Round 3 submission for the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, 2015.
Challenge: 1,500 words in 24 hours
Subject: A dying wish
The basement was dark and damp. Winter’s chill had settled in and it crept through the walls and into the floor and up into the bones of the house. Silence hung overwhelmingly – the silence that immediately follows chaos. Two figures stood in the vacuum of sound.
“This never gets easier.” The figure in the North corner spoke first. He was tall and angular, yet graceful. He resembled a marble statue, but his features were unidentifiable. His skin tone shifted with the light. His eyes appeared to have embers burning behind them that glowed like a fireplace being bellowed softly. He was Azrael, the Angel of Death.
“I know, but it is not ours to understand.” The figure in the South corner rasped. He attempted to expel centuries of smoke out of his lungs with one sharp cough, but his demeanor did not waiver. He seemed neither more comfortable nor displeased. He was covered in soot and one shoulder slumped lower than the other. He tucked the thumb of each large, calloused hand in his pockets while he waited. He was Charon, the Ferryman of Souls.
“Shall we, then?” Azrael asked.
Charon nodded solemnly. “What happened here?” he croaked.
The pool of blood soaking into the floor of the basement was still warm. Steam rose from it and evaporated into the prickling cold air. Azrael and Charon met eyes across the room. The embers behind the Angel’s eyes began to glow brighter until the white hot light engulfed Charon’s vision.
“Why are you doing this?!”
The voice of a young girl rang into Charon’s ears. He could hear her whimpering, struggling. Her tension became his own. He felt choked by anxiety. His arms felt bound.
“I told you, beautiful. I love you! I did this so we could be together!”
A man’s voice echoed over her sobs. He sounded unfittingly calm and happy. The girl’s fear was still gripping Charon’s spine. Somehow the light-hearted tone of the man’s voice only made the Ferryman more agitated. Charon snapped his eyes shut. Behind his eyelids, the image of the basement played out.
A man stood towering over a girl who was tied to a chair in the middle of the room. Her arms were behind her back. She tried to hold back her tears, but her face was streaked with dirt and blood. She had been in this prison for at least a week.
“I have a present for you!” The man turned. He was wearing faded, filthy, dark blue coveralls. The embroidered name tag on his chest said “Wayne.”
“I was gonna leave this on your car at the college Monday morning, but when I ran into you at the coffee shop that day, I knew I could save it for now.”
He opened an envelope and produced a store-bought greeting card. The glitter that had rubbed off inside the paper case floated down and dusted Wayne’s old work boots.
“My most beloved Sarah, From the moment I saw you, I knew you were the one. I know you feel it, too. I see the way you smile at me when you pass me in the hallway. I knew you really loved me, too, when you kept the roses I left under your windshield wipers. You told your friends you thought they were from Brad, but I know you were just pretending. I’ve understood that our love had to be kept a secret, because I could lose my job, but I don’t want to hide anymore. I’m a good Janitor, and I will find a job at another school. You are worth it. You are worth everything. I want you and only you, forever and ever. You are my dream come true, and nothing will keep us apart anymore. Nothing will ever come between us. Nothing. All my love, Wayne.”
Sarah sobbed uncontrollably as he slipped the card back into the envelope. Wayne’s face shifted from that of a love sick puppy to ice cold rage in less than a second. He was on her in a blink.
“STOP CRYING. WHY ARE YOU SAD? DON’T YOU GET IT?” His hands were closing around her throat, and her hair fell over his wrists. She began to cough violently, and she struggled to free her arms and legs from their restraints. When her eyes started to roll back into her head, Wayne released her.
“No, no, no. Nononono. Shhhh. Sh! Hey! Sarah? Sarah. Shhhh. Hey. It’s ok. I’m here.”
She slumped against him, her breaths labored and wheezing. He lifted her chin with his forefinger and began to pepper her face with gentle kisses. She shook her head back and forth to get her face away from him, but he reached up, and gripped her jaw in his hand. Sarah opened her eyes and focused intently on Wayne’s face. His hand softened slightly, and he leaned in to kiss her chapped and cracking lips.
Before he could, Sarah rammed her forehead directly into Wayne’s nose. There was one loud POP! sound. Wayne cupped his bleeding, broken face. His eyes were already swelling.
Sarah struggled with all her might to free her hands. She had been tied in one position for so long, that her arms and legs felt numb, but the ropes around her wrists had stretched out. She pulled one hand free and that loosened the knot enough for her to slip her other hand out.
Wayne’s blood trickled down her face, where it had splattered on impact. Her head throbbed. She worked at the ropes that tied her ankles to the legs of the chair. When the knots fell loose, she stood to run, but her legs were weak and she stumbled.
She heard him moving toward her, an angry growl surging from his chest. Wayne heaved his body forward at her as she tried to climb the concrete basement stairs. He caught her around the knees and they both fell to the ground.
Sarah’s head came down hard on the corner of the last step and her body went limp. Through his own pain and blood, Wayne panicked and began to move up her body to check her pulse. Her face was covered by her hair.
Wayne didn’t even see the camping shovel in her hand until the blade was buried where his neck meets the shoulder. Sarah’s grip held firm until well after Wayne had bled out. Under the weight of his lifeless body, Sarah succumbed to her aching temple, and slipped into unconsciousness.
Charon’s eyes fluttered back open. Azrael’s embers were dimmer, now. Charon put his fist to his chin, and pushed his face to either side until his tired bones had cracked audibly.
“Let us begin.” Azrael’s voice was gentle but firm.
They moved to the stairs where Sarah and Wayne still laid. Charon chanted his ancient incantations and Wayne’s soul lifted from his body. Charon dragged the soul by the back of the neck like a scolded animal to a wooden crate that looked as if it had been passed through fire a thousand times. He pulled rusty nails from his pocket and a hammer from a loop in his belt. With arching, heavy swings, Charon hammered the lid shut. He nodded when he was done.
Azrael turned his face to Sarah. He knelt by her side and waved a hand over her face to begin his own incantation. Charon and Azrael jumped when Sarah’s hand flew up and gripped Azrael’s wrist with the strength of a dozen men.
“Tell me, child. You are safe. He cannot hurt you anymore.”
Sarah wheezed. Her left eye was bloody and blinded. Wayne had cracked her ribs when he landed on her.
Azrael did not interrupt.
“Tell… my… mom…”
“What is your wish, child?”
Sarah’s right eye tried to find Azrael’s face in the darkness that was consuming her.
“Tell my mom… that… I fought him…”
Azrael placed his left hand over her heart and his right hand over her forehead.
“I fought him.”
Her voice trailed off. Her eyelids sank and closed. The air in her lungs rattled out of her broken body. Azrael and Charon both bent their heads. Whispered incantations in the dark could barely be heard over winter’s low moan.
Azrael lifted his head and stood. Sarah’s soul rose with him. She stood, glowing and peaceful.
Charon strapped the crate to his enormous back. Azrael offered an arm to Sarah’s soul.
The Angel and the Ferryman gripped forearms.
“Until next time, old friend.” Azrael said.
“Don’t forget her request.” Charon reminded.
As the two carriers transcended, one above, one below, the faint sound of police sirens pierced the night air.