All Good Things


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All good things

October 9 2007 at 7:32 PM
Harbinger of Death 

The 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 not come.

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 her now.

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 behind her.

“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 live for?”

“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 him.

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 here.”

“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 death.


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