“You want me to kill you?” the prisoner asked. “To execute me in your place, yes.”
Both wore hoods, one black and menacing, the other a simple burlap sack.
“Then what happens?” “You get to keep your head,” the grizzled older man replied. “Freedom within the jail and an indefinite postponement of your sentence, at least until you give the job to someone else. Don’t know how long it’s been, but way back someone decided that no righteous souls should be tarnished by killing, even for the sake of justice. Now only someone sentenced to death can carry out that sentence for someone else. Leave it to those already damned to ferry other foul souls off to hell.”
An axe blade rose, glinting in the sunlight.
“How long has it been for you?” Eyes stare blankly at stone walls. “Thirty years.” “And how many have you killed?” “Enough,” he answered “to grow weary of death.”
The axe fell with a sickening thud.
“So what do you say? Free an old man from his torment?” The prisoner looked into dark, weary eyes, saw a soul in agony. He answered, “No.”
“I don’t know what I did to deserve this as a gift,” she says in her seat beside the hospital bed. She presses his hand into hers, though the bony fingers remain limp in her grip. A life, faint and fading.
A life is ending.
She had never felt more scared than when she realized she was sitting in the room where her husband would die. She would have to say goodbye to him alone.
“On Christmas, of all days.”
Two floors above, another woman wipes a tear from the corner of her eye. “A gift,” she whispers. “Such a beautiful gift. And on Christmas of all days.”
She had welcomed him into the world alone, never before feeling as relieved as she did when her son was born and she held him for the first time.
A life is beginning. A life, so fragile, so hopeful.
She cradles his head to her chest, lets tiny fingers grip her thumb. “I don’t know what I did to deserve this as a gift.”
Two floors below, a woman says goodbye to the love of her life with tears in her eyes. “A gift,” she whispers. “You were such a beautiful gift.”
The tower’s columns soared as high as an eagle, a masterpiece of both architectural and magical construction. Still it shook when the dragon alighted on its pinnacle.
“Madame?” the servant said uncertainly. “There’s no time left. We must–“
“Must?” the mage answered sharply. “The only thing we must do is face death. You may do that now, or if you wish you must postpone it.”
The servant glanced upward, nodded, and dashed for the stairs.
Ignoring his retreat, the mage stepped to the balcony. “Beast!” she called out. “I’ve been waiting.”
A large, scaled head descended, the monster’s large yellow eye peering down at her. “Your bravado is wasted, witch,” the dragon’s voice rumbled. “No boasts nor screams nor pleas for mercy shall stay my fire. I will consume you, crush your tower, incinerate even the memory of your name.”
She smiled. “All are forgotten eventually. All comes to dust in the end. Even you.”
The dragon snorted, a cascade of smoke and sparks.
“Piteous,” she sighed, “that a creature of ruin would be too afraid to face the darkness that awaits us all.” With that, she turned her back.
I I’ve found a cave I can use for shelter. It’s dry and surprisingly warm, and I’m alone here. There’s enough light to write at the moment, but darkness is coming. I’ll make a fire soon. Maybe tomorrow I’ll move on.
II Yesterday wasn’t my first day here, but it was the first day I wrote something down. I think it’s been a couple weeks now. I didn’t think it would be this long.
V This journal was a dumb idea. I have nothing to say.
VI I should leave. I can’t stay here forever.
VIII Something came into the cave today. It stayed at the entrance, but I think it knew I was here. I’m not sure what it was. I was too afraid to move. But what if it was a person?
XI It was back today. I called out this time, but there was no response. I’m sure something was in the cave though, even if there were no footprints outside.
XVII It comes into the cave every night. It might be in here right now. I should leave.
XXV It’s waiting for me. The dark. It is the dark. The end. It won’t let me go.