at Francis.  She noticed him looking at her and reached up, covering as much of her curly hair with her hand as possible.  “I must look horrible. I’m sorry, but I just woke up.  I didn’t think anyone would be out here.”

“You look fine.  We are neighbors now, so we mustn’t worry so much about vanity.”  Francis said.  “Part of being a good neighbor is affording your fellow man or woman to grab the morning paper with matted hair, dressed only in a fuzzy bathrobe or wrinkled pajamas.”  Francis had a smile in his voice.

“You’re right.”  Sarah said, smiling back.  “I just feel so out of place standing next to you.  You look like a million bucks.”

“Well, closer to a few hundred I’m afraid.”  Francis said.  “I’m a bit of an eccentric, a fact I have finally come to accept.  I’m all dressed up with no place to go, but at least I know I look decent.”  Francis said as he straightened his tie with an obvious sense of humor about himself.

“Well, now I know it too.”  Sarah said warmly.  The two of them stood in silence.  Sarah’s eyes kept finding themselves looking into his.  Francis noticed, but did not speak or take any obvious notice of her repeated gazes.  The night air gave birth to a breeze, causing Sarah to tighten her arms, pulling her blanket closer to her.  “I should go inside before I catch a cold.”  Sarah said.  Francis nodded.  There was another pause as Sarah tried to force herself to leave.  “Perhaps we’ll meet like this again.”  Sarah said hopefully.

“Perhaps we shall.”  Francis said in his soothing voice.  Sarah pulled her gaze away from his eyes and ran up to the back door, heading inside.  She quickly rushed to the window and looked back.  The lamp still glowed, but Francis had gone.  How odd, Sarah thought, that he had vanished so quickly.

She found herself lying in bed next to David soon after.  Her eyes stayed wide open, her thoughts filled by her mysterious new acquaintance.

 

“Good morning sweetie.”  David said as Sarah made her way down the stairs.  He looked at the clock on his computer to see that it was actually evening.  He figured that to Sarah, this was morning now.

“Hey you.”  Sarah yawned.  She headed into the kitchen and started to brew some tea.

“Guess what?”  David said with excitement in his voice.  Sarah left the water to boil and stepped into the living room.

“A guessing game huh?”  Sarah placed a finger on her chin.

“I wrote.”  David could no longer contain himself.  “I finished the first two chapters of my sequel.”  He smiled. Sarah’s face lit up.  She rushed over and wrapped her arms around her husband.

“Oh honey I am so proud of you!”  Her genuine glee burst out into the room.  She kissed his cheek over and over from her position behind the couch.  She then jumped back and threw her arms out wide.  “Let’s go out and celebrate!”

“Oh, um…” David started.  Sarah read his body language and her glee quickly died out.

“Damn it!”  She suddenly squealed.  David saw her sucking on her finger and rushed into the kitchen.

“What happened?”

“I burned myself on the stupid kettle.”  Sarah complained in a voice that was muffled slightly by the injured appendage in her mouth.

“I’ll run some cold water.”  David said as he rushed to the sink.  “Come stick your finger under it.”  Sarah did as David suggested and yelped.

“Damn it David!  The water is still hot.”  Sarah yelled.

“Oh honey, I’m so sorry.”  David said.  He began to panic as he always did when he found himself in a situation beyond his control.  “Should I go get you some burn cream?”

“No!”  Sarah snapped.  “I’ll be fine.”

“It’s going to hurt, bad.”  David said as he gently grabbed her hand and examined the burn.  “I’ll be right back.”

“Where are you going?”

“I’m going to get you some cream for that.”

“Can you get me some ice cream while you’re there?”  She asked in a slightly more cheerful tone.  David nodded and smiled.

“Cookies and cream?”  He asked. Sarah nodded and grinned.  “I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

“A ‘jiffy’?”  Sarah giggled.

“I’ll be back soon.  Is that better?”  David smiled.

Sarah kept giggling.  David took off and she went back to sucking on her wounded finger.  While she was waiting, she began to read the chapters that David had finished.  “Oh wow.” She said to herself as she read on.  “You’ve done it honey.”  Sarah felt a warmth flow through her.  It was partly due to her recent burn, but mostly it was a feeling of happiness for her husband.

David returned quickly with burn cream, bandages and a large tub of cookies and cream ice cream.   The two of them sat on the couch that night.  David typed away at his computer as Sarah watched television with the sound muted.  She held her spoon gently, her injured finger carefully wrapped and feeling less pain thanks to the soothing cream David had lovingly applied.  She took tiny scoops of ice cream and savored each spoonful.  She would occasionally look over at David. He was in another world, completely cut off from reality and deeply engrossed in the lives of his characters.

Sarah smiled as she watched her husband work.  He had broken through his writer’s block with a vengeance.  Sarah knew that this one was going to outshine the first one by leaps and bounds.  It was going to blow the readers away.

David saved his progress and gave Sarah a kiss before heading to bed.  It was nearly midnight.   Sarah sat alone on the couch, her leftover ice cream melted it its bowl on the coffee table.  She took it over to the sink and filled it with water.  A strong desire had been filling her for the past hour.  She looked at her reflection in the kitchen window, making sure that she looked okay.  After fixing her hair a bit with her fingers on the uninjured hand, she grabbed her blanket, wrapped it around herself and headed out the back door.  She wandered over to the lamp in the backyard and stood next to it.  She admired the stars for a good half hour before she grew restless.  She was waiting for another encounter with the masked stranger, but he did not show up.  Sarah began to make her way further down the yard, closer to his house.  All of the lights were off inside.  Disappointment overwhelmed Sarah as she walked around the yard, heading towards the front of Francis’s house.

“Hello again.”  A soft voice called out.  Sarah looked over to Francis’s house.  There he stood, smoking a thin black cigarette with a gold filter.  Sarah smiled and sighed with relief.  She braved the stretch of weeds in her bare feet and made her way over to Francis’s driveway.

“You know that those things will kill you.”  Sarah said.  Francis exhaled a long elegant trail of smoke through the mouth hole on his mask.

“I know.”  He said very seriously.  He was once again dressed up, this time in a maroon shirt and black suit pants that had thin white stripes running down the legs.  Beneath the cuffs he had on nicely polished pair black wing-tip shoes.  “So, did you wander this way by chance, or were you looking for someone?”

“I suppose I was looking for you.”  Sarah blushed as she tilted her head down.  Francis took another drag from his cigarette and exhaled.  The smoke seemed to form different shapes as it left the lips of his mask.

“You’ve found me.”  Francis said.  He noticed her bandaged finger.  “What happened to you?”

“I burned myself on a hot teakettle.”  Sarah said.  “It’s no big deal.  I was just being careless.”

“Are you in pain?”

“A little.”  Sarah said.  “My husband got me some cream and wrapped up my finger for me.  It feels a lot better now.”

“I’m glad to hear it.”  Francis said.  “It sounds like you have quite the knight in shining armor.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”  Sarah said.  “But he does take good care of me, when he has the time.”

“What else could possibly be occupying his time?”  Francis asked.  “A man’s wife should be his first priority, always.”

“I am, in a way.”  Sarah said.  “It’s just that he’s so focused on his new book.  There was no problem with the first one, but then it got published.  Now he is being pressured to write a sequel, but he never planned on one.”

“So his work has become his burden, or even his obsession?”

“Yes.  After the first book became a hit, I thought we were set.  I thought he could work on his other ideas.  That’s not how the people who sign his checks see it.  They feel that once you find a goldmine, you have to milk it.”

“Is that he wants?”  Francis asked as he flicked his cigarette aside.

“I’m not entirely sure.  It’s very stressful on him but he’s managing and actually, managing very well at the moment.”

“What about you?   What do you want?”

“I want a life with my husband.  I want to be more than a background character in our own story who he occasionally notices.  I want my David back.”  Sarah said.  “This house was all his idea.  It’s beautiful and all, in a great neighborhood, but it isn’t where I wanted to live.   It isn’t me.”

“What would be you?”

“I want a little house up in the mountains.  I want to be far away from the city, and I want a lake to gaze into rather than an empty field of foul smelling weeds.”  Sarah said.  Francis took her uninjured hand in his soft glove and began to walk her across the ten foot stretch of weeds back over to her yard.

“I want to show you something.”  Francis led her and Sarah followed.   The two found themselves at the edge of her backyard overlooking the empty field.  “Tell me what you see.”

“I see weeds.”  Sarah said.

“Close your eyes.”  Francis moved around behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders.  His masked face moved in close to her ear.  He began to whisper.  “You are standing on the shore of a beautiful lake.”  He said softly.  “Now take a deep breath and tell me what you smell.”  Sarah did as he asked, breathing in the fresh night air.  Suddenly, a new smell filled her nostrils.

“It smells like water, fresh water.”

“Good.  Now breathe it in deeper.”  Francis said.  Sarah did, and the smell became stronger.  “Now imagine your lake; the rippling water bearing the reflection of the sky.”  Sarah’s mind locked onto that image.  She could see it as clearly as if it were real.  “Have you got it?”

“Yes.  Yes I can see it.”  Sarah said.

“Now open your eyes, slowly.”  Francis said.  Sarah did, and as her eyes opened, she was no longer staring out onto an ugly stretch of overgrown weeds, but rather a small beautiful lake shimmering under the moonlight.

“Oh my God,” She said, standing on the shore of the lake next to Francis.  “Is this real?”  She marveled at the reflection of the stars in the gentle ripples.

“Yes it is.”  Francis said.  “The mind is very powerful.  Reality is simply what we perceive it to be.”  Sarah looked back at her yard and house.  When her eyes returned to the lake, it was still there.

“This is amazing Francis.”  Sarah said.  “I don’t suppose I could wade in it?”

“There’s only one way to find out.”  Francis held out his arm, opening his palm toward the lake.  Sarah smiled.  She headed off, pulling her gown up slightly as she stuck her toes into the water.  She felt the cold wetness and splashed around.

“This is unbelievable.”  Sarah said happily.  She stepped further into the lake, feeling the water coming up to her knees.  “How is this possible?”

“You believe it to be.”  Francis said.  “You may have grown up Sarah, but your imagination stays with you always.  Just like your husband with his book.  Anyone can create their own reality.”

“I just can’t believe it!”  Sarah said excitedly.  The lake vanished and she found herself standing in the field of weeds.

“You must believe, or else your dreams can be taken away as quickly as they appear.”  Francis said.  Sarah closed her eyes once more and imagined her lake, but it did not return.  She stepped out of the weeds and back onto her lawn next to Francis.  She noticed that the base of her gown was still wet.  “Who are you?”

 

Several weeks passed.  David continued to plow through his new novel and Sarah continued her nightly visits with Francis.  The two of them spoke of many things.  She found there were many layers to Francis: a deep philosopher, a kind soul, and a man who appreciated humor more than most.  Sarah was taken aback by Francis’s knowledge of the world.  He said he had traveled all over, that his work demanded it.  When Sarah asked what he did for a living, she seemed to have struck a nerve, like opening up a wound that he could never seem to heal.  She only asked once.  One evening Sarah came downstairs to find David pacing back and forth, pulling on his hair with both hands.

“Are you okay honey?”  Sarah asked. David shook his head in agitation.

“I’ve lost it.”

“Lost what?”  Sarah grew concerned.

“I’m at the final chapter of my novel.”  David said.

“That’s wonderful honey!”  Sarah said with a smile.

“No, it’s not!”  David plopped down on the couch and hunched over.  Sarah sat by his side and held his hand.  “I don’t know how to end it.”

“Oh David, you’ve come so far.  You’ll figure it out.”

“I’ve been wracking my burnt-out imagination for an ending.”

“Maybe you should take a break?  Step back from the story and just let the ending come to you.”

“Why don’t I sleep all day just like you?”  David snapped.  “Then I’ll muster up the strength to drink some tea and wonder around the yard all night doing nothing.”  Sarah let go of his hand and stood.  “Where are you going?”

“I’m taking a step back.”  She headed upstairs.

“Goddamn it!”  David yelled as he nearly gave into an urge to flip the coffee table over.  He stood and walked into the kitchen.  He started to fumble through the cabinet that held all of the mugs and glasses.  In his fit of rage, David made a terrible mistake.  He accidentally knocked a mug out of the cabinet.  It hit the floor and burst into several pieces.  He knew which mug it was, but prayed as he knelt down that he was wrong.  There in the pieces of shattered ceramic, David saw the picture of Sarah’s mother.  On another piece he saw a picture of her father.  It was her favorite mug, the one she had been given right before her parents had died.  “Oh God,” David gently picked up the two halves of the picture and put them together.  “What have I done?”

“I heard a crash.”  Sarah came rushing back down the stairs, now fully dressed.  “Are you okay David?”  She heard a sound she had not heard in ages.  David was crying.  She found herself swiftly at his side, hovering over him as he crouched on the kitchen floor.  Then she saw the shattered mug.  She covered her mouth in shock.

“I’m so sorry honey.”  David’s voice pleaded for forgiveness.  Sarah could not think.  Her emotions fully took over.  She rushed out of the room then out of the house.  David heard the engine of her car start and her tires squealing against the asphalt as Sarah sped away.  “Please forgive me Sarah.”  David started to sob.  He picked up a jagged shard of the broken ceramic and squeezed it tightly.  A thick blob of blood emerged from his palm.  Dark crimson droplets began to hit the floor.  “God help me.”  David begged out loud.  He sat down and watched the blood flowing from his wound, wishing that his wife would come back home.

 

Sarah had driven all over the city.  Her eyes were dry and they burned.  She looked at them in her rearview mirror and was disgusted by their puffy redness.  She was pulling up the street heading home, the clock on the radio read just after two a.m.  She pulled over to the side of the street and shut off her engine and lights.  She left her car parked between two houses out of everyone’s way and grabbed her keys.

She began to walk slowly up the hill.   The streetlamps were not necessary to light her path along the steep sidewalk.  The moon was full and bright.  There were no clouds to be seen.  Sarah gazed up at the muted stars as she walked, her tennis shoes softly squeaking with each step.  Slowly she began to hear something.  The more she walked, the closer she came to the sound.  A piano was playing somewhere in the neighborhood, the keys being stroked and tickled by a master musician.  The music peaked when she reached the end of Francis’s driveway.

Sarah stopped and closed her eyes.  She listened to the soothing tones and let her body relax for the first time since she found David huddled over her broken mug.  A cool breeze snuck through the curls in her long raven hair.  The wind seemed to dance to the music and led her mind in this dance.  When she opened her eyes she was on Francis’s porch as if she had floated there with the breeze.  Sarah peeked through the windows.  The decorative glass on either side of the door distorted the images inside of the house.

To the left, just beyond the front hallway, she could see the edge of a small brown piano and every once in a while Francis’s left elbow would come into view.  Such beauty was being created.  How sad that it only existed in that moment, that it was only being shared between the two of them.  Yet that seemed to make it all the more special.  It was a moment that would stay with Sarah for all time.  Then without warning, the music ceased.  Sarah Stepped back from the window and slowly moved toward the edge of the porch.  Sarah suddenly felt herself falling backward.  She had not been paying attention and was now in midair, about to smash with full force onto the walkway.

“You should be more careful.”  Francis said as he caught Sarah in his arms.  Sarah looked up at him in shock which quickly turned to a grin of relief.

“How did you get out here so fast?”

“What do you mean?”

“Weren’t you just inside?”  Sarah looked confused.  “I thought I heard you playing the piano.”

“Oh my, you heard that?”  Francis said as he helped Sarah to her feet.  “That piano is monstrously out of tune.”

“I thought it sounded lovely.”  Sarah blushed a bit.  “You’re very good.”

“I do appreciate the compliment.”  Francis said.  “I’m afraid I’m a bit of a perfectionist however.  If my music does not sound just right, I find myself fraught with dissatisfaction.”

“Well, you can rest assured that I didn’t notice any imperfections.”  Sarah said.  “I’ve never been musically inclined.  I just know what I like, and I loved your song.”

“Thank you.”  Francis bowed slightly.

“What were you playing?”

“The piano.”  Francis said.  He waited a moment before chuckling.  Sarah giggled back.  “What I was playing is called Nocturne.  It’s by Chopin, one of my favorite composers.”

Nocturne,” Sarah smiled and took a deep breath.  “That sounds appropriate.”

“It does indeed.”  Francis’s voice smiled.  The two of them enjoyed the moment and the coolness that embraced them.  The fresh smell of the leaves on the trees that would very soon dry up, turning to luscious golden and orange before falling from grace and giving way to autumn.  “May I ask you something?”

“Of course you may.”

“What has upset you so?”  Francis said as he reached out and gently touched the bottom of her puffy right eye with his gloved fingertip.  Sarah’s mind was drawn back to the incident earlier that night.  She sniffled once and turned her head.

“I lost something.”

“Something that was very dear to your heart.”  Francis said as if he knew already what had happened.

“Yes.”  Sarah said.  “My husband was upset over his novel.  He made a mistake.  It was an accident, I’m sure of it.”

“Still, it has hurt you deeply.”  Francis said.  Sarah nodded with another sniffle.

“May I…”  Sarah began to ask a question that seemed somehow taboo.

“Go on.”  Francis nodded.

“May I come inside for a little while?”  Sarah finished her question.  Francis withdrew his finger from her face and seemed to recoil.  “I’m sorry. I know it’s late.”

“Yes, it is quite late.”  Francis said.  Sarah nodded and made a slight movement as if to leave.  “However, we two are children of the night.”  Sarah paused and awaited an invitation.  “So perhaps for us it is early?”  He took Sarah’s hand and led her to the door.   He stepped aside, allowing Sarah to enter first.

Sarah first noticed the large imposing brick fireplace to her right.  Candles adorned the wooden mantle, a beautiful crystal vase that contained several white roses in the center.  To the left was a couch that looked to be from the turn of the century but still in magnificent condition.  Sarah walked further into the room and turned.  Behind her was the small brown piano.  A large book sat on top of it to the right.  It looked very old, bound in leather, and appeared very used.  On the opposite side of the piano sat a twin the crystal vase atop the mantle, only this one held roses that were pure black.  Sarah tilted her head back to find that the wall above was decorated by masks, each one extremely different from the next; at least thirty masks in all.

“I told you, I am a bit of an eccentric.”  Francis said.  He walked slowly around the room with his arms crossed.  He carefully observed Sarah’s reactions as she observed the wall of masks.

“This is quite a collection.”  Sarah said.  “You must have worked on it for quite a long time.”

“I find them in different places as I travel.  Some were purchased, others were gifts.”  Francis could see that Sarah had an urge to touch one of them.  “Feel free to look at them closer.  You can pull them off of the hooks quite easily.  Most have information on the inside about where they were made, who made them, and what their original purpose was.”

“So even masks have a destiny?”  Sarah reached out and gently took one from the wall.

“Everything does.”

“That’s sad in a way.”  Sarah said as she pushed her face into the papier-mache mask that she held in her hands.

“It gives life meaning.”  Francis said.  “Everyone wants to have a purpose in this world.”

“This isn’t a mask is it?”  Sarah asked as she turned to face Francis.  The mask she displayed was blue, with a smiling golden sun on one half, and a smiling silver moon on the other.

“Of course it is.”  Francis pulled a thin black cigarette out of his shirt pocket.

“But there aren’t any eyeholes.  What’s the purpose of that?”  Sarah asked as she hung the mask back on the wall.  Francis held his silver lighter to the tip of the cigarette.

“Ask that question of a blind man.”  Francis said as two thin lines of smoke poured out of the nostril holes in his mask.

“You’re such a mystery.”

“Am I?”  Francis asked as he made his way over to the piano.  He noticed Sarah wrinkling her nose.  “Does the smoke bother you?”

“No.”  Sarah said.  “My husband smokes.  He thinks I don’t know that he still does because he has his nicotine gum, but I can smell it.  I can smell it on his clothes, and his body.”  Francis sat down on the piano bench and hit a few random keys with his free hand.  “Can I ask you another question?  I don’t want you to take offense.”

“Ask away.”  Francis turned toward Sarah.  She sat down on the bench next to him and built up her confidence.  “I want to ask about your mask, the one that you always wear.”  Francis turned away from her and took a puffed his cigarette.

“It represents something that I believe in deeply.”  Francis said as he exhaled.  “It is duality, the black and silver; two different halves coming together to create a whole.”  Francis said.  “It is love and hate, good and evil, life and death.”  He said as he flicked some ashes from the tip of his cigarette into an ashtray sitting near the vase on his piano.  He then turned to face Sarah, reached out and gently placed his fingers underneath her chin.  “It is two lovers coming together to create one being, two hearts that beat in perfect harmony and create the music that lovers dance to.”  Sarah’s eyes melted into Francis’s gaze, temporarily powerless over her own body.  Unable to move, unwilling to look away, Sarah felt warmth fill her body that was like nothing she had ever felt before.  Francis slowly retracted his hand, gently brushing his gloved fingers against Sarah’s flesh as they moved away from her chin.  “Now then, allow me to play you a song.”  Francis placed his cigarette in the ashtray and cracked his knuckles.  He began to play the soft opening of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.

Sarah stood and walked over to the fireplace as the music filled the room.  She looked up at the mantle, at the vase filled with white roses and thought back to an earlier time in her life.  She closed her eyes and let her memories flood in.  The music accented them perfectly.  Sarah turned and opened her eyes.  She spoke as if she were in a trance.

“When I first met David, we were both so young.  I was working at this little pet store downtown and he was a bartender for a restaurant just down the street.  I went there one night with some friends after work.  David caught my eye immediately.”  Sarah smiled as she gently ran her fingers down the bricks of the fireplace.  “I didn’t even drink, but I just had to meet him.  One margarita later and I was ready to pass out.  My friends took me home and I quickly fell asleep with that handsome bartender still on my mind.”  Francis listened as he continued to play.  The music circled around Sarah’s story as she continued.  “Soon after that, I found a single red rose on the windshield of my car after work.  The next night I found another one.  The roses continued to appear until finally David came into the pet store.  He confessed to being the man behind the romantic gestures and vowed that he would continue until he won my heart.”

Sarah reached up and took a white rose from the vase on the mantle.  She smelled its sweet aroma, bringing her memories further to life.  “He said that once I was in love with him, I should leave a red rose on his windshield.  So one day David left work to find a white rose, just like this one, with its stem slipped underneath his windshield wiper.  I was waiting for him in the parking lot.  He looked confused.  He asked why I had chosen a white rose.  I told him that to me red represented love, and white represented life.  I said it symbolized the life that I wanted to share with him.  Then I grabbed a dozen red roses out of my car and told him that they represented my love for him.”  Francis stopped playing and turned to face Sarah.

“That sounds like the start to a perfect romance.”

“Yes, it was.”  Sarah looked at the white rose and frowned.  “Unfortunately, people change over the years.  Relationships change, life changes.”  Sarah placed the white rose carefully back into its vase.

“Change is the only certainty in this world.”

“Oh?  What about your theories on fate?”  Sarah grinned.  Francis stood and walked over to her.  Sarah’s curiosity had been growing and each time she looked at his mask, it increased exponentially.  “Why do you wear the mask?”  She finally asked.  Francis lowered his eyes.

“I told you, I am a firm believer in duality.”  Francis said. Sarah sighed.

“I know what it represents.”  Sarah said.  “I want to know what is underneath it.”  Sarah slowly lifted her hands and began to reach upward. Francis backed away.  “I’m sorry.”  Sarah lowered her arms.

“To know what lies underneath this mask is to know your own fate.”  Francis said.  “That is far more than the human mind is equipped to handle.”

“I don’t understand.”  Sarah said.  She walked over to him and took his gloved hands in hers.  “You are a beautiful soul.  You have no reason to be shy about what lies underneath your mask.  I’m ready to see.  I want more than anything to see.”

“Once I take off the mask, there is no going back.”  Francis said. Sarah smiled tenderly and caressed his exposed ear.  His flesh felt cold, almost frozen.

“I want this.”  Sarah said.  “There is no doubt in my mind.”  She reached up with her other hand and touched his other ear.  She looked into Francis’s green eyes and found approval in them.  Slowly, she slipped her fingertips underneath both sides of the mask and began to pull.  The mask slipped upwards, slowly exposing the terrifying sight underneath.

Sarah stared into Francis’s face and froze in horror.  She opened her mouth wide in a silent scream before fainting.

As the mask landed on the floor, Francis reached out his arms and wrapped them around Sarah’s limp body.  He carried her over to his couch and gently laid her down.  He looked at his fallen mask lying on the floor, its empty eyes staring back at him.  Francis picked the mask up and put it back on.  He then wrapped Sarah in a soft warm blanket and lifted her up into his arms.  He made his way outside and headed across the connecting yards toward Sarah and David’s house.

 

“Sarah?  Honey wake up.”  A voice sliced into Sarah’s nightmare.  She opened her eyes to find David shaking her gently.  She looked around in confusion.  It was early morning.  There was a dim light as the sun began to paint the mountains.  Sarah shivered and tightened the unfamiliar blanket around her.  She was laying on the padded swing on their back deck.  “Have you been out here all night?”  David asked with concern in his voice.  Sarah moaned a bit and shifted about.

“I guess so.”

“Well let’s get you inside and I’ll draw you a hot bath.”

“That sounds perfect.”  Sarah closed her eyes and smiled at the thought.  David hoisted Sarah up into his arms and carried her inside.  He brought her upstairs and placed her gently on their bed.  She was still wrapped in Francis’s blanket.  Sarah’s mind was blank as she listened to the white noise of the tub being filled with hot water.  David came back out of the bathroom and sat on the edge of the bed.

“It’ll just take a few minutes.”  David said.  Sarah could tell from his voice that he was still feeling guilty about breaking her treasured mug, and was uncertain how she was feeling toward him.  Sarah looked David in the face, as she saw his deep remorse over what he had done.

“I love you so much David Elliot.”  Sarah said.  David smiled, still looking ashamed, but her words had taken some of the edge off.  He pulled Sarah’s shoes off gently and then her socks.  He began to massage her feet.  They were stone cold. Sarah sighed and closed her eyes.  “Don’t forget the water baby.”  Sarah said through a relaxed moan.

“Oh shoot!”  David took off into the bathroom and barely made it in time.  He drained a bit of the water out of the tub, wetting his shirt sleeve as he reached down to the bottom of the tub.  Sarah stood in the doorway and smiled at him.  “Everything is under control.”  David nodded.

“Looks like you got a bit wet.”  Sarah smiled.

“Oh well.  It’ll dry off in no time.”

“Perhaps,” Sarah said as she began to strip.  “But I was thinking,” She started to walk over to David as she tossed each article of her clothing onto the floor.  “Since you’re already wet…”

“I’m listening.”  David said with a corny wag of his eyebrow.  Sarah noticed that David’s hand was wrapped in some of the leftover bandages he had bought.

“What happened?”

“I cut my hand.”  David said.  “It’s nothing.”

“My poor sweet baby.”  Sarah said as she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a passionate kiss.  The kiss escalated and soon they were both undressed and in the bathtub together.  David started to splash water at Sarah.

“Hey!”  Sarah complained playfully before splashing him back.  Soon it was all-out war.  A cease-fire was reached as Sarah slid over to David and straddled him.  David clumsily bumped his head on the water spout.  “Oh honey, you’re just beating yourself up from head to toe.”   Sarah said as she rubbed his latest wound.  “You’re going to have a bump now.”  She stuck out her lower lip.  “Don’t worry; I’ll make your boo-boos all better.”

“Now that was the best bath I’ve ever had.”  David said as he and Sarah settled back into bed after their rather steamy encounter in the tub.

“I agree.”  Sarah sighed and wrapped her legs around him.  “You seem tired.  Did you sleep at all last night?”

“I couldn’t.”

“Still trying to finish up that final chapter?”

“I didn’t even think about the book last night.”  David said.  “I spent the entire night worrying about you and trying my best to glue your mug back together.”  He swallowed and licked his lips awkwardly.  “Let’s just call that a work-in-progress.”

“You are such an amazing man.”  Sarah rubbed her damp hair up and down his chest.  “I hope you know that I don’t blame you, and I wasn’t mad at you.  I was just upset over the situation.”

“Upset over the situation that I caused.”  David said with guilt returning to his voice.

“Accidents happen.”  Sarah said.  “Let’s just forget about it and get some sleep.”

“I’m almost there babe.”  David said.  The couple remained intertwined, their naked bodies providing warmth, comfort, and pleasure as they both drifted off into slumber.

Outside, the sun rose higher, illuminating the city.  While most people were off at their jobs and the daily grind, Sarah and David were dreaming away, together in their bed locked in love’s sweet embrace.

 

Sarah awoke in a state of disarray after suffering through a nightmare that had left claw marks on her subconscious.  She was cold and alone.  She looked around the bedroom, pulling the covers over herself as she stepped out of the bed.  She noticed a light outside through the bedroom window.  It was coming from Francis’s house.  Suddenly she remembered that the nightmare was real.  She tried to rid herself of the image that was burned into her retinas, into her thoughts.  She saw Francis step into view and the two looked at each other through the adjacent panes of glass.  Sarah stepped backwards into the darkness of the bedroom.  She grabbed some underwear and got dressed.  She slipped into a pair of jeans and an old T-shirt.  She zipped up a pink sweater over her shirt and pulled her curly hair up into a ponytail.  David wandered into the bedroom as Sarah tied her shoelaces.

“Going somewhere?”  David asked. Sarah was startled.  She looked up at him from her seat on the edge of the bed.

“I thought I’d go grab some groceries.”

“You’re going shopping at this time of night?  Are you sure?”

“Well, the lines are shorter.”  Sarah smiled.

“Oh that reminds me, where is your car?”  David asked.  Sarah had forgotten about parking her car down the street the previous night.  She thought for a few moments before simply telling him the truth.  “Okay.  I just wanted to make sure we still had it.”

“Did you need anything from the store honey?”  Sarah stood and tugged the bottom of her sweater down a bit.

“Some diet soda maybe?”  David said.  Sarah nodded and headed out of the bedroom.  “Do you want me to go with you?”

“No because you my good sir have a novel to finish.”

“Be careful.”

“I’ll be fine baby.  I should be back soon.”  Sarah said.  She jogged down the stairs and headed out the front door.  She made her way down the sidewalk and up Francis’s driveway.  She could hear the piano playing a gentle melody as she drew nearer to the front door.  The wood creaked beneath the soles of her shoes.  As she approached, the door opened.  Sarah looked around inside.  The entryway was dark.  The only light in the house was coming from down the hall in the living room.

“Please come in.”  Francis said from his seat at the piano.  Sarah stepped inside and closed the door behind her.  She drifted down the hall toward the music, soon finding herself standing next to Francis.  He seemed to ignore her, focusing on his keystrokes as he continued to play. Up on the mantle, the candles were lit.  One of the white roses was missing from the vase.  Sarah noticed that it was laying on the piano in front of Francis.  His old leather bound book was open, and next to it sat a small glass container of black ink with a quill pen sticking out of it.  “This one is by Mozart.  It’s called Requiem.”  Francis said.  Sarah stood there listening impatiently to the music.

“Who are you?”  Sarah sounded frustrated.  Francis stopped playing and looked down at the keys.  “What I saw when I looked into your face,” She started.  Francis turned slowly and sighed.

“You want to know if it was real or simply your imagination.”  Francis gripped his thighs with his gloved hands.  Sarah waited, looking at him with intensity in her eyes.  “I’m afraid that what you saw was very real.”

“So that’s how it’s going to happen?”  The anger in her tone was succumbing to fear.  “Why would I ever do that?  I would never…”

“You have no idea what you are capable of until the situation arises.”  Francis said.  “Life is full of surprises.  They are often unpleasant, and many of them tragic.”

“Just how exactly do you know how I am going to die huh?   How could you possibly know that?”  Francis slowly stood and towered over Sarah, his eyes focused on her.

“I think you know the answers to all of your questions Sarah.”

“So, what, you’re the Grim Reaper?”  Sarah snorted in disgust.  “I stared Death himself in the face last night and now I know the fate I am doomed to suffer?”  Francis did not react; he simply stood there looking at her.  Sarah could see in his eyes that she was right.  “Wow! I live next door to The Angel of Death!”  Sara threw up her arms.  “How exciting!”  She turned and walked away from him, fighting back the tears that were brewing in her eyes.  “Why suicide?”  She waited for a moment then turned to face him.  “Why in the hell would I ever even consider doing that to myself?   How could you possibly think I would do something so horrible to David?   Answer me Francis!”

“I can’t.”  Francis said softly.

“So this is the work that takes you around the world huh?”  Sarah shook her head.  “Well I suppose I must be dying soon now that I know your secret.  Otherwise everyone in the world would know about you.”

“I’m not supposed to get involved in any way.”  Francis said.  “It’s one of the strictest rules.”

“So why me then?  Why did you have to come into my life and ruin it?”  Some tears broke loose as Sarah beat her fists against Francis’s chest.

“You’re very special to me Sarah.”  Francis said.  “From the moment I saw you, I had to know you.”

“Why?”  Sarah wrapped her arms around him.  Francis put his arms around her and the two embraced.

“In all of my time in Heaven and on Earth, never before have I seen such beauty in a soul.”  Francis said.  “I found myself feeling for the first time, and it was so amazing.  From the moment I first saw you I fell in love with you Sarah.  I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I found myself being capable of love.”  Francis said.  “With that lovfe I also became aware of pain, of sorrow.  I long for you every moment, and yet we can never be.”  Francis whispered.

“Aren’t you going to take me with you?  Isn’t that why you are here?”  Sarah sniffled.  Francis stepped away from her and out of their embrace.  Sarah felt a sharp pain in her chest.

“I’m so sorry Sarah.”  Francis said.  The white rose on the piano slowly began to turn black from the tip of the petals down.  “I’m afraid I did not come here for you.”  Francis backed away from the piano.  Sarah saw the rose and her heart nearly stopped.  She rushed over to the book sitting on the back of the piano and looked at the page it was opened to.  A list of names appeared.  All had been crossed out except for the final name:  David Elliot.

“Go to him Sarah.”   Sarah was rushing toward the front door as Francis spoke his final words to her.  It was already open.  Sarah rushed outside, quickly heading up the sidewalk.  She cried out David’s name as she burst into her own home and ran up the stairs.

She found David lying on the bedroom floor.  He was grabbing the left side of his chest and softly begging for help.  Sarah grabbed the phone from David’s nightstand and dialed nine-one-one.

“Please help! My husband is dying.”  Sarah sobbed as David reached out to her.  She crouched over him and took his hand, squeezing it tightly.  “He’s having a heart attack!”  Sarah wished she had said that first, said that instead of what she had just said.  She stroked David’s face with her free hand.  “Stay with me honey.”  She said softly through her tears as help was dispatched.  “Stay with me.”

 

Francis watched as the ambulance arrived, followed shortly after by a fire truck. Red and blue lights flashed brightly illuminating the street and all of the sleeping houses along it.  Francis watched as David was taken away on a stretcher and placed in the back of the ambulance.  As the ambulance pulled away, Sarah rushed down the street.  Francis put his hand against the window as she passed.  She quickly leapt into her car and took off following the ambulance.  Francis stood there in silence as Sarah Elliot drove out of his lonely existence.  He would fade back into his world of darkness now, a tortured creature tasked with a job that nobody would want; an invisible beast unseen by human eyes that only Sarah would ever truly know, yet the entire world would continue to curse his presence.

Francis sat down at his piano.  He pulled the wooden cover out and over the keys.  He reached up and grabbed his book, setting them down in front of him.  He then grabbed the bottle of ink and quill pen and set it down next to the book.  He looked at the white rose that lay on the piano before him.  The blackness spread more quickly now, soon the flower was completely dark.  Francis pulled the quill out of the bottle, tapping off some excess ink.  He gently touched the sharp tip to the line in his book that held David’s name.  Francis closed his eyes and hesitated.  He then slowly began to drag the pen to the right, crossing out each letter of David’s name.  One by one they were ripped in half by a thin line of black ink.  Francis paused at David’s last name: Elliot.  He thought of Sarah and looked up at the rose laying on top the piano.  “Forgive me.”  His voice cracked.

 

Sarah sat in the waiting room sobbing.  The security guard looked over his shoulder as someone approached from behind his desk.  He hit a buzzer and two large steel doors opened.  A doctor emerged and spotted Sarah.  He slowly walked over to her.   Sarah stood, her entire body trembling as the doctor made his way toward her.  She didn’t need to hear him speak.  The words were written all over his face as he composed himself in a most professional manor.   Everything seemed to shift into slow motion and Sarah’s knees gave out.   She toppled and fell, the doctor catching her just in time to help slow her descent to the floor.   She knew that it was all real for certain now.   Her beloved David was gone.

 

Francis sat at his piano completely out of sorts. Unusual things were happening to him.  He was feeling emotions again.  He picked up the black rose that lay on his piano and twirled it between his gloved fingers.  He looked at David’s name on the page inside his book, his expansive history of lives that he so wished that he could have somehow found a way to spare.  He then looked up at his wall of masks and lamented further.  Oh to be anyone else, anything else, he thought.  He stood and looked over two of his favorite pieces, a twin set of comedy and tragedy masks.  Each was hand-painted half in white, half in green, with a beautiful gold trim that curled out from around the eyes.  He pulled off his right glove and laid it on the piano, gently stroking each one of his masks with his deadly bare hands.  He pulled the tragedy mask down and placed it on the piano.  He took his other glove off.  He pulled his black and silver mask off and laid it on top of his gloves.

“I’d say you better suit the occasion.”  He lifted up the frowning green, white, and gold mask.   He turned it over and slipped his face into it.  He reached back and tied the silk straps, firmly attaching the new mask to his face.  He walked over to the window and checked his reflection.  The dramatic frowning eyes and mouth perfectly expressed the way he was feeling.  Not only had he taken David’s life, but in the process he had doomed Sarah.

“Why do people seek love when it can only lead to certain misery?”  He looked at the moon and the stars in the night sky through the thick glass of the window.  “The sky holds such beauty, yet without Sarah here, it seems so empty.”  Francis noticed the white roses on top of his mantle.  They were so lovely inside of their fine crystal vase.  He slowly returned to his seat and moved the ink and quill back to the top of the piano.  He was about to close his book and move it so that he could play a song, but there was no music left inside of him.  Then Francis felt something entirely new.

His eyes began to fill with moisture.  Francis closed them and leaned over.  Two large teardrops fell from his lashes through the openings in the mask and onto the open page of his book.  They landed right on David’s name.  Francis opened his eyes and looked at the dampened page.  He reached out his right hand and pressed his index finger against the liquid.  He lifted his finger up and found that the ‘D’ had vanished from David’s name.  Francis then noticed the rose laying on the piano.  A small touch of white had returned to the base of the petals.  Francis placed his finger back onto the page and rubbed his fallen tears all the way across the line.  When he was done David’s name had vanished entirely, and the rose had returned to its original white color.

 

Sarah continued to sob as the doctor rubbed her back.  The large steel doors opened once more and a nurse came rushing out of the emergency room.

“Doctor!  You have to come see this!”  The nurse exclaimed with excitement.  The doctor looked at the nurse and stood up straight.  Sarah looked up from her position on the floor.

“What is it?”  The doctor asked.

“It’s a miracle!”  The nurse proclaimed.  The doctor took off for the emergency room followed closely by Sarah.  The two were led back by the nurse to the bed where David lay.  A group of nurses were gathered around blocking the view.  The doctor and Sarah shoved their way through.  As soon as the nurses saw Sarah, they all stepped back and gave her plenty of room.  Sarah’s eyes lit up.  There, smiling at her from the bed was David, still looking pale, but very much alive.

“Hey beautiful.”  David said in a weak voice.  Sarah chuckled once then burst into gleeful laughter and rushed over to hug him.  The couple then kissed once on the lips.  Sarah then proceeded to kiss every last inch of David’s face.

“Oh I love you, I love you, I love you!”  She continued to repeat herself with each kiss.  The nurses all watched, as did the doctor.  All were completely baffled by David’s sudden return to the world of the living.

David was eventually moved to a room on the fourth floor of the hospital.  The doctors had checked him over thoroughly and had come to the conclusion that David Elliot was going to be just fine.

“So are you going to take this as a warning?”  Sarah sat in a chair by her husband’s side.

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe you should work harder on quitting smoking?  Maybe take things a little easier and not stress out so much?”

“Those two things kind of contradict each other, but yes.”  David said.  “I promise to start working on some lifestyle changes.”  David and Sarah smiled at each other.  There was a knock at the door and a nurse entered the room with a flower and an envelope in her hand.

“This was left at the desk for you.”  The nurse said, looking at Sarah.  Sarah stood and walked over to the nurse and took the items from her.  It was a single white rose, and a small envelope that simply read For Sarah Elliot.  Sarah looked at the rose and took a deep breath.

“Do you know who left this?”  Sarah asked the nurse.

“I’m afraid not.  It just showed up at the front desk a little while ago.  Nobody saw who left it.” The nurse said.  She looked over at David and smiled.  “You take care of yourself Mister Miracle.”

“I plan to.”  David said in a friendly tone.  The nurse patted Sarah on the shoulder before exiting the room.  Sarah took a seat and placed the rose on her lap.  She gently opened the envelope and pulled out the card inside.  It was blank.  Sarah opened it up and found some familiar handwriting.

My dearest Sarah,

I write you now to bid you a fond farewell.  Treasure each moment and seize control of your fate.  Remember, the only certainty in this life is change.

Your Angel Next Door,

Francis

A single tear rolled down Sarah’s cheek as she closed the card.  She placed it gently back into the envelope.  She took the white rose by the stem and tickled the tip of her nose with the petals, breathing in its sweet smell.  She stepped over to the window that overlooked the street below.  She saw Francis slowly walking away from the hospital.  Once he reached the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, he turned and looked up at Sarah.  She reached up and pressed her hand against the glass.  Francis simply stood there looking at her.  A car sped by, blocking Sarah’s view of Francis for a split second.  As quickly as the vehicle passed, Francis disappeared.

Sarah never spoke of Francis to anyone, not even David.  Yet she was constantly reminded of him as the months and years passed, for the rose he had sent to her sat in a small vase atop the mantle of her and David’s new house in the mountains.  No matter how much time passed, the rose never wilted.  It lived on beyond the realm of possibility.  It was one of the first things that she saw each morning, and it was one of the last things she saw before she curled up in bed with David each night.  She took Francis’s advice very much to heart and cherished every single moment that she had with David, sitting by the lake and gazing up at the stars.  She often wondered what became of Francis after he retired.  Did angels move to Florida and sit by the ocean or was there some higher calling for her Angel of Death now?

No, he was not her Angel of Death.  He was her Angel of Awakening.

The cool breeze skipped off the water and caressed her face as she marveled at the vast universe hovering above her and all around her, and all of the wonderful and endless possibilities it had to offer.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

“Alan Dale Dalby is a 32 year old aspiring author who was born and raised in Colorado. He has incorporated much from his life and experiences into his writing. Stories such as The Shadow of Death, Lost in Endless Winter, and Time Past have gained him some acclaim from fans locally and worldwide.
Though he found his true voice in the short fiction format, Alan is currently branching out into the world of novels.”

You can find him on twitter by searching for

@AlanDaleDalby42

His Booksie profile can be found here : http://www.booksie.com/Alan_Dale_Dalby

You can find his facebook author page here : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alan-Dale-Dalby/126471804060080

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *