Single-Handedly

Death and the Hermitage

I hated him. His very presence was offensive to me, so when I knew Death would come for him, I did not tell him.

Ask me not how I knew, for it seemed as in a dream; I knew, but had no recollection of discovering. It was as though I had always known. I was expecting it, and could hardly keep calm while I talked with him, and called him “brother.”

Every word the sallow face spoke, every bob of the white-wooled head, brought with it a joy of knowing I would soon never have to see that head or hear that cringing voice again.

At mealtime, in the Great Hall, I kept watching him sharp-eyed as a child watching for the faintest sigh of poison or of illness. He laughed and joked with the rest, and sat soberly as stone when the Master entered; and in all, survived.

My secret knowledge was nearly driving me mad, by now; for I knew beyond a shadow of suspicion that he ought to have been dead, now day was so far spent. I wandered the corridors of the hermitage until late in the night, my candle the only gleam or sign of vigil. Then, as I rounded a corner, I saw a huge, black-robed figure duck into a doorway. The cowl was empty, and the whole robe was filled with nought but shadow. There was a silver gleam I knew to be a sickle-blade at his side.

His chamber was fatefully two doors from where I stood frozen. I turned toward it, and then glanced back over my shoulder. Near Death’s chamber stood now a grotesque of a bull: huge, tawny-black, head lowered before disproportionately immense shoulders. It looked at me with a gaze so terrible and expectant that I turned away.

“Brother, brother!” I called, pounding his oaken door.

“Brother!” again.

The door opened, and, suddenly speechless, I realized I was about to kill this man I called “brother;” the man I slyly named “friend.” Somehow, hoarse-voiced, nearly dumb, I directed him to the chamber down the hall. He could not see the Death-bull. Somehow, I knew before I ever roused him that only I could see it. As he entered the room, the bull snorted once, stomped a hoof, and followed him inside.

I heard a shuffle, a cut-off cry, and then silence. Cautiously, I walked to the door, and entered.

There, lying gored on the stone before me, lay this man, the man I most despised. His blood flowed gently, freely from his chest, and I watched it. I was now the only one left to despise; I was the hateful.

Now consumed with sorrow, I looked up, and was filled instead with terror. I backed up, trying to leave by the door; but there was no longer a door. In fright, I spun around, but faced only a wall.

Sobbing, I sunk down. I heard a snort, and the stomping of a hoof. Looking back, I saw the bull trotting slowly toward me.

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