students at Debaucherette University tiptoed around, peeking around
every corner and vigilantly watching for a glimpse of Death, perhaps
the hem of a black cloak flapping as it vanished down a passage, or
maybe a glint of light from a scythe reflecting the golden autumn sun.
But he did not come. They stood alone on dark corners and in empty
rooms and far-off reaches of the campus, to entice him with a
vulnerable loner. But he did not come. They gathered in large groups to
offer temptation in the form of a multi-hit kill. But he did not come.
They taunted him with loud exclamations of invincibility, entreated him
with sycophantic words of flattery, gave tribute to him with eloquent
passages of poetry and song, wrote letters that went unanswered, left
messages that went unreturned, called his name from the highest towers
in tones from demanding to confused to desperate. And still, Death did
It was with unsurety and not a little annoyance that Bluetopaz marched
to the death mansion. There were no lights inside to spill onto the
dark lawn where she stood, no sounds emanating from any portion of the
house to fill the silence that surrounded her. She rapped on the door
and rang the deep, sonorous doorbell, but there was no answer. This did
not discourage her. She would not leave without answers. For one thing,
she was weary of the entire student population asking her the same
question: Where was Death and when would they die? She did not know,
but they never stopped asking. For another thing, she was just as
curious as everyone else as to the tardiness of their annual demise.
And if anyone could get to the bottom of this thing, she could. She
knew many of his secrets. He would not be able to withhold them from
Bluetopaz ran her hand along the side of the house as she walked around
it, feeling for warmth, glancing through the windows looking for
movement. There was nothing. As she approached the back door, she
noticed the vines on the trellis had withered from neglect, and the
garden path cobblestones had weeds peeking up between them. The garden
itself was barren, not having even been planted. It looked as though no
one had occupied the property for a long time.
Now the amazon was slightly troubled. Many questions rose up in her
mind. She walked with a faster, more purposeful stride. A patrol around
the perimeter of the grounds yielded little except more signs of
desertion. An inspection of the garden shed only unsettled dust and a
few indignant spiders. She reached for the back doorknob and received
only a shock of static electricity and confirmation that it was locked.
The kitchen fireplace chimney bricks were cold; the cellar doors were
locked as well. Bluetopaz gazed at one of the kitchen windows and
thought the latch looked askew. Perhaps it wasn’t all the way secure.
Lacking other options, she decided to try and open it. She looked
around and spied a garden spade, and slid it along the sill in the
hopes that it would release the latch entirely. So intent was she on
her effort that she did not notice the solidification of the darkness
“What are you doing?”
Bluetopaz jumped and fell away from the window. “Don’t DO that!” she
sputtered, throwing the spade at the cloaked figure. It stuck in his
ribs; he pulled it out and let it drop to the ground. “Good grief, you
can’t just sneak up on people like that.”
“Well, I can’t exactly announce myself in this line of work.” He tilted his head, amused. She rolled her eyes.
“Help me up, you wretched bag of bones, you.” She held up her hand; he
took it in his phalanges and lifted her powerfully to her feet. “Where
have you been?”
“Away. I’ve been busy.”
“I noticed. So what made you come back?”
“You tripped my alarm.” He pointed at the back door.
“Oh.” She brushed herself off. “Well then, let’s talk.” She levelled
her gaze at him then, looking unflinchingly into his skeletal face. He
knew what that meant. It meant she wouldn’t leave until she was
satisfied. Which also meant they might be here a while.
“We might as well go in.” He went to the back door and reached out his
hand to the knob. Again a zap of blue jumped from it to the
outstretched fingers, but this time the knob turned and the door swung
open. Bluetopaz followed him inside. A wave of his hand, and the door
shut behind them; another gesture and the fireplace leapt alive with
warm, welcoming flames. They sat in the rockers next to the hearth,
facing each other with the orange glow flickering on their two faces;
one full of life, one utterly devoid of it.
“Now,” said Bluetopaz, getting comfortable, “tell me where you’ve been.”
“I already answered that one.”
“Yes, ‘Away.’ Cryptic responses do not work for me, I’m sure you know.
But I’ll be more specific. Business or pleasure? How long were you
planning to stay away? And why didn’t you come back before now?”
The Harbinger of Death looked into the fire, then back at Bluetopaz.
“It’s been mostly business, my plans are to stay away as long as I need
to until my tasks are completed, and I didn’t come back before now
because I don’t live here any more.”
Bluetopaz blinked. “You don’t what where any huh?”
She couldn’t be sure, but she thought he smiled. “Bluetopaz.” He took
her hands in his. “My work here is done. I know you’ve seen what’s
going on out there. I’m greatly needed in the world.”
“You don’t think you’re needed here? Don’t you see how they look
forward to your coming every year and making our deaths something to
“I do, and I have enjoyed every moment. But it’s time for me to move on. I can’t stay.”
She pulled her hands away and looked deep into the fire without seeing
it. Her brow was knit as she sank into her own thoughts, and he let her
have that moment of silence to gather whatever she wanted to say to him
next. He expected that she might lash out at him, might call him
selfish, might express disappointment in him, all of which he deserved;
and she might even ask him to stay. But what she did instead surprised
She looked at him calmly, resolutely, and said only: “You know we’ll miss you.”
He did not know how to answer her; the simple statement was not
something for which he had prepared a reply. He nodded. “Yes,” was all
he could come up with.
And then she folded her arms, raised one eyebrow and in her best
chancellorial voice said, “You know they’re not going to like it.” The
half-smirk she wore suggested she would be interested and entertained
to see how the Debs would rebel.
Harbinger sighed. “I know.”
Bluetopaz looked at him thoughtfully. “You really aren’t going to let us die any more?”
He laughed long, and it evolved into the resonant, sinister laugh of
Death. “Why, don’t you know,” he said, piercing her with his suddenly
fiery gaze, “you’re already dying. All of you. A little more every
day.” His voice was striated now, like layers of instruments upon each
other, and she could feel the wood of the rocker trembling under her.
“I can see each of you and your last breaths.” He tilted his skull
upward; silver stars swirled in his deep, dark eye sockets as he used
his otherworldly vision to behold the future. “There one falls to a
fire…another, crushed in an accident…there one is consumed by human
vices…some will be consumed by diseases…many will simply wither and
fade, their life essences draining from them until they are forgotten
by the world… Yes indeed, all are dying as I speak. I need not lift a
finger to let you die.” The stars slowed, faded and vanished, and
Harbinger became himself again.
Bluetopaz seemed unimpressed. “Uh-huh. Yeah, they’re still not gonna like it.”
He smacked his forehead with his palm and groaned. “You people. You’re
never satisfied. No wonder Lust and Gluttony had such fallow ground
“No time for reliving the glory days. What are you going to do to keep
them from beating your door down? And speaking of your doors, what are
you going to do with this place, anyway?”
“Hmmm. I believe I have an idea. Can I count on your assistance?”
“When couldn’t you? Let’s go.”
When the Debs saw the stack of flyers that appeared on Oct. 30
announcing the Harbinger of Death’s retirement, they snatched up the
papers with cries of disbelief. The fact that the death mansion would
be signed over to the university was of little comfort. Their eyes
scanned the parchment with Harbinger’s words of farewell – sparse and
without floridity, as was his trademark style – and the general feeling
was that they had been robbed of something unique that could never be
replaced. As they got to the bottom of the page, the type grew so small
that they had to squint to make out the words.
…However, knowing the Debaucherette University population’s propensity
for the dramatic, along with a perverse appetite for regularly
experiencing death and reanimation, I have allowed for an
automatically-engaging, 36-hour enchantment which will take effect at
the same time each year to enfold the population and permeate each
qualified person with the appropriate lethal force, to be followed by
full reversal of said enchantment after the allotted time has passed.
In other words: Tag. You’re dead.
It was then that the students registered the fact that their fingers
felt rather tingly and hot where they touched the parchment, and it
dawned on them that the message sent from Death was also death itself.
A few gave a feeble last “Hurrah!” before succumbing to the poison that
seeped into their systems. And the shades glided together to the dark
mansion to enjoy the one day wherein they could both embrace and cheat