literature

And Death Makes Four

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He would describe himself as neither a tomb raider nor a thief, rather as a liberator of lost valuables for discerning clientele. This career is not without its risks, but the rewards usually outweighed them handsomely. It is perfectly suited to someone whose moral compass didn’t point true North and could be bribed to tweak the degrees further off. The man is greedy, but tissue is better at holding on to water than he is at holding on to his money. A week from now, he‘d planned on being several figures richer, regaling beguiling young women with (heavily edited and exaggerated) stories of his adventures on a beach in the Caymans. Tempting Fate, he booked his tickets in advance; they were non refundable.

There is no treasure here.

Griff’s vision reddens; fury seethes on a bridle, his tongue feels sharpened like a razor, words bubbling like acid with every passing millisecond, and willpower is steadily burning away.

Suddenly, as if in an attempt to quell the bile, a memory surfaces of Griff’s mother admonishing him to say nothing if he had nothing nice to say, yet he usually found those so-called “Golden Rules” to be more like guidelines. However, they are no longer applicable if you are staring Death in the face, or to be more accurate, the startling lack of a face.

Absorbed as they are in their miserable little world, neither Karl nor Lew notices the hollow eyed Psychopomp nonchalantly twirling His scythe.

It can’t be — it isn’t — it must be a hallucination from the air quality down here, or some sort of psychotic break… Griff cannot find his mooring. He tries to reconcile what he sees with what he has always known to be true and not true in the real world, yet for all his explanations and reassurances, fear glues him to his spot and steals his voice.

The Reaper stands in the corner, the polished white bones beneath the ebony suede hood bob slightly in his direction, offering him what he desperately hopes to be a sympathetic nod. Death, with a capital D, is inscrutable, partially due to the fact that skulls have a distinct lack of expression.

Lower than a whisper, Griff can almost hear Him, a shiver on the edge of sound, { I have come for the culling } — he had been terribly wrong.

Death’s scythe has an eye catching blade — metaphorically speaking — the metallurgic artistry of the otherworldly designs are most closely compared to Damascus steel: its mesmerizing colors and radiance ranging from astral luminescent platinum; polished slate grey and lusterless Stygian ripples that create waves and whorls; calm seas and tempests; a pattern as unique as a fingerprint, which He obviously does not have.

Of course, Griff’s first thought was that the metal resembles the mythical swords on Game of Thrones, and it does a bit. Although, the patterns on their blades didn’t move like water, air currents, clouds and restless spirits as His does.

There are phenomena that humans cannot see or appreciate with the naked eye or with mechanical assistance, and one of these is the edge of the Reaper’s scythe which He keeps keen enough to split a hair, an atom, and the soul of any living thing.

The staff which the blade is attached to is made from a petrified apple tree, though, whether it was petrified before or after meeting Death is unclear as there are no records or other witnesses; He is laconic on a good day and the staff has nothing to say on the subject. However, it is decorated with glyphs and pictographs and runes, writing in countless languages spanning every culture across the globe from all of humanity’s first attempts at non spoken forms of communication, some long lost to time. The top is made of black walnut; it is carved in the shape of an hourglass, steel curving around the base of the upper and the lower bulb with a shell of diamond encasing each to contain the mercury within, banded with iron around the middle, engraved with strange letters, unknown to mortals. Crowning it are numbers, complicated equations and algebraic formulas not taught at any school.

Truly, it is an archaeologist’s, mathematician’s and physicist’s dream, and a code-breaker’s nightmare, just not long ones.

Casually, Griff investigates his pockets for coins; an electrified chill runs through him and sweat stings his eyes as his fingertips lightly graze its only contents, lint and dirt.

Supernatural scapegoating is a practice which always amused and confused him in equal measure since he is not superstitious, nor had he ever been. Generally, he laughed at those who cross their fingers, knock on wood and waste perfectly good table salt, so obviously he absolutely did not believe in curses. He reminded himself that he did not believe in anything. The only thing I believe in is myself.

Honestly, there is enough blame to go around for their predicament. Maybe if he just started smashing his head against the wall he’d make it through the other side… People always called him hard headed, but if nothing else the sound could be enough to drown out the insufferable squawking of his associates, if he was lucky.

When was that ever the case? He feels a scream clawing up his throat. Self pity bringing him near the brink of tears, obstinacy and ire pulling him back. There isn’t even any damn treasure here! Just a pile of moldy, old bones.

Unable and unwilling to contain it, he releases a bitter sigh, pouring as much of his frustration into it as he can, exhaling with unnecessary volume, but of course no one heard—with the exception of their party’s saturnine, eldritch, uninvited fourth member.

He refused to call this a tomb simply because there are human remains here. They may not have been placed here for a burial, just someone who crawled in here and died. That thought hit much too close to home.

Unfortunately, the situation is devolving badly in the fight between the two thirty year old children at the far side of the room.

“Nuh-uh,” spat Lew.

Karl, ever quick on the draw, was ready with a classic counter-attack. “Yeah-huh.”

Those simple words spoken with all the vehement self-righteousness of a politician mid-scandal, the vitriol of the worlds smallest mob that only brought a third of the ingredients necessary for Molotov cocktails, and absolutely no irony whatsoever.

Sadly for everyone involved the two men are evenly matched.

Someone call a debate club, Griff thinks, a wry smile humorlessly twisting his features, only slightly veiling how apoplectic he truly is. Oh wait, there’s no cell service here because 3,000 year old walls aren’t always as collapse proof as one might have hoped. There may in fact be some value in his mother’s words after all. His heart hammers and his teeth grind as he considers this. Perhaps it would serve me well to keep my mouth shut.

Then, a horrible feeling settles over him like a pall as he realizes that “nuh-uh” and “yeah-huh” or possibly even, “I know you are, but what am I” might be the last words he ever hears, and Griff looks up at Death, anxious for some sign of how much longer he must endure this mind-numbing, ulcer-inducing nightmare. Surprisingly, the antediluvian robed figure is standing stock still, except for His scythe that he turns slowly, inexorably clockwise, while appearing to examine the ancient wall art which depict scenes of people living in ecstasy and excess.

Last month he’d seen nude goddesses, whose names he’s already forgotten, tiled in a Roman bath house — his business takes him to many exotic locales — however, here there was more of a `Last Night On Earth, Anything Goes And Is Highly Encouraged’ party motif. For the moment he and Death keep their eyes, and orbital sockets respectively, on the erotic work, though their thoughts differ more drastically than their visages.

All things considered, it seems downright paradisiacal to the looter, especially since none of the revelers were imprisoned in a tomb of dead gods.

Admittedly, Griff isn’t a religious man, not by a long shot; you might say he is a skeptic, apathetic with a dash of ignorance and sprinkling of pride; he has been whistling past graveyards since fifteen, and wears a smirk like a tailored jacket. He never believed in anything, not God or the Devil, and he certainly never believed in Heaven and Hell — but right now it was beginning to feel a little too hot.

Shit, he thinks, I should have been a better person. How do ghosts get out of that whole “Eternal Punishment/Reward” deal, anyway? Not that I would want to spend my afterlife here with Thing One and Thing Two relitigating everything from whose fault this is to whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas Movie, the only correct answers being: yes, hell yes, or yippee-ki-yay-yes. Why did there have to be consequences for my actions? Hopefully my spirit would be free to travel, for multiple reasons, because there are a few people I can think of right off the top of my head who can use a world class haunting. Damn, that would be a sweet perk. While pausing to imagine the possibilities, he considers the cost and decides that little fantasy can wait at least until he is too old and feeble to enjoy his many others, because even with all of life’s problems, struggles and multitude of minor irritants, he enjoys living.

With the millennia old tomb (home to generations of displaced bats, as well as various unidentified fungi) now sealed, the air is not only of poor to hazardous quality, it is also running out, which at the moment is the more pressing issue.

Were my eyelids always this heavy, he wonders.

Somehow the question seems to float inside him, before him, in his brain, manifesting in the dust motes; panic flares intensely for a moment, but the sleepier he becomes, the more it pales.

Such a bizarre, passive feeling, everything is slower, no more adrenaline, no more tension.

He ponders it, turns it around and around, and eventually he decides to name it Relief. There is a sense of serenity such as he hasn’t felt since he left home a day, a month, a year ago, he no longer remembers, and it strikes him that it does not matter. Time, he realizes with something akin to clarity, is a construct.

CRACK! CRACK! CRACK!

Filling the confined space are the severe echoing percussions of rocks crashing against rocks, over and over; it is almost rhythmic. Griff finds himself drifting further into sleep, yet he can swear he hears something familiar, deep and resonant like rolling thunder. Somewhere, in the increasingly comfortable fuzziness of his mind, he knows that it either means the obstruction is being vanquished and he will survive, or more rocks will come tumbling down and he will perish sooner rather than later. Either one of his fellow (mis)adventurers will wake him up, or Death will open his eyes in His signature, singular way.

Griff is waiting for his next adventure, whatever that may be — in the meantime — he sits on a rock, his back against the painted wall in the home of dead gods, resting his eyes, sure that before long someone else will take the reins.

He knows, he heard it as a whisper, a shiver on the edge of sound.

When treasure hunting didn’t go as planned, the party of (mis)adventurers grew by One.
“Death, with a capital D, is inscrutable, partially due to the fact that skulls have a distinct lack of expression.”
Published:
© 2021 TheLunaLily
Comments12
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dave-llamaman's avatar

Love it! Especially Griff's private lament about the last thing he hears being two idiots arguing about Die Hard being a Christmas movie. Especially because it is. Obviously.

TheLunaLily's avatar

Thank you! ♡ Die Hard most definitely is a Christmas movie. A classic one.

prettyflour's avatar

Wow! Great work on this. Really love it!

TheLunaLily's avatar

:heart: Thank you very much! I’m so glad. :hug:

Barosus's avatar

Great job channeling your inner Terry Pratchett on this. I was kind of hoping for some more of a twist ending. But overall, I really dug the clever and irreverent style and of this story.

Fabulous Work. Three roses
TheLunaLily's avatar

:faint::heart:That is a HUGE compliment.:heart: Thank you so much. I was inspired by his work.

Further lol, I just KNEW that I would get a comment from someone while I was in the middle of editing this. Happens every single time. Hahaha!!! But I am so glad you read it and very very appreciative of your comment, it means a lot. :heart: :heart::heart:I worked hard on this.

Barosus's avatar

It was truly a pleasure! (now just picture that intoned in the iconic voice of Christopher Lee portraying Death while stroking a kitten with his fleshless phalanges) lol

TheLunaLily's avatar

That’s amazing!

Barosus's avatar

I kind of look for excuses to use that gif because I love it. It is too perfect. (intones in his best "Death voice") "I'm glad you liked it. I seldom get such flattery. I might blush, but fortunately I have no blood."

TheLunaLily's avatar

Death: No one ever invites me to parties

💀

Barosus's avatar

LOL I can picture that voice in my head perfectly! I do like the new added bit at the end. It ties it all together nicely. ^_^

TheLunaLily's avatar

Me too. I never thought to imagine Christopher Lee’s voice when reading those book, but now… lol, I’m always going to hear it.

Thanks. :heart: I’m glad you think so! :love:

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