(The title shall make sense in a moment. Patience young Padawan.)
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted.
I’m not even going to count the number of months, because it’s the weekend and I’m done with my algebra homework. Which obviously means that numbers get shoved into the back of my brain, and I can begin to think in words again. When I am especially tired, this gets reversed and I try to find the mathematical slope of movie dialogue. (True story.)
But, alas, I still have no groundbreaking things to write about, so I’m just going to leave you with a short story that I’ve been working on. Because that’s how I roll.
Anyhow, I think this piece is finally in the “I’m ready to edit” stage, because I hate it. So suggestions are greatly appreciated. Like, I’ll write a poem for you if you leave a critique. And I hate writing poems.
OMNES UNA MANET NOX
EDIT: Please ignore the weird formatting. Whenever I copy and paste something to post online, the text editor goes paragraph-happy.
Please understand: I try to take them gently. I can’t always make it happen, but I try. Sometimes I pull too hard and those last breaths are horrible, gut-wrenching gasps. Sometimes I can’t quite tease their heart into stopping, though most of their brain has been annihilated. Please understand that I am merely given a name and a place. But most of all, please understand that I have not, will not, and cannot go against my orders. They are what they are, I am what I am – that is steadfast and unchangeable.
I am Death.
They are mortals.
I did not choose their fate for them. Their fate, dear human, was the byproduct of not only their surroundings and choices, but the choices of those around them, as well. And despite the spectacular array of these byproducts – I suppose you call them lives – the actual death never changes. Of course, the lead-up to some is more dramatic than others. Shootings, bombings, fires, the like. But in the end, nothing ever changes. With a touch of my hand, a heart stops. With a brush of my fingers, I draw the last wisp of air from between two slightly parted lips.
That, like my being, is unchangeable.
You may be a dancer or a burglar.
A doctor or a farmer.
A fencer or a tailor.
And I shall take your breath from you in the same way I took the last fellow’s.
To illustrate my point, I ask you to divert your attention down there aways. Do you see that minivan? It is going too fast, weaving too much, especially on such a dark night. Even the moon is hiding. That’s usually a good indication that you should hide, too.
I know the driver of the minivan. I’ve seen him many times before; so many times I’ve peered into a room and looked at a little girl lying in a huge bed, tubes running from her various body parts, surrounded by doctors and nurses, a man holding her hand. ‘Are you ready yet? No? I’ll come back later.’ Sometimes his steely blue eyes would meet mine and he’d grip her hand harder. ‘Later.’ And I would slink out the door.
His cheeks are flushed, but his knuckles are bright white from clutching the steering wheel. It’s been a long day made even longer by attempting to fathom what to do the next day and the day after that and the day after that. He isn’t used to driving this stretch after sunset, and it is a particularly dark night. He keeps his eyes on the road, and, in the distance, finds a blip of light growing bigger. His death-grip on the wheel lessens a bit and his body relaxes upon spotting the beam in the darkness.
What this man – this Mr. Chase – doesn’t see, however, is that the light is actually two lights. Two lights belonging to a Mr. Gregory Green. His vehicle, to be more precise. His SUV is barreling down the same road, the remnants of a soda spilling all over the cup holder. Sweat drips down his brow and into his eyes, and his heart pounds so hard he can feel the pulses in his throat. His hands are still shaking from the adrenaline surge.
The gun is still sitting somewhere in her house.
He didn’t bother to grab it on his way out – or, I should say, he didn’t remember to grab it. And he doesn’t remember the gun now, either. He doesn’t let himself dwell on what happened or where he’s going. He just tries to keep his focus on the road, on the pavement, on the whirring of the tires, and nothing else. If he breaks his concentration, he knows everything in him will break.
Mr. Chase sighs loudly and his eyes inadvertently drift up to the rearview mirror. For a moment, he searches for a floral-printed car seat, but he soon remembers that he will see nothing but the gray-green pilot seats. His eyes, however, are still locked on the rearview mirror and the place where the car seat was, once upon a time. A place I visited, once upon a time. I’d looked through the window, at the girl reaching for a wisp of air, at the blue eyes that now search for her everywhere. ‘Later,’ I’d said then, and went on searching. Now he searches; it’s a tradeoff, you see.
He’s shuddering, but I don’t know why. Maybe he’s beginning to sense my presence. There are those humans who know I’m here, who can feel me in the air. Those that sense me often have that same fiercely determined look in their eyes. But that look is, in fact, gone from Mr. Chase’s eyes. That look was extinguished out the day I won. The day her little eyes, the eyes that looked so much like her father’s, opened, and found me next to her. ‘No more laters, darling.’ I put my hand to her lips and found the breath. I pulled the glinting, glittering gossamer strands up into the air, letting them twirl and coil and twist. And she let them go easily, let them out with no struggle. She just watched the glitter dance about the room. Then I put my hand to her chest and left it there until the gentle thudding of her heart ceased completely.
He found me there, next to her. He stared at me with those eyes that seemed to belong to both of them. He ran to her and felt her lips and her chest and her face. He sat where I sat, waiting for any sign of anything at all. And when he felt nothing, he looked up at me. His eyes were completely empty of any fervor, drive, or fierceness. He cursed me as he held her in his arms, but even the most spiteful of his curses had no passion behind them, and, eventually, he became silent and just sat there, her body growing stiffer in his arms.
Mr. Green is still barreling down the road, and quite frankly, I’m glad that he is. Not only do I have several stops tonight, but the more catastrophic the crash, the easier it is on me. The worse the impact, the more their brains shut down. The more their brains shut down, the less they fight. It’s a terrible equation, but it’s how you play the game, mortal. Less of an impact equals more time. More time equals more pain. More pain equals more trouble for everyone involved. Yes, a high-speed collision is preferable.
The sweat still drips into his eyes, but it’s beginning to slow now. The trembling in his hands is slowing, as well, which means that the adrenaline is beginning to wear-off. But in its place, there is a hardening in his gut. His stomach feels like a stone, his head feels like it might spontaneously combust. What is he going to do? He can’t drive forever. He’ll have to stop for gas eventually, and when he does, he’ll have to pay with his credit card. And when he pays with his credit card, they’ll find him. They’ll figure it out. It isn’t like he made it very difficult. The gun, her body… they’re probably covered in his fingerprints and DNA.
I must say, though, he made the job easy for me. The shot through the forehead took away any willpower she’d once had. I simply pulled, and the breath came out with ease. Her heart stopped after only one touch of my finger. He stared as I did my job, watched as her chest stilled, as I took away her life breath.
The more he thinks about it, the more nervous he gets, and the more nervous he gets, the harder he presses the gas pedal. And the harder he presses the gas pedal, the faster he barrels down the road, his truck swerving from left to right as the trembling in his hands begins again
Mr. Chase doesn’t look away from the rearview mirror as cannot bear to tear his eyes off the seat. He cannot bear to tear his eyes away from a place where she once sat, something she once touched, a piece of the universe she changed forever just by being there. He cannot bear to look away from a place she once was and focus his eyes on a place that she never touched. He needs her there, even if it is only traces, even if it is only remnants.
He shudders, still partially aware, I think, of my presence. And for a moment, I think that that determination is back. It disappears a moment later, replaced by a look of such vehement hate that I do something I’ve never done before:
I shudder, as well.
Yes, dear mortal, I shudder. Do not think yourself equal with me, for I am still exponentially above you in all things. And while I’ve been hated before – too many times to count, in fact – the vehemence in his look surpasses it all. The hatred and the bitterness in his look cannot be understood by the likes of you; for, even as you see it now, you cannot fully comprehend the extent of the emotion. Even the look Mr. Green gave the woman just before he raised the gun to her forehead cannot compare to the look that Mr. Chase gave me.
Watch the cars now, dear mortal. Watch them grow closer and closer. Watch the drivers, so agitated by everything that has happened, completely lose any grasp of what is happening now. Listen to the crunch of the metal, to the shattering of the glass, to the shrieks of terror.
Watch their eyes, human. Watch the hatred disappear, watch the guilt disappear, watch all that melt away. Watch the horror replace everything else as the metal crunches, dents, and warps around them.
Come with me now.
Come with me to Mr. Green’s car, which has sailed off the road and is lying on its side in a mist-covered farm field. Look and see him there, his skull fractured, its contents spilling over the seat. His breathing is shallow, but still there. They always wait for me, you know. They have to wait for me. You humans think you are so terribly important and powerful, but truly, you are not strong enough to die without me. You cannot even give up on your own.
The thread I pull from between his lips is short and straight. They don’t dance like the girl’s. I pull and they come out in a half a second. Like the woman’s did. Smoothly, quickly, easily – like plucking a flower from its stem. It barely takes a touch of my finger to stop his heart. When he killed her, when he pumped the bullet into her head, when he blew away part of her brain, he blew away part of himself, too. And whatever broken, twisted, lonely part of him was left behind just didn’t have the willpower to fight me. Which is wise, I suppose; he had nothing on earth to live for anymore.
Mr. Chase’s car is on its roof, on the opposite side of the road, the tires still spinning. Curls of dust and dirt and smoke rise into the air, like the girl’s final breath.
No, my eyes must be playing tricks on me.
But that is a human fault… my eyes are never wrong.
She is standing there, peering into the window.
I approach the car, but stare at her. She doesn’t breathe, and when I put a finger to her chest, I feel no beat. She stares back at me, showing no fear, the wind making her blue dress cling to her spindly legs. “Hi,” she says plainly, without a drop of emotion in her voice.
“Salutations,” I reply and kneel next to the wad of metal that was once a minivan. I peer through the window she was looking through and find him there, upside down, his eyes open and fixed on something.
Blood spurts from his chest and trails down his neck, onto his face. I hope, for the girl’s sake, that he doesn’t gasp or struggle against me. I’m not entirely sure what kind of emotions a ghost-girl has, but I know that it is very painful for the living to see a loved one cough and choke on their last breath. Carefully, I pinch the delicate strands between my pointer finger and thumb and begin to ease them out, half expecting him to fight me to the last. He would do something like that, just to give me trouble. He’s the type of person that would fight, just to make it more difficult. He doesn’t, however, and I suppose he’s done it just to spite me. Since I expect him to make it difficult, he decides to make it easy.
The idiot. There is no point in toying with me – I always win in the end.
The strands come out easily, not dancing or twirling like his daughter’s. They are thin and fragile, like hers, but they dangle listlessly from my fingers, like a stalk of withered grass. His breath… it was like the man’s. Completely devoid of any willpower, fierceness, or fight. But he had something to live for.
Human folly. One loss and you think that the sky is falling.
“It isn’t fair,” the girl whispers, putting a cold hand on my arm.
“What isn’t fair, darling?” I ask, testing his heart, still not quite believing that she is indeed present. I’ve never seen a patient of mine post-mortem before. I pull the strands, I stop the beating, I leave, and they never return to thank me because you humans are ingrates. One finger… two… three…
“He was a bad man,” she replies, pointing to where a Mr. Green once was, and is no more. “And my daddy was a good man.”
“Is a good man,” I correct, a full five fingers not stopping his heart. The beating ceases for a split second, then springs back, only to go out again a moment later. Idiotic. Apparently he did think that there’s something to live for. I’ll never understand mortals – so utterly indecisive. One moment the sky is falling, the next you’re doing everything possible to push it back up again. Either live or die, but don’t torture me with this purgatory.
“Then why are they both dead?”
I open my mouth to correct her once more – “One is dead,” – but I stop, for time made her statement true. Seven fingers and his heart is at rest. “Because that is the way it works, darling. You live and you die.” I stand and wipe the blood off my hands.
“But why do they both die the same way?” She grasps my sleeve, staring up at me pleadingly with the steely blue eyes.
Dear mortal, you are not infinite. She is not infinite. Therefore, neither she nor you can understand why both a murderer and a grieving father could die at the same time, in the same place, in the same way. Then most I can do is to use your own philosophies, as flawed as they are, for they are the only things you could ever hope to understand.
In a pathetic attempt at comprehending who I am and what I do, a man named Horace – whom I also visited – once wrote: Omnes una manet nox. Which, translated for those humans who are dunces, means: “The same night awaits us all.”
The same night that awaits the dancer awaits the burglar.
The same night that awaits the doctor awaits the farmer.
The same night that awaits the fencer awaits the tailor.
And the same night that awaits the murderer shall await the father.
Human, there is nothing you can do to change that. It is unchangeable, just like my being.
Your night will come. Whether you live well or live poorly, it will come. Your choices in this life neither lighten nor darken the darkness. It, like my being, is unchangeable.
So if there is one thing in this universe you should remember, dear mortal, it is this: Omnes una manet nox. I know this to be true. I will take your breath the same way I took the last fellow’s. This night will not vary.
What lies beyond this night, mortal, is a mystery.
Any thoughts, suggestions, critiques, etc. can be left in the comments. 🙂 (A reminder that anyone who critiques gets a poem. 😛 )