Chapter 3 – Mary Elizabeth Morely – Ante Mortem
Mary stood before her make-up stand and ran a brush through her long, straight, dark hair. In the stand’s mirror, she saw William walk up behind her.
As she set the brush down, he wrapped his arms around her waist. “You are so beautiful, Mare.”
She smiled. “You know ‘mare’ means a female horse, right?”
“Well, y’know, you have long legs like a horse. But you also know I mean it like an ocean of the moon.” He nodded toward her image in the mirror. “It’s fitting, with your dark hair and dark eyes.”
She looked at her reflection—her eyes were a dark, midnight blue.
“Silly boy, that word is Latin. The ‘e’ isn’t silent.”
William knew that, of course, having a BA in classical languages, Greek and Latin.
“Well, didn’t you tell me once it was also the root of ‘nightmare’? Something like a supernatural being that caused nightmares? Old German for ‘succubus’?”
Mary’s degree was in Middle English literature–she and William had met in a graduate seminar on the use of Greek and Roman mythology in 14th and 15th century European art.
“No, not ‘succubus’–that’s a female spirit who seduces men in their sleep. ‘Mare’ referred to an incubus–a male spirit who seduced women while they slept.”
“Well, in either case, there’s sex involved.” He jerked his head toward their bed. “Whatcha say we involve ourselves in some sex rather than going to this dinner party of your advisor’s?”
He leaned in to nuzzle her neck as she said, “No, I can’t be a no-show.”
He blew gently on her neck, making her shiver, and looked at her again in the mirror. “You sure?”
When his right hand started to move up her stomach, she took both his hands in hers, and pulled them away from her. She tilted her head to force his mouth away from her neck and said, “Now who’s the incubus?” Letting go of his hands, she turned and put her hands on his chest, pushing gently.
His eyes widened. “My seductions give you nightmares?”
She laughed and stepped around him. “No, of course not. And Dr. Jones’s parties aren’t the nightmares you make them out to be.” Stopping at the bedroom doorway, she looked at his crestfallen face. “Now be a good boy and come along.”
He sighed. “If you insist.”
At the front door, Mary grabbed her purse and pulled out her car keys.
William walked past her, through their apartment’s front door, and onto the patio. He turned back to her with his arms spread and a smile on his face. “It’s a beautiful night–let’s walk!”
From the door’s threshold, Mary felt the night’s cool air, but it was warm enough. “Sure, why not?”
As they walked the quiet city streets, Mary asked William for the umpteenth time what it was that he disliked about her advisor and received the only reply she did: “He just rubs me the wrong way.”
At the party, William mingled for the first hour or so, but then parked himself on a couch in the corner of the living room, leaving Mary to make the rounds and rub elbows with Jones and his guests, the other professors and students from the literature department.
When she had done her duty by her advisor, she walked over to William to tell him they could leave. “Great, let’s get out of here.” He stumbled ever so slightly as he came to his feet. “Damn, right leg’s fallen asleep.”
There was no slurring of his speech, but she asked teasingly, “You sure that’s all it is?”
“Well, maybe not all it is.” He gestured at the three bottles on the coffee table in front of the couch. “Herr Professor has good taste in beer, at least.”
William suggested that they walk back through the park between 8th and Main. “It’s romantic with the moon and all the stars out,” he said, and she agreed.
Halfway through the park a wind came up, and with it came clouds. The temperature dropped, and they both pulled their coats more tightly around themselves.
The central part of the park had no lights, but the path was wide and easy to follow even in the cloud-obscured moonlight.
Mary had no warning when a shadowy man-shape stepped out from behind a tree just a few feet in front of them. The moon was behind the hooded figure, but Mary could see an arm held out to its side. Moonlight glinted off something metallic in that hand.
“Gimme yaa money,” a man’s voice slurred.
Just as Mary realized the man was holding a knife, William stepped in front of her and pushed her back a step with one hand.
William said, “We don’t want any trouble.” He held his hands out by his side.
“Don’ care wa you want.”
Over William’s shoulder, Mary could see the man take a step toward William.
“Gimme yaa money,” he repeated.
William took a step forward, and Mary whispered, “William.”
She’d never been so terrified in her life.
William said, “Look, I’m going to reach for my wallet,” as he swung his right hand back as if to warn Mary to stay back.
Suddenly, the man charged them.
Mary saw the knife-hand swing forward and then William’s body blocked her view. She screamed William’s name as he surged forward.
The moon disappeared behind the clouds.
Mary could only see two shadowy shapes struggling a few feet in front of her.
William gasped. And staggered back. And fell to the ground.
Screaming William’s name, Mary ran forward two steps and dropped to the ground next to him.
He was holding his stomach, and something dark was seeping out from between his fingers.
She put her hand on his chest.
His heart was pounding.
He reached up with a hand covered in blood, reached for her face but fell short–his hand came to rest on her jacket, between her breasts.
The boy said, “I just wanted the money.” For some reason, his words were no longer slurred.
Mary looked up.
For an instant, the moon came out from behind the clouds, and Mary could see the mugger’s face clearly.
Their eyes locked.
He looked confused.
The boy couldn’t have been more than 18 years old. Bloodshot eyes. Bags under his eyes. Sunken cheeks. Scabs on his chin, his forehead.
Meth, Mary thought.
The boy turned and ran.
“Mary, I feel so cold.”
William’s heart stopped beating.
The police arrived.
Told her she had called 911 on her cell phone–it was on the ground next to William. There was blood on it.
The police took Mary’s statement.
The paramedics took William’s body.
“Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.”
For days she did not leave their apartment.
She would stare for hours on end at her jacket–with the jacket unzipped, the bloodstain did not look much like a handprint, but she knew it was.
Friends stopped by.
Dr. Jones stopped by.
They all uttered meaningless platitudes.
The police never found William’s murderer.
But Mary did.
There was a pawnshop not far from the apartment. One day, she went there. Bought a gun.
Every night thereafter, Mary walked the park along the path William and she had on their way home from the party.
She wore the jacket she had worn that night, the one with William’s handprint rendered in his blood between her breasts.
One night, a shape stepped out from behind a tree and into her path.
A glint of moonlight reflected off the knife in its right hand.
Mary drew the gun she had bought for this purpose even as the boy said, “Gimme ya money.”
She recognized the voice.
It wouldn’t have mattered if she hadn’t.
Mary pulled the trigger once. Twice. And again.
The boy fell backward.
Mary walked up to him and looked down at his face.
His eyes were even more bloodshot. The bags under his eyes more pronounced. The cheeks more sunken.
She said, “William didn’t deserve to die. But you do.”
The boy tried to say something, but blood bubbled from his mouth.
Mary knelt beside him, unconcerned with the knife still clutched in his hand. She placed her free hand on his chest.
Waited for his heart to stop beating.
“Police! Drop the gun!”
Mary did not know how long she had knelt next to the body of William’s killer.
Did it matter?
She looked over her shoulder and was blinded by the bright light of the policeman’s flashlight.
“Drop the gun!”
Mary looked at the gun that was still in her hand.
Did it matter?
William was dead.
As she turned to face the police officer, she heard the report of his gun.
She could not see him.
Standing before her was a figure that stood at least two feet taller than her. It wore a black, tattered robe that whipped about It even though there was no wind. At her eye-level, one skeletal hand held an hourglass. Somehow, she knew there were only a few grains of sand left in the upper bulb. In the other fleshless hand, It held a scythe even taller than It was.
Her gaze moved up to its hood, and saw a skull. The eye sockets were empty. Fleshless cheekbones created the illusion that It was grinning.
The lower jaw moved as the robe flapped in the non-existent wind to show the spine, the fleshless rib-cage below the skull. “You have murdered.”
Its visage was terrible, and Its voice should have turned the blood in her veins to ice.
This was her Death standing before her.
But she was already as cold as she could be. Had been since William uttered his last words.
Her attention was drawn down as the bullet from the policeman’s gun emerged from Death’s robe. It left no hole and moved so slowly that Mary was able to follow it with her eyes.
In the periphery of her vision, she saw Death begin to swing Its scythe.
Just before the last grain of sand fell in Its hourglass, the scythe passed through her.
A fraction of an instant later, the bullet ended her life.
Chapter 4 – Mary Elizabeth Morely – Post Mortem
She looked over her shoulder and saw her body sprawled across that of William’s killer.
The policeman cursed and moving to kick her gun away from her hand, passed through Mary’s Death as though It was not there. Asked no one in particular, “Why? Why couldn’t you just drop the damn gun?”
Death stepped aside so Mary could once again see It.
She could see tears running down the policeman’s face. He looked like he could hardly be much older than the boy who had murdered William.
Death rasped, “Compassion has been lost to you.”
She turned to Death and screamed, “He murdered William for the money we had in our pockets. He deserved to die!”
“Death is the end of all things. It is not a dessert.” Death stepped toward her.
She brought up the hand holding the gun, but it was empty. She no longer wore her jacket, jeans or shoes. Instead, she wore a simple, white strap dress and sandals.
“You will find compassion again at my side.” Her Death held out the hourglass. “Take the glass.”
“No. I just want to die.”
“You are dead.” Death released the hourglass.
She thought she had been cold before, but now. . .
The hourglass began to float toward her.
“Take the glass.”
Her hands took the glass from the air.
Chapter 5 – Mary Elizabeth Morely – Per Mortem
Over the days, years or decades that followed, she became an Angel of Death.
At first she had refused to touch the dead and learned what could happen when she failed to do so.
Time ceased to have meaning for her–perhaps it had no meaning for the dead.
For much longer, she had scoured the memories of the dead to find a justification for their deaths.
With Bobby O’Callaghan’s fourth step, he said, “It’s so beautiful.”
And as he took his fifth and final step in this world, a single new tear spilled from her eye as she said, “So are you.”
Her companion rasped, “Release the glass.”
She was so stunned that she almost didn’t understand her companion. It had never asked anything of her except to take the glass and to release the dead. “What?”
“Release the glass.”
She turned away from Bobby O’Callaghan’s body to find her Death had reached out Its free hand toward her.
Trembling, she did as It asked.
“You have found compassion again.”
The sand in the hourglass began to glow.
“Its Light is now for you.”
She looked to her Death’s eyeless, fleshless visage.
But the Light was even now washing out Its form.
And in Its place, she saw William beckoning her to join him.
James Norris has been a member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers since 2010 and is working on three novels, the first of which, The Order of the Brotherhood, is a work of dystopian speculative fiction set in a prison and investigates the value of democracy in an America that has largely forgotten it. He’s also written several short stories, one of which, “Izzie Tells No Lies,” will be published in the February 2018 issue of Fantasia Divinity. He’s also written several spec teleplays, the latest of which, “Project Ωmega” is currently under review at Amazon. He lives in Idaho with his wife and three creatures of the canine and feline persuasions, where he is pursuing his Ph.D. in physics.