by Alina Chaudhry
The gold coin froze mid-air as time itself slowed. Grey Linford saw it gleam and shine in the casino’s dim lights. Time returned to its natural pace as the people around him squeezed his shoulder.
“Tails- you have to take the belladonna.” cried a man near him, shoving a bag of the dried yet poisonous flower into Grey’s hand.
Grey’s opponent, a lean woman named Nancy squealed with sarcastic joy. “Such luck you have- fancy having poisonous tea!”
Grey felt little to nothing as he clutched the bag. The tall man left the casino shortly afterwards as a light sprinkle of rain fell lightly on his silver hair and slim shoulders under the moonlight. The streets of London were dark and gloomy, a layer of sluggish fog hanging amidst the streets.
Grey sat on the carpeted stairs of his townhouse, stirring the belladonna into his black tea. He watched in a as the black colour of tea turned into a rich, deep purple.
Suddenly, the flash of bright lighting, a clang of thunder, and the sobs of heavy rain scared Grey. With the teacup of poison long forgotten, the paranoid man walked sub-consciously into the depths of his bed, a fever dream awaiting his lucid presence.
A skeletal figure wore a simple black cloak blanketed in dust. His face was neither human nor familiar, for a cracked skull peered back into Grey’s hazel eyes.
“Death.” Grey whispered. “I remember you.”
Death’s frown deepened as he nodded. Fragmented fingers emerged from the cloak as the floor sprung to life with blades of lush grass and daisies, a heavy sky forming above.
Suddenly, the pleasant field was disrupted as wild trees shot up from the ground. A single bullet shattered the heavy silence. The metallic sound of the gun silenced the desperate cries from behind.
It was a memory that did not belong to Grey, but he felt the bright blood seeping through his brother’s and father’s bodies. Grey flinched as he remembered other memories took control of the man’s head, and Death painted those very scenes right in front of him.
The memories came in disorderedly, simple flashes of Grey reading the letters the army had inked to explain why Euro and Hugh would not be returning home; before fading into the soft plush armchair where Grey decided to run away to London.
The memories ended abruptly as Death illustrated his own future for Grey.
“You’re a mortal fool to think it would do no harm to drink that tea you were dared to sip.” Death’s voice was the sound of the eerie silence before a fatal avalanche, the crunch of fallen leaves as a poacher spotted a wild deer.
Grey saw himself dead on the stairs, still grasping a half empty cup of poison with black blood running through his veins. He saw his own cold funeral attended by a mourning mother holding a dying candle and a young woman Grey very nearly forgot.
Somewhere in the distance the hum of a nightingale’s sweet song filled the air and Grey woke up.
Snow fell and frost flowered the panes of the window Grey was gazing through. He held the teacup sadly, thinking Ceceline’s eyes. It had all been a dream and now Grey was more determined than ever to sip the deadly beverage.
It had all happened so long ago, Grey was mad at his mother, his lover, and himself. Now Grey was alone and that was his choice. Regret was too costly to feel.
Just as the cup reached Grey’s pale lips did he hear the same sweet song of the nightingale.
Perhaps there was still a choice. Perhaps the dream held the truth. Perhaps the nightingale was right.
“Ceceline- is that someone I hear?”
An old woman with faded eyes sat in a worn armchair. The door creaked slowly as Grey walked into the shallow room. It had taken the entire day for him to travel from London to Devonshire. The nightingale had guided him.
A little mirror reflected Ceceline’s purple eyes. Time stopped when their eyes met.
“Why it’s Grey!” Cried Ceceline, springing up to hug the man. “Oh- if only you could see him!”
And although Beatrice Linford could not see his son embrace the girl he had once loved so dearly; she was crying with a happiness her blindness could not take away. As joy spread among the three people, outside in the harsh winter the nightingale chirped.
And a great distance beyond there, Death stole a drop of the belladonna tea. “It tastes of apathy.” He sipped. “But Grey has empathy now, an improvement for all.”
Death stayed only mere seconds before the cry of a bleeding rabbit summoned him.